For many years with the traditionalists, I heard this theme, almost a mantra, meaning the subject of the Church’s social doctrine: the subjection of all earthly authority to the Church and the Pope in particular. This idea reached its zenith with the pontificate of Boniface VIII (1230-1303) with the famous Bull Unam Sanctam of 1302. This set out the doctrine of the two swords, the ecclesiastical and secular powers and the subjection of all earthly princes to the Pope.
There has been an interesting posting Should the Church Be Involved in Politics? We have come a long way from the independence of the Church from the Roman Empire, to its domination over everything, to separation of Church and State after the French Revolution, and now, almost a new form of Erastianism in which churchmen follow all the mores and secular agendas of the modern world. We can ask legitimate questions about the degree of collaboration by the Church with Italian Fascism and the scourge of Nazism, in spite of Pius XII’s efforts to steer an extremely difficult course and save as many Jewish lives as possible.
The underlying message is simple. The Church has spiritual authority from Christ not only to tell us what to believe and how to pray, but also how to live according to clear moral principles concerning not only sexuality and family life but also questions of labour, economy, justice, peace, the dignity of the human person and life itself, so many things. If the Church did not have this authority, or at least influence, then these questions would be decided differently by journalists, politicians and businessmen according to their vested interests. From this, we would have to conclude that the Church must present Christ as a king and ruler of everything in life. The argument seems convincing.
In its extreme, Christ’s kingship has been used to justify the same kind of pogroms in the middle ages as under the SS and the Gestapo in the twentieth century. Indeed, the Nazis assimilated many aspects of Catholic religious practices to make a parody of them, like for example the giant monstrance with a swastika instead of the Blessed Sacrament in the Nuremberg Rallies of the 1930’s. Thus the Inquisition inspired the Gestapo and the Jesuits inspired the SS. Nazi atheism had its church and cult and its control over the people became complete. In the end, we read in the Passion of St John on Good Friday that Christ did not answer affirmatively when Pilate asked him whether he was a king.
Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
In this bearing witness to the truth, should the Church get involved in politics, at least to moderate the agendas of atheists and freethinkers? In the absolute, it would seem so by whatever means possible to negotiate with the political entities in the absence of force or means to constrain. Could anyone imagine the gentle Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1980’s ripping someone’s fingernails out with a pair of pliers saying Ve haf vays to make you confess to heresy! ? Gallows humour apart, it is clear that the Church has a voice, but nothing else.
What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
From losing power, men of the Church began to go along with just about anything, especially the changing mores of the twentieth century from about the end of World War I, through the twenties and thirties, the second world war years, the 1950’s and the 60’s. It would have seemed to be the only way the Church could stay at the gaming table and not be told to go away. Therefore, Popes would be seen speaking to the UN, the European Union and just about the entire political and business establishment, essentially underpinned by the ideologies of Freemasonry. One can understand the politics of give and take, hoping that some wisdom would rub off in the right places. Unfortunately, there is more giving than taking.
As I wrote about psychopaths and pathocracies, great evil like under the Soviets, the Nazis or the Roman Empire comes and goes in cycles. It invariably kills itself in its own institutional collapse or a big war. After the pieces are picked up, you get a “high” like the 1920’s and the 1950’s, and then the rots sets in once again. Can the Church collaborate with evil? That was the greatest question of the twentieth century under the great dictators. How far can the Church negotiate, and at which point must the Church witness through martyrdom? I fear that bad days lie ahead of us, and that the Church will do nothing more than pray and suffer if it is not to lose its Christian soul. The Roman Catholic Church will have to answer this question, like all big national and mainstream churches. It is already a reality with marginal Churches like the one I belong to.
The article to which I linked asks what the Church can do, being unable to have any influence in the totalitarian tendencies of modern politics. Churches are deprived of what used to be called the corporal acts of mercy – by the Welfare State – and also deprived of a part of its missionary territory. Education is also secularised as is health and care for people under a certain income threshold. There are ways to engage with society and serve humanitarian and human needs, but the scope of such work has become much narrower. The article seems realistic in that the Church must suffice unto herself to get the message over through its social commitment, and not go through the mediation of modern politics. The Church can and should protest against abortion and the erosion of marriage and the family, against “Frankenstein” science and medicine and everything that would contribute to bringing us a hell on earth.
Whilst upholding principles of morality and natural law, the Church needs to be seen in a more contemplative and mystical role, with the ability to give a sense of awe through the beauty of the liturgy. The message needs to be one of love, of love of life and everything positive and wholesome, not one of bitterness and intolerance, or even a reflection of secular totalitarianism. We need to learn and teach the real meaning of freedom, life and the pursuit of happiness. The atheists and freethinkers might kill us for it, and so be it. We would have done our duty.
Indeed, as we face the modern Pontius Pilate, we have to confess that we are sent to bear witness of the truth, not to rule or dominate. Above all, the atheists are stronger than we are, but no negotiation is possible. Many Churches have sold their souls, but we must not. We may have very hard times ahead, and we will know what we are made of when the chips are down. One day, the winter will be over and the birds will sing again.
Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum. Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem.
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just. Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour.
Thank you both for the link to James Kalb’s interesting posting, and for this lucid survey, sobering, yet bracing, too (if that is not too vulgar an observation)!
He has a point. I remember when it was all new, even in the early 1980’s when I went over like so many others in a cloud of illusion. I ask myself – If it all has to go, why did it exist in the first place? We keep discussing the same things, and it amazes me to see youngsters in their 20’s agonise over the same things as when I was in my 20’s, back in the 1980’s. People were worshipping John Paul II, and now he is being passed off as an ultra-conservative with Benedict XVI. It is all smoke and mirrors, all journalism and manipulation. Now I’m finding out what it was like for guys in their 50’s 30 years ago. The treadmill goes on…