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Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Politics

January 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Moral Issues, Patti Armstrong

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Politics

Editor's Note: Today, one day before the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, Patti Maguire Armstrong reminds us of the words of wisdom Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen published in the 1940s and how they still ring true today.

… Sheen: A Lesson on Politics

VenFultonJSheenNYWTSRegarding religion and politics, I was…taken aback while reading a book written by Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in 1947 titled: Characters of the Passion (Liguouri/Triumph). In it, he takes a look at the characters that played a role in the Passion of Jesus Christ and relates them to our modern world. No one would call 1947 modern, but the lessons of the passion held true in 1947 and still ring true today.

In chapter 3, “Pilate: A Lesson on Political Power,” Sheen dissecussed public opinion as it relates to politics.  He stated:

“Those who have their finger on the pulse of contemporary civilization have probably noted that there are two contradictory charges against religions today. The first is that religion is not political enough; the other is that religion is too political. On the one hand, the Church is blamed for being too divine, and on the other, for not being divine enough. It is hated because it is too heavenly and hated because it is too earthly.”

Same old, same old.

Sheen portrayed the political/religious process as Jesus stood before the political Pilate and the religious Annas and Caiaphas. Christ was accused of being too religious before Annas and Caiaphas. Under the veil of mock indignation at the supposed insult to God’s majesty, Christ was declared too religious, too concerned with souls, too infallible and too Godly. After all, they cornered him into declaring Himself to be God. Sheen writes:

“Because He was too religious, He was not political enough. The religious judges said that He had no concern for the fact that the Romans were their masters, and that they might take away their country (John 11:47-48). By talking about a spiritual kingdom, a higher moral law, and His divinity, and by becoming the leader of a spiritual crusade, He was accused of being indifferent to the needs of the people and nation’s well being.”

Counter Church

Likewise, pro-lifers are accused of being too religious. Who are they to know the mind of God…to know when life really begins? We are accused of trying to force our religion on others, of being fanatics, of being downright dangerous to a free society.

Ultimately, Jesus was sent into the political arena, to Pilate. There, religious charges would not have prevailed. So instead, he was accused of being too political. Jesus is charged with meddling in national affairs; that He was not patriotic enough. “We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he is Christ the king” (Luke 23:2).

Sheen explained:

“And so throughout history, these two contradictory charges have been leveled against the Person of Christ in His Body the Church. His Church was accused of not being political enough when it condemned Nazism and Fascism; it is accused of being too political when it condemns Communism. It is the second charge that needs specific consideration, namely, that the Church is interfering in politics. Is this true? It all depends upon what you mean by politics. If by interference in politics is meant using influence to favor a particular regime, party, or system that respects the basic God-given rights and freedom of persons, the answer is emphatically No! The Church does not interfere in politics. If by interference in politics is meant judging or condemning a philosophy of life that makes the party or state, or the class, or the race, the source of all rights, and that usurps the soul and enthrones party over conscience and denies those basic rights for which the war was fought, the answer is emphatically Yes!

The Church does judge such a philosophy. But when it does this, it is not interfering with politics, for such politics is no longer politics but theology. When a state sets itself up as absolute as God, when it claims sovereignty over the soul, when it destroys freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, then the state has ceased to be political and has begun to be a counter-Church.”

It’s the Government that is Trespassing

In reality, the Church adapts itself to government, supporting authority. The Church teaches that the state is supreme in temporal matters. But when politics make religious proclamations–such as women have the right to end the life of their unborn babies–politics enters into the religious realm and claims supremacy over the human soul. Voting and campaigning against candidates and issues that compete with religion, is not against politics but against a counter religion.

For all the accusations that fundamentalist Christian and Catholic teaching is dangerous to our free society, the reality is quite the contrary. Preaching Christianity is sometimes labeled dangerous and incendiary. For instance, on the issue of homosexuality, the Christian churches are increasingly coming under fire for teaching against homosexual marriages. Never mind that the teaching advocates loving the sinner but hating the sin, politics claims that it’s not okay to hate the sin. Any teaching against this sin is more and more being labeled “hate” and said to encourage discrimination. Christians are not being allowed moral stances that could be viewed as discriminating against a lifestyle. Such a social straightjacket makes it impossible to teach right and wrong because it will offend the people engaging in the wrong.

As Sheen reminded his reader:

“It was Jesus Christ who suffered under Pontius Pilate; it was not Pontius Pilate who suffered under Jesus Christ. The grave danger today is not religion in politics but politics in religion.”

BabyBoyOneMonthOldSo when politicians preach a counter-religion message, such as the HHS [Health and Human Services] Mandate, which is the government forcing Catholic businesses to offer artificial birth control and abortifacients to their employees, our religious leaders have no choice but to protest. Although the politically correct clamor against invasion of the spiritual, if our eyes are open, we will see that the problem is just the opposite–the invasion of the spiritual by the political.

Christ was always and is forever our example. He did not deliver himself from the power of the state although he ultimately held all power: “You would have no power unless it were given to you from above” (John 19:11). But he never stopped preaching and living the truth. The state is often indifferent to God’s moral laws. Still, we must never give in or give up. We must be willing to bear the marks of Christ as we follow him.

Sheen equated God’s truths with true freedom:

“But whatever be the reason for these trying days, of this we may be certain: The Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate signed Pilate’s death warrant; it was not Pilate who signed Christ’s. Christ’s Church will be attacked, scorned, and ridiculed, but it will never be destroyed…. The bold fact the enemies of God must face is that modern civilization has conquered the world, but in doing so has lost its soul. And in losing its soul it will lose the very world it gained. Even our own so-called liberal culture in the United States, which has tried to avoid complete secularization by leaving little zones of individual freedom, is in danger of forgetting that these zones were preserved only because religion was in their soul. And as religion fades so will freedom, for only where the spirit of God is, is there liberty.”

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Art: Fulton J. Sheen, “World-Telegram photo by Ed Palumbo”, 1952, PD-US; Baby boy one month old, Nils Fretwurst, 2004, CC-SA; both Wikimedia Commons.

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About Patti Maguire Armstrong

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Patti's Blog http://www.pattimaguirearmstrong.com. Facebook. Twitter.

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  • BillinJax

    The deeper into the darkness we traverse the brighter shines the light of eternal Truth which great people of Faith such as Bishop Sheen have given us. Now we must take up the torch as our duty to the Truth and in their honor.

  • Judy Silhan

    Bishop Sheen definitely spoke prophetically when he said: “When religion fades so will freedom, for only where the Spirit of God is, is their liberty.” As he reminded us, Christ’s Church, though attacked, scorned and ridiculed, will never be destroyed. We need only to acknowledge that the state/government is attempting to curtail religious freedom to see the need for Church (not clergy) to be involved in politics and take up our crosses and follow Christ’s example.

  • Mary Ellen

    It is amazing how real truth never goes out of style. Bishop Sheen to me was a prophet for our time.

  • Patricia

    These statements are very clear and succinct and really state the crux of the matter; they should be put in every parish bulletin:

    If by interference in politics is meant judging or condemning a philosophy of life that makes the party or state, or the class, or the race, the source of all rights, and that usurps the soul and enthrones party over conscience and denies those basic rights for which the war was fought, the answer is emphatically Yes!

    The Church does judge such a philosophy. But when it does this, it is not interfering with politics, for such politics is no longer politics but theology. When a state sets itself up as absolute as God, when it claims sovereignty over the soul, when it destroys freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, then the state has ceased to be political and has begun to be a counter-Church.”

  • Patricia

    It would be wonderful if a regular TV station would re-run Fulton Sheen’s TV program, Life is Worth Living. It is amazing that what he said then is clearly true for today”s society as well. I know that this show is on EWTN sometimes, but it is really important for “all” to see and hear. Maybe his words would bring some meaning and truth to those who have never been exposed to these ideas since our society has grown so far from its founding Christian principles.

    • ThirstforTruth

      Patricia…The irony is that when Bishop Sheen was originally broadcast, a mainstream network carried his programs. There was no Catholic network.
      And his audiences rivaled the biggest names in television, including Milton Berle, whom Bishop Sheen beat out for the Emmy.
      Today, if his shows were re-run on that network, the secular humanists as well as the atheists would cry foul….and win! The march of time has not
      improved the line-up of television offerings on the networks but God has
      given us the miracle of EWTN.

      • Patricia

        Yes, I am most grateful for EWTN and I watch it because that is what I am most interested in seeing and am nourished and informed of spiritual ideas and current world needs and happenings. ….there is nothing of value on regular TV, except for those who may wish to see sporting events or the breaking news coverage. When Life is Worth living was on , there was a broader audience that WAS interested and there still is probably. Fulton Sheen speaks the Truth and people recognize that. He was speaking from his Catholic perspective and training, but…. lo and behold, any one of those shows I watched, is parallel to some situation which is currently occurring, and people can see how universal, sensible, and life affirming his words and ideas are. Not a surprise since Christ is Lord of the World and he shows us the principles of life! That is why I would like to see it on regular TV again. If the secular humanists and atheists don’t want to watch it, they can change the station. Many people will want to watch it because it is so worthwhile. We can’t let them take God out of our society and culture. When good people do nothing, evil is allowed.

  • giant33

    I purchased some of Bishop Sheen’s shows on dvd’s. He was a great spoke’s man for the church.

  • marybernadette

    ‘Bishop Sheen’s remarkable vision and clarity are timeless!’ Whenever I read, hear or see someone who is very anti- catholic because of the teachings of the Church, it seems that they are refusing to acknowledge that, if it wasn’t for Christianity, they wouldn’t have rights and freedoms. However, as Bishop Sheen’s reference to a nation’s ‘loss of soul’, our God given rights and freedoms, esp. that all human life be respected from ‘conception to natural death’ and the ‘true definition of marriage’ are being eroded. Of course, that is why all of us by prayer, sacrifice and action, must keep fighting the ‘culture of death.’

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