Table of Contents
- The Central Question Posed by This Essay
- Author’s Preface
- I. The Facts
- II. A Complex Problem
- III. The Practical Importance of This Problem
- IV. There Is No Avoiding This Problem
- V. Facing the Problem
- VI. The Solution
- VII. Resolving Final Objections
- VIII. Fruits of the Agreement: Skin-deep Catholics
- IX. Practical Conclusions
- X. Where the True Peril of a Hecatomb Lies
The Central Question Posed by This Essay
As is well known, it is possible to have a Communist regime in which the Church is allowed to continue functioning, but with only a minimum amount of freedom. Poland was an example of this situation.
This raises a question: Can a Catholic in the West legitimately view the possibility of a Communist regime in his nation as morally acceptable?
This question is unavoidable. On the one hand, for political reasons a Communist regime may certainly grant the Church some marginal freedom for a considerable length of time as in Poland. On the other hand, in the not-too-distant future, Western nations may be faced with a choice between two evils: nuclear warfare or Communist domination.
If it were licit for the Church to accept less than total liberty under a Communist regime, perhaps the lesser evil might seem to be allowing Marxism to win so as to avoid a catastrophic nuclear war. But if this coexistence entails a grave risk that the faith will be totally or almost totally annihilated, it would be a totally different matter. Now then, since the loss of Faith is a greater evil than nuclear destruction, the lesser evil would be to struggle against Marxism.
How imminent, how palpable this question is! Consider the photograph on the front cover of this magazine. It shows a Communist demonstration in front of the Cathedral in Milan which occurred during the recent Italian elections.
This scene, situated in the nation which is the very seat of the Church, brings the Church and communism into a tragic proximity. Who can fail to grasp the direction and import of such a scene?
Yet there is only one solution to the central question we have raised, and it is argued convincingly by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in his essay, “The Church and the Communist State, the Impossible Coexistence.”
When this study was first published in August 1963, Communist propaganda and diplomacy increasingly strove to foster a regime of peaceful coexistence between the capitalist and communist worlds. At that time, relations between East and West were just beginning to emerge from the Cold War.
The “pacifist” Soviet effort was directed mainly at the two great pillars of resistance to communism: in the temporal sphere, the United States, and in the spiritual sphere, the Catholic Church.
Moscow’s propaganda against the United States employed useful innocents (whose innocence was at times contestable but certainly always useful). They would spread an atmosphere of sentimental and pacifistic optimism that surreptitiously led Americans to forget past experience and hope for a definitive reconciliation with the smiling Soviet leaders of the post-Stalinist era.
This same optimistic ambience was spread inside the Church, at first by groups of theologians and activists, some naïve while others avowedly leftist. And while the anti-religious campaign continued full blast throughout the Communist world, the illusion that a truly peaceful coexistence was possible between the Church and Communist regimes continued to gain ground.
This study is intended to create in Catholic circles as many obstacles as possible to Moscow’s deceitful “pacifist” maneuver.
The détente promoted by Nixon and Kissinger between the West and Communist nations continues unabated. The Vatican is also carrying out an impressive “relaxation of tensions” in its relations with Moscow and its various satellites. At the same time, ecumenism has provided an occasion for more and more frequent relations between the Catholic Church and the “Orthodox” schismatic church subordinated to Moscow.
It would be well to call to mind some great events that are real milestones of this diplomatic and religious rapprochement between the Church and the Communist world: the failure of the Second Vatican Council to make any censure of communism; the Vatican’s agreements with Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany; the Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens; the difficult relations between the Holy See and Cardinal Slipyi with his faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic Rite; Cardinal Mindszenty’s dismissal from his post as Archbishop of Esztergom; and the signing of the Helsinki accords by the Vatican.
While distinct from the Moscow-Washington and Moscow-Vatican détente, another buzzword spreading among more flexible political circles in both Eastern and Western Europe is “convergence.” This new trend, which has different names in different places, would eventually cause all countries to adopt the same socioeconomic regime. That regime would be an accommodation between the system of private property and that of collective property. If such a tendency prevails, the non-communist world will have taken an immense step toward the left. And the more “flexible” part of the Communist world will perhaps have taken a small step toward the regime of private property. Such scenario provides us with a glimpse of the day when, having thus “converged” together, these nations would take another step down the same road toward the extreme left. In this way, they would eventually arrive at the end of the road, communism. The future will show that the various phases in this process of “convergence” are nothing but stages in the march toward the most extreme and radical type of communism.
Needless to say, all this will happen if divine Providence does not halt this all-encompassing process that is conquering the world for communism. We are certain that divine Providence will intervene.
Considered as a whole, this panorama gives us an impressive view of the escalation of Communist power worldwide. And it also begs the question of whether this escalation still has other aspects that should be considered.
It is imperative to mention at least three of them: a) There is a growing malaise between Western Europe and the United States that poses a grave threat to the NATO alliance. b) An economic and financial crisis, confusing in both its causes and manifestations, appears to be eroding the economy of the West. c) Last but not least, Russian military power grows more and more even as the United States loses influence around the world and allows the Russians to catch up with its military might.
If anyone had dared predict such calamities when this study was first published, very few people would have believed him. But the majority of the people today, facing these undeniable facts, do not recognize them as surprising, let alone calamious.
This is perhaps the worst calamity of all the torpor of the good.
Reading this essay would be the biggest waste of time for men without faith, who do not believe in God and see the course of history, in times of catastrophe and decadence, as exclusively subject to blind socioeconomic forces. The same can be said of the personalities, both insipid and monstrous, who at those times of crisis rise to the crest of events.
People in these various categories are not ready to fully take into account the fact that Soviet propaganda has mysteriously managed to put public opinion to sleep but has by no means conquered it. It remains as true today as it was in 1963 that communism never obtained a majority vote in free and fair elections.1
Accordingly, rejection of communism in the West during the thirteen years that elapsed since 1963 has remained general and pertinacious. Even worse for communism, the same phenomenon has done nothing but grow behind the Iron Curtain over the same period. The manifestations of this trend are so numerous and well known as to dispense with any comment.
In short, communism has power, money, and propaganda at its service. And it has not ceased to conquer new adherents among certain corrupt elites. But when it comes to large crowds it is a different story altogether: it not only fails to win them over but ends up by losing them. These facts make clear that communism is a formidable giant with feet of clay.
Only men of faith who do not succumb to the hubbub of publicity about the supposed Communist omnipotence, see with full clarity that its feet are made of clay. They believe in God, confide in the Blessed Virgin, and are firmly resolved to join the struggle with an unshakable certainty that the final victory is theirs.
Only such men as those who know that the feet of the colossus are made of clay can be counted on to trample on them. They are the ones this essay has been written for. By proving that coexistence between the Church and Communist regimes is impossible, this work is intended to help them hold fast to an absolute rejection of Communist onslaughts. And it also encourages them to attack in ever growing numbers this terribly great and ridiculously weak adversary. We repeat: by fighting for the Cause of God, heaven will assist them and, with Holy Mary’s help, they shall renew the face of the Earth.
São Paulo, July 1974
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
This theme should not be confused with peaceful coexistence, on the international arena, of different states living under different political or socioeconomic regimes. Nor should it be confused with the problem of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and nations subject to the Communist yoke.
Since each of these two topics has unique characteristics and facets, to discuss either of them even briefly would make this study too lengthy. Therefore, we will limit ourselves here to investigate whether, and under what conditions, the Church can coexist in true freedom with a Communist regime.
Let us now begin with an analysis of the facts.
I. The Facts
1. For a long time, the attitude of Communist governments, not only toward the Catholic Church but toward all other religions as well, has been painfully clear and consistent.
a) According to Marxist doctrine, all religion is a myth which causes man to become “alienated” *1 to an imaginary superior being, that is to say, God. The upper classes take advantage of this “alienation” to maintain their domination of the oppressed proletariat. As a matter of fact, the hope of a future life, promised to uncomplaining laborers as a reward for their patience, works on them like an opiate preventing them from rebelling against the arduous life that capitalist society imposes on them.
b) Thus, everything about the religious myth is false and noxious to man. Neither God nor life hereafter exists. The sole reality is matter in a state of continuous evolution. The specific purpose of evolution is to “disalienate” or free man from any subjection to real or imaginary masters. Evolution, whose unimpeded course constitutes the supreme good of humanity, finds therefore in every religious myth a serious obstacle.
c) Consequently, the Communist State, whose dictatorship of the proletariat should pave the way for the evolutionary freeing or “disalienation” of the masses, has the duty of radically exterminating any and every form of religion. To achieve this purpose in the areas under its authority, it must proceed as follows:
– in the long or short run, depending on the malleability of the population, close down all churches, eliminate all clergy, forbid all worship, any manifestation of faith, and apostolate;
– keep persecuting, spying and restricting all their activities with a hate-filled tolerance when necessary until this goal can be fully achieved,
– infiltrate subsisting Church hierarchy to surreptitiously transform religion into a vehicle of communism;
– use all means at the disposal of the Communist Party and state to win over the masses to atheism.
The Soviet government’s attitude to all religions followed these principles from the moment that the Communists seized power in Russia roughly until the country was invaded by the Nazi armies.
Throughout this first phase of Soviet action, Communist propaganda boasted that it intended to do away with all religions. It also made it perfectly clear that if any of them were tolerated it was only to ensure their more efficient destruction.
2. Facing this Communist procedure, the conduct that Catholics should adopt was just as simple and clear-cut.
The Church, persecuted without quarter by virtue of a visceral and absolute incompatibility between Her doctrine and the Communist ideology, could only offer an equally radical resistance with all licit means.
“Relations” between Communist Governments and the Church could consist only of an out and out, life-and-death struggle. Aware of this, Catholic opinion in every country rose up as a great phalanx, ready to accept everything, even martyrdom, to prevent the implantation of communism. And in countries where communism had been established, Catholics resigned themselves with great fortitude to lead a heroic clandestine existence like the early Christians.
3. For a while now, the attitude of certain Communist governments toward religion has apparently taken on new shades.
In fact, while the inexorable attitude of Communist governments toward religion remains unchanged in countries such as China, it appears to be gradually changing in Yugoslavia, Poland, and more recently Russia.
Governments in these Communist-dominated countries (as announced by their own propaganda agencies), have gone from an attitude of intolerance toward some religions to one of ill-humored tolerance now tending to neutrality. And the tendency is for the old regime of aggressive coexistence to be gradually replaced by one of peaceful coexistence.
In other words, the Russian, Polish, and Yugoslav governments still maintain their complete adherence to Marxism-Leninism, which continues to be the only doctrine they officially teach and accept. Now, however – to greater or lesser degree depending on the country – they are allowing greater freedom of worship, refraining from violence and, from certain standpoints, adopting an almost correct attitude vis-à-vis the religion or religions of greater importance in their respective countries.
As is common knowledge, the Greek schismatic church now known as the Orthodox Church is the religion with the largest following in Russia. In Poland, the dominant religion is Catholicism (most Catholics belong to the Latin Rite); in Yugoslavia, both the former and the latter are important.
As a consequence, in certain countries behind the Iron Curtain the Catholic Church appears to have been handed some minute doses of freedom consisting in the possibility (greater or lesser depending on the circumstances) of distributing the Sacraments and preaching the Gospel to people theretofore nearly entirely deprived of most religious assistance. We say “minute” because, in spite of it all, official Communist propaganda continues to openly attack the Church, which is permanently spied upon by the police, so that She can barely carry out the divine worship and teach some catechism. In addition, the Church in Poland is grudgingly allowed to maintain courses for the formation of priests and to engage in a few social works.
II. A Complex Problem
Faced with this slight change in behavior by Communist authorities in the said countries, the Church behind the Iron Curtain is now at a crossroads:
a) to leave the catacomb-like clandestine existence She has led until now and come live in the open, coexisting with the Communist regime in a tacit or explicit modus vivendi;
b) or refuse any modus vivendi and continue in the underground.
A large number of Catholics are now faced with a question of conscience and a very complex tactical problem: which path to take?
We say “question of conscience” because making that decision at this crossroads depends on solving the following moral problem: Is it licit for Catholics to accept a “modus vivendi” with a Communist regime? This is the problem which, as we have said, this essay intends to address.
III. The Practical Importance of This Problem
Before delving into the merit of the question, let us say something about the practical importance of this problem.
For the nations under Communist regimes, this problem is of obvious importance.
Something should be said about its importance for Western countries as well, particularly in view of Communist plans to infiltrate them with its imperialist ideology.
The fear that a worldwide Communist victory would subject the Church to the horrors She suffered in Mexico, Spain, Russia, Hungary, and China weighs heavily on the resolve of 500 million Catholics around the world – bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laymen – to resist communism to the death. This is also the main reason for the anticommunist stand taken by hundreds of millions of people professing other creeds.
In the psychological realm, this heroic decision constitutes the greatest or even the only significant obstacle to the imposition and maintenance of communism worldwide.
No matter what tactical reasons may have caused this change in attitude, the fact is that this much-exaggerated religious tolerance shown by some Communist governments gives them a huge advantage right from the start. It has caused a split in religious circles over which policy to adopt, undermining the hitherto unanimous, stalwart and intransigent opposition to communism by all who believe in God and worship Him.
The question of what attitude should Catholics and followers of other creeds adopt toward the new religious policy of certain Communist governments has given rise to perplexities, divisions, and even polemics. Depending on their degree of fervor, optimism, or suspicion, many Catholics continue to believe that the only sensible and consistent attitude is one of unflinching opposition to communism. Others, however, believe it is better to accept a situation like the one in Poland without further resistance rather than fighting to the end against Communist penetration only to fall into a much more oppressive situation like Hungary’s.
They also believe that acceptance by the Free World of a Communist or quasi-Communist regime could prevent a worldwide nuclear catastrophe. Only one reason would lead Catholics to accept the risk of such a hecatomb with resignation: their duty in conscience to prevent a radical and unprecedented worldwide persecution to exterminate the Church. But since in certain Communist countries the Church is allowed to survive, albeit with only a modicum of freedom, their determination to face the danger of nuclear war is greatly weakened. Thus, the idea of establishing nearly everywhere a modus vivendi between the Church and communism like the one in Poland gains ground among Catholics: they tend to see it as a lesser evil.
As these two currents develop, there also begins to emerge a large majority of disoriented and indecisive Catholics who are psychologically less prepared for the struggle than they had been until recently.
If this softening of the anticommunist attitude can be found in people utterly opposed to Marxism, it is naturally becoming more intense among the so-called Catholic left, whose ranks grow by leaps and bounds. While not professing materialism and atheism, its members empathize with the economic and social aspects of communism.
Until recently, millions of Catholics in countries not yet subjected to the Communist yoke would have gladly died as regular soldiers or guerrilla fighters to prevent the imposition of communism or overthrow any such regime if imposed. Now, however they no longer have the same disposition. Furthermore, a situation of crisis such as an imminent threat of nuclear war could further intensify this phenomenon, inducing entire nations to a disastrous surrender to the Communist powers.
All of this brings to the fore the paramount importance and urgency of studying the various aspects of the moral questions inherent to the crossroads created for the consciences of millions and millions of men by the relative religious tolerance of some Communist governments.
It is reasonable to say that the future of the world depends, to a large degree, on a solution to this problem.
IV. There Is No Avoiding This Problem
Some hasty minds could question the use of this study and try to go around the complex problem by presenting some preliminary objections. To us such objections appear completely groundless:
a) Obviously, the relative religious tolerance now on display is merely a Communist maneuver and, therefore, the prospect of a modus vivendi between the Church and communist regimes cannot be taken seriously.
May we answer that nothing prevents us from supposing that internal tensions of various kinds have obliged some Communist governments to adopt a more relaxed attitude toward religion. This thaw could have a certain duration and substance, thereby opening up new possibilities for the Church.
b)There’s no guarantee that any agreement with people like the Communists who deny God and morality, will be honored. Thus, even supposing the Communists are really disposed to tolerate religion up to a point, we all know that they will unleash against it the most brutal and complete persecution if need be.
In principle, it is true. However, the tolerance shown by the Communist government is by no means due to their respect for promises but to their political interest to prevent or reduce internal unrest. As a consequence, their relative religious tolerance can last just as long as public uneasiness continues. That is, it could last for a long time. Therefore if the Communist authorities abide for a while by any accord reached with some religion, they do it out of political interest.
c)This study will be useless to the peoples behind the Iron Curtain, since it will not be allowed to circulate freely. Nor will it be of any interest to people on this side of the Iron Curtain. Indeed, since no Communist regimes exist in the West, there is no relevancy to the question of whether or not it is legitimate for the Church to coexist with Communist regimes. The bottom line for the West is how to prevent the implantation of communism. Consequently, this study interests no one.
It is simply false that this study could not reach the peoples on the other side of the Iron Curtain. In fact, it has. On March 1, 1964, the Warsaw weekly Kierunki, the mouthpiece of “Pax,” an influential Polish movement of the extreme “Catholic” left, published on its front page an “Open Letter to Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.” Signed by Mr. Zbigniew Czajkowski, a prominent member of “Pax,” the article was an extensive and indignant protest against this essay.
Another apparent answer to the present study is an article published in the monthly Wiez by its editor-in-chief, Mr. Tadeusz Masowiecki, a representative of the Catholic group “Znak” in the Polish Diet, and his collaborator Mr. A. Wielowieyski (“Otwarcie na Wschód,” Wiez, Numbers 11-12, Nov.-Dec. 1963). If they felt it necessary to refute our essay, it is because it has somehow penetrated the Iron Curtain and has had an effect in Communist-dominated areas.
As far as the interest this essay might have in the West, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Furthermore, a Western nation or nations could face a dilemma: accept a Communist regime or face the horrors of modern warfare both conventional and nuclear, domestically and abroad. This situation calls for choosing the lesser evil. So the question that arises is this: If the Church may accept to coexist with a Communist regime and government, perhaps the lesser evil would be for Her to accept Marxist victory as a fait accompli and thus avoid a nuclear hecatomb. There is only one way that accepting the struggle would be a lesser evil: to recognize that such coexistence is impossible and that the implantation of communism gravely risks a complete or nearly total extirpation of the Faith. Now then, losing the Faith is a greater evil than total nuclear destruction.
Evidently, all these objections to studying the present matter do not stand to reason. The problem whether it is licit for the Church to coexist with a Communist regime must be faced head-on. And only a profound analysis of all its doctrinal aspects can satisfactorily solve it for Catholics.
V. Facing the Problem
At a first glance, the problem of coexistence between the Church and a “tolerant” Communist regime, could be enunciated as follows:
If a Communist government and regime in a given country, instead of forbidding worship and preaching, were to allow them both, could or even should the Church accept this relative freedom to distribute the sacraments and the bread of God’s word unimpeded?
If the question is presented strictly in these terms, the answer is necessarily affirmative: The Church could, and even should accept this freedom, for under no pretext whatsoever could She refuse to carry out Her mission. And, in this sense, She could and should coexist with communism.
This is, however, a simplistic formulation of the problem. It implicitly supposes that the Communist government would not impose the least restriction on the liberty of the Church to teach Her doctrine. But there is no reason to believe that such a government would give the Church total freedom to teach Her doctrine. This would imply allowing Her to preach all the doctrine of the Popes on morals and laws, particularly about family and private property. If that were allowed to happen, every Catholic would become an innate enemy of the regime. To the degree that the Church extended Her action, She would be killing the regime. So the latter would be committing suicide to the degree that it gave the Church free rein. This would be especially true in countries where the Church has a great influence over the population.
Thus, we cannot be satisfied with a solution to the problem in its general formulation above. We must see what solution this problem should be given if a Communist government makes the following demands for Catholic preaching and teaching to be tolerated:
1. That they expound Church doctrine to the faithful in an affirmative manner but without any refutation of materialism and other errors inherent to Marxist philosophy;
2. That they remain silent as to Church thinking on private property and the family;
3. That they should say that while the legal existence of the family and private property is a theoretically desirable ideal, the fact that they are living under Communist domination makes it unattainable in practice. And as a result the faithful should forsake any attempt to abolish the Communist regime and reestablish legal protection for private property and the family as dictated by Natural Law.
Could such conditions be tacitly or explicitly accepted in conscience as a price for a modicum of legal freedom for the Church under a Communist regime? In other words, could the Church renounce Her freedom on some points to preserve it on others for the spiritual benefit of the faithful? This is the crux of the matter.
VI. The Solution
1. As far as the first condition is concerned, we think that the answer must be negative given the force of persuasion that metaphysics and morals carry when they actually shape a regime, culture, and environment.
The teaching mission of the Church consists not only in teaching the truth but also in condemning error. Teaching the truth is insufficient as such unless it spells out and refutes objections that could be raised against it. As Pius XII said, “The Church, ever overflowing with charity and kindness toward those who go astray, but faithful to the word of Her Divine Founder, who said: ‘He that is not with me is against me’ (Matt. 12:30) could not fail in Her duty of denouncing error and unmasking the sowers of lies. . .” (Christmas Radio Message of 1947, Discorsi e Radiomessagi, Vol. IX, p.393). Pius XI expressed the same thought as follows: “The first gift of love of the priest to his milieu, and which is incumbent upon him in the most evident manner, is the gift of serving truth, the whole truth, and to unmask and refute error underall the forms, masks, and disguises in which it is presented.” (Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge of March 14, 1937. AAS, Vol. XXIX, p. 1 , 63). The false maxim that teaching the truth does not require attacking or refuting error is of the essence of religious liberalism. No Christian formation is adequate without apologetics. It is particularly important to underline this because most people tend to accept as normal the political and social regime in which they are born and raised and, as a result, the regime exerts a profound influence on their souls.
In order to fully gauge the power of this formative influence, let us examine its raison d’être and its modus operandi.
Every political, economic, and social regime is ultimately based on metaphysics and morality. The institutions, laws, culture, and customs that are part of a particular regime or correlated with it, reflect in practice the principles of that metaphysics and that morality.
A regime’s very existence, the prestige that its authorities naturally enjoy, and the huge influence of habits and living environments, lead a population to accept as good, normal and even beyond question the existing temporal order and culture that are derived from the dominant metaphysical and moral principles. Upon accepting all this, the public mind lets itself be permeated, as if by osmosis, by the same principles, which most people habitually perceive in a confused, subconscious, but very vivid way.
Thus, the temporal order exerts a profound forming or deforming influence over peoples and individuals.
There are times when the temporal order is based upon contradictory principles that coexist because of a certain skepticism which almost invariably has shades of pragmatism. This pragmatic skepticism generally spreads to the public at large.
At other times the metaphysical and moral principles that function as soul of the temporal order are coherent and monolithic. They can be so in truth and goodness like in 13th century Europe, or in error and evil as in contemporary Russia or China. Thus, these principles can profoundly mark the peoples who live in a temporal society inspired by them.
To live in an order of things consistent in error and evil already is as such a tremendous invitation to apostasy.
The officially philosophical and sectarian Communist State carries out a doctrinal impregnation of the masses with intransigence, amplitude, and method. This impregnation is complemented by an explicit indoctrination repeated untiringly at every opportunity.
The pressure that Communist regimes exercise over the peoples under their yoke is unprecedented in history because of its comprehensive doctrinal content, subtle and multifaceted methods, and brutal when it comes to violent action.
In such a totally anti-Christian state, its influence cannot be avoided except by instructing the faithful about its evils.
Thus, particularly when facing this adversary, the Church cannot accept a freedom that entails a sincere and actual renunciation of an open and effective exercise of Her apologetic mission.
2. We believe the second condition is also unacceptable, not only in view of the total incompatibility of communism with Catholic doctrine but also (and particularly) with the right of private property in as much as it is related the love of God, the virtue of justice, and the sanctification of souls.
There is a general reason underlying our rejection of the second condition. The Communist doctrine, atheistic, materialistic, relativistic, and evolutionist, clashes head on with the Catholic concept of a personal God; a God who promulgated for mankind a law containing all the fixed and immutable principles of morality in full consonance with the natural order. Communist “culture,” considered in all its aspects and in each one of them, leads to the denial of morality and of law. Thus, the collision of communism with the Church occurs not merely in relation to the institutions of the family and private property: the Church would have to be silent about all morality and the very notion of law.
Therefore, we do not see what good the Church would draw from an “ideological truce” with the Communists limited to these two points if the ideological struggle were to continued on all other points.
But let us imagine that a Communist State were to give the Church complete liberty to preach about the family but not about private property. What would we have to answer?
At first glance, one would say that the Church’s mission consists essentially in promoting the knowledge and love of God, more than in advocating or maintaining a political, social, or economic regime; and that souls can know and love God without being taught about the principle of private property.
It would thus seem that the Church could accept as a lesser evil a commitment to keep silent about the right of property to receive, in exchange, freedom to teach and sanctify souls, speaking to them of God and the eternal destiny of man, and administering the sacraments.
a) From the standpoint of the love of God: The knowledge and love of the Law are inseparable from the knowledge and love of God. For the Law is in a certain way the mirror of the divine sanctity. And this, which can be said of each of its precepts, is particularly true when considered as a whole. To renounce the teaching of the two precepts of the Decalogue that are the foundation of private property would be tantamount to presenting a disfigured image of this whole and, therefore, of God Himself. Now, when souls have a distorted idea of God, they are fashioned after an erroneous model that is incompatible with true sanctification.
b) From the point of view of the cardinal virtue of justice: The cardinal virtues are, as the name says, the hinges upon which all sanctity is supported. For the soul to sanctify itself, it must learn them righteously, love them sincerely, and practice them genuinely.
It so happens that the whole notion of justice is founded on the principle that each man, his individual neighbor, and human society are entitled to rights with their naturally corresponding obligations. In other words, the notions of “mine” and “thine” lie in the most elementary basis of the very concept of justice.
Now then, in economic matters this notion of “mine” and “thine” is precisely what leads, directly and inexorably, to the principle of private property.
As a consequence, it is not possible to have a true knowledge of the cardinal virtue of justice without a proper knowledge of the legitimacy and extent of the principle of private property and its limitations. Without that knowledge, one can neither have a true love nor a real practice of justice, and sanctification becomes impossible.
c) From the more general standpoint of the full development of the soul’s faculties and sanctification: Explaining this argument presupposes that an appropriate formation of one’s intelligence and will generally favors sanctification and, under some aspects, even identifies with it. And it presupposes, on the other hand, that everything prejudicial to the proper formation of the intellect and will is, from several standpoints, incompatible with sanctification.
We are going to show that a society in which private property does not exist is gravely opposed to the rightly ordained development of the faculties of the soul and especially the will. For this reason it is, as such, incompatible with sanctification.
In passing, we shall also refer, to the harm that, for analogous reasons, collective property entails for culture. We shall do this because the true development of culture is not only a propitious factor to the sanctification of peoples but is also a fruit of that sanctification. Accordingly, a properly ordered cultural life is intimately connected with our subject.
Let us approach the question by bringing to light an essential point often forgotten by persons dealing with the institution of private property: it is necessary for man’s equilibrium and sanctification.
To demonstrate this thesis, we should first call to mind that papal documents dealing with capital, labor, and the social question leave no shadow of doubt that private property is not only legitimate but also indispensable to the private and common good. That holds both in regard to the material interests of man and those of his soul.
There is no question that the same papal documents have minced no words against the numerous abuses of private property that began mostly in the 19th century. But the fact that an institution is abused, no matter how reprehensibly and harmfully, does not mean that the institution is not intrinsically excellent. Instead, one should tend in most instances to believe the opposite: Corruptio optimi pessima – the worst is, perhaps nearly always, the corruption of something that of itself is excellent. Nothing is as sacred and holy, of itself and from every standpoint, as the priesthood. Nothing is worse than its corruption. This is why the Holy See, so severely opposed to the abuse of private property, is even more severe when it curbs the abuses of the priesthood.
There are many reasons why the institution of private property is indispensable to individuals, families, and peoples. A complete exposition of these reasons would go beyond the scope of this work. We will limit ourselves to expound what is most directly important to our topic, namely, as we said above, that this institution is necessary for the equilibrium and sanctification of man.
Naturally endowed with intelligence and will, man tends by his own spiritual faculties to provide all that is necessary for his well being. From this derives his right to independently look for the things he needs and to appropriate them if they have no owner. From this also derives his right to provide for his future needs by taking possession of the land and cultivating it with implements of his own making. In short, it is because he has a soul that man inexorably tends to be an owner. And this, according to Leo XIII and St. Pius X, is how his position vis-à-vis material goods distinguishes him from irrational animals: “Man has not only the simple use of earthly goods, as do the brutes, but also the right of stable ownership, in respect to both those goods which use consumes and those which use does not consume.” (Encylical Rerum Novarum). (St.Pius X, “Motu Propio” on Catholic Popular Action, Dec. 18, 1903 – ASS, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 341-343).
For man to direct his own destiny and provide for his own subsistence is the immediate, necessary, and constant reason to exercise his intelligence and will. And owning property is the normal means for him to exist and feel assured and in control of his future. Therefore, to abolish private property is to place the individual at the mercy of the state, deprive his mind of some basic conditions for it to function normally, and cause the atrophy of the faculties of his soul through lack of exercise; it is, in short, to deform him profoundly. This explains to a large degree, the sadness that characterizes populations subjected to communism, as well as the tedium, neuroses, and suicides that are more and more frequent in highly socialized countries of the West.
Indeed, it is well known that unexercised faculties of the soul tend to atrophy and that adequate exercise can develop these faculties, at times even prodigiously. A large number of didactic and ascetic practices approved by the greatest masters and consecrated by experience are based on this.
Since sanctity is the perfection of the soul, it is easy to understand how the end result is important to the salvation and sanctification of men. As such, ownership creates highly propitious circumstances for the right and virtuous exercise of the faculties of the soul. While rejecting the utopian ideal of a society where every individual without exception is an owner, a society without unequal, great, medium, and small fortunes, it is well to point out that the more widespread the institution of private property becomes the more it fosters the spiritual and obviously also the cultural welfare of individuals, families and society. On the contrary, proletarization creates highly unfavorable conditions for the salvation, sanctification, and cultural formation of peoples, families, and individuals.
For the sake of clarity, let us now look into some possible objections to the argument expounded under this letter “c”:
Do non-owners in a society with private property become insane or unable to sanctify themselves?
In order to answer this question, it would be well to ponder that the institution of private property favors nonowners in an indirect but very genuine way. Since a large number of people draw appropriate advantage from the moral and cultural benefits derived from their condition as owners, there results an elevated social environment that, through people’s natural interactions, favors also nonowners. Thus, their situation in such a society is not identical with that of individuals in a regime where no private property exists.
Is private property, then, the cause of the moral and cultural elevation of peoples?
We say that property is a most important condition for the spiritual and cultural good of individuals, families, and peoples. We do not say it is the cause of sanctification. Likewise, the freedom of the Church is a condition for Her development. But the Church, though persecuted, flourished admirably in the catacombs. It would be exaggerated to say, for example, that the more widespread the institution of private property is, the more virtuous and cultured a people will necessarily be. This would make the supernatural depend on matter and the cultural on the economy.
However, it is certainly not licit for anyone to counter the designs of Providence by abolishing an institution such as private property. Indeed, it is not only imposed by the natural order of things but also is an important condition for the welfare of souls on both the religious and the cultural planes. Any people that destroy private property pave the way for their moral and cultural degradation and ultimate demise.
If this is so, how was there so much culture in Imperial Rome where a majority of the population consisted of proletarians and slaves? And how was it possible for several slaves, both in Rome and in Greece, to have reached an elevated moral or cultural level?
The difference between a brightly lit room and one with only a flickering light is not as great as the difference between a room with only a flickering light and one in total darkness. The reason is that the evil caused by the total lack of an important good (the light) is always incomparably greater than that produced by a partial lack of this good. The Roman society had, though to a lesser degree than would have been desired, a very large and cultured class of property owners: whence the existence in the Empire, at least to a certain extent, of the cultural benefits of property. A country entirely deprived of a propertied class would be in an entirely different situation; from this point of view, it would be in complete darkness.
The objection could be made that experience contradicts this theoretical conclusion, since an undeniable cultural and technical progress can be found in the Russian people in spite of the collectivist system imposed by the Marxist regime.
Here also the answer is not difficult.
The resources drawn from the four corners of its vast empire are subject to the dictates of the Soviet government. It arbitrarily controls the talents, work, and production of hundreds of millions of people.
The Soviet government obviously lacked no resources in its drive to artificially put together a number of highly technological or cultural environments (anti-cultural would be more appropriate). Without denying the scope of the results thus obtained, we nevertheless can legitimately express some surprise at the fact that they are not much greater. For it is really a failure when a totally unnatural Moloch State does not produce Moloch-like artificial results.
Furthermore, this greenhouse intellectual flourishing is entirely cut off from the population. It is not a product of society nor is it formed in its bosom. Rather it is put together outside of it with the blood extracted therefrom. It grows and affirms itself outside of society and, in a certain sense, against it.
Such fruits are no gauge of a nation’s culture, anymore than the products of a greenhouse on a vast, derelict rural property are valid proof that it is being properly cultivated.
Let us now turn to the objection concerning Imperial Rome. There is no question that some of its slaves reached astonishingly high moral and intellectual levels: marvels of nature and of grace on the moral plane which even now fill us with awe. These glorious exceptions, however, are not sufficient to disprove the obvious truth that the servile condition as such is oppressive and harmful to the soul of the slave from both the religious and cultural point of view. And that slavery, morally and culturally harmful as such would have been incomparably more so for the ancient slaves if their society had no patricians and freemen and had been made up only of men without autonomy or property as in a Communist regime.
But, someone may finally ask, is the religious state, then, not intrinsically harmful to souls because of the vows of obedience and poverty? Don’t these vows curtail man’s tendency to provide for himself?
The answer is easy. This state is highly beneficial for souls that grace attracts to extraordinary vocations. However, if this state were to be lived by a whole society, it would be harmful; for that which is suitable for exceptions is not suitable for all. That is why the system of collective property in the primitive Church was never generalized but ended up eliminated. And the Communist-Protestant experiments with certain collectivist communities in the 16th century ended in resounding fiascoes.
Hence it is that virtue would be in a perpetual struggle against the Communist society in which it were to flourish, and would continually tend to eliminate collectivism. And the Communist society would be in a perpetual struggle against virtue and would tend to asphyxiate it. All this is precisely the opposite of the dreamed of coexistence.
3. As for the third condition, it seems equally unacceptable, since the need to tolerate a lesser evil should not lead one to renounce its total destruction.
When the Church resolves to tolerate a lesser evil, She does not mean that this evil should not be fought with full effectiveness. This is so a fortiori when this “lesser” evil is most grave in itself.
In other words, the Church must form in the faithful, and renew in them at every moment, a most vivid regret over the need to accept a lesser evil. And with this regret, She must stir up in them an efficacious resolution to do everything to remove the circumstances that made it necessary to accept the lesser evil.
However, in so doing, the Church would destroy the possibility of coexistence. And yet, it seems to us, She could not act otherwise and still remain within the imperatives of Her sublime mission.
VII. Resolving Final Objections
In this work we have resolved several objections directly connected with the various topics addressed. We will now analyze other objections which were not necessary to the development of the foregoing exposition and which fit in more conveniently for the reader in this section.
1. By defending the right of property, the Church would forsake the struggle against misery and hunger.
This objection provides an occasion to consider the catastrophic effects that a silence of the Church on the question of private property would have on the welfare of temporal society in a Communist state.
We have already analyzed the principal objections that could be made to such silence from the standpoint of the Church’s mission to teach and sanctify. Let us now take up a secondary, but interesting, consequence of the same silence: By Her silence, the Church would be abetting the progressive spread of misery in a world marked by increasing collectivization.
By an instinctive, powerful, and fecund movement every man continuously seeks to provide first of all for his personal needs. When it comes to self-preservation, the human intelligence struggles more easily against its limitations and grows in sharpness and agility. The will conquers sloth more easily, and faces obstacles and struggles with greater vigor.
This instinct, when held within proper bounds, should not be thwarted but, on the contrary, should be supported and put to work as a precious factor of enrichment and progress. By no means should it be branded as egoism. It is nothing but the love of self which, according to the natural order, must come below the love of the Creator and above the love of neighbor.
If these truths were denied, the principle of subsidiarity, presented in the Encyclical Mater et Magistra as a fundamental element of Catholic social doctrine, would be destroyed (cf. AAS, Vol. LIII pp. 414-415).
Indeed, it is by virtue of this hierarchy in charity that every man should provide directly for himself within his means and resort to larger groups – family, guilds, state – to the extent that he cannot help himself. It is by virtue of the same principle that the family and guilds (collective entities of which it should also be said that onme ens appetit suum esse) look out, first and directly for themselves, resorting to the state only when indispensable. The same holds true for relationships between a state and international society.
In conclusion, everything in man’s nature, reason and instinct drives him to appropriate goods to assure his livelihood making it plentiful, decorous, and tranquil. And the desire to have and multiply his own goods is his great stimulus to work and is therefore an essential factor of abundance in production.
As can be seen, the institution of private property, which is the necessary corollary of this desire, cannot be considered a mere foundation for personal privileges. It is an indispensable and most efficacious condition for the prosperity of the whole social body.
Socialism and communism affirm that the individual exists primarily for society and must work for the direct benefit of the whole social body rather than his own.
As a result, the best stimulus for work is removed, production necessarily falls, and indolence and misery take over society. And the whip becomes the only means – though obviously insufficient – the state is left with to stimulate production.
We do not deny that in a regime of private property there can be (and there has often been) a defective circulation of goods, in the various parts of the social body; however abundantly produced, they accumulate here and grow scarce there. This fact calls for an action to favor as much as possible a proportional dissemination of riches in the various social classes. But this is no reason to get rid of private property, the riches that it creates, and resign ourselves to socialist pauperism.
2. The arguments against the coexistence of the Church with a completely collectivized state do not hold for an incompletely collectivized state.
According to certain news reports, some Communist governments have announced the intention of gradually allowing some religious freedom while partially moderating Socialism, in fact if not in the law, and only provisionally, by admitting some forms of private property. In this case, it could be argued, the regime’s influence over people will not be as harmful. Could the Church not agree, then, to omit in Her teaching and preaching the full scope of the principle of private property in Catholic morality even while upholding the principle as valid?
The answer could be that the most brutally anti-natural regimes – or the most flagrant or glaring errors – do not always cause the greatest deformation in people’s souls. For instance, while avowed error and brutal injustice cause revolt and horror, semi-injustices and partial errors are more easily accepted as normal and thereby corrupt minds more rapidly. It was much easier to combat Arianism than semi-Arianism, Pelagianism than semi-Pelagianism, Protestantism than Jansenism, violent Revolution than liberalism, communism than a mitigated socialism. Furthermore, the Church’s mission is not only to combat brutally radical and blatant error but to expunge from the minds of the faithful each and every error, however tenuous, to make shine in the eyes of all the entire and unalloyed truth taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Peasants in certain regions of Europe have such a deeply rooted sense of property that they can pass it down as naturally as a mother would to a nursing child simply by teaching catechism within their families. Therefore, the Church could remain silent about the right of property for decades without prejudicing the moral formation of the faithful.
We do not deny that the sense of property is very lively in some regions of Europe. It is well known that this obliged the Communists to scale back their policy of confiscation and return property to small landowners in Poland, for example.
However, the Communist sectarians resign themselves to these tactical retreats so frequent in the history of communism, in the hope of attaining a more complete victory later. As soon as circumstances allow, they return to the charge with redoubled energy and astuteness.
That will be the moment of greatest danger. Exposed to a more shrewd and refined propaganda, the peasants will be subjected to the Marxist ideological offensive for an indefinite length of time.
Who would not shudder on imagining a younger generation exposed to this risk anywhere in the world? To admit that a merely natural and habitual sense of individual property would normally provide a fully reassuring shield against such a great peril is putting to much trust in a human factor. In fact, without the direct and supernatural action of the Church preparing Her children well in advance and assisting them in the struggle, it is unlikely that the faithful in any country or social level will endure the trial.
Besides, as we have pointed out earlier, it does not seem licit in any case for the Church to suspend for decades the exercise of Her mission to teach the Law of God in its fullness.
4. The coexistence of the Church with a Communist State would be possible if all owners renounced their rights.
Suppose that you have a Communist-inspired tyranny dead set on imposing collectivism through violence, and a number of owners who persist in affirming their rights facing the state (which neither created nor can legitimately suppress them). What solution could be found for such a tense standoff?
Right now, we see no other but fighting. Not just any fight, however, but a fight to the death by all Catholics faithful to the principle of private property in legitimate self-defense against the deadly action of a tyrannical power whose beastly brutality facing a Church rebuff can reach unimaginable extremes. Such would be a revolt, a revolution with all its inherent atrocities, general impoverishment, and the inevitable uncertainties as to the final outcome.
This being so, one might ask if owners would not be obliged in conscience to renounce their rights for the sake of the common good, and thus allow the establishment of a regime of collective property on a morally legitimate foundation. Thus Catholics would be able to accept the Communist regime, without problems of conscience.
This proposition is inconsistent. It confuses the institution of private property as such with the property rights of actual persons existing at a given historical moment. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that, under a brutal menace to the common good, these owners validly renounced their patrimony and therefore their rights vanished. This would by no means result in the elimination of private property as an institution. It would continue to exist, so to speak, in radice in the natural order as immutably indispensable to the spiritual and material welfare of men and nations and as an unshakable imperative of the Law of God.
And since private property continues to exist in radice (in its root) it would keep springing up again at every moment. For instance, every time a fisherman or a hunter appropriated something from the sea or the air to provide or save for his livelihood, and every time that an intellectual or a manual laborer produced more than the indispensable for his day-to-day living and saved the surplus for himself, they would be generating small private estates, in intimate connection with the natural order itself. And, as is normal, these properties would tend to grow. In order to preclude yet another anticommunist revolution, it would be necessary to make everyone renew the renunciation at every moment, which is evidently absurd.
Moreover, in numerous cases, the individual could not make such a renunciation without sinning against charity in relation to himself. In addition, this renunciation would often clash with the rights of another institution with a profound affinity with property and even more sacred, that is, the family. Indeed, there would be many cases in which a family member could not make such a renunciation without sinning against justice or charity in relation to his own kin.
Private property and the practice of justice: Now that we are done describing and explaining this continuous revival of the right of property, we are ready to make a point that would otherwise have been difficult to explain with the necessary clarity.
It has to do with the virtue of justice in its relations with private property. In section VI, no. 2, letter b, we spoke of the role that property plays in fostering a person’s knowledge and love of the virtue of justice. Let us now consider the role of property in the practice of justice.
Since the rights of property spring up at every moment in communist countries as elsewhere, from the standpoint of wholesome morality, the collectivist state, which confiscates the goods of individuals, turns itself into a thief. And in principle those who receive state-confiscated goods place themselves, in relation to the spoliated owner, in the position of enriching themselves with stolen goods.
In view of this, any moralist can easily imagine the immense sequel of difficulties that collectivization entails for the practice of the virtue of justice. Particularly in police states, these difficulties will be such as to demand heroic acts on the part of every Catholic very often, perhaps even at every moment. This is yet another proof that coexistence between the Church and the Communist State is impossible.
5. Communism being so antinatural, its existence is necessarily ephemeral. Thus, the Church could accept a modus vivendi, if only for a while, until it collapses from its own rottenness or at least mellows a bit.
There are several answers to this:
a) To say the least, this “ephemeral” nature is very relative. For more than half a century, communism has dominated Russia. Who other than God, who knows the future, can say with certainty when communism will fall?
b) By the very fact of watering itself down, such a regime would become less antinatural and thereby prolong its life. So this watering down would not be a march toward ruin but rather a factor of stability.
c) There are regimes viscerally opposed to fundamental demands of human nature that nonetheless survive by themselves indefinitely. The barbarism of certain aboriginal peoples of America or Africa lasted for centuries and would have lasted even longer due to its intrinsic vitality had it no been eliminated by extrinsic factors. And even then, how arduous has been this process of replacing an anti-natural order with a more natural one!
6. At first sight, it might seem that certain overtures by the late lamented Pope John XXIII in relation to Soviet Russia could orient minds in a direction at variance with the conclusions of this work.
These gestures of John XXIII are situated entirely in the domain of international relations.2
For its part, this study is placed on the religious plane in which this very Pontiff, in the Encyclical Mater et Magistra, reaffirmed the condemnations his Predecessors fulminated against communism. In it, he also made quite clear that there must not be any demobilization of Catholics against this error that papal documents repudiate with supreme rigor.
We should also call to mind, among others, this significant pronouncement by Pope Paul VI: “Do not believe, moreover, that this pastoral solicitude, today assumed by the Church as a primordial program absorbing Her attention and polarizing Her concerns, signifies a modification of the judgment expressed about the errors disseminated in our society, and already condemned by the Church, as, for example, atheistic materialism. Trying to apply salutory and urgent remedies to a contagious and mortal disease does not mean changing one’s opinion in respect to this disease, but on the contrary, it means trying to combat it not only in theory but practically; it signifies that after the diagnosis, one wishes to apply therapeutics, that is, after the doctrinal condemnation, to apply a salutary charity.” (Address of September 6, 1963 to the participants of the 13th Italian Week of Pastoral Adaptation, of Orvieto – AAS, Vol. LV, p. 752).
Similar positions have been repeatedly taken during Paul VI’s pontificate by the Vatican’s semiofficial organ, L’Osservatore Romano. For example, in the issue of March 20, 1964 of its French edition, one reads: “Leaving aside the more or less fictitious distinctions, it is certain that no Catholic can collaborate, directly or indirectly, with the Communists, for the ideological incompatibility between religion and materialism (dialectical and historical) corresponds to an incompatibility of methods and ends, a practical incompatibility, that is, a moral one.” (Article “Le Rapport Ilitchev,” by F.A.). And another article in the same issue says: “For Catholicism and communism to be reconciled, it would be necessary for communism to cease to be communism. Now even in the multiple aspects of its dialectics, communism concedes nothing in respect to its political ends and its doctrinal intransigence. And thus communism, by its materialistic conception of History, its negation of the rights of the person, its abolition of freedom, its State despotism, and even its unhappy economic experience, is placed in opposition to the spiritual and personalistic conception of society as it proceeds from the social doctrine of Catholicism (…).” (Article “A propos de solution de remplacement”).
Still in the same line, it would be appropriate to mention a “Joint Letter of the Venerable Italian Episcopate against Atheistic Communism” dated November 1, 1963.
Even Communist sources have issued statements on the impossibility of an ideological truce or of a peaceful coexistence between the Church and communism: “Those who propose the idea of peaceful coexistence in ideological matters wind up, in fact, slipping to the anti-communist position.” (Khrushchev, cf. wire of March 11, 1963 of the AFP and ANSA news services in O Estado de São Paulo, March 12, 1963). “My impression is that it will never be possible to reach a coexistence between communism and other ideologies, and therefore with religion … in any field whatsoever.” (Adjubei, cf. wire of March 15, 1963 of the ANSA, UPI, and DPA news services in O Estado de São Paulo, March 16, 1963) “No reconciliation between Catholicism and Marxism is possible” (Palmiro Togliatti, cf. wire of March 21, 1963 of the AFP in O Estado de São Paulo of March 22, 1963). “A peaceful coexistence between Communist and bourgeois ideas is a betrayal of the working class … There has never been nor will there ever be any peaceful coexistence between ideologies.” (Leonid Ilitchev, Secretary of the Central Commission and President of the Ideological Commission of the CPSU, cf. AFP, ANSA, AP, DPA, and UPI wires of June 18, 1963 in O Estado de São Paulo, June 19, 1963). “The Soviets reject the accusation that Moscow applies the principle of peaceful coexistence also to class struggle and say they do not admit it on the ideological plane either.” (Open letter of CC of the CPSU, cf. wire of the above cited news services, July 15, 1963 in O Estado de São Paulo, July 17, 1963).
Facing all of this, it is quite obvious that the Church militant has not renounced and could not renounce the essential freedom to fight against Her terrible adversary.
7. Coexistence could be accepted as a pious fraud: if the Church wished to accept coexisting with a Communist regime, She could do so with the unstated intention of defaulting as much as possible on an eventual pact.
If that pact is explicit, the answer is that no one is allowed to commit to doing something illicit. So, if accepting the aforementioned conditions is illicit, any pact of which they formed a part could not be made.
Were that pact to be implicit, it would be naïve, for starters, to imagine that the Communist authorities, served by a police state and the powerful resources of modern technology, would not immediately learn of any systematic violations.
VIII. Fruits of the Agreement: Skin-deep Catholics
A pact made under the conditions stated in section V would bring huge benefits to communism if it were to be fulfilled exactly. New generations of ill-prepared and lukewarm Catholics would perhaps recite the Creed with their lips but with minds and hearts saturated with all the errors of communism. In short, they would be Catholics only in their most superficial appearance and Communists in the most profound and authentic depths of their mentalities. What real Catholicism would still subsist in a people after two or three generations raised in such a coexistence?
Allow us to make a comment confirming these statements. It concerns the very grave pastoral and practical risks that result at times from the unavoidable acceptance of the hypothesis even when one remains faithful to the thesis.
While enjoying full liberty in today’s laicist regime born of the French Revolution, the Church has seen millions and millions of men fall away from Her bosom. As His Excellency the Most Reverend Angelo Dell’Acqua, Substitute Secretary of State, said, “as a consequence of the religious agnosticism of the States, the sense of the Church” (has become) “weakened or almost lost in modern society.” (Letter to His Eminence Cardinal D. Carlos Carmelo de Vasconcellos Motta, then Archbishop of São Paulo, Thanksgiving Day, 1956). What is the ultimate reason for this? Public institutions, as we said (cf. section VI, no. 1), exert a profound influence over most people. They accept these institutions as a matter of habit and even without perceiving it, as models and sources of inspiration for their whole way of thinking, being, and acting. Upon being adopted by the States, laicism led astray an immense number of souls. This certainly would not have happened if Catholics had been much more zealous in taking advantage of the unrestricted freedom of speech and action they enjoy in the liberal regime to defend and spread all the teachings of the Church against the lay state. However, they failed to avail themselves of this freedom as much as they should have. Merely by existing in a laicist atmosphere, a very large number lost the living notion of the tremendous evil that laicism really is. While they continued to affirm, if only seldom and from the tip of their lips, the anti-laicist position, they wound up by finding a hypothetical coexistence with laicism normal.
Now then, in a Communist regime that inculcates errors with much greater insistence than liberal states, either a much greater effort is made to counter these errors more than was ever done against laicism from the French Revolution to this day, or souls will allow themselves to be swept away in much greater numbers.
Anyone who could even imagine that such an action would be tolerated by any Communist regime has not even an inkling of what communism is.
IX. Practical Conclusion
In order to wipe out the advantages that communism is reaping in the West simply by hinting at greater freedom in religious and social affairs, it is important and urgent to educate public opinion about the intrinsically and necessarily fraudulent nature of the “freedom” it gives religion and about the impossibility for a Communist regime (even a moderate one) to peacefully coexist with the Catholic Church.
X. Where the Real Peril of a Hecatomb Lies
As this study draws to an end, many a reader will ask himself: How then can we avoid a nuclear hecatomb? It is quite clear that if Catholics decide to hold fast to the principle of private property, the Communist powers will lose all hope of imposing their system on the world by peaceful means and will resort to war. In view of this, would it not be preferable to give in to them regardless of what the doctrinal consequences might be?
Oh, men of little faith! We would like to answer, why do you doubt? (cf. Matt. 8:26)
Wars have as their principal cause the sins of nations. For, as Saint Augustine says, since nations cannot be recompensed or punished for their sins in the next life, they already receive in this world the reward for their good actions and the punishment for their crimes.
Thus, if we wish to avoid wars and catastrophes, let us fight their causes: the corruption of ideas and morals, the official impiety of secular states and the growing opposition of positive law to the law of God. This is what really exposes us to the wrath and chastisement of the Creator and leads us to war more than anything.
If, to avoid war, the Western nations were to commit a sin even greater than current ones by consenting to live under a Communist yoke in a situation condemned by Catholic morality, they would thereby defy God’s wrath and call down upon themselves the fruits of His ire.
This is all the more true, since concessions now made toward the abolition of private property would have to be repeated tomorrow in relation to the abolition of the family, and so on. This is how international communism, with inexorable intransigence, proceeds with its tactic of successive impositions inherent to its nature. Into what ignominy, into what abyss, into what apostasy would we not fall were we to give in to this tactic?
Human existence, without necessary institutions such as property and the family, is not worth living. Were we to sacrifice one for the sake of the other, would we not be losing, for the sake of life, the very reason for living? Why live in a world transformed into a huge herd of slaves hurled into animal promiscuity?
Facing the dramatic option at hand, which this essay tries to make evident, let us not reason like atheists who ponder pros and cons as if God did not exist.
A supreme and heroic act of fidelity in this hour could cover a multitude of sins, inclining Him to turn away from us the cataclysm that approaches.
That should be an act of heroic fidelity; an act of entire and heroic confidence in the Heart of Him who said: “Learn from Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matt. 11:29).
Yes, let us trust in God. Let us trust in His Mercy, whose avenue is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The Mother of Mercy said to the world in the Message of Fatima, that wars are turned away by prayer, penance, and the amendment of our lives, not by convenient and shortsighted concessions made out of fear.
Facing the insidious approaches of international communism, may Our Lady of Fatima obtain for all of us, who have a duty to fight, the courage to exclaim “non possumus.” (Acts 4:20)
1. In the beginning, the policy of the Communist governments was to maintain a clear and open persecution of Religion; for the Church there was no alternative: it had to react vigorously against them. During the course of dramatic incidents, the blood of the martyrs flowed abundantly, and communism did not succeed in extinguishing the faith in the souls of the peoples subjected to it.
After a while, certain Communist governments began changing their tactics, inaugurating an era of limited tolerance, which opened up the possibility of a tenuous freedom of worship and speech for the Church – a most tenuous freedom indeed because even where those limited concessions reached their limits the Church was still openly combated by the official ideological propaganda and spied upon by the police.
2. In view of this change of procedure by the Communist authorities in some countries, two courses of action were presented to the Church: “To accept a pact with the Communist regime, or to refuse it, thus remaining in hiding. The making of this choice depends on the following moral problem: Is it licit for Catholics to accept harmonious relations with a Communist regime?”
3. This change of tactics toward Religion has been immensely beneficial for the Communist cause: Opinion in Catholic circles which formerly constituted an impassable wall for Communist propaganda became divided over which orientation to follow. Thus the greatest dike of ideological opposition to communism was broken.
That breach was the direct work of the so-called Catholics of the left, or progressives.
4. This relaxation of tensions (detente) inaugurated by communism can only be the fruit of political designs; that is, to reduce the growing tensions behind the Iron Curtain or to achieve the psychological demobilization of the West, or to accomplish both of these ends. These are the very results which have been gradually and implacably achieved by international communism.
Therefore, it has become indispensable for Catholics to resolve the moral and tactical problem created for them by this fact.
The potential of this study is evident in that an earlier edition penetrated the Iron Curtain and had great repercussions among Catholics there.
5. If a Communist regime were to offer freedom of worship to the Church on the condition that She keep silent about certain errors of Marxism – especially the denial of private property or of the family – could the Church accept such a proposal? As a condition for obtaining this freedom of worship, could the Church at least agree to recommend to Catholics that they desist from every effort to restore private property and the family, holding the abolition of these institutions to be censurable only in thesis but placidly acceptable in practice by virtue of the conditions imposed by the regime?
6. Under such conditions, Catholics must reject a peaceful coexistence of the Church with communism:
1st argument – The temporal order exerts a profound formative – or deformative – action over the mentalities of peoples and the souls of individuals. The Church cannot, therefore, accept a freedom which would involve Her being silent about the errors of the Communist regime, thus creating the impression among the people that She does not condemn them.
2nd argument – By renouncing the teaching of the precepts of the Decalogue which are the basis of private property (7th and 10th Commandments), the Church would present a disfigured image of God Himself. Such a condition would be gravely prejudicial to the love of God, the practice of justice, and the full development of the faculties of man, and, as a consequence, to his sanctification.
3rd argument – The Church cannot accept communism as a “fait accompli” and a lesser evil.
7. There is a collateral but tragic effect of the silence of the Church about the principle of private property. By not speaking out, She would be consenting to the progressive spread of misery which would flow from the replacement of private property by collective ownership.
– Even in a State which is not completely collectivized, it is an obligation of the Church to make the whole truth shine before the eyes of all.
– Even though the sense of property be impossible to extirpate in certain regions of Europe because it is so deeply rooted, the Church cannot maintain silence about the right of property without prejudice to the moral formation of the faithful.
– The institution of private property must exist because it belongs to the very natural order of things. Accordingly, even if the proprietors were to renounce their rights of property under the pressure of a Communist state, the Church would not be able to accept a peaceful coexistence with that state.
– Nor could the Church accept a Communist regime in a passing way, hoping that it would collapse from its own corruption or attenuate itself.
– The diplomatic relations of the Holy See with the Communist countries are on a different plane from the matter considered in this study. The traditional official and semiofficial teaching of the Vatican affirms the impossibility of any ideological truce, of any peaceful coexistence between the Church and communism. There is no lack of declarations from Communist sources to the same effect.
– Finally, the Church could not accept coexistence with a Communist state as a pious fraud (“pia fraus”). It would be naive to think that the Communist would not immediately become aware of violations of the pact.
8. A pact of the Church with a Communist regime, under the conditions desired by the Communists, would have as its effect the formation of new generations of Catholics who would perhaps recite the Creed with their lips but whose minds and hearts would be completely saturated with all of the errors of communism.
9. It is important and urgent to show the intrinsically and necessarily fraudulent character of the “freedom” offered to Religion by communism.
10. The sins of nations constitute the principal cause of wars. If in order to avoid a nuclear hecatomb, the nations of the West were to commit the enormous sin of accepting communism, they would call upon themselves the effects of the divine anger. At Fatima, Our Lady said that wars are warded off by prayer, penance, and the amendment of our lives. May She give us the courage to exclaim in the face of communism: “non possumus.”
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