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The Great Works at the Acton Institute Open House

Thursday, November 4, 4pm - 8pm

Charles Malik is not a household name among educated Christians who stand for a free and virtuous society. Some may vaguely recall his name from his involvement in the formative period of the United Nations and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But his name is often overshadowed either by more familiar personages, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, or by the way in which the Universal Declaration was used to justify a 1974 charter “to promote the establishment of the new international economic order, based on equality, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest and cooperation among all States, irrespective of their economic and social systems,” which is an intentional compromise with Communism that runs counter to Malik’s own thoughts on the matter. “The classical Western values of freedom, personality, excellence, rank, objective truth, faith in God, and the primacy of the spirit,” he writes in Christ and Crisis (1962), “are subverted both by Communist infiltration from without and by doubt and criticism by some of the best Western minds from within.”

Malik was not late in coming to these convictions; he was the foremost defender of individual rights and conscience during the drafting of the Universal Declaration in 1947. Yet, even more than his insistence that defenders of freedom must not compromise with Communism, Malik insisted that Christians could never compromise their faith for ostensibly easy solutions to the crises of their day. Thus, in the following selection from Christ and Crisis, which will be reprinted in full as the third volume of the Acton Institute’s Orthodox Christian Social Thought monograph series, he insists that though “every man lives in his own age and in no other,” yet “man and the devil and Christ are the same in every age.” The Christian, then, must first transcend the crises of the present through resting in the eternal love of Jesus Christ by faith, and only then take a stand against the forces of evil that threaten man’s inviolable dignity “within the one and unique world into which he has been flung.” This is the Christian’s burden, and Christians today can be thankful for the guidance Malik offered by faithfully carrying that burden in his own day.

-- Dylan Pahman is a research associate for the Acton Institute, where he serves as assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality and editor of the Orthodox Christian Social Thought monograph series.

Excerpt from Christ and Crisis by Charles Malik

The Christian finds himself today thrown into a strange and difficult world, full of peril and anxiety. He knows Christ, he believes in Him, and he cannot forget what He has done for him in his own life. On the basis of this knowledge and faith he seeks to understand and to adjust to the terrible questions and uncertainties of the times. Christ bearing crossHe knows it is unworthy of him as a Christian to bewail his fate and exaggerate the challenges in the midst of which he is thrown. Dangerous world?—yes. Unprecedented difficulties?—certainly. Tremendous challenges?—of course. But God does not love him less, nor has He singled him out for trial in a special furnace beyond his power to bear or to subdue. He remembers what Paul told the Corinthians and he understands it to be meant exactly for him: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). Every age has its own problems, every age its own burdens and complexities, and throughout man is fundamentally the same, able to know and rest in the truth or to rebel, and the devil precisely the same old adversary, with his sweetness and his wiles, and of course “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

But if man and the devil and Christ are the same in every age, still every man lives in his own age and in no other, and faces his own problems and carries his own cross which no other man can possibly face or carry for him. We have this one life to live which is absolutely unique and absolutely our own. This is not the decaying Athenian world in which Socrates would rather die than adjust to, nor the Roman world at its highest splendor which Paul had to contend with and utilize in the service of the Gospel, nor this same world at its last gasp for which Augustine wrote the epitaph in his magnificent City of God, nor the Hellenistic world at Antioch to which Chrysostom preached his inimitable homilies, nor the rotten world of the eleventh century at the time of the Great Schism between East and West, nor the exuberant world of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when limitless horizons began to beckon the energies of men, nor the world of the nineteenth century when Western Europe held under its sway virtually all mankind. We are not called upon to live in any of these worlds, although our indebtedness to the great scholars who actually live in thought in them and lovingly reproduce them to us is incalculable. But even these our benefactors see and interpret the past from the only vantage point accessible to them, namely, from this one common world to which they and we belong. Every man must work out his own destiny, meet his own fate, carry his own burden, come to terms with himself and with God, from within the one and unique world into which he has been flung.

"The Christian is defined by a kind of love: the Christian loves Jesus Christ above everything else. This love is not an ordinary act of the will on his part, as for instance when we decide to read a book..."

What, then, is the burden of the Christian today, the Christian who, as a man, shares the same humanity with David and Socrates and Paul and Augustine, this very humanity over which the devil and Jesus Christ are engaged in eternal combat, and yet who must carry on this warfare of the soul in this very age, the age of the cold war and the nuclear bomb, the age of the infinite wonders of science, and the age in which every people on earth is demanding as never before the right to some place under the sun?

Before I endeavor to answer this question I must first say one word about the essence of the Christian, for we are speaking here, not of the burden of the American or the European or the capitalist or the wage earner, but the burden of the Christian. We are assuming the existence of a distinct being called “the Christian.”

The Christian is defined by a kind of love: the Christian loves Jesus Christ above everything else. This love is not an ordinary act of the will on his part, as for instance when we decide to read a book or to take a trip abroad or to attend a meeting or to pay a visit to a friend. The dawning of Christ’s love is not something we conjure up ourselves. We love Jesus Christ only when we realize how much He loved us, and indeed loved us without first seeking or receiving our consent. Thus our love of Jesus Christ is a pale reflection of His love for us.

Beyond every burden and care, the Christian has his own soul to worry about. Oh yes, he is honest and upright, he works hard, he reads the Bible, he meditates on the saints, he has his times of profound prayer and retreat to the depths, he lives an active Church life, he takes an humble part in the stirring spiritual movements of the day, he is alive to the problems of the world, he is as good and solid a citizen as any other person, and, above all, he develops ulcers, those peculiar stigmata of our age! But, is he the master of his own passions? How much does he know the living power of God in his own life—that power which is much more than the daimon of Socrates which only warns and forbids, that power which also directs and constitutes and provides? Is he at peace with himself? Is he true to himself? Is he true to Christ? How much does Christ come to his rescue exactly in time? In his daily wrestlings with the devil, does he spit in his face and trample his head under foot—not in his own power, but always in the power of the Cross? Has he forgiven his brother— really forgiven him? Is all rancor and resentment washed away by the blood of Christ? How else can he hope for the forgiveness of God of which he stands in such desperate need?

Beyond every other care and worry, the Christian carries these questions on his mind all the time, and with them he transcends his turbulent age and becomes one with all ages in which the same ultimate questions tormented the saints. It is reconciliation and peace with God that he craves for more than anything else. It is that life of closeness to God, that intimacy of living with Christ, that mighty infusion of the Holy Ghost, which is absolute light, absolute certainty, absolute power. In this state which he craves for, which he believes in, which he confidently expects, having been promised it by One who does not lie, the Christian attains that divine sophia in which the tongue is untied and from which everything else flows. The Christian has a foretaste of this even in this life. There is then courage, there is communion, there is peace, there is the fellowship of the pure, of those who have seen God.

"And all I know is that I am told and I believe that ‘this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3)."

Now our present life is interesting and let no one belittle its duties and challenges and excitements. Moreover, these are great days and what is being decided in them is absolutely historic. But all these things are going to pass, and with them life itself. What, then, is the life that does not pass, what, then, is life eternal? This is the first and last question. And all I know is that I am told and I believe that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

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Charles Malik was the Lebanese representative to the United Nations, the President of the Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations General Assembly, a member of the Lebanese Cabinet, a national minister of Education and the Arts, and of Foreign Affairs and Emigration, and theologian. He was responsible for the drafting and adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.