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 Principles of the Obligation of Voting - chapter II 
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New post Principles of the Obligation of Voting - chapter II
(The following is an exact reproduction of The Moral Obligation of Voting, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1952 Rev. Titus Cranny, S.A., M.A., S.T.L., pgs. 34-55.

IMPRIMI POTEST: Angelus F. Delahaunt, S.A. Pater Generalis

NIHIL OBSTAT: Francis J. Connell, C.Ss.R., S.T.D. Censor Deputatis

IMPRIMATUR: † Patrick A. O’Boyle, D.D. Archiepiscopus Washingtoniensis July 24, 1952)



1. Basis of the Obligation

a. Man’s Need of Society

The fundamental basis of the moral obligation of voting is two-fold: (1) The state is a necessary society demanded by man’s nature and his needs; (2) Every citizen is bound to promote the common good. In a republican form of government where the citizens select their rulers, judges, and other administrative and legislative officials, it is of the utmost importance that the citizens take and active and intelligent interest in those whom they select. Moreover, since the civil government greatly affects the lives of the citizens, it follows that the officials be chosen with care and honesty.

By nature man is a social and political animal, according to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas [1] and other scholastics. Man’s nature and needs demand that he form some kind of a basic society to satisfy his exigencies, to fulfill his potentialities, and to perfect his powers. Now the most basic unit of society is the family and while it is vital in supplying man’s elementary needs it is not sufficient to fulfill all the needs of the individual or of the individual families. The state is necessary to supply those needs which the family cannot furnish. The family supplies those necessities by which man can live, but the state furnishes those goods by which man can live well. [2] Thus St. Thomas writes:

Man is naturally a civil or social animal. This is evident from the fact that one man does not suffice for himself if he live alone; because the things are few wherein nature makes adequate provision for man, since she gave him reason by means of which he might provide himself with all necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and so on, for the protection of which one man is not enough. Wherefore man has a natural inclination towards social life. Now the order of providence does not deprive a thing of what is natural to it: rather is each thing provided for according to its nature as we have said above (c. 71). Therefore man is not so made by the order of providence that he is deprived of his social life. Yet he would be deprived of it, were our choice to proceed from the influence of heavenly bodies like the natural instinct of other animals. [3]

Since the state is necessary that many may attend his end, it follows that man has the duty to be the member of some state. He also has the obligation to contribute to the support and welfare of the state in achieving its end – the temporal common good. He fulfills this obligation by loving his country, by supporting and obeying just laws, by paying taxes, by bearing arms when necessary and by fulfilling other civic duties of citizens. [4] One of these other duties in a republican form of government is the obligation of voting in order to promote the common good.

It is obvious that government is necessary in a state to insure peace and order, and to promote the best interests of all. This is precisely the reason why citizens should be interested in their government and in the men who represent them. The state needs good rulers and administrators; the citizens have the obligation of selecting them. St. Thomas lays down the principle of the state’s purpose and the function of government in the first chapter of De regimine principum:

If man were intended to live alone, like animals, he would not require any one to govern him; every man would be his own king under the supreme command of God, inasmuch as he would govern himself by the light of reason given him by the Creator. But it is the nature of man to be a social and political animal, living in community, differently from all other animals; a thing which is clearly shown by the necessity of his nature. Nature has provided for other animals food, skins for covering, means of defense as teeth, horns, claws, or at least speed in flight; but she has not endowed man with any of these qualities; instead she has given him reason by which, with the assistance of his hands he can procure what he wants. But to procure this, one man alone is not enough. For he Is not in condition to govern his own life; therefore it is in mans nature to live in society. Thus if it is natural for man to live in society, it is necessary that some one should direct the multitude for if many were united and each did as he thought proper, they would fall to pieces unless somebody looked after the public good, as would be the case of the human body, and that of other animals, if there did not exist a power to watch over the welfare of the members. Thus Solomon says: “Where there is non one to govern, the people will be dispersed.” In man himself the soul directs the body; and in the soul, the feelings of anger and concupiscence are governed by reason. Among the members of the body there is one principle which directs all, as the heart or the head. There ought then to be in every multitude some governing power. [5]

By reason of his need to live in society and to have authority and government man is obliged to contribute what he can in the affairs affecting the whole. All authority comes from God and according to the more common theory, He gives it to the people, who in turn entrust it to those whom they choose to rule and to legislate. Members of the government are custodians of the law; any laws they enact must conform to the natural law; they may not violate this higher law or ignore the dignity of man. But by this same token, the other citizens cannot shirk their duties which bind them to take part in government insofar as they are able and competent to do so.

b. Every Citizen Bound to Promote the Common Good

Legal justice is the virtue of the good citizen and it looks directly to the common good. [6] It perfects the citizen and inclines him to seek and act for the common good in a reasonable way. Legal justice is distinct from pietas, for it regards one’s country as it is the common good, while pietas considers it as in some way the principle of being. [7] It is obvious that one of the ways of promoting the common good is the honest and intelligent use of the vote in civil elections in order to secure worthy men for positions of public service.

The common good is not the good of a few, of a class or group, for as Pope Leo XIII has insisted: “The enjoyment of this common good is common to all men in human society and can not be restricted specifically to individuals, classes, races, or nations.” [8] Pope Pius XI further explained that “the temporal good in the temporal order consists in that peace and security in which families and individual citizens have the free exercise of their rights, and at the same time enjoy the greatest spiritual and temporal prosperity in this life, by the mutal union and coordination of the work of all.” [9]

Now the common good is not simply an aggregate of particular goods, nor the good of the whole which ignores the parts, for the social units are parts which contribute to and share in the common good. [10] Nor is the common good simply identical with a purely material good. There is a temporal common good and a spiritual common good, but even the former

In its fulness is not identical with a purely material good, even less with its own material advantages. It is rather the collective good of men, distributed in national groups, with their essential characteristics as physical, rational, social, moral and religious beings. The excellence of this collective good, verified mainly in the political order, includes the various aspects of man in the political order, in the sense that both the national and international communities are bound to safeguard those goods as well as the conditions favoring their pursuit by individual men. But it amplifies individual good generally, insofar as one who is conscious of the temporal common good cannot satisfy fully the conditions of his own salvation, unless one fulfills somehow his duty towards that collective common good. [11]

One who seeks after and promotes the common good also seeks after and promotes his own good as well. St. Thomas explains how this is so:

first, because the good of the individual cannot be complete unless the common good of the family, city, or state to which he belongs is assured. Hence Valerius Maximus (Fact. et dict. mem. 4, 6) says of the ancient Romans that they preferred to be poor in a wealthy state than be wealthy in a poor one. Secondly, since a man forms a constituent part of a family and of a state if he acts prudently with regard to the common good, he will necessarily learn to seek his own good rightly, so that it may be advantageous to the common good. For the good disposition of parts depends upon their relation to the whole. As St. Augustine says: “It is unbecoming for a part not to fit harmoniously into the whole.” (Conf. 3,8) [12]

Just as the state with its authority and laws has the obligation of promoting the common good, so the individual citizen has the same duty. Fro the citizen as part of the state is bound to contribute to its welfare. In a republican form of government one of the means of so doing is the electoral franchise. At present it seems that the character of the obligation cannot be stressed sufficiently when so many citizens seem infected with the spirit of rugged individualism and selfishness leaving no room for the finer instincts of the soul. By not voting or by voting carelessly or indifferently, such citizens tend to tear down the common good rather than to share in its upbuilding. Just as public officials have the duty of promoting the common good, so too the individual voter has his obligation, to a lesser degree, to contribute to the good of all. As Monsignor John A. Ryan has well written:

The citizens are bound to promote the common good in all possible ways. The franchise enables them to further or to hinder the commonweal greatly and fundamentally, inasmuch as the quality of government depends upon the kind of officials they elect. Not only questions of politics, but social, industrial, educational, moral and religious subjects are regulated by legislative bodies and administered by executive. Therefore the matter (of voting) is of grave importance and the obligation of the citizen to participate in the elections and to support fit candidates is correspondingly grave. [13]

The Bishops of the United States in their pastoral letter of 1919 minced no words as to the citizen’s obligation to promote the common good by active interest and intelligent action in political affairs. We may cite them at length:

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 the partisan effort towards the nation’s true welfare and the purity of elections, 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 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 citizens, to keep aloof from politics. But their abstention will not effect the needed reform, nor will it arouse from apathy the still larger number of those 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 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. [14]

Obviously one of the means of advancing the common good of a nation with a republican form of government is the right use of the ballot. The ordering of man’s life to the common good follows from his social and political nature. [15] As a citizen man is ordained to the promotion of the common good which is ordained, in turn, to the perfection of the individual. And as a citizen he fulfills his duties in particular aspects by honest, intelligent, and faithful voting in civil elections. He is obliged to use the vote for the common good, for as Father E. Cahill, S.J., remarks: “…in a democratic system of government all enfranchised citizens are bound in conscience to exercise the powers they have in so far as they may be necessary or useful for the common good, lest a group of politicians or financiers or Press magnates be permitted to dominate public life to the injury or enslavement of the people. In this sense every citizen is bound to be a politician.” [16]

The duty of the citizen to vote is founded upon the rights of a naturally constituted whole to the proper cooperation of its parts, as St. Thomas teaches. [17] The kind and degree of cooperation vary according to the capacity of the part and the role it plays in the civil organism. Thus a public official will have a greater cooperation in the whole than the ordinary citizen, but both must work to promote the common good. And both must use the franchise in civil elections.

c. The Christian Concept of Duty

That a Catholic citizen should take an intelligent interest in the civil government and should support it to the best of his ability is nothing new in Christian teaching. Our Lord Himself set the example and gave support to the national institutions during His life on earth. Indeed the insinuations and accusations that He was an enemy of the state were nothing more than the most insolent falsehoods. For He laid down the fundamental principle of Christian participation in the role of the state when He said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” [18]

Then St. Paul gave in detail some of the duties of a good citizen. He said the Christian should be subject to higher powers “for there is no power but from God, and those that are, are ordained of God.” [19] He went on to specify the obligation of giving honor to those in authority and having positions of dignity, to pay taxes and other tribute, and render to all the proper due. Here was the first explicit statement of the obligation in justice on the part of the citizen to the state in the New Testament. In other passages too, the Apostle wrote of the citizen’s duties, particularly in the epistles to St. Timothy and St. Titus. [20]

At the same time St. Peter, as Christ’s first vicar, told the faithful to be “subject to every human creature for God’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to the governors as sent through Him for vengeance upon evildoers, and for the praise of the good….Live as freemen, yet not using your freedom as a cloak for malice but as servants of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” [21] Honor the king, said St. Peter, and that the king was Nero.

Re-statements and developments of this New Testament teaching can be found in the writings of many Fathers. They recognized the need of civil rulers and of civil authority. Particularly striking were the prayers of St. Clement of Rome for civil powers. “Grant concord and peace to us as well as to all the inhabitants of the earth…grant us to be obedient to They almighty and glorious name, as well as to our princes and rulers on earth.” [22]

From the same source we have a beautiful liturgical prayer of the Church, bearing ample testimony of the realization that the authority of the state was from God.

Thou, O Master, through Thy transcendent and indescribable sovereignty has given them the power of royalty, so that we, acknowledging the honor and glory conferred upon them by Thee, may bow to them, without in the least opposing thy will, Grant to them, O Lord, peace, concord, and firmness so that they may without hindrance exercise the supreme leadership Thou hast conferred upon them. For it is Thou, O Master, O heavenly King of all ages, that conferrest upon the sons of men glory and honor and authority over the things which are upon the earth. Do Thou, O Lord, direct their counsels in accord with what is good and pleasing in Thy sight, so that they may piously exercise in peace and gentleness Thy graciousness. [23]

This clear and concise prayer was used before the end of the first century when persecution was still enforced. For the suffering Christians understood that when the civil authorities exercised their power justly, they acted according to the law of God.

The great apologist of the second century, St. Justin Martyr, pointed out to his adversaries that the Christians were loyal citizens. They gave their allegiance to the king and prayed for him; they paid their taxes as Christ had taught them. These are his words:

As we have been instructed by Him, we, before all others try everywhere to pay your appointed officials the ordinary and special taxes. For in His time some people came and asked if it were necessary to pay tribute to Caesar, and He replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Wherefore, only God do we worship, but in other things we joyfully obey you, acknowledging you as the kings and rulers of men, and praying that you may be found to have, besides royal power, sound judgment. [24]

In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155) we read that the saint spoke to the pro-consul in the following manner: “You I should have held worthy of discussion, for we have been taught to render honor, as is meet, if it hurt not us, to princes and authorities appointed by God. [25]

Then St. Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, writing about 181, quoted St. Paul’s thirteenth chapter to the Romans and added this comment: “This also the scripture commands , that we be subject to the magistrates and authorities and that we pray for them ‘that we lead a quiet and peaceful life.’ And it also teaches us to render all things to all men: ‘Tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; owe no many anything except to love one another.’” [26] In another passage he turned from the Christians to the pagan rulers to declare that their rule came from heaven. “The king is not be adored, but to be honored with legitimate honor. For he is not a god, but a man made by God, not that he may be adored, but that he may judge justly. In a certain way he has been entrusted by God with the administration.” [27]

Later the enigmatical Tertullian (160-240/250) showed the relationship of the Christian citizen to the pagan rulers in his usual forceful way. “A Christian is enemy to none,” he began

least of all to the Emperor of Rome whom he knows to be established by God, and so cannot but love and honor, and whose well-being moreover, he must needs desire, with that of the Empire, over which he reigns so long as the world stands – for so long will Rome endure. To the emperor, therefore, we render such reverential homage as it is lawful for us and good to him, regarding him as a human being next to God, who from God has received all his power and is less than God alone. [28]

But the same writer placed severe limitations on the Emperor’s power. “They know from whom they have received their power,” he asserted. “They are convinced that this is God alone, on whose power alone they are entirely dependent, to whom they are second, and after whom they occupy the highest place and before and above all the gods….He (the emperor) gets his scepter from where he got his humanity; his power where he got his first breath of life.” [29] Then in one of his magnificent sweeps of rhetoric for which he is famous, Tertullian pointed out how the Christians took part in all the affairs of human life just as any other dutiful members of the state.

We are not strangers to life. We are fully aware of the gratitude we owe to God our Lord and Creator. We reject not the fruits of His handiwork; we only abstain from their immoderate or unlawful use. We are living in the world with you; we do not shun your forum, your markets, your baths, your shops, your factories, your stables, your places of business and traffic. We take ship with you and we serve in your armies; we are farmers and merchants with you; we interchange skilled labor and display our works in public for your service. How we can seem unprofitable to you with whom we live and of whom we are, I know not. [30]

Ignio Giordani in his work, The Social Message of the Early Church Fathers, classifies three types of Christians of this period: (1) Those who were Roman in feeling, loved the Empire and wished to introduce the faith as a positive factor in civil and political well being, who were loyal to the Empire but distinguished between it and the idolatrous trappings. (2) Those who sought to win a legal recognition for the Church and the enjoyment of ordinary rights without mixing in politics. They preferred to avoid public office, but wanted the state to renounce its own deification. (3) Those who identified Caesar and Satan, Rome with Babylon, and hated and opposed all that was Roman as the incarnation of evil. [31]

St. Clement of Rome, a freedman or the son of a freedman, simply felt that as a citizen he was a Roman and that Christian charity refined and ennobled the duties of citizenship. Many others felt likewise, such as Abercius, Melito of Sardis, Athenagoras, Apollonius, Theophilus, and Dionysius of Corinth. The point is that these Christians realized they owed a duty to the state. Christian virtue meant love of the fatherland and respect for and obedience to civil authority. And though Tertullian would not fit into the class of the men above, he has left a famous passage to indicate the penetration of Christianity into every phase of human life. “We are a people of yesterday and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, companies, places, senate forum! We leave you your temples only!” [32]

St. Ambrose of Milan (333-397) commented on the teaching of St. Paul to show that the faithful were bound by the civil law. “The ordinance of the power by God reaches to the point that he is the minister of God who uses his power rightly: ‘He is God’s minister to thee, for good.’ Therefore there is no fault in the office, but in the minister; it is not the ordinance of God that can displease, but the act of the minister.” [33]

St. John Chrysostom in Constantinople indicated the duties of the faithful, even of the clergy, to civil authority. In his commentary on the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle of the Romans he has left this splendid and concise appraisal:

To show that these regulations are for all, even priests, he has made this plain at the outset by saying, as follows: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers,” even if you be an Apostle, or an Evangelist, or a Prophet, insofar as this subjection is not subversive to religion. And he does not merely say obey, but be subject; and the first claim such enactment has upon us, and the reason that suits the faithful is that all this of God’s appointment. “For there is no power but from God.” [34]

St. Ambrose made the distinction between power and the office – the power comes from God, the office comes from man. But those subject to authority do not pay civil obedience simply to man, but to God who is the source of all authority and power. “For that there should be rulers, and some should rule and others should be ruled, and that all things should not be carried on in confusion, the people swaying like waves this way and that, this I say, is the work of God’s wisdom. Hence he does not say ‘there is no ruler but from God,’ but it is of the thing of which he speaks and says: ‘There is no power but from God.’ And the power that are, are ordained of God.” Those who rule others take care of the goods of others….“It was for this that from old all men came to an agreement that rulers should be maintained by us, because to the neglect of their own affairs they take charge of the public, and on this they spend their whole time and so our goods are safe.” [35]

But perhaps the most succinct passage comes from St. Jerome’s Commentary on Titus wherein St. Ambrose saw a definite political meaning in the words of the Apostle, imposing obedience to secular power by all Christians. After making the distinction between the office of the ruler and the power from God, he refuted any suggestion that St. Paul meant the faithful were to obey any and every command but only what was good. In another passage he commented on Matthew 22:21 “Render to Caesar” etc. in this vein:

The Apostle teaches that the faithful are to be subject to principalities and powers. The Greek word rather means principalities than princes and powers and refers to the power itself, not the men who are in power….Hence he added “to be ready for every good work” (Titus. 3:1). If what the emperor or prefect commands is good, then we are to submit to his will, but if it is evil and seems against God, answer him from the Acts of the Apostles: “We must obey God rather than men.” [36]

St. Augustine (354-430) told the faithful that they should obey civil rulers. The abuse of power does not lessen their authority or make it come from any source other than God. “He that gave Marius rule, gave Caesar rule; He that gave Augustus it, gave it to Nero; He that gave the rule to Vespatian or to Titus, both sweet natural men, gave it also to Domitian, that cruel blood-sucker. And to be brief, He that gave it to Constantine the Christian, gave it also to Julian the Apostate.” [37]

The great doctor implied that Christians have very definite obligations as citizens. Obedience to law and support of national institutions were an obligation binding on conscience. And in De libero arbitrio he seemed to favor a representative type of government, though this text should be not stretched too far. “If a people have a sense of moderation and responsibility and are most careful guardians of the common welfare, it is right to enact a law allowing such people to choose their own magistrates for the government of the commonwealth.” [38] Elsewhere he showed the impact of Christian influence upon human life, defending its place in social and political spheres:

Let those who say that the teaching of Christ is harmful to the state produce such armies as the maxims of Jesus have enjoined soldiers to bring into being; such governors of provinces; such husbands and wives; such parents and children, such masters and servants, such kings, such judges, and such payers and collectors of tribute, as the Christian teaching instructs them to become, and then let them dare to days that such teaching is harmful to the State. Nay, rather will they hesitate to own that this discipline, if duly acted up to, is the very mainstay of the commonwealth. [39]

All these quotations from the Fathers obviously have not explicit mention of the duty of voting in civil elections but they do indicate that the early Christians were concerned with their duties and responsibilities in civic life. They point out that the Christian could not be indifferent or negligent in carrying out the duties demanded by good citizenship. Therefore these patristic texts form a solid background and firm support of the obligation of the Catholic to fulfill his duty in modern society. In the republican form of government prevalent in a large part of the civilized world today, the citizen is bound to do all that justice and charity enjoin. One of these obligations is that of voting in civil elections.

From What may be called a Christian Concept of Civic Duty according to patristic sources (or a Christian awareness of civic responsibility) we may pass on to some papal pronouncements of recent times. That the words of the Supreme Pontiffs are of special weight is obvious; that they contain much to awaken Catholics from any false notions or complacent attitude is the purpose of referring them here. These references do not expressly show that the Catholic must vote, but stress the more general principle of active interest and participation in political matters. In his masterpiece, Immortale Dei, Pope Leo XIII sounded the call for participation in civic affairs, for

Catholics, by remaining aloof, will allow men easily to arrive into power, whose opinion give no grounds for hoping that the state will be the better for them. And this would prove injurious for religion too; for men hostile to the Church would yield enormous power, those who love her, next to none. So it is clear that Catholics have good reason to take part in political life, though they must not do so to sanction what is culpable in actual systems, but so as to cause these very systems (as far as possible) to serve the genuine and true public welfare, and with the aim of making the spirit and the beneficent influence of the Church to circulate in all the veins of the body social, like a life-giving sap. [40]

In the very fist allocution of his pontificate Pope Pius X spoke of his motto, Restaurare omnia in Christo, and declared:

We know that it will be displeasing to some that We also intend to occupy Ourselves with political affairs. However, whoever judges things dispassionately will realize that the Sovereign Pontiff cannot separate politics from the magisterium that he exercises in faith and morals. Moreover, because he is the chief and director of what is a perfect society, the Church, that is to say, the Pope must be willing to enter into relation with the rulers of states and governors of a republic, for, lacking such relation, he would not be in a position to assure Catholics, everywhere and in all places, security and freedom.

The Church and its leaders are not interested in politics as politics, that is, in the technique of running a state, but they are interested in politics as a part of human life with moral aspects and consequences. It is unfortunate that many do not understand the relationship of politics and morality and would repeat the words of Raymond Poincare, one time president of France: “We leave the city of God to the Popes; but we shall not allow them to come out of their domain.” [42]

Many times Pope Pius XI told his audiences that they should take part in public life. For example, when he spoke to the University Students of Italian Catholic Action in 1924, he declared: “When politics lays hands upon the altar, then religion and the Church, and the Pope who represents her, not only are within their rights, but are doing their duty if they give guidance and direction; and Catholics have the right to demand these and the duty of following them.” [43] He explained that there should be no confusion of Catholic action with political action and insisted that the faithful should fulfill their obligation to their country and to the common good. “Catholics would be playing themselves false,” he went on, “to a grave duty were they not to interest themselves, so far as they can, in the political affairs of the city, the province, the State itself….Standing thus idle, they would leave the direction of public affairs to the easy grasp of those whose opinions hold forth no great hope for salvation.” [44] Before another group he insisted upon the duty of taking part in politics.

Catholic Action not only does not prevent each man from joining in politics, but it creates a definite duty for them to do so….We cannot disinterest ourselves from politics, when “politics” means the whole complex of common goods, as opposed to those that are individual and particular….How should we disinterest ourselves from what is the more important, where the greater duty of charity exists, and that from which may depend those very goods that God gives – private and domestic goods, and the interests of religion itself. [45]

Although Catholic Action is not political action, its principles will serve to prepare Catholics for politics. Note the strong language of the Holy Father:

Catholic Action, though not political itself, wishes to teach Catholics to make better use of politics, and to this they are held in a special way, since their Catholic profession exacts from them that they be better citizens than anyone else. Every profession demands a preparation, and he who wants to be a good man of politics, cannot withdraw from himself the duty of a proper preparation….Though not indulging in party politics, Catholic Action wants to prepare men to be good politicians, great politicians; it aims at preparing the consciences of Christians politically and to form them, in this manner too, Christian-wise and Catholic-wise. [46]

On another occasion the same Pope defended the noble position of “the field of politics, since it concerns the interest of society as a whole…under this aspect (it is) a field for the vastest charity of all, the field of political charity, to which none other, we may say, apart from religion, is superior.” [47]

Indeed political action can have a very noble purpose, namely, to integrate Catholic teaching into all political and social life. The task is difficult, but not impossible; moreover, it is absolutely necessary if the mission and message of Christ is to leaven society. In the words of Pope Pius XII:

It is not by setting up a negative or merely defensive attitude to oppose erroneous theories of atheistic materialism and bad leaders that we may hope to solve the agonizing problems of the working world. It is by the active presence, in factories and in stockyards, of pioneers fully conscious of their double vocation, as Christians and as workers, who are resolved to assume fully their responsibilities and know neither respite nor rest until they have transformed their environments to conformity with the teachings of the gospel. It is by such positive and collective work that the Church will be able to extend her lifegiving action to millions of souls. [48]

Such is the mission of the Church – to put the teachings of Christ into every department of human life, to implement, to integrate, to perfect the natural and to make it Christian. The Church cannot hid in its buildings, its clergy cannot remain in the sanctuary and the rectory. “The Church cannot shut herself up passively in the seclusion of her temples and so abandon the duty entrusted to her by divine Providence of forming the integral man” (Pius XII). [49] Nor can the Catholic remain aloof from the society in which he lives. He has the obligation to take part, according to his abilities and circumstances, in the political affairs of his city, state, and nation.

The Church cannot be silent about the duties of the faithful in public life. Her members have obligations to the common good just as they have obligations to each other. And when moral issues arise, as they must, the representatives of the Church, the clergy, cannot be silent. They should indicate, says Cardinal Hlond of Poland, the duties of good citizenship. And even more specifically in the matter of elections

They should point out the moral principles guiding the electoral law of the citizens. Giving an answer to those questions, the Church does not involve itself in party political questions, but only states moral and religious principles according to which Catholics themselves should form their electoral conscience. The Church does not lead an electoral campaign, but points out moral principles which should be adhered to by all the parties if they wish to gain the votes of Catholics. [50]

Often when Catholics become members of a political party they become subject to the whim of those about them and fall victim to the tempo of the times, forsaking Christian principles and inspiration in public life. Or to quote Luigi Sturzo “they not only lose the sense of a moral and social apostolate possessed by parties of Christian inspiration, but they become too attached to the material and utilitarian aims of politics, failing to discern honest methods from those that may be described as questionable, and often finding themselves an ineffectual minority, overwhelmed by a majority at once too material-minded and realistic.” [51]

One of the finest documents in modern times on the duties of Catholics in political life, and especially on the duty of voting has come from Cardinal Hlond to whom previous reference has been made. He sent out this instruction in the autumn of 1946 in mimeographed form because the government would not permit its being printed.

The Church has taught the faithful for a very long time that it is their duty to give their strength and their abilities for the service of the community and towards co-operation for the common good of the whole community. It is a demand of social justice, which tells us to break from the narrow circle of our private affairs, to take account of our fellow-beings, and to direct our strength towards the service of the community.

She cannot properly fulfill the demands of social justice to collaborate for the common good without taking part in governing, and thus in political life. This obligation increases for us Catholics, because, being educated on the basis of a healthy Christian outlook, we understand human and divine affairs better, because nothing is strange to us.

We have the duty to do good to everybody. “Therefore whilst we have time, let us do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the Faith.” (Gal. 6:10). This precept of the holy Faith turns us towards our fellow human beings, towards social needs, towards political demands, in order to bring into human life as much good as possible. We must strive in ourselves the desire for good for all which is the beginning of social reform.

Political life is one of the most important forms of temporal life, because it has to serve the common good. It must be directed by good men in order that they may act in a good manner. The vocation for this life is the vocation of fulfilling the social moral virtues. Morality is the basis of political life and its conditions. Only those who respect morality can demand power, which means only those who desire this good, and who seek to work together in order to achieve it. [52]

It is unfortunate that many Catholics identify politics with fraud, bribery, and shady business practices and will take no interest in what concerns the commonweal. There is justification, of course, for resenting the way that some public officials have acted, but the office itself is not evil, and the aberrations of sinful men will never be overcome by good citizens denouncing the evils, but remaining aloof from the participation in affairs. Apathy, indifference and even contempt for politics will only bring more harm than good. For just as Catholics alone can bring forth Christian principles, so they must take an active interest in political affairs. As Luigi Sturzo has stated:

Pius XI, in an address to Belgian Catholic youth, said that politics are an act of charity towards one’s neighbor. To wish for public good, to work and even sacrifice for this end, is certainly an act of charity when it is not strictly an obligation; and when it is an obligation, it is an act of social justice (as the casting of an electoral ballot). Even in public life it is necessary to create or re-create the atmosphere of Christian morality, and this cannot be done except by true Christians. [53]

The Catholic citizen must assume his role in promoting the common good by taking an active interest in politics, for what truly benefits country likewise benefits the Church. The Catholic citizen cannot remain isolated from public life, but must do whatever he can to render it completely Christian. To cite Luigi Sturzo once more:

A Catholic in a regime of freedom cannot remain isolated and alien from the life of the modern State, which ahs assumed many characteristics and cultural and moral functions that it once had not, and now controls almost all the forces of society. If a Catholic remains aloof, he assumes grave responsibilities before God and his neighbor, fro too often this means abandoning the commonweal to those who do not recognize the laws of Christian morality. [54]

Politics and morality should work hand in hand. There should be no discord between them, no quarreling about rights, about what belongs to God and to Caesar, for, as Michael de la Bedoyere has observed “…nay things belong to both, but under different aspects and for different purposes. One must attribute the success and the realistic spirit of democracy in the nineteenth century to the fact this it was built on men who, though unlearned, were wise and strong with a wisdom and character largely due to their religion and to the discipline it demanded.” [55]

The timidity and false prudence of not taking part in politics is not virtuous but blameworthy. Little, if anything, is gained by such an attitude and often much is lost. The Catholic citizen has the obligation to fulfill his duties, and obligation that ultimately goes back to God, for in the work of the epigram: “There is no right without a duty and there is no duty apart from God.” The obligation binds in politics as well as in any other phase of human existence for the common good is at stake. The proper intelligent interest and activity in political matters may bring about much good for the state and the Church, while irreparable harm may come through negligence, indifference, and carelessness on the part of some, as well as the corruption of those who take advantage of these defects in human nature to serve their own selfish interests. The field of politics is wide open to the Catholic, to render service to God and to Caesar, to the Church and to the common good, to spiritual advancement and temporal progress. Once more we may refer to Mr. de la Bodoyere:

In modern politics, where the moral aspect is always in the forefront, it is hard for the religiously well-educated Catholic to feel at home. He prefers the complete emancipation from religious and moral considerations, as he thinks, of the business or professional world. Hence the paucity of Catholics in Parliament or in local government to the detriment of Christian influence upon the nation. And, on the whole it will be admitted that such Catholic representatives as we have do fairly good work in defense of Christian principles, earning thereby in the bargain the deepest respect of their fellow politicians. Nonetheless it is obvious that in politics generally, there lies a magnificent field for Christian influence that has been scarcely tapped at all. [56]

1. Summa theologiae, II, 96:4; Summa contra Gentiles, III, 85.
2. Comm. in Ethica, 1, 1.
3. Summa contra Gentiles, III, 85.
4. See Gerard Joubert, Qualities of Citizenship in St. Thomas (Washington, D.C., 1942), 119.
5. De regimine principum 1,1. Note too the words of Pope Leo XIII: “Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, or procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life – be it family, social, or civil – with his fellow-men amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied.” Immortale Dei, ASS, 18 (Nov. 1, 1885), 162.
6. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 6.
7. Ibid., 101, 3.
8. Cum multa, Dec. 8, 1882. ASS, 15, 241.
9. Rapprensentanti in terra, AAS 21 (Dec. 31, 1929), 737.
10. “Bonum commune civitatis et bonum singulare unius personae non differunt solum secundum multum et paucum, sed secundum formalem differentiam, alia enim est ratio boni communis et boni singularis, sicut alia est ratio totius et partis.” Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 7 ad 2. See II-II, 31, 3 ad 2 for common good as more “godlike” than the individual good.
11. Thomas Greenwood, “International Casuistics,” The Thomist, 13:3 (July 1950), 364.
12. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 10 ad 2.
13. Catholic Principles of Politics (New York, 1943), 204-205.
14. Peter Guildlay (ed.), The National Pastorals of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1919 (Washington, D.C., 1923), 326-327.
15. “Si enim sit libera multitudo, quae possit sibi legem facere, plus est consensus totius multitudinis ad aliquid observandum, quod consuetude manifestat, quam auctoritas principis, qui non habet potestatem condendi legem, nisi inquantum gerit personam multitudinis; unde licet singulae personae non possint condere legem, tamen totus populus condere legem potest.” Summa theologiae, I-II, 97, 3 ad 3.
16. E. Cahill, Framework of a Christian State (Dublin, 1932), 499.
17. Summa theologiae, II-II, 58, 5. “Non est idem simpliciter esse virum bonum, et esse civem secundum quamcumque politicam. Sunt enim quaedam politicae, non rectae, secundum quas aliquis potest esse civis bonus, qui non est vir bonus; sed secundum optimam politicam non est aliquis civis bonus, qui non est vir bonus.” Comm. in Ethica, 1, 926.
18. Mt. 22 :21.
19. Rom. 13 : 1-3.
20. Titus 3 :1 ; 1 Tim. 2 :2.
21. 1 Pet. 2 :13-17.
22. c. 61. For a translation see James Kleist, The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Westminster, Md., 1946), 116.
23. Ibid.
24. 1 Apology, 17. See translation by Thomas Falls, Saint Justin Martyr (New York), 1948), 52.
25. Kirsopp Lake, Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1945), 2, 327. See also Epistle to Philippians in Apostolic Fathers, 1, 299.
26. P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus, Series graeca. Referred to as MG 6:1140.
27. MG 6:1142.
28. Ad Scapulam, Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus series Latina. Referred to as ML (1:700)
29. Apologeticum, 30 (ML 1:440)
30. Ibid., 42 (ML 1:491-494). See also the early document, The Epistle to Diognetus: “For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by custom….But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot was cast and follows the customs of the land in clothing and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of our citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful and admittedly beyond all our expectations.” 5, 1, 4.
31. Social Message of Early Church Fathers (Paterson, N.J., 1943), 147.
32. Apologeticum, 37 (ML 1: 464-5).
33. Expositio in Lucam, 4, 29 (ML 15:1704).
34. Hom. In Romanos, 23 (MG 60:616).
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid., 617. Cf. Wilfrid Parsons, “Early Patristic Political Thought,” Theological Studies, 1:4 (Dec. 1940), 355.
37. De civitate Dei, 5, 21. in Migne, ML 41: 168.
38. 1, 6 (ML 32: 1229). St. Thomas quotes this passage with approval in Summa theologiae, I-II, 97, 1, c.
39. Epistola 138, 5 ad Marcellum, 2:15.
40. ASS 18, 177.
41. Nov. 9, 1903. ASS 36, 195. See Tablet (London), Nov. 14, 1903, 778.
42. Quoted in Civardi, Manual of Catholic Action (New York, 1935), 185.
43. Sept. 8, 1924. L’Osservatore Romano, Sept. 11, 1924, 4.
44. Letter to the bishops of Lithuania, June 24, 1928. AAS 20, 257.
45. Address to members of Italian Catholic Action, Oct. 30, 1926. L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 31, 1926.
46. Ibid.
47. Catholic Action University Students, L’Osservatore Romano, Dec. 18, 1927, 4.
48. Letter to Canon Cardijn, Mar. 21, 1946.
49. Address to Cardinals, Feb. 20, 1946. AAS 38, 149.
50. Tablet (London), 188: 5558 (Nov. 16, 1946), 260.
51. Politics and Morality (New York, 1937), 104.
52. Op. cit., 260.
53. “Political Duties of a Citizen,” Epistle, 12: 4 (Autumn 1946), 108.
54. Politics and Morality, 112.
55. The Drift of Democracy (London, 1931), 54.
56. Christian Crisis (New York, 1942), 166.

Yours in JMJ,

Sat Jun 07, 2008 12:38 pm
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