The Unjust Steward and the decline of Catholic Civilisation

Rev. Håkan Lindström

How could that eminent Catholic civilisation which permeated the whole of European society in the Middle Ages, and gave us an endless row of glorious saints as well as some of the best philosophy, literature, art, music and architecture that is known to mankind, begin to deteriorate and eventually be reduced to the state of atheism and barbarism that we see around us today?

One answer to this question, asked by every Traditional Catholic and many others, would simply be a matter of referring more or less extensively to the malice of the Devil and the weakness of human nature, wounded as it is by original sin. A longer answer, probably too long an answer, would be an account of all the events and tendencies which make up this deterioration—from the decline of scholastic philosophy towards the end of the High Middle Ages, the concurrently growing corruption and worldliness among officials; the resulting tinder for the Protestant revolt, the greed and ambition of worldly princes that made them fervent promoters of this revolution that would split Europe, to the Religious Indifferentism and Naturalism, which became the suggested solution to the tensions between the old, Catholic Europe of the South and the new Protestantism of the North, Freemasonry, which embraced these ideas, the French Revolution and the two godless and materialistic ideologies which after the Second World War split Europe again, this time in the other direction, between the capitalist West and the communist East; lastly, the Second Vatican Council, which through its aggiornamento expressly wanted to adapt the Church herself, which has always been the soul of our civilisation, to this new age. A satisfactory answer of this kind would probably require a book or several books to be written.

Here, an attempt1 will instead be made to turn to the words of eternal wisdom and give an interpretation of Our Lord’s parable of the unjust steward, which sheds some light on how mankind is seduced to turn away from God in small steps. This parable is found in chapter 16 of the Gospel of St. Luke and is rendered thus in the Douay-Rheims translation:

1 There was a certain rich man who had a steward: and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him: How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship: for now thou canst be steward no longer. 3 And the steward said within himself: What shall I do, because my lord taketh away from me the stewardship? To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed. 4 I know what I will do, that when I shall be removed from the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5 Therefore, calling together every one of his lord's debtors, he said to the first: How much dost thou owe my lord? 6 But he said: An hundred barrels of oil. And he said to him: Take thy bill and sit down quickly and write fifty. 7 Then he said to another: And how much dost thou owe? Who said: An hundred quarters of wheat. He said to him: Take thy bill and write eighty. 8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, forasmuch as he had done wisely: for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. 9 And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity: that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.

The rich man is the Creator. He, who is the first cause of everything, has chosen out of his infinite Wisdom to rule his creation with the help of subordinate, secondary causes, and can therefore be said to have stewards under him. Even if, in a certain sense, animals, plants and minerals also can be said to manage creation on God’s behalf by obeying his laws and thereby giving him honour, this kind of stewardship primarily belongs to those creatures who have been endowed with intelligence and free will, that is angels and men. Only these can become unjust, disobedient stewards by choosing not to submit to God’s will.

The foremost amongst God’s stewards, who became an unjust steward, was Lucifer, the highest angel. His name means “bearer of light”, which suggests what his role in creation used to be. He allowed himself to be blinded by his own strength and excellence to such a degree that he chose to revolt against God and refuse to obey him. He took for himself the honour that rightly belongs to God, or, to use the words of our parable, “he wasted his master's goods”.

For this reason, Lucifer was cast into hell, lost his stewardship and turned into the worst enemy of mankind, since he, in his proud hatred, wants to bring man also to perdition and still has the nature of a mighty angel, despite his being cast out from heaven. At the same time he remains a secondary cause and subordinated to the first cause in that he can do nothing of himself, but relies on God to at least give him existence and his faculties the ability to act. That is why he says that he is “not able to dig”, that is retain such a position of excellence as he had when he was still faithful to God independently and against God’s will. To repent and ask God’s forgiveness isn’t an alternative, not only because an angel cannot change his mind in the way human beings can, since their intelligence is so perfect that it immediately sees all the consequences of a choice and their will so strong that it never hesitates once a choice has been made, but also because his unyielding pride makes repentance impossible—“to beg I am ashamed”.

The only remaining option for the devil, who wants to keep a high position and influence, is to exploit men and the freedom God gives to mankind by using their weakness. For this to be possible, he must persuade men to voluntarily “receive him into their houses”, that is into their souls, families and countries. The devil can, if God allows him to (cf. the book of Job), torture men and cause a lot of suffering, but he cannot force man’s free will to sin or to do what he wants, unless man first voluntarily allows this.

In order to be “received into the houses of men”, the devil uses the cunning scheme that is related in the parable. He “calls together every one of his lord's debtors” and asks each one of them how much they owe the lord, that is, by temptation and suggestion he tries to make every human being think of the gratitude and honour they owe to God as of an unbearable burden. This way, he makes men encumber themselves with a kind of debt of gratitude to himself by “sitting down”, dealing with him, and thinking that their debt to God is written down by him. This debt, the duty to show God gratitude and honour, is in reality no unbearable burden, for the rendering of it constitutes the very perfection and happiness of man. Gratitude and honour is shown to God primarily in two ways: by faith and good works.

Good works are here, as in the parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25) represented by the oil. The devil says to man, “take a seat, calm down, you don’t have to fulfil all ten of the commandments, all the hundred good works that God wants you to perform every day... listen to me, 50 is plenty..." And surely enough, if man listens to this and persuades himself that he “is not a bad person” for just taking lightly, say, the sixth and ninth, or the second, third and eighth commandments, the devil has achieved what he wants, he has been “received into the house” of that man, has gained influence him who has started dealing with the devil and encumbered himself with a kind of (false but still psychologically significant) debt. “He isn’t so bad after all, who eases these heavy burdens,” man perhaps thinks. But that the debt of gratitude to God could be written down is of course just yet another lie from the father of lies (cf. Jn 8:44)—if this debt isn’t paid here on earth, it will have to be paid in the life hereafter.

That wheat, that is used to make bread, represents the faith can be seen by comparing two passages from the Gospel of St. John: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33) and “he that believes in me, although he be dead, shall live” (11:25). Concerning the faith, the adversary is content with a reduction to 80 quarters of wheat. This is because a corruption of the faith works in a more subtle way. If he can cause Christians to doubt just a couple of the most central truths of the faith, soon everything will follow. The Devil tempts a Catholic by suggesting thoughts like these: “Do you really have to believe these stories about virgin birth and this dubious idea that a mere mortal as the pope would be infallible? ...Sit down and rip out a couple of pages from the catechism...” And man might think, “Well, it is actually somewhat embarrassing to have to explain to work colleagues that I believe in virgin birth and similar medieval stories; it can’t do any harm to update the faith a little bit...” But if one revealed truth is doubted, the One who has revealed all the truths of the faith is also being doubted, and soon the whole of the faith will collapse.

This method of the unjust steward and of the Devil is so cunning and astute that it earns praise; of course, it isn’t the injustice that is being praised. If “the children of light”—that is, Christians—were as cunning and astute at promoting the faith and good morals as the Devil and those who more-or-less knowingly dance to his tune are at destroying, Christianity would have continued to blossom even during the last seven centuries.

The parable’s unjust steward can be taken to represent not only the Devil, but any unfaithful steward in God’s creation, that is unfaithful churchmen, kings, politicians, fathers of families, and so on. The decline of European civilisation is the story of such influential men, who have first been tricked by the foremost of unjust stewards in the way the parable tells us, and then used the same method to make others follow suit. So it was, in the example of the Protestant revolt of the sixteenth century, Luther’s doubts concerning, amongst other things, the Church’s magisterium and especially Catholic teaching on justification, but also Henry VIII’s willingness to renegotiate the sixth and ninth commandment of God as well as the unwillingness of other worldly princes to allow the material assets of the Church and monasteries to serve the glory of God, that had such dire consequences for our civilisation. Later, it was the will of too many churchmen to compromise the unequivocal defence of the faith in order to be more acceptable to the modern world, but also the readiness of too many Catholic laypeople to welcome the more “comfortable life” that was thereby being offered, that lead to the disasters during and after the Second Vatican Council.

Our Lord’s concluding exhortation, “Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity: that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings”, is usually interpreted by the Fathers of the Church as an exhortation to use riches (mammon) for charitable works and thereby to secure the prayers of those helped after death, in order to be released from Purgatory and be received into Heaven’s “everlasting dwellings”. The idea is to use riches, which often lead man to greed and away from God, and hence deserve the name “mammon of iniquity”, for something that serves the salvation of the soul: the opposite of that which the Devil often succeeds in using them for. In a general sense, the exhortation is to try to beat the Devil even when he is playing in his home field, and try to counteract the decline that he is causing in Christian civilisation and the resulting loss of many souls. To practise purity of the heart; to insist that Christ is the prince of peace, who alone can give true peace: the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ in contrast to that religious indifferentism that is everywhere seen as a prerequisite to peace among men; to bravely defend the Catholic faith against that so called “science” of modern times, that is proud and not seldom hostile to the faith, also with the methods of natural reason despite the false claims that the faith is “unreasonable” and “in need of an update”; in a word, refusing to be seduced by the snares of the Devil and being conformed to this world (Rom 12:2)—this seems to be the exhortation that our Redeemer wants to give us and the answer to the question concerning what we can do with God’s help to strive for a reconstruction of our Catholic European civilisation, a civilisation that, in contrast to the lack of civilisation of our day, serves the highest purpose of helping man to lead a good life that is pleasing to God and after this life to be received “into everlasting dwellings”.


1. This interpretation is inspired by the letter of St. Gaudentius, Bishop of Brescia, to Serminium, where he explains his understanding of the parable. This can be found in M. F. Toal, The Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. Iii, p. 332 seq., and, as indicated there, in vol. 20 of the Patrologia Latina, col. 971.

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  • 1This interpretation is inspired by the letter of St. Gaudentius, Bishop of Brescia, to Serminium, where he explains his understanding of the parable. This can be found in M. F. Toal, The Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. Iii, p. 332 seq., and, as indicated there, in vol. 20 of the Patrologia Latina, col. 971.