Taken from Charles Ferguson’s “The Affirmative Intellect” (1901)
“The history of the world is a struggle—on the whole a successful struggle—of the creative intellect against the terror and the discouragement of the external law. It is the progressive endeavour of the human spirit to make itself at home in the universe, and to fashion the stubborn things of Nature according to the uses of the soul.
The central drama of history is Christianity, which is in its broadest aspect simply the attempt to supersede the old world social order, governed by an external authority and the prepossessions of the passive intellect, by a new world-order governed by an internal authority—the faith of the affirmative spirit.
The meaning and use of the historic Church is that it has served as a mighty causeway between the old order and the new—between theocracy and democracy. It belongs to both the old and the new. For a thousand years it gestated the soul of the West in the womb of the East. The very nature of the Church, in its medieval constitution, was contradiction; it could not otherwise have done its work. Every dogma of the Church was a proclamation of liberty framed in the language of slaves. Every sacrament was a pledge of equality, making its difficult appeal in the acceptable symbols of privilege and caste.
The inner logic of the Church’s great system of administration was not the permanent separation of the sacred from the secular, but the winning of a new polarity of social organization.
The social ideal of the modern world was born out of the bosom of the Church. Americanism is the evolutionary product of historic Catholicism; for the quintessence of the old Catholicism was simply the attempt to establish a great social order, not by external authority and the compromise of interests, as in the “kingdoms of the world,” but through the purification and the concurrence of wills.
In the last analysis there are but these two possible forms of social order—there are these two opposite and contradictory conceptions of the sanction of social law. The sanction, the force of the law, is either outside of mankind or it is within. Either it is in the nature-of-things and the arbitrary will of God, or else it is the will of the people—the heart’s desire of humanity.
The idea that the will of the people could be the source of social law was born into the world with great travail. It was for ages difficult, even impossible, to conceive such an idea. The wills of the people seemed so shallow and weak, or else so irrational and contradictory. But Christianity is the discovery of the infinite depth of the human will.
And so for nearly two thousand years it has been possible to imagine that a multitude of men—the controlling element of a population might be brought to desire and to will with steady insistence things that are beautiful and just. The Church of the Middle Ages stood as a provisional plan of such a social system.
In the midst of a world-order based upon an opposite principle the principle of the external law—the Church wrought into concrete forms and the solid structure of institutions the democratic ideal. It was a marvellous achievement—this magnificent rough- sketching of a new world in the oppugnant (i.e. opposing; antagonistic) materials of the old.
In the sixteenth century the idea of the social law as proceeding from the sanified (i.e. to make healthful) and consentaneous wills of the people was fairly born into the secular world. The Church had poured its vital store into the lap of the nations. It had breathed out its very soul of liberty in the breath of the modern spirit. And for four hundred years democracy has wrestled for the spiritual order—for the sovereignty of the human ideal in the open arena of the secular world. The issue has commonly found a statement in terms of politics and the forms of government, but that is superficial. The issue reaches to the intimacies of life; it is revolutionary in the spheres of morals, law, art, science, and economics.