“Burying Benedict,” tradition, and unity

Matthew Schmitz’s essay, “Burying Benedict,” has kicked up quite a firestorm in the Catholic internet. The usual suspects—ranging from Fr. James Martin, S.J., to Professor Massimo Faggioli—have chimed in to suggest that, when one pope contradicts another pope, the only important thing is that there is one pope at the moment. You can find their comments on Twitter, along with other comments in a similar vein. To take these complaints at face value, one would conclude that the reigning pope, the magisterium, and tradition are all the same thing. It seems that these defenders of the Holy Father have forgotten what the Second Vatican Council taught in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum:

And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3). Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) While not as clear as Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani’s great, maligned schema De fontibus revelationis, Dei Verbum nevertheless makes the point that the tradition of the Church goes back to Christ Himself and, alongside scripture, constitutes one wellspring of divine revelation. Again Dei Verbum:

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) Nowhere in the Council’s understanding of tradition can one find the idea, articulated if dimly by Schmitz’s critics, that the reigning pope and tradition are one and the same thing. It would be just as ludicrous to say, since Dei Verbum teaches that scripture and tradition are part of one wellspring of revelation, that when a hypothetical pope contradicts scripture, the important thing is that there is one pope. It would be bizarre to imply that the pope and scripture are somehow the same thing. Public revelation ceased at the death of the last apostle; there is but one deposit of faith, handed on one generation to the next.

So much for the idea that the pope is some how himself the tradition. In fact, we know that the pope is the servant and guardian of the tradition, and has been promised the special assistance of the Holy Spirit for that ministry. Recall what the First Vatican Council taught in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Pastor aeternus:

That apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This Holy See has always maintained this, the constant custom of the Church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it.


To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received.


For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

(Emphasis supplied.) This office, in service of the tradition given by Christ or through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, which has been handed down from those times to this time, is ultimately an office of unity:

This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, it is not the role of the pope to set one faction of the Church against another or to choose winners and losers, but, instead, to avoid precisely that factionalism in favor of unity. By serving the tradition and Indeed, the primacy of Peter itself is an office of unity:

This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: “My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due.”

(Footnote omitted.) All of this is to say that the pope is not magic. He does not get to rewrite the tradition of the Church at will to meet his whims or the whims of progressive theologians. That is not what popes do. Instead, he guards the tradition of the Church to avoid schism and preserve unity.

This is, of course, the risk of a partisan spirit in the Church and the concomitant ultramontanism. And it is a real risk. “Our man” is in the Apostolic Palace (or the modern guesthouse nearby), and it’s time to get our own back. Right and left have fallen prey to this beguiling temptation. When Benedict was pope, conservatives felt as though he would singlehandedly grant them their list of wishes going back to 1965. Now that Francis is pope, modernists and progressives feel as though Francis is going to singlehandedly grant them their list of wishes going back to 1978. Benedict undoubtedly did things his supporters were pleased by, such as the new translation of the Roman Missal, the Ordinariates, and Summorum Pontificum. Francis undoubtedly does things his supporters are pleased by, such as Amoris laetitia. But the partisan spirit that motivates such assessments leads very quickly to the irrational ultramontanism we see in the reactions to Schmitz’s piece. No one really thinks the pope can do whatever he wants. No one really thinks he’s magic. But in the moment, when things are going your way? When you’re sticking it to your ecclesiastical and ecclesial opponents? Well, maybe you didn’t mean to say it quite like that.

But you did say it.

The bottom line is that it should be uncontroversial to say that the pope must serve tradition, that he must hand on what he received. We do not make all things new with each Habemus Papam.

Everything that dies someday comes back

At First Things, Matthew Schmitz has an excellent piece, “Burying Benedict,” that begins:

Though Benedict is still living, Francis is trying to bury him. Upon his election in 2013, Francis began to pursue an agenda that Joseph Ratzinger had opposed throughout his career. A stress on the pastoral over against the doctrinal, a promotion of diverse disciplinary and doctrinal approaches in local churches, the opening of communion to the divorced and remarried—all these proposals were weighed and rejected by Ratzinger more than ten years ago in a heated debate with Walter Kasper. For better or worse, Francis now seeks to reverse Ratzinger.

Schmitz then goes on to outline the course of the debate between Ratzinger and Cardinal Kasper over communion for bigamists. It is an interesting recitation of the facts, especially since Schmitz observes that some of the polemical language in Kasper’s 2001 reply to Ratzinger—a reply following several years of back-and-forth, official and otherwise—was introduced by a translator and is not present in the original German text.

But, such interesting minutiae aside, Schmitz presents an overwhelming case that, by siding with Kasper and his supporters, the Holy Father puts himself squarely in tension with Benedict. Indeed, Francis’s language is straight out of Kasper’s various pronouncements on the question of communion for bigamists. The argument for continuity between Amoris laetitia and the various documents of the Holy Father’s predecessors is, we think, rubbished entirely by Schmitz’s brief summary of the case. Francis manifestly sides with Kasper, and Kasper was clearly arguing against the magisterial position of John Paul and Ratzinger. The only way to argue for continuity is to point to the language at the beginning of paragraph 300 and argue that Amoris laetitia doesn’t actually do anything except urge pastors “to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, … the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.” But such an argument is ridiculous in the face of the various instructions of the bishops’ conferences that have received varying degrees of approval from the Holy See.

This argument, which has been hashed out repeatedly over the last couple of years, takes on renewed force in light of Benedict’s brief note praising Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which is (or was) intended as an afterword to an edition of Cardinal Sarah’s book on silence. There, Benedict wrote:

Cardinal Sarah is a spiritual teacher, who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us.

We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church. With the liturgy, too, as with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, it is true that specialized knowledge is necessary. But it is also true of the liturgy that specialization ultimately can talk right past the essential thing unless it is grounded in a deep, interior union with the praying Church, which over and over again learns anew from the Lord himself what adoration is. With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands.

(Emphasis supplied.) The note is, of course, exactly the sort of thing Ratzinger has written many times over the years, and it is precisely the sort of polite, appreciative note that theologians write for each other all the time. That Benedict is the pope emeritus is, of course, a feather in Cardinal Sarah’s cap, but it hardly seemed significant to us. However, Cardinal Sarah’s many critics have gone ballistic since the publication of the letter. Cardinal Sarah’s conservative theology and evident piety drive them wild even without an endorsement from Benedict. Yet their fury was especially keen, since this was seen as an effort by Benedict to interfere in active Church politics. The progressives want to erase Benedict’s liturgical reforms and go back to the 1970s. Cardinal Sarah does not. The letter, therefore, was seen by the progressives, whose enthusiasm for progressive causes is almost solipsistic, as Benedict’s intervention in the debate.

But was it? Certainly the Holy Father’s effort to hand Walter Kasper the victory in the communion-for-bigamists debate fifteen years after the last significant exchange is no less an effort to erase Benedict’s legacy in the Church. This point is not lost on Schmitz, who concludes:

In the face of this challenge, Benedict has kept an almost perfect silence. There is hardly any need to add to the words in which he resoundingly rejected the program of Kasper and Francis. And yet the awkwardness remains. No pope in living memory has so directly opposed his predecessor—who, in this instance, happens to live just up the hill. This is why supporters of Francis’s agenda become nervous whenever Benedict speaks, as he recently did in praise of Cardinal Sarah. Were the two men in genuine accord, partisans of Francis would not fear the learned, gentle German who walks the Vatican Gardens.

And so the two popes, active and emeritus, speaking and silent, remain at odds. In the end, it does not matter who comes last or speaks most; what matters is who thinks with the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go. When Benedict’s enraptured words are compared to the platitudes of his successor, it is hard not to notice a difference: One pope echoes the apostles, and the other parrots Walter Kasper. Because this difference in speech reflects a difference in belief, a prediction can be made. Regardless of who dies first, Benedict will outlive Francis.

(Emphasis supplied.) As is so often the case, we are reminded of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” which provides us the title for this post.

But we are left wondering what if?

What if, one clear morning in Rome, Benedict woke up and decided that enough was enough and issued a clear statement, written in the limpid prose he is capable of, against Kasperism. Now, it is clear that such a statement would be from Benedict as private doctor, not as pastor of the universal Church. It would have no juridical effect. Certainly the greatest living theologian of the age is entitled to comment upon the greatest theological controversy of the day. Indeed, given Benedict’s talents as a theologian, to say nothing of his prestige, one might say he has a positive duty to make known both to the pastor of the universal Church and the laity his opinion (cf. can. 212 § 3). However, if his polite praise of Cardinal Sarah is seen as a dangerous intervention worthy of attack, one can only imagine that the progressives would be convulsed with paroxysms of rage, their fury would be incandescent. The man who owed them nothing from day one would have broken his nonexistent promise of silence. But what then? 

Social conflict and the common good

A little while ago, we discussed St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of the common good: peace, which is to say unity and good order. It occurs to us a  brief demonstration of the value of this clear definition might be illustrative. Consider the social-conflict doctrine of the Church, most clearly expressed by Pius XI and St. John Paul II. In Centesimus annus (no. 14), John Paul taught:

From the same atheistic source, socialism also derives its choice of the means of action condemned in Rerum novarum, namely, class struggle. The Pope does not, of course, intend to condemn every possible form of social conflict. The Church is well aware that in the course of history conflicts of interest between different social groups inevitably arise, and that in the face of such conflicts Christians must often take a position, honestly and decisively. The Encyclical Laborem exercens moreover clearly recognized the positive role of conflict when it takes the form of a “struggle for social justice”; Quadragesimo anno had already stated that “if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice”.

However, what is condemned in class struggle is the idea that conflict is not restrained by ethical or juridical considerations, or by respect for the dignity of others (and consequently of oneself); a reasonable compromise is thus excluded, and what is pursued is not the general good of society, but a partisan interest which replaces the common good and sets out to destroy whatever stands in its way. In a word, it is a question of transferring to the sphere of internal conflict between social groups the doctrine of “total war”, which the militarism and imperialism of that time brought to bear on international relations. As a result of this doctrine, the search for a proper balance between the interests of the various nations was replaced by attempts to impose the absolute domination of one’s own side through the destruction of the other side’s capacity to resist, using every possible means, not excluding the use of lies, terror tactics against citizens, and weapons of utter destruction (which precisely in those years were beginning to be designed). Therefore class struggle in the Marxist sense and militarism have the same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) John Paul’s thinking becomes much clearer. If the common good, as St. Thomas tells us, is peace, which is to say unity and good order, a partisan interest—especially a destructive partisan interest—is surely directly opposed to the common good. One cannot have total war and peace at the same time. (So much for Marxist class struggle.) Moreover, social conflict rightly conceived, John Paul and Pius XI tell us, requires always participants to seek justice in unity. In other words, social conflict is really an attempt to restore unity and good order.

To this end, consider Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (no. 114), quoted by John Paul in Centesimus annus:

For if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice, and if this is not that blessed social peace which we all seek, it can and ought to be the point of departure from which to move forward to the mutual cooperation of the Industries and Professions. So also the war declared on private ownership, more and more abated, is being so restricted that now, finally, not the possession itself of the means of production is attacked but rather a kind of sovereignty over society which ownership has, contrary to all right, seized and usurped. For such sovereignty belongs in reality not to owners but to the public authority. If the foregoing happens, it can come even to the point that imperceptibly these ideas of the more moderate socialism will no longer differ from the desires and demands of those who are striving to remold human society on the basis of Christian principles. For certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals.

(Emphasis supplied.) The great Papa Ratti tells us that a class struggle “abstain[ing] from enmities and mutual hatred,” thereby transformed into an “honest discussion” about social justice, if it is not the peace which is sought, at least is the beginning of unity and good order.

All of this makes sense in the context of what John Paul tells us. It appears to be his position that social conflicts arise in the course of history, and that Christians must “often” take a position, “honestly and decisively.” In other words, even if Christians do not create the conflict, they may well have to take a position in the conflict. However, this must be a discussion of differences founded upon a desire for social justice. If this cannot per se restore unity and good order (“that blessed social peace”), it can at least be the starting point for the process of restoring unity and good order. One may say, therefore, that social conflict has as its end the restoration of unity and good order, whether this is accomplished immediately or after some time. Thus, as Christians evaluate the circumstances that lead to their involvement in social conflict, they must evaluate also the most expedient means for restoring unity and good order.

Against Options

This is not another piece about Rod Dreher’s discussed-to-death “Benedict Option.” We have said what we intend to say about that. Instead, we want to call your attention to an excellent essay by Peter Kwasniewski at New Liturgical Movement. It begins:

I was once talking with a priest about the strange phenomenon of options in the new rite of Mass and the other sacraments. He made the observation that whenever there are multiple options, one of which is traditional and the others more recent inventions, there seems to be a subtle pressure to choose the more recent inventions, with the consequence that, as he put it, the traditional practice is “optioned out of existence.”

He goes on to observe:

To take another example, we know that it’s possible to sing the entire Mass in Gregorian chant, and that this is the clearly-stated preference of the Second Vatican Council; but a chanted Mass was one of the first casualties of allowing options for music. Most places don’t use the Entrance, Offertory, or Communion antiphons. The music ministers simply substitute other, more or less appropriate (usually less appropriate) hymns for those Propers, which are actually part of the structure of the Mass in a way that hymns never have been and never will be. Miscellaneous vernacular hymns are not printed in the official liturgical books; they’re not printed in the missal; they’re not part of the liturgy; they’re just optional add-ons. But the optional add-ons have become the norm, almost as if they’re required, and the traditional options, which are a part of the structure of the liturgy and its history, are optioned out of existence.

Read the whole thing at NLM.

Prof. Kwasniewski is, of course, correct. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite has a plethora of options available to the priest. And it is entirely possible to say a Novus Ordo Mass that is similar to the traditional Latin Mass. But one does not have to be a Catholic very long to realize that almost no one says a Novus Ordo that resembles a traditional Mass all that closely. Prof. Kwasniewski makes some excellent points about this reality pointing toward a wholesale rejection of tradition by many priests and bishops. We wonder, however, if that’s the whole story.

The Josias corrects “Jake’s Mistake”

At The Josias, J.A. Feil responds to Jake Meador’s Mere Orthodoxy piece categorizing Catholic integralism. We think it’s especially significant that The Josias responded to Meador, since it is ultimately Josias-connected authors, such as Pater Edmund Waldstein and Elliot Milco, who form the basis for Meador’s impression of integralism. Feil’s piece is not long and is well worth reading to further clarify the extent of Meador’s error in turning integralism into, essentially, a papal theocracy.

St. Thomas and the definition of the political common good

For Catholics interested in the social teaching of the Church, the common good is an important concept. Indeed, much hinges upon an understanding of the common good in political terms, ranging from a Thomistic understanding of law to the duties of the government. However, we have a tendency to speak of the political common good in somewhat abstract terms; that is, to imagine the common good as a hermetically sealed concept. Human law is an ordinance of reason, we say, ordered to the common good. A people may choose any of a whole host of forms of government, we observe, provided the government serves the common good. Now, these points are correct, but they are a little opaque. And the opacity does not serve broader discourse especially well. Let us put it like this: it is not good for clear thinking if a central concept in Catholic social thought is a mystery.

However, we know that the common good is not a mystery. In the De Regno (c.3), St. Thomas Aquinas tells us what, exactly, the political common good is:

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 Phelan’s translation, as revised by Fr. Eschmann, this is rendered:

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.) Likewise, in the Summa Contra Gentiles (III, c. 146.5), Thomas observes:

Sicut medicus in sua operatione intendit sanitatem, quae consistit in ordinata concordia humorum, ita rector civitatis intendit in sua operatione pacem, quae consistit in civium ordinata concordia. Medicus autem abscindit membrum putridum bene et utiliter, si per ipsum immineat corruptio corporis. Iuste igitur et absque peccato rector civitatis homines pestiferos occidit, ne pax civitatis turbetur.

(Emphasis supplied.) In Bourke’s translation:

[J]ust as a physician looks to health as the end in his work, and health consists in the orderly concord of humors, so, too, the ruler of a state intends peace in his work, and peace consists in “the ordered concord of citizens.” Now, the physician quite properly and beneficially cuts off a diseased organ if the corruption of the body is threatened because of it. Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted.

(Emphasis supplied.) As Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., puts it in his indispensable essay: “The primary intrinsic common good of the polity is the unity of order, peace.” And this is the end of rule, about which it is not legitimate to deliberate. He may deliberate about how to establish peace only.

Thomas’s primary example—the physician and his duty to heal his patient, much on his mind apparently in the 1260s—comes, as is often the case, from Aristotle, who in the Nicomachean Ethics (III.3, 1112b12–15) remarks:

We deliberate not about ends but about what contributes to ends. For a doctor does not deliberate about whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall convince, nor a statesman about whether he shall produce law and order, nor does anyone else deliberate about his end.

(Emphasis supplied.) But Fr. Eschmann, in a note to the De Regno, observes that Thomas relies upon the Latin translation of the Nicomachean Ethics, which renders eunomia as pax. Messrs. Liddell, Scott, and Jones advise us that eunomia means “good order.” Messrs. Lewis and Short advise us that pax actually has a range of meanings, tending toward peace following some sort of conflict. At any rate, it is a question for the philologists whether or not the Latin Ethics correctly renders eunomia as pax. But it is a question for the philologists only. Thomas shows us that he means to say that, as far as he is concerned, eunomia and pax are the same thing. Consider the Summa Contra Gentiles: he teaches that peace “consistit in civium ordinata concordia.” Or the De Regno: “[b]onum autem et salus consociatae multitudinis est ut eius unitas conservetur, quae dicitur pax” (emphasis supplied). The upshot is, as we say, that peace and good order are the same thing in Thomas’s mind.

Now, there are all sorts of consequences from this correct understanding of the common good. When Aquinas, for example, tells us that human law is a dictate of practical reason ordered to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.1 co. & ad 3; Ia IIae q.90 a.2 co.; Ia IIae q.91 a.3 co.), we see that human law is really ordered to good order, unity, and peace. And when Aquinas tells us that human laws framed according to the divine and natural laws make men simply good (Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co.), we may deduce that there is an intrinsic connection between good order and virtue. Aquinas even makes this point explicit (Ia IIae q.92 a.1 ad 3). Moreover, difficult Thomistic teachings, such as his teaching on the death penalty, become clearer when it is understood that the common good is good order, peace, and unity. Subsequent teachings also snap into clearer focus, such as when the great Pius XI talks, in Quadragesimo anno, about regulating private property according to the common good. Recalling the intrinsic connection between good order and virtue, we can even progress to a deeper understanding of Thomistic scholarship, such as Charles de Koninck’s The Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists.

None of this is, we think, especially esoteric or even particularly hard to understand. However, it is a principle that we have seen get a little lost in the discussions about the political common good. Now that more and more people—recognizing that Enlightenment liberalism is a dead end—are exploring the perennial teaching of the Church about the rightly ordered state, which is drawn from the greater western tradition, it is essential to understand the terms of art. For example, when one says, quite reasonably, we think, that liberalism is per se corrosive of the common good, one may better understand such a statement with the correct definition of the common good in mind.

“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.