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A Book Review . . . St. Augustine Press Hits Another Home Run

May 23, 2020 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Gerard V. Bradley: Unquiet Americans: U.S. Catholics, Moral Truth, and the Preservation Of Civil Liberties [South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press; $22.00 on Amazon].

The speaker was Clarence Manion, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. The occasion was on August 1938, when he delivered a challenge to a convocation of Catholic educators:
“ ‘We need a political philosophy that is more Catholic and more humane . . . which treats man as a free moral personality, the creature of God in the maker of his own destiny,’ writes British historian Christopher Dawson.
“Well, my friends, we do have such a political philosophy in America . . . our governmental principle is most Catholic and most humane. It is just such a political philosophy that Mr. Dawson says we need. The Declaration of Independence places our nation’s freedom firmly on God. This philosophy is the root and the life of our political system.
“Here is a political philosophy,” Dean Manion continued, “that is thoroughly and completely theological, a political philosophy that makes society a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, a philosophy that the atheistic materialists in every corner…are driving out of our textbooks, out of our patriotic recollections, and to all practical purposes, out of existence, period. This bright beacon of American theological politics has gone into deliberate eclipse.
“Do the great Catholic teachers and teaching institutions have the courage to bring it out and lift it up to light the way of weary legions who now look in vain for the order of God and the disorder of the world? Are you ashamed of the fact that this government is in partnership with God, and an agent of His divine purposes?
“Tear off the mask that secular political science has painted across the face of Christ in the structure of the American state. Unless all of us act quickly, not only will God lose His government but likewise and by the same token, this government will lose God.”
Thus far Dean Manion. Here we are, 82 years later, and some might believe that the beacon that was eclipsed in 1938 has now been extinguished altogether.
Perhaps not. From St. Augustine’s Press, a powerhouse of brilliant authors, comes Gerard Bradley, professor of law at Notre Dame and a leading Catholic intellectual who served for years as president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. As Bradley takes up the challenge, brace yourself as he masterfully but hopefully surveys the wreckage — for today God has indeed lost this government, and this government has lost God.

Understanding The Challenge

“When the United States Supreme Court declared on June 29, 1992 [in Planned Parenthood v. Casey] that ‘(a)t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life,’ it was therefore redefining not only our ‘liberty,’ but a large part of what it means to be American too,” Bradley writes.
This infamous “mystery passage,” as Bradley calls it, “synthesizes a full generation of prior court holdings on subjects as important as religious and public life, religious liberty, marriage and family, having and raising children, education, and sexual morality.”
And the justices knew what they were doing: “‘These matters,’ they wrote in 1992, ’involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the 14th amendment’.”
Confirming his predecessor’s prediction of 1938, Bradley says, “by now Americans have exhausted the cultural capital stored up by believing Christians and Jews who came before them.”
God has lost not only this government; He has lost this culture.
Yes, the generation of the signers of the Declaration had its nonbelievers — a tiny fraction — but most of the believers were Christian. Today, Bradley faces what he calls a “post-Christian society,” where the “heart of liberty” is no longer beating with the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” but with moral, intellectual, and cultural chaos.
Having set the stage, Bradley delivers a brilliant examination of our own age and its loss of the light which shone brightly in 1776, was in eclipse in 1938, and is now virtually invisible. He begins the discussion by approaching the issues involved in civil liberties, but his principal concern “is neither doctrinal nor historical. It is an argument to restore moral truth as the foundation of our law of civil liberties, because doing so is one productive response to the crisis of living a Christian life in our time.”
“Thomas Jefferson noted in 1781 that American Liberty depended on a popular perception that it was the gift of God,” he writes, “and thought it politically beneficial if Americans privately decided that there was ‘only one God and he all perfect,’ and that there was a future state of rewards and punishments.
“The prevailing picture is now quite different,” he continues, describing “a seismic shift across our whole culture, a change and a change in social worldviews transpiring around us which has now become part of the cultural air that we breathe.”
Dean Manion spoke in a world of tumult leading to a war that radically changed the world. Bradley describes a world in which “nothing less than radical strategic action has any chance of preserving religious liberty.”

Can The Church Find
Strength In Her Weakness?

Bradley addresses religious liberty carefully, and we benefit from the ease with which he clearly articulates the principles and predicates of that “keystone” of freedom.
Was Christopher Dawson advocating a “confessional state”? Was Dean Manion? Today some call for a state that professes Catholicism. “At least this much is certain,” he writes. “Catholics and other Americans can do inestimable good for their society and its laws without taking on the burden of advocating for a Catholic establishment.”
Bradley calmly and patiently addresses the cultural and intellectual disarray that is as corrupt as the “mystery passage” itself. He takes on the familiar truths that became serial victims of constitutional destruction, and cannot counsel that we be sanguine about the future. His most riveting analysis contemplates the readiness of the Catholic Church, its hierarchy, and its institutions to confront the challenge.
In a word, it’s a disaster. Have our institutions become simply a gaggle of NGOs? You decide: “a Catholic ministry must always bear acute witness to moral truth, and never lead people to act immorally,” he writes. But wait, isn’t that obvious? Why would Bradley even have to point that out?
Perhaps because it’s not so obvious these days. He’s troubled about our schools, including the very notion of “Catholic” education itself. All of our institutions, our hospitals, our charities, face increasing secularization, and the inevitable extinction that faces any effort that embraces the “Mystery Passage” as its benighted guide. His treatment of the responsibility of the laity in our current unpleasantness is especially remarkable, truly indispensable.
Eighty-two years ago, Dean Manion asked, “Do the great Catholic teachers and teaching institutions have the courage to bring this bright beacon out and lift it up?” Gerard Bradley has responded to the challenge with a lucid, insightful, and searing analysis, an echo of the timeless challenge that calls on all of us to be bearers of the light and doers of the good.

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