The Spontaneous Birth of a Christian Civilization from the Unleashed Dynamism of Supernatural Life
Man, wounded by the gravitational pull towards egotism and evil, is incapable of building a society that is in harmony with his God-given dignity.
Only the supernatural life of sanctifying grace empowers the creation of a Catholic culture and civilization.
When Pope Pius XII stated on February 20, 1946 that “the Church is the vital principle of human society” he was referring to the vitality that flows from the divine life of Him who is the sole “Way, Truth and Life” (John 14, 26) through the sacraments of the Church.
By this vitality the individual Catholic can participate in the life of the resurrected Lord of History as a member of His Mystical Body in order to become “the new man” (Ephesians 4:24).
Here lies the hope of social transformation! For all transformation of society utterly depends on the transformation of the heart and mind of the individual man and woman!
Christ the Rescuer of Mankind’s lifeline to man is not merely a set of ideas but a mysterious life-force empowering him not only to recognize the truth of what he has revealed but also energizing him to live by its virtues and standards: what we call “sanctifying grace”.
This new quality in the Christian’s soul is a participation in the very life of God in the measure of his possibilities as a fallen man. It empowers him to conquer original sin and the gravitational pull towards egotism, transforms him into nothing less than a son of God, and, one day, if he perseveres in this life unto death, will bring about his utter fulfillment and endless happiness in Heaven.
Like the embryo in the womb, the new super-natural life is capable of unfolding its powers if the Christian does not impede it by sin.
As the Christian allows the divine truths about man and his relationship to God to penetrate his intelligence the supernatural organism confers a new “infra-eternal” vision of people, things and events that the “un-graced” man does not possess.
It radically empowers him to think and act in a Christlike manner; he is driven to act no longer with the moral standards of fallen man but makes his decisions in Christlikeness seeking to share in the vision, virtues and standards of Jesus Christ his Savior. Gradually change comes over him; he becomes the new man willed by God in the eternal blueprints.
In the saint – in whom one sees a more “finished product” according to the divine design- grace confers extraordinary insight to the intellect, endurance to the will, sensitivity to character and a specific Christian form of creativity. Here is the origin and fountain-head of Christian culture- no mere ideas but a life-force that vanquishes the powerlessness of raw human nature!
How the Supernatural Life Dynamizes Man’s Capacities
Christian culture and civilization is to convinced believing Christians what the flower is to the stem: inseparable.
It is that spontaneous overflow of the new life within us by which it becomes natural for the Christian to do even the most banal and routine daily actions with a new intention and spirit: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”( 1 Cors 10:31).
Then in the ordinary day to day existence of marriage and friendship, education, child-rearing, politics, business, recreation, the arts and sciences the cumulative effect of the living of the Faith by Christians gradually transforms the dimensions of social life until gradually society as a whole takes on a new shape, a Christian form: it becomes a Christian society – and can become a Christian civilization.
Christopher Dawson insightfully explained the dynamism of the supernatural life as follows:
“The Christian life, therefore, consists in the gradual reformation of nature from within by the operation of the Divine Spirit, which is the actuating principle of the new life, just as the human soul is the actuating principle of the life of the body.
“The power manifests itself in the mind by faith, which is man’s participation of God’s Knowledge, and in the will by charity of spiritual love, which is man’s participation in God’s Will.” (see St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, 2a 2ae, q. 24, article 2)
“This is the great dynamic force of the spiritual life, and upon it rests all Christian or supernatural morality, as opposed to natural ethics. It is not so much a virtue as the animating principle and motive of all virtues.
“Thus St. Augustine argues that all the virtues are nothing but love; Temperance is love reserving itself for God, fortitude love, bearing all things for God, justice love, serving God by well-ordering the things that are in man’s power, and so forth. Hence his famous saying, ‘Love God and do what you will.'”
“When man is introduced by Faith and the Sacraments into that new world, which is the Kingdom of God and the supernatural order, this new force begins to move his will.
“There is, as we have said, a natural love of God, for how can man not love the ‘Good of all good, the Good from which is all good, the Good which is alone good’, but this natural love cannot dominate his life effectively.
“The new power is different. It may be felt as strongly and as suddenly as the passion of personal love, or it may grow up slowly and imperceptibly, like the love of children for their parents, but in either case it is a genuine new psychical force which aspires to unmake and remake the personality.
“It checks physical impulse, and it denies self- interest. If it is strong — that is, if the whole mind is open to it — it may cause intense suffering, the birth-pain of the spiritual man.
“Yet though its power is so real and so evident, its source is not easy to discover. ‘The wind blows where it wills, and its voice thou hearest, but dost not know whence it comes nor where it goes ; so is every one who has been born of the Spirit’.
“There is something mysterious about the whole supernatural life, whether of the mind or of the will. Man is moving in a strange world in which his own faculties no longer avail him. God’s Mind, to which he attains by Faith, is so far above his own that he is unable to see, he can only believe.
“But already, if he gives himself up to the operation of grace, God’s Will moves his own, and he is drawn strongly and painfully to the denial of his own will and the sacrifice of his natural activities.
“It is a common error, especially among the non-Catholic Christian sects, to confuse charity, or supernatural desire, with devout feelings and religious sentiment.
“Charity, however, belongs essentially to the deepest and most spiritual part of the soul, a region beyond the reach of feeling or the self-analysis, and it is only indirectly and accidentally manifested in the consciousness or in the emotions. […]
“In the case of the ordinary Christian this force has not reached its full development. It has not absorbed into itself the rest of the psychic life, nor acquired immediate control over the emotions and the desires; but it exists alongside of the lower psychic activity which continues to operate
although the higher will has turned itself deliberately towards the life of the spirit.
“If this ultimate self-determination is adhered to, the final reformation of the personality on the supernatural plane is assured ; but unless there is a continuous effort to bring the whole nature under the control of charity, this process may be so gradual as to be almost imperceptible.
“Moreover, there is always a probability that a resurgence of disordered natural activity may swamp the whole personality and detach the higher will from its adherence to spiritual love.
“With the saint — that is, the Christian in whom charity has fully matured — this is no longer so. The whole personality is unified. Every phase of the psychic life is animated by spiritual desire, which is no longer painful and unnatural in its operation, but has become instinctive — as instinctive on the higher plane as physical instinct was on the lower.
“Such is the charity of the saints, of St. Francis, St. Catharine or St. Philip, in whom the body becomes an almost transparent veil incapable of concealing the flaming energy of the spirit.
“The potentiality which the human soul possesses of becoming the vehicle of this supernatural spiritual force is the central point of the Catholic doctrine of Man.
“Thus, St. Paul speaks very little of man as he is in himself, but very much of the two forces by which human nature rises or falls.
“He is concerned less with its original constitution than with its dynamic possibilities, its aptitude for being transformed by the spirit of supernatural love, or degraded by the spirit of self-love or of concupiscence.
“Nevertheless, this quality of simplicity and naturalness in the highest spiritual life has only been attained by intense effort : it is the result of a remorseless process of destruction and reconstruction.
“The disorder of nature is very real and very strong. It has rooted itself so deeply in humanity that it has become, as it were, an organized whole from which the individual or the society can only detach themselves with difficulty.
“Against the Christian ideal of social order as a co-operative effort based on justice and animated by charity, we see the reality of a naked reign of force, based on slavery, war, or economic exploitation, in which the strong prosper at the expense of the weak, and primitive peoples become the natural prey of more civilized powers.
“The reign of social and international justice is an ideal which can only be reached by a spiritualized humanity — a humanity set free from the domination of lust and avarice and cowardice, which drives men and nations blindly into disorder and cruelty.
“Hence the struggle between the spirit of Christ and that ‘spirit of the world’ which is so real a force. […]
“The Catholic sees in the life of the Church, the progressive development and application to humanity of this supreme remedy.
“It is not, of course, a process which is susceptible of scientific demonstration ; the forces at work lie too deep for reason to measure them, neither can we follow the action and interaction of human and divine activities.
“From the beginning the Church has taught that it is impossible to judge the inward growth of the Kingdom by outward signs; it is the field of wheat growing with the cockle till the time of harvest : but no less has she recognized the complementary principle, that where there is inward life, there must be outward manifestation.
“Critics of Christianity are apt to judge of it as though it were an external system of law. This system is applied to a nation or a civilization, and if these prosper, well and good; if not, Christianity is a failure.
“They do not realize the infinitely tenuous and delicate nature of the supernatural life, which works as continuously and infallibly as a natural force through the sacraments and operations of grace, but which can only realize itself in man and transform human nature by the consent and co-operation of the individual will.
“Where it is accepted in a merely natural way as a law, as part of a human system, it is powerless to act.
“Only in the saints, with whom the process is exceptionally advanced, is the whole external life conformed to the new inward principle. In the ordinary Christian, the natural life goes on almost unchanged, based on its principle and following its own laws.
“It is to this region that much of what we are accustomed to look on historically as Christian civilization belongs. But behind all this the supernatural principle carries on its seminal activity and forms the embryonic life, which is destined eventually to absorb into itself and remake the whole nature, mental and physical, with all its vital activities.” […]
“But the goal of the Christian progress is far, because it is final. The Christian faith alone offers man a perfection which is not relative and transitory, but absolute and eternal.
“The Christian faith alone offers man a perfection which is not relative but transitory, but absolute and eternal.
“The Christian faith alone has measured how deep is the need of humanity and how great is the possibility of restoration.” […] (Christopher Dawson, “The Nature and Destiny of Man” in Fr. Cuthbert [editor], God and the Supernatural, London, 1936, excerpts from pp.69 -84)