The revolution of the earth around the sun is one year. That sentence may seem strange to us, because it uses the word “revolution” in its original sense, dealing with a body circling around a fixed point. The revolution of a triangle about a fixed axis generates what we call a cone. It is a mystery of meaning how this word came to mean a sudden upheaval, a sudden reversing of course, an event that changes the past course. Thus we speak of the Glorious Revolution of the 17th century in England, the French Revolution and the American Revolution in the 18th century and the Russian Revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century. In all these events, there is an understanding that these events forced an upheaval in society that changed the course of that society. And the underpinning concept in all these “revolutions” was an understanding of freedom that pitted itself against some form of tyranny of the past: in the case of the Glorious Revolution the tyranny of the Catholic Church, in the case of the French and American Revolution the tyranny of a monarchial government, and in the case of the Russian Revolution the tyranny of a monarch combined with a philosophy of collectivism for the sake of the individual.
In each of these cases, with the exception of the Glorious Revolution, there was an armed uprising, violence in the cause of freedom as understood in multiple ways. In each of these “revolutions” what was a driving force was an understanding of freedom that has nothing to do with the Christian understanding of freedom. This is not to say that the understanding of freedom that drove the American Revolution is somehow unworthy of the concept of freedom. But it is not Christian.
“For freedom Christ has set us free”. Those are the words of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians. For the Christian, our freedom was bought not by an upheaval of society but rather by the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The immediate context of Paul’s words is against those Christians who insisted that circumcision and the whole of the Jewish law had to be followed by Christians. But the deeper meaning in these words is that what Christ did for us on the Cross is to free us from the death of sin and to free us from not confusing law with salvation and to free us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This understanding of freedom is quite the opposite of that of contemporary society that sees freedom as absence of any restraint on the individual. Unlimited pornography, same-sex marriage, unlimited restraints on who can buy a weapon meant for battle in war, the reduction of sex to gender with all of its implications, the relativization of all moral acts in the name of the individual, the refusal to see the objective basis of morality itself: all this in the name of a freedom that has nothing to do with the Christian understanding of freedom.
As we go through Lent, carrying out our fasting, prayer and acts of love for our neighbor, let us always remember that the Christian Revolution began in a stable in a backwater of the Roman Empire. Hardly anyone noticed. But it is that Revolution that cut through the world, the flesh and the devil by the solid wood of the Cross, that Cross that made us truly free.
Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla