By- Guenter Lewy

"Guenter Lewy left his native Germany as a boy of fifteen in 1939, emigrated to Palestine and then to the United States. He has since taught at Columbia University and Smith College, and is now Associate Professor of Government at the University of Massachusetts McGraw-Hill Book Company New York London Sydney Toronto Copyright 1964 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS No. 64-21072

Chapter 12 [final chapter]

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On the level of theory the Church has frequently affirmed her right and duty to confront all moral issues. Reformulating the old doctrine of the indirect temporal power of the Church - the authority to pronounce upon the morality of political actions and relations that involve the spiritual or moral life of the believers-

- Pope Leo XIII proclaimed the duty of the Church "to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be regarded as worthless."

The Church must "make a strong endeavor that the power of the Gospel may pervade the law and institutions of the nations."28 Some men, declared Pius XII in 1954, "presume to check and set limits to the power of Bishops [the Roman Pontiff not excepted], as being strictly the shepherds of the flock entrusted to them. They fix their authority, office and watchfulness within certain bounds, which concern strictly religious matters, the statements of the truths of the faith, the regulation of devotional practices, administration of the Sacraments of the Church, and the carrying out of liturgical ceremonies. They wish to restrain the Church from all undertakings which concern life as it is really conducted."

But this belief, Pope Pius went on, is an error. All aspects of man's life pertaining to the moral order, including many political, social and economic problems, are of concern to conscience and the salvation of man, and therefore within the authority and care of the Church.

Such are: the purpose and limits of temporal authority; the relations between the individual and society, the so-called "totalitarian state," whatever be the principle it is based on; ... war, its morality, liceity or non-liceity when waged as it is today, and whether a conscientious person may give or withhold his cooperation in it; the moral relationships which bind and rule the various nations.

These and like problems, Pius XII declared, are the province of the Church, the concern of "that authority established by God to see to a just order and to direct the consciences and actions of men along the path to their true and final destiny." The Church has to fulfill this mission "in the front line, in the midst of the struggle that rages between truth and error, virtue and vice...."29

The record of the Church, one regrets to conclude, does not bear out these grand aspirations. The policy of accommodation of


the German episcopate, the subject of this study, provides but the most recent striking example of the Church's inability to transcend her institutional interests and to be a guardian of human morality.

Whether the Church can ever fully resolve this dilemma is doubtful. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner has suggested that Catholic Christianity become a "Church of active members," in effect assuming "the character of a sect."30 But this call for reform seems unlikely to be heeded. The need to defend the Church as an organization will always provide a powerful inducement to act opportunistically rather than prophetically. In any conflict between the imperatives of religion in the narrow sense- worship, liturgical services, the administration of the sacraments- and the requirements of human morality, the former will usually prevail.

Individual churchmen and believers will become martyrs, but the institution will prefer survival.

The Church's hold upon the faithful in many situations is too precarious to risk an open clash with a state trampling upon human dignity and freedom. The situation is worsened when, as in Nazi Germany, the bishops and the clergy are themselves infected with an alien creed. Whenever either of these manifestations is present, many seemingly good reasons can be brought forth to defend the Church's political quietism and her surrender to Caesar.

The Church, "despite the wide reach of her jurisdiction," as the German Catholic scholar E. W. Bockenforde has appropriately observed, "as a 'potestas indirecta' is nowhere directly responsible."31

The German bishops held to the right to pass moral judgment on those measures of the Nazi state which impinged upon the Church's vital interests and certain cardinal points of doctrine - confessional schools, marriage legislation, sterilization and euthanasia - but they fell back upon the indirect nature of their temporal jurisdiction whenever considerations of tactics required a more cautious course. A recent apologist has gone further: the bishops "were not entitled to take a position or participate in the legal and political arena." Hence, he concluded, none could expect them resolutely and from the start to have opposed the National Socialist regime."

To resolve these difficulties the Church periodically relies upon her theory of natural law, defined as an unwritten law of morality that is ascertainable by sound human reason. In his first encyclical to

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the world in 1939 Pope Pius XII declared, "It is certain that the radical and ultimate cause of the evils which we deplore in modern society is ... the disregard, so common nowadays, and the forgetfulness of the natural law itself, which has its foundation in God, almighty Creator and Father of all, supreme and absolute Law-giver, all-wise and just Judge of human actions."33 Many other churchmen and philosophers, too, have since urged a return to natural law in order to remedy the moral decay and ills of contemporary life. But can natural law provide the foundation for such a moral renewal?

Leaving aside the many strictly philosophical problems which this ethical theory raises, it is enough to observe here that natural law is abstract and vague to the point of making its application to concrete cases extremely difficult. It requires an authoritative interpreter, the Church. But this means that the gap between the abstract principles and the case at issue will be closed by answers tied up and almost predetermined by the interests of the Church as an institution. Individual Catholics turning to their Church for moral guidance in such matters as the legitimacy of non-co-operation with or resistance to political authority will receive replies that derive not from the unequivocal commands of natural law, but from the exigencies of Church tactics in a particular situation.

The institution of slavery was at one time defended by leading theologians as in consonance with natural law; today, in an age of colonial revolts and assaults upon all forms of discrimination, the Church stands for full equality. All these positions have been justified on the basis of the same natural law premises.

The conclusion is inescapable that this natural law ethic is essentially a shell able to house a great variety of moral responses. It is an instrument of the Church, argued a Catholic scholar, August M. Knoll, which has "the function of rationally articulating the passive and accommodating attitude of the Church and her teachings in all social and political questions."34 Or, as a Protestant theologian, John C. Bennett, has expressed it more succinctly,


Catholic political teaching relies on scripture, the teaching of the medieval scholastics and Papal pronouncements as a basis for one body of doctrine. As the Russian Communists never fail to support a new tactical move or change of policy by appropriate quotations from Marx and Lenin, so Catholic moral theology always invokes an authoritative source to buttress a new position. In the final analysis, then, this theology, at least as far as its teachings on man and his relationship to the state are concerned, represents an ideology. A student of Soviet politics has suggested some reasons for the transformation of Russian Marxism into ideology, and this explanation is largely applicable also to Catholic political thought:

No doctrine, however elaborate or sophisticated, can provide answers and guidelines to fit all aspects of historical development. The shaping of events necessarily involves situations that are either unforeseen or dictate a logic of their own, even if initially fitting the theoretical assumptions. Doctrine is then "creatively" extended, new principles are extrapolated from the original set of assumptions, new generalizations crystallize, and, finally, the identity of ideology emerges. Ideology is, in effect, the link between theory and action."

Catholic ideology, unlike Russian Marxism, is not primarily a guide to action, and it certainly is not a revolutionary creed; rather it serves mainly to provide support in the realm of ideas for policies designed to preserve and enhance the strength of the Church and to protect her mission as the channel of divine grace to man. But common to both ideologies is the claim of representing a fully consistent and essentially timeless body of doctrine which is universal in its appeal to all humanity. Both are in a process of constant change which is not so much a sign of corruption as a logical outgrowth of their inherent flexibility and adaptability; both provide a link between theory and practice.

Many of modern man's moral dilemmas are highly complex. No moral code, no matter how detailed or how much supplemented by casuistry, will be able to supply ready answers to all eventualities. In the last analysis, the individual's conscience will have to make the final decision, whether it be a question of assassinating a hated tyrant, of obeying or disobeying criminal orders of a legal superior,

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..... or using weapons of mass destruction. Which ethical system will best form man's conscience so as to inculcate a sense of justice and compassion is hard to determine. But one thing can perhaps be said: the conscience of man must remain free of entanglements with the interests of a religious institution. It cannot depend on an ideology.

When thousands of German anti-Nazis were tortured to death in Hitler's concentration camps, when the Polish intelligentsia was slaughtered, when hundreds of thousands of Russians died as a result of being treated as Slavic 'Untermenschen', and when 6,000,000 human beings were murdered for being "non-Aryan," Catholic Church officials in Germany bolstered the regime perpetrating these crimes. The Pope in Rome, the spiritual head and supreme moral teacher of the Roman Catholic Church, remained silent.

In the face of these greatest of moral depravities which mankind has been forced to witness in recent centuries, the moral teachings of a Church, dedicated to love and charity, could be heard in no other form but vague generalities.

"The problem is," as a forthright American Catholic has asked recently, "whether the Church, in its dealings with the Nazis, compromised its absolute spiritual essence; whether, faced with an absolute evil such as the Germans posed, it was right to think of 'reasons of state'."37 Should not the answer be: Yes, the Church failed by not bearing witness to her moral essence; in the face of an upsurge of monstrous barbarism it was wrong to be guided by "reasons of state" or "raison d'eglise" ?

"When God is hated, every basis of morality is undermined," Pope Pius XII asserted in 1939. "The denial of the fundamentals of morality had its origin in Europe, in the abandonment of that Christian teaching of which the Chair of Peter is the depository and exponent."38

The debate over the relevance of an organized religion to human morality is of long standing and will not be ended by such categorical pronouncements. If mankind ever again is faced with moral challenges of the enormity presented by Hitler's regime of brute force, we must hope that it will have better moral guidance.

Man, taught the Renaissance humanist Pico della Mirandola, has the power to degenerate into the lower, brutish forms of life. He also has the potential to reach the realms of wisdom and goodness. His destiny rests upon his own choice, and his choice alone. This is man's greatest burden. It is also his proudest distinction and glory.