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The Split between the Gospel and Culture

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 18, 2009

Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate was written for the fortieth anniversary of Paul VI’s landmark social encyclical, Populorum Progressio. As such, Benedict is at considerable pains to call attention not only to Populorum Progressio but to the other documents issued by Paul VI which, taken together, make up his entire contribution on social questions.

You’d expect Octogesima Adveniens to be mentioned. In it Paul VI identifies a series of troubling social problems and a series of insights necessary to remedy them, on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of the Church’s first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum, by Leo XIII. But you might not expect the other two documents highlighted by Pope Benedict, namely Humanae Vitae (on the transmission of human life) and Evangelii Nuntiandi (on evangelization in the modern world).

The point of the reference to Humanae Vitae becomes very clear because Benedict stresses the damage that the contraceptive/abortive mentality (the whole culture of death) has done to the entire socio-economic order, including its very great damage to general prosperity. Pro-lifers have been noting this connection for some years, and Benedict’s inclusion of this theme in his encyclical makes it extremely difficult for advocates of abortion to pretend that they are in favor of social and economic development. In other words, the false dichotomy between being pro-life and wanting to help the poor has been pretty much erased by this new encyclical. There isn’t any wiggle room left for Catholic politicians to claim to be in tune with the Church’s social teaching while disagreeing with the Church on abortion.

But the point of the reference to Evangelii Nuntiandi is probably harder to get. A quiet spirit of evangelization permeates Caritas in Veritate, especially in Benedict’s repeated emphasis that true development must be integral development, development of the whole man and of all men, fully open to the absolute. As Benedict points out here and there, it is only the Church that can identify all the proper ends of man which determine what integral development actually is. In other words, evangelization is absolutely critical to human development. Sorry, but there it is.

I say “sorry” because this is very nearly an incomprehensible message to many of our contemporaries and, in some ways, to ourselves. Both Europe and, increasingly, America have fallen into the trap of confusing the legitimate separation of Church and state with the illegitimate and extremely damaging separation of religion from not only politics but culture itself. In fact, the separation of Christianity and culture can only impoverish culture, reducing our awareness of the proper ends of human development, and leading in the long run to all kinds of miseries, some of which had previously been largely eradicated when Christianity properly informed Western culture.

If our work at stands for anything, it must stand for the absolute need to stop trying to make culture religiously neutral. Instead we must do the exact opposite. We must work to make the message of Christ the most important factor in the formation of all human culture. The deliberate injection of secularism into culture in the name of neutrality has been in fact a pernicious religious act, an act with consequences so horrible that we would scarcely be able to imagine them if we had not lived through them in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It seems Pope Benedict fully understands that his predecessor had it exactly right when he wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi that “the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time” (#20).

"The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time." Don’t be surprised if this becomes a motto here at Trinity Communications. It was first written when I was just 27 years old, and the drama has intensified significantly over the intervening thirty-four years. We need to think of the Culture Project as deliberately defending the strong and necessary connection between healthy culture and true religion. That is, we need to seriously and deliberately put Christ back into culture. If we don’t, things will only get worse—for the whole man, and for all men.

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