November 5-11, 2001
volume 12, no. 155

Empires come and go, including ours!

    This space [in CHRIST OR CHAOS] was going to be reserved for the continuation of my analysis of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). However, I have decided to devote the remaining space in this issue to yet another commentary on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001.

    One of the warning signs for a nation which is in jeopardy of being overrun by the determination of foreign invaders and terrorists is its collective belief in its own invincibility. "We're Americans. Nobody beats us," is an oft-heard refrain uttered by people in "man-in-the- street" interviews. This sense of invincibility demonstrates a sense of national superiority and national destiny which is nothing other than the idolatry of this nation. While we are called to love our country, true patriotism involves willing the good of our native land, as Saint Thomas Aquinas noted in his SUMMA THEOLOGICA. And the ultimate good of one's nation is to seek her Catholicization, the triumph of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as it is exercised by the Church He founded upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope. Such a triumph is no more a guarantee that a particular nation will last forever or that its social institutions will always recognize the right ordering of things ordained by Christ the King than being in a state of grace at a particular time in one's life is a guarantee of that one will die in such a state.

    However, just as being in a state of grace is the necessary precondition for growth in the interior life as a preparation for the moment of one's death, so is a nation's recognition of the Social Reign of Christ the King, and the authority of His true Church is the necessary precondition for the right ordering of civil institutions and the pursuit of fundamental justice founded in the splendor of Truth Incarnate. We are citizens of the Church by means of our baptism before we are citizens of any particular nation, and it is our Heavenly citizenship which informs us how to attempt to subordinate our national life in light of First and Last Things.

    Pope Leo XIII put it this way in SAPIENTIAE CHRISTIANAE in 1890:

        "Now, if the natural law enjoins us to love devotedly and to defend the country in which we had birth, and in which we were brought up, so every good citizen hesitates not to face death for his native land, very much more is it the urgent duty of Christians to be ever quickened by like feelings towards the Church. For the Church is the holy city of the living God, born of God Himself, and by Him built up and established. Upon this earth indeed she accomplishes her pilgrimage, but by instructing and guiding men, she summons them to eternal happiness. We are bound, then, to love dearly the country whence we have received the means of enjoyment this mortal life affords, but we have a much more urgent obligation to love, with ardent love, the Church to which we owe the life of the soul, a life that will endure for ever. For fitting it is to prefer the good of the soul to the well-being of the body, inasmuch as duties towards God are of a far more hallowed character than those toward men."
    Thus, it is a mistake to engage in jingoistic nationalism. A nation has the natural-law right to defend itself against those who threaten her, being careful to use moral methods to do so, however. But there is no guarantee that any particular nation, no matter how many material and technological accomplishments it has manifested over the centuries, will conquer every foe or will last until the end of time.

    Nations and empires can come and go just as quickly as the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan came tumbling down. Many of us have been saying for years that the moral life of the United States and much of the rest of the developed world mirror those of the Roman Empire in the centuries before its collapse. Yes, it is possible that the seemingly invincible United States of America might go the way of the Roman Empire. And those who do not believe such a thing is possible ought to consider the words of Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Romans:

        "Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness; to dishonor their own bodies among themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause, God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts, one towards another; men with men, working that which is filthy and receiving in themselves the recompenses which was due to their error. And, as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient. Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness; full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity; whisperers, detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute; without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they, who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them" (Romans 1: 24-32).
    Saint Paul's description of ancient Rome could just as well be applied to many of our own cities, including New York and San Francisco, among many others. Sure, there is much good in our people, as has been demonstrated in the acts of heroism and self-sacrifice during the rescue and recovery effort in New York and at the Pentagon in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. However, a society which promotes evil under cover of law makes itself susceptible to decay from within and attacks from without. A society which is rudderless as a result of its rejection of the Social Kingship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the authority of His true Church decays over the course of time regardless of the "good intentions" who believe that men can live on the natural level alone without referencing the King and Kings and His true Church.

    Bad ideas lead to bad consequences. Always. Inevitably.

    The Roman Empire embraced almost every single one of the evils which have been promoted under cover of law in the United States and popularized in our culture. Contraception, abortion, sodomy, pornography, statism, divorce, euthanasia, suicide, pedophilia, and other forms of licentiousness were commonplace in Rome as it was decaying. The government grew in power and expended more and more revenue as the family unit disintegrated. The average person was diverted from the reality of all of this by bread and circuses, the modern equivalent of which is sporting events and television and motion pictures. Why live in the real world when one can be diverted by fantasy and spectacles?

    The collapse of the Roman Empire in the West at the beginning of the fifth century was considered unthinkable at the time our Lord walked the face of this earth. Rome had conquered much of the known world. Its engineering and architectural feats are still marvels to behold, although those feats are in various states of decay (symbolic of the empire's own decay). Only a handful of people understood that human empires come and go. And the Roman Empire was the most powerful empire in the history of the world, even more powerful than that of the Soviet Union.

    The calamity of the collapse of the Roman Empire was blamed by many of its apologists on Christians, a fable perpetuated by Edward Gibbons in his famous DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. It was to dispel this lie that Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote ON THE CITY OF GOD. As Pope Leo XIII commented in IMMORTALE DEI in 1885 on the resurrection of this lie by the apologists of modernity:

        "And yet a hackneyed reproach of old date is leveled against her, that the Church is opposed to the rightful aims of the civil government, and is wholly unable to afford help in spreading that welfare and progress which justly and naturally are sought after by every well- regulated State. From the very beginning Christians were harassed by slanderous accusations of this nature, and on that account were held up to hatred and execration, for being (so they were called) enemies of the empire. The Christian religion was moreover commonly charged with being the cause of the calamities that so frequently befell the State, whereas, in very truth, just punishment was being awarded to guilty nations by an avenging God. This odious calumny, with most valid reason, nerved the genius and sharpened the pen of St. Augustine, who, notably in his treatise ON THE CITY OF GOD, set forth in so bright a light the worth of Christian wisdom in its relation to the public weal, that he seems not merely to have pleaded the cause of Christians of his day, but to have refuted for all future times impeachments so grossly contrary to truth. The wicked proneness, however, to levy the like charges and accusations has not been lulled to rest. Many, indeed, are they who have tried to work out a plan of civil society based on doctrines other than those approved by the Catholic Church. Nay, in these latter days a novel scheme of law has begun here and there to gain increase and influence, the outcome, as it is maintained, of an age arrived at full stature, and the result of liberty in evolution. But though endeavors of various kinds have been ventured on, it is clear that no better mode has been devised for the building up and ruling the State than that which is the necessary growth of the teachings of the Gospel. We deem it, therefore, of the highest moment, and a strict duty of Our Apostolic office, to contrast with the lessons taught by Christ the novel theories now advanced touching the State. By this means We cherish hope that the bright shining of the truth may scatter the mists of error and doubt, so that one and all may see clearly the imperious law of life which they are bound to follow and obey."
    The United States of America is not exempt from the currents of history. Terrorists from abroad are taking advantage of the decadence that is within our very midst. As my wife, Sharon, noted quite perceptively a few days after the terrorist attacks, "Could it be that we are seeing the revenge of the stem cells?" Her comment was made sardonically. However, she had a point. A nation led by men who believe they have the authority to craft decisions in defiance of the Divine positive law and natural law is going to pay a very heavy price, as we are doing in so many ways. The want of order which Saint Augustine discussed of ancient Rome is very much a phenomenon of our own society today.

    Thus, citizens of our country should not be convinced of our invincibility, nor should they believe that ours is a "holy" cause to spread democracy and pluralism around the world. God does not want us to spread democracy and pluralism. He wants us to build up the life of the true Faith in our souls and in our nation so that we can defend ourselves against the terror of the demons who seek the destruction of souls and thus the sowing of chaos in our national life.

    Empires come and go, including ours. May we pray to Our Lady the only empire which lasts forever, that of Christ the King, comes of age here in the United States of America. God forbid that we have to wait until our vanquishing as a nation to learn anew what was learned after the vanquishing of the Roman Empire in the West: that both men and their nations must recognize Christ the King and submit humbly to the authority of His true Church in every aspect of their individual and social lives.

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

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November 5-11, 2001
volume 12, no. 155
CHRIST or chaos
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