Temporal (or earthly) action is action that directly concerns the Kingdom of Caesar, i.e., the dominion and transformation of the cosmos, which is the task God assigned to mankind from the beginning. Earthly labor, in all its forms–this is temporal action. Therefore, it includes also the fundamental work, which is the function of the family, and cultural work.
The law of temporal action
1. As for apostolic action, here too the rule is determined by the essence of the action that has to be taken. In other words, it is necessary that those who act be faithful to the intimate nature and aim of the action itself.
Thus, the politician as such must be above all a good politician, a union leader an expert union leader, a technician a precise technician, etc.
To know the mechanism of our work well and apply it exactly–this is the Christian law of work, and no one is a Christian if he does not make an effort to observe it. It is not Christian to be a shoddy worker, or to shirk our duty because of presumed outside demands.
2. This faithfulness to the structure of our work, in the final analysis, is a letting go of ourselves, our own point of view, what suits us best, our own impatience, in order to be faithful to the shape of the object we have in hand; in other words, to obey the laws of things as required by nature. It is, at bottom, a giving up one’s self in order to adhere to and obey God, the Creator of nature and every thing and every mechanism.
3. St Paul offers us a very clear example, when he writes, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women” (Eph 6:5-7).
It is an example: the servant’s work is service to God, at the same time as it is service to his master. The servant will be a better Christian the more precisely he performs his duties.
4. Thus, we can conclude also in general that a person is more Christian the more he tries to do his work well: family work, technical work, social or political work, and cultural work.
1. The basic condition of temporal action is adherence to history.
Historical development marks God’s plan, and the situation of our own time brings into focus the terms in which God’s will makes itself felt and the ways in which He calls us. Thus, for example, using the discoveries of technological development is a duty in temporal action, whenever humanly possible, save reasons of a higher order. Often the delay in using them can be very reprehensible indolence and love of comfort–such as an industrialist who out of laziness and a lack of commitment neglects to keep up with the demands of the changing times by replacing his company’s old equipment.
2. In particular, it is necessary to be faithful to the level of development to which history has brought mankind in the consciousness of the dignity of the person and the rights and duties that this entails.
In his letter to Philemon, a rich Christian slave-owner, St Paul recommends that Philemon treat Onesimus, a Christian run-away slave, well and welcome him with mercy; according to Roman law, a run-away slave could be severely punished, even put to death. St Paul does not require Philemon to free his slave; all he does is ask him to be charitable. At the time, Christianity had not yet determined the historical development that would lead to awareness of the injustice of slavery, and later result in its suppression. Today, a Christian keeping another person in slavery would be intolerable. The evolution that took place in terms of slavery has taken place and is still continuing in many other sectors. Man is becoming more and more aware of his rights, for instance in the fields of work, technological advance, the proper comforts and conveniences of life, and cultural demands.
The Christian has to be alive and vigilant; he must not remain stuck to the past out of negligence, narrow-mindedness, insensitivity, or–worst–out of egoism, reluctant to lose privileges that have become offensive to the evolved consciences of most people, or out of scornful pride, unable to accept that our brothers eat at the same table with us.
The goal of temporal action
1. Temporal action, being an affirmation of man, above all fulfills and develops man himself who does it, in that he is a person.
And since man is necessarily bound to the community, temporal action tends by its nature to develop society as well.
Thus, the man who acts can be considered under two aspects.
2. First of all, we can consider man as a “spiritual whole referred to the transcendent All,” i.e., to God. From this standpoint, man is a person, and has nothing superior to him but God; he has nothing that can interest him ultimately but his eternal goal, completion and happiness.
“ With respect to the soul’s eternal destiny, society is for every person and is subordinate to every person” (Maritain). In this sense, the ideal of temporal action is to further the Kingdom of God, and its greatest failing would be to hinder it.
3. On the other hand, man who acts can be considered a cog in the gears of the collectivity, a part of a whole. From this point of view, man is an individual. As an individual, man is isolated in himself, but everything in him asks to communicate with others so as to give and to receive, to take part in the collectivity, in the whole of which he is a part.
The earthly common good, then, is superior to the individual good of each one, considered as part of the whole. But the common good flows to the individual; the conquests of the common good work to the individual’s advantage. Our life is all a testimony of the advantages that have come to it through the community.
In this sense, the ideal of temporal action is to serve society, thus the individual is in function of the society, and only at this price, in the end, can society still work to the good of the individual.
We understand how unfair it is to act in the community for selfish ends, and how inhuman and anti-Christian it is when only a few interests prevail!
4. Between the two aspects of temporal action, because of which everything must serve the person and the individual must be useful to the whole, there is a profound connection that subordinates the aim of the latter to the aim of the former. For the temporal common good, properly developed, cannot help “sustaining the impulse by which each person strives towards his own eternal good and the transcendent All, and by which he goes beyond the order in which the common good of the earthly city is constituted” (Maritain).
Radical connection with the Kingdom of God
Temporal action, as the response to God’s characteristic call that we have called “lay vocation,” also turns into love of God, into charity, and thus into an increase in grace.
The very fact of doing one’s work well, once the soul is fundamentally united with God, becomes a “religious” reality, augmenting the reality of the Kingdom of God.