Salvation is in the return to social peace
By Mgr Henri Delassus | 28 September 2022
This is the sixth in a series of twenty-one articles, drawn from Mgr Delassus’s two-volume work, The Problem of the Present Time: Antagonism of two civilisations (1905), in which he examines the conditions for the restoration of Christian society and the return to social truth. The section of this work that is translated for this series considers the role of the family as the origin and model of all society and the disastrous effects of human tampering with this institution so manifestly wanted by God and nature.
The first part of this series, entitled “How states are formed”, appeared in the Digest in April 2022.
France, which preceded and guided the modern nations in the ways of civilisation, was also the first to leave it. Will it be able to return, and if so then how?
One day, Socrates was asked the remedy for the evils from which the Greeks were suffering. He responded, “The Greeks must do what they did at the time when they were happy and prosperous.” Leo XIII himself has said, “When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang.”1 At its origins, in the times of prosperity and happiness, society based the relations of its various classes on the sentiments which reigned in the family home and which, extending from loved one to loved one, concluded by constituting the nation.
In the measure that these sentiments were weakened, natural bonds were loosened and then broken one after the other. And for society still to be able to subsist today, it has been necessary to replace them, by a whole range of means, with artificial bonds imagined and instituted as cracks appear in society, in order to maintain the various social members in a certain order, to make them correspond to one another and to give the state an artificial life.
Thus was born the administrative regime inaugurated by Louis XIV, constituted by the Revolution and affirmed and fixed by Napoleon I.
“This nation,” said the emperor, “is totally dispersed and without coherence; it is necessary to remake something; to put some rock-solid base on the ground.” The bases that he laid were administrative institutions, with nothing solid about them. The strong and durable institutions are those which unite men who share the same ideas, the same sentiments, the same interests.
The administrative regime has no root in souls; it is made completely of rigid rules, applied by men who are as inflexible as the machines in which they are the gears. The administrative machine curbs all, crushes all — even consciences — but the same thing that happens to all machines will not fail to happen to them; one day or another, they will go haywire. All the time, sinister explosions are heard, everywhere and in everything: forerunners of the final catastrophe.
Will we share the fate of ancient societies? Will we disappear in this disaster? Or can we be reconstituted? Christianity offers us the resources that paganism never knew.
Christianity has been able to gather the fragments of ancient civilisations and to animate them with its spirit; it has made modern civilisation spring up from these ruins. Can it now restore modern civilisation and give life back to us? Assuredly, it can — if we wish it.
Christianity is the pure source of charity; that is, of the all-powerful generative principle of reciprocal affections, devotion, respect, fidelity; of everything which assures stability, of everything that our ancestors had enclosed in the word “peace”.
Saint Dionysius the Areopagite,2 whose ideas had such a great influence on the middle ages, sang of this in his book, Divine names, in these terms:
“And now let us honour divine peace, who presides over every alliance, with praise for her harmonic works. Because it is she who unites beings, reconciles them and produces perfect concord between them; also, all desire her, and she brings unity back to their multitude which is so varied; combining their strengths which are naturally opposed, she places the universe in a state of peaceful regularity.
“It is by their participation in divine peace that the foremost of the reconciling spirits are united — first of all in themselves, then with one another, then finally with the sovereign author of universal peace; and it is by a subsequent effect, that they bind together subordinate natures — first with one another, then between themselves, then finally with the unique cause of general harmony … From this sublime and universal cause, peace descends on all creatures, appears to them, and penetrates them, while guarding the simplicity and the purity of her strength; she orders them, brings together the ends with the help of the middles and thus unites them, as by the bonds of a mutual concord.”
Such high thoughts penetrated souls. Let us cite as an example “la charité” with which the Count of Flanders, Baldwin III, in 1114, doted upon the city of Valenciennes.
“In the name of the Holy Trinity: peace be to God, peace to the good and the bad. Let us speak of peace, my dearest brothers, for your benefit. Peace must be desired, must be sought, must be guarded, because nothing is sweeter, or more glorious. Peace enriches the poor and puts the rich in honour; peace takes away all fear, brings health and confidence. Who can count all its benefits? The divine Scriptures say in praise of it, ‘How beautiful are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings and sheweth forth good,’3 And since peace is so much to be praised and abounds so much in good, love it, my dear brothers, with all your heart, hold it in your thought, guard it with all your strength, so that, by it, you may live in honour and find eternal peace, of which Our Lord has said, ‘My peace I give you.’”
At the same epoch, the “frairie” of drapers from the same city published its regulations, of which this was the preamble:
“Brothers, we are images of God, for it is said in Genesis, ‘Let us make man to our image and likeness.’ In this thought, we are united and, with the help of God, we can accomplish our work, if brotherly love is spread among us; because by the love of one’s neighbour, we rise to the love of God. Therefore, brother, may no discord be between us, according to the word of the Gospel, ‘A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another; and I [sic] will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.’”
These documents were acts; acts which, for centuries, produced the results for which they were put down. By reproducing them here, do we mean that it is necessary to return to the strict class feudalism of other times? Certainly not. We cannot return to the social forms of the past; this is impossible and the cause of no regret. But what is necessary and sufficient is the restoration — in the hearts of the nobility — of the sentiments which inspired the institutions of the past; and — in society — of the relations that these sentiments produced. Of these sentiments and these relations new institutions will be born conforming to the present state of society.
Leo XIII has not ceased to exhort us to this end. He says, commenting on the words of St Paul to the Colossians, “But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection”:
“Yes, truly, charity is the bond of perfection … nobody denies the strength of this precept of charity, the depth at which it implanted itself from the beginning in the hearts of Christians, or the abundance with which it has produced the fruits of concord, of mutual benevolence, of mercy, of patience and of courage! Why do we not apply ourselves to follow the example of our fathers? Not even the times in which we live must be allowed to move us only weakly to charity.”4
“We recommend charity to you above all, under its varied forms; charity which gives, charity which unites, charity which draws, charity which enlightens, charity which does good by its words, by its writings, by its meetings, by its society, by mutual help. If this sovereign virtue is practised according to the rules of the Gospel, civil society will be so much the better for it.”5
“To avert the danger which threatens society, neither human laws, nor the rulings of judges, nor the arms of soldiers can suffice; what matters above all, what is indispensable, is that freedom be left to the Church to recreate the divine precepts in souls and to extend its salutary influence to all classes of society.”6
“As in the past, no material force was able to prevail against the barbarian hordes, while on the contrary, the power of the Christian religion, penetrating their spirits, made their ferocity disappear, their ways milder, and rendered them docile to the voice of the truth and the faith of the Gospel; so too, against the rage of the frantic mobs, no rampart can be assured without the salutary power of religion, which — by spreading the light of the truth in spirits, insinuating the precepts of the morality of Jesus Christ in hearts — made the voice of conscience and duty extend over them, restrained covetousness even before putting it into action, and broke the charge of evil passions.“7
Averting the danger of the present situation is but the first service that the return to Christian charity can render us. It still remains to reestablish society in its veritable constitution.
“Just as the symmetry of the human frame is the result of the suitable arrangement of the different parts of the body, so in a state is it ordained by nature that these two classes should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity.”8
“But the Church, with Jesus Christ as her Master and Guide, aims higher still. She lays down precepts yet more perfect, and tries to bind class to class in friendliness and good feeling.”9
“But, if Christian precepts prevail, the respective classes will not only be united in the bonds of friendship, but also in those of brotherly love.”10
Once returned to hearts, this charity will be established in institutions, almost by itself; however little we may want it to be.
“What we ask is that the social edifice be founded anew, by returning to the doctrines and to the spirit of Christianity, by reviving, at least in substance, in their beneficial and multiform strength, and in such a form that the new conditions of the time can permit, these guilds of arts and trades which — informed by Christian thought and inspired by the maternal solicitude of the Church — once provided for the material and religious needs of their workers, facilitating the work, taking care of their savings and their economies, defending their rights and supporting their just demands in the measure necessary.”11
The reestablishment of guilds, not in their old constitution but in their spirit (in this spirit that Leo XIII has outlined) will contribute a great deal to the reestablishment of “the peace”.
An illustrious naturalist thought able to give the following conclusion to his studious observations: that the fight for existence is the law of the animal kingdom. The study of history permits one to affirm with greater certitude that one of the principal laws of humanity is the “alliance for life”. Our Lord Jesus Christ imposed its practice in these terms: “as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner”.
“This formula,” says père Graltry, “as short and even simpler than that of attraction, proves to be a complete principle, like the motion of the spheres: the principle of a science richer, more beautiful, more important than that of the starry sky. Here is the first law, the moral law, the unique cause of all human progress.”12 In fact, prosperity is established and develops wherever this law is observed — in nations as in tribes, and in guilds as in families. On the other hand, discord, war and ruin are established wherever this law ceases to be respected.
The alliance for life has its first seat in the family. It is there that it is imposed first, for the most obvious reasons and with the most powerful sentiments. “Love provoked by the bond of blood,” says Jacques Flach, “the community of life and of danger, the need for common protection under the aegis of a head, engenders familial solidarity.”13 Tribes formed only where the same sentiments produced the same effect, only where the need to make an alliance for life — extending beyond the family home — attracted neighbouring strengths and made them work together towards a greater development of action and life. Nations are made in no other way.
If such is the law of the formation of societies, if the alliance for life really is the law of humanity, and if it really is in the family that this law has its principle, when a society begins to dissolve, what must be done to stop this dissolution? Go back to the principle; make the law live again; and to light this flame, take its spark back to its hearth, the family home.
The French were happy and prosperous when the family was solidly constituted among them, when the spirit of the family animated the whole of society, along with the government of the country (both province and city), and presided over the relations of classes with one another.
Today, the family no longer exists among us except in the elementary state. Reconstituting it is a fundamental work, without which all attempt at renovation will remain sterile. Society will never be regenerated if the family is not regenerated first. “Nobody denies,” said Leo XIII, “that private and public prosperity depends principally on the constitution of the family.”14
Balzac also said, “There is nothing solid and durable but what is natural, and the natural thing in politics is the family. The family must be the starting point of all institutions.”
This series will continue next month with “The reform must begin with the reconstruction of the family (1)”.
- Leo XIII, encyclical, Rerum novarum (1891).
- Editor’s note: That is, not the saint among the first converts of Saint Paul’s ministry in Athens (cf. Acts 17), but the venerable neo-platonic author from the fifth century who wrote under this pseudonym.
- Editor’s note: Cf. Is 52:7
- Leo XIII, Sapientiae christianae (1890)
- Leo XIII, Address to the Roman patriarchy (May 1893)
- Leo XIII, Address to French workers (20 October 1889
- Leo XIII, Letter to Italians.
- Rerum novarum. Previously … we have said: “Justice demands that the value of salaries be equal to the value of the work, nothing more.” Here, we were considering the work-product or manufactured objects. But, before being a manufactured object, the work was an act, a spending of human strengths; it was work-labour into which a man put his time, exerted his intelligence and his professional capacity. In the factory, as in the domestic environment, the matter of the contract which intervenes between the employer and the employee is not only the work to produce, but the person called to produce it. It follows from this that the contract binds these two persons to one another, from which it also follows, as M. Roquefeuil said, that the bond formed is a moral bond which puts one in a superior position and the other in an inferior position. And insofar as there is a bond of dependence or of superiority, there is an obligation of patronage, of paternity on one side and of filiality on the other, and this is why questions touching on work also concern religion, morality and politics at the same time .
- Rerum novarum.
- Rerum novarum.
- Address to French workers.
- Auguste Gratry, La morale et la loi de l’histoire (Paris, 1871) t. 1, p. 11.
- Geoffroi Jacques Flach, Les Organes de l’ancienne France.
- Leo XIII, Letter on the Christian family (11 July 1892).