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Second Things

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 03, 2006

From the Baltimore Catechism (III), 1891:

Q. 491. What is the duty of the Teaching Church?

A.The duty of the Teaching Church is to continue the work Our Lord began upon earth, namely, to teach revealed truth, to administer the Sacraments and to labor for the salvation of souls.

Listening to "progressive" bishops lecture us on the use of condoms for reducing AIDS infection, I was struck by how far the model of the Church's teaching office has departed from the traditional one stated above. Note that the catechism said the Church's prime duty was to teach revealed truth -- not psych, not medicine, not sociology. And the goal of such teaching was not improved hygiene or race relations, but the salvation of souls.

Since the Council we've watched "the salvation of souls" drop out of the vocabulary of the progressivist Catholic majority, while the duty to teach revealed truth has been shouldered aside in favor of efforts to engage contemporary secular problems in contemporary secular terms. The thinking behind this shift (fueled by a grotesquely sentimentalist misreading of certain passages in Gaudium et Spes) was to revitalize the Church by regaining the attention of the indifferent masses by showing interest in what the masses were interested in. Old liberals deny it today, but back then they gleefully announced from every podium the self-evident truth that, by accommodating herself to cultural and political fashions, the Church would see huge increases in Mass attendance and vocations, a reanimated parish life, and a groundswell of enthusiasm for religion on the part of young people. "Let's engage the Church's worldly mission," the thinking ran, "then we'll be in a stronger position to engage her supernatural one."

Wrong. When the Church tried her hand at psycho-drama and economics she dismayed those who loved her, amused those who hated her, and simply bored the rest. Churches, convents, and seminaries emptied, and the young people for whose sake the supernatural duties were abandoned resented being patronized even more than being scolded.

In a 1942 essay called "First and Second Things," C.S. Lewis drew attention to the paradoxical nature of the blunder: "To sacrifice the greater good for the less and then not to get the lesser good after all -- that is the surprising folly." He went to generalize the law:

Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got his pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.

The sight of a retired Jesuit archbishop reduced to coaching Africans in marital onanism is sorry enough, but it only recapitulates the trajectory of his own order. Precisely in the measure that it swapped faith for justice, it ended up with neither. And the same is true of post-Conciliar progressives in general: by putting secular prestige before spiritual duty and teaching human sciences instead of revealed truth, they gutted the Church Militant and lost contact with the Church Triumphant. Today, strutting in an empty chapel of their own design, they can neither bless nor heal.

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