Catholic Political Hopes
Editor’s Note: This is a transcript of a conference given for seminarians. The oral style has been retained throughout.
I am going to frame this conference as if it were a dialogue with one of these characters, trying to use for their side the arguments I have been hearing daily for over 30 years. But for this to work, we need first to define what we should understand by this term of Catholic political hope.
The word hope describes two realities: on one hand, a passion and on the other, the theological virtue.
The passion means that there is something for which I hope: some good that I want, that I desire, but that I do not yet have. St. Thomas Aquinas says that hope has two defining factors: the object of hope is a “bonum arduum”—a good that is cannot be obtained without effort, without fighting for it; but it must also be a possible good. A thing that I can obtain easily with no bother or struggle would never be the object of hope. And that which cannot possibly be done is also never the object of hope; except, perhaps, for someone with some mental problem!
Regarding the theological virtue, the object is certainly God; God hoped-for. And in this life, God is indeed a bonum arduum—He is difficult to obtain, He must be fought for. Battle is man’s life on earth, as the prophet says—no one will be crowned who has not fought valiantly, adds St. Paul. God is not an easy prize; and if this good is a possible one, it also means that it can be lost. To hope for something does not mean having certainty, to be sure that we will gain it; it means the knowledge that with effort, it is possible. And here we do not only refer to supernatural hope.
Importance of Politics in Life?
Our friend might say, “But of course I have hope! I have hope in eternal life. I believe I will get to Heaven.”
We are talking about Catholic political hope. And you may ask, “What do you mean, Catholic political hope? What does hope have to do with it?” We can refer back to the first conference of this series, in which Orlando Gallo reminded us that man is a social and political animal by nature. We know that grace does not destroy nature; and therefore, we know that the eternal salvation of man is the salvation of someone with a political vocation. We also know that the end of politics, the common good, is a fully human good. And it is a good which is in the order of the intermediate goods, which lead to the last end.
Why, then, are politics so important? Our interlocutor would say that there is no way that man’s salvation could have anything to do with politics; why? Because man’s salvation depends partially upon the grace of God, which is always there; and on the other hand, on my free will—if I want to be saved, and God wants me to be saved, I will be saved. By way of proof: though I live my whole life out in a convent of cloistered Carmelites of the strictest observance, if I don’t want to do it, I would be condemned. And there are cases of people who have gone to Heaven from the concentration camps of a Soviet gulag. Therefore, politics have nothing to do with salvation.
To contradict this, the Magisterium—by the work of Pope Pius XII—teaches us that on the form of society, whether or not it conforms to divine law, depends the salvation of souls. And how do people form a society? If we take a randomly chosen group of 100 persons of all classes and conditions, from any historical period, we will find that the group of persons will always end up structured in the same way. In every group of persons there will always be about five percent that are good and pious, who will follow God’s will and even in the worst of circumstances will attain eternal life. If their exterior circumstances are really bad, they will end up being martyred. This proves the existence of free will. Also, however Catholic the society or the city, there will always be five-percent that reject the divine plan and who will be condemned. What our speaker says is correct: but taking a group of people in general, he is only speaking correctly of ten percent of them.
What happens to the ninety percent in between? These are the people that believe—more or less; that practice their Faith—more or less; that are not enemies of God, to be sure; but that do not have the strength to hold out even to the point of martyrdom in all conditions. So—on what does the salvation of all these people in the middle depend? For all of these people, if they have the luck or the grace to be born in a Catholic family and brought up by Catholic parents, attend Catholic schools, work in an economy that respects justice, fair trade, fair salaries and prices; if they can live in a culture that breathes truth, order and beauty; if they can live in a Catholic political community, these people will end up in Heaven; because they are not enemies of the Church. But, if this same person has the bad luck to be born in a broken family; to study in a totally corrupt educational system; to be forced to make his living in a system based on lucre, speculation and corruption; and to live in a political order completely contrary to Christian political teaching; such people, because they do not have a martyr’s calling, will go to Hell.
This is why Pius XII is right! On the form of society depends the salvation of the majority of souls. We all read the history of the Church and see the courage of the martyrs in the persecutions of the Roman empire. But it is also interesting to see that especially in the last persecution—that of Diocletian—there was a large quantity of people that apostatized, because they were not disposed to suffer martyrdom. Were they enemies of God? No; they were simply weak. And this is why the Church, in Her great wisdom, labored to transform the pagan empire into a Christian empire; because without a Christian empire, salvation and Catholic life were in fact impossible for the majority of people. This is why it is so important that a Christian society exist; the importance of a Catholic city; the importance of the reign of Christ the King. The form of political organization is not an indifferent factor for the salvation of souls.
The Need for Hope in Catholic Politics
If this is so, we can say that in fact there does have to be a political hope for Catholics. The existence of all this disorder of the revolution cannot be a permanent state; if this were the case it would imply either that human nature has changed or that God has changed plans—that He is no longer interested in the salvation of the majority. Since neither of these two ideas can be sustained seriously, it becomes evident that the state of affairs in which there is not a Christian social order must be a transitory situation; it cannot be a definitive, permanent state for humanity. And therefore I believe that the existence of a Catholic socio-political order is at least a secondary object of the virtue of hope. Why? Because in the current political order, God—the primary object of supernatural hope—cannot be obtained by the majority of people. And we know that God’s will first and foremost is the salvation of all men, though not all may be saved.
And herein lies the question set forth in our title. One of my reasons for this conference, which I have been giving for about 20 years, was to look at the crisis of the Council and the part the Church played in it. When one reads, for example, the text of Dignitatis Humanæ—the formal renunciation of the social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ—one has to wonder how it is possible that 2000 bishops, saving a few, could have consented to this document. So what happened? The majority of these bishops believed that Christ is King. But they thought it impossible for Him to reign. They had faith; but they lacked hope.
And this is a problem that, as we were saying, the Church had seen coming for a long time: this sort of divorce between the doctrine that remained orthodox until Vatican II, and an ecclesiastical political praxis that often, as in this case of the signing of the documents, more or less proved the saying that the man who does not act as one thinks, winds up thinking as he acts—as we see today. And so, he will say in the end, “I can’t teach something that is not possible. If it is not possible for Christ to reign, why should we keep talking about Christ being King?” This is Vatican II: from the loss of hope came the loss of faith and doctrine.
First Objection: The Strength of the Revolution
Let us return to the dialogue with our traditionalist friend, over a cup of coffee after Mass. We say, “Let’s try doing something in politics.” He says, “No. All is lost.” Let’s have a look at his arguments. I will mention a few, but there can be many more.
The first argument to appear is the strength of the revolution. It dominates everything, even the Church! Every political force, every party, every government, every institution has been infiltrated at least in part by the force of the anti-Christian revolution. It has taken over everything; it has power over the media and the secret service. Against this, what can we do? Nothing—almost nothing—practically nothing!
But let us look a little further. The revolution has had this power for a long time. Has it really helped? Let us look at the testimony of the revolutionaries themselves and they believed as a rule that the promises of the revolution were never fulfilled. Some statements are truly laughable. In the book That He May Reign by Jean Ousset, there is a quote from a text of Victor Hugo, the great literato of the 19th century, in which he said, “The 19th century was great, but the 20th will be greater. Thanks to the advances of technology and science there will be no more hunger, no more illness, no more war; there will be universal peace.” Behold the utopia that with this perfect humanist dialogue they were going to resolve all the world’s problems! Enter the 20th century. World War I: toxic war, bombardments. World War II. In other words, the diagnosis and promise of the revolutionaries was not fulfilled.
And we may cite other proofs of this. All the literature of the Marxists offer a perfect example. If there is one place in the world where the revolution can be said to have reached the height of power, it is Soviet Russia. They ruled there from 1917 until the 90s; some 70 years. They had absolute power over politics, economy, education; they made every effort to transform the poor little Russian into the Soviet man. What remains of this power? It dissolved, vanished. And we cannot just say, “Oh, well, Russia lost a war.” They didn’t lose any war! “There was an invasion, they had atom bombs fired at them.” None of that! Russia went down all on her own. Alexander Solzhenitsyn commented on this, shocked as he was that some Western people believed in Marxism. In Russia, he said, no one believes in Marxism; many people live by it, but that’s another matter—there is no one in Russia who actually believes in it.
How did this fall come about? If the Christian social order is the order desired by God, man may separate himself from it, because he has free will, but he cannot escape the consequences. I can jump from the fifth floor of a building; but what I can’t go against is the law of gravity. The destruction of the family, the destruction of the economy, the destruction of culture all caused the Soviet system to self-destruct. Why? There is something important to note: that any parts of the revolutionary system that “work,” note the quotation marks, do so because of the goodness and truth that remains to them. As the Christian virtues disappear, not even the revolution remains. There is a minuscule part of the order desired by God which not even the revolution may transgress. In Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes has his hero passing through La Mancha, and he finds a group of robbers dividing their loot. He says, “O, what a great thing is justice, that even robbers use it!” Even in this band of robbers, if there is not at least this minimal respect for natural order…the band falls apart. They would all kill each other.
There comes a point, however, at which this destruction of Christian order finishes off even the revolution itself. And this is why it is so important that in the history of the anti-Christian revolution, every so often, they need to at least simulate a return to order to keep from disappearing. What would the French Revolution have been without Napoleon Bonaparte? He signed the Concordat, allowed the return of some of the exiles and brought about some order. Otherwise it would have collapsed. In Soviet Russia, Stalin took some measures during World War II, for example; he restored importance to the Orthodox Church, added emphasis to the importance of the family.
The topic of the Soviet attitude toward the Church and the familial order is very interesting. When Communism came to Russia in 1917, following especially the writings of Engels about the origins of the family, property, and the state, they declared that private property and inheritance should disappear. Matrimony was eliminated; free love was promoted. In the 1930s, at the dawn of World War II, a study was published with a report from the staff of the Soviet army, which states that they were having great problems with giving military instruction to the younger men. It seems that at that moment the population of imprisoned minors in Russia was five times that of the political prisoners, which was far from small. The destruction of the families brought forth a population who were not fit for military formation. So the system started evolving. First they discarded socialist marriages. Then, they started allowing normal inheritance practices, because, at the death of parents, the children would sell everything at any price since it would be taken by the State. So, they initiated reforms and, in the final edition of the civic code, they had even gotten rid of inheritance tax; they wound up with a civic code less socialist than those of many Western nations!
Why did this happen? Because one cannot go permanently against the natural order! And take note that, after 70 years of Communism, from 1990 to the present day, 4,000 cloistered Orthodox convents have been created in Russia. And this comes from a people that just emerged from 70 years of Communism! The President of Russia paid a visit to France a while ago, and when he was asked why, he said he came to venerate the relic of the Holy Cross—and this is a man who was a member of the Jewish bank community, and who was an important Soviet delegate. If anyone had said in the 1960’s that Communism would fall and Russia would return to her Christian roots, our doubtful friend would have said, “Impossible! The Jewish bankers and the Soviet secret police are too powerful, and so on and so forth…” And yet, we are seeing it happen now. Communism went down like Goliath before David’s stone—but with even less force than that.
Second Objection: Catholics are Poor Politicians
The other argument we will note is also taken from history. “We Catholics always fail in politics.” However, if we analyze history properly, it’s not so true. Yesterday, you listened to two magnificent conferences about Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal; and Salazar was a man who appeared in a country that was completely thrown off kilter by Freemasonry, and was able to re-establish a Christian public order that lasted practically as long as Communism did in Russia. He did this alone—practically isolated from international contact, fighting against Freemasonry and the international banking powers, in a small country. And yet he succeeded.
Now, you may say “But eventually he fell too.” Here on earth, we need to realize that nothing is permanent. The full kingdom of Heaven will only come in eternal life. But this does not mean that we shouldn’t bother! While the earth may never come to be paradise, we must take care, at least, that it not be an anticipation of Hell. In a Christian regime, there may be murders, injustices and crime. The fundamental difference is that in a Christian society, error and sin are not in the laws; they are not in the customs; they are not in the fabric of society. And because of this, sinful man always has a very great number of chances to return to order.
The dramatic problem of the revolutionary order is not the quantity of sin. It is that the sinner proclaims that he is right! It is that the sinner forms the laws and calls evil good, and good evil. This is the chief problem of a revolutionary society. And, even though you may say that the Vendeens, the Carlists, the Cristeros failed, a closer look reveals that they didn’t really fail that badly. When one looks at the Catholic reaction that is happening nowadays in France—which is not occurring in Germany or Italy—one has to ask whether this is not the fruit of the blood of the martyrs of the Vendée. When one sees the result of the Spanish Crusade of 1939, this would never have worked without the contribution of a well-nourished and decisive group of Carlists who were the sons and grandsons of those who had fought in the 19th century. Behind the triumphs of 1939 stands the blood of the martyrs of the 19th century.
Third Objection: We Live in Apocalyptic Times
And finally comes the argument that is currently in fashion: “We can’t do anything.” Why? “Because the Apocalypse is at our doorstep. The Antichrist will be here any minute…and look at the symbols, the third toad, the fourth trumpet,…” whatever it is. And so, of course, for these friends of ours the apostolate is transformed into a sort of ticket sale; take your pick of the balcony seats or the boxes, to await the arrival of the Antichrist. Since he’s coming soon, we can’t do anything. I recall one curious fellow to whom I said: “So are we going to do something political?” And he said, “Oh no, no need, it’s all taken care of. Here comes General So-and-so, and everything will be fixed.” The coup failed, and “Well, it’s failed, now there’s nothing to be done.” So after all the optimism, the conclusion is always in the direction of doing nothing—never getting our feet wet!
The end of the world, the coming of the Antichrist, is a mystery that both divine Providence and the liberty of man play into. And we can understand it, reading the Old Testament; look at the punishment of Nineveh, the city which was converted by the intervention of Jonah; or the Hebraic haggling of Abraham—“if there are so many just men…or a couple fewer…or even less.” It shows that it’s not a deterministic matter; but rather, a mystery. This is very important, because there have been many people who, starting from the idea of the Apocalypse, consider that there is nothing left to do.
Political Hope or Utopia?
Since I have already mentioned Jean Ousset’s book That He May Reign, let us go back to him. Ousset also discussed this topic in a magnificent chapter, called O Crux Ave, Spes Unica—Hail, O Cross, our only hope. I can’t resist the temptation to read you a couple of paragraphs, because it is clear that he also had to deal with such people as we have been discussing. After discussing the reign of Christ in the first section of his book, he adds: “the description of the thesis of the reign of Our Lord, has been able to rouse our enthusiasm, this enthusiasm runs the risk of being caught wrong-footed at the end of these studies which we have just read on the revolution, its havoc and the fearsome appearance of its armies.” In other words, after introducing the social Kingship of Christ in this book, he speaks of the opposition, the power of the revolution.
“How would it serve us to understand the necessity of tending to an end, if it is presented immediately after as something inaccessible? If the distance separating desire from its fulfillment is great, how much greater must be the distance between the ideal prospects offered by Christian hope and the possibilities of fulfillment presented by current events; a difficult matter. “My friends,” they have frequently said to us, “you have convinced me theoretically of the Faith. But do you truly believe that this remedy you believe is the universal remedy—can it be accepted in practice someday? And, for that matter, that it is effective in practice? Do you not find yourselves in the midst of a Utopia? Would it not be better to forget this ideal that does no more than exacerbate our troubles, since it is considered impossible to fulfill?” ”This is the most common way, even among the best of people; their intelligence has come to know the truth and recognizes it as such. It is will that is lacking. The problem is not lack of faith, it is lack of hope; because it is necessary to have a singular hope to take up the reform of a society penetrated by the revolutionary spirit. In fact it is not enough just to say, in an outburst of piety, that salvation is in Catholicism because all other motives for hope have faded away.
This reasoning may be legitimate; but despite this, it runs the risk of being insufficient, for it is a manner of hoping in nothing but God, which is a very subtle form of despair; given that this supposed supernatural hope remains passive, slothful, sterile and desolate. There are those who, out of the virtues themselves, create vices. Since we live in a battle against relativism, positivism and all that, professing to be men of principle and of permanent doctrine, what happens to us is often what happened to a friend of mine who had a great stomach pain and went to see a very pious, very Catholic physician. He said, “Hey, I have a bad stomach-ache; why is this happening?” “The cause is original sin!” “What should I do?” “Well, you have to pray!” Of course, the primary cause of all our troubles is sin, but we can’t ignore the secondary causes! And God works, normally, through these secondary causes.
There is Hope as for the Prodigal Son
Because of this, I believe that there are many motives for hope. Firstly: because the revolution is failing! Look at their own studies; they consider that they have won nothing. What they proposed to do, they have not achieved; the case of Russia is only one. Another country that was under the Communist yoke is Hungary. They have just published the best constitution in Europe; one with reference to its Christian roots, in a country which may not seem like much, but in the Hungarian parliament—in the middle of the Parliament Building—they keep the Crown of St. Stephen. And the Constitution says, “The power of this Parliament comes from the Crown of St. Stephen”—a Constitution that defends the life of the unborn child, that prohibits homosexual “marriage,” which refers, in short, back to its Christian roots as the foundation of the Constitution. And this all took place in the 21st century—in a country that also went through 70 years of Communism, behind whose attempt at resistance in 1956 were the prayers of Cardinal Mindszenty, and the prayers of St. Stephen, King of Hungary, for his people.
Lastly, I think that there is a great support for hope even with how bad the situation looks now. We can make a strong comparison of history, especially in the European and American nations of the last two or three centuries, with one of the loveliest parables of the Gospel: that of the Prodigal Son. The parable begins with the son, who lives with his father, who tells him, “All that is mine is thine.” This is very like the times of medieval Christendom, in which all the good things of family, culture, art, were present.
What happens to the prodigal son? He says one day, “I’m tired of this. Let me have my part of the inheritance; I’m going.” This is very similar to the men of the Renaissance and the following centuries. In this period, in a society which had separated from God, in which anthropocentrism was fundamental, there were still great works of art—magnificent things. Then comes the period when the son goes to the city and, using the inheritance from his father, makes friends, has great feasts, and has a good time. At this point the son does not feel that he has distanced himself from the father; because he is living off his inheritance.
The parable goes on to tell that in time, the money ran out; there was a great famine, and there was nothing to eat. The son ends up taking care of pigs, eating the acorns that the pigs leave behind; and for the Jews, to care for swine was the worst fate that could befall them. This is what has happened to us today. We have wasted our inheritance that we received from Christendom. And we may note that the intent of the revolution was not the destruction of the Church. The devil knows that the Church itself cannot be destroyed. The intent is to destroy Christendom; because he knows that in this social and political order, the effects of the Church’s actions will not reach more than a small group of people.
These, then, are the consequences; and now, it is over. Here is where the discourse of revolutionary naturalism fails, because deep down, revolutionary materialism does not want man to live badly. It wants all good things, without the Cause of all good things. And this is why Catholics fail when they try to defend life, because they deny the reign of Christ the King. In this there is a profound providence of God. “If I am not the King, if I am not the center, they will have none of the human goods.” God does not want us to have just the additions. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and the rest will be added unto you.” The Prodigal Son saw in the end that, separated from his father, he would be left with just the additions. From this we can see that it is the idea of a so-so order in which we have some sort of coexistence that is utopian, which cannot be hoped for: to think that the society that reneges from God can live well.
In today’s world the option we have is either Christ the King, or the manipulation of embryos, the slaughter of infants, of grandparents, of children; there is no other possibility. The inheritance of the Christian sons has been squandered. But it is in this very situation that the son says, “I will rise up, and go back to my father.” It may be that man in these days may be more amenable to returning to the Church than man of the 19th century; because the man of the 19th century had his Christian inheritance. His money had not yet run out.
Where I work, at the City of Buenos Aires government building, all the women under 30 have partners, and all those of more than 40 are divorced. The men are about the same. But the state they are in—hated by their children, unable to bear the Christmas holidays because they have to see so many people! They say to me, “You are married, and you have seven children—seven! All with the same woman?!” “Yes, with the same woman.” Their eyes widen, and I realize that they have a healthy envy of me. They are not happy! They are living in hell on earth.
To resolve this, something very important is missing. It is why so many people want to do nothing in politics. The virtues are missing; and especially two crucial virtues. The virtue of magnanimity is the first. Aristotle says that magnanimity is the virtue that calls us to desire great things and to do great things. This virtue, especially in these times, is not possible without another even more important virtue, which is humility. Why? Because only when I am disposed to accept defeat, to accept being trod on and humiliated, that my friends tell me that I have failed over and over; when this no longer matters to me, only then am I free to do great things. And the greatest example of this is certainly the Blessed Virgin. The Virgin had the magnanimity to accept being the Mother of God, “because He regarded the humility of His Handmaid.”