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Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

More Short Lessons from the Pros

Persecution and Inquisition

Catholics have been put to death by pretty well everybody; but our concern at the moment is with the people Catholics put to death. The Catholic slaying of unbelievers lies almost entirely in the four to five centuries beginning with the thirteenth, with two peak periods in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. From this one might infer that persecution arose, not from any permanent quality in the nature of the Church, but from elements special to the period. 

In fact there were two such special elements — the relation of Christian states to the faith and the peculiar nature of the Catharist heresy. We stress the special nature of the Catharists because, though the means of repression once set up were used against other heretics, like the Waldensians, it seems fairly certain that but for the Catharists they would never have been set up at all.

The first Catharists were burnt in Europe by Robert of France in 1022: Gregory IX associated the Church with the burning of heretics in 1230. In other words there was a two-century lag between state action and Church action. In between, rulers acted vigorously — rulers who were themselves often enough the pope’s enemies, like Henry II of England whom the pope excommunicated, the Emperors Frederick I (Barbarossa) and Frederick II, who spent much of his life in open warfare against the pope, and, if he had any religious leanings at all, was secretly inclined to Islam: he made heresy punishable by burning.

What caused rulers to burn Catharists (the population also burnt them, for there were lynchings) was the conviction that the heresy threatened the very foundations of society- it was not in the interests of the Church but of the state that Henry II and the two Fredericks moved against them. The Catharists attacked two fundamentals in the social structure: (a) marriage and the family, for they taught that the act of procreation itself was sinful; (b) the taking of oaths, and this in a feudal society was catastrophic. We cannot discuss them here in detail. 

Note that the anti-Catholic historian, H. C. Lea, writes in his History of the Medieval Inquisition: “The conscientious belief in such a creed could only lead man back in time to his original conditions of savagery.” And again: “The cause of orthodoxy was the cause of civilization and progress.” Society felt itself threatened and, as societies will, reacted violently, perhaps over-violently. And after two hundred years, the Church assented — agreed that society was entitled to defend itself and collaborated in the defense. 

Following upon the introduction of burning by Frederick II, Gregory IX established the Inquisition — a court of inquiry, staffed mainly by Dominicans but with Franciscans too. They examined men and women accused of heresy: if they found the accusation proved, and the prisoner did not abandon his heresy, he was handed over to the state for the state’s penalty — for the Church herself has never claimed the right to put anyone to death. In 1252 Innocent IV introduced the use of torture — “but not to the point of mutilation or death.”

The Inquisition began badly with two friars who seem to have been homicidal maniacs — Robert, who was finally imprisoned by the pope and died insane, and Conrad of Marburg, who was assassinated. After that it seems on the whole to have acted reasonably enough, according to the judicial practices of the time, though these often seem barbarous to us: There was an effort to get at the truth, there were heavy penalties for false accusation. We have a few figures — e.g., the Inquisitor Bernard Gui in 16 years (1307-1323) tried 930 people, acquitted 139: of the 791 found guilty, 42 were handed over to the state. We do not know how far these figures were typical.

The immediate effect of the medieval Inquisition was the stamping out of Catharism — it was dead in Spain by 1292, in France by 1340. The longer-term effect has been to cause the Church to be hated, even by people who know no single detail. The Catholic may not only wish most heartily that none of it had ever happened: he may feel that the Church has far better weapons, spiritual weapons, and would be well advised to stick to them.

As against the use of torture, for instance, he may remember that Pope Nicholas I (858-867) had declared it forbidden by all law, human and divine. But in fairness he must not forget that the medieval state saw its whole foundations as religious, saw itself threatened as never before, had an undeniable right to defend itself: we may think the repression unnecessarily stringent, but they did not: and it was they who had to face it.

-F. J. Sheed 

Nullity Decrees

Marriage is a relationship resulting from a contract. A man and a woman agree to take each other as husband and wife: That is the contract. God, taking them at their word, makes them husband and wife: That is the relationship. God has made it and no earthly power can unmake it. But the marriage never comes into existence at all unless the parties make the contract in the first place.

Occasionally it happens that there is the appearance of a marriage — a wedding, a couple living together, children perhaps; but one of the parties claims that there was something wrong with the original contract. If this is found to be so, then there is a decree of nullity. This is not a divorce. A divorce admits that the marriage exists but claims to break it. A decree of nullity states that the marriage never came into being at all. Any society that deals with marriage must have a law of nullity (England has one). Doubt can always arise about the validity of a contract, and above all in so important a matter as marriage there must be some way of deciding whether the contract was valid or not.

In order that any contract may be valid four conditions must be fulfilled: (a) the parties must make the agreement; (b) they must be free to make it; (c) they must freely make it; (d) they must follow the form laid down by the competent authority.

The Church applies these to marriage:

(a) The parties must make an agreement to marry: marriage is the union of a man and a woman for life, and its primary object is the continuance of the human race. If a man and a woman agree to take each other for a limited time (for a period of years, say, or till either of them grows tired of the arrangement), they are not making an agreement to marry. If they agree always to use contraceptives and thus positively prevent the birth of children, they are not making an agreement to marry. If either of these things can be proved, the Church will grant a decree of nullity. The first was the basis of the Marconi case.

(b) The parties must be free to marry, and to marry each other. If it is shown that the male was under the age of 16 or the female of 14; or that either party is impotent; that either of them has a spouse living; that the man is a sub-deacon, deacon, or priest; that either has made solemn vows of chastity; that the man and woman are too closely related to each other, or that one of the parties is a Catholic and the other not baptized — then there is no marriage and the Church will so declare. In certain of these cases a dispensation may be obtained in advance.

(c) The parties must freely agree to marry. This means that they must know what they are agreeing to — insanity would be a bar here — and must enter into the agreement of their own free will. If either acts through fear there is no contract.

(d) The marriage must be in the form laid down by the Church. A Catholic must marry in the presence of the parish priest or his delegate: if he does not, there is no marriage. This rule the Church applies only to her own children. Non-Catholics may marry in any form regarded as adequate by the law of their country — thus the marriage of two non-Catholics in a registry office is not only valid but, if they are baptized, it is also a sacrament.

The ordinary procedure for obtaining a decree of nullity is to approach the matrimonial court of one’s diocese. If this court approves their plea then (save where there is a perfectly obvious reason like bigamy or registry-office ceremony) the matter must be referred for a second trial to a higher court- either the Court of the Archdiocese or the Rota in Rome. Thus two quite different courts must decide in favor of a nullity before a decree can be granted. 

Three objections: 

(1) A nullity is only another name for divorce. But divorce claims to end an existent marriage, whereas nullity declares that the marriage never came into being at all.

(2) This is only a subterfuge, a nullity is in fact a substitute for divorce. But consider the numbers. All English cases go on appeal to the Rota. There are not more than 2 or 3 in a year. In 1950 there were 30,000 divorces in England.

(3) Only the rich Catholic can get a decree of nullity. But a poor man must have his expenses paid for him. In Appendix B to F. J. Sheed’s Nullity of Marriage figures for the ten years 1916-21, 1927-30 show that applicants paying their own expenses were successful in 85 out of 180 cases (47%), applicants who could not pay were successful in 80 out of 144 cases (55%).

-F. J. Sheed 

Celibacy and Monasticism

That anybody should voluntarily tie himself or herself to perpetual celibacy — by vow — furnishes a puzzle to most people not members of the Catholic Church. The only answer is the true answer. The celibate in the cause of religion has entered upon a love affair greater and more enthralling than human courtship and marriage. 

Far however from despising marriage the Catholic monk or nun venerates it, recognizing it for what it is — God’s appointed way for reproducing the race within the perfect social unit of the family. Incidentally, if there were no marriage and no families there would be no monks or nuns. Conversely, Fr. Vincent McNabb used to assert that if there were no monks or nuns there would be no sound family life, since the intercession and good works of monks and nuns bring down blessings innumerable upon society.

Staffed by the religious of both sexes, the Catholic nursing and teaching orders are for the most part highly esteemed at any rate in the Western world, while few will be found to approve of the persecution now being inflicted on the religious communities by the governments behind the Iron Curtain.

What can be said for celibacy? Is it pleasing to God?

To answer this question satisfactorily, note the words of our Lord, uttered in part figuratively: “Some are born eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by men and some have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake.” The last type furnishes the ranks of the Catholic priesthood and of the Catholic religious orders.

As already agreed, while the world finds little objection to and often displays its appreciation of the teaching and nursing communities, its feelings are often more mixed and often hostile towards the contemplative and enclosed orders. Let a boy or girl decide to enter such an order, and cries of reprobation and horror are heard on all sides: “How unnatural!” “Why bury yourself!” “How useless!” 

All such exclamations leave God and his call entirely out of the reckoning. The monastic life is a definite call or vocation requiring celibacy and chastity for its perfect fulfillment. Being granted to a minority (as far as we can judge), it would be presumptuous in those not raised to it to attempt the contemplative life or renounce marriage without the necessary grace.

The renunciation of the world exacted by the monastic life is amply compensated by God, our Lord having promised that such should receive a hundredfold even in this life and life eternal hereafter. To renounce the creature at the invitation of the Creator is to love Creator and creature not less, but more.

Of the contemplative orders we should say that these, like Mary in the Gospel (Luke 10:39-42), have chosen the best part. Martha was busied about many things and called for her sister’s help. Courteously reproved, she was informed that ONE THING WAS NECESSARY, i.e., the love of God solely for himself. Mary had chosen this best part. The call and raising to the contemplative life pure and simple is rarer and more precious than the vocation to more active states. Contemplatives are the cream of Catholic spirituality and while apparently producing little external effect furnish, as it were, the spiritual dynamos of the Church. They have shaped far more than most people realize the Christian civilization of the world.

-J. Seymour Jonas 

The Church and Communism

Communism is not simply a system whereby (as in monastic orders) no private individual may own property: Communism is a whole philosophy of life, with common ownership as one feature, and this philosophy a Catholic cannot hold.

As stated by Karl Marx, Communism is totally and necessarily atheist and materialist. There is no God, and no life other than man’s life on this earth. All man’s needs can be met within the boundaries of this world. This statement is the key to his system; it is based upon a belief which he never tried to prove-it was probably the form the Jewish hope of a messianic kingdom took in this strange anti-Semitic Jew, that all man’s needs must some day be met-and, as there was no other world and no higher power they must be met here, by man’s own activity.

He traces out the process. Production is the highest human activity, because by production man forces earth and air and sea to yield all they have for the development of human life. From this follow two further doctrines:

(1) Production is best done by men working together, not by the individual: the real agent of man’s highest activity is therefore the collective; the individual has no importance, indeed no meaning, save as he serves the collective; the notion of the individual having any rights against the collective would be ridiculous.

(2) All that has to do with production in the economic sphere: the mode of production at any given moment governs all other human activity- politics, art, literature, even religion. (How does it govern religion? Production has been so ill-managed thus far, that it leaves many of man’s needs unsatisfied: to compensate for these unmet needs, men imagine another world in which they will be met.) This is the materialist, or economic, interpretation of history.

Following upon this, Marx thought that whatever class was in control of the means of production dominated society, but by an inescapable dialectical process every class produces the class that must ultimately destroy it: the capitalist class was even now producing the proletariat which would overthrow it. 

Then would come dictatorship of the proletariat-a period of uncertain length in which the proletariat would be purged, with all necessary ruthlessness, of the faults it had picked up from all the classes which throughout history had enslaved it. When the purging process was complete, the classless society would come into being: men would now be thoroughly socialized and incapable of acting unsocially, so that force would disappear: all needs would be met by the equitably distributed products of a perfectly evolved, collectively-owned, productive system; with all needs met, religion would have vanished; with all needs met, unhappiness would have vanished.

That is Communism. We may note, in passing, that Marx nowhere proves the non-existence of God and the next world; that he has not the historical equipment to test his theory that economics are the supreme determinant of human affairs; that his ideas of psychology are primitive, indeed that he never seems to have asked how any point of his system would have fitted human nature. 

But there is no space here to criticize the system in detail. It should, one hopes, be obvious that a Catholic cannot hold it. If to anyone it is not obvious then we can only quote Lenin and Pope Pius XI on the subject. At the beginning of the Encyclical Divini Redemptoris (1937) the Pope relates how he has already on nine occasions condemned Communism. And Lenin describes those who try to combine Communism with any sort of religious view as the “graduated flunkies of clericalism.”

-F. J. Sheed 

The Church and Fascism

Fascism is by now a word of somewhat uncertain meaning. It began as the name Mussolini gave to his own social-political system, which now belongs to history. At present it is most often used as a term of abuse for anything that Communists or Communizers do not like. Probably the abiding meaning of Fascism is totalitarianism.

The persistence of the notion that the Church is pro-totalitarian in very strange. The essence of totalitarianism is the claim that the state’s authority is total, i.e., that there is no sphere of human activity which the state is not entitled to control-no private sphere in which the human conscience is supreme, no religious sphere in which man has his own relation with God, no law of God by which the state can be judged-the state is omnicompetent, everything is hers. 

Throughout history the Church has fought this view: She must, if only (though not only) because of her own claims in the spiritual order. The Church does not normally interfere in the social and political arrangements men make for themselves, for she is not herself totalitarian and holds that, just as there is one sphere which is hers, there is another which is not. 

Men can be fully men, men can work out their salvation, the Church can carry out her own divine work, in dictatorship or monarchy or oligarchy or democracy, provided the dictator or the monarch or the ruling class or the parliament limits itself to the public sphere and does not invade the private. The Church may have her own views of their relative values as ways of handling human affairs; she does not force these views on men. But in a totalitarian system, the Church herself could function only in a profoundly crippled way, and human beings could not be fully human since the rights of their own personality would not be regarded.

In our own century the Church has had to contend with a number of totalitarianisms, of varying degrees of totality! With Russia she has found all relations impossible, as also with the Quisling governments Russia has set up behind the Iron Curtain. 

With Hitler’s Germany she entered into a Concordat, to secure what freedom she could for Catholics to be Catholic: Hitler did not keep his promises, Catholic schools were closed; of the 10,000 clergy in concentration camps 8,000 were Catholic priests; Pope Pius XI issued the great anti-Nazi encyclicals Mit Brennender Sorge and Racism. 

With Mussolini, relations varied from dubious to stormy; there is much profit and even pleasure to be had from the reading of Pius XI’s anti-Mussolini encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno. At the present the term Fascist is most often applied to Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal. These are both dictatorships, but hardly, in the sense already mentioned, totalitarian, since neither Spaniards nor Portuguese would tolerate too great an invasion of their personal lives. With Franco trouble arose from his claim to nominate bishops. With Salazar the Church seems to have had no acute problems. As we have seen, the Church does not normally intervene in political matters or feel called upon to express her approval or disapproval of regimes as such.

-F. J. Sheed

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