Back on March 2 and 3, the Thomistic Institute held a conference at Harvard University on “Christianity and Liberalism.” We were unable to attend, though we know quite a few people who did. However, as you may remember, March 2 and 3 were bad days to be in Boston with a windstorm battering the northeast. Thus even people who planned to attend met with great difficulty in getting to Boston. Recordings of the conference are now, we are told, available on the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page. (The page is a goldmine for anyone with an interest in Catholic thought, with many interesting lectures recorded and freely available.) One may now catch up on what we are reliably told was one of the most exciting events in a long time.
At Mere Orthodoxy last week, Jake Meador wrote a piece about “The Parting of Ways Among Younger Christians.” Despite being a protestant, Meador has followed Catholics’ discussions of integralism and liberalism fairly closely and is, unlike some other protestants, a fairly sympathetic observer. Meador is commenting upon a note by Alan Jacobs about the recent blowup over the Mortara case—particularly Fr. Romanus Cessario’s First Things essay defending Bl. Pius IX. Meador’s piece is well worth reading—Jacobs’s is not: it’s another entry in the genre of essays wondering how First Things could be so unecumenical as to publish a Catholic priest defending Catholic doctrine—not least because Meador sees this as the end (or nearly the end) of the ecumenical project of Catholics and some protestants working together. That is, as Catholics and various kinds of protestants explore their own traditions, there will be fewer and fewer ecumenical projects. Meador is not (at least he does not seem) brokenhearted by this. However, others may be.
We won’t waste your time by quoting from Jacobs’s piece at length. However, he is clearly hysterical at the prospect of a First Things in the hands of Roman Catholics who believe what the Church of Rome teaches. His overheated reaction is very understandable. For a long time, First Things represented one of the places where Catholics and some protestants met on grounds of broad agreement to defend a vision of liberalism against the encroachments of another vision of liberalism. What Jacobs does not understand—and what Meador understands very well—is that young Catholics, including young Catholics who write for First Things, have begun the laborious process of recovering the Church’s anti-liberal tradition. What this means is that some writers are less committed to any vision of liberalism, which has serious implications for the project altogether. However, other regular contributors, like George Weigel, remain as committed as ever, as near as we can tell, to the old First Things vision. Meador understands that, as the Church’s anti-liberal tradition is recovered, as it must be, the ecumenism made possible by the Church’s engagement with liberalism at the Second Vatican Council and its reception, especially by American conservatives under the guidance of St. John Paul II, becomes less possible.
Meador is not wrong to call this a parting of the ways. But before this parting of the ways, it is necessary, we think, to consider where we are and what the possible paths forward are. In short, Catholics are grappling with liberalism, the disastrous effects of which are on display in almost every walk of life, and the debate over liberalism is directly effecting the ability of Catholics to participate in ecumenical projects. There are two modes of engaging with liberalism in the Church today. One, inspired broadly by the Second Vatican Council, seeks to preserve the liberalism of the years immediately following the Second World War. This group has historically found much in common with protestants and those of non-Christian faiths, and it has historically sought to form broad coalitions aimed at preserving the “good liberalism” of the 1950s and 1960s. The other, inspired broadly by the Church’s preconciliar teaching, seeks to look beyond liberalism. Therefore, these Catholics tend to be more suspicious of ecumenical projects, especially, as Meador notes, the indifferentist aspects of ecumenical projects. Moreover, they are not nearly so interested in reestablishing the liberal consensus of the 1950s and 1960s. The fundamental tension between the two groups, we think, comes from the ongoing debate within the Church about the Second Vatican Council.
Fifty-two years and counting after the close of the Council, Catholics can question whether the Church’s engagement with liberalism worked. The enthusiastic opening to the postwar order contained, more or less, in Gaudium et spes, Dignitatis humanae, and Nostra aetate, among other documents, did not deepen the dialogue between the Church and the world. It resulted in liberalism receiving dogmatic status in the Church. Perhaps this would not have been the worst thing, if liberalism had remained what it was in the 1950s and early 1960s. Certainly we see in sources as disparate as Ross Douthat and the Paris Statement, signed by such luminaries as Ryszard Legutko, Pierre Manent, Roger Scruton, and Robert Spaemann, a desire to return to that initial postwar liberalism. In other words, for these thinkers, there was a moment before—let us call it the Moment Before—liberalism went wrong. If the slide can be arrested and the order reset to that moment, then the faults of liberalism will disappear. It follows, we think, that under such a notion, the Church’s engagement with liberalism is only contingently imprudent.
As we say, the Council and the major documents of the Council are at the very center of this discussion. Here, the Villanova Church historian and social-media genius Massimo Faggioli’s Twitter feed is essential reading. He argues, we think, that various Council documents, especially Dignitatis humanae, are clearly corrections of the Church’s prior illiberal teachings. In his view, the Council plainly brought the Church in line with postwar liberal democracy. To insist upon a more traditionalist reading of the Council documents, a reading that begins but does not end with Benedict XVI’s hermeneutic of continuity, in Faggioli’s mind, is to challenge the Church’s commitment to liberal democracy. Indeed, to insist that Pius IX’s Quanta cura and Syllabus remain valid teachings, along with Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei, Libertas, and Diuturnum, and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno, is to come very near to what Faggioli somewhat breathlessly calls “Catholic fascism.” (That Pius XI also issued Non abbiamo bisogno and Mit brennender Sorge does not seem to figure much in Faggioli’s calculations.) In other words, the more political pronouncements of the Council and liberalism are inextricably linked, pull at one thread and the whole seamless garment, if you’ll excuse the joke, comes apart.
Now, there are problems with the anti-liberal argument that has Faggioli so panicked, which both traditionalists and alarmed liberals need to consider carefully. Notably, they need to consider what Leo XIII’s ralliement policy, as outlined in Au milieu des sollicitudes, means for the Church’s anti-liberal posture in the 19th and early 20th century. Obviously, the ralliement policy came off the rails during St. Pius X’s pontificate, as Vehementer nos shows. But it is not enough to say that practically Leo’s initiative failed. The implications for ralliement in the context of Leo’s anti-liberal thought ought to be considered carefully. The pope of Immortale Dei is the pope of Au milieu des sollicitudes, and the nature of the French Third Republic was well known to Leo. Yet Leo urged Catholics to support the Third Republic. Whether ralliement is enough to complicate the Church’s anti-liberal doctrine significantly is an open question. We have our doubts, but we are also not hugely interested in avoiding the Church’s anti-liberal doctrine.
At any rate, a great debate could be had about Faggioli’s point, though Bishop Bernard Fellay of the SSPX is no doubt pleased to hear a prominent progressive theologian concede Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s point. Nevertheless, this is another reason why the furor over Fr. Romanus Cessario’s First Things article about the Mortara case reached such a fever pitch. Cessario’s argument is clearly drawn from the tradition of the Church and—despite Nathaniel Peters’s valiant effort to mention only about half of the essential Thomistic sources—is essentially unanswerable. As such, it serves as a sort of confirmation of liberals’ deep fear that the openness to liberalism that Catholics have shown is not much older than 1965 and is not broadly supported in the tradition of the Church. In other words, there is a sense that if the Catholics start poking around too much in their tradition, if they start looking behind the copy of the documents of Vatican II on their bookshelves, they will find teachings incompatible with liberalism. Indeed, they will find that the Church, within living memory, was squarely opposed to liberalism. It will be impossible to articulate a Catholic vision of the search for the Moment Before when Catholics figure out that the Church taught, until fairly recently, that there was no Moment Before.
A couple of observations. First, the idea of the Moment Before has profited Catholics almost nothing. Despite fifty years of explanations of how Catholicism and the Bill of Rights in the federal Constitution are entirely reconcilable, every major social decision has gone against the Church. From Roe to Obergefell, the engagement of Catholics with the liberal American order has resulted in defeat after defeat. The American bishops have, in the face of increasingly draconian “anti-discrimination” laws, mounted a last stand on “religious liberty,” but it is unclear whether this battle will result in some breathing room for the Church. The idea of a Moment Before seems to involve resetting the clock, so to speak, to right before Catholics started losing all these important political and legal contests. However, it is only infrequently mentioned that these political and legal contests were fought and lost during a period when the Church was enthusiastically engaged in the liberal American order. In other words, the Church, inspired by the approach mapped out at the Second Vatican Council, was actively participating in and, more important, supporting American political life—and it still lost the debates. To put it another way, the idea of a Moment Before involves returning to the conditions that produced the current state of affairs.
Second, the tension between Catholic liberals searching for a liberalism that is truly liberalism and Catholic integralists delving into the Church’s anti-liberal tradition is inevitable. We have seen that everyone agrees, more or less, that liberalism and the Council are inextricably linked. Everyone also agrees that we are in the process of receiving, as they say, the teachings, such as they are, of the Council. The debates over the Council within the Church are going to inevitably implicate the posture of Catholics toward liberalism. Catholics seeking a deeper understanding of tradition, particularly on the social question, have begun to look back beyond the Council into the teachings of Pius XII, Pius XI, St. Pius X, and Leo XIII in particular. And in those teachings, as we say, they have found the Church’s anti-liberal doctrine. Things get extremely sticky from that point.
Things get stickiest along the lines Meador and Jacobs identify. If Catholics start receiving the political thought of the Church, it will turn out that the broad consensus represented by Evangelicals & Catholics Together was illusory. Or, more precisely, it was based entirely on the Church’s posture at the Council and in the wake of the Council, which was not the Church’s historical posture. What do we mean? Well, before the Council, the Church was opposed to liberalism, root and branch. There was no Moment Before when there was a good liberalism. There might be pragmatic reasons to temper active opposition to liberal regimes, such as the mortal peril of Marxism-Leninism in Europe. But in terms of liberalism simpliciter, the Church’s judgment was clear. The Council then did something—some might say it made a pragmatic judgment due to the mortal peril of Marxism-Leninism in Europe, some might say it corrected the earlier extremism of the popes—and opened itself up to liberalism. The agenda sketched out in Evangelicals & Catholics Together relies entirely on that openness insofar as the enthusiastic cooperation with the American order outlined in that document is enthusiastic cooperation with liberalism.
Other thinkers are challenging the idea of a Moment Before. Patrick Deneen’s book, Why Liberalism Failed, presents the idea—not a new one, necessarily—that the problems we see in the liberal order today are essentially baked into liberalism. Deneen’s book has brought out numerous responses, including an insightful review from Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule at American Affairs. Building on an essay in First Things some time ago, Vermeule argues essentially that integralist Catholics ought to consider populating elite institutions and, occupying positions of power, use their authority “to further human dignity and the common good, defined entirely in substantive rather than procedural-technical terms.” Where Douthat and others would say that Christians must engage with the liberal order to return to the Moment Before, Vermeule seems to argue that, first, there is no Moment Before to return to, and, second, integralist Catholics must engage with the liberal order to supersede it.
There are superficial similarities between the two approaches. Neither Douthat nor Vermeule retreats into gated communities or enclaves of Holy (Russian) Orthodoxy in the bayou, as Rod Dreher sometimes suggests and sometimes denies suggesting. Indeed, in both men’s visions, you will see intelligent Christians educated at elite schools entering the service of the regime. Some will go into government, some will go into the institutions the government serves, like finance, and others will go back into elite schools to prepare the next wave. In time, perhaps not a very long time, you will see the regime get better. But this is where Vermeule and Douthat’s visions diverge sharply. At a certain point, Douthat and the signatories to the Paris Statement and those who agree with them will recognize their Moment Before. Liberalism is itself again, they will say. Vermeule will say, simply, that we are well on our way to our goal.
To a certain extent, evangelicals like Meador, concerned by the rise of integralism among intelligent Catholics, should cheer Vermeule’s strategy. For the moment, it provides a way that integralists can remain part of the broader Christian conversation in the United States. Vermeule urges integralist Catholics to engage and populate liberal institutions and—and this bit is important—simply discharge their duties according to human dignity and the common good. There is, at least at the outset, little for Meador to be concerned about with respect to the intolerant integralist Catholics. The Catholic confessional state that he spends as much time as anyone worrying about would not emerge overnight. It might not emerge for a long time. Until that point, it would be exactly the sort of activity that the signatories of Evangelicals & Catholics Together would want to see. However, we would be surprised if Meador—or, for that matter, Alan Jacobs—would cheer Vermeule’s strategy all that enthusiastically.
Here is a prediction for 2018: it will be the year of Paul VI. In addition to canonization talk, there are two important anniversaries connected with Paul’s papacy. On July 25, the feast of St. James, we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s landmark encyclical On the Regulation of Birth, known around the world by its incipit: Humanae vitae. Shortly before that, on June 30, we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s Credo of the People of God, which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre called, “an act which from the dogmatic point of view is more important than all the Council.” Both events—the promulgation of Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God—are of acute importance at this moment in the life of the Church, when the role of the Petrine ministry seems to be hotly contested. Both events saw Paul acting as a guardian of tradition against the innovations urged upon the Church in the wake of the Council. These events, however, contribute to Paul’s complicated legacy as a pope who was staunch in his defense and appreciation of tradition one day and who indulged the reformers’ whims on another day.
As noted above, there is already talk that Paul VI will be canonized this year. There are reports that the medical and scientific experts have already reported favorably upon the second miracle necessary for canonization. There remain some steps for canonization, according to the Crux article, including the approval of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and approval by Francis. However, these steps are largely administrative. The idea, according to the reports, is that Paul would be canonized during the ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops this fall. Paul, you see, established the Synod of Bishops in the wake of the Council. It would also be appropriate for a meeting already deeply penetrated by Boomer notions about young people to see the canonization of the Boomers’ pope.
Paul’s canonization will likely be controversial, despite the events of 1968 discussed here. At New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo anticipates that “St. Paul VI” will be used to argue that the reformed post-Conciliar Mass is to be regarded with the same reverence as St. Pius V’s Tridentine Mass. DiPippo argues that canonization does not erase mistakes that saints made during their lifetimes, pointing most notably to the example of St. Alphonsus Liguori. He also notes that canonized popes, like Pius V and Pius X, initiated liturgical reforms that had both foreseen and unforeseen consequences—not all of them good. For example, St. Pius X’s reform of the breviary was extremely radical and resulted in ancient liturgical traditions being discarded practically overnight. So, DiPippo argues, there is no reason why Paul VI’s canonization would have any effect on the merits of the Novus Ordo. (Or at least the ongoing debate over its merits.)
Now, it is far from clear that the canonization actually matters to the partisans of the reform. In August, Francis, citing, among others, the example of Paul VI, declared “with magisterial authority” the liturgical reform “irreversible.” (It is not exactly clear to us what that means, however.) Furthermore, Francis, anticipating one of DiPippo’s arguments, observed that Paul VI’s liturgical books were “well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council”—not including Alfredo Ottaviani or Marcel Lefebvre, one feels inclined to add. In one sense, therefore, the canonization of Paul VI means as little to the defenders of the reform as it does to DiPippo. They have arguments about the merits of the Novus Ordo that do not rely on a missal promulgated by a saint, just as the partisans of the traditional Mass have arguments that do not rely on a missal promulgated by a saint.
However, it seems to us that the rock-ribbed traditionalists who argue that the Novus Ordo is in some way bad or noxious to faith and morals (or illicit or invalid or whatever) will have a problem if Paul VI is canonized. Indeed, DiPippo seems to anticipate this argument somewhat with the example of St. Alphonsus. The controversy of the Regolamento is not easy to understand, but it boils down to this: in 1779 or 1780, for a variety of reasons, the Redemptorists wanted the approval of the Neapolitan monarchy for their Rule. The Rule was finally submitted, and edited grievously, with the connivance of Alphonsus’s friends and colleagues. (The Neapolitan government did not want the Redemptorists to be a religious order, so one of the chief amendments was the removal of the vows of religion.) Alphonsus was induced to sign it and the king approved it. Redemptorist priests reacted sharply and quickly, telling Alphonsus in no uncertain terms that he’d wrecked the Redemptorists. They also appealed to the pope, Pius VI, whose relations with Naples were strained. Following a trial, Pius essentially suppressed the order outside the Papal States, installed a new superior general, and effectively expelled Alphonsus and the Neapolitan members of the order. In 1793, the Neapolitan government recognized the original Rule and the order was reunified.
Now, on one hand, the parallel between Alphonsus and Paul VI is fairly easily made: just as Alphonsus was tricked (essentially) into ratifying a bad Rule, so too was Paul VI tricked (essentially) into ratifying a bad Missal. Fair enough. However, we are not sure the example quite meets the argument. A Rule is not the Mass, and an imprudent Rule, at variance, however great, with the high and noble purposes of an order is not necessarily noxious to faith and morals or illicit or invalid. It may be administratively destructive and morally harmless. Consequently, it seems to us that the canonization of Paul VI is liable to have some impact—though just what impact, we cannot say—on the argument that the Novus Ordo is positively harmful. It will be, we think, awfully tricky to argue that a canonized saint did something as pope that is bad (or whatever). Obviously, the arguments about its prudence or historical correctness or aesthetic merits remain unaffected.
But liturgical arguments are not the only arguments about Paul VI’s legacy that 2018 will see. As mentioned, 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae, the moment when Paul stood up in the face of the world (and many of his own cardinals, bishops, and priests) and proclaimed the intrinsic immorality of artificial contraception. Paul’s prophetic act was a true sign of contradiction and an exercise of the most fundamental duty of the Petrine office. It was widely anticipated that Paul would approve at least hormonal birth control methods—i.e., “The Pill”—not least because a papal commission, managed by the Dominican Henri de Riedmatten and the American philosopher John T. Noonan, had almost unanimously reported in favor of that resolution. Paul, however, was unwilling to take that step, not least because Pius XI’s Casti connubii proclaimed, possibly infallibly, that most forms of artificial contraception were intrinsically evil. Assisted by Cardinal Ottaviani, and famously Fr. John Ford and Germain Grisez, Paul prepared Humanae vitae and declared clearly that even hormonal birth control, which does not interfere with the reproductive act itself, was immoral.
The progressives and modernists in the Church have never forgiven Paul for his iron-willed refusal to surrender to the spirit of the age.
It is also clear that the same progressives and modernists, taking full advantage of the opening offered to them by the Holy Father’s marriage document, Amoris laetitia, intend on taking the opportunity of the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae to gut the encyclical. In the summer of 2017, reports broke of a four-member commission, established with some degree of Vatican approval, to study the historical circumstances that led to Humanae vitae. Of course, the original deliberations of the papal commission played out in the press, with the majority report, minority report, and schema of an encyclical leaked and analyzed at length. (You can read many of the original documents at Grisez’s website today, and we encourage you to do so.) The current commission, allegedly headed by Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, has allegedly been given unprecedented access to Vatican archives, including the usually sealed archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as part of its mission to study the encyclical. The suggestion is that the historical commission will discover what everyone knows: that the papal commission was almost unanimously in favor of some forms of birth control. Based upon this finding, the fear is that the commission will propose a modification or reinterpretation of Humanae vitae. Now, there was a lot of back and forth about just what the Vatican commission was—beginning with the question of whether it even existed? If it existed, was it a commission tasked with reinterpreting the encyclical or was it just a private study group? Given the climate of this pontificate, it is understandable that official denials are given perhaps less weight than the officials issuing the denials might hope.
But setting to one side the question of an official reconsideration or interpretation of Humanae vitae, it is clear that the modernists and progressives, emboldened by what they see as official support, will seize the opportunity to undermine Humanae vitae. We will hear, no doubt, that some great majority of Catholics, especially Catholics in the United States and Europe, not only support but use various forms of birth control. (It may be suggested that a lot of Catholics “have left” the Church because of the Church’s inflexibility on this point.) We will be told, we imagine, that Paul’s teaching has not been “received” by the faithful. We will be told that so-called natural family planning, a doctrine developed in large part by Pius XII but approved quite definitively by Paul VI, is not infallible and, moreover, is a serious burden on some Catholics. We will be told that the Church needs to attend closely to pastoral realities of couples, especially couples who, for whatever reason, live together without being married. In sum, we will hear all of the arguments in favor of bourgeois sexual ethics from Boomers.
This is, of course, not new, but the proponents of such errors will no doubt state their case louder and longer and with a more favorable reception by the hierarchy, as it will be implied that their views are, as we noted early, shared by prelates in the very highest circles of the Church. Perhaps there will be a press conference or an address to this or that association that gives fuel and oxygen to the fire.
And this is why it is so important to commemorate Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God. When he made his profession of faith, Paul recognized that the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter was to confirm the brethren in the faith. The Petrine ministry, Paul observed, requires the pope to resist even those in the Church who are seized by a desire for novelty, lest the faithful be perplexed and scandalized. Both Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God are moments when Paul resisted the innovators and proclaimed doctrine clearly part of the deposit of faith—good, old Christian truth, to put it another way. Indeed, the documents of the Second Vatican Council ought to be read through the lens of Paul’s Credo, as some points that are murky in the Council’s documents are admirably clear in Paul’s creed. Today, unfortunately, the Pope’s loudest supporters see the pope as a magical figure, who is infallible in every utterance and who has (apparently) the power to amend the doctrines handed down from the apostles, who received them from God.
Of course, it must be mentioned that 1969 and 1970 mark the fiftieth anniversary of the full implementation of the liturgical reform. And it is impossible to separate Paul’s prophetic acts of 1968 from the difficulties posed by the liturgical reform. It is strange, for example, to read in the Credo of the People of God a ringing reaffirmation of the sacrificial dimension of the Mass knowing within a couple of years, the sacrificial dimension would be obscured for many in a haze of optional texts. It cannot be said that Paul did not understand the Petrine ministry, either, given his clear summation of his mandate on June 30, 1968. Instead we are left to grapple with both aspects of Paul’s legacy and come to what conclusions we can.
One point that integralist Catholics have to consider from time to time is the proper form of the state. It is not uncommon to cite Thomas’s De regno in support of the proposition that monarchy is the best form of the state. Consider this passage from the De regno (c. 3):
Ad hoc enim cuiuslibet regentis ferri debet intentio, ut eius quod regendum suscepit salutem procuret. Gubernatoris enim est, navem contra maris pericula servando, illaesam perducere ad portum salutis. Bonum autem et salus consociatae multitudinis est ut eius unitas conservetur, quae dicitur pax, qua remota, socialis vitae perit utilitas, quinimmo multitudo dissentiens sibi ipsi sit onerosa. Hoc igitur est ad quod maxime rector multitudinis intendere debet, ut pacis unitatem procuret. Nec recte consiliatur, an pacem faciat in multitudine sibi subiecta, sicut medicus, an sanet infirmum sibi commissum. Nullus enim consiliari debet de fine quem intendere debet, sed de his quae sunt ad finem. Propterea apostolus commendata fidelis populi unitate: solliciti, inquit, sitis servare unitatem spiritus in vinculo pacis. Quanto igitur regimen efficacius fuerit ad unitatem pacis servandam, tanto erit utilius. Hoc enim utilius dicimus, quod magis perducit ad finem. Manifestum est autem quod unitatem magis efficere potest quod est per se unum, quam plures. Sicut efficacissima causa est calefactionis quod est per se calidum. Utilius igitur est regimen unius, quam plurium.
And in Phelan and Eschmann’s translation:
This question may be considered first from the viewpoint of the purpose of government. The aim of any ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot, for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea. and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety. Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end. Wherefore the Apostle, having commended the unity of the faithful people, says: “Be ye careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus, the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be. For we call that more useful which leads more directly to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many.
(Emphasis supplied.) We have discussed previously that the unity of peace is the secular common good, and that the state must be ordered to that end. One finds Aquinas’s point intuitive: it is easier for one person to order the state to the unity of peace than for a group of people, among whom dissensions will inevitably emerge. Indeed, Aquinas makes just this argument (multitudes mean dissensions) in criticizing group rule in the De regno:
Dissensio enim, quae plurimum sequitur ex regimine plurium, contrariatur bono pacis, quod est praecipuum in multitudine sociali: quod quidem bonum per tyrannidem non tollitur, sed aliqua particularium hominum bona impediuntur, nisi fuerit excessus tyrannidis quod in totam communitatem desaeviat. Magis igitur praeoptandum est unius regimen quam multorum, quamvis ex utroque sequantur pericula.
In our trusty translation:
Group government most frequently breeds dissension. This dissension runs counter to the good of peace which is the principal social good. A tyrant, on the other hand, does not destroy this good, rather he obstructs one or the other individual interest of his subjects—unless, of course, there be an excess of tyranny and the tyrant rages against the whole community. Monarchy is therefore to be preferred to polyarchy, although either form of government might become dangerous.
In other words, rule by a group of people is in a sense more dangerous than tyranny: a tyrant might obstruct the particular goods of this or that subject or group of subjects, but, unless he is opposed to all of his subjects, he might not wound the unity of peace as badly as group rule. We admit: this argument is somewhat opaque, but it has a certain force. Thus, the danger of tyranny—a monarchy gone rotten—is not so acute as the danger of group rule when the band breaks up, as it were.
However, in the Summa Theologiae (Ia IIae q.105 a.1 co.), Aquinas makes a very different point:
circa bonam ordinationem principum in aliqua civitate vel gente, duo sunt attendenda. Quorum unum est ut omnes aliquam partem habeant in principatu, per hoc enim conservatur pax populi, et omnes talem ordinationem amant et custodiunt, ut dicitur in II Polit. Aliud est quod attenditur secundum speciem regiminis, vel ordinationis principatuum. Cuius cum sint diversae species, ut philosophus tradit, in III Polit., praecipuae tamen sunt regnum, in quo unus principatur secundum virtutem; et aristocratia, idest potestas optimorum, in qua aliqui pauci principantur secundum virtutem. Unde optima ordinatio principum est in aliqua civitate vel regno, in qua unus praeficitur secundum virtutem qui omnibus praesit; et sub ipso sunt aliqui principantes secundum virtutem; et tamen talis principatus ad omnes pertinet, tum quia ex omnibus eligi possunt, tum quia etiam ab omnibus eliguntur. Talis enim est optima politia, bene commixta ex regno, inquantum unus praeest; et aristocratia, inquantum multi principantur secundum virtutem; et ex democratia, idest potestate populi, inquantum ex popularibus possunt eligi principes, et ad populum pertinet electio principum.
In the English Dominican translation:
Two points are to be observed concerning the right ordering of rulers in a state or nation. One is that all should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring, as stated in Polit. ii, 6. The other point is to be observed in respect of the kinds of government, or the different ways in which the constitutions are established. For whereas these differ in kind, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5), nevertheless the first place is held by the “kingdom,” where the power of government is vested in one; and “aristocracy,” which signifies government by the best, where the power of government is vested in a few. Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.
(Emphasis supplied.) This seems to cut strongly against the points Aquinas makes in the De regno. That is, we hear in the De regno that the risks of a monarchy (i.e., a tyranny) are less dangerous than the risks of group rule (i.e., dissensions). Now, in the Summa, we hear that everyone should take part in the government, since this better preserves peace among the people.
Moreover, Aquinas, in a reply to an objection (obj. 2 / ad 2), seems to hold that a tyranny is worse than dissensions:
Ad secundum dicendum quod regnum est optimum regimen populi, si non corrumpatur. Sed propter magnam potestatem quae regi conceditur, de facili regnum degenerat in tyrannidem, nisi sit perfecta virtus eius cui talis potestas conceditur, quia non est nisi virtuosi bene ferre bonas fortunas, ut philosophus dicit, in IV Ethic. Perfecta autem virtus in paucis invenitur […]
A kingdom is the best form of government of the people, so long as it is not corrupt. But since the power granted to a king is so great, it easily degenerates into tyranny, unless he to whom this power is given be a very virtuous man: for it is only the virtuous man that conducts himself well in the midst of prosperity, as the Philosopher observes (Ethic. iv, 3). Now perfect virtue is to be found in few […]
And in the notes to Phelan and Eschmann’s translation to the De regno, it is observed that Aquinas’s chapter on the avoidance of tyranny (c.7) is incomplete. They suggest, following Carlyle, that if Aquinas had completed the section, he probably would have wound up at the same place as the Summa: advancing the form of a mixed polity. And this seems at least plausible in some respects. The reply to Objection 2 in Question 105 certainly suggests that Aquinas had tyranny on his mind when considering this matter. However, this argument does not address Aquinas’s point in the Summa that a democracy—even a limited democracy—is desirable to ensure the unity of peace. Certainly he is correct when he suggests that dissensions arise among groups of people, and it is inevitable that in the group of all persons in the polity (however one wishes to qualify eligibility) there will be more dissensions. One replies to this, one suspects, by arguing that the monarchical aspects of the mixed constitution will tame the dissensions threatened by the aristocratic and democratic aspects of the constitution. Perhaps this is true.
It is an interesting question, however, and one best considered through Aquinas’s various positions on the question. It is clear, we think, that Aquinas’s thought developed, perhaps even as he wrote the De regno, but certainly by the time he wrote Question 105 of the Prima Secundae Partis, from the position that monarchy is the best constitution, if a constitution with risks, to the position that a mixed constitution is the best constitution. This development is worth considering, not least because of the reasons implied in the De regno and in Question 105. It is also worth considering because grappling with Aquinas’s thought on these matters is an essential part of reclaiming the Church’s political thought and determining how best to implement that thought today.
At his blog, Fr. John Hunwicke has an interesting and controversial (not to say explosive) post, which refers to Cardinal Newman’s judgment on the hierarchy convulsed by the Arian crisis following Nicaea. We are not wholly taken by Fr. Hunwicke’s argument about the present day, but we will pass over that. Fr. Hunwicke helpfully explains that Pope Liberius, when he subscribed the third Sirmian confession, was unfaithful to his office or obscured the truth. Yet, as a commenter on Fr. Hunwicke’s blog observes, a word ought to be said for poor Liberius, who so often comes up as an example of a disastrous pope. First of all, it has long been controversial whether and when Liberius blotted his copybook, so to speak. Assume that it is not controversial, however. There is still a plea to be made for the defense.
Under the circumstances that bring us here, who better should make it than Cardinal Newman, in his Arians of the Fourth Century:
There are men, in whose mouths sentiments, such as these, are becoming and admirable, as being the result of Christian magnanimity, and imposed upon them by their station in the Church. But the sequel of the history shows, that in the conduct of Liberius there was more of personal feeling and intemperate indignation, than of deep-seated fortitude of soul. His fall, which followed, scandalous as it is in itself, may yet be taken to illustrate the silent firmness of those others his fellow-sufferers, of whom we hear less, because they bore themselves more consistently. Two years of exile, among the dreary solitudes of Thrace, broke his spirit; and the triumph of his deacon Felix, who had succeeded to his power, painfully forced upon his imagination his own listless condition, which brought him no work to perform, and no witness of his sufferings for the truth’s sake. Demophilus, one of the foremost of the Eusebian party, was bishop of Berœa, the place of Liberius’s banishment; and gave intelligence of his growing melancholy to his own associates. Wise in their generation, they had an instrument ready prepared for the tempter’s office. Fortunatian, Bishop of Aquileia, who stood high in the opinion of Liberius for disinterestedness and courage, had conformed to the court-religion in the Arian Council of Milan; and he was now employed by the Eusebians, to gain over the wavering prelate. The arguments of Fortunatian and Demophilus shall be given in the words of Maimbourg. “They told him, that they could not conceive, how a man of his worth and spirit could so long obstinately resolve to be miserable upon a chimerical notion, which subsisted only in the imagination of people of weak or no understanding: that, indeed, if he suffered for the cause of God and the Church, of which God had given him the government, they should not only look upon his sufferings as glorious, but, being willing to partake of his glory, they should also become his companions in banishment themselves. But that this matter related neither to God nor religion; that it concerned merely a private person, named Athanasius, whose cause had nothing in common with that of the Church, whom the public voice had long since accused of numberless crimes, whom Councils had condemned, and who had been turned out of his see by the great Constantine, whose judgment alone was sufficient to justify all that the East and West had so often pronounced against him. That, even if he were not so guilty as men made him, yet it was necessary to sacrifice him to the peace of the Church, and to throw him into the sea to appease the storm, which he was the occasion of raising; but that, the greater part of the Bishops having condemned him, the defending him would be causing a schism, and that it was a very uncommon sight to see the Roman prelate abandon the care of the Church, and banish himself into Thrace, to become the martyr of one, whom both divine and human justice had so often declared guilty. That it was high time to undeceive himself, and to open his eyes at last; to see, whether it was not passion in Athanasius, which gave a false alarm, and opposed an imaginary heresy, to make the world believe that they had a mind to establish error.”
The arguments, diffusively but instructively reported in the above extract, were enforced by the threat of death as the consequence of obstinacy; while, on the other hand, a temptation of a peculiar nature presented itself to the exiled bishop in his very popularity with the Roman people, which was such, that Constantius had already been obliged to promise them his restoration. Moreover, as if to give a reality to the inducements by which he was assailed, a specific plan of mutual concession and concord had been projected, in which Liberius was required to take part.
(Emphasis supplied.) A note quotes the great German Church historian, Bishop von Hefele, who observed:
“We therefore conclude without doubt that Liberius, yielding to force and sinking under many years of confinement and exile, signed the so-called third Sirmian formula, that is, the collection of older formulas of faith accepted at the third Sirmian Synod of 358. He did not do this without scruples, for the Semi-Arian character and origin of these formulas were not unknown to him; but, as they contained no direct or express rejection of the orthodox faith, and as it was represented to him, on the other side, that the Nicene [homoousios] formed a cloak for Sabellianism and Photinism, he allowed himself to be persuaded to accept the third Sirmian confession. But by so doing he only renounced the letter of the Nicene faith, not the orthodox faith itself.”
One would have to be very firm indeed not to be moved by Liberius’s plight. It is not as though he was merely banished from Rome by the Arian Constantius, forced to see Felix set up as an antipope in his place, and beguiled with the honeyed words of his erstwhile friend Fortunatian, though all of that did happen. He was threatened with martyrdom if all of those blandishments proved insufficient. And even then, Bishop von Hefele argues, Liberius could have told himself that he was not defecting from the faith of the Apostles, but merely rejecting a disputed formulation of that faith. (Though, as it happens, an extremely correct formulation of that faith.)
And if the argument at bar of Cardinal Newman is not quite persuasive, would you be interested to know that Athanasius himself saw grounds for mitigation in Liberius’s lapse? In his Historia Arianorum (5.41), he wrote:
Who that shall hear what they did in the course of these proceedings will not think them to be anything rather than Christians? When Liberius sent Eutropius, a Presbyter, and Hilarius, a Deacon, with letters to the Emperor, at the time that Lucifer and his fellows made their confession, they banished the Presbyter on the spot, and after stripping Hilarius the Deacon and scourging him on the back, they banished him too, clamouring at him, ‘Why did you not resist Liberius instead of being the bearer of letters from him.’ Ursacius and Valens, with the eunuchs who sided with them, were the authors of this outrage. The Deacon, while he was being scourged, praised the Lord, remembering His words, ‘I gave My back to the smiters (Isaiah 50:6);’ but they while they scourged him laughed and mocked him, feeling no shame that they were insulting a Levite. Indeed they acted but consistently in laughing while he continued to praise God; for it is the part of Christians to endure stripes, but to scourge Christians is the outrage of a Pilate or a Caiaphas. Thus they endeavoured at the first to corrupt the Church of the Romans, wishing to introduce impiety into it as well as others. But Liberius after he had been in banishment two years gave way, and from fear of threatened death subscribed. Yet even this only shows their violent conduct, and the hatred of Liberius against the heresy, and his support of Athanasius, so long as he was suffered to exercise a free choice. For that which men are forced by torture to do contrary to their first judgment, ought not to be considered the willing deed of those who are in fear, but rather of their tormentors. They however attempted everything in support of their heresy, while the people in every Church, preserving the faith which they had learned, waited for the return of their teachers, and condemned the Antichristian heresy, and all avoid it, as they would a serpent.
Now, all of this is not to turn, as some popular Jesuit commentators are apt to do these days, black into white and wrong into right. Martyrdom is, indeed, preferable to signing an intentionally ambiguous (at best) creed. Indeed, recall what John Paul II said in Veritatis splendor:
Finally, martyrdom is an outstanding sign of the holiness of the Church. Fidelity to God’s holy law, witnessed to by death, is a solemn proclamation and missionary commitment usque ad sanguinem, so that the splendour of moral truth may be undimmed in the behaviour and thinking of individuals and society. This witness makes an extraordinarily valuable contribution to warding off, in civil society and within the ecclesial communities themselves, a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities. By their eloquent and attractive example of a life completely transfigured by the splendour of moral truth, the martyrs and, in general, all the Church’s Saints, light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense. By witnessing fully to the good, they are a living reproof to those who transgress the law (cf. Wis 2:12), and they make the words of the Prophet echo ever afresh: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is 5:20).
Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment. In this he or she is sustained by the virtue of fortitude, whereby — as Gregory the Great teaches — one can actually “love the difficulties of this world for the sake of eternal rewards”.
(Emphasis supplied.) It is true that Liberius chose, it seems, to save his own neck and to return to the adulation of the Roman people after he was ground down by exile and humiliated and threatened with death. His martyrdom, had he made that choice, would have been a reproach to the Arians and a light to Christians even today. But we ought not to pretend—or even imply—that Liberius’s failure came lightly and laughingly and voluntarily.
At Gloria.tv, there is a translation of a conference that the late Carlo Cardinal Caffarra would have given on October 21 in London. Cardinal Caffarra’s address would have touched at length on Bl. John Henry Newman’s doctrine of conscience, especially as conscience relates to the papacy. Rather than quote from Cardinal Caffarra’s lecture, which you ought to read, we shall quote from the fifth chapter of Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:
I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.'”
(Emphasis supplied.) Cardinal Caffarra quotes from this section, but turns also to chapter five of the Grammar of Assent. (We have no wish to upstage Cardinal Caffarra, especially now, so we will not parallel his argument, and instead again encourage you to read both his address and the relevant passages of Newman.) Turning back to the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, we see also that Newman recognized that almost no one spoke in these terms when referring to conscience in his day:
When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.
(Emphasis supplied.) It is no less true today than in 1874 that conscience is man’s apprehension of the divine and natural law laid down by God, which must be obeyed at all costs. And it is no less true today than in 1874 that few understand by “conscience” what Newman, relying on authorities no less weighty than Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, meant. Indeed, it seems more true in 2017 than in 1874 that people view conscience as “the right of self-will.”
Indeed, in so much recent discourse in the Church, it seems that the world’s definition of conscience has been taken instead of Newman’s. Not so long ago, an American bishop, now raised to the purple by the Holy Father, spoke of conscience not as God’s law apprehended by a rational creature, but as a decision, made at the end of a process. Now, it is true that this bishop did not go so far as the liberals of Newman’s day, but once one accepts conscience as a sort of judgment, rather than an individual’s implementation of God’s “sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority,” one is already skipping down the primrose path of liberalism. And no one was a stauncher opponent of liberalism than Cardinal Newman. Difficult questions of moral theology—questions of adultery, homosexual behavior, and access to the sacraments, to name but three—are once again being debated, with liberals invoking conscience in support of their positions. Liberalism is on the march again in the Roman Church. And, as an opponent of liberalism, Newman stands squarely against any attempt to turn conscience into nothing more than private judgment, into the more or less educated decision of a person to comply or not with God’s law. It is no wonder then that Newman was on Cardinal Caffarra’s mind.
As it becomes clear that progressives in the Church insist on relitigating every battle since 1965—as they obviously think that the Holy Father will give them their every wish, whether he will or not—it becomes equally clear that a return to theologians like Newman is necessary. You have no doubt heard the disquieting rumors that even Humanae vitae is in the sights of the modernists and progressives, to say nothing of the recent fights in Catholic social media over homosexuality. We do not think the Holy Father is prepared to go as far as the modernists and progressives demanding this or that accommodation, but it is in the nature of modernism for its adherents to go beyond legitimate authority. At this moment, it is necessary to recover the entire anti-liberal teaching of the Church, including the great papal teachings from Gregory XVI to Pius XI, in addition to Newman’s thought. Liberalism is nothing new, however new and upsetting the assault of the progressives may be. And the great anti-liberal popes and thinkers like Newman fought liberalism to a standstill.
Rick Yoder has a fine appreciation of Fr. Frederick Faber at his blog, The Amish Catholic. Yoder quotes liberally from Faber’s writings and comes to an interesting point, well worth considering, about the present state of the Church. Not having quite Yoder’s gift for a narrative, we confine ourselves to more mundane observations, including a quick look at pages 442 and 443 of Msgr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox’s 1939 Westminster Hymnal, which sets forth the authors and translators of the hymns included in that indispensable volume. Obviously many translations of Knox and Caswall are included, but here’s a surprise: Faber is just as well represented. Indeed, one may say that the Westminster Hymnal is primarily the work of Knox, Caswall, and Faber. (Plus the old favorite, Anonymous.) And, if you know where to look, you can still find Faber’s 1854 Oratory Hymns. (While Faber may not have been the roughest, toughest clerk in England, read the third stanza of “Faith of Our Fathers,” published within a few years of the restoration of the English hierarchy and within living memory of the Relief Act 1829, and say that he had no courage.) Yoder also talks about Faber’s great devotion to Our Lady. Indeed, anyone fond of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Charles de Koninck’s masterful volume, Ego Sapientia, feels as though one has met a kindred spirit when encountering Faber. Or at least a spirit with whom one can converse on equal terms. We are reminded by an anecdote of John Hunwicke’s on the question of Faber’s Marian devotion. At any rate, take a moment and read Yoder’s fine essay and get to know Fr. Faber a little better.