Medieval Crusaders shed their blood to free the Sepulchre of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the hands of the infidels and to establish a Christian kingdom in the Holy Land.
Today the blood of Catholics still flows — in Communist China, the Sudan, Cuba, and many other countries where religious persecutions continue to claim the lives of thousands without most of us even being aware of it. In fact, authorities on religious persecutions have proven that the twentieth century claimed more martyrs than all previous nineteen centuries combined.
But for what purpose? The vast majority of these have died under the continuing onslaught of Communism and Islam, both inveterate enemies of our Faith and of Christian civilisation. It is to be hoped that this torrent of blood, like that of the early Christian martyrs, will be a seed of even greater numbers of new Catholics and of a restoration of Christendom in all the world.
Those of us who have not been called upon to shed our blood like these martyrs can, and must, pray and act to free the world not only from the errors of Communism and Islam, but also those of the cultural revolution sweeping the West, possibly toward persecution as well. Our constant aim should be to restore the Kingdom of Christ, that His Will may be done “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The principles for the restoration of Christendom are what Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira outlines in the article we present here. First published in January of 1951, his essay still stands as a suitable blueprint for our activities. – Ed.
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The Catholic Church was founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ to perpetuate the benefits of the Redemption among men. Thus, its ultimate end is identical with that of the Redemption itself: to atone for the sins of mankind through the infinitely precious merits of the God-man, to restore to God the external glory that sin had stolen from Him and to open the gates of Heaven to mankind. This purpose is achieved on the supernatural level, aiming at eternal life. It transcends whatever is merely natural, earthly and perishable. That is what Our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed when he said to Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from hence.” (John 18:36)
Earthly life differs thus and thoroughly from eternal life, but these two lives do not constitute two planes absolutely isolated one from the other. In the designs of Providence there is a close connection between earthly life and eternal life. Earthly life is the way; eternal life is the goal. Though the Kingdom of Christ does not belong to this world, the way to it lies in this world.
Just as the military school is the way to the military profession, or the novitiate is the way to enter a religious order, so is this earth the way to Heaven.
We have an immortal soul created in God’s image and likeness. This soul is created with a treasure of natural aptitudes for good, and enriched by Baptism with the invaluable gift of the supernatural life of grace. During our lives we have to develop to their fullness these aptitudes for good. Therewith our likeness to God, still partially incomplete and potential, becomes full and actual.
Likeness is the source of love. By becoming fully similar to God, we become capable of loving Him fully and of calling down upon ourselves the fullness of His love. Consequently, we are prepared to contemplate God face to face in Heaven for that eternal, totally blissful act of love to which we are called.
Therefore, earthly life is a novitiate wherein we prepare our souls for their real destiny, that is, to see God face to face and to love Him for all eternity.
If we present the same truth in other words, we can say that God is infinitely pure, just, powerful and good. In order to love Him, we must love purity, justice, fortitude and goodness. If we do not love virtue, how can we love God, Who is Goodness? On the other hand, if God is Goodness, how can He love evil? Likeness being the source of love, how can He love something that is entirely unlike Him, one who is voluntarily unjust, cowardly, impure or bad?
God must be adored and served above all in spirit and truth. (John 4:25) Thus, it behooves us to be pure, just, strong and good to the depths of our souls. If our souls are good, all of our actions must be necessarily so, because a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. (Matt. 7:17-18) Therefore, it is necessary for us, in order to conquer Heaven, not only to love good and hate evil inwardly, but to do good deeds and avoid bad ones.
Yet, earthly life is more than the way to eternal bliss. What are we going to do in Heaven? We shall contemplate God face to face, in the light of glory that completes grace and we shall love Him fully and forever. Man, however, is already possessed of supernatural life here on earth through Baptism. Faith is a seed of the beatific vision. The love of God that man exercises by progressing in virtue and avoiding evil is already that supernatural love with which he will adore God in Heaven.
The Kingdom of God will attain its fulfilment in the next world. For all of us, however, it already begins to exist germinally in this world — just as in a novitiate the religious life is already put into practice, albeit as a preparation, and in a military school a young man trains for the army by living a military life.
The Holy Catholic Church in this world is not only an image of Heaven, but a real anticipation of Heaven. Everything, therefore, that the Holy Gospels tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven applies most properly and exactly to the Catholic Church, to the Faith She teaches and to each one of the virtues She inculcates.
This is the meaning of the Feast of Christ the King. He is above all the Heavenly King, but nevertheless, a King whose rule is already exercised in this world, and a King Who, by right, possesses full and supreme authority.
A king legislates, rules and judges. His royalty becomes effective when his subjects recognise his rights and obey his laws. Now, Jesus Christ has all rights over us. He promulgates laws, rules the world and will judge mankind. Thus, it is our obligation to make His Reign effective by obeying His laws.
This reign exists on an individual level, insofar as every faithful soul obeys Our Lord Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ’s Reign is exerted on our souls, therefore, each soul is under Christ’s jurisdiction. The Reign of Christ will become a social fact if human societies obey Him.
Thus, it can be said that the Reign of Christ becomes effective on earth, in its individual and social meaning, when men both in the depths of their souls and their actions, and when societies in their institutions, laws, customs, cultural and artistic manifestations, comply with Christ’s Law.
Nevertheless, however actual, brilliant and tangible it be, the Christ’s earthly Reign is nothing but a preparation and prologue. In its fullness the Kingdom of God will be achieved only in Heaven: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Order, Harmony, Peace, Perfection
Order, peace and harmony are essential characteristics of every well-formed soul and well-constituted human society. In a sense, these values merge with the very notion of perfection.
Every being has its own end and a nature appropriate to obtaining this end. Thus, a part of a watch is intended for a special purpose and is suited by its shape and composition to serve that purpose.
Order is the arrangement of things according to their nature. A watch is in order when all of its parts are arranged according to the nature and end peculiar to them. Thus, there is order in the sidereal universe because all celestial bodies are arranged according to their natures and ends.
There is harmony between two beings when their relations agree with the nature and the end of each of them. Harmony is the working of things in relation one to another according to order.
Order generates tranquillity. The tranquillity of order is peace. Not any tranquillity deserves to be called peace, but only one resulting from order. Peace of conscience is the tranquillity of the righteous conscience; it must not be mistaken for the lethargy of the benumbed conscience. Organic well-being produces a feeling of peace that cannot be mistaken for the torpor of a coma.
When something is entirely disposed according to its nature, it is in the state of perfection. Someone with a great ability and desire to study, when placed in a university where all the resources exist for his studies, will be in a perfect position in regard to studies.
When the activities of a being are entirely true to its nature and are wholly directed towards its purpose, these activities are in some way perfect. Thus, the trajectory of the stars is perfect because it agrees fully with each one’s nature and end.
When the conditions in which a being finds itself are perfect, its operations are also perfect and it will necessarily tend towards its end with maximum firmness, vigour and skill. Thus, if a man is in the condition to walk, that is to say, can, may and wants to walk, he will walk impeccably.
The real knowledge of what perfection is for man and societies depends on an exact notion of man’s nature and end. The righteousness, fruitfulness and splendour of human actions, either individual or social, also depend on the knowledge of our nature and of our end.
In short, the possession of religious truth is the essential condition for order, harmony, peace and perfection.
The Gospel shows us the ideal of perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us this advice, and He Himself taught us to carry it out. As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ is the absolute similitude of the heavenly Father’s perfection, the supreme model we all have to imitate.
The rules of this perfection are found in the Law of God, which Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come “to destroy but to fulfil”. (Matt. 5:17) They are the evangelic precepts and counsels. In order that man should not fall into error in interpreting commandments and counsels, Our Lord Jesus Christ established an infallible Church that may count on divine assistance never to err in matters of Faith and morals. Faithfulness in thought and deeds to the teaching of the Church is, therefore, the way every man can know and put into practice the ideal of perfection that is Jesus Christ.
This is what the Saints did. Heroically practicing the virtues the Church teaches, they perfectly imitated of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Heavenly Father, so that even the Church’s enemies proclaim it their moral qualities. For instance, regarding Saint Louis, King of France, Voltaire wrote, “It is not possible for man to take virtue further.” The same could be said of all the saints.
God is the author of our nature and therefore of all aptitudes and excellences found in it. In us, that which does not come from God are defects and the result of original and actual sin.
The Decalogue could not be contrary to the nature God created in us. Since He is God and perfect, there can be no contradiction in His works. Therefore, the Decalogue prescribes actions that our reason shows to be in agreement with nature, such as honouring our father and mother. It also forbids actions that we understand to be contrary to the natural order, such as lying. Therein consists, on the natural level, the intrinsic perfection of the Law and personal perfection we acquire by complying with it, since all operations consonant with one’s nature are good.
As a result of original sin, man has a propensity for acts contrary to his nature, rightly understood. He is subject to error in his intelligence and wrongdoing in his will. This propensity is so strong that without grace it be impossible for man to know or practice the precepts of natural law consistently and completely. God repaired our insufficiency by revealing these precepts on Mount Sinai and, under the New Covenant, establishing a Church to protect men against sophisms and transgressions and instituting Sacraments to strengthen them by grace.
Grace is a supernatural aid intended to fortify the intelligence and man’s will, so that he can practice perfection. God does not refuse His grace to anyone, so perfection is accessible to all.
Can an infidel know the Law of God and comply with it? Does he receive God’s grace? A distinction must be made. In principle, all men in contact with the Church receive sufficient grace to know that She is the true church, to enter Her and to obey the Commandments. So if someone remains voluntarily outside the Church, or refuses the grace of conversion, he closes the gates of salvation to himself. The grace of conversion is the starting point of all other graces. On the other hand, if someone has no means of knowing the Holy Church — a heathen, for instance, whose country has never received missionaries — he will at least have sufficient grace to know and practice the most essential principles of the Law of God, since God does not refuse salvation to anyone.
However, if fidelity to the Law sometimes demands heroic sacrifices from Catholics, who live in the bosom of the Church and bathe in a superabundance of grace and means of sanctification, the difficulty is much greater for those who live far from the Church and without this superabundance. This is why pagans practicing the Law are a rarity.
The Christian Ideal of Social Perfection
If we suppose that most of the individuals in a certain population practice God’s Law, what result can we expect from that society? This is the same as asking if in a watch each part works according to its nature and its purpose, what result may we expect from the watch? Or if each part of a whole is perfect, what must be said of the whole?
Since it is always risky to use mechanical examples for human situations, let us stick to the image of a society where all members are good Catholics, as described by Saint Augustine:
Let us imagine “an army composed of soldiers as Jesus Christ’s doctrine forms them, of governors, husbands, spouses, parents, children, teachers, servants, kings, judges, taxpayers, tax collectors as the Christian teaching require them to be! And let them (the heathen) still dare to say that this teaching is contrary to the interests of the State! On the contrary, they have to admit unhesitatingly that it is a safeguard for the State when faithfully followed.” (Epist. CXXXVIII, al. 5, ad Marcellum, Cap. II, n. 15)
Elsewhere the holy Doctor addressed himself to the Catholic Church:
“Thou leadest and teachest children with tenderness, young people with vigour, old people with calm as not only their body but also their soul requires. Thou submittest the wives to their husbands, for a faithful and chaste obedience, not to gratify passion but for the propagation of the species and the constitution of the family. Thou givest authority to the husbands over their wives, not in order to abuse the fragility of their sex, but to follow the laws of a sincere love. Thou subordinatest the children to their parents for a kind authority. Thou unitest, not only in a society but in a kind of brotherhood, citizens to citizens, nations to nations, and men one to another through the memory of their first parents. Thou teachest kings to care for their people and thou ordainest the people to obey the kings. Thou teachest solicitously to whom honour is due, to whom affection, to whom respect, to whom fear, to whom comfort, to whom rebuke, to whom encouragement, to whom a scolding, to whom a reprimand, to whom a punishment; and thou tellest in what way, if everything is not due to everyone, charity is due to everybody, injustice to nobody.” (De Moribus Ecclesiae, Cap. XXX, n. 63)
It would be impossible to better describe the ideal of a totally Christian society. Could order, peace, harmony and perfection be brought to a higher level in a community? We answer with a short remark:
If nowadays all men were practicing the Law of God, would not all the political, social and economic problems that beset us be quickly solved? However, what solution can we hope for them while men live in non-observance of the Law of God?
Did human society ever achieve this ideal of perfection? Undoubtedly. The immortal Pope Leo XIII tells us so:
Once the Redemption was accomplished and the Church founded, “man, as if he were awakening from an old, long, and mortal lethargy, saw the light of the truth he had looked and longed for during so many centuries; above all he recognized that he was born for much higher and much more magnificent possessions than the fragile and perishable things attained by the senses and to which he had until then limited his thoughts and his concerns. He understood that the whole constitution of human life, the supreme law, and the end to which everything must submit is that, coming from God, we must return to Him one day.
“From this beginning and on this foundation consciousness of human dignity was restored and lived again; the sense of a common brotherhood took possession of men’s hearts. In consequence, their rights and duties were perfected or established anew, and virtues beyond the conception of ancient philosophy were revived. So men’s purposes, tenor of life and characters were changed, and the knowledge of the Redeemer having spread far and wide, and His power having penetrated into the very life-blood of the nations, expelling their ignorance and ancient vices, a marvellous transformation took place, which, originating in Christian civilisation, utterly changed the face of the earth.” (Leo XIII, Encyclical Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus).
Christian Civilisation, Christian Culture
This splendid reality, an order and a perfection more supernatural and heavenly than natural and earthly, has been called Christian civilisation, the product of Christian culture and a daughter of the Catholic Church.
One is cultured when his soul is not enslaved by the unruly and spontaneous play of its faculties — intelligence, will and sensibilities, but rather has enriched them through an orderly and reasoned effort. It is similar to a field, which does not cause seeds, chaotically strewn by the wind, to bear fruit. Only a farmer’s toil produces something useful and good.
In this sense, Catholic culture is the cultivation of the intelligence, will, and sensibility according to the norms of morality taught by the Church. It is identified with the very perfection of the soul. If it exists in most members of a human society (though in degrees and ways proper to the social condition and age of each one), it will be a social and collective fact. Moreover, it will constitute the most important element of social perfection.
Civilisation is the condition of a human society that possesses culture and has created, according to the basic principles of that culture, its own customs, laws, institutions and literary and artistic systems.
A civilisation will be Catholic if it is the faithful product of a Catholic culture and therefore, the spirit of the Church is the normal and vital principle of its customs, laws, institutions and literary and artistic systems.
Since Jesus Christ is the true ideal of human perfection and since a society that puts into practice all His laws has to be a perfect society, the culture and civilisation born from the Church of Christ must be not only the best civilisation but the only true one. Thus, Saint Pius X said:
“There is no true civilisation without moral civilisation, and there is no true moral civilisation save with true Religion.” (Letter to the French Bishops on “Le Sillon”)
Thus, it can be inferred with crystalline conspicuousness that no true civilisation exists that is not the result and fruit of the True Religion.
The Church and Christian Civilisation
It would be false to think that the Church’s action upon men is merely individual and that She forms only persons, not peoples, cultures and civilisations.
In fact, God created man sociable, and He desires them to work for the sanctification of one another in society. That is why He created them receptive to influence. This can be said about the relations between individuals, and between individuals and society. Our surroundings, laws and institutions exert an influence on us; they teach us.
To defy these surroundings, whose ideological action penetrates us, even by osmosis, takes high and strenuous virtue. Thus, the first Christians were no more admirable facing the wild animals of the Colosseum than when maintaining their Catholic spirit in a heathen society.
Thus, culture and civilisation exert a tremendous influence on souls — for their ruin when the culture and civilisation are heathen; for their edification and salvation when Christian.
How then, can the Church fail to attempt to influence culture and civilisation? How can She remain satisfied with acting merely upon individual souls?
In fact, every soul influenced by the Church is a seed of that civilisation, which She actively and vigorously spreads. Virtue shines through, penetrates and thus spreads. By spreading, it tends to transform itself into a Catholic culture and civilisation.
As we have seen, the distinctive feature of the Church is to produce a Christian culture and civilisation, and to produce all Her fruits in a fully Catholic social atmosphere. A Catholic must long for a Christian civilisation just as a man imprisoned in a dungeon wants open air and a caged bird yearns after the infinite expanses of the sky.
This is our purpose, our great ideal. We move towards the Christian civilisation that may arise from the ruins of today’s world, as the civilisation of the Middle Ages was born from the ruins of the Roman world. We move towards the conquest of this ideal with the courage, the perseverance, the will to face and overcome all obstacles with which the crusaders marched towards Jerusalem. If our forebears were capable of dying to reconquer the Sepulchre of Christ, how could we not want — we sons of the Church as they — to struggle and die to restore something that is of infinitely more worth than the most precious Sepulchre of the Saviour, that is, His Reign over the souls and societies that He created and saved to love Him eternally?
Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!
– By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
This essay first appeared in Catolicismo in January 1951.