Severity and libertinism: Though this combination of character traits is among the worst, it is also among the most common in societies where people are inclined to worship money and power. After all, they say, what's the point of having either if you can't abuse them? People of good conscience may answer that question in terms of doing good — for other individuals, and for society as a whole. But that answer implies regard for some standard of good as an end in itself. But money and power are instrumental goods. Those who worship either do so vain, for they treat the measure of worth as worth itself.
But if, beyond that, there is no standard for measurement, what one mistakes for worth is nothing more or less than one's own satisfaction. The preoccupation with money and power thus amounts to nothing more than the sum of pleasure one takes from constantly perishing moments of self-satisfaction. Such perishing moments can seem like happiness, just as long as a sufficiently rapid flow of money and power permits. If and when the shoals of fortune break the flow, however, the illusion of happiness cannot survive the pervasive fear and loathing that results. As de La Bruyere wrote of the sight of a fine estate now lost to fortune and it erstwhile master:
This palace, these furnishings, these gardens, these beautiful waters enchant you and make you exclaim upon first seeing such a delectable home, and imagining the extreme happiness of the one who possesses it. But he is no more. He did not so agreeably or tranquilly enjoy it as you do. He never had a quiet day therein, nor a tranquil night. He drowned himself in debt to bring it to such that degree of beauty which astounds you. His creditors drove him from it. Turning his head to look upon it from afar one last time, he died of a seizure. (Characters, Part VI — On the Goods of Fortune, §79)
What begins with longing, proceeds with fearful ambition. It culminates in constant disquietude and fear. Then — inevitably— comes death. Where is the happiness in this, unless it be in the occasional satisfaction of imposing one's will on events; and those conveniently around to witness them. When happiness mostly consists of the frequent pleasure of getting (making?) one's own way, what more is there to good than doing so at will?
From de La Bruyere's relentless critique of the grand and petit bourgeois of his day, it seems that the amalgam of severity and libertinism must have prevailed among them. Commanding pleasures are the mirror image of the pleasure of command. In the absence of wholesome love (i.e., love that bears fruit in service to the whole), is human sexual gratification much more than this? For vainly ambitious people, perhaps the only satisfaction greater than making people do as you say is that of making them feel what you would have them feel.
Readers may not readily understand why these thoughts came to me today as I considered the product of the Vatican Youth Synod, and in particular the passage it contains approving totalitarian censorship of internet sites that profess to be Catholic. That clerics who so boldly disregard the word of God should not be anxious to censor the words of faithful Catholics, made me wonder what their standard of conformity to Catholic teaching and character would be.
Current Vatican officials have proved themselves incongruously deferential to China's God and Christ-denying party dictators when it comes to deciding who may call themselves a Catholic bishop. Will they hesitate to bow with the same deference to other human authorities willing to ban Catholics who hold to the Church's respect for God's written and Incarnate Word, on matters such as marriage and sexual sin? What becomes of our religious freedom once the apparent leaders of the Catholic Church proclaim that such respect is no longer essential to Catholic belief?
At present, the Vatican seems strongly influenced by clerics who say that Catholics of good faith must conform to the licentious demands of secular libertines. So it seems logical to assume that these same clerics will welcome and co-operate with secular abuses of government power, already underway, aimed at silencing such Catholics. This means that the strange desertion of the Holy Spirit involved in the betrayal of Chinese Catholics not only portends persecution against them. It portends Vatican approval of secular government persecution against all Catholics who adhere to God's understanding of marriage; of procreation; and of the wholesome vocation of humanity both properly involve.
To promote libertinism masquerading as compassion, the libertine clerics will countenance severe repression of believers who do not slough off the mind of Christ. But since God's revelation stands anciently, timelessly against their betrayal of His goodwill, what good, what power do these clerics serve? Is it only their own?
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)