The Church Before Pilate – by Rev. Edward Leen, C.S.Sp. – Book Review
With its 1939 Imprimatur, this collection of four essays pertaining to the Catholic religion in relation to the political ills and popular philosophies of that period is as timely, if not even more so, now than it would have been when first published.
Though I decided to read this book based on how beneficial Fr Leen’s writings have always been for spiritual reading and meditation, and always being hungry for anything by that author, I was initially disappointed to discover that this isn’t one of those types of works. It doesn't count as ‘spiritual reading’ but it is somewhat ‘political’.. and politics really isn’t my thing.
Continuing with it nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the following two characteristics: a) It is permeated through and through with the same themes of (Catholic) theology that make all Fr Leen’s writings penetrating and inspiring sans any sentimentality or superficiality, and b) These hard yet beautiful truths when counterposed against the evil prevailing ideologies of his time, and held up as the solution back then, are ultra-relevant now given the global political situation. Though various false philosophies are criticised, the main one in the crosshairs, being the central villain of this collection of important and comprehensive essays, is that of Communism.
In the second essay ‘Church and State,’ Communism is analysed and described sufficiently for us to apprehend that this is the main foe we are facing today, regardless of what facades or names it hides behind. Fr Leen explains, “The name “communism,” …is somewhat misleading. It conveys the impression that what it stands for is primarily an economic theory. The economic aspect of this greatest of heresies is but an aspect and far from being an important aspect. It is, above all else, an ethics and a religion.”
Reading these essays really drives home that the various 'isms' and the serious societal problems we're facing now are all related to this man-centred philosophy/false religion; consequently, the dreadful situation of the world right now is better understood.
The fundamental nature of Communism, its causes, its methods, its goals, and terrible consequences are all laid out. Most importantly, the solution is given first succinctly, thus: “That evil cannot be overcome by mere economic reform. It can be vanquished only by a radical acceptance of the Christian code and its application to all the aspects of human life, private and public, spiritual, intellectual, and moral, as well as economical.”
Then it is greatly expanded in the essay, ‘The Cross is the Crux,’ as the author plunges right into the essence, plus the, what, why and how of that solution:
“Christianity is the revelation of the cross as the instrument of happiness in a fallen world. It alone can cure the soul of that blindness which prevents it from seeing the face of God."
“The effort to live an integral Catholic life is a daily crucifixion, for it demands sustained effort and involves continuous hardship. One will have much to suffer who endeavors to act uprightly in all his dealings and to fulfill his duties to his Creator in spite of the repugnance of nature."
The author goes on to explain that this process of a cure is the painstaking work of a lifetime; it is not a simple case of Christ redeemed us, hence now we are ready for the Beatific Vision, as many Protestants believe.
“The statement of the Redeemer, that a man’s life or his happiness (the two are identical) depend on sacrifice, i.e., on the loss of life, is not a lapse of speech. It is a deliberate statement made in the full light of the most perfect knowledge of human conditions. The paradox, that one must lose life to have it, expresses ultimate truth of things as seen by Infinite Wisdom.”
“The secret of the astonishing success of Communism is that it has understood and applies this strange law of religion and life. Self-abnegation is of the essence of true religion. Self-abnegation is also a postulate of counter-religion. As Christianity has its mysticism, so has anti-Christianity. The former bids its followers deny themselves in the interests of God; the latter forces its followers to deny themselves in the interests of man. Irreligion has its own perverted and distorted “saints.” It has adherents who sacrifice themselves for the realisation of that future Kingdom of Man on earth…in the interests of the god – humanity.”
There we see it again: this relentless forging of that universal humanitarian dogma-less religion – the striving of these combined forces to bring about the triumph of the Reign of the Man, the ultimate deification of Man, in that age-old struggle between the City of God vs the City of Man.
Many more very valuable lessons and insights are elucidated in these four essays: The Church and the World – Church and State – The Cross is the Crux – The Origins of Life’s Enigmas.
The paradoxes of suffering and happiness, as addressed in these chapters, reminded me in places of Fr Leen’s work, “Why the Cross?” and also of the Fr Owen Francis Dudley series on “The Problems of Human Happiness,” especially “Will Men be Like Gods? Humanitarianism or Human Happiness.”
Fr Edward Leen leaves us via this portentous book, “The Church Before Pilate,” these raw truths on this subject:
“In simple terms Christ’s theory is that the chief obstacle to man’s happiness is not without, but within; it lies in the set of evil tendencies – set up in his nature by Original Sin… The extirpation of the tendency towards self-gratification and self-divinization – towards autonomy in mind and morals – it is this that secures man’s happiness.”
“…to live excellently and to be happy are one and the same thing. The conflict between Christ and the world is based fundamentally on their opposing themes of happiness.”