Author: Igino Giordano


Igino Giordani

The discussion goes on—the latest, but twenty centuries old—on verticalism and horizontalism (once called faith and works, or love of God and love of man). As though a discovery had been made, the horizontalists have turned to the cultivation of man to exalt him to a divine level; this is not in the traditional sense of participation in divine life, but in a paratheological sense—some say directly eschatological—of installing man in the place of God. "God is dead" and "rises" in man.

Imagine the astonishment of this creature finding himself made a god overnight, and his embarrassment in filling his new role on the level of the migraines, arthritis, debts and desolations which are the events of his ordinary experience. At this point it can be understood why existential atheism takes the credit of having demonstrated that man does not exist. Such a transfer of the deity from God to man would seem to be equivalent, according to Mauriac, to reducing religion to morality—to horizontalism only.

A somewhat archaic undertaking. From Old Testament times there have been those who centered religion only in the worship of God (disregarding duties to man) or in the rights of man only (forgetting the divine Father without whom brotherhood ends, in fact, duties toward man collapse). Taken separately, horizontalism and verticalism come to an end where it was their desire to begin: there is denial of God in not serving man, or denial of man through not obeying the law of God with love of neighbour.

The balance has always been kept alive through both dimensions: the vertical and the horizontal on the model of the cross where the two beams meet and are inseparably welded on the heart of Christ the Man-God. Christ fashions a new person and a new society, simultaneously in reference to the human and the divine. To the person he restores freedom and gives the new commandment of love: love of God and man, at the same time the one through the other. This love means service to the brethren and ascent to the Father: humanization and deification which detaches the individual from himself and unites him to his brothers; it socializes him with a perfect bond. Being fully "social" inserts the person in the Church which is Love institutionalized, the protector of liberty; because the Church in defining the task of the State prevents it from becoming despotic. The authority of the state is derived from God and is therefore regulated by his law which makes of it a service along with every other authority. In this social bond through love which proceeds from the family to the civil community, to the state, to the Church, etc., the baptized person is bound to an ethic of family honesty, self-denial and obedience, of loyalty as a citizen, and of dedication as a believer.

Norms governing work

Every person in the Gospel works; he who lives works; he steals who does not work. Work is the means of livelihood for self and others, especially for the "humble". Work produces wealth which is shared in common, because the Gospel norm of distribution is the need of the community. As forming one family with the Church, one cannot conceive of a Christian who squanders millions while a brother nearby is dying of hunger. He who has more gives to him who has less tending toward a relative equalization. Outside of that kind of use, wealth is Mammon, a false god. Work requires peace, the gift of love, and abhors war, the negation of the Gospel. All are sons of God and the rights and duties of all are equal; to each belongs the duty to labour for the common good; and to each belongs the right to the benefits of education, assistance and development.

The ethical norm which governs individuals and groups is the good, and, indeed, the elimination of evil, whether physical or moral: whether sickness, famine, misery, injustice, despotism, racism, or dishonesty, ignorance, rancour, hatred of classes and persons. The fruit is bread in sufficiency, eaten with joy in peace and liberty, with growth in that love which is also "knowledge and discernment"... "pure and blameless... filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God." (Philipp. 1, 10-11). God is the bond of this society. He is the bond and the summit, the beginning and the end, the One toward whom human life moves as to its centre from earth into heaven. And so men draw away from certain pathological attachments to race, nation, class, money, possessions, all elements which the objective Christian does not disregard, but measures according to their relative value: relative to a greater, higher, eternal end.

"Brethren" writes Saint Paul to the Colossians, "we do not cease to pray for you and to ask... that you may be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."

Satan in one of the temptations urged Our Lord Who was hungry to turn stones into bread. He answered: "Not on bread alone does man live." He lives by the spirit from the word of God: first that, then ordinary bread. "There is no doubt," Saint Ambrose notes, "that the divine is Superior to the human, the spiritual to the corporal.''

Christian versus pagan concept of work

All this belief in a world distinct from the earth, however, stirred in pagans distrust and scorn; the followers of such a creed seemed to them like deserters, strangers and parasites. But the Christians resisted the temptation to live on earth as profiteers, for the reason that work imposed as a divine law was their daily task and earthly existence was granted to them as a state of trial for meriting eternal life. This trial consisted in their cultivating the gifts received from God through nature which each had to put to use according to tile example of the good servant in the parable of the talents. Talent, skill, culture, physical strength, earthly goods all were gifts to be brought to fruition for self and for the community. This also excluded a conduct inimical to the advantage of the common good. In spite of all the misunderstanding and opposition, in the end, the State had to tolerate and then to recognize the Church. She was a force through which men grew fearful of the effects of a single despotism. She introduced a new order. The State then changed its strategy. Unsuccessful in suppressing the new force, the State conceived the idea of using it, of exploiting it as an instrument of the regime. And in many ways this policy succeeded.

Among the first means resorted to was a theology of the court, engaged in to carry forward an urgent endeavour to purge the Gospel message of its horizontal teaching regarding service to men In this way there was spread everywhere the practice of a Christianity strong in liturgy but weak in sociology. What began in the Church ended in the Church: it did not walk abroad through the streets.

The division between verticalism and horizontalism became almost systematized in the places where the direction of the Church was usurped by the heads of the State. It was to their advantage to have faith alone interpreted as abstaining from works. The dechristianized philosophy of the Renaissance and then of the Enlightenment favoured the recession of faith toward solitude and isolation to the exclusion of expression in charity. Then about thirty years ago, an illustrious explorer into the mysteries of birth and death, of salvation and immortality, Miguel de Unamuno, as though for a renewal of the Gospel, separated religion from reason and at the same time from the human problems of peace, of war and of social injustice.

The Vatican Council, on the other hand, has given new emphasis to the dogma of the Incarnation (which Hitler detested) for the purpose of reintegrating human values in the faith.

Before the time of Christ, religion for the pagans was simply vertical with worship, the sacrifice of bulls and so on. It was Christ who systematically united honour to God with service to man, esteem for the soul with esteem for the body made a temple and destined for the resurrection, life of association in the State with life of association in the Church, a guardian of the autonomy of conscience. He inspired a life, twofold but integral, of soul and body, time and eternity, vertical and horizontal. To split the two components for satisfaction with one alone is equivalent to cutting man in two and nullifying the redemption.

"The ministry of death"

To eliminate the supernatural from religion amounts to the annulment of Christianity and the materialization of man as well as to the suppression of love and liberty, values which are sustained with difficulty under declarations of principle and written laws which have a short life in times of conflict. The degradation of man in the epoch of genocide, of forced labour was justified by ideologies which fought against God. In their thought, if there is a God, man is practically his equivalent; if there is not a God, he is a mammal valued at a dollar. Do away with God and his image and likeness is no more. Do away with the Church and its place is usurped by an earthly regime which divinizes itself.

With horizontalism alone—for want of a just God who brings justice to bear in eternity and punishes the reprobate—man risks solving his problems with firearms, while he obstinately pursues atomic catastrophe. In short, horizontalism alone brings on the "ministry of death", as Saint Paul defined it.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 December 1968, page 10

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069