Bishop Michael Browne on the Worship of the State
Posted by shane
Bishop Michael Browne (right) with Cardinal Paolo Marella
The following is the Lenten pastoral letter of the Most Rev. Michael Browne, Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh, from 1939. The first part was read out in all churches of the diocese on Sunday, 19th February and the second part on Sunday, 26th February.
All Christians are familiar with the story of the conversion of St. Paul. He had been a bitter enemy of the disciples of Christ: he had even approved of putting them to death and assisted at the stoning of Stephen the first martyr. Now, breathing out threats and slaughter, he was on his way to Damascus with authority from the High Priest to arrest any Christians he might find there. As he was nearing the city, suddenly a bright light shone around him and falling to the ground he heard a voice saying: “Saul! Saul! Why persecutest thou Me?” He answered: “Who art thou, Lord?” and the reply came: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
These words of Christ carry a deep and important meaning. He did not say to Saul: “Why persecutest thou My disciples — or My Church?” He said: “Why persecutest thou Me?” He identified himself completely and entirely with His Church on this the first occasion when she had to suffer violence. He knew that the hatred and injury done to her would be done because she represents Him; because she preaches His doctrine and does His work.
It often seems strange — even to Catholics — that the Church, whose doctrine is so holy and whose work is so entirely devoted to the moral and religious welfare of men, should be constantly the object of hatred and victimization. What is really strange and tragic in human history is how men could have put the Christ Himself to death. When they ignored His doctrine and His miracles and crucified Him, we need not be astonished or pretend to be horrified that men misrepresent and ignore the doctrine and work of the Catholic Church. We should be prepared for it, for did He Himself not promise it? “If they persecuted Me they will persecute you.” “The disciple is not greater than the Master.” The fact that the Catholic Church suffers violence is a sign that she is the true Church, the body of Christ.
In this world men must be prepared to suffer in defence of truth and justice. John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ, was a holy man who offered injury to no one. Yet he was put to death, because he told a truth which was unpalatable to a wicked woman and a tyrant.
The Catholic Church, which is the body and the voice of Christ in the world of to-day, is attacked and efforts are made to stifle her because she speaks out the truth even though it is distasteful to the wicked and to tyrants, to those who will have no bounds placed to their pride and their lust for power and pleasure. If the Church will be silent they will tolerate her, but if she preaches the moral law of Christ then they load her with abuse, threats and injury.
What are the doctrines of the Catholic Church which her enemies find so unpalatable to-day? Consider the countries of the world and you will see that the Church is nowadays attacked for preaching the doctrines that all men have from God certain natural rights, that the State cannot abolish these rights, and that the State is not exempt from the law of justice and morality. The Church preaches to-day as she has always preached these two simple fundamental truths: all men have rights: all men are brothers.
But oh! how distasteful and unpalatable these truths have become to many in the modern world! How terribly justice and charity have been outraged and mocked? Over vast portions of the world to-day the most sacred rights of men to their lives, their property, their families and their religion, are trampled under foot. Wherever Communism reigns, rights and liberty are dead. In Germany, which claims to be the torchbearer of culture and civilization, thousands are denied all civil rights and despoiled of their property simply because of their race. But all the inhabitants of that country are denied the sacred right of the family to the education of children and to the privacy of home life. Children are being brought up to hate religion and to spy on their own parents. The State claims everything: it recognises no law except its own interest. It regards itself as the source of all law, all morality and all rights. Anything that benefits the State — even violence, lying and murder — is held to be lawful. National pride is inflamed; other races and peoples are despised. The duties of justice and charity to men of other nations and races are scoffed at.
This worship of the State is the fatal error the consequences of which we see being worked out in Europe to-day. It is only now that its full and terrible consequences are being revealed. The worship of the State is not a new error; it is as old as paganism. It is paganism — the very paganism which martyred the first Christians. They were put to death because they would not offer incense and give honours to the Emperors of Rome. The doctrine of State-absolutism has always been opposed by Christianity. It was successfully opposed throughout the Middle Ages. But it crept back into Europe when paganism crept in with the Renaissance. It received new life when Martin Luther made the King the head of the Church. It is accepted to-day in all countries and by all parties which reject the Christian faith.
It is the official doctrine of Communist Russia and of all Totalitarian States, such as Japan, Germany and Italy. But, unfortunately, it is not confined to dictators. Many of those who loudly denounce dictators are themselves infected by it. Not merely Communists but also Socialists — even those who call themselves constitutional or moderate Socialists — believe firmly in the theory that the State is supreme in every sphere, that it is the source of all rights and that citizens have no natural rights, nothing but what the State gives them. Examine the theories of Socialists even in our own country and you will find that they are infected with this pestiferous error that all the rights of citizens come from the State. Even many of those who call themselves democrats accept this error. It was, and still is, the doctrine of all Freemason and non-Christian parties that the majority can make whatever laws it likes: that the State is supreme and can interfere even in the most sacred things such as religious rights, marriage and education. The only sphere that these Freemason democrats regard as sacred from State interference is big business and banking! So when they had power they were as indifferent to natural rights as dictators are to-day. The attack upon religious education in Germany to-day is exactly paralleled by the attack upon religious education by Freemason democrats in France thirty years ago. Sterilization laws were enacted in some of the United States of America many years ago. If the people do not believe in natural rights but do believe in the supremacy of the State then even in a democracy there can be a dictatorship — the dictatorship of a party.
In every country, in every age and under every form of Government, the Catholic Church has opposed this doctrine of the Absolute all-powerful State. She has condemned it as an error contrary to reason and a heresy contrary to the faith of Christ. She has preached that men have natural inalienable rights and that the function of the State is to protect these rights — to serve men, not to oppress and enslave. She has preached that before God all men are equal: He is no respecter of races or persons: for Him there is neither Jew nor Gentile. He sent His Son to redeem all and He founded His Church to sanctify and save all.
The Catholic Church insists on the natural rights of the individual and of the family. These natural rights are the right of life, the right not to be punished or maimed in members except for crime fully proved, the right not to be despoiled of property or means of livelihood or prevented from acquiring them, the right to marriage and to bring up one’s children according to one’s conscience, the right to worship God and to obey one’s conscience.
The Church teaches that these rights are natural, that is, they belong to us by our very nature as men, as human beings; they are not privileges given to us by the State or by our nationality or our blood. They belong to all men rich and poor, white or black, because they are men. The Churches teaches this doctrine of natural rights as part of her moral and religious teaching — the teaching given her by Christ. It is an essential part of her religious teaching about the nature of man, his origin and his destiny. What is man? Is he only an animal without a soul, without free will, without immorality? That is the fundamental question of to-day.
The Church teaches that man is a rational being with an immortal soul, that he has free will and by the exercise of that free will can earn eternal happiness. She holds that each human being is a person with a dignity and a value greater than the whole material universe, because he has a spiritual soul made to the image of God. She believes in freedom, the freedom of the will, and in responsibility which is the consequence of freedom. Because God made man different from the animals and with a soul which can earn by its efforts in this life eternal happiness in the next it follows that God gave to each soul the right to life and to the means necessary for the ordinary man to serve God and save his soul. Natural rights are the direct consequence of belief in God and in the dignity of man. The Church puts the dignity and value of man at its most sublime height when she teaches that God Himself became man in order to redeem and save men.
But to-day Atheists and unbelievers have a very different doctrine about man. It denies that he has a soul or a free will or an eternal destiny. It makes him only an animal, a higher type of monkey, governed by instinct and to be annihilated by death. He is only a thing of matter and, therefore, has no value. He was thrown up by blind evolutionary chance. This is the doctrine that is preached by Atheists, Communists and non-Christians. Is it any wonder that they do not believe in natural rights and liberty or that they make man the slave of the State? What else is he fit for, in their view of him? Any Government controlled by such men will disregard natural rights and become a tyranny. Even a democracy — if it gets into the hands of Freemasons and non-Christians — will become the corrupt dictatorship of a party.
When the Church stands for the natural rights of man against the tyranny of the State she is charged with preaching politics. No, a thousand times, no; she is preaching religion, the religion of Christ. Is it politics to say that man was created by God and not by blind evolution of matter? Is it politics to say that man is a rational being with a soul and immortal destiny? Is it politics to say that God values each human person so highly that He sent His only Son to redeem and save him? Is it politics to say that we must obey God, rather than man? The fundamental conflict in the world to-day is not one of politics about forms of Government; it is one of religion about the nature of man.
The only men who are sincere and determined about justice and freedom are the men who believe in God. The Catholic Church is to-day the greatest champion of justice and human rights because she teaches belief in God and in the human soul. She is teaching religion, the religious truth of Christ and that is why she has the strength and courage to teach and to endure all things.
My dear brethren, the lesson for us is this. As long as the Catholic faith remains strong in the hearts of our Irish people liberty and justice will never perish in this Irish land. But if the faith weakens then justice and liberty are endangered. Those who attack the faith are preparing the way for violence and tyranny.
Our people have recently given a noble example of their sense of justice and impartiality. Although in Britain the law bars Catholics from the headship of the State: although in the United States the greatest statesman of the country was only a few years ago excluded from Presidency because he was a Catholic, although in the Six Counties Catholics are excluded from high office; notwithstanding all these examples of intolerance all around them, the Catholic people of this country unanimously and without division of party chose a member of the religious minority for the highest office in the State. Thereby they proved their sense of justice and fairness.
Those who wish to preserve the noble traditions of the Irish people should be particularly careful and sensitive about the education of children. The method of modern dictatorship is to concentrate on the children, to monopolize education and to indoctrinate the young with false ideas and theories. Unfortunately there are in our midst some admirers of Nazi methods who would abolish the managerial system and introduce a youth movement according to Nazi ideas. The time to resist such efforts is at the beginning.
As I write these lines the sad news comes of the death of His Holiness Pope Pius XI. May God grant him eternal rest and raise up to the chair of Peter a worthy successor. He was a fearless champion of the independence of the Holy See, of religion and of the natural rights of man.
To-day, my dear brethren, when the world is confused and ruined by false prophets and teachers, you cannot pay better tribute to the memory of a great Pope than to renew your faith and deepen your knowledge of the truths which he preached — the dignity and value of human personality, the rights of the individual and the family, the duty of all men to work for social justice, for charity and for peace. There can be no justice and no peace except through the recognition by all peoples of the natural and God-given rights of human personality.
May the God of Peace bless and preserve you.
Posted on February 12, 2011, in Bishop Michael Browne, Bishops' Pastorals, Catholic Education, Catholic Social Teaching, Communism, Irish Church-State Relations, Irish History, Persecution, WW2. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.