In The City of God, St. Augustine describes two societies present throughout history that derive from two objects of love. One society is the city of man, the other the City of God. The object of the former is selfishness; the object of the latter is holiness. “Tell me what a people loves and I shall tell you what it is,” he wrote.
Many of the controversies of modern life lend themselves to St. Augustine’s interpretation of history. Implicit in the questions these controversies raise is a choice of citizenship for Christians: Will we choose to live in the city of man or the City of God? Will we choose worldliness or holiness?
Small but telling moments in this drama appear almost daily in newspapers which relish reporting on the collision of the two cities. Consider this headline from the April 21st St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Did SLU sell its Jesuit soul for a sports arena?”
The article reported that the Missouri Supreme Court had upheld Jesuit St. Louis University’s right to $8 million in state money for the construction of “Chaifetz Arena.” The Missouri justices agreed with the school’s claim that it “is not controlled by a religious creed” and thus entitled to state monies under a (narrowly secularist) reading of state and federal constitutions. (CWR reported on an earlier phase of the case last December, “For the Greater Glory of Man,” by Kenneth C. Jones.)
It was “surprising that the university would sell its heritage for $8 million,” stated the American Civil Liberties Union with opportunistic accuracy in a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. But after SLU’s final victory, school officials resorted to blatant Orwellian doublespeak.
SLU general counsel William Kauffman told the Post-Dispatch that “at no time did we duck, did we hide from our Catholic Jesuit tradition.” The Rev. Frank Reale, the university’s vice president for mission and ministry, said that “SLU has changed a lot since 1818, but one thing that hasn’t changed at all is our Jesuit identity.”
Never mind that the school’s legal brief was staked upon a change in that identity. The brief announced without apology that Jesuit SLU had essentially joined the city of man and wasn’t turning back: “Many of the institutions identified as Catholic in the nineteenth century, including St. Louis University, have undergone changes over time…They have adapted themselves, their corporate structures and their missions to serve a largely secular world.”
Not long after this controversy, another headline appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But this one was edifying, signaling a courageous Christian stand in favor of God over the world: “Archbishop quits hospital board over Sheryl Crow.”
The Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center had invited Crow, a high-profile pro-abortion rock singer, to perform at a fundraising benefit. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke quit the hospital’s board in protest and boycotted her appearance, noting the obvious scandal of a Catholic children’s benefit featuring an entertainer who campaigns for the legal destruction of unborn children. (Crow campaigned for the successful passage of Missouri’s Amendment 2, a measure advancing embryonic stem-cell research.)
“I have to answer to God for the responsibilities which I have as archbishop,” Archbishop Burke said. “For me to remain silent in this situation would be the gravest scandal, because people would get the impression that their spiritual leader also thinks this is just fine.”
The predictable ridicule of the world followed, but by refusing to curry favor with the celebrity-driven and crumbling city of man, Archbishop Burke had displayed the very moral and spiritual seriousness necessary to save it.
As St. Augustine pointed out to the cynical pagans presiding over the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city of man unravels from its own corruption and irrationality, then crassly calls Christians the worst citizens even though they represent the best of them. The reason and virtue upon which the earthly city depends for order ultimately comes more from the citizens of the other city than its own.
SLU emphasizes that it now exists “to serve the largely secular world.” But Archbishop Burke’s moral witness, which draws attention to the evil of abortion, does far more to serve the authentic good of the world than such slavishness to secularism which simply confirms it in injustice and error. The city of man, by separating the human good from God who orders and designs that good, cannot possibly serve it.
St. Augustine shrewdly recorded that as the barbarians sacked Rome, the pagans ran for cover and found refuge in the “basilicas of the Apostles.” The same holds true today metaphorically: amidst the ruins of the modern city of man, where but in those basilicas do men find philosophical protection for their God-given dignity and rights?
— George Neumayr
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