Mnsgr Pope recently quoted some remarks the Pope made to the US Bishops during their ad limina visit. One thing that struck me was this statement by Pope Benedict XVI: “Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture, and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”
FROM LAW OF SEPARATION TO SOCIALISM
Now, in light of the HHS Mandate, a friend and I have been studying what we can of France’s 1905 Law of Separation. We’ve been gearing up for a directed discussion we plan on having between us, and a few other friends and our spouses. While we were looking into the context of the law (for example, the 1904 Scandal of the Index Cards), and the Church’s response to everything happening in France, I found a list of Pope St. Pius X’s encyclicals. The one in particular pertinent to the 1905 Law of Separation was Vehementer Nos, published in Feb of 1906. The one pertinent to this post was Notre Charge Apostolique, an encyclical from 1910 on the Sillon movement.
This encyclical packs more punches than a title match. One of the key tenets of the Sillon movement was their idea for ‘flattening’ out the classes, and with this the idea that the authority of those who govern comes first from the people and not God. This is obviously problematic, as Pope Pius X points out, because of the mutability of man’s will, the fact that all just laws ultimately find their source in divine law, and because the idea that authority comes from man is in fact contrary to the words of Christ Himself, “Pilate therefore said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.'” John 19:11
Needless to say the movement was socialist, and the movement saw the poor as the only ones important in the life of the church, and in need of spiritual ministry or care from the Church. This resulted in this idea that the wealthy (middle class even) were unjustly existing as such. Before I get too much further into the Sillon movement, I just wanted to use it as one example from 100 years ago of the attitude that has come to prevail today throughout modern society. It represents a philosophy which has been developing among men and women over the last two centuries. It represents a philosophy that has found its manifestation today in the “occupy” movements, some of the transgressions of the LCWR, and the encouragement of class warfare by social, political and cultural elites.
WAIT A SECOND!?! HASN’T THERE ALWAYS BEEN CLASS WARFARE?
It is true that contention between classes is as old as Man. For example, the Consul Varro was a Roman who appealed to the plebes’ jealousy and suspicion of the aristocracy to get elected consul. He even pandered to the crowd who said Hannibal Barca’s invasion of Italy was an inside job. This is no joke, it’s all in Livy. However, Original Sin is also as old as Man, doesn’t mean we should fight against it through education and prayer. Furthermore, there exists a major difference between those who stir up discontent, and those who did so in latter years. Now everything can be magnified a hundred fold by use of modern technology. The ease of reaching more people faster than ever before is incredible. So? Encouraging discontent and capitalizing on the passions of the masses has become that much more effective using modern media. So this destructive philosophy can entrench itself for efficiently, and foment strife more readily. Whether overtly like the Occupy Movement (which, admittedly, hasn’t been successful at all), or covertly through subversive popular television shows and the news media.
Right, but what’s my point? What we’re facing now in our culture, and from legal persecution (HHS Mandate), it is nothing new. Only the means of communicating it, and how widespread these ideas are, stand new against history. The Church, however, has been facing the same false dogmas and persecutions for centuries. As a result we possess a rich tradition of Popes laying down the Church’s philosophical, and theological counter-attacks in their encyclicals.
I love Pope Benedict XVI and his writing, but he and his words are the tip of a very large iceberg. I strongly recommend flipping back a few pages in the History of our Church to see how some of his predecessors provided answers to these same problems. It will help you acquire that necessary and accurate “strong critical sense vis-a-vis the dominant culture” and the appropriate knowledge to “counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”