The Catholic Church was founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ to perpetuate the benefits of Redemption among men.
Thus, its ultimate end is identical with that of Redemption itself: to atone for the sins of mankind through the infinitely precious merits of the God-made-man; to restore to God the external glory that sin had bereft Him of, and to open the gates of Heaven to mankind. This purpose is entirely achieved on the supernatural level, aiming at eternal life. It transcends absolutely whatever is merely natural, earthly, perishable. That is what Our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed when he said to Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from hence” (John 18:36).
Earthly life differs thus and thoroughly from eternal life, but these two lives do not constitute two planes absolutely isolated one from the other. In the designs of Providence there is a close connection between earthly life and eternal life. Earthly life is the way; eternal life is the goal. Though the Kingdom of Christ does not belong to this world, the way to it lies in this world.
Just as the military school is the way to the military profession, or the novitiate is the definitive way to enter a religious order, so is this earth the way to Heaven.
We have an immortal soul created in God’s image and likeness. This soul is created with a treasure of natural aptitudes for good and enriched by Baptism with the invaluable gift of the supernatural life of grace. During our lives we have to develop to their fullness these aptitudes for good. Therewith our likeness to God, still to a certain extent incomplete and potential, becomes full and actual.
Likeness is the source of love. By becoming fully similar to God, we become capable of loving Him fully and of calling down upon us the fullness of His love. Consequently, we are prepared to contemplate God face to face in Heaven for that eternal, totally blissful act of love for which we are called.
Earthly life is therefore a novitiate wherein we prepare our souls for their real destiny, that is, to see God face to face and to love Him for the whole of eternity.
If we present the same truth in other words, we can say that God is infinitely pure, infinitely just, infinitely powerful, infinitely good. In order to love Him, we must love purity, justice, fortitude, goodness. If we do not love virtue, how can we love God who is preeminently Goodness? On the other hand, if God is the Supreme Good, how can He love evil? Likeness being the source of love, how can He love one who is entirely unlike Him, who is voluntarily unjust, cowardly, impure, bad?
God must be adored and served above all in spirit and in truth (John 4:25). Thus it behooves us to be pure, just, strong, and good to the depths of our souls. If our souls are good, all of our actions must be necessarily so, because a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit (Matt. 7:17-18). Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for us, in order to conquer Heaven, not only to love good and hate evil inwardly, but to do good deeds and avoid bad ones.
Yet, earthly life is more than the way to eternal bliss. What are we going to do in Heaven? We shall contemplate God face to face, in the light of glory that is the achievement of grace and we shall love Him fully and forever. Man, however, is already possessed of supernatural life here on earth through Baptism. Faith is a seed of the beatific vision. The love of God man exercises by progressing in virtue and avoiding evil is already that supernatural love with which he will adore God in Heaven.
The Kingdom of God will attain its fulfillment in the next world. For all of us, however, it already begins to exist germinally in this world – just as in a novitiate the religious life is already put into practice, albeit as a preparation, and in a military school a young man trains for the army by living a military life.
The Holy Catholic Church in this world is already an image of Heaven, and more than that, a real anticipation of Heaven. Everything, therefore, that the Holy Gospels tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven applies most properly and exactly to the Catholic Church, to the Faith She teaches us, and to each one of the virtues She inculcates.
This is the meaning of the Feast of Christ the King. He is Heavenly King above all, but a King whose rule is already exercised in this world, and a King Who possesses by right full and supreme authority. A king legislates, rules, and judges. His royalty becomes effective when his subjects recognize his rights and obey his laws. Now, Jesus Christ has all rights over us. He promulgates laws, rules the world, and will judge mankind. It falls to us to make His Reign effective by obeying His laws.
This reign is an individual fact insofar as every faithful soul obeys Our Lord Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ’s Reign is exerted on our souls; therefore, the soul of each of us is a part of Christ the King’s scope of jurisdiction. The Reign of Christ will become a social fact if human societies bear Him obedience.
It can thus be said that the Reign of Christ becomes effective on earth, in its individual and social meaning, when men both in the depths of their souls and in their actions, and when societies in their institutions, laws, customs, cultural, and artistic manifestations comply with Christ’s Law.
However actual, brilliant, and tangible it be, the earthly reality of Christ’s Reign is nothing but a preparation and a prologue. In its fullness the Kingdom of God will be achieved in Heaven: “My Kingdom is not of this world…” (John 18:36).
Order, harmony, peace, perfection
Order, peace, and harmony are essential characteristics of every well-formed soul, of every well-constituted human society. In a sense, these are values that merge with the very notion of perfection.
Every being has its own end and a nature appropriate to obtaining this end. Thus a part of a watch is intended for a special purpose and is suited by its shape and composition to serve that purpose.
Order is the arrangement of things according to their nature. A watch is in order when all of its parts are arranged according to the nature and the end peculiar to them. It is said there is order in the sidereal universe because all celestial bodies are arranged according to their nature and their end.
There is harmony between two beings when their relations agree with the nature and the end of each of them. Harmony is the working of things in relation one to another according to order.
Order generates tranquility. The tranquility of order is peace. Not any tranquility deserves to be called peace, but only the one resulting from order. Peace of conscience is the tranquility of the righteous conscience; it must not be mistaken for the lethargy of the benumbed conscience. Organic well-being produces a feeling of peace that cannot be mistaken for the torpor of a coma.
When something is entirely disposed according to its nature, it is in the state of perfection. Someone with a great ability to study, a great desire to study, when placed in a university where all resources exist for the studies he wants, will be in a perfect position in regard to studies.
When activities of a being are entirely true to its nature and are wholly directed towards its purpose, these activities are in some way perfect. Thus the trajectory of the stars is perfect because it agrees fully with the nature and the end of each one.
When the conditions in which a being finds itself are perfect, its operations also are perfect and it will necessarily tend towards its end with maximum firmness, vigor, and skill. Thus if a man is in the condition to walk, that is to say, can, may, and wants to walk, he will walk impeccably.
The real knowledge of what perfection is for man and societies depends on an exact notion of man’s nature and end. The righteousness, the fruitfulness, and the splendor of human actions, either individual or social, also depend on the knowledge of our nature and of our end.
In short, the possession of religious truth is the essential condition for order, harmony, peace, and perfection.
The Gospel shows us the ideal of perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us this advice, and He Himself taught us to carry it out. As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ is the absolute similitude of the heavenly Father’s perfection, the supreme model we all have to imitate.
Our Lord, His virtues, His teachings, His actions, are the defined ideal of the perfection to which man must strive.
The rules of this perfection are found in the Law of God, which Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come “to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). They are the evangelic precepts and counsels. And in order that man should not fall into error in interpreting commandments and counsels, Our Lord Jesus Christ established an infallible Church that may reckon with divine assistance never to err in matters of Faith and morals. Faithfulness in thought and deeds to the teaching of the Church is thus the way every man can know and put into practice the ideal of perfection that is Jesus Christ.
This is what the Saints did. Heroically exercising the virtues the Church teaches, they achieved the perfect imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the heavenly Father. It is so true that the Saints attained the highest moral perfection that the enemies of the Church themselves, when not blinded by the fury of impiety, proclaim it. For instance, regarding Saint Louis, King of France, Voltaire wrote, “It is not possible for man to take virtue further.” The same could be said of all the saints.
God is the author of our nature and therefore of all aptitudes and excellences found in it. In us, what does not come from God are the defects, the fruit of original sin and actual sins.
The Decalogue could not be contrary to the nature He himself created in us. Since He is God and perfect, there can be no contradiction in His works. Therefore, the Decalogue prescribes actions for us that our own reason shows us to be in agreement with nature, such as honoring our father and mother, and forbids actions that we understand to be contrary to the natural order, such as lying. Therein consists, on the natural level, the intrinsic perfection of the Law and the personal perfection we acquire by complying with it, since all operations consonant with one’s nature are good.
As a result of original sin, man has a propensity for acts contrary to his nature, rightly understood. He is subject to error in his intelligence and to wrongdoing regarding his will. This propensity is so strong that without the aid of grace it would not be possible for man to know or to practice the precepts of the natural order consistently and completely. God repaired this insufficiency of ours by revealing these precepts on Mount Sinai and, under the New Covenant, establishing a Church to protect men against sophisms and infringements and instituting the Sacraments to strengthen them by grace.
Grace is a supernatural aid intended to fortify the intelligence and will of men so that he can practice perfection. God does not refuse His grace to anyone, so perfection is accessible to all.
Can an infidel know the Law of God and comply with it? Does he receive God’s grace? A distinction must be made. In principle, all men in contact with the Church receive sufficient grace to know that She is the true church, to enter Her, and to obey the Commandments. So if someone remains voluntarily outside the Church, if he is an infidel because he refuses the grace of conversion, he closes the gates of salvation against himself. The grace of conversion is the starting point of all other graces. On the other hand, if someone has no means of knowing the Holy Church – a heathen, for instance, whose country has never received the visit of missionaries – he will at least have sufficient grace to know and practice the most essential principles of the Law of God, since God refuses salvation to no one.
It must be noted here that if fidelity to the Law sometimes demands heroic sacrifices from Catholics themselves who live in the bosom of the Church, bathed in the superabundance of grace and of all means of sanctification, the difficulty is much greater for those who live far from the Church and without this superabundance. This explains why pagans practicing the Law are so rare, indeed, exceptional.
The Christian ideal of social perfection
If we suppose that most of the individuals in a certain population practice the Law of God, what result can we expect thereof for the society? This is the same as asking if in a watch each part works according to its nature and its purpose, what result may we expect from the watch? Or if each part of a whole if perfect, what must be said of the whole?
It is always risky to resort to mechanical examples for human cases. Let us stick to the image of a society where all members are good Catholics, as described by Saint Augustine: Let us imagine “an army composed of soldiers as Jesus Christ’s doctrine forms them, of governors, husbands, spouses, parents, children, teachers, servants, kings, judges, taxpayers, tax collectors as the Christian teaching require them to be! And let them (the heathen) still dare to say that this teaching is contrary to the interests of the State! On the contrary, they have to admit unhesitatingly that it is a safeguard for the State when faithfully followed” (Epist. CXXXVIII, al. 5, ad Marcellum, Cap. II, n. 15).
In another of his writings the holy Doctor, addressing himself to the Catholic Church, exclaims: “Thou leadest and teachest children with tenderness, young people with vigor, old people with calm as not only their body but also their soul requires. Thou submittest the wives to their husbands, for a faithful and chaste obedience, not to gratify passion but for the propagation of the species and the constitution of the family. Thou givest authority to the husbands over their wives, not in order to abuse the fragility of their sex, but to follow the laws of a sincere love. Thou subordinatest the children to their parents for a kind authority. Thou unitest, not only in a society but in a kind of brotherhood, citizens to citizens, nations to nations, and men one to another through the memory of their first parents. Thou teachest kings to care for their people and thou ordainest the people to obey the kings. Thou teachest solicitously to whom honor is due, to whom affection, to whom respect, to whom fear, to whom comfort, to whom rebuke, to whom encouragement, to whom a scolding, to whom a reprimand, to whom a punishment; and thou tellest in what way, if everything is not due to everyone, charity is due to everybody, injustice to nobody” (De Moribus Ecclesiae, Cap. XXX, n. 63).
It would be impossible to describe better the ideal of a totally Christian society. Could order, peace, harmony, perfection be brought to a higher level in a community? A short remark will be enough for us to conclude the matter. If nowadays all men were practicing the Law of God, would not all political, social, and economic problems that beset us be quickly solved? What solution can we hope for them, however, while men live in the usual non-observance of the Law of God?
Did human society once achieve this ideal of perfection? Undoubtedly. The Immortal Pope Leo XIII tells us so: once the Redemption was accomplished and the Church founded, “man, as if he were awakening from an old, long, and mortal lethargy, saw the light of the truth he had looked and longed for during so many centuries; above all he recognized that he was born for much higher and much more magnificent possessions than the fragile and perishable things attained by the senses and to which he had until then limited his thoughts and his concerns. He understood that the whole constitution of human life, the supreme law, and the end to which everything must submit is that, coming from God, we must return to Him one day.
“From this beginning and on this foundation consciousness of human dignity was restored and lived again; the sense of a common brotherhood took possession of men’s hearts. In consequence, their rights and duties were perfected or established anew, and virtues beyond the conception of ancient philosophy were revived. So men’s purposes, tenor of life, and characters were changed, and the knowledge of the Redeemer having spread far and wide and His power having penetrated into the very life-blood of the nations, expelling their ignorance and ancient vices, a marvelous transformation took place, which, originating in Christian civilization, utterly changed the face of the earth” (Leo XIII, encyclical Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus).
Christian civilization, Christian culture
This splendid reality, an order and a perfection more supernatural and heavenly than natural and earthly, has been called Christian civilization, the product of Christian culture and in its turn daughter of the Catholic Church.
By culture of the spirit we may understand the fact that a soul is not committed to the unruly and spontaneous play of the operations of its faculties – intelligence, will, sensibility. On the contrary, by an orderly effort and in agreement with sound reason, it has somewhat enriched these three faculties. So, just as it not the cultivated field that causes all the seeds, chaotically brought by the wind, to bear fruit, but the one who through the right work of man produces something useful and good.
In this sense, Catholic culture is the cultivation of the intelligence, the will, and the sensibility according to the norms of morality taught by the Church. We have already seen that it identifies itself with the very perfection of the soul. If it exists in most members of a human society (though in degrees and ways proper to the social condition and age of each one), it will be a social and collective fact. Moreover, it will constitute an element – the most important one – of social perfection itself.
Civilization is the condition of a human society that possesses a culture and that has created, according to the basic principles of this culture, a whole set of its own customs, laws, institutions, and literary and artistic systems.
A civilization will be Catholic if it is the faithful product of a Catholic culture and if, therefore, the spirit of the Church is the normative and vital principle of its customs, laws, institutions, and literary and artistic systems.
Since Jesus Christ is the true ideal of human perfection and since a society that puts into practice all His laws has to be a perfect society, the culture and the civilization born from the Church of Christ must be not only the best civilization but also the only true one. So does Holy Pope Pius X say: “There is no true civilization without moral civilization, and there is no true moral civilization save with true Religion” (Letter to the French Bishops on “Le Sillon”).
It can be inferred from this with crystalline conspicuousness that there is no true civilization except as the result and fruit of the true Religion.
The Church and Christian civilization
One would be singularly mistaken who thinks that the Church’s action upon men is merely individual and that She forms only persons, not peoples, nor cultures, nor civilizations.
As a matter of fact, God created man naturally sociable and meant for men to work for the sanctification of one another in society. That is also why He created them receptive to influence. This can be said about the relations between individuals and between individuals and society. Our surroundings, our laws, our institutions, all exert an influence on us; they have a pedagogical action upon us.
To entirely resist these surroundings, whose ideological action penetrates us even, as it were, by osmosis, through the skin, is an achievement of high and strenuous virtue. Thus it is that the first Christians were not more admirable when facing the wild animals in the Colosseum than when maintaining their Catholic spirit living in a heathen society.
Thus culture and civilization are very strong means of acting on souls – for their ruin when the culture and civilization are heathen; for their edification and salvation when Christian.
How therefore can the Church not take interest in producing a culture and a civilization, remaining satisfied merely with acting upon each soul individually?
In fact, every soul on which the Church acts and which responds generously to such action is as a center or a seed of that civilization, which She actively and vigorously spreads around. Virtue shines through and penetrates. By penetrating, it spreads itself. By acting and spreading itself, it has a tendency to transform itself into a Catholic culture and civilization.
As we have seen, the distinctive feature of the Church is to produce a Christian culture and civilization, and to produce all Her fruits in a fully Catholic social atmosphere. A Catholic must long for a Christian civilization just as a man imprisoned in a dungeon wants open air and a caged bird yearns after the infinite expanses of the sky.
This is our purpose, our great ideal. We move towards the Christian civilization that may arise from the ruins of today’s world, as the civilization of the Middle Ages were born from the ruins of the Roman world. We move towards the conquest of this ideal with the courage, the perseverance, the will to face and overcome all obstacles with which the crusaders marched towards Jerusalem. If our forebears were capable of dying to reconquer the Sepulcher of Christ, how could we not want – we sons of the Church as they – to struggle and die to restore something that is of infinitely more worth than the most precious Sepulcher of the Savior, that is, His reign over the souls and societies that He created and saved to love Him eternally?
(*) This essay was first published in Catolicismo in January 1951. First English translation published in Crusade for a Christian Civilization, Vol. 1, no. 1, 1971. Revised, Nov. 1998. Republished as “The Twentieth Century Crusade” in Crusade, Jan.-Feb. 2001, pp. 13-19.
St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning
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