“Jake’s Mistake, or Meador’s Error”: Being an Account of the Subordination of the State to the Church

In the context of discussing the reaction to Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, Jake Meador categorizes six political theologies at Mere Orthodoxy. These are, in Meador’s terms: Catholic Integralism, Post-Liberal Protestantism, Post-Liberal Retreatists, Radical Anabaptists, Liberal Protestantist, and Liberal Revanchists. It is an interesting overview of Christian responses to late liberalism. Obviously, as populist movements are shaking the world—ranging from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump to the candidacy of Marine Le Pen—there is a sense that liberalism is in trouble. Whether or not this turns out to be the case, we cannot say. Liberalism is remarkably resilient, not least since it promises everyone relative freedom to pursue their private goods. Nevertheless, a lot of smart, mostly young, Christians are thinking in terms of What comes next? That’s what Meador sets out to catalog. And his piece is well worth a read.

Meador, while a protestant, is by no means inflexibly hostile to what he describes as Catholic integralism. In fact, he gives integralism a fairly fair shake. He cites Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., at length, and mentions Elliot Milco of First Things and The Josias and Matthew Schmitz, of First Things. (Schmitz, while perhaps not an integralist like Pater Waldstein or Milco, has certainly written pieces suspicious of liberalism.) In other words, Meador engages with the writers we would say are the best young integralists writing today. It is hard to say that he does not give the best exponents of the tradition right now a fair reading. And in those terms—that is, an outsider trying to summarize the tradition with the help of some of the best sources on the tradition right now—Meador’s piece is hard to criticize.

Yet not impossible to criticize, for, despite his charitable reading, Meador makes a serious error when he characterizes an essential tenet of integralism. We will work through it at some length, but let us summarize it for now by saying that he turns integralism into something awfully like a theocracy. He says first,

The idea of Integralism is thus rather simple: Because man’s temporal end is subservient to his eternal end, the institutions which exist to help fulfill temporal ends must be subservient to those which help to fulfill eternal ends. Put briefly, in a just society the magistrate would be somehow responsive to or under the authority of the Roman church and specifically the Bishop of Rome because the Bishop of Rome presides over the only true and complete community, the Roman Catholic Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) He goes on to say, discussing what he calls Post-Liberal Protestantism:

However, whereas the Integralist vision of society is fairly hierarchical with the Bishop of Rome quite literally on the throne, the Post-Liberal Protestant view is more diffused, seeing society as being organized around different spheres and power being spread across those spheres and rightly enacted only within limited domains.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now, we admit that these are passing remarks and Meador is not exploring integralism in depth. However, even accounting for the context, these remarks indicate that Meadow imagines the integralist state as a papal theocracy, with all forms of government directly subject to and subordinate to the Supreme Pontiff. Meador seems to think that the pope, in an integralist state, would be the maximum monarch with the other magistrates arrayed beneath him like so many ministers and majordomos. This is, frankly, not integralism.

Meador seems to be stymied by the terminology used to discuss integralism. He cites Pater Waldstein’s “Integralism in Three Sentences,” (we told you Meador goes to the best sources) in which Pater Waldstein defines integralism thus:

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

(Hyperlinks in the original.) This is, of course, an excellent summary of the integralist position, not least because of its brevity. However, it is easy for those not steeped in integralist thought—and we must assume that Meador, despite his evident sympathy for integralism, is not steeped in integralist thought—to miss some of the nuances. Particularly the nuance in the term “subordinated.” Indeed, it appears to us that subordination is the root of Meador’s confusion.

Now, it is certainly true that integralism posits that the state is subordinate to the Church. It also holds that the state, having received its power from God, as St. Paul tells us, has duties to God that it must fulfill, including protecting and promoting the true religion. This has become complicated since Dignitatis humanae was promulgated at the Second Vatican Council, which may purport, whatever it does regarding the relation between the state and the Church, to relax some of the duties incumbent upon the state. (We will leave the matter there, lest we bite off more of a polemic than we can spit out.) Nevertheless, the traditional teaching of the Church holds that the state is subordinate to the Church. However, precise nature of the subordination is not so simple. It would be error to say that there are no questions within the competence of the state. The great neo-Scholastic theologian Henri Grenier held that the state was indirectly subordinate to the Church in the juridical order.

Grenier’s position is not without some controversy. We will not here rehearse fully the dispute between Henri Grenier and Charles De Koninck so ably outlined and addressed by Pater Waldstein in his essay on the Gelasian dyarchy at The Josias. Ultimately, Grenier’s argument turns on the question of the societas perfecta and the argument that the Church and the state both are (no. 1082) and are and are not (no. 1165) societates perfectae. Based upon this admittedly very fine distinction, Grenier determines that the state is indirectly subordinate to the Church in the juridical order (no. 1167). The state is, of course, subject to the Church because the end of the state is relatively ultimate (temporal happiness) and the end of the Church is absolutely ultimate (eternal happiness: the Beatific Vision) (ibid.). Now, Pater Waldstein critiques Grenier’s argument, and we would do violence to its finely wrought structure if we tried to excerpt it or summarize it. But we will arrive at the same place Pater Waldstein did; Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei offers a summary of the relationship between the Church and the state.

We have spoken at length about Leo XIII’s magisterium and the need to recover it. This is a fine example of why; Leo wrote at great length in several encyclicals about the constitution of the state, and he addressed these questions in a definitive way. In Immortale Dei, the great pope explained the relationship and, to some extent, the subordination of the state to the Church:

The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing—related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing—might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. “For the powers that are, are ordained of God.” Were this not so, deplorable contentions and conflicts would often arise, and, not infrequently, men, like travellers at the meeting of two roads, would hesitate in anxiety and doubt, not knowing what course to follow. Two powers would be commanding contrary things, and it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two.

But it would be most repugnant to them to think thus of the wisdom and goodness of God. Even in physical things, albeit of a lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of them clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work together for the great purpose of the universe. There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar’s is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God.

(Emphasis supplied and altered slightly.) This is perhaps a more concrete explanation than the matter of indirect subordination. On one hand, the ecclesiastical and civil powers are supreme within their limits. On the other hand, these powers are connected and must be exercised harmoniously. The harmony between the two powers is determined carefully with reference to the nature of each power and their respective ends. This is, of course, the goal of integralism: a harmonious, well ordered society, with both state and Church pursuing their ends without conflict and without impediment.

However, Pater Waldstein hits a central point in his essay: just as the body must be subordinate to the soul in order to live, so too must the state be subordinate to the Church for a harmonious society.

And make no mistake: the necessary subordination of the state to the Church results in a harmonious society, just as a body subject to the soul is healthy.  Pater Waldstein discusses this at some length, but it is worth considering Leo’s entire argument. The great pope states:

In such organization of the State there is nothing that can be thought to infringe upon the dignity of rulers, and nothing unbecoming them; nay, so far from degrading the sovereign power in its due rights, it adds to it permanence and luster. Indeed, when more fully pondered, this mutual co-ordination has a perfection in which all other forms of government are lacking, and from which excellent results would flow, were the several component parts to keep their place and duly discharge the office and work appointed respectively for each. And, doubtless, in the constitution of the State such as We have described, divine and human things are equitably shared; the rights of citizens assured to them, and fenced round by divine, by natural, and by human law; the duties incumbent on each one being wisely marked out, and their fulfilment fittingly insured. In their uncertain and toilsome journey to the everlasting city all see that they have safe guides and helpers on their way, and are conscious that others have charge to protect their persons alike and their possessions, and to obtain or preserve for them everything essential for their present life. Furthermore, domestic society acquires that firmness and solidity so needful to it from the holiness of marriage, one and indissoluble, wherein the rights and duties of husband and wife are controlled with wise justice and equity; due honour is assured to the woman; the authority of the husband is conformed to the pattern afforded by the authority of God; the power of the father is tempered by a due regard for the dignity of the mother and her offspring; and the best possible provision is made for the guardianship, welfare, and education of the children.

In political affairs, and all matters civil, the laws aim at securing the common good, and are not framed according to the delusive caprices and opinions of the mass of the people, but by truth and by justice; the ruling powers are invested with a sacredness more than human, and are withheld from deviating from the path of duty, and from overstepping the bounds of rightful authority; and the obedience is not the servitude of man to man, but submission to the will of God, exercising His sovereignty through the medium of men. Now, this being recognized as undeniable, it is felt that the high office of rulers should be held in respect; that public authority should be constantly and faithfully obeyed; that no act of sedition should be committed; and that the civic order of the commonwealth should be maintained as sacred.

(Emphasis supplied.) We are reminded, of course, of Charles De Koninck’s splendid Marian essay, Ego Sapientia, and The Primacy of the Common Good. It is in submission to order—subordination—that a person achieves his full end and his true dignity. Likewise, it is in the state’s subordination to the Church—the submission of the temporal to the spiritual—that the state achieves the full measure of its power and dignity.

We pause again to emphasize that the Leonine magisterium is essential for this discussion. Subsequent popes did give thought to the Christian constitution of the state, but none as deeply or at such length as Leo. Even St. Pius X’s famous intervention, Fin dalla prima nostra, was essentially a syllabus of the Leonine magisterium. And the subsequent popes certainly took Leo’s arguments for granted on these issues (though not, perhaps, others). Liberalism is in trouble, and Meador rightly identifies integralism as a possible response to the question of What comes next? But to discuss integralism rightly, one should examine not only the best writers working today but also the best of the magisterial sources. And, often as not, Leo’s magisterial statements are the best. With these sources, it will be relatively easy to understand integralist thought in broad strokes.

And whatever integralism does require, it does not require a papal monarchy or any other kind of theocracy. Indeed, as Pater Waldstein notes, it has been argued that Christ Himself is the last Rex et Pontifex “secundum ordinem Melchisedech.” To put it another way: so far from requiring a papal monarchy, it may be that a rightly ordered society requires divided powers. More to the point, integralism requires civil leaders to recognize the fact that the end of the Church is inexpressibly more excellent than the end of the state, and to acknowledge that God has ordained that the two powers, civil and spiritual, must work together as body and soul. This is why we say that Meador’s integralism is not integralism.


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