The Secret of the Church's Success
Under the Standard of St. Joseph
T. story of the relations between our Lady and St. Joseph is without equal for sheer beauty in all the annals of chivalry. If she is the greatest of all gentlewomen, he is surely the ideal gentleman. Such mingling of delicacy and protecting strength will be found nowhere else. It is curious that the poets, who have been so ready to sing of the love between man and woman, should have neglected the theme and that the artists should have been content to depict the one who stood between the Mother and the world as a benign but wholly uninteresting old man distinguishable from other old men only by his halo and bushy beard. The pedestrian type represented by the St. Joseph of popular devotion is a sheer libel on the dreamer who awoke from a vision of danger impending over his sacred and beloved charges and.immediately, like the man of action he was, carried them away to safety. The star-lit streets of Nazareth watching the silent passing of the trio beheld a spectacle utterly eclipsing the elopings, so dear to the hearts of the romantic, of clandestine lovers.
The artistry of the story is seen in the perfect balance of the picture —on the one hand. maternal love too absorbed in the Infant it carried to guard herself and the Child from danger, and, on the other hand. the taut watchfulness of masculine strength. This balance shows that St. Joseph is by no means a superfluous figure. The two adults are complementary, the one to the-other. It is only in contrast with the manliness of her attendant knight that the graciousness of Maty's motherhood is fully perceived.
STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS " THE soul is as a woman before God," wrote Coventry Patmore. It is as a woman that we always speak of her. It is in kneeling with upward gaze that her real character is revealed. Her prime function is that of worship. Like a lark, she sings before the gate of heaven. But this very attitude considered by itself constitutes a weakness. Though not of the world, the Church is in the world. There is no need to point out the danger to a worshipping society of such a world as that in which we are now living. The danger is increased by the fact that the Church herself refuses to employ carnal weapons for the defence of the Truth. She must govern by moral suasion or not at all. I send you' forth," said our. Lord to His disciples, " as sheep among wolves." Not only were they few in numbers but the qualities enumerated in the Sermon on the Mount and implicit in the very foundations of the Church made them particularly vulnerable. That such a Society should have been able to survive in the pagan Roman Empire built on armed power was quite literally a miracle.
And yet, although the miracle remains, there was a certain aspect of Roman society which could have afforded a clue to the mystery. That great military organisation contained within itself an element which, though it was incapable of bearing arms, not only managed to survive but exercised no small influence on its life and even on the conduct of public affairs. The Roman matron was by no means a nonentity. The Gospels themselves in their references to Pilate's wife affords us an illustration of the way in which she might, under favourable circumstances, dictate to the dictators. Wielding no weapon but her charm, woman could and did control to no small extent the course of events. The saying that it is the hand that rocks the cradle which rules the world had, even then, a large measure of truth. By her very weakness woman enlisted manly strength for her protection.
THE BIRTH OF CHIVALRY THIS social phenomenon helps us to understand the appeal which the Church made and the manner by which she transformed potential enemies into devoted guardians of her honour. Because no barricades protected her peaceful shrines, they were respected even by warriors stained with blood. Because her assemblies were like family gatherings, they shared the immunity of the family from attack. Because she could not and would not protect herself from assault, she was protected. She appealed to the chivalric in human nature and made heroes of common men. In her presence their roughness was softened. They rejoiced to find, in safeguarding her interests, employment for their strength which evoked their best. In her service manhood found its vocation as the champion of the weak.
At first the service rendered was of a kind which, however necessary at that time, the Church of to-day would scarcely exact. When in 773 the Lombards made war on the Pope, Adrian I appealed to Charlemagne for help. That help was readily given, with the result that the Papacy was freed from the Lombard menace, and Charlemagne became the recognised champion of the Church. At a later date, the armed forces of Christendom set out to rescue the Holy Places in Palestine, thus dedicating their military prowess to a Cause which itself was unarmed.
More acceptable from our present-day standpoint were the gifts in kind and in money bestowed upon a Church which dispensed the Gift of Life freely and was dependent therefore on the alms of the faithful. It was the very generosity of these donations which was the undoing of the recipient. Grown rich and powerful. some churchmen became arrogant and greedy. As a worldly corporation the Church lost the appeal which poverty and weakness made, and, in the Provi dence of God, was reduced to her original poverty. To-day her condition ,is such that we may truthfully compare her to our Lady driven forth with her Child to become a fugitive dependent on the strength and skill of her companion.
But who. in these days, represents St. Joseph?
THE DANCERS OF DEPENDENCE THE position of the Church in the age of Charlemagne was such that it is difficult to see how she could have dispensed with his dubious help. But the alliance of the shepherd's crozier and the sword has never been a happy one, and, in the end, has brought no good. It is necessary to speak scarcely less strongly concerning the protection offered by rank and wealth. It is not in human nature to patronise the weak without expecting in return such favours as weakness is able to offer. Nor could we hope that the human element in the Church would prove consistently impervious to the flattery of support from the quarters named. A Catholic nobility and a Catholic plutocracy may have the best intentions in the world, yet insensibly they will exercise, as was seen in the cold reception given to Pope Leo Mil's Encyclical dealing with the condition of the working class, an influence adverse to the diffusion of Catholic social principles. And since it is to-day the proclamation of those principles which is the most vital necessity, we cannot but look upon the influence in question as specially dangerous.
In certain European countries the experiment was tried of endeavouring to Christianise society through political channels. Catholic blocs were formed, Centre Parties (as they were called) came into existence in order to counter the political forces inimical to the Faith. Though these organisations were not officially representative of the Church, they contained a large proportion of devout and able men devoted to Catholicism. Nevertheless, they were not generally a success. Partly because the system of Party Politics itself was in decline and the day of National Governments had arrived and partly because it was found difficult to escape the corrupting influences of the contemporary political world, this method had to be abandoned. Neither the warrior, the rich benefactor nor the politician had been able successfully to adopt the role of St. Joseph. The situation, from the standpoint of the apostolate to the secularised modem world, was desperate. For that apostolate was and is an urgent necessity. Fortunately, a solution was at hand.
THE MODERN ST. JOSEPH IN March, 1937, Pope Pius XI published an Encyclical entitled Divini Redemptoris, which dealt chiefly with the menace of atheistic Communism. Not content with negative criticism, the Pope put forward a constructive programme in the course of which he outlined the ideals and methods of what is now known as Catholic Action, a movement which has been defined as the participation by the laity in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. Concluding this memorable document, he wrote : " To hasten the advent of that ` peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ ' so ardently designed by all, We place the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of St. Joseph, her mighty Protector. He belongs to the working-class and he bore the burden of poverty for himself and the Holy Family, whose tender and vigilant head he was. To him was entrusted the Divine Child when Herod loosed his assassins against Him. In a life of faithful performance of every day duties, he left an example for all those who must gain their bread by the toil of their hands. He won for himself the title of the Just, serving thus as a living model of that Christian justice which should reign in social life."
The identification of St. Joseph with the Catholic Workers could not have been made clearer. Here, in a body of men and women without the means to bribe and possessing, indeed, no gifts but themselves, might be found, according to the Pontiff, a St. Joseph to whom the-Church might look with confidence for help. In the self-offering of the class to which He belonged for the apostolate of Christ the Worker lies the hope of a new chivalry capable of transforming from within that twentieth century society from which, for the present, the spirit of chivalry seems to have fled.