This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The universality and relativity of social teachings

My interest in the traditional doctrine began with Catholicism, and in that sense, I owe everything to the Church. I emphasize this point because the reservations I am about to put forward regarding the Catholic social doctrine should not be taken as a condemnation of the Magisterium as a spiritual authority tasked with safeguarding a universal doctrine. But even so, all social teachings are, as a matter of course, secondary applications of the doctrine. In that sense they possess relativity, and that is why there is always a multiplicity of correct answers to any social question. This does not mean that all answers are true—most are not, hence the dire need for Magisterial guidance. Only we must not forget that we are dealing with a contingent adaptation of the universal doctrine.

This relativity does not diminish its value or importance. The social theory developed and preserved by the Church is the only halfway sane body of social teachings available to the West. Compared to everything else ‘on the market’, it is the only path to a harmonious balance of freedom and justice because it places them both within the context of truth, and in Catholicism, as in any traditional framework, there is no right superior to that of the truth.

The problem, however, is that the West cannot return to sanity. Its spiritual vision has for centuries been obscured by humanistic cataracts, and it is verging on total blindness. But this blind man will not be led, and the idea of an authoritative truth he cannot see providing direction for his life is odious to him. In such a world, the only way to deploy the social principles of Catholicism would be via an unprecedented totalitarianism, and such a project would obviously contradict its own underlying spirit and would be doomed to failure.

The pope now preaches to a world that has no use for him, because if “God is dead” then what good is a pope? Even the millions of living Catholics who profess the faith only seem to pay attention to the voice of Peter when it is personally and politically expedient. For the modern man, there is no right superior to his own prerogative to do what he pleases, and truth and justice and subordinate to his arbitrary liberty. Everything is now voluntary, and the pope and the Magisterium are artifacts of a bygone age when men had something to learn. Today everyone knows everything, how else could he fill out a ballot with a straight face?

For its part, the Church, while trying to retain its role as ‘interpreter of the signs of the times’ and pursuing the legitimate end of ‘adaptation of principles into temporal applications,’ has unfortunately compromised itself to such a degree that one must go to great lengths to find the connection between the applications currently offered and the traditional principles that, theoretically, act as the animating spirit of such applications.

It seems that in its desperate attempt to continue to speak to a deaf world, the Church invited foreign elements into itself on the assumption that these contaminants could be baptized and Catholicized. Christianity had always done this, and successfully. The difference, however, is that in the past, when the Church integrated and ‘transfigured’ a pagan custom or belief, the alien material was still of a spiritual substance. They were taking an article of a foreign religion and distilling its essence, and then situating that essence within Catholic teachings. But this was not the case with the modern ‘articles of faith’ which were never religious but were the anti-religion. No such transfiguration was possible. These ideas were poison and poison they would remain.

To cite only one example of these imprudent integrations, we can address the concept of ‘natural rights’. The Church had spoken of ‘right’ but had no place in it for these humanistic ‘natural rights’. When these fictions became popular, and the people could no longer think in terms of any other political vocabulary, Pope Leo XIII adopted the language of rights for use in his encyclicals. The hope was that by bringing bad philosophy ‘into the fold,’ it could be purified. Experience has proven that this did not work and almost immediately the effort backfired, since now, having legitimized the terminology of Liberal secularism through use in official documents, the Magisterium would have a difficult time controlling the interpretation of those documents, since the term used was not a Catholic one but was instead invented by secular philosophers. The ‘meaning’ of words used in doctrinal statements would mean whatever the secular world meant when it used the words.

Thus, a kind of authorized profanity makes an appearance in Church rhetoric and teachings, and it could not be taken back, nor would modernist Catholics wish it to be taken back. Pope Leo XIII’s intent was, again, to coopt the terminology, but he overestimated himself, and inaugurated a way of speaking that might have been capable of traditional interpretation but which was doomed to receive an exclusively humanistic one.

We hesitate to say that this was some great error on the part of the Church, and in truth there was probably no other way. It seems distasteful, but at the same time, what was the alternative? To retain a language that no one understands is to choose not to speak to anyone. This is the dilemma that has surrounded debates about the use of Latin, although that question is more nuanced and we intend to address it elsewhere. At any rate, the Enlightenment mentality had already won out and there was no recovery to be had, and to adopt the Liberal vocabulary was not a matter of prudent tactics but of compromise. It is a laudable principle for the shepherd to leave the flock to chase after the lost, but what if the majority of the flock deserts him and the only way to recover them is to lead the few faithful into the bog? Such are the incredibly difficult problems faced by any spiritual authority in this Dark Age, and that is why we emphasize again that these observations are not criticisms, and we do not pretend to know how the catastrophic modernization of Catholicism could have been avoided, and if it could not be avoided, then it is unjust to act as if it should have been.

The question seems to hinge on a balance between two roles played by the Church. She is the great teacher, and has a responsibility to reveal the truth about man and about God to the world, in its purest possible form. Yet she is also the spiritual mother, the good shepherd, and has a pastoral responsibility, implying that she cannot sit in her empty Cathedrals while the sheep scatter, obstinately refusing to sully herself by stepping outside to recover them. Anytime She goes outside of Herself, she gives the appearance of compromise. In a contest between these roles, it seems the responsibility to preserve the truth must win out, but it does not follow that the preservation of the truth necessitates its public profession in all of its nuances, and perhaps this is the answer to such a difficult question. The Church had its beginnings in a kind of necessitated secrecy—no pearls before swine. She rose and flourished to a point where the grand beauty of the doctrine could fine external expression to a wonderful degree. It is conceivable that the deterioration of the world could cause a reversal of the same process, and the truths, once openly promoted, will recede into secrecy in the face of a world filled with decadence.

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