I’d like to ask myself if there is room for the concept of revolution in the Social Doctrine of the Church, considering that the use of that expression has been condemned by so many pontiffs in their respective social encyclicals.
Revolution is contrary to the concept of order in the sense that revolution always entails the destruction of an order. Whether it is a matter of a doctrinal or political revolution, or one of some other nature, revolution does away completely with the previous order, and, at times, wants to replace it with another one. Why do I say “at times” and not always? Because implicit in revolution is an element that prevents it from coming to an end with some sort of new order, and obliges it to destroy any order. In fact, a revolution consistent with its own rationale is not contrary to this order, but to order in itself. Revolution as such has no reasonable motives for destroying this order because – albeit in its shortcomings – there is something logical, reasonable, rational and just about it. There is no such thing as a completely erroneous order, because that would then be disorder. Revolution, however, considers order as such to be completely wrong, senseless and irrational. Each revolution is against logic and truth, and is therefore against any order, against order as such. The refusal of human nature that is so fashionable nowadays is not the refusal of a certain anthropological order, but the anthropological order in its own right.
Order stands behind us and regulates our journey forward, therefore positing itself as end. Denying the fact there is an order behind us also means denying there is an end before us. The order to be reached going forward cannot contradict the order before us, because from the former it receives the guidance necessary to be able to become an order in its own right. Revolution disrupts the relationship between the order before us and the order ahead of us: it destroys the former, and in so doing reduces the latter to pure free will. But there are no limits to free will, and there are no revolutions bereft of betrayal. Therefore revolution does not usher in a new order, but rather a new arbitrary order established by its leaders, an order which is artificial, specious, and destined to be to be destroyed in its own turn. The regimes issuing forth from revolution collapse like a castle of playing cards.
There is a Gnostic soul in each revolution. In fact, evident in Gnosis is above all this characteristic: it does not accept any order preceding it because that would curtail liberty, and hence wants to destroy any principle of reality in order to remold reality through self-determination. Gnosis accepts neither creation nor order, and wants to bring about a new creation and a new order. All millenarian, chiliastic and messianic movements down through history have been revolutionary in this sense. In the final analysis, all heresies are Gnostic revolutions. All expressions of political messianism have a Gnostic religious soul. All modern politics complies with these criteria.
The concept of revolution has an apparently more moderate kindred spirit in progressive liberalism which does not want to change the order all at once, but do so in a gradual manner. Nonetheless, it shares the same soul with revolution. Liberalism bases change on the refusal of a preceding order, and ends up considering better whatever is new in chronological terms. This progressive liberalism is time-bound because by not admitting an order that may give sense to what we do, and is therefore preceding and finalistic, it looks on each moment in time as a mini-revolution: progressive liberalism is a succession of micro-revolutions whose sense resides not in constructing an order, but in destroying the preceding order, and any order insofar as coming before. This also entails the destruction of any end since the end issues forth from a preceding order. The end does not ‘appear’ along the way, as all forms of historicism would like to believe, but must be both contained in the preceding order and indicated by it. To think the end comes to light along the way is the selfsame soul of progressive liberalism, but also the main way to confute it: progressive liberalism does not judge when a step forward is really a step forward or when it isn’t. This is something learned along the way, but only on the basis of operational criteria alone. Praxis as truth is therefore the ultimate reason (non-reason) of progressive liberalism..
There is no doubt that both the idea of revolution and liberalism have made extensive inroads into Catholic theology. Nowadays, this presence concentrates mainly on the priority of the pastoral endeavors over doctrine. With all the ensuing dangers. I believe we can be certain that there is no room for the concept of revolution in the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Direttore dell'Osservatorio Card. Van Thuận