Recently I was introduced to this Latin phrase by Fr. Robert Leavitt in his newly released book: “The Truth Will Make You Free: The New Evangelization for a Secular Age; A Study in Development” (www.litpress.org)). Any believers – any monotheists – concerned about the future of faith in our increasingly secularized “post-modern” world would find both challenge and encouragement in the fact packed three hundred and thirty pages this retired Rector of St Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore has written. The book is engrossing. Beware that if you pick it up you’ll not want to put it down.
Fr. Leavitt traces the development of secularism since the aftermath of the religious wars in Europe in the 17th century to the present. He invites us to consider secularism’s challenging implications for the ‘new evangelization’ to which we have been called by Pope John XXIII and each of his successors.
He writes: “The secular state, for all its problems, was the only political remedy for inter-Christian violence after the Reformation hooked on power more than persuasion. It did mean, of course, that the political legitimation of religious belief and practice would cease, not immediately but eventually. Today, the secular state needs to be ‘world-view-neutral’ and to accommodate different convictions of conscience and belief as much as possible. It cannot treat religious citizens, who disagree with secular worldviews on the meaning and purposes of human life, as second-class citizens. But, Christian citizens must also respect the rights of pluralist secular states to make laws based on constitutional principles, even as believers reserve the right to protest and not participate in practices which violate their moral principles…”
Bur, Fr. Leavitt also reminds us that since its inception the church has experienced the tense interface between the faith and society: “The ‘signs of the times’ demand that the church draw from the Scriptures and its tradition timely truths which people seeking God in any age, but especially in a secular age, can hear in a new way and without distortion…..The church by the grace of the Holy Spirit has found the language necessary to translate the Gospel message into the vernacular of that age drawing from culture, art, and philosophy the appropriate idioms which best express the mystery of Jesus Christ – new expressions of an ancient truth”.
In the secular state it is open dialogue that will render the new evangelization fruitful, but only if: those who speak for religion admit that their religion does not exhaust all truth and that other viewpoints can make contributions; rationalist thought cannot deny that religion can contribute in important ways to public life; and between religion and science there “exists a wider range for moral viewpoints whose plausibility forces a generous agnosticism on everyone”.
As the book’s title suggests this is a study in development. Ours is the challenge of continuing the study. All that is clear is that if we maintain mutually honest dialogue with others with different world views we will be guided by the Holy Spirit. If we are open to ‘thymos’ (the Greek word for ‘spiritness’) we may experience what the Apostles did on that first Pentecost. It would be the renaissance Pope John Paul foretold just a few years ago as the ‘new springtime’.
Etsi Deus Non Daretur loosely translated means ‘as though God did not exist. Imagine. To whom would the Kingdom advance; how would it get there?