Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Weigel on Christianity's Gifts to the West

Found in the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic newspaper, an essay which says a great deal about the most important conditions:

Professor Burleigh proposes that Christianity gave the
West cosmopolitanism and egalitarianism, for it recognized
“neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free” as relevant
social categories – and thus blazed a path beyond tribalism
and toward the end of slavery, that ubiquitous human

Modern feminism notwithstanding, Christianity also gave
the world ... feminism
, for St. Paul completed his instruction
on Christian egalitarianism by reminding the Galatians that,
in Christ Jesus, neither “male nor female” had a superior
dignity – which, in that context and in much of the world
today, means that Christianity is the great liberator of

Christianity, as Pope Benedict reminded us recently, gave
the West the idea of charity as a personal and social
; think of the world of cruelty graphically
captured in “Gladiator,” and you’ll see the point.

Christianity also gave the world a politically viable
concept of peace
, the peace that St. Augustine first defined
in the fifth century as the “tranquility of order.”

Christianity taught that rulers were responsible, not to
themselves alone (as so many rulers liked to think, then and
now), but to transcendent moral norms. Would the concepts
of the rule of law, and of rulers responsible to the law, have
evolved in the West if, as Professor Burleigh reminds us, “the
redoubtable Ambrose, archbishop of Milan ... [had not]
tamed the Emperor Theodosius?”

Or, to cite the more familiar example, if Gregory VII had
not confronted Henry II and forced him to recognize the
freedom of the Church – a freedom that implies limits on
state power
? It seems unlikely, not least because these ideas
didn’t gain currency in the rest of the world until they were
brought to the rest of the world by Christians.

Why was this insistence on the Church’s liberty so
socially, and ultimately politically, important? Because the
freedom of the Church meant that the state (or some other
form of concentrated political power) would not occupy
every available social space – that there would be room in
society for other institutions and other loyalties. And that, in
turn, made both civil society and the limited, constitutional
state possible

There are implications, of course. First off, a proper understanding of Western society is based on the "moral order" (supplemented by positive law) which the Church brought into play. A proper understanding of peace is not "absence of conflict," but "tranquility of order," which is akin to "rule of law."

Obviously, the "rule of law" is dependent on a moral order--which just happens to be identical with the Natural Law.

And as the Soviet Union found to its dismay (and dissolution,) pretending that there IS no Natural Law behind the moral order and underpinning Natural Law has its consequences. The Pope did not send one of his "divisions" into the USSR for it to come apart...although Ron Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were quite helpful, it was Lech Walensa, armed only with a compelling moral order, who pulled the pin.

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