The Inner Struggle

Spirit and Subsidiarity

“En Priere”, Bill Douglas, from the album “Kaleidoscope”, (1993)

“Subsidiarity” as explained here, and “Spirit” (as discussed here and here) are two important Catholic ideas.  Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political (and social) decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, with an eye to eternity, rather than by a central authority with an eye to the next election.

001-1605_francken_sieben_werke_der_barmherzigkeit_anagoriaJust as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community (what our society knows as “socialism”), so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association (such as the State) what lesser and subordinate organizations (such as communities or individuals) can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” Pope Pius XI’s encyclical “Quadragesimo anno” (40th year).

I am thinking that everything that presents to us or shows us “Truth” in this material world, the secular world, has it’s antecedents in the spiritual world, the extra universal world of spirit. So, with “subsidiarity”  God expects us to accomplish, with our own initiative and industry, those tasks or goals which he has assigned to us!

001-850px-werken_van_barmhartigheid_meester_van_alkmaar_1504He also does not intend for us to mistake the process of attaining our proper end, namely union with Himself, as an end in itself, or as a means to some other end in the temporal reality of the world we live in, however laudable it may seem to be.

I am charged, therefore, with the development of my personal spiritual life, my growth in holiness, and in submitting myself entirely to executing the will of God. I am specifically NOT charged by God with the development and growth of my own ambitions and secular goals, no matter how I dress them up in sanctifying rhetoric and do-gooder busy work, for my own good and the good of other people and the good of the community (social programs).

This is not to imply that “social programs” are not good but only that they must originate in the lowest level of authority possible acting in the execution of the Corporal Works Of Mercy”.

So here I am, contemplating my “reality”. I’m just muddling along, hacking out a clearing in the close crowding trees of “reality”; attempting to see the forest, that is to shift my point of view from the temporal reality which we are all immersed in, and which we all take for granted as “the only reality”; when “reality” is, in reality, not temporal at all!

I appeal to authority in the person of C.S. Lewis who touches on this, “reality” and “means to ends” in Chapter 23 and Chapter 27 of The Screwtape Letters”  when Screwtape addresses his nephew Wormwood thus:


001-screwtape-lettersin Chapter 23: “…  About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster.

On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice.

The thing to do is to get a man (the human patient) at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy (God) demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.

For the Enemy (God) will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop.

Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift ? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game!

Your Affectionate Uncle,


001-screwtapeand in Chapter 27: “… You, being a spirit, will find it difficult to understand how he  (the human patient)  gets into this confusion. But you must remember that he takes Time for an ultimate reality.

He supposes that the Enemy (God), like himself, sees some things as present, remembers others as past, and anticipates others as future; or even if he believes that the Enemy (God) does not see things that way, yet, in his heart of hearts, he regards this as a peculiarity of the Enemy’s (God’s) mode of perception – he doesn’t really think (though he would say he did) that things as the Enemy (God) sees them are things as they are!

If you tried to explain to him (the human patient) that men’s prayers today are one of the innumerable coordinates with which the Enemy harmonises the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then the Enemy always knew men were going to make those prayers and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so.

And he would add that the weather on a given day can be traced back through its causes to the original creation of matter itself – so that the whole thing, both on the human and on the material side, is given “from the word go”.

“Aki”, Rodrigo Rodriguez, from the album “Inner thoughts”, (2006)

What he ought to say, of course, is obvious to us; that the problem of adapting the particular weather to the particular prayers is merely the appearance, at two points in his temporal mode of perception, of the total problem of adapting the whole spiritual universe to the whole corporeal universe; that creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time, or rather that their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self-consistent creative act as a series of successive events.

Why that creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems, the secret behind the Enemy’s nonsense about “Love”. How it does so is no problem at all; for the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it.

001-screwtape1It may be replied that some meddlesome human writers, notably Boethius, have let this secret out. But in the intellectual climate which we have at last succeeded in producing throughout Western Europe, you needn’t bother about that.

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating “The Historical Point of View“. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true.

He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question“.

To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge – to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour – this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

But thanks be to our Father (Satan) andthe Historical Point of View“, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that “history is bunk”,

Your Affectionate Uncle, 



Well, that is quite enough for one day. Next post I am thinking will be about connections between seeing things from the point of view of the spiritual and  subsidiarity as developed in the concept of “Distributism”. I am seeking, in today’s media storm, some island of peace on which to pitch my tent, somewhere between the Scylla of rampant Capitalism and it’s screaming acolytes on the right, and the Charybdis of Socialism and it’s howling zombies on the left.



Lichtenstein-Castle“Old men in a hurry to realise their dearest dreams can be very short-sighted.” Dom Gregory Dix, 1944.



One thought on “Spirit and Subsidiarity

  1. Pingback: From the Point Of View Of Spirit … | Not My First Rodeo

Comments are closed.