American Christians love to deceive themselves.  They close their eyes and pretend that the government’s war against their religion is a temporary aberration; they insist—against all the evidence—that Abraham Lincoln was a Christian; and, when some federal judge dictates a decree stripping the town square of its cross and crèche or tearing down the Ten Commandments from a courthouse, they solemnly declare that this act of usurpation is an outrage against the Christian founders of this Christian nation.  So long as this pretense is maintained, effective action to protect Christian institutions will never be taken.

The leaders of the American Revolution and the Framers of the Constitution were men of their time.  Some were devout Christians, but many of them were deists who approved of Christianity only insofar as it was compatible with the deeper religion of nature revealed to the builders of the pyramids and of Solomon’s temple and passed down to adepts like Iamblichus, Hermes Trismegistus, Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno, and, most recently, to Montesquieu and Voltaire.  Churches were to be tolerated provided they were prepared to tolerate one another and not attempt to stick their noses too far into the business of the state.  Such a distinction between Church and state was utterly incompatible with the Christian religion practiced by Christ and His Apostles, by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and by Luther and Calvin, but Jefferson, to take a moderate and benevolent example, was indifferent to the particularities of the Christian religion—its miracles and its specific moral injunctions—which he eliminated from his own version of the Scriptures.

The U.S. Constitution, although it is not of divine revelation, has many admirable qualities that enabled the citizens of this republic to lead decent, Christian lives undisturbed by their governments.  However, it did not and could not establish a “Christian nation,” if only because the British monarchy, which served as its model, was a modern state that owed its very existence to a coup d’état against the Church.  Like so many developments in modern civilization, for good and for ill, the modern state first began to take shape in Italy—specifically, in Renaissance Florence under the Medici—and it is no accident that the first writer to understand the state was the Florentine Machiavelli or that, as the virus spread to France and England, the state found new apologists in the persons of Jean Bodin and Francis Bacon.

The real founder of the Medici fortunes in the early 15th century was Cosimo the Old, who abandoned Christianity in favor of the neoplatonic magic taught at his Platonic Academy.  From Florence, this neopagan cult spread across Europe, borrowing magical techniques and concepts, wherever it could, from Jewish Cabalists and Arab magicians.  When Catherine de Medici (a contemporary of both Henry VIII and his children) became queen of France, she filled her court with magicians, soothsayers, and astrologers.  Although hailed as the defender of the Catholic Church, she was, as one Italian observer described her, no kind of Christian at all, and her archenemy, Henry of Navarre (the Protestant hero who converted to gain the throne as Henry IV), was no better.  One neopagan who spent Easter with the king wrote to an English adept that they had commemorated the most solemn of Christian holidays by celebrating the Eleusinian mysteries.

England was a more advanced case than France.  Like his daughter Elizabeth, Henry VIII was a nondiscriminatory persecutor, burning sincere Protestants and Catholics alike, because neither group was willing to acknowledge his exclusive authority over faith and morals.  His future son-in-law, Phillip II of Spain, although a far more pious Catholic, brooked no challenges to his authority.  France, though torn apart by the religious wars, took longer to bring Christians to heel, but Louis XIV made the Gallican Church as subject to his authority as the Anglican Church was subject to the Tudors.

One of the (mostly) unintended consequences of the religious wars of the 16th century was a sense of indifference that overtook many sensible and humane men.  If caring passionately about the forms of the Christian Faith turned men into such monsters, surely there must be a purer form of Christianity, which the Church had corrupted.  They found this higher religion in the perennial philosophy rediscovered by Ficino in Florence, turned to magical ends by his disciple Pico della Mirandola and brought to England by Giordano Bruno.  

Bruno was among the most accomplished of Renaissance magicians, combining his deep knowledge of Florentine neopaganism with the black arts of Agrippa and Paracelsus.  Bruno arrived in London in 1583 and was taken under the wing of John Florio, secretary to the French ambassador.  Florio, the grandson of a converted Italian Jew, was the English translator of the cynical Michel de Montaigne, a mocker of Christianity.  Like other religious skeptics, Montaigne posed as an enlightened Christian who merely wanted to purify Christianity of its superstitions and abuses, but he was a determined immoralist who objected to the Church’s strictures against fornication and adultery.  His hero, Henry of Navarre, was also a skeptical neopagan and as obsessed with sex as Montaigne  was himself.

It may have been John Florio who helped to arrange an invitation for Bruno to speak at Oxford, where he failed to make a good impression.  Bruno, for his part, claimed that the dons had a good command of Latin and Greek but nothing else.  They had not excelled in the new humanistic sciences or in magic, nor, as he points out, did they even study the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages.  How could they?  Elizabeth had ordered the works of Thomas Aquinas and the other medieval philosophers to be burned publicly.  

A Polish prince, Albert a Laski, accompanied Bruno on his trip to Oxford.  Laski was studying alchemy with the celebrated John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s court astrologer.  Dee was a magician and, with his junior partner, Edward Kelly, he was searching for the philosopher’s stone.  Kelly was an Irishman who had been put in the pillory for digging up a grave and using the corpse for necromancy.  When Laski went home, both Dee and Kelly accompanied him to Europe and set up shop in Prague.  

In Europe, Dee, using Kelly as his medium, held converse with the angels, who told him (among many other things) 

That Jesus was not God; That no prayer ought to be made to Jesus; That there is no sin; . . . No Holy Ghost they acknowledged; They would not suffer him to pray to Jesus Christ; but would rebuke him, saying, that he robbed God of his honour, etc.  

One of the more suspect angelic transmissions recommended: “All sins committed in me are forgiven.  He who goes mad on my account, let him be wise.  He who commits adultery because of me, let him be blessed for eternity and receive the heavenly prize.”  This was preparation for Kelly’s demand that he could swap his shrewish wife for Dee’s beloved and beautiful young wife.  Dee, although a brilliant mathematician and a deeply learned man, was so besotted that he forced his wife to degrade herself.

Elizabethan London was a hotbed of occultism.  Although the famous “School of Night” may be little more than a textual error in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost, there is more than a little evidence to suggest that Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, and Walter Raleigh, among many poets and intellectuals, were taken with the Renaissance craze for magic.  And there can be no doubt about one of the greatest men of the age, Sir Philip Sidney, the model courtier and Protestant hero.  Sidney was close to both Dee and Bruno.  Sidney referred to Dee, his friend and mentor, as ignotus deus (“Our unknown God”), punning on Dee’s Latin name, Deus.  This calls to mind the inscription to the unknown god alluded to by Saint Paul in his sermon on the Areopagus in Athens, a speech that has often been interpreted as a justification for the prisca theologia, the natural theology that we can learn from the universe and from our consciences.  As a student of Dee, he took the logical step of becoming the patron of Giordano Bruno, who dedicated two books to the poet.

In addition to befriending Bruno and traveling in hermetic circles, Sidney began a translation of Philippe du Plessis Mornay’s hermetic treatise De la verité de la religion chrétienne.  Mornay professed to be a Huguenot, but he was in fact a devotee of the prisca theologia, the supposed original religion of Hermes Trismegistus.  

Philip Sidney played a key role in creating the myth of Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, the ideal Gloriana who was so different from the mean-spirited money-grubbing Tudor dictator known to history.  He organized brilliant jousts and pageants and masques all designed to elevate the queen above ordinary humanity.  His friend Bruno called her diva Elizabetta—“divine Elizabeth”—though he would later try to explain this away to the inquisitors (who condemned him to the stake in 1600), and he more than hinted  that she would be the ruler of a universal empire. 

This theme reached its highest expression in The Faerie Queene, written by Sir Edmund Spenser, who was not only Sidney’s friend and protégé but a friend of Raleigh, who met him in Ireland, where they were brutally despoiling the natives.  Spenser’s portrait of the magician in the second book has plausibly been connected with John Dee.  

Some critics have pointed out the astrological symbolism of the poem.  Others have singled out the temple of Isis as an explicit allusion to the Hermetic tradition.  Even the whole idea for the imaginary world of Faery is suspicious.  It may have been inspired by Bruno’s notion that the moon and planets were inhabited.  Sensible Ben Jonson, who, in The Alchemist, explicitly connects the land of Faery with alchemy, ridicules the idea of moon-men in a masque describing an adventurer who goes to the moon.  Spenser, however, defends his imaginary world with arguments borrowed from Bruno:

Where is that Land of Faery,

Which I so much doe vaunt, yet no where showe

But vouch antiquities, which no body can knowe . . .

What if within the Moone’s fair shining spheare,

What if in every other starre unseene

Of other worlds he happily should heare?

In Spenser, we have come a long way, not only from the Catholic Church but from the Reformers, who would have been horrified by the poet’s treatment of the mortal Elizabeth, whom he invokes at the beginning of The Faerie Queene as “O Goddesse, heavenly bright / Mirror of grace and Maiestie divine . . . ”

We might agree to regard this idolatrous language as conventional Renaissance reverence toward a monarch (though that hardly excuses a Christian for employing it), but, when it is compared with the vast body of Elizabethan eulogy, from Sidney and Raleigh, among others, we can begin to see a pattern.  Elizabeth is a supernatural goddess, not an ordinary ruler; in her boundless kindness, she intercedes for mercy with God; she is a perpetual virgin.  In other words, to counter the Catholic reverence toward Mary, the Mother of God, Elizabeth’s Protestant courtiers, with the queen’s assistance, create the myth of the Anti-Mary, the anti-Catholic virgin queen of a universal earthly kingdom.  The cult of the Anti-Mary reaches its highest expression in Spenser, who endows her with the powers of a magic kingdom in a neoplatonist universe of which Ficino, Pico, and Bruno would have approved.

By 1600, then, when Giordano Bruno was unwillingly lighting up Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, the English state had, by political and poetical sleights of hand, made its own religion and installed the head of state not merely as pope but as god.  This Elizabethan logic would take four centuries to play out, but the logic should now be clear to us, who live in a world in which American children must salute the secular flag but may not pray in school and where the European Union is willing to honor each and every religion but Christianity.  

Hobbes called the state a “mortal god,” but this mortal god is also a jealous god that would have no other gods before him, not the gods of hearth and home, the gods of friendship or philosophical principle, and certainly not the true God, worshiped by the Church.  More recently, the mortal god has taken the next step, demanding the pure monotheism of Islam.  There is no god but the state, and Rousseau is his prophet.  A faithless man might be tempted to echo the Emperor Julian’s dying confession, “Oh Apostate, thou hast triumphed,” but Leviathan, though a monster, is a mortal monster, which can only sustain itself by feeding off the institutions of authentic human life—family, friendship, and the Church.  Once the state has gobbled them all up, at least on paper—and that time is nearer than you may think—it will die of starvation, and we can begin again the slow and joyous progress toward the next Christian civilization.