- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Feb 1952, p. 260-268
- Vandry, Rt. Rev. Ferdinand, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- An examination of democracy. Requirements; certain imperative conditions in order to consider democracy as the best form of government. First, an accurate notion of right. A discussion of various rights which we have come to think of as human rights. Positive law, proceeding from the free will of the legislator. Rights that come from God and must respect God. The Christian concept of right. Second, an accurate notion of authority. The Christian concept of authority which guarantees the maintenance of social order. The speaker's passionate love for his country. The need for a Christian democracy if Canada is to remain a democratic country.
- Date of Original
- 28 Feb 1952
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- Full Text
- "FOUNDATIONS FOR PEACE"
An Address by RT. REV. FERDINAND VANDRY, C.M.G.
Rector, Laval University
Thursday, February 28th, 1952
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. D. H. Gibson.
MR. GIBSON: Our speaker will be introduced by the Rev. G. Hingston, S. J.
FATHER HINGSTON: I shall begin by letting you in on a little secret. Only a scant hour ago the honour of presenting to you today's distinguished speaker was thrust upon me over the telephone, and I, with trepidation, accepted--because there was really nothing else that I could do.
I felt at the moment that I was being called to the plate (I am mixing my metaphors) to do some pinchhitting for a batter who had unaccountedly dropped out. Yet I did not feel like the proverbial fool who "rushes in where angels fear to tread", because certainly I was not rushing in. Still, I wondered, poor blundering mortal, who that 'angel' might be who had been so fearsome about treading in the path along which I am forced to stumble? And--I then and there mentally resolved that if some person is to be racked with remorse for a very imperfect performance of a task which the 'angel' in question would have performed so perfectly, the remorse should not rightly be mine but the timorous and defaulting "angel's". Now that I have just learned that the 'angel' is none other than your esteemed President, I hasten to recant unfeignedly, and I do hope that all remorse shall be spared him for whatever I may say amiss or may fail to say at all.
However, on reflection, and while still vainly arguing at the telephone, suddenly I was reassured by the thought that my task would be singularly facilitated by two unusual advantages to which I could undoubtedly lay claim. The first of these advantages or qualifications is that I do not know at all the speaker whom I must introduce . . . not having met Dr. Vandry before we formed up in procession to enter this hall. Thanks to this most useful ignorance I shall be secure from the possibility of wearying you by recounting the biography of our learned lecturer from babyhood until the present day . . . I have not any doubt that there was born in Riviere du Loup, Que., a very wonderful baby boy, very cute, with the pinkiest of toes . . . and I am fully prepared to believe that even as the babe lay in the cradle there were undeniable omens of future greatness. .But of those wonderful things, I, secured by my protective ignorance, shall omit all mention. I shall merely refer you to our common source of information, your own invitation card in which you may read a necessarily succinct, yet most suggestive, summary of achievement and an impressive list of academic degrees; so that Monsignor Vandry appears before us bearing the marks of many honours won in the field of education, which he wears with the modesty of the gallant soldier whose breast is ablaze with decorations row upon row, won in another field.
And I can rejoice in a second and possibly a still more precious advantage: that of being totally ignorant of the manner in which the lecturer intends to treat his subject. Thus I shall be spared the temptation, and you the annoyance, and our lecturer the embarrassment that comes when the person called upon to give the introduction forgets that his very modest role is merely to introduce, and yields to the facile allurement of trespassing into the lecturer's field, of wandering ahead and assuring the audience in advance that surely the lecturer will tell them this and doubtless he will tell them that . . . thus uncorking the champagne before it is to be served and letting it go flat; or, to vary the simile, going afield with his own little sickle, he cuts off the choicest heads of grain: with the result that afterwards the lecturer finds himself coming into his own appointed field almost as a gleaner. Happily for you I have not been subjected to that other common temptation, my splendid ignorance shielding me.
And, therefore, not through any merit of my own, but solely by benefit .of blissful ignorance, I have passed successfully both those insidious pitfalls in the path, and have arrived at the point where I present to you a very distinguished lecturer most admirably qualified, by his background, by study and reflection, to speak to us upon a world situation that presently faces us; a situation which, I say in all seriousness, may perhaps prove to be the most critical, the most alarming and the most momentous that has confronted any generation in the long history of the human race.
Gentlemen, I introduce to you Right Reverend Monsignor Ferdinand Vandry, C.M.G., D.D., LL.D., etc., distinguished principal of Canada's oldest institution of learning.
MSGR. VANDRY: This side of the iron curtain, it is usual to say that if the modern world is to be saved, the democracies will save it. But less frequently do we hear that the democracies, to save the world, have to realize fully the concept of true democracy. There are good democracies, but others are less good. It is not the bad democracies that will save the world, but the good ones. That it is the reason why it is of primary importance for the democratic countries to place at the base of their political life such principles as completely conform to the requirements of the democratic ideal. The definition of democracy must not vary with the whims of the mind or the vicissitudes of history. It must agree with the objectiveness of the principles of human reason, with the rights of the human person, with the clear vision of social order. We, Canadians, have the privilege of belonging to a great democracy which proudly shares in the political wisdom of English democracy. We are called upon to play a very important role in the life of democratic nations, and since we claim the formidable honor of contributing our share to the work of social restoration actually going on, it is essential for Canada to be a true example of the highest form of democracy, inspired by the loftiest concept of right, of liberty, of justice, and of social order. Gentlemen, that means that Canada has to be a Christian democracy, a nation whose political life must fully conform to the requirements of a sound philosophy enlightened by faith and by the teaching of Christ.
Gentlemen, you love your country as dearly as I do. You are ambitious for Canada to be more and more an object of admiration to the world, not simply on account of her economic wealth, her prosperity and her future of great promise, but above all for the wisdom of her constitution, the moral quality of her legislation, the social value of her institutions, the guarantees offered to the liberty and dignity of the human being. It has been said that democracy is the best form of government, that which, in practice, corresponds most to the necessities of our times. I willingly consent to put up with such an affirmation. But, gentlemen, do we really agree on the notion of democracy? Is it quite sure that Canada possesses all the qualifications of a sound democracy? Is there nothing to correct, nothing to improve in our mode of living in a democracy? To consider democracy as the best form of government, even today, I would require certain imperative conditions.
I--An accurate notion of right
First of all, at the base of a sound democracy must be found an accurate notion of right. Behind the iron curtain such a notion is unknown. That explains why human rights are so freely dispensed with. No one concerns himself about respecting them, far less about protecting them. The man who lives behind the iron curtain is not a human being, he is but a number, he has no rights. The State alone has rights. Right is what appears expedient, of public utility; it depends on the passing whims of the leaders of the moment, it is every thing which fosters the communistic ambition of spreading communism throughout the world.
If we care for the dignity of the human being, it is most important for every one to know, in all ranks of the community, in the popular masses as well as in the deliberating assemblies where laws are enacted, that right is a requirement of sane reason, of order and of justice; it is, so to speak, the thought of God, becoming identified with the essential characteristics of the human person. Man bears his rights in his soul as physical nature has in itself the strict exigencies of the order in which it was created. The fundamental rights of a human being are not man-made; they are the work of God, and the human legislator must submit to them. They constitute what we are agreed to call natural law, because right comes from law. Natural law is so called because it is inherent to the nature of a rational creature. Human reason may easily discover it by its own efforts, in the study of the human being and in the rational knowledge of God. Nothing of this natural law can be altered; man must submit to it. The right you have to live and to choose your own way of living is a natural right, coming from natural law. Hence, it comes from God. Nobody can deny such a right. However, to this natural law, man has to add positive laws, which derive from the free will of the human legislator. But this positive law must necessarily conform to the natural law under penalty of being opposed to the design of God. Hence the corner stone of right is to be found in God. We are not free to conceive the order of created things otherwise than God conceived it. We have to adapt our thought to that of God. Therefore in right there is something intangible, unchanging, which the free determination of man is not allowed to alter. But in right there is also something contingent, perfectible, which will change with the divers modalities of social life: this is positive right. It is the explanation, the extension of natural law, its practical application to the facts, and thus is subject to the transformations undergone by society and the new needs brought about by civilization. The right you have to vote in such a constituency is a positive right; it is given you by a positive law and it might be changed. You may loose such a right, for instance if you move from one constituency to another.
Positive law, proceeding from the free will of the legislator, unquestionably is endowed with a majesty which commands obedience, because such law is necessary to render the natural law more explicit and applicable to the concrete circumstances of life. However, this majesty of positive law is without appeal only when it agrees with the law established by the Creator.
Custom, in itself, does not create right. It is legitimate only in so far as it is consistent with right. It does happen that custom is the manifestation of common sense and that it speaks the language of right reason. In such a case, it becomes the manifestation of right, because it is the expression of order. Thus, according to the English law, custom establishes right and creates the guiding rule of life. This comes from the fact that the English common law is constituted by judicial decisions often notable for their very great wisdom which has become the expression of natural law. On these grounds it can be justified as constituting right, because it is convenient with right.
We now understand that, if modern democracies intend to respect the rights of God and keep in mind the dignity of the human being, they must place at the base of their social organisation and of their laws this accurate notion of right. To depart from this teaching of natural philosophy would mean that the democratic nations admit into their political life the totalitarian ideologies, under which man has no rights, because God himself looses his rights.
Saint Thomas Aquinas has been preaching this doctrine to the Christian nations since the 13th century. For three centuries this Christian philosophy of right inspired the organisation of Christian nations. Alas! since the XVI century, this Christian conception of right has undergone terrible attacks which opened the way to a rationalistic notion of right. To my mind, such false notion of right explains the emancipation of many modern democracies relative to the rights of God and the imprescriptible rights of the human person. If we wish Canada to remain a sound democracy we must, gentlemen, firmly adhere to the Christian concept of right.
II--An accurate notion of authority
Another notion of primary importance which must not be neglected in the organisation of democratic life is that of authority. The revolutions which have substituted democracy for the ancient monarchies under which old Europe lived for so long, have not succeeded, thank God, in fashioning and building human societies capable of enduring without the support of social authority. Democracy is not synonymous with anarchy. The democratic State, whether a monarchy or a republic, must be invested with the power to command with a real and effective authority. Authority is not the negation of liberty. On the contrary, it must be its guarantee and safeguard. If men, abusing their personal liberty, came to the negation of all dependency relative to a superior authority, they would trample under their feet the foundation of their own dignity and liberty.
The same as right, authority has its foundation in God. It is the teaching of Saint Paul: "Omnis auctoritas est a Deo--authority comes from God." Man is equal to man. As such he has no right to command his neighbours. He possesses such right only when he is invested with a social function whereby he is the mandatory of God. The Creator himself, who founded the human family, has willed that there be therein a social authority, the father. Civil society was not conceived otherwise.
Such is the Christian concept of civil society. Undoubtedly in a democratic regime, people are called upon to single out and to choose those who will be the depositaries of social authority, but this does not mean that the people are the source and foundation of this authority. The people chooses its leaders, but God alone may give these leaders the authority they need to govern. The right, among men, to command other men must come from God. This results from the foundamental equality of men and the transcendency of God. How beautiful is this doctrine which invests human authority with a participation of Divine authority itself. How it heightens in the eyes of nations those who are entrusted with the power to govern.
This Christian concept of authority guarantees the maintenance of social order. On the other hand, according to the rationalistic concept of authority, the people appear as the sources of social authority, and authority as the instrument of people's will. Such a concept dechristianizes, reduces to human stature, diminishes and weakens social authority, because it strips it of its crown and removes the diadem of grandeur the Creator had placed on its head.
Furthermore, the true concept of authority must be that one which offers greater guarantees to social order and justice. The Christian concept alone offers such guarantees. Duty is correlative to right. The popular masses will consent to obey only in proportion as they will recognize in those who govern an authority which transcends human stature, a right which derives from God, especially when obedience is more trying and more distasteful to them. They will more readily recognize the majesty of human authority if they find it invested with a divine character.
This Christian concept of authority is essential to a Christian concept of civil society. We must make this concept ours if we sincerely wish Canada to be a Christian country, wherein God will have His place in the social structure of the nation.
Gentlemen, I have just told you in all sincerity how I understand certain requirements of democratic life. A sound democracy requires a sound philosophy of human rights and a Christian knowledge of authority in the mind of all those who are fit to share the heavy task of building a free nation. Passionately do I love my country, I love without any reservation all her inhabitants, regardless of their race, their language, or their creed. I would like us all to be very happy in one of the most beautiful countries of the world. Canada is a democratic country, she must remain so. And she will remain so, it is my firm conviction, which I am sure you share, providing she be a Christian democracy: I mean that our Canadian democracy must draw its inspiration from the true concept of right and authority for which human reason is indebted to Christian faith. On this condition our country will become as great as we all wish it to be and will help to save the modern world from the dissolving materialism which prepares endless wars by sapping the very foundations of social order. It is, gentlemen, my firm conviction that foundation for peace cannot be found outside of Christian democracy.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by V. Rev. L. J. Bondy, C.S.B.