Fulton Sheen’s July 4 ‘Declaration of Dependence’

BOOK PICK: On July 4, 1941, then-Msgr. Fulton Sheen published a book to stir America’s soul into realizing what its independence entailed and to warn Americans what they must do to keep it.

The wisdom of Fulton J. Sheen is timeless.
The wisdom of Fulton J. Sheen is timeless. (photo: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation photos; cropped Sophia Institute Press book cover)

On July 4, 1941, five months before the United States entered World War II, then-Msgr. Fulton Sheen published A Declaration of Dependence to stir America’s soul into realizing what its independence entailed and to warn Americans what they must do to keep it. This work of Sheen, a true prophet, is even more timely for today, as the world fills with more violence, irrationality, growing abandonment of God and religion, idolatry of self and much more. 

A Declaration of Dependence has been reprinted and rereleased for July 4 as the saintly bishop’s urgent wake-up call for the United States.

“Men are visited with the effects of their own sins,” wrote Sheen. “In other words, sin brings adversity, and such adversity is the expression of God’s chastisement of sin, brought about by the action of man himself. We are living in such a period of history now — the sad hour wherein we are gathering the bitter fruits of our apostasy from God. Wars from without; class hatreds, bigotry, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, atheism, and immoralities from within — are the harvest of our godlessness. I know that there are many who profess belief in God, but they do not act on that belief. What recognition is given to the moral law in politics, economics, or education? How many Americans who say they believe in God went to their church or to their synagogue last Sunday or Sabbath?” 

His words became timeless reminders of what was already on the horizon for today.

Allan Smith, the editor of this new edition, plus other Sheen works, described to the Register how the prolific bishop wrote several books during those years as the world was engulfed in war. “Sheen was really pushing hard, just to remind us and say, ‘We’re going to do World War III really quickly if you don’t get this right.’”

It was essential to correctly understand that double aspect or meaning of America’s Declaration of Independence. As Smith explained, “Sheen begins really saying to America: Remember, the Declaration of Independence means a Declaration of Dependence. He was also saying that the intentions of our Founding Fathers were that we would be a nation under God. All these men wrote this because they wanted us to say, ‘We need God.’”

Sheen began his title chapter by observing, as Smith explained, how “everyone talks of rights and few of duties,” so that “it is important for us Americans to recall that the Declaration of Independence is also a ‘Declaration of Dependence.’ The Declaration of Independence asserts a double dependence: dependence on God and dependence on law as derived from God.”

Quoting the opening of America’s founding document, Sheen emphasized, “Notice these words: The Creator has endowed men with rights and liberties; men got them from God! In other words, we are dependent on God, and that initial dependence is the foundation of our independence. … Each person has a value because God made him, not because the State recognizes him. The day we adopt in our democracy the already widespread ideas of some American jurists that right and justice depend on convention and the spirit of the times, we shall write the death warrant of our independence.” He continued, 

“When we deny God as the foundation of our rights, we shall no longer have rights. The Declaration of Independence, I repeat, is a Declaration of Dependence.”

Smith pointed out that, in the book’s first chapter, Sheen talks “about the revolutionary tempo and how it’s irrational. It’s violent, and it’s atheistic. And he mentions how atheism is not so much ‘I don’t believe in God.’ It’s like, ‘I want to get rid of God.’ It’s always very violent.”

Indeed, as Sheen clarified, “The spirit of revolution has three characteristic notes. It is: (1) irrational, (2) violent, (3) atheistic.” He further explained, “Irrationality developed quickly in the modern world after it lost faith in God,” and it is “important to note that violence follows from irrationality. When a man loses his reason, he becomes violent.”

Sheen next observed, 

“It is unfortunately the spirit of many in our own land who would sabotage our national life. There is irrationality in America, for countless are our fellow citizens who are guided by emotion rather than by reason, who go on repeating catchwords and slogans that they never analyze, and who deny there are any basic truths of reason, much less of revelation, by which man can chart the course of his life and discover the goal of his destiny.” 

In his book written as America celebrated its last Independence Day before entering World War II, the bishop emphasized: “Mark these words: The enemy of the world in the near future is going to be Communism, which is using peace when it can and war when it must, and which is preparing, when Europe is exhausted from war, to sweep over it like a vulture to tear its flesh. When Russia falls, America will be the new seat of Communism.”

“Sheen always prophesied that communism would return back where it came from, the West,” explained Peter Howard, president of the Fulton Sheen Institute. “He reminded us that Karl Marx’s philosophy came from Germany, his economics from England, and his sociology from France. It only took root in Russia because Russia, as Sheen put it, has the Asiatic soul of fire that communism needed to ignite, and then through violence spread its errors in the East.”

In A Declaration of Dependence, Sheen foresaw what others did not. Howard, having received his doctorate in sacred theology focused on the work of Sheen from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), explained how communism has penetrated the West through ideological subversion.

“Sheen nailed it back in 1941, when he said that the essence of today’s conflict was between three philosophies of life,” Howard told the Register. “These philosophies revolved around the question of whether man is a useful tool of the state, as totalitarians believe; whether man is only an animal, as the materialists and secularists believe; or whether man is made in the image of God, as the Christians believe.”

“What is prevailing now,” Howard added, “are the first two philosophies, which are anti-democratic, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and anti-human.”

False prophets were saying, as seen today, Howard continued, “that freedom means the right to do whatever you please; that to inculcate in the growing child a sense of right and wrong is to be unprogressive.”

Smith explained that Sheen brought out in this book, as he did elsewhere, that there are two types of people: those who want to embrace the cross of Jesus Christ and those who say they don’t want a cross. “But when they fling off the cross of Jesus Christ, they get the cross of communism, the cross of materialism, the cross of consumerism, the cross of Marxism,” Smith said. 

Howard added, “As Sheen put it, ‘Communism is coming back again on the Western world because something died in the Western world — namely, the strong faith of men in the God that made them.’”

“With Europe having explicitly and implicitly abandoned its Catholic roots, America is the last force on earth that can stand between a free world and the diabolical transhumanist agenda of the totalitarian global elite,” Howard explained. “But America is at its weakest morally, politically and economically, and its collapse is now seen by many as imminent” because many have “sold out America’s foundational principles.”

Still, a glimmer of hope remains, hinging on our response.

“This is why America needs a new ‘Declaration of Dependence’ now,” Howard said, offering a “Sheen solution.” 

“It must now face and take up courageously the revolution of what Sheen calls ‘the passive barbarism from within,’ while also defeating the active barbarism from without which attacks our freedom. We will only do this by rediscovering and instituting into every dimension of society America’s Christian roots (that precede 1776). This is why the Church and its saints must rise now, because we are the only ones with the fullness of that answer.”

“Sheen was adamant that we will never rid our nation of its political, economic and cultural problems unless we restore the Christian philosophy of life which single-handedly built Western civilization,” Howard added.

Indeed, Sheen wrote,

 “First preserve belief in God as the source of rights and liberties, and you will save democracy. But not vice versa.”

Youth has no trouble seeing the truth in Sheen’s words and warnings. Jenna Drummond, a senior at The Catholic University of America who continues to focus projects and an upcoming thesis on Sheen and his development of ideas on communism beginning in his early years, finds “a lot of what he says is mind-boggling because it’s so true now. It was true when he said it in the 1930s, in the 1940s and 1950s, and it has proven itself over and over again.”

Jenna Drummond shared this archival photograph on Fulton J. Sheen on social media.
Jenna Drummond shared this archival photograph of Fulton J. Sheen on social media. | Courtesy of Jenna Drummond

Referring to one of Sheen’s speeches at a Eucharistic congress before World War II, she said, “He gave this really beautiful speech about communism, capitalism and Catholicism,” explaining how everybody seeks liberty and equality, but what people really need is the fraternity of Catholicism, with everything “rooted in God, because that’s the only way that anybody will have real peace — when everybody knows that they’re individually known and loved by God,” she told the Register.

Drummond suggests celebrating this Independence Day in a Sheen way — by spending a Holy Hour praying for our country “because there’s a lot going on right now, especially with the big decisions about Roe coming out, things like that, but also with the turmoil in Ukraine and Russia.” As Sheen made a Holy Hour daily, people can make an Independence Day Holy Hour, she said, “praising God for mercy on our country thus far, and begging for it to continue so that we can continue to celebrate Independence Day.” 

As Sheen wrote, “Our love of God as a nation must begin with ‘fear,’ for the ‘fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10): first the fear of the sanctions of his justice, then the fear of betraying the blessings of mercy.” He pointed to Israel’s history, showing how God punishes both his own people and their enemies: punitive against the Assyrians, ending in “their desolation”; paternal correction upon the Jews, ending in “their restoration.”

With all these insights and warnings throughout history, Sheen asked, “Shall we go on with our godless education, our shattered family life, our class wars, our political intrigues, and our undisciplined and uncircumcised hearts, because we foolishly believe the only enemy we have is across the sea? In the name of God, let us face the facts” and “admit our guilt.”

“There are too many divisions and classes among us in America now; too many hates, too few deep loves. … We will find the secret in the humblest coin of our realm,” Sheen explained. “So many have been interested in seeking dollars that they have quite forgotten the wisdom that is written on the penny. Take a penny into your hand: on one side you will find written the words E pluribus unum: ‘we who are many are one.’ If you want to find out how the many are made one, turn the penny over, and you will find the answer: ‘In God we trust.’ 

“There can be differences in our national life without animosity … provided we have a really good reason for loving one another. And the only good reason for loving everyone, whomsoever he be, even though he be our enemy, is because he is a creature of God redeemed by the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”