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The Essential Christian Heritage
By Eric D. Butler
A realistic examination of the essential Christian heritage requires not only a study of the fundamental ideas inherent in Christ's teachings, but also the results of those ideas as they have been applied throughout history. Traditional Christian philosophy has always insisted that God reveals Himself through history. And real history is not a series of disconnected events, but a continuous application of policies - economic, financial, political and social, - rooted in philosophies. The ideas or beliefs men accept, even if unconsciously, govern their actions. But in an era when progress is measured by many in terms of technology, size and speed, the self-styled "practical man" becomes impatient with any suggestion that ideas, that which cannot be seen, are of fundamental practical importance and should be considered.
The British diplomat and scholar, Sir David Kelly, has observed how,
when a leading newspaper asked him for permission to reproduce one
or two previously published articles, it explained how it did not
want the one which in the first paragraph referred to the famous
German philosopher Hegel, that this would discourage its readers,
who would say, "Who the hell was Hegel anyway".
The Nazis and the Fascists took Hegel's thesis that the State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth and that the individual can only realise himself through the State. The ideas of Hegel have therefore affected in this century the peoples of the whole world, and through the policies of the International Marxist movements continue to do so.
The "practical" men of the world have continued to misunderstand the policies of the Soviet Union and Red China primarily because they do not understand the underlying philosophy of those policies, but also because they lack any coherent philosophy of their own.
The suggestion that a revitalised practical Christianity is the only answer to the ever-growing threat of International Marxism, is often met with the claim that this is but a romantic ideal with no relationship to what is called reality. But reality consists of much more than matter. It is ideas which dictate how matter shall be used.
Christ clearly indicated the primacy and formative nature of ideas when He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world".
One of the false charges often levelled against Christianity is its alleged "other-worldliness", its lack of concern about man's material condition on earth. But the great Christian prayer asks that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Man was also given the instruction that if he first sought the Kingdom of God, all other things would be added unto him.
Now if God's will is to be done on earth, this can only be achieved by individuals using their free will and individual initiative to seek to create a society in which man's relationship to his fellow man and to his institutions, are in conformity with God's purpose for man. That purpose was clearly stated in the words, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free".
It is imperative that we do not confuse the Christian concept of freedom with the type of free-for-all which masquerades as freedom today. The Christian believes that God is love. But how can man love God unless he has real freedom? God could have made man perfect. The Christian view is that God endowed man with free will in order that he could respond to the Creator in that type of service which is perfect freedom. Real freedom is only possible through a knowledge and application of truth in all man's activities. An essential part of that truth is the law of love as outlined by Christ.
First we are told to love God, which can only mean that we must use
our will and intelligence to search diligently at all times to know
God and His Laws.
The Christian Law of Love is not a mere piece of sloppy sentimentalism, but a law partaking of Truth. The logic of the Christian Commandments is that the individual must first establish correct relationships with his fellows. It should also be noted that he is told to love his neighbour as himself. A man who has neither love for God nor respect for himself, has no pride in his own people, his own country and its traditions, must always reflect that attitude in his approach to his fellows.
The fundamental problem of all civilisations has been the relationship of the group to the individual. While the Christian conception of freedom led to the freeing of the individual from the domination of the group, it also balanced this with the conception of the individual accepting personal responsibility for how he used this freedom. Freedom must be used in conformity with God's laws. Inalienable rights were held on lease from God, not from the state or governments.
It is sometimes argued that as Christ is not recorded as having said much about society and governments, this is a reason for Christians not to involve themselves in politics. But politics is concerned with power, and Christianity would have had no impact on man's history if it had not insisted that there was a right and a wrong way for power to be used.
When the famous Lord Acton propounded the law that all power tends to corrupt, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, he was speaking as a Christian aware of what Christ had said on this vital subject.
This was an offer of world power. Christ rejected that offer, indicating quite clearly that God's will was not going to be done on earth through power centralised on a world basis.
When Christ gave His reply to the question about the subject of the Roman coin, He was not, as some cynics have suggested, giving a trick answer to a trick question. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's", was the enunciation of a basic truth whose application changed the course of man's history. Christ said, in essence, that the state was necessary and legitimate, but He also set bounds to the state's power, previously never acknowledged.
If Christ was allegedly not concerned about creating a perfect society, then why His concern about the perfection of the individual? A perfect society would be one in which all individuals associated in that society would be living in accordance with the laws of God's universe. Christ laid down in principle what these laws are. But the individual is left free to decide whether or not he will attempt to obey these laws, or perhaps to make his own.
A perfect society is impossible because all individuals can never be perfect. But to the extent that they manage to apply the truths of Christianity, they obtain greater satisfaction in their societies. It is significant that during last century, while Continental Europe was being convulsed in a revolutionary ferment, a legacy of the French Revolution, the British people were enjoying comparative stability. British society reflected to a much greater extent the Christian concept concerning individual freedom, rights, and personal responsibilities.
Every civilisation is the incarnation of underlying values. The British historian, Christopher Dawson, a devout Christian, has observed that all the great civilisations "have admitted the existence of a higher law above that of the tribe and nation", and consequently "have subordinated national interest and political power to the higher spiritual values which are derived from this source. On this point there is a consensus of principle which unites all the world religions and all the great civilisations of the past . . ."
Western civilisation has been correctly described as a Christian civilisation. It is true that this civilisation has owed much to the legacy of both Greece and Rome. The Greek philosophers struggled with the problem of how to make individual liberty a reality, while the Romans provided man with a firm concept of the Rule of Law. But it was the Christian teaching that man is a special creature made in God's image, which gave the human person a significance unknown outside Western Europe. Now man saw himself as part of a type of cosmic spiritual drama and felt that he had the power to shape history.
Unlike the religions of the East, which have been described as "religions of pessimism", Christianity was a religion of hope. It encouraged the development of man's creative spirit. And it resolved philosophical problems which had baffled the philosophers of Greece and Rome.
One of the most famous, and important, landmarks in English constitutional history was the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. When the Caesar of the day, King John, attempted to combine both power and authority in his own person, he violated constitutional principles which had grown out of the climate created by the Christian Church.
Although the Barons provided the physical sanctions, these in turn were modified by the spiritual sanctions of the Church, which in the person of Archbishop Langton, played a decisive role in the formulating of Magna Carta. Here was the Christian Church insisting, not that complete power should be taken from one man and given to another group of men, but that power should be divided and subject to God's laws.
The first clause of Magna Carta reads:
The underlying concept of Magna Carta was to establish every individual, irrespective of his station in life, in his rights. It was a striking manifestation of the application of the Christian concept of the sovereignty of the individual, as was English Common Law, one of the most priceless aspects of the essential Christian heritage.
Magna Carta was a major landmark in English constitutional development. But it is important to stress that basically it reaffirmed principles which had been accepted for centuries in England. What came to be known as English Common Law grew out of the active part played by Christian theologians in attempting to evolve ways and means of successfully subordinating power to authority. While the Roman concept of the Rule of Law was a major contribution to the development of civilisation, and while English constitutionalists acknowledged the importance of the Rule of Law, they also grasped that unless a people's customs are considered in the development of any legal system, there can be serious injustices.
English Common Law was a unique contribution to the development of Western Christian Civilisation. Englishmen spoke less about wanting justice, which can be an abstraction and more about their rights, rights stemming from a tradition rooted in the Christian philosophy. It was because Englishmen in the North American colonies were denied what they considered their God-given rights, that they eventually revolted against the British Government.
The modern concept of what is called the Rule of Law is far removed from the concept of English Common Law. A realistic examination of this subject requires that first we ask, "whose law?" Like every other human system, a system of law must, if the Christian view of reality is to be accepted, seek to serve the individual, to ensure that his natural rights are protected, that his sovereignty as a free and responsible individual is ensured, and that the Courts exist to enable him to seek the protection of an independent judiciary.
In a Christian society it is essential that members of the judiciary
also accept the Christian basis of English Common Law, and are not
afraid to pronounce against governments when they are violating the
It is important to recall
that up until 1917 British Lord Chancellors had expressly stated
that Christianity was part and parcel of the English Common Law.
But in 1917 a British House of Lords, formerly a vital part of the
British constitutional system, providing a check and balance concerning
the use of power, but weakened over the years by the attacks of the
British Liberals, declared that Christianity was no longer a part
of the law of England.
Commenting on the break with the Christian
Heritage by the House of Lords in 1917, but certainly not commending
it, Sir William Holdsworthy, Professor of Law at the University
of Oxford, said:
Holdsworthy said at the time the House of Lords decided that Christianity
was no longer part of the law of England, that "It is not unlikely
that Caesar, now that he has deliberately abandoned the task of
securing for God the things that are God's, will find considerably
greater difficulty in securing for himself the things that are
It is significant that one of the most influential Marxists of
this century, Professor Harold J. Laski, stressed that the idea
of Christianity being an essential part of the British Constitution,
must be rejected in favour of the concept of the "sovereignty of
Parliament". This totalitarian concept is widespread today, with
the result that modern governments now believe that if they can
persuade a majority of electors to vote for them, irrespective
of how this is achieved and how small the majority, they then have
the "right" to do as they like until the next elections.
One of the first to perceive the erosion of responsible government
and the freedom and rights of the individual, was a former Lord
Chief Justice of England, Lord Hewart, who caused a major sensation
after the First World War with his aptly described book, The New
The sequel to Lord Hewart's The New Despotism came from the pen of another eminent English constitutional authority, Professor G. Keeton, 30 years later. Keeton's book was called The Passing of Parliament. One of the most significant chapters in this book was "On the Road to Moscow". Only the shell of the once famous British Constitution remains. It is a far cry from that period in English history when, as described by Blackstone in his Commentaries, 1765, that Edward I had confirmed Magna Carta by a statute "whereby the Great Charter is directed to be allowed as the common law; all judgements contrary to it are declared void; copies of it are ordered to be sent to all Cathedral Churches, and read twice a year to the people; and sentence of excommunication is directed to be as constantly denounced against all those that by work, deed or counsel act contrary thereto, or in any degree infringe it."
This explains why Communist literature always seeks to pervert the real significance of what Magna Carta was about. How many children, even in Church schools, throughout the English-speaking world today are taught about the real significance of Magna Carta, a major event in their Christian heritage?
Rightness in politics and economics will not be achieved until the scope, function and authority of human law is resolved. An eminent lawyer, Professor R. W. Chambers has succinctly stated the issue: "Upon that difference, whether or not we place Divine Law in the last resort above the law of the State depends the whole future of the world."
The doctrine concerning free will is a major feature of the essential Christian heritage. It is only through genuine freedom of choice that the individual can seek to love God and to serve Him. The basis of all freedom is economic freedom. A society's economic arrangements must therefore concern the Christian. History has demonstrated that the widespread ownership of property in some form is essential for independence, stable social structures and efficient production. Early Christian philosophers like the great St. Thomas Aquinas stressed the vital importance of private property in a Christian society.
One striking measure of the success of anti-Christian, collectivist
philosophies is the fact that even some who call themselves Christians
accept the view that Christ was some type of Communist and that
private property is one of the great evils of the world. As Christ was concerned with the whole of life, and that includes
man's economic activities, it is not surprising to find definite
economic implications in His teachings. Consider the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew
20: 1-6). Here we have an employer hiring a number of labourers
at different hours of the day and at the end of the day paying
them all alike. When those who had worked the longest complained,
the employer replied,
"Is it not lawful for me to do as I wish with my own?"
When the Christian philosophy was more dominant in society, property rights were more inviolable than they are today, when Governments, claiming to represent majorities, take property from the individual by force, or more subtly by inflation, taxation, and death duties.
We might note that Christ not only rejected stealing, but he also rejected the view that wealth is static. The parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19: 11-18) is a lesson in favour of individual enterprise. The servants who improved their position through enterprise were applauded, while the one who didn't was criticised.
Just as it is impossible to have light without shade, so everything of which we have knowledge is relative. Sometimes therefore the best understanding of something is to understand what it is not. Marxism specifically repudiates Christianity, and the central policy of Marxism is the attack on private property. The Marxist understands that widespread ownership of private property not only provides a barrier against totalitarianism, but that private property and the responsibility that it entails, helps to make possible the flowering of the human personality.
Some Christians support the institution of private property only on the grounds of expediency. They deny that private ownership is a natural right of man, that it has any metaphysical value. Their general argument is that without private ownership man will not have sufficient incentive to work and to produce. This argument is important, but much more fundamental is the Christian view that man is more than a higher animal living in society, but a person whose personality should transcend that association of individuals called society.
The development of personality requires the use of free will, the making of decisions, the personal responsibility for the results of those decisions, through which the individual spiritualises his life. He develops and strengthens his creative initiative.
As economic centralisation takes place, increasing numbers of individuals are reduced to the level of cogs in machines - over which they can exercise no control. The development of personality becomes increasingly difficult.
The violation of human personality, the soul of man, results from treating the individual as nothing more than a part of an association. When that happens an association is no longer a society of persons, but has degenerated to the level of a herd.
Because some men have
abused private property is not a valid reason for abolishing it. The traditional Christian view of property is that it is not an
end in itself, but a means to an end. Because some men abuse freedom
is no reason why freedom should be abolished. The more widespread
the property, the greater the number of individuals with the opportunity
of developing their creative capacities, and their sense of responsibility.
The individual is responsible to God for what he does with his rights. How to use wealth of any type, for example, was a problem for the individual to solve against a background of a sense of stewardship to God. Man's accountability to God helped to develop a special approach to his fellow human beings. Christ stressed compassion and charity. But true Christian charity becomes increasingly difficult as individual property and other rights are eroded. It is only the individual who is secure in his own rights who can assist his fellows to protect theirs.
"Social welfare" schemes are the very antithesis of Christian charity, which requires that the individual giving of some of his substance to help others is making a free choice because he feels that this is a means of serving God.
The current process of increasing economic centralisation is a major feature of the retreat from Christianity. As an objective study of the basic cause of economic centralisation reveals that this centralism stems from the use of money as a power instrument, it is essential to examine the original and Christian view concerning money. The Founder of Christianity was quite specific: it was impossible to worship both God and Mammon. One of the most misquoted texts from The New Testament is that money is allegedly the root of all evil. What Christ did say, of course, was that it was the love of money which was the root of all evil. That was a searing indictment of the worship of a man-made system, form of idolatry elevating an abstraction, a system of man made symbols, into a God. Christ's strong views on the misuse of money were demonstrated by His only recorded act of violence: He whipped the money changers out of the Temple. There was surely something symbolic in this?
The early Christian philosophers were quite clear on the question of using money in accordance with moral law. There is a wealth of Christian literature on the evils of usury, the charging of excessive interest. It is symptomatic of the retreat from Christianity that this literature is generally unknown today and has to be searched for in libraries.
At one time coin clippers were treated as being amongst the worst type of criminal. Today modern Governments openly support coin-clipping on a massive scale under the label of "controlled inflation". This progressive debauching of the value of the people's money, and the robbery of all those attempting to live on savings and fixed incomes, is a blatant violation of Christian morality.
It was the break in English constitutional development, with the
death of Sir Thomas More in 1535, which ushered in a changed attitude
to money in England. With the prohibition of Canon Law all previous enactments governing
the use of money were swept away. By 1571 it was not considered a usurious transaction if interest
did not exceed ten per cent.
Today it is a fact of life that the astronomical expansion of debt,
with increasing taxation required to pay interest bills, is a basic
cause of an inflation which is a destructive social force of increasing
magnitude. Social stability becomes increasingly impossible. The quality of
life deteriorates. The struggle inside present finance-economic
system becomes fiercer, not only between individuals, but between
Christ said that He had come that man
might have the life more abundant. The way to the life more abundant
was through applying the truths He revealed. The essential feature
of these truths was the releasing of the creative initiative of
the individual through freedom with personal responsibility.
What is the true purpose of man's economic arrangements?
Perhaps it is not too optimistic to suggest that
one of the more encouraging signs of a more realistic consideration
of man's economic arrangements, is the growing widespread concern
about the deadly impact on the physical, as well as the social
environment, of the policy of "production for production's
A renewal of the essential Christian heritage urgently requires a re-orientation of man's finance-economic arrangements to serve the Christian end of man: increasing freedom and material security. It is surely obvious that a financial policy which generates increasing debt, crippling taxation and inflation, is anti-Christian.
Ramsay Muir, in his Civilisation and Liberty, writes that "The history of human progress is, in truth, the history of the gradual emancipation of individuality or personality from the shackles by which its creative power was restrained. But the emancipation of individuality is the same thing as the growth of liberty."
While stressing the importance of the Greek tradition of personal liberty and the Roman concept of the Rule of Law, Muir draws attention to the Christian revelation as a great inspirational force in the creation of Western Civilisation. Christianity stressed that all individuals had a value in the sight of God the Father, and were all capable of being in communion with Him. This resulted in the freeing of the human personality as never before.
Christianity was far more than an intellectual creed; it
was a movement set aflame by the emotion of Christ's teaching
on love. It was under the influence of Christianity that
chattel slavery was abolished, and that women were given
a status and dignity they had previously lacked. The family
was given a new significance. The arts reflected the spirit
Literature of the past is full of famous figures reflecting
Christian ideals of chivalry, service, sympathy and charity.
Many of them will be found in the works of that Christian
As the Christian influence worked its way throughout Western Europe, it not only profoundly influenced the relations between individuals, but also had a modifying influence upon the manner in which military conflicts were conducted. Attempts were made not to involve women, children, and the elderly. Mercy was shown to the defeated. But with the erosion of the influence of the Christian Church on the modern highly-centralised Power State, this century has witnessed a return to the type of barbarism symbolised by the sack of Carthage.
"Total War", as practised during the Second World War, saw a frightful destruction of priceless buildings, churches and art treasures and many other physical products of Christian Civilisation. We should carefully note that this type of destruction was only made possible because Authority on the Moral Law in the form of the Christian Church had failed to prevent the excessive concentration of power in the hands of the State.
There are very few, if any, Archbishop Langtons around today. Large numbers of Christian clergy now openly advocate progressive compromise with Caesar in the form of Communism. They have nothing to say about the progressive centralisation of all power, or they support those revolutionaries whose activities can, unless checked, only result in a state of anarchy. Others go so far as to justify providing funds for African savages trained and equipped by Communists to murder and destroy not only Europeans, but also their fellow Africans.
The emotional epithet of "racist" is hurled at those who suggest that diversity and separate development between different peoples of different racial and cultural backgrounds, is the road to true unity. They support compulsion, which inevitably produces friction, as opposed to inducement.
We often hear about the alleged abuses and tyrannies of the Monarchs of the Middle Ages, but this is mainly the propaganda of secularists. In reality, these Monarchs had comparatively little power compared with modern States. As one of the greatest authorities on the history and nature of power, Bertrand de Jouvenel, has said in his work, Power, Its Natural History and Growth, "The grossly inaccurate conception of the Middle Ages is deeply embedded in the unlettered, whom it serves as a convenient starting point. There is not a word of truth in all this."
Christian Monarchs and rulers of the past were far from perfect. But most did recognise the existence of a higher law, even when they broke it. Many instances could be given of royal recantations in which an uneasiness of conscience played a major part. But no such spirit of remorse, or admission of error, is demonstrated by modern Governments which, in the main, must be described not merely as non-Christian, but as anti-Christian. They devote themselves primarily to increasing their own power at the expense of the individual - a policy which is the very antithesis of Christianity.
The retreat from freedom now taking place all over the world is, in reality, a retreat from Christianity. There are many manifestations of the disintegration of Western Civilisation, not the least of these being the emphasis on the cult of speed, mass, noise and vulgarity. In that Europe and Britain which gave so much to Civilisation,the great guild halls and cathedrals are today little more than monuments to a past glory. The shell remains, but the spirit has been eroded.
This is also true of man's political and other institutions,
which no longer serve man but are used by power-lusters to
control him. There is a smell of decay everywhere, even though
this is not obvious to all but a perceptive minority. History shows that during the decay of a Civilisation the
great majority, lacking standards of comparison, are not
aware of what is happening. As the great Roman Civilisation's
life ebbed away Cicero and other statesmen warned in vain.
The price of evil had to be paid. And so it is today.
But paradoxical though it may appear, it may be that catastrophe contains the seed of hope for regeneration. Bishop Fulton Sheen comments on this in his Communism and the Conscience of the West:
It is certain that a regeneration of an evil
civilisation requires a policy of atonement. Atonement means more
than mere repentance; it's literal meaning is to be as one with God
and God's laws. This means that a conscious policy must be pursued
of basing policies upon absolute truth.
Those who do not study and learn from history, are doomed to continue repeating the mistakes of history, and paying the inevitable price of those mistakes. The lessons of the history of the growth of Christendom, particularly amongst the English-speaking nations, indicate the basic essential for the regeneration of the essential Christian Heritage.
Power must be progressively decentralised into the hands of individuals and made subordinate to the Authority of the higher Spiritual Law. Man's institutions, political, economic, financial, constitutional, social, must be so arranged that they serve the true purpose of man, freedom and personal responsibility for that freedom.
Man has reached a major crossroad in the road of history. Christian leadership is a vital necessity for a right decision concerning which direction to take. That leadership must be based upon the truth that he who would be the greatest must be the servant of his fellows.
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