01 October 2008

Fraternity v. Charity

After the speech by Sarah Palin at the Republican convention much was made of her comment about community organizers/organizing. This comment was picked up by the media, liberal bloggers and assorted commenters and twisted into the catch-phrase, "Jesus was a community organizer, Pilate was a goveror."

It is this corrupted interpretation of Jesus as a community organizer that I would like to address by looking at the similarities between the current idea of community organizing/activism and the French Sillon movement of the early 20th century. In 1910Pope Pius X wrote his encyclical letter to the French Bishops and Archbishops on the condemnation of the errors of the Sillon, originally a movement grouping early Christian Democrats of the 20th century which in time became simply a Democratic movement. (This term Democratic is not to be understood as akin to the Democratic political party in the U.S.)

The Sillonists were more 'progressive' than the Liberal Catholics of a generation earlier. In contrast to them the Sillonists made their own the political concepts condemned by Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII. Eventually the leaders of the Sillon movement began denying teachings of the Church and it was this error that got them into trouble and merited the encyclical from Pius X.

There are some who claim that the Vatican II encyclical Gaudium et Spes exhonorates the Sillon and that the Church now accepts the errors for which they were condemned. At first study I would disagree with that claim but have not sufficiently been able to study each of the documents to defend that position. Nor have I found any other studies comparing and contrasting the two that I can link to.

Here is part of the letter against the Sillon illustrating the difference between the ideas of fraternity and charity. Fraternity springing from the false philosophies of the 'Englightenment' with the true Catholic teaching of 'Caritas.'

The same (error) applies to the notion of Fraternity which they found on the love of common interest or, beyond all philosophies and religions, on the mere notion of humanity, thus embracing with an equal love and tolerance all human beings and their miseries, whether these are intellectual, moral or physical and temporal. But Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in theoretical or practical indifference towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethern plunged, but in zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being. Catholic doctrine further tells us that love for our neighbour flows from our love for God, Who is Father to all, and goal of the human family; and in Jesus Christ whose members we are, to the point that in doing good to others, we are doing good to Jesus Christ Himself. Any other kind of love is sheer illusion, sterile and fleeting.

Indeed, we have the human experience of pagan and secular societies of ages past to show that concern for common interests or affinities of nature weigh very little against the passions and wild desires of the heart. No, Venerable Brethren, there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity. Through love of God and His Son Jesus Christ our Saviour, Christian charity embraces all men, comforts all, and leads all to the same faith and same heavenly happiness.

By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, Democracy, far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backwards for civilization. If, as We desire with all Our heart, the highest possible peak of well-being for society and its members is is to be attained through fraternity or, as it is also called, universal solidarity, all minds must be united in the knowledge of Truth, all wills united in morality, and all hearts in the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ. But this union is attainable only by Catholic charity, and that is why Catholic charity alone can lead the people in the march of progress towards the ideal civilization.

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