A Challenge To Economists and Moralists


By REVEREND BROTHER C. EDWARD, F.S.C., Vice President, Manhattan College, New York

Delivered at the Anniversary Dinner of the Charitable Irish Society, Boston, Mass., March 17, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 475-477.

IT grieves me mightily that I do not bring to this very flattering task the flight of fancy and amplitude of utterance which were not the least among the many admirable qualities of my Roscommon ancestors. Somewhere the direct line of transmission was broken and, I think, my father is to blame. You see, he is a narrow-back and, saving your presence, a Massachusetts narrow-back at that. However, I yield to no man when it comes to a question of good will and, with all due reverence, I remind you from the Scriptures that "The Lord seconded their desires for their good will which He chiefly regarded". But, what a strain you put upon a man's good will! You place him at a table positively writhing under the weight of delicious food and glistening with the amber and gold of choicest vintages. Then, with a serenity that is almost appalling, you tell him "I dare you to touch any of it. Don't forget, my bucko, you have to make a speech". Now I know what they mean when they speak of the "heartbreak wit" of the Irish. That is your way! Yet, I will draw profound consolation from this adaptation of Thomas Moore:

But I ne'er will forget the dear vision that threw
Its enchantment around me, while ling'ring with you!

From morning 'til now of this fine, soft day, this good earth of Boston has been martial and merry with balsam of melody from fifes and drums and pipes and bands of brass. The very air was green in a pageant of banners and flags which gladdened our hearts with the freshness of sudden spring. The streets of old Boston echoed with the cadence of marching brigades swinging along to anthem and song of Father O'Flynn, Garry Owen, O'Donnell Aboo, and St. Patrick's Day in the Morning. Even the big-city hum shed its menace. Eyes filled with glory and not with greed, lips parted in humor and not humbug, steps nimble with dance and not dread, it lost itself for a little while in soul-satisfying jubilation. Who needs to ask why? Sure, the light in all eyes, Was the blue of the skies; On all cheeks bloomed the wild Irish rose; And the charm of each smile was for St. Patrick's isle—and all this in tribute to "The Day We Celebrate".

Responding to that time-honored toast is not an easy assignment. Nor have I made it any easier for myself in having the temerity to respond to it in the name of those among you who are absent: your fathers, and sons, and brothers, and fellow-members in the Armed Services of our beloved America. And, some of them are dead! Their epitaph might well be:

Here lie we dead because we did not choose To shame the land from which we sprung. Life is perhaps no great thing to lose, But young men think it is, And we were young.

And, some of them are dying; spilling out their rich red blood in some pest-ridden hole on Iwo Jima, or pouring it forth from the cockpit of some Flying Fortress, or mingling it with the drenching water of some foreign sea. And, some of them are living; staunch in their belief that divinized humanity will not completely forget its origins, that what Patrick lived and died for must have a continuity because Patrick prayed that it might be so.

These dead, and dying, and living represent to me the only reason for human existence, the glorious trinity of love, and hope, and faith. Love, because "Greater love than this hath no man"; and Hope, because peace and happiness must be the recompense for those who suffer and obey; and Faith, because, in spite of treason, and deceit, and betrayal, they are steadfast in their adherence to the principle that the soul of God's people is and will always remain vitally great. Let us speak for these dead, and dying, and living as we look at our America of the here and now! Let me assure you, at the outset, that I am not afflicted with that dangerously communicable disease which is the practice of perpetually viewing with alarm. And, I have very little time for that school of quack philosophers who cling hysterically to the insane belief that, somehow or other, everything will eventually right itself. So, more or less boldly, I do not hesitate to say that there exists in our America of the moment a condition that flings a serious challenge to both our economists and our moralists. America and Americans are muddled with money. They are oppressed with opportunity. They are prostrate with prosperity. In times gone by, when a similar state of affairs was in possession, people generally became totally oblivious of obligations. They strove feverishly to rid themselves of all discipline of both mind and body. They extended a rousing welcome to whatever looseness chose to pray upon the national life. They gave evidence of a lamentable weakness in their ability or their willingness to differentiate between the temporary and the enduring, between the shadow and the substance, between the solid and the sensational. They did not remember or elected to gloss over the bitter experiences of the past. They preferred imaginary advantages to the salvation of what was best in life. They flouted the laws of both moral and intellectual life. They grasped the present with greedy hands and, almost worst of all, they came to believe that the intensity of an attitude was proof positive of its permanence. None of us is so naive as to believe that the same temptations do not present themselves today. None of us is so unaware of actuality as to be ignorant of the fact that many are yielding without a struggle to these temptations.

In the category of these apparently inseparable evils from the trends of the times, an unwarranted sense of security seems to have laid paralyzing hold upon a great number of our people, an attitude which St. Paul castigated when he urged us "Let him who stands take heed lest he fall", a frame of mind which is monstrous in the face of the terrifying toll that this war is taking in human lives alone. Because this war has stalked its way into the personal life of almost every American, because I presume to speak for your dead, and your dying, and your living, I must ask you to give a serious, if only passing, thought to what I consider a security propelling us into a just-around-the-corner future. With a smugness and a sense of superiority which are actually criminal, we too happily allow ourselves to believe that victory in this war will be ours at the time and in the circumstances which will best suit our sense of the dramatic. Dulled by this totally unjustifiable belief, we go along blithely preparing for a postwar period on the idiotic assumption that human nature hasalready exhausted all its possibilities for evil of both mind and heart, A fervent "God help us!" Victory with hope will be ours only when we have adopted as part of our national credo that right must always be the complement of might, that sacrifice must always be the handmaid of service, that love must always be an adjunct to labor. And the postwar world? Nothing can save it. Nothing, mind you, except the principles which recognize the individual as a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of Almighty God. The four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, the Moscow Pact, Dumbarton Oaks, the Yalta deliberations, the San Francisco conference and other similar documents and proposals will all too soon become so many other historic scraps of paper unless the application of them is permeated with that doctrine of the individual dignity, a permeation which alone can give them the binding force of faith, and hope, and love. Educators worthy of the name know that even though they are not always courageous enough to admit it. And, those same educators are determined that the blood of us must never again become just so much dissipated riches. But, they have reason to fear that, because of the necessary here-and-now supremacy of the intellectual faculties, people will slip unconsciously into thinking that only the intellectual faculties are worthy of development. They foresee the danger that man, integral man, may suffer and, with him, that all civilization and all culture may be struck a blow which will set them back for centuries. They could be panic stricken with the realization of the major contributory role which education will play in the shaping and the application of the plans which will govern our country's immediate future and fashion her destiny for generations uncountable.

Their panic would arise from the fear that the rest of America might not fully understand the cause for which educators will have to fight in the years which are to follow the titanic struggle in which we are now engaged. In these times, engineering, mathematics, and the technical sciences and allied branches have taken a firm hold upon the American mind, mainly, I suppose, because we can see their immediate necessity. The purely cultural and civilizing studies have been cast into the discard. In fact, those who champion such studies are sometimes looked upon as dangerous dreamers. But, when this terrifying present shall have given place to a disturbing future, what then? Then, it will be the educators' sacred obligation to remind the technicians and their admirers of the definition which these same technicians have accepted as best illustrating their contributions to the progress of the world. That definition is: the science and art of directing the time-binding energies of mankind—the civilizing energies of the world—to the advancement of the welfare of man. That definition accepts implicitly my definition of man: a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God. And so, all education, including the technical subjects, comes to mean the same thing: the development of the whole man, intellect and heart, body and soul, all four cultivated to act, each in its own sphere, with greatest efficiency.

I am a teacher by profession and, therefore, you cannot be too greatly annoyed with me if I "go academic" for a moment. The soul or, if you will, the "informing principle of the human body" is wonderful to contemplate in the performance of particular lines of action. At times, it analyzes, compares, infers, coordinates, passes from known principles to the discovery of unknown truth. It can then be called REASON and it finds its nourishment in intellectual truth. Or again, it decides that such and such an act is good and resolves to perform it or recognizes that such and such an act is bad and determines to avoid it. Then it is the MORAL SENSE whose object is natural goodness and whose attainment is the habit of good deeds. Again, it goes in search of beauty, whether in the physical, moral, or intellectual order and, then, it is the ESTHETIC SENSE which is cultivated by correcting and refining the taste for things beautiful and sublime. Over all this activity, the root and principle of all, giving life and being, aim and direction, weight, measure, and intrinsic worth is the soul's deter rain-; ing power which we call the WILL. Only in the harmonious development of all the activities I have named can the complete development of the complete man hope to be achieved.

Perhaps you were slightly bewildered as I waded through that field of necessary preliminaries. But, come back with me now. For your dead, and your dying, and your living you are solemnly charged with watching jealously the trends which may guide the development of the intellectual faculties in the education of tomorrow. I have said that Reason is one of the activities of the soul. But, it is only one and the exclusive development of the REASON will dwarf the other functions of the soul and will lead inevitably to the evolution of that worst of all monstrosities—the pure intellectualist. Intellectualism, as such, if it is not the cause, it is one of the greatest contributing factors to all the misery and crime that fester at the door of human society. Very little imagination is required to picture the results of pure intellectualism. It places more, and more effective weapons in the hands of the vicious and the criminal. On that score, we need but remember that there was once a time, historians tell us, when war was a gentlemanly pastime. But, you can't have Falstaff and have him thin; and, you can't have modern warfare and have it chivalrous. Again, far from being an antidote to crime and to vice, pure intellectualism does very literally promote both the one and the other. It promotes them by creating new and more expensive wants, by increasing man's capacity for Oh joyment and, concurrently, decreasing his capacity for self-control. It feeds selfishness and sensuality to the point where concupiscence becomes all the more intense because it is all the more refined. It can find reasons for glorifying a sort of well-bred hoodlumism and for cultivating an affection for a sort of elaborate smut. Briefly, pure intellectualism can justify the annualizing of humanity and would place its stamp of approval on the man or the philosophy that champions the unrestrained gratification of every human instinct.

And, that brings us very naturally to a consideration of the cultivation of the MORAL SENSE. It seems to me indisputable that the best education is that which gives to its subjects the best orientation; the education which most clearly defines our relations with our Creator and with society; which imparts the all-important truths concerning our origin and our destiny, which indicates the way by which we may best attain the end for which we were created. It seems to me equally indisputable that morality, the culture of the MORAL SENSE, which is taught apart from religious truth and religious sanction is a delusion. Do not misunderstand me here. I am not attempting to deny the value of an ethical code. I grant you that a code of ethics will help to classify the passions, the vices, the virtues, the moral habits and tendencies. But, is it possible for an ethical code to show how passion may be overcome, how vice may be extirpated, how virtue may be acquired? Theory is not practice. Knowing is not doing. Knowledge, in itself is good. It is a great power. But, knowledge alone has never been able to stand between human selfishness and the gratification of any human passion. The world has never been renovated by the ethical codes of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus. The MORAL SENSE that enters into our convictions, that becomes part of our very existence, that influences our lives and bracesthem to resist or forbear from wrongdoing, such a MORAL SENSE has its source in something higher than pure ethics. It has its source in the principles of religion. I shall go further than that. It has its source in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

For my present purpose, it makes little difference whether you look upon Jesus Christ as the Son of God or simply as a profound Teacher Who has attracted a world-wide following. The doctrine of Christ, judged objectively, is encouraging, ennobling, inspiring, divinizing. Woodrow Wilson tells us that "the Doctrine of Christ has liberated the world, not as a system of ethics, not as a philosophy of altruism, but by its revelation of the power of pure and unselfish love. . . . It gave us the perfect image of right living, the secret of social and individual well-being". To which I shall add that His doctrine alone could have produced the Good Samaritan, His doctrine alone can answer correctly and consolingly that most disheartening question: Am I my brother's keeper?

And that question brings to mind instantaneously the notion of responsibility. We Americans, perhaps more than any other people in the world, most frequently allow our emotions to usurp the function of reason and adopt as the guides of our conduct proverbs, aphorisms, wise sayings and similar trivia. One of the most dangerous of our American boasts is the passage in the Declaration of Independence which proudly proclaims that "all men are created equal". Millions of us quote that, but Fm not at all sure that all understand it correctly. The most hurried glance about us would positively overwhelm us with the realization that, in this world of ours, there is no equality of mental equipment, no equality of achievement, no equality of influence exerted. From the fact that these equalities do not exist, it follows logically that certain responsibilities devolve upon the more gifted, the more successful and the more influential.

The time seems to me not far away when Christian men and women, and Christian principles of thought and action will exercise an influence unparalleled in history. A just and lasting peace, I fondly hope, will come to pass within the lifetime of the oldest inhabitant of the city of Boston. For peace to be just and lasting, it must be based essentially on Christian principles and Christian men and women will be called upon to give evidence in their lives of the workableness of their beliefs and practices. Christian men and women will be overwhelmed with the responsibility of judging and directing the public taste in the artistiC., literary, and political life of our nation.

In the ESTHETIC SENSE, in CHRISTIAN CULTURE, you and I will find the criteria for our judgments, the standards by which we will accept the desirable and reject the unworthy, the bases for our necessary comparisons. Thomas Henry Huxley—and he certainly finds himself in strange company here tonight—defines the cultured man as one who has been so trained in his youth that his body is the ready servant of his will . . . whose intellect is a clear,cold, logic engine . . . whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the great and fundamental truths of Nature and the laws of her operations . . . whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience .,. a man who has learned to love all beauty whether of Nature or of art, to hate all vileness, and to respect others as himself". I will appropriate parts of that definition and say that CHRISTIAN CULTURE is the sum total of the refining principles which should be the normal result of the Christian philosophy of life and the Christian philosophy of education. Therefore, it includes a refinement of mind, morals, and taste. It embraces sympathy as well as knowledge, it combines simplicity with courtesy, it is an exteriorization of all the graces and the consequent repression of all that is mean, and sordid, and vile. It tends to expel evil with good, ignorance with knowledge, and falsehood with truth. It conduces to the practice of life, abhors uncleanness of all kinds, and motivates almost reflexively to the doing of what is morally right.

The three: Reason, Morality, Culture must go inseparably together and we must keep them safe for those who will come back to us.

And, now, I will go back to your dead, and your dying, and your living; to those among you who are absent; to those who represent the glorious trinity of love, and hope, and faith; to those, particularly, who are at this moment making heroic efforts to face bravely and calmly the unknown dangers and the indescribable hardships of this devastating war. If you were to ask them what they are fighting for, they might find it difficult to frame an answer which would satisfy either you or themselves. But, to their own minds and hearts, they have already given the only completely satisfactory answer. That answer is not merely a negation; not solely the burning desire to destroy the sly, little, yellow devils beyond one ocean and the brutal and brutalizing doctrine of Force beyond the other. Such an answer would be insufficient inspiration for those who know that the God Who sends them out to fight permits them to be zealous in the combat but never joyful.

The only answer that can rally fighting men to fight on, and suffering men to endure, and dying men to live would be something like this: We are fighting to preserve. To preserve faith. With all illusions scattered like the last shadows of night before the first beams of morning, we are fighting to preserve faith in God and faith in the Land we love. To preserve hope, hope in an eternal reward, and hope in a time for living unshackled by stultifying fears. To preserve love, love of the Giver of all good gifts, and love for our fellow-men everywhere because they too are made to the image and likeness of God. We are fighting in a war so that all men may come to know, to love, and to serve the Jesus Christ of yesterday, of today, and of all the tomorrows, that are ever to be.—And, may He keep them always in the hollow of His hand!