There is probably no more common error among Catholics than to think that the Church has no business to speak on political matters. Cer tainly there is no easier way for the enemy to persuade otherwise quite loyal Catholics to disregard the Church's pronouncements than to suggest that they are political.
The Spanish Episcopate showed themselves fully conscious of these facts when they drafted the great letter to the Bishops of the world which we printed with some necessary condensation last week. To remove every reasonable objection to their intervention they were at pains not only to keep well within the proper litnits of the Church's political pro nouncements but to demonstrate at each stage of their argument that they were in fact keeping within those
In their opening paragraphs they print out that the matters involved are ".not the political interests of a nation but the actual providential foundations of social life—religion, justice, authority and the liberty of the citizen." They add: " Even if the war were of a political or social character, its repercussions in the religious order have been so grave . that we, Spanish Bishops, could not remain silent without abandoning the interests of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
In writing thus they outline the sphere of the Church's legitimate intervention in politics. When it is not a question of this or that political regime or Party, but of a violation of the nioral law threatening the citizens' fundamental rights as men, then the Church has the right to pronounce as t e divinely commissioned' teacher of rare u• „Au, p a moral :Vhen a .political movement is disected against the sanctities of the divine religion, then the Church must condemn the movement, whether it emanates politically from Left or from Right.
But most of the letter is a recital of facts—the events of the past few years—and most of these events are political. The Bishops are aware that this will he alleged to be out of keeping with the character of an episcopal letter. But when moral pronouncements have to be made it is impossible to confine them to the enunciation of general principles. The ordinary private case of conscience cannot be solved unless the circumstances of the case arc stated with precision, and what the Spanish Bishops are pronouncing upon are essentially cases of conscience, for a whole nation and for a whole world.
They discuss, for example, the right of the citizen to take up arms in rebellion, not in the abstract but in connection with the military rebellion of July of last year; and the conditions laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas as justifying rebellion must be supplemented by the political facts and events by which these conditions were in fact fulfilled.
For like reasons the Bishops had to show by a summary of the evidence the real nature of the Red revolutionary movement that the military revolt just managed to anticipate, in order that the outside world might have no doubt as to its proper attitude towards the continuance of the struggle. They had also to show the precise relationship of the Church in Spain to the Nationalist cause, making it clear that in circumstances of extreme peril she accepted the protection of " a power which until now has guaranteed the fundamental principles of all society " but that she " has not tied herself to parties, persons or tendencies." Here again they are obliged to discuss political situations, but only to show that they are concerned with something more than politics. In all these things they have fulfilled their task in such a way as to make it possible for every thinking Catholic to he on the right side about the Spanish war. And if there arc any who still think that the right attitude is impartiality we will add a final thought. The very fact that this is one of those political questions that comes within the sphere of the Church's authoritative pronouncements makes impartiality an offence.
For the Church pronounces in politics where there is a question of moral right or wrong. The Spanish Bishops are not the totality of the Episcopate speaking with an infallible voice but they are the highest religious authority in Spain speaking of what they have seen for themselves in the light of the eternal moral law. We have no right to suspend our own judgement or to ignore theirs.