The French Condemnation

Sohrab Ahmari, who once described Semiduplex as “a WordPress blog,” has an essay at First Things criticizing National Review writer David French. Or, more precisely, Ahmari criticizes what he describes as French’s strategy for dealing with hostile left-liberals in public spaces. Ahmari’s point is that Christians should adopt the tactics of left-liberals in enforcing their orthodoxy and order; more precisely, Ahmari holds that Christians should, instead of trying to use liberal institutions to carve out breathing room for Christians, use public power to “advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality.” Ahmari also rejects the idea that the battle between right-liberals and left-liberals should be fought in the realm of culture, arguing that that battle depoliticizes fundamentally political questions and does so in a way that favors left-liberals. After all, left-liberals have proven themselves extremely adroit at capturing cultural institutions.

It is cheering to us to see First Things once again expressing skepticism of liberalism. However, Ahmari is far from the first person to speculate on the uses of rightly ordered state power. Gladden J. Pappin, writing earlier this year at American Affairs, made a compelling case for what he calls the party of the state. Pappin, prescinding from personalities and the question of how rude one can be to one’s political rivals, laid out a clear argument in favor of state power in support of the common good. Moreover, Pappin offered some clear advice for people thinking and writing in a post-liberal context. Advise the state on how to use its power, he argued. “For conservatives,” he explained, “this may mean learning to advise on the use of the administrative state rather than plaintive, nostalgic, and counterproductive calls for its abolition.” Pappin’s piece is well worth reading in full, especially if one has qualms about Ahmari’s strategy of framing his argument as a condemnation of one writer.

David French has responded to Ahmari at National Review. French points to his successes as a public-interest lawyer in defending conservative Christian voices on college campuses. He also suggests that Donald Trump would not recognize the Donald Trump that Ahmari briefly sketched in his essay. He then pivots to a pretty standard defense of pluralism, including both the Founders and a parade of horribles. He concludes, “There is no political ’emergency’ that justifies abandoning classical liberalism, and there will never be a temporal emergency that justifies rejecting the eternal truth.” Michael Brendan Dougherty has taken a break from touring in support of his memoir to come to French’s defense, too. Dougherty, an infamously bilious Twitter presence, sort of agrees with Ahmari, but wishes Ahmari could be nicer to French.


Dougherty is in a sense a little more generous than Ahmari. Dougherty points out that Ahmari’s line of attack on French has a genealogy that really goes back to Brent Bozell’s epochal “Letter to Yourselves” in Triumph magazine. It is a shame that no one thought to link to Incudi Reddere‘s presentation of Bozell’s column. In a sense, the Ahmari-French debate is simply moving the clock back to 1969. Bozell stated, “The public life is supposed to help a man be a Christian. It is supposed to help him enter the City of God, and meanwhile it is sup­posed to help him live tolerably, even happily, in the City of Man.” This is not so far removed from Ahmari’s contention that Christians should not shrink from using state power to advance the common good. Bozell acknowledged that “[t]o state the problem in this fashion is to plunge into the Chris­tian dialectic; it is also, given the state and contemporary political theory, to enter a new world,” and to that end he pointed to Jean Danielou’s Prayer as a Political Problem.

Once again, Incudi Reddere proves its value. A while back, the first part of Danielou’s book was posted there. One passage that Bozell doesn’t quote, though it follows passages that he does quote, is this:

It is sufficiently clear that Christians ought to be trying to change the shape and pattern of society so as to make possible a Christian life for the whole of mankind. It is also obvious that such a transformation must in any case be slow and may sometimes be ruled out by circumstances. However that may be, somehow a start has to be made, and this can be done by creating oases in the prevailing secularism where the Christian vocation can develop. This thought inevitably raises the question of those Christian institutions would provide services not of themselves within the church is competence, but which the church might be brought to provide: schools, unions or employers and workers, etc., which bring Christianity into social life not merely at the level of individual witness but at that of a community.

This passage underscores Bozell’s point that a truly Christian politics is different than the liberal politics that has ruled in the west for some centuries now. As Bozell put it,

The first is that Christianity sees the public life, which is the responsibility of politics, as an extension of the interior life. As Danielou puts it, “there can be no radical division between civilization and what belongs to the interior being of man.” Liberal politics, by contrast, is indifferent to the connection. John F. Kennedy became the liberal par excellence by announcing that his religion would not affect his presidency because it was “a private affair.”

As Bozell explains, the consequences of this idea are far reaching. But in the context of the Ahmari-French debate, it is clear that the idea of using liberal institutions to carve out “oases in the prevailing secularism,” as Danielou put it, is only the beginning of a Christian politics.

The other important point is this, and it cuts squarely against French. A Christian politics, at least as Danielou and Bozell understood it, does not seek to divide man into spheres, a temporal man and an eternal man. Indeed, it seeks exactly the opposite: the integration and harmonization of the temporal with the eternal. After all, man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end by reason of the infinitely surpassing excellence of the eternal end. And even if one, per impossibile, sought to make such a division, it would not exclude religion from the life of the temporal man. As Danielou explains:

religion of itself forms part of the temporal common good. Religion is not concerned solely with the future life; it is a constituent element of this life. Because the religious dimension is an essential part of human nature, civil society should recognize it as a constituent element of the common good for which it is itself responsible. Therefore, the state ought to give a positive recognition to full religious freedom. This is a matter of natural law. State atheism, which stifles religious life, and laïcisme, which ignores it, are both contrary to natural law.

Now, we admit that this points to the complex argument about Quanta cura, Leo XIII, and the Second Vatican Council, but we will bracket that argument for another day. The point is simply this: one cannot ignore the question of religion—and the question of right and wrong that necessarily attends religion—in service of making room for competing voices under a theory of liberty. Still less can a Christian, who ought to be striving to make a Christian life possible for all nations, ignore these questions.

Danielou also explains the risks of permitting others to create this division between the temporal and the spiritual:

The Church has an absolute duty to open herself to the poor. This can be done only be creating conditions which make Christianity possible for the poor. Therefore there is laid upon the Church a duty to work at the task of making civilization such that the Christian way of life shall be open to the poor. Today there are many obstacles standing in their way. In a technological civilization men tend to be absorbed in care for material things. Socialization and rationalization leave little room for personal life. Society is so disordered that large numbers have to live in a poverty which makes a personal life impossible. The result of the secularization of society is that God is no longer present in family, professional, or civic life. A world has come into being in which everything serves to turn men away from their spiritual calling.

For Danielou, then, the secularized world becomes not a world in which it is possible for everyone to get something. It is a world “in which everything serves to turn men away from their spiritual calling.” A Christian politics, as Danielou and Bozell conceive of it, rejects the obstacles to the spiritual life imposed by civilization and commits itself to working to overcome them.

Bozell explains that in this concept of politics, there is an antidote to the depoliticization Ahmari complains about:

The second advantage of the Christian conception is that the public life is not confined to what the state does, or what government does. The public life is whatever is not the interior life. This means that Christian politics is free to regard family and school, play and work, art and communication, the order of social relationships and the civil order, as integral parts of a whole: as integral and therefore mutually dependent aspects of civilization. (Which, of course, every reflective man knows they are.) But more: Christian politics is obliged to take this view of the matter, for the sake of the poor. What point is there in encouraging virtue in the family, and having it undermined in the school and on the street? What point in passing on truth by the unadorned word, only to have it repudiated by art? What point in arranging the departments of government to assure concord and liberty, when the arrangements of the social and economic orders forbid concord and liberty? All of the public life is the proper concern of politics because the poor live in all of it and need the support of all of it.

In other words, Christian politics expands its scope to consider all aspects of public life to ensure that no aspect of public life becomes an impediment to the Christian way of life, especially for the poor. This may be what French and other might describe as Christian statism, but it does not appear that French and his defenders have considered the very real possibility that Christian statism is precisely what Christian politics have always required and will always require.


A word about Donald Trump. It seems to us self evident that Donald Trump, whether or not he could articulate his position in these terms, believes that it is possible to use state power to pursue a vision of the good. He is, as others have noted, inconsistent in this. However, it seems as though Trump has a few fixed ideas about what the common good of the United States requires and he is willing to exercise state power to achieve those ends. One can disagree with Trump’s concept of the good or his handful of fixed ideas or his implementations of state power in service of those ideas. But it seems to us beyond dispute that Trump is, in a way most presidents before him since Jimmy Carter have not been, willing to use state power to achieve these goals.

To our mind, then, Trump represents, among many things, the beginning of a return to a vision of state power in American life that was last clearly represented by Richard Nixon. But Nixon’s vision stretches back through Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt all the way to Abraham Lincoln. That is, before Carter, there was a sense that the New Deal consensus permitted the federal government to act to further a vision of the common good. With Carter and then Reagan this sense was replaced by the idea that the last thing the federal government should do was act to further a vision of the common good. Instead, the consensus went, the federal government needed to get out of the way to let the states and private actors work out these problems, ideally in a free-market sort of way.

Catholics routinely bought into and served this consensus, usually by talking about “subsidiarity” and Centesimus annus. In so doing, Catholics forgot the lesson Pius XI taught in Quadragesimo anno, when he articulated the principle of subsidiarity:

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of “subsidiary function,” the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State.

In other words, the state ought to let subordinate grounds handle “matters and concerns of lesser importance,” which, if it attempted to address them, “would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly.” The state, therefore, will be free to do things it alone can do more effectively. Subsidiarity, then, in Pius XI’s vision is not the same thing as American federalism, and still less is it a call for the government to get out of the way on matters of great importance.

This is to say that Catholics ought not to mourn a return to the vision of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon about the role of the federal government. If the arguments of Bozell and Danielou do not convince, the arguments of Pius XI ought to convince. There are some problems—many problems, in fact—that only the federal government can address meaningfully. Donald Trump seems to have a dim understanding of this reality. Whether he has correctly identified these problems or correctly addressed them is another question for another day.


Finally, French misrepresents the sweep of the American tradition when he suggests in his rebuttal to Ahmari that this content-neutral pluralism is somehow the American tradition. Consider, for example, Abraham Lincoln’s repeated condemnations of Judge Douglas’s liberalism in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Lincoln repeated the charge that Douglas did not care whether slavery was voted up or voted down. In the fifth debate, held on October 7, 1858, at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, Lincoln skillfully dissected Douglas’s claim, arguing that it was impossible for Douglas to hold that slavery was wrong and that it did not matter whether a population voted to adopt it or not. To do that would be to profess that the voters had a right to do a wrong. Or, as Lincoln pointed out, maybe Douglas did not think it was wrong. And in the seventh debate, held on October 15, 1858, in Alton, Illinois, Lincoln demonstrated the folly of the rhetoric of the “personally opposed,” which becomes the only rhetoric available under liberalism:

And if there be among you any body who supposes that he, as a Democrat can consider himself “as much opposed to slavery as anybody,” I would like to reason with him. You never treat it as a wrong. What other thing that you consider as a wrong, do you deal with as you deal with that? Perhaps you say it is wrong, but your leader never does, and you quarrel with any body who says it is wrong. Although you pretend to say so yourself you can find no fit place to deal with it as a wrong. You must not say any thing about it in the free States, because it is not here. You must not say any thing about it in the slave States, because it is there. You must not say any thing about it in the pulpit, because that is religion and has nothing to do with it. You must not say any thing about it in politics, because that will disturb the security of “my place.” There is no place to talk about it as being a wrong, although you say yourself it is a wrong.

This, too, is part of the American tradition. Lincoln’s moral clarity about the evil of slavery, his logical clarity about the contradictions inherent in a liberal attitude, and his practical clarity about those who claimed to be personally opposed to slavery while remaining Democrats are all just as much part of the fabric of America’s public life as the Framers and the Declaration of Independence.

Can we say that Lincoln’s points have lost their force with the passage of time? Has it become less incoherent to tolerate something one believes is wrong? More to the point, has Lincoln’s analysis of the effects of such a belief lost any of its force? Can it be said that it is possible to discuss as a wrong certain features of public life today that are incompatible with orthodox Christianity? Even those who are personally opposed to various things today find themselves either “evolving” to the secular orthodoxy or bullied into silence along the lines Lincoln sketches. It is possible that Lincoln and his arguments against Judge Douglas do not get a warm reception in the National Review offices. Yet it cannot be denied that Lincoln’s arguments form a major component of the unwritten constitution of the Republic, and a major component that is wholly consistent with the arguments of Jean Danielou and Brent Bozell. In other words, it is impossible to dodge, as French tries to, the arguments of Danielou and Bozell about the ends of a Christian politics by claiming that America’s founding principles prohibit that sort of political action.


Integralism, authority, and inequality

Notre Dame theology student Timothy Troutner has written a Brobdingnagian critique of integralism at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal. Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has responded, correctly identifying a desire to baptize anarchism at the heart of Troutner’s critique. Such a plan, however, is contrary to the consistent teaching of the Church from St. Augustine to St. Pius X. Drawing from St. Augustine, we will see that anarchism of any kind is contrary to good order. Indeed, good order in the home and in the state requires inequality, which at a minimum requires rulers and ruled. Additionally, Troutner’s critique ignores important juridical texts, which maintain the Church’s right to coerce the faithful, even with respect to temporal goods. In this dimension, his critique represents the danger of departing completely from the magisterial and juridical statements of the Church in favor of the speculations of modern theologians.


Before turning to the issues, it is interesting to see Troutner’s piece framed in terms of integralism. He could make his argument about Christian anarchism purely in terms of liberalism. Such an argument proceeds trivially: liberalism promises liberation and individualism but, despite its promises, it leaves the way open for various factors to dominate in just the same way they did before liberalism. (One could even, for a little bit of that socialist je ne sais quoi repeat Karl Marx’s arguments from On the Jewish Question, where he distinguishes between political emancipation and human emancipation.) He could get most of his talk about “cruciform power” and the libido dominandi in with reference only to liberalism. Instead, he sets out to show that integralism and liberalism are two sides of the same coin.

He does this because integralism has increasingly come to represent the default anti-liberal position among Catholics. So much is this the case that Troutner’s purpose is to claim that integralism is not as anti-liberal as people think, opening up some space for his preferred Catholic Worker model, which apparently represents true anti-liberalism. In this regard, despite Troutner’s tart critiques of integralist rhetoric, it must be recognized that integralist rhetoric has been hugely successful. Integralists might be insufficiently grieved by the supposed sins of Christendom, whatever on earth that could mean, but they have been effective in advancing integralism as a live idea.

There is, of course, a prehistory of the extremely online integralism that plays out on Twitter, WordPress blogs like this one (recognized by Catholic author Sohrab Ahmari among others), and websites like Church Life Journal and Public Discourse. It is easy to forget that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was at least as concerned about Dignitatis humanae and the apparent incompatibilities between that document and the social teachings of Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI. His Open Letter to Concerned Catholics addresses these issues at length. The Society of St. Pius X kept the flame alive after Lefebvre’s death. To some extent, therefore, concerns particular to French traditionalists have found their way into the discourse regarding integralism. That is to say, there is a throne-and-altar element to integralism that may or may not be applicable automatically to the political situation in the United States.

The upshot of all of this is that, after decades of patient work by Catholics like Archbishop Lefebvre, integralism has come into its own once more as the primary Catholic answer to liberalism. Troutner’s piece implicitly accepts the prominence of integralism even as it critiques it and attempts to identify another anti-liberal path for Catholics. We shall see, of course, that Troutner’s alternative path is strewn with serious problems.


As noted above, Pater Waldstein correctly identifies the upshot of Troutner’s piece: Christian anarchism. Troutner’s reference to Dorothy Day’s Christian Worker movement gives away the game, and Pater Waldstein knows it. It is not that liberalism and integralism present, to Troutner, bad concepts of authority. One gets the sense that all concepts of authority are bad as far as Troutner is concerned. Pater Waldstein correctly notes that Dorothy Day was inspired by the Sillon, which was condemned by St. Pius X in Notre charge apostolique in large part because of its rejection of authority. He also recounts a couple of anecdotes from Day’s memoir about the problems the Catholic Worker movement encountered as a result of its anarchic philosophy.

Of greater value is Pater Waldstein’s careful analysis of the Rule of St. Benedict and the way it creates a kind of equality through hierarchy. We suspect that Pater Waldstein, a Cistercian monk of Heiligenkreuz in Austria, has had more time to learn and meditate upon Benedict’s rule than most people will ever have in their lifetimes. And his explanation of the Rule is well worth considering. It is also well worth considering Augustine, which both Troutner and Pater Waldstein discuss at some length.

Despite Troutner’s repeated claims about Augustine and the libido dominandi, we find no reference to De civitate Dei XIX:13, where Augustine sets forth the relation between peace, order, and inequality. It might be helpful to consider this argument at some length, as it develops some points made by Pater Waldstein. We will quote it in Latin and English (the freely available English translation is a little inadequate):

Pax itaque corporis est ordinata temperatura partium, pax animae inrationalis ordinata requies appetitionum, pax animae rationalis ordinata cognitionis actionisque consensio, pax corporis et animae ordinata uita et salus animantis, pax hominis mortalis et Dei ordinata in fide sub aeterna lege oboedientia, pax hominum ordinata concordia, pax domus ordinata imperandi atque oboediendi concordia cohabitantium, pax ciuitatis ordinata imperandi atque oboediendi concordia ciuium, pax caelestis ciuitatis ordinatissima et concordissima societas fruendi Deo et inuicem in Deo, pax omnium rerum tranquillitas ordinis. Ordo est parium dispariumque rerum sua cuique loca tribuens dispositio.

And in English:

The peace of the body then consists in the duly proportioned arrangement of its parts. The peace of the irrational soul is the harmonious repose of the appetites, and that of the rational soul the harmony of knowledge and action. The peace of body and soul is the well-ordered and harmonious life and health of the living creature. Peace between man and God is the well-ordered obedience of faith to eternal law. Peace between man and man is well-ordered concord. Domestic peace is the well-ordered concord between those of the family who rule and those who obey. Civil peace is a similar concord among the citizens. The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God. The peace of all things is the tranquillity of order. Order is the distribution which allots things equal and unequal, each to its own place.

Watch carefully the analogy Augustine draws between the family and civil society (or the state): peace in the household is the concord of those who command and those who obey among the inhabitants; likewise, peace in the city is the concord of those who command and those who obey. Pax omnium rerum tranquillitas ordinis: the peace of all things is the tranquility of order, and order requires inequality.

In Pater Waldstein’s consideration of the Rule of St. Benedict we have a clear example of the tranquility of order. There is a rigid order—one could even say inequality—in monastic life, even to those who arrived in the monastery at different hours of the same day. But, just as Augustine sees the peace of the city in the careful arrangement of things and persons in their places, St. Benedict sees the peace of the monastery in the careful arrangement of monks in their places. The anarchism that Troutner points toward does not accept this careful arrangement, and it is hard to see how it will result in peace instead of a society of thwarted tyrants governed by force by the strongest and cleverest among the tyrants.

Moreover, one might go so far as to say that, without those who command and those who obey, peace within the state is impossible to find. The sort of anarchic equality that Troutner obviously yearns for is not a plan for order. Instead it is a plan for its exact opposite. In the De regno, Aquinas observes,

Nam provinciae vel civitates quae non reguntur ab uno, dissensionibus laborant et absque pace fluctuant, ut videatur adimpleri quod dominus per prophetam conqueritur, dicens: pastores multi demoliti sunt vineam meam. E contrario vero provinciae et civitates quae sub uno rege reguntur, pace gaudent, iustitia florent, et affluentia rerum laetantur. Unde dominus pro magno munere per prophetas populo suo promittit, quod poneret sibi caput unum, et quod princeps unus erit in medio eorum.

In English:

For provinces or cities which are not ruled by one person are torn with dissensions and tossed about without peace, so that the complaint seems to be fulfilled which the Lord uttered through the Prophet [Jer 12:10]: “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard.” On the other hand, provinces and cities which are ruled under one king enjoy peace, flourish in justice, and delight in prosperity. Hence, the Lord by His prophets promises to His people as a great reward that He will give them one head and that “one Prince will be in the midst of them” [Ez 34:24, Jer 30:21].

One could, if one wanted to, draw some interesting arguments from the citations to Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and their applicability to Christ. (And from Christ, one could, following Ernst Kantorowicz, draw interesting arguments to medieval political theology and the medieval concept of the ruler. More on that in a minute.)

It is enough for our purposes here, however, to observe that, for Augustine, peace depends on order and order depends on inequality. At the very least, for peace in the household and peace in the state, there must be a basic form of inequality: those who command and those who obey. Without those who command, there cannot be the concord that is peace. Leveling—and the implicit rejection of authority contained within leveling—destroys order. This leaves open, of course, important questions. For example, and most relevant to Troutner’s point, it leaves open the question of what rule looks like. Troutner might argue—indeed, a charitable reading of his piece probably is—that he doesn’t reject authority so much as a secular, coercive authority.

However, Augustine, as we will see, got there first in De civitate Dei XIX:16. Troutner argues at some length (as with everything else in his piece) that it is secular, coercive authority that is the most serious issue. Augustine, a little bit past what we just discussed, talks about the rule of a good father in the household. From this passage, we will see that Troutner’s horror of coercion is simply not supported by Augustine’s vision of authority. First in Latin:

Qui autem ueri patres familias sunt, omnibus in familia sua tamquam filiis ad colendum et promerendum Deum consulunt, desiderantes atque optantes uenire ad caelestem domum, ubi necessarium non sit officium imperandi mortalibus, quia necessarium non erit officium consulendi iam in illa inmortalitate felicibus; quo donec ueniatur, magis debent patres quod dominantur, quam serui tolerare quod seruiunt. Si quis autem in domo per inoboedientiam domesticae paci aduersatur, corripitur seu uerbo seu uerbere seu quolibet alio genere poenae iusto atque licito quantum societas humana concedit, pro eius qui corripit utilitate, ut paci unde dissiluerat coaptetur. Sicut enim non est beneficentiae adiuuando efficere, ut bonum quod maius est amittatur: ita non est innocentiae parcendo sinere, ut in malum grauius incidatur. Pertinet ergo ad innocentis officium, non solum nemini malum inferre, uerum etiam cohibere a peccato uel punire peccatum, ut aut ipse qui plectitur corrigatur experimento, aut alii terreantur exemplo.

In English:

But those who are true fathers of their households desire and endeavor that all the members of their household, equally with their own children, should worship and win God, and should come to that heavenly home in which the duty of ruling men is no longer necessary, because the duty of caring for their everlasting happiness has also ceased; but, until they reach that home, masters ought to feel their position of authority a greater burden than servants their service. And if any member of the family interrupts the domestic peace by disobedience, he is corrected either by word or blow, or some kind of just and legitimate punishment, such as society permits, that he may himself be the better for it, and be readjusted to the family harmony from which he had dislocated himself. For as it is not benevolent to give a man help at the expense of some greater benefit he might receive, so it is not innocent to spare a man at the risk of his falling into graver sin. To be innocent, we must not only do harm to no man, but also restrain him from sin or punish his sin, so that either the man himself who is punished may profit by his experience, or others be warned by his example.

In other words, for Augustine (but not for Troutner) there is no contradiction between coercion, seu verbo seu verbere, and radical humility. Indeed, for Augustine, coercion is part of the obligation of the good father: erring members of the family must be brought back into the order of the family. The radical suggestion is that a good father must punish sin in his family, either for the benefit of the sinner or as an example for others to benefit from.

Recalling Augustine’s connection between order in the family and order in the state, the consequences of this argument are startling. Just as a father must punish a disobedient member of his household, so too must the leaders of the state punish disobedient citizens. Augustine makes this point manifest when he says:

Quia igitur hominis domus initium siue particula debet esse ciuitatis, omne autem initium ad aliquem sui generis finem et omnis pars ad uniuersi, cuius pars est, integritatem refertur, satis apparet esse consequens, ut ad pacem ciuicam pax domestica referatur, id est, ut ordinata imperandi oboediendique concordia cohabitantium referatur ad ordinatam imperandi obediendique concordiam ciuium. Ita fit, ut ex lege ciuitatis praecepta sumere patrem familias oporteat, quibus domum suam sic regat, ut sit paci adcommoda ciuitatis.

In English:

Since, then, the house ought to be the beginning or element of the city, and every beginning bears reference to some end of its own kind, and every element to the integrity of the whole of which it is an element, it follows plainly enough that domestic peace has a relation to civic peace — in other words, that the well-ordered concord of domestic obedience and domestic rule has a relation to the well-ordered concord of civic obedience and civic rule. And therefore it follows, further, that the father of the family ought to frame his domestic rule in accordance with the law of the city, so that the household may be in harmony with the civic order.

Nowhere in Augustine’s vision does one find the suspicion of authority and coercion that one finds in Troutner’s essay. Indeed, we can say that Augustine’s vision rejects the sort of anarchism that Troutner ultimately finds so appealing.

As for Troutner’s repeated points about service and humility, we have seen that Augustine has an answer for that, too. As it is the desire and work of fathers that the members of their households achieve the bliss of heaven—participation in the life of the Trinity, as Troutner might say—their burden of rule in the household is greater than the burden of service. The coercive or exemplary punishments they administer, aimed at sin, are an integral part of the burden of rule in the household. It is, Augustine reminds us, not innocent to spare punishing a sinner at the risk of the sinner falling into greater sin. And recalling Augustine’s analogy between domestic rule and civil authority, we might say that punishing sin in the state is part of the burden of civil leaders, which they are not at liberty to ignore.

Pater Waldstein makes the point that St. Benedict has a vision of power similar to St. Augustine’s:

The abbot is to be obeyed in everything, and to be called Dominus (Lord) and Abbas (Father), because “he is regarded as the vicar of Christ in the monastery.” The abbot is to rule his monastery with wisdom and gentleness. He is to apply punishments both corporal (beatings) and spiritual (exclusion from common prayer and meals). In administering these punishments the abbot has to be mindful of different dispositions . . . But he must also be mindful not to punish too severely “lest, seeking too vigorously to cleanse off the rust, he may break the vessel” (RB 64).

This is not incompatible with radical service and humility. Indeed, St. Benedict sees the abbot as the vicar of Christ in the monastery, and consequently we may say that Benedict’s vision of the abbot’s power is necessarily Christological. Yet, Benedict sees no contradiction between this and coercive punishments, both corporal and spiritual. Now, there must be justice and mercy in these punishments, but St. Benedict, like St. Augustine, sees no contradiction between Christological power and coercive punishment.

Pater Waldstein goes on to make the point that we cannot help making ourselves:

Is the “form” of the abbot’s power as described by St. Benedict too worldly? Is he a victim of what Troutner calls “cognitive dissonance” in using punishments to help his monks to conform themselves to a crucified Lord? Surely not. The form of abbatial authority is truly Christological. The use of punishment in the Rule is a reaction to violation of the peace, meant to lead monks back to Christ, and the witness of monastic saints throughout the centuries testifies to its wisdom. The goal is to lead sinners to true freedom[.]

Just as the father uses coercion to restore domestic peace, disrupted by disobedience, so too does the abbot use coercion to restore peace in his monastery. Likewise, when the civil authority uses coercion, it is to restore peace in the state. There is no incompatibility between this sort of coercion and Christological authority, despite Troutner’s argument to the contrary.

Indeed, at the height of Christendom, so distasteful to Troutner, the civil authority and all its unpleasant coercion was seen as explicitly Christological. Pater Waldstein cites Ernst Kantorowicz’s monumental volume, The King’s Two Bodies, to make this point. The medieval understanding of kingship was explicitly Christological. One suspects that Troutner’s essay would have been altogether more coherent if, instead of reeling off the usual list of putative crimes of Christendom, he had engaged thoroughly with the medieval understanding of kingship. It is pretty clear that no one from St. Peter and St. Paul to St. Augustine to St. Benedict to St. Thomas Aquinas saw any contradiction between coercive power and Christological authority. Indeed, the best evidence is that they saw exactly the opposite.

It is possible, we admit, that St. Augustine and St. Benedict failed to understand the Christological redefinition of power that Troutner, following his modern doctors of the Church, sees all too clearly. It is possible, if only barely, that St. Peter and St. Paul failed to understand the Christological redefinition of power. And it is possible that the medieval theologians and rulers who saw no contradiction between a Christ-like king and coercion missed the point, too. But such an argument requires infinitely more proof than the proof Troutner brings. Merely sniffing “Formerly all men were mad” from the safety of the faculty lounge won’t cut it. Part of Troutner’s problem is that his vision of Christianity has a “Scene Missing” card from about five minutes before Christ was brought before Pilate until about five minutes before St. John XXIII let Karl Rahner come to the Second Vatican Council. Troutner does not grapple with Christ’s statement in Matthew 28:18 that “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” He does not grapple with important texts like Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 and the extensive commentaries on those texts that developed in the last couple thousand years. In the light of the odd lacunae in Troutner’s discourse on power, it is possible that Augustine simply failed to understand the Christological redefinition of power, but it is more likely that Troutner simply failed to understand the tradition in his haste to baptize anarchism.

It is also possible that Troutner will respond—if he responds at all—that we are merely prooftexting Augustine. (We will see in a minute that Troutner thinks integralists prooftext Pius IX and Leo XIII. Prooftexting holds some unique horror for him.) But that would be disingenuous. Augustine sets forth two related arguments. One deals with the necessity of inequality, the other just rule. Both arguments, quoted largely verbatim, seem to undercut fatally Troutner’s arguments about authority and coercion. The upshot is that either Augustine has it wrong or Troutner does. But we do not think that there’s a way that both of them can be right, given Troutner’s disgust with coercion.


One other point about coercion, which ought not be overlooked, because it is no less devastating to Troutner’s point than the arguments from Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. While a theologian such as Troutner may resent the present prominence of jurists and political theorists, it would have been wise to consult some jurists before holding forth on the Church and coercion. To this very hour, the Church holds that it “has the innate and proper right [nativum et proprium ius] to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful with penal sanctions” (1983 CIC can. 1311). When John Paul II promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law, he remarked at some length about how the 1983 Code implements the ecclesiology of Vatican II. In his apostolic constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges, John Paul wrote, “[t]he instrument, which the Code is, fully corresponds to the nature of the Church, especially as it is proposed by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in general, and in a particular way by its ecclesiological teaching.” “Indeed,” John Paul goes on to say, “in a certain sense, this new Code could be understood as a great effort to translate this same doctrine, that is, the conciliar ecclesiology, into canonical language.” It is not correct to imply, as Troutner does, that the Church awoke from the bad dream that began with Constantine and ended with Leo XIII, and—once more awake as in the days of Augustine—it rejected worldly coercion.

It is not correct, either, to respond that the coercion the Church claims as its “innate and proper right” is somehow purely spiritual. The Code holds that “[t]he law can establish other expiatory penalties which deprive a member of the Christian faithful of some spiritual or temporal good [christifidelem aliquo bono spirituali vel temporali privent] and which are consistent with the supernatural purpose of the Church” (1983 CIC can. 1312 § 2). In other words, not only does the Church claim coercion as its “innate and proper right,” it claims as part of that right the ability to deprive a member of the faithful even of temporal goods. And all of this was promulgated by a pope who stated, as he promulgated such laws, “it is to be hoped that the new canonical legislation will prove to be an efficacious means in order that the Church may progress in conformity with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and may every day be ever more suited to carry out its office of salvation in this world.”

It would be difficult to claim that the Church is unaware of the Christological definition of power, with its emphasis on humility and service. Indeed, John Paul II notes,

Among the elements which characterize the true and genuine image of the Church, we should emphasize especially the following: the doctrine in which the Church is presented as the People of God (cf. Lumen gentium, no. 2), and authority as a service (cf. ibid., no. 3); the doctrine in which the Church is seen as a “communion,” and which, therefore, determines the relations which should exist between the particular Churches and the universal Church, and between collegiality and the primacy; the doctrine, moreover, according to which all the members of the People of God, in the way suited to each of them, participate in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetic and kingly. With this teaching there is also linked that which concerns the duties and rights of the faithful, and particularly of the laity; and finally, the Church’s commitment to ecumenism.

Indeed, John Paul finds in Lumen gentium a renewed emphasis on precisely the dimensions that Troutner finds all important for his argument. And John Paul, as we have noted, finds the 1983 Code to be an implementation of precisely these dimensions. Thus, just as St. Augustine and St. Benedict find no contradiction between the Christological definition of power and coercion, neither does John Paul find a contradiction between such a definition and coercion.

Troutner’s appalling, galling assertions that “[i]ntegralists ‘do not notice that they are tempting the Church, just as Satan tempted Christ in the desert'” and “[i]ntegralists demean, even betray, the spiritual realities under consideration with these unbaptized notions of power and subordination,” which are no doubt what passes for clever talk in the seminar rooms and graduate student lounges in South Bend, Indiana, might sit a little better if it appeared that Troutner had the faintest idea what rights the Church claims for herself. But if he does, as we say elsewhere in Indiana, he hides it pretty well. It might—might—be a reasonable critique of integralist discourse that it is too concerned with the juridical and the technical. But Troutner’s screed demonstrates the danger of divorcing oneself wholly from the juridical and the technical. When you skip the details to rhapsodize about “cruciform power,” you miss important points. Like the fact that the Church claims the right to coerce the faithful even with respect to temporal goods, and does so apparently consistently with the Second Vatican Council.


One could spend hours dissecting Troutner’s other conceptual and theological errors. (From the length and detail of his rebuttal, Pater Waldstein did.) It is enough to say that Troutner, like every other critic of integralism except, bizarrely, Robert Miller, fails utterly to engage with the magisterial status of integralism. Troutner sneers about integralists “prooftexting” from Pius IX and Leo XIII. (No doubt this is a devastating point among young theologians.) However, Troutner never seems to stop and ask whether Pius IX and Leo XIII have spoken the last words on the integralism question. This is not a trivial error, though a theologian may wish to dispense with considering what the popes have taught to get to the really important authors like Francesca Murphy, David Schindler, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. But, if the teaching on integralism is infallible, the discussion looks very different. (Troutner might even have to consider more critically his doctors of the modern Church like Murphy, Von Balthasar, and Schindler!)

It is not as though the argument in support of infallibility is weak. Dr. John Joy has expounded it at great length. Robert Miller and Lawrence King have responded to Joy at Public Discourse, currently the headquarters of anti-integralist liberal Catholic thought. Miller and King argue (based largely on King’s Ph.D. research) that Pius IX’s Quanta cura is not infallible. You can read their argument there. Of course, Miller and King treat Quanta cura (and, implicitly, Leo XIII’s magisterium) as though it happened in a vacuum; that is, they simply apply their own private judgment to it and come up with the conclusion that it is not infallible. There is no meaningful effort to grapple with contemporary commentators, many of whom would be summarized and cited in any number of the standard manuals of the day. However, the point is that the infallibility argument is well developed and the response to it is close enough to well developed for polemical purposes.


For the foregoing reasons, it is safe to say that Troutner’s critique of integralism simply doesn’t cut it. He has problems in just about every dimension, and most of those problems are fatal to his argument. This is not to say that there is not a critique of integralism—or, more precisely, integralist rhetoric—to be made. However, it seems to us that the best critique of integralism is not a critique of integralism at all, but an exploration of different modes of integralist authority. That is, there is a range of integralist models on display today, ranging from the centralized medieval state of St. Louis IX (and, if we are being fair, Frederick II) to states more closely aligned with the modern model. Leo XIII himself observed that the Church did not mandate any particular form of government. Consequently there is some room for creativity in terms of articulating proposals for an integralist state.  Building on St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, it seems to us that it is entirely possible to imagine different models of the state that are less centralized. It is also possible to harmonize integralist thought with the doctrinal pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council. Dr. Thomas Pink has done that at some length. Surely there are other ways of considering the interrelation and interaction of the teachings of the Council with the integralist model of the state.

Furthermore, Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule has articulated a strategy—the “long march through the institutions”—that doesn’t really require, for the moment, the resolution of questions about coercion and state power. Such a pragmatic approach acknowledges that, while debates on Church Life Journal and WordPress blogs are edifying and stimulating, they are a long way from moving the levers of power. Meanwhile liberalism’s domination is unchecked. It must be admitted, even by integralists, that integralists are not in a position to implement their views, even if their views are gaining wider acceptance. The important task, Prof. Vermeule might argue, is getting serious Catholics closer to the levers power by following the cursus honorum of liberalism. Only when Catholics are in a position to move the civil authority closer to the Church’s teachings will the debates over coercion be relevant. Other strategic postures might also mean that there is time to resolve the questions of state power.

All of this is to say that there is no real need to critique integralism per se in order to make various arguments about integralist rhetoric. There are other options that address Troutner’s complaints about rhetoric without touching upon the serious theological and doctrinal issues that Troutner raises. Given the problems with his argument, these other approaches may be much stronger “critiques” than the critique Troutner makes.

Aquinas, Frederick II, and the De Regno

Thomas Aquinas’s De regno is the saint’s contribution to the “mirror of princes” genre. Written for a king of Cyprus and left unfinished, it is often considered Aquinas’s contribution to political theory. Scholarly attention has focused on its date, as a difference of a few years would make a significant difference in the king of Cyprus for whom it was written and the broader political circumstances of its writing. However, there is an interesting biographical issue posed by the De regno. In the sections believed to be written by Thomas, there is no mention of Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. While Aquinas’s project in the De regno was by no means a conspectus of contemporary politics or recent history, the silence about Frederick II is interesting because the case of the Hohenstaufen emperor has direct bearing on a question Aquinas treats at length—the problem of tyranny.

Aquinas’s recent biographer, Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., implies that the primary controversy over the De regno regards its date (Saint Thomas Aquinas: Vol. 1: The Person and His Work, pp. 169–70.) It is not an insignificant problem. The precise date of the De regno would necessarily change the king of Cyprus to whom it was addressed. A date of 1265 or 1267—favored, per Torrell, by Echard, Mandonnet, and Eschmann—means that Thomas was writing to Hugh II of Cyprus. Torrell suggests that the 1265-67 dating is unacceptable because the De regno relies on the commentary on the Ethics, which is clearly later.  A slightly later date of 1271, however, means that Thomas was writing to Hugh III of Cyprus. (Hugh II died in 1267.) The problem with that is that Hugh III was a rival claimant to Charles of Anjou for the kingdom of Jerusalem. Torrell may overstate the rivalry, however, since Hugh III was accepted by the legalistic barons of Outremer as king of Jerusalem in 1269. Charles’s purchase of the rejected claim of Mary of Antioch was not concluded until 1276.

All of this is interesting, to be sure. But the De regno is deeply concerned with the problem of tyranny. This no doubt is because the work is a speculum principis, and as a fundamentally practical treatise it is aimed toward a major practical problem of princes: how to avoid being a tyrant. However, the book makes no reference to Frederick II. It cannot be said that Frederick would have been an obscure figure, either to Thomas or to a Lusignan king of Cyprus (or Jerusalem). To understand why this is interesting, a brief tour of Thomas Aquinas’s biography—with special reference to Frederick II—is necessary.

The canned biography of Thomas Aquinas that everyone has by heart is that he was born to the powerful Aquino family. His father, Landulf, was a knight in the service of King Roger of Sicily and then one of Frederick’s officials. The family then became deeply embroiled in the battle between Frederick II and Pope Innocent IV, as most noble families in Italy did. Landulf’s oldest son, Aimo, went to the Holy Land in Frederick’s service, was captured by a supporter of Hugh of Cyprus, and ransomed by the pope’s party. Aimo stayed firmly with the pope thereafter. Landulf’s second son, Rinaldo, was a supporter of Frederick until Innocent deposed him in 1245. Frederick executed Rinaldo shortly thereafter, in 1246. According to Torrell, who summarizes this history and provides references to various primary sources, the Aquino family viewed Rinaldo as a martyr for the Church.

As everyone knows, Aquinas’s family sent him to the influential Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino. Landulf offered him as an oblate, and it is usual to speculate that Landulf imagined the young Thomas eventually becoming abbot of the famous, wealthy monastery. At some point between 1230 and 1231, Aquinas entered Monte Cassino and received his earliest education there. However, in 1236, as the peace between Frederick and the papacy began to break down, Landulf, on the advice of the abbot, took Thomas from Cassino and sent him to Naples to continue his studies. We know that Frederick founded the University of Naples in 1224 as a rival to the University of Bologna and he required his Sicilian subjects to study there. We also know that it was at Naples where Thomas first encountered Dominican friars, who had been present at the university since 1231.

Frederick was, directly or indirectly, involved closely with the Aquino family, and provided the conditions for Thomas’s early education. However, Frederick may have been even more closely involved with Thomas’s early life. The famous incident of Thomas’s entry into the Dominicans provides, in Torrell’s telling, some additional clues as to Frederick’s involvement with the Aquino family and with Thomas in particular.

All the biographies mention the Aquino family’s steadfast resistance to Thomas’s entry into the Dominicans. There were no doubt several factors behind this. No doubt first and foremost among them was the family’s plan that Thomas should become abbot at Monte Cassino. Another factor may have been Frederick’s hostility to mendicant orders. In any event, after Thomas took the Dominican habit in the spring of 1244, informed his family, and set out for the general chapter in the company of John the Teuton, then the master general of the Order of Preachers. His family reacted badly to the news. His mother went to Naples and Rome to try to dissuade Thomas; she then informed his brothers, who were with Frederick II’s army, who made plans to lay hands on Thomas by force.

Torrell provides an extremely interesting detail about this episode. Two men in the party that arrested Thomas are named: his brother Rinaldo and Piero della Vigna. Della Vigna’s presence is extremely interesting. In the spring of 1244, Della Vigna would have been one of the most important men in Frederick’s empire. Indeed, after Frederick himself, Della Vigna may have been the most important man in the Empire, as Frederick’s chancellor, secretary, mouthpiece, and theorist. Ernst Kantorowicz’s brilliant biography, Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite, presents Della Vigna as an indispensable figure in Frederick’s court and one of the cultural luminaries of Italy and the Empire. Torrell observes drily that Della Vigna’s presence in the party that arrested young Thomas Aquinas meant that Frederick likely personally approved the arrest. This much is surely true.

So far from being merely a distant ruler, Frederick was almost an intimate of the Aquino family. Not only was Frederick a patron and ally (and later enemy) of Thomas’s father and brothers, but he also was undoubtedly informed of the operation to prevent Thomas’s entry into the Dominicans, sending his important deputy (almost his alter ego, in Kantorowicz’s telling), Piero della Vigna, as part of the party that arrested Thomas. This supposes intimate knowledge on Frederick’s part about Thomas’s entry into the Dominicans and his family’s objections. After Frederick’s break with Innocent IV—more on that in a moment—Thomas’s brother, Aimo, joined the pope’s party. Frederick ordered the execution of Thomas’s other brother, Rinaldo.

About a year after the high drama of Thomas’s arrest and imprisonment, at the Council of Lyons, Pope Innocent IV issued Ad apostolicae dignitatis apicem, which excommunicated Frederick and deposed him as king of Sicily and Roman emperor. The story of the break between Frederick and Innocent IV would be too long to recount in detail, since it marked the culmination of over twenty years of tension with the Church, going back to Innocent III and Gregory IX. Innocent alleged that Frederick, despite his oaths of fidelity to the popes, made war against the Church and was suspect of heresy. In Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite, Ernst Kantorowicz (fairly convincingly) argues that Frederick’s combat against the Lombard League and his desire to unify territorially the Empire with Sicily—which would have left the Papal States surrounded by Hohenstaufen possessions—was at the root of the conflict between first Gregory IX and then Innocent IV.

However, one of Innocent’s specific charges ought to be examined in particular. After rehearsing Frederick’s alleged perjuries and broken pacts with the Church and his putative heresy, Innocent turns to Frederick’s putative maladministration of the kingdom of Sicily.

Praeter haec regnum Siciliae, quod est speciale patrimonium beati Petri et idem princeps ab apostolica sede tenebat in feudum, iam ad tantam in clericis et laicis exinanitionem servitutem que redegit, quod eis paene penitus nihil habentibus et omnibus exinde fere probis eiectis, illos qui remanserunt ibidem sub servili quasi conditione vivere ac Romanam ecclesiam, cuius principaliter sunt homines et vassalli, offendere multipliciter et hostiliter impugnare compellit.

(Oddly, the Vatican makes the Latin original available on its website.) In translation, this charge reads:

Besides this the kingdom of Sicily, which is the special patrimony of blessed Peter and which Frederick held as a fief from the apostolic see, he has reduced to such a state of utter desolation and servitude, with regard to both clergy and laity, that these have practically nothing at all; and as nearly all upright people have been driven out, he has forced those who remain to live in an almost servile condition and to wrong in many ways and attack the Roman church, of which in the first place they are subjects and vassals. He could also be rightly blamed because for more than nine years he has failed to pay the annual pension of a thousand gold pieces, which he is bound to pay to the Roman church for this kingdom.

While not phrased in terms of tyranny and the common good, it is clear that Frederick’s civil maladministration in Sicily comes very near to tyranny in Innocent’s eyes. Running throughout the bull is the charge that Frederick has broken the peace between the Empire and the Church; this charge suggests that Frederick has thrown Sicily into disorder and reduced everyone to poverty, desolation, and servitude. He has also led them into moral turpitude.

This, then, is the interesting biographical problem: writing not quite thirty years after Innocent deposed Frederick, at least in part for Frederick’s alleged tyranny, Aquinas does not mention Frederick at all in his speculum principis, which is concerned preeminently with keeping a prince from falling into tyranny. Given Innocent IV’s charges against Frederick, one might reasonably assume that Frederick would be a clear example of a modern tyrant in Thomas’s account. Frederick, according to Innocent, abandoned the common good of his Sicilian subjects to draft them in his war against the Church. More than this, Frederick’s conflict with Innocent IV embroiled the Aquino family, ultimately to the price of Rinaldo d’Aquino’s life. Thomas, therefore, would have a personal motivation to discuss Frederick as a tyrant.

That he does not is, of course, extremely interesting. Perhaps his silence can be explained in terms of his project in the De regno. Observe—we are sure you no doubt have observed, dear reader—that Aquinas cites classical authors such as Aristotle, Cicero, Vegetius, and Vitruvius. He also cites scripture and Augustine at some length. One could argue that Aquinas avoids contemporary or near-contemporary politics in order to make his case based solely on scripture and classical authors—including for the moment Augustine in the list of classical authors. After all, the case of Frederick II and his children and grandchildren would have been very much on the mind of Hugh II/III of Cyprus. The Lusignan kings of Cyprus had benefitted from the fall of the Hohenstaufens, particularly with respect to their claims to Jerusalem. One might argue that it was wholly unnecessary for Thomas to rehearse the case of Frederick II in the De regno. (One could also argue that the De regno is incomplete, but there’s no fun in that argument.)

However, that explanation is perhaps not wholly satisfactory, especially given Thomas’s treatment of the options of a people laboring under the yoke of a tyrant. This is not the place to get into that question in depth, but it is worth noting that Innocent IV purported to depose Frederick II from both the Empire and Sicily. The case of Sicily is relatively straightforward, since it was a papal fief. However, deposing the Roman Emperor was another matter. Innocent’s decision caused significant disruptions in the political order of Europe, though Frederick’s deposition was never meaningfully effected. The question of papal involvement in the deposition of a tyrant was therefore a major question in relatively recent history—and Thomas is silent about it.

The direction of integralism in 2019

We are not living in an integralist moment. Rocked by new revelations in the ongoing abuse crisis, the Church’s public standing is not especially high in the United States and elsewhere. Indeed, it seems as though the liberties for the Church defended by St. Gregory VII against Emperor Henry IV are in jeopardy with numerous state and federal investigations into the Church ongoing. However, we are living in a moment when liberalism seems weaker than usual.

For a brief moment, the electric uncertainty in the air in 2008 returned when the stock market took a precipitous pre-Christmas plunge and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took the unusual step of announcing that he had spoken with the heads of major U.S. banks and was sure that the banks were liquid and ready to lend. This had the same unhappy feeling as sitting on an airplane and hearing the pilot announce that he had checked with the flight crew and the plane had plenty of fuel and was ready to land safely. The pre-Christmas jolt was followed by a stupendous rally after the Christmas holiday and the crisis did not materialize.

However, the evident weakness of liberalism has led to wider acceptance of anti-liberal thought of all kinds—including Catholic anti-liberalism. As the year winds down, it is worth thinking about what 2019 holds for Catholic anti-liberalism, especially what Catholic anti-liberals ought to do to cement progress made. And there has been significant progress made. What was, not too long ago, a doctrine held by traditionalists and discussed in primarily traditionalist circles is getting wide press. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has addressed it in several columns, and high-profile conferences at Harvard and Notre Dame have gotten coverage at outlets like Public Discourse and Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative. There has been all year a lively debate in Catholic circles about integralism. Joseph Trabbic’s defense of the doctrinal status of the Catholic confessional state at Public Discourse was a response to Robert T. Miller’s critique of the same concept.

On the other hand, anti-liberal Catholicism still encounters significant resistance, particularly in the American Catholic right. We have already said enough about the debacle at First Things over Fr. Romanus Cessario’s review of Fr. Pio Edgardo Mortara’s memoir. While that affair implicated more than mere anti-liberal Catholicism, it was certainly a significant component of the debate. First Things, the vanguard of the fusionist project, has been slow to welcome the return—a return ad fontes—to anti-liberal teaching. They are not alone: the reason why there has been a lively debate all year is because people disagree.


Of course, the disagreements get narrower and narrower. Dr. John Joy’s argument that Quanta cura and Syllabus are infallible is basically unanswerable, and we have not seen anyone try very hard to answer it. The arguments, it seems to us, have fallen along predictable lines. On one hand, you have the argument that Vatican II changed the teaching of Pius IX and Leo XIII with Dignitatis humanae and Gaudium et spes. On the other hand, you have the argument that integralism is somehow impractical or poorly suited for the political problems of 2018. As to the first argument, this is broadly the debate over several issues associated with the Council, and the arguments on both sides are well known.

One would be excused for being of two minds about the progress of the debate into the well worn grooves of the debates over the Second Vatican Council. On one hand, it is always nice to know all the moves of the game before they are played. On the other hand, it seems unlikely to result in any real progress. Everyone knows the various narratives—hermeneutics of rupture and continuity—about the Council and how those narratives incorporate the prior teachings of the Church. Indeed, given how fixed everyone’s positions are, one would be excused for thinking of the descriptions of the tedium of the trenches punctuated with cataclysmic assaults in the great First World War authors like David Jones, Robert Graves, or Wilfred Owen.

It seems to us that the collapse of Catholic fusionism in recent years is necessarily tied up with the dispute over the Council, since most of the fusionists’ arguments are drawn from the Council’s purported outreach (or openness or whatever you want to call it) to non-Catholics. One might even trace the collapse of fusionism to Benedict XVI’s 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, where the “hermeneutic of continuity” was given its most important presentation. Indeed, the erosion of the post-Conciliar consensus embodied by John Paul II seems to have included both the belief that the Council constituted a restart for the Church and the belief that fusionism represents a meaningful political strategy for the Church. Given the significant controversy over other parts of John Paul’s legacy today, it seems unlikely that anyone will pick up the banner and attempt to reconstruct John Paul’s consensus.


A more detailed response to the second point is in order, as it here that we think the central project for anti-liberal Catholicism in 2019 lies. There has been, we think, significant confusion as to what integralism is—or is not. Everyone works off the definition offered by Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., in his famous “Integralism in Three Sentences,” so we will too. At bottom, integralism concerns the right relationship between the temporal power (the state, let us say) and the Church. Integralism is not a general prescription for Catholic political action, and it definitely is not a plan for individual Catholics. (Except, perhaps, in the rare case when the individual is a monarch or something like that.) That people have latched on to “integralism” as a label for what would have been called Catholic Action once upon a time is hardly surprising. The American bishops have limited their political interventions to a narrow range of issues.

Certainly no one could complain that the American bishops have chosen to emphasize the Church’s teaching on abortion over any number of other questions. Not every moral issue is equivalently weighty. However, at a moment when liberalism is being questioned pretty vigorously, it is unfortunate that there is not really a satisfactory response from the bishops. This is doubly unfortunate when one considers that Pope Francis is an astute critic of modern liberalism and the spiritual sicknesses it cause. There are, of course, voices in the Church that have long upheld the Church’s condemnations of liberalism and supported integralism—here we are thinking most notably of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X. In a very real way, the resurgence of Catholic anti-liberal thought would not have been possible without Lefebvre and the SSPX. (Gabriel Sanchez, at Opus Publicum, has written several posts emphasizing the historical role of Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X in keeping the anti-liberal flame alive, including a very recent note.)

However, the point is not to litigate the history of integralism since 1965. Instead, we mean to say only that it is understandable that people have transformed the concept of integralism into a broader Catholic anti-liberalism or a new sort of Catholic Action. However, while it is understandable, it leads to all sorts of unwelcome consequences. Notably, there is a tendency to draw integralism’s dogmatic mantle over various political proposals that have very little to do with the strict definition of integralism. A careful reading of Leo XIII’s encyclicals, notably Diuturnum illud and Immortale Dei, would show that the Church has generally refrained from insisting on this or that arrangement, much less the sorts of arrangements that are offered.


On the other hand, what is modern-day integralism if not a part of broader attempt to recover the Church’s political thought? It would be strange to insist that the anti-liberalism of Quanta cura, Syllabus, and Leo’s encyclicals are infallible and irreformable, but then leave the matter at the fairly narrow question of the indirect subordination of the state to the Church. Indeed, the natural consequence of the recovery of integralism in its strict sense is to turn to the other treasures of the Church’s political teaching for guidance. However, it is counterproductive to reduce the entirety of the Church’s political teaching to the concept of integralism, even if only as a convenient shorthand. Integralism, one could say, is not the end of the Church’s perennial political teaching but the beginning.

Of course, turning to the Church’s perennial historical teaching for guidance does not necessarily mean a mere repetition of the content of the teaching documents. Some application of the Church’s teachings to modern problems ought to be done. This is why we say that, in 2019, anti-liberal Catholics ought to start thinking about specific policy proposals. One need not even consider policies specifically in terms of anti-liberal Catholicism. Laws against blasphemy and heresy are, of course, excellent and are well supported historically (after all, Justinian’s Codex begins with a condemnation of heresy). However, there are more political questions to be answered than free speech, blasphemy, and heresy, and it will be necessary to approach at least some of these questions.

It is necessary to emphasize that these questions are separate from the scholarly, technical questions addressed at The Josias. This is not to say that the work done at The Josias is not necessary. However, the philosophical, theological, and historical questions answered there are altogether different than, say, questions of concrete public policy. And it is precisely those questions that anti-liberal Catholics need to start addressing if they are going to continue to stake out a clear position in 2019.

One important contribution in this vein was Mehrsa Baradaran’s piece in support of postal banking at American Affairs. Baradaran, a law professor at the University of Georgia, makes the case that America’s banks prefer to serve the middle class and the wealthy, leaving America’s working poor in the hands of usurers. The response Baradaran offers is postal banking; that is, having the United States Postal Service make available retail financial services like savings accounts and small loans. Baradaran argues that, while America’s retail banks have deserted many communities, the Post Office has not. Additionally, as a public enterprise, the Postal Service could offer these services at a discount compared to the big banks and the usurers. Postal banking is widely used in western countries, and there is a history of it in the United States—that is to say: it is not a reckless, extreme idea.

The argument in support of postal banking can be made without reference to the Church; however, it is not hard to imagine a Catholic twist on this proposal. To be sure, the usurious interest charged by payday lenders is bad for the economy. However, the Church condemns usury. One could argue—we would say that one must argue—that an integralist regime would not tolerate usury. Postal banking, therefore, could represent one important step toward the sorts of institutions one could find in an integralist regime. One could also turn to the arguments about work advanced by the popes, notably John Paul II in Laborem exercens, when he sketches a connection between work, wages, and the universal destination of goods. It is trivial—though it does need to be said—that you cannot share in the universal destination of goods as fully as you ought to if a significant portion of your wages are eaten up by usurious interest payments or excessive fees.One can imagine similar, similarly detailed arguments on any of a whole host of issues.

One can also engage in detailed strategic arguments like Adrian Vermeule’s “Integration from Within,” also published by American Affairs. Maybe you agree with Vermeule—maybe you don’t. However, it seems to us that strategic arguments like Vermeule’s are implicitly at least as strong an answer to the charge of irrelevance as policy proposals like Baradaran. If one disagrees with Vermeule, setting forth in detail the bases of the disagreement and an alternate strategy would be an excellent contribution to the discussion.

Perhaps another way of putting all of this is to say that Catholic anti-liberalism has made its doctrinal case. It is now time to start making a practical case. After all, politics is eminently the exercise of practical reason.

The legends of liberalism

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture had its fall conference not too long ago. This year, the conference explored the relationship between Church and state. It closed with a panel discussion between Harvard Law’s Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin of the University of Dallas, Patrick Deneen, and V. Philip Muñoz, both of Notre Dame. Rod Dreher basically liveblogged the proceedings and offered a characteristically behemoth post summarizing his thoughts. In the coverage of the final panel discussion, it occurred to us that much of the resistance to liberalism is premised upon some legends about liberalism. However, upon closer inspection, some of these legends bear little resemblance to the facts as they are.

In this, we are reminded of the Black Legend—the set of stories told about the Spanish Empire, usually by English, intended to present Spanish rule as incomparably cruel. The Black Legend relies on exaggerations and misrepresentations of existing facts about Spanish rule, along with a certain economy with the truth about events and persons who might contradict the overarching narrative of bigoted, vicious Spaniards subduing and tormenting across several continents. Such legends, it seems to us, exist about liberalism. However, liberalism’s legends may properly be called White Legends. That is, they are the inverse of the misrepresentations and omissions of the Black Legend. Liberalism does not, as a rule, directly misrepresent illiberal doctrines or omit key facts about them. Instead, liberalism misrepresents itself as the sole defense against the implicit wickedness of illiberal doctrines.

In a certain sense, none of this matters in the broader debate about integralism. John Joy has convincingly argued that Quanta cura and Syllabus are infallible and irreformable. Moreover, as we have noted (following Pappin’s lead), the canonical authority F.X. Wernz held that Leo XIII’s encyclicals have an intimate relationship with the infallible declarations of Quanta cura and Syllabus. Finally, Thomas Pink has shown at great length, whether you find it altogether convincing or not, that Dignitatis humanae does not contradict the Pio-Leonine magisterium. In other words, from a doctrinal standpoint, the onus probandi is clearly on the liberals. And given the careful arguments advanced by Joy and Pink, it is unclear that liberal urgency about tyranny or statism is much of an answer to the definitive status of integralism as Church teaching.

On the other hand, the recent agony on Twitter about whether integralism is “Catholic fascism” or totalitarianism or any of a whole parade of horribles shows that, from a forensic standpoint, the white legends of liberalism are hard to avoid. And there is a temptation to decline to do other people’s homework. However, given some of the horrible advanced by Muñoz and Dreher, it is clear even public figures are invested in liberalism’s white legends. Thus, integralists have some obligation, we think, to rebut these legends. For our part, we will address two of them here. Nothing we say will be particularly groundbreaking—and we suspect that this may be repetitive of earlier posts—there is some value to the exercise of outlining integralist teaching in the context of some of liberalism’s white legends.

The first white legend of liberalism is that liberalism alone is concerned with preventing the state from falling into tyranny. To reject liberalism, the liberals claim, is to start down the road to totalitarianism and tyranny. Adrian Vermeule and Gladden Pappin have both written about liberalism’s bad habit of taking credit for procedural safeguards that it did not introduce. This perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this white legend: liberalism takes credit for the Church’s ideas, and then deploys them against the Church. However, the problem goes well beyond specific procedural safeguards. Catholic thinkers—illiberal Catholic thinkers—have considered the problem of tyranny at great length and well before the rise of liberalism. To suggest that liberalism is preeminently concerned with preserving liberty is, therefore, to misrepresent the fact that Catholic philosophers and theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas preeminent among them, were considering the same problem and coming to sound answers.

Aquinas thought at length about how to keep a ruler from going sour, as it were, and becoming a tyrant. Not quite a year ago, we wrote about a seeming development in Aquinas’s thought regarding the mixed constitution (partly monarchy, partly aristocracy, partly democracy). While Aquinas argues strongly in favor of monarchy in the De regno, by the time he wrote the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologiae, he implies that a mixed constitution would serve as a strong bulwark against tyranny. Additionally, he argued against the idea that the ruler is totally free from his laws. It is true that the sovereign is not bound by the law, Aquinas admits, in the sense that the coercive power of law comes from the sovereign and no man is bound by himself (ST I-II q.96 a.5 ad 3). More to the point, if the sovereign violates the law, there is no one who can pass sentence on him. However, Aquinas insists on the directive force of the law on the sovereign. That is, before God, the sovereign is morally responsible for keeping his own laws, and he should do so by his own free will. In other words, the sovereign is morally bound to follow his own laws, even if he is free from their coercive power.

Moreover, Aquinas imposes limits on the power of the sovereign’s laws. On one hand, unjust laws do not bind subjects in conscience (ST I-II q.96 a.4 co.). Aquinas identifies several kinds of unjust law. First, a law beyond the competence of the prince is unjust. Second, a law that is not aimed at the common good, instead being ordered toward the ruler’s cupidity or vainglory is unjust. Third, a law that may well be aimed at the common good yet still be unjust if it inflicts disproportionate burdens. Finally, a law contrary to the divine or natural law is no law at all. Aquinas goes so far as to call these unjust laws acts of violence rather than laws. The moral law which imposes upon the ruler the obligation to obey his laws can also free the ruler’s subjects from the obligation to obey his laws.

We might also discuss Aquinas’s notion that human law should not try to repress all vices (ST I-II q.96 a.2). His argument turns basically on the idea that law should forbid only the more grievous vices, which tend to destabilize society altogether (ST I-II q.96 a.2 co.). He lists murder and theft, but it may be possible to come up with a longer list. The upshot of Aquinas’s argument is that law is a rule for human action designed to lead men to virtue, but this process is gradual (ST I-II q.96 a.2 ad 2). Forcing all men, including the less virtuous, into the life of the virtuous, who avoid all vice, would cause greater evils than permitting some vices.

This is, by the way, a really difficult point in discourse about integralism and Aquinas. The purpose of law, especially for Aquinas, is not to create some baseline condition of liberty suitable for maximum flourishing. It is to order people to virtue (ST I-II q.95 a.1 co.). To be sure, some people are naturally sort of virtuous and avoid vice through wise paternal teaching. However, other people, Aquinas argues, are depraved and inclined to vice. Law teaches these people to be virtuous by forbidding by force certain vices. Over time, the vicious, thus forbidden by force, might become virtuous. At the very least, they might leave others in peace. This is a more active and more energetic role for the regime that some like to imagine. It also requires certain choices to be made at the outset that are generally seen as choices regimes ought not to make. Put another way: one cannot be neutral about virtue and expect to frame laws designed to lead the vicious to virtue.

Changing gears a little, as Alasdair MacIntyre has discussed, criticizing the (purportedly) absolutizing and centralizing tendencies of King Louis IX of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Aquinas recognized the value of custom as an interpreter and source of law (ST I-II q.97 a.3). Aquinas’s argument is interesting. He argues that all law proceeds from the reason and will of the lawgiver. However, the reason and will of the lawgiver can be made known through action just as through speech (ST I-II q.97 a.3 co.). And custom is nothing more than repeated actions, so custom makes known the reason and will of those participating in the custom. Thus, custom can make and interpret law. Responding to an objection, Aquinas holds that custom obtains the force of law both for a people free and capable of giving itself laws and for a people under authority of another, insofar as those in authority tolerate the customs (ST I-II q.97 a.3 ad 3).

This sketch, which could profitably be expanded into a lengthy treatment, shows, we think, that Aquinas was acutely concerned with ensuring that the ruler does not become a tyrant and the regime does not become a centralizing, totalizing entity (Whether he goes as far as MacIntyre would have him go is another question.) It is no answer to claim Thomas for liberalism, either. One has only to read Aquinas’s treatment in the Secunda Secundae of coercion of heretics or the limited toleration to be afforded to nonbelievers to see that Aquinas’s vision of good government is far removed from modern liberal ideals such as freedom of religion or separation of Church and state. Instead, it must be recognized that even an illiberal Catholic like Thomas Aquinas can be concerned with tyranny and propose means of avoiding tyranny without endorsing modern concepts of liberty.

To the extent that liberalism advances its white legend that only liberalism is especially interested in preventing tyranny and totalitarianism, that is plainly false. Integralism no less than liberalism is concerned with preventing the well ordered state from decaying into tyranny (or dissension, though this is a matter for another time). Moreover, Aquinas’s thought on the limits of state power—both in terms of when it ceases to bind in conscience and in terms of the implicit decentralization represented by custom—shows that integralism is, in fact, far removed from an all-embracing totalitarianism.

The problem, of course, is that Aquinas’s thought permits a broader range of action for the regime than most American conservatives would like to tolerate. This demonstrates not a limitation or risk of integralism so much as a limitation or risk of trying to wedge Catholic political thought into an American left-right context. Vermeule discusses a little bit of this in his piece we linked above. The risks of applying American politics to Catholic economic thought are well known. The risks of applying American politics to Catholic political thought are no less acute. More on this in a minute.

The second white legend is the idea that liberalism prevents corrupt prelates from exercising too much authority. Dreher gets at this when he says, “integralism looks like Blaise [sic] Cupich and Ted McCarrick putting their loafers on your neck forever.” In other words, integralism means that morally compromised prelates will gain significant temporal authority; liberalism, on the other hand, ensures that these prelates will be kept far from the levers of power. (Perhaps this is a black legend after all!) Such an approach shows an admirable naïveté regarding secular politicians, especially in Dreher’s home state of Louisiana or Cupich’s state of Illinois. The realities of secular politicians alone explode any idea that integralism is a change for the worse. However, Dreher’s anxiety—naïve or not—gets to back to a more obviously white legend: liberalism is all that prevents theocracy.

Is this not really what Dreher is anxious about? Under integralism, prelates of the Church would have, so he implies, significant power that could be implemented by the civil authorities. The prelates become theocrats, which is worrying if they are unworthy. Of course, this ignores the history of actually existing integralist regimes. Frederick II’s Sicily was formally as integralist as Louis IX’s France, and Frederick spent much of his adult life locked in battles of varying intensity with Gregory IX and Innocent IV. This is especially noteworthy when one remembers that Sicily was a papal fief and Gregory IX and Innocent IV both claimed the power to depose the king of Sicily. And Andrew Willard Jones’s magisterial study of Louis IX’s France, Before Church and State, does not depict a theocratic state. The presumption that civil authorities will be entirely passive with respect to the Church does not appear to have strong support in historical fact.

Moreover, Leo XIII’s explanation of integralism in Immortale Dei states that the state and the Church are supreme in their separate spheres. It is when the spheres overlap that the subordination of state to Church comes into play. And Leo makes the salient point that, without such subordination, these instances of joint jurisdiction (so to speak) would result in conflict. Now, given the Church’s teaching on morality, which includes economic relations, perhaps these subjects of joint jurisdiction are particularly important. However, nothing in Immortale Dei suggests that integralism results in the Church obtaining plenary jurisdiction over the state. Moreover, in Cum multa, after condemning the error of separating Church and state, Leo XIII condemned the opposite error: confounding the Church and a given political party.

The bottom line is that liberalism’s claim to be a defense against theocracy has no more merit than its claim that it defends against tyranny and totalitarianism. Historically, integralist regimes have been far from theocracies, and Leo XIII’s teaching on integralism (teaching that is, after all, infallible and irreformable) rejects the notion of priests or prelates becoming dictators. Dreher’s (no doubt carefully chosen) image of “Blaise [sic] Cupich and Ted McCarrick putting their loafers on your neck forever” under integralism is mere hyperbole.

To a certain extent, these debates are unnecessary. No one really thinks integralists support fascism or totalitarianism or theocracy, whatever those terms may mean (and in the case of totalitarianism, it is the Catholic thinker Charles De Koninck who provides the most coherent and intelligent definition). The problem at Notre Dame and on Twitter and elsewhere is that integralism does not square nicely with American right-left politics. And, while integralism would hand culture warriors big wins, it would hand big losses to small-government conservatives who drone on (and on and on and on) about the virtues of personal liberty and personal virtue. Whether they would, in fact, prefer to have liberty over morality is another question for another time.

All eyes on Viganò

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s Saturday bombshell has had quite an effect. Francis, asked about Viganò’s statement aboard the papal plane from Dublin to Rome, refused to respond, instead telling journalists to look into it for themselves. Msgr. Jean-François Lantheaume, formerly the first counsellor at the Nunciature in Washington and named by Viganò as a witness, has confirmed Viganò’s statements. Moreover, some interesting Facebook posts, purportedly from Lantheaume have been circulating. Naturally, Cardinals Cupich, Wuerl, and Tobin have all issued statements not-quite-denying Viganò’s allegations. And Cardinal Wuerl’s spokesman has issued a statement admitting that Wuerl canceled an event with McCarrick at Viganò’s request.

The Italian journalist and blogger Aldo Maria Valli has a long post, explaining how Viganò approached him to release his statement. Our Italian isn’t great and Google’s English version isn’t much better; however, the gist of the piece comes through. Hopefully it will be translated into English. The big bombshell of Valli’s piece is that Viganò, currently one of the most talked-about figures in the Church has gone into hiding outside of Italy. (This echoes some sinister comments in the Facebook post apparently written by Msgr. Lantheaume.) Aside from that dramatic touch, it’s an interesting piece that portrays Viganò as troubled by what he sees and aware of the responses he would receive.

And what responses! Some time ago, we wrote, for another venue, a piece comparing Francis to Donald J. Trump. That piece was criticized for such an outrageous comparison. (Never mind that others have made it.) This weekend shows that, regardless of President Trump’s similarity to the Pontiff, Francis’s supporters have much in common with the President’s. The liberal-Catholic media response to Viganò’s piece has been a chorus of claims that Viganò is making it up, that this is part of a coup against Francis, that Viganò is settling scores. “Fake news,” the “deep state,” and conflicts of interest might be how Trump’s supporters express those ideas, but the ideas are the same.

Despite the fact that the liberal Catholics in the United States and Italy have taken great pains to distance themselves from Trump and his policies, it is clear that they have learned well from Trump’s book of (extremely effective) communications strategies. When Villanova professor and leading Italian ice-cream enthusiast Massimo Faggioli is talking about a failed palace coup, you know that the language of the “deep state” works. One defender of Francis on Twitter has even gone so far as to call Viganò’s allegations “fake news.” It is astonishing to see strident critics of Trump fall immediately to his rhetoric to defend Francis. We doubt that Francis would be heartened by this.

Of course, the safer course has been marked by many prelates, including Cardinal DiNardo and even Cardinal Wuerl: there needs to be a full investigation into Viganò’s allegations. This poses its own problems. A key figure in Viganò’s allegations, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, his predecessor as nuncio, died unexpectedly in 2011. Viganò states that Sambi would have been the one to inform Cardinal Wuerl about Benedict’s sanctions against McCarrick. Wuerl has denied that Viganò provided him with detailed information on the matter, but his statement did not address whether or not Sambi had provided him with information. Additionally, it is entirely possible that McCarrick’s influence on Francis was not known to men McCarrick allegedly promoted, such as Joseph Tobin and Blase Cupich.

This is why Francis’s refusal to admit or deny the allegations is so troubling. At a moment in the Church when the laity is sick to death of reports of sexual abuse and cover ups, Francis’s position strikes a sour note. This follows his Letter to the People of God written in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. In that letter, before turning to the problem of clericalism in the context of abuse, Francis wrote, “I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.” Given that the allegations against McCarrick are basically that he preyed on children and vulnerable adults—seminarians—Francis’s nonresponse on the plane is especially disheartening.

In that letter, Francis went on to write: “This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within.  Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.” It is hard to square “penitential openness” with a refusal to answer the allegations of a longtime Curial official and diplomat—an archbishop—even if to deny them or explain them.

We thought Francis was perhaps out in left field when he linked the crisis with clericalism. His supporters’ rhetoric—so far from penitential openness—seems, however, to be linked intrinsically with the clericalism he condemns. He wrote, “whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.” The response of his supporters, denying Viganò’s statement not by adducing facts but by attacking character seems precisely like this exclusionary vision of the Church. Viganò, who is not one of the sons of light in the new order, has dared to speak out. He must be silenced, ignored, or excluded—precisely the clericalist attitudes that Francis identifies as root causes of the abuse crisis. Is this really the renewal Francis has called for?

The sober response of many—the call for an investigation—is the beginning of Francis’s penitential openness, not Trumpian cries of “fake news” and “deep state” and “coup.” If there is nothing to Viganò’s allegations, if they are the bitter rhetoric of a disappointed old intriguer, as the critics claim, then an investigation can be nothing but a good thing.

The new catechism

Today, the Vatican released a letter from Luis Cardinal Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, informing the bishops (and the world) that Pope Francis has approved a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, holding that the death penalty is “inadmissible.” To keen observers of Francis’s public statements, this was no surprise. Francis, in an address about a year ago, signaled his view that the death penalty was “inadmissible” and his desire to change the Catechism to reflect his views. At the time, we were writing a column for First Things, and we addressed Francis’s comments there. You may find that column here, if you are so interested; we recede from none of our comments. Despite the fact that we had a year’s warning, many Catholics, especially Catholics on Twitter, reacted to Francis’s changes with great dismay and alarm.


It is hard to know how to respond to the dismay and alarm of so many of our friends and brothers and sisters in the Faith. One could, if one were inclined, parse the revised Catechism text closely. It is a string of non sequiturs culminating in a declaration of “inadmissibility.” None of the three paragraphs seems logically connected to any one of the other two, much less both of them. It is unclear what the reasoning is, and it is unclear what “inadmissible” means in the context of an incoherent argument. One could also, if one were inclined, discuss how Francis’s statement is not really a radical departure from what John Paul II said in Evangelium vitae. If one were a glutton for homework, one could also explain how the inclusion of a statement in the Catechism does not add magisterial weight to the statement itself; that is, a statement’s weight is determined on its own terms. One could conclude by pointing to the International Theological Commission’s document on the sensus fidei and suggest that one could withhold one’s assent to the new teaching and appeal to the universal magisterium.

Our initial impulse was to explain how bizarre the new Catechism text is in light of Thomas Aquinas’s normative teaching on the death penalty, as set forth in ST II-II q.64 a.2 and SCG III.146. The note that came from Cardinal Ladaria mentions, albeit in a confused way, the development of doctrine. However, it is unclear how the Thomistic arguments in favor of the death penalty could develop at all, much less develop in such a way that the death penalty is made inadmissible. This argument is relatively easy, and it points to all sorts of ideas, including the common good and an understanding of human dignity that is not altogether present in the Catechism text or Cardinal Ladaria’s letter. Anyway, excellent thinkers like Ed Feser will no doubt intervene decisively to demonstrate the profoundly un-Thomistic nature of the new text and the explanation that comes with it.

We also thought about reading the Vatican tea leaves. For example, a sharp friend of ours observed that this might be one of the reasons why Francis was so eager to fire Cardinal Müller. As Francis’s first quinquennium has come and gone, we had expected, under the principle he articulated when firing Müller, to see a whole raft of dismissals. No one needs to be in the Curia longer than five years, especially when the judgment of the hierarchy is as suspect as it is now, in the wake of the disturbing revelations about Archbishop McCarrick and about Pennsylvania. Such dismissals have not been forthcoming—shock of shocks! So, we see Müller ousted on grounds that seemed to have been invented to oust Müller. Perhaps his resistance to this, in addition to his evident unhappiness with Amoris laetitia and his exclusion from Francis’s court more generally, was a factor. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, he says.

However, there are other valid takes. If one were trying to get a lot of traffic from traditionalist blogs and Twitter accounts, one could discuss the great canonist Franz Xavier Wernz, S.J., who discussed in his great Ius Canonicum, volume 2, numbers 453 and 454, the process by which the Church can declare that a heretical pope has deposed himself. Note that such an argument is not conciliarism—that is, one need not hold that a general council is competent to judge a pope and deprive him of office. Instead, Wernz holds that the pope effectively deprives himself the papacy by teaching error and that the general council merely declares the fact of the error. We are a little surprised that such takes have not been forthcoming in greater quantity. How soon we have forgotten the bruising battles over Amoris laetitia! Not two years ago, everyone was an expert in Cardinal Bellarmine and John of St. Thomas and the Canon Si Papa.

Speaking of Amoris laetitia, one could get a few laughs by constructing an argument, as some have already done, that, whatever the objective norm against the death penalty may be, concrete circumstances must be taken into account. It may not be possible, in the light of such concrete circumstances, for a country, while recognizing that the death penalty is objectively inadmissible, to live up to the norm immediately. Instead, the country must be accompanied by the law of gradualism to execute fewer and fewer of its citizens until it can live more fully in keeping with the inadmissibility of the death penalty. Surely the country that prefers to execute its murderers is no less entitled to pastoral accompaniment than a person who has divorced and remarried a few times. Times are tough all over.


The thought that we find hardest to shake is this: the Catechism plays basically no role in our life. Whenever we have a question about the Faith, we turn first to Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, then to other works by Thomas, then to commentaries on Thomas’s works, then to magisterial documents like the acts of Trent or the Vatican Council, and then to papal documents, and finally to trusted commentators. Also, candidly, the old Catholic Encyclopedia is an excellent resource, especially if we do not know where to begin. The Catechism is only useful when we are looking for a prooftext when in dialogue with someone who seems like they would find the Catechism an important source. If no one had told us that the Catechism was changed on this point, we never would have found out.

The Catechism is the summit of the consensus John Paul II forged. It cites, insofar as we can tell, scripture, the acts of the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul’s magisterium, almost to the exclusion of anything between the death of the last Apostle and 1963. The Catechism represented the idea that history had ended within the Church: we could finally say that there was a definitive compendium of Catholic teachings. Yet this end of ecclesiastical history in the Church required John Paul’s force of will to maintain the consensus. And as soon as John Paul went on to his reward, that consensus crumbled. Benedict XVI backed away from it, beginning with the Christmas address to the Curia, and definitely with Summorum Pontificum. And Francis has backed away from it even more decisively. As we have noted elsewhere, history has begun again in the Church.

Of course, it is unclear that the collapse of the John Paul II consensus really needed Benedict’s or Francis’s help. The recent revelations about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick have rocked the Church in the past few weeks. Indeed, they led McCarrick to resign the cardinalate and the Vatican has ordered him to solitude and prayer while a canonical investigation and trial against him proceeds. Among the revelations is the fact that individuals claim that they warned Rome about McCarrick’s infamous behavior prior to his translation from Newark to Washington, D.C., under John Paul II. This has the potential, we think, to lead to a serious reappraisal of John Paul’s reign, especially as it relates to the administration of the Church. Indeed, we have seen signs of such a reappraisal over the last few weeks. At the very least, it raises awkward questions about how such reports were handled—questions that have appeared under Francis’s watch, too.

Moreover, as we noted above, it seems strange to have a discussion about the Catechism changes outside the context of Amoris laetitia, Gaudete et exsultate, the protestant communion fight, and any number of more or less formal papal statements. It is clear that Francis wishes, to the extent possible (which is a bigger caveat than you’d think), to move doctrine leftward. He has not been able to do so with any great success, and he has produced a bunch of borderline incoherent statements, the new Catechism text among them. While one can give thanks that the Holy Spirit has protected Francis and the Church so well, one can also note that there have been doctrinal controversies since 2013 before now. However, it is obvious that most of these changes seem to be motivated by Francis’s desire to abandon the John Paul consensus and return to the debates that John Paul put on hold and kept on hold during his pontificate.

While the Catechism has been a helpful resource in the Church for many, we are told, it is a sign of a consensus that no longer exists. The doctrinal disputes putatively settled by the big green book have re-emerged, with as much ferocity as they had in August 1978. Indeed, it seems significant that we are only a few days away from the fortieth anniversary of Paul VI’s death on August 6. The clock has been rolled back to August 2, 1978 in many ways. Seen in this light, Francis’s change to the Catechism, whatever its merits in doctrinal terms, is as good a sign of the current state of the Church as the Catechism itself was in its day. What remains to be seen is the course of history in the Church, now that it has so clearly begun again.