THE JOB IS TO BUILD, NOT CIVILISATION
By Robert Speaight
NOT long ago I was in conversa tion with a French Dominican priest and our talk turned upon a mutual friend, an Englishman in a position of some public aethority, who was interested in religious questions. "Nevertheless," my French Dominican remarked to me, "I do not think he is really very near to Catholicism. He told me the other day that he felt the Catholic Church was the only force that could save civilisation and I had to explain to him that that was not its business." This priest was a warm admirer of General de Gaulle. and he described to me how he had met the General soon after de Gaulle's return to public life. " I am anxious," de Gaulle had said, " to maintain and strengthen the Christian civilisation of the West." " I don't doubt it," my friend had replied, "hut I am a priest and my job is a different one."
Now I quote these observations not in order to contradict the thesis that Mr. Dawsol has so clearly and comprehensively expounded, but to supplement it. For we cannot begin to answer the question as to what we should do in the present crisis unless we remind ourselves of what we are and why we bear the Catholic name. We are Catholics because we believe that Catholicism holds the key to the purpose of human life, and we are united in our adherence to this Faith and in obedience to the authority which propounds, it to us. There are many different kinds of Catholics, but there is only one Catholicism because there is only one Christ. This religion is universal; it is the same, although it may not always look the same, everywhere. The Italian peasant, the Chinese coolie. the French philosopher, the Irish-American politician, the Corsican bandit, the Dutch missionary, the devote clanking her beads and the flaneur lounging at the back of the church at the 12 o'clock Mass on Sundays-all these and countless other human types of every class and colour compose the Universal Church. The vast majority are intensely proud of belonging to it; whatever their gifts or their weaknesses, they realise that the Church is wiser than they arc. There is indeed no form of phaxisaism more vulgar and offensive than the phariseism of the modern intellectual who condescends to join the Catholic Church but insists that he or she is not as other Catholics.
LIMITS OF UNITY Now this visible unity of the Church is a primary source of her power over human souls; it is, however, strictly limited to matters of Faith and morals. Even here there are differences of emphasis and interpretation. But these theological battles, though they are more important than any military campaign, do not immediately affect the layman. He knows wIfere he stands on any major doctrinal issue. And so V. are brought to Chesterton's d : ,m that " Catholics are people who agree about Catholicism, but differ about everything else "; and this, in turn, brings me to the contemporary crisis and to the question as to whether there is something here upon which Catholics ought to agree and upon which they should act in unison.
Let it be made perfectly plain that the first business of the Catholic is not the defence of any civilisation whatsoever. His first business is the practice of the love of God. This noint was made with great effect by Cardinal Griffin in his article for the Sunday Express a few weeks ago. If I may so express myself, he put the Pope in his place-a very important place it is true, but the. Cardinal showed how the complex machine of Catholic organisation and doctrine, the baroque façade of Catholic ritual. only exist to further a very simple end. The duty of the Catholic. however, does not end here. He is bound also to love his neighbour. This may possibly involve enclosing himself in a Monastery and praying for his neighbour's soul. More nrobably it will involve descending into the market-place and providing for his neighbour's body. For while he always remains a member of the supernatural City, whose King is Christ and whose laws are perfect love, he has also an allegiance to the natural city. because the nataral city is only another name for his neighbour.
THE DILEMMA Now the natural city that the Catholic builds here below, with and for his neighbour, is what we mean by civilisation. In building it he has certain clear principles and firm beliefs to guide him, but he has no blue-prints. He has continually to exercise the virtue of prudence; he has to choose. And precisely because he has these divinely appointed faculties of will and choice, he will arrive at different conclusions. He will think it is a good thing to nationalise the mines and a bad thing to nationalise the railways; he will think the Beveridge Plan a great act of social charity or a long step towards the Totalitarian State; he will regard Marshal Pdtain or General de Gaulle us the heavensent saviour of his country; he will regard the Irish censorship of books as a salutary measure of public order or an unwarrantable infraction of personal liberty. And he will arrive at these contradictory conclusions by steps which all lead back to the same premisses. This is the Catholic dilemma.
When "The Sword of the Spirit 4' was founded, I hoped, with Mr. Dawson, that we might be able to construct a bridge between religion and politics' upon which English Catholics could walk together, I now believe this hope to be illusory. There has been no great international issue of the last ten years upon which Catholics of good faith have not been abutely divided. I was in agreement with Miss Barbara Ward when she wrote a pamphlet called " The Defence of the West" in 1940. I am not in agreement with her when she writes a pamphlet about " Eastern Democracy ' in 1947. But the fact that Miss Ward seems to me to find excuses far too easily for the enemies of the Church to which she and I belong does not mean that she is not a far better Catholic than I am. It only means that she is exercising. in its proper domain. her right of private judgment. f am reminded here of Eric Gill and of an answer he gave to, think, the Editor of the Colosseum.
It was a moment when most Catholics were concerned, as they are now, with the defence of "Christian civilisation." He replied by asking what the Editor meant by the " Christian civilisation " that he, Eric Gill, was invited to defend. Did he, by any chance, mean Manchester?
11 is all too easy to delude oneself with onagnifirent abstractions; to say that you will destroy tyranny and then wipe out the women and children of Hiroshima or Hamburg: to Stay that you will defend liberty when you only mean that you will defend Leicester Square.
No, it is not on these or on other less equivocal battlefieldsRoncesvalles. Warsaw, Lepanto that the victories of the Catholic Church have been gained. No doubt, the Spaniards sailing down the Channel regarded themselves as crusaders sans reproche; but, as Maritain has reminded us. God preferred the sacrifice of the English martyrs to the success of the Armada. We simply do not know how far the victory of a later Seanish crusade will have advanced the frontiers of the supernatural City.
TWO ERRORS I suggest that as Catholics we have to be on our guard against two errors.
The first is to suppose that what we understand by " Western civilisation "-a way of life common to the U.S.A., the British Commonwealth, France, and Western Europe-can possibly be called Christian, let aloae Catholic, in any integral sense of the term. All we can claitn is that the Catholic religion, with the Roman idea of law and the Greek idea of liberty, has helped to mould this way of living. But we must admit that its influence has been diminished. and in many places almost eliminated, by the modern apostasy. lf we seek, in a general way. to maintain the economic and political bases of " Western civilisa tion "-and I am among those resolved to work in this sense-do not let us make ridiculous claims.
And even if we succeed in building a city that can be called Christian, do not let us confuse this with Christianity, or imagine that the only form of Christian civilisation is our own. Do not let us be tempted to take refuge from the Communist Manifesto in the Truman Doctrine, or because our liberties are threatened suddenly discover the angelic virtues of Liberalism. Let us, in short. beware of " political Catholicism."
Let us follow the principles which are the fruit of our beliefs and listen to the wise teaching of the Church. But do not let us close our ears to the movement of history. Behind the brutal and crude facade of Communism, let us discover and capture that appetite for what Malraux has called " a virile fraternity," which can only be satisfied by membership of the Mystical Body. Do not let us complacently oppose the individualism of the West to the collectivism of the East; let us rather see how each tendency needs the corrective of the other, in the brotherhood of a united Christendom.
1/ we claim that behind the selfishness of Western materialism there lies the belief that man is an individual, let us learn to distinguish behind the brutality of Eastern collectivism the hel;ef that mankind is a unity.
T am myself a passionate occidentalist because the West is my pair/a. But no man's patria is the universe; it is very often no more than a name for his prejudices. Do not let us imagine that civilisation is only something to be defended; civilisation is even more urgently something to be built. The first Christians were men who looked forward; do not let us earn the title of men who can only look backward. The Christian. of all men, should be in, the vanguard of history; so far from
'hanging back he should take the lead in the epic of the human self discovery and should hesitate at no solution which is in accord with the charity of Christ. He should he the readiest to pull down and begin
eeresh, because he knows that his main business is not with the build
ing of constitutions or even of cathedrals; he knows that his main business is with holiness.