The Church and the New World Order
Editorial FAITH Magazine November-December 2007
A Global Crisis
It is always a truism to observe that we live in troubled times. Every era thinks of itself as troubled. Neither is it anything new to say that we are living in a time of crisis. Every age faces crises of one kind or another. Yet it also true that as life on earth progresses, the scale of the troubles and the depth of the crises intensify.
As the worldwide community becomes a single intertwined economy with an increasingly homogenised culture, so the consequences of our shared beliefs and collective actions become ever more dramatic and far reaching. So it is that the battle for hearts and minds increases in ferocity and urgency.
In its original sense a “crisis” means a momentous choice, a tipping point in time. As Christians we would say that the great choice facing humanity is always whether to accept Jesus Christ or to refuse him. Of course, that is not how the average person in the street in post-Christian Europe perceives the issue, but there is a widespread perception that we are standing at a great crossroads – a via crucis– which could lead either to liberation or to disaster.
We live in a society that is deeply aware of its own dominion over the rest of creation, with all the benefits and threats this brings to ourselves and to the planet. We are both fascinated and troubled by our own potential. The rapidly accelerating globalisation of culture and commerce is highlighting, as never before, the profound interdependence of all peoples on earth and the mutual impact of human activity and the resources of Nature.
And yet it is a world that is still marked by extreme inequalities in the distribution of the fruits of the earth and the blessings of progress. It is a world that is riven with murderous divisions and violent political upheavals as much as any other age in history, although made more potent and deadly now through our very technological achievements.
We speak obsessively about “the environment”, yet we hardly reflect on what this word really means for human beings. What is the proper environment for humanity? What conditions, values and relationships will make us flourish in peace and prosperity? We are troubled in spirit. We desperately need a new vision of our own meaning and purpose, one that will give us the wisdom to control the new powers over Nature that we are acquiring, one that will give us a new direction and a new hope. Each of the main articles in this issue persuasively point out this social need for fresh and faithful anthropological insight, in the areas respectively of the family, economics and global government.
A Broken Society
The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently caused something of a furore by saying that Britain is a “broken society” and that we should return to Christian principles as a matter of urgency. At the same time we hear prominent secular humanists conducting a campaign of propaganda in the media that seeks to blame the troubles of the world on “religion” in all its forms. Ye t in the same breath we are told by these same secular evangelists – with more than a touch of arrogant triumphalism – that over 60\% of people in modern Britain no longer believe in God or hold any religious creed at all. In which case surely the blame for society’s current ills can hardly be laid at the door of religion? The secularists are the spiritual establishment now. This is their world and their philosophy ismanifestly failing to hold the majority of the young to any semblance of civilization and order.
In the early nineteen-seventies Edward Holloway grieved over the devastating impact of secular humanism on the young in his parishes:
“Men and women like this teemed, sweated, copulated and were crucified in the streets of ancient Rome and Greece. That was also a society run by ‘Humanists’ of delightful elegance and fun. History repeats itself, men repeat themselves, holiness and evil repeat themselves. There is no love of the brother, no holy and responsible care except that which proceeds from the deep roots in a man of the love of God and his rightful obedience to the creative Unity-Law.” (Catholicism: A New Synthesis, 1971 p.361)
Such passages in Catholicism: A New Synthesis(CNS) were highly controversial at the time, considered by some to be unnecessarily crude and bitter. But the passing of time is proving Holloway to be prophetically and poignantly accurate.
The Failure of Secular Humanism
Secularism seeks to exclude God from public policy as an irrelevance, an interference in humanity’s autonomous self-development. Yet without any vision of meaning and value which transcends the ebb and flow of material events – without any awareness of God and of our own spiritual identity – the rights of the individual have nothing to ground them and society has nothing to hold it together in justice and charity. The spiritual environment of Man is shattered as a social fact and so it is inevitable that the dignity of both the individual and of the community is gradually degraded.
The truth is that for all its noisy propaganda atheistic humanism has nothing positive to offer humanity. And we have it in our power to do so much more than merely resist and refute the march of secularism. We hold in our own unworthy grasp the treasure that humanity longs and searches for. We have a duty to offer it again to the world in the clearest and most convincing way possible. This demands a fresh and compelling apologetic which demonstrates to this scientifically sophisticated yet spiritually conflicted age a new intellectual, moral and social synthesis which once again places God at the heart of human thinking, planning and activity.
As in every age we need a further development of doctrine. What we really mean by this is a deeper insight into the relationship of every aspect of creation to God through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The doctrine itself must be the same identifiable, defined teaching that is the historic Catholic faith, but this has to be projected against the backdrop of the vast new vista of creation revealed by modern science. Our failure to do this over the last several decades has been a major contributory factor in the triumph of theological error in so many catechetical centres of the Church and the devastating lapsation of the faithful across the developed world.
A Vision of Human Society
We must be able to demonstrate how the whole universe relates to God, not in some arbitrary manner but from the very laws and dynamic of material existence. We can so easily show the modern world how all creatures exist in ontological inter-definition and mutual belonging from the very fabric of matter which conforms to the fundamental Law that runs through all the laws of Nature. The very concept of ‘The Environment’ sums up this same reality. Our contemporary concern with environmentalism already implies an insight into the Unity Law of Creation, which in turn points to the Mind of God as its Author. We have a golden opportunity here to engage with the modern mind and proclaim the Gospel in terms that will be heard and understood more clearly.
So much can be developed from this insight. As far as our theme here is concerned, we can show how human society is the natural outgrowth and expression of the progressive Law of Nature as it applies to Man in history. But Man is more than just an animal in a physical environment. Human beings are a synthesis of the spiritual and the physical. As spiritual, the key to our well-being lies in direct communion with the living God, and as physical/social beings this essential religious dimension to our nature must also have a public as well as a private expression.
The religious dimension, therefore, can never be a purely private and subjective option. It belongs to the organic constitution of humanity. It is, therefore, an integral dimension of the State too, for the existence of the State follows from the nature of Man. And Man is defined in his basic rights and dignities as a creature made in the image and likeness of God and destined for life eternal with his Maker. Society is really the environmental framework within which human beings administer to one another from God the control and direction that is appropriate to human flourishing and fulfilment.
The atheist/secularist society is, in fact, an unnatural disorientation of humanity that can only lead to a kind of collective neurosis, which is exactly what we are witnessing in modern Britain to devastating and tragic effect.
The Church and Society
Far from the Church being an imposition on the secular community, her presence and influence ensures that society remains fully human and functional. This is because the Church is the social embodiment of the relationship between God and Man that arises from the spiritual/physical/social constitution of human nature itself. The Church is the natural organ of God’s environing care and guidance for human beings, which is a necessity of the fundamental law of the Universe – nothing created can be its own cause and control, nothing can be its own perfection or its own happiness.
It is the presence of the Church as an active presence within society that ensures moral objectivity beyond the easily manipulated views of a temporary majority or the oppression of a tyrannical State. This is especially true of the rights of the poor, sick and handicapped, and now indeed of the child in the womb. The Church often organises the healing and caring ministry of Christ at the social level. The State has a duty to implement distributive justice and communal welfare, but does not have the inner power to touch men’s consciences and call men to heroic charity. In short, the State cannot make saints. Only Christ can do that through his Church.
The Church proclaims the objective principles of individual and common goodness. She also reminds society about the final good of human life and often plays a leading role in the development of society towards that end – the whole family of man united as one community in Christ through bonds of mutual justice and love as we enter together upon the Beatific Vision. The gradual unification of society on a global level, therefore, ought to be the culmination of the Unity-Law of creation and a prelude to the final eschatological transformation of all things in Christ.
In Catholicism again we find Fr Holloway writing that:
“Man who began as one in a community of origin under the blessing of God, is destined at the consummation of human society, to find again the same unity and community in one society on the earth. Eventually this will need a governmental centre which is the supreme authority of a federated world.” (CNS p.481)
This thought may sound somewhat shocking to those who associate the idea of ‘one world’ society with the secularist agenda and even with freemasonry. But rightly understood, this hope belongs first to a Catholic view of the world.
The idea of exclusively autonomous, self-interested and only extrinsically related nation states is alien to the Catholic vision of humanity. It arose largely from the individualism of Protestant then Enlightenment thinking with its roots in the Nominalism of the late Middle Ages which denied any intrinsic connection, any common “natures”, between entities.
In Catholic thinking, just as the principle of private ownership is limited by the common destiny of the goods of the earth, so legitimate claims to local self-determination must also be integrated into a wider commitment to the extended family of the whole human race. This not only excludes racial prejudice and excessive nationalism, which can lead to the horrors of so called “ethnic cleansing”, but makes it natural and logical for the Church to encourage the political initiatives that bring humanity together as an ever closer community of nations on earth.
Enlightenment propaganda would have us believe modern progress was only made possible by secularisation. They portray the Church as a backward social force opposed to modernity on all levels. At times in history some churchmen have played into the hands of this false image, but far from the Church being suspicious of cultural and political globalisation, she actually holds the key to the future of humanity. For the Church is the custodian of that plenary truth and grace which is the wellspring of life and life in its fullness for all human beings.
Godless humanism is currently being heavily promoted around the world community as the shape of the coming world order. Religion is being more and more denigrated and excluded from public policy making. Yet by seeking to assert ultimate control over creation independently of God, we will only manage to create more oppression, division, pollution and alienation from his own happiness. The exclusion of the Church from the committee for drafting the constitution of the European Union and the growing pressure to exclude the Vatican from the UN are symptoms of the same phenomenon and will have similar if not worse results.
As Pope Benedict points out in Deus Caritas Est: “often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God”. (n.31) Far from true religion breeding extremism and violence, “a personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism”. (n.37)
A New Social Synthesis
All of this confirms yet again the desperate need for a new theological synthesis capable of encompassing not only science and religion but also a new social vision that will re-vindicate the authority of Christ in his Church to be the ultimate source of control and direction at the heart of human affairs. It is a sine qua nonthat such a new synthesis must remain true to orthodox Catholic teaching as defined by the Magisterium. In fact we would argue that true development of doctrine, including the social teaching of the Church, is only possible on the basis of the orthodox doctrinal and spiritual principles.
In the Middle Ages a feudal system was developed which balanced rights and duties in a hierarchical family of men under God with the Church at the centre. This social synthesis became ossified and eventually obsolete through a new leap forward in the development of human culture akin to the Neolithic revolution that created the pre-industrial economy in the first place. This scientific revolution, through which we are still living, consists not just in technological progress, but insight into and control over the creation itself. In short it means that humanity is coming close to the very Mind of God – at least in our ability to control and direct the foundations of matter. The need, therefore, for a deeper integration into the plenary Wisdom and Order of God is correspondingly urgent andis surely to be expected within the creative plan of God laid out in Christ.
Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Estnot only meditates on the personal love of God but also explores the relationship between the Church’s ministry of charitable service (diakonia) and the political quest for a just social order. He calls for a new dialogue between those who are “seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live” (par. 27) and those who expound the Church’s social teaching.
This vital task needs to be set within a wider context. We must convince our post-Christian society once again why the Church is as natural to the organised community of humanity as is the marketplace, the town hall and the family hearth and home. In Britain a welcome battle has been won recently over State commitment to the place of faith schools in the national educational mix. But we should be under no illusion. The war with secularism will continue.
Two Streams of Authority
In order to convince the confused and alienated masses, we must be able to demonstrate that Catholic social thought treads the middle path between theocracy – the ambition of strict Islamist ideology – where the spiritual authorities simply subsume the powers of the State, and the atheist secularist agenda, which eventually leads to the State assuming God-like powers, yet without the compassion and respect for human freedom that is characteristic of the true God of Love.
This is most obviously true in the case of Marxism where the Communist Party promises heaven on earth by exercising total control over the lives of individuals. But secular agnosticism also ends up turning the State into a totalitarian Big Brother as humanism is elevated into to a godless religion. It happened in the aftermath of the French Revolution and we can see it gradually taking shape again in our own day.
In the Catholic vision of Church and State, while social power derives democratically upwards from the people created in the image of God, spiritual power descends downwards from God through the Body of Christ. The saving action of God upon men is not democratic but monarchical in principle. This is the only intrinsically monarchical relationship in the cosmos, and it is so simply because God is the only necessary being. We do not choose Him, He chooses us, which is why the basic principles of truth and goodness are not negotiable. Nonetheless the Church should not dictate every facet of existence nor should the Church organise and administer the social fabric. That is the legitimate realm of democratic political activity.
Church and State are co-relative powers – transcendent and immanent in their respective derivation – which together enable human progress in goodness and truth which shape the final development of Man in Christ. Holloway writes simply that: “the Church is from God through Men. The State is through Man from God.”(CNS p.373) Both arise from the Unity-Law of Finality which frames the whole universe as an equation aligned on the eternal perfection of all things by union with the Trinity in Christ.
This original partnership between Church and society has been severely disrupted by sin, and it often appears to be in a state of perpetual conflict, but we must not let this blind us to the original truth of God’s plan for the world. We must still try to build God’s Kingdom, even though we know that it does not come without public crucifixion before the triumph of grace. Did Jesus not teach us to pray: “thy Kingdom come on eartha s it is in heaven”?
Christ or Man?
In the end the original purpose of God in Christ will be realised, but not before the pattern of his death and resurrection has been repeated one last time at the climax of history – and therefore on a global scale. This will be the dread ‘apocalypse’ of the last anti-Christ before the new heavens and the new earth are revealed. We do not know when this will be or what form this will take. But we cannot withdraw from the fray and abandon the struggle.
In fact the Church should be at the table of the community of nations, not to take over civil government, but to proclaim those truths that are the foundations of human dignity and which civil government should always respect. However the Church cannot impose the will of God by force, and never should have, even though “this means for the Church to be reviled and bruised... like the poor wife of a dour husband, but never to leave him.” (CNS p.353)
At the heart of the issue, as ever, is the question of the objective existence of God and that is no mere academic issue. For if God really IS, then every aspect of human life ought to defer to that fact and revolve around His saving presence.
The early Church managed to convert the mighty Roman Empire with all its political and technical genius, its imperial propaganda, its intellectual cynicism, moral decadence and social brutality. She triumphed through the “sheer purity and truth of soul” (CNS p.477) of her members, coupled with the conviction and the cogency of her preaching and her catechesis. We must do the same again in our own troubled times.