The most fundamental truth about man is that he has been made by God, who is Himself love.
He is made by God, in the image of God, for God. He is made for the enjoyment of that fullness of being. Nothing short of that aim will suffice.
Should someone say, "That is all well and good, if that is what you believe, but we must construct our societies according to a secular understanding of man," we must reply that both of us cannot be correct. If the Catholic Christian view is correct, if man is made by God, in His image, for the enjoyment of the very life of God, then any society built upon other premises will be radically deficient. I mean more than that it will not be perfect. Nothing that man constructs will ever be perfect. I mean that it will be constructed according to false principles; as if you should attempt to build a barricade out of paper, or a canoe out of lead; or to feed a child with sand. It would mistake the nature of the being it purports to satisfy.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said that the simple truth about our time, the one thing that explains the emptiness of modern life in the materially wealthy West and the cruelties that he suffered in his own person in materialist Russia, was that man had forgotten God. It is one thing never to have known Him, says Pope Leo. That involves no ingratitude, but "after having known, to reject or forget Him, is such a horrible and mad crime as to be scarcely credible" (Tametsi , 463). Like St. Augustine in his wayward youth, man seeks from mere matter what matter has not in itself to give. In the very constitution of his being, he longs for joy that can never be taken away, but sinks instead into the tedium and disappointment of pleasures, or the hectic excitement of wickedness.
Pope Leo saw the conflict between a full vision of man and its secular reduction. In Rerum novarum, his grand treatise on the condition of the working classes, he notes that if we truncate man, excluding from our purview the eternal end for which he was made, "the very notion of what is good and right would perish; nay, the whole scheme of the universe would become a dark and unfathomable mystery. The great truth which we learn from Nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which Religion rests as on its foundation — that when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live" (220).
That can sound as if the Catholic must ignore the present life, so long as he is walking the way to salvation. But that would be to commit an error like that of the Naturalists, whom Pope Leo, in Humanum genus and other letters, consistently condemns. They sever the bond that joins nature to her Creator and strive so that "the office and authority of the Church may become of no account in the civil state; and for this reason they declare to the people and contend that Church and State ought to be altogether disunited" (HG, 90). I will be saying more about that relationship in the next chapter. For the moment, I'd like to note that Leo's language suggests that such a severance is unnatural: the self-styled Naturalists argue "rem sacramque civilem esse penitus distrahendas" ("that the sacred and the civil thing should be torn apart to the core"). But man is the subject of both. To tear them apart is to tear him apart. It is one thing to note that they are different things: heaven is not earth. It is quite another to argue that they are utterly distinct, having nothing to do with one another.
Again, this truth flows from the very being of the Creator. God has not simply made a thing and let it be. He is wholly and intimately present in every smallest measure of space, in every shortest blink of time. There is no life but from God. "God alone is Life," says Leo. "All other beings partake of, but are not, life... From [Christ], as from its ultimate and most august beginning, all life has flowed down upon the world and will forever flow; all that is, has its being from Him; all that lives, lives by Him, for by the Word 'all things were made, and without Him was nothing made that was made' " (T, 473). That is why, as we will see, Pope Leo continually appeals to nature itself as giving witness to the glory of God, and as something whose integrity we must respect and whose laws we must obey. Grace does not supplant nature, but perfects it.
Therefore, to treat human nature as simply separate from God, and thus to attempt to construct a civil society without reference to God, is to treat of a thing that does not exist, and to attempt to build a society upon that fiction. Moreover, it is to rob civil society of the very thing that can bring it as close as possible to peace on earth. We are too apt to think that our troubles arise from the particularities of this or that law, as if a house falling apart might be shored up if we simply replaced one rotten rafter. Pope Leo looks at the foundation.
Who would suppose that false principles in philosophy, of all things, would lead to destruction in the State? Yet that is what Leo says, again and again. The error may go by various names, but the parentage is the same: the denial of the intimate relationship of the Creator with His creation. "Whoso turns his attention to the bitter strifes of these days," writes Leo in Aeterni Patris, his great treatise promoting the true naturalism of St. Thomas Aquinas, "and seeks a reason for the troubles that vex public and private life, must come to the conclusion that a fruitful cause of the evils which now afflict, as well as those which threaten us, lies in this: that false conclusions concerning divine and human things, which originated in the schools of philosophy, have crept into all the orders of the State, and have been accepted by the common consent of the masses" (35).
One of those false conclusions, to which we shall frequently return, is that human rights are granted by the State, or by the mere power of numbers. Americans remember the Declaration of Independence, wherein Thomas Jefferson, no friend to the Catholic Church, called our rights "inalienable." The word is apt to be misunderstood. It means more than that no one else has the right to take them from us. It means that we do not even have the right to alienate them from ourselves. It implies that we are not the source of our rights, because otherwise we could declare our own rights to be null, or "we," that is, the majority, or the State, could do so. The only reasonable source for rights that oblige us, even if we do not want them, is God. Even the poor workman, under pressure from unscrupulous employers, may not alienate these rights: "No man has in this matter power over himself. To consent to any treatment which is calculated to defeat the end and purpose of his being is beyond his right; he cannot give up his soul to servitude" (RN, 233).
So Pope Leo writes to the church in France. He desires, in Au Milieu des solicitudes (1892), both to recognize that the French republic is a legitimate form of government, to which all good Catholics owe their allegiance, and to affirm that God, not the people or the emperor, is the source of its authority. Only what transcends us and our many affairs here on earth, with all our conflicting interests, can unite us. This truth is both pragmatic (nothing else really works) and existential (we desire a harmony of souls, not simply an orderly management of bodies):
Now morality, in man, by the mere fact that it should establish harmony among so many dissimilar rights and duties, since it enters as an element into every human act, necessarily supposes God, and with God, religion, that sacred bond whose privilege is to unite, anteriorly to all other bonds, man to God. Indeed, the idea of morality signifies, above all, an order of dependence in regard to truth which is the light of the mind; in regard to good which is the object of the will; and without truth and good there is no morality worthy of the name. And what is that principal and essential truth, that from which all truth is derived? It is God. What, therefore, is the supreme good from which all other good proceeds? God. Finally, who is the creator and guardian of our reason, our will, our whole being, as well as the end of our life? God; always God. (AMS, 251)
If this is not true, then, as Dostoyevsky famously put it, all things are permissible. I know there are atheists who believe we can build a morality up from odds and ends of old sentiments, political expedience, self-interest, and more or less popularly acknowledged "goods." In vain. Those things alone are no stronger than straw. What obliges me to accept another man's calculation of utility? You may say that a taste for brawling in the streets is obviously evil, because it upsets the good order that should prevail in suburbs flush with material comforts. But upsetting that order is precisely what I intend! What you call good order, I call dreariness. And I have Mikhail Bakunin and his fellow anarchists at my back. Nor am I impressed by your material comforts. Why should men be soft and pampered? What obliges me, in your moral system? Bare rationality? But I find it unreasonable to commit myself to so insipid and mechanical a life. The threat of force? Obey, or find yourself behind bars? Then your system amounts to no more than the will of numbers. A villain may resist the will of numbers. So may a hero.
But I will not labor the point. All people who believe in God must grant it. It is also ratified, Leo observes, by the history of all peoples: "Religion, and religion only, can create the social bond" (AMS, 250). By "religion" he does not mean an opinion that one may or may not harbor. Here the French of Leo's letter, and the Latin it is based upon, come to our assistance. The "social bond" is not a matter of mere feeling. It is le lien social: something that binds us, one to another, in sacred duty. That is the inner meaning of the Latin religio: a binding. Religion is not in the first instance a system of beliefs about God and man. It is the happy virtue of granting to God what is His due.
And since man is not a disembodied spirit, or a free-floating atom of self-will — since man is an embodied soul, made for love of God and neighbor — the duties of religion cannot remain notional, in the mind alone. "Religion," says Leo, "is the interior and exterior expression of the dependence which, in justice, we owe to God" (AMS, 251). What that implies is clear. All citizens, he says, bear the grave responsibility of binding themselves one to another (s'allier) to maintain in the nation "true religious sentiment, and to defend it in case of need, if ever, despite the protestations of nature and of history, an atheistical school should set about banishing God from society, thereby surely annihilating the moral sense even in the depths of the human conscience."
The Social Need for Religion
James Madison famously said that the Constitution of the United States had been drafted for a moral and religious people, and no other. He may stand at the head of a long line of social commentators who see that it is useful to have religion around, because without religion, liberty soon degenerates into license, and then the society goes to smash. But Pope Leo says much more than that. We must insist upon the difference. It is not a difference of degree or emphasis. It is a difference in kind. What the Pope says to the Frenchmen of his day bears repeating now to all people who forget the highest aim of man:
When different families, without giving up the rights and duties of domestic society, unite under the inspiration of nature, in order to constitute themselves members of another larger family circle called civil society, their object is not only to find therein the means of providing for their material welfare, but, above all, to draw thence the boon of moral improvement. (AMS, 250-51)
It is remarkable that those final words should strike us as remarkable. They would not have puzzled the greatest political philosopher the world has known, Aristotle. They would not have puzzled his greater disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas. They follow from a plain observation of man.
What distinguishes man from beast? We both need food and drink. Birds have their nests, and man builds his cottage. Mares must bear foals, women must bear children. Now, if the perfection of a creature involves the full development and best action of what distinguishes it from other creatures, what can that faculty be in man, if not the virtue of the reasoning mind? But the mind is not some disembodied thing.
The ancient Greeks sought wisdom and knew well that wisdom implied far more than the possession of a bundle of facts. An encyclopedia is not wise. Nor was Charles Dickens's notorious schoolmaster, Thomas Gradgrind. He taught only facts, facts, facts and therefore missed the human truth before him, the truth of his desperately sad family. The Greeks wanted to see (that is the inner meaning of our English word wisdom, as also of its Latin-derived cousin vision and its Greek-derived cousin idea) and to act accordingly. The wise man sees what is true and instructs his will to follow it. He falls in love with that truth, as Plato suggests in the Phaedrus. His virtue is therefore both contemplative and active.
So if human beings unite to help one another to attain the good that is most properly theirs, then we cannot say that they simply encourage morality or religion, so that the trains will run on time and their stores will be stocked with good food. It is the reverse. We want the material needs to be met, because they are real and important, but above all because their satisfaction will give us the leisure to meet the more important needs, which are moral and spiritual. We need one another not just so that one man will be a farmer and another man a carpenter. We need one another because our common life together provides for the exercise of moral virtue; and because the wisest and best among us will help us in our quest to attain that virtue. We depend upon one another for our perfectionnement moral: our moral growth toward perfection. We need one another, for love.
We say, "Civil society demands that we not make any moral judgments," when in fact that would leave us in a wilderness of incivility. We would have to set aside what makes us human.
It is stunning to consider how thoroughly we wish we could deny the undeniable. We say, "Civil society demands that we not make any moral judgments," when in fact that would leave us in a wilderness of incivility. We would have to set aside what makes us human. Leo draws the obvious conclusion. Suppose we construct our civil "society" to satisfy material needs, but no others. Then, he says, "society would rise but little above the level of an aggregation of beings devoid of reason, and whose whole life would consist in the satisfaction of sensual instincts" (AMS, 251). From force of habit we might call such a thing a society, but it would really be a mere herd, a corral. Appetites and not wisdom would rule; and appetites go where the force of numbers leads. In that case, says Leo, we would be hard put to show "that civil society was an advantage rather than a detriment to man." Better to live in a wilderness of bears and bobcats, than in a dreadful jungle of beasts endowed with intelligence.
That jungle goes by another name. According to Augustine, the whole history of the human race is an everlasting battle between two cities, the City of Man and the City of God. That division provides the framework for the Pope's thoughts, in Humanum genus (1884), about man's attempts to build a society without God. For the one city "steadfastly contends for truth and virtue, the other for those things which are contrary to virtue and to truth" (HG, 83). For Leo, virtue and truth, what we might call the highest aims of the active life and of the contemplative life, are distinct but inseparable, as are man's will and his intellect. That intimacy is suggested by the Latin Leo uses: the true citizens, those of the City of God, contend for veritate et virtute: truth and manhood, truth and fidelity to the truth. The mock citizens of the City of Man, he says, contend for the contrary. They follow the example of Adam and Eve and refuse to obey God's law, which is both eternal and made manifest in nature itself. They wish to establish a city posthabito Deo: with God set aside. That is a common participle in Leo's writings, posthabitus. It always refers to something or Someone whom we foolishly believe we can do without. We set God to the side, giving Him a nod on Sunday, if that. But to set aside the Lawgiver is not simply to set aside His laws. It is to set aside law itself.
The Freemasons, for example, were "Naturalists," a name rich with irony. They begin by setting God aside. But we cannot do that without getting everything wrong, including nature. The Naturalists begin by denying the personal action of God: "They deny that anything has been taught by God; they allow no dogma of religion or truth which cannot be understood by the human intelligence, nor any teacher who ought to be believed by reason of his authority" (HG, 90). But that means "they no longer consider as certain and permanent those things which are fully understood by the natural light of reason, such as certainly are — the existence of God, the immaterial nature of the human soul, and its immortality" (HG, 92). Notice that Leo believes in a greater field for human reason than do the Naturalists or their allies, the self-styled Rationalists! Remove the foundation, and the walls collapse. Remove the God of nature, and nature crumbles. Set to the side for the moment the heavenly virtues "which no one can exercise or even acquire without a special gift and grace of God." Even the "duties which have their origin in natural probity," says Leo, will lack a sound basis (HG, 93). "For if we set religion aside," he writes to the bishops of Canada on the subject of education, "there is no moral education worthy of the name, or of any effect whatever" (Affari vos , 1332; translation mine).
Take away the truth of God the Creator, intimately involved in the natural order and calling man to a life beyond himself. Do as the Naturalists and the Freemasons desire, says Leo, and "there will immediately be no knowledge as to what constitutes justice and injustice, or upon what principle morality is founded" (HG, 93). He does not say we will become muddled. He says we will know nothing at all. People who believe in God and in the natural order, even if they do not possess the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, will still be able to see that human life is sacred; that a marriage is a contract between a man and a woman; that children belong to their parents and not to a government; that a man's property is his own.
What we are left with when we shoulder God aside, says Leo, is inops: utterly impoverished, unsound, easily swayed by impulses of passion. That is because human beings are fallen. It is a truth we ignore to our destruction. Because of the frailty that is a consequence of Original Sin, human nature is prone to vice, and therefore "for a virtuous life it is absolutely necessary to restrain the disorderly movements of the soul, and to make the passions obedient to reason" (HG, 94). Even the pagan philosophers knew that. So if we are to attain the highest good for which we enter into society — the perfection of virtue — we must have laws that oblige us against indulging our appetites. But a society premised upon the satisfaction of appetites, that sees nothing beyond the acquisition of material comforts, cannot conceive of such laws, or, even if they were conceivable, can have no way of obliging people to heed them, to take them to heart and make them their own. It can sometimes compel compliance, but it can never instill true obedience. So the people remain restrainedly bad, rather than good and free.
Two choices remain. One may confess that the premise is wrong, return to the truth, and build upon solid foundations. Or one may turn diabolical; that is, one may acknowledge that the "society" that results from a practical denial of God is prone to vices that the pagans themselves considered to be enervating, degrading, and unspeakable. But we will not call them vices anymore. Instead we proclaim that we seek such things. We will live by what we know in our hearts is a lie, and the deeper we try to sink that lie into oblivion, the more will it rankle and poison.
Can man fall to that depth of madness? Would not practicality, if nothing else, restrain him? But we forget that for every man who visits the whorehouse, there is a pander who profits by it. Certain vices redound to the benefit of ambitious people whose rule depends upon the degradation of others. Here is Leo, writing before the modern welfare state and its new slavery: "Since generally no one is accustomed to obey crafty and clever men so submissively as those whose soul is weakened and broken down by the domination of the passions, there have been in the sect of the Freemasons some who have plainly determined and proposed that, artfully and of a set purpose, the multitude should be satiated with a boundless license of vice, as, when this had been done, it would easily come under their power and authority for any acts of daring" (HG, 95; emphasis mine).
The phrase I have highlighted illustrates what Leo believes is at stake for the human soul, in a society that is no society, because God has been banished from its common life. We are subject to cupiditatum dominatu, the lordship of appetites. We trade one lord for another. Make divorce possible, and we will feel the terrible might of passion (cupiditatum; Arcanum divinae, 75). Forget that all authority derives from God, and we will suffer "the insatiable craving for things perishable," literally, a cupiditas for things that drift and flow away from us (Inscrutabili, 11). We will no longer be a people who "rule justly and moderately, submit in conscience to our duty, govern our passions by virtue, give to each his due, and do not touch what belongs to another" (cupiditates; Cum Multa Sint , 2110; translation mine). We will grant to the multitude an authority it cannot possess, flattering them and inflaming many passions (cupiditatum; Immortale Dei, 123). We will vitiate reason itself, because "the influence of the passions oftentimes takes away, or certainly at least diminishes, the capacity for grasping the truth" (cupiditates; Sapientiae Christianae, 192).
But that means we lose everything:
Nature did not fashion society with intent that man should seek in it his last end, but that in it and through it he should find suitable aids whereby to attain to his own perfection. If, then, a civil government strives after external advantages merely, and the attainment of such objects as adorn life; if in administering public affairs it is wont to put God aside, and show no solicitude for the upholding of moral law; it defects woefully from its right course and from the injunctions of nature: nor should such a gathering together and association of men be accounted a commonwealth, but only a deceitful imitation and makebelieve of civil organization. (SC, 181)
The State that pretends to do without God is no commonwealth, but a pretense: a simulatio societatis, a bad simulation of a society. Again, that is because man is made by God, in the image of God, for fulfillment in God. As man is, so must his society be: "The case of governments is much the same as that of the individual; they must also run into fatal issues, if they depart from the way" (T, 470).
The Blessings of a True Society
The good and wise Pope Leo never condemns an error without commending a truth. What would a true society look like? To illustrate what he means, I ask the reader to consider the famous painting The Angelus by Jean-François Millet.
It well deserves to be loved. A man and woman, farm folk hoeing potatoes, pause in their hard work to pray. The noonday sky casts a glow about them. On the earth we see the potatoes, some of them spilling out of a burlap sack. There's a wheelbarrow nearby, with a few full sacks on it. The man has doffed his wide-brimmed hat — wide-brimmed, for work in the sun — and holds it against his breast. The woman folds her hands in prayer. They bow their heads. Just visible upon the far horizon is the spire of a church. The title, The Angelus, brings all the motifs together. It is the moment of Emmanuel: and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
What would the secular mind understand about this scene? A man and woman are praying. That's their business, not ours. They're poor. They should be given public assistance. And that is all.
Let us understand more. First, we see that it is a man and a woman. They are married; the painter doesn't need to spell this out. They are Adam and Eve. They are made for one another, as God had ordained from the beginning, and therefore, says the Lord, alluding to that original society before the Fall, a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
To believe that this man and this woman should put themselves asunder to gratify their desires is to make nonsense of the painting and of the nature and the grace that Millet has portrayed. They are with and for one another, reflecting the abiding and never-swerving love of God for man. God does not renege on His promises. Mary does not regret saying, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord." Jesus, our Emmanuel, abides with us until the end of time, most intimately in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The man and woman belong together, as Millet has shown in the form of their bodies. The husband is wiry, with broad, angular shoulders. The wife is about as tall as he is, with wide hips. They are poor — it's no gold coins they pry up from the furrows. They wear the peasant's wooden shoes, shoes that would rub their feet into a mass of blisters were it not for thick calluses years in the making. But they are not destitute. The woman's body suggests fruitfulness, the blessings of children to come.
Then there is the work. "You shall earn your bread by the sweat of your brow," says the Lord to Adam after the original sin (cf. Gen. 3:19). But the Catholic Church has never held that work is merely a curse. "Ora et labora," say the sons of Benedict: pray and work. All work may be ennobled by love; and work is a powerful prayer when performed for the glory of God.
We affirm the converse too. Unless it is done in love, work is mere toil and grows inhuman. If done to obscure the glory of God, it is demonic. Since man is a social being, his prayer and his work are also social. The man and the woman are united by both the prayer and the work, and it is indeed hard to distinguish those actions. The painting shows a pause in one kind of prayer for another kind of prayer, in one kind of work for another kind of work. Yet the overwhelming impression we gain from it is not of hurry or strain, but peace.
The Lord is present in this tilling the field and this song of praise. There's no false severance of the things of man from the things of God. Religion is not for Sunday alone; it is for every minute of our lives, and every fiber in our bodies, male and female, and every inch of the fields we work. "If the Lord does not build the house," says the psalmist, "they labor in vain that build it" (cf. Ps. 127:1). We may apply that maxim to any society whatsoever. Unless the Lord has built the house, there is no proper house for man to dwell in. There's no such thing, strictly speaking, as secular humanism: only secular inhumanism, man's organization of his world against God and therefore against himself. Abolish God, abolish man. There's no such thing as a secular society; only a secular collective, or grab bag, or metastatic tumor, for if human beings are not united from above, they cannot be truly united at all. Without God, man strives for his portion of finite things; and the deadly sins of pride, envy, avarice, and spiritual sloth ensure that we are never content with the heaps of nothings we have.
Finally, that steeple. The man and woman are praying because they hear the Angelus bell tolling from far away. This is no secret handshake, no skulking in a back room, no relegation of prayer and praise to a cordoned-off ecclesial space, barely tolerated by the "real" world of secularists, hedonists, and assorted idolaters of power and wealth and celebrity. The bell rings out over the village and the plains.
Why is that so important for the civil order? Pope Leo always asserts an analogy between the relationship of reason to faith and the relationship of the civil to the sacred. It's not a relationship between equals. Faith without reason may be feeble, or may be a holy child; but reason without faith can never be a child. Reason without faith is crippled at best and grows deformed and monstrous at worst, animated by the pride and passion of man. Without the arrow of faith, says Leo, liberty degenerates into license; and the civil order loses those benefits conferred by Christianity, benefits secured by "fortitude, self-control, constancy, and the evenness of a peaceful mind, together with many high virtues and noble deeds" (AD, 59). Indeed, the ancient pagans were not secular in our sense, "for in their heart and soul the notion of a divinity and the need of public religion were so firmly fixed that they would have thought it easier to have a city without foundations than a city without God" (HG, 97). I lay special stress upon these words. The Pope does not say that a city wherein faith is no part of civic life will be a bad city. He says it will be no city. It will be a simulacrum of a city, a political or cartographic fiction, a conglomerate of human activity without foundation and without aim.
The good things I have noted in Millet's painting are still insufficient to build up a Catholic social order. But they are necessary. We must affirm the holiness of marriage and its being grounded in our created nature. We must affirm the holiness of our labor, not to amass luxury, but to secure those modest provisions that make for contentment upon earth, that we may worship God with a free heart, endow our children, and give generously to those in need. The earth is fertile; and man, working the earth, brings it the more intimately and blessedly into the plan of God. So too the man and woman, in their fertility, cooperate in bringing into being a new child, whose end is to enjoy God's very life.
The Tallest Building of All
Leo's logic, if we accept his premises, is inexorable. If man is made by God and for God, and if man by nature is a social creature, then his social life too is made by God, for God. It too must be open to, even oriented toward, the divine. What we see on the horizon is not the towering glass of a money-making powerhouse, nor its cousin, the bold ramparts of a secular State, but a steeple — so frail a needle of faith and hope and love, against the ugly colossi of Babel.
Yet not so frail after all. That needle pierces the heavens like a prayer; it pierces the heart like the grace of God. When the Truth came to dwell among us, says Leo, man awoke as from a dreary slumber. He saw once more that he was meant to live not for things that pass away, but for the everlasting God. That meant that every single human being was on the same exalted journey. "From this beginning," says Leo, "and on this foundation consciousness of human dignity was restored and lived again; the sense of a common brotherhood took possession of men's hearts; their rights and duties in consequence were perfected or established anew and virtues beyond the imagination or conception of ancient philosophy were revived" (T, 466).
The truth of this assertion is open to any honest mind. Outside of the ambit of the Christian faith and those nations nourished by it, where are there hospitals for the poor? What Muslim travels to Molokai to live with the lepers and minister to them? Where are the schools for the indigent? Where is the secular equivalent of St. Isaac Jogues, missionary to the Hurons, who came to bring them peace and a hope for things higher than life by pillage and slaughter, and who loved them so dearly that he returned to them after they had mutilated him, content to accept a cruel death at their hands? Christ did not come to earth to establish a secular State, but He could not have done more for any State than He did when He established the Church, for "wherever the Church has set her foot, she has straightway changed the face of things, and has attempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization, and with virtues before unknown. All nations which have yielded to her sway have become eminent for their culture, their sense of justice, and the glory of their high deeds" (ID, 107; emphasis mine).
That new civilization is not an object so much as a virtue, a way of life
That new civilization is not an object so much as a virtue, a way of life: nova urbanitas. It does not depend upon technological sophistication, or material wealth, or the wisdom of statutes. It changes the hearts of the people, turning them from ferocity to mildness, from the pursuit of things that cannot be shared without diminution, to the pursuit of things that grow greater by being shared. Leo quotes St. Augustine thus addressing the Church in grateful wonder: "Thou joinest together, not in society only, but in a sort of brotherhood, citizen with citizen, nation with nation, and the whole race of men, by reminding them of their common parentage. Thou teachest kings to look to the interests of their people, and dost admonish the people to be submissive to their kings. With all care dost thou teach all to whom honor is due, and affection, and reverence, and fear, consolation, and admonition and exhortation, and discipline, and reproach, and punishment. Thou showest that all these are not equally incumbent on all, but that charity is owing to all, and wrongdoing to none" (ID, 118; cf. Augustine, De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae, 30.6).
The Church achieves these things not merely by abstract teaching, but by her incarnate practice. She does not unite people of like mind in a party of opinion. She unites whole persons, in love of God and neighbor. Think again of the chapel. The peasant and his wife will not be the only ones pausing to pray the Angelus. And on a Sunday, they will be inside that chapel, made one with their neighbors in the Sacrament of the Altar. "Very beautiful and joyful too," writes Leo in Mirae caritatis (1902), his treatise on the Eucharist, "is the spectacle of Christian brotherhood and social equality which is afforded when men of all conditions, gentle and simple, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, gather round the holy altar, all sharing alike in this heavenly banquet" (MC, 529).
Consider: outside of that chapel, where do rich and poor meet as brothers? Where does the professor break bread with the janitor? Where does the politician bow his head beside the simpleminded thirty-year-old child, who surpasses him in real virtue and grace? Where does the manager of millions confess his utter poverty? Where is the mayor a minor? Where is the president a beggar? Where else does anyone hear, "Unless you become as these little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Matt. 18:3)?
How else can we presume to bind people in a real society, with the felt bonds of brotherhood, outside of the Church of Jesus Christ? Peace on earth is not to be had without recourse to the Prince of Peace. Unity — as opposed to uniformity, conformity, conglomeration — derives from the Sacrament of Unity. "Some there are," says Leo, who, when they hear the Pope recommend the Eucharist as the solution for the troubles of our times, will turn aside with "a certain peevish disgust" (MC, 519). But that is only the result of pride, which darkens the mind and hardens the heart. For no sooner had the goodness of the Lord appeared among us, "than there at once burst forth a certain creative force which issued in a new order of things and pulsed through all the veins of society, civil and domestic," imparting a new direction "to government, to education, to the arts," and turning the minds of men "towards religious truth and the pursuit of holiness" (MC, 520).
Our society, said the Pope on the silver jubilee of his pontificate, in Pervenuti all' anno (1902), is traviata, astray, wayward, out of the right road. It must return to the Way, if it is to recover the way. For the Christian faith leavens both the individual and the society: "It assuages sorrow, it calms hatred, it engenders heroes" (566). The Church "has freed humanity from the yoke of slavery in preaching to the world the great law of equality and human fraternity" (PAA, 571). This equality, about which I will have more to say, is not ideological or political, but reaches to the core of man's being and demands reverence.
For Jesus Christ is Liberator humani generis, the Liberator of mankind (Libertas Praestantissimum ). What does it mean to be free? To that we now turn.
Anthony Esolen "Man in the image of God." excerpted from chapter one of Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching: A Defense of the Church's True Teachings on Marriage, Family, and the State (New York: Sophia Institute Press, 2014): 13-36.
Excerpted by permission of Sophia Institute Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Anthony Esolen is professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. He is the author of many books including: Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, Reflections on the Christian Life, Ironies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. He is a graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina. Anthony Esolen is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2014 Anthony Esolen
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