In working to advance the cause of human dignity and understanding of social justice, it has become increasingly clear over the past several decades (yes, decades) not only that people are a little unclear as to the meaning of human dignity and social justice, they are also more than a little vague about what constitutes charity and justice . . . without which respect for human dignity is only so much noise.
What brought this to our attention was an otherwise good article by George Weigel, the noted author, political analyst, and social activist. As with so much commentary today on how things got to be in such a mess, Weigel only looked to immediate causes, without going into the problems behind the problems. This virtually ensures that any and all debate and discussion will quickly devolve into a “tastes great/less filling” type of argument, that ignores the underlying issue of whether you should be drinking that beer — or any other beer — in the first place.
(For the record, we are not opposed to drinking beer. We have even made it on occasion. This is what we call “an example.”)
The article in question was “President Biden and Progressive Catholic Fantasyland” posted in the Catholic World Report on January 29, 2021. What made us conclude that it was an “otherwise good” article instead of a “good” article was the fact that Weigel appears to have come to the now-usual conclusion that many (if not all) the problems in the Catholic Church began either as a result of, or followed the Second Vatican Council.
No, problems in the Church of the nature of those seen today have always existed. Monsignor Ronald A. Knox made this entertainingly evident in his oft-misunderstood and little-appreciated magnum opus, Enthusiasm (1950), defining enthusiasm as “an excess of charity that causes disunity.” The urge to recreate or reinvent Christianity as a new religion more compatible with modern or personal views has always afflicted the institution.
Nor are other faiths or institutions, civil, religious, or domestic, immune from the reforming and reinventing urge. There is always some individual or group ready, willing, and able to inform others what some founder or document really means, whether or not it is compatible with known facts or even makes sense. Thus we have everything from “the Democratic Religion” of socialism as “the true Christianity” and what Jesus really meant (or would have meant if that mean ol’ Saint Paul hadn’t rewritten everything), to the “living Constitution” school that claims what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution say isn’t really what they mean, despite what those who adopted the documents meant when they were written.
What many people think of as the problems of (or caused by) the Second Vatican Council are actually of a somewhat earlier date, going back about 150 years before the Council. Rather than causing them, the Council was called to deal with them — as was the First Vatican Council.
What confuses people is the fact that both the two Vatican Councils and the social encyclicals since 1891 (they actually date to 1832, when Pope Gregory XVI issued the first one, Mirari Vos) were in a sense “hijacked” by the very things they were intended to correct. While the novelties that appeared on the scene in the 1960s seem to have come out of nowhere, they were merely the fruit of a long and arduous campaign to reinvent Christianity.
Most immediately, the modern phase of the “attack” on traditional Christianity began in 1825 with the publication of Le Nouveau Christianisme, “the New Christianity,” by Henri de Saint-Simon.
Saint-Simon and his secretary, Auguste Comte, decided that society needed to be run by religious authority of some kind, but not one relying on traditional concepts of a transcendent God. Comte would develop this idea more fully after Saint-Simon’s death in his “Religion of Humanity” that replaced God with the abstraction of humanity.
|Henri de Saint-Simon|
Influenced by Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre, Saint-Simon and Comte developed the idea of a society organized like a “medieval theocracy” in which people would all associate on the basis of shared moral values and common social vision. In place of civil governors or ecclesiastical authorities, however, there would be an “Industrial Hierarchy” wielding economic, political, and military power, the last of which would soon fade away as society became harmonious. (Any resemblance between Saint-Simon’s ideas and the “Inclusive Capitalism” promoted by the World Economic Forum is purely historical.)
By putting everything under the Industrial Hierarchy, there would be an end to conflict between classes and universal prosperity and harmony would ensue in a scientifically and morally directed economy. Democratic only in name, the whole of society, construed as exclusively economic in nature, would be devoted to material improvement, with special emphasis on uplifting the poor.
According to Saint-Simon, traditional Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, 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.
|What we have here is a failure to communicate.|
Consequently, in his last book, the above-mentioned Le Nouveau Christianisme, Saint-Simon declared himself the prophet of a “true Christianity.” This was a universal religion returning to the pure doctrine of Christ with the goal of evolving a rational, scientific, positivist religion. A global social organization stressing “the spirit of association” and based on peace and the brotherhood of man would direct economic life and bring an end to poverty.
Saint-Simon’s goal was “to resolve Christianity into its essential elements” by focusing on the moral teachings and removing anything purely religious. The concept was summarized in the precept, “The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.”
As the Encyclopedia Britannica commented, “This principle became the watchword of the entire school of Saint-Simon.” It represented a complete reversal of the proper role of “society” — the State — which is directed to the care of the institutions of the common good, not providing individual goods.
The common good should be structured so that people can meet their own individual needs through their own efforts. Only when institutions fail is “society” to step in and provide individual goods, and then only until the social order can be restructured so that it once again provides the opportunity and means (“access”) for people to take care of themselves.
Education, persuasion, and voluntary cooperation were to be the means of instituting the Kingdom of God on Earth. If that failed, however, coercion would be applied.
And that, as we will see in the next posting on this subject, was just the beginning. . . .#30#