Monday, November 7, 2011
Catholic Historians on the Rise and Fall of Nations
Catholic Historians on the Rise and Fall of Nations
Some of the greatest insights on past events can inspire foresight and solutions to our future challenges. The aid of sound theology coupled with a sufficient grasp of history can be of great service to the individual, the nation and even to the Church. One of the greatest challenges of our times is to reject optimism for optimism sake (as well as pessimism for pessimism sake). Marcello Pera, who co-authored a book, Without Roots, with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, said optimism is cheap if it is obligatory. Indeed, we, as Christians, are called to look at the world as it really is, good or bad. With that said, no matter how dire things may seem, the theological virtue of hope should always be at hand, always seeing God's hand in national and global events.
There is a difference between hope, which is tied in with the belief that with God everything works together for the good, and optimism, which is feeling positive whether it is justified or not. In our society optimism is obligatory because feeling good is a mandatory. Both optimism and pessimism can be fatal if sought for their own sake because these emotional dispositions do not always accord with reality. The prophets and saints, on the other hand, always told the people of God what they needed to hear; not what they wanted to hear. To be sure, they were routinely cast out of religious, social and political circles because of it. Quite often, they stood alone. But when circumstances seemed hopeless, they provided hope. When, on the other hand, presumption and complacency found a place in peoples hearts, they warned them of the adversity that was sure to come. Whatever the circumstances, they had a service to provide for the people.
Today, Americans need the sobering truth about our moral, social,and political conditions. Messengers of this truth will, no doubt, be called "prophets of doom." Without an openness to the brutal facts, however, the remedy for our problems will be out of reach. But with the acceptance of truth and its remedy, rebirth is always an option. Just as the Ninevites in the Old Testament averted catastrophe by repenting and changing their ways, Americans can do the same. The United States of America can still secure the blessings and protection of God. However, it is up to the followers of Christ to read the signs of the times, and to interpret them and prescribe the cure...no matter how disagreeable it may seem to onlookers. A good start is to know history and its lessons from good Catholic historians.
Excerpts from: The Church of Apostles and the Martyrs
Henri Daniel-Rops 1948
Societal decay and progress:
A society can very well contain within it both elements that are perfectly healthy and the active ingredients of disintegration, and they can exist side by side: we see examples of this before us today , in our own age. The Rome of the first two centuries A.D., though it did possess virtues still practiced by many good folk, bore, too, the symptoms of serious dangers, which nothing could curb…
The dollar, which is so dangerous whenever it is not the reward of honest toil, was to cause the disintegration of Roman society inexactly the same way as, fifteen centuries later, it brought about the collapse of Spain, after the American expeditions of the Conquistadores.
But there was something even worse than this landside of society towards moral inertia…Roman society was attacked in its most vital spot, at the source which sustains all societies; the structure of the family was shaken to its roots, and the birth rate began to fall. The mother of the Gracchi had borne twelve children; at the beginning of the second century A.D. parents who had as many as three were to be praised as quite exceptional.
State idolatry and Christianity:
The fundamental cause of the conflict between Christianity and the Empire is plain for all to see. The conflict was to begin as soon as both adversaries realized that they were indeed each other’s enemy…To a world which enjoyed the most assured of material benefits, was it not logical that “Savior” should seem to be none other than that mighty, invincible man [Augustus] from whom all these benefits flowed? But, quite naturally, the Christian opposed such a concept with an unqualified non possumus [Latin for ‘we cannot.’]…To the Christians the cult of Rome and Augustus was nothing but state idolatry…since it insisted on the giving to Caesar of the things that belonged to God.
Excerpts from: Ancient Rome and Modern America
By: Guglielmo Ferrero. 1914
Learning from Past Defects:
If after 20 centuries of work and study, we find ourselves fortunate heirs of an ancient civilization in a position to live more safely and more comfortably than did our ancestors on this little globe, we are not therefore justified in altering the moral values and virtues to suite our pleasures. The vices, the faults, the depraved inclinations of 20 centuries ago remain the same today. And modern civilization would be guilty of the gravest of errors if, deaf to the great lessons preached by the ruins of Rome, she boasted of those very defects which destroyed in the ancient world one of greatest works of human energy history has to offer.
Mirage of Success:
A civilization is not always in reality richer and stronger in times when it bears the most visible marks of so being. We are rather apt to find that when it is most dazzling and outward seeming, its decadence has already begun.
We think of how great the powerful and rich which could rear monuments so massive that all the centuries have not sweep them under the face of the earth and yet we are to look at these relics in their right light, we must remember all the great roman monuments whose remains survive to our day on a large scale belong to the third and fourth and fifth century of the Christian era, to the centuries of decadence and disillusionment. As the empire weakens, and ages, its monuments become more and more elaborate and colossal.
Passion and Morals:
In families as in nations and civilizations, ostentation, and display, the doing on a grand scale everything, even what might be done on a small scale without detriment, or even advantageously, are a sign of decadence rather than of progress. Passion for the colossal and the enormous is not a healthy passion; nor does it flourish in epochs of strength and sound morals and social equilibrium. It is a passion which thrives in epochs of decadence; epochs convulsed by a deep seated disproportion between desires and reality, a thirst for excitements and violent sensations, lavish in the expenditure of labor, and of wealth to procure a fallacious illusion of grandeur and power...
Dynamics of World History: The Kingdom of God and History
Christopher Dawson, 1938
Ever Increasing Tension:
The liberal optimism which has been so characteristic of Anglo-Saxon religious thought the last half century [second half of the nineteenth century] led men to believe that the days of persecution were over that all men of good will would agree to set aside their differences of opinion and unite to combat the evils that were universally condemned- vice, squalor and ignorance.
But from the standpoint of the Christian interpretation of history there is no ground for such hopes. Christ came not to bring peace but a sword and that the Kingdom of God comes not by the elimination of conflict but through an increasing opposition and tension between the church and the world. The conflict between the two cities is as old as humanity and must endure until the end of time. And though the church may meet with ages of prosperity, and her enemies may fail and the powers of the world may submit to her sway, these things are no criterion of success. She wins not by majorities but by martyrs and the cross is her victory.
She has been the guest and the exile, the mistress and the martyr, of nations and civilizations and has survived them all. Viewing history from this standpoint the Christian will not be confident in success or despondent in failure.
The Modern Phase:
Hilaire Belloc 1938
The Modern Attack: Communism
Communism (which is only one manifestation, and probably a passing one, of this Modern Attack) professes to be directed towards a toward a certain good, to wit, the abolition of poverty. But it does not tell you why this should be good; it does not admit that its scheme is also to destroy other things which are also by the common consent of mankind good; the family, property (which is the guarantee of individual freedom and individual dignity), humor, mercy, and every form of what we consider right living.
The Modern Attack . . . it is not the rising of the proletariat against capital injustice and cruelty, it is something from without, some evil spirit taking advantage of men's distress and of their anger against unjust conditions. Now that thing is at our gates. Ultimately, of course, it is the fruit of the original break-up of Christendom at the Reformation. It began in the denial of a central authority, it has ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshiped as gods.
Such is the nature of the battle now engaged — and against such enemies the position of the Catholic Church today seems weak indeed...
The Modern Attack on the Catholic Church, the most universal that she has suffered since her foundation, has so far progressed that it has already produced social, intellectual and moral forms which combined give it the savor of a religion...
Now Communism is full slavery. It is the modern enemy working openly, undisguisedly, and at high pressure. Communism denies God, denies the dignity and therefore the freedom of the human soul, and openly enslaves men to what it calls "the State," but what is in practice a body of favored officials.
Under full Communism there would be no unemployment, just as there is no unemployment in a prison. Under full Communism there would be no distress or poverty, save where the masters of the nation chose to starve men or give them insufficient clothing, or in any other way oppress them...But even if it were administered thus, Communism would only produce its benefits through imposing slavery.
These are the fruits of the Modern Attack on the social side, the first fruits appearing in the region of the social structure. We came, before the Church was founded, out of a pagan social system in which slavery was everywhere, in which the whole structure of society reposed upon the institution of Slavery. With the loss of the Faith we return to that institution again.
Bishop Fulton Sheen,
Communism and the Conscience of the West 1948
The Self-governing Commonweath:
Unless America reverses the attitude toward the family and ceases to try to make a success in the domain wherein Russia proved to be a failure, then apart from all moral and religious considerations, three disastrous consequences will follow: First of all, America will be in danger of becoming a nation of traitors. If the nation reaches a condition where 50 percent of the married couples feel that they can throw overboard pledged loyalty in order to suit their own pleasure or convenience, then the hour has struck when citizens will no longer feel a need to keep their pledge to America as citizens. Once there is a citizenry that does not feel bound to the most natural and most democratic of all self-governing commonwealths, the home, it will not be long until it no longer feels bound to a nation…The traitors of the home today are the traitors of the home tomorrow.
Family and Sacrifices:
A second possible danger to a nation that does not arrest the decay of the family is the creation of a mentality that will refuse to make sacrifices, suffer trials and inconveniences for the sake of the protection of the country…The fewer sacrifices a man is required to make, the more loath he is to make those few. His luxuries will become necessities, children a burden, and ego a god…Once sacrifice is separated from the home, sacrifice is uprooted from its nation.
If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago, and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis. On the occasion of the fall of France in 1940, a French general gave the failure of the family to perpetuate itself as the basic reason for the nation’s debacle. In 150 B.C. Polybius, in writing about the decline of Greece, said: “For the evil of depopulation grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting our attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion of show and money, and pleasure of an evil life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or if they did marry, refusing to rear children that were born, or at most, one or two out of the great numbers, for the sake of leaving their well-being assured, and bringing them up in extravagant luxury. The result, houses are left heirless, and like swarms of flies, little by little, the cities become sparsely inhabited and weak.”
The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline. There is no doubt the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline...
Thirdly, the decline in the family is intrinsically bound up with the decline of democracy…When a nation ceases to put the highest value on the home, it will not be long before it ceases to put a value on a person.
Alexis de Tocqueville,
Democracy in America 1835-40
The Master: Religion or Politics?
When the religion of a people is destroyed, doubt gets hold of the highest portions of the mind, and half paralyzes all the rest of its powers. Every man accustoms himself to entertain none but confused and changing notions on the subjects most interesting to his fellow-creatures and himself. His opinions are ill-defended and easily abandoned: and, despairing of ever resolving by himself the hardest problems of the destiny of man, he thinks no more about them. Such a condition cannot but enfeeble the soul, relax the springs of the will, and prepare a people for servitude. Nor does it only happen, in such a case, that they allow their freedom to be taken from them; they frequently themselves surrender it. When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion anymore than in politics, men are easily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them. As everything is at sea in the sphere of the intellect, they determine at least that the mechanism of society should be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master.
If despotism were to be established amongst the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them.
[Under such despotism] the will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Posted by Joe at 8:12 PM