Giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness,
and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. — Col. 1:12-13
Dominica XXIV et Ultima post Pentecosten
24 November 2013
 Such a stark contrast between the pagan world and the Kingdom of God has led many to wonder, and in one way or another, to ask with Tertullian, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” For Tertullian, Jerusalem should have nothing to do with Athens; only heretics would want to mix Christian faith, represented by Jerusalem, with pagan philosophy, represented by Athens — home to Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. But many others recognized that the truths of philosophy, even though discovered and developed by pagans, were nevertheless compatible with the Christian faith, since God, who is Truth Itself, was the ultimate source of all truth, whether accessible to human reason or known only through divine revelation. This harmonious relationship between Athens and Jerusalem, or between knowledge attained through the light of unaided reason and that attained through reason aided by the light of faith, informed the thought of many great theologians, including such luminaries as the neo-Platonist St. Augustine (5th century) and the Aristotelian St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century). And through the genius of the Renaissance painter Raphael (16th century), this harmony was given stunning visual representation in two of his frescoes that face each other in the Apostolic Palace: the one (The School of Athens) depicting philosophy (in which is depicted all manner of Greek Philosophers, including the two central figures of Plato and Aristotle, walking down what turns out to be the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica), the other (The Disputation) depicting the summit of divine revelation through an eschatological view of the Eucharist exposed in a monstrance on the altar of St. Peter’s.
This past Wednesday, Bishop Paprocki delivered a homily wherein he stressed the connection between the initiative to give same-sex unions the same status as marriage and the influence of the devil, who is always seeking to twist and ape God’s plan. It was a homily rooted in what we know from divine revelation; preached, as it were, from Jerusalem. This homily will be rooted in philosophy; preached, as it were, from Athens.
Now, whereas Tertullian, who denied this harmonious relationship between faith and reason, sought to keep Jerusalem away from the “darkness” of Athens, many of the proponents of Rationalism (17th through early 19th centuries) sought to keep Athens away from what they considered to be the “darkness” of Jerusalem. Thanks to “monkish ignorance and superstition” (they thought), reason had been kept in chains and in darkness. And as a result, people neither enjoyed the “unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion”, nor the “blessings and security of self-government.” On the contrary, they lived in tyranny, blind to the “rights of man”. Rejecting Jerusalem, however, did not prevent these rationalists from embracing a false anthropology. Unbeknownst to them, these self-assured thinkers fell into many egregious errors.
Now this rejection of “Jerusalem” in favor of an independent “Athens” lies at the heart of the ongoing culture war in which we find ourselves — a war in which our culture, which was once rooted in and informed by a Judeo-Christian ethic (“Jerusalem”), has become uprooted from, and even hostile to, that ethic — to such an extent that, one by one, the individual States, including most recently the great State of Illinois, are (in the words of Bishop Paprocki) “introducing not only an unprecedented novelty into our state law, but institutionalizing an objectively sinful reality”; namely, the sin of so-called same-sex marriage. For that ethic, though it may have found expression in any number of laws, is ultimately at odds with the “Athens” of the Republic; that is, the political principles upon which the Republic is based. Those who doubt this would do well to consider that John Adams,a man as well versed in the political principles of this country as he was strong in the practice of his Unitarian beliefs, had no trouble signing a treaty with the Muslim Barbary pirates in which it was stated that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
What are these foundational principles of the United States which, I maintain, have led, either through legislation or through the decisions of the courts, to the deterioration of the Judeo-Christian culture? They are the principles expressed in what is known as the social contract theory of government. They are the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” found eloquently articulated in that hallowed document known as the Declaration of Independence.
Now if this proposition of mine — that the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence have led to legally recognized same-sex unions — seems astonishing, it’s largely because we have all grown accustomed to treating the Declaration as though it were the inspired word of God. Moreover, we Catholics have inherited the legacy of our forebears in the faith, who were once in the habit of bending over backwards trying to convince our Protestant fellow citizens that we could be just as American as they; which meant (and still means) that, like them, they too could accept the principles of the social contract theory that are found at the heart of our Republic. They could be good Catholics and good Americans. Never mind that Popes like Gregory XVI and Pius IX and Leo XIII were condemning these same principles in their encyclicals! The Popes’ condemnations did not apply to the Republic of the United States. America was an exception, or so Catholic citizens wished to believe. And so, notwithstanding what the Popes were teaching in their Encyclicals about these ideas, American Catholics often sought to harmonize, even identify, them with the Catholic philosophical tradition, to say nothing of divine revelation itself. When Jefferson, for example, postulates as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal”, Catholics suppose this means “equal in nature” (we’re all rational animals), and that, therefore, what Jefferson really means to say is that all men are created “according to the image and likeness of God,” and that “Laws of Nature” is Jefferson’s way of speaking about the Catholic understanding of natural law as developed by St. Thomas Aquinas. Today, we Catholics have barely any inkling that there might be a problem with Jefferson’s thought, or that there was ever a time when Popes were doing their level best to make us aware of the errors that lay at the foundations of modern societies, including the United States.
A closer reading of the Declaration, however, shows that when Jefferson (to say nothing of the signers of the Declaration) uses the word “equal” in the statement “all men are created equal”, he is in the course of declaring “the causes which impel [the American People] to the separation”; or why the people of the United States are justified in withdrawing from the yoke of British rule and “assuming the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them”.
Note first how Jefferson describes the end result of this separation from the British Empire: by separating themselves from the British Empire or People, the American People are assuming the “separate and equal station” of political independence, to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them”. It is a separate station because the British and American Peoples are declared to be no longer one People but two. It is also an equal station, because in assuming the station of political independence the American People declare themselves no longer to be under British rule (i.e., in a position of subordination and hence inequality in relation to the British Crown), but out from under it and beside it; in a word, equal to it.
This decision of “one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” and assume “the separate and equal station” of political independence is justified, first of all, by the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. Jefferson leaves us in no doubt as regards what these laws or axioms of modern political theory are. The first Law we have already mentioned: “all men are created equal.” Which is to say, all men are by nature politically independent — equal to every other man; subject to no one and ruler of none. Why, then, does government exist at all? Is it to provide the conditions necessary to make the perfection of his nature possible? Not according to the second Law of nature: governments are established not to perfect man’s nature, but to preserve or secure it; specifically, his life and natural liberty, as well as his ability or desire to pursue “happiness” qua an apolitical individual. Apparently, without government, when every man is busy living his life, exercising his liberty, and pursuing his own idea of happiness, the environment gets chaotic enough to warrant the existence of government, lest murder and tyranny ensue. Thus the common good or purpose of society (as Jefferson envisions it) is reduced to promoting a relatively safe and tranquil environment via the passage of laws so that life and natural liberty may be preserved so as to allow everyone to pursue happiness as he sees fit.
So what happens when government fails to fulfill its part of the contract? The subjects of that government are “entitled” by the very Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God to declare and assume the separate and equal station of its independence. The long list of grievances that Jefferson then provides is meant to give concrete proof to the world that the British Crown has become tyrannical and unjust, and therefore the American People have every right to invoke the Laws of Nature and of God to assert themselves separate and equal to the King.
Now, fast-forward to the 1950s. Under the guise of scientific research, Alfred Kinsey perpetrated one of the greatest frauds on the American people. He and his disciples convinced many Americans no longer to be ashamed of, but to treat as normal, all kinds of sexual activity.
So, then, sodomy is not condemned; after all, it’s just another way to pursue happiness and self-fulfillment. But the removal of any stigma attached to homosexual activity and a reticence to condemn it publicly do not satisfy the positive approval that many homosexuals demand from society — an approval as great as that enjoyed by heterosexual marriage. To obtain this approval which, it is hoped, will assuage the guilty consciences of many, many in society today want to confer upon same-sex unions the same dignity as marriage itself.
But note the legal arguments employed. We are all supposed to be equal under the law in the way laws are imposed and enforced, so that we may all be equally free to pursue happiness as we see fit, so long as we don’t hurt anyone in the process or violate another person’s right to liberty. Therefore, it has been argued, if some people have the right or privilege to marry, others (namely, homosexuals) cannot be denied that right. After all, the 14th Amendment declares that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States...nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Originally, this Amendment was meant to ensure equality between blacks and whites under the law. But now, we see it being expanded to include other areas where inequality is perceived and deemed unacceptable.
Now, as long as the debate centers on notions of equality and rights, defenders of marriage will lose that debate. If they want to win the debate, they need to understand what marriage is: how it is defined and why. It’s an interesting question to ask whether marriage is a right or a privilege (like driving a car), or whether it’s covered under the Constitution, or even whether those attracted to the same sex have a right to marry. None of these questions, however, can be answered unless we first understand what we are speaking about when we use the word ‘marriage’. As long as we ourselves understand what marriage is and keep that definition in the forefront of the debate, we will win. When we forget about what marriage truly is, we will be overrun by high-sounding platitudes about equal treatment under the law, individual rights, and freedom to pursue whatever makes one happy.
The definition of marriage that arises from the natural division of the species into male and female, and from the obvious good of the survival and propagation of the human race, is as follows: a life-long contract or covenant freely established between a man and a woman, and ordered toward their mutual good as well as toward the procreation and education of offspring.
Now, since at the heart of the war against marriage is its definition, it’s worth asking, have the courts redefined marriage? As far as I know, no one has. Those who say the courts have redefined marriage mean, perhaps, that the courts have allowed certain partnerships to be called marriage, which partnerships are excluded by the traditional (and natural) definition of marriage. This broadening of the definition seems like a redefinition. But it is not. No court has offered to redefine marriage more broadly by saying that from now on it is to be understood, for example, as a life-long covenant between any two persons, who see the fulfillment of their personal happiness contained therein. Those who have enacted laws permitting same-sex unions to receive the legal status of marriage have chosen to ignore the definition of marriage. They have not redefined marriage; they have undefined it. Besides, if they redefined marriage, the limiting discriminatory nature of any definition would prevent other partnerships from enjoying the right to marry, just as surely as the traditional definition of marriage has always done by limiting marriage to pairs of heterosexual men and women.
Hence, we have entered an era where judges and politicians have chosen to ignore what precisely marriage actually is (and why) in favor of some vague notion of it being some kind of legally sanctioned union between or among different parties. But if this is all marriage is, and everyone has a right to it, it’s only a matter of time before laws prohibiting polyandry, polygamy, polyamory, to say nothing of incestuous relationships and relationships that cross over into other species, are struck down so that everyone can truly pursue happiness in the relationship of his choice. In time, such laws will be regarded as unconstitutional because, it will be argued, they violate a person’s civil rights, foster unjust discrimination, and prevent certain persons from seeking his own personal fulfillment.
In our haste to fall down and worship the idols of equality and freedom, we have been willing to cast aside the moral barriers of an erstwhile Judaeo-Christian culture and fall headlong into a depravity that would make even the pagans of ancient Greece and Rome blush. But whether we appeal to reason or to faith, Athens or Jerusalem, we who possess the light of faith and who live by that light are in a position to be God’s instruments to rescue this world of ours from the power of darkness from which the Colossians themselves, in the days of St. Paul, were rescued when they were converted to Christ. In the meantime, such depravity and darkness will most certainly lead to tribulation for those who would seek to remain faithful to Nature and to the God of Nature. Yet, the prospect of such tribulation should never fill us with anxiety or despair. For today’s gospel reminds us that the coming of the Lord is to be preceded by great darkness and drama, perhaps the greatest in the history of the world: “the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And He shall send His angels with a trumpet, and a great voice: and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them.” Come, Lord Jesus!
 Col. 1:12-13.
 Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum, ch. 7: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians?”
 Cf. Jefferson, Letter to Roger Weightman, 24 June 1826.
 Bp. Thomas John Paprocki, Homily for Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage, 20 November 2013.
 Treaty of Tripoli, 1797, Article 11.
 For a more thorough analysis of the opening paragraphs of the Declaration, see I. Bernard Cohen, Science & the Founding Fathers (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), 108-132.
 On how the concept of natural law was understood and applied from the 16th through the 18th century, see Charles McCoy, The Structure of Political Thought (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), 187-259.
 Natural liberty is what a man enjoys prior to acquiring the virtues that are perfective of his nature. Moral liberty is the perfection of natural liberty. It is the sort of freedom enjoyed by the virtuous man. See Leo XIII, Encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum, 1888.
 See Selwyn Duke,