Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Angels and Subsidiarity

Everyone knew that the debt ceiling debate would not end with the compromise bill signed by President Obama on Tuesday. As the nation continues to debate the role of government, federal spending, and entitlement reform, I thought a page from “God’s playbook” might be of some use for the national debate.

Way back, before the creation of the universe, God created the angels. Though we are somewhat familiar with the so-called nine choirs of angels, suffice it to say that the two highest, noblest, and most-powerful of the choirs are the cherubim and seraphim while the two lowest, bottom-most choirs are called the archangels and angels. The latter two are the angels we most commonly read about in the Bible. When God speaks to individuals through His angels (which means messenger), He does so with the lowest of the angels. But God also turned to these low angels at a very important time: the Fall of Lucifer.

Lucifer was a seraph, the highest and most powerful of all the angels. Now when Lucifer rebelled against God, God could have shown is power and vaporized Lucifer – but instead he went down to the weakest of the angels and used them to cast out Lucifer and his followers (which amounted to a whopping one-third of the angels). What’s more, God created man – a being far lower than the lowest angels – to finish what Michael and his angels begun! The point I am trying to make is that God is a staunch practitioner of something the Church calls subsidiarity. The Catechism defines subsidiarity in the following way:

The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC 1883, quoting Pope Pius XI).
In other words if a lower form of order can do the job, don’t interfere. In the case of the angels, what seemed impossible was accomplished to the great glory of God and his lowly angels. In our case, we need to ask ourselves: to what degree does the federal government need to inject itself into matters which could be handled at a local level? The Incarnation is a good example of the need for God to step in to help us when we could not help ourselves. Sin was a big problem that needed a big solution. Now the Church grants us a great deal of leeway regarding how to implement government programs, but she does caution us that: “Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.”

Francis Fukuyama writes of our need for intermediate voluntary forms of association. Citizens of any nation must cultivate a strong sense of local self-government. Furthermore, the bonds of trust that are essential to build strong associations are created by “social capital” which is itself generated by churches and local organizations which tie men together to protect and produce, while honoring God. When we speak of the “debt crisis” let us use the language and imagery of divine subsidiarity, honoring God’s name, and entering into the bonds of fraternal protection and production. If our government programs and spending do not reflect these categories, then our nation has a more fundamental problem at hand than mere spending.

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