As a result of secularism’s ascendency, the last century was the most chaotic of all human history, marked by repeated revolutions, the rise of extremist political ideologies such as Nazism and Bolshevism, and famine, genocide, and total war. The anti-modernist popes of the “Pian” dynasty who reigned during the 19th and early 20th centuries accurately foresaw the disaster that secularization would bring to society, and accordingly condemned separation of Church and State. But in tragic irony, their policies actually furthered this separation, for even as they exhorted leaders to govern according to Christian principles, they denied Catholic rulers their traditional prerogatives as the temporal arm of the Church. For example, even so great a foe to the secular order as Pope St. Pius X revoked the Habsburg Emperor’s right to veto a papal conclave, in spite of the fact such a veto had given him the papacy over the liberal Cardinal Rampolla!
Such acts cemented a trend of Western “clericalism” going back to the victory of Pope over Emperor, where in contrast to the idea of the Church as symphony between clergy and laymen, only the clergy were seen as fully being the Church. Again, this “clericalism” was not unwarranted, for it grew up as a reaction against Protestant “laicism” that undermined the hierarchical-sacramental constitution of the Church by usurping the place of the ordained clergy as spiritual leaders. But it was still a problematic excess that reached such a level by the mid-20th century that in the Roman Catholic world priests were regarded almost as gods, with the role of laymen limited to being spectators having personal devotions. And since what happens in the liturgy becomes a template for the rest of life, is it any surprise that this disconnect of the people from the Mass would lead to our first Catholic president (JFK) to regard his faith as a purely private matter?
But at the same time as JFK was exchanging his Catholicism for Americanism, a momentous event was taking place back in Rome: the Second Vatican Council. The orthodox (i.e faithful) council fathers were rightly concerned about the rift between clergy and laity that was leading to indifferentism and secularization. And they realized that the central problem was in the fact rampant clericalism was leading the laity to neglect their mission of sanctifying the temporal order. So, to correct this disordered reduction of the Church to the clergy, Vatican II emphasized what was known as the “universal call to holiness” for all Catholics. In its orthodox sense, this concept denotes the laity’s mandate to take Christian faith and morals out into the world and live as shining examples of the Gospel. But as with everything else in Vatican II, the turmoil during its implementation enabled modernist heretics to twist the meaning of this teaching on its head. Thus, the call to abandon the “fortress mentality” and charge boldly into Enemy territory was distorted into a perverse effort to bring the world into the Church.
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