No evil is removable, no good is attainable, as long as any earthly or merely natural end is held to be, for its own sake, a legitimate object of pursuit. There is and can be good for no one, here or hereafter, save in seeking, exclusively, the end for which Almighty God has intended us, and by the means and in the way he himself has appointed. Now this end is neither in this world nor of this world, neither in nature nor of nature, and therefore can be gained, can be promoted, by no natural effort, by no natural means, neither by political changes nor by social changes, neither by political democracy nor by social democracy. These things have and can have no necessary connection with it. It is a mistake, then, to regard them, in themselves, as ever in any degree desirable. - Orestes Brownson (emphasis mine), "Socialism and the Church"
Back in January, I wrote a post that elicited a long and thoughtful discussion in the combox, in which Andrew Lomas and I went back and forth a bit over a now obscure 19th Century Frenchman, Felicite Robert de Lammenais, about whom I knew nothing other than how Bl. Dominic Barberi stood firm against him, despite Lammenais' rock star status. Lamennais' teachings were eventually condemned by the Church and Lammenais himself renounced his Christian faith and died kind of the way most bloggers live - a raving crank.
Lomas, in the combox, was defending Lamennais and pointing out the political failures of the Counter-Reformation Church, which made its worldly and temporal decisions too much in reaction to the Protestant Revolt, erring on the side of monarchy and wealth, and alienating itself from the demos - the poor on the street. Lammenais was primarily a social reformer, and was advocating things that the Church, in its social encyclicals, eventually affirmed, things that in the early 19th Century was not willing to hear, or so says Andrew Lomas.
Now that I am reading Orestes Brownson in earnest, I find Brownson likewise very critical of de Lammenais. Brownson quotes Lammenais at length in the essay I linked to above, "Socialism and the Church". Lammenais' words are stirring and thrilling, though he has about him the touch of the demagogue.
But the problem with Lammenais (I gather) is that he was a "liberation theologian".
What the Church condemns in liberation theology is not the regard for the poor or the need for the amelioration of their suffering, but the notion that Christian reform is something that takes place in this world and in this world only. Christ was not the first socialist, nor were his reforms merely or even primarily temporal reforms.
Brownson again ...
Undoubtedly, Christianity requires us to remove all evil, and in seeking to remove evil we follow the Christian principle; but what the Socialists call evil, and the people in revolt are seeking to remove, is not evil. Nothing is evil but that which turns a man away from his end, or interposes a barrier to his advance towards it. Nothing but one's own sin can do that.
Now, dear reader, before you get all smug and angry at Obama and all those other damned socialists, realize that this mistake - this notion that Jesus is utilitarian, that His grace is meant for this world and this world only, that our Faith is useful only in as much as it brings justice and comfort to the oppressed - is a mistake that is rampant in the American Church.
- How often do we hear homilies that remind us that our goal is the Kingdom of Heaven, and that this goal can only be achieved by the renunciation of the world, the flesh and the devil and by the mortification of attachments to the pleasures of this life?
- What is the common thread of the consequentialists who argue for Torture and Lying - or for Westian celebration of lust? In both cases, it's victory in this world, the enjoyment of a benefit here and now, saving our necks or the necks of unborn babies - which, important though self-preservation and defending the innocent is, is hardly the primary or the sole goal of the Christian.
- Do we really believe that the only thing that can harm us is sin? That while poverty causes great suffering, that poverty in and of itself is not evil - that in fact poverty can be used as a means of bringing us closer to God?
I'm sure I'll be misread here.
I am not saying, and neither was Brownson, and neither is the Church, that temporal suffering and temporal injustice should be ignored. Corporal works of mercy are one of the fruits of devotion to Christ. A just Christian society - a Distributist society - is something every Christian should advocate.
But the heresy slips in when we make social reform - or political victory, or even victory over abortion - our one and only end.
For even in Utopia, even in the perfect City of Man, there's still the heart of man - there's still sin and pride and envy and lust and all the things that make us candidates for salvation. For our end is not here but hereafter, and only if we seek first the Kingdom of God shall the questions "what shall we eat and what shall we wear" be answered for us (Mat. 6:31).
But this is the most counter-cultural message of the Church, and even most Catholics are very unwilling to hear it.