Friend, in today’s Gospel Jesus says to the crowds: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.”
The name of Flannery O’Connor’s second novel was taken from the Douay-Rheims translation of this last line: ”the violent bear it away.” What do we make of this strange and famously ambiguous wording?
Many have taken it to mean that the kingdom of God is attacked by violent people, such as those who killed John the Baptist, and that they threaten to take it away. But others have interpreted it in the opposite direction, as a word of praise to the spiritually violent who manage to get into the kingdom. O’Connor herself sides with this latter group. In one of her letters, she says, “St. Thomas’s gloss on this verse is that the violent Christ is here talking about represent those ascetics who strain against mere nature. St. Augustine concurs.”
The “mere nature” that classical Christianity describes is a fallen nature, one that tends away from God and his demands. The “violent,” on this reading, are those spiritually heroic types who resist the promptings and tendencies of this nature and seek to discipline it in order to enter into the kingdom of God.