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What Hath Jerusalem to Do with Athens?

(Excerpts; see link for full essay)

By Br. Charles Marie Rooney, O.P.|December 2, 2020|† Dominicana Journal

…Christian revelation and the Catholic intellectual tradition provide a coherent, reasonable model that, in its compatibilism, is able both to reclaim a sacred reverence for politics and to maintain the Church’s distinct, higher charge to work for the salvation of the world.  Even though Ecclesial life pertains to supernatural affairs and politics to natural affairs the two orders – one of grace and one of nature – are united in their single source and end:  God.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God, both natural and supernatural.  (Rom 13:1). Any attempt, then, to segregate the ecclesial and political domains as incompatible or irreconcilable ends undermines the fundamental unity of faith and reason and even more, the fundamental unity of reality.  At root, a Catholic approach to politics cannot but be God-oriented because the cosmos in which all politics takes place is God-oriented.  Sans God, all of being – let alone politics – vanishes.

…The obvious improbability… of the natural law – democratic paradigm proposes a model for Catholic citizenship that redounds even to our spiritual benefit, for the Jerusalem-Athens political concord mirrors the Jerusalem-Athens spiritual concord of faith and reason, “the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” (Fides et Ratio, epigraph ).  …Catholics must still recognize the need to establish a Jerusalem-Athens harmony within the soul (a la’ Platos Republic) and thereby recover “a mystical vision, an intellectual apprehension of God at the innermost heart of reality.”  This is a matter of seeing God’s purposes at work both in nature and in grace and cultivating an interior reference for them that permeates our whole existence: our families and our friendships, our political, professional, and community engagements, and our apostolic endeavors.  What emerges is a genuinely integrated human life, one which aspires to the beatitude for which we are made.

This of course, is difficult, but it is also our via crucis, the path set before us to the heavenly Jerusalem.  Christ came to bear witness to the truth (John 13:37) and we baptized into his death and resurrection are to follow in his footsteps, drinking the chalice which he drank (Mt 20:22).  Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s document on religious liberty and the Church’s place in a pluralistic society, is emphatic about the Church’s vocation to be the teacher of truth in the modern world:  “The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ his Master, even more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it” (14). Thus, our mission.  Interiorly, we cultivate the chapel of the Jerusalem-Athens alliance, which overflows into an exterior confidence that Athens can truly flourish only when Jerusalem is made present in its midst.  We thereby sow the seeds of grace, trusting in its agile power to till even the rocky soil of modern liberalism and appealing to the human person’s natural inclinations for truth and love – for God – no matter how hard one might try to suppress them.  We seek the legislation of the natural law however possible, and following St. Paul, we subject ourselves to the governing authorities, remaining ever aware that we express our fidelity to both Athens and Jerusalem by obeying said authorities insofar as their ordinances accord with the natural law.  But when push comes to shove, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), which cues a more felicitous Tertullian quote:  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  For our citizenship is in heaven, though our feet be planted in Athens, our gaze is to be ever turned to Mt. Zion – that in the fullness of time, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).