Is There Any Virtue Left in Government and the Church? – The Case to Rebuild

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Allegory Of Virtue Triumphing Over Vice by the Italian painter Filippo Pedrini

Just a few days ago I was speaking with an Austrian friend who like so many of us is disappointed with the today’s state of affairs in the world. He had told me of a recent conversation he had had with a fellow Catholic who has practically given up all hope with the Church and statesmen as a result of their political correct policies and statements that have compromised the common good. This friend of his hinted that we Christians would eventually have to go back to the “catacombs” to maintain our life of faith and virtue. This I can appreciate since immorality, such as same-sex unions, the right to choose one’s gender, and abortion are promoted over traditional family and other pro-Life issues by the mainstream media and many politicians. Let us also not forget the confusion of the present-day position of the Vatican with the Islamic world in which Christianity has been aligned to Islam: both being religions of peace—this could not be any farther from the truth—and, as so many have complained, Pope Francis’ recent decry of the suppression of religious freedom in Muslim countries: “Let’s not accuse Muslims. Let’s accuse also ourselves.” In any case, aside that the Roman catacombs were public places of burial and not hideout spots for Christians to worship as erroneously dramatized by Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s—grim as our present-day situation may look—all is not lost.

St. Augustine (354-430 AD) encouraged his then-audience in his work The City of God to build the heavenly city that awaits us, here and today on this earth, i.e., to ensure that virtue reclaims its place in society. Augustines epic—a response to the accusations that Christianity was responsible for the fall of Rome in 410 AD with the invasion of Alaric and the German barbarians—pointed out that no earthly political system could be counted upon for the satisfaction of the most important human needs, which are ultimately spiritual rather than material ones. While the city on earth may desire and strive for earthly peace and an orderly society, it does so as the product of man’s intelligence and administrative abilities. And because of man’s imperfection, we can only get so far. In making a parallel to the heavenly city, peace can only be found under God. Hence, the vital role of the Church to guide Gods creation to live a life of virtue, or as St. Thomas Aquinas explained, to conduct oneself according to “right reason.”

Joshua Charles in his Founding Fathers: Without Virtue There Is No Freedom, likened virtue to happiness. Highlighting Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, Charles says that happiness is meant to be something far closer to “freedom to pursue the good” rather than “freedom to do whatever I want.” The first makes a free society possible. The second destroys it, because to abandon the virtues always involves a betrayal of the integrity of the human person—either ourselves, or (more often) others. When such violations are not avoided, or mended, by individuals and families, they are to be “mended,” at least in theory, by government — I add, the Church.

This, however, is something that has not been followed up by both politicians and church leaders. In lieu of virtue, socialism, wars, secularism, extreme capitalism, and syncretism (with Islam)—this would include a denial that today’s genocide of Christians is inspired by the Islamic sacred texts—are being imposed, thereby creating austerity and moral decadence in society. Such vice, as the Father of the U.S. Constitution James Madison said in his Vices of the Political System of the United States is found “in the people themselves,” whereby the majority are dictated by their passions and interests at the expense of the rights of the minority — the same, I dare say, also occurs among the few at the cost of the many.

In his final Farewell Address, President George Washington highlighted that if there was going to be a virtuous, i.e., a moral society then religion must play a part of it: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Christians should be reminded that our faith, professed by our baptism, was founded on a scandal: the scandal of the Cross. Hence, we should not be disturbed, nor should we be deterred in trying to “build” the city of God on earth, or as we Americans say, One Nation under God. All we have to do is persevere in virtue, so as to attract others to live it. It is the only way to avoid the “catacomb” mentality, which is nothing other than giving into desperation. St. Augustine said: “Choose now what you will pursue, that your praise may be not in yourself, but in the true God, in whom there is no error.” For “if Virtue and Knowledge,” as one of the protagonists of the American Revolution Samuel Adams said, “are diffused among the People, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great Security.”