Thursday, October 2, 2008

CAGE MATCH: Pope Leo XIII vs. James Madison

In the American political conscience, the thought of freedom of religion is hardly given a passing glance. Indeed, we owe this which has become such a fundamental part of our collective national psyche to the philosophies which went into our founding credos, and to the men who distilled these ideas and placed them securely into the practice of the jurisprudence of our nation and unto the present age.

Among these men was James Madison, the Princeton-educated Virginian who takes his place in the Pantheon of American statesmen as the “Father of the Constitution.” His contribution to the doctrines of religious freedom which sit so firmly entrenched in our laws and our political consciences may be seen most clearly in his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” written to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785. In that year, the legislature of the Commonwealth had taken up a bill concerning the granting of tax monies to the support of teachers of religion. Madison “remonstrates” against this bill, which he holds to be an usurpation of the rights of the citizens of the Commonwealth, and while a number of the arguments he takes up in this letter are specifically targeted to the character of the bill, his philosophy regarding the matter of Church-State relations in general is quite evident in most of his arguments. Chiefly, he argues that religious faith ought not to be prevailed violently or forcefully upon men, and that it ought to be arrived at through use of rational faculties and conviction. He states that the religion of every man must be left to his own discretion; that the dictates of conscience are to be the arbiter of religious faith for each individual[1]. He goes on to underline that religion ought to be exempt from the authority of society at large and that of the civil government[2], and that the government ought not to interfere with what he calls a natural right of man to practice whichever religion his conscience dictates to him to be true and right[3]. Madison then turns to an accusatory and suspicious tone, saying that entanglements of religion and the state have only led to a denigration of the purity of the Christian religion, of the lessening of sanctity of the clergy due to their being given over to pride, of the ignorance of the laymen, and of “superstition, bigotry, and persecution.[4]” He goes on to state that these entanglements of Church and State have led to hardships and bloodshed brought on by the State’s attempts to remedy the discord between the various sects of Christianity. The American way of “equal and compleat liberty,” Madison asserts, prevents such discord within society[5].

Such thoughts are, to the modern American mind, merely the way things work and have worked. However, it is apparent from a simple reading of Madison’s letter that his case is made with some less-than-grievous flaws which, once exposed to the light of a higher truth than that of mere human wisdom, are exposed as fundamental errors in the judgment of the workings of society—and especially in relation to the Creator and whichever duty must be paid Him.

By this light of a higher truth, of course, it is meant that supreme wisdom which comes from Almighty God and is transmitted through His Church by those to whom it has been imputed to guard and hold sacred the truths of his law. Among the shepherds of the Holy Catholic Church who have spoken at length on such matters as would concern these matters of the State, the most resonant in our own time is Pope Leo XIII. Pope Leo wrote extensively on a number of matters which concern the modern political mind by drawing on that timeless wellspring of wisdom of the Church’s teaching and presenting, boldly and clearly, the truth of many matters political. His encyclical Immortale Dei is no exception. Intrepidly, the Holy Father of blessed memory argues the fundamentals of the traditional Catholic theology on the relationship between Church and State. The purpose of the Church, he states, is the salvation of souls in the first place, but it also provides many temporal goods—a fact which is broadly witnessed to in history by the immense growth in the arts and sciences in particular and in the advancement of civilization in general in the Western world, a growth and advancement for which no other than the Holy Church could have been given praise. Everything which the Church has touched in civil society, the Holy Father asserts, has been changed for the better—especially in the spheres of morality, virtue, culture, and justice. He denies the charge that the Church is unable to assist in the attainment of the ends of civil governments—indeed, the strife in the early centuries of the existence of the Christian religion which was often blamed on Christian presence in the social order was, according to the Holy Father, the just punishment of “an avenging God” upon that social order which opposed and persecuted the Church.[6]

The Holy Father then constructs an argument in support of a close association between the Church and civil governments from the groundwork laid by centuries of Christian philosophy. Firstly, he acknowledges that man is naturally societal—man is incapable of provision for himself apart from that which is afforded by dependence upon others, both in terms of temporal gains and moral and mental goods. In order to attain to a higher state of being, man must exist in society, and from this it is inferable that man dwelling in community is in accord with the natural order and therefore divinely ordained (the equation of natural ordering and divine ordinance is an obvious one; God is creator of all things and set the order to nature—thus, that which is found to be in harmony with the natural order must be divinely ordained to be so).

Since society is both a natural and divine ordinance and in the interest of the good of the men existing in them, it then follows that there is need for some principle with which society must be together bound: a ruler is necessary to hold societies of men together. Citing Romans 13:1, the Holy Father asserts that rulers of men must be subordinate to the will of God, “for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.”[7] The right to rule over human society, Pope Leo continues, is “not bound up with any special mode of government,” but rulers in any system of governance must remember that their power is derived ultimately from that of God and must “set Him before themselves as exemplar and law in administration of the state.” Inspired by the example of God’s dominion over all of Creation, then, it follows that rulers must govern with a fatherly justice—they must rule concerned, above all, with the well-being of the citizens, and not show partisanship toward one individual or a few persons.[8]

The fundamental doctrine of the political philosophy of Pope Leo XIII—and indeed, the Church’s tradition on such matters—is found in where he next carries his argument. Since rulers must govern in the interest of their citizens, since rulers are subordinately ultimately to God, and since the Church has done supreme good to the people both in things heavenly and things of the world, it would behoove those who hold power in the state to act by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, he says, command us to worship God, and “it is a public crime to act as if there were no God.” Therefore, it is sinful that the state should not care for religion, regardless of its reasons against such consideration—be it out of pragmatism which avoids entanglements with religion for the sake of things running smoothly or because one religion or another is popular among the people. All are bound to worship God in the way in which He has commanded, and as such religion must be shielded under law—not compromised by it. All are destined toward Heaven, the Holy Father continues, and so the state must be ordered so as to allow the freedom of human persons to achieve what is their ultimate end and the very reason for their creation on this earth. Upon this sort of granting of freedom to men in society “depends the full and perfect happiness of all mankind.”[9]

Civil societies, then, to safeguard both the well-being of community in general but also of each individual in which communities consist ought to protect and profess religion, which is man’s link to God. The argument thus far has raised a fundamental question—which religion is true? We can see that allowing a religion to guide the state is certainly a worthy thing, but which religion ought that to be? As the Holy Father demonstrates, the true religion is easily proved—in prophecies, miracles, the propagation of the faith in spite of constant and vigorous opposition, and of course, the fervor of the martyrs who gave their lives for the Christian faith.[10] It is clear that the Holy Father means to say that the Catholic religion is and ought to be viewed as the supreme expression of the Christian faith, and indeed the One Church which was founded by Christ. Upon this principle his entire argument rests. Since the Church is not only a society, and association, but that association which is brought together through and in Christ and ordered by his command, it is then wholly apparent that it must not be subservient to the state—but rather that the state ought to be guided by the wisdom of the Church. Indeed, God has ordained two powers over all things in this world—powers ecclesiastical, which govern the divine things, and powers civil, which govern temporal things.[11] Pope Leo states that each is to be supreme in its own kind—the state ought to rule over things temporal, and the Church over things heavenly. In this way, he echoes the thought of St. Augustine, who taught of the separation of the Cities of God and of Man, whilst asserting the supremacy of the City of God. Anywhere in which it would seem that the authority of the two spheres overlap, deference is to be given to the Church, since it is the perfectly constituted society of divine right—and as such aims for the highest end in all things. If it were not true that the Church’s right must be observed in matters where its authority seems to run concurrent with that of civil authority, then man would not know which to follow—“it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two,”[12] says the Holy Father, and thus there would be necessity of one to have greater authority than the other in certain circumstances. God does not allow even the minutest things in nature to work in opposition to one another, but establishes harmony amongst them—and so this harmony must be reflected in societies, also under God’s sovereignty.

The relationship of Church to State, then, Pope Leo asserts, may be likened to that of the union of Body and Soul. The Body, that is, the State, has authority over attaining earthly goods, while the Soul, the Church, that of attaining Heavenly delights. This echoes the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” From all of this we see that there is to be no suspicion of civil societies for the Church or likewise of the Church for governments, there is to be no opposition—but harmony between the two that the good of mankind may flourish both to the attainment of advancement of virtues in this life and the joys of heaven in the next.[13]

A number of doctrines stand in opposition to this sort of harmony, and the Holy Father summarily denounces them as being at variance with both the precepts of the Gospel and with natural law. Firstly, that all men are in equal control of their lives and moreover masters of their own destinies; second, that government is nothing more than the will of the people; third, that “the authority of God (may be) passed over in silence, just as if there were no God or as if He cared nothing for human society, or as if man…owed nothing to God.”[14] These doctrines place the Church in a position less than or equal to that of all other associations which may exist in a society, making her out to be “just another denomination” or a mere group—owing no credit to her divine foundations. When these doctrines come to dominate the consciousness of a society, then the Church suffers—to the point that even when the Church is given what is rightfully hers in society, men cry out in opposition and demand that she be separated from the state. From this opposition, much harm comes to the Christian life—marriage becomes redefined, goods of the clergy and of the Church’s associations are taken, and the Church becomes just another place for people to gather of their own volition, as if it were not divinely founded. The Church is kept thusly in bondage to the state, not allowed to act freely. The Holy Father boldly condemns the doctrine of popular sovereignty, saying that it is “exceedingly well calculated to flatter and to inflame many passions, but which lacks all responsible proof and all power of insuring public safety and preserving order.”[15] This doctrine, once enthroned as the animating principle of the state, leads to an emphasis on the sovereignty of man and an indifference to religion—which in turn can lead to atheism. If believers are to be consistent, the Holy Father says, they must acknowledge that the One God could not have established disparate and opposing wills, but one will and therefore one Church to transmit his will (thus adding another layer to the fundamental argument). Liberty of thought, then, can have a destabilizing effect upon the state and is not to its advantage. True liberty “is a power perfecting man and hence should have truth and goodness for its object.”[16] True liberty is the freedom to do what one must to attain sanctification.

And thus we return to the arguments set forth by James Madison, and it is plain to see that Madison’s philosophy is at variance with that of Pope Leo XIII and of the broader body of the Church’s tradition. There are many points of Madison’s letter which the Holy Father would find himself in agreement with. Notably, these include that religion is “the duty which we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it,” that it “can only be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;”[17] that civil magistrates are not competent to judge matters relating to religious truth; and that the Christian faith flourished apart from the support of human laws and even in spite of those laws which were hostile to her. Where Madison says such things, he agrees with Pope Leo—and indeed, the wording which the Holy Father uses in stating these things is quite similar. However, these points of agreement, however significant, pale when Madison’s arguments are scrutinized in light of those of Pope Leo XIII, who makes a far more compelling case for a close relationship between Church and State than Madison does for their disparity.

In the first case, Madison posits that religion ought to be left to the individual conviction and conscience of every man. While the Catholic tradition holds that man must act according to his conscience, it would also hold that a conscience may be properly or improperly formed. Madison does not allow for this in his assessment—in other words, if a man has a malformed conscience which would cause him to be opposed to what is good and right as concerns religion, a choice in accord with such should not be seen as wrong or in need of correction. Madison’s continuance of this line of thinking finds itself to be in serious contradiction of even itself—that man must render his duty to the Creator as each believes is acceptable to himself. Pope Leo answers this eloquently—if there is one Creator, then there is only one will of that Creator, and therefore only one way which is proper to render homage unto Him. Thus, religion is not a matter of individual tastes, but one rooted in eternal truth as revealed by the one God. Madison again contradicts himself when he says that before man may enter into civil society, “he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe.” If a man’s conscience dictates that there is no “Governour of the Universe,” then how may he enter into political society? To what principle do we look and call supreme when these two dictates contradict—the mandates of individual conscience and the prerequisites of societal association? To Pope Leo, the answer is clear—the wisdom of the Church is supreme to the will of man and to the will of governments.

A further contradiction in Madison’s thinking is found in his description of why freedom of conscience on matters of religion is an “unalienable right;” that it is unalienable because “the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men.”[18] This denies that fundamental and natural state of man as societal which Pope Leo identifies—it is patently impossible for a man to contemplate that which came from his own mind, since all ideas, all thoughts, even the simplest expression of speech, must have come from some other apart from himself. Madison, then, is lacking in epistemological analysis. No man can think independently, since all thoughts are at least in some part inspired by some other thought. It would then follow that men may think good things as concern religious matters, and men may think bad things as concern them, depending upon what evidence has been given to their contemplation. However, Madison seems to rule out the possibility that in political society, the wrongness of one man’s doctrines would require the correction of his brethren.

Madison very interestingly raises the point that religion ought not to be under the sovereignty of the state, which would seem to support the argument contrary to his—that true religion is supreme to the will of the state. In failing to acknowledge one religion or another as supreme in this manner, he errs, at least in kind, in a way identified by Pope Leo—that the Catholic religion is reduced to one option among many or is thought of as equal to, or less than the others. While Madison does not directly imply this, his line of argument depends upon this. In the following section of his letter, he then contradicts himself by implying that establishment of religion is something which must be contracted by the state, when the supremacy of one religion or another is not determined by the majority rule—it is the true Church by her own nature as being founded by Christ that makes her supreme, and it is not for the state to judge whether the Church holds primacy, least of all when the state is constituted according to the majority’s will. Madison says that we acknowledge religion to be of Divine origin, and if this is so, says Pope Leo, then why do we compromise and acknowledge a multiplicity of religions? If there is one God, there is one Divine Will, not many—and not many disparate cults which pay homage to the Almighty in varied and contradictory ways. The believer, says Pope Leo, ought to be consistent[19]—and here we see where Madison’s argument fails. Madison is content to acknowledge that all religions are equally valid, content to an indifference to which religion might contain more or less truth—or even truth in its fullness. Madison does not seem open to the possibility that there might be a religion which claims primacy, a religion which claims a power that comes from on high to the exclusion of other claims to the same power. It is this sort of religious indifference which has pervaded our society—and even those sects found in our society—even up to this day, and which have made the Church’s task in this country difficult. Even the sects who exist in this county seem content to disavow any varying degree of truth and to consider themselves to exist in a sort of false unity—a unity based solely on mutual acceptance of particular errors.

When the freedom of men to enter into whichever religious affiliation they so choose according to the dictates of their consciences is abused, continues Madison, it is not only an offense against man, but against God. Here again, Madison finds himself to be inconsistent with what is true and natural, and here again he ignores the possibility that men may be wrong in their doctrinal observances. It is in the abuse of free will by choosing false doctrines that men offend God, not in men seemingly encroaching on other men’s versions of truth. True freedom, as Pope Leo emphasizes in another encyclical (Libertas Praesentissimum), does not come from slavery to falsehoods, but to obedience to the will of Christ—it is only in obeying Christ and His Church that men are free to grow into what they ought to be. As the Gospel of John says, “the truth will make you free.” Truth is not determined by the will of the majority, but is true by itself, regardless of the opinions of men about it.

Madison goes on to bolster the case against his own argument by speaking of the pre-existence of the religious truth to human policies.[20] By acknowledging that religion is not of human invention, but Divine provenance, he then opens his own argument up to historical criticism. It is plain that there was one Christian faith—plain for the reasons that Madison himself outlines in much the same way that Pope Leo does, as we have already noted—and that it flourished in spite of injurious human activity. If there was a religion which pre-existed such human societies, does it not stand to reason that that religion might also be pre-eminent to the state? Madison then continues with his historical errors, saying almost hysterically that no good can come of the legal establishment of Christianity—that it has “been on trial” for “almost fifteen centuries.”[21] He makes this claim without offering any evidence, merely pointing to a few generalized negative effects to arise from such an association between Church and State. In the first place, before whom has this legal establishment “been on trial?” Madison asserts over and over that the state is not competent to judge religions, so is Christianity on trial before men? How can this be if states constituted of men—which are themselves necessarily greater than individuals—cannot judge religion? Madison’s “evidence” against the association of religion with the state include “pride and indolence among the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both superstition, bigotry, and persecution,”[22] and later on, when speaking of sectarian discord that “torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world.”[23] While it is true that these things have happened in some circumstances, Madison does not seem to be allowing for the principle of abusus non tollit usum. It must be conceded that ill effects have come from Church-State relationships, but these effects must not be blamed on the Church and her doctrines—but rather on the corrupt men who inhabit both Church and State. As Pope Leo says, everywhere that the Church has touched, she has brought change for the better, improvement in virtue and advancement in culture.[24] History’s verdict here does not seem to be in Madison’s favor.

Above all, when James Madison’s doctrines of separation of Church and State, and indeed, those of the American political conscience from his time into our own, are scrutinized in light of the Church’s consistent and ancient teachings, it is apparent that the freedom preached by the American regime then and now is not freedom in its truest sense—freedom in Christ—but a sort of imagined freedom, a sort of license which, if left unbridled, leads to all manner of falsities that are destructive to the constitution of individual souls and to the soul of the state. Madison lacks a clear hierarchy in his division of the wills of the Church, the State, and the individual. He claims that the individual is subordinate to the State, and that religious sentiments then subordinate to the will of the individual—and that the two ought never to interfere with one another. How can this be, when he asserts over and over that the State is not supreme to religion? Further, how can it be when the state is constituted according to the will of the men in whom it consists? It can only be in a mindset which does not allow for there to be one, solid, objective truth. It can only consistently occur in a society wherein state sanctioned relativism is the manner of governance. The near-hysteria of the Founding Fathers of the American regime is echoed today in the anti-religious sentiments of a society which finds itself increasingly individualistic, increasingly opposed to God. These things the Church has met and continues to meet head-on with the ancient wisdom evident from the beginning of creation in its ordering, and then revealed in the fulfillment of God’s promises to men. The Holy Father Pope Leo XIII is a servant of this holy wisdom, and when his thought is matched against that of the Father of the Constitution, it is clear to see which one preaches true freedom. It is clear to see from this assessment the very fortitude of the laws of Almighty God.

[1] Memorial and Remonstrance 1

[2] Ibid., 2

[3] Ibid., 4

[4] Ibid., 6

[5] Ibid., 11

[6] Immortale Dei, 1

[7] Ibid, 3

[8] Ibid, 4

[9] Ibid., 6

[10] Ibid., 7

[11] Ibid., 13

[12] Ibid., 13

[13] Ibid., 14

[14] Ibid., 25

[15] Ibid., 31

[16] Ibid., 32

[17] Memorial and Remonstrance, 1

[18] Ibid., 1

[19] Immortale Dei, 31

[20] Memorial, 6

[21] Ibid., 7

[22] Ibid., 7

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Immortale Dei, 1

Encyclical Letter Immortale Dei of Pope Leo XIII, 1885

Memorial and Remonstrance by James Madison, 1785

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

So it's been a while...

I realize I haven't updated this in quite a while, but now I have cause to. I finished a paper the other day on Church-State relations--the view of James Madison vs. the teaching of the Church per Leo XIII. It's a nice little cage match between these two thinkers, so I'll be putting it up soon. I had hesitated to do so since the argument I make seems a bit odd at best for an American to be making (and next to crazy at worst), but then I realize that I am what I am, and the Church is what she is, and there to excuse either wouldn't be the wisest thing. But enough rambling.

Eucharistic Congress this weekend, there might be some reporting and photos from that. I'm going to try to update this thing more often, amidst my rather tangled schedule.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


"Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. . ."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
How long could you survive in the vacuum of space?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Reflections on the Church

“Go forth, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20). The final words spoken by Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are a good starting point for the mission of the Church, for an ecclesiology founded in Christ’s words will most clearly reflect his will.

In the first place, we must ask ourselves: what is the Church? And further, what is salvation? The Church is essentially salvific, it is the way in which Christ’s grace is manifested to the world and the way by which we attain heaven. Biblical scholars have long regarded Noah’s Ark as a type of the Church, and indeed this is where the language of the “Barque of Peter” originates—if one is on board the Barque, then it will take him to heaven. So what is salvation, then? Salvation is unity with the Body of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, and so salvation is attained by uniting oneself to it. In doing so, one may attain unity with Christ throughout eternity in heaven and gaze upon the unveiled face of God—seeing him as he is. So, then, it is the duty of the Church to preach this call to salvation to the entire world, for God does not desire the death of a sinner (Ezechiel 18:32), but rather wills that all be saved. In preaching the Gospel to the world, and in bringing forth the graces of the Holy Spirit, the Church has a definite role of both herald and sanctifier of the people of the world, preaching the Gospel, and then making holy those who hear it.

How, then, should the Church relate to the world in which it lives? The Church must be open and compassionate of all by virtue of their human dignity, but must also not seek to tolerate deviations from its truth—for if truth is discarded, the Church is no longer distinguished as that which it is and has become a mere man-made organization, it loses its essence. The maxim for guiding the Church in its pastoral labors should be that “the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a gallery of saints.” Man in his imperfection naturally seeks the good, and naturally seeks God, so the Church should proclaim God to man and bring the two together. Thus the Church’s role in the world continues to be the same as its essence of that as the Body of Christ, and it must proclaim Christ and bring him to the world for its sanctification. A certain duty falls upon the state in this regard; states should be comprised such that they aid the citizenry in attaining the good, and thus it would seem prudent that the state derive its laws and ordering from the guidance of the Church. There is a dangerous mindset which pervades the modern society, one that seeks to banish the Church from the legislative assemblies. If we do not found our human laws, though, on divine ones, then upon what shall we found them? Man is not a sure, steady rock of truth—indeed, he changes and moves with different tides of attitude and thought, with different emotions and inclinations of the time. Thus, the eternal truths taught by the Church should be if nothing else given some consideration in the proceedings of a state. If this happens, then the state will tend essentially toward the good, if the state does otherwise, then the inclinations of man toward evil will come to reign, and society will be ordered around the individual good. A rightly ordered state will recognize that individual good flows first from the common good, and if the common good of man is to do the will of God, then it should follow that the state should give the Church’s guidance some credence. The Church itself should not come to dominate governments, however, for it is better that the men who govern the Church not concern themselves with the world’s claim, but with God’s. However, in its role of herald of the Gospel, the Church should see one of its tasks in the world to be the guidance of the ordering of states toward the common good of humanity.

In what does the Christian life consist? Drawing on her role as mater et magistra, the Church should seek always to provide access to Christ, and the freedom and consolation that come from him and from living in the life of grace. Since Christ’s Great Commission was that his Apostles “go forth and make disciples of all nations,” the individual prerogative of the Christian should be that of discipleship—he should be a follower of Christ, and strive to imitate the Lord. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). So in what does following Christ consist? From the Gospels it is clear that a sort of radical dispossession of the world is necessary for discipleship—indeed, Christ tells the rich man who already follows the commandments to sell all he has and give it to the poor—a demand which makes the man go away saddened. (Luke 18:20-25) What is the reward for this dispossession of worldly things? “Thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Indeed, the more we dispossess ourselves of the worldly, the more room we have in our lives for the multitudinous and everlasting gifts which the Father bestows upon us. In seeking those gifts in this life, we come to share in that treasure in heaven, for we are not capable of receiving all we can in this life while we are still imperfect. In the life to come, however, we shall receive the fullness of what we are willing to receive. So again, how do we do this? We must follow Christ who, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7) Therefore, we must imitate this emptying of self, and even more this dying of Christ. This dying does not have to consist of complete bodily death, but merely the death of our inclinations away from Christ and our evil desires—thus we must die daily to self. The rewards of this are sure, as Paul exhorts Timothy: “A faithful saying: for if we be dead with him, we shall live also with him.”

The way in which we worship is also central to the Christian life. In our worship we come into contact directly with the Risen Lord, for he has given us his Body and Blood to sustain us. In the Gospel of John, Christ tells us that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to be saved; this is not symbolic or metaphorical, but entirely literal—he does not attempt to equate his words with any other meaning, and he does not stray from saying those words over and over again. Then at the Last Supper, he gives a foretaste of how we are to encounter him again and again by speaking over the earthly gifts of bread and wine those eternal words which echo through the centuries “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” How can this, then be a symbol, if the Creator of the Universe, who merely willed all things into existence, speaks these words as a reality? Thus he gives us the surest sign of hope in his promise to be with us always by giving himself to us, to sustain us throughout all ages. Since we are receiving such a great gift, we should approach it as such in our worship. Here we welcome the King of Kings into our midst, and so we should give him no less of a welcome than that of an earthly king, welcoming him in splendor and state. His surroundings at birth, life, and death were humble and rude, but because he emptied himself in this way, he is exalted forever and the angels sing his praises—thus should we highly exalt him when he comes to us in this way. Therefore, worship should be befitting that which is central to it, the Eucharist. We should seek to de-center ourselves, to transcend our own selves and to commune with the Risen Lord. In this way, we become united as a race, united to the Risen Lord, united with the whole Church—yet still distinct. Worship, in order to effect this decentralization of the self, should then give us a way to step out of the mundane and everyday, and into the very courts of heaven—for that is where we at the foot of the altar stand at that sublime moment when Christ comes into our midst. The priest who offers the sacrifice is to take on this decentralization to the utmost, for he is standing in the person of Christ—Christ who is both priest and the sacrifice offered, and so the priest must sacrifice his own identity and put on that of Christ. The surroundings in which we worship should stand in continuity to this obligation of interior disposition away from the self and toward the glory of God. If we truly believe what we say we are in the presence of, then why should we not give what is due? If we truly believe that the King of Kings has come down, why do we welcome him with places suited to entertainment and socialization, and not with a throne in the court of heaven as is befitting him?

It is clear that the people of God and those who are given to caring for their souls from this must see a certain call to discipleship. We have already treated the subject of discipleship at length, and so let us ground our examination of the people and the ministers in that idea of discipleship. In the first place, the people are obligated to serve Christ through the Church, to give to the support of the Church and to ensure that their families are raised up in the image of the Church. Indeed, Pope Leo XIII says in his seminal encyclical Rerum Novarum that the family is a microcosm of the Church. Conversely, the Church is a macrocosmic family—it has a father who guides and governs the household, and then each member contributes something to the family’s betterment. The role of ministers then is to reflect the role of Christ; they must not act on their own initiative but in the mind of Christ—they must empty themselves, stripping themselves of their own identities and putting on Christ. This is not limited to when they are offering the sacrifice at the altar, but also when they are out in the world. In this way they bring the ministry of Christ to the world for each successive generation. From the very genesis of the Church structures have been enacted to ensure that the true faith is taught and practiced in multitudinous places in accord with the traditions which are handed down, which have their origin in Christ. As such, we have now a Church which is built of a hierarchy of pastors, each insuring that the will of Christ is carried out among those whom have been entrusted to his care. One man could not possibly rule over the whole world and all the faithful, save without Christ and the graces which he sends forth to his shepherds. To some it is given to guide but a few, and to others still more, and to some others, the world entire—and all of this comes from the grace of Christ, who both ministered to those gathered masses in his own time and also to the whole world though his Church in the succeeding ages.

In the interest of maintaining the visible unity of the Church, it is and ought to be the duty of all of those pastors entrusted with the care of souls to strive for the essential unity which lies in truth itself, the Lord Jesus Christ. As he is the source and summit of the Christian faith, every effort should be taken both to proclaim his Gospel to the world and to ensure that it is taught faithfully to those in the Church. Thus, the priests of the Church should serve it faithfully, and in doing so they serve Christ. They should seek to serve both the people of God entrusted to their care, just as did Christ, who is the Good Shepherd. Further, they should strive to direct obedience toward the Bishop, who stands in the person of Christ over the territory which it is given him to govern. All of these should then submit to the one who is the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff who sits on the chair of Peter. He then must faithfully submit himself in all ways and at all times to the will of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve—he must be the Servant of the Servants of God. If all of these strive faithfully after seeking the will of Christ and lifting him up to the world, then through them Christ will draw all things to himself (John 12:32). He is the only way in which man can achieve unity, a unity which transcends mere associational unity—a unity which lies in the soul of every man, a will to be united to Christ.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008