Facing Down the Modern Change


In First Things review (of sorts) of a new book by Ross Douthat, Richard Rex raises multiple points of relevance to the recent controversy at Providence College.  Here’s an important insight:

The exclusion of Rocco Buttiglione from high public office in the European Union in 2004 on grounds tied directly to his religious beliefs is indeed unlikely to be repeated—for who would be so foolish as to propose what we might call a “public” Catholic for such a public office again? That is how discrimination works. Subaltern groups learn their allotted position in society, and a degree of complicity in it can become the condition of their continued tenure of that position.

From which comes an encouragement:

In such a world, it would be for Catholics to learn from the counsel and example of Thomas More. If you cannot achieve the good, as he said in Utopia, then you can at least try to secure the least harm. For him, participation in public life was all about advising the sovereign, the king. And that could mean showing some tact and diplomacy. Today, the people are sovereign, and participation in politics therefore means advising the people. It turns out that the people en masse are as willful and prone to flattery as any Tudor monarch. In such a world, we should also remember More’s example. We don’t need to go looking for trouble. We can let it come to find us, and hope it passes us by. But if and when it does find us, then we have to look to conscience and steer by the stars of justice and truth.

Rex reminds us that “the duties of conscience apply just as much to our relationship with the Church as to our relationship with the state.”  We have a duty to try to shape both, allowing God to communicate with them through us, as it were.

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He goes on to insist (by way of an example) that “the indissolubility of marriage is integral” to Christianity — more scripturally rooted than the most key theological points of Catholicism.

If, after all, marriage is not a divine union of male and female in one flesh, dissolved only by the inevitable dissolution of that flesh in death, then the Catholic Church has, in the name of Christ, needlessly tormented the consciences of untold numbers of the faithful for twenty centuries. If this teaching were to be modified in the name of mercy, then the Church would already have been outdone in mercy not only by most other religions but even by the institutions and impulses of the modern secular state. Such a conclusion would definitively explode any pretension to moral authority on the part of the Church. A church which could be so wrong, for so long, on a matter so fundamental to human welfare and happiness could hardly lay claim to decency, let alone infallibility.

That’s an indispensable point, even if I’ve never seen it put quite that way.  If marriage “is terminable, then it can no longer symbolize that perfect union between the head and the body of Christ,” and in accommodating the modern world, the Church is acknowledging that secularists beat her to the moral conclusion.  She will be admitting, essentially, that the modernist narrative is correct — that old-time religion is just the guardian of ideals that were either always oppressive or have become antiquated as the greater oppressions from which they freed us have ceased to be.  It is something beyond which to evolve, a fashion to keep alive only as long as the aesthetic pleases some people.

I ask the reader not to leave it there, but to scroll back up to Thomas More’s example.