Material Peace Is Too Vulgar
Is the Church in the 21st century in a position to promote peace despite the growing hostility directed toward her? Isn’t some kind of compromise with modern, purely philanthropic ideals (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood, Tolerance, etc.) in order so as to preserve what vestiges of peace remain by abandoning Church teaching, which in fact is no longer being received? To this suggestion we reply categorically, No. Despite world-wide secularization, the Church preserves intact the remedies to today’s conflicts. But in the present circumstances, the Church invariably encounters the hostility of secular, materialist societies. Yet Catholics are not thereby condemned to inaction in social and political matters. To help the Church achieve the work of peace, the Catholic attitude entails giving the Church her due credit, while keeping in mind the following realities.
Matter without Materialism
First of all, it should be kept in mind that a de-Christianized society may be maintaining material peace (good order in the physical realm, the physical security of its citizens) while promoting a materialist ideology. Without deceiving oneself as to the precariousness of such a peace, whatever there is of good in it should be used for the good of the Church. The Catholic attitude is to combat materialism without considering it a duty to overthrow the reigning material peace, but rather to bolster it. Material disorder is of such little advantage to the interests of religion that it cannot be envisaged except as a last and final recourse for the sake of legitimate defense.1 As Cardinal Pie explained: “Material peace...is undoubtedly too vulgar and also too precarious to satisfy us entirely; even so, for all that, it is still quite an appreciable good.” The Bishop of Poitiers goes on the quote St. Augustine: “At bottom, this people turned away from God is an unhappy people. Nevertheless, it loves a certain peace that should not be underestimated, and peace that is its own peace; a peace which it will not enjoy in the end because it does not make good use of it before the end. But that it enjoy it in this life is in our own interest; for, so long as the two cities are intermingled, we profit for our own peace from the peace of Babylon, considering that, if the people of God is freed from the other by faith, it is still condemned to sojourn there as a pilgrim. That is why the Apostle exhorts the Church to pray for kings and potentates ‘so that,’ he says, ‘our life may be spent peacefully and tranquilly in all piety and charity.’ ”2 This means concretely that the Church is neither terrorist nor revolutionary, as were (and still are) the Masonic sects. Confronted by a hostile society, it pursues its work of salvation without ever seeking social or political disorder.
But, and this is the second reality to bear in mind, the Church is frank: it is not afraid of telling the truth and denouncing impiety. That is why the Catholic citizen will be an artisan of genuine peace insofar as he firmly maintains Catholic dogma without allowing himself to be seduced by the Masonic illusions upon which present-day societies have been founded. These Masonic principles are not apt to make men virtuous because they undermine virtue (or, more exactly, they call virtue any individual or collective action that does not “harm” others), and refuse to God the right to teach men. Now, let us recall that without in-depth reformation of morals, no lasting peace is possible. Christian frankness, prudent and charitable, is more than ever necessary. For example, it will not hesitate to call a law authorizing abortion perverse, whether anyone likes it or not! The Christian attitude, consisting of candor but also respect for the natural social order, was well described by St. Pius X when he said, in 1910: “The Catholics of our days, together with their leaders, the Bishops... [should be] faithful to their duties of good citizenship. They must be as faithful in their loyalty and respect to ‘wicked rulers’ when their commands are just, as they are adamant in resisting their commands when unjust. They must remain as far from the impious rebellion of those who advocate sedition and revolt as they are from the subservience of those who accept as sacred the obviously wicked laws of perverse men....”3
The third reality to keep in mind is the need to collaborate with non-Christians in the temporal order. This is what Pope Leo XIII wrote on this subject: “We mean that, while standing firm in the affirmation of dogma and free and clear of any compromise with error, Christian prudence will not reject, or, better, will know how win over the assistance, whether individual or especially social, of decent men.”4 It goes without saying that the closer the work in question is to things pertaining to the moral sphere, the more difficult such collaboration becomes because of the lack of conviction on the part of non-Catholics. But the common quest for a temporal, social good, even if it remains quite limited from the perspective of the Christian ideal, will have the effect of showing unbelievers the worth and credibility of Church teaching through the personal worth of Catholic citizens. It is in this way, in a measure depending on God and the personal holiness of Catholics, that the Church will be able to recover her good reputation, so odiously smeared, and will be able to carry on her work of peace.
The de-Christianization of societies does not take way anything from the effectiveness of the supernatural means that indirectly cause the peace of nations. It only obliges Catholics themselves to adapt their attitude to the situation in light of the Church’s perennial teaching.
1 Such, for example, were the Wars of the Vendée during the French Revolution.
2 Cardinal Pie, “Pastoral Instruction on Peace, Lent 1864” in Works [French], Vol. V, pp. 315-334.
3 St. Pius X, Encyclical Editae Saepe, May 26, 1910, §42.
4 Leo XIII, Letter “Nous ne voulons pas” of June 22, 1892, to Msgr. Fava, Bishop of Grenoble.