“Thou shalt send forth Thy spirit, and they shall be created: and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 103:30)
“Christianity is the soul of Western civilization, and when the soul is gone the body putrefies. What is at stake is not the external profession of Christianity, but the inner bond which holds society together, which links man to man and the order of the state to the order of nature. And when this has gone nothing remains but the principle of brute force…”. [Christopher Dawson, The Judgment of the Nations, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1943, p.98]
Society’s Purpose In Function Of Man’s Purpose
All that exists in the cosmos exists for a purpose.
“Now the goal of human life and society is God.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-IIae, q. 100, art. 6.)
Since the purpose of man is union with his Creator, consequently all of man’s actions, personal and social, should be governed by this godcentredness.
And society, the totality of individuals united by common bonds, must support man’s destiny.
Society should first and foremost be bonded by its recognition of its duty to acknowledge and obey God.
How to know, obey, and love God has been revealed by the Lord of History, the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.
It begins with Our Lord’s confirmation of the first obligation of man: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength”. (Luke 10:27)
The “all” means that there should be no neutral or secular dimension in the Catholic’s thought and action. All dimensions of life must be lived as a whole, in the unity they possess through their intrinsic purpose as God-directed realities. The “all” consequently requires man’s social dimension since it is an integral dimension of his human nature.
Consequently, the social dimension of man must be made godly by ordering society according to the divinely revealed truths taught by mankind’s Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The truths He gave to mankind have been formulated and taught through the ages by the immutable tradition of the Catholic Church.
For it is the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, with its mission to honor God and to do all possible for the eternal salvation of souls, that has the authority extending to the “primordial laws of every social life” (Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 97).
It is the Catholic Church, guardian of the “philosophy of the Gospel” (Pope Leo XIII), that sets forth the truths that empower the creation of a civilization according to Christ’s truths.
These truths function as the principles for the establishment of a society according to the divinely revealed blueprints of the Gospel. As Pope St. Pius X stated:
“The City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be set up unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work. No, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is the Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City.” (Notre Charge Apostolique)
Thus, the Catholic has the noble vocation of bringing society in all of its political, economic, artistic dimensions to their fulfillment by sanctifying them with the truths that descended from Heaven in the Incarnation.
This is the vision of St. Augustine in his monumental City of God. Systematically, Augustine’s work unfolds the idea that Christianity is no mere “religion”, a purely private relationship between the individual and God hidden within the conscience, but rather a revolutionary force capable of transforming society in all its dimensions—the answer to all the great questions about the purposes of history, human nature, marriage, family, education, justice, and the relationship of the individual and the state to the Church.
In the measure in which civilization is built according to the divine blueprints offered it by Catholicism, it will be a society eminently worthy of man.
But the efforts to build will occur in wartime, for history is essentially a great drama, an unending battlefield until the world’s last night, on which the visible and invisible forces of good and evil fight for the conquest of man’s soul.
Each individual must decide on which side he will combat, which city he will construct: “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.” (St. Augustine, City of God 14.28)
Catholicism to Society as the Soul to the Body
The very nature of the relationship between the Church and civilization is that the Church stands to society as the soul stands to the human body. As Pius XII stated on February 20, 1946, “The Church is the vital principle of human society”
This is due to the fact that although the mission of the Church is the salvation of the soul, since man is a psychosomatic unity of soul and body, of personal and social dimensions, when he has been baptized the supernatural reality of sanctifying grace overflows into his social activities, conferring a Christian seal onto the living of family, community, educational, economic and political life. Unless of course, the Catholic impedes the power of the supernatural by sin.
In other words, Catholicism is intrinsically and dynamically social and this social dimension has no limits – it is global in its thrust, in obedience to the nature of love and in fulfillment of Our Lord’s final command: “Go baptize all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)
Catholicism is therefore a unity of concentric circles:
- Interior, personal, supernaturally-originated transformation of the heart of man into a Christian identity
- transformation of all dimensions of human existence by inspiring and configuring them through the truths of the Catholic Faith
- pro-convert evangelization
- and the creation of a civilization with a Catholic soul
The Priority of Society’s Ultimate Purpose Decides the Nature of Relations between Church and State
Therefore although the Church and the state are distinct realities with different responsibilities, nevertheless the state must recognize the authority of the Church in the attaining of society’s ultimate purpose. As Pope Leo XIII stated:
“The spiritual and temporal orders being, therefore, distinct in their origin and in their nature, should be conceived and judged of as such. For matters of the temporary order ‒ however lawful, however important they be ‒ do not extend, when considered in themselves, beyond the limits of that life which we live on this earth. But religion, born of God, and referring all things to God, takes a higher flight and touches heaven. For its will, its desire, is to penetrate the soul, man’s best part, with the knowledge and the love of God and to lead in safety the whole human race to that City of the Future for which we seek….” (Leo XIII, Cum Multa)
In this way, the Pope states that the Church and the state converge their efforts for man’s integral well-being:
“To have in public matters no care for religion, and in the arrangement and administration of civil affairs to have no more regard for God than if He did not exist, is a rashness unknown to the very pagans; for in their heart and soul the notion of a divinity and the need of public religion were so firmly fixed that they would have thought it easier to have a city without foundation than a city without God.
“Human society, indeed for which by nature we are formed, has been constituted by God the Author of nature; and from Him, as from their principle and source, flow in all their strength and permanence the countless benefits with which society abounds.
“As we are each of us admonished by the very voice of nature to worship God in piety and holiness, as the Giver unto us of life and of all that is good therein, so also and for the same reason, nations and states are bound to worship Him; and therefore it is clear that those who would absolve society from all religious duty act not only unjustly but also with ignorance and folly.
“As men are by the will of God born for civil union and society, and as the power to rule is so necessary a bond of society that, if it be taken away, society must at once be broken up, it follows that from Him who is the Author of society has come also the authority to rule; so that whosoever rules, he is the minister of God.
“Wherefore, as the end and nature of human society so requires, it is right to obey the just commands of lawful authority, as it is right to obey God who ruleth all things; and it is most untrue that the people have it in their power to cast aside their obedience whensoever they please.” (Pope Leo XIII, Humanum Genus, April 20, 1884)