The following talk was given on 17th December 2008 as part of the series of Leeds Cathedral Lectures.
The Two Cities
by Fr. Thomas Crean O.P.
I should like to begin by reading the opening paragraph of the encyclical Humanum Genus. This encyclical was written in April 1884 by Pope Leo XIII, and was addressed to all the ‘Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic world in grace and communion with the Apostolic See’. It begins in the following, solemn manner:-
Strong and stirring words. Pope Leo paints for us a picture of the human race as divided into two great and opposing bodies, one under the leadership of Jesus Christ, the other under the leadership of the devil. He gives us to understand that all history, as seen from the viewpoint of eternity, is simply the struggle between these two great camps. This is the doctrine of the two cities, which I want to explain and defend this evening. But first of all let me try to answer an objection which is likely to spring up in the minds of many people, even perhaps of many Catholics, who hear these words of Pope Leo XIII for the first time.
Surely, it will be said, this is simplistic. One party fighting valiantly for Christ, the other fighting for the devil? That may do, an objector might say, as a description of the angelic world. Those mighty spirits whom we call angels can have no divided loyalties, no half-hearted commitment to a cause. With them it is all or nothing, either for God or against him. But how can these words of Pope Leo apply to human beings? Don’t we know that there is good and bad in everyone, and that as the Old Testament says somewhere, ‘the just man falls seven times a day’? How then can we say that each soul on earth is in the camp either of Christ or of Satan? It sounds positively medieval!
Nevertheless, we should be rash, I believe, to brush aside the solemn words of this great pontiff. This is, let us remember, an encyclical: a teaching delivered by the vicar of Christ to all the bishops and so to the whole body of the faithful. And encyclical letters, unlike loaves of bread or tins of beans, don’t come with expiry dates. If Pope Leo’s words were true in 1894, they are true today. So let’s try to understand them.
Leo XIII, then, is not saying that everyone on earth is constantly fighting with all his strength either for the cause of Christ or for that of the devil. That would be plainly untrue. He is saying that there are two great parties on earth, two cities, that these two cities are fighting constantly the one against the other, and that everyone on earth at any given moment belongs to one of the two. To take an analogy from ordinary human warfare, two countries may be locked in mortal combat over a period of several years, but this does not mean that every citizen of either country is constantly fighting with all his might against the enemy. Even those in the army and on the front line may spend plenty of time doing things other than fighting – sleeping or eating, for example. Yet it would remain true to say that the two nations are constantly at war. And the same applies, as we shall see, to the two cities distinguished by Pope Leo.
But now, how do these two cities come into being? And why are there are two, and not three or four or some other number? Everyone on earth must have something which he loves above all else. This, of course, ought to be God. When our Lord was asked what the great commandment of the Law was, he replied: ‘thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul’. So it should be no surprise that, according to Pope Leo, the love of God above all else is what brings into existence the kingdom of God, which the Pope, using the terminology of St Augustine, calls the City of God. On the other hand, to put something in the place of God and to love this above all else, is to have a disordered love. And so the pope explains that this disordered love is what brings into existence the opposing party, which Catholic tradition calls sometimes the city of man, and sometimes the city of the devil. St Augustine, who introduced this terminology of ‘the two cities’, although not the idea behind it, thought, rightly I believe, that anyone who did not love God above all else must ultimately be loving himself above all else. So he wrote a famous sentence which Leo XIII quotes with approval in his encyclical: ‘Two loves have formed two cities: the love of self, reaching even to contempt of God, an earthly city; and the love of God, reaching even to contempt of self, a heavenly one.’ That comes from St Augustine’s work called The City of God, Book XIV, chapter 28. And since there can be no middle term between loving God above all and love something else above all, there can be no more than two cities; and since everyone on earth has something, whether God or a creature, which he loves above all else, everyone on earth belongs necessarily to one of these two cities.
Note, by the way, that in speaking of the party opposed to Christ as ‘the earthly city’ or ‘the city of man’, neither St Augustine nor Pope Leo intends to identify it with cities in the ordinary sense of the word, with Leeds or Leicester, nor with the sum total of human societies. Both he and Pope Leo fully recognise the legitimacy of earthly rulers and the possibility of just human laws and well-ordered human society. If St Augustine uses the phrase ‘city of man’ in a pejorative way, it is because he is keenly aware of the bias in human nature which means that for the most part our human societies and institutions are constantly tending, at least, to fall under the direction of powers opposed to Christ, and can avoid doing so only through the constant vigilance of those who govern. I shall speak later on about the relation of ordinary human society to the two cities formed by the two loves.
So far I have explained what is in the view of Pope Leo – and he is doing no more than to repeat the tradition of the Church since the beginning – the great dividing line in the human race: whether we love God above all else, or something else, such as ourselves, in God’s place. But to draw such a dividing line is not yet to justify the phrase ‘two cities’. A city, after all, implies a certain unity. And while it is not hard to see that those who love God are united, at least at the most fundamental level, we may well wonder what unity exists among those who, failing to love God above all else, necessarily lack the bond of charity between themselves. For we know from all Christian tradition that charity towards God and charity toward one’s neighbour are strictly inseparable.
To answer this question, the question of what unity each of these two bodies enjoys, I shall turn for help to St Thomas Aquinas, and in particular to his greatest work, the Summa Theologiae, or summary of theology. In the third part of this work, we find a section which is of particular relevance to our topic, namely question eight, articles 1-8. This question is devoted to the notion of 'headship'. Most of it treats of the headship of Christ over the human race, but towards the end of the question St Thomas examines how the devil seeks to usurp this headship for himself. As we’ll see, it is these two headships, the legitimate one of Jesus Christ and the usurped one of our enemy, that give the two cities whatever unity they possess.
Let us begin with the headship of Christ. In referring to Christ as the Head of his body the Church, St Thomas tells us that the Scriptures are using a metaphor that is triply suitable. How so? First of all, as St Thomas notes with his customary simplicity, the human head is the first part of a man, at least if we examine him from top to bottom. Secondly, the head is more perfect than the other members, since it is the location of all the senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and also the so-called interior senses such as memory and imagination; the members, by contrast, possess only the sense of touch. Thirdly, the head directs the movement of the members, both because we move on account of what we see and hear and because impulses pass from the brain to our members to make them move. These three attributes which a literal, physical human head possesses in respect of the body, namely, priority, perfection and directive power, are also found, says St Thomas, in Jesus Christ in regard of his mystical body the Church. Christ first of all has priority over his Church, since even as man, he is closer than any of the faithful to God the Father; as regards perfection, he has the unlimited fullness of all graces, whereas his members possess individual graces in a limited way; thirdly by his wisdom and the power of his grace he directs the actions of those who belong to his mystical body. For all these reasons, Christ is rightly called the head of the Church.
St Thomas also tells us that there is a sense in which Christ is the head of all men on earth, even of those who are not yet actually members of his mystical body the Church. As we read in the first letter of St John, chapter two, He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world. For as long as a man is living in this life, St Thomas explains, even if he has not yet received sanctifying grace, he still has the potential to do so, because of the helps that can be made available to him from Christ. For as long as the branch is on the tree, it has the potential to bear fruit; only when it is cut off does it lose this potential. For as long as someone is in the world, he is at least potentially a member of Christ's mystical body. It is only when the sinner leaves this world still lacking sanctifying grace that he ceases to be even potentially a member of Christ.
Finally, since Christ’s directive power is received by his various members more or less perfectly, St Thomas explains that we can distinguish various levels in his headship. Our Lord is in the fullest sense head of those in glory, whether angels or blessed souls, since in them there is no obstacle to his influence; he is also truly head of all those on earth who live by his grace, and of the holy souls in purgatory, even those all these may present some hindrance to the operation of God's will within them; in a more diminished sense, Christ is head of those who believe in him on earth but live in a state of mortal sin; and in a still more diminished and in fact only potential sense, he is, as we have just seen, head of those on earth who do not yet even believe in him but who still have time to convert before the end of their lives. But he is not in any sense head of those in hell.
Having carefully explained the headship of Christ, St Thomas turns his attention at the end of this same question eight to the devil, and asks whether the devil can be called the head of all the bad: and by ‘bad’ he understands generally all angels and human beings who lack charity, and so do not love God above all else. Following the example of St Augustine and St Gregory the Great, St Thomas will say that the devil is indeed the head of all the wicked, but first he has an important objection to answer, one to which I have already alluded.
The objection is this. Badness does not have the same unity as goodness. No virtue can exclude any other virtue, but some vices can exclude other vices. For example, the same man can hardly be both a spendthrift and a miser; a person cannot be both too cowardly and too rash in risking unnecessary dangers. Or again, two movements or two doctrines which are both opposed to Christianity can also be opposed to each other. For example, the Arian heresy which held that Christ is merely a creature was opposed to the Monophysite heresy which held that Christ has only a divine nature and not a human one. Or again, the Nazis in Germany and the communists in Russia were both opposed to the Christianity, but that didn’t join them together into a unified force, or at least not for very long.
St Augustine had already seen this clearly. In the City of God, Book XV, chapter 4, he writes, ‘The earthly city [remember this is his term for the camp opposed to Christ] the earthly city is generally divided against itself by litigation, by wars, by battles, by pursuit of victories.’ A little further on, Book XV, chapter 6, he writes that a twofold war may be perpetually observed on earth, that of the wicked against the good, and that of the wicked amongst themselves. Precisely because different vices and different errors are opposed not only to truth and virtue but also to themselves, they fight against themselves as well as against the truth.
Given all this, how can the party opposed to Christ be sufficiently unified to have a head? Why is it anything more than a swarm or hubbub of individuals? St Thomas answers: it receives its unity from the single-mindedness of the devil. Remember that a pure spirit, once he has chosen his final goal, can never go back on his choice. He can never waver. Even the most single-minded person we might know on earth, whether he be a saint or a fanatic, gives us only the faintest idea of the vehemence with which a pure spirit, once he has chosen an end or goal, must permanently cleave to that goal. And what is the goal of the devil? St Thomas answers, very precisely, it is to turn the rational creation away from God, aversio rationalis creaturæ a Deo. We might also translate that last phrase, ‘turning all rational creatures from God’.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how much the members of the camp opposed to Christ may be fighting amongst themselves, they are all, whether they know it or not, unified by the intention of the devil, whose intention is simply to cause the greatest possible rebellion against the Creator. So St Thomas concludes: insofar as people are turned away from God by sinning, ‘they fall under the regimen and government of the devil; and hence he is said to be the head of such people’. The sin that is in question here is, of course, mortal, not venial sin. Venial sins do not turn properly speaking turn us away from God, though they do halt our progress towards him. But mortal sin, which consists in making something other than God, such as ambition or revenge or pleasure, into one's greatest good, is incompatible with charity, and so does turn a person from God
I said just now that the people opposed to Christ may not themselves know what it is that unifies them. So St Thomas explains that people do not have to be consciously consenting to a suggestion of the devil, let alone entering into some formal pact with him, in order to have him as their head. Aquinas offers us the analogy of a military leader mustering his troops for battle. When the leader raises the standard, the emblem of his troops which they all recognise, that by itself is enough to prompt many of them to follow him. But in addition to this, the army chief may speak to some of the men individually, personally encouraging them to follow him, perhaps those whom he foresees will be most useful to him, or those who seem rather too sluggish.
In the same way, claims Aquinas, the devil sets up his standard, the example of his sin, in the sight of all mankind. He writes: 'the first sin of the devil, who sinned from the beginning, is set before all people for them to follow'. Presumably he means that the devil makes sure that all people are confronted with some example of rebellion against God. St Thomas quotes some words from the prophet Jeremiah, originally addressed to Israel, but applied by Christian tradition to Lucifer, Of old time, thou has broken my yoke, thou hast burst my bands, and thou saidst: I will not serve (Jer. 2:20). Those words, Non serviam, ‘I will not serve’, are so to speak the device emblazoned upon the devil’s standard. Whenever we hear this phrase, or some equivalent phrase, such as ‘human beings today must learn to create their own values’, or whenever we see or hear about actions inspired by such a sentiment, then the standard of our enemy is raised before our eyes. And for some, as St Thomas says, that is enough to induce to them to follow the devil’s example. But others, whether because they are more sluggish or more necessary to him, are also directly tempted by the devil in person. This was true, for example, of our first parents, Adam and Eve; by undermining them he was able to bring it about that all their descendants until the end of time would be born supernaturally naked, destitute of sanctifying grace.
The devil then is head of the city which is opposed to the city of Christ. Those who belong to his city not only need not have consciously put themselves under his power, they need not even believe in him. The simple fact that they are averted from God by mortal sin, whatever the nature of the sin, is enough to make them part of that rebellion against the Creator which the devil desires to engineer. So our Lord, in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, speaks of the tares as 'the children of the evil one', and the wheat as the 'children of the kingdom', and tells us that they will grow side by side in the field of the world, until the harvest.
So far I have said something about the origin of the two parties mentioned by Pope Leo XIII. To repeat St Augustine’s phrase: ‘Two loves have formed two cities: the love of self, reaching even to contempt of God, an earthly city; and the love of God, reaching even to contempt of self, a heavenly one.’ I have also said something about the head which gives to each its unity. The head of the city of God is Christ, who desires all people to be saved. As for the opposing city, what unity it has comes from the malice of our enemy, who from pride rebelled against God in the beginning, and who from envy of the happiness to which God calls us, encourages all rational creatures to rebel likewise, whatever form their rebellion may take. For the rest of tonight's lecture, I should like to speak first about the citizenry of these two cities, and secondly about their manner of warfare.
What is the city of God? The quotation from Leo XIII with which I began gave us a clear answer to that question. He said that it was ‘the kingdom of God on earth, namely, the true Church of Jesus Christ’. Pope Leo, then, has no hesitation in identifying the city of God with the Catholic Church. St Augustine likewise identifies the city of God with the Catholic Church, for example in his work, The City of God, Book XIII, chapter 16. This is a point worth making, since in recent years there has been a tendency to consider the Kingdom of God – which is the gospel equivalent of St Augustine's more 'Roman' term, 'City of God' – there has been a tendency to consider the Kingdom of God as being uniquely what is called an eschatological reality, that is, something that will only be established at the end of time. But in fact, the Fathers of the Church and the Popes clearly teach that the Kingdom of God is the Church, as Pope Leo does in the passage that I have just quoted.
But what precisely do we mean by identifying the Church as the Kingdom or City of God? We do not mean that all the Church’s members are outstanding for their devotion to God’s cause or even that all the decisions taken by those who govern her are invariably wise and fruitful. We mean that it is in the Church and by means of the gifts bestowed on her by Christ that those who so wish receive the power to escape from the control of our enemy and to love God above all else. As the Venerable John Henry Newman, whose beatification is eagerly awaited, said in one of his Dublin University Lectures, ‘the Catholic Church has been set up by Divine Mercy as a present, visible antagonist, and the only possible antagonist, to sight and sense’; in other words, it is only with the help of the Church that we can swim against the current of merely natural impulses which, if surrendered to, must carry us away from Christ. And I shall mention three gifts in particular which our Lord has bestowed on the Church which justify us in calling her the city or kingdom of God upon earth.
First, our Lord has given to the Church what the Second Vatican Council calls ‘an indefectible holiness’; by this we must understand, among other things, that the means of holiness, in particular the Mass and the seven sacraments will always be preserved within her. It is these means of holiness that give us the power to live a supernatural, rather than merely a natural life, loving God above all else, and loving our neighbour for his sake. We enter into this supernatural life, of course, by baptism, and the other sacraments nourish it in various ways, or else, with the sacrament of penance, restore it, should it be lost by mortal sin. Secondly, Christ has given to his Church the attribute of infallibility. This means not only that the pope and the bishops will never bind the whole body of the faithful to believe error, but also that the true doctrine on faith and morals will always be taught sufficiently to enable those who listen to the magisterium of the Church to avoid sin and to save their souls. Thirdly – and this is for the sake of the first two attributes, of infallibility and holiness – the Church has what we might call the attribute of constitutional perpetuity, meaning that she will always retain her essential, divinely-given constitution. She will remain as a hierarchically organised society governed by the pope and the bishops in communion with him until Christ comes again.
All those things are implied by calling the Church the City of God. We can therefore say that those who belong to the Church are citizens of the city of God; though we may add that those within the Church who are not in the state of grace are citizens with divided loyalties, since the overall direction of their lives puts them, unfortunately, in the opposite camp.
Now, what of this opposing city? To modern ears, accustomed as they are to the courtesies of ecumenism, it will no doubt sound harsh to say that it is composed of those who are outside the Catholic Church. Yet, with some important qualifications to be noted in a moment, this is the meaning of Pope Leo XIII, as it was of St Augustine before him. After all, if the city of God is identified with the Church, and if everyone on earth is a member either of the city of God or of the opposing city, then it follows that this opposing city must be constituted by those outside the Church. So Blessed Pius IX, in his 1846 encyclical Qui Pluribus, addressed to all the bishops of the world, says, quoting St Jerome, ‘whoever does not gather with this Church [that is, with the Catholic Church], scatters’. In other words, those who do not share the aims of the Catholic Church are never truly neutral, but are necessarily opposing her, whether they know this or not. St Jerome, of course, in these words quoted by Pope Pius, ‘he who does not gather with this Church, scatters’, was himself simply adapting the words of our Lord in St Matthew’s gospel, ‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters’. Since the Church is the mystical body of Christ, and so to speak the prolongation of his life on earth, these words used by Christ of himself can be legitimately applied to the Church, as is done by St Jerome and Blessed Pius IX.
I said a moment ago that there were some important qualifications to be made to the statement that the city of man is made up of those outside the Catholic Church. I should like to make two such qualifications, which will take some time to expound with the necessary attention to theological detail. The first qualification is that everyone who is validly baptised receives Catholic baptism, whatever the denomination to which the minister of their baptism belongs. There is only one baptism. So if a person is validly baptised, but is raised as a Protestant, let us say, or as a Greek Orthodox, then provided that this person does not himself commit the sin of heresy or the sin of schism, by refusing to join himself outwardly to the Catholic communion after the necessity of doing so has been sufficiently brought home to him (and only God can be the judge of that) then that person, separated though he may be from Catholics in his public religious prayer or his private devotional habits, or perhaps even by some of his prejudices, remains in God’s sight linked to the Catholic Church by virtue of his Catholic baptism. This is not to say that he is perfectly all right where he is! And here we come to something which, to be frank, I believe that modern ecumenism, as practised by Catholics, is often tempted to overlook. For even if a baptised non-Catholic has not personally committed the sins of heresy or schism, such a person surely remains in some danger of committing them, from the sheer fact of belonging to a communion that has come into being, insofar as it is separated from Rome, through these sins. What's more, he remains in danger of culpably failing to seek for a fuller understanding of Christianity than he already possesses from an intimation that this might lead to a painful severing of the ties that bind him to his present communion.
In 1878, John Henry Newman heard that his old friend and colleague Edward Pusey was in danger of death. Pusey had been, along with Newman, one of the leading figures of the Oxford Movement, which had sought to vindicate the claims of the Church of England to be part of the one, holy Catholic Church. Unlike Newman, however, Pusey had never made his submission to Rome. He was a man of blameless, and in fact famously austere, life; yet when Newman learnt of his impending death, he felt it his duty to write to one of Pusey's disciples, to ascertain whether Pusey might yet be induced to cross the Tiber:-
If Pusey really believed that the Anglican Church was a branch of the Catholic Church, Newman would accept, he said, that Pusey was dying 'in simple good faith'. But, he added, 'I cannot let him die, if such is God's will, with the grave responsibility lying upon me of such an appeal'. In other words, Newman felt it his duty, for the sake of his own salvation, not simply to assume that even so upright a Christian as Edward Pusey, separated as he was from visible union with the Catholic Church, was free from the guilt of heresy and schism. A chastening anecdote, perhaps, for our times.
And there are also of course many mortal sins other than schism and heresy. Against some of these other sins a baptised non-Catholic may, and increasingly, not be warned by the teaching of the denomination to which he belongs, nor has this communion as such the power to raise him from them. It is one of the greatest of the tragedies of the Protestant Reformation that it removed from so many baptised souls the only normal means of remitting grave sins committed after baptism, namely, the sacrament of penance.
Nevertheless, it is compatible with the true and traditional sense of the dogma, ‘No salvation outside the Church’, a dogma defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215 and by the Council of Florence in the year 1442, to suppose that there are souls who were joined to Christ by baptism and who, not having separated themselves from him by grave sin, are, though not yet externally part of the Catholic communion, nevertheless linked to the Catholic Church by their baptism, and therefore in a way to salvation. May there be many such! Such people need not fall under the rebuke expressed by Pius IX’s words, ‘he who does not gather with the Catholic Church, scatters’, nor are they fighting against the city of God. But for the reasons that I have just given, I think that we, like the great Cardinal Newman, should not assume that it is easy for souls to be and remain in this state.
Still greater caution is required when we reflect on those who have not yet been washed in the waters of baptism. The Council of Trent warns us that because of original sin, we are born under the dominion of the devil, and that we are unable to raise ourselves from this state by the forces of nature alone. 1 Baptism is the divinely-appointed means of freeing us from this servitude. It is true that the Church has a teaching about what is called ‘baptism of desire’. This teaching, which is based on some remarks of some of the Fathers of the Church, such as St Augustine and St Ambrose, and which was expounded more systematically by later doctors, such as St Thomas and St Alphonsus Liguori, this teaching affirms that since God is not fettered by his own sacraments, it is possible for him to give saving grace to one who through no fault of his own died before he was able to be baptised. Such a person, if he had faith in Christ, would not wholly separated from the Church, the mystical body of Christ, and so we need not despair of his salvation. But it would, I believe, be wrong to suppose, as came from the middle of the 20th Century to be often supposed, that those who piously practise non-Christian religions have already received this baptism of desire, even though they do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour. Such a supposition is surely irreconcilable with the infallible teaching of the Council of Florence to which I have just alluded, that non-Christians, as well as those baptised persons who are really guilty of the sins of heresy or schism, need to be changed from their present state and to be joined to the Church of Christ in order to attain salvation. Nowhere in the New Testament is it suggested that faith in Christ is merely one way among others to reach salvation. On the contrary, we read in the first epistle of St John, 'He who has the Son, has life; he who has not the Son, has not life'. And our Lord, speaking in his great prayer of Maundy Thursday, says, 'This is eternal life, to know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent'; and the phrase 'eternal life' refers not just to heaven, but to the life of faith, hope and charity which is a foretaste of heaven here below. Here we can recall that the important document Dominus Iesus, promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Feast of the Transfiguration in the year 2000, teaches that the religious beliefs of those who follow non-Christian religions must not be confused with the saving faith which is offered to us through the preaching of the Gospel, a faith which is explicitly in the person of Christ. We cannot hold, in other words, that the religious commitments involved in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and so on express this saving faith even in a less perfect form. Thus it is that in the solemn prayers for Good Friday contained in the missal of Pope Paul VI, we pray for all those who do not yet acknowledge Christ, that they may 'enter on the way of salvation'. This prayer clearly presupposes, in conformity with the teaching of the Council of Florence, that they have not yet entered on this saving way.
Having said this, I should also like to recall another point of Catholic doctrine, namely that God, being perfectly just, can never punish someone who is without fault. If then to acknowledge Christ and to be joined, at least in one's heart, to his Church is necessary for salvation, an encounter with Christ must be offered to everyone who is sincerely seeking after truth. As Pius IX taught in the 1863 encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, God will offer the helps necessary for salvation to those who, being blamelessly ignorant of the Catholic religion, nevertheless strive to follow the precepts of the natural law inscribed on man's heart. This teaching does not imply, as is often supposed today, that faith in Jesus Christ is unnecessary for salvation. Such an interpretation would, as I have said, surely be incompatible with the solemn teaching of the Council of Florence, that non-Christians need to be converted before the end of their lives. Pius IX's words give us to understand, rather, that the fidelity of such people to natural law will bring them one day to an encounter with Christ, thus enabling them to come to faith in him. And so if they do not hear the preaching of the Gospel in the usual way, then we may conclude, I believe, that Christ himself makes good the deficiencies of his preachers, and manifests himself to such people at some time of his choosing. This could well happen during the moments before death, even as the soul is preparing to leave the body, and perhaps without any externally visible sign of what is taking place within the soul. In this way no adult will be deprived of a real chance of salvation, but the necessity of faith in Christ will not be compromised. But important though this question is, I cannot go into it more fully now, for fear of overstepping the limits assigned to me.
The second qualification that I should like to make is that in identifying the city of man as the assembly of those outside the Church, Catholic tradition certainly does not mean that those who belong to this city are unable to do any good. Even those who have neither charity nor hope nor faith may have many good qualities, and not only qualities independent of their own free will such as a cheerful disposition or a good singing voice, but even some properly speaking moral qualities, such as a certain love of justice or sense of honour. The Catholic Church, speaking in the person of Pope St Pius V, has rejected the old Protestant view, which is contained, for example, in the thirteenth of the 39 Articles of the Church of England, that all actions done without the grace of Christ ‘have the nature of sin’. The same Pope, St Pius V, also rejected the slogan, current among some overly rigorous theologians of his day, that ‘the virtues of the philosophers are vices’. St Pius, that is, taught that even those ignorant of revelation, such as the old pagan philosophers, could have virtues which were not merely vices in disguise; that they could, for example, perform just actions which were genuinely done out of an appreciation of the goodness and beauty of justice, and not simply from a desire to be praised. Such actions will possess a natural goodness, proceeding as they do from human nature which, though fallen, remains in itself the creature of God and therefore good.
Again, Pope Clement XI, in 1713, defined against the Jansenists, the overly-rigorous party of his day, that those outside the Church do receive some graces. There is, as you know, a distinction between, on the one hand sanctifying grace, which is also called ‘the state of grace’, and which transforms the soul by giving it a share in the divine nature, and making it the dwelling of the Three Divine Persons; and on the other hand, actual graces, which are passing influences by which God so to speak breathes on the human will, allowing someone to perform a work that goes beyond his natural strength, or at least to perform it with a promptitude more than merely natural. So theologians teach that even those who lack faith and therefore are not in a state of grace may receive actual graces, for example the desire to have faith, or the beginning of sorrow for their sins. Nevertheless, as we may infer from the teaching of the Council of Trent, until such people are brought by faith into a state of grace, they are not yet able to love God habitually more than themselves. In other words, an unbeliever, though able to perform individual good actions, remains habitually averted from God, and therefore he belongs to the city of man.
Naturally – and I should hope that this goes without saying – I am not suggesting that we should look on those outside the Church as our enemies! That would run contrary to the elementary precepts of the Gospel. ‘God forbid’, wrote Blessed Pius IX to the bishops of Italy, ‘that the children of the Catholic Church should...in any way be unfriendly to those who are not united to us by the bonds of faith and love.’2 No, it is the devil and his angels whom we should regard as enemies. Those of our fellow men who have not yet entered into the city of God through the gate of faith, we regard not as enemies, but as friends currently in enemy hands. Here we may call to mind the remark of St Thomas Aquinas, already mentioned, that all human beings living on earth are at least potentially members of Christ. And even if in every age there are some human beings who deliberately seek to undermine Christian faith and morals wherever they are found, the great majority of those outside the city of God surely have no such intention, being engaged rather in seeking natural happiness than, like the devil, in seeking to obstruct supernatural happiness. Only, alas, as the Council of Trent tells us, the pursuit of natural happiness, though legitimate in itself, is unable to put fallen man right with God.
Our qualifications having been duly made, what are we left with? With this: that a great battle rages on earth between the Catholic Church and the enemy of our race, and that whether they know it or not, all who do not embrace the faith of the Church are caught up, voluntarily or involuntarily, and in very varying degrees, in the rebellion which Satan engineers against almighty God. This teaching, which I have tried to elucidate with the aid of various magisterial texts, and with the help of SS Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, was also the teaching of St Paul. When he is first converted, our Lord speaks to him of the nations of the world in these terms, ‘I am sending you to the gentiles, so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to God’ (Acts 26:18). Christ says of the gentiles, of those outside the covenant, not that they can do nothing good, nor that they are all culpable for their unbelief, but that they are under the dominion of the devil. Elsewhere St Paul emphasises that to be a Christian is to have part in a great and cosmic combat. So he writes in his epistle to the Ephesians, ‘our warfare', that is, the warfare of the Church, 'is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places’ (Eph. 6:12). Such is the daunting combat into which we have been introduced by holy baptism.
This brings me to the final part of tonight’s lecture, the nature of the warfare being waged between these two cities. The aims of those who direct each side we know: the salvation of souls and the glory of God on the one side, the loss of souls and the dishonouring of God on the other. But what can we say of the war itself, of the means by which it is waged on either hand, of its progress and issue? Of course, even with the light of faith, we cannot hope, as mortal human beings, to have a clear view of what is essentially a spiritual combat. Moreover, even if we were miraculously to be granted a vision of the true state of things, so as to see in an instant of time all human souls and the degrees to which they were currently suffering the influence either of Christ or his enemy, we should not be able thereby to predict with any certainty the future course of events. Free will is engaged on either side; and indeed free will is of greater significance in this war than it can be in any material combat, since here it is precisely in proportion to the good or bad use of free will that either side advances. Again, as mere human beings we cannot hope to understand the stratagems of the angelic intelligences ranged against the city of God; far less, as St Paul declares, can we pierce the inscrutable counsels of God himself, and the way in which in every age he brings good out of evil for those who love him.
Pope Leo XIII, in the same encyclical with which I began tonight's talk, alluded to the complexity as well as to the continuity of this war, stating that ‘at every period of time, each [side] has been in conflict with the other, with a variety and multiplicity of weapons and of warfare, although not always with equal ardour and assault.’ In any prolonged human war, we see climaxes and lulls, variations in tactics and strategy, retreats, regrouping and fresh assaults. There seems no reason to doubt that the same is true of the spiritual combat about which I am trying to speak tonight.
Nevertheless, having presumed to talk on such a theme, though conscious of the psalmist’s warning against concerning oneself with great affairs beyond one’s scope, I must try to say something more specific about the combat. In the time that remains to me, I should like in particular to emphasise the social character of this struggle. Ultimately, of course, it is souls that are at stake, and a soul is by definition something individual. A country or other human society has no immortal soul or eternal destiny. The efforts of the Church are directed above all to the salvation of souls; the efforts of our enemy, the one of whom our Lord says that he ‘was a murderer from the beginning’, are directed above all to the destruction of souls. And we are familiar, I hope, with the means by which individuals as such take part in the spiritual combat on one side or another: on the one side, by the weapons of prayer, penance, fulfilment of our duties of state and worthy reception of the sacraments; on the other, by sin in all its forms, especially by bad example and direct incitement to evil. All the same, when two great bodies confront each other, their conflict necessarily also wears a social aspect. The conflict between the two cities is therefore not only, though it is above all, something conducted in the secrecy of each individual heart; it is also present in the public life of every human society.
Let us then briefly recall the teaching of the Church on the proper relation between Jesus Christ and our individual human societies: the United Kingdom, for example, or the United States of America. I think, it's fair to say, incidentally, that this teaching is not always understood even by some who are otherwise well informed about Catholic doctrine. The Church teaches, then, that our Lord Jesus Christ, both as God and as the one to whom, in his human nature, all authority has been entrusted by his Father, has the right to rule over all human societies. Pope Pius XI taught this very clearly in the 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, by which he instituted the new Feast of Christ the King. The pope stated in this encyclical that one of his intentions in establishing this new solemnity was that nations might 'be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and leaders are bound to give public honour and obedience to Christ'. Nor was this a new teaching. Leo XIII, in his 1900 encyclical Tametsi futura had spoken in exactly the same terms. Pope Leo wrote as follows:-
And Leo XIII concludes this passage with a solemn warning: 'Since this is so by divine decree, and no man may with impunity contravene it, it is an evil thing for the common weal wherever Christianity does not hold the place that belongs to it'. The modern Catechsim of the Catholic Church also re-affirms in paragraph 2105 that kingship of Christ is not only over individuals, but also 'over human societies'.
Please note that the popes and the catechism are certainly not trying to obliterate the distinction between Church and State. This distinction has been a commonplace of papal teaching at least since the time of Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century. It represents, in fact, one of the many contrasts between Christianity and Islam, for in Islam the distinction of Church and State is not made. But to distinguish does not mean to separate: and the popes, whenever they have addressed the question magisterially, have firmly rejected the separation of the State from the Church. Pope Leo XIII, in the 1888 encyclical Libertas Humana called it 'a fatal principle'. 3 St Pius X, in his 1906 encyclical Vehementer Nos, written to all the Catholics of France, described the separation of Church and State, when presented as an ideal, as 'a thesis absolutely false and a most pernicious error'. And the Second Vatican Council, despite what is sometimes claimed, expressly stated in its decree Dignitatis Humanae, that it left unchanged the traditional teaching of the duty which societies as such owe to the true Church of Christ. It is difficult, in fact, to see how any ecumenical council could change a teaching which had been given so often and so clearly by a succession of Roman Pontiffs.
The Church and the State, then, ought to remain distinct, meaning both that the same people ought not normally to govern both, and that the distinction between the proper goals of each should be maintained, these goals being respectively the supernatural and the natural flourishing of mankind. But Church and State ought not, ideally and according to the teaching of the Popes, to be separated. In the papal encyclicals that I have already mentioned and other similar ones, we find at least two reasons why not. First of all, to separate Church from State, as happened most famously and very violently in the French Revolution from 1789 onwards, is in practice to reject Christ’s kingship over human societies, something which Pope Pius XI calls a 'shameful error'. To remove Christ's name from the constitution and set up a secular state is to say, like the men in the parable, We do not want this man to reign over us. Secondly, wherever the State does not accept the supremacy of Christ's law, it must inevitably substitute something merely human and therefore fallible as its supreme norm, for example, majority voting or the will of a certain political class. Given the defects of human nature, this will inevitably lead the law of the land to be detached from natural law, with its severe demands. So we can see how practices such as abortion or divorce and remarriage have spread through Catholic countries, or formerly Catholic countries, in consequence of the separation of Church and State. In order to avoid such consequences, the Church and the body politic ought, while remaining distinct to be united, somewhat as the immortal human soul and the perishable human body are distinct but united. By means of the union of Church and State and the official recognition of the Kingship of Christ in the constitution of the society, practices which are destructive of Christian civilisation can be prevented from spreading through a Christian people.
In other words, the teaching of the Popes who have dealt with these questions magisterially is incompatible with the influential view of the 17th Century philosopher John Locke, a view adopted by some Catholic writers from the 19th Century onwards, that the State ought ideally to be neutral in all religious questions. Such a neutrality is in fact impossible, since not to acknowledge the supremacy of Christ’s law is in practice to withdraw oneself from that law and so to deny its binding force. Official neutrality, as Leo XIII foresaw, ends in practical atheism on the part of the State. 4 Once again, we find ourselves confronted with our Lord’s simple words: ‘the one who is not for me is against me’; these words apply to societies as well as to individual men and women. In the long run, every society must be either for Christ or anti-Christ. It was at best a noble illusion, now disproved by facts, but rejected in advance by the popes from Gregory XVI onwards, which led some so-called Liberal Catholics to suppose that holy Church would flourish the more, the less it was protected by the law of the land. In reality, as the contemporary French Catholic writer, Jean Madiran, has observed, ‘Wherever the Church does not enjoy the support of a political power independent of herself, she can only survive by becoming once more, first mystically and then physically, a silent Church, a Church of martyrs.’5
Our Lord, then ought to rule over society, both because he has the right to do so and also for the good of society, which means, ultimately, for the eternal good of the citizens. In a well-ordered Christian society, where the laws are conformed to the law of Christ, it is made easier for the citizens to obtain salvation. Hence the Decalogue, that is, the ten Commandments, interpreted authentically by the Catholic Church, ought to be the framework of all law. Of course, wise legislators will bear in mind the remark of St Thomas Aquinas, that the aim of law is to make men good not all at once, but gradually. So a well-ordered Catholic society would not make all sins into criminal offences; one would not be fined for telling a lie, for example; rather as St Thomas explains, such a society would forbid the graver violations of the commandments, in particular those which most men are able to avoid, and those which are most liable to do harm to others. But such a society will not remain neutral or agnostic about the true end of man. On the contrary, as the angelic doctor expressly states in his treatise De Regno, which deals with the duties of political rulers, civil society should be governed with our supernatural destiny in mind. He writes:-
We can add in parentheses that one of the constraints limiting the action of the political ruler, a constraint acknowledged by St Thomas and by the Roman Pontiffs, is that no one may be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his will. All the same, where a people is once firmly established in Christian faith and morals, the civil rulers do have the right and duty to protect the people against what would undermine their allegiance to Christ and his Church.
The Church's teaching in this domain, then, is far from what may be termed the liberal consensus, a consensus which is apparently shared by all the mainstream political parties of our day, whether they are called parties of the right, or of the left, or of the centre. According to this liberal consensus, the role of politicians is to implement the will of the majority of the citizens. Hence, if, in a modern, liberal society, such as the United Kingdom, certain actions are outlawed, this is not because they are contrary to the will of God, but because they are disapproved of by the majority. According to the Popes, by contrast, the task of those with authority, whether they be elected representatives or hereditary monarchs, is so to govern society that men may reach the natural and supernatural perfection for which they were created, or, as Pope Leo XIII puts it, so that through following 'the injunctions of the civil law, all may more easily conform to the prescriptions of the eternal law'. 6 That is why St Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, can refer to the civil ruler as 'the minister of God'. The Catholic, as opposed to the modern liberal, view depends on our belief that since God has created us for eternal beatitude, and has also created us as social beings, therefore, because his plan is unified and consistent with itself, he must intend civil society to help us on our way to heaven. Therefore, it must be part of God's plan that our civil rulers should be mindful of our supernatural vocation, and, as Pope Pius XI says, that they should yield 'public honour and obedience to Christ'.
All these things being so, we must surely expect that the enemy of our race will wage war not only against individual souls but also against human society as such. He will do this both in order to usurp the honour which human societies ought to bestow upon Christ and in order to make societies less able to lead us towards heavenly blessedness. In other words, not only individual human hearts, but also our societies as such, form the battleground where the two cities will meet.
How then will our enemy seek to gain control of our societies? I should suggest that two things above all fashion human societies, namely law and custom. Insofar as the laws and customs of a society are Christian, that society is Christian; insofar as the laws and customs are alien from Christ, so is the society. To take the law first of all. We can presume that our enemy will try to detach the law of the land from the law of Christ. Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical on the Kingship of Christ to which I have already alluded, explains that the process has several stages. Describing the dechristianisation of the law which had already occurred by 1925 in various places, and using forceful language proportioned to the gravity of the case, he writes:-
In our country, too, we may distinguish several stages in the dechristianisation of our law. For this process did not begin yesterday or the day before. It began with the schism from the see of Rome initiated by Henry VIII and consummated under Elizabeth I. Although this schism did not explicitly attack the principle of the supremacy of Christ's law over human society, it did certainly repudiate what the Second Vatican Council calls 'the duty which societies owe to the true Church of Christ'; evidently, since it repudiated that Church itself. In so doing it also denied the honour due to Christ. Once the schism had been made, and our country no longer recognised the Bishop of Rome as the final and infallible arbitrator on matters of faith and morals, the way lay open for the law of the land to be detached from the law of Christ and even from natural law. This happened strikingly in the 17th Century, with the acceptance by the House of Lords of the possibility of divorce and remarriage, at least in certain circumstances. From the mid 19th century, the State was ceasing to offer a vigorous protection to the established Church, and the philosophical principles which would lead to a massive apostasy of civil law from natural law were in place, here as abroad. For such philosophical principles include not simply atheistic Communism, to which Pope Pius XI was alluding at the end of the passage which I quoted, but also the liberal principle that makes the will of the majority a sufficient norm of law. And we all know, it is from the 20th Century onwards, and more particularly from the 1960's, that the dissolution of Christian society here and elsewhere gathered pace and became apparently unstoppable, so that today, as governments worldwide sponsor the killing of the unborn, or of the partly born, and place homosexual relationships on a par with marriage, often without any serious opposition from the mass of their electorates, we may seem to ourselves to be living not so much in the ruins as in the rubble of Christendom. Here we may remember that Pope John Paul II, shortly before he died, spoke of the silent apostasy of modern Europe.8 If anyone thinks this too strong a phrase, let him ponder on what would happen were someone to go into the legislative chambers of Europe and call upon the assembled deputies, in Pius XI's phrase, to yield public honour and obedience to Christ.
Furthermore, as I suggested a few moments ago, a society is shaped not only by its laws but also by its customs, by which I mean both its generally accepted mores and also its customary or commonly received ideas. Changes in mores and received ideas will profoundly change the character of a society, even if the law does not alter; though in the long run the law itself will no doubt alter under the influence of such changes. For example, the widespread acceptance and practice of cohabitation in place of marriage fundamentally changes the character of a society, even if the legal definition of marriage remains intact. With regard to ideas, a difference in the received beliefs about, for example, the origin of man and his destiny after this life will stamp different characters on the societies where they prevail, even should the laws of all these societies be identical. A society where chance or fate is generally considered to explain the origin of the human race is not a Christian one, any more than a society where cohabitation is treated as morally equivalent to marriage.
Whence do the mores and received ideas of a society arise? They seem to come, as I have said, not from the law, which is too remote and impersonal to produce them, but from whatever agents act directly, personally and consistently on the mass of the citizens, especially during their early and formative years. These formative agents, these various centres of influence, will therefore also form part of the battleground between the city of God and the city of man. What are the centres of influence which have forged the mores and ideas of the modern world? Perhaps everyone will have his own list. I should like to mention five, which are rather diverse and are no doubt of unequal weight, which on the whole have worked and are working to dechristianise the mores and ideas of what once was Christendom. Though I do not have time fully to justify my choice of these five powers, I propose that they are the schools, the universities, the media, and the music and fashion industries. Let me very briefly say something about each.
First, about the schools. It is an undeniable fact that modern schools, considered en masse, do not instruct pupils in the principles of the natural law. While pupils may receive instruction on the evil of racism and on the supposed evils of smoking or of emitting carbon dioxide, most of them are only too evidently not instructed on matters of the greatest moment for their own lives and for the lives of the societies to which they belong, in particular, on their duties to God, on the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of innocent human life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. And even this is to say too little; children are in effect officially encouraged to violate moral principles, for example through the presentation and distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients. Nor should we underestimate the role played in breaking down children’s natural modesty by classroom instructions in the most intimate of subjects, something which runs contrary to the Church’s insistence that such instruction is the prerogative of parents, and hence belongs in the private, not the public realm.
Our universities, to take the next item on my list, not only fail, on the whole, to remedy the failure of the schools to instruct future citizens in the natural law; they also foster the intellectual principles, which undermine the very idea of natural law. I should mention three principles in particular. First, 'consequentialism', the idea that no kind of action can be good or bad in itself, but only by reasons of its hypothetical consequences. Secondly, political liberalism, which as already mentioned is the view that politicians ought to abstract from questions of religious and moral truth, and legislate according to the prevailing will or mood of society. Thirdly, 'evolutionism', the doctrine which denies the Creator and attributes the origin of mankind and of all living things to the twin gods of Chance and Necessity. Against this last doctrine, perhaps the most destructive heresy of modern times, I should suggest that Catholics need to recover their confidence in the Book of Genesis as expounded by the magisterium of the Church, in particular a firm belief in our descent from our first father and first mother, who were specially formed by a good Creator to be the parents of all mankind.
The mass media seem to exercise their solvent power on Christianity by two means in particular, namely, repetition and desensitization. The newspapers that fall through our letter-boxes every morning, the programmes emitted by ten million television sets every evening, are only too often vehicles of words and images simply hostile to God, faith, purity, Jesus Christ. Is there not a real danger even for believers of becoming accustomed, desensitized, to these things? Perhaps it would be a good practice for us to fast at least one day a week from the media in order to resist this process of desensitization.
Please note that I am not suggesting that any of these centres of influence is intrinsically bad or that we never see them serving the cause of Christ. Obviously there are good teachers, good university lecturers, good journalists and so on. What I am suggesting is that in practice in the modern world the five centres of influence which I distinguished have tended and are tending overall to dechristianise society, to spread morals and beliefs which are actively opposed to the gospel of Christ. Nor should we be surprised if this is so, if those who control them are not committed, as often they are not, to the cause of Christ. If the text, 'the one who is not for me is against me' applies to individuals and to societies, why should it not also apply to schools, to universities, to newspapers, to television and radio stations, to fashion-houses, and to advertisers? All these mighty institutions must, whether they will it or not, range themselves behind one of two banners, either the Cross of Christ, or the Non serviam of his enemy.
Some people may be surprised that I should include on my list the last two items, namely, the music and fashion industries. These might seem to have only a superficial influence on our lives, in comparison to the first three. But I should disagree. In regard to music, I should refer objectors to Plato's Republic, Book IV. Here Plato writes that music has such great power over human beings that whenever the prevailing style of music in a society changes, the whole way of life of that society is bound to change as well. Consequently, he warns, a change in a people's music is a perilous thing. Plato's greatest pupil, Aristotle, explains that music, by its melodies and rhythms has a unique power to express the emotions and qualities of the soul: to express, for example, courage, peacefulness, purity, or on the contrary to express anger, weakness and unrestraint. He adds that if we learn to take pleasure in the musical expression of some quality, we shall also come to take pleasure in the quality itself.9 Hence the importance, for Aristotle, of a music which evokes virtues and not vices, since such a music will dispose its hearers toward living just and balanced lives. I believe that no dispassionate observer would deny that the introduction and spread of a highly sexualised form of popular music in the second half of the twentieth century, has been a catalyst for the spread of promiscuity, with all its devastating social consequences. Have not Plato and Aristotle been vindicated by Sir Michael Jagger? As for the last item on my list, the fashion industry, the link between modesty in dress and the observance of other precepts of the moral law is surely too obvious to require any labouring.
You may be thinking that I am painting a dark picture of the modern world when I say that its main centres of influence are working against Christ and his Church. But I believe it is a realistic one. In St Luke's Gospel, our Lord predicts that his Church will be like an army of ten thousand men, going out to fight a rival force of twenty thousand. It is therefore not surprising if we should find ourselves sometimes out-gunned and out-manoeuvred. But let us hope that dedication to our cause will make up for our lack of numbers.
To finish, what can we say of the future? How will the war between the city of God and the city of man develop? I have already remarked that we cannot infer the future from the present, since both human free will and divine grace are impenetrable to our gaze. However, we are not thereby prevented from saying anything about the future, since revelation in some measure dispels our natural ignorance. Scripture and Tradition do teach us some things about the future. Above all, we have the certainty of faith that the conflict between the two cities will end in the victory of Christ. It will end with what we call the Second Coming, when our Lord will return to manifest his sovereignty over all creation. In the powerful words of St Paul to the Thessalonians, 'The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with the angels of his power, in a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ' (2 Thess. 1:7-8). But meanwhile, what should we expect? Basing ourselves on revelation, we can foretell that the conflict will intensify rather than diminish as it continues. This is suggested by various passages in the final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse. This book gives us, we can say, a picture of history as it appears to God, and it presents us with many symbolic pictures of the clash between the city of God and the city of man, from the incarnation to the Last Judgement. Apocalypse chapter 12, for example, presents the devil as raging against the woman, who represents the Church, 'knowing that he has but a short time'. It would seem to follow that the shorter the time grows, the fiercer Christians may expect the battle to become. Already four hundred years ago, St Francis de Sales, contemplating the inroads made on Christendom by the followers of John Calvin, could write, l'ante-christ approche toujours plus, ce n'est merveille si ses troupes s'avancent plus dru.10 Roughly translated, 'the anti-christ draws ever nearer, no wonder if his troops come on apace.' What would he have said, I wonder, had he foreseen the 21st Century?
My quotation from the gentleman saint, Francis de Sales, reminds us of another way in which the veil of the future has been lifted for us by divine revelation. We are taught by both Scripture and Tradition that the earthly forces opposed to Christ, which at present are united only imperfectly, will at some future time attain a visible unity, by acquiring a visible as well as an invisible head. Various passages in the New Testament warn us of the antichrist, the man in whose person all the hostility to our Lord which has existed in the world since the incarnation will be summed up, and, so to speak, distilled. St Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians describes him as 'the man of sin', 'who opposes and is lifted up above all that is called God, or is worshipped', who gives himself, that's to say, priority over both the true God and false ones, 'showing himself as if he were God'. St Paul also says that he will not appear 'unless there come a revolt first'. The Greek word for revolt here is 'apostasia', which gives us the word apostasy. St Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on this passage of Scripture, says that the revolt in question is an apostasy from the Roman empire, understood not temporally but spiritually, that is, as he puts it, 'from the Catholic faith of the Roman Church'.
St John in his first epistle also refers to antichrist, for example in chapter two, verse eighteen, 'as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come'. That's to say, before he comes, he will be prefigured by various heresiarchs and persecutors, somewhat as Christ was foreshadowed by many Old Testament figures. St John also says that the characteristic mark of this final persecutor and of his precursors is to 'deny the Father and the Son'.
Summing up the Church's tradition, St Thomas Aquinas explains in question eight of the Third Part of the Summa, that the antichrist will be a man in whom the fullness of devil's malice will dwell. Not that he will be an incarnation of the devil, since the power to assume a complete nature, as happened at the incarnation of the Word, is proper to God alone: rather, he will be the most perfect instrument for effecting the rebellion of rational creatures from God. St Thomas further notes that antichrist may be called the head of all the wicked, adding that 'the devil and antichrist are not two heads but one, since antichrist is called “head” because the malice of the devil is most fully imprinted on him'. There is an analogy here to the relation between our Lord and his vicar on earth. The pope is called head of the church on earth not in addition to Christ, but insofar as he represents Christ the Head. In the same way, according the Angelic Doctor, antichrist will be head of all the wicked inasmuch as he is vicar of one worse than himself.
It is interesting to note that whereas the older universal catechism, that produced after the Council of Trent and commonly called The Roman Catechism, merely mentions the coming of antichrist as a point of Catholic doctrine, the modern Catechsim of the Catholic Church goes into a little more detail. Section 675 of this newer catechism contains the following statements:-
That, then, is how the newer catechism describes this future attempt to unify the human race independently of Christ, and therefore in opposition to him: it will be 'a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth'. John Henry Newman, in a work written in 1835 when he was still an Anglican, made the following suggestion about this future event:-
(No doubt after his conversion he would have made clear that whatever may happen to individual members of the Church, the Church as such will not be moved from her true position, since in every age the magisterium of the Church will continue to teach us all that is necessary for salvation.) Newman, then, feared not so much direct persecution, as the spreading of a mentality inimical to faith; the hypnotising of men's imaginations, we might say, by the triumphs of modern technology. Still musing on these questions forty years later, in an address given to seminarians at Olton, Newman remarked that the Church was for the first time having to confront not just a world with different religious principles from her own, but rather 'a world simply irreligious'.
Well, these are mysterious matters, and I for one do not intend to try to be wiser than Cardinal Newman and to prophesy the time or manner in which these things will come to pass. As our Lord says, it is not for us to know the times and seasons. Yet it is worth reflecting that despite the future persecution predicted by Scripture and Tradition, we need not suppose that the Church in this world has only sufferings and set-backs to await. J.R.R. Tolkien possessed an admirable Catholic faith, but I think that he exaggerated when he wrote in 1956 to one of his correspondents, 'I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a long defeat'. The example of mediaeval Christendom, with all its flaws, shows on the contrary that it is possible to construct a social order which acknowledges the kingship of Christ.
What's more, we seem to have a promise, given some ninety years ago, of a time when this kingship will again be recognised. I allude here to the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, and to the message bound up with these events. While as we all know, the Church cannot oblige the faithful to give to such messages the assent of faith, coming as they do after the end of the apostolic age, the presence of the feast of our Lady of Fatima on the universal calendar shows the Church's acceptance of the fact of the Blessed Virgin's apparition to the three young visionaries. For those who may not be familiar with the detail of these events, I recall that Blessed Francisco, Blessed Jacinta and their cousin Lucia stated that they received six apparitions from May to October 1917. In the course of these, our Lady is reported as having foretold the massive assault on Christendom which would characterise the 20th Century, but also to have said that as a result of a ceremony of consecration to be performed by the pope in union with whole body of Catholic bishops, 'a period of peace would be granted to the world'. According to the children's report, Mary foretold that persecutions of the Church and of the pope would multiply, but added, 'in the end, my immaculate heart will triumph'. If we accept the authenticity of these messages, validated as they were by a public miracle of which the time and place were predicted in advance, then we must surely suppose that Christendom will spring up once more, in some form or other, before the end. The words 'a period of peace' do not seem to refer to the return of Christ in glory, since this will usher in not a period of peace but perpetual peace. Again, in the language of heaven, the term 'peace' surely refers not merely to an absence of material war, but also to a right ordering of civil society in relation to supernatural values. Peace, St Augustine tells us, is the tranquillity of order, and there is no true order where men are not directed toward their true head, where society is not directed toward the incarnate Word. To quote the motto of Pope Pius XI, Pax Christi in Regno Christi, 'the peace of Christ by means of the reign of Christ'. In other words, the message of Fatima gives us good grounds to think that at some point within history the tide will turn once more and that in the words of the same Pope, rulers and leaders will again yield public honour and obedience to Christ. But how long this period of peace will be, and whether it will occur before or after the final persecution of which the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks is, I think, unknown.
That brings me to the end of tonight's lecture. Relying on the surest interpreters of divine revelation, in the first place on the magisterium of the Church and then on the teaching of her doctors, I have tried to elucidate the doctrine of the two cities. There are perhaps dangers in spending much time on such a subject, in particular the danger that in the midst of exalted thoughts we may lose sight of what matters most for our salvation, namely, the daily performance of our duties as humble foot-soldiers of Christ. Yet I believe that to reflect sometimes on the greatness of the combat in which we are engaged can inspire us afterwards to return to our daily duties with renewed confidence and ardour. Thank you very much for your kind attention.
1. Session 6, cap. 1: “'Since all men lost innocence by the prevarication of Adam, 'made unclean' and as the apostle says, 'by nature children of wrath', they have been so far 'slaves of sin' and under the power of the devil and of death that not only can the gentiles not be freed and rise again by the force of nature, but neither may the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses.”