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.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 31--No More "As if God Does Not Exist"

THE NATURAL LAW, as real and as significant as it is, is not the entirety of reality. Man was not made for bread alone, and neither did God intend for man to remain shrouded from grace and the supernatural life, living a life of reason alone. In fact, in practice, man cannot live by reason alone: he must also live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matt. 4:4). Man will not flourish without the Word of God, and he knows the Word of God on account of the fact that the Word of God became flesh.

The West is the unfortunate heir to the intellectual foibles of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which put a rift between reason and faith, and hence morality and faith. The centuries since this rift first was conceived have not been kind to the moral life of man. Indeed, this rift has developed to the point of being a chasm, a chasm of secularism which separates faith from morality, and the result of which man lives "as if God did not exist," "als ob es Gott nicht gäbe," "veluti si Deus non esset." It is as if Grotius's tentative "etsi Deus non daretur"* has become enfleshed, enshrined, sacralized,and institutionalized in our systems of government, part of what man is expected to conform. A convention has been foisted upon us to behave in public in particular as if God does not exist.

The dichotomy between faith and morality is what is behind the loss of freedom and truth. It is a destructive error:

This separation represents one of the most acute pastoral concerns of the Church amid today's growing secularism, wherein many, indeed too many, people think and live "as if God did not exist." We are speaking of a mentality which affects, often in a profound, extensive and all-embracing way, even the attitudes and behavior of Christians, whose faith is weakened and loses its character as a new and original criterion for thinking and acting in personal, family and social life. In a widely dechristianized culture, the criteria employed by believers themselves in making judgments and decisions often appear extraneous or even contrary to those of the Gospel.

VS, 88.

In a way, we have all become practical atheists, and the patterns and settings of our daily life presuppose no God. It is an abhorrent state of affairs, one that must not be allowed to exist. One that must be reversed. If not reversed, man shall lose the light of freedom.
It is urgent then that Christians should rediscover the newness of the faith and its power to judge a prevalent and all-intrusive culture. As the Apostle Paul admonishes us: "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful words of darkness, but instead expose them... Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5:8-11, 15-16; cf. 1 Th 5:4-8).
VS, 88.

St. Ignatius of Antioch

Christians cannot be satisfied to conform themselves to the secular culture which is practically atheist. On the contrary, they are called to a vigorous exertion, an exertion that will come with the re-discovery of the Christian faith as something which encompasses one's entire life in a radical transformation which occurs when one follows Christ in an absolute trusting abandonment:

It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. A word, in any event, is not truly received until it passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one's whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6). It entails an act of trusting abandonment to Christ, which enables us to live as he lived (cf. Gal 2:20), in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters.

VS, 88.

John Paul II calls the faithful to engage in a revolution of sorts, not, of course, a violent revolution. It is a revolution that demands fidelity to law, to the commandments, to the moral precepts which must frame the life of humankind, whether in private or in public:
Faith also possesses a moral content. It gives rise to and calls for a consistent life commitment; it entails and brings to perfection the acceptance and observance of God's commandments. As Saint John writes, "God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth... And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says ' I know him' but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 Jn 1:5-6; 2:3-6).
VS, 89.

What is required is witness, and witness in two senses. The first is witness in a sense of confession: in word and in deed. The second will come from the first, and this is witness in the sense of martyrdom, either real martyrdom, "red martyrdom," or that quasi-martyrdom,"white martyrdom," that comes as a result of the confession of Christ under difficult circumstances short of death.

Through the moral life, faith becomes "confession", not only before God but also before men: it becomes witness. "You are the light of the world", said Jesus; "a city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:14-16). These works are above all those of charity (cf. Mt 25:31-46) and of the authentic freedom which is manifested and lived in the gift of self, even to the total gift of self, like that of Jesus, who on the Cross "loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). Christ's witness is the source, model and means for the witness of his disciples, who are called to walk on the same road: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). Charity, in conformity with the radical demands of the Gospel, can lead the believer to the supreme witness of martyrdom. Once again this means imitating Jesus who died on the Cross: "Be imitators of God, as beloved children", Paul writes to the Christians of Ephesus, "and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph 5:1-2).

VS, 89.

Naturally, this Christian witness will not be popular. The popular decadent culture, the powers that govern it, those that reap its benefits (adulterers, homosexuals, capitalists, financial fraudfeasors, pornographers, abortionists, technocrats, the huge pharmaceutical companies who profit on contraceptive pills, those involved with public, secular anti-Christian education, the media, political liberals, warmongers or what Eisenhower called the miltary-industrial complex, multiculturalists, and the whole panoply ofpurveyors of the modern relativist or anti-Christian ethos), those who have much invested in it, those who feel insulted by someone who dares accuse them of wrong, will react with great hostility. "And you shall be hated by all men for my name's sake," the Lord said to his disciples, "but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved." The scriptural warrant for the Christian witness of truth against a hostile world is well-documented. See Matt. 10:22; cf. Matt. 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17; John 15:19; Proverbs 29:27. And being charitable will not reduce their vituperation:
From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated.**

It is perhaps odd that John Paul II, like St. Ignatius of Antioch (38-50 through 98-117 A.D.), swings to an excursus on martyrdom in the middle of his encyclical on human morality, but a short reflection on what martyrdom means readily shows why.

We will explore John Paul II's excursus on the relationship between Christian morality, its witness, and martyrdom in our next blog posting.

*On Grotius and his "etiamsi," see Natural Law: Ecstasis and Telos.
**St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, 5.

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