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The theological dimension is needed both for interpreting and solving present-day problems in human society. – John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 55

God Himself is a society. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch. 8

First Principles

How radical can we be? Dare we begin, as Chesterton once did, “with a little girl’s hair”? In What’s Wrong with the World (1910), he comments on the suggestion that little girls in poor areas of London should have their hair cropped to prevent an infestation of lice:

With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property…. That little urchin with the gold-red hair… she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict’s; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her…. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down; and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.[1]

The Divine Economy

Chesterton’s she-urchin is the measure for all social theories and economic systems. Fundamentally the same insight lies behind the Pope’s thinking in Centesimus Annus: the Church’s social teaching “reveals man to himself”, and it is her “care and responsibility for man,” for “each individual” (that is, for each urchin on the street) that inspires the systematic development of that teaching (53). To be “radical,” then, in the Christian tradition, we must have recourse to theology, for “to know man… one must know God,” and “Christian anthropology therefore is really a chapter of theology” (55).

Christian theology begins with the Gospel; that is, with the message that perfect love is the meaning and ultimate goal of existence, a love revealed and incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. What Christians call “love” is not simply a feeling, whether of infatuation or sympathy. It is not reducible even to a high form of compassion or empathy. Where feelings come and go, or vary in their intensity, love remains constant. It is fundamentally an orientation or disposition of the will—a will that is not closed in upon itself, but able to receive from and give to another. To love is to open one’s heart in a way that allows the self to be shaped by the other; indeed, to be centred on another. When such a disposition expresses itself, it does so in acts of self-giving; that is, in the form of service or of obedience. [2] That, at least, is the claim of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who will be our main guide in this section.[3]

Balthasar goes on to connect love with religious experience as follows. We learn to love by receiving love. Love is first kindled in us as a response to the Other from whom the gift of existence comes—perceived, as it may be, in the mother’s smile by the newborn child. As we grow, our need to show gratitude also grows. It begins to reach deeper than the mother, who (we eventually recognise) did not give us existence, but is herself a gift from the source of being. Awoken by the mother and by the others who teach us to love, our love reaches towards God. This primordial sense of dependency, of contingency, of being somehow not our own origin, but “received from another,” is the beginning of the religious sense.

And what is the destiny of love? Will it—like all else in the world—come to an end, even if God exists? If all we can say of God is that He is One, Absolute, Transcendent, then the path on which we have embarked with the first awakening of love seems destined to end at death, or else in re-absorption by God at the end of some longer cycle of existence. Love becomes merely the force that drives the moth to the flame of its origin, or the raindrop to the sea.[4] Christianity is unique among the religions of the world for saying that there is more to love than this. It can say more because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as we shall see in the next section.

The Discovery of the Trinity

Jesus claimed the divine name (“I am”), and for this He was crucified. But He distinguished Himself from God the Father, and also from the Holy Spirit whom He promised to send down upon His Apostles. Reflecting on this fact, Christians were forced to the conclusion that God must (somehow) be Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And yet they could not deny the truth, already perceived by other religions, that God is One. According to the perennial philosophy agreed upon by all great civilisations, the divine nature must be perfectly “simple,” in the sense of being non-composite, undivided. Certainly two infinities, let alone three, are inconceivable. To say that God is Three, then, cannot mean that there are three Gods. It is the One, undivided God who is a Trinity. In order to explain this paradox, the Church Fathers drew a distinction between nature and person. God is not three individual natures or substances, but three Persons. A divine nature, they agreed, cannot be divided. It can, however, be related to itself in more ways than one. What is revealed through the Incarnation is the existence in God of precisely three “subsisting relationships” (as they were later called), which are the Divine Persons.

The distinction of Persons in God illuminates the formulation of St. John: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). For love involves both giving and receiving: it means a relationship between persons. Thus the nature of God is possessed by the Father primarily as the Giver to the Son: the same nature is possessed by the Son as Receiver from the Father. As Balthasar explains: “He in God whom we call ‘Father’ is the ‘fruit’ of His self-giving to the One we call ‘Son’; He exists as this self-giving and the Son exists as receptivity, gratitude and giving-in-return”.[5] Father and Son exist only in relation to each other, as eternal origin and term of this one act of giving which is the actus purus (pure act) of existence of the One Divine Being.

The Divine Giver, the Father, hands over His own nature in its entirety to the Son. He holds nothing back. In doing this, He does not “part” himself from His nature, for it is Himself that He is handing over; it is simply that in the act of self-giving the Divine Nature is both a Giver and a Receiver. But there is a third relation implicit in this same act of bestowal. In order to be given, the Divine Nature must be Gift. This is the Holy Spirit: equally a Person, and equally divine. In the encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem John Paul II writes:

It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons, and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love. He is Person-Love. He is Person-Gift.

The Spirit is the Love of Father and of Son, their reciprocal and infinite openness and affection. He is the Divine Nature not as Giver or Receiver, but as Given and Received.[6] The Holy Spirit is from the Father, but also from the Father-and-Son, for the Son will always give himself to the Father, just as the Father gives Himself to the Son in the Spirit. Thus the dualistic confrontation of Self and Other is overcome in God by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the third Relation in that act of giving which is also the act of knowing and the act of loving. That single Act is God’s very existence. It is a “circle dance,” a “circumincession” or perichoresis; the heavenly model of human love and of its ultimate source.

Salvation and the Re-invention of the Self

new economicAt first sight, the doctrine of the Trinity, even if it can be expounded in a way that does no violence to the laws of logic, might seem highly abstract and uninspiring. Generations of preachers have been faced with this very problem on Trinity Sunday. But the problem is an artificial one, because we have mentally “stepped back” from God in order to “explain” the Trinity. In reality, we are never confronted with the three Persons in this way. The doctrine of the Trinity means that, thanks to the Spirit, we are with the Son as He loves and worships the Father. For the Son is the image of the Father, and we know the Father in the Son. By loving the Son, we love the Father. We are not face to face with the three Persons, but face to face with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

Thus the Trinity does not remain merely a divine Archetype, some kind of supernatural constellation forever infinitely distant from us. Through the Incarnation, we not only know about the Trinity but are invited to enter it. As St. Athanasius wrote: “Why did God become man? So that man could become God.” For if the fact of the Incarnation proves that a Divine Person can share the same Divine Nature with other Persons in God, it also proves that a Divine Person can share a human nature with us. What makes a person is not nature, but relationship. If God the Father gives himself completely to a human being, communicating to it in love the entirety of His Divine Nature, then that human being will be in the same relation to the Father as is the Eternal Son. In other words, it will be the Eternal Son. This is exactly what happened at the Annunciation. Thanks to Mary’s fiat, God was able to give Himself completely to a human being from the first moment of its existence in her womb. As the Receiver of the Divine Nature, the Child was not a human, but a Divine Person, the Son of God. And yet He had a human body and a human soul; a complete human nature.

The relationship that we form with the Person of the Son through this human nature is what “saves” us. It gives us a new personal (that is, relational) existence that cannot be destroyed by death, because it is anchored in the eternity of God. As Balthasar writes, “In Christ, through grace, creaturely man can become a (theological) person, that is, the Father’s child.” In other words, we become “sons in the Son”.[7] Christianity reinvented the human self. This new “self” was conceived in the image of a theological Person, and belongs to a community. The “I” of this self exists only with respect to an Other; “I” and “Thou” are united at the level of the heart by the act of giving. No thinking, no feeling, no imagining, can bridge the gulf between myself and the Other. Only love. It is love that makes us persons, and joins us (whether we yet realise it or not) to the Church.[8]

Instead of possessing merely extrinsic and “accidental” relations to other individuals, through love we possess relations (entailing obligations) that areintrinsic to the person that we are. Love gives us a “reason for living,” a “mission” in the world. In Christ, according to Balthasar, we see a man whose Person was entirely Mission. His very existence was indistinguishable from his dynamic relation of obedience to the Father in the Spirit. Loving obedience presupposes freedom; indeed, it is the very highest possible expression of freedom. Only one who is totally in charge of himself can give himself. Nor does the gift bind the recipient. When I love others, it is their own good that I want (for them); I act in order to recall them to their personal integrity, their own highest self, their reason for existing, their destiny. As Balthasar points out:

Giving is only free if it liberates, if it allows the recipient to move into freedom. It is only free if it refrains from fettering the recipient to the gift and consigning him to a tyranny in which he is eternally having to say thank you to the giver. The Father gives the Son his entire divine freedom and subsequently entire human freedom too. He also gives it to the Prodigal Son. He gives freely so that the recipient, for his part, can use the gift on the basis of his own freedom. In Christian terms the two forms of joy, the joy of receiving and the joy of giving, are one, and the second rests essentially on the first. [9]

Christian Cosmology

This priority of love is not restricted to the realm of human experience: it is a cosmic priority. Existence itself is relational, culminating at its highest point in the love of God. “Being is communion,” in the famous phrase of John Zizioulas. Cosmic existence, therefore, culminates in human personality, through which it is taken up into the intimate and eternal relations of the Trinity. The whole world, knowingly or unknowingly, is in the process of being “saved” from death by Christ. This process has enormous implications both for cosmology and for ethics. On the one hand, it reconnects the natural sciences to theology by way of metaphysics. On the other, it transforms the idea of a “natural moral law” by integrating it within a covenantal ethics centred on the call to holiness.

When Boethius defined person as “an individual substance of a rational nature”—a definition that was widely adopted by Latin theologians—he planted one of the seeds of individualism in Western thought. His definition is crucially silent on the importance of relationship. Within the Aristotelian framework of a later Scholasticism, it was all too easy to think of “substance” as a nature existing in itself, obedient to a set of laws that could in theory be studied without reference to the Creator who originally implanted them. Applied to non-human substances, this set the scene for the development of modern science in complete independence of the “humanities.” Applied to human substances, it meant that the doctrine of natural law came to be applied to man with scant reference to Christ—as though morally correct behaviour did not depend on the supernatural call to love. As a result, ethics became detached from theology, and the theory of natural law became vulnerable to many of the criticisms directed at it by modern philosophers.

As far as ethics is concerned, the only way forward is to ground the natural law in the concrete and universal norm of love. Persons exist only in relation to each other and to God, and they are centred in Him rather than in themselves. As a modern theologian has said:

In the very act of creation, the human person is ordered towards realising himself in the Son, through the Spirit, as a child of the Father; he is ordered toward participating in the intra-trinitarian life of God….The ultimate reason for morality, for the unique force of moral value, is that the human person is willed in Christ.[10]

Our “integral human fulfillment,” our ultimate happiness, lies not on any natural level, but in the supernatural life of the Holy Trinity, and in response to a specific and unique “call” from God. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “all human beings, without any exception whatever, were specially made, were shaped and pointed like shining arrows, for the end of hitting the mark of Beatitude,” [11] and again Chesterton writes: “Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit into the world.” [12]

Marian Economics

The implication of the theology of the Trinity outlined above is that, in Christ, we see the divine model of a fully human person; a Person who exists entirely “in love” and for the sake of love. At the same time, Christ is not merely a model for us to imitate. As God-Made-Man, He is God’s gift of grace to us, the gift of God’s own self. Surpassing even the “first gift” of existence, the gift of grace offers us eternal life—that is, enables us to share in the life of the Trinity. Because Christ’s gratuitous act of loving self-sacrifice breaks the hold of the past and of the “powers of this world,” this gift (which is identical with the Eucharist) initiates a new civilisation. Jesus Christ, according to Balthasar, is “the concrete categorical imperative,” and “the universal norm of ethical action” who “empowers us inwardly to do the Father’s will together with him” [see Principles of Christian Morality, Heinz Schurmann et al, Ignatius Press, 1986]. His life defines the way that we ourselves must try to behave in the teeth of opposition, misunderstanding, and persecution, among people who behave in a very different fashion, and who will take advantage of us as we do so.

The human person who most fully embodies the way of living “in Christ,” and this new civilisation, according to catholic teaching, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dwelling by grace continually in the heart of the Holy Trinity, her position before God is fundamentally one not of taking or choosing, but of accepting. This does not mean that she is purely passive. Her fiat, the acceptance of God’s Word as described in Luke 1:38, was the summit of human activity; it was her own act, not that of another forced upon her. She had the gift of human freedom in its fullness, and this freedom meant the power to commit herself voluntarily and without regret to goodness and to truth: her “yes” meant “yes.” As the Immaculate Conception, her whole being was posited on gratitude; her obedience was purely an expression of love for the Other to whom she owed herself. All of which should explain why “Marian economics” might (for Catholics at least!) be an appropriate name for the elusive “third way” we have been seeking, the path of a genuinely Christian civilisation.[13] How does our present culture measure up against this standard, the fiat of the “she-urchin” Mother of God?

The End of Individualism

A Christian personalist who takes Mary in Christ as his model of the human norm will be critical of any society that places so much emphasis on what we take, make, and sell that it neglects our prior duty to receive in gratitude, and to give in love. He will observe that, in the society which we see all around us, people are brought up to think of themselves as free floating social particles, individuals whose only fulfillment lies in choice. In this society, from which the Marian and feminine dimension has almost been eliminated, we “are” what we choose, what we take and what we make. We fill up the void of the self by choosing. All the world becomes potential “property,” material to be chosen; to be hoarded or consumed. Human freedom has effectively been reduced to the freedom to choose between an unlimited range of consumer goods.

In such a society, we are regarded as having no moral obligations toward others prior to an act of choice. All morality comes down to a matter of subjective preference, or of pragmatic negotiation with others in some kind of mythical “social contract.” It has, therefore, become normal to enshrine our social ideals entirely in codes of rights. The individualist self has no intrinsic relations to others, only extrinsic claims – and obligations imposed on him from the outside by the claims of others. Small wonder, in a way, that we see a widespread breakdown of public order and civilised life.

Liberal Capitalism was originally shaped partly to suit the interests of the trading classes, the entrepreneurs and explorers of the New World and of the Industrial Revolution. Its major flaw (the fact that it is based on individualism) has for some time been disguised by the cultural dominance of values derived from the Christian ethos. But now, with the decline of Christian influence in society, the “anti-ethos” of consumerism has begun to reveal itself in the erosion of public morality. The transactions of the market-place are becoming the new norm for human behaviour. Everything external to the self is assigned a numerical value, in order to be bought or sold. As Chesterton writes:

When God looked on created things and saw that they were good, it meant that they were good in themselves and as they stood; but by the modern mercantile idea, God would only have looked at them and seen that they were The Goods. In other words, there would be a label tied to the tree or the hill, as to the hat of the Mad Hatter, with “This Style. 10/6.” [14]

The logic of the process has been well analysed by Kenneth L. Schmitz, who connects social individualism with the historically parallel search for elementary particles in physics:

The ultimate units were ultimate precisely because they were simple in the sense of being the last possible point of analysis. To be one was to be simple, and to be ultimate was to be absolutely one—indivisible and irreducible. All relationships had to fall “outside” of them, therefore, taking the form of attachments to and detachments from a distinct and separate elemental unit. Translated into the order of freedom, ultimate unity took the form of the discrete movement of the individual will….All other relations must remain external to such a self-will. It follows, then, that everything other than the self is converted into the status of alternatives for choice and potential objects of possession.[15]

Following such logic, even the human body is eventually regarded as external to the self—a commodity like any other. It is not part of the “individual”: it can be divided; therefore it is not “me”. Starting with Descartes, my self or my soul becomes a ghost inhabiting the machine of my body, a mere dimensionless owner of the body and of its experiences. As owner, it possesses “rights” over the body, and there is little to prevent anyone concluding that these must include such rights as the right to have an abortion, or the right to commit suicide when life becomes intolerable. Also, since my body has become a tool that I may in principle modify as I wish for my own ends, it goes almost without saying that I may have recourse to contraception whenever the body’s fertility becomes inconvenient to this “I”, or decide to sterilise it completely if I wish to continue having sex without having children. In any case, another natural result of an individualist philosophy is the development of a private sphere, regarded as private even from God, and without consequences for the wider community; thus what is done by consenting adults in private becomes “none of your business,” and none of God’s.

This logic of individualism may now almost be played out in the West. Chesterton believed that “the commercial and industrial progress which began by professing individualism has ended with the complete swamping of the individual.” The economic liberation achieved by the entrepreneur and extolled by the Neo-Capitalist would seem to give the lie to Chesterton’s remark, but it is achieved in the context of an ongoing cultural collapse that is gradually reducing genuine human freedom for entrepreneur and consumer alike: a numerically greater range of choices may exist (in times of prosperity), but the quality of choice is reduced by the “flattening” of culture. What we are seeing is the reductio ad absurdum of individualism. Just as the search for a basic unit in physics revealed only an ever more complex order of inter-relationships, so the “atom” of the self is today dissolving into a multiplicity without foundations. The only alternative now to accepting the dissolution of the self (which would mean accepting nihilism, or else a thoroughgoing and consistent Buddhism), is to retrieve the Christian notion of theological personhood. We have to re-align the various structures and assumptions of modern society around the new centre formed by the Marian fiat.

Property and Responsibility

In a Marian culture, the human body would not be a commodity to be bought and sold in the market place. A thing can truly be “mine” (in that sense) only to the extent that it is an expression of my own labour and creativity. For something that is my “property” is something that I am entitled to dispose of, or even to destroy. It is something that I can fix the price of because, having made it, I know what I put into it and what it would take to make it again; I can say the minimum that I would accept in exchange for it. None of this applies to the human body; nor does it apply to the human blood, organs, and genetic material that currently find themselves on the international market—these days the price tag is attached not only to the Mad Hatter’s hat, but to his head and to his heart as well.

It has been assumed that the enclosing of land, the capturing, taming and husbanding of animals, and the cultivation of plants is enough to place them all within “the market.” But now that genetic engineering has led to the patenting of animals and plants, we have to decide how far this principle can extend.[16] In any case, our rights even over what is clearly our own are not absolute, for the raw materials that we have used, and the creatures themselves, are not created by us. Catholic social teaching speaks of the “universal destination of the earth’s goods,” meaning that these goods, even if owned by us, are essentially held in trust or administered for others, and the right of ownership carries with it a responsibility to use whatever is so owned for the common good. The existence of a limit to our authority, and a responsibility to others, including future generations, means that we cannot “make arbitrary use of the earth…as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray” (Centesimus Annus, 37).

It is notable that the “division of labour” under an industrial system involves a loss of responsibility over the results of one’s work that goes hand-in-hand with a sense of alienation, of what the sociologists call anomie. The parts of my work, like the parts of my body, become commodities to sell. Why do we work? Under Liberalism, we work in order to be able to consume, since this is how we expect to achieve fulfillment. Society regards consumption as the goal of human existence, and consequently technology is used increasingly to “free” the consumer from the drudgery of labour – to free him, in reality, for unemployment. One of the failures of Liberalism is that it must eventually create massive, long-term unemployment, by turning “jobs” into the kind of easily mechanised operations that most people want only for the sake of the money that they can earn by performing them. In his book, The Just Enterprise, advocating a radical reform of company law in the light of natural justice, the industrialist George Goyder writes:

What can be stated with certainty is that once industry can no longer provide sufficient employment for the workforce (directly or indirectly), and agriculture in its modern mechanized form no longer provides an alternative, the end of industrialism will have been reached, so far as Adam Smith’s vision goes. A new era will have dawned in which employment will have become as important as production and human satisfaction as important as technology.[17]

He goes on to say: “for Britain this moment has arrived. The first industrial revolution is over, and what will replace it has yet to be devised.”

In the ideal I am calling a Marian culture, we should not work in order to consume; it would be truer to say that we should consume in order to be able to work. For work, as John Paul II puts it in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (9), is the way man “achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.” But the kind of work we do is important. Our goal is creative, personal, vocational labour, in which we can fulfill ourselves at the same time as we serve the common good. For this work, we should receive a sufficient family wage. To take all of this seriously would mean restoring personal responsibility over both the means and the ends of production, as the Distributists (and notably Eric Gill) in fact argued. The social norm would become the workshop or farm rather than the assembly line, the family firm or guild rather than the corporation.

The Importance of the Family

The most direct way to bring about such a system is to centre public policy consciously on the family. Catholic teaching is unambiguous on this point: it is the family that is the basic cell of human society, and so it must be the family that lies at the heart of any Catholic third way. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo writes:

The Church rejects the individualism which is the presupposition of contemporary Western societies and hence of many lawmakers. The fundamental living cell of society is not the individual person, but the family. While in the forefront of the struggle for the human rights of individuals, the Church takes a position which is distinct from either Western Liberalism or Marxism….If the law favours individual rights against the rights of that coherent natural unit which is the family, the result is social atomism. This is the disintegrating condition in which many societies now find themselves.[18]

The governments of the United Kingdom and of the United States today pay only occasional lip-service to the importance of the family as the foundation of society; their actual policies have the effect of increasing economic pressure upon it, and of encouraging divorce. It is, I suspect, impossible to respect fully the nature of the sacramental family without undermining current economic assumptions. Distributism was based on the idea that families ought to be the primary owners of land and of capital, giving them a measure of economic independence and therefore of freedom. Otto von Habsburg has (half jokingly) suggested giving greater political weight to families by granting a vote to every child, to be exercised by the parents until majority. A wide variety of other proposals ought to be considered. The point is that the fundamental unit of economic theory—perhaps of political theory also—should be the family rather than the individual. As Centesimus Annus reaffirms:

The first and foremost structure for “human ecology” is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person….In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life (39)….In order to overcome today’s widespread individualistic mentality, what is required is a concrete commitment to solidarity and charity, beginning in the family with the mutual support of husband and wife and the care which the different generations give to one another. In this sense the family too can be called a community of work and solidarity. It can happen, however, that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient resources. It is urgent, therefore, to promote not only family policies, but also those social policies which have the family as their principle object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and for looking after the elderly, so as to avoid distancing the latter from the family unit and in order to strengthen relations between generations (49).

We are left, at the end of these reflections, with no detailed conclusions, no blueprint for a Marian economy, but with some questions asked. If there is to be some new social paradigm or “third way,” it will not be in the form of a compromise between Capitalism and Communism. The solution is not a “market socialist” economy; it is more likely to resemble the “social market.” But my suspicion is that the real answer can only be something that lies at right angles to both opposed systems; something that can only be reached by introducing into the debate a third dimension, at present impossible for most vested interests to conceive. In something of the way Hans Urs von Balthasar has helped to break the “log-jam” of the Enlightenment in theology, someone needs to go beyond the Enlightenment in economics, and to reintroduce the “contemplative-mystical” into the heart of what has become a narrowly specialised and purely quantitative science.

It may be that the smaller Christian nations of Europe, freed from Communism and alerted to the dangers of an uncritical acceptance of Western consumerism, will be inspired to initiate a “Marian revolution” before they are destroyed by the political and emotional forces that were unleashed in 1989. Centesimus Annus pointed to the powder-keg of “hatred and ill-will” accumulated during the Communist period, and the need for “patient material and moral reconstruction” (27). At the same time, it warned the West against seeing the collapse of Communism as “a one-sided victory” of its own economic system, “and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system” (56). It is not only the Balkans that need a Marian revolution, and the New Evangelisation challenges us to nothing less. Not necessarily all at once, but little by little, this revolution must begin; in pockets of resistance, in communities and in “networks of solidarity”, in new forms of co-operation between men and women of good will.

Books related to the topic of this article may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Published here by the gracious permission of the author, this post originally appeared in The Chesterton Review in November 1993. Revisions have been made to this text, which first appeared on Second Spring.


  1. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World (London, 1910), pp. 356-357.
  2. In the twentieth century, obedience has been more frequently perceived as a vice than a virtue. But the blind obedience of submission to a dictatorship is poles apart from the “seeing obedience” of true humility, which is submission first to God and only secondarily to men.
  3. See, for example, Balthasar, Love Alone: The Way of Revelation, Sheed & Ward, 1968. By the same author, see Theo-Drama (Ignatius Press, 1988- ), especially Vol. II, Part II (sections headed Social Mediation and the Trinity, Self as Gift, Individual and Community, The New Christian Reality) and Vol. III, Part II (Christ’s Mission and Person), Part III (The Individual in the World), and Part V (Deus Trinitas); also Explorations in Theology (Ignatius Press, 1989-1993), Vol. Ill: Creator Spirit (The Holy Spirit as Love). See also Communio, Spring 1996 (Person: Psychology and Spirituality), plus Kenneth L. Schmitz, “Selves and Persons”, in Communio, Summer 1991. On implications for ethics, see Balthasar, “Nine Propositions on Christian Ethics”, in Schurmann et al., Principles of Christian Morality (Ignatius Press, 1986), and discussion in Communio, Fall 1990.
  4. See Communio, Winter 1988 (Oriental Religions and Christianity); also Raymond Gawronski SJ, Word and Silence; Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West, Wm. B. Eerdmans and T&T Clark, 1995.
  5. Liberation and feminist theologians such as Leonardo Boff and Catherine Mowry LaCugna have also favoured a metaphysics of relation rather than substance, but generally carry this to an extreme. To avoid subordinationism or monarchism in the Trinity they abolish the distinctiveness of Persons in total mutuality, or to avoid the subordination of creature to Creator they abolish God’s transcendence. See LaCugna, God For Us (Harper, San Francisco, 1991). But see also the critique of this book in Thomas Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Re-conceiving the Trinity, 1995.
  6. Balthasar does not refer explicitly to the three relations implicit in gift as a possible analogy for the Trinity. He does, however, on several occasions point out that St. Augustine’s intra- as distinct from inter-personal analogy (memory, knowledge, will) was inadequate and carried with it certain unfortunate consequences; for example, “On the Concept of Person,” Communio, Spring 1986. On this question, as well as most others concerning the Trinity, see Colin E. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, T&T Clark, 1991. See also Weinandy, in the work cited.
  7. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Vol. III, p. 527.
  8. On the Church as Bride and Institution, see for example, Theo-Drama III, pp. 353-360. On the distinction between the meaning of “salvation” in different religions, see J.A. DiNoia, The Diversity of Religions, CUA Press, 1992.
  9. Hans Urs von Balthasar, You Crown the Year (Ignatius Press, 1989), p. 29.
  10. Caffara, Life in Christ (Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 58.
  11. G.K. Chesterton, The Thing (London, 1929), Chapter 3.
  12. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London, 1908), Chapter V.
  13. The fourth chapter of E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, widely reprinted, is entitled “Buddhist Economics,” and is very close in spirit to the present suggestion. Schumacher, himself a Roman Catholic convert, writes that “the Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character…. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence” (pp. 46-47). Thus the economic aim “should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” (p. 48). Marian economics differs from this in some of the ways that Christianity differs from Buddhism; for example, by laying more emphasis on charity than on detachment. Detachment is, of course, included (for in order to give something we must detach ourselves from it), but it is always for the sake of the other; strictly speaking Buddhism denies the real existence of both self and other. On the difference between Christian “love” and Buddhist karuna (compassion) see Henri de Lubac, Aspects of Buddhism, Sheed & Ward, 1953.
  14. G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows (London, 1935), pp. 225-226.
  15. Kenneth L. Schmitz, “Is Liberalism Good Enough?” in Liberalism and the Good(Routledge, 1990), pp. 89-90.
  16. For a full survey of the current facts, see Andrew Kimbrell, The Human Body Shop: The Engineering and Marketing of Life (Harper Collins, 1993).
  17. George Goyder, The Just Enterprise (Andre Deutsch, 1987), pp. 11 – 12.
  18. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, addressing the First World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights, L’Osservatore Romano, July 28, 1993. The rights of the person (and corresponding responsibilities) are, of course, primary. But persons are relational and social, and the family is the basis of human society. An article inThe Tablet (July 31, 1993) by Melanie Phillips suggests that the contemporary Left is belatedly waking up to this fact: “the economic individualism of the new Right and the social individualism of the Left were but two sides of the same coin. The Right said there was no such thing as society; the Left said there was no such thing as the family. The Right cut taxes and let the poor go to the wall; the Left cut family ties and let the children go to the wall.” An important book on the family from an American perspective is Allan C. Carlson’s From Cottage to Work Station: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age (Ignatius Press, 1993).
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2 replies to this post
  1. I am a Christian. I very much like Chesterton, and also this.
    Now forty years since ‘Small Is Beautiful’. It had very little real effect. The old conservative ideals have gone, our philosophies, art and architecture are pallid remnants.
    I am poor, but so is my local Anglican church. I would be a bit surprised if God actually did ‘give (me) this day (my) daily bread’ but that he does not obviously seem to be helping the broader church is of greater concern. The non conservative direction of the church being relevant in the world and the coffee church mentality are not good. Should there be an ascetic movement. Not much evidence.

  2. I have been a Priest for 43 years and have often pondered the Holy Trinity and our call to share, by grace, the life of the Trinity. That the Father’s love begat the Son was taken for granted. I know, intellectually, the Persons in the Trinity exist from all eternity. However, the way we state it, the impression is that the Father came first. Just an impression, of course, but impressions have power. This essay presented me with something that was so obvious when I read it: the Father cannot be the Father without the Son. Impression dissolved. Thank you and God bless you in your work.

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