Anthony Esolen of Crisis Magazine has a thing or two to say about Catholic teaching and particularly how we Catholics seem to embrace only parts of it:
In this series, I shall discuss exactly what Pope Leo XIII had to say, when the name of “socialism” first burst upon the ear, and apply it to current controversies and miseries. His words sting like the first antiseptics, carbolic acid and iodine. They sting, but they cleanse. Or perhaps we should prefer to lay honey to our wounds?
Let’s begin at the beginning, with Inscrutabili (1878). Here Leo inveighs against a radical secularism which seeks, by calumny, to bring the Church of God into odium, resulting in laws that obstruct bishops in their duties, and confiscate “property that was once the support of the Church’s ministers and of the poor.” That confiscation detaches “public institutions, vowed to charity and benevolence, … from the wholesome control of the Church.” Leo sees the connection between this seizure and a spreading amoralism among the young, whose education is also removed from the Church’s purview.
Note that well. It is a gross violation of the Church’s Social Teaching, to wrest her schools from her direction. Do you hear, Catholics of Ontario? It is a gross violation of the Church’s Social Teaching, to demand that she cooperate in the State’s evil of the day if she is to continue to exercise charity for the poor and the orphaned. Are you listening, Catholics of Massachusetts? It is a gross violation of the Church’s Social Teaching, to suborn her institutions to assist the state in perverting the natural law, severing sex from marriage and snuffing out the life of the newly conceived. Do you understand that principle, Americans first and nominal Catholics later? The Church claims her liberty. Deny her that liberty, and you will soon find the chains chafing your own wrists. Begin as nominally Catholic, end as nominally free.
Don’t suppose that the Pope is merely grumbling. He knows that one cannot build anything upon the secularist sands: “It is perfectly clear and evident, Venerable Brothers, that the very notion of a civilization is a fiction of the brain if it rest not on the abiding principles of truth and the unchanging laws of virtue and justice, and if unfeigned love knit not together the wills of men, and gently control the interchange and the character of their mutual service.”
Let’s pause a moment, catch our breath, and think hard about what he’s just said. Catholics often hear that we intend to “impose our morality” upon our neighbors, and that this can’t be done in a truly free, that is to say thoroughly secular society. Set aside the plain fact that all law imposes a moral vision, though it is seldom consistent or adequate, and it is sometimes perverse. The fact is, morality admits no peculiar possessives. If a morality is only mine, it isn’t morality but meaningless predilection. Either a moral law exists, applying to everyone at all times, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, there is no moral reason to prefer civilization to savagery; the latter can be a lot more fun. But we won’t have that choice anyway, because we will lose civilization itself. What we now call “civilization” and “culture,” Pope Leo calls “a fiction of the brain,” a vain idea, when the reality is gone.
That loss of morality understood as what we receive, not what we create; not what shackles us, but what sets us free to realize our human potential, implies already the loss of “unfeigned love” which should knit together “the wills of men, and gently control the interchange and the character of their mutual service.” We must insist upon this connection. I cannot give amoral love. But human beings need love; they need the love that brings them deeper into the truth.
An unmarried friend of mine is with child. That’s not good. But the child needs love, and the mother and father need to return to a world of moral law—the real world, not the fantasy islands of hedonism. They too need love. That’s where the Church and the faithful Christian come in. So we do, if we’re given half a chance! It is calumny to say that we care only about fetuses and not about families. But the secular state cares for neither. The secular state is an amoral cash extractor and dispenser. If the mother repeats the wrong, more money comes. If she and the father try to right the wrong by marrying, they risk losing the money. She can leave the child fatherless and, most of the day, motherless by going to work, and the state will pay. None of this is oriented towards virtue. Therefore none of it is really social; no more than rust is steel.
Does Catholic Social Teaching mandate such a thing? Do architects build with rust?
There is much truth here.
So. Much. Needed. Truth.
Does it make you crave more?
It does me. It ought you.
I look forward to Part II of Esolen's series and more food for thought.