THE CHURCH RELUCTANT
Father Christopher Hunter
Father Christopher Hunter
In his famous speech of March 23, 1775 in which Patrick Henry called for death as the only realistic alternative to liberty, he used an excellent phrase which, regrettably, has been forgotten. In attempting to rally his listeners Henry referred to our “temporal salvation.” This phrase not only succinctly states that there is such an order worthy of our serious attention, but prompts us to realize that we are obligated to work for the preservation of that order into which we have been born. And we are in as much danger of losing it as we are our eternal salvation.
Since the temporal not only precedes the eternal but is the medium through which we work out our salvation, it not only is important but, in fact, becomes the means by which our state in eternity is determined. To argue that the eternal order is of greater importance precisely because it is eternal is not to weaken the argument. By analogy, it might be pointed out that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation of children. Its secondary ends of allaying concupiscence, material support and companionship are not thereby rendered unimportant because they do not fall under its primary end.
Yet it is the singularly odd mentality of Christians including, I’m sorry to say, traditionally-minded Catholics, to minimize the significance of, or ignore altogether, the temporal order God has placed us in as if, not being eternal, it has lost any right to be considered important. As a result, Christians have, with rare exception, neglected duties to this same order resulting in both disastrous and scandalous consequences to Christianity. And that very negligence has brought the West to the precipice of utter ruin. Were we better versed in Catholic social doctrine we would quickly recognize this error as a kind of neo-Quietism.
We often hear about the “struggle” going on in the world between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Yet this struggle is illusory to be sure for in order that there be contention there must exist two or more opposing forces. There is not however, in the world today, such opposition for those who would otherwise comprise the camp of the “good” have abdicated from their temporal duties and, instead, use religion as a kind of shrubbery to hide behind, appealing to the need for prayer and goodness as the wholly complete solution to our social ills.
But our Catholic Faith is not rendered complete by prayer, pious devotions and pilgrimages. The Catholic Faith, of necessity, encompasses the material order as men are not able to be devout unless there exists an ordered and peaceful social structure through which they are able to contemplate God, their relationship to Him and the duties that flow from the consequent understanding of that relationship. Whether we realize it or not society itself is a divine institution for order and tranquility are not accidental elements which have mysteriously evolved through random chance but have come from the guiding Providence of Almighty God who, first through the Natural Law, and later through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, has inspired Catholic thinkers over the centuries to explicitate that order most conducive to the working out of one’s salvation.
What is the Church on earth but the corporeal aspect of the Mystical Body of Christ? Yet how will men accomplish their primary end of saving their souls if that same structure is disrupted by the attacks and harassments of Satan’s agents? To ask God to protect us is to be guilty of tempting God for man has been given dominion over the material order. Men erect governments, not God. Therefore, men are expected to administer those things he has built which includes expending the necessary effort to protect them from those forces who see their destruction as advantageous to their designs of overturning Christian society.
To ask God’s help is expected but there is a vast difference between requesting assistance and asking God to do our job for us. The “pray and be good” Christian therefore becomes an obstacle to the restoration of a Christian Social Order and any movement to establish Christ as King. These people forget that prayer is the foundation of action. A foundation is a beginning, a first step, to something else. Upon a foundation a structure is built. Upon the foundation of prayer and personal holiness will be built a Catholic order to the extent that men work for that end – and work to protect it from attack.
That the enemies of both church and state are winning country after country and neutralizing the Catholic Church can only be accounted for by two possible explanations: either the enemy is operating in accordance with higher principles than those of Christianity or good men are doing nothing. As Jean Ousset points out in his book Action:
“Far from manifesting a lack of divine justice, the constant progress of subversion shows how God respects the causality of the world He has made, by not denying the normal fruit of their labors even to the impious.”
As a final observation, let it be said that those who avoid their temporal duties are guilty in their private lives of doing what the Church forbids in public life-separating Church and State.
I will close with the following account again taken from Ousset:
“It is recorded that when the last Moorish King of Granada was leaving the city to go into exile, he paused on the mountain pass to look back at his beloved Palace of the Alhambra and wept at the thought of what he had lost. But his mother said to him bitterly: ‘You do well, son, to weep like a woman over what you did not have the will and the tenacity to defend like a man.’”
“Let us take care that we also do not merit a similar stern reproach.”