The events of our recent election have highlighted the importance for Catholics of that intense attention to the news which has always been a facet of our faith. From the earliest days of Christianity when St. Peter protested against slavery in Rome, to when, in the last year, Donald Trump realized his errors with regard to abortion on account of Catholics, the Church has been attentive to the call to pay close attention to world events. The majestic flourishing of talk radio and internet news, and the tremendous support they receive from devout Catholics is a testament to ongoing piety and the beautiful continuity of the Church.
The Biblical Basis of our Concern for World Events
We can find a basis for all this in the Old Testament when the Israelites are told
“Go out to all nations, seeking the oppressor and the tyrant, casting them down. Do you not know that this is your job? For who else in heaven or on earth will do this? Attend not to the widow and the orphan among you, for you must rise early to slay the oppressors of other lands.” (Barzechiel 15:29)
In the New Testament, nothing is more clear than the fourth letter of St. John:
“Brothers and sisters, concern yourself not too much with the things above, but let the conversation of the world be your conversation, for the concerns of the world are yours as well, since as we are bound one to another by the love of Christ, we are bound by the very same love for all men, and our solicitude must be exceeding as was Christ’s, who when he heard that Pilate had crushed the rebels below the tower, was much moved, and exceedingly troubled.” (4 John 99:126)
“What is wrong, what is upset, what is rude, let this be your meditation brethren, for by anger we shall conquer ourselves and the deceptions of our mind, and by spite we will be made free from the filth of the world” (4 John 173:1)
St. Paul also endorses discussion of the news:
“Brethren, this contumacy I hear of about Apollos and I, this I censure, but the contumacy about current events I do not censure.” (2 Confusians 9:9)
Neither is St. James silent:
“Be curious about all things, but most of all the troubles of the time, that filled with peace, you may contemplate Christ and eternity at all times.” (James 55:2)
News and the Early Church
The exhortation to a solicitude for worldly things was not made in vain, for we see the early Church ever engrossed in the events of the Roman Empire around them. The contemporary chronicler Squalidus Historicus writes:
“The Christians are well and widely admired for their mastery of all gossip about the empire. After their love-feasts, at which bread and wine are offered to their god, the women of the community gather and discuss contemporary political issues with a passion only paralleled among the Emperor’s courtiers.” (Hist. Prolix. 90a23)
Irenaeus, writing in 189 A. D. wrote:
“Many women of the Christian Church find it most profitable after the Eucharist not to meditate on the life and love of Christ, but rather on the troubles of the world and their worldly solution, in order that they might please Christ by their zeal for earthly things.”
St. Anthony of the Desert
No one, however, exemplifies the importance of reading or hearing the news
to a Catholic more than St. Anthony of the Desert. St. Anthony, born in 299 A. D., converted from a life of luxury to a nearly solitary hermetical life in the Egyptian desert in order to pray, subjugate his passions, and, in accord with the Christian principle of involvement, form opinions on the news.
St. Anthony set up an elaborate telegraph system to his cave in the desert, and, each night, he would faithfully copy down the news report from Alexandria. Athanasius writes:
“Animated with a lively zeal for Christ and the things of God, Anthony recalled that the Christian is called to involvement in the world around him, and that it is his duty to keep himself informed so that he can form accurate opinions on the news. The virtue of curiosity was exemplified by our forefather Adam, and must be followed by anyone who desires to become a complete and independent human person.”
The middle ages were a time of unparalleled piety and zeal for the life of perfection. One of the holiest religious orders was that of St. Businus of Marsielle, known as the Businians. St. Businus looked around himself and realized that Kings, Princes, and political leaders were generally the most holy and virtuous people, always treating each other with the greatest civility and virtue. It was always his refrain that the most powerful and influential people are also so often saints. Businus therefore realized that there was no surer path to
holiness, peace, and virtue than attending to politics, and news regarding the powerful people and the fortunes of the world. He found support for this in the Church’s long tradition of “Informatio,” or being informed.
With this in mind, the Businians were formed, centering their lives on what we in modern times would call the news. They formed a massive network of what would in the reformation become newspapers throughout Europe for their edification. They spent their time reading, copying, discussing, arguing, and writing commentary on the news. The opinions formed by the deliberate work of the Businians puts to shame any conversation casually undertaken by modern men with beers around the grill about the news, and the passion with which they argued and agreed with eachother makes any modern political argument look soft and relaxed. This passion for being right and knowing what is going on formed these men into the great Saints who spread hope and joy through a dark time in the history of Europe.
Businus realized that, although his monks could not become virtuous by doing virtuous things like good kings and princes, they could take another route: by taking pleasure in the actions of powerful men, the monks would be able to form at least an affection for acts that imitated them. Just as we saw in the election this year, no one in the world exemplifies good, peaceful, and virtuous action and treatment of others like powerful and political people, so Businus in his rule made this conclusion:
“Though understanding the actions of powerful men is a fitting work of the monk, mindful that what we love and that wherein we takes please pertains much to virtue and vice, the monk must most of all make the affairs of powerful men and the fortunes of the world his recreation and pleasure. Thus will he walk the way to peace and gentleness.”
(Regulum Bus. PP 286)
Thus, hundreds of years ago, a Catholic monk prefigured the morning paper and the critically important observance of Talk Radio as a recreation. Regarding the passion and anger many feel with regard to politics, he wrote these thoughtful words:
“Mindful that it is universally accepted that virtuous actions are most often performed when we are tired of using our passions, it is important that the monk wear out his irascible passions by exercising righteous anger and frustration as often as possible about wicked political leaders, and perceived blunders by his leaders. In this way, he will have used up his anger and confidence, and will treat his brother with gentleness and humility, albeit with a quiet passion for doing things right.”
(Regulum Bus. PP 67859.5 Section 3)
This reminds us of the famous passage in Aristotle:
“A man is called virtuous even when he hates most people and harbors great anger at his enemies, making up hateful falsehoods about them, as long as he controls himself and treats his friends kindly. This is the happiness for which all men strive”
(Machination Ethics, Bk I. Chapter 3)
Though, as is universally understood, the apostles worked tirelessly for the representation of all parts of society in the Roman government mindful that the Holy Family protested the inconveniences of the census of Augustus, equal representation for all parts of society was not won until around the eighteenth century, when the teaching of the Gospel about America and Democracy was finally explicated rightly. Only after it became the right and duty of every citizen to help rule the country could the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the hallmarks of American life, be rightly understood. Thus in America, unlike medieval Europe, the perfection of Christian life and the Religious life specifically could flourish deeply and completely, as we have seen throughout American history.
The power to vote has undisputably given religious life its true meaning. Since the Christian has always profited from a curiosity into political matters and a passionate concern for the good of the state and the correctness of the leaders, it was only fitting that the duty and ability to run the country should be put into all hands. It has been of unprecedented advantage for the spiritual life of the millions of Catholics in this country that they were compelled to concern themselves with politics, so that the virtue of informatio could be perfected in our time.
To understand the developed doctrine of Informatio, consult this passage from St. Thomas Aquinas:
“The Christian, being another Christ [Alter Christus,] not in potency but in act, is to put himself in the mind of his leader, forming his own judgements about how he should be governed, and worrying about the concerns of his superiors. This is the consummation of Obedience, Humility, and Peace. To do this it is necessary to be informed of the knowledge that pertains to the powerful, and this is the virtue of being informed [Informatio].”
(Summa Dumpseum IIa IIae Q 90 a 23 reply to obj 2, paragraph 2, line 3)
In our time, it is particularly important to look back and learn a right way of life both from the Scriptures and Church history, contrary and different as the life we will strive to lead may become to what our natural inclinations suggest and what is exemplified by our fellow men. Therefore, we must deny ourselves, and summon the curiosity to look into the questions of powerful men, even though most people find it so hard to be interested in the news, and we must have spiritual poverty and summon the confidence to form opinions on the news, even though most simply wish to leave it to others and hate voicing their own opinions. We must overcome our meekness and be passionate against those who threaten the wellbeing of the Church and state, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, even though virtually no one really wants to be angry at leaders today, or takes any pleasure in being angry at them. Most importantly, we must remember that the world is our home, and it could not have been any more clear that it is the business of the Christian to fill his mind with the fortunes of the world, worrying, and taking pleasure in the exercise.