Character of the Secular Order Now Demanded By the Liturgy
from F. Hasting's Smyth: Discerning the Lord's Body; the rationale of a Catholic democracy. Louisille, The Closter Pr., ©1946.


WHEN WE SEEK the kind of secular order which will at this moment of history best advance the Christian reconciliation; and when we seek the methods whereby the required radical changes in our economic and political social structures shall be carried through, we transgress the proper boundaries of dogmatic truth and we enter the fields of Christian intellectual analysis and of practical planning for action.

To explore these intellectual and practical fields would carry us beyond the limits of our present liturgical discussion. We can, however, canvass a few guiding principles for Christian consideration of the problems which are bound to arise at this point; and we can at least tabulate a few practical suggestions.

First of all, when any group of Sacramental Christians assembles together to take common counsel concerning the secular problems which confront it, no matter how few in number they may be on any particular occasion, we shall almost certainly find initial divergences of opinion. As a matter of experience, these divergencies can sometimes be very sharp and very intractable. Therefore, at the outset we should be clear about one truth. This kind of divergency within the Christian group does not indicate that in the particular historical situation in which we now live there actually exist a correspondingly large variety of possible economic analyses of the disorders of the secular world which have equal merit. Neither does it indicate that there are also available a large number of possible practical economic and political solutions of the secular evils which beset us, anyone of which might be expected to work out satisfactorily. Our appraisal of the evil character of our economic system cannot rest on individual preference for one or another theory describing its structure. It must be a matter of discovering the scientific truth. And our choice of one or another plan of practical action cannot be a mere matter of personal taste. It must rest upon a decision as to which one of many suggested plans is the one scientifically possible.

It is becoming increasingly clear to thoughtful people that the only economic choice which lies open to the secular world is that between a thoroughgoing socialist reorganization of our industrial and financial structure, and a violent, universally spreading reaction which will enthrone the inherent contradictions and injustices of our critically developed capitalist system by force, to the utter enslavement of the vast masses of the common people of the whole world. This, of course, has been the contention of Marxian economists for a hundred years now past, and its truth seems abundantly borne out by the events of recent history. For few people are now left who doubt that fascism is anything but the logical development of an historically outgrown capitalism enthroned by force.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the recent world war was a climactic stage in a struggle on the part of the unpropertied working masses to liberate themselves from that control over their spiritual and material lives which in the present economic system the ownership of capital wealth has come to place in the hands of a relatively small possessing class. For this war, although carried forward under the superficial guise of an "old fashioned" purely international war between supposedly homogeneous national units, has in reality developed into a struggle between two classes of people -- those who own the world's capital wealth, and those whose only possession is their power to labor, -- a power which must be sold at the best obtainable price to their capitalist masters. And this deeper struggle is by no means neatly international. It has instead developed into an industrial class struggle within all the remaining capitalist nations.

Furthermore, if what we call a democratic corporate life be defined in basic terms of the right of all people to have an authoritative share, a genuinely controlling and rational participation, in the management and direction of their own economic and political lives, it is becoming increasingly clear that the mere political vote within a capitalist economy is failing to distribute this directive power in a just manner to all people in proportion to their potential abilities to wield it. At the same time, in capitalist countries, the zealous defense of the fiction that political votes alone can still suffice to provide a genuinely democratic life for all, creates a popularly felt contradiction between the average wage worker's actual experience of the undemocratic power of capital ownership and the carefully guarded myth that such ownership has no such popularly irresponsible power. The great majority of common people do not as yet understand the nature of this contradiction. They merely feel its reality. But at the same time they are taught not to acknowledge it openly, even to themselves, lest they be classed as something less than good citizens. The result of this is an irrational attitude on the part of the common people towards the real problems of their present unsatisfactory corporate life. This is a grossly unchristian state of affairs, because the highest natural function of man is the proper exercise of his unclouded human reason. Bread and wine drawn from an irrational environment are seriously deficient.

And if democratic material justice be defined as a distribution of those necessities and amenities of life which modern scientific techniques could make available in vast abundance to all people according to the fullness of their genuine needs and according to their intelligent abilities to make constructive use of them, it is becoming increasingly clear that the wage system of industrial production, even with the intervention of the power of organized labor unions, is failing, by the very nature of its constitution, to give us democratic material justice.

Nothing short of an invasion of the economic field by those democratic principles of control which have long been our western heritage in the political field alone will solve these pressing problems. And clearly this will not be possible without the elimination of that other anti-democratic principle of oligarchic control, concentrated in the hands of a small owning class, which now reigns in our present economic system. The power of economic, as well as of political, control over all social life must be taken from the hands of the few and placed in the hands of all the people jointly. Economic power is now obviously associated with the ownership of capital wealth -- the means of production and the sources of raw materials. In order to achieve the democratization of this power -- a power which in the modern world has outstripped and overmatched all democratic political controls -- it is necessary to remove the ownership of capital wealth from private hands and place it in the hands of all the people corporately. This means moving forward both economically and politically to a thoroughgoing socialist organization of our productive industrial system.

These are some of the startling but central problems upon whose proper solution all Sacramental Christian groups are now compelled to seek agreement, both in diagnostic analysis and in choice of the possible means and immediate ends available for corresponding practical action. They must seek this kind of agreement because they are Christians, and they therefore have a clear concept of the kinds of environmental social relationships required by a true human nature as redeemed within Our Lord's social humanity, while at the same time they see how these required relationships are denied by our present social situation. They must seek this agreement because their central activities are Sacramental, and they therefore have need of reconciling those disorders which our present secular world intrudes, whether they will it or not, into the offered structures of their bread and wine. They must seek this agreement and they must act upon it, because as Sacramental Christians they have a healthy fear of complacently presuming upon the atoning power of their Lord.


This kind of agreement can be achieved in large outline among Sacramental Christians. If there be those who say that this is not so, they have not fully grasped the essential character of the New World of the Incarnation of which they are engrafted citizens. For this New World is given to us not merely to guarantee a dogmatic truth upon which one agreement is to be expected. It is also given us so that we can become the kind of people who can come to intellectual agreement upon the practical applications of general dogmatic truth to the current secular problems presented to us by our environing secular world.

This makes it highly important that all such practical questions be discussed within the social circle of the Sacramental group. The celebration of Our Lord's Memorial ought habitually to be followed by a group social gathering, preferably a gathering for a common meal such as was customary in the early Church and was known as the Agape.Here let the future plans for practical action, plans which are to be applied to the further reconciliation of the bread and wine for future Memorials, be thrashed out.

Radical disagreements may indeed arise within such meetings. But the causes will almost certainly be ignorance, both theoretical and informational, on the part of many members. All members therefore have the duty of informing themselves in large outline concerning the basic nature of those secular disorders which we have just briefly canvassed. Certainly every modern Catholic should be informed concerning the Marxian method of economic diagnosis and the Marxian theories of economic change which will lead to a future socialized secular order. For it is upon the basis of Marxian analysis that the most potent organized forces which are now making for radical change in the capitalist economic system are basing their interpretations and strategies. And amidst all the welter of complicated and martial events, and of official utterances swirling around us, Catholics ought to be sufficiently educated that they may look deep beneath the surface of mere social phenomena to discover the integrated trends and developments of that vast revolution which is the essential moving reality within the historical cataclysm now upon us.

Ignorance, unfortunately, will not be the only cause for difficulty in obtaining this kind of common agreement. For emotional attitudes and fears, moral weakness and timidity often amounting to panic in the presence of the dangerous necessities which confront us, may well cause tension and variance even among Christians who have reached a common dogmatic ground and who are unanimous in their economic diagnoses. In such cases other searching questions must be put to each and every individual: "As what kind of social being are you yourself approaching these commonly confronted problems? Are you here at this council of the Sacramental group primarily as a new-made man, a man re-created within Our Lord's social humanity? Are you thus made free from secular economic class prejudices and fears, made free by complete devotion solely to Our Lord's (and our own) common cause? Or are you here as one largely conditioned in your instinctive reactions to practical problems as, let us say, a secular banker? As a secular university professor or a conventional college student? As primarily a secular political party member? Or as a business man? As primarily one of the secular working class? As a person of property, of independent means and dilettante leisure? -- In short, as in large measure an unconverted citizen of that very environing fallen world against whose deep structural disorders we as members of a new Incarnational World are now met to plan a radical attack?"

Unless Christians be emotionally detached from an unconverted devotion to present secular disorders -- both material and cultural -- through a fully realized citizenship within Our Lord's social humanity, they are bound to take fright at the practical demands of their professed religion. For often they will find themselves engaged in actions which threaten the present sources of their material welfare. And when they have succeeded in making material things a lesser worry, they will realize that they are also out to destroy many cultural and psychological values which, in the non-Christian capitalist world, are regarded as very precious and the true stigmata of the good life. They will find themselves becoming culturally separated from many friends, and perhaps from their own families.

We must recall Our Lord's injunction to take no thought of these things. We are to take no thought, saying What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" We are to take no thought of the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for itself. It is in the reaches of practical Christian action that this injunction finds a startling application, because it fits so well the situation in which every Christian group will certainly find itself when it considers practical application of its Faith. For if we do seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, most Christians today will find themselves methodically engaged in sawing off, as it were, that branch upon which, as citizens of a fallen world, they now rather comfortably sit. It is only after the Christian revolution that all those things we now relinquish may once more, as Our Lord said, be added unto us. 1

Therefore, these searching material and psychological questions must be asked fearlessly within every Christian group. And if the frank answers are often disappointing, we must work by Our Lord's grace to recondition ourselves as full citizens of His New World. For one of the chief reasons why He has provided this new divinely constituted environment within His Incarnation is that we may be thus reconditioned, intellectually, emotionally, and materially within it, according to His will. And as we grow into complete, rather than partial, Christians, we shall find that basic agreements about our practical problems are not too difficult to obtain. To this end let every Christian group seek to become united intellectually and practically, as well as mystically and Sacramentally. By the grace of God it is possible to achieve an adequate unity in practical analysis and planning for an organized Christian attack upon the secular disorders of our time.


Once an agreement has been reached about the necessity of either espousing or opposing some immediate political or economic situation or trend, the Incarnational group will probably become aware that as a Christian unit it possesses relatively little influence and but little social power within its secular environment!

For one thing, any such group which begins to take its social vocation seriously will for the present be small in numbers, because conventional and "spiritual" Christians, by and large, will desert it. And because of this consequent numerical weakness it will be found impracticable to base any political or economic mass movement -- the only kind .,of movement which can have real power to gain its social objectives -- upon the dogmatic and Sacramental basis which characterizes the group itself.

Another difficulty in the way of strengthening corporate Incarnational social action at this time is an external one. It will be found that the secular world has long since ceased to look to the Incarnation for organized leadership in furthering those secular changes on the subject of whose principles it is so very used to hearing nominal Christians talk. The notion that the New World of Our Lord's social humanity necessarily has its own corporately held theory about the way the secular world must be organized, as well as its own plans for accomplishing the changes required, will be news to most modern people, news even to the majority of conventionally trained "Christians." For so universal is the opinion that Christianity is a matter of individual piety only that it is resentfully believed that Christians transgress their prerogatives if they enter the political or economic fields on a dogmatic Christian basis.

In this connection it is sometimes amusing to find that when Christians do make this kind of venture openly, even as individuals, they are immediately met with a kind of religious analogue of that query so often put to radical secular organizers. "Good" Americans say to their fellow citizens of this latter type: "If you don't like this country, why don't you go back to where you came from?" -- meaning, no doubt, to Soviet Russia. And Christian leaders who wish to act socially to gain Our Lord's ends are told: "If you to interfere with secular economic and political systems, why don't you go back to moral exhorting?" -- which is merely an oblique way of saying: "Why don't you where you came from, ie. to the conventional Church pulpit. 2

Sacramental Christians must therefore confront this environmental situation realistically. Since they cannot now expect to establish anything even approaching a mass movement, either political or economic, upon their own basis of analysis, or upon the basis of those actions and objections which are peculiar to Christianity, they must look about in the secular world to discover what mass movements are available on some other basis, but whose trends can be seen as moving in the Christian direction. Because from among the many social forces begin to claim a share in shaping the immediate future of human history, some may be seen to be heading in an anti-Christian direction and some in a more Christian one. The immediate fruits of the success of fascist forces, for example, are to worsen the disorders already now resident within the secular sources of bread and wine. Sacramental Christians have therefore a duty to work with anti-fascist political and economic movements.

Among the organized economic movements which hold desirable potentialities for Christians are those of organized labor, because labor organizations, whatever their very human corruptions and disunities, can be seen objectively as forces tending towards a greater economic justice within our present capitalist system. They are also potential bu!warks of popular democratic authority within some future radical change of this system in the direction of a socialist reorganization of the economic order.

The progressive economic advantages of the wage-earning class of people lie in the direction of socialist change. The great organized power of this class, when directed to take action for its own material advantage is at the same time taking concurrent steps toward radical reconstitution of society upon this kind of cooperative basis. Therefore, this class moves historically, even when it does not consciously recognize the fact, in a Christian direction. That labor organizations are often motivated by considerations of immediate "self-interest" does not vitiate the objective fact that this same self-interest fortunately corresponds to a step in the direction of socialism. This is why members of Christian Sacramental groups ought to fight on the side of secular labor organizations, and not be put off at this time by their supposed selfishness or by their present corruptions. These latter vices are not peculiar to wage-workers. They are found even more firmly entrenched among the forces of secular reaction. Christians must make their choice of allegiance in this situation. Let it be that of the interests of labor, because in the hands of labor rests the future welfare of the vast majority of mankind. At this present moment the workers may not be sought for in public counsel; not sit in the judges' seat; they may not declare justice and judgment; and they may not be found where men speak indirectly in complicated analogies. Yet without these cannot a city be inhabited, nor can men either dwell or go up and down in their towns. It is the workers who will maintain the fabric of the world. 3

Among the corresponding political movements of our time, Christians should select without fear the secular political groupings of the left. For, as the late Archbishop of Canterbury has pointed out, the extreme left of the Communists has social objectives which are basically Christian in their constitution. 4 They are those of a vastly greater economic justice than we now possess in the capitalist democracies of the west. Potentially they allow for a more deeply penetrating and equably distributed democratic control. Very recently even official gatherings of the Eastern Orthodox and of the Anglican Churches have been moved to imply this admission.5

There are other less deeply moving, but relatively powerful, secular organizations within which certain Christians may be able to work more effectively than within either labor or leftist political circles. Among these may be mentioned such an organization as the American Civil Liberties Union. There are also many temporarily organized groups which work for special immediate objectives. Such are those which work for the abolition of the poll tax which inhibits a full political democracy in certain states; organizations which work for low cost housing for working people and others of lower or uncertain income; societies formed for combating race prejudices and race discriminations in the American scene; certain emergency committees constituted from time to time to defend unpopular minority groups or individuals against particular reactionary threats against their rights, their liberties or even their lives; groups which are now forming to help in establishing a genuinely democratic peace following this war and which are trying to encourage the vast masses of the common people of the world in their own movements towards establishing themselves on a democratic basis, both politically and economically, while at the same time they try to unveil and destroy the semi-fascist forces of finance and business in all countries which fear, and therefore detest, such popular movements. And before very long it is almost certain that the postwar social problems of unemployment and reconstruction will also open to Christians the opportunity of "putting in theIr oars."

Whenever it is a practical possibility, in addition to sending forth members as individuals to cooperate in selected environmental movements, every Sacramental group should try to have part in some kind of social movement as a single unit in its own corporate right. Opportunities for this kind of work may well be found only locally and then only from time to time. But they should be exploited fully. For example, the group might find it possible to assist a local labor union in winning a strike for more just wages and better living conditions. It might do this by appearing corporately on picket lines, by regularly supplying hot coffee and sandwiches for other picketers, by organizing systematic visiting and relief work among the families of strikers, if this were needed. The group might be able even to offer its own place of meeting, or obtain some other suitable room, to be used as an organizational headquarters for the striking Local. Nothing can have a greater educational and practical value for a group of Sacramental Christians than this kind of common social action corporately undertaken. It will help immeasurably to prepare the corporate Christian leadership for those more far-reaching secular opportunities to exercise it which lie ahead. And in the meantime, there will be found here a valuable, corporately contributed, constructive addition to the offered content of the group's bread and wine.

But let all Christian groups keep one basic principle very clear indeed within their own councils. They are out to eliminate those disorders in the secular sources of their bread and wine which are constitutionally enshrined in the current secular system itself. They are not primarily concerned with palliative work, while preserving the evil status quo. They are out to prepare the way of the Lord; and the earlier quoted passage in which St. John the Baptist issues his call for this kind of action sounds like an allegory for secular , revolution rather than mere reform. Christians who understand their true social calling today are in fact genuine revolutionaries over against the corrupt secular system of this historical period. Therefore, if they participate in some immediately reformist movement, as for example that of abolishing the poll tax, let them remember that they are doing this not because their success in this will solve the . basic problem, but because the association thus gained provides a good approach both for educational and organizational work among certain broad sections of their fellow citizens. These people, once so organized, may then be led farther into the real tasks of radical social change. For it is only when our constitutionally individualistic, competitive~ system is replaced with a constitutionally cooperative, socialist system, that the Christian objective may be viewed on the road towards accomplishment.

In this kind of environmental work with secular forces, no member of the Sacramental group be deterred by shrinking, purist notions. God the Holy Spirit can work universally for the furthering of His will. Fortunately indeed for all humanity, God's goodness and mercy are not bound within the strict confines of His Incamational group. Therefore, even the fact that many of the forces making for rational socialist change in our day are at times anti-Christian does not alter the other fact that they may be in reality working for an environing social reorganization which, if achieved, will structurally improve the sources of Christian bread and wine. Our Lord Himself once remarked that of two sons of a certain man, both of whom were told to go to work in their father's vineyard, the first replied: "I go not," but nevertheless he went, while the second said "I go," but he went not. But it was the son who acted the right way, even while talking the wrong way, who really did his father's will. 6 Secular humanists are very often like the first son, while Catholic purists are altogether too often like the second.


1. Matt. 6:24-38

2. A rigorous distinction must be drawn between organized Incarnational work for changing the world's present social structure to one in which love and brotherhood may be practised by serious Christians. and that political interference on the part of the conventional church organization to which we are all too accustomed. The spectacle usually presented by what is called the "church in politics" is thoroughly deplorable. The reason for this is that the organized church on the whole is not interested in redeeming God's world, except in the sense of "saving" individual souls. Therefore, her political activity is usually the very opposite of Incarnational. It is usually concerned with preserving her special rights and privileges, above all her wealth, on whatever terms the organized secular world will best facilitate her -- witness the Vatican Concordats with fascist powers. Hence this kind of "church" is usually concerned with the social status quo and even with out and out reaction, because her wealth and privileges are rooted in the disorders of an unredeemed world. It too often follows that the official church tries to defend the evil structure of her secular environment.

This is a result of the church's perversion of Christianity which argues that nothing can be done about this world in any case. The main duty of the church is then to conserve her wealth, her power and her size, the better to get more souls out of the world into "heaven." This is just another aspect of radical extricationism. By means of this perversion the official church often finds it quite possible to serve both God and mammon at once.

But proper Incarnational social action would attack evil secular disorders even though the members of Our Lord's social humanity, individually and corporately, will certainly then be in danger of losing their wealth, their numerical strength and perhaps their lives. Their individual souls will be saved as a kind of by-product of this enormous venture on behalf of Our Lord.

3. Ecclus. 38:32-34

4. In a public pronouncement on this subject made in the summer of 1941, the Archbishop, at that time still occupying the Archepiscopal See of York, said: "Personally, I always thought Bolshevism preferable to Naziism, because its goal of universal fellowship is part of the Christian hope. . . the goal of Naziism is itself flatly unchristian." -- Reported in the Living Church, August 20, 1941, p. 5. The Archbishop's remarks were also widely quoted in the secular press.

5. Cf. The Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the Episcopal Church, October, 1943.

6. Matt. 21-28-31