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.

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.

 

Pierre Manent’s illiberal republic

At First Things, Pierre Manent has a lengthy, provocative essay, which begins:

We French have for some years been overcome by a furor for republicanism and for citizenship. There is no activity so humble that it cannot take on an intimidating nobility as soon as it is associated with citizenship. The republic calls us, besieges us, smothers us—but where is the republic? Are we part of a republic, or does our intemperate usage of the term mean only that we have forgotten its meaning?

I raise these questions in a nonpartisan, non-polemical way. I do not mean: Our republic is no longer republican enough; we must try harder! I mean: This collective body that we make up together, is it still legitimate to call it a republic? This question can only be raised seriously if we suspend our participation in the current political debate and strive to grasp “republic” as a discernable and shareable object of thought and subject of action.

(Emphasis supplied.) While Manent is better situated than we are to diagnose a French furor for republicanism and citizenship, he would not be wrong to say that, even in the United States, “there is no activity so humble that it cannot take on an intimidating nobility as soon as it is associated with citizenship.” Indeed, he would not be wrong to say that about nearly any liberal democracy. But as we work through Manent’s argument, it becomes clear that his vision of the republic is fundamentally illiberal. Indeed, it seems to be a rejection of the liberal-democratic regime altogether. To an illiberal Catholic of an integralist bent—as we shall soon see—Manent’s arguments (at least as we understand them) are not especially novel. But they do point out the basic problem with liberal western democracy: the rejection of the common good.

Pushing his initial question—where is the republic? are we part of a republic?—Manent writes:

What, then, is the basis of republican government? We hardly ever pose this question; or rather we answer it in a hasty way. We say in effect: The basis of republican government is in principle the pursuit of the general interest. But, unfortunately, in practice particular interests usually prevail. Equipped with this important information, we citizens are full of admiration for our good intentions and pitilessly severe towards the politicians who of course betray them. How might we avoid this mix of moralism and skepticism that makes us both idle and querulous citizens?

For once we must think not of ourselves but of those who govern us. What is the basis of their action? We must not by any means ask them, since they will repeat the platitudes called for by the representative system. Whom to ask, then? The advantage of the non-representative republic, especially the Roman Republic, is that it makes available to us the spirit and motives of republican government, which are more visible because they are not veiled or distorted by the enormous artifice of representation. Without necessarily following Montaigne in “taking up the fight” for Pompey or Brutus, we would thus be well-advised to interrogate the Romans.

(Emphasis supplied.) We take Manent to mean by “general interest” the “common good.” (He says as much later in the article.) But the pursuit of the general interest—the pursuit of the common good—is the basis for all government. Indeed, we contend that this is an ordinance of the natural law. In other words, Manent’s definition of “republican government” is simply the definition of “government.” Manent trades in a tautology: the definition of government is government. And because this is the case, as we’ll see here in a couple minutes, we very quickly depart from the liberal-democratic ideal of the republic. That is, we get away from a broadly representative democracy with a generous franchise and a separation of powers.

Before exploring Manent’s point, we must raise, if not a classicist’s objection, then an antiquarian’s objection. Manent goes on to “interrogate the Romans” through Shakespeare, arguing that,

Shakespeare’s Roman plays follow faithfully Plutarch’s Lives. A historian and philosopher, Plutarch was admired by Montaigne and Rousseau for his acute judgment of human actions and for his skill in revealing the bases of these actions. The drama of the theater adds to these qualities, for it is all about action, and there all speech serves action or is bound up with it, thus bringing to the surface, by its very form, the springs of human endeavor. Shakespeare’s Roman plays thus make available to us not, of course, a historical document, but an interrogation or inquiry into the motives of the actors of the Roman Republic, the regime that left the deepest mark on the history of Europe and of the West.

On one hand, it seems to us that this is a reasonable approach. Certainly generations have looked to Rome or Shakespeare or both of them for insight on human nature and government. On the other hand, there is rather a lot of mediation here. We interrogate the Romans by interrogating Shakespeare who interrogated Plutarch who interrogated the actors of the Roman Republic. There are, of course, other sources available to us, including some of the key players of the Roman Republic, like Caesar and Cicero, to say nothing of other observers like Horace and Catullus. We have, also, authors who wrote in the wake of the collapse of the Republic and the early decades of the empire, like Seneca and Tacitus. All of these authors had the austere virtues of the Roman Republic in mind and the balance of these virtues with the paroxysms shaking Rome at the time. Consider, for example, Horace’s Carmina II.15:

Iam pauca aratro iugera regiae
moles relinquent, undique latius
extenta visentur Lucrino
stagna lacu, platanusque caelebs

evincet ulmos; tum violaria et
myrtus et omnis copia narium
spargent olivetis odorem
fertilibus domino priori,

tum spissa ramis laurea fervidos
excludet ictus. Non ita Romuli
praescriptum et intonsi Catonis
auspiciis veterumque norma.

Privatus illis census erat brevis,
commune magnum: nulla decempedis
metata privatis opacam
porticus excipiebat Arcton,

nec fortuitum spernere caespitem
leges sinebant, oppida publico
sumptu iubentes et deorum
templa novo decorare saxo.

(Our poetic sense is not so good as to provide an excellent English rendering of this poem, which many of our readers likely read in a high school or college Latin class. Certainly Horace has been translated.) One might well find in Horace’s poem echoes of the discourse of any number of American or European conservatives. While it is true that Plutarch or Plutarch-through-Shakespeare might dramatize “motives of the actors of the Roman Republic,” it is no less true that these actors or their coevals themselves left a record of, if not their personal motives (though Cicero, for example, certainly did that), then the ideals they wished they were motivated by. Yet Manent sets out to explore the Roman ideals mediated through Plutarch and Shakespeare.

Can Plutarch and Shakespeare really be better sources on the Roman Republic than M. Tullius Cicero, one of the last great defenders of the Republic in its final years? Or Q. Horatius Flaccus, one of Brutus’s soldiers at Philippi and then a poet in the circle of Augustus and Maecenas? This is to say (elaborately) that we suspect that Manent takes Plutarch-through-Shakespeare in part because Montaigne and Rousseau recommended Plutarch and everyone recommends Shakespeare. In other words, we are given the Enlightenment-approved commentator on the Roman Republic mediated through an Elizabethan dramatist of unusual talent. We think Manent is playing a game with us here. Plutarch and Shakespeare are cornerstones of Enlightenment, liberal thought. However, as we have said, we will see that Manent comes to some conclusions entirely at odds with the liberal-democratic regime. One might expect someone quoting lengthy passages from Cicero and Horace to be an illiberal, but someone quoting Shakespeare? Never! Perish the thought! How could someone derive something so wicked from that most humane dramatist?

Back to Manent, though.

Recall that Manent defines republican government as government generally (at least as Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII would all define government). At first, this seems to present a problem for Manent’s argument, not least because he uses terms like republic, which have specific content in this age. But Manent’s argument, upon closer inspection, is really not about the republican form of government at all. Instead, Manent wants to make a point about true politics in the age of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, because Manent uses the language of liberal democracy, he cannot make his point as easily or as directly as someone who is not bound to that language. It would be, to put it another way, much easier for a Thomist, especially one familiar with De Koninck and Grenier, to make Manent’s argument directly and fairly simply.

Let’s work through the problem a little bit, to see what we mean. First of all, Manent cannot mean a republic in the sense that most liberals mean. That is, he cannot mean a representative democracy with a broad franchise and separation of powers. His definition of republican government—the pursuit of the common good—is wholly incompatible with that liberal concept of a republic. Such a statement, we acknowledge, may take some careful justification. Consider first what St. Thomas Aquinas says in the De Regno (c. 1):

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.

In Phelan’s translation, as revised by Fr. Eschmann (while we have not the poetic sense to translate Horace, we do have just enough Latin to judge that this translation is good enough, in addition to its other charms), this is rendered:

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.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Recall that we know from Aristotle and Thomas that, man being a political animal, it is natural for man to live in society. And since there must be some sort of government in society—otherwise the society would fall apart—we may say that it is natural for there to be government. In nature, Aristotle reminds us at the beginning of the Politics, there are rulers and ruled. This government, if it be true government and not tyranny, must be aimed at the common good (De Regno c. 3):

Contingit autem in quibusdam, quae ordinantur ad finem, et recte, et non recte procedere. Quare et in regimine multitudinis et rectum, et non rectum invenitur. Recte autem dirigitur unumquodque quando ad finem convenientem deducitur; non recte autem quando ad finem non convenientem. Alius autem est finis conveniens multitudini liberorum, et servorum. Nam liber est, qui sui causa est; servus autem est, qui id quod est, alterius est. Si igitur liberorum multitudo a regente ad bonum commune multitudinis ordinetur, erit regimen rectum et iustum, quale convenit liberis. Si vero non ad bonum commune multitudinis, sed ad bonum privatum regentis regimen ordinetur, erit regimen iniustum atque perversum, unde et dominus talibus rectoribus comminatur per Ezech. XXXIV, 2, dicens: vae pastoribus qui pascebant semetipsos (quasi sua propria commoda quaerentes): nonne greges a pastoribus pascuntur? Bonum siquidem gregis pastores quaerere debent, et rectores quilibet bonum multitudinis sibi subiectae.

Again Phelan and Eschmann:

Now it happens in certain things which are, ordained towards an end that one may proceed in a right way and also in a wrong way. So, too, in the government of a multitude there is a distinction between right and wrong. A thing is rightly directed when it is led towards a befitting end; wrongly when it is led towards an unbefitting end. Now the end which befits a multitude of free men is different from that which befits a multitude of slaves, for the free man is one who exists for his own sake, while the slave, as such, exists for the sake of another. If, therefore, a multitude of free men is ordered by the ruler towards the common good of the multitude, that rulership will be right and just, as is suitable to free men. If, on the other hand, a rulership aims, not at the common good of the multitude, but at the private good of the ruler, it will be an unjust and perverted rulership. The Lord, therefore, threatens such rulers, saying by the mouth of Ezekiel: “Woe to the shepherds that feed themselves (seeking, that is, their own interest) : should not the flocks be fed by the shepherd?” Shepherds indeed should seek the good of their flocks, and every ruler, the good of the multitude subject to him.

None of this is especially complicated from the perspective of a Thomist. (We will see more of this in a moment.) But to summarize: it is natural for men to live in society, and in order to live in society, there must be a ruler. The ruler must order the society to the common good. (Aquinas repeats that the unity of peace is the temporal common good.) If the ruler does not order society to the common good—if, in other words, the ruler pursues its own private good—it will be “an unjust and perverted rulership.” He will be a tyrant. Government, therefore, supposes rule ordered to the common good.

Aquinas goes on to argue that that rule by one is best, insofar as it accords best with nature, to say nothing of God’s rule over the entire universe. In nature, we see all sorts of corporate entities ruled by one. The body is ruled by the heart and the soul by reason. Even the beehive is ruled by one bee, Aquinas observes. Thus, rule by one accords with nature. By the same token, Aquinas contends that rule by many is inherently unstable, and incapable of guiding the state in the unity of peace. Now, it becomes more stable as the many becomes fewer, but one is still better than a more united few. Following Aquinas’s argument, then, we see that he holds that a monarchy is best able to preserve the unity of peace—that is, the temporal common good—which is the end of government, a natural component of society. As the number of people with a share in the government increases, the ability of the government to rule according to the common good is diminished. In consequence, one could very easily say that a monarchy is the form of government required by nature.

One would be, well, not quite right to say that nature requires a monarchy, however. The recent magisterium—recalling the divine mandate to the Church to interpret and defend the natural law—makes clear that the options are broader than monarchy. Leo XIII in Diuturnum illud observed that,

There is no question here respecting forms of government, for there is no reason why the Church should not approve of the chief power being held by one man or by more, provided only it be just, and that it tend to the common advantage. Wherefore, so long as justice be respected, the people are not hindered from choosing for themselves that form of government which suits best either their own disposition, or the institutions and customs of their ancestors.

(Emphasis supplied.) And in Immortale Dei, he returned to the point, stating that:

The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount ruler of the world, and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State. For, in things visible God has fashioned secondary causes, in which His divine action can in some wise be discerned, leading up to the end to which the course of the world is ever tending. In like manner, in civil society, God has always willed that there should be a ruling authority, and that they who are invested with it should reflect the divine power and providence in some measure over the human race.

They, therefore, who rule should rule with evenhanded justice, not as masters, but rather as fathers, for the rule of God over man is most just, and is tempered always with a father’s kindness. Government should, moreover, be administered for the well-being of the citizens, because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State. Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual or of some few persons, inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. But, if those who are in authority rule unjustly, if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly, and if their measures prove hurtful to the people, they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and preeminence of their dignity. “The mighty shall be mightily tormented.” Then, truly, will the majesty of the law meet with the dutiful and willing homage of the people, when they are convinced that their rulers hold authority from God, and feel that it is a matter of justice and duty to obey them, and to show them reverence and fealty, united to a love not unlike that which children show their parents. “Let every soul be subject to higher powers.” To despise legitimate authority, in whomsoever vested, is unlawful, as a rebellion against the divine will, and whoever resists that, rushes willfully to destruction. “He that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation.” To cast aside obedience, and by popular violence to incite to revolt, is therefore treason, not against man only, but against God.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is to say, therefore, that while a monarchy may be the best form of government (and tyranny the worst), it is by no means the form of government required by nature. What is required by nature, however, is that governments rule with even-handed justice, working for the common good and the well-being of the citizens. One may say, therefore, that a monarchy is the form of government favored by nature, even if the strict requirement of nature is that the form of government, whatever it is, be just and serve the common good. There is, therefore, no conflict between Leo and Thomas (on this point).

This is all sort of basic, Thomistic thinking on government. But with this thinking in mind, one easily sees that Manent simply cannot have the liberal-democratic ideal of the republic in mind. Indeed, starting from Manent’s basic definition, one arrives easily at monarchy, not the liberal-democratic state. Manent is not attempting to construct a justification for the liberal-democratic state. Perhaps the use of “republic” is the problem. Perhaps Manent would have been better off to say “government rightly conceived,” but this would set off all sorts of alarms, just as quoting Cicero and Horace at great length would set off alarms. For example, Manent’s republic is ruled by the few, not the many. This is, of course, an excellent trick; Manent observes that in France (and the United States and elsewhere) there is a mania for republicanism and citizenship. Yet, taking the basic building block of the republic at face value, one arrives very quickly at a very different model for government. As we said, Manent’s conclusions are fundamentally illiberal. But, because he discusses these matters obliquely and through the mediated content of Plutarch-through-Shakespeare, his illiberal state is not as distinct and the illiberal republic a Laval Thomist would sketch.

But make no mistake: Manent is talking about an illiberal state. One may confirm this suspicion, if it remains a suspicion, when Manent writes:

The republic is the regime that allows and encourages the most action. This can be seen in Rome, and we see it in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a “republic disguised under the form of monarchy,” as Montesquieu put it. We see it in America’s founding, an extraordinary founding, and we see it in France in the great movement of ’89, especially if this movement is understood to include, as it ought, the adventure of the empire.

Today we expect from a republic the opposite of a republic. We demand from it the least possible action, or what we call “freedom.” For us, freedom is a world without commandment or obedience. It is a world in which public action can neither begin nor commend anything. In practice, as I have noted, we ask our representatives and those who govern us to show their disinterestedness in defending our interests. In this we give evidence of a very naive immorality, especially insofar as we use a moralizing language that prevents us from grasping the moral bases of a truly republican regime. Service to the republic cannot be disinterested, because it is paid for by what is most precious in the eyes of ambitious citizens, that is, the honors granted by the republic, which boil down to public esteem. It is not disinterestedness that we should be asking of those who govern us, but rather ambition. It has been too long since we had the rare benefit of being governed by a truly ambitious statesman. The conviction has taken hold that our regime would be more republican if it ignored political rule still more. Political leaders are to serve our interests rather than commend our collective actions. The reigning social philosophy postulates the power and self-sufficiency of a spontaneous social form that would bring together order and freedom without the mediation of political rule. This is to abandon society to its inertia, that is, its corruption. Thus places and states of toxic stagnation have formed, spreading and producing cysts on the social body over the last ten, twenty, or thirty years; these places have never known the presence of political rule.

(Emphasis supplied.) We admit that Manent’s talk of action is a little opaque. But it seems to us that by action he means something in the nature of “rule.” His brief enthusiasm for “the adventure of empire” suggests something broader than mere rule, though one must remember empire may be said in many ways. Recall, for example, Benedict’s enthusiasm in Caritas in veritate (no. 67) for supranational government:

One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect, and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.

(Footnotes and formatting omitted.) In other words, one may find, if one is so inclined, a connection between rule ordered to the common good and Manent’s “adventure of empire,” and one can find both in “action.” However, action as Manent means it is almost the essence of illiberal rule.

In essence, Manent wants a lawgiver in the Thomistic sense. He wants someone who will hand down ordinances of practical reason shaped to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.1 ad 2; a.2 co.; a.3 co.). He wants someone to, as Thomas says in the De Regno, provide a general ruling force to keep the state together. And the purpose of law is to make men simply good (ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1). All of this presupposes, as we have said on previous occasions, subordination to the common good (e.g., ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 ad 3; q.92 a.1 ad 3). This is squarely at odds with Manent’s diagnosis of the modern concept of freedom as “a world without commandment or obedience.” This is, as Fr. Grenier would say, liberalism in its fully developed state: something akin to radical individualism. In other words, Manent recognizes what any Catholic who thinks with the tradition of Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII knows; liberalism is simply incompatible with good government. Good government requires the ruler—ideally, but not necessarily, a unitary ruler—to order society to the common good. This requires virtuous rulers and virtuous subjects, all of whom understand their place in this order. Modern liberalism, demanding that the ruler serve everyone’s individual interests one way and another, cannot be squared with this vision of the well-ordered state.

Manent diagnoses the consequences of liberalism well: the political form of the state breaks down. Yet Manent also recognizes that man, being a political animal, destined by nature to live in society, knows that something is wrong with the modern state. The paralysis of government, the increasingly nonexistent choice among leadership candidates, and the sense that ever larger numbers of people are being left out of peace and prosperity are all signs that something is not right. Manent suggests that into this situation various candidates have come, offering solutions in the form, on the one hand, of the European Union and, on the other, of nationalism. (The same can be said of the United States.) What he does not observe explicitly is that no one is offering a return to rule rightly conceived. No one is promising to order the state to virtue and the common good. The promises are always that this or that private good (or aggregate of private goods) will be preferred to some other private good. England over Brussels. Europe over England. The United States over Mexico. This group of citizens over that group of citizens or non-citizens. So on and so forth. Perhaps, however, this is what he means when he talks about the tragedy of the republic. Yet he’d be better to say this is the tragedy of liberalism. The promise of freedom ultimately results in the failure of politics rightly conceived.

The call is coming from inside the option

Rod Dreher has decided that none of the critics of The Benedict Option have understood him.  Either they are reading things into the book that he did not put there or they are working out obscure personal grievances. This is, of course, a risible assertion, not least since Dreher has written (and written and written and written) about the Benedict Option over the past several years. It is also in keeping with Dreher’s near-constant redefinition of the Option in the face of criticism. The idea is very simple: Christians have lost pretty much every political engagement they’ve fought over the past, oh, fifty years (draw a straight line between Roe and Obergefell, if you like), and they need to withdraw from society. But what happens when they withdraw from society? Dreher is convinced that most Christians possess only a watered-down faith. The problem, we think, is more serious than that.

Giving us a gentle ribbing, the blogger Subsannabit suggests that it is error to think that modern western liberalism is doing politics. Subsannabit, in an interesting post about true radicalism, also observes that most people simply do not do politics. Of course, Subsannabit may err by setting the bar for doing politics too high (cf. ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co. & ad 4; Ia IIae q.96 a.4 co. & ad 3), but s/he is not wrong about the fact that modern western liberalism is not really politics in any meaningful sense, at least as the term is rightly understood. Certainly the liberal is not interested in applying practical reason to frame laws to make people simply good. Such a process would force a modern western liberal to concede a bunch of things he would be loath to concede. The modern liberal prefers to write laws to create in essence a neutral playing field on which everyone can pursue his or her personal good without much restraint or even much interference. The common good does not factor into this sort of thought. And, for this reason, this sort of liberalism is, of course, corrosive of the very idea of civil society (Grenier, 3 Thomistic Philosophy no. 1154, pp. 455–56). For proof of the thesis, one has only to open a newspaper or turn on the TV.

Such liberalism is, for most people, an omnipresent, omnipotent force. The law, we know, is a teacher, even if the lesson is a bad one. There is simply no escape from it. Some people can see the problem and even sketch proposals for a solution, but it is hard to imagine the implementation of such proposals without adverting to liberal ideas. After all, liberalism is, for most westerners, as natural as the air we breathe. And this is fundamentally the problem with Dreher’s Benedict Option—and any number of similar proposals—retreating from society will do no good if you bring liberalism with you. Whatever polity or society you create will have the same flaw at its heart as the one you left behind. It is like the scene in any number of horror, science-fiction, and thriller pictures, when Our Hero or Our Heroine reaches a safe spot, only to discover that he or she is Not Alone. Or worse, when Our Hero or Our Heroine has asked the phone company to trace the menacing calls, only to be informed that the calls are coming from inside the house.

And Dreher, whether he understands it or not, wants to bring liberalism with him. Religious liberty, however helpful it may be to Christians at the moment, is the lynchpin of the liberal order. Once one puts truth and error on the same plane, the rest falls into place quickly. And it has the same consequences that liberalism always has. Leo XIII explained this admirably in Libertas praestantissimum (nos. 19–22). And this is, as it was expressed in Dignitatis humanae and Nostra aetate, a major problem for Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, holding to the Church’s traditional teachings, even beyond those difficulties posed by the New Mass. To say then, that Christians, withdrawing from the most part from society, will remain politically engaged to the extent that it is necessary to defend religious liberty—which is what Dreher has said—is to say that Christians will carry with them the seeds of liberalism. This guarantees that they will get to their communities, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and turn around to discover that they are Not Alone. The menacing calls from liberalism are coming from inside the Option.

If you don’t like the analogy to popcorn flicks, consider the emotional climax of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen: Act Two of Die Walküre. Wotan’s long-suffering wife, Fricka, has demanded that Wotan do something about the incestuous adultery of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, despite the fact that Wotan was Siegmund’s father and teacher (“So ist es denn aus mit den ewigen Göttern?”). In point of fact, Fricka demands that Wotan do nothing when Sieglinde’s husband comes to settle accounts. Wotan hoped to raise a free hero who could recover the titular Ring, which, as one remembers from Das Rheingold, Wotan himself cannot touch, lest he break the contracts that give him his authority (“Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich”). Wotan then has to explain the situation to his daughter, Brünnhilde, and comes to the realization that in all his efforts to make a free hero, he finds only himself (“Nun einer könnte, was ich nicht darf”). That is, all his creatures are, just that, creatures, and they reflect him and his all-too-real flaws. The optioneers will discover, Wotan-like, that they’ve made communities resembling primarily themselves: good liberal subjects.

This is, in part, why we have talked so much about a ressourcement of Aristotelian-Thomistic political theory, which finds its best modern expression in the magisterium of Leo XIII. Without a proper understanding of the polity, how just laws are framed, and a proper conception of politics, it is simply not rational to expect a withdrawal from society in any meaningful sense to spark a restoration of Christian life. One will most likely create enclaves of religiously flavored liberalism that rely ultimately on liberal concepts such as religious liberty to survive. Now, perhaps the withdrawals proposed are not withdrawals in any meaningful sense. Perhaps they are merely histrionics, designed to emphasize to secular liberals the age-old point “You’ll really miss us when we’re gone.” Such histrionics are understandable—as we say, draw a line from Roe to Obergefell—but ultimately not productive. Either way, no progress is going to be made against the forces of liberalism without rediscovering the teaching of Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII.

Mosebach, the Extraordinary Form, and the Offertory

At First Things, Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness, has a provocative essay reflecting upon the restoration of the Roman Rite under Benedict XVI. It is a long essay, and well worth reading and reflecting upon at length. We doubt that you’ll need much incentive to check it out, but we wanted to call your your attention to a couple of excerpts. (And to criticize, very gently, a statement Mosebach makes about the offertory in the Roman Rite.) He concludes,

The movement for the old rite, far from indicating aesthetic self-satisfaction, has, in truth, an apostolic character. It has been observed that the Roman Rite has an especially strong effect on converts, indeed, that it has even brought about a considerable number of conversions. Its deep rootedness in history and its alignment with the end of the world create a sacred time antithetical to the present, a present that, with its acquisitive preoccupations, leaves many people unsatisfied. Above all, the old rite runs counter to the faith in progress that has long gone hand in hand with an economic mentality that is now curdling into anxiety regarding the future and even a certain pessimism. This contradiction with the spirit of our present age should not be lamented. It betokens, rather, a general awakening from a two-hundred-year-old delusion. Christians always knew that the world fell because of original sin and that, as far as the course of history is concerned, it offers no reason at all for optimism. The Catholic religion is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a “philosophy of disillusionment” that does not suppress hope, but rather teaches us not to direct our hope toward something that the world cannot give. The liturgy of Rome and, naturally, Greek Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom open a window that draws our gaze from time into eternity.

Reform is a return to form. The movement that seeks to restore the form of the Latin Rite is still an avant-garde, attracting young people who find modern society suffocating. But it can only be a truly Christian avant-garde if it does not forget those it leads into battle; it must not forget the multitude who will someday have to find their way back into the abundant richness of the Catholic religion, once the generations who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, sought the salvation of the Church in its secularization have sunk into their graves.

(Emphasis supplied.) We add that what is true of the Mass is true too of the Breviary and other time-honored forms of the Church’s liturgical prayer, like the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are reminded of Bl. Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s observation, made near the end of his life (translated a couple of years ago by Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement):

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.

(Emphasis supplied.) To join so many of our forebears in prayer is to begin to join them in other ways, and, bit by bit, to leave behind the blandishments of the modern world for the faith that they passed down to us.

Now, we cannot discuss the question of the traditional Roman Rite without engaging in some harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement. And we found ground for disagreement in the way Mosebach characterizes the offertory and the necessity of the epiclesis in the traditional Roman Rite. This is, as you’ll see in a moment, a bit of a capital-T Thing. Mosebach observes:

This hope of restored liturgical continuity was connected to the concept of a “reform of the reform,” a notion Benedict had already introduced when he was a cardinal. What Ratzinger wished to encourage with the idea of reform of the reform is exactly what the council fathers at Vatican II had in mind when they formulated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. They wanted to allow exceptions to the use of Latin as the common language of the liturgy, insofar as it should be beneficial to the salvation of souls. That the vernacular was presented as the exception only emphasized the immense significance of Latin as the language of the Church. They imagined a certain streamlining of the rite, such as the elimination of the preparatory prayer at the steps of the altar and the closing Gospel reading, which would have been highly lamentable losses without any noteworthy advantages, but which would not have damaged the essence of the liturgy. Of course they left the ancient offertorium untouched. These prayers over the bread and wine make clear the priestly and sacrificial character of the Mass and are therefore essential. Among these, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical.

(Emphasis supplied.) While the loss of the traditional offertory was by no means something to be happy about, we should not allow ourselves to get carried away when lamenting its loss. Recall that Mosebach is talking about the restoration of the traditional Roman Rite, not a comparative study of the various liturgies with apostolic or patristic origins.

Mosebach’s first mistake is characterizing the offertory as “ancient.” In his article on the offertory in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue observed:

Originally the only Roman Offertory prayers were the secrets. The Gregorian Sacramentary contains only the rubric: “deinde offertorium, et dicitur oratio super oblata” (P.L. LXXVIII, 25). The Oratio super oblata is the Secret. All the old secrets express the offertory idea clearly. They were said silently by the celebrant (hence their name) and so are not introduced by Oremus. This corresponds to the oldest custom mentioned in the “Apost. Const.”; its reason is that meanwhile the people sang a psalm (the Offertory chant). In the Middle Ages, as the public presentation of the gifts by the people had disappeared, there seemed to be a void at this moment which was filled by our present Offertory prayers (Thalhofer, op. cit. below, II, 161). For a long time these prayers were considered a private devotion of the priest, like the preparation at the foot of the altar. They are a Northern (late Gallican) addition, not part of the old Roman Rite, and were at first not written in missals. Micrologus says: “The Roman order appointed no prayer after the Offertory before the Secret” (cxi, P.L., CLI, 984). He mentions the later Offertory prayers as a “Gallican order” and says that they occur “not from any law but as an ecclesiastical custom”. The medieval Offertory prayers vary considerably. They were established at Rome by the fourteenth century (Ordo Rom. XIV., 53, P.L. LXXVIII, 1165). The present Roman prayers were compiled from various sources, Gallican or Mozarabic. The prayer “Suscipe sancte pater” occurs in Charles the Bald’s (875-877) prayer book; “Deus qui humanæ substantiæ” is modified from a Christmas Collect in the Gregorian Sacramentary (P.L., LXXVIII, 32): “Offerimus tibi Domine” and “Veni sanctificator” (fragment of an old Epiklesis, Hoppe, “Die Epiklesis”, Schaffhausen, 1864, p. 272) are Mozarabic (P.L. LXXXV, 112). Before Pius V’s Missal these prayers were often preceded by the title “Canon minor” or “Secretella” (as amplifications of the Secret). The Missal of Pius V (1570) printed them in the Ordinary. Since then the prayers that we know form part of the Roman Mass. The ideas expressed in them are obvious. Only it may be noted that two expressions: “hanc immaculatam hostiam” and “calicem salutaris” dramatically anticipate the moment of consecration, as does the Byzantine Cherubikon.

(Emphasis supplied.) Fortescue makes much the same point on pages 304 to 308 in the 1914 edition of his The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. When Mosebach describes the offertorium—in the context of the traditional Roman Rite—as “ancient,” he is saying something simply not supported by the historical development of the Roman Rite. They’re old enough, but they’re not as old as the Canon Romanus itself. And the prayers of the offertory are not uniformly Roman; in fact, they’re mostly Gallican and Mozarabic. Perhaps this is merely traditionalist exuberance finding tremendous antiquity and Romanità in every corner of the traditional Roman Rite, as a very sharp friend of ours has suggested. However, writing a prose poem about the value of the traditional Roman Rite and then getting sloppy about the development of the traditional Roman Rite is something else.

Mosebach makes a more serious mistake when he turns to the matter of the epiclesis. Indeed, Fortescue clearly establishes that Mosebach goes too far when he says “the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical” in the context of the traditional Roman Rite. It is, we submit, not “critical” to the Roman Rite by any stretch of the imagination, and we’ll see in a moment that it may not even be an especially Roman idea. In an appendix to The Mass (pp. 402–07, 1914 ed.) devoted to the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite, Fortescue argues that the Roman Rite originally had some sort of epiclesis (a point with which John Hunwicke might disagree, but more on that in a second, like we said), but that it was dropped from the liturgy as a result of patristic insistence on the words of institution as the form of the consecration. We don’t know, Fortescue says, what this primitive epiclesis looked like, as it disappeared before the various sacramentaries were prepared. But, according to Fortescue, the primitive epiclesis likely came at about the same place the Supra quae and Supplices come now. (And the Supra quae and Supplices came in essentially the same form and in essentially the same place in the Gelasian Sacramentary, as one can see on page 235 of Wilson’s edition. Likewise the Gregorian, viz. p. 3 of Wilson’s edition.) The upshot is that the epiclesis was so important in the Roman Rite that it was omitted very early on in order to avoid confusion over the form of the sacrament. Whether this prompted heartburn among the popes of the age is another question.

There is no question, however, about conflating the offertory with the primitive Roman epiclesis. In Fortescue’s judgment, this Roman epiclesis came after the words of institution. At any rate, the Roman offertory could not have been this primitive epiclesis, since, at the time when the epiclesis was purportedly part of the Roman liturgy, the offertory was simply the secret, with the congregation singing the offertory chant. (The prayer, Veni Sanctificator, included in the offertory prayers as codified by St. Pius V, was a much later addition from the Mozarabic Rite, as Fortescue notes.) Now, John Hunwicke would object strenuously (and did over a series of posts in 2015) at the idea that the Roman Rite had to have an epiclesis. He suggests that, theologically, the Quam oblationem is the quintessentially Roman prayer in this context. However, regardless of the theological question: he is manifestly correct: the primitive Roman epiclesis was omitted to avoid confusion about the form of the sacrament. The Roman Rite did not need an epiclesis, whether or not it had one in its early form.

And this does not take into account the orientalizing battles in the 20th century about the epiclesis. Perhaps it should, though. Mosebach talks about the conservative—organic?—reforms envisioned by the Council fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and then dives right into one of the favorite topics of the professional liturgists who hijacked the liturgy in what Mosebach characterizes as the “Spirit of 1968.” (We might quibble with that, too, and call it the “Spirit of 1910” or the “Spirit of 1955.”) Now, all of this might be harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement, not to say waspishness or pedantry, but it goes to a point Mosebach tries to get at in his essay. He argues:

The time has come to set aside a widespread assumption in the Catholic Church that the liturgy and religious education are in good hands with the clergy. This encourages passivity among the faithful, who believe that they do not have to concern themselves with these matters. This is not so. The great liturgical crisis following the Second Vatican Council, which was part of a larger crisis of faith and authority, put an end to the illusion that the laity need not be involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) If the faithful are to involve themselves in the liturgy—especially with a view to defending the traditional forms of the liturgy against the professional liturgists who, quite unlike Wotan in Die Walküre, seem entirely thrilled to find only themselves in their creations—then the faithful must know the history and theology of those traditional forms of the liturgy.