JMC : The State and the Church / by Ryan and Millar

18. National and International Relations

Extracts from the Pastoral Letter of the American Hierarchy, February, 1920.


OUR country had its origin in a struggle for liberty. Once established as an independent Republic, it became the refuge of those who preferred freedom in America to the conditions prevailing in their native lands. Differing widely in culture, belief, and capacity for self-government, they had as their common characteristics the desire for liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Within a century, those diverse elements had been formed together into a nation, powerful, prosperous, and contented. As they advanced in fortune, they broadened in generosity; and to-day, the children of those early refugees are restoring the breath of life to the peoples of Europe.

These facts naturally inspire us with an honest pride in our country, with loyalty to our free institutions and confidence in our future. They should also inspire us with gratitude to the Giver of all good gifts, who has dealt so favorably with our nation: "He hath not done in like manner to every nation" (Ps. cxlvii). Our forefathers realized this, and accordingly there is evident in the foundation of the Republic and its first institutions, a deep religious spirit. It pervades the home, establishes seats of learning, guides the deliberation of lawmaking bodies. Its beneficent results are our inheritance; but to enjoy this and transmit it in its fullness to posterity, we must preserve in the hearts of the people the spirit of reverence for God and His law, which animated the founders of our nation. Without that spirit, there is no true patriotism; for whoever sincerely loves his country, must love it for the things that make it worthy of the blessings it has received and of those for which it may hope through God's dispensation.

We are convinced that our Catholic people and all our citizens will display an equally patriotic spirit in approaching the tasks which now confront us. The tasks of peace, though less spectacular in their accomplishment than those of war, are not less important, and surely not less difficult. They call for wise deliberation, for self-restraint, for promptness in emergency and energy in action. They demand, especially, that our people should rise above all minor considerations and unite their endeavors for the good of the country. At no period in our history, not even at the outbreak of war, has the need of unity been more imperative. There should be neither time nor place for sectional division, for racial hatred, for strife among classes, for purely partisan conflict imperiling the country's welfare. There should be no toleration for movements, agencies, or schemes that aim at fomenting discord on the ground of religious belief. All such attempts, whatever their disguise or pretext, are inimical to the life of our nation. Their ultimate purpose is to bring discredit upon religion, and to eliminate its influence as a factor in shaping the thought or the conduct of our people. We believe that intelligent Americans will understand how foreign to our ideas of freedom and how dangerous to freedom itself, are those designs which would not only invade the rights of conscience but would make the breeding of hatred a conscientious duty.


Such movements are the more deplorable because they divert attention from matters of public import that really call for improvement, and from problems whose solution requires the earnest co-operation of all our citizens. There is much to be done in behalf of those who, like our forefathers, come from other countries to find a home in America. They need an education that will enable them to understand our system of government and will prepare them for the duties of citizenship. They need warning against the contagion of influences whose evil results are giving us grave concern. But what they chiefly need is that Christian sympathy which considers in them the possibilities for good rather than the present defects, and, instead of looking upon them with distrust, extends them the hand of charity. Since many of their failings are the consequence of treatment from which they suffered in their homelands, our attitude and action toward them should, for that reason, be all the more sympathetic and helpful.


The constant addition of new elements to our population obliges us to greater vigilance with regard to our internal affairs. The power of assimilation is proportioned to the soundness of the organism; and as the most wholesome nutriment may prove injurious in case of functional disorder, so will the influx from other countries be harmful to our national life, unless this be maintained in full vigor. While, then, we are solicitous that those who seek American citizenship should possess or speedily attain the necessary qualifications, it behooves us to see that our political system is healthy. In its primary meaning, politics has for its aim the administration of government in accordance with the express will of the people and for their best interests. This can be accomplished by the adoption of right principles, the choice of worthy candidates for office, the direction of partisan effort toward the nation's true welfare and the purity of election; but not by dishonesty. The idea that politics is exempt from the requirements of morality, is both false and pernicious; it is practically equivalent to the notion that in government there is neither right nor wrong, and that the will of the people is simply an instrument to be used for private advantage.

The expression or application of such views accounts for the tendency, on the part of many of our citizens, to hold aloof from politics. But their abstention will not effect the needed reform, nor will it arouse from their apathy the still larger number who are so intent upon their own pursuits that they have no inclination for political duties. Each citizen should devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to the maintenance of right government by the exercise of his political rights and privileges. He should understand the issues that are brought before the people, and co-operate with his fellow-citizens in securing, by all legitimate means, the wisest possible solution.


In a special degree, the sense and performance of duty is required of those who are entrusted with public office. They are at once the servants of the people and the bearers of an authority whose original source is none other than God. Integrity on their part, shown by their impartial treatment of all persons and questions, by their righteous administration of public funds and by their strict observance of law, is a vital element in the life of the nation. It is the first and most effectual remedy for the countless ills which invade the body politic and, slowly festering, end in sudden collapse. But to apply the remedy with hope of success, those who are charged with the care of public affairs, should think less of the honor conferred upon them than of the great responsibility. For the public official above all others, there is need to remember the day of accounting, here, perhaps, at the bar of human opinion, but surely hereafter at the judgment seat of Him whose sentence is absolute: "Give an account of thy stewardship" (Luke xvi, 2).

The conduct of one's own life is a serious and often a difficult task. But to establish, by the use of authority, the order of living for the whole people, is a function that demands the clearest perception of right and the utmost fidelity to the principles of justice. If the good of the country is the one true object of all political power, this is preeminently true of the legislative power. Since law, as the means of protecting right and preserving order, is essential to the life of the State, justice must inspire legislation, and concern for the public weal must furnish the single motive for enactment. The passing of an unjust law is the suicide of authority.

The efficacy of legislation depends on the wisdom of laws, not on their number. Fewer enactments, with more prudent consideration of each and more vigorous execution of all, would go far towards bettering our national conditions. But when justice itself is buried under a multiplicity of statutes, it is not surprising that the people grow slack in observance and eventually cease to respect the authority back of the laws. Their tendency then is to assume the function which rightly belongs to public executive power, and this they are more likely to do when aroused by the commission of crimes which, in their opinion, demand swift retribution instead of the slow and uncertain results of legal procedure. The summary punishment visited on certain offences by those who take the law into their own hands, may seem to be what the criminal deserves; in reality, it is a usurpation of power and therefore an attack upon the vital principle of public order. The tardiness of justice is surely an evil, but it will not be removed by added violations of justice, in which passion too often prevails and leads to practices unworthy of a civilized nation.


Though men are divided into various nationalities by reason of geographical position or historical vicissitude, the progress of civilization facilitates intercourse and, normally, brings about the exchange of good offices between people and people. War, for a time, suspends these friendly relations, but eventually it serves to focus attention upon them and to emphasize the need of readjustment. Having shared in the recent conflict, our country is now engaged with international problems and with the solution of these on a sound and permanent basis. Such a solution, however, can be reached only through the acceptance and application of moral principles. Without these, no form of agreement will avail to establish and maintain the order of the world.

Since God is the Ruler of nations no less than of individuals, His law is supreme over the external relations of States as well as in the internal affairs of each. The sovereignty that makes a nation independent of other nations, does not exempt it from its obligations toward God; nor can any covenant, however shrewdly arranged, guarantee peace and security, if it disregard the divine commands. These require that in their dealings with one another, nations shall observe both justice and charity. By the former, each nation is bound to respect the existence, integrity and rights of all other nations; by the latter, it is obliged to assist other nations with those acts of beneficence and good will which can be performed without undue inconvenience to itself. From these obligations a nation is not dispensed by reason of its superior civilization, its industrial activity or its commercial enterprise; least of all, by its military power. On the contrary, a State which possesses these advantages, is under a greater responsibility to exert its influence for the maintenance of justice and the diffusion of good will among all peoples. So far as it fulfils its obligation in this respect, a State contributes its share to the peace of the world; it disarms jealousy, removes all ground for suspicion and replaces intrigue with frank co-operation for the general welfare.

The growth of democracy implies that the people shall have a larger share in determining the form, attributions, and policies of the government to which they look for the preservation of order. It should also imply that the calm, deliberate judgment of the people, rather than the aims of the ambitious few, shall decide whether, in case of international disagreement, war be the only solution. Knowing that the burdens of war will fall most heavily on them, the people will be slower in taking aggressive measures, and, with an adequate sense of what charity and justice require, they will refuse to be led or driven into conflict by false report or specious argument. Reluctance of this sort is entirely consistent with firmness for right and zeal for national honor. If it were developed in every people, it would prove a more effectual restraint than any craft of diplomacy or economic prudence. The wisest economy, in fact, would be exercised by making the principles of charity and justice an essential part of education. Instead of planning destruction, intelligence would then discover new methods of binding the nations together; and the good will which is now doing so much to relieve the distress produced by war, would be so strengthened and directed as to prevent the recurrence of international strife.

One of the most effectual means by which States can assist one another, is the organization of international peace. The need of this is more generally felt at the present time when the meaning of war is so plainly before us. In former ages also, the nations realized the necessity of compacts and agreements whereby the peace of the world would be secured. The success of these organized efforts was due, in large measure, to the influence of the Church, The position of the Holy See and the office of the Sovereign Pontiff as Father of Christendom, were recognized by the nations as powerful factors in any undertaking that had for its object the welfare of all. A "Truce of God" was not to be thought of without the Vicar of Christ; and no other truce could be of lasting effect. The Popes have been the chief exponents, both by word and act, of the principles which must underlie any successful agreement of this nature. Again and again they have united the nations of Europe, and history records the great services which they rendered in the field of international arbitration and in the development of international law.

The unbroken tradition of the Papacy with respect to international peace, has been worthily continued to the present by Pope Benedict XV. He not only made all possible efforts to bring the recent war to an end, but was also one of the first advocates of an organization for the preservation of peace. In his Letter to the American people on the last day of the year, 1918, the Holy Father expressed his fervent hope and desire for an international organization, "which by abolishing conscription will reduce armaments, by establishing international tribunals will eliminate or settle disputes, and by placing peace on a solid foundation will guarantee to all independence and equality of rights." These words revealed the heart of the Father whose children are found in every nation, and who grieves at the sight of their fratricidal struggle. That they were not then heeded or even rightly understood, is but another evidence of the degree to which the passions aroused by the conflict had warped the judgment of men. But this did not prevent the Pontiff from intervening in behalf of those who were stricken by the fortunes of war, nor did it lessen his determination to bring about peace. To him and to his humane endeavor, not Catholics alone, but people of all creeds and nationalities, are indebted for the example of magnanimity which he gave the whole world during the most fateful years of its history.


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