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There is a deep link between the disastrous desacralization of the holy humanity of Christ (which, as emphasized above, goes together with hatred of the holy and of miracles) and “this-worldliness” that is, the transfer of the center of gravity from eternity to this world.

The glorification of God through our personal sanctification, and what is more surprising the salvation of our souls in eternity, is neglected in favor of improving the world and fighting poverty and war.

This tendency is especially dangerous and pernicious because, first, it is the basis of many grave errors, and secondly, because it does not come forth, as other heresies did, as an explicitly formulated thesis, but as a tacit assumption as an inner attitude, a shift of emphasis. As a result, many of the faithful do not detect its incompatibility with the Revelation of Christ and the teaching of the Church. Many Catholics with a deep faith are unwittingly drawn into the this-worldly attitude, and they just as unwittingly accept the errors which follow from it.

No one presents this-worldliness, and all the errors deriving from it, as a contradiction of the official teaching of the Church. Unlike Karl Rahner's theories on theological pluralism, and Schillebeeckx's denial of any difference between body and soul, these errors are not necessarily linked with an explicit denial of any of the dogmas and precisely this makes them much more dangerous.

If so many Catholics do not recognize even flagrant contradictions of the teaching of the Church, do not see that clearly irreconcilable things cannot be reconciled, it is not so surprising that they do not see the contradiction to the Church's teaching which lies in tendencies and errors which are not openly proclaimed as incompatible with the dogmas of the Church, but which undermine them mainly by placing a greater emphasis on this world. In this book we mainly want to investigate the tendency in the Church to transfer the center of gravity to this world, as well as the errors connected with this tendency and rooted in it.

The this-worldly tendency can be detected in various pastoral letters, and above all in countless sermons. One speaks more about the fight against poverty and for social justice and world peace in a word, more about improving the world than about offending God by our sins, sanctifying the individual, about heaven and hell, eternity and the hope of eternal union with God in the beatific vision.

The this-worldly tendency emphasizes the earthly future more than eternity, and this is an unfortunate heritage of the evolutionism of Teilhard de Chardin. The sanctification of the individual soul and the eternal salvation of the individual is pushed aside to make room for the evolution of mankind on earth, for progress in what concerns man's earthly existence. Against this error we might recall the striking remark of Gustave Thibon: “Je prefère une éternité sans futur à un futur sans éternité.” (“I prefer an eternity without future to a future without eternity.”)

This-Worldliness: The Wrong Reaction to Distorted Supematuralism

When we speak of the evil of transferring the center of gravity to this world and to the natural improvement of it, we are not at all speaking of avoiding a certain false supernaturalism. There have been Catholics who, believing that the primacy of the supernatural demands indifference to all earthly sufferings, have fallen into a false zeal and become hard and inhuman. As long as such Catholics heard only of great earthly sufferings and of heavy crosses inflicted on their neighbor, they remained indifferent. They awakened toward their neighbor only if he was in danger of offending God by a sin and thus endangering his eternal salvation. They were then ready to make great sacrifices to prevent the offense to God and to help their neighbor to return to Him.

This was a harsh attitude which contradicted the spirit of true charity; it was a pseudo-supernaturalism. To observe the right hierarchy of things, does not mean ignoring all those goods which are beneath the highest good. If we feel no sympathy with the sufferings of our neighbor or even of someone personally dear to us, simply because his eternal salvation is not endangered by his suffering, then we have fallen into an unchristian hardness of heart, a betrayal of charity, a repulsive fanaticism. This false supernaturalism in reality treats the glorification of God and eternal salvation as a merely natural “ideal” and no longer understands their true supernatural character. We will see later on how all genuine goods, including all natural ones, are established in their true importance by the perspective of the supernatural goods and their primacy. Only in the light of Christ can a genuine good display its true nature this holds for a real evil as well. As the Psalmist says: “In lumine tuo videbimus lumen.” (“in Your light we see light.”)

It is a regrettable sophism to say (as it was said sometimes in sermons) that the death of a father or mother, husband or wife, or of a child, is no reason for sadness as long as they died well, after receiving the last sacraments, as long as we can hope that they are with God. Of course the eternal happiness of one whom we truly love is the most important thing, but separation from the beloved, even if only for a time, remains a terrible cross. Whoever does not feel this cross, whoever just happily goes his way with the consolation that the beloved has found eternal blessedness, is not directed to eternity in a special way he is simply insensitive and does not want to be disturbed in the normal rhythm of his daily life. He is simply making a comfortable excuse when he emphasizes that the eternal salvation of the other is the most important thing. He has forgotten that even Jesus Christ, the God-man, prayed in Gethsemane: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He does not understand that a cross which has been imposed on us should be suffered under as a cross. Only then can we attain to the true consolation which lies in the perspective of eternity, to the true hope of eternal blessedness.

We should simply read the magnificent sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (no. 26 in his sermons on the Canticle of Canticles) in which he grieves over the death of his brother. Here we find first of all the lamentation, filled with deep grief, over the death of his beloved brother, and only then the ascent to the fact that death is the beginning of a life of eternal blessedness.

It is always a disastrous mistake when we try to skip over certain phases instead of passing through them, when we violate the central virtue of discretio. (I have spoken at length about this virtue in my book, Liturgy and Personality.) When we do not pass through the necessary phases on our way to some end, phases which are objectively prescribed by the nature of things, and are willed by God, when we try to skip them, then we distort everything and do not really attain to our end; in fact, we falsify the end and render it mediocre.

If we possess real charity then the physical suffering of our neighbor must move us deeply. We have to try to mitigate his suffering as much as we can. Consider the importance of curing the sick in the life of Christ! Of course, these cures, being miraculous, were also meant to reveal the divinity of Christ. But at the same time they show the divine mercy, the triumphant love of Jesus for men. Consider, too, the importance of miraculous cures in the lives of so many saints. A missionary who would say, “I am only interested in the conversion of the pagans; whether they are starving, or suffering terrible diseases, doesn't interest me,” would be a traitor to the spirit of Christ. The true missionary docs not at all become indifferent to earthly sufferings simply because he clearly realizes that the conversion of men is an incomparably higher good than health or the mitigation of inhuman poverty. In fact, he becomes especially alert to the earthly sufferings of his neighbor through the light and spirit of Christ and His holy Church. For it belongs to the nature of true charity that, precisely from the perspective of the true hierarchy of goods and of the absolute primacy of the good of eternal salvation, it is deeply interested in all objective goods for the person of the neighbor, and of course in the elimination of all objective evils for him. The greater this holy love of charity is, the more differentiated it is! This is shown in the lives of the saints. And have we forgotten which miracle was the first which Jesus worked? Have we forgotten that at the wedding feast of Cana it was a natural evil that was eliminated: “They have no more wine.”

“The first miracle of our Lord, at the wedding feast of Cana, is one of the three mysteries which is celebrated at Epiphany. The Gospel says, ‘He revealed His glory and His disciples believed in Him.’ The Church secs in this miracle primarily the revelation of the divinity of Christ. But it is at the same time a revelation of the boundless superabundance of divine love. The first miracle of Jesus was neither the cure of a sick person, nor the restoration of some great natural good, such as sight to the man born blind; it did not even involve some indispensable good, as the multiplication of loaves. The transformation of water into wine was not strictly indispensable either for the married couple or for the wedding feast. It only served to heighten the joy of the festive occasion. And it is not as if there was no wine at all, there was just not enough. O divine superfluity! Christ our Savior, who constantly admonishes us to seek ‘the one thing necessary, ’ is greatly concerned that the joy of the wedding feast be undisturbed, and that the groom not be embarrassed because of a lack of wine!” 55

It must be said emphatically: the opposite of this-worldliness is not a pseudo-supernaturalism which dehumanizes a man and makes him indifferent and insensitive to the earthly sufferings of his neighbor, and even to his own sufferings, as well as to the natural goods which God sends him and which confer happiness on him. No, the true antithesis to the disastrous this-worldliness is the attitude of the saints. Precisely because of their primary concern with the “one thing necessary,” because of their love of Christ, their “I-Thou” communion with Jesus, their commerce intime with Him, they were filled with that true charity which sympathizes with the sufferings of our neighbor, which works for the relief of his sufferings in a way which differs utterly from all merely humanitarian love. Love of neighbor is really possible only when the primacy of the love of God is observed; and the saint, far from losing his true humanity, attains to a supernaturally transfigured humanity.

Insidious Distortion of Revelation by Wrong Emphasis rather than Formal Heresy

Now we have to show that a distortion of the notion of salvation is linked with this preoccupation with the earthly progress of mankind. The Catholic teaching on justification is pushed aside. It is not that one wants to accept the Protestant sola fides (faith alone justifies) teaching out of an ill-conceived ecumenism towards Protestants (though such ill-conceived ecumenism is found in many areas today). One rather over-emphasizes the teaching that all men, whether they are Catholic, Christian, or pagan, can attain to eternal blessedness. I speak of an overemphasis, because the teaching that all men can be saved through the mercy of God if they lead a life corresponding to the highest norms which they know of, was defined by the First Vatican Council. But today the notion of sin is explained away by many, and hell is hardly mentioned any more in catechisms and sermons.

I am not speaking here of a direct denial of the most fundamental elements of the Christian revelation and of the dogmas of the holy Church. What is at stake is whether the basic truths of the Faith are treated in a way which is appropriate in the light of the whole of Revelation? 56 Today we find a silence about certain dogmas, a shift in the center of gravity: a lack of interest in what belongs to the essence of Christian revelation, in favor of things which are related at most only as indirect consequences to the mission of the Church, which is the sanctification and salvation of souls. The improvement of the earthly lot of mankind the elimination of poverty and war is surely a thing of great natural value, and interest in this is a praiseworthy moral attitude. But is this what Christ came for, is this why the second divine Person took on human nature? What is the worth of all external improvement of human life when compared to the fact that in baptism a new and divine principle of life is conferred on man which opens to him the possibility of sanctification, of glorifying God, of eternal blessedness? Indeed, a world in which there were no more poverty, no more wars, and even no more disease a world without physical and psychic suffering would have no right to exist even for a moment, and would be worthy of sinking into nothingness if no one in it bowed his knee before Christ, if no one worshipped God.

With this background we have to ask: in the Church today, in pastoral letters and sermons, does one not speak much more of earthly improvement than of incomparably more important things such as our redemption through Christ's death on the cross, the communication of supernatural life, the sanctification of the individual, the resulting glorification of God, and eternal blessedness?

Some of the Arguments Used to Defend This-Worldliness

Now many persons will object: the Church has spoken about these things for two thousand years, but is it not something both beautiful and necessary that she finally begins to take seriously the natural evils under which men suffer, and earthly destitution? Is this not one of the great achievements of Vatican II, that the Church has left her ghetto and has actively committed herself to the mitigation of human needs in all areas of life? Is this not a consequence of genuine love of neighbor?

To this we respond: it is totally untrue to say that the Church before Vatican II was not interested in the earthly needs of mankind. Have those people who are constantly singing the praises of history, who speak as if history were a source of God's revelation, who look upon it as the ultimate reality, have they really so little knowledge of history, are they really such ignoramuses with regard to history, that they do not know what the various orders of the Church have achieved towards the mitigation of the earthly needs of man? Do they not know that all hospitals were once both founded and directed by religious orders, and that there are orders which were founded specifically for this work, such as the Fathers of Mercy? That it was certain orders which founded the “Monti di Pieta” for the relief of poverty? That there was an order of Trinitarians founded to ransom Christian slaves from the Moslems? Have they heard nothing of the help which St. Vincent de Paul provided for the poor, nothing of the Society of St. Vincent of Paul founded by the blessed Ozanam? Do these people not know how urgently the Church, in Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, called for opposition to the excesses of capitalism, and to social injustice? Have they forgotten Pope Benedict XV‘s repeated call for peace and an end to the First World War? Do they know nothing of the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno?

But, above all, we have to emphasize the following: the primary sphere of love of neighbor is the individual neighbor. The relief of his earthly suffering and needs is clearly essential to this love. This plays a central role in the Gospel think of the parable of Lazarus and Dives. But working for charitable institutions is a much less immediate expression of love of neighbor. This is much more indirectly linked with love of neighbor than when one personally and individually helps some poor person. Giving of alms has in all eras been regarded as an essential duty of the true Christian, and indeed has been required by the Church. But a mere financial contribution to a charitable organization is much more impersonal than helping one's individual neighbor. Such a contribution reaches some unknown person only indirectly, and the fact that it goes through an impersonal organization makes it a much more indirect expression of love of neighbor. This, of course, is in no way to deny the value of such contributions.

But someone will object: We should not only be concerned with the needs of other men and with the destitution which befalls many, such as starvation in a catastrophe. The progressivists in the Church argue that we should also take up the struggle against poverty by reorganizing the political structure of the state; we should fight against the social injustice which prevails in many countries; we should not only give alms, no, we should work for a state of things in which everyone can lead a human existence, in which all involuntary poverty is eliminated. And besides, it is argued, almsgiving tends to make what is a response to the demands of justice, appear to be an act of loving pity.

Much could be said by way of response to this point of view, and we cannot here assume the task of saying it all. Social justice is undoubtedly of high value. But this justice demands only that a worker be rightly paid, that his wage correspond to his achievement in work. It demands that the worker be treated in a decent human way, that he never be exploited, that he be regarded primarily as a human person and never merely as a worker and above all, it demands that he never be made a mere means for something. Social justice does not demand the elimination of poverty, though the Christian should nevertheless try to eliminate squalid poverty.

The elimination of social injustice can to a great extent be brought about only by state laws, and this is something which lies neither in the power of the holy Church. nor of the individual. And besides, such a change of state laws does not belong to the specific mission of the holy Church. It belongs to the real mission of the Church to defend morality, to admonish men to it, to impose it upon every individual Christian, and this involves fighting the moral evil which everyone commits who commits a social injustice. The Church must oppose this injustice as a sin because, like all sins, it offends God and endangers the eternal salvation of the man who commits the sin. But it is only indirectly her task to obtain a more just order of things in the state.

Of course it is also a task of the Church, and a matter of social justice, to admonish the state to form its constitution according to the principles of justice. And the Church has repeatedly made such admonitions: I mention here only Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, and Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI. And as soon as moral and basic philosophical issues come up, especially in the political sphere, the Church should intervene in the most effective way, admonishing and exhorting, as Pius XI did in his encyclicals, Mit brennender Sorge, and On Atheistic Communism. This voice of the Church is unfortunately ignored by the atheistic and Communist states, and this means that it is not superfluous to renew the condemnation of Communism.

It is an old error to say that the Church should not get involved in politics, that this is not her domain. Of course, this is not her immediate task, and her influence depends on many factors. But that does not change the fact that she must take a stand as soon as ultimate questions come up in politics. During my fight against Nazism, I wrote in my newspaper, Der Christliche Ständestaat: “The Church should not be politicized, but politics should be Catholicized.”

Nevertheless it remains true that the primary task of the Church is the proclamation of the divine Revelation, the protection of it against all heresies, the sanctification of the soul of the individual, the securing of his eternal salvation this is the spreading of the kingdom of God on earth, and not the attempt to build up an earthly paradise.

It is still more important to see that the motive of many for eliminating poverty (which itself is not morally wicked, but only a morally relevant evil) is not rooted in the spirit of Christ and His gospel, but in a humanitarian ideal. The widespread tendency today to demand everything as a right and to refuse to accept any gifts is surely no manifestation of a Christian spirit. There is in reality a clear, sharply delineated difference between justice and love. Justice can and should be protected and demanded by state law; but love of neighbor could never be demanded by any law. For it is a duty before God, and no state law ever could or should prescribe it or enforce it. Love of neighbor presupposes the fulfillment of the claims of justice, but it goes far beyond this. The words of the gospel, “if someone asks you to go one mile, go two miles with him,” clearly go far beyond the sphere of justice.

Of course, it is pharisaical hypocrisy to fulfill the demands of justice as if one were giving alms. But it is terrible pride not to want to accept any alms, and to demand that which comes as a gift. The true Christian should be happier to receive alms and to be grateful for them, than simply to receive what he has a right to. When he receives a gift he is happy not only over the good which is the gift, but also over the goodness of the giver; and he experiences it as a great source of happiness that he can and should be grateful.

It is definitely no part of the message of Christ that there is to be no more poverty, no more war, that the earth is to become a natural paradise. But a deep interest in the earthly welfare of our neighbor is a central duty of the Christian and an essential demand of the love of neighbor.

It remains true, however, that the shift of emphasis which was our starting point in this chapter, the emphasizing of the natural improvement of the world at the expense of the glorification of God, of the sanctification and eternal beatitude of man, is a disastrous confusion.


54. By “natural” we do not of course mean here “effortless” or “spontaneous"; rather, we mean, as is clear from the context of this sentence: pertaining to that realm which is precisely distinguished from the supernatural.

55. From my book, The Sacred Heart (Baltimore: Helicon. 1965), p. 124.

56. This distortion which comes from false emphases has been discussed by Bishop Graber, op. cit., in the chapter, “Kryptograme Haeresie.” As he shows, this phrase was coined by Karl Rahner, who wrote in 1961: cryptogrammic heresy is present “when for instance one scrupulously avoids speaking of hell, when one no longer speaks of the evangelical counsels, of the meaning of vows or of life in a religious order, or when one speaks with hesitation and embarrassment about these things if some mention of them cannot be avoided. When a preacher is speaking to an educated congregation today. how often does he preach to them about temporal punishment for sins, about indulgences, about angels, fasting, the devil (the preacher might at the most still say something about the ‘demonic’ in man). purgatory. prayer for the poor souls, and similar supposedly outmodcd things.” And Rahner adds quite rightly that cryptogrammic heresy commonly goes hand in hand with “explicit orthodoxy.” From Rahner's “A New Form of Heresy,” in Nature and Grace (New York, Sheed and Ward, 1964), pp. 75-6.

57. An encyclical addressed to the German people in their own language and smuggled into the country in 1937. It is a condemnation of national-socialism and also treats more generally of philosophical. political, and juridical theories. It is noted especially for its precise definition of natural law.


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