Christendom, Sacrality in the Temporal Order

January 18, 2018

“The temporal order is a creature of God that gives the Creator more glory than the moon and the stars.

The Church certainly has the proper means to promote the salvation of souls, but society and the State have instrumental means to achieve the same end.”

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

We deem it useful to analyze some aspects of one of the fundamental theses of Catholic doctrine regarding the problem of the relationship between the spiritual order and the temporal order, which is the latter’s “ministeriality” in relation to the former.[1]

It seems to us that today’s environment instills such a materialistic and purely economic conception of temporal life, that it exerts a sensible influence on the psychological makeup, mental habits, and ideological tendencies of people who, at least in theory, are assumed to be faithful, in their broad lines, to Catholic and even Thomistic thought. Such persons would have less difficulty in accepting the Church’s position on the ministeriality of the temporal sphere if they remembered exactly the whole human [material and spiritual] content of the temporal sphere.

For explainable reasons, excellent writers have unintentionally contributed to keep this content from clearly appearing to everyone’s eyes.

An omitted truth: Human society must satisfy not only bodily needs but also those of the soul

Other authors uphold the doctrine that human society does not exist as a consequence of some arbitrary pact established by a number of men in ages that are lost in the night of time, but is a spontaneous, legitimate and ineluctable consequence of the natural order itself. They carefully and painstakingly set forth the arguments for their thesis by the observation of everyday life: the need for specialization and collaboration to ensure material subsistence and progress; the need for an authority to direct that collaboration etc. It is therefore a natural necessity [and not just contractual, for there to exist] a society with all its essential characteristics.

Established on this basis [the observation of everyday life], the demonstration, besides being irreproachable is highly didactic because it deals with clear, simple and palpable facts that fall within the scope of the direct and personal observation of any reader. [There are, however, other arguments to be considered].

One understands that an author, pressed by the obsession to summarize imposed by today’s hustle and bustle, can quickly go over other arguments or even silence about them. This is what often happens with the argument that man is social by the very nature of his soul, abstracting from any of his bodily needs. Many books of all kinds, shapes and sizes which make the main lines of Natural Law available to the public, fail to explore this argument in all its wealth.

This fact produces an important consequence in the readers’ mentality. A great number of scholars are accustomed to seeing human society as something that exists only, or at least mainly, to meet the physical needs of man.

This conviction does not stem from an express statement by this or that treatise writer; rather, it is formed in people’s subconscious like a general impression which, if not logical, is at least explicable. For if the more insistently mentioned and more widely developed arguments are based on material, economic and practical needs, it is not surprising that the notion will arise that society exists above all to meet such needs, and that little by little, the ends of society relative to the human soul move from the background to complete oblivion.

As we said, the contemporary atmosphere is such as to powerfully favor this phenomenon. We live in an ambience saturated with materialism, in which we hear at all times opinions that would only be true … witness actions that would only be legitimate … are put in the presence of institutions and customs that would only be reasonable … if the human soul did not exist. Materialism is immanent and implied in almost everything that goes on around us.

It is not surprising, therefore, that this or that Catholic person who has honestly studied the general lines of moral philosophy and read in St. Thomas (De Regimine Principum, Chapter I) that temporal society exists in order to remedy not only man’s physical but also intellectual insufficiency to live alone – will very often take before the political, social and economic problems with which he is confronted, a practical attitude that differs little from the position of a materialist or agnostic person.

Tragic consequences of forgetting the supremacy of the soul over the body

Since man is constituted by two distinct principles, body and soul, it is clear that in everything that concerns him the soul will be much more important than the body; for what is spiritual and imperishable is worth more than what is material and mortal.

Any sociology that proceeds from this truth must give the best of its solicitude and attention to what concerns the human soul, its balance, well-being, and development. However interesting and respectable material problems may be, however much talent, diligence and vigor must be employed in solving them, this fundamental truth must never be forgotten.

Obviously, it is not a question of devoting to material life less than it deserves, since man is man and not a pure angelic spirit. But one must not break the hierarchy of values even when one largely gives matter its due. We cannot conceive material problems by dissociating them from the full and total human reality, that is, that we also have a soul, and that it is worth incomparably more than our body.

The modern world has ignored these principles, elevated the body to the status of an idol, and denied the primacy of the soul, if not its very existence. It organized everything as if man had only a body.

The result is right before us: neuroses, psychoses, monstrous sexual perversions, existentialism, and the great cacophonic confusion of our day. The book by Alexis Carrel [L’homme, cet inconnu-Man, this Unknown] — about which there would be many reservations to make — is already becoming old but can be an advantageous read to those wishing to know the cost man is paying for this underestimation or negation of the soul in our century’s technological and material progress.

It is thus a question — and many are recognizing it – of restoring the primacy of the spiritual.

But in order for this intention not to remain only in the world of sound assertions but become a palpable action with defined ends it is necessary to investigate exactly what is the role played by spiritual matters in the life that man leads in society.

The society of men must be mirrored in the angelic society

Considering the human soul in its nature, powers and activity, in what sense can it have a social life?

If we were to imagine a field of social life comprising purely spiritual relationships from man to man, that might appear to be so arcane and ethereal that nothing definite and useful could be said about it. This impression will dissipate if we turn to what the Church teaches us about the angels.

An angel is a purely spiritual being created to know, love, praise and serve God. Since this is his only reason for being, all his powers and natural inclinations are ordered for this end. And it is likewise for this purpose that grace illuminates and sublimates the angel by elevating him to the supernatural order, giving him the beatific vision and supernatural love.

The angel therefore needs a society: that of God; and he could not live unaware of his Creator. Now, to him, this society suffices for two reasons: First, because God is perfection itself, and whoever possesses Him needs nothing else; secondly, because the angel’s nature is ordained to God and to God alone.

In fact, the nature of a pure spirit is such that God could have created only him or established that he would know no other being but God himself.

However, the Creator established angelic creation in another way. He wanted the angels to know one another, thus establishing among them a social life which, of course, is all spiritual.

The angels enrich their knowledge of God by contemplating the created Universe

God, however, is the ultimate object of their social life. For in the knowledge that the angels communicate to one another they convey what each is able to announce about God. So each angel has all the operations of his powers applied to God in two ways: a direct way, insofar as he has an immediate relationship with Him; and a mediate [or indirect] way while communicating with Him through other angels. So were things before the creation of our [material] universe.

When the latter was created, it was made known to the angels. And since our universe in its own way also announces the greatness of God, in each created material being, the angels have acquired objects of knowledge that lead them in their own ways to God, the sole and constant object of all angelic operations.

Just as the consideration of the sun, drizzle or thunder elevated the Psalmist to God … or a flower or bird elevated a Saint Francis of Assisi to God … or the wonders of the atom can elevate modern man to God … so also an angel knows them and uses them as ways to God.

Rainbow with lightening over Kawana Island. Photo taken by thinboyfatter.

In this earthly life, except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who could ever make out what the meditation and love of an angel, who knows our whole Universe and even its smallest secrets, is like? At a single glance [the angel] sees the simultaneous pulsation of life in all beings; and [also] the incessant and mysterious movement of matter in the incalculably large spaces in which the stars move, [and] in the incalculably small spaces in which the universes and constellations of atoms rotate. In everything [the angel] discerns Eternal Wisdom, the absolute and unshakable Power, the perfection of Love “that moves the sun and the other stars.”

The angel is not only contemplative but has an active nature in his own way. He is a warrior of God

We spoke in greater detail about knowledge and love. Let us say a word about the praise and service of God.

Made to praise, the angelic being has so to speak an exclamatory nature. Knowledge and love are not lost without resonance in the august depths of his being. Undoubtedly out of a duty of justice and love towards God, but also by an impulse of his own nature he transmits, communicates and expresses what goes on within him. Hence the incessant angelic praise arises, the magnificence of which the Scripture so often manifests with such diverse terms and symbols.

Made to serve, the angel is not only contemplative, but more suo [in his own way] has an active nature. He communicates to others what he knows about God – this is a teaching service. He is the agent of God’s will in the government of the Universe, for it is through the angels that God governs the visible creation. And this executive function bears a militant aspect, for he is the warrior of God, who before the centuries overthrew Satan and the rebel hosts, and today combats hell and protects the faithful and the Church in the struggle against the power of darkness.

This, then, is what the angel does by his very nature; what he does as a member of the angelic society; and what the angelic society does as a whole, as a society, according to God’s impulse and design.

[1] Editor’s Note: In Latin, minister means servant; therefore, ministeriality means the condition of one who serves, that is, the temporal order must serve the designs of God and of the one true Church, the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, for these designs are higher than those of the temporal order, which are at any rate inserted in the supernatural order. In other words, society and the State must be, in their own way, instruments of the sanctification of people, helping them reach their ultimate goal, which is to attain heaven.



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