As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, “the New Christianity”/”Neo-Catholicism” — euphemisms for “the democratic religion” of socialism — was a serious problem in the early nineteenth century — and not one confined to religious society. The sea change in how people viewed the human person and his or her place in the world was devastating. It undermined fundamental principles of the entire social order in all its aspects, religious, civil, and domestic. The social earthquake triggered by the French Revolution has had aftershocks lasting down to the present day.
|Félicité de Lamennais|
Nor is this understood by many modern commentators, particularly since they tend to accept the shift away from the human person to the collective as a given, with some authorities not even realizing there had even been a change. For example, although it is clear that the renegade priest Félicité de Lamennais was an extreme liberal and a socialist (he has two entire chapters in the Reverend Moritz Kaufmann’s Christian Socialism, 1888), some sources classify him as a conservative reactionary! In the introduction to The Oxford Movement (1964), edited by Eugene R. Fairweather, the Introduction opens with a quote from J.H. Nichols Romanticism in American Theology (1961):
The Tractarian movement was the English equivalent of the French traditionalism of de Maistre, de Bonald, and Lamennais; and of the Christian patriarchalism of the Gerlach circle in Prussia. All three were conservative reactions to the reforming tendencies of liberalism in church and state. (Eugene R. Fairweather, ed., The Oxford Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964, 3.)
Nor is this an isolated instance of adding de Lamennais in among other theocratic liberals (now considered reactionaries and conservative) by accident. This seems to have been justified on the basis of his radical ultramontanism . . . from which he went to the opposite extreme of secular atheistic socialism when he became angry with the pope. True, there was some overlap of ideas among the French type liberals and the reactionaries, but that is similar to the “gray areas” in which the socialism and capitalism of today merge into what Hilaire Belloc called “the Servile State.” (See G.K. Chesterton, “What Mr. Belloc’s Servile State Means,” Illustrated London News, September 10, 1921.)
|Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger|
In any event, the changes wrought by French Revolution and the Man of Destiny — Napoléon Buonaparte — were having their effect on society, for good or for ill, often mixing a little good in with a great deal of evil, and vice versa. To say that matters were confused (and that they remain so today) would be an understatement.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger tried to make this clear in a short anthology he published shortly before his election to the papacy as Benedict XVI, Europe: Today and Tomorrow (2004). This was revised after his election and re-released as Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam (2006).
So bad has the situation become today that a passage from Ratzinger’s book describing “democratic socialism” as one of the most dangerous symptoms of the modern decay of society and the lapse into moral relativism has been taken as an endorsement of democratic socialism! One is left wondering whether the world has turned into a Lewis Carroll fantasy.
The answer, of course, is that it has not. While it is a serious matter that most people do not understand the basic problem (the shift away from the human person to the collective), the real problem is that hardly anyone understands the solution: acts of social justice to reform institutions so that they once again assist people in meeting their wants and needs. And that means loving your institutions enough to organize and do something about it instead of demanding that someone else do something or trying to seize power yourself and forcing others to go along with your solution.
|Reverend John Keble|
Consequently, on Sunday, July 14, 1833 the Reverend John Keble (1792-1866), Professor of Poetry at Oxford University (his collection of poems, The Christian Year, was highly regarded in Victorian times), ascended the University Pulpit and preached his scheduled “Assize Sermon.” An “Assize Sermon” is preached in the Church of England at the opening of a term of the civil and criminal courts — “the Assizes” — hence the name. The sermon is officially addressed to the judges and officers of the court and is intended to exhort them to do their duty and render justice.
Keble’s Assize Sermon was a little different, at least in the year 1833. Published later under the title, “National Apostasy,” the sermon is usually credited with beginning the Oxford Movement. The Whig (liberal) government had recently decided to shut down ten Church of Ireland bishoprics and merge them into others as a cost cutting measure.
After all, even though the Church of Ireland was legally established as the official religion of Ireland and was supported out of tax monies collected from the (Catholic) native Irish, hardly anyone attended services. Most of the people attended the newly legal Catholic services, just as they had when Catholicism was illegal. Eliminating a few redundant bishoprics (and the stipends that went along with them) seemed the politically wise thing to do, not to mention fiscally responsible.
|Richard William Church|
It was also, in the opinion of a group of Oxford divines who were concerned about widespread indifferentism in the Church of England, a direct attack on the faith that had been delivered to the human race (especially the English) by Jesus Christ Himself. As far as the intellectual élite of the Church of England was concerned, it was in their eyes a surrender to the forces of liberalism and the spirit of the French Revolution. In his book, The Oxford Movement (1891), Richard William Church (1815-1890) declared,
What is called the Oxford or Tractarian movement began, without doubt, in a vigorous effort for the immediate defence of the Church against serious dangers, arising from the violent threatening temper of the days of the Reform Bill. It was one of several and widely differing efforts. Viewed superficially it had its origin in the accident of an urgent necessity. The Church was really at the moment imperilled amid the crude revolutionary projects of the Reform epoch; and something bolder and more effective than the ordinary apologies for the Church was the call of the hour. (R.W. Church, The Oxford Movement, Twelve Years: 1833-1845. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1970, 9.)
As far as the inner circle at Oxford was concerned, the solution was not to retreat but, anticipating the legitimate aspects of the modernist movement in the Catholic Church half a century in the future, to organize and Allons au Peuple, “Go to the People.” This they did with careful planning, a common agreement on fundamental principles (at least initially, and although differing on interpretation in a number of cases), and a sincere commitment to institutional reform.
|Pope Pius XI|
The Oxford Movement was thus an exemplar of both social charity and social justice before either of those terms acquired the “scientific” meaning Pope Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, 1857-1939; elected 1922) assigned to them. It was, in fact, a textbook case on how to carry out the process of institutional reform . . . and how that process can be sabotaged if the center of power is not “captured” or a prime mover or key person is removed or neutralized, as was Newman.
Now, it must clearly be understood that the suppression of the Irish bishoprics only triggered the Oxford Movement. Further, the incident itself was only a symptom of much deeper problems regarding the meaning of religion in general, of a church in particular, and of the Church of England specifically.
These questions in turn were themselves symptoms of a profound shift in what it means to be human and thus of the concept of human dignity. As the Psalmist asked, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4.)
Nor was the answer to that question evident at the dawn of the nineteenth century. When the Oxford Movement began, there were three competing philosophies regarding the nature of the human person, two of which we will cover in this posting. The third, because it relates to the specific flaws that caused the situation that called forth the movement, will be covered in the next posting on this subject.
One. The Aristotelian concept of the human person, corrected by Aquinas with his “analogy of being” (something we need not go into for this discussion), is that “the God of the philosophers” (the absolute source of everything and that can be discerned by reason) endows only human beings with reason and a morally free will (cf. Divini Remptoris, § 29). Only human beings therefore have natural rights, that is, rights as part of human nature.
In the Aristotelian framework, all forms of society are human constructs, abstractions that have no existence apart from the human mind that creates them (the “God of the philosophers” does not abstract; the absolute source is perfect, and abstraction is evidence of imperfection in the lack of omniscience and the possession of incomplete or inadequate knowledge). Everything attributed to an abstraction has only one source: the mind of its creator. All rights that any form of society has therefore come from human beings, not the other way around.
This is the “Catholic” (“American”) notion of liberalism and democracy; every single human being has the same status and dignity as a human being as every other human being because all have equal natural rights, especially life, liberty, and private property. Respect for human dignity entails recognizing and protecting those rights that inhere in every single human being, thereby defining each and every human being at any stage or kind of development whatsoever as a human person.
Two. The Platonic concept of the human person (not necessarily Plato’s concept, but Platonic in its substance) is that there are “ideals” in the mind of God — Who is the ultimate Ideal — and the material world derives from these ideals. God (or some other version of a Creator or absolute source) vests rights in the abstraction or ideal of humanity (that is, in some form of society or the collective), not in actual human beings.
In this framework, whoever is in charge of the collective endows people with rights, not the other way around as in the Aristotelian framework. Thus, the assumptions are that the absolute source of all creation creates human beings (true), but society itself turns human beings into persons by deciding who has rights (false). (A “person” is that which has rights.)
This is the collectivist or socialist (“French” or “European”) notion of liberalism and democracy. As a result, every single human being has the same status and dignity as every other human being . . . but with a “catch.” That is, instead of everyone having equal rights, all are equally without rights until they are granted by those who control the collective.
Thus, while everyone is equal, those to whom the collective grants rights are more equal, although right-holders can also lose rights if the powers-that-be so decide. (Cf. Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”) In this framework, human beings are only persons if those who control the collective decide they are persons.