Saturday, September 3, 2011
The End of the American Era: The basis for hope and despair
Reposting two blogs:
“[A]s there is nothing good in nature which is not to be referred to the Divine goodness, every human society which does its utmost to exclude God from its laws and its constitution, rejects the help of this Divine beneficence, and deserve, also, that help should be denied it. Rich, therefore, and powerful as it appears, that society bears within itself the seeds of death, and cannot hope for a lengthy existence.”
Pope Leo XIII, On the Religious Question in France 1884
Recent economic indicators such as the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) prediction that that the U.S. economy will be surpassed by China in 2016, the growing US Federal debt and the uncertainty of oil prices, suggest that things need to change in America. Sound political, economic, and energy policies are essential for America's longevity. However, we have to remember that in the context of history these things derive from and are sustained by a robust spiritual foundation.
If you accept the premise that the spiritual order is the cause and the temporal order (i.e. politics, economics, education etc.) is the effect; or that the actions of God comes first and everything else follows; then you will more easily understand that what happens within the Catholic Church sets the pace for the rest of society. The Fathers of the Church referred to her as a “Mother” of Christians; not only of Christians but of all people (Pope Benedict XV said in the early twentieth-century that he is the father of all people whether they know it or not). As such, the Church's moral and spiritual health affects even those estranged children of hers who do not even accept her divine authority.
With that said, it is no exaggeration to say that the Church is the hope and despair of mankind. When her members become worldly, society falls into immorality and fragments; on other hand, when Catholics are zealous for the things of God with a world-renouncing spirituality, society is well ordered and free from tyranny. In a word, when the Catholic Church speaks and behaves according to what she is called to be by Jesus Christ then civilization prospers. As such, nations benefit from her light. It is a light emitted by that “city on the hill” which is none other than the Church herself.
What resurrected the fallen Roman Empire- later turning into the Holy Roman Empire or Christendom (the latter two being a civilization comprised of many Catholic nations before the Reformation 800 A.D. to 1500 A.D.) –are the very principles that can save America and Western Civilization at large. As Pope Leo XIII said, “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery.” What are those principles of recovery and what is the disease?
To begin with, as most Christians know, the disease is the decline in faith and breakdown of marriage and family in America. However, when these pillars of civilization suffer decline something else must replace it. That something is invariably the State. In his 1919 pastoral letter to the Church in America, Cardinal James Gibbons said, “It lies in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs; its will is the last word of justice, its welfare the determinant of moral values, its service the final aim of man's existence and action.” (Gibbons, Pastoral Letter 1919)
The perceived need for an all-powerful State increases in proportion to the failure of both the Church and families to fulfill their God-given vocation. Therefore, in the attempt to save America the supernatural order (i.e. God/Church/faith) as well as the natural order (i.e. society/politics/economics etc) both have to be considered. To repeat, the former is the cause, the latter the effect. Until we come to appreciate this cause and effect relationship between the spiritual order and society, we are likely to get bogged down in treating symptoms instead of causes.
Leo XIII said if we want to recover or renew something, we have to return to those principles which brought that something about. Ideas alone (be they conservative, constitutional or traditional etc) are insufficient.
What brought about the greatest civilization ever to have existed in history was the infusion of new life through the preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Sacraments and the Divine Liturgy (i.e. Mass). And what resulted from the prophetic ministry was a keen awareness of human dignity in society. From there institutions and humanitarian enterprises were born such as charities, hospitals, orphanages, capitalism, a just legal system, democracy, science, and education for the common folk. Ideas or truth alone cannot not account for this revolution of progress. Not only did Jesus come to give the light of truth to world but he came to infuse new life into humanity with his grace! Revealed truth and divine grace will lead to America's recovery. But Christians must first be unabashed in pointing this out to the public.
As I said, sound political, economic, and energy policies are essential for America's longevity. But they need to be bolstered and sustained by a solid religious and moral foundation. The exclusion of God from a nations institutions has within it the seeds of death. Under these conditions we cannot hope for America's lengthy existence. On the other hand, a bold and speedy return to God will hasten our nation's recovery.
Second post: The End of the American Era: The basis for hope and despair II
“Everywhere today the ruling forces in civilization seem to be converging against the Christian tradition. Modern civilization is not only ceasing to be Christian; it is setting itself up as an anti-religion which will tolerate no rival, and which claims to be sole master of the world. Never, perhaps, in the whole of its history has the People of God seemed to be weaker and more scattered, and more at the mercy of its enemies than it is today.
Yet this is no reason for us to despair. Christianity began with a startling failure, and the sign in which it conquered was the Cross on which its Founder was executed. The Christian law of progress is the very reverse of that of the world. When the Church possesses all the marks of external power and success, then is its hour of danger; and when it seems that no human power can save it, the time of its deliverance is at hand.”
However, if the light of Christ is hidden, “we cannot blame the world outside of ignoring it. It is, of course, possible that men may know Christianity and still reject it, but in the great majority of cases the men who follow the new Secularist ideals of life and regard Christianity as discredited are men who have never known it as a living reality, but have been acquainted with it only at secondhand or in distorted forms.”
-Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Modern State 1935
The value of reading salvation history in the Old and New Testament as well as the history of the Church is that real success in God’s hands is to be found in quiet and unexpected places. And what appears to be a failure to the world may, in fact, be his instrument of some great enterprise. In the year 1 A.D., for instance, most people looked to Rome for the exciting news. “That’s where it’s at.” So they thought. However, the place to be was Bethlehem in Palestine where the Messiah was born. It was there in the stable where the future was to be found. Near the end of the Gospel story we learn that the unassuming man on the donkey on Palm Sunday would have a much bigger impact in the world than Caesar Augustus who sat on his imperial throne in Rome.
Similarly in our time, many people look to Capitol Hill or Hollywood for answers or inspiration. Quite often short-term gains are sought after while long-term solutions go unnoticed because the latter lacks prestige. Allow me to propose just a few things that served as building blocks for Christian civilization in the past. Not a lot of people in our day- including Christians –have seriously considered these ideas as practicable or effective. Nevertheless, what led to the greatest civilization are the very things that will save this same civilization.
1. The preaching ministry of Catholic bishops: According to the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council, the highest and most important duty of a bishop is to preach the Gospel. Starting with the Apostles, Catholic bishops were called by Christ to make disciples of all nations. The Gospel was not to be preached to believers alone but to unbelievers as well. With the help of monks and religious orders, proclaiming God’s Word by the successors of the Apostles, namely, the bishops, laid the foundation of Christian civilization. Enjoying the fullness of Holy Orders, their words, by the power of God, is spoken with great effect. Indeed, the graces of Holy Orders- as opposed to other sacraments -confers a special anointing upon their words when they consecrate bread and wine, when they forgive sins, when they bless people and things and especially when they preach. More than priests, deacons and lay people, the charism of preaching belongs to the bishop. As such, let us pray and encourage our bishops in the United States that they will not limit their preaching and teaching to Catholics only. “Making disciples of all the nations” presupposes that the Word also be communicated to non-believers outside of cathedrals, shrines and basilicas.
No doubt, laity play a special role in sanctifying society. After all, they can reach people at the office, in the public square and in other frequented venues. But by no means did the Church in her two thousand year history exclusively rely on the laity to advance the Gospel. The leaders of the "Original" or Apostolic evangelization were, for the most part, bishops. It was principally through their preaching that Christian civilization was born. And it is through their preaching that our civilization will be saved.
2. Unity and Uniformity: To the degree that Christians are united in their message and uniform in their ministry- to that degree! -the truth will be more deeply impressed upon the minds of the people. Just as a mother and father need to be on the same page in parenting and disciplining their children, so too does the Catholic Church need to think with one mind, speak with one voice and act as one in her mission. When bishops, priests, and laity contradict one another not only is the truth compromised but skepticism among outsiders only festers all the more. A nineteenth century German priest, Fr. Johann Adam Mohler, said that “The battle of division will last longer, the more sin and error flowing from sin is found in the Church. The result is always like its cause: the more error there is among a greater number inside the Church, the more numerous will be the opposing errors in the separated parties and the longer will be the battle.”
Traditionally there have been two ways in which the unity of the Church is preserved: The pastoral exercise of disciplining those who willfully dissent and making sure that candidates who wish to enter the Church believe all that Christ taught and are resolved to live accordingly. For instance, St. Augustine, who was a bishop of Hippo, examined those who knew the candidate in order to learn of his or her worthiness to enter the Catholic Church. From this, the unity of Christians was apparent for all to see.
3. The early Christians made it a habit of going to the sinners; wherever that might have been. They ventured into foreign lands and into pagan institutions in order to bear witness that Christ alone was to be worshiped and followed. To repeat: They ventured into hostile territories and held out their Creed to be exclusively from God.
It’s unfortunate but true that we, today’s Christians, expect unbelievers and sinners to come to us. We hold bible studies in church basements and conferences under tents on church property. But how many of us venture into bars, adult book stores, universities and other venues where God is not honored. I believe many of us are coming to the conclusion that for too long we have retreated from ungodly places for fear of being contaminated. This retreat has cost us. Now our public institutions belong to those who aggressively advance Secular-liberalism; all this because we kept to ourselves.
4. State-run education: In the twentieth century the State took over what the Church used to do; and that is, educate our nation’s citizens. State-run education, especially as it exists today, has for its goal the interests of the State. That is to say, the purpose of public education is the State itself. Instead of creating a citizenry of self-governing individuals, it inspires dependents who look to the State for its solutions. The religion of politics or the cult of State is forever strengthened under this system. Therefore, so that religious liberty, human dignity and free enterprise be secured, the noble profession of educating our nation’s children has to be returned to the private sector; and it is in the private sector of choices that the Church can attract more souls under her tutelage.
5. Decentralized government: Ralph Martin Novak, author of Christianity and the Roman Empire, provides a sobering statistic of third century Rome which serves as a warning to our U.S. government. He said, "It is estimated that whereas at the start of the third century A.D. the Roman emperors employed only about 300 to 350 full-time individuals in administering the Empire; by 300 A.D. this number had grown to some 30,000 or 35,000 people. The expense of this vastly increased administrative and military structure was an enormous burden on the people of the Empire, and the burden only grew more oppressive over the course of the fourth century A.D....Rome's efforts to collect the taxes necessary to pay for defense and administration exacerbated the already deep social and economic divisions within the Roman empire."
With State-run education, America is sure to repeat these errors. Christianity’s contribution to the world is that it held up the individual as supreme. Man, according to the Gospel, is a microcosm, a world in miniature. One person is worth more than the whole universe because he is made in God’s image. With this, the authority which held the highest esteem in Church’s eyes was not some bureaucratic institution far removed from the individual but God and the parents. After all, divine and parental authority is inspired by the love of the individual child; the State is inspired by justice in the best case scenario and in the worst, its own interests. This is why a decentralized government is most compatible with Christian doctrine; it empowers the individual because he or she is endowed with an immortal soul destined for heaven. The State has no jurisdiction over this spiritual reality.
For related posts:
Reclaiming Education from the State (March 2011 archives)
The Emnity Between Catholicism and Totalitarianism (Febrauary 2011 archives)
Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech (January 2011 archives)
What a Childless Nation Portends (December 2010 archives)
Airport Screening: A New Low for Civil Liberties (November 2010 archives)
God's Answer to World Revolution (October 2010 archives)
Catholic Fiction: Separation of Church and State (October 2010 archives)
A Nation of Traitors (October 2010 archives)
Philosophy at War: Democracy in Education (October 2010 archives)
Conservatism is Not Enough (September 2010 archives)
Democracy in America: Soft Despotism (April 2010 archives)
Posted by Joe at 4:55 PM