The Catholic Thing
Lent and the Religion of Humanity Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A friend remarked recently that the effective religion of many clerics and much of our society is “the religion of humanity.” This term comes from Auguste Comte. God is made over into a humanism, which lurks behind most concepts of “social justice” and “human rights.” Both euthanasia and homosexuality, another friend remarked, promote themselves as human “dignity.”

Etienne Gilson, in the Unity of Philosophical Experience, wrote: “Instead of being the central principle of his subjective synthesis, humanity became for Comte an object of worship, the positive God, the Great Being.” The same phrase appears in Daniel Mahoney’s Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order: “True conservatism is obliged to be suspicious of ‘the religion of humanity’ in all its forms.” A humanity that worships itself is a humanity that can do with itself what it will. It is a humanity that has no limit for science and no definition of what man is.

Christians are open to the transcendent both in their origins and in their destiny. As such, it is for many almost impossible to understand its essential doctrinal and moral positions. The way we live, I suspect, is the reason for this problem. We live as we want to be, not as we ought to be. The way we live, call it our culture, contains many institutions, ideas, practices, and attitudes that, on examination, are not compatible with the faith as it understands itself.

Thus, individual conversion, with rejection of the incompatible, is required. This individual rejection in turn means that we must be willing to change our ways. We see that how we have been living and explaining ourselves is in fact incompatible with what the faith and, indeed, what reason teach.

For many observers, the major event of our time is not Christians evangelizing the world, but the opposite. Christianity becomes indistinguishable from modern culture. Few can give a point-by -point explanation of what the faith holds about itself. Nothing is more confusing to Catholics in particular than explanations by other Catholics, especially clerics and academics, that in fact are not what the Church explicitly teaches.

        Christ in the Wilderness by Moretto da Brescia, c. 1520

John Paul II said that social sin was itself a manifestation of personal sin, not vice versa. The Gospel begins with the word “repent.” This repentance must be based on a clear understanding that some deeds and thoughts need repentance. Nothing is more common today in any group, school, or family, than to find individuals with complicated, disordered lives, mostly, alas, chosen by themselves. Finding a way out seems impossible.

A web of evil seems to lock us into a despair about how to live a proper life, even when we finally acknowledge our own disorders. If, however, we accept the “religion of humanity,” we do not need to find a way out. We are doing what human beings “do.” This is humanity and its religion.

The public disorders we see – and our approval of them in one form or another in courts, legislatures, or media – reflect an unwillingness to question the theories behind our actions. Generally speaking, intellectual disorders, that is, wrong or bad ideas, do not reflect a lack of intelligence. Rather, they are efforts to justify our actions. We rationalize the habits of sin or disorder that we know require a different way of life.

We have been inundated with grandiose schemes that justify our disorders. We do not look at their spiritual and moral causes. As Christians, however, the first step towards sanity is to recall insistently that we are free, that we can change. But first we have accurately to name things, to admit what we have wrought, to ourselves and others. Such recognition will not initially take place in the glare of publicity but in quiet places, in hearts that realize their disorders and endeavor in grace to right them. They seek this “righting” because they are being called by God to His own good, which cannot flourish in disorder. All disorder eventually will show itself in the consequences of human choices.

We are a people that “justify” what, until recently, horrified us. It is this process of self-justification, of worship of ourselves, that needs to be stopped. We need to turn around, as Plato said. Our repentance recognizes that each of us has disorder in his soul that needs to be changed to right teaching and right action.

The “religion of humanity” that we devise for ourselves is not good enough for us. In the end, it does not even believe in us, only in our supposed “perfection.” We must be “suspicious” of this “religion of humanity.” Our happiness does not lie exclusively within us. Perhaps this is why Lent is both a season of repentance and a season to clear our minds. We cannot do one without the other.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.
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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Bill, March 22, 2011
Fr. Schall, you have to look no further than the photos of the attendees at both Assisi I and Assisi II to see the "religion of humanity". Worshippers of the Great Thumb?
The pope kissing the Koran? Can you imagine how many Catholics were tortured and killed over the last 1,500 years by Muslims because they would NOT kiss the Koran? The whole thrust of all these machinations was the leaning toward Universal Salvation, which, in that small part of the Church which possesses its Mind, has been a declared heresy for centuries.
written by Ars Artium, March 22, 2011
The ability to situate oneself, to have at least a starting place on which to stand and begin personal development, is simply missing for many, many young people today. They have only what "human beings 'do'" as their frame of reference. In other words, they have nothing but the ephemeral and transient. They have been denied their heritage. As Robert Jenson has told us, they have "lost their story," a loss having more in common with theft than accident.
written by Ray Hunkins, March 22, 2011
Thanks Fr. Schall for a thought provoking essay. Courage, humility and wisdom - I perceive these virtues to be in short supply at the present. They must be cultivated. Thank you for your efforts to do so.
written by Achilles,, March 22, 2011
The good postman Father Schall has delivered to us a love letter from God. What a gift you have Father for delivering such a personal and profound letter! Pax Christi tecum! Achilles
written by oft, March 22, 2011
What about the millions who were murdered for believing what the text of the Bible says? Is Lent in the Bible?
written by Brad Miner, March 22, 2011
To "oft":

I speak for myself and not Fr. Schall, but Catholic belief is based upon Sacred Scripture and tradition. The Church has been commerating Christ's forty days in the wilderness for approximately 1700 years.
written by CTrent1564, March 23, 2011

Well said, Canon 5 of the Council of Nicea clearly discusses "Lent" and states a local Church Council should be held before it, which suggests that the Council of Nicea did not want local Councils being held during the Holy Season of Lent.

On another note, it is clear in the writings of St. Irenaeus (who died circa 203 AD] to Pope Saint Victor [Bishop of Rome] in the late 2nd century that there was some type of "Fast that was to be held" before the celebration of pascha [Easter]. Now, there was a debate on the length of the fast in terms of the length and was the tradition of the Roman Church to be the one used or the one of Certain Eastern Churches [not all] which Pope Victor was in disagreement with [the so called.

So we have solid evidence that some type of Pre-Easter Lent Fast was being held in the 2nd century, and of course this was all being done well before the final determination of the New Testament Canon which is not arrived at until the late 4th century as an FYI to "oft".
written by oft, March 23, 2011
To Brad,

What is superior the text or man's tradition?
written by Brad Minerz, March 23, 2011
To oft: Scripture is itself a tradition. It did not fall from the sky but was assembled prayerfully over time. As Catholics believe: ". . . [T]here exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles, sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.

"Thus, by the light of the Spirit of truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence." [Dei Verbum]
written by Chris in Maryland, March 23, 2011
To Oft:
There is no conflict between Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition – they are one. Where one is torn from the other – disintegration ensues. This largely explains why there are so many hundreds – I suppose actually thousands – of Protestant denominations.
Your question “what is superior?” has a false dichotomy. It implies that there are no traditions that are sacred - that they are all profane. But as St. Paul and other great Church teachers taught, the Church handed down Sacred Traditions to the faithful. Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition are one, and cannot be subordinated one to another. In the 2nd Letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote: "Take as a model of sound teaching what you have heard me say, in faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the rich deposit of faith with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (1:13-14). …. "You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2:1-2). And in 2 Thessalonians: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2:15).
As one writer [] points out: “Those who decry Tradition as having no role in matters of faith and who wish to return to a ‘primitive New Testament’ Church have no grounds for quoting Scripture. The ‘primitive New Testament’ Church relied on the oral teaching of the apostles and their successors.”
The same writer cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine wellspring, come together in fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal" (no. 80). It goes on to say: "And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching" (no. 81).
written by oft, March 23, 2011
To Brad,

Jesus said Scripture and man's tradition are mutually exclusive:

"Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

--Mark 7:5-7 (King James Version)

That hebrew word for tradition is translated correctly. Any doctrine outside of the text is a commandment of men.

Christians are to hold to traditions written in the TEXT, nothing more. Any worship outside of the text is vain worship.
written by Brad Minerz, March 23, 2011
oft: That "Hebrew word"? Mark wasn't written in Hebrew but Greek, and Our Lord probably wasn't speaking Hebrew but Aramaic. But put that aside. Clearly, not all the commandments of men are to be ignored or why did Jesus send out His apostles to preach? Are you asserting that they had texts from which they originally worked? If so, you're pretty much alone, since the first actual texts with which most of the first Christians could have worked were Paul's letters. In any case, Christ founded the Church and gave to Peter and his successors the power to bind and loose.
written by oft, March 24, 2011
My bad. I meant Greek. The Lord did probably speak aramaic, however the N.T. is written in Greek.

Jesus sent out his Apostles to preach the WORD only.

Apostolic succession is a less than stable foundation for the Catholic Church.

For apostolic successiong to occur, each pope must choose his own successor and personally lay hands on him and ordain him. That is what was done to Paul and Barnabas as well as Timothy in (Acts 13:3, and I Tim 4:14). Now, popes are choosen after a pope's death. Furthermore, an Apostle had to personally see Jesus after his resurrection:

Acts 1
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.

Also, there is no record that Peter was ever bishop of Rome, therefore no bishop of Rome could be his successor. Peter does not appear on Irenaeus's list of popes; Linus was the first. Eusebius never says Peter was bishop of Rome, only that he was there at the end of his life, and when Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, Peter isn't even mentioned, although he mentions other people.

That is strange, as Peter would have been the Bishop.

Even the new catholic encyclopedia says it's impossible to know who all the popes are, not to mention all the intrigue, murders, rapes, etc. the popes are responsible for.
written by CTrent1564, March 24, 2011

I beg to differ with your analysis and how you "personally interpreted" the NT texts you cited, but I will leave that alone in this post. With respect to the Patristic/Church Fathers, ST. Ignatius of Antioch, writing circa 107AD, who by virture of his connection to ST. John the Apostle is considered along with St. Clement of Rome and St. Polycarp an Apostolic Father writes in his Letter to the Church of Rome:

"I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain."

The reference to Ss. Peter and Paul commanding the Church of Rome is a pretty clear indication that Peter, and Paul were both in Rome.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

Next, there is St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his "Adversus haereses", written circa 175-180AD [Book Three, Chapter 3] which states as follows:

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth."

So in both these texts, we have a clear indication from 2 of the most important 2nd century Fathers of St. Peter, and St. Paul both being in Rome and a clear documenation of Apostolic Succession.


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