Liberal-baiting and evangelization

I certainly agree with Reggie that most people don’t think that much about politics, which is fine, so when trying to save souls, we shouldn’t drag that sort of thing in unnecessarily.  If someone asked me why I believe in Jesus, it would probably not be a good idea to start with a defense of patriarchy.

On the other hand, it is not uncommon for a person to be attracted to Christianity but to have misgivings about joining the Church because he sees the Faith as being in conflict with what he thinks are indisputable liberal moral truths about tolerance, freedom, and whatnot.  I suspect that Reggie, a liberal Catholic, would handle such a case differently from how I, a reactionary Catholic, would.  We would both tell what we think is the truth.  He would say that the contradiction between the Faith and liberalism is only apparent, the appearance of incompatibility being an unfortunate historical accident, so the potential convert may set his mind at ease and accept both.  I would say that the contradiction is logically inescapable, that where they conflict Christianity is true and liberalism is false, and that the potential convert should realign his allegiances accordingly.

Who is right?  Of course, it’s easy to show that counter-Reformation Catholicism and Jacobinism contradict each other, but that doesn’t prove anything.  We need to know if, to find versions of Christianity and liberalism that don’t conflict, we have to bend one or the other so far that it loses its essence.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch; there’s a big intellectual industry dedicated to hammering out compatibility between Christianity and liberalism (although one finds that the vast majority of the hammer blows always end up being directed at the Christian side).  For example, there’s core-dogma-only Christianity, which I believe is basically the position of Garry Wills.  The idea is that Christianity means only its key doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity; it has no anthropological or ethical content whatsoever.  I can believe that God became man and that it’s okay to kill preborn babies without obvious contradiction, so there you go!  Everything we believe about what man is, how he should live, and how he should live in common shall be determined by liberalism.  Christianity is then tacked on as a couple of beliefs with no application to life whatsoever.  This position is obviously not credible.  Historically, Christianity has always been understood to have an ethic attached to it, and for good reason.  How man should behave depends on what man is, and what man is determines what it means for God to have become man.  So the Incarnation is affected after all.  If by “man” we mean a being without a normative essence defined solely by his automony, than, no, the Son did not become that.

A more interesting candidate is individualist Christianity.  The individualistic Christian might (indeed must, to be credibly Christian) say that he agrees with Christian moral stances.  He regards abortion, divorce, blasphemy, contraception, buggery, and usury as evil.  However he will say some combination of the following:

  1. Only individuals have opinions.  There is no communal consensus, and therefore no point in either government or private citizens trying to alter it.
  2. There is such a thing as a communal consensus, and it would be best if it were informed by Christian morals, but the government has essentially no power to influence it one way or another, or the attempt might actually backfire, so it shouldn’t try.
  3. Government also can’t influence individuals’ actions significantly, at least in the areas of Christian-utilitarian contention.  Since government cannot influence individuals or the group for the better, and its attempts may backfore, it shouldn’t even try.

Many people who say things like this are liars, but some are sincere.  It’s easy to spot the liars by their actions.  They will say that Christians can’t use the goverment to impose a consensus friendly to our morals, but then they will go and support efforts to reeducate children and the citizenry to be “accepting” toward sodomites, which is precisely an attempt to remake the communal consensus by government action.  Note also that someone who sincerely held 2 should support private efforts to reform society along Christian moral lines.  He should support books and movies that carry the message that homosexual conduct is evil, for example.  By their words and actions, many of the “personally opposed but…” crowd show that they do not regard Christianity as true but want to abstain from imposing it.  They regard it as false, and utilitarian morality as true, and they want to impose their true beliefs.

There are, however, quite a few people who sincerely believe some version of individualist Christianity.  Assuming we’re talking about “mere Christianity”, I don’t think I have reason to question their faith.  (If they are traditionalist Catholics, they must confront the fact that declarations of the antimodernist popes have arguably ruled individualism out of bounds.)  I think individualism is false, but it doesn’t necessarily contradict Christian beliefs (again, counting only what Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants would agree are Christian beliefs).  I believe it’s wrong for philosophical reasons, but something may be untrue without contradicting Christianity.  If a man thought that stars are powered by fairy dust rather than nuclear fusion, I would think him wrong, but I’d have no reason to think him a heretic.  Not every truth logically depends on every other.

But haven’t I already given an argument against this?  That men form moral communities is part of human nature, so it affects what it means for God to become man, etc.  In this case, though, I think the distortion is a lot smaller than the case where one chucks Christian morality altogether.  Of course, the individualist Christian must make an exception for the Church, the mystical body of Christ that must have a collective life in a more substantial way.  However, the communitarian understanding of temporal societies is a newer addition to the Christian mind.  I think it’s a good one, but there were Church Fathers who got by without it.  So I sometimes try to reason with individualist Christians, but I don’t question their faith.

Ugh.  After so much tolerance, I feel dirty.

Damn liberals.  Ahh, now I feel better.

90 Responses

  1. It always blows my mind when people discover, to their horror, that Christianity actually has political implications. Modern society is so conditioned by the forced segregation of church and state that it never occurs to them religion may have something meaningful and good to contribute to civic life, nor does it occur to them that the vast majority of human societies got by without such a prohibition and were quite possibly better for it.

  2. I’m confused as to the individualist Christian’s views. Does he hold to “Abortion is wrong but should be legal” and also “Killing George Tiller is wrong and should be illegal?” Not having seen his arguments, I guess I can’t actually assess whether they make any sense in conjunction with holding to Christian morality, but I’m pretty skeptical. It seems he has to provide some theory of how we are supposed to determine which things are to be legal and which are to be illegal.

    Also, you seem to be using liberal in a narrow sense, here, i.e. modern liberal. How about classical liberals? Can they be Christian?

  3. I’d take the second rather than the first choice that you outline, though I think you frame it in a rather stark way. For example, it would be extreme to claim that “government can’t influence individuals” – clearly, it can. The questions are rather whether it is the role of government to try to make people virtuous (virtue means more than just going through the motions in order not to get arrested) and whether the known, heavy costs of political authoritarianism make it worth making the attempt. You’re probably right about the hypocrisy point, but I’ve heard liberals criticise (say) official attempts to impose anti-racist behaviour on the grounds that it merely prevents the public expression of racism and instead converts it into a more insidious hidden form. You could presumably say the same about anti-homophobic policies.

    Clearly, a person’s faith will inform their views on moral issues. A conservative Catholic will object to (say) divorce and abortion on moral grounds. A liberal Catholic will do likewise with (say) oil wars and state torture. (And, of course, the two camps often overlap.) Where I break with you is over the idea that Christianity commits a person to a political agenda which is as specific and rigid as (say) absolute monarchy on the Maistrean model.

    It is here that historical perspective is important. You have a detailed and impressive knowledge of philosophy, but my background was in history, so I see things very differently. Christianity is not a set of philosophical propositions, it is a living community which has existed in very diverse forms through the ages. It is a simple historical fact that the Catholic Christian community has existed in a vast range of societies, from the Roman Empire through the European Christian monarchies to the post-Christian West and the developing African and Asian countries. The faith of this community can’t be reduced to a list of dogmas like a set of propositions from Wittgenstein. This is why I have no problem with turning the full glare of historical analysis on church history and doctrine (as I try to do on my religion blog), because liberals have the conceptual space to deal with stuff like the historical context of church teaching (were the “antimodernist popes” speaking eternal truths, or were they men of their time and culture?) and the evolution of doctrine (women priests, anyone?). In my view, this perspective means that it is impossibly naive to make statements like “God supports absolute monarchy”, “God wants men to restrict women’s rights”, and so on. It’s the Catholic equivalent of a biblical literalist claiming that the world was created in 6 days.

    There’s also the general nervousness which I suggest every pious person ought to have in claiming that God is on our side in the political sphere. The best we can hope is that we are on God’s side.

  4. I’d note that the concept of a distinction between church and state is a signature Christian idea. It doesn’t exist in Islam, for example, and it didn’t exist in the Roman Empire. The step from a distinction to a separation is arguably not that great. The Church only ever claimed an “indirect power” (potestas indirecta) in the political realm.

  5. t it never occurs to them religion may have something meaningful and good to contribute to civic life, nor does it occur to them that the vast majority of human societies got by without such a prohibition and were quite possibly better for it.

    Well yes, but there’s a fine line between this and what has emerged in the so-called “religious right”, getting into bed with all kinds of political slugs hoping to be thrown a bone on a pet issue. I like how Reggie closed his comment:

    There’s also the general nervousness which I suggest every pious person ought to have in claiming that God is on our side in the political sphere. The best we can hope is that we are on God’s side.

    After all, there are Sovereign plans that we are not privy to, and the idea that the state can somehow protect Christians from the effects of “the world will hate you because they first hated me” is a strategy that makes me the most nervous of all.

  6. Hi Reggie,

    We reactionaries also pride ourselves on our historical sense. We are, of course, vividly conscious of the unbroken history of enmity between the Church and liberalism–driven always by the unwavering liberal will toward the destruction of the Church. You would probably say that we are too conscious of it, and that we should look instead toward a logical possibility of reconciliation than toward a history of hostility.

    “[W]ere the “antimodernist popes” speaking eternal truths, or were they men of their time and culture?” We don’t see why both can’t be true. Was Isaiah a prophet of God or a man of his time and culture? Both, of course. God created both the prophet and the cultural medium for his message.

    I didn’t mean this post to be an attack on you, though, and I’m sorry if you took it that way. My main point, which you’ll probably agree with, is that reactionaries should refrain from attributing apostasy to all of our opponents. Just most of them.

  7. There is a big step from Church and state being distinct to the state being run along anti-Christian principles.

  8. I do indeed agree with that. Don’t worry, I didn’t take your post personally. It does raise some interesting questions, though.

    I can’t resist making one further point. As to the unbroken enmity between the Church and liberalism, I often like to point out that there have been numerous liberal Catholics since the 18th century, and the church’s decision to stand against liberalism was a conscious policy choice that could potentially have gone other other way. Some liberals did have an unwavering will towards the destruction of the church, but, as we equally know, not all liberals were priest-murdering Jacobins. To my mind, the Church after the Revolution was like a wounded animal, more concerned with lashing out against real or imagined enemies than with trying to negotiate a role in the emerging world. By the time she changed direction at Vatican II, it was already too late.

  9. Yes, I mean “segregation” in the very strong sense — i.e., total separation. I’m aware the distinction between church and state goes back to at least Augustine, maybe further. To my knowledge, the Church’s position has always been that the state is ontologically subordinate to its own authority, being a representative of natural law to the state’s lower, civil law.

  10. “Reggie” – I’d note that the concept of a distinction between church and state is a signature Christian idea. It doesn’t exist in Islam, for example, and it didn’t exist in the Roman Empire.”

    On the contrary – the concept of a distinction between church and state is NOT a signature Christian idea, unless you are prepared to eject the Christian Roman Empire and its direct descendants – ie. Eastern Orthodoxy.

    If we are talking about which societies have achieved the highest level of Christian devoutness, then the Eastern Roman Empire is the highest – with Church and State interwoven and a divinely-sanctioned Emperor/ Tsar.

    And from the perspective of politics the West has only had a decisive advantage over Islam for a relatively brief period during the past 1400 years – from about 1700-2000 – for the period before that, and very obviously at present, Islam – with unified Church and state – has been an extremely powerful force at a global level, easily the match of the West, and often more powerful.

    So, taking Islam and Eastern Christianity as examples and across the centuries, it looks to me that a unified ‘theocratic’ state is usually more cohesive and powerful than a state divided between Throne and Altar except when there is a decisive technological advantage for the divided (hence specialized) state; and the unified state has the higher *potential* for a pervasively religious life, especially for the highest levels of religious life and high levels of devoutness among the general population.

    (I have argued that the Western Catholic division between Church and State was the first step in modernity, the first step onto a slippery slope which yielded scientific and technical advances and economic growth in its earlier and middle stages – but continued inexorably and unstoppably towards the present state of self-loathing suicidality by continuation of the same mechanisms.)

  11. This will be a fun discussion. For once, I get to be in the middle position.

  12. It’s a little past my bedtime over here, so I’ll have to give a brief response.

    As to eastern Christianity, it was my understanding that the Russian Orthodox Church was pretty much run as a department of the Russian state from the 18th century onwards (in a not wholly dissimilar way from the Church of England). From my knowledge of Russian history, this arrangement conformed to the usual pattern of church/state relations – i.e. the church was pressed into the service of the state rather than the state being uplifted towards God.

    You raise a interesting issue in alluding to the devoutness of the people. I’m not sure how you’d measure such a thing, but I would strongly suspect that the overall level of devoutness in society is inelastic. Insofar as the decline in faith in the west correlates with anything, academic research suggests that it correlates with an increase in government provision of welfare service (which, if anything, would argue in favour of small-state classical liberal policies).

    As for admiring Islam, I would recommend the use of a long spoon in that regard. I don’t know how often you’re in Town, but I’d be very happy to discuss this issue with you over a curry in Brick Lane (which I guess is the benign face of London Islam).

  13. @Reggie

    The Eastern Roman Empire tends to get left out of Western history – I knew nothing about it just two years ago then went on a reading binge – but you do not have to read much about it to recognize that the idea of Christian devoutness being inelastic is not tenable!

    The Russian Orthodox Church was seriously damaged by Peter the Great in the way you describe, yet Russia remained an extraordinarily devout country, productive of people of great Holiness, right up to 1917 – following which there were (still uncounted) thousands of martyr Saints and several millions who died for their faith in *by far* the harshest and most extensive Christian persecution of all time (still in living memory – yet nobody talks about it…).

    You misunderstand. I didn’t say anything about ‘admiring’ Islam. My views are pretty much derived from Hillaire Belloc – .

    I don’t see any great problem about ‘measuring’ the devoutness of a society – so long as one is not expecting precision. There are high, low and moderate societies – and perhaps the moderate ones are difficult to distinguish, but the extremes are obvious.

    High devoutness would include late Anglo Saxon England, moderate would include England until c. 50 years ago, low would be us now.

  14. The level of “devoutness” in a society is a very interesting question.

    I don’t think you can measure spiritual commitment to a faith because it’s inherently inaccessible to anyone but the individual. Instead, you have to use proxies like church attendance or adherence to traditional sexual morality. But these are very problematic. Are people going to church because they sincerely want to worship God, or because it’s the way they’ve been brought up and all their friends go? Does a man try to stop his daughter from getting pregnant before marriage out of respect for the law of God or because of cultural concepts of honour and shame and fear for what the neighbours will say?

    There is a smallish number of people in every society who are irreducibly religious (and I am one of them). I strongly suspect that this number doesn’t vary much. What does vary is the level of external incentives to practice a religion. For me, the decisive evidence is the finding, which I think has been replicated several times now, that religious observance declines with state provision of health, education and welfare. This puts the “devoutness” of earlier times in a rather different light.

    There’s other evidence that the “ages of faith” were no such thing. In “Religion and the Decline of Magic”, Keith Thomas produces numerous quotations and the like bearing witness to high levels of religious indifference, ignorance and scepticism in premodern England.

  15. @Reggie – Take care with this mode of argument: such extreme skepticism, if followed-up, leads to solipsism and nihilism.

  16. I’d make the point that the New Testament says that true believers will always be a minority (and remnants have an important place in salvation history). For once, my position is the orthodox biblical one!

  17. Yes, one recalls Maurice Blondel’s retort to Charles Maurras’s Jesuit defender, Pedro Descoqs, whom he accused of advocating: “A Catholicism without Christianity, submissiveness without thought, an authority without love, a Church that would rejoice at the insulting tributes paid to the virtuosity of her interpretative and repressive system… To accept all from God except God, all from Christ except His Spirit, to preserve in Catholicism only a residue that is aristocratic and soothing for the privileged and beguiling or threatening for the lower classes—is not all this, under the pretext perhaps of thinking only about religion, really a matter of pursuing only politics?”

    The Oratorian, Laberthonnière had already accused Descoqs of being influenced by “a false theological notion of some state of pure nature and therefore imagined the state could be self-sufficient in the sense that it could be properly independent of any specifically Christian sense of justice.”

  18. It is precisely this that has led some Christians to adopt the individualist approach that Boland describes.

    Portalis, a devout Catholic and often described as the philosopher of the committee that drew up the Code Civl was of this school. He held that Christianity, which speaks only to the conscience, leads by grace the little number of the elect (le petit nombre des élus) in the way of salvation; the civil law uses coercion to repress the unruly passions of bad men, in the interests of public order/public policy (l’ordre public – the phrase is ambiguous) Thus, in discussing divorce, he points out that Moses’s law (which was the civil law of the Jewish commonwealth) tolerated divorce, but the gospel, teaching the way of perfection to the faithful, forbad it.

    This comes pretty close to Luther’s notion of the two kingdoms. In fact, it has its roots in Augustine.

    Pascal, too, another Augustinian, was an early believer in Legal Positivism: “He who obeys them [the laws] because they are just, obeys a justice which is imaginary and not the essence of law; it is quite self-contained [elle est toute ramassée en soi], it is law and nothing more.”

    Pascal and Portalis may have been misguided; no one, I fancy, would accuse them of liberalism!

  19. M P-S – This is an extremely important issue, and tricky to understand *except* in a very superficial and obvious way.

    Trying to discuss this philosophically is prone to the selectivity and incompleteness of philosophy, and human error in multi-step reasoning.


    But think about it simply.

    Is your chance of salvation better in a secular, materialist, sin-denying society where the forces of darkness dominate, replete with temptations (engineered and refined in their effectiveness), multiple distractions to suit all possible tastes, bombarded with dehumanizing grossness; and which is covertly dedicated to your corruption and which operates 24/7…


    in a society where Christian prayer, the mass, ritual, scripture, devout conversation etc are permeated through everyday life – where monasticism thrives, where there are living Saints and holy elders providing example and offering wisdom, where the ruler considers himself (and is considered by the people) as chosen by God and acting on behalf of Christ and who tries to make society an image of Heaven on earth, yet where everyone is acutely aware of their own state of sin…

    It’s a no-brainer.

  20. I don’t think anyone here is saying that it would be a *bad* thing for religious faith to play a prominent role in the public square or for people to have examples of sanctity held up to them – but this would have to be *in the context of a free society*. It may be tempting to dodge the hard work of competing in the marketplace of ideas by ending democracy, abolishing freedom of speech, taking away women’s rights, and so on, but (if you’ll forgive me for speaking bluntly) it takes astonishing arrogance to claim that one has the right and the wisdom to engineer society in that way, and in the practical sphere we know from experience that that road leads to suffering, injustice, corruption and tyranny.

    Plus, we already have a state religion and a monarch who claims to be chosen by the grace of God.

  21. I think I want to know more about this Portalis character. I wonder if he’s available online.

  22. Your chance of salvation is exactly the same in both cases.

    St Thomas says in Ia, q. 20, a. 3: “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” Likewise, in article 4 of the same question and also in Ia, q. 23, a. 4: “In God, love precedes election.” Already it is evident that the man who, in fact, observes the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so but actually does not. Therefore, he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted. In short, God loves that man more to whom He grants that he keep the commandments than another in whom He permits sin.

    This principle of predilection is valid for all created being, even free beings, and for all their acts, natural or supernatural, easy or difficult, initial or final; in other words, no created being would be in any respect better if it were not better loved by God. This truth is clear in the philosophical order, for it flows from the principle of causality and of the eminently universal causality of the will or love of God. In the order of grace, this principle is revealed by several scriptural texts, for instance: “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19); and “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.)

    Thus, St Augustine says in De Correptione et Gratia 17(8). “Will you dare to say that, Christ having prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail [Luke 22:32], it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any way will, otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he should will. “

    “Now who does not know,” he continues “that Peter’s faith would then have perished, if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would continue, if that will continued? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” [Proverbs 8.35] therefore Christ’s prayer for him could not be futile [non posset esse inanis oratio]”

  23. Isn’t one’s chance of salvation the same only if we assume that God precisely matches an increase in the natural difficulty of being good with an increase in the grace to persevere? Why should we assume this? It would seem safer to assume that the supernatural “input” to the system is constant, in which case one’s chance of salvation certainly does go down in a wicked environment. In fact, I think that the general wickedness of these times is evidence, on the premises you state, that God loves this generation less than prior generations, and He is doing less to see that we get to heaven.

  24. Reggie Perrin

    You will find a good introduction to his thought in Tom Holberg’s The Civil Code: an Overview – The Origins of the Code

    You can find Portalis’s introduction to the Code (in French) at

    Click to access discours_1er_code_civil.pdf

    I should, perhaps, warn you that Napoléon said of him, “Portalis would be the most eloquent of speakers if he only knew when to stop.”

  25. @M.P.S., perhaps this is a result of my almost-nil experience in theology, but I draw the exact opposite of your argument from the quotes you provide.

    Particularly, “Already it is evident that the man who, in fact, observes the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so but actually does not. Therefore, he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted.”

    Could you restate your conclusion?

  26. If God increases mercy in proportion to the difficulty of keeping his commandments, what were the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah all about, then? Forgive me if this a simplistic question.

  27. Thanks, Mr P-S. I’ll have to check those out. A lot of us lawyers have the same problem.

  28. @MP-S – I’m sorry, but (unless I misunderstand you, in which case I apologize) I think you are completely and dangerously wrong.

    You just can’t being seeing the implications of what you are saying.

    A good society is better for people than a bad society. This is really really obvious stuff.

    Which is why we pray for it, why we are enjoined to evangelize, live according to the Law, be just and so on and on.

    To say otherwise is insane – or one step away from insanity.

  29. People were genuinely more religious in the past. See here:

    When people are safe, comfortable, and prosperous they spontaneously and naturally become much less religious. Their HADD has been much less activated by their environment. As the ancients noted: “Fear gave birth to the gods.”

  30. I’m trying to break from liberalism, but find understanding what it is to be necessary to that endeavor. It seems to me that American churches are, at their core, liberal if by liberal you mean utilitarian, egalitarian, and individualistic. I can easily see the Biblical problem with the 1st and 3rd, but keep getting stuck on the part where Jesus died for all. Isn’t that, in essence, egalitarianism and if not, can somebody explain why not? I’m from a low evangelical tradition, am strongly drawn to the beauty of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, but have no education in them.

    Oh, and please forgive me if this isn’t an appropriate question for this thread. I wasn’t sure where to ask it, but the comments brought this question to my mind.

  31. 1. There are a small number of people who will be very religious no matter what.

    2. There are a certain number of people who are going to be mostly indifferent to religion no matter what.

    3. There are a large number of people in the middle that can be influenced by their environment.

    Ages of faith certainly seem to have a fair number of those in category 2, but this does not mean that the people in category number 3 were a lot more devout than they are now.

  32. Yes. The reason one man observes the commandments and the other does not is because the first man receives more assistance from God than the second.

    A person is good, not because they love God, but because God loves them and gives them the efficacious grace to do so. That is why the Apostle says “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.)

    Free will consists in doing what we choose to do. Grace does not, and has no need, to interfere with our power of choice; rather, it affects what we want to do – In other words, it is the “delectatio coelestis victrix” of St Augustine. Free will requires freedom of choice, but not freedom to determine our own likes and dislikes.

  33. But that is not what I said.

    St Augustine, whom the Church calls the Doctor of Grace, says in De Correptione et Gratia [Chapter 17 [VIII.] “Here, if I am asked why God should not have given them perseverance to whom He gave that love by which they might live Christianly, I answer that I do not know…

    If, therefore, you confess that to persevere to the end in good is God’s gift, I think that equally with me you are ignorant why one man should receive this gift and another should not receive it; and in this case we are both unable to penetrate the unsearchable judgments of God…”

  34. St Thomas draws an important distinction here

    ST. IIIa, q. 79, a. 7 ad 2: “The passion of Christ does indeed benefit all men, with respect to its sufficiency, the remission of sin, and the attainment of grace and glory, but it produces its effect only in those who are united to the passion of Christ by faith and charity.”

    Likewise ST IIIa, dist. 13, q. 2, a. 2; qc., 2 ad 5: “Christ satisfied for all human nature sufficiently, but not efficiently, since not all become participants in His satisfaction; but this is the result of their unfitness, not of any insufficiency in His satisfaction.”

    Similarly in De veritate, q. 29, a. 7 ad 4.

    Again on the First Epistle to Timothy (2:6), with reference to the words, “Christ gave Himself a redemption for all,” St. Thomas explains: “For some efficaciously, but for all sufficiently, since the price of His blood is sufficient for the salvation of all; but it is not efficacious except in the elect on account of impediments.”

  35. Boland

    What you call the “supernatural input is simply the act itself.

    As Bañez says “Efficacious grace (gratia efficax) must be regarded as a physical premotion of the supernaturally equipped will to the performance of a good act, for Revelation undeniably refers back to grace not only the possibility, but also the willing and the actual performance of a good act. But the will predetermined to this free good act must with a metaphysical certainty correspond with grace, for it would be a contradiction to assert that the consensus, brought about by efficacious grace, can at the same time be an actual dissensus.

    This historical necessity (necessitas consequentiae), involved in every act of freedom and distinguishable from compelling necessity (necessitas consequentis), does not destroy the freedom of the act.
    For although it be true that a man who is freely sitting cannot at the same time be standing (sensus compositus), nevertheless his freedom in sitting is maintained by the fact that he might be standing instead of sitting (sensus divisus).

    So it remains true that grace is not efficacious because free will consents, but conversely the free will consents because grace efficaciously premoves it to the willing and performance of a good act.

  36. Hi Michael,

    It doesn’t follow from any of this that there will be no correlation between the multitude of temptations to which one is subjected and one’s likelihood of succumbing. I’m with Bruce on this one: that’s ultra-occasionalist craziness. We know it’s not true.

  37. MPS, you are completely wrong in your conclusions.

    From the CCC:
    2001 The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:”50

    Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.51
    2002 God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy. The promises of “eternal life” respond, beyond all hope, to this desire:

    If at the end of your very good works . . ., you rested on the seventh day, it was to foretell by the voice of your book that at the end of our works, which are indeed “very good” since you have given them to us, we shall also rest in you on the sabbath of eternal life.

  38. @ Mr Perrin

    it takes astonishing arrogance to claim that one has the right and the wisdom to engineer society in that way,

    So, it’s arrogant to engineer society in a way that Mr Perrin doesn’t like, but A-OK to engineer society in a way that Mr Perrin does like. It seems almost as if a question has been begged somewhere or another.

  39. 1993 Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

    When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight

  40. “MPS, you are completely wrong in your conclusions.”

    Let me rephrase that. I apologize for the harshness of that comment.
    Read that as “I respectfully disagree with your conclusions.”

  41. I do have to strongly dissent from the idea that if we by some miracle suddenly had a devout, tradition-respecting elite in power that society in general would become a whole lot more truly devout. Seeing high status people who were religious and traditional might induce some change in some people, but mostly I think that the vast majority of people would be act and think pretty much the same as they do now, with only the thinnest patina of traditional religion on top. I think the swiftness of Spain’s transformation after the death of Franco shows just how hollow such a victory would be. From what I hear of Iran and their middle class’ mores, things don’t seem to be going all that different there.

  42. I agree. I would add that the dechristianisation of Spain preceded, rather than followed, the end of Franco’s regime.

  43. But the example you give of Spain’s apostasy proves the exact opposite. It proves how pliable the populace is; they will accept anything the elite tell them. If a new elite takes over, the people will change on a dime.

    Let me put it this way: how common among the American populace is the belief that democracy is the best form of government? Overwhelmingly common, right? People don’t feel the need to rebel against this belief just because it’s the official dogma that’s been imposed on them since birth; they don’t question it just because it’s propagated by an elite that is obviously imperfect and corrupt. No, the way commoners respond to official dogma is to accept it uncritically. If Christianity were the official dogma, they would accept that too. Christianity may be incredible, but the beliefs the public actually has bought are absurd, so we would hardly be straining their credibility.

  44. I would add the dechristianisation of Spain preceded the beginning of Franco’s regime.

  45. The point is, people are as much molded by social pressures and conditioning now as in any prior generation. Our beliefs are wildly different than the historical norm, and we flatter ourselves that this is because we are the first and only people to look on the world without cultural prejudices. Every people enthralled to its masters believes thus. We are different only because we’re received different training. We accepted it as uncritically as any other people.

  46. No, you’re being ridiculous. Christianity in Spain was pretty hollow and pro-forma. For example, the sexual revolution had come to Spain well before the death of Franco. Indeed it came at pretty much the same time as it came to the rest of the Western world, despite the regime’s opposition.

  47. Social conditioning vs. lots of sex now. Guess which wins? Guess which is winning among the middle classes in Iran now.

    Seriously, this attribution of well nigh unstoppable power to social conditioning, the media, intellectuals whatever is just rock bottom dumb.

  48. I find the obsession with sex slightly weird, but my Iranian friends (in exile in Britain) would agree with the sentiment.

  49. We are different only because we’re received different training.

    No, we are different because we are vastly more prosperous, comfortable and safe than any people in the history of the world.

  50. If what your saying was true, then “lots of sex” wouldn’t be winning, it would have held the field throughout human history. There could never have been a time when any society has ever been able to force any self-control on its members.

  51. And it’s just a coincidence that we slavishly repeat established dogma (“freedom!”, “equality!”, “democracy!”), just like every past generation?

  52. Thursday,

    Who said that social conditioning is unstoppable? Why must you argue against straw men? Bonald’s point is that it exists. Clearly it exists because of the points Bonald made.

    Why does the majority now believe in liberalism? Answer that question. Why would Jesus say, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck..” if it were not possible for someone else to affect another’s beliefs?

    I can’t believe that I am actually arguing with someone who believes that society does not have an effect on an individual’s beliefs.

  53. “But the example you give of Spain’s apostasy proves the exact opposite. It proves how pliable the populace is; they will accept anything the elite tell them. If a new elite takes over, the people will change on a dime.”

    I’m afraid not. You’re falling for the personalising fallacy, Bonald. If X happens, it must be because Y planned it. If a revolution broke out in France, it must be because Freemasons planned it. If the Spanish people fell away from Catholicism, or the American people fell away from puritan Protestantism, it must be because the élite told them to. If Hollywood movies are a bit risqué, it’s because of the Jew studio owners.

    If only it were that simple.

    With all due respect, your belief that a new élite can reshape society sounds almost like something that a communist would have said in the 1920s. We’re dealing with huge socio-economic forces here. If you want to mount an argument against modernity, it will have to be based on more than the notion that the population of western countries is an inert mass that follows whatever leaders are set over it.

  54. Thank you everyone for your input. I’m afraid I’ve got to bow out now and get some work done today!

  55. Reggie,

    Do you think the morals of the society at large or of the elite have ANY effect on the masses? ZERO %? If not, how much.

    How many souls would have to be saved for you to deem that it would be worth it to enforce Christian morals?

  56. Interesting question, tenkev.

    Clearly, the practices of the élite influence society at large. But that’s not to say that society is a mass of silly putty that can be twisted into whatever shape one chooses. Like I said, that’s an idea that’s historically been associated with Marxists rather than conservatives (no offence meant, of course – obviously, none of us here has any sympathy with communism).

    If you’re really serious about saving souls, I respectfully suggest you start with hearing some Masses and saying some rosaries, but maybe you’re following that course already.

  57. Society does have an effect on peoples beliefs, but that includes the material affairs of society as well as “pure” culture.

  58. With respect, Bill, I’m not in the business of social engineering.

  59. I think we can all agree that it’s not true that “society does not have an effect on an individual’s beliefs”. I’m all in favour of creating a more morally aware society, but the problem is that Bonald and his supporters are suggesting that the way to bring about a moral society is to take away people’s civil rights and make government coerce them into behaving virtuously. Prof. Charlton referred to this as “an image of Heaven on earth”. I suggest that the reality is more likely to be something like Hell. Iran is only the most recent example of this. If you think that Iranians living under the Islamic Republic are pious, devout Muslims, my Iranian friends would tell you that you are seriously mistaken.

    I can’t believe I’m having to tell conservatives that it’s a bad idea to use big government to engage in social engineering.

  60. Heh. “His cradle should be surrounded by dogmas…..”

  61. @Reggie –

    If we are talking about the Good society, you cannot conflate Christianity with Islam – they have very different ideas of the Good.

    If we are talking about an alternative to modern, secular, liberal democracy, you cannot conflate traditional monarchy with Big Government.

    If we are talking about a traditional, Christian government which seeks to encourage their idea of the Good – including virtue – you cannot conflate this activity with Social Engineering (a modern, atheist, materialist concept).

    (Not least because Social Engineering says that the end justifies the means; whereas the Christian pursuit of Good must only use Good means.)

  62. I’m afraid that I don’t buy those distinctions, Prof C. Leaving aside questions of terminology (traditional monarchy versus big government etc), what you and Bonald are advocating is a project of using state power to forcibly create your idea of the good society. It’s a very old project, and it doesn’t have an encouraging record of success.

  63. In explaining the doctrine of efficacious grace, we need to avoid three errors, namely, (1) the Calvinist doctrine that the will is not free to resist grace, (2) the Lutheran and Calvinist denial that we co-operate, in any way, with grace and, hence, (3) their denial of the merit of good works. To do this and, at the same time, maintain St Augustine’s doctrine in its integrity, the New Thomists maintain that free will consists in doing what we choose to do. Grace does not, and has no need, to interfere with our power of choice; rather, it affects what we want to do – In other words, it is the delectatio coelestis victrix [the conquering love of heavenly things] of St Augustine. Free will requires freedom of choice, but not freedom to determine our own likes and dislikes. St Augustine says somewhere – but I cannot put my finger on it – words to the effect that the first motion of our thoughts is not under our control. He hints that this is how both temptation and grace can operate on us.

  64. @Reggie

    “what you and Bonald are advocating is a project of using state power to forcibly create your idea of the good society. It’s a very old project, and it doesn’t have an encouraging record of success.”

    I think this discussion has been pretty clarifying – I can now see that your ideas fit together and are mutually supportive, and that there is no real possibility of my finding a way-in – since we have different basic premises and core observations.

  65. Being against social engineering is like being against the Law of Gravity.

  66. I have no doubt that society can be influenced in many ways and that the grosser manifestation of vices can be curtailed. It may even be that the truth of Christianity may be widely accepted.

    This, plainly, is beneficial – in the temporal sphere.

    What I dispute, is that this will increase (or diminish) the number of people who receive God’s wholly gratuitous and unmerited gift of efficacious grace, including the gift of final perseverance. This is the meaning of the words of Ezechiel (36:27): “I will cause you to walk in My commandments, and to keep My judgments, and do them.” This number, as it depends.on God’s absolute will based on His mercy alone, through Christ alone, entirely pure and gratuitous is unknown to us, although some places in scripture suggest they are very few.

    To suggest that the salvation of the elect depends on anything other than efficacious grace is to contradict the Apostle, when he says “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”.

    This is not to deny that God gives to everyone sufficient grace, that really confers the power of acting, but does not, like efficacious grace, produce the act itself, thus rendering sinners inexcusable.

  67. That’s too pessimistic. Back when I was a libertarian, the “social engineering” and “legislating morality” tropes could be found on my lips as well. I suspect the same was true for you. But the objections I raise, that social engineering and legislating morality are inevitable always bothered me a little. Eventually, they bothered me enough that I got around to seeing they were right. Presumably, there were objections which bothered you as well . . .

  68. What I dispute, is that this will increase (or diminish) the number of people who receive God’s wholly gratuitous and unmerited gift of efficacious grace, including the gift of final perseverance.

    You seem to be assuming a very direct, unintermediated path for graces to travel. My merit does not decide what society I am born into. It seems entirely consistent to say that God gave me the grace to be born into a society which pushed me toward salvation. And why shouldn’t He work to bring about such a society by inspiring Traddies to bring it about? Presumably, the paralytic did not merit having friends willing to lower him through the roof to find Jesus, or even being born into Jesus’s time and place. Nevertheless, the friends took him to Jesus.

  69. I didn’t think that my ideas were that consistent, Prof C…..

    I think that to come round to your and Bonald’s way of thinking I would need to be convinced that human beings can be trusted with authoritarian political power to implement (their interpretation of) the will of God, which in turn presupposes that the will of God comprises a clear political programme in the manner of a party manifesto. History has shown us repeatedly what happens when you go down this road. It has nothing to do with my faith, and I want no part of it.

  70. @Reggie – what I meant was that my main argument is that there were much holier societies in the past and in other places than now – the evidence for which is the number of Saints plus Holy Elders, Monks, Nuns and Priests of exceptional asceticism and sanctity – whereas nowadays there are approximately none.

    But it seems you do *not* believe that – say – Saint Cuthbert was more Holy than anyone alive today, and that he could work miracles, perceive remote events, was able to prophecy, his body was incorrupt for years after death etc, etc. (whereas none of this kind of thing happens now) so that argument cuts no ice.


    1. you believed in Saints, and

    2. That Christianity was the most important thing in the world…


    you would conclude that Democracy, Lifestyle Freedom, Economic growth etc were a *bad* thing since they seem to be associated with a decline in Christian devoutness; and that monarchy, authority, hierarchy etc were good, in that they enabled (were associated with) much better societies in terms of Christian devoutness, heights of holiness etc.

    But as I say that argument is apparently ruled-out by your a priori belief/ inbuilt assumption that there is no difference in devoutness between modern times and (e.g.) Byzantium.

    To me the difference in Christian devoutness between societies is so vast that it is literally absurd to doubt it – doubt *that* and you are compelled to doubt almost everything; and judgment is destroyed – that’s how it seems to me.

  71. You’re mostly right. As to the “if”s, I do indeed believe that saints exist, and my faith is the most important thing in my life. As to St Cuthbert, there are saints in every generation. It seems a very severe judgement to say that there are “approximately none” today. I have no doubt that there are a great many of them, mostly living their lives quietly and without publicity. (For what it’s worth, I’m also willing to believe that they have spiritual gifts like the ability to prophesy.)

    I do believe that the number of sincere believers in society is pretty much constant and will always be a minority. I think that a very large amount of the devoutness of past societies was, at best, a matter of social custom and practice without true conversion of the heart, and at worst an empty facade. This seems to be confirmed by accounts of the relevant societies, which often show cynicism and hypocrisy rather than devoutness, Franquist Spain being one example that has already been mentioned on this thread. (This was first brought home to me when I was a student not by a historical text, but by Manzoni’s “The Betrothed”.)

    I’d be willing to admit that a confessional state might convert a limited additional number of people to true religious faith, but this is a much more modest claim than the one (I believe) you are making, to the effect that society would be showered with saints. And the benefits of this modest improvement are heavily outweighed, in my view, by the huge risks and dangers involved in authoritarian politics, which have a terrible record of leading to injustice and misrule.

    At the end of the day, you and I are free to practise our faith in a free society and to bring other people to Christ if we wish to do that. I’m very happy to settle for this.

  72. it would have held the field throughout human history.


    For most of human history people did not have:

    1. Current levels of safety, prosperity, and comfort.
    2. Birth control.

  73. And I will add that it seems to be that the desire for an authoritarian confessional state is, in many people, merely a psychological manifestation of a very unhealthy desire to coerce and control other human beings. This is doubtless not true of sincere Christians like you and Bonald, but it is certainly true of some people, particularly the Maurassian right-wing atheists who seem to think it appropriate to use religious faith as a political weapon.

  74. “Society” mostly arises out of innate human tendencies combined with material incentives.

    BTW I have never argued that traditionalist control of the media, universities, and the government would have no effect, just a vastly lesser effect than many here think it would.

  75. Reggie seems to doubt that societies like Byzantium were more genuinely devout that ours is now. I do not.

    What I do dispute is the ability to re-create the devoutness of the past in modern safe, prosperous, and comfortable societies, even with complete traditionalist control of the the government, the media and the universities.

  76. I will note that Prof. Charlton has in the past pretty squarely blamed prosperity for the fall off in devotion. I think that is entirely correct. Control of the media etc. are secondary causes and arise out of the primary.

  77. I think that a very large amount of the devoutness of past societies was, at best, a matter of social custom and practice without true conversion of the heart, and at worst an empty facade. This seems to be confirmed by accounts of the relevant societies, which often show cynicism and hypocrisy rather than devoutness, Franquist Spain being one example that has already been mentioned on this thread.

    You need to distinguish between genuinely pre-modern societies like Byzantium and attempts to recreate them in modern circumstances.

  78. You are right though that the track record of trying to preserve pre-modern religiosity and mores among the safe, prosperous and comfortable is not good.

  79. Do you think the morals of the society at large or of the elite have ANY effect on the masses?

    No one here has argued that they have no effect.

  80. Then we should be willing to destroy modernity. I am quite willing to go down that path. The Southern Agrarians had some pretty good ideas 80 years ago and perhaps those ideas ought to be revived. The more sophisticated environmentalists are already supporters of traditional ways of life, including Western Culture.

  81. I will agree with you. Trying to blame the media alone overemphasizes the power of mere propaganda. And as I have mentioned, culture includes material culture and every part of a culture is interconnected.

  82. We need to be willing to challenge the material foundations of society if we want to break the power of liberalism.

  83. “To my mind, the Church after the Revolution was like a wounded animal, more concerned with lashing out against real or imagined enemies than with trying to negotiate a role in the emerging world. By the time she changed direction at Vatican II, it was already too late.”

    Did any Christian community make the transition in time?

  84. I suspect that I’m unduly influenced by my academic background in pre-modern societies. Where modern history is concerned, I’m mostly an amateur.

  85. Here are Maurras’s own thoughts on Christianity, which he expressed privately in a letter to Maurice Barrés:

    “With some spare time, what a Treatise there would be to write on the intellectual decadence wrought by, first, the Christian spirit of mind that brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire; secondly, the Christian spirit of mind that in the sixteenth century disrupted Catholic civilization through the reading of the Bible in the vernacular tongue; thirdly, the Christian spirit of mind that drove on Rousseau, that encouraged the Revolution, and that elevated morality to the dignity of a super-science and a super-politics, equally metaphysical; and, lastly, the Christian spirit of mind that gives us, today, a theology of the individual, a theory of pure anarchy.”

  86. This is only vaguely related, but I thought you might be interested in these two posts:

  87. “We see this, for instance, in Friedrich Nietzsche’s hatred of Christianity as a Jewish “slave revolt” by the “bungled and botched” against the “natural
    aristocracy,” and in the unbelieving if politically pro-Catholic Action Française founder Charles Maurras’ classicist praise of Catholicism as
    having “tamed” Christianity and purged it of the egalitarian, justice-for-the-poor “poison of the /Magnificat/.” In other words, Maurras the purely political Catholic had his deepest suspicion of “Jesus the Jewish Socialist!” Like Nietzsche, Maurras saw Judaism and Christianity as fountainheads of the leveling sentimental democratic “slave revolt” menacing the proud virile pagan aristocrats who alone created all high culture.”

  88. Laberthonnière shrewdly accused Maurras of seeing the Church as shoring up society against “the anarchy he saw as inherent in Christianity itself.”

  89. Maurras’s opinions on Christianity are something of an embarrassment to me, because they’re so silly. It’s like even he couldn’t resist the pressure to make some concession to the Left, so he gave in to the Leftist narrative that It’s All the Church’s Fault, and put his own little twist on it. This makes it a bit harder when I argue to people that he really was a first-rate reactionary thinker, and that the Church’s break with Action Francaise was a misfortune for both sides.

  90. I rather fancy Maurras’s views on Christianity owe not a little to that arch-conservative Edward Gibbon.

    How Maurras, a Frenchman, failed to appreciate that Christianity was the only thing that saved the Roman Empire and that it is alive and well and living in Gaul – that is, indeed, baffling.

    The whole rhetoric of the Revolution, by the by, was saturated with appeals to classical, and especially Roman, models, Robespierre and Saint-Just more than most.

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