Why not Newman?

It occurred to us, after writing about Cardinal Newman’s sixth note of an authentic development, set forth in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, that some may resist approaching contemporary questions through Newman’s schema. But this presents a serious problem, to our mind: where else is the notion of development set forth? That is, if you do not approach the question through Newman, how do you approach the question? We will see that not every notion of development has met with ecclesiastical approval. Indeed, St. Pius X condemned in strong terms the sort of development that many progressives today want to employ. However, we shall see in a moment that St. Pius X provides us with a way forward—under the terms recently articulated by Archbishop Fernandez in defense of Amoris laetitia. The answer? Newman’s notes.

The question is of course more than merely academic. The progressives want—need—some doctrine of development in the Church. Otherwise, their project is dead in the water. Hopelessly, irretrievably dead. Of course, they could simply abandon it, but one does not abandon the stuff which careers are made of. At any rate, they want development, but they do not always want Cardinal Newman’s development. Sure, it’s great to mention Cardinal Newman in an essay. The mere mention of his name evokes all sorts of warm feelings of theological brilliance and English charm. Unfortunately, one does not always want to let Newman say very much. Why? Well, it turns out that Newman was just as ready to find corruptions of doctrine as authentic developments. Readier, perhaps, when one goes through the seven notes carefully. Newman’s project, at least superficially, was to show that the faith of Leo XIII and the faith of St. Peter were indistinguishable, not to open the door to communion for bigamists or same-sex “marriage.” Therefore, while Newman is a fine mascot, he’s by no means as tame as the progressives would like; accordingly, they are leery of giving him too much say. However, without Newman the proponents of development are left in a sticky situation.

The fact of the matter is that Lamentabili and Pascendi both come down, quite strongly, against some ideas of development. Consider this passage from St. Pius X’s Pascendi:

To finish with this whole question of faith and its shoots, it remains to be seen, Venerable Brethren, what the Modernists have to say about their development. First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death. The enunciation of this principle will not astonish anybody who bears in mind what the Modernists have had to say about each of these subjects. Having laid down this law of evolution, the Modernists themselves teach us how it works out. And first with regard to faith. The primitive form of faith, they tell us, was rudimentary and common to all men alike, for it had its origin in human nature and human life. Vital evolution brought with it progress, not by the accretion of new and purely adventitious forms from without, but by an increasing penetration of the religious sentiment in the conscience. This progress was of two kinds: negative, by the elimination of all foreign elements, such, for example, as the sentiment of family or nationality; and positive by the intellectual and moral refining of man, by means of which the idea was enlarged and enlightened while the religious sentiment became more elevated and more intense. For the progress of faith no other causes are to be assigned than those which are adduced to explain its origin. But to them must be added those religious geniuses whom we call prophets, and of whom Christ was the greatest; both because in their lives and their words there was something mysterious which faith attributed to the divinity, and because it fell to their lot to have new and original experiences fully in harmony with the needs of their time. The progress of dogma is due chiefly to the obstacles which faith has to surmount, to the enemies it has to vanquish, to the contradictions it has to repel. Add to this a perpetual striving to penetrate ever more profoundly its own mysteries. Thus, to omit other examples, has it happened in the case of Christ: in Him that divine something which faith admitted in Him expanded in such a way that He was at last held to be God. The chief stimulus of evolution in the domain of worship consists in the need of adapting itself to the uses and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by long usage. Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of accommodating itself to historical conditions and of harmonising itself with existing forms of society. Such is religious evolution in detail. And here, before proceeding further, we would have you note well this whole theory of necessities and needs, for it is at the root of the entire system of the Modernists, and it is upon it that they will erect that famous method of theirs called the historical.

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider also some propositions condemned in Lamentabili:

  • “Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles.”
  • “Dogmas, Sacraments and hierarchy, both their notion and reality, are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected by an external series of additions the little germ latent in the Gospel.”
  • “Christ did not teach a determined body of doctrine applicable to all times and all men, but rather inaugurated a religious movement adapted or to be adapted to different times and places.”
  • “Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.”

These, and other propositions, cut strongly against the proposition that the Church broadly approves the notion of the development of doctrine. In sum, we can say that Pius was deeply suspicious of the idea of development or evolution.

Now, the clever progressive will at this moment cite Dignitatis humanae 1, which talks about bringing forth new things from the treasury of the Church’s doctrine and about developing the doctrine of recent popes on the rights of man and the constitution of states (i.e., Pius IX and Leo XIII). Ah, this hypothetical clever progressive will assert, the Church says doctrine can develop, and therefore we do not need Newman. Two responses come to mind. First, it is true: Dignitatis humanae says these things. But, as Francis and Archbishop Guido Pozzo have said in their comments about the situation with the Society of St. Pius X, the magisterial weight of Dignitatis humanae is by no means clear or clearly great. Second, what theory of development does Dignitatis humanae actually propose? It makes some broad assertions about development, but it also observes that “it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ” (DH 1). It touches therefore only upon “immunity from coercion in civil society” (DH 1). So, in addition to lacking an overarching hermeneutic of development, it is unclear how much development Dignitatis humanae itself actually does. Now, we admit that this is a greatly disputed topic, with all sorts of arguments advanced one way and the other, but we are by no means sure that citation to Dignitatis humanae will save the progressive who wants to chuck Newman for a broader idea of development.

And turning to the progressives’ idea of development more broadly, that is, the process by which development is supposed to take place, consider Pius’s description of the methods of the modernists:

Still continuing the consideration of the evolution of doctrine, it is to be noted that Evolution is due no doubt to those stimulants styled needs, but, if left to their action alone, it would run a great risk of bursting the bounds of tradition, and thus, turned aside from its primitive vital principle, would lead to ruin instead of progress. Hence, studying more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as resulting from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact; for by right it is in the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life. Note here, Venerable Brethren, the appearance already of that most pernicious doctrine which would make of the laity a factor of progress in the Church. Now it is by a species of compromise between the forces of conservation and of progress, that is to say between authority and individual consciences, that changes and advances take place. The individual consciences of some of them act on the collective conscience, which brings pressure to bear on the depositaries of authority, until the latter consent to a compromise, and, the pact being made, authority sees to its maintenance.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Pius condemns no less strongly the idea that the development of doctrine is some kind of negotiation between progressives and reactionaries. Therefore, in Pascendi, one finds a strong condemnation of the sort of development that a lot of commentators want to enshrine in the Catholic faith. They seem to envision progressive theologians battling reactionary theologians until the pope decides the question definitively, usually opening up a little room for the progressive opinion without forcing the reactionaries into schism. This little room, then, becomes an authentic development. (The fact that it was a compromise extracted from authority through disobedience and dissent is, like a first marriage, politely passed over as soon as the case is closed.) Not so, St. Pius X tells us, not so.

Now, of course, one can pause here to critique the revolutionary, Hegelian approach adopted by the progressives. Note that, to put it in those terms, Pius condemns the idea of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. And it is obvious that the progressives intend to make a revolution in the Church through these means, as they have intended for many years. But such a critique is unnecessary at this moment. It is enough to know that their method was condemned, even if it was successful, oh, not quite sixty years after Pascendi was promulgated. It is more than enough to recall that the goal of the method is fundamentally revolutionary.

At any rate, without Newman, the progressives have a hard time articulating a coherent vision of development that has not been itself condemned by competent authority. But there is an argument, following lines recently advanced, that Newman’s vision of development has been approved by competent authority. Since—as Archbishop Fernandez has told us recently, citing Lumen gentium‘s citation in the supplementary notes of a letter of Pius IX to the German bishops—the correspondence of a pope can, as if by magic, bestow magisterial authority upon various documents, we must consider St. Pius X’s 1908 Letter to the Bishop of Limerick Tuum illud opusculum, A.S.S. 41 (1908) 200–02, which approved the tract by Bishop O’Dwyer, demonstrating that Newman’s works were entirely consistent with Pascendi and Lamentabili. There, Pius stated:

We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, has been emphatically approved by Us: for you could not have better served both the truth and the dignity of man. It is clear that those people whose errors We have condemned in that Document had decided among themselves to produce something of their own invention with which to seek the commendation of a distinguished person. And so they everywhere assert with confidence that they have taken these things from the very source and summit of authority, and that therefore We cannot censure their teachings, but rather that We had even previously gone so far as to condemn what such a great author had taught. Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. Not only do you fully demonstrate their obstinacy but you also show clearly their deceitfulness. For, if in the things he had written before his profession of the Catholic faith one can justly detect something which may have a kind of similarity with certain Modernist formulas, you are correct in saying that this is not relevant to his later works. Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate.

(Emphasis supplied.) Pius concludes his letter, ringing with denunciations of the modernists by saying:

Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

(Emphasis supplied.) If Francis’s politely appreciative letter to the Argentine bishops about their norms for the implementation of chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia is enough to invest those norms with magisterial authority or to constitute an authoritative interpretation of Amoris laetitia, then it seems unavoidable that Pius’s letter to Bishop O’Dwyer is enough to invest not only his pamphlet but also Newman’s work with some magisterial authority. At the very least, it is sufficient to spare Newman’s notion of development, including his seven notes, from the condemnations of evolution and development in Lamentabili and Pascendi.

Therefore, we see that the progressives disregard Newman at their own peril. For one thing, development of doctrine has not met with uniform favor from the Church. Pius X condemned in strong terms the sort of development that one sees most commonly advanced by progressives, furthering their revolutionary agenda. It is true that the Second Vatican Council, notably in Dignitatis humanae, spoke of development, but it is impossible to say more than that without wading into controversy and uncertainty. On the other hand, Pius X approved Bishop O’Dwyer’s pamphlet showing that Newman was by no means a modernist and the pope recommended warmly Newman’s writings. Following the recent argument of Archbishop Fernandez regarding Francis’s letter to the Buenos Aires bishops (and Pius IX’s letter to the German bishops), we can say that Pius X’s letter has provided some measure of official approval to Newman and Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine. And all of this brings us back to Newman’s notes.

Cardinal Newman’s sixth note

Following the publication of Spadaro and Figueroa’s confused essay in Civiltà, critiquing, well, whatever it was they were critiquing, a secondary controversy sprang up. You see, dear reader, many of the initial critics of Spadaro and Figueroa’s essay—Matthew Schmitz at First Things and Ross Douthat at the New York Times—were converts. And the progressives pounced upon this fact. The converts were holier-than-thou reactionaries bent on accusing the Holy Father of heresy, resisting his agenda, and many other delicts besides. (It was a rare delight to see people for whom ultramontanism was a four-letter word between October 1978 and February 2013 rushing so gallantly to the defense of the rights of the Roman Pontiff.) However, a point has been overlooked. In many of the critiques of the converts, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was invoked. The argument, stated with the usual imprecision of the progressive, was that the converts want the Church to remain as it was when they converted—and they converted because the Church confirmed them in their prejudices—but any real Catholic knows, as Cardinal Newman tells us, that doctrine develops. The converts, then, are the ones out of step with the mind of the Church, as expressed by Cardinal Newman.

First, a biographical note. The controversy over converts struck us as bizarre to say the least. (Part of the reason we didn’t weigh in at the time is because we found it so bizarre. The other reason is that we were a minor, minor player in the original controversy. All in all, it seemed like a good time to take a little vacation.) For one thing, we are not a convert. We have, in fact, not wandered very far as such things go. We hear Mass in the sight of the font in which we were baptized. We often have business in the sacristy in which we made our first confession. And we often make our communion in exactly the same spot at which we made our first communion those many years ago. However, that ultimately does not much matter. In the Church, the question is whether one is baptized—that is, whether one has accepted God’s call to become through baptism His adopted son or daughter. The progressives’ emphasis on baptism seemed to be yet another example of identity politics; only those noble so-called cradle Catholics could understand the enormously subtle arguments offered in support of Spadaro and Figueroa’s farrago of invective. Because we are not a convert, we did not get our back up at the progressives’ insults.

But we did notice the occasional references to Cardinal Newman’s teachings in all these responses. (Almost as choice as the delight of watching a bunch of aging liberals take up the banner of ultramontanism is the delight of watching them use Newman, the greatest convert of his age, as a cudgel against other converts.) The progressives are good modernists, and, either through guile or ignorance, know or suspect that they’ll find no support in Pascendi or Lamentabili for their assertions about the development of doctrine. But they feel that the mere invocation of Cardinal Newman is enough to justify those assertions. (St. Pius X thought otherwise.) This is, as they imagine, a devastating own in the parlance of the day. Schmitz or Douthat or whoever is against Cardinal Newman, who says doctrine can develop! However, we shall see in a moment that the progressives cannot have understood Newman any more than Spadaro and Figueroa could have understood integralism. Indeed, the developments of which the progressives are so proud are not developments at all, but corruptions of doctrine.

How do we know that? Because Cardinal Newman tells us so.

In the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (page 171 of the standard 1878 edition), Newman identified seven “notes”:

of varying cogency, independence and applicability, to discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows:—There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last. On these tests I shall now enlarge, nearly in the order in which I have enumerated them.

(Emphasis supplied.) That is, Newman sets forth seven features of authentic developments of doctrine; if a putative development has those notes, it just might be an authentic development. If not, well, that’s a problem. It occurs to us, in the wake of the fight over Spadaro, Figueroa, and the converts, that almost no one ever talks about these notes, least of all the progressives. Indeed, almost no one ever talks about the content of the Essay. It is bandied about largely in support of a broad assertion that doctrine can “develop,” which rather oversimplifies Newman’s actual argument in the Essay. And certainly no one ever talks about the notes in the context of the teachings—or supposed teachings—that are being defended against the onslaught of the conservatives.

And with good reason. The dog, dear reader, don’t hunt. Let us consider but one example. Newman’s “sixth note”  (pp. 199–200) is as follows—it’s actually quite a beautiful passage separate and apart from the theological content:

As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.

It is the rule of creation, or rather of the phenomena which it presents, that life passes on to its termination by a gradual, imperceptible course of change. There is ever a maximum in earthly excellence, and the operation of the same causes which made things great makes them small again. Weakness is but the resulting product of power. Events move in cycles; all things come round, “the sun ariseth and goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” Flowers first bloom, and then fade; fruit ripens and decays. The fermenting process, unless stopped at the due point, corrupts the liquor which it has created. The grace of spring, the richness of autumn are but for a moment, and worldly moralists bid us Carpe diem, for we shall have no second opportunity. Virtue seems to lie in a mean, between vice and vice; and as it grew out of imperfection, so to grow into enormity. There is a limit to human knowledge, and both sacred and profane writers witness that overwisdom is folly. And in the political world states rise and fall, the instruments of their aggrandizement becoming the weapons of their destruction. And hence the frequent ethical maxims, such as, “Ne quid nimis,” “Medio tutissimus,” “Vaulting ambition,” which seem to imply that too much of what is good is evil.

So great a paradox of course cannot be maintained as that truth literally leads to falsehood, or that there can be an excess of virtue; but the appearance of things and the popular language about them will at least serve us in obtaining an additional test for the discrimination of a bonâ fide development of an idea from its corruption.

A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments being really those antecedents and something besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, a true development does not contradict what came before it. There is no moment in the development of doctrine at which point the doctors and masters in debate may say, “formerly all men were mad.”

A little later, Newman adds, by way of preface to some examples of his sixth note:

It is the general pretext of heretics that they are but serving and protecting Christianity by their innovations; and it is their charge against what by this time we may surely call the Catholic Church, that her successive definitions of doctrine have but overlaid and obscured it. That is, they assume, what we have no wish to deny, that a true development is that which is conservative of its original, and a corruption is that which tends to its destruction. This has already been set down as a Sixth Test, discriminative of a development from a corruption, and must now be applied to the Catholic doctrines; though this Essay has so far exceeded its proposed limits, that both reader and writer may well be weary, and may content themselves with a brief consideration of the portions of the subject which remain.

It has been observed already that a strict correspondence between the various members of a development, and those of the doctrine from which it is derived, is more than we have any right to expect. The bodily structure of a grown man is not merely that of a magnified boy; he differs from what he was in his make and proportions; still manhood is the perfection of boyhood, adding something of its own, yet keeping what it finds. “Ut nihil novum,” says Vincentius, “proferatur in senibus, quod non in pueris jam antea latitaverit.” This character of addition,—that is, of a change which is in one sense real and perceptible, yet without loss or reversal of what was before, but, on the contrary, protective and confirmative of it,—in many respects and in a special way belongs to Christianity.

(Emphasis supplied.) This, of course, is true. No heretic would ever openly admit that he is breaking definitively with the doctrine of the Church. Historically, the argument is that accretions of that much-discussed and little-loved (if hugely lovable) institution, the medieval Church, have distracted from the pure apostolic doctrine of the early Church. The modernist, however, finds that taste cloying—who wouldn’t after 400 or 500 years—and prefers instead to push the boundaries. But, as we noted, no one ever seems to get around to making the argument in terms of Newman’s notes.

Perhaps there is good reason for this strange silence. Could one, keeping particularly the sixth note in mind, make an argument that some of the innovations the modernists are so proud of these days are true developments of doctrine? Could they do it keeping in mind that an argument is more than a mere assertion? Could one, for example, defend the more extreme interpretations of Amoris laetitia (separate and apart from the text itself or the interpretations offered by some cardinals and bishops) as “conservative of the course of antecedent developments”? Could one defend the recent push to normalize the gay movement within the Church as “an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds”? Or is it, perhaps, more natural to say that these interpretations of Amoris laetitia and these sudden calls for “dialogue” and “inclusions” are but contradictions and reversals of “the course of doctrine which has been developed before them”? Certainly the proponents of the putative developments have a view. But, against them, Cardinal Newman warns us that “a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.”

Such a demonstration ought to be expected from the progressives who contend that their pet developments are entirely consonant with the apostolic faith of the Church. After all, it is they who have brought Newman into the debate in defense of the concept of development. They are not articulating mere points of theological or historical interest. Still less are they providing us with an introduction to Newman’s thought. They mean to justify their arguments as developments. It would be natural, therefore, for them to set forth an argument in Newman’s own terms that their putative developments have all the signs of a true development, rather than the absence of such signs indicating corruptions of doctrine. Yet we are unaware of any such demonstrations. Of course, we admit, as you may have guessed, that we think such a demonstration would be exceedingly difficult. And we suspect that the progressives are not hugely interested in demonstrating that their ideas are true developments.

In all of this, it seems awfully hard to avoid Newman’s statement that “overwisdom is folly.”

Of course, one hardly faults the progressives for their desire to transform the development of doctrine into the abrogation and redrafting of doctrine. It is always easier to find reasons to replace what is out of step with the world with what is in step with the world. It is always exciting to set to one side the beliefs of one’s father in exchange for something apparently new. But we must remember what Newman says, “This character of addition,—that is, of a change which is in one sense real and perceptible, yet without loss or reversal of what was before, but, on the contrary, protective and confirmative of it,—in many respects and in a special way belongs to Christianity.” That is, the Christian lives within tradition. We might deepen our understanding of doctrine, we might find an answer in the tradition to a new question, but we never leave the tradition. And we certainly do not abandon one part of it for something new.

It is little surprise, therefore, that we see Newman so often invoked and so infrequently quoted. One finds Pascendi and Lamentabili extremely inconvenient—and rightly so—when one wants to begin to recast the doctrine of the Church. The modernist wants Cardinal Newman on his side—needs Cardinal Newman on his side—but one, upon even cursory inspection, finds Newman to be very much not their man. And it seems to us that one could very profitably run the progressives’ pet doctrines through all of Newman’s notes in greater detail than done here, just to see what happens. We already know, of course, but sometimes such an étude is profitable for other reasons. And it might finally convince the progressives that there’s no future for them in solemnly telling us that Cardinal Newman is on their side.

More on the Roman epiclesis

Fr. John Hunwicke has another excellent blog post on the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite. This time, he ties the question into the propers for the Octave of Pentecost, observed still in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The crux of his ingenious argument is this:

According to the older Roman Rite, the Church offers the Elements to the Father, and it is simply by His gracious act of acceptance that they become the Body and Blood of His Son.  

This is exemplified in the Prayers over the Offerings, the ‘Secrets’, of this Octave week of Pentecost. If the venerable Roman tradition had had the least inkling that the Spirit is involved in the Consecration of Bread and Wine, surely the Pentecost Octave, and the Prayers over the Offerings, would have been its opportunity to offer some sort of hint in this direction.

There is none. The Propers of these days emphasise the role of the Holy Ghost in the Paschal Mysteries of Initiation, Baptism and Confirmation. For this connection, of course, there is Biblical and Patristic evidence galore. And the renewal of the hearts and lives of the Faithful by the outpouring of the Spirit is expressed.

(Emphasis in original.) This is, we think, a hugely clever argument. Notwithstanding the absence of an epiclesis in the Roman Canon, one would assume that the Pentecost propers would make some reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the consecration of the elements of the Eucharist, no?

We note, with some amusement, that some commenters at Fr. Hunwicke’s blog point to the Veni Sanctificator in the offertory as a Roman epiclesis. However, we observe, as we did some time ago in response to Martin Mosebach’s otherwise brilliant essay, that the Veni Sanctificator, like the rest of the offertory prayers, was a later addition to the Roman Rite (coming from the Mozarabic Rite), and it cannot be said to be the ancient Roman offertory.

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 Maltese farce

The saga of the Order of Malta gets stranger and stranger. Today, Edward Pentin reports that Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Holy Father’s special delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and substitute for general affairs in the Secretariat of State, has written to Fra’ Matthew Festing, erstwhile grand master, “asking” him not to come to Rome for the upcoming Council Complete of State, convened to elect Festing’s successor. Pentin provides a scan of the letter from Becciu to Festing. The request comes as a bit of a surprise, since it has been widely reported that the Holy Father has expressed no objection to Festing’s reelection, if the Order returns him to office. According to Becciu, “many have expressed their desire that [Festing] not come to Rome and participate in the voting sessions.” (It is not difficult to imagine who “many” is.)

Archbishop Becciu makes this request as an “act of obedience.” All of this underscores completely the fact that the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is under the direct administration of the Holy See, which has definite ideas about how it is to be run going forward. This, of course, would not be so extraordinary but for two facts. First, the Order was once presumed sovereign under international law. Second, the Holy See appears to favor one clique definitively in the internal governance dispute, taking extraordinary step after extraordinary step after extraordinary step to ensure that the interests of Boeselager and the German Knights are advanced. One wonders whether these actions—probably unprecedented—will have effects beyond the question of the Order of Malta. For example, will high officials in the Curia start banning other allegedly divisive figures from coming to Rome? Will the Italian state object to the Holy See setting, even on a very limited basis, its immigration policy? 

One thing is clear: it pays—and pays and pays—to have friends in the Secretariat of State.

A very brief provocation

In keeping with our recent theme of ressourcement of an Aristotelian-Thomistic political vision, we have been sketching, mostly for ourselves, some theses. However, in preparing these (impossibly) rough drafts, we had occasion to review this passage of the Summa:

as stated above, a law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly “the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler,” as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is “that which makes its subject good,” it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

(ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co.) (Emphasis supplied.) It seems to us that this passage contains, in germ, much of the framework for Aristotelian-Thomistic politics generally. (And, if not the passage, then the whole of q.92 a.1.) But this is a discussion for another time.

We have been taken with a more interesting notion: perhaps we should start taking St. Thomas at his word when assessing various political settlements.

St. Ambrose the Illiberal

At The Josias, Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., an old friend of Semiduplex, presents a letter from St. Ambrose of Milan to the Emperor Valentinian (Ep. XVII, written in 384), with a brief introduction from Pater Waldstein. Here’s the setup:

Epistle XVII, written in the Summer of the year 384 to the young emperor Valentinian, was occasioned by a controversy over the altar of the goddess Victoria in the Curia Julia, the Senate house in Rome. The altar, with its statue of the goddess, had been removed by Constantius II, restored by Julian the Apostate, and removed again by Gratian. Conservative, pagan aristocrats in the Senate asked the young emperor to restore the altar.

(Emphasis supplied.) And here’s why Pater Waldstein thinks the letter is important:

But St. Ambrose protests vigorously against the request. Christian senators, he argued, would be forced by the erection of the altar to take part in pagan worship. But more fundamentally, he lays down a principle that contains the germ of all subsequent Catholic integralism. The Christian emperor is a servant of God, and must promote the true religion.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink in original.) This is what St. Ambrose says (don’t worry, the English is coming right up):

Cum omnes homines, qui subditione Romana sunt, vobis militent imperatoribus, terrarum atque principibus, tum ipsi vos omnipotenti Deo et sacrae fidei militatis. Aliter enim salus tuta esse non poterit, nisi unusquisque Deum verum, hoc est, Deum christianorum, a quo cuncta reguntur, veraciter colat; ipse enim solus verus est Deus, qui intima mente veneretur: Dii enim gentium daemonia, sicut Scriptura dicit (Psal. XCV, 5).

Huic igitur Deo vero quisquis militat, et qui intimo colendum recipit affectu, non dissimulationem, non conniventiam, sed fidei studium et devotionis impendit. Postremo si non ista, consensum saltem aliquem non debet colendis idolis, et profanis ceremoniarum cultibus exhibere. Nemo enim Deum fallit, cui omnia etiam cordis occulta manifesta sunt.

(Emphasis supplied). Now, in English:

As all men who live under the Roman sway engage in military service under you, the Emperors and Princes of the world, so too do you yourselves owe service to Almighty God and our holy faith. For salvation is not sure unless everyone worship in truth the true God, that is the God of the Christians, under Whose sway are all things; for He alone is the true God, Who is to be worshipped from the bottom of the heart; for the gods of the heathen, as Scripture says, are devils.

Now everyone is a soldier of this true God, and he who receives and worships Him in his inmost spirit, does not bring to His service dissimulation, or pretence, but earnest faith and devotion. And if, in fine, he does not attain to this, at least he ought not to give any countenance to the worship of idols and to profane ceremonies. For no one deceives God, to whom all things, even the hidden things of the heart, are manifest.

(Emphasis supplied.) You ought to read the whole thing at The Josias when you get a free minute or two. This is the basic idea of integralism—or, as we prefer to call it for a variety of reasons, illiberal Catholicism—just as Pater Waldstein claims. Everyone, even the state, has duties to God, which include promoting the true religion and ruling in accordance with the common good and right reason. This has immediate consequences for the right ordering of the state, too, as Pater Waldstein states in his “three sentences on integralism,” including the subordination of the state to the Church.

As soon as we saw this, we were immediately reminded of something Leo XIII said in Immortale Dei, which we discussed recently in the context of the American federal Constitution. You will, dear reader, forgive us, we hope, if we repeat ourselves a little bit to make our point. Leo says:

[T]he State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion -it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, would hold in honour the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favour religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule. For one and all are we destined by our birth and adoption to enjoy, when this frail and fleeting life is ended, a supreme and final good in heaven, and to the attainment of this every endeavour should be directed. Since, then, upon this depends the full and perfect happiness of mankind, the securing of this end should be of all imaginable interests the most urgent. Hence, civil society, established for the common welfare, should not only safeguard the well-being of the community, but have also at heart the interests of its individual members, in such mode as not in any way to hinder, but in every manner to render as easy as may be, the possession of that highest and unchangeable good for which all should seek. Wherefore, for this purpose, care must especially be taken to preserve unharmed and unimpeded the religion whereof the practice is the link connecting man with God.

(Emphasis supplied.) There are strong resonances, as one might expect, between what St. Ambrose wrote to Valentinian and what Leo XIII teaches here. We see readily that there is no difference between an ordinary man or woman and a man or woman invested with civil power. All men owe service to God and the true faith, as St. Ambrose says, and societies are not exempt from this duty, Leo reminds us. This is, as Pater Waldstein suggests, the basic insight of integralism or illiberal Catholicism.

This is, however, a controversial concept under liberalism, even among Catholics devoted to the liberal order. And it seems to us that St. Ambrose’s comments provide another good opportunity to discuss the principle that it is impossible to be both a good Catholic and a good liberal. As the liberal moment in the West appears to be in as much jeopardy as it has been at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union (if not before then), it is perhaps a good time for Catholics to take this opportunity to reexamine liberalism in the light of the doctrine of the Church, which, as Paul VI has noted, has special competence to pronounce upon natural reason. But we will see in a moment that St. Ambrose’s letter, invested with both great antiquity and great authority, is extremely useful for an illiberal Catholic arguing with his liberal friends.

The basic idea of liberalism is that everyone should be free to pursue their own happiness. There is a proceduralist dimension to liberalism—that is, liberalism insists on allegedly neutral rules for discourse of various kinds—but that is ultimately in service of the idea that everyone ought to be free to achieve his or her idea of happiness. But, with St. Ambrose and Leo’s teaching in mind, we see that this is a betrayal of the state’s duties in two dimensions. First, the liberal state betrays its duty to God and the true faith by failing to profess absolutely all that we know about God, both through natural reason and through revelation, and by pretending, as Leo says, that all religions are essentially the same or that religion is of no interest to the state. Second, the liberal state betrays its duty to its citizens by failing to make it as easy as possible for them to obtain the highest good, God, through virtue and religion.

But, of course, these are, as one might say, features not bugs as far as liberalism is concerned. As we just said, liberalism’s fundamental argument is that everyone should be free to pursue their own happiness, by applying reason in a procedurally neutral space. Each man or woman chooses among options what is most pleasing to him or her through the application of reason. Now, he or she ought to make the right choice, but nothing forces that choice. This is fundamentally corrosive to society, as we have discussed recently. This is a point that liberal Catholics, devoted as they are to the current political order, fail to grapple with when they tout liberalism as some sort of solution. Consider what Leo says 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.) It is, of course, traditional for liberal Catholics to inject a little Modernism or Americanism into this discourse, and attempt to avoid Leo’s teachings in Immortale Dei and Libertas by claiming that Leo was writing for a specific time and place or, worse, was merely offering prudential, non-dogmatic reflections on questions of the age. In other words, as society has progressed, Leo’s arguments are less applicable. Liberalism isn’t so corrosive to society. In fact, they say, liberalism is the best—the only—way to order a just society.

This is where Pater Waldstein and The Josias have done us a great service by presenting the letter of St. Ambrose. One can see that the argument of liberal Catholics is squarely contrary to the tradition of the Church. Indeed, we can see that the germ of the idea is present in the Patristic era. With that in mind, it is much harder to say that Leo’s critique of liberalism was limited to a specific time or place. Indeed, it is fairly easy to say that it represents perennial Catholic teaching, and an ambitious integralist might say that it forms part of the deposit of faith. At any rate, it presents the illiberal Catholic with a wonderful rhetorical trap. “Oh, well, Leo was just writing for an age of looming anarchy and revolution. In these times, of course, liberalism is perfectly tolerable,” one’s liberal Catholic interlocutor might say. “Perhaps, but if that’s so, why did St. Ambrose say essentially the same thing in AD 384? Isn’t that rather ‘always, everywhere, and by everyone’?”

Try it, and watch the subject change as if by magic!