Msgr. Luigi Civardi
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1961
Published on the World Wide Web with Permission of the Publisher.


Preliminary Notions

1. The word patria is derived from pater [father] and is synonymous with "fatherland." It is the place where we were born. As a synonym for country, one may also employ the word nation, which has more or less the same meaning, being derived from the word nascere [to be born].

Love of country is natural; that is, it springs spontaneously in the heart of man. Just as nature itself makes flowers bloom in the fields, so likewise it makes "the love of our native land spring up in our heart." [Inf. 14:1].

How can we help loving the land that we were born and grew up in; the land that left its stamp upon our bodies, upon our minds and even upon our voice; the land that harbors our father's home, in which we were reared, the temple where we became sons of God, and a hundred other things that are indelibly engraved in our imagination and in our hearts?

2. But one's country is not merely a place and an aggregate of endearing things, it is also, above all, the community of the people who were born in the land of our birth and who avail themselves of the things that we also avail ourselves of; in a word, it is the whole of our fellow citizens.

This is the loftiest and the truest idea of country. It is also an eminently Christian idea. Love of country thus understood is nothing but a manifestation of love of neighbor. It is a natural extension of our love toward our father; an expansion of our love for our family.

3. Love of country, understood in this latter sense too, is a natural sentiment; it was felt even by pagans, who were fond of this motto: "pro aris et focis" [for our altars and our fires] ----- that is, for religion and for country.

But, as happens with all pagan virtues, this too was defiled by spurious elements. Very often it was a case of exaggerated love and pride, that not only disregarded the rights of mankind, but did violence to them. Thus, for the Greeks, every foreigner was a barbarian, and for the Romans, an enemy.

Even the people of Israel, although taught by God, had an exaggerated idea of country that was often in conflict with their duties toward mankind.

Christianity purified and elevated this virtue also by reconciling it with all of man's duties.

We will see that love of country is a natural and a Christian duty, founded on the example of Christ and of the Apostles, as well as on the teachings of the Church. Finally, we will show how we ought to love our country.

A Natural and Christian Duty

1. Love of country was a natural duty before becoming a Christian duty. The Holy Spirit dictated this sentence: "Every beast loveth its like: so also every man him that is nearest to himself." [Ecclus. 13:19]. These words contain a fundamental law of nature: Love has its motive and its foundation in likeness --- the greater and deeper are the likenesses, the keener is the love.

Now, who are our fellow countrymen if not neighbors with whom we have the most in common? In fact, besides having their nature, origin and destiny in common with us, like all men, they have other particular elements of likeness, such as language, culture, traditions, customs, tastes, social relations, common moral and even physical traits.

Love of country, therefore, has its foundations in nature. Patriotism is an inborn sentiment; hence, it is willed and enjoined by the Creator.

From this we can see how senseless is this statement of the Communist Manifesto, drawn up by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: "Workingmen have no fatherland."

And senseless, too, is this other statement which Manzoni puts in the mouth of Don Abbondio: "Fatherland is where one is well off."

2. Love of country is also a duty of gratefulness for the benefits that the citizen has received from the people and from the country in which he was born and reared.

St. Thomas Aquinas says on this point: "After God, man is chiefly indebted to his parents and to his country, and, therefore, just as religion must render worship to God, so, to a lesser degree, piety must pay honor to parents and to country."

3. Love of country is a Christian duty, inasmuch as it was not only practiced, but preached by Christ who made love of neighbor the characteristic and the novelty of His message: "This is my commandment: that you love one another.". . . [Jn. 15: 12]. "A new commandment I give you; that you love one another." [Jn. 13:34]. Now, our closest neighbors, after those that come in contact with us within the walls of our homes, are those that we come in contact with as soon as we cross the threshold of our homes, within the boundaries of our country.

Indeed, Jesus, the second Adam, came to save all the descendants of the first Adam and, therefore, just as He teaches the brotherhood of all men, so likewise He enjoins universal love. Because of this universality, some accuse the Gospel of obstructing love of country, but that is a gross error, when it is not a polemical trick. Indeed, love of neighbor, while universal in extension, cannot be equally so in comprehension.

With regard to its comprehension, there are different degrees of love depending upon greater or lesser likeness, in the sense already explained. Therefore, the prime center of love of neighbor is the family, where the traits of resemblance are more numerous and more marked; from the family it spreads to the country, and from there, to the whole of mankind.

Love of country may be compared to the flame in the fireplace, that warms all who are gathered within the same room, yet reserving however a more intense heat for those who are closest. Hence, we love our countrymen more than foreigners, and the members of our family more than our countrymen. And just as love of home is in harmony with love of country, so love of country is consistent with love of mankind.

The Example of Christ and the Apostles

1. Jesus taught us the duty to love our country, first of all by His conduct. He showed, in fact, a special love for His country.

His preaching was reserved for the children of Israel, and to the Canaanite woman He answers: "I was not sent except to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel." [Matt. 15: 24].

The people were aware of this predilection of Jesus for His country, so much so that at Capharnaum, the elders of the Jews, while pleading with Him to come to save the servant of the centurion, said to Him: "He is worthy that thou shouldest do this for him, for he loveth our nation and he has built us a synagogue." [Lk. 7: 5-6].

Jerusalem, the capital of His people, rejected His kindness. He was saddened by it, and one day He uttered these words full of motherly tenderness: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but thou wouldst not!" [Matt. 23: 37].

A few days before His death, while approaching Jerusalem and looking down upon it from a height, He thought of the terrible lot that awaited that magnificent city, of which there would not be left a stone upon a stone, and tearfully He offered these words, burning with love and desire: "If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes." [Lk. 19: 42].

How Jesus loved His country!

2. The Apostles, too, brought up in the school of Christ, gave undoubted proof of this love.

They were sent by the Redeemer to teach all nations; but their first concern was for their countrymen within the boundaries of their country, and when, after crossing these boundaries, they entered into a strange city to preach the new message, their first word was always for the Jews that dwelt there.

St. Paul, too, the Apostle of the Gentiles, the zealous champion of the universality of Christianity, who had made himself all things to all men, when he set foot in a city the first thing he did was to enter the synagogue and to preach the Gospel to his countrymen. He confessed that when he lived among the Jews ----- who were very much attached to their ceremonies and their customs ----- he became a Jew himself [that is, he lived like them] that he might gain them to Christ. [1 Cor. 9: 20], He went so far as to say that he longed to be excommunicated [if that were possible and necessary] provided that he could save those who were bound to him by ties of blood. "For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh." [Rom. 9: 3]. Thus did St. Paul hearken to the voice of blood.

The Teachings of the Church

1. The Church of Christ has always taught the duty of loving one's country in preference to others. She has stressed this duty even during tragic hours, when Christians were subjected to bloody persecutions by public authorities. Tertullian gives us conclusive proof in his Apologetic, written at a time when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman emperors as enemies of their country. Here are his exact words: "With eyes lifted up to Heaven, with arms outstretched, incapable of harm, with head uncovered because we are unashamed, we heartily invoke long life for all our emperors, security for the empire, tranquility for families, a powerful army, a faithful servant, a peaceful world and all that men and emperors hope for." [Chapter 30].

2. The Roman Pontiffs have also stressed this duty, pointing out how, in practice, it can and should be fulfilled. Leo XIII said in this regard: "The supernatural love for the Church and the natural love of country are two loves that have their origin in the same eternal principle, since the same God is the author of the one and of the other." [Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae].

Pius XII has defended the teaching of the Church in these exact words: "Nor need there be any fear lest the consciousness of universal brotherhood, fostered by the teaching of Christianity, and the spirit which it inspires, be in contrast with love of the traditions or the glories of one's fatherland, or impede the progress of prosperity or legitimate interests. For that same Christianity teaches that in the exercise of charity we must follow a God-given order; yielding the place of honor in our affections and good works to those who are bound to us by special ties." [Encyclical Summi Pontificatus].

3. The Church of Christ, however, while teaching and enjoining love of country, has at the same time endeavored to keep it within just bounds by harmonizing it with other loves, according to the dictates of reason and of faith.

Christianity is the religion of harmonies. It teaches true love of country, which lies midway between two erroneous extremes: between exaggerated nationalism, which ignores the rights of humanity, and internationalism, which denies country.

Pius XI, in his Encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei, says: "Patriotism, the stimulus of so many virtues and of so many noble acts of heroism, when kept within the bounds of the laws of Christ, becomes merely an occasion, an added incentive to grave injustice when true love of country is debased to the condition of extreme nationalism when we forget that all men are our brothers and members of the same human family, that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity."

And Pius XII has said that Catholics "just as they should be second to none in their love of country and therefore should love the land of their ancestors with affection and promote its true prosperity, so likewise, guided by Christian precepts, let them embrace the whole human family in the divine love of Jesus Christ, whatever may be the race, whatever may be the people by which it is made up." [Letter to the President of Italian Catholic Action Youth.]

4. A Christian, besides belonging to civil society, belongs also to religious society, namely the Church. Hence the two loves must be in harmony with each other. The following is a teaching of Leo XIII on this point: 

"Now if the natural law commands us to love with devotion and to defend the country in which we were born so that every good citizen does not hesitate to face death for his native land, very much more is the urgent need of Christians to be ever quickened by like feelings toward the Church. For the Church is the holy city of the living God, born of God Himself and by Him built and established. Upon this earth indeed she accomplishes her pilgrimage, but by instructing and guiding men she summons them to eternal happiness. We are bound then to love dearly the country whence we have received the means of enjoyment this mortal life affords, but we have a much more urgent obligation to love, with ardent love, the Church to which we owe the life of the soul, a life that will endure forever: For fitting it is to prefer the good of the soul to the well-being of the body, inasmuch as duties toward God are of a far more hallowed character than those toward men." [Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae].

How One's Country Is to Be Loved

1. Love of country, like love of neighbor generally, should be not only affective, but also effective.

When is that the case? When legitimate authority is respected and all just laws observed; when citizens are men of integrity, honest and industrious; when the duties of justice and charity are fulfilled; when all sacrifices that the country justly calls for are accomplished.

Now who does not see that these are virtues taught and fostered by the religion of Christ?

2. While on the one hand Christianity teaches and enjoins such love, on the other she offers the means to make it effective; these are the principles of the Gospel and the help of divine grace.

Love of country, therefore, cannot be divorced from respect for religion. Whoever opposes harms his country. All history affirms the prophet's sentence: "Happy is that people whose God is the Lord."
[Ps. 143: 15].

Pius XII gave utterance to this remarkable sentence, which history confirms. "He serves his country best who serves his God with greater faith." [Message to the President of the United States: August 26, 1946.]

Silvio Pellico ----- a great Italian patriot and a great believer ----- wrote these famous words: "If anyone despises religion, the sanctity of marriage, decency, righteousness and shouts 'my country, my country; do not believe him. He is a hypocrite of patriotism. He is the poorest kind of a citizen." [The Duties of Men.]

More than once, Pius XI gave this admonition to the members of Catholic Action: "You should be the best citizens." The admonition was, is and will be observed always and everywhere. Moreover, by the very fact that Catholic Action works for the spread of the Kingdom of Christ it helps to make the whole country a nation of good citizens, and that means to make the country truly great. Thus Catholic Action is a peaceful army fighting pro aris et focis, for our altars and our homes.


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