The joys, glory and light of the heavenly Jerusalem far surpass earthly well-being.
The Heavenly Jerusalem as depicted in a 14th-century French tapestry. (Octave 444/Wikimedia Commons)
I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I have never taken a New Year’s resolution seriously. I have never thought of one. It is too small to dedicate an entire year to.
In the midst all the Covid-hype I found an exception. I started taking the jab. You read that correctly, dear reader. Each day this year, I will be getting the booster after booster. I am talking, of course, of the vaccine called contemptus mundi (contempt for the world).
Vaccination will take the form of a daily examen of my fears and hopes. I have to admit that I am not performing well according to my own standards. I am anxious and my hopes and fears are often immediate and self-centered.
My fearful tendencies can be a problem. These tendencies are a problem because they serve as a pre-existing condition that can be easily exploited and could lead to a fear-pandemic in the world. It threatens to destroy even healthy Christians’ hope for the otherworldly.
The past few years, governments and media have actively spread the fear-pandemic as an efficient way of ensuring compliance with Covid-vaccination campaigns. The campaign has been remarkable successful, according to my observations. Fear has spread like a virus spreading rapidly and causing havoc wherever it goes.
When a leader designates himself as a “wartime president,” the message is bound to trickle down in the form of fear. Fear is evident when doctors are called “soldiers” or school children “easy targets” by the virus.
There are many factors that contribute to our vulnerability to the virus of terror. The shift in society from otherworldliness towards this-worldliness is a key factor. Our faith in the future has been lost and our dreams and hopes have been reduced to the present. We are now unable to see the future and we feel as if we have lost our faith (1 Thess. 4: 13), but we also fear as others do who have no hope. We are what we fear most.
My suspicion is that the smallpox or bubonic plague were more frightening to earlier generations than they are to Covid, even though the former was much more fatal than the latter.
Why is this? Christians from a past age showed a healthy amount of contempt for the rest of the world. Contemptus mundi was a common medieval trope grounded both in classical (Cicero) and patristic (Eucherius of Lyons) antecedents. The theme was popularized especially through the 12th-century French Benedictine monk, Bernard of Cluny. His De condemptu mundi was a long, prophetic satirical piece that attacked people’s wealth and extravagant lifestyles, and contrasted them with a life of virtue, contemplation, and virtue.
Warning his contemporaries of the coming judgement of heaven and hell, Bernard opened his poem with these words:
Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt–vigilemus.
Ecce minaciter imminet arbiter ille supremus.
Imminet imminet ut mala terminet, aequa coronet,
Recta remuneret. Anxia liberet. Aethera donet.
Or, in Samuel Duffield’s translation:
These are the latter times, these are not better times, let us stand waiting:
How awful is He?
It’s getting closer and closer!
He liberates the sad, righteous, and indulgent.
Bernard’s sharp contrasts were grounded in the conviction that earthly health and wellbeing do not offer lasting joy and cannot give ultimate happiness. Bernard, therefore, called upon his contemporaries to scorn this world (contemptus mundi), holding out instead for the joy of heavenly bliss.