Most regular visitors to the SBC website, and very many other Americans, see that the nation is in a sorry state. The increasing and worrying rate of inflation; the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens flooding the country every month through our open southern border; the violent crime that has city-dwellers afraid to go to the grocery store or walk in the park; racial division fomented by CRT; government and media Covid fear-mongering and the vax and masking mandates; the diminution of our weight in the world after the Afghanistan debacle; the moral squalor in which we are sunk as reflected, for instance, in the recent survey showing that a third of millennials identify as LGBTQ – all that and more contribute to many wondering if there will still be a recognizable America a few years from now.
My sense is that there will not. I say that because what already exists is unrecognizable from the America I knew in my boyhood and youth 80-odd, 70 and 60 years ago. It’s been downhill all the way.
Of course the generation of my parents also believed, especially in their later years and as older persons often are inclined to do, that things had changed for the worse in their lifetime. They were also correct in their belief. Unfortunately, my parents embodied things-for-the-worse when, for example, they divorced in 1948, something that would have been very difficult, if not impossible, in their parents’ time. My mother lived long enough to see it become easier still with the advent of no-fault divorce. Today, of course, there is a growing trend of couples not to bother with marriage in the first place.
Of course, also, there are plenty of persons in today’s America who would not see that as a sign of decline, but of “progress,” of greater “freedom.” That these Americans exist in the number they do is another mark of decay.
Anybody who believes the decay can be arrested, not to say reversed, by means of electoral politics – the replacement of the regime now in power in Washington by a GOP majority in Congress and the return of Donald Trump or election as president of a red-state governor, as welcome as those developments might be – is guilty of worse than wishful thinking. He is ignorant of history. The decline of America and the rest of the formerly Christian and now liberal West did not begin on election day in November, 2020.
We are not going to rehearse here the history of the past 500 years of decadence beyond outlining that it began with the Protestant revolt commonly referred to as the Reformation in the 16th century followed in the 18th by the intellectual and social disaster that called itself Enlightenment, which exploded into politics in Europe and its overseas outposts starting in 1789 and is still unfolding. The Revolution consisted of the overthrow of Christian government, the only kind that had existed for more than a thousand years. Its main result was aristocracy being replaced by the bourgeoisie as the ruling class of society. Whereas the cultivation of virtue and noblesse oblige had set society’s tone and governed the actions of men so that they would be chivalrous or strive for it, now the supposed good life was imagined as making money and the accumulation of material goods. If you ever thought of God, you assumed you must be right with Him provided your bank-account balance was satisfactory. Pleasing Him certainly didn’t figure in your day-to-day living, much less in the conduct of political life and social affairs.
All this has been understood and explained at length by men like Christopher Dawson, the greatest Catholic historian in the English language in the 20th century, any one of whose many books can be read profitably (and will probably lead to reading others). Another who observed the long and, by his time, accelerating decline of civilization (for that is really what we’re talking about) was Pope Pius XI. He would also prescribe its only real corrective. That was in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas.
In this encyclical Pius XI enjoined on the Church everywhere the annual observance of the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday in October. In prescribing the remedy for the ills besetting modern society, he identified their cause: Ignoring that Our Lord Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is ruler of this world and thus of society, and as such is owed our praise and obedience to His commandments. He is not merely king of our hearts, as priests commonly put it, if they remember His rulership at all, now that the feast has been moved to November. He is that, of course, but if that is all He is He simply is not God.
You can and should read Quas Primas for yourself, but let me highlight a couple of passages. There is this: “Christ’s kingly dignity demands that the state should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice.”
Another passage is especially pertinent at a time when, as in 2020, the state goes so far as to order the country’s churches to close, thus denying the sacraments to the faithful, without protest, let alone resistance, from the supine bishops: “The Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state. The Church cannot be subject to any external power in the exercise of her mission.”
That government in the U.S. and elsewhere has not scrupled as it has to violate the Church’s rights, and having done so once may attempt to do so again (and not necessarily for reasons of public health), puts us in mind of another of Pius XI’s declarations: “Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults.”
I’ll conclude here by quoting some lines from the old Daily Office for the Feast of Christ the King. (They are omitted from the new Daily Office.)
“May the rulers of the world publicly honor and extol thee; may teachers and judges reverence thee; may the laws express thine order and the arts reflect thy beauty. May kings find renown in their submission and dedication to thee. Bring under thy gentle rule our country and our homes.”