A Sub-Pagan Society?
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[ 753 A Sub-Pagan Society? The New English Weekly, 16 (14 Dec 1939) 125-26 Mr. Maurice Reckitt, in his kindly review of my book in the last issue, raises a point which is of considerable interest in itself.1 That the point is raised does not surprise me; but I am a little surprised by the criticism coming from this quarter – coming from which I am compelled to give it the most careful consideration. Nevertheless, I do not write as one having the slightest ground of complaint, but in gratitude to a reviewer who has done what is rare: raised a point which is relevant but which greatly transcends in importance the book itself. Mr. Reckitt expresses, by the title of his article, the suspicion that the society which I have outlined would not be Christian but sub-Christian. There are here two questions which should not be confused: the question of a criticism of my nomenclature, and the question whether the “Christian Society” of my book is too poor an ideal to be worth keeping before us. The first question cannot wholly be neglected, but it has little importance except in relation to the second. For the first question, I have consulted the O.E.D. for the definition of “pagan,” and it seems to confirm my belief that my use of the word is at least as justifiable as Mr. Reckitt’s. To him, a “pagan society” seems to mean one in which only material values, or material and interpersonal values on the human plane, are recognised ; to me, a “pagan society” is one in which the wrong spiritual values are recognised. The centre of the difference, however, is elsewhere; and I should like to assure myself first that Mr. Reckitt – in spite of, or perhaps because of, my laborious attempts to make clear the limitations which I imposed upon myself – has in no respect misunderstood me. He quotes me as defining a Christian society as one “in which the natural end of man – virtue and wellbeing in community – is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural end – beatitude – for those who have eyes to see it” [115]. Now in order to explain what I meant by this I had better go back to the source of the phrasing. It is a book by one Marcel Demongeot, called Le meilleur régime politique selon Saint Thomas:2 I am indebted to the author directly and also to his quotations from the master. Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1939 754 ] De. Reg., 1, 14: Videtur autem finis esse multitudinis congregatae vivere secundum virtutem. Ad hoc enim homines congregantur, ut simul bene vivant . . . bona autem vita est secundum virtutem; virtuosa igitur vita est congregationis humanae finis.3 The author says a little later: Aristote bornait en effet le bien commun à une vie intérieure purement terrestre, si élevée fût-elle; saint Thomas christianise, en la reprenant , la pensée d’Aristote; sans faire de la vie éternelle la fin propre et directe de la cité, il considère que la vie vertueuse qui en est la fin ne saurait avoir le caractère de fin dernière, mais doit s’orienter ellem ême vers la béatitude parfaite; la cité doit au moins créer les conditions sociales qui permettront le mieux à ses membres de gagner le ciel. ‘Non est ergo ultimus finis multitudinis congregatae vivere secundum virtutem, sed per virtuosam vitam pervenire ad fruitionem divinam’ (De Reg. 1, 14).4 Mr. Reckitt will at this point be about to exclaim that I have added a little bit of my own to this conception of the City: so I hasten to admit it at once. What I have added is simply the admission, that my City must find a place for inhabitants who fail to recognise the Christian revelation. But if my society is to be a Christian Society, this part of the population must be a minority. Is it possible that in reading my sentence, Mr. Reckitt has taken all to correspond to “the Christian Community,” and those who have eyes to see it to correspond to “the Community of Christians”? That is not what I meant: I intended that even the intellectually least developed should, with however bleared a vision, acknowledge the supernatural end of beatitude. Mr. Reckitt tells us that he is “unable to see how the acceptance of a ‘natural end’ by those whom our author (as he shows elsewhere) clearly regards as...