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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

11/1/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

The principle of agere contra is a good spiritual tool to recall when, under God's grace, we attempt to develop our spiritual life and virtue against the attractions or blandishments of the world.

As the modern world about us goes its merry godless and morally dissipated way, Catholics will be called to be more and more contrarian.  A contrarian, of course, is a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion or current practices.  Regarding much of what relativist and secularist liberal societies consider "normal," the faithful practicing Catholic will be decidedly contrarian.


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

11/1/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: agere contra, countercultural, contrarian, imitatio Christ, Andrew M. Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - As the modern world about us goes its merry godless and morally dissipated way, Catholics will be called to be more and more contrarian. 

A contrarian, of course, is a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion or current practices.  Regarding much of what relativist and secularist liberal societies consider "normal," the faithful practicing Catholic will be decidedly contrarian.

Now being contrarian is not necessarily being a crank, although as society strays further and further from the reasonable and traditional Christian mores it may appear to our morally unfounded contemporaries that we are cranks.  From their vantage point, I suppose we look that way.

If we be labeled cranks, then let us make the most of it.  Let us be happy cranks for Christ. 

We might paraphrase St. Paul (without doing him too much violence) and learn to be cranks for Christ's sake.  (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:10) 

It's quite likely that, in their blindness, the godless liberal pundits and comedians, no less that the Pharisees or Sadducees, would have called Our Lord an unenlightened crank--or worse.  To call Jesus a crank is not too far from immersing a crucifix in urine and calling us cranks for complaining about it or in calling us bigots and cranks because we, faithful to the teaching of Christ and natural moral law, oppose same-sex "marriage" for what it is: a moral enormity of the first class. 

Here again, we might paraphrase this time Jesus instead of St. Paul (again without violence to the text) and suggest that if the world calls us cranks, we should recall that they would have called him a crank first.  (Cf. John 15:18)

But by resisting the peer pressure of our contemporaries and being contrarian, we are not by any means cranks, kooks, or crackpots though we be called that. 

We, after all, have right reason on our side, and the teachings of Christ, the weight of Catholic tradition, and the authority of the Magisterium which is guided by the Holy Spirit to boot.  These are good allies in assessing our normalcy and the moral deviancy of our contemporary fellows. 

These will all outlast the current madness.  Omnia vincit veritas.

We must remember when we are called cranks, that when one is standing on a rock cliff one can safely ignore the claim of the man mired in quicksand that he, and not you, is standing on stable ground.

To be sure, it is not easy to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ when the majority opinion is against you.  It hurts, and it is hard to kick against the pricks and goads of majority opinion (Acts 26:14), even if it is wrong.

Resisting the heavy weight and moral suasion of the liberal establishment and its institutions presents a significant, concrete challenge for the modern Christian disciple, especially the Catholic one who has an uncompromising moral creed that believes in moral absolutes. 

Unquestionably, fidelity to Christ--at least the ease of it--is affected by one's moral environment, by what Pope Benedict XVI called one's "moral ecology," and our modern moral ecology is foul.

As St. Thomas More wrote to his children, "It is now no mastery for you children to go to heaven.  For everybody giveth you good counsel, everybody giveth you good example.  You see virtue rewarded, and vice punished, so that you are carried up to heaven even by the chins."

"But," St. Thomas More continues as if he were writing for our time, "if you live in the time, that no man will give you good counsel, nor no man will give you good example, when you shall see virtue punished, and vice rewarded, if you will then stand fast, and firmly stick to God upon pain of life, if you be but half good, God will allow you for whole good."

Well, we are not living in a time and place where we will be carried up to heaven "even by the chins."  To the contrary, we are living in a time and place where we likely will be carried to hell "by the chins," and assuredly so if (to shift metaphors) we don't swim against the current a bit.

Let us then strive to be heroic--to be wholly good and wholly faithful to our Lord and his Church; but if we are fearful, or if we are weak, or if we fail, if our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak, let us at least try to be half good.  There is no excuse for not being at least half good. 

That means, in the words of St. Thomas More, we must "stand fast, and firmly stick to God upon pain of life."  In other words, we have to be contrarian even to be half good.

Now that means that when times are evil--when Catholics have cause to complain in the words of Cicero, O tempora! O mores!--the Catholic will have to develop his interior contrarian, his moral backbone, his steadfastness. 

In developing our inner contrarian, St. Ignatius of Loyola gave us a doctrine that might be adaptable to this situation: agere contra.

Agere contra is Latin for "to act against."  In his Spiritual Exercises--a spiritual classic of first rank--St. Ignatius of Loyola described this attitude in the context of acting against the sense of desolation or emptiness in prayer, but also in acting against temptations and sensuality. 

Particularly in those areas where we are weak, or where our disposition is wrongfully inclined, or where we find thinks difficult, unappetizing, or unappealing the principle of agere contra comes into play as a good rule of thumb for action. 

The notion of agere contra is that if we are indisposed to something we ought to do its opposite, and with even greater fervor.  Act against a disordered inclination by doing its opposite with redoubled effort.  A great example of this spiritual principle would be St. Francis of Assisi. 
When he first started his spiritual journey, the poor man of Assisi lived in great fear of lepers.  He overcame his fear by the principle of agere contra.  He did so by kissing the wounds of the leper.  When he was tempted by unchastity, he rolled naked in the brambles and in the snow.  Those are perfect images of agere contra.

Now, we need not necessarily act in the same manner (unless you want to become saints, and why don't you give that exciting life a try?), but in all cases we are called to act in a similar manner, in the Jesuit and Franciscan spirit of agere contra

In particular, when it comes to confronting our modern culture, we have to instill in ourselves this notion of agere contra so that it becomes a sort of second nature.  This allows us greater success in recognizing and overcoming the habitual vices that are considered normal in our society. 

When 50% of marriages end in divorce, and there are "family law" lawyers on every corner, and the civil laws allow for divorce on no-fault grounds, and many of our friends are living in irregular (adulterous) second unions that appear happy enough, and we are having difficulties in our relationship with our spouse, we have to develop the spirit of agere contra.  Divorce and remarriage is a false solution.

When the vast majority of married couples (not to mention those not married) use artificial contraception and have become closed to children and even more so to large families on spurious or at least weak grounds, we have to develop the attitude of agere contra.  We will be thought of as weird.  So what?

When a huge proportion of our friends are living outside the confines of marriage or some alternative lifestyle, we must resolve agere contra and resist that tendency as something normal.  We must insist on the sacredness of marriage, on the sacredness of the conjugal act, on the radical contrariness of chastity and purity.

When our friends invite us to strip clubs, or we are tempted to look at pornography, or we are tempted to self-abuse, and we hear the common refrain that "everybody does that," we must resort to our faithful rule of thumb: agere contra. "Purity? they ask. And they smile," says St. Josemaria Escriva. "They are the ones who go on to marriage with worn-out bodies and disillusioned souls."

If we suffer from same-sex attraction and the world--its psychologists, politicians, and LGBT advocates--tell us that we are excused from the moral law because of it and we may be gaily unchaste and unchastely gay, we must invoke the principle of agere contra.

If, as a young Catholic we have stumbled and fallen and gotten pregnant out of wedlock or gotten someone pregnant out of wedlock, we must resist what moderns (falsely) propose as a solution, even sickeningly a right: abortion.  Even then, it is time for agere contraAgere contra is not only for saints, it is a right attitude for all.

These are just some examples that happen to prevail in contemporary culture.  The principle of agere contra is, of course, applicable to any disorder, social or personal, which we suffer or any difficulty which we confront. 

Let us develop our inner contrarian by the principle of agere contra, as St. Paul proposes: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect."  (Rom. 12:2).

The principle of agere contra is a good spiritual tool to recall when, under God's grace, we attempt to develop our spiritual life and virtue against the attractions or blandishments of the world.

It allows us to develop a faithful Marian response to God-one that says fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, be it done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). 

It allows us to be attuned to an authentic sequela, imitatio, and conformatio Christi, a following of, imitation of, and conformation to Christ, whose response to the will of God the Father, even in his human nature, was an unwavering and perfect: not my will, but yours be done, non mea voluntas sed tua fiat (Luke 22:42).

Agere contra!  It's time to develop our interior contrarian!


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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