I confess that I have not paid much mind to Ethika Politika’s ongoing series about what Protestants want from Catholics. In fact, my knee-jerk response to the series was, “Who cares?” If the series concerned what the Orthodox—Eastern or Oriental—want from Catholics (or vice versa), it would have been a different story, perhaps because I am biased toward Apostolic communions which have retained a valid episcopate and Eucharist. Anyway, I was intrigued by the title of today’s installment, “What I Want from Catholics: Occupy the Public Space,” by Susannah Black, an Anglican and editor at Solidarity Hall. After taking note of areas of common interest to Protestants and Catholics, including the unique opportunity the latter has to take advantage of Pope Francis’s public popularity in order to promote Christian social teachings and pro-life values, Black turns her attention to the Kingship of Christ. Here are some excerpts:
What is the Kingdom of God? That breaks down into all kinds of other questions: How do we understand Christ’s lordship over the nations of the earth– all these other kingdoms? How do we understand the just authority of human rulers in light of the fact that all authority comes from Christ? How do we understand the right of the Church in the public sphere? These are the living questions with which Anglicans (and not Anglicans alone) are grappling.
. . . .
One thing that Catholics have given the Church is a persistent reminder that our allegiance to Christ as our king has public implications. The Gospel makes a difference, and it makes a difference not just in what one chooses to do with one’s spare time, and not even in pointing one towards specific commitments of social activism. Social activism in the modern world, after all, can easily be taken as either a private hobby, or a public project disconnected from any coherent vision of the public nature of the broader Christian claim.
In truth, there is no good reason why Catholics have to grapple with the series of questions Black presents; the Church has already answered them in magisterial statements such as Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei, St. Pius X’s Notre Charge Apostolique, and Pius XI’s Quas Primas. A half-century of doctrinal obfuscation, instituted in part by the fallout from the Second Vatican Council, has left many Catholics (and non-Catholics) in the dark on these matters. That is no doubt why it has become so disastrously easy for otherwise orthodox Catholics to make pacts with modern liberalism, such as the neoconservative/Catholic synthesis inaugurated in large part by First Things in the 1990s and 00s or the ongoing promotion of neoliberal socio-economic ideology by the Acton Institute. The Catholic Church has lost its voice to speak the truth. The one saving grace is that the Church’s teachings remain intact, even if they are ignored.
Black is correct to highlight that “our allegiance to Christ as our king has public implications.” It has deep implications for individual Catholics as well. It is simply not possible for faithful Catholics to engage in every enterprise under the sun, no matter how materially profitable. Catholics cannot adorn themselves with the cloak of secular-liberalism in public spaces and take it off in private while expecting to be anything other than a hypocrite. This goes most obviously for politicians, but it applies to business owners and workers as well. That may seem like a radical demand in this day and age, but in the end it is a Christian demand—a demand that is always radical when compared to liberal complacency.
As for Black’s remarks on social activism, it’s hard to disagree. The social-media landscape is littered with Catholics who like to strike an illiberal posture or tweet insupportable declarations on modernity as a limp-wristed form of activism—or attention drawing—that adds up to absolutely nothing. It’s a hobby, and a silly one at that. At the same time, however, it is necessary to note how disconnected many Catholics committed to the Church’s authentic social magisterium feel from most of her priests and bishops. While Catholic Action, as defined by St. Pius X and interpreted by thinkers such as Jean Ousset, is distinct from the clergy’s apostolate, the absence of meaningful institutional support from the Church for legitimate public engagement on the part of the faithful is incredibly discouraging.
There are several points in Black’s piece that I can’t follow, not the least of which being her Protestant rejection of the Eucharist and a muted endorsement of the Anglican “Branch Theory.” Even so, I cannot help but admire how well a Protestant grasps the importance of Christ’s Social Kingship. It gives me hope that more Catholics will start to grasp it as well.