In The Quiet Man (1952)) — one of the greatest films of all time . . . except when Knute Rockne, All American (1940) is showing — one of the minor characters arguing with another (“Mister Maloney”) tries to clinch it by saying, “If you knew your country’s history as well as you claim to know it, you’d know that,” etc.
|"If you knew your country's history as well as you claim, Mr. Maloney..."|
Well, of course they keep arguing, because “Mister Maloney” refuses to admit that he doesn’t know his country’s history as well as he claims to know it, and the other character isn’t going to give ground on what he knows is true. Besides, if they stopped arguing, they’d have to go back to work. . . .
Recently an article appeared in La Civilta Cattolica, a journal established in 1850 to counter the growing problem of confusing Catholic social doctrine with various proposals for social betterment, particularly “New Christianity”/”Neo-Catholicism” and other forms of “the democratic religion,” i.e., socialism . . . which is the one thing worse than capitalism. Ironically, the piece by Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism,” exhibits an almost complete misunderstanding, even ignorance, of their “country’s” (i.e., the Catholic Church’s) history, especially in the United States, as well as the import of its social teaching.
|"Let me make this clear. I utterly reject socialism. And capitalism."|
The authors’ argument centers on Pope Francis’s “radical rejection” of the establishment of “the Kingdom of God on Earth.” While this is perfectly true, the authors extrapolate from this a papal condemnation of efforts by conservative Catholic and Evangelical groups in the United States to reintegrate moral values (and capitalism) into civil life to the presumed detriment of the liberal (socialist) agenda.
The message is clear: fear capitalism and conservative religious beliefs, theology, and politics. This is because “they” (those reactionary Evangelical Fundamentalists and Catholic Integralists) are going to force their Southern White (i.e., “racist”) religious beliefs on everyone else and re-establish the conservative capitalist utopia of the Kingdom of God on Earth, just as in the oppressive days of Jim Crow and the Holy Roman Empire. The conservative religious vision will control Christianity, and Christianity will control the State.
Frankly, this sort of thing sounds like the fear mongering about “The Spanish Inquisition” so popular in bad novels and worse histories among anti-Catholics. The late Jack Chick and “Maria Monk” would find themselves right at home.
There are more problems with the authors’ analysis than can be examined in a brief blog posting. Besides, by sheer coincidence, we’re halfway through the first draft of a book that looks at how and why this sort of thing developed and spread so rapidly. We will therefore restrict ourselves to the one verifiable statement of fact in the entire piece: that Pope Francis utterly rejects the concept of the Kingdom of God on Earth, on the basis of which the authors build their case.
And that’s the problem. If they knew their Church’s history as well as they claim to know it. . . .
|Gregory XVI, issued the first social encyclical.|
Let’s go back to the beginning. “Catholic social teaching” as distinct from Catholic teaching (actually not separable, except for analysis) didn’t really exist prior to the first social encyclical, Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos in 1832, condemning what later became known as socialism (and got a few well-deserved digs in at capitalism, too), but was known by a variety of terms: the democratic religion, New Christianity, Neo-Catholicism, and many others. Singulari Nos, the 1834 encyclical that followed up on Mirari Vos, used the term “rerum novarum” to describe the movement (and is notable for being one of the few social encyclicals to omit a salutary criticism of the evils of capitalism . . . but then, it was directed at the [former] Abbé Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais, a socialist who renounced Christianity, and is barely 1,500 words long).
The New Christian movement got its “official” start in 1825 with the publication of socialist Henri de Saint-Simon’s Le Nouveau Christianisme. According to Saint-Simon, Christianity had been useful in its day, but that day was now past. He decided a new religion was needed to replace Christianity, not merely reform it along economic and humanitarian lines.
|Saint-Simon: the day of traditional Christianity is past.|
Saint-Simon’s creed — his followers formed “the Church of Saint-Simon” — was that all things, including the natural law, must be subordinate to the uplifting of society and, especially, the amelioration of the lot of the poor, thereby establishing “the Kingdom of God on Earth.” Given that, in Catholic belief and philosophy, God is the natural law, Saint-Simon’s “New Christianity” put Collective Man in the place of God; as the sociologist David Émile Durkheim put it in his version of solidarity, “God” becomes a “divinized society.”
Joining Saint-Simon (or opposing, depending on who was arguing with whom) were other religious innovators, such as Robert Owen (Owenism), Charles Fourier (Associationism), and the Abbé Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais (Neo-Catholicism . . . before he renounced Christianity in favor of the Religion of Humanity), all promoting some form of “the democratic religion”: socialism. In every case, while the language might be slightly different, the stated goal was to establish “the Kingdom of God on Earth” as the socialist — and “true Christian” — earthly paradise, getting rid of capitalism and the old political and religious order, and instituting the new order, with Collective Man at the center, and God relegated to the sidelines.
Karl Marx, disgusted with the presumed refusal of these religious/democratic/utopian/etc. (take your pick) socialists to see reason and do things his way, rejected religion as the opiate of the masses and came out with communism. Communism is a scientific socialism that does not rely on Christianity, new or otherwise, or any other religion except worship of the State. As far as Marx and other “totalitarian socialists” were concerned, the failure of the revolutions of 1848 confirmed them in their belief that religion and socialism don’t mix.
|Pius XI: Reign of Christ the King, not Kingdom of God on Earth|
To counter this nonsense, on the centenary of the publication of Nouveau Christianisme promoting the Kingdom of God on Earth, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Quas Primas, instituting the Feast of Christ the King. He had taken as the motto of his pontificate, “the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.”
As he would later make clear in Quadragesimo Anno (his 1931 encyclical on religious socialism) and Divini Redemptoris (his 1937 encyclical on totalitarian socialism), all forms of socialism are incompatible with truth, as the basic assumption (that Collective Man is above God) is utterly wrong. “Collective Man,” an abstraction created by man, cannot be greater than man, a reality created by God, much less God. And capitalism is almost as bad.
Building on the work of Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli (ironically, the founder of La Civilta Cattolica, who first used the term “social justice” in the modern sense, albeit vaguely . . . and which was almost immediately co-opted by the socialists with the meaning changed) and Leo XIII, Pius XI’s social doctrine presented a logical and philosophically sound principle to counter that of the socialists, and present an alternative to capitalism. Instead of everything, including the natural law, being subordinate to the goal of social betterment, the correct principle is that everything except the natural law is subordinate to the goal of social betterment. No one may do evil — and redefining or discarding the natural law is objectively evil — even to attain the greatest good.
|First use of the term "social justice" in the modern sense.|
In place of the Kingdom of God on Earth, then, Pius XI declared that the goal is the Reign of Christ the King. And what is the difference?
The Kingdom of God on Earth is a socialist concept in which people are forced to obey and even worship an all-powerful State or the collective. (Saint-Simon said that participation in his proposals should be purely voluntary, but if people refused to go along with them, the State should force them to comply.)
The Reign of Christ the King is when people conform themselves as far as they are able to their own perfectible human nature. They thereby conform themselves to Jesus’s perfect human nature, albeit only incompletely.
Every human being, therefore, is potentially subject to Jesus’s guidance and rule indirectly by using natural reason to guide the acquisition and development of natural virtue. This rule is direct for Christians who use supernatural faith to guide them in the acquisition and development of both natural and supernatural virtue, but — and this is a key point — without prejudice to the natural law.
|Christ the King is not a temporal ruler.|
It follows that — strictly speaking — in regards to the natural order discerned by reason it is not absolutely essential that anyone be a Catholic or even Christian for Christ as true man to reign in his or her heart. From the point of view of the Catholic Church it would, of course, be ideal if everyone was Catholic and accepted Christ as true God as well, but that is of the supernatural order and is subject to free will.
Someone who conforms to a concept of the good consistent with the natural law based on observations about human nature imitates Jesus to some degree. Christ the King thereby rules that person’s heart.
Further, because human beings are by nature political, this means that social institutions must also be in conformity with the natural law, or at least not contrary to it. Thus, where the individual virtues assist people in conforming to the precepts of the natural law, the social virtues do the same for institutions, institutions being social habits as the virtues and vices are individual habits.
Believing that Christ the King as understood by the teachings of the Catholic Church is the perfect model for human conduct does not, however, mean that there are no other good models to follow, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Pagan. The Catholic Church claims a fullness of truth, not a monopoly.
|"YES! Exactly! THAT'S what I meant!"|
Thus, the “Reign of Christ the King” cannot be fully understood if limited to a strictly religious meaning or interpretation, or if it is construed as just another term for the “Kingdom of God on Earth.” Objectively, the term is even a little misleading once we realize that it does not mean some kind of theocracy or even personal faith in any religion. Rather, it refers to the process of conforming one’s life and social institutions to the precepts of the natural law — which, after all, applies to everyone and every institution, regardless of faith, hope, or charity, or lack thereof.
Thus, Pope Francis is absolutely correct when he rejects the concept of the Kingdom of God on Earth. By doing so, he is rejecting all forms of religious/democratic/utopian/etc. socialism, and accepting the authentic concept of social justice as the framework for the restructuring of the social order.
Note, however, how the authors of “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA” put their own special spin on this. By attributing the goal of the Kingdom of God on Earth to religious and political conservatives, they gloss over the fact that the goals are also those of religious and political liberals, and in a much worse form.
The situation is redefined as a conflict between religious and political liberalism and conservatism, when the real issue is an almost complete misunderstanding of religious and political orthodoxy. Both politics and religion must be based on the sovereignty of the individual human person under God . . . that everyone — whether capitalist or socialist, liberal or conservative — seems to be forgetting.