“Burying Benedict,” tradition, and unity

Matthew Schmitz’s essay, “Burying Benedict,” has kicked up quite a firestorm in the Catholic internet. The usual suspects—ranging from Fr. James Martin, S.J., to Professor Massimo Faggioli—have chimed in to suggest that, when one pope contradicts another pope, the only important thing is that there is one pope at the moment. You can find their comments on Twitter, along with other comments in a similar vein. To take these complaints at face value, one would conclude that the reigning pope, the magisterium, and tradition are all the same thing. It seems that these defenders of the Holy Father have forgotten what the Second Vatican Council taught in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum:

And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3). Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) While not as clear as Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani’s great, maligned schema De fontibus revelationis, Dei Verbum nevertheless makes the point that the tradition of the Church goes back to Christ Himself and, alongside scripture, constitutes one wellspring of divine revelation. Again Dei Verbum:

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) Nowhere in the Council’s understanding of tradition can one find the idea, articulated if dimly by Schmitz’s critics, that the reigning pope and tradition are one and the same thing. It would be just as ludicrous to say, since Dei Verbum teaches that scripture and tradition are part of one wellspring of revelation, that when a hypothetical pope contradicts scripture, the important thing is that there is one pope. It would be bizarre to imply that the pope and scripture are somehow the same thing. Public revelation ceased at the death of the last apostle; there is but one deposit of faith, handed on one generation to the next.

So much for the idea that the pope is some how himself the tradition. In fact, we know that the pope is the servant and guardian of the tradition, and has been promised the special assistance of the Holy Spirit for that ministry. Recall what the First Vatican Council taught in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Pastor aeternus:

That apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This Holy See has always maintained this, the constant custom of the Church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it.

[…]

To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received.

[…]

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

(Emphasis supplied.) This office, in service of the tradition given by Christ or through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, which has been handed down from those times to this time, is ultimately an office of unity:

This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, it is not the role of the pope to set one faction of the Church against another or to choose winners and losers, but, instead, to avoid precisely that factionalism in favor of unity. By serving the tradition and Indeed, the primacy of Peter itself is an office of unity:

This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: “My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due.”

(Footnote omitted.) All of this is to say that the pope is not magic. He does not get to rewrite the tradition of the Church at will to meet his whims or the whims of progressive theologians. That is not what popes do. Instead, he guards the tradition of the Church to avoid schism and preserve unity.

This is, of course, the risk of a partisan spirit in the Church and the concomitant ultramontanism. And it is a real risk. “Our man” is in the Apostolic Palace (or the modern guesthouse nearby), and it’s time to get our own back. Right and left have fallen prey to this beguiling temptation. When Benedict was pope, conservatives felt as though he would singlehandedly grant them their list of wishes going back to 1965. Now that Francis is pope, modernists and progressives feel as though Francis is going to singlehandedly grant them their list of wishes going back to 1978. Benedict undoubtedly did things his supporters were pleased by, such as the new translation of the Roman Missal, the Ordinariates, and Summorum Pontificum. Francis undoubtedly does things his supporters are pleased by, such as Amoris laetitia. But the partisan spirit that motivates such assessments leads very quickly to the irrational ultramontanism we see in the reactions to Schmitz’s piece. No one really thinks the pope can do whatever he wants. No one really thinks he’s magic. But in the moment, when things are going your way? When you’re sticking it to your ecclesiastical and ecclesial opponents? Well, maybe you didn’t mean to say it quite like that.

But you did say it.

The bottom line is that it should be uncontroversial to say that the pope must serve tradition, that he must hand on what he received. We do not make all things new with each Habemus Papam.

Everything that dies someday comes back

At First Things, Matthew Schmitz has an excellent piece, “Burying Benedict,” that begins:

Though Benedict is still living, Francis is trying to bury him. Upon his election in 2013, Francis began to pursue an agenda that Joseph Ratzinger had opposed throughout his career. A stress on the pastoral over against the doctrinal, a promotion of diverse disciplinary and doctrinal approaches in local churches, the opening of communion to the divorced and remarried—all these proposals were weighed and rejected by Ratzinger more than ten years ago in a heated debate with Walter Kasper. For better or worse, Francis now seeks to reverse Ratzinger.

Schmitz then goes on to outline the course of the debate between Ratzinger and Cardinal Kasper over communion for bigamists. It is an interesting recitation of the facts, especially since Schmitz observes that some of the polemical language in Kasper’s 2001 reply to Ratzinger—a reply following several years of back-and-forth, official and otherwise—was introduced by a translator and is not present in the original German text.

But, such interesting minutiae aside, Schmitz presents an overwhelming case that, by siding with Kasper and his supporters, the Holy Father puts himself squarely in tension with Benedict. Indeed, Francis’s language is straight out of Kasper’s various pronouncements on the question of communion for bigamists. The argument for continuity between Amoris laetitia and the various documents of the Holy Father’s predecessors is, we think, rubbished entirely by Schmitz’s brief summary of the case. Francis manifestly sides with Kasper, and Kasper was clearly arguing against the magisterial position of John Paul and Ratzinger. The only way to argue for continuity is to point to the language at the beginning of paragraph 300 and argue that Amoris laetitia doesn’t actually do anything except urge pastors “to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, … the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.” But such an argument is ridiculous in the face of the various instructions of the bishops’ conferences that have received varying degrees of approval from the Holy See.

This argument, which has been hashed out repeatedly over the last couple of years, takes on renewed force in light of Benedict’s brief note praising Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which is (or was) intended as an afterword to an edition of Cardinal Sarah’s book on silence. There, Benedict wrote:

Cardinal Sarah is a spiritual teacher, who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us.

We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church. With the liturgy, too, as with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, it is true that specialized knowledge is necessary. But it is also true of the liturgy that specialization ultimately can talk right past the essential thing unless it is grounded in a deep, interior union with the praying Church, which over and over again learns anew from the Lord himself what adoration is. With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands.

(Emphasis supplied.) The note is, of course, exactly the sort of thing Ratzinger has written many times over the years, and it is precisely the sort of polite, appreciative note that theologians write for each other all the time. That Benedict is the pope emeritus is, of course, a feather in Cardinal Sarah’s cap, but it hardly seemed significant to us. However, Cardinal Sarah’s many critics have gone ballistic since the publication of the letter. Cardinal Sarah’s conservative theology and evident piety drive them wild even without an endorsement from Benedict. Yet their fury was especially keen, since this was seen as an effort by Benedict to interfere in active Church politics. The progressives want to erase Benedict’s liturgical reforms and go back to the 1970s. Cardinal Sarah does not. The letter, therefore, was seen by the progressives, whose enthusiasm for progressive causes is almost solipsistic, as Benedict’s intervention in the debate.

But was it? Certainly the Holy Father’s effort to hand Walter Kasper the victory in the communion-for-bigamists debate fifteen years after the last significant exchange is no less an effort to erase Benedict’s legacy in the Church. This point is not lost on Schmitz, who concludes:

In the face of this challenge, Benedict has kept an almost perfect silence. There is hardly any need to add to the words in which he resoundingly rejected the program of Kasper and Francis. And yet the awkwardness remains. No pope in living memory has so directly opposed his predecessor—who, in this instance, happens to live just up the hill. This is why supporters of Francis’s agenda become nervous whenever Benedict speaks, as he recently did in praise of Cardinal Sarah. Were the two men in genuine accord, partisans of Francis would not fear the learned, gentle German who walks the Vatican Gardens.

And so the two popes, active and emeritus, speaking and silent, remain at odds. In the end, it does not matter who comes last or speaks most; what matters is who thinks with the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go. When Benedict’s enraptured words are compared to the platitudes of his successor, it is hard not to notice a difference: One pope echoes the apostles, and the other parrots Walter Kasper. Because this difference in speech reflects a difference in belief, a prediction can be made. Regardless of who dies first, Benedict will outlive Francis.

(Emphasis supplied.) As is so often the case, we are reminded of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” which provides us the title for this post.

But we are left wondering what if?

What if, one clear morning in Rome, Benedict woke up and decided that enough was enough and issued a clear statement, written in the limpid prose he is capable of, against Kasperism. Now, it is clear that such a statement would be from Benedict as private doctor, not as pastor of the universal Church. It would have no juridical effect. Certainly the greatest living theologian of the age is entitled to comment upon the greatest theological controversy of the day. Indeed, given Benedict’s talents as a theologian, to say nothing of his prestige, one might say he has a positive duty to make known both to the pastor of the universal Church and the laity his opinion (cf. can. 212 § 3). However, if his polite praise of Cardinal Sarah is seen as a dangerous intervention worthy of attack, one can only imagine that the progressives would be convulsed with paroxysms of rage, their fury would be incandescent. The man who owed them nothing from day one would have broken his nonexistent promise of silence. But what then? 

Social conflict and the common good

A little while ago, we discussed St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of the common good: peace, which is to say unity and good order. It occurs to us a  brief demonstration of the value of this clear definition might be illustrative. Consider the social-conflict doctrine of the Church, most clearly expressed by Pius XI and St. John Paul II. In Centesimus annus (no. 14), John Paul taught:

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

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

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) John Paul’s thinking becomes much clearer. If the common good, as St. Thomas tells us, is peace, which is to say unity and good order, a partisan interest—especially a destructive partisan interest—is surely directly opposed to the common good. One cannot have total war and peace at the same time. (So much for Marxist class struggle.) Moreover, social conflict rightly conceived, John Paul and Pius XI tell us, requires always participants to seek justice in unity. In other words, social conflict is really an attempt to restore unity and good order.

To this end, consider Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (no. 114), quoted by John Paul in Centesimus annus:

For if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice, and if this is not that blessed social peace which we all seek, it can and ought to be the point of departure from which to move forward to the mutual cooperation of the Industries and Professions. So also the war declared on private ownership, more and more abated, is being so restricted that now, finally, not the possession itself of the means of production is attacked but rather a kind of sovereignty over society which ownership has, contrary to all right, seized and usurped. For such sovereignty belongs in reality not to owners but to the public authority. If the foregoing happens, it can come even to the point that imperceptibly these ideas of the more moderate socialism will no longer differ from the desires and demands of those who are striving to remold human society on the basis of Christian principles. For certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals.

(Emphasis supplied.) The great Papa Ratti tells us that a class struggle “abstain[ing] from enmities and mutual hatred,” thereby transformed into an “honest discussion” about social justice, if it is not the peace which is sought, at least is the beginning of unity and good order.

All of this makes sense in the context of what John Paul tells us. It appears to be his position that social conflicts arise in the course of history, and that Christians must “often” take a position, “honestly and decisively.” In other words, even if Christians do not create the conflict, they may well have to take a position in the conflict. However, this must be a discussion of differences founded upon a desire for social justice. If this cannot per se restore unity and good order (“that blessed social peace”), it can at least be the starting point for the process of restoring unity and good order. One may say, therefore, that social conflict has as its end the restoration of unity and good order, whether this is accomplished immediately or after some time. Thus, as Christians evaluate the circumstances that lead to their involvement in social conflict, they must evaluate also the most expedient means for restoring unity and good order.

Against Options

This is not another piece about Rod Dreher’s discussed-to-death “Benedict Option.” We have said what we intend to say about that. Instead, we want to call your attention to an excellent essay by Peter Kwasniewski at New Liturgical Movement. It begins:

I was once talking with a priest about the strange phenomenon of options in the new rite of Mass and the other sacraments. He made the observation that whenever there are multiple options, one of which is traditional and the others more recent inventions, there seems to be a subtle pressure to choose the more recent inventions, with the consequence that, as he put it, the traditional practice is “optioned out of existence.”

He goes on to observe:

To take another example, we know that it’s possible to sing the entire Mass in Gregorian chant, and that this is the clearly-stated preference of the Second Vatican Council; but a chanted Mass was one of the first casualties of allowing options for music. Most places don’t use the Entrance, Offertory, or Communion antiphons. The music ministers simply substitute other, more or less appropriate (usually less appropriate) hymns for those Propers, which are actually part of the structure of the Mass in a way that hymns never have been and never will be. Miscellaneous vernacular hymns are not printed in the official liturgical books; they’re not printed in the missal; they’re not part of the liturgy; they’re just optional add-ons. But the optional add-ons have become the norm, almost as if they’re required, and the traditional options, which are a part of the structure of the liturgy and its history, are optioned out of existence.

Read the whole thing at NLM.

Prof. Kwasniewski is, of course, correct. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite has a plethora of options available to the priest. And it is entirely possible to say a Novus Ordo Mass that is similar to the traditional Latin Mass. But one does not have to be a Catholic very long to realize that almost no one says a Novus Ordo that resembles a traditional Mass all that closely. Prof. Kwasniewski makes some excellent points about this reality pointing toward a wholesale rejection of tradition by many priests and bishops. We wonder, however, if that’s the whole story.

St. Thomas and the definition of the political common good

For Catholics interested in the social teaching of the Church, the common good is an important concept. Indeed, much hinges upon an understanding of the common good in political terms, ranging from a Thomistic understanding of law to the duties of the government. However, we have a tendency to speak of the political common good in somewhat abstract terms; that is, to imagine the common good as a hermetically sealed concept. Human law is an ordinance of reason, we say, ordered to the common good. A people may choose any of a whole host of forms of government, we observe, provided the government serves the common good. Now, these points are correct, but they are a little opaque. And the opacity does not serve broader discourse especially well. Let us put it like this: it is not good for clear thinking if a central concept in Catholic social thought is a mystery.

However, we know that the common good is not a mystery. In the De Regno (c.3), St. Thomas Aquinas tells us what, exactly, the political common good is:

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.

(Emphasis supplied.) In Phelan’s translation, as revised by Fr. Eschmann, this is rendered:

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.) Likewise, in the Summa Contra Gentiles (III, c. 146.5), Thomas observes:

Sicut medicus in sua operatione intendit sanitatem, quae consistit in ordinata concordia humorum, ita rector civitatis intendit in sua operatione pacem, quae consistit in civium ordinata concordia. Medicus autem abscindit membrum putridum bene et utiliter, si per ipsum immineat corruptio corporis. Iuste igitur et absque peccato rector civitatis homines pestiferos occidit, ne pax civitatis turbetur.

(Emphasis supplied.) In Bourke’s translation:

[J]ust as a physician looks to health as the end in his work, and health consists in the orderly concord of humors, so, too, the ruler of a state intends peace in his work, and peace consists in “the ordered concord of citizens.” Now, the physician quite properly and beneficially cuts off a diseased organ if the corruption of the body is threatened because of it. Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted.

(Emphasis supplied.) As Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., puts it in his indispensable essay: “The primary intrinsic common good of the polity is the unity of order, peace.” And this is the end of rule, about which it is not legitimate to deliberate. He may deliberate about how to establish peace only.

Thomas’s primary example—the physician and his duty to heal his patient, much on his mind apparently in the 1260s—comes, as is often the case, from Aristotle, who in the Nicomachean Ethics (III.3, 1112b12–15) remarks:

We deliberate not about ends but about what contributes to ends. For a doctor does not deliberate about whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall convince, nor a statesman about whether he shall produce law and order, nor does anyone else deliberate about his end.

(Emphasis supplied.) But Fr. Eschmann, in a note to the De Regno, observes that Thomas relies upon the Latin translation of the Nicomachean Ethics, which renders eunomia as pax. Messrs. Liddell, Scott, and Jones advise us that eunomia means “good order.” Messrs. Lewis and Short advise us that pax actually has a range of meanings, tending toward peace following some sort of conflict. At any rate, it is a question for the philologists whether or not the Latin Ethics correctly renders eunomia as pax. But it is a question for the philologists only. Thomas shows us that he means to say that, as far as he is concerned, eunomia and pax are the same thing. Consider the Summa Contra Gentiles: he teaches that peace “consistit in civium ordinata concordia.” Or the De Regno: “[b]onum autem et salus consociatae multitudinis est ut eius unitas conservetur, quae dicitur pax” (emphasis supplied). The upshot is, as we say, that peace and good order are the same thing in Thomas’s mind.

Now, there are all sorts of consequences from this correct understanding of the common good. When Aquinas, for example, tells us that human law is a dictate of practical reason ordered to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.1 co. & ad 3; Ia IIae q.90 a.2 co.; Ia IIae q.91 a.3 co.), we see that human law is really ordered to good order, unity, and peace. And when Aquinas tells us that human laws framed according to the divine and natural laws make men simply good (Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co.), we may deduce that there is an intrinsic connection between good order and virtue. Aquinas even makes this point explicit (Ia IIae q.92 a.1 ad 3). Moreover, difficult Thomistic teachings, such as his teaching on the death penalty, become clearer when it is understood that the common good is good order, peace, and unity. Subsequent teachings also snap into clearer focus, such as when the great Pius XI talks, in Quadragesimo anno, about regulating private property according to the common good. Recalling the intrinsic connection between good order and virtue, we can even progress to a deeper understanding of Thomistic scholarship, such as Charles de Koninck’s The Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists.

None of this is, we think, especially esoteric or even particularly hard to understand. However, it is a principle that we have seen get a little lost in the discussions about the political common good. Now that more and more people—recognizing that Enlightenment liberalism is a dead end—are exploring the perennial teaching of the Church about the rightly ordered state, which is drawn from the greater western tradition, it is essential to understand the terms of art. For example, when one says, quite reasonably, we think, that liberalism is per se corrosive of the common good, one may better understand such a statement with the correct definition of the common good in mind.

Pierre Manent’s illiberal republic

At First Things, Pierre Manent has a lengthy, provocative essay, which begins:

We French have for some years been overcome by a furor for republicanism and for citizenship. There is no activity so humble that it cannot take on an intimidating nobility as soon as it is associated with citizenship. The republic calls us, besieges us, smothers us—but where is the republic? Are we part of a republic, or does our intemperate usage of the term mean only that we have forgotten its meaning?

I raise these questions in a nonpartisan, non-polemical way. I do not mean: Our republic is no longer republican enough; we must try harder! I mean: This collective body that we make up together, is it still legitimate to call it a republic? This question can only be raised seriously if we suspend our participation in the current political debate and strive to grasp “republic” as a discernable and shareable object of thought and subject of action.

(Emphasis supplied.) While Manent is better situated than we are to diagnose a French furor for republicanism and citizenship, he would not be wrong to say that, even in the United States, “there is no activity so humble that it cannot take on an intimidating nobility as soon as it is associated with citizenship.” Indeed, he would not be wrong to say that about nearly any liberal democracy. But as we work through Manent’s argument, it becomes clear that his vision of the republic is fundamentally illiberal. Indeed, it seems to be a rejection of the liberal-democratic regime altogether. To an illiberal Catholic of an integralist bent—as we shall soon see—Manent’s arguments (at least as we understand them) are not especially novel. But they do point out the basic problem with liberal western democracy: the rejection of the common good.

Pushing his initial question—where is the republic? are we part of a republic?—Manent writes:

What, then, is the basis of republican government? We hardly ever pose this question; or rather we answer it in a hasty way. We say in effect: The basis of republican government is in principle the pursuit of the general interest. But, unfortunately, in practice particular interests usually prevail. Equipped with this important information, we citizens are full of admiration for our good intentions and pitilessly severe towards the politicians who of course betray them. How might we avoid this mix of moralism and skepticism that makes us both idle and querulous citizens?

For once we must think not of ourselves but of those who govern us. What is the basis of their action? We must not by any means ask them, since they will repeat the platitudes called for by the representative system. Whom to ask, then? The advantage of the non-representative republic, especially the Roman Republic, is that it makes available to us the spirit and motives of republican government, which are more visible because they are not veiled or distorted by the enormous artifice of representation. Without necessarily following Montaigne in “taking up the fight” for Pompey or Brutus, we would thus be well-advised to interrogate the Romans.

(Emphasis supplied.) We take Manent to mean by “general interest” the “common good.” (He says as much later in the article.) But the pursuit of the general interest—the pursuit of the common good—is the basis for all government. Indeed, we contend that this is an ordinance of the natural law. In other words, Manent’s definition of “republican government” is simply the definition of “government.” Manent trades in a tautology: the definition of government is government. And because this is the case, as we’ll see here in a couple minutes, we very quickly depart from the liberal-democratic ideal of the republic. That is, we get away from a broadly representative democracy with a generous franchise and a separation of powers.

Before exploring Manent’s point, we must raise, if not a classicist’s objection, then an antiquarian’s objection. Manent goes on to “interrogate the Romans” through Shakespeare, arguing that,

Shakespeare’s Roman plays follow faithfully Plutarch’s Lives. A historian and philosopher, Plutarch was admired by Montaigne and Rousseau for his acute judgment of human actions and for his skill in revealing the bases of these actions. The drama of the theater adds to these qualities, for it is all about action, and there all speech serves action or is bound up with it, thus bringing to the surface, by its very form, the springs of human endeavor. Shakespeare’s Roman plays thus make available to us not, of course, a historical document, but an interrogation or inquiry into the motives of the actors of the Roman Republic, the regime that left the deepest mark on the history of Europe and of the West.

On one hand, it seems to us that this is a reasonable approach. Certainly generations have looked to Rome or Shakespeare or both of them for insight on human nature and government. On the other hand, there is rather a lot of mediation here. We interrogate the Romans by interrogating Shakespeare who interrogated Plutarch who interrogated the actors of the Roman Republic. There are, of course, other sources available to us, including some of the key players of the Roman Republic, like Caesar and Cicero, to say nothing of other observers like Horace and Catullus. We have, also, authors who wrote in the wake of the collapse of the Republic and the early decades of the empire, like Seneca and Tacitus. All of these authors had the austere virtues of the Roman Republic in mind and the balance of these virtues with the paroxysms shaking Rome at the time. Consider, for example, Horace’s Carmina II.15:

Iam pauca aratro iugera regiae
moles relinquent, undique latius
extenta visentur Lucrino
stagna lacu, platanusque caelebs

evincet ulmos; tum violaria et
myrtus et omnis copia narium
spargent olivetis odorem
fertilibus domino priori,

tum spissa ramis laurea fervidos
excludet ictus. Non ita Romuli
praescriptum et intonsi Catonis
auspiciis veterumque norma.

Privatus illis census erat brevis,
commune magnum: nulla decempedis
metata privatis opacam
porticus excipiebat Arcton,

nec fortuitum spernere caespitem
leges sinebant, oppida publico
sumptu iubentes et deorum
templa novo decorare saxo.

(Our poetic sense is not so good as to provide an excellent English rendering of this poem, which many of our readers likely read in a high school or college Latin class. Certainly Horace has been translated.) One might well find in Horace’s poem echoes of the discourse of any number of American or European conservatives. While it is true that Plutarch or Plutarch-through-Shakespeare might dramatize “motives of the actors of the Roman Republic,” it is no less true that these actors or their coevals themselves left a record of, if not their personal motives (though Cicero, for example, certainly did that), then the ideals they wished they were motivated by. Yet Manent sets out to explore the Roman ideals mediated through Plutarch and Shakespeare.

Can Plutarch and Shakespeare really be better sources on the Roman Republic than M. Tullius Cicero, one of the last great defenders of the Republic in its final years? Or Q. Horatius Flaccus, one of Brutus’s soldiers at Philippi and then a poet in the circle of Augustus and Maecenas? This is to say (elaborately) that we suspect that Manent takes Plutarch-through-Shakespeare in part because Montaigne and Rousseau recommended Plutarch and everyone recommends Shakespeare. In other words, we are given the Enlightenment-approved commentator on the Roman Republic mediated through an Elizabethan dramatist of unusual talent. We think Manent is playing a game with us here. Plutarch and Shakespeare are cornerstones of Enlightenment, liberal thought. However, as we have said, we will see that Manent comes to some conclusions entirely at odds with the liberal-democratic regime. One might expect someone quoting lengthy passages from Cicero and Horace to be an illiberal, but someone quoting Shakespeare? Never! Perish the thought! How could someone derive something so wicked from that most humane dramatist?

Back to Manent, though.

Recall that Manent defines republican government as government generally (at least as Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII would all define government). At first, this seems to present a problem for Manent’s argument, not least because he uses terms like republic, which have specific content in this age. But Manent’s argument, upon closer inspection, is really not about the republican form of government at all. Instead, Manent wants to make a point about true politics in the age of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, because Manent uses the language of liberal democracy, he cannot make his point as easily or as directly as someone who is not bound to that language. It would be, to put it another way, much easier for a Thomist, especially one familiar with De Koninck and Grenier, to make Manent’s argument directly and fairly simply.

Let’s work through the problem a little bit, to see what we mean. First of all, Manent cannot mean a republic in the sense that most liberals mean. That is, he cannot mean a representative democracy with a broad franchise and separation of powers. His definition of republican government—the pursuit of the common good—is wholly incompatible with that liberal concept of a republic. Such a statement, we acknowledge, may take some careful justification. Consider first what St. Thomas Aquinas says in the De Regno (c. 1):

Si ergo naturale est homini quod in societate multorum vivat, necesse est in hominibus esse per quod multitudo regatur. Multis enim existentibus hominibus et unoquoque id, quod est sibi congruum, providente, multitudo in diversa dispergeretur, nisi etiam esset aliquis de eo quod ad bonum multitudinis pertinet curam habens; sicut et corpus hominis et cuiuslibet animalis deflueret, nisi esset aliqua vis regitiva communis in corpore, quae ad bonum commune omnium membrorum intenderet. Quod considerans Salomon dicit: ubi non est gubernator, dissipabitur populus.

In Phelan’s translation, as revised by Fr. Eschmann (while we have not the poetic sense to translate Horace, we do have just enough Latin to judge that this translation is good enough, in addition to its other charms), this is rendered:

If, then, it is natural for man to live in the society of many, it is necessary that there exist among men some means by which the group may be governed. For where there are many men together and each one is looking after his own interest, the multitude would be broken up and scattered unless there were also an agency to take care of what appertains to the commonweal. In like manner, the body of a man or any other animal would disintegrate unless there were a general ruling force within the body which watches over the common good of all members. With this in mind, Solomon says [Eccl. 4:9]: “Where there is no governor, the people shall fall.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Recall that we know from Aristotle and Thomas that, man being a political animal, it is natural for man to live in society. And since there must be some sort of government in society—otherwise the society would fall apart—we may say that it is natural for there to be government. In nature, Aristotle reminds us at the beginning of the Politics, there are rulers and ruled. This government, if it be true government and not tyranny, must be aimed at the common good (De Regno c. 3):

Contingit autem in quibusdam, quae ordinantur ad finem, et recte, et non recte procedere. Quare et in regimine multitudinis et rectum, et non rectum invenitur. Recte autem dirigitur unumquodque quando ad finem convenientem deducitur; non recte autem quando ad finem non convenientem. Alius autem est finis conveniens multitudini liberorum, et servorum. Nam liber est, qui sui causa est; servus autem est, qui id quod est, alterius est. Si igitur liberorum multitudo a regente ad bonum commune multitudinis ordinetur, erit regimen rectum et iustum, quale convenit liberis. Si vero non ad bonum commune multitudinis, sed ad bonum privatum regentis regimen ordinetur, erit regimen iniustum atque perversum, unde et dominus talibus rectoribus comminatur per Ezech. XXXIV, 2, dicens: vae pastoribus qui pascebant semetipsos (quasi sua propria commoda quaerentes): nonne greges a pastoribus pascuntur? Bonum siquidem gregis pastores quaerere debent, et rectores quilibet bonum multitudinis sibi subiectae.

Again Phelan and Eschmann:

Now it happens in certain things which are, ordained towards an end that one may proceed in a right way and also in a wrong way. So, too, in the government of a multitude there is a distinction between right and wrong. A thing is rightly directed when it is led towards a befitting end; wrongly when it is led towards an unbefitting end. Now the end which befits a multitude of free men is different from that which befits a multitude of slaves, for the free man is one who exists for his own sake, while the slave, as such, exists for the sake of another. If, therefore, a multitude of free men is ordered by the ruler towards the common good of the multitude, that rulership will be right and just, as is suitable to free men. If, on the other hand, a rulership aims, not at the common good of the multitude, but at the private good of the ruler, it will be an unjust and perverted rulership. The Lord, therefore, threatens such rulers, saying by the mouth of Ezekiel: “Woe to the shepherds that feed themselves (seeking, that is, their own interest) : should not the flocks be fed by the shepherd?” Shepherds indeed should seek the good of their flocks, and every ruler, the good of the multitude subject to him.

None of this is especially complicated from the perspective of a Thomist. (We will see more of this in a moment.) But to summarize: it is natural for men to live in society, and in order to live in society, there must be a ruler. The ruler must order the society to the common good. (Aquinas repeats that the unity of peace is the temporal common good.) If the ruler does not order society to the common good—if, in other words, the ruler pursues its own private good—it will be “an unjust and perverted rulership.” He will be a tyrant. Government, therefore, supposes rule ordered to the common good.

Aquinas goes on to argue that that rule by one is best, insofar as it accords best with nature, to say nothing of God’s rule over the entire universe. In nature, we see all sorts of corporate entities ruled by one. The body is ruled by the heart and the soul by reason. Even the beehive is ruled by one bee, Aquinas observes. Thus, rule by one accords with nature. By the same token, Aquinas contends that rule by many is inherently unstable, and incapable of guiding the state in the unity of peace. Now, it becomes more stable as the many becomes fewer, but one is still better than a more united few. Following Aquinas’s argument, then, we see that he holds that a monarchy is best able to preserve the unity of peace—that is, the temporal common good—which is the end of government, a natural component of society. As the number of people with a share in the government increases, the ability of the government to rule according to the common good is diminished. In consequence, one could very easily say that a monarchy is the form of government required by nature.

One would be, well, not quite right to say that nature requires a monarchy, however. The recent magisterium—recalling the divine mandate to the Church to interpret and defend the natural law—makes clear that the options are broader than monarchy. Leo XIII in Diuturnum illud observed that,

There is no question here respecting forms of government, for there is no reason why the Church should not approve of the chief power being held by one man or by more, provided only it be just, and that it tend to the common advantage. Wherefore, so long as justice be respected, the people are not hindered from choosing for themselves that form of government which suits best either their own disposition, or the institutions and customs of their ancestors.

(Emphasis supplied.) And in Immortale Dei, he returned to the point, stating that:

The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount ruler of the world, and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State. For, in things visible God has fashioned secondary causes, in which His divine action can in some wise be discerned, leading up to the end to which the course of the world is ever tending. In like manner, in civil society, God has always willed that there should be a ruling authority, and that they who are invested with it should reflect the divine power and providence in some measure over the human race.

They, therefore, who rule should rule with evenhanded justice, not as masters, but rather as fathers, for the rule of God over man is most just, and is tempered always with a father’s kindness. Government should, moreover, be administered for the well-being of the citizens, because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State. Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual or of some few persons, inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. But, if those who are in authority rule unjustly, if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly, and if their measures prove hurtful to the people, they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and preeminence of their dignity. “The mighty shall be mightily tormented.” Then, truly, will the majesty of the law meet with the dutiful and willing homage of the people, when they are convinced that their rulers hold authority from God, and feel that it is a matter of justice and duty to obey them, and to show them reverence and fealty, united to a love not unlike that which children show their parents. “Let every soul be subject to higher powers.” To despise legitimate authority, in whomsoever vested, is unlawful, as a rebellion against the divine will, and whoever resists that, rushes willfully to destruction. “He that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation.” To cast aside obedience, and by popular violence to incite to revolt, is therefore treason, not against man only, but against God.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is to say, therefore, that while a monarchy may be the best form of government (and tyranny the worst), it is by no means the form of government required by nature. What is required by nature, however, is that governments rule with even-handed justice, working for the common good and the well-being of the citizens. One may say, therefore, that a monarchy is the form of government favored by nature, even if the strict requirement of nature is that the form of government, whatever it is, be just and serve the common good. There is, therefore, no conflict between Leo and Thomas (on this point).

This is all sort of basic, Thomistic thinking on government. But with this thinking in mind, one easily sees that Manent simply cannot have the liberal-democratic ideal of the republic in mind. Indeed, starting from Manent’s basic definition, one arrives easily at monarchy, not the liberal-democratic state. Manent is not attempting to construct a justification for the liberal-democratic state. Perhaps the use of “republic” is the problem. Perhaps Manent would have been better off to say “government rightly conceived,” but this would set off all sorts of alarms, just as quoting Cicero and Horace at great length would set off alarms. For example, Manent’s republic is ruled by the few, not the many. This is, of course, an excellent trick; Manent observes that in France (and the United States and elsewhere) there is a mania for republicanism and citizenship. Yet, taking the basic building block of the republic at face value, one arrives very quickly at a very different model for government. As we said, Manent’s conclusions are fundamentally illiberal. But, because he discusses these matters obliquely and through the mediated content of Plutarch-through-Shakespeare, his illiberal state is not as distinct and the illiberal republic a Laval Thomist would sketch.

But make no mistake: Manent is talking about an illiberal state. One may confirm this suspicion, if it remains a suspicion, when Manent writes:

The republic is the regime that allows and encourages the most action. This can be seen in Rome, and we see it in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a “republic disguised under the form of monarchy,” as Montesquieu put it. We see it in America’s founding, an extraordinary founding, and we see it in France in the great movement of ’89, especially if this movement is understood to include, as it ought, the adventure of the empire.

Today we expect from a republic the opposite of a republic. We demand from it the least possible action, or what we call “freedom.” For us, freedom is a world without commandment or obedience. It is a world in which public action can neither begin nor commend anything. In practice, as I have noted, we ask our representatives and those who govern us to show their disinterestedness in defending our interests. In this we give evidence of a very naive immorality, especially insofar as we use a moralizing language that prevents us from grasping the moral bases of a truly republican regime. Service to the republic cannot be disinterested, because it is paid for by what is most precious in the eyes of ambitious citizens, that is, the honors granted by the republic, which boil down to public esteem. It is not disinterestedness that we should be asking of those who govern us, but rather ambition. It has been too long since we had the rare benefit of being governed by a truly ambitious statesman. The conviction has taken hold that our regime would be more republican if it ignored political rule still more. Political leaders are to serve our interests rather than commend our collective actions. The reigning social philosophy postulates the power and self-sufficiency of a spontaneous social form that would bring together order and freedom without the mediation of political rule. This is to abandon society to its inertia, that is, its corruption. Thus places and states of toxic stagnation have formed, spreading and producing cysts on the social body over the last ten, twenty, or thirty years; these places have never known the presence of political rule.

(Emphasis supplied.) We admit that Manent’s talk of action is a little opaque. But it seems to us that by action he means something in the nature of “rule.” His brief enthusiasm for “the adventure of empire” suggests something broader than mere rule, though one must remember empire may be said in many ways. Recall, for example, Benedict’s enthusiasm in Caritas in veritate (no. 67) for supranational government:

One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect, and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.

(Footnotes and formatting omitted.) In other words, one may find, if one is so inclined, a connection between rule ordered to the common good and Manent’s “adventure of empire,” and one can find both in “action.” However, action as Manent means it is almost the essence of illiberal rule.

In essence, Manent wants a lawgiver in the Thomistic sense. He wants someone who will hand down ordinances of practical reason shaped to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.1 ad 2; a.2 co.; a.3 co.). He wants someone to, as Thomas says in the De Regno, provide a general ruling force to keep the state together. And the purpose of law is to make men simply good (ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1). All of this presupposes, as we have said on previous occasions, subordination to the common good (e.g., ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 ad 3; q.92 a.1 ad 3). This is squarely at odds with Manent’s diagnosis of the modern concept of freedom as “a world without commandment or obedience.” This is, as Fr. Grenier would say, liberalism in its fully developed state: something akin to radical individualism. In other words, Manent recognizes what any Catholic who thinks with the tradition of Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII knows; liberalism is simply incompatible with good government. Good government requires the ruler—ideally, but not necessarily, a unitary ruler—to order society to the common good. This requires virtuous rulers and virtuous subjects, all of whom understand their place in this order. Modern liberalism, demanding that the ruler serve everyone’s individual interests one way and another, cannot be squared with this vision of the well-ordered state.

Manent diagnoses the consequences of liberalism well: the political form of the state breaks down. Yet Manent also recognizes that man, being a political animal, destined by nature to live in society, knows that something is wrong with the modern state. The paralysis of government, the increasingly nonexistent choice among leadership candidates, and the sense that ever larger numbers of people are being left out of peace and prosperity are all signs that something is not right. Manent suggests that into this situation various candidates have come, offering solutions in the form, on the one hand, of the European Union and, on the other, of nationalism. (The same can be said of the United States.) What he does not observe explicitly is that no one is offering a return to rule rightly conceived. No one is promising to order the state to virtue and the common good. The promises are always that this or that private good (or aggregate of private goods) will be preferred to some other private good. England over Brussels. Europe over England. The United States over Mexico. This group of citizens over that group of citizens or non-citizens. So on and so forth. Perhaps, however, this is what he means when he talks about the tragedy of the republic. Yet he’d be better to say this is the tragedy of liberalism. The promise of freedom ultimately results in the failure of politics rightly conceived.

The wedding of Charles Stuart

Gerardus Maiella, of the wonderful blog Lumen Scholasticum, presents a translation of an excerpt of Lambertini’s De synodo diocesano on communicatio in sacris. Lambertini, better known as Benedict XIV, was, among other things, one of the great lawyers and canonists in the history of the Church. Of course, since 1965, the doctrine on communicatio in sacris has gotten very muddy indeed. It is, then, an excellent tonic to see the traditional doctrine—particularly the historical condemnations of communicatio, going back all the way to the Apostles themselves—presented by one of its finest exponents. And we encourage you to read the whole thing. However, we wanted to call your attention to Lambertini’s account of the wedding of Charles Stuart, the protestant king of England, to Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of Henry IV and a devout, unapologetic Catholic.

In the Ecclesiastic Collations of Paris, De matrimonio, tom. 3, lib. I, coll. 2, coll. 2, §5, there is found a rite, with which nuptials were celebrated between Henrietta, Princess of the Royal blood of the French, and Charles I, King of Great Britain, to whom Pope Urban VIII had for that end granted an Apostolic dispensation: which nuptials are described also in the History, or Commentary, whose title is Mercurius Gallicus, tom. 2, p. 359. And so they relate that the matrimony between the aforementioned Catholic Princess, and the Proxy of the heretic King, was contracted outside of a Church, at the threshold of the Metropolitan Church of Paris, before the grand Almoner Cardinal La Rochefoucauld, from whom there was yet no nuptial blessing given: from there, the Proxy of the British King led the new wife up to the entrance to the Choir: but there Mass was celebrated by the aforesaid Cardinal in solemn rite, the King and Queen of France present, and the new Queen of Great Britain, and the whole Royal Family: but the aforementioned Proxy of the English King, although he was himself a Catholic, yet since he stood in place of a Prince devoted to the Anglican sect, went for the meantime to the Palace of the Archbishop nearby, until the Mass was finished—which finally having been completed, he acceded to lead the Queen from the Church.

Imagine today such care being taken to avoid even the appearance of communicatio in sacris in the context of a mixed marriage. Indeed, imagine today such care being taken on any mixed marriage.