Fr Sturzo on the “Laic state”

Fr Don Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959)

Fr. Luigi Sturzo was a giant in the renewal of modern Catholicism in the face of the secularist state (he called the laic state). He was one of the founders of the Christian democrats in Italy; a critic of fascism, he was exiled and he spent time in England and the United States; after the war he returned to Italy where he continued to write. Theologian and philosopher, sociologist and politician, Fr. Sturzo wrote much on the challenges to the Church in the modern world. One of his classic books is entitled Church and State (Notre Dame, 1962). His description of the aggressive posture of the secularist state towards the Church is prescient:

The struggle between the Church and state today is carried on in the moral field in the fundamental conflict between the morality of Christianity and that of the State. . . .  Christianity is menaced by a powerful antagonist which without being either a religion or a divinity assumes the character of both, to cancel them, were it possible in itself, and certainly to absorb or dominate them. . . . The State today claims human personality for itself and suppresses all liberty in order to transfer the course of liberty to the group it represents. It leaves freedom of worship but seeks to render it barren by separating morality from worship and emancipating state morality from any heteronomous bond. . . . The morality of the Church either coincides with that of the State or should be eliminated. The State not only takes no account of it in its laws (e.g., divorce, abortion, eugenics, compulsory laic education) but it sets its authority above the Church, forcing the Church to give public support to the acts of political power . . . hence its character as a personal religion is stricken at the roots. . . . The laic state in proclaiming a morality of its own, created an irremediable dualism with Christian morality, but so long as the State left the individual citizen free to profess, propagate and defend their moral and political ideals, there was no danger of an ethical schism between the faithful of a particular State and the Church. When, however, the laic state claimed to impose its own morality on all, in the name of the will of the people or the will of the nation  . . . then apostasy, initially confined to the central power becomes the apostasy of the masses. (pp. 530-532)

 I left out some passages and phrases in order to capture the general drift of Sturzo’s observations and predictions; he had in mind first and foremost the totalitarian state, as you may have gathered. It is not exactly what is occurring in western democracies, but it is close; Pope John Paul II did not hesitate to identify certain trends as pointing towards a “tyrant state” particularly in its laws and ideologies concerning life and death. We do not face one all powerful “State” entity; we face a more diffuse complex entity of state power, bureaucratic agencies, media and entertainment industries, cultural and educational programs and, yes, industries. But the cumulative effect is trending towards the totalitarian hostility noted by Sturzo in the fascist and communist states.

If we back up to the beginning of the chapter from I quoted he lays down this general principle:

In all the varied and chaotic experiences of the new State a kind of “laic confessionalism” (I would translate as “public secularist commitment”) instead of “State conformism” for the laic state (secularist state) sought to obtain from its citizens not merely formal and outward assent (which would suffice for conformism) but a convinced and entire support, which is best expressed by the word “confessionalism.” Instead of a confession of faith in God and in the Church, there was a kind of confession of faith in the laic state. And little by little this was extending its sway over individual activities, with control and monopoly in culture and education, and subsequently in economic and political life, liberties were restricted or falsified or suppressed. This reversal of the positions has reached its climax today with what are known as totalitarian States. (pp 526-27)

 The shocking conclusion is only so because the climax did not fade with the collapse of the Wall in 1989; Pope John Paul II saw the menace in the west in the juggernaut of abortion and all that follows in its wake. There are many ironies here, perhaps the greatest being that many Catholic leaders have led the way in promoting the secularist confession, the Kennedy brothers being prime examples, but they fan out now throughout Congress, the media, and academia. It is certainly not too late to resist this tyrant state in its political/cultural complex  — but we must wake up, name names, and rally to our true home and the most noble standards which still flutter in the breeze at many “camps and havens” throughout the land.

Blogging from Camp Chesterton, half way up Peak Parmenides,


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