Rorate Caeli

Obergefell, the Treason of Catholics, and the Social Kingship of Christ

Destruction of Catholic images in Zurich, 1524
The superb Lake Garda Statement on the Ecclesial and Civilizational Crisis got me thinking about the broad lines of the story in which we find ourselves, characters in a divine drama of light and darkness.

Even though they may have seen it coming, many Catholics are still in a state of shock after Obergefell. How did this happen so quickly? How did we end up in the top-down legitimation of sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance, perversions that make a mockery of nature, disorders that unravel the fabric of human society? The world is clearly a mess—hardly Christian even in those lands once favored by widespread allegiance to the one true faith. It is no fairy tale: once upon a time, the Western world was permeated with Christianity through and through; governments, laws, economies, the arts and sciences, were Catholic. What happened? 

The story of modernity is inherently bound up with the politics and economics of rebellion, revolution, the false messianism of secularization and secularism. “The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against his Christ. Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us” (Ps 2:2-3). Thanks to the naïve “opening to the world” of the Second Vatican Council, a move that eviscerated the Church’s otherworldly interior, a vast number of Catholics today view history, culture, politics, and economics as foreign to, or outside of, theology and faith, as if the Church had nothing to say about human nature and life in this world. 

Such a narrow mentality, an obvious exhibition of the vices of individualism and spiritualism, is explicitly rejected by a long line of modern Popes who saw clearly into our age. Just as no man is an island, Catholicism is not an atomistic thing but a social reality; it has always had and, where truly believed, will always have ramifications in the social order, the life and culture, the laws and structures, of peoples. Due to the fall of Adam, those very structures can become what Pope John Paul II called “structures of sin,” preventing people from hearing the Gospel or at least making it more difficult for them to live according to it.

One cannot understand the human world around us without grasping how its characteristic ways of thinking and acting have come about and have frequently hardened into structures of sin that hinder the penetration of the Gospel and even the perception of the natural law. The clash between Christian and anti-Christian worldviews needs to be engaged by theologians. It is not possible to understand modernity or the Catholic response to it without grapppling with the theological-political question—the question of whether the State itself, as a creation of God redeemed by Christ, is bound by an inescapable obligation to seek out the one true religion, adhere to it, and subordinate itself to it.[1] Decisively rejecting this model of harmony between nature and grace, modernity is inherently an anti-Catholic set of choices, ideologies built from those choices, and structures emerging from those ideologies.[2] Both the analytical critique and any realistic solution must be theological, not merely humanistic/philosophical.[3]

Social, cultural, political, economic realities are messy and complicated, yes. But they do admit of principled analysis—and one that is properly Catholic and theological.

Statues at Cluny, decapitated during the French Revolution
Are we content to stay in the darkness or do we wish to come into the light of true principles that can illuminate our thinking and acting? We have to descend from the lofty heights of unchanging mysteries such as the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation of the Word into the concrete situation in which we actually live out our lives as political animals. According to the Church, there is supposed to be a real interpenetration between those radiant mysteries and this messy but redeemable social life we lead.

Do Catholics understand how we got to a situation where millions of unborn children are murdered in the womb each year, and people think that men can marry men, or women women? This didn’t happen overnight, the result of an avalanche of money and political pressure. It is the culmination of a long historical process, the accelerating application of a process of revolt against first principles of nature and grace, beginning with the Protestant Revolt against ecclesiastical authority and sacred tradition, achieving its paradigm in the French Revolution’s rejection of temporal authority and human tradition, and sliding downhill to the Sexual Revolution’s rejection of social co-responsibility and self-restraint. There is nothing really left except mutilation, madness, and suicide. 

Responding effectively to this process of revolt demands a certain knowledge of the causes of the disease, lest we continue, in open or subtle ways, to buy into the very errors that are causing the evils we decry. As Joseph Shaw has pointed out, the sad truth is that the Catholic Church, as an institution, has, with an ever-lessening resistance, bought into the errors of the secularized and liberal West far more than it has successfully resisted them in the name of natural and revealed truths—the very truths that were preached from our pulpits only a few generations ago, attracting converts weary of modernism and its empty promises.

One could put the question this way: How did we get from Diocletian to Obama? Not by a direct line, but by a meandering path with heights and valleys that can be evoked by the mention of just a few names or phrases: Diocletian, Constantine, the Arian emperors, Theodosius, Charlemagne, St. Louis IX, Henry VIII, Cromwell, the American and French Revolutions, the modern imperial/nationalistic ideologies, Catholic resistance (García Moreno, Salazar), the dictatorship of relativism. Throughout this bewildering variety of regimes, with every new political-theological solution or dissolution, the Church, faithful bride of the Lord and servant of His sovereign truth, always held out one and only one ideal: the integral social reign of Christ the King. Something less than this may be tolerated for a time, as one might tolerate a prison, but nothing less can ever be embraced and held up for acceptance without risking the guilt of treason to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Most Catholic schools today ignore or distort Catholic Social Teaching, thus producing either useful idiots who keep sawing off the branch they are sitting on or ivory tower critics who cannot see how best to respond to the cultural crisis and do not seem particularly keen to labor for the integral social reign of Christ the King.

If the kingship of Christ is not understood to have profound, immediate, and uncompromisable political and economic ramifications for all mankind, including Americans, then it is not understood at all. Or rather, it has been domesticated, defanged and declawed by the self-worshiping modern State—a Catholicism rendered harmless as a vague spirituality to which none can object as long as it has no worldly consequences. This purely subjective feel-good "religion" is not the incarnational confession of the Son of God by the Church of God, stretching from the first Adam to the last man before the trumpet sounds, and we would do well to spew it forth as the poison it is, without pretending there can be harmony between Christ and Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:14-17).

Paris Protesters, 1968


[1] This thesis is argued with great persuasiveness by Thaddeus Kozinski in his book The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism -- And Why Philosophers Can't Solve It. In its pages, Kozinski summarizes the views of Maritain, Rawls, and MacIntyre on liberal pluralism, and shows how each of their solutions falls prey, in the end, to incoherence.

[2] As demonstrated by, inter alia, Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

[3] See, among other papal documents that make just this point, Leo XIII’s encyclical Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, On Jesus Christ Our Redeemer, November 1, 1900.