THE EMPTINESS OF STRIFE
A SPRING sky, empty of every cloud, can be a joyful sight. A city street late at night, undisturbed by the click of a single heel, can be as peaceful as a lullaby; yet the same street, totally empty at noon-time, speaks sinister threats of war or pestilence. There is a vast difference between mere emptiness and desolation, a difference that we sense immediately when we remember that there are some things that cannot be empty without being desolate. A village, for example, or a human heart, is never empty, though it may be deserted.
Not mere emptiness; but an invasion of reason’s domain
In desolation, something is missing; there is more than negation, there is privation. Kilmer’s “House with nobody in it” has the sharp, pinched misery of desolation about it; the dilapidated shacks of miners in a mountain country are another tabloid definition of desolation. A house was not built to have nobody in it; nor is the house of the barely existing miner the sort of place a man inhabits if he has any choice in the matter. What is missing, in all these pictures of desolation, is order. In them something of reason has been destroyed; and with its destruction, something in man has been destroyed, for order is the fruit of his reason.
He has stamped his personality on the outer world by his imposition of order upon it; when that order has been destroyed, something of humanity is taken out of the world. Yet desolation is never wholly outside a man; it is also within him. So the human heart, made to contain so many things, cannot be empty without having something missing that should be there. It cannot be empty without being desolate, because it was not made to be empty.
Disorder and desolation:
God and His image: champions of order
That single human fact, so easily verified by looking into ourselves or about ourselves, is a microscope focused on a tremendous truth. Man has been designed after an infinite model. In the infinitely full life of God, there is no room for desolation; and that means there is no room for disorder. By His very nature, all the acts of God will have a perfection of order about them; indeed, such a perfection of order that it is often too great, too far-reaching for our comprehension. To question that order is to question the very nature of God. Man, the image of God will be a champion of order in his own imperfect way. A tornado, a hurtling automobile, a relentless enemy, or the upheaval of sin will all make a wreckage of his life because they desolate that order that is so much a part of him. This is so true that it seems obvious to us that order should be the first law of the eternal home to which we are going. And it seems just as obvious that chaotic disorder should be one of the most horrible things in hell.
Disorder a characteristic of hell
This does not mean that a badly cluttered desk, or a pile of unwashed dishes in the sink, is evidence of a satanic visitation. A sepulchral office, with every document neatly entombed in some drawer, might well seem a fitting likeness of hell to many a man. God can look after the towering essentials and at the same time see to the infinitesimal dust of the non-essentials; but man often has his hands full keeping the essentials straight. It is pleasant, of course, to have a secretary who knows essentials from details, and keeps a measure of order even in the details. But it is in an essential order and disorder that a man finds the difference between the chaos of madness and the happiness of sanity; there too will we find the difference between heaven and hell.
Disorder and peace
St. Augustine said all this when he defined peace as “the tranquillity of order.” You will remember, from the last chapter, that peace is a kind of streamlined activity effected by complete order in the motive powers of a man. By this means might we see that man is not at war with his fellow men nor with himself; that he is not trying to run in two directions at the same time. In the natural order the disturbance of peace is visible in war, split personalities, nervous breakdowns, and in the divided heart that keeps the sinner always in misery yet never quite turning to God. In the supernatural order, the remorse from the horror of sin is a testimony of the human heart’s yearning for God and, at the same time, of its devastating appetite for the opposite of God as embodied in mortal sin. This is the radical explanation of why a man must either attempt to forget heaven or fight valiantly against sin.
Emptiness of heart and its origin
Just as fullness of heart comes about through the union of wills by the friendship of charity, so emptiness of heart is the result of division, of the crashing hostility of appetites. As by charity we are one with God and men, by discord we are cut off from the divine will and from the wills of other men. It is a process of isolation. By discord we bar the entrance to our soul; those bars not only prohibit God and men from entering our soul, they prevent all exit from that soul. They imprison us within ourselves; and the human heart was not made for solitary confinement. In such a cell the human heart is desolate.
It is conceivable that bitter political enemies may be fundamentally at peace; it is even possible that opposing generals in a war have this fundamental concord one with another. In fact, men can disagree on all but the essentials of human life and still be one with God and with other men. The possessors of peace do not form an association of “yes men,” never disagreeing with one another. Peace is much more a matter of union of wills than of harmony of opinion. Of course if the difference of opinion has its roots in an error for which we are at fault, or in our stubbornness, then there is real discord present; because of envy, or because of our rapt admiration for our own excellence, we are giving way to that same desire to cut ourselves off from others, from God and men.
To be at peace with some men and at war with God is no virtue. It is something like forming a union for murderers. There is no absolutely universal bond cementing men together except that of charity. On the contrary, to be at war with men and at peace with God may, quite possibly, be virtuous; it means that we are not so much acting against others, as attacking their hatred for themselves. It is evident then, that if peace at any price means coming to terms with sin, it is utterly vicious.
Desolation by words
It is rare that man is content to keep his emptiness of heart a secret. When that inner discord breaks forth in words, we have the sin of contention. Obviously, this does not constitute a prohibition law against discussion. Not every dispute is a sin, even though someone must be at least partly wrong, even though some disputes are never settled. A very great many arguments are positively virtuous, such, for example, as those against attacks on God or men. The difference between contention and defense of the truth is the difference between a man who will not lose an argument because his envy or pride cannot admit defeat, and the man who cannot lose an argument because he has hold of truth.
Still, even in perfectly legitimate disputes, there are limits. Somehow we do not expect a nun to descend to altercation over a taxi-fare; though we would not be so much surprised if an excited cab-driver expressed himself forcibly. We are quite right, For discussion should be suited not only to the subject-matter, but also to the person engaged in the discussion. A bishop, for example, has not the same possibilities in rough and tumble argument as has, say, a top sergeant; in fact, the bishop has no business getting into that kind of argument. In other words, this act of virtue, like any other, must be placed in fitting circumstances, the very circumstances must be in accord with reason. When discussion, however worthy its end, does not keep within fitting limits, then, as St. Paul insisted, it “not only does no good; it does serious damage to those who are listening.”
Temporal desolation by works:
The inner discord that isolates the heart of a man is like a disease eating its way from organ to organ, gradually disintegrating the whole body. For this discord can never stay within the heart of a man; it eats its way out, disintegrating the unity of man and attacking the institutions which bind men together. We might, quite aptly, compare a discordant will to an engine on an airplane as it breaks loose and smashes back into the cabin. Before, when it was one with the rest of the plane, it served the mighty purpose of rushing the plane and its passengers to their destination with swift, easy movement; now that it has broken loose from the unity of that plane, it becomes an instrument of destruction. So the will of man, broken loose from the order of God, becomes a smashing destroyer of the unity of men. It stops at nothing; nothing is too great, nothing too sacred for its devastating attack.
Against the universal Church — schism
When this attack centers on the unity of the Church, schism is born into the world. Schism is a quarrelsome sin; its enemy, then, is peace. It does not attack the faith, as does heresy and infidelity; rather it concentrates on the unity achieved by charity; it cuts its victims off from the members of the Church and from the head of the Church. It is true that it is against a changeable, temporal thing like ecclesiastical unity, rather than against the unchangeable First Truth; yet, because it reaches out to injure the spiritual good of the whole multitude of the faithful, it well merits a place near the top in the sins committed against our neighbor.
Against nations — war
If our modern world had to choose between war and schism, it would emphatically vote for schism as the lesser evil. Even though its object is less sweeping and the damage it does is much less serious, the sin of discord breaking out in unjust war impresses us much more vividly than the sin of schism. Spiritual damage, after all, does not splatter the street with blood. We have reason enough, God knows, for being impressed with the evils of war; but no reason at all for reversing the order of spiritual and material values.
Just and unjust wars
It must be noticed, however, that the clash of armed forces which constitutes war is not in itself sinful. Sin enters when the war is unjust. There are today two odd extremes of opinion. The first glorifies war and admits no legal limitations to military activity. The other completely condemns war, refusing to admit any justification whatsoever for armed hostilities between nations.
Actually these conflicting opinions are twin sons of the same horrible mother; they have a common source in atheistic materialism. The fundamental principle of the glorifiers of war is: “might is right.” Law, then, is the dictate of the bully. This amounts to a deification of brute strength, an inculcation of the philosophy of the bully; it leaves men much worse off than the animals, for it leaves men shorn of every principle of order and condemns them to the chaos of shifting power, with its inevitable results of constant desolation. The opposite extreme opinion has about it the softness of corruption and disintegration. Behind it is the conviction that the things destroyed by war are supreme in the scale of human values: property, health, luxury, money, even life itself.
Both opinions are evil from their very root; of the two, perhaps the absolute pacifist extreme is the most destructive of things distinctively human, for normally there is apt to be a healthy reaction on the part of the recipient of a bloody nose. As a matter of fact, acts of nations are as subject to moral law as are the acts of individuals; which is to say no more than that the acts of nations are just as human as acts of individuals. They are pointed to or away from a goal that does not vary; they are, then, right or wrong, leading to the goal or away from it. The power that may allow them to escape immediate punishment cannot make good out of evil. On the other hand, there are things worth fighting for, worth the loss of all the material world can offer, worth the loss of life itself. We cannot refuse to fight under any circumstances without admitting that there is nothing worthy of the efforts of a man above what he can reach in the world; what he can touch with his hands.
These modern opinions are not glittering novelties. Man has unconditionally condemned war before. The Manicheans were sure war was always a sin; Luther was convinced that to fight against the Turks would be to resist the will of God, impeding His punishments; while Erasmus, conceding that war might have been justified in the Old Law, maintained that in the New Law of love, it certainly is not. That war, under some circumstances, is justified is not a mere philosophical opinion; a Catholic is not free to embrace or reject it. It is a solemn doctrine of the Church; in fact, time and again through the ages, the Church, through Her councils and Supreme Pontiffs, has urged men to wage war.
Perhaps we could compress the basis for a just war into one word — defense. The just cause for war is to repulse an attempted injury or to obtain satisfaction for an injury already done. In the first case, we have what is called a defensive war; in the second case, what is called an offensive war. In both cases we may have a just war, for in both cases action is taken in defense of rights.
Such defense is, of course, desperate, last-ditch defense. If we keep this in mind it will be clear that no private person has a right to declare war. A private person always has a higher court of appeal; he does not have to settle the matter with his own hands, he can go to the judges of the community and demand satisfaction. But where the rights of states have been violated, there is no higher political court of appeal; and because there is no temporal power above the state, a recourse to arms is necessary.
To put it another way, a conscientious citizen may decide to devote some of his leisure moments to helping out the state; casting about for a helpful role, he decides to hang a few public enemies on his private gibbet. As a result, there is much indignation among the public enemies. For once, they are right. A man has no vindictive power within the nation itself; it is the work of the community to punish the enemies of the community. The same is true outside the limits of the nation; the private person has no more vindictive power against external enemies than he has against criminals within the nation. He is not the one delegated to care for and act for the community; he has no authority to convoke the whole community, as would be necessary in the case of war. All this belongs to authority, to him who has charge of the community.
But even here, in the case of the governor of a nation declaring war, it is not a matter of any particular person taking up the sword. The sword of defense is given to the soldier by the authorities; and it is given to the authorities themselves by their very office as community guardians. In each case, the sword is not taken up, rather it is thrust upon them. Even though the cause be just, the war is rendered unjust when the competent authority declaring it vitiates its justice by such evil intentions as cupidity, cruelty and the like. Nor is this surprising with a sufficiently evil intention a man can make the love he has for his mother or the support he gives his wife a vicious thing.
The brief, classic statement on the morality of war demands three conditions for war’s justification. it must be declared by competent authority, it must be for a just cause, and it must be waged for a right intention. These three must be had simultaneously. War is not just merely because competent authority declares it; it is not just merely because it has a just cause; nor is war just merely because one’s intention is very pure. When these conditions are present simultaneously, war is not sinful; it is an act of virtue, a defense of the common good.
Such wars were the crusades. Such a war might have been the war waged by Spain against the Moors. But it is not always easy to determine the justice or injustice of a particular war, not because the principles are not clear, but because the evidence is often so difficult to get at. In this case, as in every other case of judgment of a moral act, it is essential that we have the whole story, honestly told; but to break through the protective barrier of propaganda thrown around the evidence of modern wars is almost too much even for the tank-like minds with which nature has gifted historians.
Clerics and war
In a really just war, we are faced with a paradox of an act of virtue being positively forbidden to one class of men, i.e., to clerics. It is not nearly so hard to understand the paradox as it is to understand the leaders of a nation disregarding such a prohibition. After all, these men, by their very office, stand between men and God, bringing God to men and men to God. Contemplation, praise of God and prayers for men are integral details of their work of feeding men with divine food. The government that would force these men into battle must either consider such work relatively unimportant or it must look upon the roar of guns and the desperate clash of bayonets as offering no hindrance to contemplation. In either case, one might justifiably doubt its capacity for guiding the lives of men.
The reasons against clerics’ participation in war go much deeper than all this. All the clerical orders within the Church are ordered to the supreme grade of the priesthood, whose work is to offer the sacrifice of Christ on the altar. It is not fitting that such a minister should shed the blood of other men; rather he should be prepared to shed his own blood for Christ, imitating the work that he performs each morning at the altar. He is another peacemaker. His life is dedicated to the salvation of souls, not to the destruction of bodies. So supreme is his office among all the offices offered to men, that not even such a just cause as the defense of the common good justifies his casting aside of the dignity, fittingness and stability of his office of continuing the work of the Prince of Peace.
This does not mean that, at the outbreak of war, all clerics are to be put in glass cases and hidden in bomb-proof cellars, along with the windows of the cathedral. The purpose of this prohibition on their active participation in war is not to protect clerics from hardships, privations and dangers. By the command of Christ, these things are their normal diet. They are expected to go into the hardships, privations and dangers of war much more gaily than other men, indeed without any of the implements of self-protection that bolster the courage of their fellows. The point is, their work must not be interrupted. They are to work for the salvation of souls, not for the destruction of life; so clerics should be found wherever men are found — in front-line trenches, in the precarious privacy of no man’s land, on sinking ships, in shattered cities. For men, wherever they are, must be given the same spiritual help, the same supernatural nourishment. Clerics not only may take part in war in this fashion; they are obliged to.
Moral limits of intelligence corps
Although we have talked incessantly about war for years, there is one final point about that ghastly business which has been consistently overlooked; that is, the moral regulation of the secret service or intelligence corps. Remembering that war is a moral act, waged by a moral agent, and therefore strictly limited by the precepts of moral law, it becomes evident that an act evil in itself is never permitted in the name of war. There is no cause that can justify a morally wrong act, for an end never justifies the means. A woman prostituting herself to obtain enemy secrets or an expert propagandist concocting an enormous lie to hide the secrets of his own country have merited the bitter names given to perpetrators of the same acts for any other purpose. Not that the moral code is a naive young lady whose notion of honesty is to tell all she knows; it is quite legitimate to allow an enemy to draw wrong inferences, to refuse to tell plans for defense or offense, or any part of those plans, to tell as much as we want to be known. But sin, be it very small or very big, remains what it is — an ugly, inhuman blot — whatever the purpose for which it is committed.
Behind the deceit and corruption that have so often marked modern diplomacy lies the foul political philosophy of Machiavelli, with its implication of the absolute supremacy of the state. Today that supremacy is no longer merely implied. The good of the state, as the first and only unchangeable moral principle, has been flatly stated. It has been officially declared, for instance, by the Soviet Party, that the ethical code is entirely subordinated to the service of the proletariat and its class war. In simpler language, in the service of the state or the party, anything goes.
Sane men must recoil in horror from such a conception of the state because it means that the state has taken the place of God. Men who are not particularly interested in God may stupidly think they could put up with such a substitution; but a moment’s thought shows the implications for humanity itself. This state supremacy means that human life is stripped of all hope, man is chained down in despair; he is made a puppet of a state, without personal rights or personal goals, with nothing but impersonal service to support him in this life and oblivion promised as the reward of his labors.
Against the commonwealth — sedition: defense of the common good
Not that full place must be denied to the rights of the state. Those rights are objective and must be respected. Rebels against a just government are criminals, guilty of mortal sin — a sin directly against the common good of the community, committed from the very beginnings of their preparation for rebellion. This sin of sedition is not an aristocratic sin which demands capacities for leadership in its victim; it is a common thing, shared alike by ringleaders and camp-followers of rebellion. However vigorously they may protest their love of men, actually they rob men of a chance to make a success of human living.
There is no more staunch defender of the authority of the state than the Church. But the Church does not mistake the members of a Cabinet for the Seraphim who stand before the face of God. A government can be wrong; it can be tyrannous; it can be greedy and inimical to the common good. When it has become so corrupt, the men who rise up against it are not rebels; they are heroic defenders of the common good. These men are not waging war on authority; the betrayal of their office by those in authority has already stripped them of whatever claim they had to rule others. Unless a rebellion would do more harm to the common good than this present tyranny, it is not only justified, it may even be obligatory.
For now the state is leaderless except for those whom nature, education and responsibility have equipped to take the place of the traitors to the common good. Nature does not so much take the crown from the former heads of the state, rather she snatches these heads from under their crown; nor does she leave the crown of authority suspended in mid-air. Those equipped by nature cease to be private persons; they are pushed forward by the solemn responsibility incurred by nature itself, to fill the gap created by men who, contrary to their office, preferred their own good to the good of the community.
Against the individual
Even in this case, it is still true that private persons cannot wage war. That principle is universal. Indeed, a private person cannot even wage a little personal war such as is involved in a quarrel or a duel.
A duel is really an elaborately planned murder. It is an attempt to give dignity and order to an act that is essentially chaotic. There is a solemn, “gentlemanly” agreement as to time, place, weapons; when always, the affair is haunted by the shadow of murder, the persistent danger of death to one or to both parties. It is not surprising that the condemnations of the Council of Trent against duelling are as bitter as deep seated disgust can make them. Under these condemnations are included, not only the participants, but those who allow it to take place within their territory, the seconds, the spectators, indeed, anyone who has anything to do with the official murder. Rulers who allow the duel are stripped of their jurisdiction, as well as excommunicated, all their goods proscribed, they incur perpetual infamy and are to be treated as murderers. The participant who dies as a result of the duel is forever deprived or ecclesiastical burial. Counsellors, advisers, spectators are excommunicated and are under perpetual infamy, and this notwithstanding any privilege or custom, even immemorial custom, to the contrary.
The Council has made it fairly clear that it considers the life of a man sacred. The transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse is child’s play compared to the task of pinching murder’s ugly, deformed hulk into the delicate finery of dignity, honor, virtue. There are no grounds to justify the murder of a man.
Duelling and quarreling, for all their show of fire and flashing eyes, plod through the life of a man with all the dull stupidity of Markham’s debased “Man With a Hoe.” Both are products of anger; and there is no passion that more completely robs a man of his reason. The quarrelsome man may have some little excuse, on the grounds of passion, for his desire to hurt another and have him know he is hurt; yet the act is an unjust invasion of the rights of another; it is contrary to all reason, a stupid thing.
A duel proceeds from a much colder, more deliberate anger; so rarely is there any excuse about it at all. When we go a step further, to calm, deliberate, unjust injury of another, we have come to a savage thing, a product of hate. Its purpose is not so much to obtain satisfaction, as to inflict injury. A knife in the back or a burst of machine-gun fire from a dark alley is not so much the blind, smashing animality of anger, as the cold, diabolical finality of hate. The proverb that it takes two to make a quarrel can hardly be classified as profound; a man must be desperately lonely to quarrel with himself. But the implication that both parties to a quarrel are necessarily wrong is quite false. Certainly to defend oneself against unjust attack, such as is involved in quarreling, does not involve moral wrong; indeed, such defense may be positively obligatory in some cases.
This dreadful desolation we have been describing is easily appreciated. We know something of the loneliness of a Catholic heart which has wandered outside the unity of the Church. We have a vivid realization of the ghastliness of a street spattered with bodies, a heap of brick and mortar that had once been a home, a man gasping out his life from the pistol shot of an enemy, or lying, a sodden, insensible, beaten thing, the victim of brutality. All these strike deeply into our hearts; they are human tragedies and we are very human. Then, too, there has been no lack of emphasis, in this last century, upon the value of the things destroyed by such desolation.
Eternal desolation — scandal
Yet to eyes accustomed, as ours are, to the horizons of eternity, all this is not the most dreadful desolation that eats its way through the lives of men. There is yet another, which undoes the work of Christ, besmirches the supreme beauty in man and brings on eternal death. It was vivid to the eyes of Christ when He warned us that the man by whom scandal came to little ones would be better off if he had a millstone hung about his neck and were thrown into the sea. We can see how this is so. At least the little ones should be safe; at least they should be spared an introduction to the filthy paths of sin.
Unfortunately we make the mistake of limiting the words “little ones” to children, whereas, really, we are all children of God. The introduction of any of the children of God to the ways of sin, the accomplishment of the spiritual ruin of any friend of God, merits the terrible condemnation of Christ and will undoubtedly receive the punishments it deserves.
Our generation has been made shockingly familiar with the ruin of little ones. It is true that the despicable drug salesman who introduces marihuana to high school students is primarily interested, not in spiritual ruin, but in money. It is also true that the seducer for purposes of his own pleasure is primarily interested in himself, in the satisfaction of his own appetites. Nevertheless, both have effectively brought about the spiritual ruin of a child of God. They have, as a matter of fact, done much more damage than the moron who attacks a child of three or four.
Both of these men have been guilty of a serious mortal sin against charity; but as yet this is not that diabolical scandal whose chief aim is the spiritual ruin of another. The Communist, who throws adolescents together in the hope of destroying their moral life, the more easily to destroy their religious life, is in a class by himself. Trudging to the same school is the propagandist who attempts to root out all love and knowledge of God from the hearts of men. These are the works of the devil. Done by men, they are diabolical scandal. This is the supreme gesture of hate of fellow men.
From this it is evident that, in the theological sense of the term, scandal is not a gossipy passing on of the latest bit of unsavoury news. It involves spiritual ruin and it can be effectively committed even when the act, by which it is brought about, is not in itself sinful. The saintly man who interrupts his lecture on mortification to take a drink of water, has acted in complete innocence; the damage is done because he fails to notice that some wag had put the water in a gin bottle. The scandalizing act need not even be aimed at anyone at all. The gaily drunk young parents, staggering home after a party, are in no condition to aim at anything; yet their synthetic gaiety may well do spiritual injury to their children. In fact an act of positive virtue may bring about spiritual ruin to others; imagine the effect produced by a Greek priest touring Ireland in the company of his wife!
At this rate, it would seem that scandal is unavoidable. In a sense that is true; for there is no action which cannot be given an evil meaning by twisted minds. But that kind of scandal is pharisaical; we do not even try to avoid it, rather we give it the healthy contempt it deserves. The scandal that must be avoided (over and above the scandal flowing from sins) is that which comes from the appearance of evil about good or indifferent acts. This is the scandal of “the little ones”, the innocent; and the little ones must be spared, even at the cost of serious inconvenience. Surely the soul of our neighbor is more important than any act we may place here and now, than any temporal thing we may possess. In fact, the very omission of a good work for love of our neighbor, is itself a greater work than we could accomplish by going ahead with our original plan.
The just man and scandal
As a matter of fact, a just man ordinarily is not scandalized, because he will not wreck his divine friendship for any human consideration. Of course he does not scandalize others; not even by that scandal that comes from slight venial sins or carelessly done good acts. This man is not in the habit of doing things carelessly for God; he is in love with God, so he has an eye to all the things that belong to God, a very keen eye for the welfare of the friends of God, who are his neighbors.
First principles of order:
With essential order established in human life, there come fullness and peace. With essential disorder, human life is an empty, desolate, chaotic wreck.
The double commandment of Christ
It is above all necessary, then, that order come into our lives. Christ was not one to overlook the necessary things, particularly since He had so little time to teach us the truth. So when He was asked to select, out of all the commandments, the principal ones, His divinely wise answer was that there were just two. The first was: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole mind, with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength”; and the second, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The end of all other commands
In these words, Christ gave us the objective principle of order, the principle that places man in the proper relation to his goal; for the end of life is the object of charity — union with God — and if we are properly ordered to that goal, everything else falls into its proper place. In fact, His one command is, in itself, really enough; it contains all the others. But that there be no mistakes, Christ added: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The words of the commandment
The first commandment states the measure of love for God. We are to love God in the only way God can be loved; without measure. Christ advocates a complete surrender; but a surrender that is not defeat but victory. We are to give ourselves utterly to God: to strain towards Him with all of our will; to have our intellect subject to Him; to have our appetite operating according to Him; to have our external acts obey God. In other words, all principles of activity within us are to be focused, not scattered; to operate in unity, harmoniously and with an effectiveness that can be measured only by God Himself.
As a result of our surrender to God, we have a holy, just and true love For our neighbor. It is holy, for it is for God’s sake; it is just, For it wishes him only good, refusing to condescend either to his evil will or to our own evil desires; it is true love, for it is not a matter of getting but of giving. These fundamental commands of Christ are not impossible ideals held out to superior beings; they are commands of which the minimum requirements are met in the observance of the Ten Commandments.
Wisdom: Its nature and extent
These are the objective principles of order. Within us, the principle of order is charity, perfected by the gift of the Holy Ghost which is wisdom. The scientist can be very learned, but at the same time very stupid; his science does not give him wisdom, for it is not interested in the last things of life. On the contrary, the philosopher must be wise or cease to be a philosopher; he must know the goal, though it be only the unsatisfactory natural goal, or admit he knows no philosophy, since philosophy’s one interest is in last causes. In other words, it is only by seeing thc goal that we can know where our steps are leading us; it is only by seeing the last thing, that we can understand the first. A wise man is one who has the serene judgment given by a knowledge of the meaning of life.
In the supernatural order, the last things are divine things. To contemplate divine things, and by them read the meaning of the divine and the human order, is the work of the gift of wisdom.
This is the third of that trio of intellectual gifts which fit our mind to wander in the halls of the house of God. As we have already seen, the gift of understanding allows us to penetrate the divine truth; then the gift of knowledge enables us to see the world of creatures in the light of the world of God. The gift of wisdom allows us to contemplate this new world, and see both it and the old world through the serene eyes of God.
The enemy of wisdom
Its roots are deep in charity. By it the end is connatural to us, we judge it as a chaste man judges of chastity, or an honest man of honesty; that is, not clumsily, not laboriously working out an answer, but by a sharp, instantaneous insight into truth. Obviously the work of wisdom is not something to be explained on natural grounds; it must come from that push of the Holy Ghost to a mind well prepared by the gift of wisdom to receive the movement of God. Yet this wisdom is not a rare, exotic flower. It is one of those extraordinary things that have, by the grace of God, become more ordinary than the common things of life. Everyone in the state of grace has it; and retains it for as long as that state of grace endures. Or, to put it another way, to every friend of God, identified by friendship with the divine Friend, the supreme end (God Himself) is connatural. Mortal sin, then, excluding this divine friendship, knocks out the basis of the connaturality with the end which is at the bottom of wisdom. That is to say, mortal sin is an evidence of stupidity; an egregious error about the goal of men.
Wisdom is not limited to that minimum degree which assures us of avoidance of the essential stupidity forbidden by the Ten Commandments. Wisdom can abound, must abound with the increase of charity. It may exist to the degree that enables us to manifest these divine things to others; or even further, to the degree necessary to order and direct others by these divine truths. As that wisdom increases, the cup of life has an altogether different taste; labor gives way to rest, bitterness to sweetness for now we are not turned away from God but one with Him.
As a matter of fact, we must have some kind of wisdom if we are to act at all, because we must have some kind of end. In the light of that end all things will be seen. It may be an earthly wisdom, coming from an earthly end, which gives a man the viewpoint of a mole, burrowing in the things of earth. Or a man may place his end in the goods of the body, gain an animal wisdom and so see the world through the eyes of a pig. Or, finally, he may place his end in his own excellence; the result is a diabolical wisdom, which instead of giving man an outlook, confines all his sight to an insight, the same colossal vanity that blinded Lucifer, the greatest of the angels.
All of these false wisdoms are really stupidity. They are a thick-headedness that misses the whole meaning of life, the whole possibility of man; a stupidity that comes from immersing the senses of man in the earthly things that completely absorb his soul. Naturally its chief source is to be found in sins of the flesh; sins of luxury are a jealous mistress who demands every instant of a man’s time, every moment of his thought, every beat of his heart.
Its beatitude — “Blessed are the peacemakers”
The inevitable result of stupidity is disorder, chaos. Or, more concretely, it must bring forth a distaste for things of the soul, a hatred of God and, ultimately, desperation. The contrary climax of wisdom is stated in the beatitude corresponding to that gift: “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Charity gives us peace; but it is by wisdom that we are able to make peace. Augustine, you will remember, defined peace as the tranquillity of order; wisdom alone has the wide outlook of God that makes plain to the eyes of man the meaning of all that life includes, the relation of one part to another and of all parts to the whole. Here we come closer to the imitation of Christ; and our reward is named with becoming beauty when it is said that the peacemakers shall be called the sons of God. That Incarnate Wisdom, the Son of God, first brought peace to men of good-will.
Order and the modern world
The world, to which that Incarnate Wisdom brought the principles of order, and so of peace, was a world where order was rampant and yet there was no order. The disciplined order of the Roman legions has become legendary. The administration of Roman justice, the means of communication, the unity of language, in fact everything about the Roman Empire marked the high point of the human effort to be self-sufficient. And, as Chesterton has said, “that effort was a failure and men realized it was a failure.”
All the world was at peace; yet in that world, no man had peace. Men’s hearts were desolate. The world was empty. Philosophy had tried to fill that emptiness; so had military power, sensual indulgence and a frigid asceticism. But all had succeeded only in giving order to emptiness. What was missing was the reason for everything else that is, and without it nothing had reason. It was time for God to come.
An ordered emptiness
Our world today is a world ordered to its last detail; it is another high point in the human endeavor to be self-sufficient, and we are achieving the same results. We are busily ordering emptiness. We insist on the most perfect order in non-essentials. Everything can be weighed and measured, must be weighed and measured: our food, our clothes, our sleep, our pleasure, our personal habits, our education, our emotional and intellectual and physical life, our houses, our cities, our children, our navies and armies. There is no scale that escapes our passion for order.
An idealization of emptiness
We have gone the Roman world one better. We have not only ordered emptiness, we have idealized it; we have insisted that there be no goal, and so that there be no order. We have deified essential disorder, essential desolation. It is not love of God that we advocate, but indifference or contempt for Him. It is not love, but hatred of neighbor that is our watchword. We will not have wisdom but only learning.
A desolate world We are just beginning to feel the cold chill of desolation, the chill of empty, haunted hearts, isolated, locked within themselves. We are puckering our mouths against the bitterness of enmity; of schism, of war, of quarreling, even of duelling, though we have thrown away the rapiers. Scandal has become a part of our educational scheme, though we are still shocked at the ruin it causes.
Wisdom of the Word
It is time for God to come among men; for men to open the door to God, even though there be but little room in the human inn. For only God can bring us fullness and peace. It is time for men to listen to the echo of the words of divine wisdom in their hearts, and to know that these two words of the Word of God are inseparable: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole mind, with thy whole soul and with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself.” “My peace I give unto you.” It is the kingdom of God that must be sought first.