Page 8, 25th November 1938

25th November 1938
Page 8
Page 8, 25th November 1938 — PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

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Three Catholic Attitudes To World in Action

Need For Mutual Understanding

W E believe that nowadays Catholics in this country are more awake to the need for thinking out what.should be the Catholic attitude to inletnational, political and economic matters than

ever before. Unfortunately the price of serious questioning and serious thinking is nearly always a measure of disagreement as to answers, and many are beginning to feel that harm is being done through the apparent conflicts among Catholics themselves on those very subjects where most of all nonCatholics are looking to Catholics for lead and guidance.

There would seem to be three chief schools of Catholic thought in England at the present time: the realists, the idealists and those whose rigorism in application of principles appears to allow them to have no truck with the world at all.

At the moment the civilised world is enjoying a short pause for reflective thinking upon the past and the possibilities of the future—the Munich Agreement has at least achieved that—and it is not a bad time to illustrate the divergences among Catholics in the light of this pause and to prove from this examination, if possible, that the divergences do not really go so deep as some maintain but rather bear witness to the seriousness and fundamental unity of serious Catholic thought in this country.


Every thought today is turning upon the question of peace: first and foremost—for a drowning man's first instinct is to save himself at any cost--peace in the sense of the mere avoidance of war on the major scale; secondly upon peace in the constructive sense of the achievement of stability and order in both the national and international fields; and thirdly peace in the fuller sense of the establishment of political and social systems in which men can enjoy the essential conditions of well-being.

Peace in the first sense is being pursued, as it were, from hand-to-mouth, that is, the statesmen of the world are either giving way upon points that would otherwise he considered vital rather than risk war or they are using the threat of war as a bluff to secure their ends but with the intention of retreating at the very last moment if their bluff is called in a diplomatic fashion.

Peace in the second sense is being pursued through a series of attempts to create understandings upon the political or economic plane between different nations by isolating, as it were, the points upon which both stand to gain through co

operation. Such are the Anglo-Italian Agreement, the " no more war " pact between England and Germany and, maybe, France and Germany, the Franco-British alliance, the AngloCanadian-American Trade Pact, the German attempt at suzerainty especially in the economic sphere over Central and South-Eastern Germany. These, generally rather flexible and informal, agreements differ from both the old-fashioned 'alliances in that they are not directed against third-parties and from the big post-war treaties, such as the Covenant or Locarno, in that they do not pretend to have settled anything but a temporary mutually advantageous co-operation within a limited field.

Peace in the third sense oddly enough seems to turn out to be the major cause of actual war risk. Each nation, in trying to pursue a national policy which, according to its lights and its ciscurnstences, will ensure the best estate of its own citizens, does things which antagonise its rivals either because it indirectly impoverishes them or because they are morally indignant at the pursuit of ideologies which they themselves find repulsive; not only that, but this pursuit antagonises sections of the domestic population who threaten internal unrest, civil war or even class war on the international scale.


What are the serious Catholic reactions to this broad picture of the world in action as it is at present?

Let us take the Catholic Rigorists first. Like the world itself their attention Is focussed upon peace. War for them is necessarily immoral in the circumstances of today. Hence, while they will be grateful for any actual success in putting it off, they cannot to any extent co-operate with a hand-tomouth method of averting it which must ultimately depend on armed strength on both sides upon the fear of which a game of bluff and counter-bluff is being played. Nor can they have a much greater confidence in agreements that do not even pretend to have more than a utilitarian basis and that involve every kind of compromise with principle. They once had a hope of the bigger treaties such as the Covenant, the Kellogg Pact and Locarno, but the sincerer minds among them have probably been disillusioned by the way in which high moral aspirations have been made the cloak for every sort of power politics. Lastly they see nothing but tyranny or the capitalist money-game in the Fascisms, Democracies and Socialist-as that pass for domestic reforms in the interests of the people.

The Catholic Idealists are more directly interested in justice than in the immediate prevention of war. They had immense faith in the ideals of liberalism, democracy and internationalism as being a remarkably faithful expression of the moral teaching implicit in Christianity, and they maintain that faith in spite of disappointment after disappointment. They assert and re-assert that here is the application of Christian ethics in fact and that therefore Christians must continUe to stand for it. Whatever may happen, here is justice, and the only hope of ultimate peace lies in its defence. Hence wherever they see glimpses of this ideal surviving in practice or even in the professions of politicians they stand by in the name of people and freedom. The League, democracy, lawfully-constituted authority, treaties, remain their watchwords.

The Catholic Realists are not popular with either of the other two sections, but it will probably be admitted that they too sincerely want peace in all three senses. They are however accused of compromising with principles in order to secure it, and therefore their success cannot be truly called Christian nor can it be expected lo last.

The essence of the realist outlook is to see and concentrate upon what is good in anything done and upon what in practice holds out promise of further good. They hold that the averting of war even if it be from minute to minute is good, indeed the triumph of good when it is viewed in comparison with an instant of failure. It is with them literally a case of while there is life and only while there is life is there hope. They cannot see how the Rigorists and Idealists can fail in practice to bring on war and with war the avalanche of injustice that will follow, thus contradicting their own ends. Equally, every agreement achieved upon the basis of propping up, even only temporarily, a little construction of good elements is worth supporting. And their solution to the conflict of ideas that results from domestic policies to ensure wellbeing within nations is again to seek and isolate in them whatever is really constructive, whatever has really achieved something, instead of dwelling upon ideal possibilities and condemning everything achieved in the light of them. Good accomplished, so to say, finds its own level and if it is insisted upon there is a hope of understanding.

The true Christian Realist is very far from tolerating evil. He sees evil, however, in much the same way as he sees good: in actual concrete doses, not in terms of abstract possibilities. It is the Realist who is thorough-going in his condemnation of actual persecution, of hypocrisy, of war, of injustices, hut he does not fly from them, nor does he universalise them in such a way as to create an abstract just and good world in his imagination for which he fights: he sees rather the duty of concrete resistance to actual evil and concrete pursuit of whatever may be actually good or promising.

DUTY OF CHARITY Our purpose in this short analysis, however, has not been to pit one view against another, but rather to try in the minimum number of words faithfully to describe them all so that Catholics, however much they may disagree with one another as to means, may recognise the same Christian intention at work in different ways and, maybe, come closer together. At any rate no good can come of misunderstandings and recriminations. Let us respect one another's intentions and integrity of purpose; let us stand together before the world as Catholics united in our one purpose of seeking the three kinds of peace through the pursuit of Christian ideals and the ultimate reChristianisation of the secularist world; and then let us, either among ourselves or in the presence of others, frankly but charitably admit the differences which arise from our several honest attempts to realise, according to our temperament and mental equipment, our common ends, not fearing to dispute and argue—for it is only in so far as a Christian is sincerely convinced that he must see it in his way that he has any right to condemn others at all—but being careful to do so only in terms of where clearly analysed divergences must occur against the common background.

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