May 2012 Print

Book Review: Duties of the Catholic State by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani

Book Review: Duties of the Catholic State by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani

By Scott Quinn

At first glance, this little booklet (based on a lecture given at the Pontifical Lateran University) by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani fulfills every cliché that the enemies of the Church ascribe to her: First, there is the serious-sounding title, Duties of the Catholic State. And then there’s the cover art depicting a—what else?—medieval king looking something like a cross between the image of Christ from the Shroud of Turin and Charlemagne. To complete the caricature, the text contains a non-stop assault on Liberal, Communist, and American finger-wagging rants on the joys of religious liberty.

Scratch the surface and this booklet begins to look like a fantasy story. Duties of the Catholic State? What Catholic State? Where? Franco’s still dead, and his Catholic State has long ago been consumed by the fires of Liberalism and “progress” in Spain. The same goes for Salazar of Portugal. And the rest of Europe? It’s too depressing to even think about.

Scratch further still, though, and you get to the essence of what this booklet really is: a children’s booklet. Not a booklet for children, but a booklet whose author’s message needs to be taught to children if we ever expect to “Restore all things in Christ.”

There are essentially two principal points in Duties. The first is devoted to the duties of rulers in a Catholic State. In a very real aspect, modern Catholics cannot fathom what such a State would even look like. Honest Catholics probably would admit that they would be a little embarrassed were a State to declare itself Catholic, what with all the negative media and political publicity that would surely result.

The second part of this booklet deals with objections of liberals against the very idea of a Catholic State. Cardinal Ottaviani addressed these objections head-on, and the result is a political and social sensibility that will encourage the hearts of all serious Catholics that a Catholic State is not only possible, it is necessary.

Cardinal Ottaviani published this lecture given all the way back in 1953, yet nearly a decade before the theological and liturgical dynamiters of the Second Vatican Council wreaked havoc on both the Church and State by means of revolution. He lamented the trend of some Catholics who, eager to broker a rapprochement with the modern world, rejected the timeless principles laid down by the Magisterium and redefined these principles as transitory rather than permanent. Indeed, he speaks of the “pendulum theory” which was in vogue following the Second World War. This theory allowed the liberals a chance to escape the opprobrium of the smart set, who were always ready with the charge that the Church—wait for it!—wanted to return to the Middle Ages.

So, what are these so-called duties of a Catholic State? Firstly, the State has the duty of professing its religion publicly, even socially. This just makes sense. Men come together to form the State; the State does not precede men. God made us and His very first Executive Order was for us to obey Him and Him alone. We are told constantly that America is a secular country. But do you really think there’s no official religion in America? Think again.

Secondly, “it is the duty of the Rulers to see to it that the moral principles of True Religion inspire the social activity of the State and its legislation.” This is eye-rolling nonsense to today’s pagans, but if there were not such an intimate connection between the moral principles of a society and the conduct of its people, why, asks Cardinal Ottaviani, would “the enemies of the Church have always striven to impede her mission”?

Thirdly, “it is the duty of the Rulers of a Catholic State to ward off everything that would tend to divide or weaken the religious unity of a people.” The Cardinal notes that “reason revolts at the thought” that the demands of a small minority would be allowed to betray the majority and allow the enemies of the Church to divide the Church.

The second part of the booklet treats the political conditions that modern Catholics live in. It is a well-worn objection—to the point of cliché—that the Church maintains a double-standard when it comes to the relations of the Church to the State. Where the State is Catholic, the Church demands protection for the Church. However, where Catholics form a minority, the Church claims the right of toleration in order to continue her mission. That seems downright hypocritical. Cardinal Ottaviani demolishes the argument thusly: “It ought not, therefore, be a matter for wonder that the Church appeals to...the rights of man at least, when the rights of God are not acknowledged.” On the other hand, even the popes acknowledge that rulers in countries that are predominantly Catholic may have to grant some concessions to other forms of worship “for the sake of promoting some great good or of hindering some great evil....” Compare this attitude with the unyielding arrogance of the Obama regime’s policies towards the Church.

Cardinal Ottaviani also made the sad observation that while the peace-and-tolerance crowd condemned the Church for signing an accord with Franco’s Spain, there was a comparative silence about Stalin’s aggressive and sadistic attack on religion within the Soviet Union.

“Well,” you may be thinking, “this is all well and good, but we don’t live in a Catholic State and even countries with a majority of its citizens who identify themselves as Catholic don’t conduct their affairs according to Catholic principles. Why should we read this book? How is its message relevant to us?”

Cardinal Ottaviani frames the issue in a way germane to the political situation of today. He decries “those who would like to determine of themselves...the Church’s sphere of action and the limits of her competence, in order to accuse her of ‘interfering in politics,’ in case she goes outside that sphere.” In other words, these are the people who will tolerate—grudgingly—the role of religion in public life so long as it’s kept to Sundays before noon.

Cardinal Ottaviani notes that the Church is commanded by God Himself to “preach the Gospel to every creature,” and references Pius XII, who declared that “separation between religion and life, between the Church and the world, is contrary to the Christian and Catholic idea.”

And that is why I maintain that this is a book for children. One of the consequences of the spread of liberalism and the resulting disaster at Vatican II is the lacunae in our knowledge of Catholic social principles that was created, and these principles quite naturally include the political sphere. If we are to “restore all things in Christ,” we will have to start from the ground up, which means teaching our children the correct way to look at life. Parents, let this booklet be your guide. Let it be in every home of anyone who dares call himself Catholic.