The Last of the Enemies, by Venerable Fulton Sheen, 12 January 1936

1952 photograph of Venerable Fulton John Sheen produced as promotional material for the television show 'Life is Worth Living'Western Civilization may be likened to the Prodigal Son in that it has left the Father’s house and wasted its substance living riotously by spending its belief in the supernatural and even the natural end of man.

A fragment, of course, of that spiritual capital is still floating about the world, for, to change the figure, our age is living in what might be called the penumbra of Christianity – that line where light fades out and shadows begin. All that is still sublime in philanthropy is but a splinter of the Cross of Calvary which the Church holds erect above the world; all that is noble and happy in marriage is a reflection from the marriage feast of Cana and the Church’s teaching of the sanctity of two hearts and the honesty of a vow; all that is best in the justice and equity of governments is a reflection of the Church’s spiritual principle that we must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s; and all that is satisfying in democracy is the principle that all are equal because redeemed by the precious blood of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

But apart from this reflection of Christian truth which is still dimly visible in the world, the great spiritual patrimony of the ages is gone. The Church with her finger on the pulse of contemporary civilization realizes it more than our moribund civilization itself realizes it. Humanism has failed. The Church feels the shift of the opposition. Western Civilization is not just suffering from a famine of spiritual values; it is not even caring about them. It is now seeking to “fill its belly”; namely, to stuff itself with the husks of the secular, the economic, the political, the worldly. And the name of this new thing which no longer is concerned with the soul but with the belly is Communism, the new enemy of the Father’s House and probably the last. Communism is not merely an economic doctrine. It is more properly a philosophy of life which mobilizes souls for economic and secular ends; a Caesarism or adoration of the State; a glorification of the human collective through the de-personalization of men; a suffocation of human personality and its subsequent absorption into the mass; a filtering of barbarism through the sieve of the class, the race, or the state, and calling it Civilization.

It is not peculiar to Russia alone. We see there mobilization of souls under an economic disguise where one hundred and sixty millions of God’s creatures destined for eternal life are dehumanized and reduced to the state of ants whose sole business in life is to build up the great ant-hill of the Classless Class; we see it in Mexico with a political disguise where treason is synonymous with the worship of the Crucified; we see it with a racial mask in Germany where the State would crush the Religion of Him who rose from the dead, and would return to the barbarism of gods who are still rotting in their graves. In all three instances men are bludgeoned into living their lives without God; they are beaten and hammered into the new pattern where the gods of economics are supreme.

How has this world movement of the mobilization of souls for secular ends come upon us? One reason is, the World War accustomed us to mobilization, and as a consequence to the relative unimportance of man. When a world which boasts of its progress reaches a point where it can send millions of men en masse into a battlefield, to make rivers run red, to turn poppy fields into Haceldamas of blood, to tear great gaping wounds in Gothic cathedrals, it has indeed forgotten that every man has an immortal soul, and in the eyes of God is just as personal and as valuable as the King who declares a war, or the General who directs it behind the lines, and even more valuable if he loves God more. The inalienable and sacred rights of human personality are indeed regarded as trivial, when the bones of six million men can be strewn across the fields for a cause which is still unknown. Creatures of God have lost their importance when they can be generalized with the anonymous title: “The Unknown Soldier”. That war spirit of mobilization which resulted in mass suicide – for that is what the World War was – has left its imprint on the modern mind. The world is still mobilizing, still ignoring the human, still counting bodies instead of souls, still thinking of poverty instead of the poor and of the masses instead of man.

Communism is not new except in the sense that a decaying corpse is a new state in relation to a living man. It was not a revolution which began a new epoch; it was a revolution which marks the death of an old one; it is not a cry of birth, it is the rattle of death; it is not a new blossom on a new vine, it is the late season fruit of the tree of spiritual bankruptcy. It takes a branch cut off from the vine some time to die, but eventually it dies. Communism is that death – it is the logical development of a civilization which for the last three hundred years has lived its economic life without God.

It is therefore not a reaction against Capitalism but the glorification of its worst features, and the ignoring of its better features. The old Capitalism made the economic the principal basis of civilization. Communism makes it the unique basis of civilization. The old Capitalism wanted no interference from the state but left God and religion alone provided they did not interfere. The new Capitalism, or Communism, says: If the supreme business of life is to subjugate man to the economic order, to mechanize human life, then why not make the economic order not the end of the individual but the very end of the State itself? Therefore no longer entrust the mad pursuit of the secular and the economic to a group of individuals, or to a few scattered capitalists. Make the economic the end of everyone. Force it down the throats of everyone; jam it into their souls and suffocate the thought of God; cram it into their hearts and extinguish the fires of Divine Love. The State itself shall be Capitalist! The State itself shall seek Wealth! The Economic shall be the end of man!

Why is Communism growing in popularity? It is popular because the modern man is tired of selfish individualism, is satiated with a democracy that follows the public will, instead of leading it. He feels the need of a reaction; he wants something that will help him return to the center of his being; he wants the spiritual or at any rate something over which he can enthuse; he wants something different from anything he has had in the last three hundred years; and since the only Christianity he knows is that emasculated form of it which regards Christ only as man, and which has identified itself with the social order that is passing away, he feels that Christianity has failed. And so the modern man turns to Com- munism. He seeks it because it replaces the doubt and scepticism of an irresponsible indifference by a certitude of absolute authority embodied in a social institution; he seeks it because he believes it will save the world; he seeks it because he wants a logical system that lays claim to his body and soul. In a word he is a Communist because it satisfies his need of religion.

Communism is a religion. This is its positive side. But it is not just a religion in the sense that Humanism is a religion, or even Confucianism is a religion. Communism is not a heresy within the body of Christendom, rather it is the ape of Christianity in its divine and historical form. It has not taken one of the truths of Christianity and emphasized it, as most erroneous forms of Christianity have done in the last three hundred years. Rather it has taken the whole content of Christianity and given it a new soul. It has changed Christianity in the same way that man would be changed if you robbed him of his immortal soul and gave him the soul of a serpent. The man would see, taste, smell, and in general carry on all the vegetative and animal functions common to the body of every man. Externally he would even appear as other men; but on the inside he would be different. And why? Because he would lack a rational soul which is capable of lifting him above the fleeting phenomena of earth to a knowledge and love of the living God.

Communism has its Bible, which is Das Kapital of Karl Marx; it has its original sin which is Capitalism; it has its chosen people which is the Classless Class; it has its Messianic hope which is the World Proletariat; it has its “Sermon on the Mount” which is its false appeal to the poor and oppressed; it has its monasticism which is the infiltration of its doctrines through the “cells”; it has its Gospel which is the Gospel of Class War; it has its communion of saints which is the comradeship of man; it has its Calvary which is an appeal to sacrifice oneself for the Communistic state; it has its Kingdom of God but without God and of the earth earthly; it lays claim to absolute truth which no politics or economics can claim; it has its catechism which is obligatory on everyone; it has its orthodoxy and it persecutes its heretics; it lays claim to the very depths of the soul, possessing the conscience and the spirit of man – and only a religion can do this. It persecutes all religions because it claims to be the one true religion and hence can suffer no other; it is the religion of the Kingdom of Earth, the religion which renders to Caesar even the things that are God’s; it is the body of the elect, the new Israel, the ape of Christianity in all externals. It differs only in its soul, for its spirit is the spirit of the serpent; it is the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ.

Thus far we have emphasized the idea that Communism is not just a system of economics but a philosophy of life; and that it is the logical development of a civilization which for 300 years has built its political, economic, and social structure without the solid foundation of the regnancy of God in human affairs.

Now go on to inquire how it can be met. Because it is something social and communal it cannot be met by any shouting for rugged individualism; it can be met only by something social, communal. Because it expresses a longing for a real community of men, it can be met only by a community where personality is not extinguished, where the soul is not killed, but allowed to flower and blossom in that higher realm of Life and Truth and Love which is God.

Because Communism is a religion which makes the State a god and the factory a place of pilgrimage, it can be met only by a religion which serves the State by serving God. World peace can be recovered only by a spiritual force which avoids the two extremes of Individualism and Communism; a force which asserts against Individualism that man cannot live apart from society; and one which equally asserts against Communism that a person has rights to worship God which the State cannot take away; a force that is not the technical organized force of Communism, but the spiritual organic force which mobilizes souls for eternal ends – and that it is the historical form of Christianity which has been excluded from Civilization for the last 300 years and which is now returning from exile, namely, the Church. Communism has only one enemy: The Eternal Galilean. The Mystical Body of the State can be conquered only by the Mystical Body of Christ.

Such is the method Our Lord chose to regenerate a world; namely through a spiritual community in which He became, as it were, “incarnate”. The Church therefore is to save the world by being in it, but not of it; it is to be a city set on a hill toward which men may turn their eyes to know the secret of their strength, but it is not the hill; it is to be a light shining out through the darkness of a troubled world, but it is not the darkness; it is to be a leaven in the dead mass of sin-stained humanity, but it is not the mass; it is to be the salt wherewith the earth is to be salted, but it is not the earth. Above all else, it is a fellowship, a spiritual Communism, based not on the laws of society, nor the ties of blood nor the necessities of economics, but on the re-ordering of the whole field of human relations in a spirit of charity, and a cohesion of shattered and despised mankind under the leadership of Christ. The world will be saved from Communism and the martyrdom of man only by this society whose basic inspiration is the primacy of spiritual values: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you”. The Mystical Body of Christ alone can oppose the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ.

These are the only two complete philosophies of life: The Church and Communism. The future conflicts of the world will not be between Religion and Science, or between “rugged individualism’ and Socialism, but between a society which is spiritual and a society which is mechanical, between a society which adores God and a society which claims it is god. No more civil wars; from now on an invasion. The world must make the choice. The forces are already aligning themselves for the battle. We must enlist on one side or the other; we must battle either for brotherhood in Christ or comradeship in anti-Christ. The prodigals will either come back to Christ or they will go the way of all flesh and fill their bellies with the economic and the secular. The world of the future will have only two capitals, Moscow and Rome; it will have only two temples, the Red Square and Saint Peter’s; only two sanctuary lamps, the Red Flag and the red glow of the Eucharistic lamp; only two tabernacles, the Kremlin and Emmanuel; only two hosts, the rotted body of Lenin and the Body of the Living Christ; only two hymns, the Internationale and the Panis Angelicus – but only one victory, the victory of the Captain Christ bearing five wounds in the forefront of battle.