III. Climbing Mount Tabor
(The Remnant, January 15, 1991)
“God…has established one sole order composed of two parts: nature, exalted by grace, and grace vivifying nature. He has not confused these two orders, but he has coordinated them. One force alone is the model, and one thing alone the motivating principle and ultimate end of divine Creation: Christ….All the rest is subordinated to Him. The goal of human existence is to form the Mystical Body of Christ, of this Head of the elect, of this eternal Priest, of this King of the immortal Kingdom, and of the society of those who will eternally glorify God.” (La Civiltà Cattolica, VI, i, 1865, 287-288)Louis Veuillot had argued that the blindfold fixed by the Revolution upon the eyes of western man would probably only be removed by “the mutilated hands of martyrs”. Be that as it may, martyrs do not generally emerge, by magic, out of the shrubbery. True, God may directly intervene in someone’s life to suggest the possibility of self-sacrifice, but such an occurrence should not be expected along with the coffee on the breakfast table. Normally, the spirit of martyrdom, like that inspiring confessors, priestly vocations, artists, and good parents, has to be nurtured, carefully. And for this reason, our counterrevolutionary prophets understood the better formation of the believer to be a crucial prelude to effective action.
Removing the blindfold could not hope to be successful unless this formation involved awakening Catholics to a true sense of the heights of glory to which they were called by their holy religion. A dedicated counterrevolutionary, preparing for potential martyrdom, could not be conjured from an adulterated Christianity, like Protestantism, with its doctrine of an eternally depraved mankind and universe, incapable of ever pleasing God. Serious work would be done only by those believers whose minds and hearts had made the ascent of Mount Tabor, to the Transfiguration, to a full appreciation of the intoxicating consequences of the Incarnation for Creation as a whole.
What were these consequences? Three must be examined here, at this moment, in order to lay the foundations for a further development of this series of articles. I beg my readers’ patience if the points of which I must make mention seem to them to be obvious givens for a Catholic. It is precisely my argument that they are not universally accepted, even by well-meaning traditionalists, and that they may appear to be obvious to many of us only because of their popularization by men like Taparelli and Veuillot.
The first truly incredibly long-term effect of the Incarnation was the opening of the individual’s path to what the Church Fathers called divinization, the chance to be transformed into a son of God. Over and over again, our prophets insisted that this destiny was no mere metaphorical one. Just as Christ’s human nature was divinized in the person of the Word, becoming a sacred humanity, those who die as members of Christ will be divinized as well. All of us are potential gods in and through Christ, and must act and treat one another accordingly. Devotion to the cult of the Sacred Heart was promoted by counterrevolutionary circles in the nineteenth century because it illustrated so well the glorification accorded something human—a bodily organ—by the miracle of the Incarnation.
The question of membership in Christ brings up a second result of the coming of the Savior: the foundation of the Mystical Body, the Roman Catholic Church. Those who were alive at Christ’s time were opened to divinization only by submission to Him and to His authority. But this is as true today for us as it was then to them. For the Church is no mere mediator between man and God. The Church is that part of Christ which is continued in time, the visible side of the Whole Christ, as St. Augustine referred to this mysterious Redeemer, both human and divine.
If Catholics were to reduce the Church to a purely functional role, then, La Civiltà Cattolica insisted, they would miss the full glory of the individual’s relationship with her. Christ’s humanity was sacralized in the Incarnation. Individual personalities abandoning themselves to a seemingly human Church radically exalt their own freedom and dignity because they are, in reality, submitting to Christ Himself. Subordination to the Whole Christ opens them to the infinite source of perfection, a source which inevitably draws from them everything which distinguishes them as persons. And communion with Christ-Continued gives the believer access to the “secret” of other members of the Mystical Body as well, creating serious fraternity with them. The result? Heaven, as Dante writes in the Paradiso, becomes a place of innumerable, varied, but harmonious lights, whose differences and brotherhood are assured by their self-sacrifice to the Light of the Trinity. “From unity in Christ, diversity” might well be the better explanation of the meaning of the word Catholic; “from the One, the many”. A motto, I hasten to add, which is the exact opposite of e pluribus, unum.
But there is another consequence of the Incarnation with the broadest of political and social implications imaginable: the fact that it teaches us the way in which we are meant to use the things of nature as a whole. For the “bomb” of the Annunciation penetrated and shook the deepest recesses of the most humble aspects of Creation in a manner that both revealed their own innate strengths as well as transformed them. The Incarnation taught nature truths about itself that it ought to have known already, and simultaneously took it on a journey into new territory, across borders whose barricades it had forever lowered. Taparelli called its teaching on the way to use Creation Hypostatic Law, thus drawing attention to nature’s recognition of its dependence upon that Union of Divine and Human which confirmed existing truths and yet radically transfigured and raised them.
What does Hypostatic Law entail? Many articles will be required to explain it adequately. Still, its main precepts may inadequately be summarized in the following way. The union of divine and human natures in the person of the Word Incarnate, the relationship of Christ and the Mystical Body, and the communion of the Church with its individual members, while all supernatural in character, reveal deep natural facts as well. They clearly indicate that God wishes the protection and perfection of everything natural; that such a result can only be obtained by subordinating created things to visible communities with palpable incarnate authorities; that all of these natural, authoritative communities have simultaneously otherworldly and earthly purposes; and that the greater the variety of different natural communities, each seeking its own just goals in the light of the teaching of the Church, the more incarnations of specific truths that the individual will see manifested in the world around him, and the more powerfully he will be propelled towards accepting and understanding his full mission in life. Hence, a civilization guided by Hypostatic Law would recognize the complementarity of the individual and society, freedom and authority, body and soul, nature and the supernatural, the scepter of Christ the King and the talent of the scholar’s mind, the painter’s brush, the writer’s pen, and the musician’s instrument. God has pulled all these goods together, in the proper hierarchy of value, in the work of the Incarnation, and no man has the right to put them asunder ever again. If divorce were to occur, the price would be the loss of the well-being of the body and the soul here below, and their eternal perdition in the world to come.
Counterrevolutionary circles of the 1840’s, ‘50’s, and ‘60’s held up to Catholics a vision of their Church, their society, and their personal possibility for transformation in Christ which was destined to inspire that extraordinary outpouring of pontifical teaching characterizing the period between the reigns of Pius IX and Pius XII (1846-1958). Pius IX was a friend of Veuillot. Leo XIII was a devoted reader of Taparelli. Pius X used one of La Civiltà Cattolica’s favorite, oft-repeated themes, the need to restore all things in Christ, as the motto for his entire pontificate. Benedict XV and Pius XI quoted Taparelli and Veuillot in encyclicals. Pius XII’s statements on the Mystical Body of Christ in 1943 could just as well have been excerpts from l’Univers or its Roman counterpart. All these Vicars of Christ encouraged the lay apostolate which both Taparelli and Veuillot insisted was essential to opening the eyes of the political and social order to the true source of civilization. Counterrevolutionaries were fully conscious of being part of an exciting and orthodox development of doctrine, whose incarnational spirit enabled them to lift up their hearts from narrow, legalistic definitions of the Catholic position to splendid, patristic, hypostatic formulations of the sort that fire architects to build Chartres and Polycarps to die in the arena. And yet they would have accomplished infinitely more than they did, had they not been checked by two forces all too powerful within the Catholic camp of their day: those of Liberalism and Timidity.
I will have a great deal more to say on the nefarious influences of nineteenth century Liberal Catholicism (an influence which, given the boring nature of error, is exactly the same in substance today as it was a hundred years ago) in future articles. Let it suffice to mention now that a lack of intelligence, a failure of imagination, and a simple ill will led Liberal Catholics of the 1850’s and 1860’s persistently to distort and thwart promotion of the exalted visions urged upon Christians by the counterrevolutionaries. Liberal Catholics outrightly refused to read Taparelli’s works, even when he personally begged them to point out where they thought he had erred. They labeled the patristic doctrine of divinization as being pantheistic, and the related concept of the Whole Christ as idolatry. Any notion of nature as dominated by Christ the King was excoriated as theocratic. Liberal Catholics, like liberal non-Catholics, invoked the power of the State to silence Veuillot, Taparelli, and those who agreed with them. They crushed proposals at Vatican I which would have placed the doctrine of papal infallibility within the broader discussion of the Church as Christ continued, and thus rendered it less understandable and meaningful. They did everything in their power to discredit the call to the lay apostolate which was central to the counterrevolutionary approach, since Liberalism requires the submission of the masses to the wisdom of a small group of gnostic witch doctors.
And the second obstacle, Timidity? Alas, the nineteenth century, like our own, was filled with Catholics who were unfamiliar with the full deposit of the Faith, and interpreted orthodox instruction in their religion as novel and revolutionary. It was inundated with Catholics who did indeed understand the problems of life, but who could not seem to combine that realism with the true call to glory shouted out by Christ. Since many of these good people, due to the catechetical failures of previous centuries, were not familiar with the doctrines of divinization, the Whole Christ, and the need for the Word to reign over every aspect of daily life; since they associated action with trouble, they rejected the counterrevolutionary vision as though it were novel and erroneous. The result was that they forced a hero of the faith like Taparelli to teach promising students in the hallways after classes, and heirs of this movement, such as Pope Pius XII, still to apologize for daring to speak of the concept of transformation in Christ in his own encyclical on the Mystical Body.
But why should such Liberalism and Timidity have had an impact in the Catholic camp? For one simple reason. Because the Revolution had infected the temple precincts themselves. And it is to the full meaning of this Revolution that the effort of removing the blindfold must next turn.
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