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VII CATHOLICISM


The Gospels do not provide directives for the arrangement of communal life, and yet there is no department of existence in which appeal to them would be impossible. There is a complete absence in the New Testament of any prescription for the cultivation of learning and art, for the administration of a State, for safeguarding health or for setting about the struggle for prosperity; nor are there any rules for ordering one’s day, directives on food or drink or clothing and not a single directive on conduct in conjugal life. Of the quincunx of earthly being only one category is referred to in the Gospels, but this suffices for all, from the management of daily life to State institutions. As with a cloak, the Gospel wraps and protects everything in the category of the Good, in morality, ethics. In this category the New Testament provides plain signposts.

Almost at the end of the Middle Ages the theory of social economy was taken up in the Church against a background of search for the justum pretium, but as a supplement to scholastic philosophy as a whole and to the Church’s only indirectly, because cultivated by clergymen in the absence at that time of lay spokesmen. However no opinions put forward on the just price were derived from dogma nor were regarded as part of religion. When later Oresmius and Copernicus, both clergymen, produced their economic theses, neither made any claim to shelter behind the power of the Church. Something of these old discussions survived in tradition until modem times, when the issue between just profit and exploitation has involved all the pillars of the social structure. A number of recent Papal encyclicals crown this search for the just price. It is a fruit which has ripened in silence, but so wholly and entirely that it may and even should be linked with the Papacy and so with the Church. All these Papal pronouncements rest exclusively on Catholic ethics derived from the Gospels and do not go beyond them. The rest is left to reason supported by the ethics of the Gospel.

Even the truths of the faith may be examined in the light of reason. The Church herself founded those theological faculties where religious issues are examined. With reasoning permissible in matters of a supernatural order, a free hand is accorded investigators of the natural world.

Without establishing a sacral civilisation, Catholicism does nevertheless contain within itself strong all-round civilising influences. The evidence of this is everywhere, in the history of art, in the history of philosophy and of so many branches of learning, in the consideration of everything that is human; everywhere and in everything Catholicism implants ethical elements.

The most important thing is that the Church derives law from ethics. In the Gospels there is no law at all, whether private or public. In the Church there has never been a shortage of lawyers, but canon law is limited to matters pertaining to and strictly connected with the Church, and moreover law must develop beside, but not in the Church. This is expressed in the time-honoured technical term according to which law was not and is not sacral among Catholics, is not possessed of a religious character. There is a link with Roman civilisation, for it was among the Romans that law first ceased to be sacral. The Church accepted this state of affairs, giving the faithful a free hand in the secular development of law.

There exists, it is true, the Catholic question de civitate Dei, and Catholic philosophy has devoted much labour to the investigation of what a Christian society and State should be — but the Church has never selected the forms of any State or community in order to identify herself with them and to condemn others. And such investigation is always based on ethics and not directly on dogmatics.

On ethical grounds the Church rejected the old Roman State system, although it adopted much from Roman and in general from classical civilisation. Scholastic and neo-scholastic philosophy was based on Aristotle. The classical world from Aristotle to Boethius looked out through Catholicism as if restored. Ths Church saved this civilisation — on what a scale may be observed by walking through the Vatican Museum. She tended or allowed to be tended various of its features on the sole condition that not a crumb of her religious matter was thereby lost. Neither in doctrine nor ethics did she ever adapt herself to the classical world, nor did she provide occasion for any dvoyevyerye [double faith]; and she has never taken part in efforts at so-called religious syntheses.635 Very many Roman concepts and institutions suffered rejection.

Nevertheless the Church herself created the civilisation of Catholic Europe, and all admit that she “brought up the nations”. She evolved a Christian-classical civilisation. She saved at Viviarium and Monte Cassino whatever of the classical spirit could be reconciled with the ethics of the Gospels, and a very strong civilisational combination emerged; but it was the combination of a Catholicism unreduced and uncompromising with a classicism cut according to Catholic ideas. Thus arose the Christian-classical civilisation which we may call briefly Latin. The Church created this civilisation, and yet is not identified with it, is not confined to it. She does not press it upon any of the newly-converted peoples.

Let us take as an example a civilisation which is outstanding and entirely distinct, the Chinese, as it were the opposite pole to the Latin. Learned missionaries have long laboured in China for the intellectual benefit not of Latin but emphatically of Chinese civilisation. In the, catalogue of Chinese books published in Chinese by the Jesuit Fathers in the years 1584-1684 there are more than fifty treatises on astronomy and philosophy. The Jesuit Adam Schall (died 1669) reformed the Chinese calendar.636 And now there is a summons to China for “a master of one of the art schools, so that he may become acquainted on the spot with the art of Eastern Asia and create a suitable Eastern-Asiatic church style”.637

It is known that there exists a Chinese and Japanese and even an Annamite indigenous Catholic hierarchy; there are even local Trappists.638 Do these converts abandon the civilisation to which they belonged before? Is Latin civilisation imposed on them? On the contrary, as the Church once treated classical civilisation, so she treats all, ready to take under her wings everything which can be reconciled with the demands of Catholic ethics. How characteristic in this regard are some remarks by Father Peter Charles S.J., in which we read the following words, both wise and lofty:

“It is possible that there near Mandalay (in Upper Burma) or in Ku-ling (in the Chinese province of Kiangsi) you have prepared for us, Lord, a great Christian theologian, who will give us a spiritual exposition of the Sermon on the Mount and teach us the most elevated method of prayer. After all, was it not once very improbable that Tagasta would produce Saint Augustine? Could anyone have imagined that to translate the Holy Bible you would summon a Dalmatian (Saint Jerome) or that an unprepossessing little Jew from Tarsus in Qlicia would be the apostle of the nations? Was Plato closer to You than Sakyamuni? And yet Plato was useful to Christianity and the Catholic philosophy of St. Thomas rests on Aristotle”.639

Catholicism is also the most philosophical of religions; to understand it adequately no slight degree of philosophical training is necessary. It is the only learned religion. The high standing of Catholicism grew out of the cultivation of learning, as the decline of Eastern Christianity came from its ignorance. Catholicism is the religion of the intellect.

In recent year (1925) the worthy Dr. Aleksander Żychliński, made this point in plain terms: “True Catholic culture does not consist in a certain sum of information from the catechism, nor in certain religious practices, not even in the reading of religious books. Catholic culture is rather the firmly grounded and thoroughly thought-out Catholic view of the world, giving effective orientation to the whole moral life of a man”.640

Is Catholicism a religion of the intellect only? What of feeling? But I am not in favour of emotional discussion of emotion, and I pass at once to the place of emotion in religion. There is no doubt that, the simpleton sometimes understands — and better than the wise man — the reality of Christianity. We explain this by feeling, thus explaining one unknown by another. We shall be helped by a comparison of Catholicism with religions of a lower type, by an examination of ordinary life against religious background. The history of Catholicism is a history of the constant curtailment of ritual and formality; formalism retreats into an increasingly distant background and diminishes steadily in quantity. According to our ideas, the religious life is an inner life. In view of this, ethics is based in the first place not on the act itself but on the intention behind the act. This subtlety is not found except in Western Christianity. It may very well be that this concept of intention will bring new “barbarians” to the Church without the least loss to her.

Catholicism is a religion of intellect and intention. Here are two capital means of “sanctification” — both possible in more than one civilisation, but neither themselves constituting one.

Catholic ethics have been mentioned here several times. Let us consider concretely and from a strictly secular viewpoint what that ethic means for all the civilisations summoned alike to place themselves in the common sheep-fold. Collecting and critically examining facts from the history of societies as well as of the Church itself and from missionary memoirs of various countries of the world, I have become convinced that this question can be put briefly, clearly and also with complete accuracy, thus:

In communal life Catholic ethics everywhere introduce four postulates, always the same and from the beginnings to the present day identical for all kinds and levels of civilisation. Four wedges are driven into every civilisation: life-long monogamous marriage; pressure for the abolition of slavery; abolition of revenge which is entrusted to a public judicature; finally, the Church’s independence of the State, to prevent dependence by the spiritual factor on physical power. The thesis of the basic superiority of spiritual over material power was enriched, thanks to the Cluniac school, by an ethical superstructure, according to which in certain cases material power must be resisted in the name of spiritual. Is not this the climax of Latin civilisation, the thought of greatest genius to which man has attained?

These four postulates exert an enormous influence on every civilisation. Life-long monogamy raises the position of woman to such an extent that the aim of equal rights is a simple consequence, strongly supported by the Church. This brings changes in family and inheritance law, different views on family and home. And the Church insists on this postulate firmly and radically: she does not give baptism to anybody who refuses consent to it. Monogamy is introduced at once, without delay.

But no missionary abolishes slavery at once. Long tolerated — right into the Middle Ages — it was nevertheless subjected to increasing restriction, so that in Catholic Europe by the ninth century slaves had to be brought from a distance, the trade being confined to Jews, until finally it was not permissible for a Christian to acquire a slave from a Jew. A slow and gradual process was indicated out of concern for the good of the slaves. We have seen the social disorder created by the Young Turks when they abolished slavery radically and at once. It had to remain “on paper”, for where would the slave get his daily bread if he were exposed to expulsion from the family in which his father and grandfather had found their keep?

The endeavour to abolish slavery lies in nuce in St. Paul’s declaration “If any man will not work, neither let him eat”. Not everybody is capable of intellectual work, and equally, not everybody of physical; but the ancients despised the physical. The pronouncement by the apostle of the nations implies a moral obligation to work; it enriches ethics with a new postulate, since work — obligatory in the interest of public morality — becomes an ethical ordinance. A man unsuited to work with his intellect fulfils the ethical requirement by physical work. And since such work has entered the field of ethics, since it has become an ethical activity, it accordingly becomes worthy of respect. Not only the slave may devote himself to it; physical work no longer shames a free man.

It is worth reflecting whether we do not have here the secret of the development of handicrafts, and subsequently of all that we call technique. And did not the classical world remain at a low level of technical development — although it did not lack scientific inventions — because it loaded with contempt the physical labour from which techniques could have emerged? It appears to me that St. Paul is the father of invention. There would have been no “epoch of great discoveries” without respect for the manual worker.

The missionary is as heavily engaged in the struggle against revenge as in the struggle against polygamy. Here is neither tha place nor time to raise doubts on the advisability of this radicalism; I only allow myself the observation that missionaries do not realise that what is involved is not normal killing and murder but the fulfilment of a serious ethical postulate — according to the reasoning of the peoples concerned.

Abolishing revenge, the Church must aim at a public judicature and so at the beginnings of government. There is thus no factor more creative of States than the Catholic Church, while the princely court of law is fundamental to State-making. But do not let us imagine that it is easy to convince a chieftain that he ought to become a judge. Everywhere — and in Europe — the position was surely much the same as in Kiev in 996.

The Bishops wanted Prince Vladimir to introduce the office of criminal judge. For the Byzantine Greeks and Bulgarians occupying Church offices in the newly-converted country it was a barbarity that murders, husband-murder and even robberies were left to the private law krvina. They represented, therefore, to Vladimir that it was his duty to pursue and punish criminals simply by the strength of his authority, on behalf of the State, and that they ought to be punished even if only by outlawry. The theory of State courts was, however, quite incomprehensible to the baptised Kiev kagan. Having just taught him “Thou shalt not kill” now they were ordering him to do just that. He did not feel injured, why then was he to revenge himself? He did not feel himself to be a representative of the people’s interests, in this case of the safety of their lives and property, and so did not feel any obligations. Generations were needed before this was understood. Tradition puts into Vladimir’s mouth a significant reply to the bishops’ proposition: “I fear a sin”. And when the bishops decided for the time being to stop, provided at least brigandage was made punishable in court, the prince agreed, but immediately incurred the disfavour of the elders. He therefore summoned a joint conference of ecclesiastical and lay notabilities, at which a compromise resolution was passed. For robbery there was to be vira (a fine, which the Vargengians brought from Scandinavia), but since it was to be a princely court, the vira would be due not to the injured party but to the princely treasury. In this way the bishops saved the principle that the State imposes punishment for crime — for the time being at least for robbery, as the worst of crimes. But this compromise theoretical position was only a cover for the bishops’ defeat. For as the prince did not pursue robbers and did not even appoint any servant for the purpose, how could he extract vira! Practice also followed the old road — “and Vladimir acted according to the customs of his father and grandfather” — as the Chronicle of Nestor assures us.641

Exaction of revenge by the clan was a duty, decisive for its honour; clans do not easily allow themselves to be deprived of the right to honour. Corsica and the Balkans have enjoyed this expression of natural ethics for a very long time. So let us not be surprised that among coloured neophytes opposition is customarily the more determined the more it comes from a big misunderstanding. The Church combats this radically, and thereby impels converted communities towards statehood, that is, to devise institutions of government. In more than one part of the globe, the genesis of a State is attributable to Christian missions.

The fourth point of Catholic ethics, regularly inculcated by the Church throughout the world, is her independence of the secular power. This enters deep into issues of public law; I shall therefore leave it for the place in the next chapter where it will be proper to speak of the relation of various civilisations to private and public law. In the questions which have been raised so far, only private law has been involved; the question of revenge also has a root in private law, whence there are efforts to pull it into the public sphere.




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