"Kingdoms and empires have passed away; peoples once renowned for their history and civilization have disappeared; time and again the nations, as though overwhelmed by the weight of years, have fallen asunder; while the Church, indefectible in her essence, united by ties indissoluble with her heavenly Spouse, is here to-day radiant with eternal youth, strong with the same primitive vigor with which she came from the Heart of Christ dead upon the Cross. Men powerful in the world have risen up against her. They have disappeared, and she remains."
-Pope St. Pius X
Christopher Dawson, a Catholic historian, wrote in 1935, just a few years before World War II, that it is only by belonging to the City of God, or the Catholic Church, that “we shall find an answer to the claims of the Totalitarian State. For if the State has become too totalitarian, that is because the average Christian has not been totalitarian enough." From the nineteenth century into the twentieth century Europe had become more and more secularized. What Christianity lost in terms of influence, totalitarianism gained in power. As James Cardinal Gibbons said in 1919: “[I]t 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.”
As history bears witness, one of the saddest episodes of human cruelty in the twentieth century was the Third Reich's campaign against the Jews in Germany. Albert Einstein, who was of Jewish descent, was surprised by who would and who would not come to the defense of his persecuted people. Due to his prejudices, he could not anticipate who would answer the claims of the Totalitarian State. In the December’s edition of Time Magazine, 1940, he said that he looked to the universities and the great editors of newspapers for help as his people were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. However, these so-called champions of freedom were silenced. But one institution did publicly resist Hitler’s ruthless totalitarian campaign and that was the Catholic Church. He continues:
"Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."
Time and time again throughout her two thousand year history, the Catholic Church served as the balance against the overreaching arm of the State. From the very beginning, from the Apostolic era onwards, the followers of Christ were persecuted by the State. Indeed, the Catholic Church has always been conscious of that tension between her mission to save souls and State rulers who, from time to time, sought more power than what is rightfully theirs. And the future is sure to bear out that she is the only one that can ward off the Totalitarian State. This is not to say that Catholics will be the only ones resisting the totalitarian claims; indeed there are many who are unaffiliated with the Church who are fighting the good fight. However, as we will see, the Catholic Church possesses the God-given ability to salvage all that is praiseworthy in Western Civilization; this includes especially the freedom of the individual. After all, it is due to her inspiration that this civilization came into being to begin with.
There are two kinds of totalitarianism that are mounting a campaign against the American way of life: Secular totalitarianism from within and an Islamic totalitarianism from without. Both are poised to radically change life as we know it.
Historically, the Catholic Church inspired principles and virtues which led to the veneration of the individual person over that of the State or any other institution. Public institutions come and go but unlike institutions the individual person possesses an immortal soul. As Pope Pius XI said in his encyclical On Atheistic Communism, man is a microcosm, a world in miniature. With the light of the Gospel illuminating the dignity of the human soul, the State ceased to be supreme. In early Christianity, the Bishops of the Church reminded emperors, kings and civil leaders that they are the servants of the people. But as the influence of Christianity faded in modern times, the cult of the State reared its ugly head once again. Unlike its pagan predecessor, however, the modern State is capable of being truly totalitarian. With modern technology, it is possible for the State to be omnipresent, controlling every component of society.
There are four reasons why Catholicism can answer the claims of the totalitarian State. Ultimately, any kind of sectarian religion or ideology which relies only on ideas- and here I include conservatism -cannot stem the tide of an all-powerful State. The answer to totalitarianism has to go deep and it has to cover the spectrum of human existence for its success to be permanent.
First, Catholicism is totalitarian in the best sense of the word. There is not a facet of life which does not come under the purview of God and which is not ministered to by the Catholic Church. From infant baptisms to weddings, from confessions to funerals, the Catholic clergy is there to communicate God's blessing. With that said, the response to the Totalitarian State cannot be met with partial commitments or half measures; the answer must be one of totality.
Second, unlike Judaism, Islam or Protestantism, the Catholic Church possesses a central authority that is well-defined and one that speaks for all Catholics. This prophetic teaching office of the pope is known as the papacy. Through its two-thousand year old office, St. Peter continues to proclaim the truth about God and man. Furthermore, it has served to keep the Church from being absorbed into the State.
Thirdly, the Catholic Church is the only religious body that has a two thousand year moral and political theology. With a well developed system of thought accompanied by well-defined principles, Catholics can mount a consistent and coherent response to political totalitarianism; one that is grounded in the truth of God and human nature. However, if a church is as fluid as, let’s say, the Anglican Church has been over the last century by changing fundamental doctrines, then conformity to an all-powerful State is a distinct possibility.
And finally, and probably the most important, the Lord confers upon Catholic Church that fullness grace and moral vigor so necessary to carry out her mission. Through the Sacraments, and principally through the Divine Liturgy, Jesus Christ gives his life to the world. It was through the initiation of the mysteries of Christ that ancient pagans were sanctified and civilized.
Ideas alone or even the truth alone is insufficient in sustaining a Christian civilization. Secular-liberalism must be met with God’s power. As St. Paul said, "My message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power.”