Life as present vocation, for the human glory of Christ in history

The Kingdom of Caesar and Action
In 1954, Fr Giussani and Fr Costantino Oggioni wrote a booklet entitled Conquiste fondamentali per la vita e la presenza cristiana nel mondo [Fundamental Conquests for Christian Life and Presence in the World]. It was published by the Milanese diocesan president of Gioventù Italiana di Azione Cattolica (GIAC; Italian Youth of Catholic Action), with the imprimatur of Msgr Carlo Figini, ecclesiastic censor. The text offered reflections on the Christian meaning of life, the dynamics of vocation, and temporal action, concluding with a discussion of the psychological state of the Christian attitude. We offer here the chapters on “The Kingdom of Caesar” and “Temporal Action.” From the very beginning of our history comes a new contribution for living–with greater awareness of the reasons–life as vocation in the present, for the human glory of Christ in history: “In the degree to which we achieve a situation like this, we shall guarantee and root our fundamental conquests for Christian life and presence, and thus be able to have men take part in it, leading each one to respond to the vocation to which God calls him”

by Luigi Giussani and Costantino Oggioni

The Kingdom of Caesar is society, in that it must know and transform natural, temporal reality–in accordance with the ideals to which God calls man’s spirit.

The ideals

1. An irresistible breath of action and life lies at man’s origin. “Let us make man in Our own image and likeness,” God said. And in his irresistible need to act, man is the very image of God, the eternal “worker,” according to what Jesus said: “My Father is always at work.”
2. Certain passages at the beginning of the Bible will help us to distinguish the guiding ideals of this “active force,” as Ugo Foscolo would say, that moves man.
1) “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen 2:19). A capacity for knowledge, a power of knowledge to put into act–this is a first directive.
2) “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). A threefold directive is contained in this famous passage from the Bible:
- The world is the home where man expands himself (“Be fruitful and multiply”).
- The world is full of submissive creatures who are man’s friends; the world is all of immense help.
- The world is man’s kingdom (“subdue the earth and have dominion”). The infra-human creatures must be struck, as it were, by the force of the human spirit; matter must become the vehicle of ideas; man must make matter talk, so to speak.
3) “[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Gen 3:8). In the final analysis, the world and all of human labor are the medium to God, a vehicle for God.
3. Here, then, are the great ideals that propel man to work by their powerful attraction:
1) The ideal of knowledge, the ideal of truth. Culture is fundamental work for man.
2) The ideal of the community, in all its forms, fundamental among them the family.
3) The ideal of nature, as man’s great friend, the great source of help.
4) The ideal of government of the world, which must become man’s kingdom, like a great polis, a great orderly city.
5) The supreme ideal, the religious ideal, the knowledge and love of God, in which alone is the undefined impulse of human desire fulfilled.

1. Reality is bitter. The order of these ideals has been betrayed. An evil force has upset everything.
This force is a person: the devil. Christ calls him “the Enemy.”
1) Knowledge, reaching the truth, becomes a furious effort, and is often undermined by doubt or impeded by impossibility.
2) The family hearth and the community can become a den of enemies and a place of envious or jealous selfishness.
3) The forces of nature have become ambiguous, because they develop evil as well as good.
A beautiful flower can bear poisonous fruit, and edelweiss can be a mortal trap.
4) The world, rather than being man’s orderly kingdom, is laden with hostility and disorder that cannot be overcome. Man’s conquests conceal his death–think about the atomic bomb. These very conquests are made at the price of human lives–think about the mines.
5) Instead of a platform or race track for the ideal launch toward God, things are like a trap or sticky tar, that bind, sink, and harden our minds as God’s creatures. Thus a beautiful face becomes a temptation; in the summer, the beach stirs us up and clouds our minds; art makes us proud; music makes us lazy; love makes us selfish.
2. Some traces still remain of that original order which make all of reality the stage for an immediate, familiar dialogue between Adam and God. “It continues to be for us the sacred in its elementary form, which is the obscure intuition of a divine presence in the silence of the night, in the darkness of the forest, in the immensity of the desert, in the light of genius, in the purity of love” (J. Daniélov).
But what a vague and labored trace!
3. Man is in reality a distraught and divided being–no longer one in himself, no longer one with things, but divided in himself, divided from things. The human ideal is like the mountain sought by Dante’s Ulysses, glimpsed through the morning mist after a long journey, but unreachable, a forbidden ideal.
Now, man’s true reality is in his ideal. Concrete reality is lack, is disappointment. Concrete reality is sadness. But then, is it all useless?
- and do generous hearts throw themselves into things in vain?
- and is our daily toil all for naught?

The answer
1. God Himself brought the answer to this tremendous question.
The answer is Christ in Nazareth.
A more decisive, more convincing, more exciting answer could not exist.
Work–toil, sweat, transforming things, just as they are; using nature just as it is–has a divine meaning.
2. Thus we understand what St Paul wrote (Phil 4:8): “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, let these be your ideal.”
3. This, then, is the last word, that keeps the Kingdom of Caesar from being radically opposed to the Kingdom of God, as a certain type of pessimistic Protestant mentality would like, but makes it an activity in the service of God and Christ: work, any application whatever on man’s part to bring his tendencies and abilities to fulfillment, over himself, his peers, and nature, is good, is something positive; that is to say, it has an eternal purpose because, as Fogazzaro’s “evening bells” sang:
“ Everything, O Lord, except the eternal,
in the world is vain.”
Each one of us has meditated on the first page of the Imitation of Christ: “Immense vanity of everything, if one does not love and serve God alone.”

The task of human work
1. The world is like a big seed, which has to develop and follow its order for a flowering of supreme beauty and a fruit of happiness.
We do not know how this development will turn out; who of us is able to see the plant in the seed?
2. St Paul speaks of our nature as an “imprisoned nature.” He is echoed by the poets: Victor Hugo calls the house of the world a “cachot fermé” (closed cage). This nature will be freed, all its energy released, and above all man’s dominion will be restored; God created him “to have dominion over all the earth” (Gen 1:26).
3. When this order becomes manifest, Christ’s glory will be complete, because pure things are His Kingdom. This glory will be achieved AT THE END: “There will be new heavens and a new earth.”
4. But God called man to initiate this transformation. Read Gen 1:28 again.
This, then, is the Christian sense of work. Work is the evidence, as it were, of the beginning of that total renewal of things that God will accomplish, so that they may be a worthy setting for Christ’s Kingdom.
In this field, too, God has called man to work together with Him.
Work, any work(!), is, in the final analysis, glory to Christ.

Preliminary notes
Temporal (or earthly) action is action that directly concerns the Kingdom of Caesar, i.e., the dominion and transformation of the cosmos, which is the task God assigned to mankind from the beginning. Earthly labor, in all its forms–this is temporal action. Therefore, it includes also the fundamental work, which is the function of the family, and cultural work.

The law of temporal action
1. As for apostolic action, here too the rule is determined by the essence of the action that has to be taken. In other words, it is necessary that those who act be faithful to the intimate nature and aim of the action itself.
Thus, the politician as such must be above all a good politician, a union leader an expert union leader, a technician a precise technician, etc.
To know the mechanism of our work well and apply it exactly–this is the Christian law of work, and no one is a Christian if he does not make an effort to observe it. It is not Christian to be a shoddy worker, or to shirk our duty because of presumed outside demands.
2. This faithfulness to the structure of our work, in the final analysis, is a letting go of ourselves, our own point of view, what suits us best, our own impatience, in order to be faithful to the shape of the object we have in hand; in other words, to obey the laws of things as required by nature. It is, at bottom, a giving up one’s self in order to adhere to and obey God, the Creator of nature and every thing and every mechanism.
3. St Paul offers us a very clear example, when he writes, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women” (Eph 6:5-7).
It is an example: the servant’s work is service to God, at the same time as it is service to his master. The servant will be a better Christian the more precisely he performs his duties.
4. Thus, we can conclude also in general that a person is more Christian the more he tries to do his work well: family work, technical work, social or political work, and cultural work.

Fundamental condition
1. The basic condition of temporal action is adherence to history.
Historical development marks God’s plan, and the situation of our own time brings into focus the terms in which God’s will makes itself felt and the ways in which He calls us. Thus, for example, using the discoveries of technological development is a duty in temporal action, whenever humanly possible, save reasons of a higher order. Often the delay in using them can be very reprehensible indolence and love of comfort–such as an industrialist who out of laziness and a lack of commitment neglects to keep up with the demands of the changing times by replacing his company’s old equipment.
2. In particular, it is necessary to be faithful to the level of development to which history has brought mankind in the consciousness of the dignity of the person and the rights and duties that this entails.
In his letter to Philemon, a rich Christian slave-owner, St Paul recommends that Philemon treat Onesimus, a Christian run-away slave, well and welcome him with mercy; according to Roman law, a run-away slave could be severely punished, even put to death. St Paul does not require Philemon to free his slave; all he does is ask him to be charitable. At the time, Christianity had not yet determined the historical development that would lead to awareness of the injustice of slavery, and later result in its suppression. Today, a Christian keeping another person in slavery would be intolerable. The evolution that took place in terms of slavery has taken place and is still continuing in many other sectors. Man is becoming more and more aware of his rights, for instance in the fields of work, technological advance, the proper comforts and conveniences of life, and cultural demands.
The Christian has to be alive and vigilant; he must not remain stuck to the past out of negligence, narrow-mindedness, insensitivity, or–worst–out of egoism, reluctant to lose privileges that have become offensive to the evolved consciences of most people, or out of scornful pride, unable to accept that our brothers eat at the same table with us.

The goal of temporal action
1. Temporal action, being an affirmation of man, above all fulfills and develops man himself who does it, in that he is a person.
And since man is necessarily bound to the community, temporal action tends by its nature to develop society as well.
Thus, the man who acts can be considered under two aspects.
2. First of all, we can consider man as a “spiritual whole referred to the transcendent All,” i.e., to God. From this standpoint, man is a person, and has nothing superior to him but God; he has nothing that can interest him ultimately but his eternal goal, completion and happiness.
“ With respect to the soul’s eternal destiny, society is for every person and is subordinate to every person” (Maritain). In this sense, the ideal of temporal action is to further the Kingdom of God, and its greatest failing would be to hinder it.
3. On the other hand, man who acts can be considered a cog in the gears of the collectivity, a part of a whole. From this point of view, man is an individual. As an individual, man is isolated in himself, but everything in him asks to communicate with others so as to give and to receive, to take part in the collectivity, in the whole of which he is a part.
The earthly common good, then, is superior to the individual good of each one, considered as part of the whole. But the common good flows to the individual; the conquests of the common good work to the individual’s advantage. Our life is all a testimony of the advantages that have come to it through the community.
In this sense, the ideal of temporal action is to serve society, thus the individual is in function of the society, and only at this price, in the end, can society still work to the good of the individual.
We understand how unfair it is to act in the community for selfish ends, and how inhuman and anti-Christian it is when only a few interests prevail!
4. Between the two aspects of temporal action, because of which everything must serve the person and the individual must be useful to the whole, there is a profound connection that subordinates the aim of the latter to the aim of the former. For the temporal common good, properly developed, cannot help “sustaining the impulse by which each person strives towards his own eternal good and the transcendent All, and by which he goes beyond the order in which the common good of the earthly city is constituted” (Maritain).

Radical connection with the Kingdom of God
Temporal action, as the response to God’s characteristic call that we have called “lay vocation,” also turns into love of God, into charity, and thus into an increase in grace.
The very fact of doing one’s work well, once the soul is fundamentally united with God, becomes a “religious” reality, augmenting the reality of the Kingdom of God.