Wednesday 27 May 2020

The Two Cities

Good morning. The clouds have dispersed, and the sun is here. An insect has eaten a hole in the largest leaf of the elder of our two courgettes, however, and I am steeling myself to thin out the jolly profusion of radishes in the trug. We will eat radish greens at lunch.

City of God v. City of Man

This morning I made my coffee and sat down with the last chapter of Integralism, "The Two Cities." The Two Cities are, of course, the City of God and the City of Man, as described by St. Augustine. The Church, including Christendom, is the City of God, and the City of Man (or "Babylon") is everything outside it, led by Satan. Fr. Crean and Dr. Fimister suggest that the City of Man resembles the City of God only as far as a corpse made to dance on strings by a puppeteer resembles a living person. It is an effectively gruesome image.

Because the City of Man and the City of God are at war with each other, it is necessary for the City of God to protect its citizens, Fimister and Crean argue. Because men are fallen, it is also necessary for the Church to have recourse to temporal means to keep them on the right path. Much of the chapter is devoted to arguing this point.

St. Augustine

The chief witness is St. Augustine. In a letter to a Donatist, St. A revealed that he used not to believe that temporal power should be used to punish heretics but, having seen how fines imposed by temporal authority on the Donatists had turned them into happy Catholics, he now applauded the concept. St. Augustine thinks it is better when men "are led to worship God by teaching" but also thinks it better to bring men to it by threat of punishment than to allow them to go to hell in their own way.  "Let's face it," St. Augustine didn't quite say, "quite a lot of people are both stupid and wicked, and need to be saved from themselves, let alone the devil, and a whopping great fine is the only language they understand."

Children need threat of spanking to survive

I am reminded, by the way, of the capital crimes of my household when I was growing up, whose severity was underscored by the threat of corporal punishment. They almost invariably involved acute danger to life and limb. Playing in the front garden was absolutely forbidden under pain of spanking. This was to prevent us from absentmindedly dashing out in front of cars for balls, cats, etc. That many Scottish legislators hate the family and children can be shown from their support for a ban on spanking. (Actually beating children with a stick has long since been criminalised.)

Thus, Christendom was excellent for directing man and polities to their proper ends, for temporal authority served spiritual authority, and the Pope was well in his rights asking rulers to excuse men from military duties to become monks, etc.

Okay, (pre-)Boomer.

The leading opponent to St. Augustine on this matter is apparently Jacques Maritain. Surveying the wreckage of Christendom, Maritain apparently pronounced it all for the best. With Charles Journet, of whom I have never heard, he proposed a "secular" or "profane" Christendom.

"This they described as a society where the gospel, as taught by the Catholic Church, would in fact the principal source of inspiration for the citizens and the institutions of the society, without the Church herself enjoying by law any privileged place within it. Moreover, they held that such a 'secular Christendom' was not to be regretted as a second best, but would constitute a moral progress."

Crean and Fimister, however, suggest that this shows a lack of love of those who will be lost for all eternity.

"Since the Church is a Mother who wishes to save her children by all lawful means, it is more conformable to the nature of the Church as existing among fallen men, harried by "the rulers of the world of this darkness", to have temporal powers also at her disposal," they write.

Temporal power hopeless without spiritual aid

They also point out that the temporal power can't reach its own end without being united to the spiritual power. I find this convincing. I read an email today from Canada revealing that the elderly in long-term care facilities in both Ontario and Quebec have been living in utter squalor, abandoned by their paid carers. My first thought was that nuns would not behave like that.  I do not doubt that there have been abusive nuns in care facilities, but they have always been, at very least, clean, and they have strong spiritual incentives not to run away from the people they serve.

Crean and Fimister then trot out examples of a good many popes writing polite letters to various Christian rulers to ask that certain spiritual matters be served and hint out the not even Paul VI, who had been very influenced by Maritain (and, I'll add by the way, Simone Weil, shudder, shudder), denied  that "the traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies towards the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."

Pius XI said something very prophetic about it in 1925, too, amid the wreckage: "If the rulers of nations which to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ." 

The list of "Theses" at the end of this chapter is short:

1. Two loves form two cities, which have unity from their head and which are necessarily in conflict.
2. Christendom is necessary to protect the Church against the city of the world.

Friendship and revelation

But that's not all, for Fimister and Crean include a four page postscript explaining how rationalism is irrational. It has something to do with friendship, and I found it confusing.

I think the authors are arguing that when we look to God for our transcendence, we don't have to seek transcendence through friendship. Seeking transcendence through friendship is the wrongful use of friendship, which should be sought for its own sake. A higher form of friendship (going beyond family and chums) is society... and at that point I'm a bit lost.

At any rate, we know from reason and Aristotle that we should love our neighbour as ourself BUT, Fimister and Crean point out, without divine revelation we don't know who our neighbour is. If not for Christ, we would love only spouse, family, pals, and fellow citizens. Because of Christ, we know we must love our enemies, be kind to those in servitude to us, and not be indifferent to foreigners.

A last question for F&C

Not to be a jerk, but I am a bit concerned about the modern tendency of loving foreigners more than our fellow citizens. This is a question that has concerned me since I was mocked in the playground for not belonging to a nation 7,000 kilometres away by children born no more than 20 km from me.

I agree that indifference to foreigners is not ideal. However, what would a proportionate love of foreigners look like?

Perhaps the indifference Crean and Fimister are decrying is indifference to their ultimate fate. Earlier in their book they mention a papal defence of the native peoples of the New World in which the good pope denies that they should be treated like beasts and affirms that they have souls  (I can't find the page through the Index). Until recently Catholic missionaries have left those they loved to save the souls of foreigners. (Now it appears that they have other priorities, thus losing many souls to heretical American sects.)

But plastic

My last thought, though, is that another love of foreigners involves knowledge of how our activities affect them adversely. This is where Fr. Lonergan comes riding in on a horse called Cosmopolis. (And what an image that is!) Lonergan was very strict about people paying attention to realities, no matter how unpleasant they may be to the attention-payers. The reality that has long haunted me, and I really don't understand why we didn't think of this when Bakelite was invented in 1907, is that plastic outlives its use by at least 450 years. We throw away an awful lot of plastic. Where does it go?

On the one hand, we can say that our end is worship of God and there will be a new heaven and a new earth at the end of time anyway. But on the other, I cannot see how being knee-deep in plastic milk bottles will advance the worship of God among our descendants.

There is also the issue of the global supply chain. I also cannot see how keeping a number of peoples in miserable and disease-rife servitude as they grow our avocados, etc., advances the worship of God.  I really love avocados, but as a Christian I understand that I should love the good of Chileans more than avocado toast. This is one more reason why we should go local farm shops and do our best to grow our own food.

And on that note, we say good-bye to Fr. Crean and Dr. Fimister and look forward to reading another book by Wendell Berry.

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