When people today say a nation is “Christian,” they mean it in the sense of a nation that has a large Christian population. However, historically many nations were explicitly “Christian” as recognized by the government, the first one being Ethiopia and then Armenia. Europe was once all this way until the Protestant Revolution, as also were many of the colonies established by the European powers around the world.
Muslims today proudly proclaim the numerous “Muslim” nations as it is both in terms of recognition by the government as well as population size. However, there are almost no more Christian nations left in the same sense. Malta is one of the few remaining, but may be no more if the current Prime Minister’s plan passes, which is that he wants to make Malta officially a “secular” nation and say that the Catholic Faith is no longer the tiny country’s official religion:
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is not excluding calling a referendum to have voters give the government the mandate to radically change the Maltese Constitution.
Muscat was speaking on Radju Malta’s Ghandi Xi Nghid, where he spoke with presenter Andrew Azzopardi about the upcoming constitutional convention.
“I don’t want to jump the gun and say anything that could undermine the good process there is on going now,” he said. “I don’t exclude holding a referendum if a strong mandate is needed for a totally new Constitution or one with many new elements.”
Asked what was keeping the government from getting the ball rolling on promised constitutional reform, Muscat said work was underway behind the scenes to ensure there is a “structure” that all parties are comfortable with, and that could reach the desired goals.
He thanked President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca for bringing the two parties together, and for ensuring that the reform did not adopt a top-down approach, but rather would include all the people that made up the different facets of Maltese society.
Muscat said he was happy to hear that the Archbishop would not oppose the removal of Catholicism from the Constitution, stressing that while Malta was a predominantly Catholic country, the Constitution’s wording could do with some changes.
This also applied to issues such as Malta’s neutrality, which he said could be worded differently.
Muscat stressed that being a secular state did not mean one that lacked values. “A set of moral values that define a society aren’t necessarily tied to one denomination or another.”
Muscat said that while he considered himself a Catholic, he also understood that a politician had to rise above his own convictions and ensure that all people could live freely. “The most crucial point in all of this was the divorce referendum,” said Muscat. “From that point on it seemed like the country wanted to move with the times.” (source)
Malta is extremely small, with an area of only 316 square kilometers or less than one-third the land mass of Rhode Island with a population of 450,000 (Rhode Island has a population of 1.21 million- by comparison, Iceland is 325 times larger than Malta and only has a population of 330,000 people). However, in spite of its size, Malta is rich in Christian history. She was visited by St. Paul in the New Testament (see Acts 28) and has been Catholic since antiquity. When the Muslims conquered her around 870, they destroyed the island and many of the people were either captured or fled. In 1070 the Island was retaken and the Faith was reestablished and has remained there since. Malta has been occupied or under the control since of the Normans, the Spanish crown of Aragon, the Knights of Malta, the French under Napoleon, and the British until 1974 when it became an independent republic. It was the Catholic Knights of Malta who fought the Barbary Pirates of North Africa and the Ottomans for centuries after the Crusades ended, including the heroic defense of the nation against the Turks in 1565 at the Great Siege of Malta and before that assisting at the Battle of Djerba in 1560.
There has never been a time in Malta’s history where this nation just simply *chose* to abandon its religious identity that has defined it, ever. Even when it was under Muslim control and depopulated by the invaders, they still kept their Christian identity and re-established it two centuries later because it was the religion which defined the people and not the other way around.
Keep in mind that Malta is a nation of truly mixed-race people. As it was used since ancient times as a “stopping port” on the way between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the people of Malta are as diverse as those who visited it, it being the centuries-long fusion of Italian, Nordic (from the Normans), French, Arabian, North African, Greek, and Turkish inhabitants. The Maltese language is a unique combination of Arabic, Latin, and Italian, representative of the people of the island.
What kept Malta together has a nation, what gave it the endurance to survive centuries of persecution and war against the Muslims as well as between the warring European powers who occasionally attempted to use the island as a piece in their game of “chess” was the fact that Malta embraced the Catholic Faith as their identity first and then all else second.
The struggle of the modern age, which one can mark with the death of Christendom following Luther’s Revolution, is the subjection of religion to the the ideas of the rulers instead of religion being the idea which governs the rulers as well as the ruled. Luther’s attempt to create “a German God for a German people” was to equivocate government authority and dictate with religious duty, which is to say that the Church is an extension of the government and that “good citizenship” is synonymous with being a “good Christian.”
Now it is important in all societies that Christian should try to be “good citizens” as a matter of courtesy and for the salvation of souls, for a man is judged first by his perceived actions, and as such by his obedience to the social norms of the society he is in he might win the respect of men in order that they might see how his actions are driven not by social norms, but by Christian charity and a desire to bring people to the Faith. This is to be clearly differentiated from the Biblical criticism of seeking the approbation of men so to garner popularity, power, and money that Jesus so harshly condemns. It is the reason why, for example, Christians must explicitly and without hesitation condemn the evils of Mohammed and Islam, but also must be sure not to unnecessarily aggravate Muslims with needless incendiary language, because the ultimate point of attacking Islam is to bring Muslims to Christ, not to sow hatred or use it for political gain.
However, being a Christian is not explicitly synonymous with “good citizenship.” Many Christians in the ancient Roman Empire were good citizens, and they were still put to death because they refuse to make offerings to the Emperor, or to say that the Emperor could be worshipped as an equal god alongside Christ. This is a struggle that is not new, and has continued throughout history even to this day.
While many of the nations of Europe embraced the Faith, the later abandoned it in favor of nationalism by various names. However, all of the nationalism of today is little different than the “emperor worship” of ancient Rome. It is the cult of social religion where race, power, land, and identity are elevated to the status of divinity over religion, and that even while such governments may recognize a multiplicity of religions in their society, they all ultimately believe there is a philosophy that is above and mediates between the other religions. This philosophy here, which is usually a form of “secularism” based on culturally accepted norms of the zeitgeist, is almost exactly the “emperor worship” that the Romans practiced by but in contemporary form.
People criticize formally-designated Muslim nations for the evils the propagate based upon Islam, and many times their criticisms are correct. However, in fairness to the Muslims, one cannot criticize the Muslims for being inconsistent with the application of their beliefs. In fact, one should commend the Muslims because while their beliefs may be evil, they “practice what they preach.” They believe that Islam is a complete way of life, that as it is the guiding philosophy for the human race (so Mohammed claimed), they believe it guides each individual person as well as the society at large and must be enshrined and protected in government and by government, and that the government should spend money in order to propagate Islam.
What Christian nation since the 19th century, and perhaps in a rare case the early 20th century has done this?
It is difficult if not impossible to name one because they do not exist any more. The religion of secularism that was successfully sprouted by the nationalism of Luther (the seeds were planted by heresies from the Medieval period which went unaddressed- see Ted’s piece on the Avignon Papacy for a further discussion of this) has grow into a weed and choked out the last remnants of Christendom from the Western world. While there many be many Christian people in these nations, the fact is that the people subscribe, whether intending to or not, to a second philosophy, usually of secularism, that acts as a substitute to their own religion they profess.
This is the great philosophical scandal of the last five centuries, and in particular today. This scandal is the reason why there has been unending tension between the Catholic Church and American society, because the American understanding of “religious freedom” is conditional upon the acceptance of such a “third philosophy” as an absolute standard that is a replacement to religion without being called a replacement. It is why there is a consistent pattern of secularization with “Americanization,” and why so many Americans (and many of them of good will) embrace various forms of American Evangelical Protestantism, because such churches are nothing more than echo chambers for the national ethos.
It is the reason why the anti-clerical and revolutionary Freemasons and sister societies, who have exercised considerable influence in America, the Anglosphere, and throughout Western Europe, were so aggressively attacked by the Pope, such as Pope Leo XIII in Humanum Genus, in which he noted that Freemasonry wants to overthrow the Church in order that they can establish a “naturalist” order based on “reason,” which is nothing more than the attempt of one group of men to make themselves the voice of morality and thus assume the authority and voice of God in what is nothing more than the same error made in the Garden of Eden:
Now, the fundamental doctrine of the naturalists, which they sufficiently make known by their very name, is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide. Laying this down, they care little for duties to God, or pervert them by erroneous and vague opinions. For they deny that anything has been taught by God; they allow no dogma of religion or truth which cannot be understood by the human intelligence, nor any teacher who ought to be believed by reason of his authority. And since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend the same with perfect purity, it is against the Church that the rage and attack of the enemies are principally directed.
In those matters which regard religion let it be seen how the sect of the Freemasons acts, especially where it is more free to act without restraint, and then let any one judge whether in fact it does not wish to carry out the policy of the naturalists. By a long and persevering labor, they endeavor to bring about this result – namely, that the teaching office and authority of the Church may become of no account in the civil State; and for this same reason they declare to the people and contend that Church and State ought to be altogether disunited. By this means they reject from the laws and from the commonwealth the wholesome influence of the Catholic religion; and they consequently imagine that States ought to be constituted without any regard for the laws and precepts of the Church. (source)
This is how for example, the idea of “freedom of religion” will be supported but any kind of “state-backed” church will be attacked, because the concept of “freedom of religion” is simply to multiply a diversity of unreconcilable groups in order that another man might step in to present an all-encompassing philosophy to reconcile the groups with each other, and over time that philosophy will replace the religions themselves. This is much more difficult to have happen with formal “state” backing because the philosophy which the religion espouses is driven into the fabric of the government, and the only way it can be removed is by conscious choice.
Make no mistake, it is important for Christians to work out differences with each other. However, it is also important to recognize the idea that what is called “religious freedom” today is a historical anomaly and has directly contributed to the crisis of faith and identity that Europe and America have found themselves in for over a century and which continues to erode them from within.
Government is not God, and a government which thinks it can define its own philosophical principles by its own power is not a unique idea, but what has been tried by countless societies throughout history, and no matter how well-intentioned they may be, the inevitable corruption of Original Sin will overtake and destroy them from within. Even Christian societies are not impervious, but the Faith provides a standard against which truth can be clearly measured and does not change unlike those established by a secular government, whose principles change with the sentiments of each age.
Nationalism has been rising throughout all of Europe, including Malta, because she has been central to the entire population transfer of Middle Eastern and African people into Europe. If the Catholic identity of Malta is formally removed and replaced with secularism, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable forces of nationalism that espouse supremacy of identity, place, and race will besiege the people and seek to swallow them into the new paganism that threatens Europe’s survival from within.