Monday, April 28, 2014

John XXIII in His Own Words (4): The Defense of Catholic Truth

No nonsense when it comes to doctrine
John XXIII’s eight encyclicals are relatively little known and studied today, with the possible exception of Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris. As an avid reader of papal encyclicals issued over the past 250 years, I can definitely recommend John XXIII’s for the contemporary Catholic. They deserve to be dusted off and reconsidered, not least because they show a Pope who is conscientiously and continually linking his teaching with that of his predecessors, especially Leo XIII and Pius XII.

Here, I will quote some splendid passages from John XXIII’s inaugural encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram and some from Mater et Magistra that show the clarity and vigor of his defense of Catholic truth. He is so opposed to relativism, indifferentism, laxism, or muddled thinking that he would probably have caused heart failure in a gathering of ecclesiastics today. His language reminds me a great deal of Pope Benedict’s “dictatorship of relativism” theme.

So, the next time someone praises John XXIII for “opening up the Church” or “moving her into the modern world” or “introducing a new spirit” or some such slogan, you might counter with a depiction of the saint’s intransigent defense of Catholic truth, his insistence on the unity and unicity of the Catholic Church, his urgent invitations to Protestants to let go of their errors and return to their common Mother, his skirmishes against the emerging cult of hedonism, the idolatry of technics, and the dictatorship of relativism—in short, all of the ways in which he prepared for the Paul VI of Humanae Vitae, the John Paul II of Veritatis Splendor, and the Benedict XVI of Deus Caritas Est.

Ad Petri Cathedram (June 29, 1959)
        All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth—and at times even more than ignorance, a contempt for truth and a reckless rejection of it.  Thus arise all manner of errors, which enter the recesses of men’s hearts and the bloodstream of human society as would a plague.  These errors turn everything upside down: they menace individuals and society itself.
        Some men, indeed do not attack the truth wilfully, but work in heedless disregard of it.  They act as though God had given us intellects for some purpose other than the pursuit and attainment of truth.  This mistaken sort of action leads directly to that absurd proposition: one religion is just as good as another, for there is no distinction here between truth and falsehood.  “This attitude,” to quote Pope Leo [XIII] again, “is directed to the destruction of all religions, but particularly the Catholic faith, which cannot be placed on a level with other religions without serious injustice, since it alone is true.”  Moreover, to contend that there is nothing to choose between contradictories and among contraries can lead only to this fatal conclusion: a reluctance to accept any religion either in theory or in practice.
        The peace, then, which we must seek, which we must strive to achieve with all the means at our disposal, must—as We have said—make no concessions to error, must compromise in no way with proponents of falsehood; it must make no concessions to vice; it must discourage all discord.  Those who adhere to this peace must be ready to renounce their own interests and advantages for the sake of truth and justice, according to the words: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice.” (§95)
        There is one truth especially which We think is self-evident: when the sacred rights of God and religion are ignored or infringed upon, the foundations of human society will sooner or later crumble and give way.  (nn. 6, 17, 95, 140)

Mater et Magistra (May 15, 1961)
        There are some indeed who go so far as to deny the existence of a moral order which is transcendent, absolute, universal and equally binding upon all. . . .
        But the moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate.  Moreover, man is not just a material organism.  He consists also of spirit; he is endowed with reason and freedom.  He demands, therefore, a moral and religious order; and it is this order—and not considerations of a purely extraneous material order—which has the greatest validity in the solution of problems relating to his life as an individual and as a member of society, and problems concerning individual States and their inter-relations. . . .
        Let men make all the technical and economic progress they can, there will be no peace nor justice in the world until they return to a sense of their dignity as creatures and sons of God, who is the first and final cause of all created being.  Separated from God, a man is but a monster, in himself and toward others; for the right ordering of human society presupposes the right ordering of man’s conscience with God who is Himself the source of all justice, truth, and love....
        The most perniciously typical aspect of the modern era consists in the absurd attempt to reconstruct a solid and fruitful temporal order divorced from God, who is, in fact, the only foundation on which it can endure.  In seeking to enhance man’s greatness, men fondly imagine that they can do so by drying up the source from which that greatness springs and from which it is nourished.  They want, that is, to restrain and, if possible, to eliminate the soul’s upward surge toward God.  But today’s experience of so much disillusionment and bloodshed only goes to confirm those words of Scripture: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”...
        Similarly, Our Predecessor, Pius XII, rightly asserted that our age is marked by a clear contrast between the immense scientific and technical progress and the fearful human decline shown by “its monstrous masterpiece. . .transforming man into a giant of the physical world at the expense of his spirit, which is reduced to that of a pygmy in the supernatural and eternal world.”
        And so the words of the Psalmist about the worshipers of false gods are strikingly verified today.  Men are losing their own identity in their works, which they admire to the point of idolatry: “The idols of the Gentiles are silver and gold, the works of the hands of men.”  (nn. 205, 208, 215, 217, 243-244)
Is this a clear, forceful proclamation of the truth, in season and out of season? You bet. Is this an example of old-fashioned papal triumphalism? No question; it looks and sounds like the best and noblest of our Catholic Tradition. May the Church of today and her leaders recover this truly humble certainty of proclaiming the truth that saves mankind from his unenlightened arrogance.

Saint John XXIII, pray for us.

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