With his 1892 encyclical on the Church and state in France, Au milieu des sollicitudes, Leo XIII instructed Catholics, who opposed the firmly anti-Catholic Third Republic, to begin cooperating with the regime. This new direction, known as ralliement, was based upon a distinction Leo drew between the civil power itself, which comes from God, and the political means of exercising and transmitting this power. As we shall see, Leo’s argument was based also on the common good. That is, Leo argued that the common good required French Catholics to cooperate with the Third Republic. In some respects, this is argument based upon a profoundly Thomistic understanding of government and the common good. However, it is not an argument without some perplexities, as we shall see. Most notable is the sense that engagement with liberalism will result in benefits to the Church. This is perhaps a departure from the Thomism otherwise on display in Au milieu and Leo’s follow-up letter to the French cardinals, Notre consolation. It is this sense that has been most strongly and most credibly criticized, as we shall see.
First, a historical note. The legacy of Au milieu des sollicitudes was almost immediately complicated. Roberto de Mattei has observed that Leo’s policy of engagement with the Third Republic failed disastrously. The French state, despite Leo’s encouragement to French Catholics to support the government, embarked on a vicious campaign against the Church. Indeed, the French government attacked directly even the Concordat of 1801. In response, St. Pius X made a series of allocutions condemning in the most stringent terms various actions by the French government. On November 14, 1904, he gave the allocution Duplicem on the Concordat. Then, on March 27, 1905, the allocution Amplissimum coetum. Then, on February 21, 1906, he condemned the law on the separation of Church and state in the allocution Gravissimum. He followed these statements up with a series of encyclicals beginning with his February 1906 encyclical on the law of separation, Vehementer nos. He followed it in the same year with his encyclical condemning the associations of worship, Gravissimo officii. Then, in 1907, Pius returned to the question of the French separation of Church and state in the encyclical Une fois encore, answering certain criticisms leveled against the Church by supporters of the French state. It is clear from this brief sketch of Pius’s statements that he was deeply concerned about the French question. But in all of it, Pius makes it clear that the depredations of the French state are to be resisted, come what may. De Mattei observes that Pius’s uncompromising resistance to the actions of the French government probably leavened the impact of the unjust laws on the Church. However, the impact on Au milieu was clear: as a policy, it failed.
Pater Edmund Waldstein has argued, following Petrus Hispanus, that ralliement was doomed to fail because it was an imprudent strategy. You can read Pater Waldstein’s argument at The Josias, but it ultimately boils down to this: cooperation with liberalism is a nonstarter because liberalism reduces everything to proceduralism. The idea behind ralliement was that Catholics, setting aside once and for all the dream of restoring the monarchy, could use the procedural machinery of the Third Republic to obtain a more favorable settlement for the Church instead of fighting the Republic itself. Indeed, according to Étienne Lamy, quoted at length by Pater Waldstein, Catholics could obtain a more favorable settlement for the Church using the very ideals of the Republic: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. However, it did not work that way, and, De Mattei argues, it was only Pius X’s uncompromising insistence on Catholic truth that prevented the French state from enforcing its tyrannical laws.
In this, we see the value of the ralliement debate for Catholics today. The cry from liberals of all political persuasions is that machinery of liberalism can be harnessed and employed to the benefit of the Church. Just vote for the right candidate, just vote for the right ballot initiative, just demand the right judge, Catholics are told, and the tide can be turned back. But, Waldstein and Petrus Hispanus argue, that is not in the logic of liberalism. Cooperation invariably results in confinement to the liberal procedural norms that form the shared basis for discussion. In other words, ralliement did not prevent the French state from taking ever more anti-Catholic steps, and Catholic participation in liberalism today will not prevent a western state from taking ever more anti-Catholic steps. That is not how liberalism works. And to a certain extent, the argument has merit.
Nevertheless, Leo’s argument for ralliement deserves independent consideration, not least because of its fundamental connection to his other encyclicals on the Christian constitution of the state. Now, De Mattei argues that Au milieu represents at least a practical contradiction of Immortale Dei, Diuturnum illud, and Libertas praestantissimum. As De Mattei puts it, Leo might have been illiberal in his doctrine, but he was certainly a liberal in his praxis. This is not a cheerful prospect. At the very least, one cannot say that Leo did not know his own mind, and, therefore, if there is a contradiction between his great, illiberal political encyclicals and Au milieu, we must attempt to resolve the contradiction—one way or the other. To analyze the question, one ought, in fairness to such a great pope, consider his thought in full. To clarify Au milieu des sollicitudes, one should turn to Notre consolation, the letter Leo sent to the French cardinals shortly after his encyclical was issued. This letter, as far as we know, has never been issued in English. As usual, we will not translate it here, not out of a sort of showy erudition, but because our French is not up to the task and we think you can get a machine translation as well as we can. At any rate, Notre consolation is Leo’s response to the reception of Au milieu in France. It would be important for that reason alone. However it is also important because Leo clarifies the basis of the acceptance of the new regime in France set forth in Au milieu.
In Notre consolation, Leo says:
Nous l’avons également expliqué et Nous tenons à le redire, pour que personne ne se méprenne sur Notre enseignement: un de ces moyens est d’accepter sans arrière-pensée, avec cette loyauté parfaite qui convient au chrétien, le pouvoir civil dans la forme où, de fait, il existe. Ainsi fut accepté, en France, le premier Empire, au lendemain d’une effroyable et sanglante anarchie ; ainsi furent acceptés les autres pouvoirs, soit monarchiques, soit républicains, qui se succédèrent jusqu’à nos jours.
Et la raison de cette acceptation, c’est que le bien commun de la société l’emporte sur tout autre intérêt; car il est le principe créateur, il est l’élément conservateur de la société humaine ; d’où il suit que tout vrai citoyen doit le vouloir et le procurer à tout prix. Or, de cette nécessité d’assurer le bien commun dérive, comme de sa source propre et immédiate, la nécessité d’un pouvoir civil qui, s’orientant vers le but suprême, y dirige sagement et constamment les volontés multiples des sujets, groupés en faisceau dans sa main. Lors donc que, dans une société, il existe un pouvoir constitué et mis à l’œuvre, l’intérêt commun se trouve lié à ce pouvoir, et l’on doit, pour cette raison, l’accepter tel qu’il est. C’est pour ces motifs et dans ce sens que Nous avons dit aux catholiques français: Acceptez la République, c’est-à-dire le pouvoir constitué et existant parmi vous; respectez-la ; soyez-lui soumis comme représentant le pouvoir venu de Dieu.
(Emphasis supplied.) Leo connects ralliement with the common good. He reminds us that government is required to order society toward its common good. Where there is government, then, it has the authority to order society toward the common good, and for this reason, the government must be accepted. In the words, the supremacy of the common good requires that the government, which is responsible for ordering the state toward the common good, be accepted. Leo also reminds us of an important point from Au milieu,
Qu’on veuille bien y réfléchir, si le pouvoir politique est toujours de Dieu, il ne s’ensuit pas que la désignation divine affecte toujours et immédiatement les modes de transmission de ce pouvoir, ni les formes contingentes qu’il revêt, ni les personnes qui en sont le sujet. La variété même de ces modes dans les diverses nations montre à l’évidence le caractère humain de leur origine.
In other words, while the civil power is from God, this does not mean that the mechanism by which that power is transferred is necessarily of divine origin.
Leo expands this point in terms of history. The rise and fall of governments, Leo assures us, is proof that there is a separation between the civil power from God and the transmission of that power.
Il y a plus, les institutions humaines les mieux fondées en droit et établies dans des vues aussi salutaires qu’on le voudra, pour donner à la vie sociale une assiette plus stable et lui imprimer un plus puissant essor, ne conservent pas toujours leur vigueur conformément aux courtes prévisions de la sagesse de l’homme.
En politique, plus qu’ailleurs, surviennent des changements inattendus. Des monarchies colossales s’écroulent ou se démembrent, comme les antiques royautés d’Orient et l’Empire romain; les dynasties supplantent les dynasties, comme celles des Carlovingiens et des Capétiens en France ; aux formes politiques adoptées, d’autres formes se constituent, comme notre siècle en montre de nombreux exemples. Ces changements sont loin d’être toujours légitimes à l’origine : il est même difficile qu’ils le soient. Pourtant, le critérium suprême du bien commun et de la tranquillité publique impose l’acceptation de ces nouveaux gouvernements établis en fait, à la place des gouvernements antérieurs qui, en fait, ne sont plus. Ainsi se trouvent suspendues les règles ordinaires de la transmission des pouvoirs, et il peut se faire même, qu’avec le temps, elles se trouvent abolies.
(Emphasis supplied.) However, Leo argues that the “supreme criterion” of the common good and public order require the acceptance of governments after the rise and fall of governments. After all, the common good prevails over any other interest (“le bien commun de la société l’emporte sur tout autre intérêt”).
To a certain extent, Leo is reinforcing and distilling the central argument he made in support of ralliement in Au milieu des sollicitudes. Here is the relevant passage:
However, here it must be carefully observed that whatever be the form of civil power in a nation, it cannot be considered so definitive as to have the right to remain immutable, even though such were the intention of those who, in the beginning, determined it.… Only the Church of Jesus Christ has been able to preserve, and surely will preserve unto the consummation of time, her form of government. Founded by Him who was, who is, and who will be forever, she has received from Him, since her very origin, all that she requires for the pursuing of her divine mission across the changeable ocean of human affairs. And, far from wishing to transform her essential constitution, she has not the power even to relinquish the conditions of true liberty and sovereign independence with which Providence has endowed her in the general interest of souls . . . But, in regard to purely human societies, it is an oft-repeated historical fact that time, that great transformer of all things here below, operates great changes in their political institutions. On some occasions it limits itself to modifying something in the form of the established government; or, again, it will go so far as to substitute other forms for the primitive ones-forms totally different, even as regards the mode of transmitting sovereign power.
And how are these political changes of which We speak produced? They sometimes follow in the wake of violent crises, too often of a bloody character, in the midst of which pre-existing governments totally disappear; then anarchy holds sway, and soon public order is shaken to its very foundations and finally overthrown. From that time onward a social need obtrudes itself upon the nation; it must provide for itself without delay. Is it not its privilege – or, better still, its duty – to defend itself against a state of affairs troubling it so deeply, and to re-establish public peace in the tranquillity of order? Now, this social need justifies the creation and the existence of new governments, whatever form they take; since, in the hypothesis wherein we reason, these new governments are a requisite to public order, all public order being impossible without a government. Thence it follows that, in similar junctures, all the novelty is limited to the political form of civil power, or to its mode of transmission; it in no wise affects the power considered in itself. This continues to be immutable and worthy of respect, as, considered in its nature, it is constituted to provide for the common good, the supreme end which gives human society its origin. To put it otherwise, in all hypotheses, civil power, considered as such, is from God, always from God: “For there is no power but from God.”
Consequently, when new governments representing this immutable power are constituted, their acceptance is not only permissible but even obligatory, being imposed by the need of the social good which has made and which upholds them. This is all the more imperative because an insurrection stirs up hatred among citizens, provokes civil war, and may throw a nation into chaos and anarchy, and this great duty of respect and dependence will endure as long as the exigencies of the common good shall demand it, since this good is, after God, the first and last law in society.
(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Notre consolation clarifies the point in Au milieu that the acceptance of a new regime is ultimately a question of the primacy of the common good.
Leo’s emphasis on the common good is profoundly Thomistic in many regards. Whatever the ultimate judgment on Leo’s ralliement policy, we must admit that his premises were, at least, consistent with the Common Doctor’s thought. We know from the De Regno (and Aristotle) that society necessarily implies government. We also know that government must direct the state toward its common good—that is, unity and peace. And the common good is the end toward which all elements of society must be ordered. Indeed, the society will collapse without something moving it toward the common good. Let us follow Thomas’s argument for a moment:
Si ergo naturale est homini quod in societate multorum vivat, necesse est in hominibus esse per quod multitudo regatur. Multis enim existentibus hominibus et unoquoque id, quod est sibi congruum, providente, multitudo in diversa dispergeretur, nisi etiam esset aliquis de eo quod ad bonum multitudinis pertinet curam habens; sicut et corpus hominis et cuiuslibet animalis deflueret, nisi esset aliqua vis regitiva communis in corpore, quae ad bonum commune omnium membrorum intenderet. Quod considerans Salomon dicit: ubi non est gubernator, dissipabitur populus.
Hoc autem rationabiliter accidit: non enim idem est quod proprium et quod commune. Secundum propria quidem differunt, secundum autem commune uniuntur. Diversorum autem diversae sunt causae. Oportet igitur, praeter id quod movet ad proprium bonum uniuscuiusque, esse aliquid quod movet ad bonum commune multorum. Propter quod et in omnibus quae in unum ordinantur, aliquid invenitur alterius regitivum. In universitate enim corporum per primum corpus, scilicet caeleste, alia corpora ordine quodam divinae providentiae reguntur, omniaque corpora per creaturam rationalem. In uno etiam homine anima regit corpus, atque inter animae partes irascibilis et concupiscibilis ratione reguntur. Itemque inter membra corporis unum est principale, quod omnia movet, ut cor, aut caput. Oportet igitur esse in omni multitudine aliquod regitivum.
(Emphasis supplied.) In English in Fr. Eschmann’s translation:
If, then, it is natural for man to live in the society of many, it is necessary that there exist among men some means by which the group may be governed. For where there are many men together and each one is looking after his own interest, the multitude would be broken up and scattered unless there were also an agency to take care of what appertains to the commonweal. In like manner, the body of a man or any other animal would disintegrate unless there were a general ruling force within the body which watches over the common good of all members. With this in mind, Solomon says [Eccl. 4:9]: “Where there is no governor, the people shall fall.”
Indeed it is reasonable that this should happen, for what is proper and what is common are not identical. Things differ by what is proper to each: they are united by what they have in common. But diversity of effects is due to diversity of causes. Consequently, there must exist something which impels towards the common good of the many, over and above that which impels towards the particular good of each individual. Wherefore also in all things that are ordained towards one end, one thing is found to rule the rest. Thus in the corporeal universe, by the first body, i.e. the celestial body, the other bodies are regulated according to the order of Divine Providence; and all bodies are ruled by a rational creature. So, too in the individual man, the soul rules the body; and among the parts of the soul, the irascible and the concupiscible parts are ruled by reason. Likewise, among the members of a body, one, such as the heart or the head, is the principal and moves all the others. Therefore in every multitude there must be some governing power.
(Emphasis supplied.) Leo is not wrong, therefore, in Notre consolation to observe that society implies government to order that society to the common good. Aristotle and Thomas tell us that man is a political animal; that is, it is natural for man to live in society. It is, therefore, necessary for some governing power to order that society toward the common good, otherwise the society would collapse.
And what is the common good toward which society must be ordered? As we have previously noted, it is peace—that is, unity and good order. Thomas teaches us:
Ad hoc enim cuiuslibet regentis ferri debet intentio, ut eius quod regendum suscepit salutem procuret. Gubernatoris enim est, navem contra maris pericula servando, illaesam perducere ad portum salutis. Bonum autem et salus consociatae multitudinis est ut eius unitas conservetur, quae dicitur pax, qua remota, socialis vitae perit utilitas, quinimmo multitudo dissentiens sibi ipsi sit onerosa. Hoc igitur est ad quod maxime rector multitudinis intendere debet, ut pacis unitatem procuret. Nec recte consiliatur, an pacem faciat in multitudine sibi subiecta, sicut medicus, an sanet infirmum sibi commissum. Nullus enim consiliari debet de fine quem intendere debet, sed de his quae sunt ad finem. Propterea apostolus commendata fidelis populi unitate: solliciti, inquit, sitis servare unitatem spiritus in vinculo pacis. Quanto igitur regimen efficacius fuerit ad unitatem pacis servandam, tanto erit utilius. Hoc enim utilius dicimus, quod magis perducit ad finem. Manifestum est autem quod unitatem magis efficere potest quod est per se unum, quam plures. Sicut efficacissima causa est calefactionis quod est per se calidum. Utilius igitur est regimen unius, quam plurium.
(Emphasis supplied.) In English:
This question may be considered first from the viewpoint of the purpose of government. The aim of any ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot, for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea. and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety. Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end. Wherefore the Apostle, having commended the unity of the faithful people, says: “Be ye careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus, the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be. For we call that more useful which leads more directly to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many.
(Emphasis supplied.) Now this much we have discussed previously, and it’s relatively basic in terms of principle. The temporal common good is peace, and peace is unity and good order. Up to a point, Leo’s argument in Au milieu and Notre consolation is intuitive. If peace is the common good, then what serves peace—that is, unity and good order—will serve the common good. And resisting the temporal power, illegitimate or not, is not consistent with unity and good order.
Moreover, Thomas teaches us that there may be practical reasons to tolerate a tyrannical (or revolutionary) government. In the De Regno, he argues:
Et quidem si non fuerit excessus tyrannidis, utilius est remissam tyrannidem tolerare ad tempus, quam contra tyrannum agendo multis implicari periculis, quae sunt graviora ipsa tyrannide. Potest enim contingere ut qui contra tyrannum agunt praevalere non possint, et sic provocatus tyrannus magis desaeviat. Quod si praevalere quis possit adversus tyrannum, ex hoc ipso proveniunt multoties gravissimae dissensiones in populo; sive dum in tyrannum insurgitur, sive post deiectionem tyranni dum erga ordinationem regiminis multitudo separatur in partes. Contingit etiam ut interdum, dum alicuius auxilio multitudo expellit tyrannum, ille, potestate accepta, tyrannidem arripiat, et timens pati ab alio quod ipse in alium fecit, graviori servitute subditos opprimat. Sic enim in tyrannide solet contingere, ut posterior gravior fiat quam praecedens, dum praecedentia gravamina non deserit et ipse ex sui cordis malitia nova excogitat. Unde Syracusis quondam Dionysii mortem omnibus desiderantibus, anus quaedam, ut incolumis et sibi superstes esset, continue orabat; quod ut tyrannus cognovit, cur hoc faceret interrogavit. Tum illa: puella, inquit, existens, cum gravem tyrannum haberemus, mortem eius cupiebam, quo interfecto, aliquantum durior successit; eius quoque dominationem finiri magnum existimabam: tertium te importuniorem habere coepimus rectorem. Itaque si tu fueris absumptus, deterior in locum tuum succedet.
(Emphasis supplied). And in English:
Indeed, if there be not an excess of tyranny it is more expedient to tolerate the milder tyranny for a while than, by acting against the tyrant, to become involved in many perils more grievous than the tyranny itself. For it may happen that those who act against the tyrant are unable to prevail and the tyrant then will rage the more. But should one be able to prevail against the tyrant, from this fact itself very grave dissensions among the people frequently ensue: the multitude may be broken up into factions either during their revolt against the tyrant, or in process of the organization of the government, after the tyrant has been overthrown. Moreover, it sometimes happens that while the multitude is driving out the tyrant by the help of some man, the latter, having received the power, thereupon seizes the tyranny. Then, fearing to suffer from another what he did to his predecessor, he oppresses his subjects with an even more grievous slavery. This is wont to happen in tyranny, namely, that the second becomes more grievous than the one preceding, inasmuch as, without abandoning the previous oppressions, he himself thinks up fresh ones from the malice of his heart. Whence in Syracuse, at a time when everyone desired the death of Dionysius, a certain old woman kept constantly praying that he might be unharmed and that he might survive her. When the tyrant learned this he asked why she did it. Then she said: “When I was a girl we had a harsh tyrant and I wished for his death; when he was killed, there succeeded him one who was a little harsher. I was very eager to see the end of his dominion also, and we began to have a third ruler still more harsh—that was you. So if you should be taken away, a worse would succeed in your place.”
(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, prudence may require a people to endure a tyrant for fear of what will come after the tyrant. All these reasons, therefore, bolster Leo’s argument that the government must be accepted. Government is necessary for life in society, and there may be prudential reasons to accept and endure a bad government rather than seek a change in government.
And Leo, in Notre consolation, makes a gesture in the direction of endurance, observing that to accept a revolutionary government is not to accept every act of the government, especially those at variance with the divine and natural law: “Après avoir solidement établi dans notre Encyclique cette vérité, Nous avons formulé la distinction entre le pouvoir politique et la législation, et Nous avons montré que l’acceptation de l’un n’impliquait nullement l’acceptation de l’autre; dans les points où le législateur, oublieux de sa mission, se mettait en opposition avec la loi de Dieu et de l’Église.” (Emphasis supplied.) However, where Thomas counsels what amounts to an endurance turned toward God, Leo counsels engagement with the regime, in an attempt to persuade the government to withdraw from its wicked acts:
Et, que tous le remarquent bien, déployer son activité et user de son influence pour amener les gouvernements à changer en bien des lois iniques ou dépourvues de sagesse, c’est faire preuve d’un dévouement à la patrie aussi intelligent que courageux, sans accuser l’ombre d’une hostilité aux pouvoirs chargés de régir la chose publique. Qui s’aviserait de dénoncer les chrétiens des premiers siècles comme adversaires de l’Empire romain, parce qu’ils ne se courbaient point devant ses prescriptions idolâtriques, mais s’efforçaient d’en obtenir l’abolition?
(Remember Pater Waldstein’s extensive quotation of Lamy?) This points toward the fundamental problem, according to De Mattei and others, with Au milieu des sollicitudes and Notre consolation: whatever the Thomistic foundations of Leo’s argument, he still argues that Catholics should participate in liberal political processes in hopes of, as it were, persuading the regime to order itself the the divine and natural law, without which it will be impossible to pursue the common good. This, we think, is a sharp departure from Thomas’s thought. At the very least it is a point of difference.
And is in consequence of this difference that we find ourselves back to Pater Edmund Waldstein’s point: cooperation with the liberal regime invariably results in a reduction to liberal proceduralism. And we see, following De Mattei, from the historical example of France—the laws resisted by St. Pius X but a few years after Au milieu and Notre consolation—that participation in the liberal regime by Catholics does not necessarily dissuade the regime from acting contrary to God’s law. However, we can see that the Thomistic principles that motivated Leo’s great encyclicals on the Christian constitution of the state are present in large part in Leo’s teaching on the situation in France. One need not set Au milieu and Notre consolation against the others necessarily. One may instead acknowledge that in places Leo comes to different conclusions than Thomas.