Spadaro and Figueroa against Francis?

Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa have a piece in Civiltà complaining about “the surprising ecumenism” between Catholic integralists and evangelical fundamentalists. As we are never not reminded, Civiltà is reviewed in the Secretariat of State before publication, and, more than that, Spadaro has been a leading hype man for the Holy Father’s projects. (He is also a devoted consumer of pop culture.) Figueroa is an Argentine protestant pastor whose primary claim to fame is that he is friends with the Pope. Spadaro and Figueroa write in some ways the standard left-liberal piece about politics and religion in America. In fact, every educated American has probably read this piece a thousand times over, as it was a very popular piece during the presidency of George W. Bush. That Spadaro and Figueroa feel the need to deliver themselves of it in 2017 betrays their fundamental ignorance of American politics, culture, and the intersection of both with religion. No American editor with half a clue would have accepted their pitch, unless he was trying to ingratiate himself with the Pope’s buddies.

It is hard to describe just how hackneyed this piece is, but, for you, dear reader, we will try. (Assuming you don’t want to read it, which is a perfectly reasonable reaction.) It begins with a potted history of Christian fundamentalism in the United States. It meanders into dominionism and apocalypticism. Next, we turn to the prosperity gospel; bizarrely they talk about Norman Vincent Peale but not Joel Osteen. Why do they mention the prosperity gospel? Who knows. Then we hear about the ecumenism between these protestants and some Catholics on the hot-button social questions of abortion and same-sex marriage. Of course, Spadaro and Figueroa omit to discuss the history of this relationship or some of its central figures, such as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Pastor Figueroa could perhaps be excused for not knowing the Church’s doctrine or history on these points, though the Pope has named him editor of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, but it is less understandable why Fr. Spadaro is confused by the alliance. Or something. We then turn into a long discourse on spiritual war, which is not hugely clear, but the thrust of which seems to be that Michael Voris’s Church Militant is very bad.

Spadaro clarifies nothing in the interview he did with America about the piece. As we say, any educated American has read the article about fundamentalism and politicians a thousand times, the article about the prosperity gospel a thousand times, and the article about socially conservative Christians putting aside confessional differences to try to stop abortion and same-sex “marriage” a thousand times. What is new, other than the fact that Spadaro and Figueroa are seen as close collaborators of the reigning Pope, is the suggestion that Donald Trump, who is manifestly not hugely interested in religion nor even able to mouth the sorts of religious platitudes that American presidents are usually expected to mouth, somehow fits into this structure. They mention Steve Bannon, but only in passing and with no insight. And this is the primary problem with the essay: Spadaro and Figueroa plainly have no insight into the American political and religious scenes. They simply want to argue that Pope Francis and liberalism are good and integralism is bad.

Unfortunately, and even if you disagree that their piece has been done to death over the last seventeen years (and you’d be wrong), their argument is hamstrung by its mediocrity. For one thing, they never actually get around to discussing the Church’s historical position on the question of integralism. It is argued that Francis rejects it, but they make no effort to demonstrate that such a rejection is consistent with the Church’s social doctrine more generally. But that doesn’t really matter, since they never get around to defining “Catholic integralism.” All that matters for them is that it is extremely bad. It is probably unreasonable to expect them to engage with a tradition that they don’t even define. Moreover, they do not engage with the liberal tradition within American Catholicism, exemplified by the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, which might have provided an interesting strand in their argument—not least because it remains the dominant strand in American Catholicism. That article has itself been written many times, but not so many times as the article Spadaro and Figueroa turned in. It may even have been interesting.

However, even if they had made a halfway intelligent argument, grappling with the liberal tradition in Catholicism, they still would find themselves in opposition not only to the tradition of the Church but also to the pope they want to vindicate. The crux of their essay is this:

The religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other. An evident aspect of Pope Francis’ geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight. There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends. Francis empties from within the narrative of sectarian millenarianism and dominionism that is preparing the apocalypse and the “final clash.” Underlining mercy as a fundamental attribute of God expresses this radically Christian need.

Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) It would be impossible to unpack all of the errors contained in these two paragraphs. For example, Spadaro and Figueroa apparently intend to deny outright the doctrines contained in Leo XIII’s Libertas praestantissimum, Immortale Dei, and Diuturnum illud, to say nothing of St. Pius X’s Fin dalla prima nostra and Notre charge apostolique. They also intend to deny the authority of the Church to pronounce on matters of political economy set forth by Leo XIII in Rerum novarum, Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno, and Pius XII in La solennità della Pentecoste. They also apparently intend generally to deny the condemnations of liberalism contained in Gregory XVI’s Mirari vos and Bl. Pius IX’s Quanta cura and Syllabus. No doubt they see in Gaudium et spes, Dignitatis humanae, Nostra aetate, and Unitatis redintegratio the rejection of such tedious anti-liberal doctrines. We may say then that Spadaro and Figueroa oppose not only Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII, but also Benedict XVI, who taught that the Council could not be read in opposition to those good and holy popes.

More to the point, Spadaro and Figueroa set themselves against Pope Francis himself when they articulate a bizarre liberal atomization of man. According to Spadaro and Figueroa, in church, man is a believer; in the council hall, he is a politician, at the movie theater, he is a critic; and he is apparently supposed to keep all of these roles separate. The believer and the politician can never communicate, nor the critic and the believer, nor the politician and the critic. However, in April of this year, Francis gave an address to a conference in Rome on Populorum progressio in which he said:

It is also a matter of integrating in development all those elements that render it truly such. The various systems: the economy, finance, work, culture, family life, religion are, each in its own way, a fundamental circumstance for this growth. None of them can be an absolute, and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development which, in other words, takes into account that human life is like an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.

It is also a matter of integrating the individual and the community dimensions. It is undeniable that we are children of a culture, at least in the Western world, that has exalted the individual to the point of making him as an island, almost as if he could be happy alone. On the other hand, there is no lack of ideological views and political powers that have crushed the person; they have depersonalized the individual and deprived him of that boundless freedom without which man no longer feels he is man. There are also economic powers interested in this conformity; they seek to exploit globalization instead of fostering greater sharing among people, simply in order to impose a global market of which they themselves make the rules and reap the profits. The ‘I’ and the community are not in competition with each other, but the ‘I’ can mature only in the presence of authentic interpersonal relationships, and the community is productive when each and every one of its components is such. This is even more the case for the family, which is the first cell of society and where one learns how to live together.

It is lastly a matter of integrating among them body and soul. Paul vi previously wrote that development cannot be restricted simply to economic growth (cf. n. 14); development does not consist in having goods increasingly available, for physical wellbeing alone. Integrating body and soul also means that no work of development can truly reach its goal if it does not respect that place in which God is present with us and speaks to our heart.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is clear that Francis, like his predecessors, rejects the notion that the various aspects of human life can be atomized and compartmentalized. Instead, he sees human life as “an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.” This is not the rhetoric of a pope who “wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church,” as Spadaro and Figueroa say. This is the rhetoric of a pope who understands the vital importance of this organic link and wishes to foster it.

Moreover, we are far from convinced that Francis is as liberal as Spadaro and Figueroa would have us believe. Consider Laudato si’. Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., a great friend of Semiduplex and a leading light among Catholic integralists, has argued conclusively that Laudato si’ is a deeply anti-modern, anti-liberal encyclical. Rusty Reno, editor of First Things, has likewise articulated the case that the Francis of Laudato si’ is deeply suspicious of modernity and liberalism. Indeed, the liberal atomization that Spadaro and Figueroa want to exalt is one of the central problems with modernity that Francis dissects brilliantly in Laudato si’. Francis teaches us:

A misguided anthropocentrism leads to a misguided lifestyle. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is “even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism”. When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay.

The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) Francis sees what Spadaro and Figueroa do not: “the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church” is necessary for living well. The “objective truths and sound principles” provided by the Church ought to inform our lifestyle, our culture, and our political activities; indeed, these truths are necessary for our culture and our political activities, lest they fall into sickness and tyranny.

Spadaro and Figueroa, so far from expressing the mind of Francis, seek to articulate the misguided lifestyle Francis warns us about.




John Paul II on private property

We have been reading John Paul’s 1981 encyclical on human labor, Laborem exercens, which was a commemoration of the 90th anniversary of Rerum novarum. There are interesting resonances with earlier thinkers that we will, we hope, have time to draw out later. However, for now, we present this lengthy excerpt on private property as, perhaps, a mere provocation:

The historical process briefly presented here has certainly gone beyond its initial phase, but it is still taking place and indeed is spreading in the relationships between nations and continents. It needs to be specified further from another point of view. It is obvious that, when we speak of opposition between labour and capital, we are not dealing only with abstract concepts or “impersonal forces” operating in economic production. Behind both concepts there are people, living, actual people: on the one side are those who do the work without being the owners of the means of production, and on the other side those who act as entrepreneurs and who own these means or represent the owners. Thus the issue of ownership or property enters from the beginning into the whole of this difficult historical process. The Encyclical Rerum Novarum, which has the social question as its theme, stresses this issue also, recalling and confirming the Church’s teaching on ownership, on the right to private property even when it is a question of the means of production. The Encyclical Mater et Magistra did the same.

The above principle, as it was then stated and as it is still taught by the Church, diverges radically from the programme of collectivism as proclaimed by Marxism and put into pratice in various countries in the decades following the time of Leo XIII’s Encyclical. At the same time it differs from the programme of capitalism practised by liberalism and by the political systems inspired by it. In the latter case, the difference consists in the way the right to ownership or property is understood. Christian tradition has never upheld this right as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.

Furthermore, in the Church’s teaching, ownership has never been understood in a way that could constitute grounds for social conflict in labour. As mentioned above, property is acquired first of all through work in order that it may serve work. This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production. Isolating these means as a separate property in order to set it up in the form of “capital” in opposition to “labour”—and even to practise exploitation of labour—is contrary to the very nature of these means and their possession. They cannot be possessed against labour, they cannot even be possessed for possession’s sake, because the only legitimate title to their possession—whether in the form of private ownerhip or in the form of public or collective ownership—is that they should serve labour, and thus, by serving labour, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods and the right to common use of them. From this point of view, therefore, in consideration of human labour and of common access to the goods meant for man, one cannot exclude the socialization, in suitable conditions, of certain means of production. In the course of the decades since the publication of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Church’s teaching has always recalled all these principles, going back to the arguments formulated in a much older tradition, for example, the well-known arguments of the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas. 

(Emphasis supplied.)

Philip Hamburger, Anti-Catholicism, and Liberalism

Is there any publication today as consistently interesting as First Things? Example: today, they have a piece by Columbia Law professor Philip Hamburger about the Supreme Court case Trinity Lutheran of Columbia v. Comer. This may well be a significant Establishment Clause case, given the issues and the Justices’ positions. If you are legally inclined, the petitions and briefs briefs are, of course, available through SCOTUSBlog. The case has produced some interesting ecumenical alignments. For example, the amici brief of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is also signed by the Mormons, the Salvation Army, and the Reformed Church in America. Hamburger’s piece is not, actually,  much of a discussion of the legal issues in play with Trinity Lutheran. Instead he offers readers some background on the so-called Blaine Amendments, which are at the root of the Trinity Lutheran case.

Hamburger demonstrates—conclusively, we think—that the Blaine Amendments were the product of a pervasive anti-Catholicism in the United States in the late 19th century. Indeed, as we shall see, Hamburger makes the case that there was a bias against organized Christianity generally in many quarters, though the Church of Rome was taken as the archetype of organized Christianity. Hamburger explains:

Maine Representative James G. Blaine (1830–93) was born to a Catholic mother and a father who later converted to Catholicism; as a child, he apparently was baptized in the Catholic Church. As an adult, however, he had presidential ambitions. He does not seem to have harbored anti-Catholic animosity, and he refused to be drawn into “any avowal of hostility or unfriendliness to Catholics.” But in an era of profound anxieties about Catholics, including fears about their voting power and about the danger of their introducing papal tyranny, he was eager to be elected. He therefore proposed a constitutional amendment in late 1875 that would have rewritten the First Amendment—applying it to the states, and adding that “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools … shall ever be under the control of any religious sect.”


Blaine’s amendment appealed to such fears by preventing tax money from coming under the control of any “religious sect.” Existing constitutional provisions against establishments of religion did not bar public spending on education from reaching schools with religious affiliations, and Blaine’s amendment did not propose to alter this arrangement except by excluding Catholics. The Catholic Church, being attached to its orthodoxies, had theological objections to cooperating theologically with Protestants, and it therefore could only operate schools that were distinctly Catholic or “sectarian.” In contrast, Protestants were willing to join with Protestants of other denominations in running schools. Thus, when the Blaine Amendment stated that public money could not go to institutions belonging to any one “sect,” it effectively proposed to prevent money from reaching Catholic institutions—without cutting off funds for institutions shared by Protestant denominations.

(Emphasis supplied.) Hamburger goes on to explain, however, that Blaine’s amendment was manifestly an effort to advance his presidential hopes in 1876. And it made some headway in the Republican Party: the 1876 platform supported Blaine’s amendment. But it was obvious that Blaine’s amendment would not succeed and that the 1876 platform’s anti-Catholicism was merely an attempt to catch votes. Hamburger notes that, when Blaine’s amendment, which had passed the House overwhelmingly, reached the Senate, Blaine did not even attend the vote. It failed.

However, as is often the case, the amendment had a life of its own. Hamburger observes that many states adopted amendments to their constitutions along the lines of Blaine’s failed amendment to the federal constitution. Some of these amendments are fairly specifically anti-Catholic, others are more broadly anti-religious. And this is where Hamburger’s essay is indispensable. He explains that the Blaine amendment fits into a broader context of liberal thought in the late 19th century:

In appealing to anti-Catholic prejudice, Blaine was reaching out not merely to the unwashed masses, nor even merely to narrowly anti-Catholic nativists, but more broadly to theological liberals. As a Jewish commentator observed in 1875, “this issue will unite the whole Liberal element in this country with the anti-Catholic element, and these two elements form a vast majority all over the land.” Blaine thus could capture the votes of both traditional Protestants and theological liberals.

Nativists were not as theologically traditional in their anti-Catholicism as one might suppose. Their animosity against the Catholic Church arose not so much from the doctrines of their particular churches as from their broader theologically liberal concerns about church authority. They complained that the Catholic Church’s assertions of authority (including its hierarchy, its creeds, and its dogmatic claims of truth) threatened the mental independence of individuals. Catholic claims of priestly and especially papal authority thus seemed to prevent individual Christians from choosing their own faith, as necessary for salvation; they also seemed to prevent citizens from thinking and voting independently, as necessary for democracy.

Many theological liberals thus found themselves aligned with nativism. Although theological liberals viewed the Catholic Church as the model of what they disliked in religion, they typically expanded upon this narrow animosity to develop a broader hostility toward all hierarchical churches, Catholic or Protestant.

(Emphasis supplied.) Hamburger’s point bears repeating: liberals and nativists alike shared anti-Catholicism in the late 19th century. Indeed, the liberals and the nativists were the same people in many cases, according to Hamburger. But for many liberals, especially those who identified as capital-L Liberals around the 1876 election, the Church of Rome was not the sole enemy, even if she was the most prominent. Hamburger explains that these “Liberals” opposed all hierarchical ecclesial bodies with definite Christian doctrine.

In this same vein, Richard Garnett, at Notre Dame, has a piece at SCOTUSBlog from August 2016 discussing this question in depth, and citing several scholars, including Hamburger, who have addressed the question of the Blaine Amendments in detail. Garnett wrote:

First, will the Justices acknowledge, and perhaps even engage, the actual history and purpose of no-aid provisions like the one invoked by Missouri in this case? The Eighth Circuit did not mention the term “Blaine Amendments” and instead gestured vaguely to, again, a “long history of maintaining a very high wall between church and state” and to Missouri’s embrace of a “more restrictive” version of separation. In fact, though – as Philip Hamburger, John McGreevy, Joseph Viteritti, Lloyd Jorgenson, and many others have shown – provisions like Missouri’s were adopted by states (and sometimes required by the federal government) not to implement an abstraction like “separation” but rather to marginalize and undermine Roman Catholicism in America. These provisions’ origins, regardless of how the laws are justified or described today, are not easily disentangled from nineteenth-century America’s pervasive anti-Catholicism and nativism or from a broader ideological, nationalist project of using state-mandated public schooling to inculcate “American” values and loyalties. Justice Thomas discussed this history in his 2000 opinion in Mitchell v. Helms and Chief Justice Rehnquist mentioned it in a footnote in Locke. Will the Justices, in Trinity Lutheran, deal with the elephant in the room?

(Emphasis supplied, but hyperlinks in original.) It is possible that the Supreme Court will hand down its decision in Trinity Lutheran on Thursday at 10 AM. However, whenever it does hand down its decision, it will be interesting to see the extent to which the Court grapples with the history of the Blaine Amendments.

But we can think about these questions before the Supreme Court makes its thoughts known. Hamburger points to a fundamental problem that all integralist Catholics—indeed, all orthodox Catholics—have to confront sooner or later: liberalism is incompatible with Catholicism. Consider Leo XIII’s teaching in Libertas praestantissimum:

What naturalists or rationalists aim at in philosophy, that the supporters of liberalism, carrying out the principles laid down by naturalism, are attempting in the domain of morality and politics. The fundamental doctrine of rationalism is the supremacy of the human reason, which, refusing due submission to the divine and eternal reason, proclaims its own independence, and constitutes itself the supreme principle and source and judge of truth. Hence, these followers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself; from which arises that ethical system which they style independent morality, and which, under the guise of liberty, exonerates man from any obedience to the commands of God, and substitutes a boundless license. The end of all this it is not difficult to foresee, especially when society is in question. For, when once man is firmly persuaded that he is subject to no one, it follows that the efficient cause of the unity of civil society is not to be sought in any principle external to man, or superior to him, but simply in the free will of individuals; that the authority in the State comes from the people only; and that, just as every man’s individual reason is his only rule of life, so the collective reason of the community should be the supreme guide in the management of all public affairs. Hence the doctrine of the supremacy of the greater number, and that all right and all duty reside in the majority. But, from what has been said, it is clear that all this is in contradiction to reason. To refuse any bond of union between man and civil society, on the one hand, and God the Creator and consequently the supreme Law-giver, on the other, is plainly repugnant to the nature, not only of man, but of all created things; for, of necessity, all effects must in some proper way be connected with their cause; and it belongs to the perfection of every nature to contain itself within that sphere and grade which the order of nature has assigned to it, namely, that the lower should be subject and obedient to the higher.

Moreover, besides this, a doctrine of such character is most hurtful both to individuals and to the State. For, once ascribe to human reason the only authority to decide what is true and what is good, and the real distinction between good and evil is destroyed; honor and dishonor differ not in their nature, but in the opinion and judgment of each one; pleasure is the measure of what is lawful; and, given a code of morality which can have little or no power to restrain or quiet the unruly propensities of man, a way is naturally opened to universal corruption. With reference also to public affairs: authority is severed from the true and natural principle whence it derives all its efficacy for the common good; and the law determining what it is right to do and avoid doing is at the mercy of a majority. Now, this is simply a road leading straight to tyranny. The empire of God over man and civil society once repudiated, it follows that religion, as a public institution, can have no claim to exist, and that everything that belongs to religion will be treated with complete indifference. Furthermore, with ambitious designs on sovereignty, tumult and sedition will be common amongst the people; and when duty and conscience cease to appeal to them, there will be nothing to hold them back but force, which of itself alone is powerless to keep their covetousness in check. Of this we have almost daily evidence in the conflict with socialists and members of other seditious societies, who labor unceasingly to bring about revolution. It is for those, then, who are capable of forming a just estimate of things to decide whether such doctrines promote that true liberty which alone is worthy of man, or rather, pervert and destroy it.

(Emphasis supplied.) We see in Leo’s discourse exactly what Hamburger was talking about in the passage we quoted above. The problem with Catholicism for the liberal of 1876 was that it denies the supremacy of the individual as judge of right and wrong, even in matters of religion. But Leo makes clear that it is—in addition to an affront to God’s sovereignty and to the authority that He has granted to the Church and the state in their spheres—a shortcut to tyranny and anarchy to grant the individual and his subjective reason the supremacy demanded by liberals.

Leo goes on to address squarely the question of church and state:

There are others, somewhat more moderate though not more consistent, who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. Nature herself proclaims the necessity of the State providing means and opportunities whereby the community may be enabled to live properly, that is to say, according to the laws of God. For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enactment. Besides, those who are in authority owe it to the commonwealth not only to provide for its external well-being and the conveniences of life, but still more to consult the welfare of men’s souls in the wisdom of their legislation. But, for the increase of such benefits, nothing more suitable can be conceived than the laws which have God for their author; and, therefore, they who in their government of the State take no account of these laws abuse political power by causing it to deviate from its proper end and from what nature itself prescribes. And, what is still more important, and what We have more than once pointed out, although the civil authority has not the same proximate end as the spiritual, nor proceeds on the same lines, nevertheless in the exercise of their separate powers they must occasionally meet. For their subjects are the same, and not infrequently they deal with the same objects, though in different ways. Whenever this occurs, since a state of conflict is absurd and manifestly repugnant to the most wise ordinance of God, there must necessarily exist some order or mode of procedure to remove the occasions of difference and contention, and to secure harmony in all things. This harmony has been not inaptly compared to that which exists between the body and the soul for the well-being of both one and the other, the separation of which brings irremediable harm to the body, since it extinguishes its very life.

(Emphasis supplied.) In essence, Leo teaches that liberalism, whether it is extreme or moderated, is contrary to the divine and natural law. Indeed, Leo demonstrates with great clarity that the moderate liberal is incoherent at best and disingenuous at worst.

The Catholic should, therefore, be troubled by policies like the Blaine Amendments. As Philip Hamburger outlines brilliantly, they were proximately the product of anti-Catholicism deployed cynically to further James Blaine’s presidential ambitions. However, they fit into a broader context of liberal thought in the late 1800s. This liberalism has been squarely condemned by Leo XIII, who shows us that it is both contrary to the divine and natural law and incoherent on its own terms. The sort of liberal who concedes to Catholics (or any Christian committed to Christian teaching) the right to believe what they believe, provided they keep it out of the public square, is either confused about his liberalism or economizing with the truth.

Hamburger’s piece provides an excellent test case, since it deals with a policy unquestionably liberal and unquestionably anti-Catholic. It is hard to dodge the harder questions in the context of the Blaine Amendments, since they were explicitly motivated by liberal anti-Catholicism. But one cannot stop the analysis with the Blaine Amendments, not least since the policy they articulate is no less present today than it was in 1876. Indeed, if anything, liberalism has strengthened its hand since 1876. It is all around us, as ever-present as air. One can find it in other political contexts, in the workplace, in the popular press, and in entertainment. We live in a golden age of liberalism, as it were, and it is no less hostile to the Church than the world of 1876 that produced the Blaine Amendments. The Catholic must, sooner or later, confront this hostility.

Pius XII on the Church’s economic competence

At The Josias, a translation of Pius XII’s 1941 address commemorating the 50th anniversary of Rerum novarum has been made available.  (Full disclosure: we helped prepare it for publication.) Obviously, we encourage you to read the whole thing at The Josias. This is, if we do say so ourselves, another great example of the value of that project. The 1941 address was, as the introductory note points out, hugely significant for St. John XXIII in particular, who drew upon it for his own encyclicals, Mater et magistra and Pacem in terris. However, until now, it has not been widely available in English. Now it is possible for Catholics interested in the full scope of the Church’s social teaching to read an important address on the topic, which was considered extremely important at the time and in subsequent years. We suspect that its new availability will help restore some of its lost luster.

To whet your appetite for the full address, we present one passage on a subject of perennial importance (and controversy): what is the authority of the Church on matters of economics? Whenever the pope says something at odds with the prevailing liberal order, a chorus of Catholic voices can be reliably counted upon to cry that the pope is not an economist, that he does not have the authority to pronounce upon such matters, and that Catholics may safely ignore him. Not so fast, Papa Pacelli says:

It was in the profound conviction that the Church has not only the right but even the duty to make an authoritative pronouncement on the social question that Leo XIII addressed his message to the world. He had no intention of laying down guiding principles of the purely practical, we might say the technical side of the social structure; for he was well aware of the fact—as our immediate predecessor of saintly memory, Pius XI, pointed out ten years ago in his commemorative encyclical, Quadragesimo anno—that the Church does not claim such a missionIn the general framework of labor to stimulate the sane and responsible development of all the energies, physical and spiritual, of individuals in their free organization there opens up a wide field of action where the public authority comes in with its integrating and coordinating activity, exercised first through the local and professional corporations and finally in the activity of the State itself, whose higher moderating social authority has the important duty of forestalling the dislocations of economic balance arising from plurality and divergence of clashing interests, individual and collective.

It is, on the other hand, the indisputable competence of the Church, on that side of the social order where it meets and enters into contact with the moral order, to decide whether the bases of a given social system are in accord with the unchangeable order which God, our Creator and Redeemer, has shown us through the natural law and revelation, that twofold manifestation to which Leo XIII appeals in his encyclical, and with reason: For the dictates of the natural law and the truths of revelation spring forth in a different manner, like two streams of water that do not flow against one another but together from the same divine source; and the Church, guardian of the supernatural Christian order in which nature and grace converge, must form the consciences even of those who are called upon to find solutions for the problems and the duties imposed by social life. From the form given to society, whether conforming or not to the divine law, depends and emerges the good or ill of souls, depends, that is, the decision whether men, all called to be revived by the grace of Christ, do actually in the detailed course of their life breathe the healthy vivifying atmosphere of truth and moral virtue or the disease-laden and often fatal air of error and corruptionBefore such a thought and such an anticipation how could the Church, loving mother that she is, solicitous for the welfare of her children, remain an indifferent onlooker in their danger, remain silent or feign not to see or take cognizance of social conditions which, whether one wills it or not, make difficult or practically impossible a Christian life in conformity with the precepts of the Divine Lawgiver?

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, the Church has “indisputable competence” to address the aspects of the social order that touch upon the moral order. In Pius’s words, the Church has the power “to decide whether the bases of a given social system are in accord” with the natural law and the divine law. As Pius explains, social systems have an effect on men’s souls, and a disordered social system will surely have a disordering effect on men’s souls.

We are reminded on this point of the wonderful anti-liberal encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Consider paragraphs 122 and 123 of the encyclical:

A misguided anthropocentrism leads to a misguided lifestyle. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is “even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism”. When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay.

The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.

(Emphasis supplied.) Pius XII and Francis both recognize one crucial point, which the chorus of Catholic defenders of the liberal order apparently do not: sick societies produce sick men, and, since it is the cure of sick men that occupies much of the Church’s time, the Church certainly has the right to discuss the sickness of the society. By way of analogy, no one would challenge the right of a doctor, treating a deadly cholera outbreak, to discuss the tainted water supply making men, women, and children sick.

De Koninck on mercy

In preparing our post on the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we had cause to review Charles De Koninck’s wonderful book on Our Lady, Ego Sapientia. Given some of the discussions in the Catholic world over the past couple of weeks, we were struck by this passage (from no. XXIV, Ubi Humilitas, Ibi Sapientia):

Humility touches the very cause of mercy. Mercy, in effect, looks at the inferior as such. Now, God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble—Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam (James IV, 6; Prov. III, 34). Mercy only lavishes its bounty over the inferior who recognizes himself as such, and the more inferior he will be, the more he will have reason to humble himself. But, this humility will only be productive if it is rooted in a knowledge wherein we see at the same time how we are not, and how powerful is the one who is Lord over us. The very great humility of the Blessed Virgin must rest on faith in the omnipotence of God. Et beata, quae crededisti, quoniam perficienter ea, quae dicta sunt tibi a Domino—Happy is she who believed! cries St. Elizabeth, “for the promises made her by the Lord will be fulfilled” (Luke I, 45).

De Koninck goes on to observe, in no. XXVI, Felix Culpa!:

Nigra sum, sed formosa. In fact, mercy manifested itself even beyond the assumption of human nature by means of birth. Man, whom God had established in a state of original justice infinitely superior to all that could belong to him by nature, had succumbed to the temptation of being himself the origin of the dignity to which God deigned to elevate him. Et homo cum in honore esset, non intellixit: comparatus est jumentis insipientibus, et similis factus est illis—And man, while he was in his splendor, did not understand: he became comparable to the stupid beasts, and he became like them (Ps. XLVIII, 13,21). By original sin, human nature became vulnerable. We are born in a state of misery properly speaking. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea—Behold I was born in iniquity and my mother conceived me in sin (Ps. L, 7).

Now sin is not just any kind of fault: it is that fault which is furthest from God. Evil properly speaking is not simple privation, it is opposed to good as a contrary. Consequently, the mercy which will come face to face with evil, which will be victorious over evil, will also be, in a sense, the greatest possible. The manifestation of the divine omnipotence will make here, within the universe itself, a sort of return to itself: it will be like the plentitude of mercy. Evil (malus poenae) was ordered to the greatest manifestation of mercy conceivable. O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem—O happy fault which merited for us such and so great a Redeemer (Office of Holy Saturday).

If, according to the ordinary power of God, man alone could be redeemed, is this not due to the very imperfection of our intelligence, which is also the root of the contrariety of the two natures? The fallen angel, on the contrary, was immediately obstinate and confirmed in evil. This is because angelic intelligence is so perfect that it grasps without composition and division and without discourse all that we know by simple apprehension, by the understanding of principles and by a science very difficult to acquire: it grasps its object in an immutable manner, and the adhesion of the will is also fixed and immutable. Man is as a consequence more open to mercy by his very imperfection. The free will of man remains as flexible after choice as it was before this choice; on the contrary, the free will of the angel, flexible before the choice, becomes, after this choice, immutably fixed.

(Emphasis supplied.) There is, we think, much to digest in De Koninck’s treatment of mercy, to say nothing of his discussion of the excellence of Our Lady.

Perhaps one of the bright young Catholic writers today could discuss certain interventions of the recent magisterium in the context of De Koninck’s treatment of mercy in Ego Sapientia.

On the Little Office

We have noticed an uptick in one of the traditional liturgical devotions of the Church, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Officium Parvum Beatae Mariae Virginis. (We shall use the terms “Little Office” and “Parvum” interchangeably.) Available today in a couple of very handsome editions—one from Baronius Press, the other from Angelus Press—the Parvum is a devotion of great antiquity, and it has, at times, made up part of the public prayer of the Church. Indeed, for several hundred years, the Little Office was no less obligatory for clerics than the great Office. Unfortunately, in connection with his reform of the Roman Breviary in 1568, St. Pius V reduced significantly the obligation to recite the Little Office. In 1911, St. Pius X finally suppressed the obligation altogether. The Parvum continued to be printed in the Breviary, but primarily as a private devotion. (We will leave to one side the orders that required it of lay brothers and sister.) And that is how one finds it today: as a private devotion.

But what a devotion! There are, in our view, two great attractions to the Parvum. First, it is, like the Rosary itself, a wonderful expression of Marian devotion, all the more appropriate in this great Fatima year. We are, above all, reminded of Charles de Koninck’s great Thomistic tract on Marian devotion, Ego Sapientia. Consider this passage, one of many great passages in the little book:

Order is of the very notion of wisdom. It is at the same time one and many, stable and mobile. Wisdom can be said of the principle as such, of the sapiential order in so far as this principle stands as root of the precontaining of the order of which it is the principle. Mary is, with her Son, at the very origin of the universe; she is as the root of the universal order: Ego sum radix—I am the root. That which God wishes principally in the universe is the good of order. And this order is the more perfect in so far as its interior principle is more profoundly rooted in God. Now, Mary is the purely created principle of this order, purely created principle closest to God and the most perfect conceivable. As principle of the sapiential order, she participates in the unity and the very unicity of this principle: she is at once emanation and immanence; her power extends to all things, which take from her their incessant innovation. We think, in effect, of vital immanence as a constant renewal from within, and in their relation to the first principle things are in being by an always innovative procession. In effect, the being which things would hold from themselves would be nothingness. Una est columba mea, perfecta mea; Et cum sit una, omnia potest: et in se permanens omnia innovat—One is my dove, my perfect one. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself the same, she reneweth all things.

Daughter of the eternal Father, mother of the Son, spouse of the Holy Spirit, she is rooted in the Trinity, and she ties up the order of the universe, in a radically new way, which is in God according to the procession. Collum tuum sicut turris eburnea—Thy neck is as a tower of ivory. (Wis. VII, 4.)

As De Koninck demonstrates in his Primacy of the Common Good, it is only in submission to the common good—to order—that man finds his dignity. One may say, perhaps a little polemically, that Marian devotion is, therefore, necessary for man to achieve his fullest dignity. How much better, then, to express one’s devotion to Our Lady in a manner approved both by competent authority and the vote of history? This is the first great value of the Little Office: as a wonderful form of Marian devotion.

Second, it is a participation in the liturgical prayer of the Church. We are reminded here of Benedict XVI’s letter to the bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum:

In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

We shall see that the Parvum has been considered for nearly a thousand years as an integral part of the Church’s prayer, coming in time to be obligatory upon clerics. While that has not been the case generally for some time, the Little Office “remains sacred and great for us too.” There is perennially an argument about whether recitation of any office by the laity constitutes a liturgical act—that is, an act of public prayer—of the Church, but we see no need to explore those arguments. It is enough to say that Our Lady’s office is a prayer, long approved by the Church for both devotional and liturgical use. Indeed, when one prays the Little Office, one joins a tradition stretching back a thousand years.

The Parvum has its early origins in the time of St. Benedict of Aniane, who introduced at his monastery of Inde, the practice of saying a Pater and the Credo at all of the altars of the church before taking their places in the choir and reciting fifteen psalms and some prayers. (The custom of saying the Pater, the Ave, and the Credo before the Office endured until 1955, when it was suppressed by Pius XII.) In his essay on the medieval Primer in the posthumous Liturgica Historia, Edmund Bishop observes that Benedict’s fifteen psalms were almost certainly the so-called Gradual Psalms. Eventually, the prayers said or sung expanded from the Gradual Psalms to include the seven Penitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead, and various other commemorations. Some of these devotional accretions took the form of the great Office; notable among these is the Office of All Saints, apparently modeled on the Office of the Dead. By the second half of the tenth century, Bishop tells us, these accretions were binding on monks throughout Europe, de facto if not de jure. At about this time, the Parvum appears almost out of nowhere.

Bishop pulls together “the scanty early notices” of the Parvum. In sum, we learn from these sources that there was some special prayer or other devoted to Our Lady, which certainly looks like the Parvum by the end of the tenth century. (Though this conclusion is by no means uncontested.) The earliest example cited by Bishop comes from the biography of St. Udalric, bishop of Augsburg, in which the biographer notes that Udalric, having set aside many of the heavy burdens of his office in his old age, added to the great Office a cursus in honor of Our Lady, in addition to cursus in honor of the Holy Cross and All Saints. He also prayed the whole psalter every day. Bishop says Udalric threw himself “almost unreservedly into prayer and acts of devotion” (emphasis supplied). One wonders what an unreserved life of prayer and devotion would have looked like. At any rate, this would have been, by Bishop’s reckoning, in the early 970s. We do not know what Udalric’s cursus in honor of Our Lady was, and we shall see that this mystery forms a key part of the debate over the precise antiquity of the Parvum.

In the chronicle of Hugh of Flavigny, a story is reported about how Berengarius, bishop of Verdun, began his day with lengthy prayers before matins was sung. One morning, Berengarius entered the cathedral, only to trip over Bernerius, the provost of the cathedral, who was prostrate on the floor praying matins of Our Lady. This also would have been in the middle of the tenth century, or within ten or twenty years of Udalric’s cursus in honor of Our Lady. And at about the same time, Bishop tells us, the Einsiedeln Customs introduced an office of Our Lady into the public worship of the Church. Foreshadowing the later practice of the universal Church, the monks of Einsiedeln added a votive office of Our Lady on Saturdays, in addition to the ferial office. (Unless a feast occurred.) Based on this evidence, coming but a few decades after Udalric, we are inclined to say that there was some kind of office, likely modeled on the great Office, in honor of Our Lady, even if it was not along the lines of the Little Office later known throughout Europe.

We come now to the famous testimony of St. Peter Damian, who, writing about 1053, note that it was customary in a certain monastery to sing the hours of Our Lady in choir, following the hours of the great Office. According to Bishop, the practice must have been known at the great Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino at the same time. Peter the Deacon wrote, about a hundred years later, that Pope Zacharias, in the eighth century, had required the monks of Monte Cassino to sing the office of St. Benedict in choir before the great Office and the Office of Our Lady after. Bishop suggests that the custom must have been of some long standing when Peter wrote, though perhaps not such long standing that Peter felt free to omit the authority of the injunction to sing the additional offices. That is, the Office of Our Lady had not been around so long that there was no grumbling about it. Once again, this evidence supports the conclusion that the Little Office emerged toward the end of the tenth century and became a widespread devotion by the middle of the eleventh.

However, in his 1949 essay on the Parvum, Msgr. William Lallou points to the eleventh century evidence of St. Peter Damian as “the first mention we have” of the Parvum. Following the great Battifol, Lallou contends that the earlier ninth and tenth century evidence—marshaled by Bishop—is evidence of suffragia, not officia plena. However, we fail to see the inconsistency in the evidence of Bishop. Peter Damian, writing in the middle of the eleventh century, says that the devotion was popular in northern Italy. This seems consistent with the evidence of Augsburg and Verdun, showing the Little Office emerging in the middle of the tenth century. One could well imagine the Parvum spreading steadily over the intervening century, and by the time of Peter the Deacon a hundred or so years later the Little Office must have seemed venerable, even if some monks could reasonably contend that it was a relatively recent addition to the day’s prayers. But the difference is only one of a hundred years or so. Whether it emerged in the 950s or the 1050s does not make a huge amount of difference in 2017.

To be completely honest, this is one of our favorite aspects of the Parvum. It seems to have come out of nowhere sometime toward the end of the tenth century, and, within a couple of hundred years, it was obligatory for clerics throughout the western Church. It has also outlasted most of the other devotional offices from that time, notably the Office of All Saints. One can intellectually trace the development of the Parvum back to Benedict of Aniane’s imposition of the prayers before matins of the great Office. One can also discuss the general tendency of that time to add devotional offices to the great Office. But neither point seems to explain the speed with with the Little Office emerged and became obligatory or the fact that the Little Office has outlasted most of the other devotions of its age. The Little Office has a little mystery about it. It is possible to get somewhat mystical about these things, though we will resist the temptation for you, dear reader.

As we said, the Parvum became obligatory along with the other accretions to the great Office, though not without some controversy. Msgr. Lallou notes:

As time went on into the fourteenth century, there was opposition to the burdening of the already long office with rather lengthy epilogues, like the seven penitential psalms, the gradual psalms, the office of the dead and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. The last named was to be said, in addition to the canonical hours, on every day of the year, except the greater festivals, the last three days of Holy Week, the octave of Easter, and the feasts of our Lady herself. The Constitutiones Lateranenses of Gregory XI (1370-78) prescribed that the office of the hours of the Breviary of the Curia was to be sung (cum nota) and then followed every day by the recitation (sine nota) of the office of the Blessed Virgin. The Franciscans were accused of multiplying feasts of nine lessons in order to get rid of the obligation of adding to the office the penitential and gradual psalms and the office of the dead. They were also charged with growing laxity in the observance of the daily recital of the office of our Lady. So, it is not surprising that in the proposals for the reform of the Breviary, made especially in the sixteenth century, there was always included that of suppressing additions to the office which made it unduly prolix and increased its complexity.

(Footnote omitted.) It has been the goal of the modern reformers of the Office, beginning with St. Pius X in 1911, to make the obligation of the Office lighter rather than heavier. This tendency was finally fulfilled after the Second Vatican Council, with the wholesale revision of the Office into the Liturgy of the Hours. It is, therefore, interesting to see the antecedents of that process about five hundred years earlier. One does wonder—we wonder, at any rate—what this modern reduction of the Office means, especially since the accretions to the Office were motivated by piety and devotion.

Strangely enough, while the reformers were trying to make the great Office lighter, they were also trying to make the Little Office heavier. We shall not rehearse the full shape of the Little Office in its post-Tridentine form, except to say that it is generally unvarying throughout the year. In Advent and Christmastide, there are some variations. The reformers, however, wanted to lengthen the psalter used in the Little Office, add additional observances of the seasons, add some saints’ feasts, and use Cardinal Bea’s translation of the psalter. The repetition of the Parvum was no doubt a black mark against it. Happily for the Little Office—if unhappily for the Church—the collapse of the traditional Office following the Council meant that attention was turned away from the Little Office.

Despite the fact that the office in honor of Our Lady first emerged on the continent, it has become peculiarly associated, at least in our mind, with England. Bishop suggests that the English must have known the Parvum at about the same time as St. Peter Damian discussed its popularity in Italy, given the English devotion to Our Lady, only briefly chastened by the Norman Conquest. By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Parvum was once again an English devotion. And it continued to spread, forming a central part of every literate Englishman’s devotional life through the medieval Primer. This continued even into the time of the so-called English reformation, despite the best efforts of the Tudor regime to suppress the devotion. In both the repetition and in the connection to penal times in England, one is reminded of Blessed Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s comment on the Office:

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.) This is, we think, the other great value of the Little Office, to join in prayer so many Catholics throughout history and to express with them love of and devotion to Our Lady.


A word on the Baronius edition: if you decide to purchase one of these, make sure you purchase a recent printing. The fifth edition is dated 2015. The early editions were marred with some fairly serious errors, such as wrong hymns and switched antiphons in the offices of Advent and Christmastide. To their great credit, Baronius appears to have taken notice of the errors and corrected them in subsequent printings.

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.