Many people argue we are now living in a post-Christian society, whatever the merits of such a claim, it is worth looking at what the term ‘Christian society’ has meant and led to.
The development of society as a whole has often been closely interwoven with the spread of the faith.
England and France are examples of this, concepts of their unity and nationhood began with Christianity. But these societies were incredibly diverse. It says in Lumen:
“This diversity is seen not only at the level of the state but in a vast array of associations distinct from the state, such as Church leadership, families, parishes, dioceses, religious orders, universities, corporations and guilds.
“Paradigm examples of this rich diversity were the city-states of Italy between the 10C and 15C, including Venice, Milan, Florence, Pisa and Siena. Despite many feuds, these states produced a mercantile, professional class and were the centre of the Renaissance, a period of great development in the arts, sciences and commerce. By the 13C, northern and central Italy was also the most literate society in the world.”
How it happened
The Church built society reflecting the way she saw herself and those to whom she was called to be a mother.
She is not a machine, but more like a “Body, flock or garden (Dei Verbum, 5, 6). The Magisterium governs principally to nurture the garden and protect it from whatever might inhibit its fruitfulness. What comes forth from the garden, however, is often unexpected: Pope Innocent III (d. 1216), for example, supported St Francis (d. 1226) but had not expected him or his vocation.”
Two other ideas that have been vital in this project are, the distinct powers of governance and caritas.
The first articulated, “By Christ’s injunction, ‘render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matt 22:21). The Church regards the state as an essential natural good for human flourishing. Yet the Church also maintains that she is distinct from the state and has a divine commission to govern in matters pertaining to salvation.”
And the second, also known as divine love, “According to which all human beings are potentially or actually children of God and one’s brothers and sisters.
“Whatever the failings of Catholics to live up to this teaching, it is this supernatural relationship, not contingent mutual advantage, that ultimately underpins the Catholic ideals of social cohesion and solidarity.”
Extracts taken from LUMEN -The Catholic Gift to Civilisation by Fr Andrew Pinsent, Fr Marcus Holden
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