FAKE VIRTUES ARE WORSE THAN VICES
Zmirak is the author of the upcoming book The Bad Catholic’s
Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins, and is Writer-in-Residence
at Thomas More College in New Hampshire. He writes weekly for
Lately I've felt
like Lex Luthor without any Kryptonite. For the past few weeks
here I've been vindicating the rights of the merely natural
against the claims of supernature. (Sheesh, that even sounds
boring to me). It's not a project calculated to win me friends
among the pious. In Christian circles, who really wants to risk
sounding like the Prodigal Son's snotty older brother? Besides,
the most carefully balanced arguments risk being swept away
by a big man in a red cape with an 'S' on his chest. (It's a
bird, it's a plane, no, it's Supernature)!
Are there any sinners out there who relish the prospect of championing
justice against mercy? Happily, I've come across one, who in
a public statement has given me enormous aid and comfort: Pope
Benedict XVI. And I'm really glad to have him on my side, since
in the course of this essay I'll need to sharply criticize prudential
decisions of another beloved Pope. I was reminded once again
on reading the Holy Father's words how grateful I am for the
wisdom, sanity, and sanctity of Pope Benedict. As he told journalists
in Lisbon on May 11, the sex-abuse crisis has proved that the
Church must "learn on one hand forgiveness but also the
need for justice. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice."
Thank you, Papa! We needed to hear the pope say this, in order
to face without shame the victims of the abuse -- whose molesters
were hidden from the police, sent off to cozy spas for Rogerian
therapy, and cosseted by a clerical conspiracy, all in the name
of "mercy," or even "charity." What is more,
the abject failure of so many Catholics (lay and clerical) to
shield the innocent from abuse implies, the Pope said, that
"we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer,
penance, and the theological virtues." Let's re-read that
sentence slowly. We must relearn the fundamentals of Christian
life in the light of . . . justice. Our Pope, who knows his
St. Thomas, would surely agree to my adding in fortitude, temperance
Grace builds on nature, but it cannot simply replace it. If
we're unjust, rash, intemperate or irresponsible, it won't simply
cripple our attempts to practice faith, hope and charity --
it might actually render them evil. That is what I was getting
at when I wrote that Darío Cardinal Castrillón
Hoyos, in praising bishops who shield molesting priests from
the police, was practicing "bankrupt charity." Misguided
compassion, the practice of which wrecked a fair chunk of my
life, is charity minus courage -- the courage to face the truth
about other people, whose souls aren't passive clay for us to
mold whenever we're feeling all "apostolic." And so
on: Every perversion that has afflicted historic Christianity
and distorted some varieties of it until they really have become
what Nietzsche called a "slave morality," can be traced
to false attempts to practice faith, hope, or charity ‘minus’
justice, temperance, fortitude, or prudence. Look forward to
more on this from me in the future.
But, for now, let's stick to justice. Some commenters here have
complained that I incessantly make connections between the failure
of (two thirds) of our bishops to protect innocent children
from sex abuse and their moralistic statements on immigration.
I've been accused of arguing ad hominem, of slinging
mud at our spiritual fathers, even of anti-Catholicism. The
Pope's latest statement underlies what I have really been trying
to get at: Attempts to practice charity that violate justice
‘aren't charity at all.’ They're some kind of monstrous
imposter, a love-doll inflated with hot air and dressed up as
the Sacred Heart that our Enemy wants us to worship -- like
the mummy that Hazel Motes steals from a museum in Flannery
O'Connor's Wise Blood and sets up as the "new
Jesus." It's an idol and a fetish, and I intend to treat
it as a piñata.
Don't worry, I will apply the battery acid test (Is it just?)
to the particulars of the open-borders position. But really,
it isn't so much the issue of immigration that exercises me
as the wholesale perversion of the theological virtues and its
implication for the daily lives of Christians. This perversion
will do more than ruin countries: It can wreck lives and damn
souls to hell, by goading us to actions that drive us or others
into scrupulosity, dishonesty, and finally apostasy or despair.
How else can we describe what the bankrupt charity of bishops
inflicted on many of the victims of abuse?
I didn't see the wider implications of this idea myself. It
was the lucid writer Erin Manning who pointed them out in a
commentary on my piece about poor Cardinal Castrillon. As she
The four cardinal natural virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude
and temperance, and as this article so clearly points out, these
virtues are not to be dismissed just because we think a theological
virtue (faith, hope, or charity) demands it. Yet to look at
just one example -- how many members of the Legion of Christ
or Regnum Christi understood this? How many times were they
asked to ignore prudence ("Sure, you can take on another
apostolate for the Kingdom! God is asking you!"),
justice ("Your family will just have to learn that your
work for the Movement is important, more important than fulfilling
your wifely or motherly duties!"), fortitude ("Stay
away from all those anti-Legion websites and their hurtful rumours,
or your faith might be shaken!"), or even temperance ("You
know, other families in your daughter's Challenge group bought
ten tickets each for the PureFashion show . . .").
. . . I've heard good, intelligent Catholics of every sort react
to the notion that prudence should have some play in their decision-making
as if the person making the suggestion was in league with the
Tempter; why, faith in God is all that is necessary, even if
one's actions repeatedly cause one to end up broke, or exhausted,
or the victim of some new swindle dressed up to look like a
legitimate Christian ministry.
In another response to my piece, the first-rate writer Leon
God is the author
of both nature and grace; nature has its rights and those
rights are not superseded or violated by grace. As Zmirak
points out, if grace is all that matters, we should be kidnapping
the children of pagan (and Jewish) parents and baptizing them.
The Church has not always respected the rights of nature.
In 1858 Pius IX forcibly took from his Jewish parents their
six-year-old son, Edgardo Mortaro [sic.], who had been secretly
baptized by a Catholic servant. Augustine was willing to use
the power of the Roman state to force Donatists into the Catholic
Church. It was for their own good, for outside of the visible,
judicial bounds of the Catholic Church, Augustine believed
there was no salvation. But God respects our freedom to love
Him or not to love Him, and the Church should imitate God
in His respect for nature.
I was taken aback. I have long admired the brave Pope Pius IX
and lazily taken his side whenever critics complained about
what he did. Put briefly, as temporal ruler of the Papal States,
Pius enforced a law that forbade Christian servants to work
for Jewish families -- not because he snobbishly thought this
unseemly, but rather because well-meaning Christian girls had
a bad habit of taking Jewish children and . . . baptizing them.
This meant that, in the Church's eyes, those children now were
Christians and had the right to be raised as Catholics. Papal
law reflected this right, and in the case of Mortara, Pius felt
compelled to enforce it -- by seizing the boy from his parents
and raising him as a Christian. This caused an international
scandal, helped alienate the last few nations (such as France
and Austria) that supported the Papal States, and cleared the
path for their conquest and the unification of Italy.
I used to defend Pio Nono, but I should have known better. And
so should he: As Pius would have agreed, anyone validly baptized
becomes a member of the Catholic Church, although he may later
leave it. This is true not just of little Edgardo Mortara but
also of every child christened by Orthodox or Protestants. It
is only later -- when, at the age of reason, he assents to a
non-Catholic creed -- that a child leaves the Church and joins
the separated brethren. So, by the logic he applied to Mortara,
Pius should have been seizing and raising as Catholic every
child of Protestants who happened to live in the Papal States
-- including those of the British ambassador. (Of course, that
might not have been prudent). Ordinary Catholics, even today,
would be justified in kidnapping Protestant children so they
could grow up in the one true Faith.
But the Church has never permitted Catholics to do this; Elizabeth
I tried it on recusant Catholics, but we never returned the
favor. Why? We followed St. Thomas Aquinas, who asserted the
natural rights of parents. We wouldn't violate justice for the
sake of faith. Had we applied this principle consistently to
adults over the centuries, Catholic apologists wouldn't have
to apologize (as Pope John Paul II was right to do) for our
persecutions of heretics. It took Dignitatis Humanae
at Vatican II for the Church to fully apply the logic of her
own position and embrace religious liberty. The assertion of
this teaching is the one unambiguous good to come out of that
council -- though it's not enough to recompense us for what
happened to our liturgy.
Back to the Mexican border for a moment. Well-meaning people
commenting on what I've written on immigration have pointed
to the great disparity of wealth between Americans and Mexicans.
Surely we can afford to dispense with luxuries and consumerist
trinkets for the sake of offering Mexicans the chance to . .
. accumulate luxuries and trinkets. Surely the claims of charity
override the rights of the secular state to enforce its laws,
or American taxpayers to defend their private property from
forcible confiscation by the state.
Or do they? If you as a Catholic feel guilty about the wealth
disparity between your household and that of one in Michoacán,
perhaps you are called to send some money down there. I'm sure
that Catholic Relief Services (the cleanest, best-run such organization
I know of) would appreciate your money. On the other hand, do
you really have the right to use the state to take luxuries
away from your neighbour? That's exactly what you're doing when
you insist that public hospitals offer non-emergency aid to
illegal aliens -- and when you offer amnesty to poor people
who vote en masse to raise taxes and vote themselves subsidies.
You're imposing charity at gunpoint on your neighbours, just
as surely as Pius IX was enforcing faith on Mortara.
It's ironic that this case of well-intentioned kidnapping lost
us the Papal States. I think the Church really benefited from
having them -- although not for all the same reasons Pius adduced.
In the old days, when the pope had an actual country to run,
churchmen were forced to give due respect to the natural virtues:
without fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance, you really
can't keep the bandits under control.
Like many of his predecessors, Pius employed a papal executioner.
How much the world has lost with the abolition of that office?
Nothing brings home the sacred inviolability of justice than
the need sometimes to enforce God’s justice fatally. I've
always thought that the most tangible way to show respect for
the sanctity of life is by executing murderers. Now that the
Holy See controls not a country but a small string of museums,
it's all too easy for soft-handed celibates to wag their fingers
at laymen who do the gritty jobs of patrolling borders, imprisoning
criminals, paying the bills and running an honest economy. Even
otherwise orthodox clerics, when they speak about politics and
economics, tend to jumble solid doctrinal statements with sentimental
or utopian effusions, running riot over the natural virtues
like a hog in a pastry shop.
It's our job, as faithful laymen, to shove the pig out of doors,
to lock up the perverts and protect our neighbours' property
rights. If we feel obliged to give money to Mexicans, we should
send it ourselves. But we should send Edgardo Mortara back to
Sins - Envy
Sins - Sloth
J. Simpson - Far From Heaven