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The Role of Faith in the Renovation of the World


NO ONE who follows the day-by-day accounts of the world's mighty struggles to solve the problems that press upon it can fail to be struck by one outstanding fact–the fact of the immense amount of intelligence that is being brought to bear on these problems. First-class intellects are all around the lot; their special training is being utilized to collect and marshal facts; their spiritual energies are being prodigally spent to find answers. One must pause in admiration before this fact. But to the admiration succeeds dismay when one turns to consider the disproportionately small amount of progress being made.

Not that, therefore, one should lose confidence in the human intellect. Without full use of all its resources, no answers will be found to the world's problems. Thank God, we have it in such abundance. Would to God we had more of it! May it please God to bless its every effort, as indeed He will; for when human reason bends itself to solve human problems, it is acting in alliance with the will of God and fulfilling its, own native destiny.

The question remains: Is intelligence enough? Men of the nineteenth century happily believed that it was; but their irrational faith in the sufficiency of human reason and in the sciences it can construct and employ has been badly shattered. Men today are inclined still to give reason and science their full value indeed, but also to call with increasing desperation for "good will." Intelligence is something of a soldier of fortune, and even an evil cause can buy his sword. How, then, shall intelligence be enlisted in the service of good will — a will for the good of man? That is the contemporary question. Not an easy one, indeed. But even if it were answered, a further question would arise: is intelligence, even as directed by good will, the adequate instrument to bring order out of today's chaos?

You will doubt it if you have exactly measured what intelligence can do, and what needs to be done. Intelligence and the sciences it wields can indeed organize things — things like the European Recovery Plan, for instance; but it cannot regenerate man. It can indeed plan the new City of Man; but it cannot get the City built. For the new City can be built only by new men; and intelligence, for all the good will behind it, cannot renew man. Man's renewal and regeneration are the work of the Word of God and His Spirit. These are God's gifts, to which man has access only by faith.

Here is the title on which the Church comes forward as the ally of the world, even in the world's own work. The Church has surveyed very realistically the task of building the earthly city, and has de-fined very exactly her own function in getting it done. Study her thought, as developed and refined over the last fifty years, especially by Pius XI, and you will find that she has set forth three theories that, if fully grasped and faithfully acted on, can lead, as Pius XI promised, to "a new era in Christian civilization."

On the first two of these theories I shall not delay. They answer the problems: what the living reality of society actually is, and what society in its living reality ideally should be. These are problems of thought — of sociological analysis and ethical synthesis; and in answering them the Church needed to call on no more than the resources of human reason and experience. Society, says the first theory, is a matter of social institutions; a good society, says the second theory, is a matter of social institutions animated by social charity and structured by social justice. The two theories are scientific, solid, clear. But they bring one up against a third problem -- how to make society what it should be. This is a problem, not so much of thought, but of action, social action. It is partly a technical problem, of course; and in its technical aspects the Church leaves it to technicians. More fundamentally, it is a problem of virtue, social virtue. And here the resources of man, left to himself, fall short.

By an odd paradox, there are not enough energies in the world to suffice even for the tasks of the world; and what energies there are are constantly being paralyzed by the passions of evil men and the inertia of good men. But there dwells in the Church an energy that is boundless and conquering, because it draws upon the inexhaustible power of God Himself. The problem, then, of how to make society what it should be is that of finding a way to communicate to society the energy, the virtue, the spirit that dwells in the Church. And the Church has answered it by her marvelously developed contemporary doctrine of the mission of the Christian laity. The Holy Spirit does not descend into the City of Man in the form of a dove; He comes only in the endlessly energetic spirit of justice and love that dwells in the man of the City, the layman.

How to make the faith of the lay-man a force for the renovation of society — this is a problem that stands high on the list of intentions for which our Holy Father prays, and for which we must pray. Its solution underlies the solution of all the particular problems with which this series of articles deals. The solution exists indeed, worked out, on paper, in Papal documents. But to make the mission of the laity not simply a doctrine, but a movement, a moving force in the world, is another matter. To, do this requires the harmonious effort of bishops and priests, and of the laity themselves. It is a matter of lifting the level of the interior life of the laity by more intensive participation in the thought and prayer and sacrifice of the Church — in her theology and liturgy. It is a matter, too, of intensifying the apostolic spirit of the laity — their urge to radiate their faith, not to let it be stunted in a merely individualistic piety, but to turn it outward onto the world. And it is a matter, finally, of a concrete education of the laity in the ways in which they, mobilized in solidary groups, can really alter the spirit and the shape of the institutions in which they participate in family, economic, social. life. Faith as a force for the renovation of the world is indeed a flaming thing; but it wears very humble outward garbs — an apron or a business suit; for it is in the worlds of the apron and the business suit that the renovating must be done.