“The things you own…end up owning you.”
-Tyler Durden, Fight Club
I found myself flipping through St. Clement’s treatise The Rich Man’s Salvation recently, as I reflect on possessions for my current sermon series on the 10 Commandments. He has an interesting take on Christian persecution:
“Now one kind of persecution comes from without, when men, whether through hatred, or envy, or love of gain, or by the prompting of the devil, harry the faithful. But the hardest persecution is that from within, proceeding from each man’s soul that is defiled by godless lusts and manifold pleasures, by low hopes and corrupting imaginations; when ever coveting more, and maddened and inflamed by fierce loves, it is stung by its attendant passions…into states of frenzied excitement, into despair of life and contempt of God. This persecution is heavier and harder, because it arises from within and is ever with us; nor can the victim escape from it, for he carries his enemy about within himself everywhere.” (Clement of Alexandria, #92 in the Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge: Harvard University press 2003], 322-323.)
This does not deny that the outward and overt forms of persecution should be denied or marginalized, mind you. But it does serve as a useful reminder that the Church has always flourished when faced with external persecution. This other, “hardest” persecution, however, seems to be precisely that which is destroying the church in the modern West.