“A certain mediocrity, superficiality, and banality”

Yesterday, the Holy Father addressed a conference at the Vatican commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Instruction on Music in the Liturgy of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, Musicam sacram. While not as detailed as St. John Paul’s 2003 chirograph commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. Pius X’s great Tra le sollicitudini, it is still an interesting statement. Especially interesting is the Holy Father’s candid admission that:

Certamente l’incontro con la modernità e l’introduzione delle lingue parlate nella Liturgia ha sollecitato tanti problemi: di linguaggi, di forme e di generi musicali. Talvolta è prevalsa una certa mediocrità, superficialità e banalità, a scapito della bellezza e intensità delle celebrazioni liturgiche. Per questo i vari protagonisti di questo ambito, musicisti e compositori, direttori e coristi di scholae cantorum, animatori della liturgia, possono dare un prezioso contributo al rinnovamento, soprattutto qualitativo, della musica sacra e del canto liturgico. Per favorire questo percorso, occorre promuovere un’adeguata formazione musicale, anche in quanti si preparano a diventare sacerdoti, nel dialogo con le correnti musicali del nostro tempo, con le istanze delle diverse aree culturali, e in atteggiamento ecumenico.

(Emphasis supplied.) We will leave it to you, dear reader, to obtain a machine translation of the text, unless you have better Italian than we do. (And almost anyone does.)

De Koninck and the modern age

At Sancrucensis, Pater Edmund Waldstein has a very interesting comment by Jacques Maritain about Charles de Koninck’s The Primacy of the Common Good (1943). Most followers of De Koninck know that Fr. I. Thomas Eschmann, O.P., wrote a scathing critique of The Primacy of the Common Good, called In Defense of Jacques Maritain. Eschmann’s defense was published in 1945. De Koninck responded in 1945, with a very lengthy tract, In Defense of St. Thomas. Pater Waldstein notes that, in a 1945 letter to Étienne Gilson, another eminent Thomist, Maritain largely approved Eschmann’s critique. It is not clear whether Maritain had seen In Defense of St. Thomas when he wrote to Gilson. This may clarify somewhat Maritain’s position in the debate between De Koninck and Eschmann, which remains a little shadowy.

Then again, it might not. Another sharp friend of ours pointed us to a chapter from Ralph McInerny’s 1988 collection of essays on Maritain, Art and Prudence, in which Maritain, writing in 1947, thanks Eschmann for his defense, but ultimately claims not to hold the positions criticized in The Primacy of the Common Good. McInerny also discusses a list of theses set forth by Yves Simon that purports to mark out the common ground between De Koninck, Maritain, and Simon. The letter Pater Waldstein cites helps form an interesting perspective on Maritain’s response to De Koninck. On the one hand, Maritain rejected the suggestion that he actually held the positions at issue in the debate between De Koninck and Eschmann. On the other hand, Maritain certainly approved on Eschmann’s response to De Koninck and thought it wrought by the master hand, so to speak.

At any rate, we encourage you, dear reader, to read The Primacy of the Common Good, if you have not, and, if you have an appetite for controversy, In Defense of Jacques Maritain and In Defense of St. Thomas. Volume two of McInerny’s edition of The Writings of Charles De Koninck contains not only The Primacy of the Common Good, but also Eschmann’s response and De Koninck’s reply. (It also has De Koninck’s fascinating Ego Sapientia, which discusses the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament as applied to Our Lady, and his brief Notes on Marxism.) Pater Waldstein admirably summarizes the importance of De Koninck’s work, especially as conceived in opposition to “Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Individualism, and . . . Neo-Pelagianism,” as Maritain puts it.

 

For a Catholic—indeed, for anyone operating in the western tradition—man is a political animal (Politics I.2, 1253a2–3; ST I-II q.72 a.4 co.). And, from this fact, as McInerny argues, man belongs to his community. To say otherwise is strange and results in strange, usually bad, consequences (Politics I.2, 1253a19–39.) Concern for the common good is, therefore, both inescapable and necessary. Yet much of the modern project—we would say “political project,” but to do so would be to equivocate on the nature of politics—is an attempt to escape concern for the common good. De Koninck discusses any number of errors about the common good—the most pernicious of which is, of course, totalitarianism—and you can, dear reader, see these errors propounded in any number of venues.

As Pater Waldstein observes, De Koninck’s critique of personalism has the note of prophecy about it. It is essential, therefore, to return to authors like De Koninck when contemplating the state of things and the possibility of a way forward. But, as we have said before, the state of theological and philosophical education among Catholics is shocking. Not only have we lost the recent social magisterium of popes like Leo XIII but we have also lost the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. The reaction of the Council and the post-conciliar Church against neo-Scholasticism and “manualism” has gone beyond blotting out the baroque neo-Thomism that so terrorized the Council fathers when they were in seminary to blotting out Thomism itself. And it shows: Catholics are entirely unprepared to grapple with the problems of modernity, including neoliberalism and neo-individualism. They fall into various errors, as a result, some of which are, to our mind, much worse than the problems confronted.

We observe, perhaps idly, that most of these errors seem to find their roots in imperfect understandings of the common good. Funny how that works.

 

Leonine radicalism and ressourcement

I.

It is high time for Catholics to rediscover the magisterium of Leo XIII. There is a sense, we think, that the modern, liberal order is at a point of inflection, if not a point of crisis, and the cleverer among us are beginning to think about “what’s next.” Likewise, Leo’s pontificate, beginning in 1878 and continuing to 1903, took place during a similar moment of crisis—essentially between the revolutions of 1848 and 1870 and the First World War. And in this atmosphere, Leo taught often and at great length about the rightly ordered civil state, correct relations between the Church and states, and the duties of Christians in civil society. His lessons, however, have been forgotten, particularly as the Church itself has acceded, perhaps merely as a prudential decision, to the postwar liberal order.

Leo has not been forgotten, however, with his encyclical Rerum novarum considered the beginning of the Church’s social teaching. Yet even Rerum novarum is dragged into the service of the liberal order and construed as a great support for free-market capitalism. It is, of course, anything but. It is of a piece with Leo’s other great encyclicals on social matters, including Immortale Dei, Libertas praestantissimum, and Diuturnum illud. Throughout Leo’s social encyclicals, including the encyclicals about the constitution of the state, so to speak, he articulated what we would today call integralism. The state, no less than the individual, has duties to God, and the State is at least indirectly subordinated to the Church, since the end of the Church is much, much more excellent than the end of the state. This is profoundly illiberal thought.

But it is thought in keeping not only with the teaching of the Church but also the broader philosophical underpinnings (i.e., Aristotle) of that tradition. In other words, it poses none of the risks of other, no less illiberal ideologies that are in the air right now, including nationalism. It is, we think, time for a ressourcement of the Leonine magisterium. Catholics should return to Leo’s thought to see what the first principles of a rightly ordered state are. Obviously, such a project will have to be undertaken by individual Catholics or Catholics in groups, as the post-Conciliar amnesia of tradition applies to no one more strongly than Leo XIII. However, if this is an inflection point for liberalism, it will be necessary, we think, to be prepared to right the sinking ship of modern life. And that requires, ultimately, Christian principles of society.

Of course, the Leonine magisterium has a reputation for being conservative, not to say reactionary. For example, subsequent treatments of his magisterium, like St. Pius X’s syllabus Fin dalla prima nostra, tended to present it in a very conservative light. And to be sure, Leo was concerned with maintaining, if not the then-existing order, then respect for rulers and majesty, which seemed to him, correctly, to be in peril. However, it is, we think, a mistake to try to force Leo’s teachings into narrow political terms. Not least because some of his teachings were, to modern liberal eyes, quite radical. That is not to say that they are remotely controversial in doctrinal terms; simply that a modern liberal subject would likely consider them radical. And a project of Leonine ressourcement must include a fair assessment of even these teachings.

II.

To give an example of “Leonine radicalism,” we turn to the question of when a Christian must disobey the law. One may assume that a supposed conservative like Leo would, of course, hold, as the Church has taught from St. Paul down to the present day, that Christians have an obligation to obey the law. Leo emphasizes, however, that this is not absolutely true. We shall see that a Christian may have a positive duty to disobey the law, and, moreover, this duty is not inconsistent with the obligation of a Christian to obey the civil authorities. We begin with  his 1890 encyclical “On Christians as Citizens,” Sapientiae Christianae:

Hence, they who blame, and call by the name of sedition, this steadfastness of attitude in the choice of duty have not rightly apprehended the force and nature of true law. We are speaking of matters widely known, and which We have before now more than once fully explained. Law is of its very essence a mandate of right reason, proclaimed by a properly constituted authority, for the common good. But true and legitimate authority is void of sanction, unless it proceed from God, the supreme Ruler and Lord of all. The Almighty alone can commit power to a man over his fellow men; nor may that be accounted as right reason which is in disaccord with truth and with divine reason; nor that held to be true good which is repugnant to the supreme and unchangeable good, or that wrests aside and draws away the wills of men from the charity of God.

Hallowed, therefore, in the minds of Christians is the very idea of public authority, in which they recognize some likeness and symbol as it were of the Divine Majesty, even when it is exercised by one unworthy. A just and due reverence to the laws abides in them, not from force and threats, but from a consciousness of duty; “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear.”

But, if the laws of the State are manifestly at variance with the divine law, containing enactments hurtful to the Church, or conveying injunctions adverse to the duties imposed by religion, or if they violate in the person of the supreme Pontiff the authority of Jesus Christ, then, truly, to resist becomes a positive duty, to obey, a crime; a crime, moreover, combined with misdemeanor against the State itself, inasmuch as every offense leveled against religion is also a sin against the State. Here anew it becomes evident how unjust is the reproach of sedition; for the obedience due to rulers and legislators is not refused, but there is a deviation from their will in those precepts only which they have no power to enjoin. Commands that are issued adversely to the honor due to God, and hence are beyond the scope of justice, must be looked upon as anything rather than laws. You are fully aware, venerable brothers, that this is the very contention of the Apostle St. Paul, who, in writing to Titus, after reminding Christians that they are “to be subject to princes and powers, and to obey at a word,” at once adds: “And to be ready to every good work.” Thereby he openly declares that, if laws of men contain injunctions contrary to the eternal law of God, it is right not to obey them. In like manner, the Prince of the Apostles gave this courageous and sublime answer to those who would have deprived him of the liberty of preaching the Gospel: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) Consider the radicalism of the idea that it is a duty to resist an unjust law—more on that in a moment—and a crime to obey. And not merely a crime against God, but also a crime against the state. Now, there is some room for prudential discussion about what it means to “resist” or to “obey” an unjust law. However, that is a secondary issue.

We note that Sapientiae Christianae was not Leo’s sole treatment of civil disobedience. For example, in Diuturnum illud, his 1881 encyclical “On the Origin of Civil Power,” he taught,

The one only reason which men have for not obeying is when anything is demanded of them which is openly repugnant to the natural or the divine law, for it is equally unlawful to command to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, therefore, it should happen to any one to be compelled to prefer one or the other, viz., to disregard either the commands of God or those of rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ, who commands us to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and must reply courageously after the example of the Apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” And yet there is no reason why those who so behave themselves should be accused of refusing obedience; for, if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) This is a capsule summary of the treatment, as we see it, in Sapientiae Christianae. Thus, we may say comfortably that Leo’s magisterium includes as a major theme the duty to resist unjust laws and the compatibility of such a duty with obedience to the civil authorities.

Of course, Leo’s notion of the power in law is profoundly Thomistic. This is, really, no surprise, given the importance that Leo placed on Thomas’s thought. Looking at this question in his Treatise on Law in the Summa, the Angelic Doctor taught:

Laws framed by man are either just or unjust. If they be just, they have the power of binding in conscience, from the eternal law whence they are derived, according to Prov. 8:15: “By Me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things.” Now laws are said to be just, both from the end, when, to wit, they are ordained to the common good—and from their author, that is to say, when the law that is made does not exceed the power of the lawgiver—and from their form, when, to wit, burdens are laid on the subjects, according to an equality of proportion and with a view to the common good. For, since one man is a part of the community, each man in all that he is and has, belongs to the community; just as a part, in all that it is, belongs to the whole; wherefore nature inflicts a loss on the part, in order to save the whole: so that on this account, such laws as these, which impose proportionate burdens, are just and binding in conscience, and are legal laws.

 On the other hand laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good, through being opposed to the things mentioned above—either in respect of the end, as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his own cupidity or vainglory—or in respect of the author, as when a man makes a law that goes beyond the power committed to him—or in respect of the form, as when burdens are imposed unequally on the community, although with a view to the common good. The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5), “a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.” Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps in order to avoid scandal or disturbance, for which cause a man should even yield his right, according to Mt. 5:40,41: “If a man . . . take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him; and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two.”

Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, “we ought to obey God rather than man.”

(ST Ia IIae q.96 a.4 co.) (emphasis supplied). However, Leo seems to go beyond Thomas’s teaching, however (and not for the only time). Thomas observes that laws at variance with the common good, essentially, do not bind in conscience, though a subject may make a prudential decision to submit to the law to avoid scandal or disturbance. In other words: violence. But human laws at variance with the divine law specifically cannot be obeyed at all, violence or no violence. Leo, on the other hand, teaches that human laws at variance with the divine or natural law are null and void, and that man must obey God’s laws rather than man’s in case of conflict.

This apparent extension can, we think, be explained by the Thomistic concept of natural law; that is, the natural law is the participation in the eternal law by reason (ST Ia IIae q.91 a.2 co.). Now, Thomas’s treatment of natural law is broader and more complex, especially as the natural law relates to virtue and vice versa, but this is a good enough statement of the law, so to speak. If, then, the natural law is our participation in the eternal law, then a violation of the natural law has consequences in the realm of the eternal law. To hold otherwise would be to introduce a division between the natural law and the eternal law, and Thomas himself repudiates the notion that the natural law and the eternal law are somehow separate (ST Ia IIae q.91 a.2 ad 1). Thus, a law that violates the natural law violates also the eternal law.

It is also worth observing, perhaps idly, that Thomas also taught that just laws flow from the natural law (ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 co.). In particular, there are two ways this works. One, the lawgiver may draw conclusions from the premises of the natural law. Two, the lawgiver, acting as a craftsman, may give a particular shape to this or that idea inherent in the natural law. All this explains, in part, why there is a diversity of human laws, instead of one set of implementations of the natural law (ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 obj. 3 & ad 3). It also gives us some pause about adopting a too-ferocious attitude about what is or is not consistent with the natural law. In the words of Thomas Gilby, O.P., the natural law is not “a kind of grid that could be laid on the plan of human life; it is the first stage in the working out of the living idea in divine government for incompletely intelligent and loving creatures, moving them to their fulfillment” (Blackfriars Summa v.28 appx. 6, p. 178). Gilby also makes manifest the connection between the natural law and the common good (ibid.). In some instances, it will be readily obvious that a human law contravenes the natural law. Take the laws on abortion in many western countries as an example. But, in other cases, it will not be so obvious that the law violates the natural law or harms the common good. In these cases, careful reasoning is required.

However, to a modern mind, or, indeed, even a particularly patriotic mind, there is a bigger problem than whether Leo goes beyond St. Thomas or whether there is an apparent difference between a law that violates the eternal law and a law that merely violates the natural law. There appears to be a serious contradiction between a duty to resist and a duty to obey. In part, this is due to liberalism, which rejects the idea that a law contrary to the eternal or natural law is no law; instead, the will of the sovereign, however that is defined, is sufficient to provide authority to law. It is also due to a disordered concept of the state, which tends toward positivism. Nevertheless, there may appear to be a contradiction between a duty to disobey unjust laws and true obedience to the state. But such a contradiction may be resolved, we think, by the profound resonances between this treatment in Sapientiae Christianae and a very interesting passage in Au milieu des sollicitudes, Leo’s 1892 ralliement encyclical. There, the pope taught, after condemning revolutionary activity generally:

it must be carefully observed that whatever be the form of civil power in a nation, it cannot be considered so definitive as to have the right to remain immutable, even though such were the intention of those who, in the beginning, determined it.… Only the Church of Jesus Christ has been able to preserve, and surely will preserve unto the consummation of time, her form of government. Founded by Him who was, who is, and who will be forever, she has received from Him, since her very origin, all that she requires for the pursuing of her divine mission across the changeable ocean of human affairs. And, far from wishing to transform her essential constitution, she has not the power even to relinquish the conditions of true liberty and sovereign independence with which Providence has endowed her in the general interest of souls… But, in regard to purely human societies, it is an oft-repeated historical fact that time, that great transformer of all things here below, operates great changes in their political institutions. On some occasions it limits itself to modifying something in the form of the established government; or, again, it will go so far as to substitute other forms for the primitive ones—forms totally different, even as regards the mode of transmitting sovereign power.

And how are these political changes of which We speak produced? They sometimes follow in the wake of violent crises, too often of a bloody character, in the midst of which preexisting governments totally disappear; then anarchy holds sway, and soon public order is shaken to its very foundations and finally overthrown. From that time onward a social need obtrudes itself upon the nation; it must provide for itself without delay. Is it not its privilege—or, better still, its duty—to defend itself against a state of affairs troubling it so deeply, and to re-establish public peace in the tranquillity of order? Now, this social need justifies the creation and the existence of new governments, whatever form they take; since, in the hypothesis wherein we reason, these new governments are a requisite to public order, all public order being impossible without a government. Thence it follows that, in similar junctures, all the novelty is limited to the political form of civil power, or to its mode of transmission; it in no wise affects the power considered in itself. This continues to be immutable and worthy of respect, as, considered in its nature, it is constituted to provide for the common good, the supreme end which gives human society its origin. To put it otherwise, in all hypotheses, civil power, considered as such, is from God, always from God: “For there is no power but from God.”

(Footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) In other words, Leo distinguishes between the civil power itself and its political form or mode of transmission. The government, so to speak, exercises and transmits the civil power, but it is not the civil power itself. Now, one can—and no less an authority than Roberto de Mattei has—criticize Au milieu and ralliement for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there is a tension between Leo’s illiberal—that is to say, Christian—politics and his embrace, likely for prudential reasons, of ralliement.

However, as we said, it seems to us that there are resonances between Sapientiae Christianae and Au milieu. That is, the division between the civil power and the political government explains—considered in addition to the authority of Holy Writ—the apparent contradiction between a duty to disobey unjust laws and a simultaneous claim to obedience. The civil power, constituted by God “to provide for the common good,” would not—cannot—be at variance with the divine or natural law, for the divine and natural law are the common good in a meaningful way. However, political governments, made up of men, can be at variance with the divine or natural law, insofar as man considered individually may sin. The political government, when it is at variance, ceases to exercise the civil power in that instance. The government, in purporting to promulgate an unjust law, has lost its divine sanction. But recall that it is not the civil power; it is simply the political form and means of transmission. Thus, the Christian obeys the true civil power while rejecting the invalid act of the political government. The duty to resist is thereby harmonized with true obedience.

It seems to us that Catholics have lost this sense of higher obedience. Instead, they have adopted the dreary liberal notion that the laws must be respected, right or wrong. The Catholic’s sole recourse in the case of a bad law is to pursue change of the law through the designated channels. Of course, it is perhaps unlikely that a government that implemented a bad law would leave open meaningful channels for Catholics to agitate for change. To resist the law more openly is, for many, sedition. Leo explains that this simply is not the case, and it is in the context of these erroneous attitudes that Leo’s teaching may be called “radical.” It is, as Leo explains, true obedience to the civil power to resist unjust laws. The political form of government is not the civil power. This does not create a sanction for revolutionary activity, of course, as Leo’s discourse in Au milieu is in the immediate context of condemning revolution, but neither does it require a sort of fatalistic quietism. It is a crime to obey an unjust law. Worse than that, by promulgating an unjust law, the political government has lost, at least in the scope of the law, its divine sanction to rule.

The Christian, then, confronted with a government that has abdicated its divine sanction to rule, must remain obedient to the immutable civil power, which is from God, which may include obedience to the government where it rules justly. In other words, the contradiction between a duty to resist unjust laws and obedience to civil authorities is only apparent. With a correct understanding of what the civil authorities are—and are not—the contradiction disappears. One may resist a government without resisting the civil power if the government has ceased to exercise the civil power justly, which is to say altogether.

III.

You may, dear reader, object for whatever reason to the sort of analysis we have engaged in here. However, our point, even if we are wrong in our assessment of the Leonine magisterium on this question, is that the Leonine magisterium must be recovered by Catholics attempting to navigate this political moment. We submit, perhaps not quite as humbly as we ought, that this analysis is an example of what Catholics ought to be doing: returning to sound authorities and reconstructing a notion of politics in accordance with right reason. Leo’s teachings open up a vista onto other authorities, such as St. Thomas and Aristotle, who are themselves necessary to construct this politics. A politics, as it were, worthy of the name.

 

Another comment on current events

We were struck by passages in President Donald Trump’s inaugural address this afternoon, especially the ode to solidarity. One imagines that Stephen Bannon, one of Trump’s close advisers and a student of sorts of the Church’s social doctrine, was responsible for that argument. It seems, however, like a good moment to recall what Leo XIII said in Au milieu des sollicitudes (the “Ralliement encyclical”):

First of all, let us take as a starting-point a well-known truth admitted by all men of good sense and loudly proclaimed by the history of all peoples; namely, that religion, and religion only, can create the social bond; that it alone maintains the peace of a nation on a solid foundation. When different families, without giving up the rights and duties of domestic society, unite under the inspiration of nature, in order to constitute themselves members of another larger family circle called civil society, their object is not only to find therein the means of providing for their material welfare, but, above all, to draw thence the boon of moral improvement. Otherwise society would rise but little above the level of an aggregation of beings devoid of reason, and whose whole life would consist in the satisfaction of sensual instincts. Moreover, without this moral improvement it would be difficult to demonstrate that civil society was an advantage rather than a detriment to man, as man.

Now, morality, in man, by the mere fact that it should establish harmony among so many dissimilar rights and duties, since it enters as an element into every human act, necessarily supposes God, and with God, religion, that sacred bond whose privilege is to unite, anteriorly to all other bonds, man to God. Indeed, the idea of morality signifies, above all, an order of dependence in regard to truth which is the light of the mind; in regard to good which is the object of the will; and without truth and good there is no morality worthy of the name. And what is the principal and essential truth, that from which all truth is derived? It is God. What, therefore, is the supreme good from which all other good proceeds? God. Finally, who is the creator and guardian of our reason, our will, our whole being, as well as the end of our life? God; always God. Since, therefore, religion is the interior and exterior expression of the dependence which, in justice, we owe to God, there follows a grave obligation. All citizens are bound to unite in maintaining in the nation true religious sentiment, and to defend it in case of need, if ever, despite the protestations of nature and of history, an atheistical school should set about banishing God from society, thereby surely annihilating the moral sense even in the depths of the human conscience. Among men who have not lost all notion of integrity there can exist no difference of opinion on this point.

(Emphasis supplied.)

The Message for the World Day of Peace and the social-conflict teaching of John Paul II

Today, the Vatican released the Holy Father’s message to the 50th World Day of Peace. It is an interesting document, taking as its theme nonviolence. The Holy Father says:

On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.

(Emphasis supplied.) The message goes on to extol the value of nonviolence as, as the Holy Father puts it, “a style of politics.” While not as extensive as an encyclical or even some of the longer addresses that the Holy Father has given, it certainly represents an authentic exercise of the Holy Father’s social magisterium.

But we are troubled, we suppose, by what, exactly, the Holy Father means by nonviolence. While actual violence in the sense of taking up arms and taking to the streets is to be viewed as a last resort, governed carefully by the Church’s clear doctrine on revolt and resisting illegitimate rules, we think the Holy Father means more than mere exclusion of actual violence. He seems to point toward the exclusion of conflict. For example, he says,

Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: “We in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another… And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world”. For the force of arms is deceptive. “While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another”; for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is “a symbol, an icon of our times”. Last September, I had the great joy of proclaiming her a Saint. I praised her readiness to make herself available for everyone “through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes – the crimes! – of poverty they created”. In response, her mission – and she stands for thousands, even millions of persons – was to reach out to the suffering, with generous dedication, touching and binding up every wounded body, healing every broken life.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) Francis goes on to say,

This is also a programme and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires “the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process”. To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that “tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,” preserving “what is valid and useful on both sides”.

(Emphasis supplied.) To some extent, therefore, the Holy Father seems to exclude social conflict altogether. To the extent that he does, he has overlooked an important source of teaching for the question of “frictions” in society: the magisterium of his predecessor, St. John Paul. In some regards, the Holy Father’s Message is consistent with John Paul’s teaching, but in other regards it seems to us that the Holy Father seeks to take a step back from some of John Paul’s really very radical conclusions.

And it may well be a conscious decision to step back. It is not as though the Holy Father does not acknowledge a debt to John Paul. In the Message, he says,

Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice”. This peaceful political transition was made possible in part “by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth”. Pope John Paul went on to say: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones”.

(Emphasis supplied.) It will be seen shortly that there may be something of an equivocation here, since John Paul referred to class struggle in its Marxist sense in Centesimus annus, as distinct from social conflict more broadly conceived. But that aside, reading this passage consistently with the whole message, the Holy Father seems to quote John Paul for the proposition that social conflict was to be deplored totally.

However, a close reading of John Paul’s social magisterium shows that the saint acknowledges not only that social conflict was permissible under certain circumstances but also that, under the right conditions, it could be positive. We begin with his 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus annus, in which John Paul teaches us that:

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

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

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) Not enough attention has been devoted to John Paul’s teaching on social conflict. It is remarkably rich and deep. And it is surprising. Here, the pope who spearheaded the final battle against the atheistic communism of the Soviet Union, the pope with the highest praise, we are told, for American-style capitalism, teaches us not only that social conflict is not always and everywhere forbidden but also that it is “inevitable” in historical terms. And he roots his conclusion in the magisterium of Leo XIII, who (along with St. Pius X) is often cited for what amounts to a quietism in social questions. Thus, the pope finds support for social conflict stretching back to the very beginning of the Church’s social teaching. But there are clear limits to such conflict. What is forbidden is an amoral, exterminationist view that seeks only the annihilation of one’s class opponents. John Paul (and Pius XI before him) indicate that the goal, as in all political action, ought to be the common good.

Now, one could, as the Holy Father does in his message today, take a minimalist view of social conflict. And it is true—acknowledging again that there may be an equivocation in the use of the term—that John Paul called for an end to class struggle in Centesimus annus. But it must be noted also that John Paul never excluded outright opposition in social questions. Far from it, in fact. In Laborem exercens, his 1981 encyclical on labor, he observes,

Catholic social teaching does not hold that unions are no more than a reflection of the “class” structure of society and that they are a mouthpiece for a class struggle which inevitably governs social life. They are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions. However, this struggle should be seen as a normal endeavour “for” the just good: in the present case, for the good which corresponds to the needs and merits of working people associated by profession; but it is not struggle “against” others. Even if in controversial questions the struggle takes on a character of opposition towards others, this is because it aims at the good of social justice, not for the sake of “struggle” or in order to eliminate the opponent. It is characteristic of work that it first and foremost unites people. In this consists its social power: the power to build a community.

(Emphasis supplied.) To the extent that there is “a character of opposition towards others,” John Paul tells us in both Laborem exercens and Centesimus annus that this is positive when it is opposition aimed toward the common good and social justice. It is when opposition is exalted for its own sake or pursued for the extermination of opponents that the serious moral problems crop up. At any rate, it does not require much imagination to see that there is some range of freedom of means available to those who pursue social justice and the common good.

Here, an especially clever interlocutor might cite St. Thomas, ST IIa IIae q.64 a.2 ad 3, and say, well, when one departs from the order of reason, one loses one’s human dignity and becomes as a beast, so the Pope’s caution against stringent social conflict, which may be more akin to Marxist class struggle, may overstate the matter. One needn’t be a Stalinist to see the consequences of the argument. Certainly, it is a departure from the order of reason to prize a proper good to the common good. Charles de Koninck, in the reply to the first objection in The Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists, taking up this question, says,

But the dignity with which the rational creature is invested on account of its end is so dependent upon this end that the creature can lose it as it can lose the attainment of its end. “By sinning, man sets himself outside the order of reason, and consequently, he loses human dignity, as namely man is naturally free and existing for himself, and he places himself in some way in the servitude of animals… For the bad man is worse than an animal.” [this is from ST IIa IIae q.64 a.2 ad 3 – pjs] Far from excluding the ordination of his private good (or his proper good when this is understood as not already including the common good) to the common good, or from making it indifferent to the common good, as though this ordination were purely a matter of freedom of contradiction, the dignity of the intelligent creature involves, on the contrary, the necessity of this ordination. Man fails in his human dignity when he refuses the very principle of that dignity: the good of the intellect realized in the common good. He subjects himself to the servitude of the animals when he judges the common good to be a foreign good. The perfection of human nature is so little an assurance of dignity that it suffices for man to turn himself inward upon his own dignity as upon a sufficient reason and first foundation, in order to fail to attain his being-for-self.

(Emphasis supplied.) Social conflict presupposes either that the common good has not been rightly understood or that someone is not acting in accord with the common good. They then seek to disrupt the ordination of their proper good(s) to the common good and, thereby, lose their dignity as humans. This, then, brings them within Thomas’s sharp statement. To this clever Aristo-Thomisto-Marxist interlocutor, one might say that this is true, but public authority is necessary to implement Thomas’s conclusion. And it is passing hard to imagine that public authority would be present on either side of this situation for the usual reasons. Furthermore, note the precise turn of De Koninck’s argument: anyone who judges the common good to be an alien good loses his human dignity, the personalist and the totalitarian alike. Thus, the Marxist engaged in eliminationist class struggle in the name of an ultimately alien common good has just as serious a fault with his dignity in Thomistic terms as the individualist-capitalist who prefers his proper good to the common good. Enough of this, though. Back to John Paul.

Certainly, merely saying that social conflict is not always and everywhere forbidden is radical. But the radicalness of John Paul’s approach goes beyond that. To appreciate it, one should look to other interventions of the magisterium treating upon Marxism and class struggle. For example, the 1984 Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As everyone knows, at its inception, there were disquieting elements of then-current Marxism present in liberation theology. Because of the admixture of Marxist thought, the Instruction contains sustained magisterial analysis, going far beyond, say, Octogesima adveniens or even Quadragesimo anno, of Marxism. In that document, Cardinal Ratzinger observed:

For the Marxist, the <praxis>, and the truth that comes from it, are partisan <praxis> and truth because the fundamental structure of history is characterized by <class- struggle>. There follows, then, the objective necessity to enter into the class struggle, which is the dialectical opposite of the relationship of exploitation, which is being condemned. For the Marxist, the truth is a truth of class: there is no truth but the truth in the struggle of the revolutionary class.

The fundamental law of history, which is the law of the class struggle, implies that society is founded on violence. To the violence which constitutes the relationship of the domination of the rich over the poor, there corresponds the counter-violence of the revolution, by means of which this domination will be reversed.

The class struggle is presented as an objective, necessary law. Upon entering this process on behalf of the oppressed, one “makes” truth, one acts “scientifically”. Consequently, the conception of the truth goes hand in hand with the affirmation of necessary violence, and so, of a political amorality. Within this perspective, any reference to ethical requirements calling for courageous and radical institutional and structural reforms makes no sense.

The fundamental law of class struggle has a global and universal character. It is reflected in all the spheres of existence: religious, ethical, cultural and institutional. As far as this law is concerned, none of these spheres is autonomous. In each of them this law constitutes the determining element.

In particular, the very nature of ethics is radically called into question because of the borrowing of these theses from Marxism. In fact, it is the transcendent character of the distinction between good and evil, the principle of morality, which is implicitly denied in the perspective of the class struggle.

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) To borrow an old Marxist chestnut, John Paul stands the Marxist approach to class struggle on its head. Recall that John Paul acknowledges that social conflict is inevitable in historical terms (but not the fundamental law of history) and that Christians are called upon to take sides in the conflict. But John Paul denies completely the concept that social conflict is truth. Instead, he teaches that social conflict takes place in the framework of truth. The framework of truth includes the moral and juridical considerations John Paul holds to be objective and absolute. And these moral and juridical considerations exclude the exterminationist, total-war approach condemned by Leo, Pius, and John Paul. Thus, the pernicious consequences of class struggle—political amorality, the denial of morality itself—identified by Cardinal Ratzinger are avoided. In other words, John Paul saves social conflict from the errors of Marxist class struggle as the Church identified them.

We will lay aside the question of whether or not the magisterial characterization of Marxism in the Instruction (or in Centesimus annus or Laborem exercens) is accurate for each and every instantiation of Marxism. It probably is not, as Marxism may be said in many ways and Marxists frequently disagree with each other about the precise contours of Marxist thought. However, it is plain that the Church’s understanding, complete or not, of Marxist class struggle up to 1991 was very much on John Paul’s mind when he wrote Centesimus annus, and that understanding is important to understand just how far John Paul was willing to go to in support of positive social conflict. To put it another way: it is not hugely important whether or not the Instruction categorizes the spectrum of Marxist thought, what is important is that it reflects the Church’s understanding of class struggle in the Marxist sense during the first part of John Paul’s reign.

What, therefore, do we have in John Paul’s magisterium? Several things. We have a statement that social conflict is, in historical terms, inevitable. Groups in society will inevitably come into opposition. When that happens, Christians have a duty to choose sides. This conflict can take on the character of opposition, provided that the opposition is pointed toward the common good and social justice. Opposition in these circumstances is positive, to use John Paul’s phrase. It is when the opposition takes on the character of total war, of seeking to annihilate one’s opponents at any cost without reference to objective moral and juridical norms, that social conflict becomes impermissible.

On one hand, therefore, the Holy Father’s message today reflects John Paul’s thinking. Recall that he says,

It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires “the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process”. To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that “tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,” preserving “what is valid and useful on both sides”.

(Emphasis supplied.) He recognizes, we think, the aspects of social conflict that John Paul recognizes, notably that, as a historical fact, it is inevitable. He also recognizes that the total-war approach to social conflict is impermissible; one simply may not seek to win at any cost. As we have seen at length above, these are key points in John Paul’s teaching on social conflict.

Another brief digression, if you’ll bear with us. We probably do not have room here to unpack the Holy Father’s meaning when he talks about solidarity as “a way of making history.” But it is a particularly interesting phrase, given what we have seen so far. Perhaps we are predisposed to seeing it this way, but the expression seems to be a literal negation of the Marxist concept of history as class struggle. Furthermore, while John Paul did not speak in terms of making history through solidarity, one could read numbers 39 and 40 of Sollicitudo rei socialis in these terms, especially as John Paul saw solidarity as the key toward moving away from the “politics of blocs” and the collapse of imperialism, two major features of politics in the 20th century in his view. Whether or not the Holy Father intended to point in this direction and toward the famous “end of history” discussed at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union is an open question, which we will ultimately lay aside, too. However, it is an interesting and evocative phrase that probably does merit exploration.

However, returning to the matter at hand, we think that the Holy Father, in promoting nonviolence as a “style of politics,” takes a step back from the radical conclusions John Paul reached. Motivated by the common good and keeping in mind the limits imposed by morality, opposition is sometimes necessary. When properly understood, opposition can be positive. Now, we do not mean to underplay the importance of the limits articulated by John Paul. They are serious limitations that must be considered very carefully, but neither should they be seen as marking out a space that cannot be inhabited. For his part, the Holy Father seems to resist the conclusion that social conflict may be permissible in his message today, instead promoting small-scale solidarity and “diversified and life-giving unity,” however that is to be understood.

It would be perverse, it is safe to say, to spend a lot of time talking about the circumstances under which social conflict is permissible in a message for a World Day of Peace. At the same time, it seems strange to present an approach to resolving inevitable conflicts in society that minimizes opposition as a viable option. Certainly every effort should be made to resolve these inevitable conflicts through solidarity on a personal level and through efforts to achieve unity, but some conflicts require one party or the other to take on the character of opposition. The solution, of course, is to base politics on the common good, remembering that the common good of the state is peace. This, ultimately, is the insight John Paul brings to his discussion of social conflict. (Unsurprisingly, Pius XI left it there for him to develop.)

We have devoted a lot of space to the dubia submitted by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner to the Holy Father regarding Amoris laetitia, and we will not bore you with a rehearsal of that issue, except to note that it is John Paul’s magisterium that is in question there. Especially his major intervention on moral theology, Veritatis splendor. We are in the midst, it seems, of a great forgetting of John Paul’s pontificate. That one might overlook this or that document or speech or event is understandable. Between 1978 and 2005, John Paul produced a staggering amount of stuff, magisterial and otherwise, and it is likely that only John Paul was able to keep it all straight in his head. However, it is less understandable that major interventions of his pontificate, including Centesimus annus, Laborem exercens, and Sollicitudo rei socialis, are forgotten or mentioned briefly. Especially when they treat in detail a particular question, such as social conflict. Now, one can talk about broader trends in moral theology and traditional doctrine, but one has a much harder time getting around John Paul in the social magisterium, since, given the relative newness of the Church’s teachings and John Paul’s lengthy reign, he accounts for rather a lot of it.

Perhaps, as we go forward, the Holy Father’s comments, as with this message, will spark a ressourcement of John Paul’s teaching. It has gone from being misrepresented to being forgotten. Maybe in the next iteration, it will simply be followed.

St. Ambrose the Illiberal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Emphasis supplied). Now, in English:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, of course, these are, as one might say, features not bugs as far as liberalism is concerned. As we just said, liberalism’s fundamental argument is that everyone should be free to pursue their own happiness, by applying reason in a procedurally neutral space. Each man or woman chooses among options what is most pleasing to him or her through the application of reason. Now, he or she ought to make the right choice, but nothing forces that choice. This is fundamentally corrosive to society, as we have discussed recently. This is a point that liberal Catholics, devoted as they are to the current political order, fail to grapple with when they tout liberalism as some sort of solution. Consider what Leo says in Libertas praestantissimum:

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

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

(Emphasis supplied.) It is, of course, traditional for liberal Catholics to inject a little Modernism or Americanism into this discourse, and attempt to avoid Leo’s teachings in Immortale Dei and Libertas by claiming that Leo was writing for a specific time and place or, worse, was merely offering prudential, non-dogmatic reflections on questions of the age. In other words, as society has progressed, Leo’s arguments are less applicable. Liberalism isn’t so corrosive to society. In fact, they say, liberalism is the best—the only—way to order a just society.

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

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

Another (big) interview with Cardinal Burke

Edward Pentin has an explosive exclusive interview with Cardinal Burke about the dubia. This one is, in our view, hugely important, as it outlines what Cardinal Burke sees as a potential way forward for the dubia, especially if the Holy Father continues to decline to clarify the teachings in Chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. In short, the Cardinal has raised the prospect of “a formal act of correction of a serious error” if the Holy Father does not clarify the teachings contained in Amoris laetitia.

To a certain extent, we think that this marks a bit of a change in tone from the initial release of the dubia. Recall what the prefatory letter said: “The Holy Father has decided not to respond. We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.” (Emphasis supplied.) In the new interview, Cardinal Burke says:

What happens if the Holy Father does not respond to your act of justice and charity and fails to give the clarification of the Church’s teaching that you hope to achieve?

Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.

In a conflict between ecclesial authority and the Sacred Tradition of the Church, which one is binding on the believer and who has the authority to determine this?

What’s binding is the Tradition. Ecclesial authority exists only in service of the Tradition. I think of that passage of St. Paul in the [Letter to the] Galatians (1:8), that if “even an angel should preach unto you any Gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.”

If the Pope were to teach grave error or heresy, which lawful authority can declare this and what would be the consequences? 

It is the duty in such cases, and historically it has happened, of cardinals and bishops to make clear that the Pope is teaching error and to ask him to correct it.

(Emphasis supplied and italics in original.) One wonders whether this is a conscious shift in tone, and, if so, what may have occasioned it.

In any event, read the whole interview at the Register.