Venerable Emmanuel D’Alzon – Sixth Letter to the Congregation – 2 July 1874

Venerable Emmanuel-Maurice d'AlzonMy dear Brothers,

Society is now in such a state of turmoil that the best minds seem to be losing their way in radically different directions. Opinions are at cross purposes; political systems denounce each other; we seem headed for the confusion of Babel. Yet, it is simple enough to know what road to take if only we are willing to leave aside political intrigue, party strife and personal ambition, to stand on the solid ground of religious truth and work wholeheartedly for the cause of the immortal King of the ages. Allow me to suggest a few guidelines that will always make it possible, if not easy, for you to find your way in the labyrinth of so many problems which, to the best minds, seem insoluble.

I. PRINCIPLES UNDERLYING SOCIAL ISSUES

God is the sovereign Lord of all things: “The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). The world and its inhabitants belong to him. The best thing these inhabitants can do is submit to his eternal Majesty. If people started from that principle to regulate their behavior, their social relationships, and their politics, how many evils would be avoided! Since the Revolution is essentially a radical denial of the rights of God, does it not constitute a perpetual revolt of man against God, a revolt over which God, after a patient wait, will ultimately triumph? From this we must conclude (1) that the Revolution is committing a crime when it denies the rights of God, (2) that we have a strict obligation to defend these rights when they are attacked, (3) that it is possible for the wicked to triumph in the short run, though theirs is a triumph in which, as history so often points out, they ultimately find their providential punishment, were it only in the dissolution of the society they poisoned by their doctrines and crimes, and (4) that God will certainly triumph in the end, even if He takes his time in passing judgment on justice itself: “When I seize the appointed time, I will judge with equity” (Ps. 75:3).

But God not only exercises mastery over the universe; he also governs it wisely. Those who plot all kinds of more or less cunning schemes are too inclined to forget that there exists a skill superior to theirs, that of eternal wisdom. At the sight of so many of these schemes, are we not left with the impression that people believe that divine Providence has abdicated? No, divine Providence has not abdicated. As Saint Thomas teaches, God’s infinite will, moved by His infinite intelligence, has the last word whenever spiritual activity is concerned. Infinite will and infinite intelligence: what can anyone oppose to such power? And is it not true that those who try to judge all things from the point of view of the divine and the providential run better chances of understanding reality than those who, in an effort to eliminate the miraculous from the world, see no further than the material and, consequently, no further than the futile activity of people whose only goal is the satisfaction of vain and selfish interests?

But try as we might to eliminate the miraculous, Jesus Christ re-emerges with all his divine authority and power. The miraculous! It is found in Jesus Christ, redeemer of the human race. Are men not born with original sin? Are they not by nature children of wrath? Did God not send His Son to redeem them? Did Jesus Christ not win humanity for himself by shedding his blood? Did God, sovereign master of all things, not say to His Son: “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance. You shall rule them with an iron rod; you shall shatter them like an earthen dish” (Ps. 2:8-9)?

Jesus Christ is therefore master of all nations. There are some that he must rule with a strong hand and shatter like earthen dishes. But the greatest miracle of all is our ongoing redemption: God became man, first miracle; the God-made-man died on the cross to save the human race, second miracle; this God-made-man was established by his Father as master of all nations, third miracle; the God-made-man ordained all things as he pleased, calling some men into his light and leaving others in darkness, fourth miracle; this same God-made-man charged certain chosen servants to defend or extend his rule throughout the world and to the ends of the earth, fifth miracle. What is most surprising, however, is that these miracles, by dint of striking our eyes with their brightness, no longer surprise them.

And yet there are conclusions to be drawn from these divine facts, miraculous and incontrovertible for Christians. First, we must judge all things, not only from the general point of view of divine Providence, but also from the more particular point of view of the miraculously supernatural character of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we must recognize the ongoing social miracle wherever Jesus Christ decides to intervene. Finally, we must follow with absolute faith the directions given by Jesus Christ, so that when he says to us, “Lower your nets,” we answer like saint Peter, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing, but at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:405), and witness the most unexpected results for having obeyed the Savior’s instructions.

Consequently, the miraculous cannot simply be brushed aside. One must either deny Jesus Christ and his supernatural influence over human beings or admit the miraculous permanence of his divine intervention in society. However, the miraculous is not always evident; it escapes the attention of the sceptical. When Jesus Christ appeared to his apostles after the resurrection, many believed, but some doubted. The same situation exists today: there are doubts and denials, just as, at the sight of the risen Christ, there were doubts about his triumph over death. Is it surprising then that some doubt his victory over sin because he does not visit terrible destruction upon all sinners?

II. THE CHURCH’S APPROACH TO POLITICS

If Jesus Christ governs the world, there is a very simple policy that should be followed: that of Christ himself. This policy asserts itself especially and unimpeachably in the society he founded and to which must rally those who are more particularly his own. I am speaking of the policy of the Church.

But does the Church have such a policy? The answer is an unequivocal yes. And the goals of this policy, like those of the Church, are twofold: (1) to preach the truth, and (2) to teach the moral law which comes from divine truth and which is none other than the law of God. Since the pursuit of these goals requires an authority, the policy of the Church is twofold: to preserve this authority as well as the hierarchy which proceeds from it, and to guarantee to this sacred hierarchy whatever rights it needs in order to distribute God’s gifts to men.

Today’s society does not understand the matter in this way and, like Pilate, does not want the truth to serve as its bedrock. Ever since society ceased to rest on this doctrinal foundation, we can see from the resulting turmoil what further troubles are to be feared. Our own policy is, above all, to defend the social truth of which the Church is the sole depository. Accordingly, it is our strict duty to re-introduce the notion of truth within a society that wants no part of it.

But no less important is the defense of the law of God. It has been repudiated by human reason as an odious yoke to be broken. We must defend all that is connected with the divine law, because any human law that contradicts this superior law is evil in itself, pernicious and subversive; it leads nations to their death. If we could only establish ourselves as the relentless defenders of God’s law, what evils would we not ward off! How imminent and assured would be the healing of sick nations!

We have chosen Jesus Christ as our king. Not only does all mankind belong to him, but his chosen Kingdom is the Church. And since Jesus Christ is a perpetual miracle, the Church’s destiny is to live by dint of miracles: the miracle of its foundation by a crucified man; the miracle of the blood shed by God, which became the seed of its expansion; the miracle of its conquests through “the absurdity of preaching” (I Cor 1:2); the miracle of its preservation amidst the causes of all kinds of decay; the miracle of the sacraments, this ever miraculous outpouring of God’s love; the miracle of the perpetuity of the promises made to the Church and of their fulfillment beyond all human understanding. After that, to deny the miraculous in the unfolding of human history is to deny not only Jesus Christ, but also the fact, as obvious as the sun, that the Church exists.

Yes, from the sole point of view of reason, the Church is a reality at once so incontrovertible and yet so filled with apparent contradictions, an institution that is so different from all concepts of worldly wisdom, that to acknowledge her existence without recognizing the divine cause of her perpetuity is to accept that human nature carries within itself a great absurdity that is both permanent and triumphant. No greater insult could be directed against our human dignity.

I shall not develop that point; as you can readily understand, it goes beyond the scope of my topic. Besides, it is evident to you. But what should we conclude? Because the Church is eternal like the truth upon which it is founded, we must, in the face of the birth, sickness and death of nations, espouse the great cause of the Church with its miracle of perpetuity. I come back to this miraculous aspect because the pride of certain Catholics has become too reprehensible to be ignored any longer. I also insist upon it because even if no other society has been promised this miracle, those societies which adhere to the Church can, without receiving a promise of their own immortality, find in the contact with this indestructible institution some of the principles of longevity which, since the advent of Christianity, can be found nowhere else. In the center of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Apostle John saw the tree of life, whose fruits are meant for the elect but whose leaves are intended for the preservation or the recovery of the health of nations: “Their leaves serve as medicine for the nations” (Rev 22:2). The fruits are for the elect, the leaves are for the nations intent on maintaining their health or on recovering it if they have been ill: “Their leaves serve as medicine for the nations.” Our policy in political matters will be to gather these salutary leaves and offer them to the sick nations which are still capable of returning to health.

Viewed in this way, politics remains on a higher level more appropriate for religious who come from all parts of the world and hurts the national pride of no one. Our major preoccupation is to proclaim everywhere in the world the rights of God, of Jesus Christ and of his Church. Those who defend these rights are our allies; those who deny them are our enemies. Wherever the Church, the agent of God, allows freedom, we respect each person’s freedom. Wherever she proclaims a duty, we proclaim it with her. Wherever she condemns, we condemn. Wherever she declares war, we fight without worrying about the outcome of the battle, for we are certain that the final victory will be ours, and we know with Saint Paul that if we fight the good fight, we will receive the crown of justice from the hands of the just Judge at the appointed time.

III. TWO FINAL COMMENTS

Before concluding, I would like to make two comments. First, even if we keep our distance in relation to purely human questions, we cannot avoid being faced with some situations in which the cause of the Church and that of certain nations seem to be very closely linked. Several examples of this can be found in the Middle Ages. Was the first emperor who took the cross as the standard of his armies to be treated with indifference by Christian people simply because he found his own advantage in the assured triumph of the Church? Since that time we have seen Church leaders calling civil power to their aid. Can we say that the Church was wrong? And if the Church was mistaken for so long a time on so important a question as the union of Church and State, what becomes, from the human point of view, of the promise of divine assistance to be with us “always until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20)? But if she was right then, why would she not be right today?

Consequently, let us remember that Jesus Christ does not forsake his Church; that the cause of the Church, being the cause of Jesus the king and therefore of God, is the cause of truth and good; and that every time we see a nation defending that cause openly and loyally, we can, with the Church, take the side of that nation.

My second comment is that nations are kept together either by selfish interests or by an idea. If by selfish interests, their people are no more than merchants tending their business; we need not be concerned about their profits or losses. Do they steal? If so, we must see to it that, as far as we are concerned, they do not despoil us too much, and, as far as they are concerned, that they must not be too dishonest. But some nations live by an ideal. If the ideal is evil, it must be fought relentlessly. If it is true, the nation defending it already enjoys the blessings of God.

France had been favored in this way, but alas, what has she done with God’s blessings? France! She was born the day Clovis accepted to fight for the divinity of Christ in the face of the old Roman world and of barbarism, both steeped in Arianism.

She grew up on the plains of Poitiers, when Charles Martel drove back Islam which was menacing Europe. She was truly glorious when with Charlemagne she strengthened the papacy’s external power. She reached her peak when Saint Louis gave up his spirit on the shores of Africa while leading an expedition to recapture the tomb of Christ. It has always been clear what her mission was. Despite a few family quarrels, the eldest daughter of the Church has always known how to defend publically the cause of her Mother. Has she now deserted her mission, which is historically unique? From all appearances it is to be feared that she has; and if there appeared on the horizon another nation ready to take her place, it would be for us a time of deep anguish. Fortunately, our successors in this noble work have not yet appeared. Our place is still there; let us recapture it and keep it. That is the only political stance we should take as French religious. It is one that any truly Christian person will certainly want to help us with, if we accomplish our task in a disinterested way, with faith, love and respect for Jesus Christ and his Church.

Forgive me if I do not go into further detail. From the perspective I have chosen, I must allow you a certain freedom, provided you remain unyielding concerning the main ideas I have outlined.

Let us not forget that we must take the miraculous into account when considering the destiny of the Church. It evidently has a direct bearing on the protection and on the reward or punishment of nations, whether they be faithful, indifferent or hostile. From these heights, we can easily foresee many sad events as well as many consoling ones. Regardless, let us remember that we are, above all, subjects of Jesus Christ our King, citizens of the Church, our homeland, and that we owe Jesus Christ and his Church our fidelity, our service, our love and our life.

Please accept, my dear brothers, the expression of my fondest and most respectful consideration in Our Lord.