As the standpoint for my remarks I shall assume that we now stand at the “end of modern times.” The phrase, in one or other variant, has come into common use. Whether “modern times” began with the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century, or with the rise of Gnosticism in the second century, is a matter of dispute. But there is some scholarly agreement today that the spiritual era known as “modern” is running to a close. A new era is beginning. Almost everything about it is unpredictable, save that it will be an era of unprecedented dangers. The danger of violent destruction threatens the physical fabric of civilization. And the spiritual nature of man himself is menaced by more insidious corruptions. I have no wish to be a prophet of Untergang; I do not believe that downfall is our inevitable civilizational fate. But I do think that confusion is the present civilizational fact.

Is the Problem today rightly identified, in one word, as “freedom”? The point might be argued. In any case, the Problem is not “freedom” in the sense in which modernity has understood the term. So rapidly have the generations slipped beneath our feet that the prophets of modernity and of its “freedom”—the Miltons and the Mills, the Madisons and the Jeffersons—have already begun to seem slightly neolithic figures to our backward glance. Certain of their insights retain validity. But the adequacy of their systems can no longer be upheld. The broad question has arisen, whether the problem of freedom in the post-modern era can be satisfactorily dealt with in terms of philosophies (and theologies) which bear too heavily the stamp of modernity.

The problem does not center on some minor malfunctions of the mechanisms of freedom. Our “free institutions,” in their procedural aspects, are working today as well as they ever have worked or ever will work. Some tinkering with them may be needed. But tinkering is not our full task. It is characteristic of the present moment that all the serious talk is about Basic Issues.

The initial difficulty is that these Basic Issues are not easily located and defined. Perhaps rather abruptly, I shall venture a twofold formulation.

First, the Basic Issues of our time concern the spiritual substance of a free society, as it has historically derived from the central Christian concept res sacra homo, “Man is a sacredness” (only the abstract noun can render the Latin rightly). Second, the Basic Issues concern the fundamental structure of a free society. I do not mean its legal structure, as constitutionally established; few of the real problems today are susceptible of solution, or even of statement, in legal language. I mean rather the ontological structure of society, of which the constitutional order should be only the reflection. This underlying social structure is a matter of theory; that is, it is to be conceived in terms of a theorem with regard to the relation between the sacrednesses inherent in man and the manifold secularities amid which human life is lived.

This twofold formulation is very general. I set it down thus to make clear my conviction that the Basic Issues today can only be conceived in metaphysical and theological terms. They are issues of truth. They concern the nature and structure of reality itself—meaning by reality the order of nature as accessible to human reason, and the economy of salvation as disclosed by the Christian revelation.

But these general formulas may not be useful for purposes of argument. And argument, I take it, is our purpose. Therefore a more pragmatic approach to our problem is indicated. No philosopher today will uphold the crude tenet of an older outworn pragmatism, that whatever works is true. But any philosopher must acknowledge the more subtle truth, that whatever is not true will somehow fail to work. Professor Hocking has stated the case in his book The Coming World Civilization: “For whatever is real in the universe is no idle object of speculation; it is a working factor in experience or it is nothing. Consciously or subconsciously we are always dealing with it; to entertain false notions about it, or simply to neglect it, will bring about maladjustments which thrust this neglect forward into consciousness. A false metaphysic, engendering empirical malaise, calls for a new work of thought, begetting an altered premise.”

The statement suggests a method of inquiry. What are our malaises today? That is, what are the discomforts and uneasinesses that trouble, not the surface of mind and soul, but their very depths? Are these distresses somehow traceable to falsities in the philosophy that has inspired the political experiment of modernity? If so, what new work of thought is needed? And what alterations in the premises of the modern experiment are called for?

A process of questioning, more or less inspired by this method, has been going on of late; and in the course of it many ideas dear to a later modernity have found their way into Trotsky’s famous “dustbin of history.”

For instance, we no longer cherish the bright and brittle eighteenth-century concept of “reason”; we do not believe in the principle of automatic harmony nor in the inevitability of progress. We have rejected that principle of modernity which asserted that government is the only enemy of freedom. We see that the modern concept of freedom itself was dangerously inadequate because it neglected the corporate dimension of freedom. We see too that modernity was wrong in isolating the problem of freedom from its polar terms—responsibility, justice, order, law. We have realized that the modern experiment, originally conceived only as an experiment in Freedom, had to become also an experiment in Justice. We know that the myopic individualism of modernity led it into other errors, even into a false conception of the problem of the state in terms of the unreal dichotomy, individualism versus collectivism. We have come to disbelieve the cardinal tenet of modernity which regarded every advance in man’s domination over nature—that is, every new accumulation of power—as necessarily liberating. We have begun to understand the polyvalence of power. In fact, we know that we are post-modern men, living in a new age, chiefly because we have begun to see what modernity never saw—that the central problem is not the realization of the Cartesian dream. This dream today is largely reality; man is the master of nature. Our problem now is the dissolution of a nightmare that never visited Descartes—the horrid vision of man, master of nature, but not master of himself.

It may be useful here to carry this process of questioning farther, and to an altogether basic level. This can best be done, I think, by viewing the modern political experiment in its continuity with the longer liberal tradition of the West. My generalization will be that the political experiment of modernity has essentially consisted in an effort to find and install in the world a secular substitute for all that the Christian tradition has meant by the pregnant phrase the “freedom of the Church.” This freedom, though not a freedom of the political order, was Christianity’s basic contribution to freedom in the political order. Some brief articulation of the concept will initially be necessary. Modernity dropped the phrase out of its political vocabulary, and eliminated the thing from its political edifice, and installed in its place a secular surrogate—this will be my second assertion. Thirdly, I shall attempt to identify some of the more acute stresses and distresses currently being experienced at our present stage in the modern experiment. Finally, I shall attempt to state some of the spiritual issues which lie, I think, at the origin of our empirical malaises. It will be sufficient for my purpose simply to present these issues for argument.

In his book Libertas: Kirche and Weltordnung im Zeitalter des Investiturstreites (a broad study of the basic issues involved in that great medieval struggle between opposed conceptions of the nature and order of Christian society which centered around Gregory VII), Gerd Tellenbach writes: “In moments of considered solemnity, when their tone was passionate and their religious feeling at its deepest, Gregory VII and his contemporaries called the object towards which they were striving the ‘freedom’ of the Church.” More than six centuries earlier the same idea had inspired Ambrose in his conflicts with Gratian and Theodosius. And eight centuries later, Leo XIII used the same phrase to define the goal of his striving in a more radical conflict between the Church and modernity, now fully developed not only as a spirit but also as a polity. In more than sixty Leonine documents the phrase the “freedom of the Church” appears some eighty-one times.

On any showing, even merely historical, we are here in the presence of a Great Idea, whose entrance into history marked the beginning of a new civilizational era.

It is an historical commonplace to say that the essential political effect of Christianity was to destroy the classical view of society as a single homogeneous structure, within which the political power stood forth as the representative of sociely both in its religious and in its political aspects. Augustus was both Summus Imperator and Pontifex Maximus; the ius divinum was simply part of the ius civile; and outside the empire there was no other society, but only barbarism. The new Christian view was based on a radical distinction between order of the sacred and the order of the secular: “Two there are, august Emperor, by which this world is ruled on title of original and sovereign right—the consecrated authority of the priesthood and the royal power.” In this celebrated sentence of Gelasius I, written to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I in 494 A.D., the emphasis laid on the word “two” bespoke the revolutionary character of the Christian dispensation.

In his book Sacrum Imperium, Alois Dempf called this Gelasian text the “Magna Charta of the whole ‘freedom of the Church’ in medieval times.” It was the charter of a new freedom, such as the world had never known. Moreover, it was a freedom with which man could not enfranchise himself, since it was the effect of God’s own “magnificent dispensation,” in Gelasius’ phrase. The whole patristic and medieval tradition, which Leo XIII reiterated to the modern world, asserts the freedom of the Church to be a participation in the freedom of the Incarnate Son of God, the God-Man, Christ Jesus.

For our purposes here we can consider this new freedom to be twofold. First, there is the freedom of the Church as a spiritual authority. To the Church is entrusted the cura animarum; and this divine commission endows her with the freedom to teach, to rule, and to sanctify, with all that these empowerments imply as necessary for their free exercise. This positive freedom has a negative aspect—the immunity of the Church, as the suprapolitical sacredness (res sacra), from all manner of politicization, through subordination to the state, or enclosure within the state as instrumentum regni. Second, there is the freedom of the Church as the Christian people—their freedom to have access to the teaching of the Church, to obey her laws, to receive at her hands the sacramental ministry of grace, and to live within her fold an integral supernatural life. In turn, the inherent suprapolitical dignity of this life itself claims “for the faithful the enjoyment of the right to live in civil society according to the precepts of reason and conscience” (Pius XI). And this comprehensive right, asserted within the political community, requires as its compliment that all the intrapolitical sacrednesses (res sacra in temporalibus) be assured of their proper immunity from politicization.

This concept, the res sacra in temporalibus, had all the newness of Christianity itself. It embraces all those things which are part of the temporal life of man, at the same time that, by reason of their Christian mode of existence, or by reason of their finality, they transcend the limited purposes of the political order and are thus invested with a certain sacredness. The chief example is the institution of the family—the marriage contract itself, and the relationships of husband and wife, parent and child. Included also are other human relationships in so far as they involve a moral element and require regulation in the interests of the personal dignity of man. Such, for instance, are the employer-employee relationship and the reciprocal relationships established by the political obligation. Sacred too is the intellectual patrimony of the human race, the heritage of basic truths about the nature of man, amassed by secular experience and reflection, that form the essential content of the social consensus and furnish the basic guarantee that within society conditions of freedom and justice, prosperity and order will prevail, at least to some essential human degree.

Instinctively and by natural inclination the common man knows that he cannot be free if his basic human things are not sacredly immune from profanation by the power of the state and by other secular powers. The question has always been that of identifying the limiting norm that will check the encroachments of secular power and preserve these sacred immunities. Western civilization first found this norm in the pregnant principle of the freedom of the Church.

I should perhaps emphasize that the phrase must be given its full meaning. As a matter of history, the liberal tradition of Western politics did not begin its lengthy, slow, and halting evolution because something like Harnack’s wraithlike Wesen des Christentums began to pervade the dominions of imperial Rome. This pale phantom would have been altogether unequal to the task of inaugurating a new political history. What appeared within history was not an “idea” or an “essence” but an existence, a Thing, a visible institution that occupied ground in this world at the same time that it asserted an astounding new freedom on a title not of this world. Through the centuries a new tradition of politics was wrought out very largely in the course of the wrestlings between the new freedom of the Church and the pretensions of an older power which kept discovering, to its frequent chagrin, that it was not the one unchallengeable ruler of the world and that its rule was not unlimitedly free.

In regard of the temporal order and its powers and processes this complex Existent Thing, the “freedom of the Church,” performed a twofold function. First, the freedom of the Church as the spiritual authority served as the limiting principle of the power of government. It furnished, as it were, a corporate or social armature to the sacred order, within which res sacra homo would be secure in all the freedoms that his sacredness demands. Men found their freedom where they found their faith—within the Church. As it was her corporate faith that they professed, so it was her corporate freedom that they claimed, in the face of the public power and of all private powers. Within the armature of her immunities they and their human things were immune from profanation. Second, the freedom of the Church as the “people of God” furnished the ultimate directive principle of government. To put it briefly, the Church stood, as it were, between the body politic and the public power, not only limiting the reach of the power over the people but also mobilizing the moral consensus of the people and bringing it to bear upon the power, thus to insure that the king, in the fine phrase of John of Salisbury, would “fight for justice and for the freedom of the people.”

This was the new Christian theorem. I leave aside the historical question whether and to what extent the theorem was successfully institutionalized. What matters is the theorem itself: the freedom of the Church, in its pregnant meaning, was conceived to be the key to the Christian order of society. What further matters is the historical fact that the whole equilibrium of social forces which under the guidance of this theory made (however imperfectly) for freedom and justice within society was destroyed by the rise of the national monarchies and by the course of their political evolution in the era of royal absolutism.

The basic effort of modern politics, as I have suggested, looked to a re-establishment of the equilibrium. In a much too rapid description of it, the process was simple. The early Christian dualism of Church and state (or better, the dyarchy of Gelasius’ “Two there are”) was in a sense retained—that is, it endured in a secular political form, namely, in the distinction between state and society which had been the secular political outgrowth of the Christian distinction between Church and state. However, the freedom of the Church, again in its pregnant sense, was discarded as the mediating principle between society and state, between the people and the public power. Instead, a secular substitute was adopted in the form of free political institutions. Through these secular institutions the people would limit the power of government; they would also direct the power of government to its proper ends: which are perennially those of John of Salisbury—the fight for justice and for the freedom of the people.

The key to the whole new political edifice was the freedom of the individual conscience. Here precisely lies the newness of the modern experiment. A great act of trust was made. The trust was that the free individual conscience would effectively mediate the moral imperatives of the transcendental order of justice (whose existence was not doubted in the earlier phases of the modern experiment). Then, through the workings of free political institutions these imperatives would be transmitted to the public power as binding norms upon its action. The only sovereign spiritual authority would be the conscience of the free man. The freedom of the individual conscience, constitutionally guaranteed, would supply the armature of immunity to the sacred order, which now became, by modern definition, precisely the order of the private conscience. And through free political institutions, again constitutionally guaranteed, the moral consensus of the community would be mobilized in favor of justice and freedom in the secular order. This, I take it, has been in essence the political experiment of modernity. It has been an attempt to carry on the liberal tradition of Western politics, whose roots were in the Christian revolution, but now on a new revolutionary basis—a rejection of the Gelasian thesis “Two there are,’’ which had been the dynamic of the Christian revolution.

I take it, without fear of contradiction, that the rejection of the Gelasian thesis has been common to all the prophets of modernity, from Marsilius of Padua onwards. All of them have been united in viewing the freedom of the Church, in the sense explained, as a trespass upon, and a danger to, their one supreme value—the “integrity of the political order,” as the phrase goes. Two citations may be given as illustrative. Rousseau complains: “Jesus came to establish on earth a spiritual kingdom. By separating the theological system from the political system he brought it about that the State ceased to be one, and caused internal divisions which have never ceased to agitate Christian peoples. From this twofold power there has resulted a perpetual conflict of jurisdiction which has rendered all good politics impossible in Christian states. No one has ever been able to know which one to obey, priest or political ruler.” Thomas Hobbes put the same issue with characteristic bluntness and clarity: “Temporal and spiritual government are but words brought into the world to make men see double and mistake their lawful sovereign,” which is Leviathan, the Mortal God.

In this indictment of Christianity for having made the state “cease to be one,” and in this protest against men who “see double,” one hears the authentic voice of the secular power as modern history has known it.

It would not be difficult to demonstrate that this monistic tendency is somehow inherent in the state, in two of its aspects—both as an expression of reason and also as a vehicle of power. Nor would it be difiicult to show how this monistic tendency has been visible in practically all the states that have paraded across the stage of history, even in states that bore the name of Christian. In any case, the tendency has achieved its most striking success in the modern era. It is the most salient aspect of political modernity. Over the whole of modern politics there has hung the monist concept of the indivisibility of sovereignty: “One there is.” This has been true even in those states in which the sovereignty, remaining indivisible, has been institutionalized according to the principle of the separation of powers.

The dynamism behind the assertion “One there is” has, of course varied. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was royal absolutism, whose theorists—Widdrington, Barclay, James I—proclaimed a social and juridical monism in the name of the divine right of kings. In the nineteenth century the dynamism was the Revolution, that whole complex of forces which created Jacobin democracy and proclaimed the république indivisible in the name of the sovereignty of the people understood as the social projection of the absolutely autonomous sovereignty of individual reason. In the twentieth century the most successful dynamism has been Soviet Communism, which makes the assertion “One there is” in the name of the unitary class which is destined for world sovereignty, and in the name of its organ, the Party, whose function is to be the servant and ally of the materialist forces of history.

In the twentieth century too, as the modern era runs out, the ancient monistic drive to a oneness of society, law, and authority has also appeared in the totalitarianizing tendency inherent in the contemporary idolatry of the democratic process. This democratic monism is urged in the name of something less clear than the république indivisible. What is urged is a monism, not so much of the political order itself, as of a political technique. The proposition is that all the issues of human life—intellectual, religious, and moral issues as well as formally political issues—are to be regarded as, or resolved into, political issues and are to be settled by the single omnicompetent political technique of majority vote. On the surface the monism is one of process; Madison’s “republican principle” affords the Final Grounds for the Last Say on All Human Questions. But the underlying idea is a monism of power: “One there is whereby this world is ruled—the power in the people, expressing itself in the preference of a majority; and beyond or beside or above this power there is no other.”

The inspiration of democratic monism is partly a sentimentalist mystique—the belief that the power in the people, in distinction from all other powers, is somehow ultimately and inevitably beneficient in its exercise. But the more radical inspiration is the new idea, unknown to medieval times, which modern rationalism thrust into political history. Christianity has always regarded the state as a limited order of action for limited purposes, to be chosen and pursued under the direction and correction of the organized moral conscience of society, whose judgments are formed and mobilized by the Church, an independent and autonomous community, qualified to be the interpreter of man’s nature and destiny. It has been specific of modernity to regard the state as a moral end in itself, a self-justifying entity with its own self-determined spiritual substance. It is within the secular state, and by appeal to secular sources, that man is to find the interpretation of his own nature and the means to his own destiny. The state itself creates the ethos of society, embodies it, imparts it to its citizens, and sanctions its observance with rewards and punishments. Outside the tradition of Jacobin or Communist dogmatism, the modern democratic secular state does not indeed pretend to be the Universe or to speak infallibly. But it does assert itself to be the embodiment of whatever fallible human wisdom may be available to man, because it is the highest school of human experience, beyond which man can find no other School and no other Teacher.

Professor Hocking has put the matter thus: “Outside the Marxist orbit the prevalent disposition of the secular state in recent years has been less to combat the church than to carry on a slow empirical demonstration of the state’s full equivalence in picturing the attainable good life, and its superior pertinence to actual issues. As this demonstration gains force the expectation grows that it will be the church, not the state, that will wither away. Where the fields of church and state impinge on each other, as in education and correction, the church will in time appear superfluous. Where they are different, the church will be quietly ignored and dropped as irrelevant.” This, says Hocking, is the “secular hypothesis.” It is, he adds, the premise of the “experiment we call ‘modernity.’” In the language I have been using, the hypothesis asserts: “One there is by which the world is ruled.”

The “one” here (sc., outside the Marxist orbit) is the self-conscious free individual, armed with his subjective rights, whose ultimate origins he may have forgotten but whose status as legal certitudes he cherishes. This individual, the product of modernity, has been taught by modernity to stand against any external and corporate authority, except it be mediated to him by democratic processes; to stand against any law in whose making he had no voice; to stand finally against any society which asserts itself to be an independent community of thought, superior to the consensus created by the common mind of secular democratic society, and empowered to pass judgment, in the name of higher criteria, on this common mind and on the consensus it assembles.

Outside the Jacobin and Communist traditions this “one ruler,” the modern man, does not object to religion, provided that religion be regarded as a private matter which concerns only the conscience and feelings of the individual. In his more expansive moments he will not object even to organized religion—the “churches”—provided they accept the status of voluntary associations for limited purposes which do not impinge upon the public order. But he will not tolerate any marring of his image of the world as modernity conceives it—the image of democratic society as the universal community whose ends are coextensive with the ends of man himself. It is the One Society, with One Law, and with One Sovereign, the politically equal people. Modernity has declared the Gelasian doctrine to be heretical and has outlawed it, in the name of modern orthodoxy, which is a naturalist rationalism.

This dominant image of democratic society as ultimately monist in its structure (whatever may be its constituent and subordinate pluralism), and as ultimately secular in its substance (whatever historical tribute it may have levied on religious spiritualities), represents the refined essence of political modernity. Its significance lies in the fact that it confronts us with an experiment in human freedom which has consciously or unconsciously been based on a denial or a disregard of the essential Christian contribution to human freedom, which is the theorem of the freedom of the Church.

We come now to the uneasinesses stirring in the world of post-modern man, and in his soul too. The first may be quickly run over, although it is most profoundly serious. I mean all the uneasiness aroused by our confrontation with international Communism. Communism is, of course, political modernity carried to its logical conclusion. All that is implicit and unintentional in modernity as a phenomenon in what is called the West has become explicit and deliberate in the Communist system. The “secular hypothesis,” in Hocking’s phrase, has been lifted to the status of a dogma. And Hobbes’ prohibition has seen most vicious enforcement; man is not allowed to “see double and mistake his lawful sovereign.” The operations of the Communist system would seem to offer an empirical demonstration of the fact that there can be no freedom or justice where God is denied and where everything meant by the freedom of the Church is deliberately excised from the theorem on which the life of the community is based.

The measure of human malaise within the Communist orbit cannot be estimated accurately. In any case, the malaise cannot be geographically contained. Stress and distress are the condition of the whole world. And we ourselves feel them, or at least should feel them, most sharply in the form of the question, whether we are spiritually and intellectually equipped to meet the Communist threat at its deepest level.

Communism in theory and in practice has reversed the revolution which Christianity initiated by the Gelasian doctrine: “Two there are by which this world is ruled.” This new system has proposed with all logic an alternative to the basic structure of society, and a surrogate of society’s spiritual substance, as these are defined in the Christian theorem. And the question is, whether there are in the spirit of modernity as such the resources whereby the Christian revolution, with all its hopes of freedom and justice, can be reinstated in its course, and the reactionary counter-revolution halted. The issue is clear enough; two contrary views of the structure of reality are in conflict. And the issue is certainly basic—too basic to be solved either by military measures or by political techniques. Free elections, for instance, have their value. But of themselves they leave untouched the basic issue, which is joined between the clashing assertions: “Two there are” and “One there is.”

The second post-modern uneasiness derives from the current experience of the “impotence of the state.” Here I adopt Hocking’s phrase and the thesis it states, as developed in the first part of his book, already cited. (With certain of his subsequent analyses and theses, and with their Gnostic overtones, I have serious difficulties.) The net of it is that the modern state has, as a matter of empirical fact, proved impotent to do all the things it has undertaken to do. Crime and civic virtue, education, the stimulus and control of economic processes, public morality, justice in the order and processes of law—over all these things the modern state assumed an unshared competence. But it has proved itself incompetent in a fundamental sense. The reason is that “the state depends for its vitality upon a motivation which it cannot by itself command.” As long as this motivation can be assumed to be existent in the body politic, the order of politics (in the broadest sense) moves with some security to its proper ends. But if the motivation fails, there is no power in the state itself to evoke it.

We confront again the dilemma which modernity resolved in its own sense. Is the life of man to be organized in one society, or in two? Modernity chose the unitary hypothesis, that the state itself is the highest form of human association, self-ruled, and self-contained, and self-motivating. But the unitary hypothesis has not been able to sustain itself under the test of experience. Post-modern man has become most uneasily aware of the limitations of the state even in the discharge of its own functions.

The challenge here is to the validity of the suprapolitical tenet upon which modernity staked the whole success of its political experiment. This tenet, I said, was that the individual conscience is the sole ultimate interpreter of the moral order (and of the religious order too), and therefore the sole authentic mediator of moral imperatives to the political order. But the truth of this tenet, confidently assumed by modernity, is now under challenge from a battery of questions.

Is the failure of motivation within the state somehow due to the falsity of this tenet? Is the pragmatic law in operation—that whatever is not true will somewhere fail to work? Or again, is the individual conscience, in modernity’s conception of it, equal to the burden that has been thrust upon it—the burden of being the keystone of the modern experiment in freedom? Is it disintegrating under the burden? If so, what of the free society which it undertook to sustain? Will it perhaps disintegrate in one or other of the two ways in which a political structure can disintegrate—into a formless chaos or into a false order? Will the modern experiment then prove to be simply an interlude between despotisms—between the known and limited despotisms of the past, and the unknown despotisms of the future, which may well be illimitable? In a word, in consequence of having been enthroned as the One Ruler of this world, has the conscientia exlex of modernity succumbed to hubris, and is it therefore headed for downfall—its own downfall, the downfall of the concept of the moral order amid the bits and pieces of a purely “situational” ethics, and the downfall of the political order projected by the spirit of modernity?

From another point of view the same questions return. It was an essential part of modernity’s hope that the moral consensus upon which every society depends for its stability and progress could be sustained and mobilized simply in terms of a fortunate coincidence of individual private judgments, apart from all reference to a visibly constituted spiritual and moral authority. Has this hope proved valid? Is it perhaps possible that the profound intellectual confusions in the mind of post-modern man are somehow witness to the fact that modernity’s hope has proved to be hollow? If there be no consensus with regard to what freedom is, and whence it comes, and what it means within the very soul of man, how shall freedom hope to live within society and in its institutions?

There is a final malaise upon which I should touch. It is, I think, related to the fundamental ambiguity of modern times. Modernity, I said, rejected the freedom of the Church, in the twofold sense explained, as the armature of man’s spiritual freedom and as a structural principle, of a free society. Initially the rejection was addressed only to a truth of divine revelation. The whole system of moral values, both individual and social, which had been elaborated under the influence of the Christian revelation were not rejected. I mean here all the values which form a constellation about the central concept res sacra homo. As a matter of fact, these values are adopted as the very basis for the modern political experiment. Modernity, however, has maintained that these values are now known to be simply immanent in man; that man has become conscious of them in the course of their emergence in historical experience; and that, whatever may have been the influence of the Christian revelation on the earlier phases of this experience, these values are now simply a human possession, a conquest and an achievement of humanity by man himself. Now that I have arrived, said modernity, Christianity may disappear. Whatever aesthetic appeal it may still retain as a myth, it is not needed as a dynamic of freedom and justice in this world. Res sacra homo is now under a new patronage—singly his own.

This is what Romano Guardini has expressively called the “interior disloyalty of modern times.” He means, I think, that there has occurred not only a falsification of history but a basic betrayal of the existential structure of reality itself. If this be true, we are confronted by the gravest issue presented by the whole experiment of modernity. The issue again is one of truth. Upon this issue hangs the whole fate of freedom and justice, if only for the pragmatic reason already advanced, that the structure of reality cannot with impunity be disregarded, even less by society than by the individual.

It will perhaps be sufficient if I simply present the issue as I see it, without undertaking to argue it. Here are its terms. On the one hand, modernity has denied (or ignored, or forgotten, or neglected) the Christian revelation that man is a sacredness, and that his primatial res sacra, his freedom is sought and found ultimately within the freedom of the Church. On the other hand, modernity has pretended to lay claim to the effects of this doctrine on the order of human culture the essential effect, for our purposes here, being the imperative laid on John of Salisbury’s “king” (say, if you will, the state in all its range of action) to fight for justice and for the freedom of the people. In terms of this denial (or ignorance) and of this pretension (or hypothesis) modernity has conceived its image of political man. Justice is his due, and his function too; but not on the title of his sacredness as revealed by Christ. Freedom is his endowment, and likewise his duty; but not on the title of the freedom of the Church. A fully human life is his destiny; but its fulfillment lies within the horizons of time and space.

The question is whether this modern image of political man be a reflection of reality (historical, philosophical, theological), or a mirage projected by prideful human reason into the terra aliena of a greatly ignorant illusion. Undoubtedly, this question will be answered by history, in which the pragmatic law operates. But it would be well, if possible, to anticipate the operation of this law by embarking upon a “new work of thought, begetting an altered premise.” 

In any case, the sheerly historical alternatives are clear enough. I shall state them in their extremity, using the method of assertion, not of interrogation.

On the one hand, post-modern man can continue to pursue the mirage which bemused modern man. As he does so, a spiritual vacuum will increasingly be created at the heart of human existence. But this vacuity cannot remain uninhabited. It will be like the house in the Gospel, swept and garnished, its vacancy an invitation to what the Gospel expressively calls the “worthless spirit” (spiritus nequam). He then will enter in with seven spirits more worthless than himself, and there set about the work that befits his character. He is the Son of Chaos and Old Night; his work is to turn vacuity into chaos.

Less figuratively, if post-modern man, like modern man, rejects the Christian mode of existence, the result will be that an explicitly non-Christian mode of existence will progressively come into being at the heart of human life. It will have its own structure and its own substance. And since it exists, it must manifest its existence and its dynamism. And it will do so—in violence, in all the violence of the chaotic. Violence is the mark of the Architect of Chaos, the Evil One, whose presence in the world is part of the structure of the world. It is not by chance that the mark of violence should have been impressed so deeply on these closing decades of the modern era, and that the threat of violence should hang so heavily over post-modern man as he takes his first uncertain steps into the new era. It was Nietzsche, I think, who said that the non-Christian man of modern times had not yet fully realized what it means to be non-Christian. But in these last decades the realization has been dawning, as we have watched the frightening emergence and multiplication of that “senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” man whom Paul met on the streets of non-Christian Corinth and described in his Letter to the Romans.

This development, into a dreadful chaos of violence in which justice and freedom alike would vanish, is not inevitable. An alternative is possible. The way to it lies through a renunciation by post-modern man of the “interior disloyalty of modern times.” Thus the new era would have a new premise on which to pursue the experiment in freedom and justice which political society perennially is. However, I must quickly add that this renunciation is not a political act. If one accepts the doctrine of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529) it is the work of the Holy Spirit, who “corrects the will of man from the infidelity unto faith.”

Nevertheless, the “new work of thought” to which post-modern man is impelled as he reflects on the increasing fragility of the “secular hypothesis” will not be irrelevant to the fortunes of the future. If only we do not deny our malaises or seek to drown them, the experience of them can be turned to rational account. It is, after all, not beyond the power of reason to recognize illusion when the results of illusion are encountered in experience. Hence reason itself, and its high exercise in argument, could lead us to the recognition of a law, even more basic than the pragmatic law, which our forebears of the modern era most seriously failed to reckon with. It is the law of reality itself: “Only that ought not to be which cannot be.” This perhaps would be the altered premise—a rational premise—that a new work of thought might beget.

John Courtney Murray was a priest and leading Jesuit theologian of the twentieth century.