"God is not dead. He isn't even tired." | Christendom College Commencement Address | Dr.
Charles E. Rice, Professor Emeritus, Notre Dame Law School | May 17, 2010
"God is not dead. He isn't even tired." | Christendom College Commencement Address | Dr. Charles E. Rice, Professor Emeritus, Notre Dame Law School | May 17, 2010
Editor's Note: The following Commencement Address was given at Christendom College, Front Royal, Virginia,
on Saturday, May 15th. It is reproduced here by kind permission of Dr. Rice.
When President O'Donnell asked me to give this address, I expressed one concern:
"Will there be a protest? And will you prosecute the protestors? Or at least 88
of them?" He made no commitment. I accepted anyway.
can I tell you? This is a time of crises. The economy is a mess, the culture is
a mess, the government is out of control. And, in the last three years, Notre
Dame lost 21 football games. But this is a great time for us to be here,
especially you graduates of this superbly Catholic college. This is so because
the remedy for the general meltdown today is found only in Christ and in the
teachings of the Catholic Church. Let's talk bluntly about our situation and
what you can do about it.
living through a transformation of our federal government. A one-party regime,
the leader of which was elected with 54 percent of the Catholic vote, is
substituting for the free economy and limited government a centralized command
system of potentially unlimited jurisdiction and power. Its takeover of health
care, against the manifest will of the people, not only funds elective
abortions and endangers the elderly and conscience rights. It was enacted in
disregard of legislative process and by a level of bribery, coercion and
deception that was as open as it was unprecedented.
To find a
comparable example of the rapid concentration of executive power by a legally
installed regime, we have to go back to 1933. Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor
on January 30. Over the next few weeks he consolidated his power. The decisive
event was the Reichstag's approval of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, by
which it ceded full and irrevocable powers to Hitler. That was the point of no
return. The Enabling Act received the needed two-thirds vote only because it
was supported by the Catholic party, the Centre Party. Our
"Health Care Reform," enacted with the decisive support of Catholic members of
both houses of Congress, may be the Enabling Act of our time in the control it
cedes to government over the lives of the people. It includes the federal
takeover of student aid. What do student loans have to do with health care? The
common denominator is control. No student will be able to get a federally
guaranteed educational loan without the consent of a federal bureaucrat. This
opens the way to make political loyalty a test for educational advancement, as
it was in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This confirms the wisdom of
Christendom's decision to forego all federal aid.
Germany in 1933, we have legal means of redress. I am proud to say I am a Tea
Party guy. In November, the reaction may dislodge the Congressional arm of the
ruling class. But that reaction will be only temporary unless we go to the
source of the evil. The root problem is not political or economic. It is
religious. And that is where you come in. "The social crisis," said Fr. Thomas
Euteneuer, "happens when we elect people to rule over us who are immoral. ....
[P]eople who don't have a moral bearing to elect other moral people, elect
immoral politicians to serve over them.... So immoral lifestyles produce immoral
leaders." In other words, we elect immoral,
rather than moral, people because we have lost the ability, or the desire, to
tell the difference. The answer, said Fr. Euteneuer, is "to turn back to God. ...
What we need is a conversion of heart."
urge fidelity to the Constitution. But no paper charter can survive the disappearance
of the morality that produced it. In 2001, thirteen days after 9/11, Pope John
Paul II, in Kazakhstan, cautioned the leaders of that Islamic republic against
a "slavish conformity" to Western culture which is in a "deepening human,
spiritual and moral impoverishment" caused by "the fatal attempt to secure the
good of humanity by eliminating God, the Supreme Good."
graduates will enter a culture in which the intentional infliction of death
upon the innocent is widely seen as an optional problem-solving technique. The
Columbine shootings set a precedent. If you have a grievance against your
classmates, fellow employees or IRS agents, the answer is to blow them away.
Legalized abortion is the prime example of murder as a problem solver. And the execution
of someone like Terri Schiavo occurs routinely, without public notice, when the
family and caregivers agree to withhold food and water because it is time for
the patient to "die with dignity." The separation of morality from killing has
counterparts in the separation of morality from economics, from sex and from
personal decisions in general.
no mystery in this. We are living through what Fr. Francis Canavan, S.J.,
called "the fag end of the Enlightenment," the collapse of the effort by philosophers
and politicians, over the past three centuries and more, to build a society as
if God did not exist. That Enlightenment culture is built on
three lies, secularism, relativism and individualism. They are components of
what Benedict XVI called a "dictatorship of relativism... that recognizes nothing
as absolute and which leaves only the 'I' and its whims as the ultimate
measure." Those three lies are weapons deployed
by our enemy, Satan, the father of lies. Your job, for which you are well
equipped, is to counter his lies with the truth. If you speak the truth, you
will have an impact beyond what you know. Cardinal Edouard Gagnon described a
conversation he had with John Paul II:
[T]he Holy Father... told
me, "error makes its way because truth is not taught. We must teach the truth....
not attacking the ones who teach errors because that would never end—they
are too numerous. We have to teach the truth." He told me truth has a grace
attached to it. Anytime we speak the truth.... an internal grace of God...
accompanies that truth. The truth may not immediately enter in the mind and
heart of those to whom we talk, but the grace of God is there and at the time
they need it, God will open their heart and they will accept it. He said, error
does not have grace accompanying it.
Remember that Truth, with a capital T, "is a person, Jesus Christ." And
Christ is not some lawyer, CEO or community organizer. He is God. Cardinal
Avery Dulles described three foundational principles: "that there is a God,
that he has made a full and final revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and
that the Catholic Church is the authorized custodian and teacher of this body
of revealed truth." The Catholic faith is not a set of
doctrines. It is a lived encounter with Christ, who lives in, and teaches
through, the Church.
Magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, is a great gift, not only for
Catholics but for others to whose conscience it appeals "on the basis of reason
and natural law." The forces of evil concentrate their
fire on the Vicar of Christ, who is the authoritative interpreter of the moral
law. We must respond with loyal defense of him and of the Church. We are not,
to borrow Fr. Euteneuer's phrase, the Church Impotent. We are part of the
Church Militant. Our job is to fight for the Truth. Don't be conned by their
first lie is secularism: There is no God or he is unknowable. They say that is what the
First Amendment means, but that, too, is a lie. On September 24-25, 1789, the
First Congress approved the First Amendment and called on the President to
proclaim a day of "thanksgiving and prayer... acknowledging... the many ... favors of
Almighty God." President Washington proclaimed that
day of prayer. The First Amendment required neutrality on the part of the
federal government among religious sects while recognizing the power of the
state and federal governments to affirm the existence of God. The Supreme Court
has now imposed a duty on all governments to maintain an impossible neutrality
between theism and non-theism. The words "under God," according to Justice
William Brennan's still accurate description of the Court's approach, may
remain in the Pledge of Allegiance only because they "no longer have a
religious purpose or meaning." Instead they "may merely recognize the
historical fact that our Nation was believed to have been founded 'under God.'"
levels of government, the suspension of judgment on the existence of God has
evolved into an establishment of secularism. Today, affirmations of God are
considered non-rational, and are generally excluded from the public discourse
which is shaped by utility and power rather than right or wrong.
existence of God is not self-evident. But it is unreasonable, even stupid, not
to believe in God, an eternal being that had no beginning and always existed.
The alternative is that there was a time when there was absolutely nothing. But
that makes no sense. St. Thomas Aquinas said, "if at one time nothing was in
existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist;
and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd."
As Julie Andrews put it in The Sound of Music, "Nothing comes from nothing.
Nothing ever could."
basis for transcendent rights against the State is the creation of the immortal
person in the image and likeness of God. Every state that has ever existed, or
ever will exist, has gone out of business or will go out of business. Every
human being that has ever been conceived will live forever. That is why you
have transcendent rights against the State. The person does not exist for the
State. The State exists for the person. And for the family.
second lie of Satan is relativism. To say that all things are relative is absurd,
for that statement itself must be relative. The jurisprudence of relativism is
some form of legal positivism, which asserts that there is no higher law that
limits what human law can do. A law of any content is valid if it is enacted
pursuant to prescribed procedure and is effective. Hans Kelsen, the leading
legal positivist of the 20th century, said that Auschwitz and the
Soviet Gulags were valid law. He could not criticize them as unjust because
justice, he said, is "an irrational ideal." Kelsen claimed that
relativism is the philosophy of democracy. John Paul II said relativism leads
instead to totalitarianism: "If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth,
then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to ... impose his own
interests ... with no regard for the rights of others."
personal and professional lives you will be pressured to be a relativist, to
lie, cheat or steal. As John Paul put it, the negative prohibitions of the
Commandments, which are a specification of the natural law, "allow no exceptions."
But you will pay a price for your fidelity.
tell you a story. Captain James Mulligan, of the United States Navy, spent
seven years, half of them in solitary confinement, in the Hanoi Hilton after
his plane was shot down in 1966. He was a cell-mate for a time of later Senator
Jeremiah Denton. He, as were the others, was tortured severely and often to try
to make him betray his fellow prisoners and his country. Captain Mulligan put
his reliance on prayer, especially the Rosary. Under torture, he laid it on the
line in a prayer he composed that we ought to make our own: "Lord, give me the
strength and the guts to see this thing through to the end, one way or another.
No one else knows, Lord, but you and I know, and that's all that's necessary.
You suffered for your beliefs, and I must suffer for mine. Right is right if no
one's right; wrong is wrong if everyone's wrong." That
is the answer to relativism.
third lie you will confront is individualism. Social contract theories denied the
social nature of man. They postulated a state of nature in which each person
was an autonomous, isolated individual with no relation to others unless he
consents. That is the origin of pro-choice as we know it today. Planned
Parenthood didn't think it up. The mother has no relation to her unborn child
unless she consents. The husband and wife have no continuing relation unless
they continue to consent. And so on. The autonomous individual is his own god.
Conscience is not a judgment about the objective rightness or wrongness of an
act. It is the individual's unfettered decision as to what he wills to do. Whatever
he chooses is, for him, the right thing to do. That is portrayed as the way to
freedom. But "authentic freedom" cannot be separated from the truth.
"free" to choose to put sand in the gas tank of your car. But you will no
longer be free to drive your car because you have violated the truth of the
nature of your car. You are "free" to choose to lie, to fornicate, etc., but
you will diminish yourself because you have violated the truth of your nature.
You have chosen the moral equivalent of putting sand in your gas tank. And there
is one thing the autonomous individual of liberal mythology can never do. He
can never put himself out of existence. He is going to live forever and will
spend eternity someplace. Where, is up to him.
It is time
for us to shed our inferiority complex. We allow ourselves to be conned into
thinking that the smart guys are the academics who think that something can
come from nothing, who are sure that they can't be sure of anything and who
think that freedom means, without limit, the power and right to do whatever
they want. This culture has lost not only its faith but also its mind. They
need to hear the truth, especially about the right to life.
we have a problem. Our prolife efforts are compromised by our timidity on
contraception. The Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 was the first time that
any Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be
objectively right. The Magisterium teaches the truth, that contraception is
wrong, first, because it deliberately separates the unitive and procreative
aspects of sex; second, by so changing the nature of the conjugal act, the man
and woman make themselves, rather than God, the arbiters of whether and when
life shall begin; and third, contraception frustrates the total mutual
self-donation that ought to characterize the conjugal act. If man makes himself
the arbiter of whether and when life shall begin, he will make himself the
arbiter of when it shall end as in abortion and euthanasia. John Paul II
described abortion and contraception as "fruits of the same tree."
If it is man's decision whether sex will have any relation to reproduction, why
can't Freddy and Harry get a marriage license? In 2004, Pastor Donald Sensing
of Trinity United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN, wrote that opponents of
same-sex marriage are "a little late. The walls of traditional marriage were
breached 40 years ago" with the general acceptance of the contraceptive pill.
chosen to depend on human cooperation for the creation of new citizens for the
kingdom of heaven. The contracepting couple alter the conjugal act to prevent
that creation. What they say to God is something like this: "For all we know,
God, it may be your will that from this act of ours a new human person will
come into existence who will live forever. For all we know, that may be your
will. And we won't let you do it." That is awesome. "Contraception," said John
Paul II, "is so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified.
To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life
situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God."
practice contraception at the same rate as everyone else. One reason is that
they have not been adequately informed. Many Catholic churches and schools are
closing or consolidating for lack of parishioners and students. A fair response
would be respectfully to say: "Most Reverend Bishop (or Father), you would not
have this problem if you and your predecessors had been doing your job, over
the past four decades and still today, of educating your people about the evil
of contraception and about the entire positive teaching of the Church on
marriage and the gift of life." Christendom graduates know the score on this.
Don't be afraid to live it. And teach it, by word and example.
is clear between the premises of the Enlightenment and of contraception and
such evils as pornography, promiscuity, divorce, in vitro fertilization,
cloning and others. Scientists at Newcastle University,
in England, announced last month that they had created a "designer embryo" with
the DNA of one man and two women, a child with two mothers. Our
scientists are probably not far behind.
Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, addressed this point in 2002. He discussed
the description in Genesis 3 of the posting of angels east of Eden with
flaming swords to keep man, after the Fall, from eating of the Tree of Life.
After the Fall, man was forbidden to eat of that tree which gave immortality,
"since to be immortal in this [fallen] condition would... be perdition." People
are now, Ratzinger said, "starting to pick from the tree of life and make
themselves lords of life and death, to reassemble life....[P]recisely what man
was supposed to be protected from is now... happening; he is crossing the final
boundary....[M]an makes other men his own artifacts. Man no longer originates in
the mystery of love, by... conception and birth... but is produced industrially,
like any other product.... [W]e can ... be certain of this: God will take action to
counter an ultimate crime, an ultimate act of self-destruction, on the part of
man. He will take action against the attempt to demean mankind by the
production of slave-beings. There are indeed final boundaries we cannot cross...."
serious business. Nineveh repented, prayed and was spared. Sodom and Gomorrah
did not and were destroyed. Those options could be ours.
If we look at all this in merely human terms, our cause is hopeless. But we don't depend
on our own strength. And we don't know everything. Don't be discouraged when
bad things happen. "God permits everything," said St. Maximilian Kolbe, "in
view of a greater blessing." Trust God. Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.,
who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons, said what God wants, especially in times
of adversity or danger, is "an act of total trust," demanding "absolute faith:
faith in God's existence, in his providence, in his concern for the minutest
detail, in his power to sustain me, and in his love protecting me."
And pray, especially, to Mary, his Mother and ours. At Lepanto in 1571, the
odds against the Christian fleet were so great that Las Vegas would have taken
that bet off the board. But they prayed the Rosary and Mary gave the victory.
She can take care of our problems today. This really is a great time for us to
be here. We know we are on the winning side. God is not dead. He isn't even
for the privilege to be with you. God bless you, your families and Christendom
College. And God bless the United States of America.
Eliot Barculo Wheaton, The Nazi Revolution:
1933-35 (1969), 286-93;
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (1959), 88, 276-79.
 LifeSiteNews.com, Jan. 6, 2010.
 Catholic Eye, Dec. 10, 1987, 2.
 Homily, April 18, 2005.
 Lay Witness
, March, 1990, 6-7.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Youth,
April 19, 2008.
Cardinal Avery Dulles,
S.J., "Catholic Colleges and Universities Today," Assumption College, Oct. 11,
 Ecclesiam Suam (1964), nos. 30, 55.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (2005), no. 28 (a).
 Annals of Congress, I, 949.
 Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 304 (1963).
 S.T., I, Q.2, art. 3.
 Hans Kelsen, "The Pure Theory of Law,
Part I," 50 Law Quart. Rev.
474, 482 (1934).
 Veritatis Splendor, no. 99.
 Veritatis Splendor, no. 52.
 James Mulligan, The Hanoi Commitment (1981), 48, 93-94.
 Veritatis Splendor, No. 87.
 Evangelium Vitae, no. 13.
 Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2004.
 Pope John Paul II, Discourse, Sept. 17, 1983.
See Charles E. Rice and
Theresa Farnan, Where Did I Come From? Where Am I Going? How Do I Get There?
 Steven Ertelt, LifeNews.com, April 14, 2010.
Ratzinger, God and the World
 Genesis 19:1-28; Jonah 3:1-10.
 St. Maximilian Kolbe, Writings, 1205.
 Walter J. Ciszek, He Leadeth Me (1973), 77.
Dr. Charles E. Rice (E-mail: Charles.E.Rice.email@example.com)
is Professor Emeritus of Notre Dame Law School. His areas of specialization are
constitutional law and jurisprudence. He currently teaches "Law and Morality"
at Notre Dame. His books include 50 Questions on the Natural Law; Freedom of
Association; The Supreme Court and Public Prayer, The Vanishing Right to Live;
Authority and Rebellion; Beyond Abortion: The Theory and Practice of the
Secular State; No Exception: A Pro-Life Imperative; and The Winning Side:
Questions on Living the Culture of Life. His latest books are Where Did I Come? Where
Am I Going? How Do I Get There?, (2nd ed.) co-authored with Dr. Theresa Farnan,
and What Happened to Notre Dame?, both published by St. Augustine's Press in
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