On Catholics Applying Labels

There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Pope Benedict XV 1914

We’ve seen a second rise of Nationalism in the Western world, and even certain Catholics have voluntarily associated themselves with it. In 1914, Pope Benedict XV strongly urged Catholics against participating in this superficial fomenting against peace for the sake of worldly, secular considerations. Below are some of his words (emphasis added), as relevant today as they were more than a hundred years ago.

We have an obligation to be patriots, to love our country and work towards her sovereign good, but nationalism, a cancerous rot that places undue importance on materialistic considerations, at the expense of Christian charity and the universal call for the conversion of all peoples to Christ the King, should be repudiated. Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted: renew our days, as from the beginning. – Lamentations 5:21

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But it is not the present sanguinary strife alone that distresses the nations and fills Us with anxiety and care. There is another evil raging in the very inmost heart of human society, a source of dread to all who really think, inasmuch as it has already brought, and will bring, many misfortunes upon nations, and may rightly be considered to be the root cause of the present awful war. For ever since the precepts and practices of Christian wisdom ceased to be observed in the ruling of states, it followed that, as they contained the peace and stability of institutions, the very foundations of states necessarily began to be shaken. Such, moreover, has been the change in the ideas and the morals of men, that unless God comes soon to our help, the end of civilization would seem to be at hand. Thus we see the absence from the relation of men of mutual love with their fellow men; the authority of rulers is held in contempt; injustice reigns in relations between the classes of society; the striving for transient and perishable things is so keen, that men have lost sight of the other and more worthy goods they have to obtain. It is under these four headings that may be grouped, We consider, the causes of the serious unrest pervading the whole of human society. All then must combine to get rid of them by again bringing Christian principles into honour, if We have any real desire for the peace and harmony of human society.

6. Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring amongst men the Kingdom of Peace, which the envy of the devil had destroyed, and it was His will that it should rest on no other foundation than that of brotherly love. These are His own oft-repeated words: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another (John xiv. 34); “This is my commandment that you love one another” (John xv. 12); “These things I command you, that you love one another” (John xv. 17); as though His one office and purpose was to bring men to mutual love. He used every kind of argument to bring about that effect. He bids us all look up to Heaven: “For one is your Father who is in Heaven” (Matt. xxiii 9); He teaches all men, without distinction of nationality or of language, or of ideas, to pray in the words: “Our Father, who are in Heaven” (Matt. vi. 9); nay, more, He tells us that our Heavenly Father in distributing the blessings of nature makes no distinction of our deserts: “Who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust” (Matt. v. 45). He bids us be brothers one to another, and calls us His brethren: “All you are brethren” (Matt. xxiii. 8); “that He might be the first-born amongst many brethren” (Rom. vii. 29). In order the more to stimulate us to brotherly love, even towards those whom our natural pride despises, it is His will that we should recognize the dignity of His own very self in the meanest of men: “As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. xxv. 40. At the close of His life did He not most earnestly beg of His Father, that as many as should believe in Him should all be one in the bond of charity? “As thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee” (John xvii. 21). And finally, as He was hanging from the cross, He poured out His blood over us all, whence being as it were compacted and fitly joined together in one body, we should love one another, with a love like that which one member bears to another in the same body.

7. Far different from this is the behaviour of men today. Never perhaps was there more talking about the brotherhood of men than there is today; in fact, men do not hesitate to proclaim that striving after brotherhood is one of the greatest gifts of modern civilization, ignoring the teaching of the Gospel, and setting aside the work of Christ and of His Church. But in reality never was there less brotherly activity amongst men than at the present moment. Race hatred has reached its climax; peoples are more divided by jealousies than by frontiers; within one and the same nation, within the same city there rages the burning envy of class against class; and amongst individuals it is self-love which is the supreme law overruling everything.

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It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as “profane novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum – Pope Benedict XV – 1914

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