Ven. Fulton Sheen: 'The Declaration of Independence Is a Declaration of Dependence'

Dr.Santosh Kumar Sain

July 4 marks the celebration of the Declaration of Independence in the United States. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, known for his insightful and prophetic views, provided profound insights on this occasion. In his book titled A Declaration of Dependence, published in 1941 during World War II, Sheen emphasized that the Declaration of Independence is, in fact, a declaration of dependence on God.

Ven. Fulton Sheen: 'The Declaration of Independence Is a Declaration of Dependence'
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Ven. Fulton Sheen-Dependence on God

According to Archbishop Sheen, our independence from dictators and tyrannies stems from our dependence on God. He highlights that God is central to our lives, and His ways should permeate every aspect, including education, employment, pleasure, mourning, and socializing. Recognizing God's presence and aligning our actions with His teachings fills our interactions with love for our Savior.

Rights and Dependence on God

Sheen links the rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence to our dependence on God. He explains that our liberty is an "unalienable" right because it is a gift from the Creator. By making a Declaration of Dependence on God, we become independent from oppressive rulers and dictators.

The Danger of Ignoring Our Dependence

Sheen warns that the true evil lies in man's refusal to acknowledge his finiteness and creaturehood. By denying the existence of something greater than himself, a man risks undermining the foundations of his own existence.

The Danger from Within

During the 1940s, Sheen expressed concerns about impending threats. He emphasized the importance of recognizing the danger from within, which arises from corruption rather than external invasion. While he firmly believed in the United States' victory in the war, he questioned what would follow afterward.

The Founding Fathers' Faith

Sheen reminds us that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not godless individuals. He highlights that Thomas Jefferson, the author of the declaration, stated that man derives his rights and liberties from God, his Creator. The government's purpose is to protect and safeguard these preexisting rights grounded in the Christian tradition, emphasizing the supreme value of the human person.

The Foundation of Our Government

Our government's establishment on the principle that the State exists for the individual reflects the Christian tradition's belief in the preciousness of each person. Sheen explains that this democratic doctrine is not based on psychological, anthropological, or biological theories about the man but on the faith and tradition that a single person is valuable because of their immortal soul. The Constitution places politics under theology, asserting the supremacy of God in democracy.

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Cracks in the Foundation

Sheen observes that what was once self-evident to the Founding Fathers, namely that rights are God-given rather than State-given, is no longer regarded as self-evident today. He warns of the consequences when politics denies its divine foundation, becoming the supreme and absolute science.

Inner Corruption and Warning

Drawing from historian Arnold Toynbee's observations, Sheen notes that the downfall of 16 out of 19 civilizations was not due to external forces but rather their own inner corruption. He questions whether the nation as a whole will heed the warning against hypocrisy and cleanse its own internal decay.

He envisioned the present path as he explained that for the last 400 years, modern man has continued to strive "for total independence and absolute autonomy: first from the Church as a spiritual organism; then from the Bible as the revealed Word of God; then from the authority of Christ; and finally from religion. By progressive steps, he rebelled against his divine destiny."

Introduction: The Erosion of Dependence

In this section, Archbishop Fulton Sheen's insights shed light on the erosion of dependence on God throughout history.

The Troubled Nation and False Freedom

Sheen questions the state of the troubled nation and the source of its fear. He explores the consequences of false freedom, license, and apostasy from God, which have caught up with society, reminiscent of the prodigal son.

Education and Unalienable Rights

Examining the role of education, Sheen highlights the tendency to divorce human rights from God. He emphasizes that if rights come from God, they are unalienable and cannot be taken away by the state. Sheen draws attention to the religious background of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the historical absence of non-religious education.

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The Dilemma of Religious and Moral Education

Sheen highlights the dilemma facing the country concerning the relationship between religion, morality, and education. While the government recognizes the importance of religion and morality in fostering good citizenship, the encouragement for religious and moral education has diminished over the years.

Politics and the Loss of Moral Law

Exploring the rise of politics, Sheen reflects on the diminishing role of the moral law. He emphasizes that in the days when Christianity was central to civilization, politics, and economics held a secondary place. Sheen argues that the extension of religious and moral training, rather than its suppression, is vital for safeguarding American democracy and freedom.

Rights and Duties

Sheen emphasizes the inseparable nature of rights and duties, rooted in the fact that God made us free creatures. He relates this concept to the Declaration of Independence, which acknowledges the unalienable rights endowed by the Creator. Sheen asserts that democracy is not autonomous but subject to a higher law, with God as the absolute foundation.

Divine Judgment and Duties to God

Reflecting on American history, Sheen warns that ignoring our duties to God can lead to divine judgment. He cites Abraham Lincoln's proclamation during the Civil War, emphasizing the duty of nations and individuals to acknowledge their dependence on God, confess their sins, and seek mercy and pardon.

Lincoln's Proclamation and Sheen's Perspective

In this section, the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln and Archbishop Fulton Sheen's reflections provide insight into the importance of acknowledging dependence on God and the role of religion and morality in the nation's prosperity.

Lincoln's Call for National Reformation

Lincoln's proclamation during the Civil War highlights the belief that nations, like individuals, are subject to divine punishments and chastisements. He suggests that the calamity of civil war may be a result of the nation's presumptuous sins, calling for national reformation through humility, confession of sins, and prayer for forgiveness.

The Declarations: Independence and Dependence

Sheen recognizes the significance of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Declaration of Dependence. He emphasizes that while Jefferson declared independence from tyrants, Lincoln emphasized the nation's dependence on God. Sheen refers to the ethical complement of the Bill of Rights as the Bill of Duties.

The Triple Mandatory Obligation

Sheen outlines a triple mandatory obligation for preserving the nation's moral fabric. First, he emphasizes the preservation of the moral law in domestic politics, warning against both revolts and selling the nation's soul. Second, he highlights the importance of adhering to the moral law of God to maintain a single standard. Third, he underscores the duty to love America, rooted in justice and grounded in the three principal forms of piety: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of country.

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Religion in the Tradition of Government

Sheen refutes the notion that the nation should be devoid of religion, citing the words of great Americans and the tradition of the government. He quotes George Washington's addresses, emphasizing the role of religion and morality in political prosperity and the eternal rules of order and right. Sheen underscores the importance of recognizing God-given rights, including the right to life and the understanding of gender as created by God.


Recognizing Dependence and Seeking Divine Blessings

Sheen concludes by reiterating Lincoln's proclamation and its call for nations to acknowledge their dependence on the overruling power of God. He emphasizes the necessity of confessing sins, genuine repentance, and recognizing the truth found in the Holy Scriptures and history, that only those nations that adhere to these principles are blessed. 

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