Doing God’s Will

In his most important book, Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, the great Spanish Catholic diplomat, statesman and political thinker Juan Donoso Cortes (1809-53), often called “the Spanish de Maistre,” wrote: “Governments seem to be endowed with an unerring instinct which teaches them that they can only be just and strong in the name of God. Thus it happens that whenever they commence to secularize, that is to say, to separate themselves from God, they always begin to relax the severity of penalties, as if they were conscious that their right was weakened.”

Donoso went on to explain that when religion declines far enough that the political power is thoroughly secularized, as in the U.S. in our day, the criminal will be transformed in the eyes of society. He will even lose the name of criminal. This will especially be the case with especially heinous crimes, as when somebody massacres a room full of schoolchildren, many members of a movie-theater audience, or everybody he used to know at a workplace. Instead of calling the person a criminal, we call him insane, unfortunate or even a victim. The poor fellow would not have done as he did, we hear, except that he was abused as a child, bullied by jocks in high school, or oppressed because of the color of his skin.

Donoso’s subject was capital punishment when he wrote the lines I quoted above. Its abolition was being sought in Spain and elsewhere in Europe in the 1840s when he wrote. Today, of course, there is no nation in formerly Christian Europe that still has the death penalty in its statute books. The Church had a role in this development when, in the early post-Vatican II years, she still played a part in public affairs as she had before the Council. For example, Pope Paul VI publicly called on General Franco to spare the lives of three ETA terrorist cop-killers. (Franco respectfully rejected the appeal.) In the U.S. seamless-garment Churchmen stitched opposition to capital punishment onto the pro-life cause. The inability of such Churchmen to distinguish between innocent pre-born babies and convicted murderers is not our concern here.

In what he wrote, Donoso wrote prophetically. He could do so for two reasons. First, he began his public career as a champion of liberalism. Having formerly adhered to the ideology, he knew to what it could lead. Second, he possessed the gift of prophecy in the true sense of the word. The prophet doesn’t simply foresee the future. It is because he can discern the will of God, he can see what will happen if it is ignored or defied.

Having foreseen that criminals of one kind or another would eventually occupy the seats of power, Donoso closed the section of his book on capital punishment with the following language:

“Those who have made the world believe that this earth may be converted into a paradise, have yet more readily made it believe that it ought to be a paradise where blood will never be shed. The evil is not in the illusion, but in the very day and hour that this fallacy is everywhere accepted; blood will then gush from the rocks, and the earth will become a hell. Man cannot aspire to an impossible felicity in this obscure valley of our dark pilgrimage without losing the little happiness he already possesses.”

Donoso also wrote of the false notion, one related to the question of crime and punishment, expressed in English by the saying, “truth will out.” This saying in English derives, like so many others, from Shakespeare, in this instance his play The Merchant of Venice. In the context of the play, the phrase does not mean what the liberal would convey when he incants it: that justice will always prevail. It will not. Remaining Christians ought to be able to see that. After all, Truth Himself was crucified.

Yes, God in His Providence may finally draw good from even the worst evil, and in the sense that what is good is always true, we can say that truth will prevail. However, when the liberal talks this way he is invariably paying himself a compliment. What he means is that everything that does not correspond to his vision of things, beginning with the truths of the Faith, will prove to be falsehoods in the minds of men once they are sufficiently “enlightened” — i.e., come to his way of thinking. The liberal never talks louder about truth prevailing than in respect to the modern justice system, especially when he knows he has on his side the best trial lawyer money can buy, that lawyer being especially skilled at persuading jurors to believe in the innocence of his guilty clients.

One of the reasons no formerly Christian society will become Christian again in the foreseeable future is that too many Christians, though they should know better, embrace the notion that truth will always prevail. From it they derive a stupid and groundless optimism on the basis of which they may justify their own inaction, their failure and that of others like them, ever to do anything to advance the cause of the Faith and Christian social order. They don’t even support those who try. They refuse to see that it is never going simply to happen that truth will prevail, that right will inevitably triumph — not truth and the right as the Church teaches them when she is fully herself. For it simply to happen, or to happen solely on account of prayer (as especially pious folk often seem to believe) would be as if God created men for nothing, or for nothing except to serve as passive bystanders to His action in the universe.

He created us to be the instruments by which His will is done.