The Idea of a Catholic Society | James Kalb | Catholic World Report
What would it mean for society and its institutions, including government, to become Catholic?
At the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI noted that the Council had displayed an unparalleled desire “to know, to draw near to, to understand, to penetrate, serve and evangelize the society in which she lives.” That desire reflected a constant goal of the Church, to make her message effective by bringing it to men where they are. Modern man had become centered on himself, so perhaps the Church could reach him, and start the process that would eventually bring him to God, by joining in the concerns and movements of the day.
It’s been a bumpy ride, and some have suggested course corrections. The journey is not over, though, and to the extent the Church does reach and persuade people, they will become closer to her. As men are, so are their institutions, so ultimate success of the Second Vatican Council would mean that society and its institutions become Catholic. That should be no surprise, since the Council reaffirmed “traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”
But what would it mean for society and its institutions, including government, to become Catholic? The idea seems silly and wrong to many people. However things may have seemed fifty or a hundred years ago, it now seems ridiculous to speak of such a thing. Here in the West we’re losing whatever public influence we once had, and if we manage to stay legal while retaining our doctrines and something of our way of life we’ll be doing well for ourselves.
Beyond such immediate practicalities, many people have raised basic objections to the idea of a Catholic society. All societies are unjust, they say, so no society can be Christian. If a society claims to be Christian, then Christianity and power become entangled and Christianity becomes corrupted. Also, not everyone is Catholic, and that situation won’t change, so a Catholic public order would unjustly force a particular religion on those who disagree with it. And past societies that have called themselves Catholic have put most of their efforts into other and less lofty goals. So the idea is impractical, tyrannical, and hypocritical by its very nature. The Constantinian idea of a Catholic empire was a bad one, and good riddance to it.