Two Great Warning Encyclicals
By The Editor
IN writing a year-end article it has become almost a common-place to begin with the words: the year that is just ending has been the most critical year since the war. It may be a commonplace, but unfortunately it is true. Deep down in men's hearts there is a fear, a fear of something which is only being deferred by a nervous and desperate attempt to patch the edges of the tissue of our civilisation while mighty strains are threatening to rip it into pieces. It may be that our fears are in part due to the very human desire to discount and anticipate the worst, and that to prepare ourselves for the worst, we anticipate it needlessly. In another mood, the same fear expresses itself in an obviously strained and false attempt to kid ourselves into the belief that things are very much better than they seem, that civilisation has pulled through crises every bit as bad, and that danger only lies in our own groundless fears. The British Government arid the British Press have lately adopted this view with such enthusiasm that the least alarmist observer may be pardoned for suspecting that things are even worse than they scent. It may be that. on the short-period view, matters in Europe have improved a little, but on the long-period view, the great strains have not been relieved. In other words, we may have caught up a trifle in our patching, but unless something can he done to case the growing strains these patches can only give us momentary relief. THE MOSTIMPORTANT EVENT We have no hesitation in saying that the most significant event of 1937 has been the publication of the two great encyclicals, Divini Redemptoris and Mit Brennender Sorge, by a Sovereign Pontiff, almost miraculously rescued from death. We do not say this because these writings are called " encyclicals," nor because they are the words of the Pope, but because they bring out the essential nature of the heaviest strain threatening our civilisation. They point to the two avenues along which pagan mankind will inevitably be led towards absolute Caesarism. unless the warnings of the Pope are heeded in good time, or unless war destroys us. Caesarism, of course, is no new phenomenon. Whenever and wherever a man, a group of men or a class of men have gained temporal power. they have tried to monopolise all power. if only to maintain it and the fruits derived from it. la modern Caesarism two things arc new: the individual is rapidly losing the spiritual power to resist it, and the State is rapidly gaining command of infinitely more effective physical means to wield its power over the very personalities of its subjects, unchallenged and, short of world-war, for ever. In fact one might almost describe our times as a desperate race between Caesarism and war. If Caesarism wins, then we shall all be slaves; if war wins, then we shall all be destroyed—a better alternative. It is no exaggeration to say that the sole human hope of stopping this terrible race lies in the voice of the Pope in the Vatican, in the voice and will of Catholic Christianity.
SPIRITUAL AND SELFISH RESISTANCE This may read like a superficial pious exaggeration, but its truth can very easily be demonstrated. Resistance to Caesarism has always had partly a spiritual and partly a selfish quality. The great majority of men dislike being bossed by others: they value their independence and they want to do as they please. This in itself is not a spiritual quality, but a selfish instinct. A man who rises no higher than this in his resistance to tyranny can always be bought at a price, for it is always possible to offer him in return for his slavery to another's will certain advantages of prestige, power, wealth that will amply compensate for the disadvantages of loss of independence. It is only when his instinct is raised to the spiritual and moral level that his resistance becomes worthy and reliable. It is so raised when he appreciates that he is resisting, not on behalf of his own instinct to do as he pleases, but in virtue of a conviction that the lives of himself and his fellow men have an end and a meaning determined, not by another human creature, but by the Creator of life who made men in his own image and likeness. (This spiritual conviction need not always be expressed in this correct theological form, but it must always be based upon a faith that human life has a meaning, that arises from an eternal spiritual order, not a temporal one.) Now, today, though an occasional philosopher may work out for himself the spiritual meaning of every human life, it is a fact that that spiritual meaning is being more and more rapidly forgotten and denied outside Catholic Christianity. No doubt, the teaching of Christianity in re sped the absolute value and high destiny of every person still survives long after the dogmas of Christianity have been rejected, but, cut off from the dogmatic root that gave the belief meaning, it must sooner or later die. Apart from the Revelation the evidence for the belief is not great, and it steadily grows less as belief in Revelation ceases to inspire men.
INSTRUMENTS OF POWER While the spiritual quality of resistance to Caesarism declining, leaving only the instinctive selfish instinct towards licence rather than God's law, the physical means of compulsion in the hands of the State grow daily. Social life has steadily grown more complex and inter-related. Even that lowest and most essential of human needs, the need for food and shelter can only be satisfied today through the putting into operation of a machinery of production, exchange and distribution wholly outside the individual's control. Meanwhile human invention has put into the Hands of the State instruments of power and propaganda that virtually leave the individual helpless: train, telephone, wireless, aeroplane, cinema, they can all be used far more effectively by the State than by the individual and they can all, at a moment's notice be taken over by the State. Add to this, the fear of war, itself the result of growing Caesarism and the strongest of excuses used by the State to gather all authoi ity and organisation into its hands, and one has a world in which the dice are absurdly heavily loaded in favour of Caesar. When all this development takes place pan i passu with the loss of belief in the spiritual meaning of the individual's life and in an eternal law, over and above all man-made regulations, the enslavement of the citizen is absolutely inevitable.
MR. ATTLEE'S SCHOOL It may be objected that, on the contrary, we are witnessing m this country, for example, a spirited resistance to Fascism. Only lately the leader of the Opposition has visited Spain and, on his return, given new spirit and unity to British Labour which itself was greatly strengthened by the new leadership given it at its annual conference. But is that resistance essentially spiritual or is it essentially selfish? Is it a resistance to Caesar on behalf of the spiritual soul of man bound to the service of a greater than Caesar and destined to a higher life for which this life is the preparation? Or is it a resistance of one class of men with one set of human values against the threat of being ruled by another class with another set, and a resistance of individuals who dislike any authority against the idea of authority? If it is essentially the second, then it is merely the resistance of a potential Caesarism against an actual Caesarism and the individuals who are resisting against any authority will as surely be enslaved by the new as they would have been by the old Caesar.
If this is the true explanation it is not difficult tounderstand why the would-be Caesars are as blind to facts (e.g. in Spain) ce and to the existence of Divine Law as the Caesars of the Right. Let us not for a moment deceive ourselves into the notion hat if the party of the extreme Left in this country ever obtains power, it will be any less Caesaristic than Moscow, Barcelona or Rome.
PAPAL CRUSADE In Divini Redemptoris the Pope was simply exposing what is in fact the logical end of modern Caesarism reached along the Left avenue. It would be fatal to make the mistake of saying that Russian Cornmunism, isolated by Stalin, is no longer a danger. In denouncing Russia the. Pope was denouncing a type as well as an historical instance, the type which unbelieving Left extremism must take. In Mit Brennender Sorge, the Pope, in words often very similar to those used in the other Letter, exposed the logical end of modern Caesarism reached along the Right avenue. And in case any should object that this was not his meaning he has taken every opportunity available during the year to re-iterate how gravely he regards attempt to expel Christianity and Christian values from Germany. (There are important distinctions to be made between the evolution towards Left and towards Right Cacsarism which, through lack of space, cannot be analysed here, but Germany herself is teaching us the lesson that there is precious little to choose between the two extremes when complete Caesarism is reached.) Meanwhile Left Caesarism and Right Caesarism stand over against one another in armed suspense, with other countries wondering whether the conflict will break out before or after they themselves have travelled much further along the avenues of Caesarism. In the face of this tragic picture stands the Pope preaching a veritable crusade, a crusade for the restoration in men's hearts f the holy places, that faith in God and that consequent faith in man's spiritual worth which throughout the history of the West has held back the hand of Caesar and upheld men's resistance to his claim to take the place of God.
If that double faith is destined to die out, save in the hearts of the few, there can be no hope for our civilisation; if it is restored, the crisis of our times will be overcome. We dare not count on muddling between the two alternatives. At least we have the consolation, as Christians, of being in no doubt about our duty and our tremendous responsibility during the coming year.