S. May we truly say that God does inflict punishments in this world on sinful nations?
T. It is somewhat difficult to give a clear and, complete reply to this question. Catholics who are affected with liberalism do not accept the theory of divinely inflicted punishment on sinful countries.
S. But one often hears that societies must expiate their sins in this world. What foundation is there for this statement?
T. The theory on which this affirmation is based is as follows:---individuals who have committed sins may expiate them in this
world. If they do not they will expiate them in the next. Thus individuals will be punished according to the degree of
their guilt, either in Purgatory, where they will make reparation, or in Hell, where they will undergo everlasting punishment. Societies, as such, do not enter into the next world. In so far as they have been guilty of sin they can be punished only in this world. Now their sin is a sin against justice which demands reparation. It follows, therefore, that countries which have abandoned God must make expiation and reparation here below, and it pertains to the wisdom of God to inflict on them such
punishments as are in conformity with His eternal designs.

S. I can understand that societies must expiate their evil-doings, but it is not so clear to me what you mean by punishments in conformity with the eternal designs of God?
T. I mean that nations and indeed all forms of society owe to God in strict justice reparation and expiation, in so far as they are guilty. The extent of such expiation, more particularly when it is to be brought about by Divine punishment, is left to the wisdom and the decrees of God. For God is not obliged to inflict social punishment because such punishment has been deserved. Very often---we may even say always---God's action in regard to communities is motivated by His desire to save souls, and follows, therefore, the way of mercy and love. In any social punishment prepared, willed and carried out by Him we always find His will to save souls. In inflicting social punishment God wishes to reach souls and bring them back to Himself. This is why it is difficult for us to trace the eternal plan in the punishments inflicted by God on erring nations. We must simply hold that God can punish, that He does in fact punish, and that to avoid His punishments the entire social order must subject itself to Him.

S. What you say seems to me just. Can you quote doctrinal statements formulated by the authorities of the Church in confirmation of your statement?
T. Popes and Bishops have spoken very clearly and without hesitation.

In his first Encyclical Pope Pius XI wrote: "Long before the European war broke out, the chief and efficient cause of all those evils operated through the fault of individuals, as of States, a cause which the horror itself of war ought to have set aside and certainly suppressed, if only men had understood the true significance of such formidable events ... Because of this unhappy separation from God and Jesus Christ, man has fallen from his happy state into this morass of evil, and it is to the same cause is due the failure of every attempt made to repair the losses and to save what remains from amidst so much devastation. Neither God nor Jesus Christ being recognised by the Law or by the State, and authority claiming to be derived from man alone, it has come to pass that, both the removal of the true and fundamental sanctions of the law ... the very foundations of authority have been destroyed." [1]

In his Consistorial Allocution of the 24th December, 1917, Benedict XV solemnly declared "just as the disorder of the senses once hurled famous cities into a sea of fire, so in our own time the want of piety in public life and the erection of atheism into a system of so-called civilisation have hurled the world into a sea of blood."

The same Pope, in the same Allocution, stated that "the present calamities will not come to an end until the human race has returned to God."

Leo XIII and Pius X spoke in the same way. Among Bishops Cardinal Mercier raised his voice in a pastoral letter of lasting fame, The Lesson of Events. In it he stated "public crimes will sooner or later be punished." In the same pastoral he wrote: "Violation of the Lord's day, abuses of the marriage law, most certainly offend God, my brethren, and justify His punishments,
but for all that we cannot doubt that the chief crime which the world is expiating at this moment is the official apostasy of nations and of public opinion."

And again: "At the present day, men, to whom has been entrusted the government of peoples, are, or show themselves, with very few exceptions, officially indifferent to God and to Christ. I make no charge against those worthy officials who, for fear of provoking worse evil, submit loyally to the unfortunate situation which is imposed on them: it is the situation itself that I have in mind, and in the name of the Gospel, in the light of the Encyclicals of the last four Popes, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius X, I do not hesitate to affirm that this indifference to religion which puts on the same level the religion of Divine origin and the religions invented by men, in order to include them all in the same scepticism, is the blasphemy which, far more than the sins of individuals and families, calls down on society God's chastisements."

S. Can we have any accurate idea as to the nature of the punishments that God inflicts on guilty nations?
T. All disasters which can bring communities to reflection serve for the accomplishment of God's designs. War, plagues,
disasters of every sort, more particularly calamities of the intellectual and moral order, can touch them and bring them back
to repentance.

Our Lord speaks of scourges of this sort, in particular of the great misfortune of spiritual blindness. Of the Jews He says, "this people will not understand because it cannot understand, and cannot understand because it does not wish to understand." We must understand these words to refer to a social punishment. Nothing is so dreadful as that man should be, as a result of his failure to understand, the cause of his own misfortunes. The Jews, as our Lord told them reproachfully, do not understand that He is the Messiah and the Son of God. Now for the Jewish nation there is only one means of salvation, to realise and to profess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Son of God. Nevertheless, the Jewish people remain immovable in the determination not to understand that this is so, and thus God speaks to them: "O you, formerly My chosen people, for you there is but one way of salvation, Jesus Christ. Accept Him and you are saved"; and the people reply, "I do not wish to understand that it can be so"; God replies, "Since your will is set against understanding, I accept it. You will not understand. That is the punishment I inflict upon you." It is exactly the same with Catholic society in our day. To save the social order, and peoples, Catholics must begin by realising that Christ alone is their salvation. Their will is set against realising it, God accepts their obstinate will. They do not understand, they do not see and they can no longer see in Jesus Christ their only salvation. That is their punishment. [Emphasis bold that of the Web Master.]

To this general truth, we may add certain others more particular in their nature. Men do not realise that the principles of modern Jurisprudence and the great modern liberties which it involves must be suppressed in the social order. It is not understood that to each man must be denied liberty of opinion. No more is it realised that, whatever happens, the growth of false principles should be checked and that only Catholic truth should be favoured. [Ibid.] All this condition of things bears the sign and seal of that Divine punishment which brings nations to their ruin. Leo XIII said, in 1881, ''as an inevitable result of the war waged against the Church, civil society finds itself facing the most serious dangers, for since the very basis of the social order has been overturned, nations and their rulers see nothing before them but disasters and threats of disasters." [2] The same Pope writes, "from such attacks made on the Catholic religion, serious evils have arisen for the nations in great numbers, and will continue to arise." [3]

That, for the moment, may be considered sufficient on the great question of social punishment.

S. In fine you hold that God makes use of events, such as upheavals and social disasters, to punish countries?
T. Obviously God has recourse to all these means to make man realise that He, the Infinite, the Creator, has no need of
man; but that, on the contrary, man has need of God. Thus what happens in the economic order can help greatly to make men realise that if a country is stricken by disaster, it is in order to make its inhabitants less attached to this world's goods, and to teach them that all wealth comes from God and ought to serve only the cause of His love. Wealth must be used to maintain God and Jesus Christ throughout society, and must, therefore, serve to establish and promote the Kingship of Christ in the whole world. [Emphasis bold that of the Web Master.]

1. Translation. Browne and Nolan.
2. 18th May, 1881.
3. Encyclical Letter In iPso, 3rd May, 1891.


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