Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Our Mission to the World

THE CHURCH PROCLAIMS man's fundamental freedom from every earthly good. This is a natural outcome of her message that man is a transcendent person. He is a person who is by nature and by grace called to eternal life with Christ in God. Her message is, of course, comprehensive. Yet it can be boiled down to St. Athanasius's shocking statement: "God became man so that man might become a god."*

Man has a transcendent destiny. He is called to eternal life. He is called to eternal communion with God, in what we call the beatific vision. This is the message of the Church to man who often wallows in mud of brothels, markets, or foxholes. You--her message is to each man, and to all men--are called to the Kingdom of God. As a result, the Church is "the sign and safeguard of the transcendent dimension of the human person." The Church is further a "kind of sacrament--a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men." (Compendium, No. 49)**

The Kingdom of God, "embraces all people," and the Church has been given the "mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and beginning of that Kingdom." (Compendium, No. 49)*** Naturally, as part of her mission, the Church promotes the values, the moral teachings, the rectitude of the Gospel. And, if allowed, these can have a potentially huge effect on civil society and its governance. They are, we may note, not always welcome. .

The Church's eternal message will affect, sometimes challenge the temporal. But it is important to note that the Church is separate from civil society and from any political system, and, in fact is independent and autonomous of the civil society and political system. "[T]he Church is ... not bound to any political system. In fact, the political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields." (Compendium, No. 50) Of course, neither is independent of God. Both, in addition, are devoted "even if under different titles," "to the service of the personal and social vocation of the same human person." (Compendium, No. 50) They ought not be enemies, and, unless there is disorder, ought to work hand-in-hand.

In the West, and in particular in the United States, we take for granted (though we also frequently misunderstand) the notion of the "separation of Church and State." The distinction between secular and ecclesiastical spheres, which defends the rights of conscience and precludes State power from trampling over this sacred internal realm, is a unique contribution of Christianity to the world:

Indeed, it can be affirmed that the distinction between religion and politics and the principle of religious freedom constitute a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions.

(Compendium, No.50)

"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, and to God the things that are God's" (Matt.22:21). What a marvelous history have these words had, all stemming from the son of God who eyed the portrait (and the hubris) of his human rival on a Tiberius denarius who claimed, in opposition to Christ, to be God's high priest and the divine son of God!

It may have been the biggest power grab in history, as it was, at least inchoately, both a veiled challenge to, and a wresting from, the State any pretensions to divinity, to absoluteness. It was God's and the Church's declaration of independence from powers that man had arrogated, had usurped to himself. The State is not transcendent. Man, called to eternal life in Christ, is!†

(Tiberius Caesar Divi Augustus Fili Augustus)
trans: Tiberius Caesar, the worshipful son of the God Augustus.
(Pontifex Maximus)
trans: High Priest

The Church in a way is a perpetual challenge to the non-Christian State. She is a bone stuck in the throat of any overweening modern State or State that rebels against the natural moral law:
[T]he Church offers an original and irreplaceable contribution with the concern that impels her to make the family of mankind and its history more human, prompting her to place herself as a bulwark against every totalitarian temptation, as she shows man his integral and definition vocation.
(Compendium, No. 51)

There will be tension between Church and State where there is a disordered social life. This is a necessary reality because Christ did not just redeem individual men and leave them where they were. "God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person but also the social relations existing between men." (Compendium, No. 52) In an earlier installment, we distinguished between the "is" and the "is with," and Christ came to redeem both.

There is, to be sure, great adaptability and flexibility in the Gospel, though there are also some boundaries that are adamantine and inflexible as stone, specifically those "unchangeable principles of the natural law." (Compendium, No. 53) But, aside from the principles of natural law, the Gospel does not offer a ready-made recipe like Islam: a fixed code of Shari'a, which forces a one-size-fits-all law upon all societies, in a positivistic, unimaginative, and even tyrannous recipe:

The transformation of social relationships that responds to the demands of the Kingdom of God is not fixed within concrete boundaries once and for all. Rather, it is a task entrusted to the Christian community, which is to develop it and carry it out through reflection and practices inspired by the Gospel. It is the same Spirit of the Lord, leading the people of God while simultaneously permeating the universe, who from time to time inspires new and appropriate ways for humanity to exercise its creative responsibility. This inspiration is given to the community of Christians who are a part of the world and of history, and who are therefore open to dialogue with all people of good will in the common question for the seeds of truth and freedom sown in the vast field of humanity.

(Compendium, No. 53)

The superiority of the Christian Gospel is manifest in its driving force. It is not submission to a code, it is love that is the driving force, and it is love and not primarily submission that colors the view of Christian society. "Jesus Christ reveals to us that 'God is love' (1 Jn 4:8)," observes the Compendium, "and he teaches us that the 'fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love." (Compendium, No. 54)†† The commandment of love is a law, the law "called to become the ultimate measure and rule . . . of the person, of social relations, of human activity in the world . . . " (Compendium, No. 54).

There is, in fact, a huge need for the Church to transform the world, for the Church to season the world with the salt of the Gospel. The modern world stands not unlike the time of the world at the time of Christ: in partibus infidelium, in the realm of the unbelievers. And the Church's evangelical role must strive to bring the world back to Christ. The Church's social doctrine is one of the tools she has to further the new evangelization to a world that has become old, but must become young again: indeed must become like a little child. (Cf. Matt. 18:3)

"For he must reign," St. Paul assures us (1 Cor. 15:25). It is time for the world to end its revolt, to slough off Satan's response: non serviam! I will not serve. In mud of brothels, markets, or foxholes, and wherever else man may be found, we must proclaim the Jeremiad:
For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, 'I will not serve!' For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot.
Jeremiah 2:20.

Time for the world to respond, like Mary the perfect Christian disciple, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. Be it done unto me according to your Word! (Luke 1:38)

But to respond, they must hear a message. And to hear a message, there must be a messenger with a message. Hence has the Church put together the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It is one of the take down moves in our repertoire as "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).

*St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54:3 (Αυτός γαρ ενηνθρώπησεν, ίνα ημείς θεοποιηθώμεν), PG 25:192B; also Catechism of the Catholic Church § 460.
**Quoting VII,
Gaudium et spes, 76 and Lumen gentium, 1.
***Quoting VII,
Lumen gentium, 5.
†Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this incident to justify acts of civil disobedience or to limit the loyalty to the State in commanding wrongful acts.
††Quoting VII,
Gaudium et spes, 38.

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