Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pius XI and Media in Christian Education

89. It is no less necessary to direct and watch the education of the adolescent, "soft as wax to be moulded into vice,"[58] in whatever other environment he may happen to be, removing occasions of evil and providing occasions for good in his recreations and social intercourse; for "evil communications corrupt good manners."[59]

90. More than ever nowadays an extended and careful vigilance is necessary, inasmuch as the dangers of moral and religious shipwreck are greater for inexperienced youth. Especially is this true of impious and immoral books, often diabolically circulated at low prices; of the cinema, which multiplies every kind of exhibition; and now also of the radio, which facilitates every kind of communications. These most powerful means of publicity, which can be of great utility for instruction and education when directed by sound principles, are only too often used as an incentive to evil passions and greed for gain. St. Augustine deplored the passion for the shows of the circus which possessed even some Christians of his time, and he dramatically narrates the infatuation for them, fortunately only temporary, of his disciple and friend Alipius.[60] How often today must parents and educators bewail the corruption of youth brought about by the modern theater and the vile book!

91. Worthy of all praise and encouragement therefore are those educational associations which have for their object to point out to parents and educators, by means of suitable books and periodicals, the dangers to morals and religion that are often cunningly disguised in books and theatrical representations. In their spirit of zeal for the souls of the young, they endeavor at the same time to circulate good literature and to promote plays that are really instructive, going so far as to put up at the cost of great sacrifices, theaters and cinemas, in which virtue will have nothing to suffer and much to gain.

92. This necessary vigilance does not demand that young people be removed from the society in which they must live and save their souls; but that today more than ever they should be forewarned and forearmed as Christians against the seductions and the errors of the world, which, as Holy Writ admonishes us, is all "concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes and pride of life."[61] Let them be what Tertullian wrote of the first Christians, and what Christians of all times ought to be, "sharers in the possession of the world, not of its error."[62]


58. Horat., Art. poet., v. 163: cereus in vitium flecti.59. I Cor. XV, 33: corrumpunt mores bonos colloquia mala.

60. Conf., VI, 8.

61. I lo., II, 16: concupiscentia carnis, concupiscentia oculorum et superbia vitae.
62. De Idololatria, 14: compossessores mundi, non erroris.


Source: Pius XI, "Divini Illius Magistri."

Pius XI, Vigilanti Cura, "On the Motion Picture": Notes and Quotations

Vigilanti Cura was published on June 29, 1936, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Consider the date, the nature of films, and its evolution to the present day. With that in mind, let us look at the Holy Father's words on this important matter.

Pius XI describes motion pictures as "a matter which touches intimately the moral and religious life of the entire Christian people."

He recalls the warning he gave in his previous encyclical on Christian education:
In the Encyclical "Divini illius Magistri" [n. 90], We had already deplored that "potent instrumentalities of publicity (such as the cinema) which might be of great advantage to learning and to education were they properly directed by healthy principles, often unfortunately serve as an incentive to evil passions and are subordinated to sordid gain".
He continues to insist that film is not a trifle, morally neutral matter but one of great importance, to be guided above all by the essential purpose of art from a Catholic point of view, namely, the formation of good morals:
In August 1934, addressing Ourselves to a delegation of the International Federation of the Motion Picture Press, We pointed out the very great importance which the motion picture has acquired in our days and its vast influence alike in the promotion of good and in the insinuation of evil, and We called to mind that it is necessary to apply to the cinema the supreme rule which must direct and regulate the great gift of art in order that it may not find itself in continual conflict with Christian morality or even with simple human morality based upon the natural law. The essential purpose of art, its raison d'être, is to assist in the perfection of the moral personality, which is man, and for this reason it must itself be moral.
The Holy Father speaks especially of the urgency in these times (i.e. the 1930s!) to establish clear norms so that modern arts and sciences may help establish the kingdom of God.

In the next section, Pius XI begins with this correlation:
[...] it is a certainty which can readily be verified that the more marvelous the progress of the motion picture art and industry, the more pernicious and deadly has it shown itself to morality and to religion and even to the very decencies of human society.
He draws attention to the fact that the producers of film have a global and even a political influence. Films affect morals and the very fabric of society.

He then discusses the history of the "Legion of Decency" and its pledge that many American Catholics took, promising to avoid films that went against Catholic morals and human decency. It's interesting to note that the Holy Father called this movement a "holy crusade" and that even non-Catholics participated in it. He discusses the noticeable positive changes in the production of films after this movement gained traction: sin and false ideals were not depicted as much as they previously were.

Today, isn't it true to say sadly that Catholic money is as good as the filth it wallows in? Imagine if every Catholic refused to pay for movies that contained blasphemy! But now our moral authority is as good as the next heathen.

The Holy Father begins the second section "The Power of the Cinema" by noting that the harsh conditions of the Industrial Age have caused an increased need for recreation, and recreation since it is a moral action must itself support good morals. Youth are especially endangered by the proliferation of immoral recreation. Hence films are especially important for our consideration today.

He draws attention to the fact that motion pictures are now easily the most popular form of entertainment, yet such a form of media is quite apt for educational and moral purposes because of its very nature.

He then comes to the essential nature and effects of film:
The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue. Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema. In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures. 
This power is still greater in the talking picture for the reason that interpretation becomes even easier and the charm of music is added to the action of the drama. Dances and variety acts which are sometimes introduced between the films serve to increase the stimulation of the passions.
This recalls St. Thomas Aquinas's summary of the principal effect of music: "For such like musical instruments move the soul to pleasure rather than create a good disposition within it" (Summa Th., 2a2ae.91.2 ad 4).

The Holy Father continues with the application of this essential nature of film to its moral implications:
Since then the cinema is in reality a sort of object lesson which, for good or for evil, teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning, it must be elevated to conformity with the aims of a Christian conscience and saved from depraving and demoralizing effects.
He summarizes some of the evil and beneficial effects of film:
Everyone knows what damage is done to the soul by bad motion pictures. They are occasions of sin; they seduce young people along the ways of evil by glorifying the passions; they show life under a false light; they cloud ideals; they destroy pure love, respect for marriage, affection for the family. They are capable also of creating prejudices among individuals and misunderstandings among nations, among social classes, among entire races. 
On the other hand, good motion pictures are capable of exercising a profoundly moral influence upon those who see them. In addition to affording recreation, they are able to arouse noble ideals of life, to communicate valuable conceptions, to impart a better knowledge of the history and the beauties of the Fatherland and of other countries, to present truth and virtue under attractive forms, to create, or at least to favor understanding among nations, social classes, and races, to champion the cause of justice, to give new life to the claims of virtue, and to contribute positively to the genesis of a just social order in the world.
He then reminds us of an important essential aspect to film: its viewership is the multitudes, of all ages. The young, who are still being formed in their notions of upright morals and justice, are especially under the influence of the messages and values that films communicate:
These considerations take on greater seriousness from the fact that the cinema speaks not to individuals but to multitudes, and that it does so in circumstances of time and place and surroundings which are most apt to arouse unusual enthusiasm for the good as well as for the bad and to conduce to that collective exaltation which, as experience teaches us, may assume the most morbid forms.
He expands on this line of reasoning a few paragraphs later when he writes:
Their [i.e. the bishops] sacred calling constrains them to proclaim clearly and openly that unhealthy and impure entertainment destroys the moral fibre [sic] of a nation. They will likewise remind the motion picture industry that the demands which they make regard not only the Catholics but all who patronize the cinema.
The Holy Father concludes this philosophical-theological reflection by explicitly linking the production of cinema of whatever sort to moral purposes, to the contemplation of the truly good and elevated, for education. He says it is an obligation incumbent upon both clergy and laity:

It is therefore one of the supreme necessities, of our times to watch and to labour [sic] to the end that the motion picture be no longer a school of corruption but that it be transformed into an effectual instrument for the education and the elevation of mankind. [...]
This is an obligation which binds not only the Bishops but also the faithful and all decent men who are solicitous for the decorum and moral health of the family, of the nation, and of human society in general.
The problem of the production of moral films would be solved radically if it were possible for us to have production wholly inspired by the principles of Christian morality. We can never sufficiently praise all those who have dedicated themselves or who are to dedicate themselves to the noble cause of raising the standard of the motion picture to meet the needs of education and the requirements of the Christian conscience. 
Pius XI therefore exhorts the bishops of the world to be careful and vigilant of the films being produced in the lands they govern and to place those films on ban that go against Christian principles.

In his final section "A Work for Catholic Action," the Pope laments that the problem of motion pictures would be instantly solved if all films produced were able to be conformed to Catholic principles, yet the best films must be both morally sound and artistically beautiful. It's not enough to produce a moral film that is amateur.

Therefore the Holy Father tells the bishops to exhort those Catholics who hold positions of power in the film industry to begin shifting the content of production towards good morals. It is a matter of Catholic duty in fact. Further, this field provides ample opportunity for those in Catholic Action who possess the talents and means to become involved in order to steer film production in the right direction.

The Holy Father summarizes his discussion:
Why indeed should there be question merely of avoiding what is evil? The motion picture should not be simply a means of diversion, a light relaxation to occupy an idle hour; with its magnificent power, it can and must be a bearer of light and a positive guide to what is good.
In other words, film is not a neutral matter, and leisure activities must be directed according to reason enlightened by supernatural faith. Leisure is a moral activity and is therefore always to be guided by objective principles and directed to the betterment of participants.

The Holy Father recommends the use of a yearly pledge for Catholics to stay away from bad films. He exhorts pastors to encourage the faithful to take these pledges, especially for the youth in schools. The Holy Father then demands that lists classifying the moral content of films be created to guide the faithful. But the Pope notes that a single, global list would be impossible because there is room for flexibility in some aspects of the moral judgment of a film due to its wide audience with different cultural and intellectual backgrounds.

Therefore, it is up to the bishops of nations to create organizations to publish lists that classify the morality of films based on their regions and cultural norms.

Fr. Jordan Aumann on the Contemplative and Active Lives Compared

[87] Active Life

5. As the contemplative life consists essentially in the operations of the speculative intellect, which has knowledge of truth as its proper object, so the active life consists essentially in the operations of the practical intellect, which controls and directs the lower faculties in view of the means to an end. The practical intellect is not a distinct faculty from the speculative intellect, but a distinct operation of one and the same intellect, so far as the intellect is able to consider truth as such (speculative operation) or truth as ordained to action—something to be done or made—(practical operations).[1] The immediately eliciting principle of contemplative activity is the speculative intellect, while the activity of the will is antecedent, concomitant or consequent. In the operations of the active life, however, the immediately eliciting faculty is not the speculative intellect, but for prudence the practical intellect, for justice, the will, for courage and temperance the sensitive appetite.

6. As with contemplation, so with the operations of the active life, it is possible to consider them as purely natural or as supernatural. According to ethics the acquired moral virtue of justice is the primary eliciting virtue in the active life, although the moral virtues of temperance and courage likewise are part of the active life, but as removing impediments to the virtue of justice. According to Christian theology, the active life depends on a working and instructed faith, the infused virtue of prudence, enhanced by the Gift of Counsel, the infused virtues of justice and mercy and the Gift of Piety first of all, and then on the infused virtues of courage and temperance and the Gifts of Courage and Fear of the Lord.

The active life is essentially related to the performance of the acts of the moral virtues and its first fruits should be the perfection of the individual through the practice of virtue. But since the active life consists principally in the acts of justice and the Gift of Piety, it follows that it not only performs the works of justice but it is ordained directly to the love of neighbour [sic].[2] For that reason the virtue of mercy, under the direction of charity, forms part of the supernatural active life. For St [sic] Thomas, the good active life is a disposition or preparation for the contemplative life; it is also a consequence of the contemplative life, as being ordained to love of neighbour. In its perfection the active life looks to the supernatural society of the Church and seeks to extend the kingdom of God on earth. As the interior life, rectified by the moral and theological virtues, is a source of the good done to others in the works of mercy and justice, so the contemplative activity is a source of preaching and teaching in the apostolate.

[88] Active and Contemplative Life Compared

7. Both the contemplative and the active life can be considered in their interior operations and in their external acts. As regards the interior or immanent acts of the virtues characteristic of the contemplative life, the following supernatural powers will predominate: the theological virtues (including the interior act of love of neighbour), the speculative Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the virtue of religion (especially in the worship of God). The contemplative acts of the Christian are therefore designated as constituting the 'interior life' or the 'life of prayer'.

The active life, on the other hand, calls into play the interior acts of the virtues and Gifts which pertain to self and neighbour, mainly the moral virtues (especially justice), prudence and the practical Gifts of the Holy Spirit. For that reason the active life is also called the 'moral life', the 'life of the moral virtues' or the 'ascetical life'.

Both of these lives are aspects or phases of the one and the same spiritual life of an individual person, though they will vary with the individual. And since the spiritual life necessarily involves the interior acts of the theological and the moral virtues as well as the gifts which perfect them, every Christian should cultivate both the interior or contemplative aspect of life and the moral or active aspect. In practice, however, because of dispositions flowing from temperament and character, some persons will be more inclined to contemplative acts, even if they are in an active state of life, while others may be more inclined to the moral and ascetical acts, even if they are in a contemplative state. According to the teaching of the early Fathers it was to be expected that contemplatives would at the beginning be concerned primarily with the ascetical practices of the moral virtues, since the active life was considered a preparation for the contemplative phase. On the other hand, although there have been 'contemplative types' who remained in the active life (St Ignatius of Loyola was called a 'contemplative in action'),[3] the person who has this inclination would normally be expected to seek a contemplative state of life. Judging from the history of spirituality, it would seem that women are generally more disposed to the contemplative state than men, because they usually have more of an inclination to prayer and are more devout and receptive than men.

The person who is active by disposition is usually characterized by a strong sense of duty to God and neighbour, a desire to prove his love by actions and great facility in the practice of the moral virtues. The active type is much more common than the contemplative type and the reason given by St Thomas is that 'the contemplative life is not properly human but superhuman',[4] while 'the properly human life is the active life, which consists in the practice of the moral virtues'.[5]

[89] 8. Considering the external acts or spiritual exercises proper to the contemplative and the active life, the former is manifested predominantly by the practice of prayer, both liturgical and private, while the latter is expressed by the works of mercy in some type of apostolate. This does not mean, of course, that prayer as a spiritual exercise is restricted to those who are contemplative by profession, for St Thomas says that 'although all who are in the active life do not arrive at the perfect state of contemplation, nevertheless every Christian should engage in contemplation to some degree'.[6] There is, however, this opposition between the exercise of set prayer and the performance of the works of mercy: both activities require time and it is impossible to give one's attention to both at the same time. Nor does it solve the problem to state that work can be made prayer, for the two are distinct. What can be done is to supernaturalize one's external action by proper motivation and to restrict one's external occupations so that time for genuine prayer can be provided. This is more necessary for those who are engaged in study, teaching, preaching—what we may call a doctrinal or intellectual apostolate—because those engaged in the manual or mechanical tasks can usually remain recollected in God and even pray as they work.

The most important thing is charity, and this should motivate the activities of both the contemplative and the active types of life. In the supernatural order what matters most is not what one does, but the love with which he does it. As St Thomas says 'The root of merit is charity'.[7] Consequently, the truly spiritual man will strive with all his power for the perfection of charity, and as he grows in charity he will feel compelled to manifest it in his actions. The person who is inclined to external works will manifest his charity especially in the works of mercy, out of love of neighbour; the person who is more inclined to the interior life and its practices will manifest his charity in the practice of prayer, which is the language of the love of God.


1. cf. Ia. 79, 11

2. cf. 2a2ae. 182, 2

3. cf Nadal, H., S.J., Epistolae, Monumenta Historiae S.J., IV, Madrid, 1905, p. 651

4. De virtutibus cardinalibus 1. In Ethic. X, lect. 11 & 12, he calls the contemplative life 'divine'

5. De virtutibus cardinalibus 1

6. III Sent. 36, 3, 5

7. 2a2ae. 182, 2


Source: Jordan Aumann, Appendix 1: Active and Contemplative Life," in Summa Theologiæ: Volume 46: Action and Contemplation, trans. by Jordan Aumann (Cambridge: Blackfriars, 1966), 87-89.

The Problem is You

There is a phrase, "If you have a problem, the problem is probably you." Or some variation of that. It captures the problem that a lack of self-awareness can create. Examples are easy—you always seem to get fired, you're always assigned with lazy teammates, things always go wrong around you, everyone treats you badly. Naturally the question arises, "Could it possibly be that everything always goes wrong with me, or is there something about me that attracts and causes problems in my life?" That question can arise only when a person is self-reflective.

But the issue can be a false dichotomy, and those in charge can use that trope to justify their own incompetence. The issue goes both ways. If China is polluting the environment, and the US criticizes China for it, ultimately the criticism is true even if the US is polluting the environment as well. China can't turn to the US and say, "The problem is you." The problem is both: there are people who lack self-awareness and reflectivity, and there are people who run from taking responsibility for their behaviors and blame the character flaws of others in order to do so.

And as Seth Godin says, "The problem you can't talk about... is now two problems" (

In other words, if there's a problem, the better strategy is to take the problem seriously and explore its full extent so that both sides can learn and grow. Certainly there are exceptions where blame is clearly on one side. But wouldn't it help if instead of immediately resorting to cliches, we stopped to take each other seriously and face the possibility that everyone can help each other to grow?

Ora et Labora and the Heresy of Action

The Benedictine phrase is "ora et labora" (pray and work), not "oratio est labor" (prayer is work) or some variation. The difference is key: it is the difference between a true spiritual life that balances the active and contemplative, each dimension aiding the other, and the heresy of action.

New Catholic Encyclopedia: Apostolate and Spiritual Life

[578] From the Greek ἀποστολὴ [apostoli], a sending, commission, or expedition. The Greek term is more indefinite than the Latin apostolatus, which refers more to the condition and office of the messenger than to his action. The Koine (NT) is of course greatly influenced by the Latin. The word came to signify in particular the active mission of the Church in the world. The normal relationship between the apostolate and the spiritual life is a mean standing be-[579]tween the various species of activism, on the one hand, and another extreme less easily denominated, the main feature of which would be solicitude about the "disturbances" consequent upon the exercise of the apostolate, on the other. This article provides a brief introduction to the question of how the two complement one another and how, under some conditions, the apostolate is apparently opposed to the spiritual life.

The Church has been in a mission status from the very beginning of its existence. Those who first constituted the new people of God were given the title "apostles." The community founded upon them is essentially apostolic, not merely in the sense of being in historical continuity with that small group through the apostolic succession of episcopal consecration but also in the sense of having the mission, at the present time, of preaching the gospel to the whole of creation. (Mk. 16.15).

The Church, however, is a community in whose members the word of the Gospel has borne fruit in various degrees, and it is also a community that is organized hierarchically. Both these factors determine the exercise of the apostolate—the former because it is assumed that apostolic works are somewhat the overflow of communion with God in the Church, the latter because the whole apostolate of the Church is under the direction of the episcopal hierarchy, who stand in place of the Apostles.

The exercise of the apostolate, by those who share in this mission of the Church, normally bears fruit in the interior life of the apostle himself. Experience witnesses to the fact, and that it should be so is to be expected because such activity is in the likeness of trinitarian [sic] life. In God, the Father unceasingly generates the Son without losing anything of Himself. Rather, the Son abides in the bosom of the Father and gives Himself to Him in love, so that from their mutual embrace proceeds the Holy Spirit. The apostle exercises, in one degree or another, a spiritual paternity, through which real relations are established between himself and those to whom he is sent. "I became our Father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel," says St. Paul (1 Cor. 4.15b). This does not mean that the persons brought forth "in Christ Jesus" remain in some infantile way dependent upon the Father-Apostle, for "through the Gospel" they receive a share not in his life but in God's. Nonetheless, if the exercise of the apostolate is authentic, those who are spiritually engendered thereby, as they grow up in Christ Jesus, remain united to their apostle-father by love and piety. The communion thus established must obviously bear fruit in his interior life.

What, then, in this context, is an authentic apostolate? Reference here is not primarily to the so-called canonical mission, which gives a certain juridical authenticity to the work of the apostle who receives such a mandate, even though the canonical mission should normally be the sign and guarantee of the overall authenticity of a given work. Here the word "authentic" refers more to the moral quality of the apostolate, its genuineness as an exterior and visible expression of the apostle's interior life.

St. John provides the best possible description of this authenticity: "[T]hat which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1.3). The order is clear: seeing and hearing come first, then proclamation, and this in turn is for the sake of fellowship, i.e., deeper communion with God in the Church. An authentic apostolate, therefore, in terms of the spiritual life, is one that is based upon a measure of "seeing and hearing" and is motivated by a desire for sharing. Of course, St. John refers to an experience wherein Jesus was physically present to those whom he chose as Apostles, but the sensible contact scarcely exhausts what he means. The Apostles saw and heard by faith what the Father revealed in Jesus, especially through his "enactment" of the paschal mysteries. Living faith, then, is the heart of the apostolate, together with that work of charity called mercy. The interior life of any apostle is constituted by an acceptance and assimilation of the living truth of God's love for mankind in Christ Jesus, together with the urge to share the joy that is the normal fruit of being "in the truth." "The love of Christ urges us on" (2 Cor. 5.14a).


Source: M. B. Schepers and F. Klostermann, "Apostolate and Spiritual Life," in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, ed. Thomas Carson and Joann Cerrito (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003), 578-579.

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Catholic Encyclopedia: Activism

[83] A teaching or orientation that emphasizes action in contradistinction to passivity. Thus, in a learning situation, the functionalism advocated by John Dewey or the method of teaching children promoted by Maria MONTESSORI [sic] is sometimes called activism. As a philosophic notion, it is opposed to intellectualism and gives precedence to practice and activity over theory. In this sense contemporary EXISTENTIALISM [sic] can be called activism in that it repudiates speculation in favor of action.

However, in Catholic circles, particularly in the U.S., it has come to denote an excessive activity of the apostolate that is detrimental to the spiritual life, especially in religious orders and congregations: exterior work of the apostolate absorbs the interest of the one engaged in it to the extent that his interior life suffers as a consequence. [84] It is also referred to as naturalism. Although such activism is not a formal doctrine, but rather a tendency of human nature, it is sometimes called the "heresy of action" and may be said in a general way to have a spirit opposed to the QUIETISM [sic] promoted by Miguel de MOLINOS [sic] and condemned by Innocent XI in 1687 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. Schönmetzer, 2210-69).

Activism should not be confused with the salutary work of the apostolate performed with the proper spiritual motives. Far from being an obstacle to spiritual growth, the giving of oneself in the service of others out f charity fosters the interior life of the soul. Activism, therefore, should not be equated with activity or a multiplicity of works. In its modern connotation, it has reference only to spiritual activity prompted by an indiscreet zeal and lacking a spiritual foundation. In the encyclical Menti nostrae Pius XII refers to it as "that kind of activity which is not based on divine grace and does not make constant use of the aids provided by Jesus Christ for the attainment of holiness" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950) 677].

Safeguards against activism include proper spiritual formation, the constant exercise of humility and prayer, and a wholesome spiritual outlook concerning the work of the apostolate. Those engaged in the apostolate should keep the words of St. Paul foremost in mind: "So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3.7). The avoidance of activism should not, on the other hand, give way to a negativism characterized by a turning away from the performance of good works. In fact, there is great necessity for an increase in apostolic work to counteract growing materialistic tendencies.

Activism is also called AMERICANISM [sic]. Such a spiritual pragmatism was condemned by Leo XIII in the apostolic letter TESTEM BENEVOLENTIAE [sic], addressed to Cardinal James Gibbons in 1899. While the pope praised the Church and the people of the U.S. for their spirit of progress and accomplishment, he nevertheless cautioned them, among other things, not to place too great an emphasis on externals and outward activity to the detriment of the spiritual life. Thus the term Americanism is often used, especially by European writers, to denote an excessive apostolic activity lacking the proper spiritual motivation.


Source: L. F. Bacigalupo, "Activism," in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, ed. Thomas Carson and Joann Cerrito (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003) 83-84.

New Catholic Encyclopedia: Active Life, Spiritual

[83] A life of external activity as opposed to contemplation. In the third century, Origen identified the active life with Martha and the contemplative life with her sister Mary. Before the Christian era the Greeks had differentiated the theoretical life from the practical life. The practical life was that which busied itself with the affairs of the family or the city. St. Paul used the Greek word "askein" to express the practical matter of working out one's salvation, of striving for perfection or making a spiritual effort to purify one's conscience in the sight of God. Gradually this word acquired the meaning of an exercise of the spiritual faculties in the acquisition of the virtues of learning, or exercise, in a physical sense. St. Paul often made reference to the efforts of athletes in the games when urging his Christians to the practice of perfection.

Origen was again the first to apply the word "ascetic" to Christians who practiced virginity and devoted themselves to works of mortification. With St. Augustine, the term active life became almost synonymous with ascetical striving, by making it consist of the practice of virtues, as apart from contemplation of truth. St. Gregory the Great, [sic] seconded this doctrine by identifying the active life with the practice of the corporal works of mercy, and to some extent the spiritual works and this tradition persisted through St. Thomas and Suarez.

The active life reaches a new plane when it concerns itself with the care of souls. From the time of Augustine authors point out that bishops, to whom the care of souls properly belongs, lead the active life in its fullest sense, as well as the contemplative life, since all their activity must be richly impregnated with contemplation. It follows that those who are not bishops lead the active life more fully, the more they participate in the care of souls, a work that is proper to bishops. That is why St. Thomas can rank those religious orders whose concern is to give to others the fruit of their contemplation in the first place. Historically, religious orders, at the beginning, were concerned only with the perfection of their own members. Gradually, the need of souls forced them into the apostolate proper to bishops. Religious orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans in the 13th century, were founded with a view of doing the work that bishops could no longer handle alone. The revolutionary Society of Jesus (1540), which set the pattern for many of the more modern religious institutes, moved into whatever area was necessary for the good of souls, whether it was the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, or preaching and the administration of the Sacraments. In modern times, the next logical step was taken by the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy, or what is known as Catholic Action, a way of living the active life of the spirit while remaining in the world.

The secret of the successful practice of the active life is charity in action. As St. Thomas teaches, charity is the root of merit. Affective charity,consisting in internal acts of the love of God is common to both the active and the contemplative lives, and must be made effective in the external worship of God in the contemplative life. St. Augustine says that it is "only the compulsion of charity that shoulders necessary activity" (Civ. 19.19). Affective charity is the real measure of perfection, but is itself best gauged by this effective charity of good works. Effective charity means carrying out God's commands. The whole purpose of the active life is to attain union with God by service to the neighbor, whom God has commanded us to love. One leading the active life does not so much leave God for God, as the popular phrase puts it, but finds God always and everywhere in the activity done for the love of God.

Obviously the term "active life" is an analogous term. In a non-spiritual sense it would be the opposite of quiet. In a spiritual sense it is ambiguous, for it can either mean the opposite of the contemplative life or the life that flows from contemplation. When used in the context of the spiritual as a univocal term, it usually refers to the life of virtue, the pursuit of virtue, the life of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and all those things that are indirectly connected with charity.


Source: J. F. Conwell, "Active Life, Spiritual," in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, ed. Thomas Carson and Joann Cerrito (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003), 83.