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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Internal Economy of Jesus

JESUS THE MESSIAH "takes up the entire Old Testament tradition even with regard to economic goods, wealth, and poverty, and he gives it great clarity clarity and fullness." (Compendium, No. 325) Christ's teachings regarding the goods of this world, wealth, and poverty usher in "a new manner of social life," one that ought to be reflective of the Gospel values of "justice, brotherhood, solidarity, and sharing." This "new manner," however, is not one that can be brought into being or enforced by extrinsic, positive law alone, as it is based upon and inner transformation brought about by "the conversion of hearts" and the "gift of the Spirit." (Compendium, No. 325) The "Kingdom of God" ushered by Christ is not one which people can point to and say, "Here it is," or "There it is." The reason for this is that the kingdom of God is within the believers. (Cf. Luke 17:21)

Christ seeks an inner conversion and an inner change in man thereby seeking to perfect "the original goodness of the created order and of human activity, which were compromised by sin." However, this inner transformation, a combination of human turning and spiritual gift, will manifest itself in external activity, in fruits.* And so "man is called to render justice to the poor, releasing the oppressed, consoling the afflicted, actively seeking a new social order in which adequate solutions to material poverty are offered and in which the forces thwarting the attempts of the weakest to free themselves from the conditions of misery and slavery are more effectively controlled." (Compendium, No. 325)

This is the elusive Kingdom of God which, though not "of this world," is yet, "at hand," and in a marvelously ambiguous Greek phrase, both within us, and among us, in our very midst, and within our very grasp (ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστίν). (Cf. John 18:36, Mark 1:5, Luke 17:21) That Kingdom of God is found personally in Christ, and continues in Christ's Church. The Kingdom of God, however, will not arrive in its fullness until the end of time when Christ returns and all creation will be truly "all, and in all." (Col. 3:11; 1 Cor. 15:28) (Cf. CCC 671, 782, 1042, 1060, 2816)

Nevertheless, it is manifest in Revelation that "economic activity is to be considered and undertaken as a grateful response to the vocation which God holds out for each person." (Compendium, No. 326)
And in your wisdom have established man to rule the creatures produced by you,
To govern the world in holiness and justice, and to render judgment in integrity of heart.
(Wisdom 9:2-3) It is clear that the world and its benefits are given to man so that it may be tended to, preserved, increased, and perfected. Adam's charge in the garden of Eden was therefore confirmed in Christ's parable of the talents, where the good servants invest the talents, not bury them, and thereby bring about an increase. (Cf. Gen. 1:26-30; 2:15-16; Matt 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27)


Christ Cleansing the Temple by El Greco

Yet at the same time we must recognized that it is harder for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle. (Cf. Matt. 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25, and Luke 18:24-25) We are, moreover, not to put our trust in the uncertainty of riches (1 Tim. 6:17), for we know that he who puts his trust in riches will fall (Proverbs 11:28). Instead, we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and then, and only then, will all these things be added unto us. (Matt. 6:33) We must not forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and Mammon. (Cf. Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13) Finally, there is a part in our life which must never be affected by utilitarian, monetary considerations. The temple must on occasion be cleansed of economic activity and monetary gain. (Cf. Mark 11:15-19, 11:27-33; Matt. 21:12-17, 23-27; Luke 19:45-48, 20:1-8) Therefore, even if wealthy, we are to be "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3) so as to be "rich before God." (Luke 12:21)

Economic activity and wealth is not to be viewed as a private affair unrelated to the common good and unrelated to God. Rather, "[e]conomic activity and material progress must be placed at the service of man and society," that is, the common good. In fact, economic activity is not in any manner of speaking evil. Indeed, the economy itself properly ordered within the "faith, hope, and love of Christ's disciples" can be "transformed into places of salvation and sanctification." (Compendium, No. 326)

"Faith in Jesus Christ," the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church tells us, "makes it possible to have a correct understanding of social development, in the context of an integral and solidary humanism." (Compendium, No. 327) The Church's social magisterium, founded upon faith in Jesus Christ and grounded in natural law and the moral teachings and example of Jesus, is therefore a valuable guide to integral human development.

That social doctrine provides us guidance in the "task of collaboration" with others, in our "personal and collective effort to raise the human condition and to overcome obstacles which are continually arising along our way." It also warns us of sin, "which is always attempting to trap us and which jeopardizes our human achievements." At the same time, it assures us that sin is "conquered and redeemed by the 'reconciliation' accomplished by Christ. (cf. Col. 1:20)." (Compendium, No. 327) Economic or social development in a manner that contradicts the Church's social doctrine is bound to harm man, contradict the common good, and result in some sort of failure to render God his due.

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*Christ's teachings in the area of wealth and poverty can be the source of confusion. Two things seem to be behind most misinterpretations of his teachings. The first is the failure to recognize Semitisms in the Gospel, particularly the Semitic penchant for contrasting with extremes. The other is the failure to distinguish counsels from precepts. An example of these kind of Semitisms may be found in Christ's Sermon on the Mount (e.g., Luke 6:20-29). Christ's teaching that one should offer the other cheek, and give one's tunic to one who takes one's cloak, if taken literally as preceptive would result in the abandonment of the right to self-defense and the right of ownership of property. If held normative, it would mean that the violent and the brigand would rule the world and could never be brought to justice. Christ is obviously not advocating a world where injustice is the norm and justice ought not to be enforced. Nevertheless, there is a point behind these teachings that ought not to be lost, and there are instances where literal compliance has brought much fruit. A fictional character that lives up to this is Bishop Myriel in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Another marvelous, this time real, instance is St. Maximilian Kolbe's giving up his life in exchange for Franciszek Gajowniczek at Auschwitz. The lives of the Saints are full of such heroic and extraordinary application of Christ's words. The Precepts are rules that are binding upon all (e.g., you shall not murder). These are the irreducible minimum of the Christian life, and violation of these precepts are sinful, and, if they involve a grave matter and sufficient knowledge and consent, would be mortally sinful Counsels are proposed to those who desire to go beyond the necessary requirements and aim for perfection. They are not binding upon all, but are voluntarily taken by those who wish a more perfect union with, or greater imitation of Christ. Perhaps the most notable instance of this is the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16 ff.) who is asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ states he must keep the precept of keeping the commandments. When the rich young ruler wants more, Jesus counsels him to sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor and to follow him in the way of poverty. Sadly, the rich young ruler finds the evangelical counsel too burdensome, and loses--not his salvation--but his chance at a greater imitation of, and a deeper relationship with Christ, the God who had nowhere to lay his head. One of the three traditional evangelical counsels is a voluntary life of poverty. The other two are a life of celibacy and a life of obedience, which is to say, a voluntary giving up of one's freedom in submission to the legitimate will of religious superiors. Another instance of this might be the primitive "communism" or communal sharing of goods practiced by Christians and witnessed to in the Book of Acts. See Acts 4:32-35; 2:42-47 (Christians "shared everything they had" and "had everything in common"). As Tertullian put it in his Apolegeticum: "One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives."

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