Christendom, Sacrality in the Temporal Order – Conclusion

February 8, 2018

Continued From Part III

The characteristics of the human mentality fit as harmoniously in the ambience as the soul in the body

But before we reach this point let us consider the spiritual and material aspects of temporal life in their mutual relations. How are the activities concerning the formation of ambience, culture, style, civilization and other activities whose context form the daily life of men and societies related among themselves?

Let us consider the subject in the limited sphere of a family.

However much ambience a family may have, however intense its social-spiritual life may be it would be a mistake to imagine that each of its activities is directed with an entirely conscious, defined and intentional concern of producing and defining a state of mind. Much of this is done with the naturalness and unconcern with which a body breathes or blood circulates in one’s veins. Granted, conscious preoccupations of an absolutely practical order and of an entirely circumstantial character can even play a preponderant role when one is building a piece of furniture, making a curtain or choosing a picture.

All this notwithstanding, the more profound forces of the soul will also cooperate and leave their mark on the act often without the very person who makes the furniture or chooses the curtain or picture perceiving it. There are strong and yet very discreet natural affinities among the various things successively acquired by the various generations of a family. These things coexist in the same house and yet sometimes only strangers are able to notice their characteristics, though real and throbbing in the domestic atmosphere.

That is what explains the formation of styles. None of them is an office production but the work of an entire society. The artists are not exactly the creators of the style in use in a society but its interpreters and propellers along the line in which the social mentality is developing.

And this is also what explains how, in styles truly produced by a society, the practical and the beautiful, the elements of physical utility, and the characteristics of mental expression are so harmoniously merged.

Mental life properly speaking is as intimately intertwined, profoundly imbibed with, and inextricably embedded in material life as the soul in the body. And in this interpenetration is found the guarantee of the sanity and authenticity of both.

The temporal society must create conditions for both spiritual and material progress

Which of these activities [the utilitarian or the mental] is the most important in temporal life? Specifically, this would be equivalent to asking, when a family acquires an object – an armoire for example — what is more important: to use it to store clothes or to have it accentuate by its appearance the power of expression of the material environment of the home? Or, when a country is building a Palace of Justice, what matters most: its practical usefulness for the functioning of the judiciary or the majesty and gravitas with which the judicial environment must be imbued, thus expressing the more intimate nature of the function of judging?

When by its nature an object must have two attributes both of which are essential, the object is worthless if one of them is missing. Therefore, instead of choosing between the materially useful and the “spiritually” useful wardrobe, or instead of choosing between a strictly materially functional Palace and a strictly spiritually adequate Palace, it would be the case to begin by rejecting both.

Man has the right and the duty to be sufficiently demanding and not content himself with an object that renders bad services to his soul or body.

But we do not wish to escape the question we had just raised. The immediate, proper, natural end of an armoire does not consist in being like a condensation of doctrine or mentality. In this sense it is better for it to keep clothes properly. But since a service rendered to the soul is worth more than one given to the body, in a certain sense the educational function of a piece of furniture is more important than its practical aspect.

Armoire, designed in 1850 by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) and made by JG Crace (1809-89) V&A Museum and uploaded by VAwebteam .

The same is true of the temporal society as a whole. Its situation can only be considered normal when it provides satisfactory conditions of existence and progress both for soul and body. The reciprocal influence between the two spheres will even cause the progress achieved in one to have a favorable impact on the dynamism of the other. Qualitatively, however, it is quite true that the benefits of the spirit matter more than those of matter. That is why despite a certain modern mentality it matters more to a country to have its own culture, style, customs, institutions, laws in harmony with the national ambience than a perfect system of water and sewage.

The Athens of the time of Pericles will forever shine in the firmament of history. What kind of memory will today’s Athens, incomparably superior to the other as far as material comfort is concerned, leave to the future?

Temporal society exercises, at the service of the supernatural order, a ministerial function which is a useful and powerful instrument for the salvation of souls

We now need to define the relationships between the functions of temporal society, which we have just described, and Religion.

The Church teaches that earthly life should be compared to a novitiate. The novice must acquire the knowledge and virtues that make him fit for the religious life. In earthly life man must acquire the knowledge and virtues that make him fit for heaven.

By virtue one understands the habit of operating according to right reason. This presupposes knowledge of the dictates of right reason. The operations to which these dictates refer are not only exterior but also interior. Any merely interior act of man, as long as it has the consent of the will, is capable of being virtuous or not inasmuch as it is in agreement or disagreement with right reason. The temporal-spiritual society is endowed with a powerful action on man to lead him to perform interior or exterior acts according to reason. Therefore, it can be a useful means to save or to lose.

Procession of the Relic of the Precious Blood of Jesus in Weingarten in 1090. This procession is also known as Blutritt.

The highest manifestations of temporal life are by their very nature at the heart of the problem of salvation and absolutely cannot be alien to it. Temporal society can favor the salvation of souls not only by enacting laws favoring the true Church and repressing error. It can do so through the myriad spiritual activities that constitute its very best part, that is, the fact that it is a society of souls, without it would not even be a society.

Thus, mutatis mutandis the same happens with temporal society as with the family, which is also a natural and temporal society but destined most viscerally to carry out activities that coincide with those of the Church.

Given this profound interpenetration of fields desired by Providence it would be absurd to suppose that God did not want cooperation between temporal society and the Church. And also, in this cooperation between two intrinsically unequal societies, for the temporal, natural and perishable not to be in a ministerial position in relation to the spiritual, supernatural and eternal; the immediate end in relation to the ultimate end.

There is sufficient basis in these considerations to go further by maintaining that temporal society, especially as a society of souls, only reaches its perfection through the Magisterium and grace of which the Church is depositary. But this would take us away from our subject.

The Church achieves great fruits in her work when institutions, laws, styles, etc. form a Catholic environment

Therefore, albeit in its own way the temporal society has as much as the family the function of doing apostolate in the temporal sphere under the inspiration and teaching of the Church.

What is the real importance of its contribution to the work of salvation? Of course, it is a purely natural contribution, for the Church alone is a supernatural society. However, one can sustain that this importance is immense. Providence wanted the ambience of a family, cultural, professional, recreational, or any other society, the environment of a city, province or country to exert a profound natural influence on man. Of course, if that influence is evil he can free himself from it with the help of grace, but in any case it powerfully acts within him.

Undoubtedly, it is the Church that possesses the proper means to promote the salvation of souls

The proof of this is in the evidence of events. Where laws, institutions, customs, culture, style, civilization constitute a deeply Catholic environment the specific action of the ecclesiastical Hierarchy usually achieves great fruits and the action of the sacraments, of preaching, and the irradiation of the sanctity of God’s ministers moves the crowds. Conversely, where everything opposes its action, the Hierarchy’s difficulties become immense. They are certainly surmountable because nothing is impossible with God; but they are obstacles nonetheless.

This explains why entire countries such as England and the Scandinavian nations suddenly fell into heresy: their whole environment only had a seeming note of Catholicity. Indifference and lukewarmness were truly dominant.

Someone could object by claiming that the Church expanded under [Roman] persecution and her expansion slowed after Constantine. This argument is so intrinsically weak that it makes you smile. Who can admit that the Mystical Spouse of Christ is fertile only when treated with lashes; that her true benefactors are Neros and Diocletians, and her real persecutors are Saint Louis, Saint Ferdinand or Saint Henry?

Notion of sacral temporal society

The temporal society as willed by God, ordained by Him, and performing of itself a work of sanctification is a holy society which has a sacred function. [It remains] an entirely natural society just as the family, but like the family it is thoroughly worked through by the supernatural life that bubbles in its members. It is as holy and sacred a society as the Christian family, to which the designation of holy is so fitting that even its constitutive bond is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ himself.

Holy Empire, Holy Russia and Holy France once used to be current and perfectly legitimate designations. And no one wondered why holy oil served as a sacramental to anoint kings, the fact that their accession to the supreme temporal power took place during a Mass, an essentially religious function, with the participation of the clergy; that the Cross of Christ shone on top of the crown, symbol of temporal power; or that the most honorable title of the supreme holder of temporal power was a religious title: Sacra Majestas, Rex Apostolicus, Rex Christianissimus, Rex Catholicus, Rex Fidelissimus, Defensor Fidei [Sacred Majesty, Apostolic King, Most Christian King, Catholic King, Most Faithful King, Defender of the Faith].[1] [And it was no wonder that] the Dukes of Lorraine – who considered themselves Kings of Jerusalem – wore a crown surrounded with thorns, or that in his Iron Crown the King of Lombardy had a nail of the Passion of Christ. All these facts attested to the sacrality of temporal society and therefore of the temporal power, although the latter was distinct from the ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

We thus come to the notion of temporal society as minister of the Church, opening broad perspectives for the notion of sacral temporal society.

It seems to us that all those interested in the problem of the relations between temporal society and the Church could more easily understand the ministeriality of the temporal sphere if they had very clear in mind the fact that the word temporal includes first of all immense spiritual values, and what these values are.



[1] Editor’s Note: These very significant titles corresponded to the principal monarchs of Europe at that time: Sacred Majesty, title corresponding to the emperor of the Holy Roman-German Empire; Apostolic King, to the King of Hungary; Christian King, to the King of France; Catholic King, to the King of Spain; Most Faithful King, to the King of Portugal; Defender of the Faith, King of England.

Part I

Part II

Part III


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