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.
To some comments we have made over the past few weeks, we offer this postscript—offer without comment—taken from Gravissimam educationis, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, confident that you will find it edifying:
Omnibus christianis, quippe qui, per regenerationem ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto nova creatura effecti, filii Dei nominentur et sint, ius est ad educationem christianam. Quae quidem non solum maturitatem humanae personae modo descriptam prosequitur, sed eo principaliter spectat ut baptizati dum in cognitionem mysterii salutis gradatim introducuntur, accepti fidei doni in dies magis conscii fiant; Deum Patrem in spiritu et veritate adorare (cf. Io 4,23) praeprimis in actione liturgica addiscant, ad propriam vitam secundum novum hominem in iustitia et sanctitate veritatis (Eph 4,22-24) gerendam conformentur; ita quidem occurrant in virum perfectum, in aetatem plenitudinis Christi (cf. Eph 4,13) et augmento corporis mystici operam praestent. Iidem insuper suae vocationis conscii tum spei quae in eis est (cf. 1 Pt 3,15), testimonium exhibere tum christianam mundi conformationem adiuvare consuescant, qua naturales valores in completa hominis a Christo redempti consideratione assumpti, ad totius societatis bonum conferant. Quare haec S. Synodus animarum Pastoribus gravissimum recolit officium omnia disponendi ut hac educatione christiana omnes fideles fruantur, praeprimis iuvenes qui spes sunt Ecclesiae.
Parentes, cum vitam filiis contulerint, prolem educandi gravissima obligatione tenentur et ideo primi et praecipui eorum educatores agnoscendi sunt. Quod munus educationis tanti ponderis est ut, ubi desit, aegre suppleri possit. Parentum enim est talem familiae ambitum amore, pietate erga Deum et homines animatum creare qui integrae filiorum educationi personali et sociali faveat. Familia proinde est prima schola virtutum socialium quibus indigent omnes societates. Maxime vero in christiana familia, matrimonii sacramenti gratia et officio ditata, filii iam a prima aetate secundum fidem in baptismo receptam Deum percipere et colere atque proximum diligere doceantur oportet; ibidem primam inveniunt experientiam et sanae societatis humanae et Ecclesiae; per familiam denique in civilem hominum consortionem et in populum Dei sensim introducuntur. Persentiant igitur parentes quanti momenti sit familia vere christiana pro vita et progressu ipsius populi Dei.
Educationis impertiendae munus primario familiae competens totius societatis auxiliis indiget. Praeter igitur iura parentum ceterorumque quibus ipsi partem in munere educationis concredunt, certa quidem officia et iura competunt societati civili, quatenus eius est ea ordinare quae ad bonum commune temporale requiruntur. Ad eius munera pertinet educationem iuventutis pluribus modis provehere: parentum scilicet aliorumque qui in educatione partes habent officia et iura tueri eisque adiumenta praebere; iuxta subsidiarii officii principium, deficientibus parentum aliarumque societatum incoeptis, educationis opus, attentis quidem parentum votis, perficere; insuper, quatenus bonum commune postulat, scholas et instituta propria condere.
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.
One of our favorite scenes in David Byrne’s (sort of uneven) 1986 film True Stories is the scene where the preacher, played perfectly by John Ingle, begins spooling out an entirely secular web of conspiracy theories. Ingle’s preacher hits every note of the 1980s evangelical preacher as he sings “Puzzlin’ Evidence.” It is a shame that the album version of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” on the True Stories soundtrack is a version by Talking Heads with vocals by David Byrne. Whatever Byrne’s talents as a vocalist, he does not bring the same rollicking style to “Puzzlin’ Evidence” that Ingle did. At any rate, we could not help but think of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” as we saw some of the reactions to Fr. Romanus Cessario’s very fine piece in First Things about the Mortara case.
Princeton professor Robert George, one of the grand old men of the interfaith coalition of neoconservatives, reacted to Cessario’s piece with horror. On Twitter and Facebook he decried the very idea of baptizing a child against the will of his or her parents as “an unspeakable injustice,” condemned by no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas. Somewhat surprisingly, George does not note that the current canon law of the Church, promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1983, notes that an infant—whether the child of Catholic parents or non-Catholic parents; it does not matter—in danger of death is baptized licitly even against the will of his parents (can. 868 § 2). The same code states that a child in danger of death “is to be baptized without delay” (can. 867 § 2). This, by the way, was the law under the 1917 Code, which clearly authorized baptism even of the children of non-Christians in danger of death (1917 can. 750 § 1). By the way, did you know that pastors have long been supposed to teach their subjects the correct way to baptize, in case of emergencies (can. 861 § 2; 1917 can. 743)? Stop for a moment and think about this: the law of the Church practically directs the faithful to baptize infants in danger of death notwithstanding any objections by their parents, and it commands pastors to make sure that the faithful know how to do this. Despite this clear teaching, George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara “an unspeakable injustice.” Does George really mean to say that the law of the Church for the past century, if not longer, constitutes an unspeakable injustice?
Plenty of the responses to George have happily pointed this out. One might also ask George what he thinks Matthew 28:19 means, to say nothing of the canons of the seventh session of the Council of Trent (March 3, 1547). We wish to emphasize another point, however, which might be overlooked otherwise. We come to the puzzling evidence.
In George’s haste to decry the baptism of Edgardo Mortara as “an unspeakable injustice,” he echoes some of the most vicious modern critics of the Church. In his (revolting and revoltingly titled) attack on Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens cited Teresa’s order’s practice of baptizing the dying as evidence of her “hypocrisy.” Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth: the saint consistently baptized those persons in her care. Fr. Leo Maasburg recounts that in Communist Armenia—where baptism was by no means a risk-free proposition for anyone—a hospital under Mother Teresa’s direction made sure that children (and some adults) dying were baptized. Nevertheless, the entirely true allegation that Mother Teresa baptized the dying has become one of the favorite slurs of the secularists against the Saint. In a review of Hitchens’s book for the New York Review of Books, Murray Kempton gleefully took up the charge. Indeed, Kempton is spurred to heights of fury rarely seen even in the explosive pages of the NYRB by the idea that an Albanian nun might want to succor the dying spiritually. The charge that Teresa baptized the dying remains one of the more popular charges, even twenty-some years after Hitchens’s book: Michael Stone, writing at Patheos in 2016, found nothing but horror in the idea that Teresa might baptize the dying.
Is there really any difference between George’s language regarding the Mortara case and the savage polemics directed at Mother Teresa? Is there any difference, really, between the spirit of George’s frantic denunciation and the lacerating blows directed at the Albanian saint? George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara and its consequences “an abomination” and “an unspeakable injustice.” Hitchens calls the baptism of many of Teresa’s patients a “hypocrisy.” Murray Kempton calls her baptisms “tickets of admission contrived in stealth and sealed with a fraudulent stamp.” And the Patheos blogger called them examples of “her moral corruption, and her callous attitude toward the sick and dying in her care . . . .” He goes on to call this “[t]he stuff of horror movies.” Surely George does not mean to indict Mother Teresa in the same terms that her most hateful critics have used! Surely he would find some way to distinguish his outrage over Romanus Cessario’s mild, intelligent defense of Pius IX from the gleeful, spiteful attacks of Christopher Hitchens and Murray Kempton! But try to think how you can indict Pius IX and exonerate Teresa. Try to think how you can distinguish contempt for Pius IX and Cessario’s argument from contempt for St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Harder than it looks, isn’t it?
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 Commonweal, Professor Massimo Faggioli, a Twitter power user who moonlights as a Church historian, has an essay arguing, essentially, that the periods following the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council were just as tumultuous and contested as the period that has followed the Second Vatican Council. The implicit argument is that the post-Conciliar chaos often adduced as an argument against certain Vatican II acts is not dispositive, since there was likewise chaos following Trent and Vatican I. This point is not devoid of force; however, Professor Faggioli does not quite carry the day with his examples. Indeed, his analogies are a mixed bag. For example, he seems to think that St. Pius X’s anti-modernist crusade following Vatican I was “the most serious tragedy in the modern intellectual history of Catholicism,” apparently because the Saint decided that it would be best for theologians not to hold modernist ideas. All of this is very much of a piece with Professor Faggioli’s basic point: everything was terrible until about 1963, then it was fine until the fall of 1978, then it was bad until the spring of 2013. Now everything is fine again.
However, Professor Faggioli pivots from this point to make a broader argument about American Catholicism: it is too enamored of an imaginary medievalism. On its face, this is rubbish. The average American Catholic in a suburban church built in the 1970s, who hears Eucharistic Prayer II week in and week out, and sings the same ten egregious songs is no more enamored with an imaginary medieval vision of the Church than Professor Faggioli. Indeed, we imagine that many suburban American Catholics subscribe happily to Professor Faggioli’s view that, before Vatican II, the Church was dark and gloomy, and then the Council happened and all those oppressive doctrines were changed. Many probably also subscribe to his views on the liturgical reform. In this regard, Professor Faggioli joins Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa on the list of the Pope’s partisans who seem to have almost no understanding of American Catholicism. We shall see in a moment that Professor Faggioli has other, deeper affinities with Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa.
First, one also wonders how seriously Professor Faggioli has considered the medieval Church. Recent books like Andrew Willard Jones’s Before Church and State ought to force us to reconsider our biases about the Church in the medieval period, particularly with respect to how it interacted with the state. (Pater Edmund Waldstein’s recent review at First Things of Before Church and State is essential reading.) Moreover, Eamon Duffy’s towering study, The Stripping of the Altars, presents, in many ways, a very different vision of the Church in medieval, pre-reformation England than the gloomy, oppressive vision that one learned in school. Given the pictures painted by Jones and Duffy, one may be excused, we think, for seeing in the medieval world better solutions to the problems that liberalism purports to solve.
That historical quibble aside, what Professor Faggioli means is that some Christian intellectuals have some affinity for a medieval Church or at least the characteristics of a medieval Church. No doubt he would lump Before Church and State and The Stripping of the Altars and the response to those books in as part of this tendency. Now, Professor Faggioli rightly identifies this affinity as a response to religious and political liberalism, especially the crisis that political liberalism now finds itself in. He is not wrong when he says that the fascination with medieval Christianity is a response to a post-Christian world (he limits it to the United States, but we doubt he’d contend that Europe professes the Faith today). However, he seems to find some blameworthiness in this affinity. However, this is simply his hermeneutic at work. Liberalism appears to be breaking down. Now, only a fool would contend that liberalism is not hugely resilient and it may well adapt to the current crisis. It is natural that people begin to ask themselves “what comes next?” One answer to this question is found by recovering the pre-liberal tradition, especially in the teaching of the Church, which was a staunch opponent of liberalism far longer than anyone else.
One wonders whether this is what Professor Faggioli actually objects to; that is, the consideration of a world after liberalism by means returning to the pre-liberal and anti-liberal tradition of the Church. Yet, just as Fr. Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa found themselves at odds with Francis’s thought when they complained about integralism, so too does Professor Faggioli find himself at odds with the Pope. In Laudato si’, Francis appears to call Catholics to consider a world beyond liberalism, if not after liberalism. Consider this passage, one of our favorites:
The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.
The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.
(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) And Francis, with brilliant clarity, captures the crisis of modern liberalism and proposes a solution:
There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.
All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.
(Emphasis supplied.) Take a moment and consider that: “a bold cultural revolution,” which “appropriate[s] the positive and sustainable progress which has been made” and which “recover[s] the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”
Francis understands the crisis of liberalism—in the pastoral language for which he has become so famous, he realizes that “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future”—and he understands the answer to “what comes next?” Keep the positive and sustainable progress that has been made, but recover the values that we discarded as we ran toward an ultimately illusory future. Additionally, Faggioli spends some time complaining about Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, and others who seem to be interested in recovering authentic Christian community in the West. However, he seems to forget that Francis argues that “a loss of the purpose of life and of community living” is a symptom of what is wrong in a modern society in thrall to the technocratic, anthropocentric paradigm. One can say, therefore, that the writers about whom Faggioli complains are attempting to address one of the problems that Francis has identified in modern society. In other words, Christians looking to the medieval Church for guidance in an era of liberalism in crisis are doing nothing more or less than contributing to the “bold cultural revolution” that Francis called for in Laudato si’, even to the point of addressing some of the symptoms of a sick society that Francis identifies.
In a very real sense, then, the Catholics who explore post-liberal possibilities by returning to the Church’s medieval tradition and its subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal teaching are far closer to the Pope’s vision in Laudato si’ than the Pope’s supporters who cite the same shopworn passages from Dignitatis humanae and Gaudium et spes. What better source for the values and great goals of Christians could there be than the teachings of the Church from Augustine to Aquinas? What better exemplars for this “bold cultural revolution” than France under Louis IX? It is no secret that the most exciting, most interesting thought today is being done by Catholics trying to reclaim the Church’s anti-modern and anti-liberal teachings, so carelessly discarded by Professor Faggioli’s forebears. One has a hard time imagining that a Pope who so perceptively diagnoses the sickness at the heart of modernity could complain that this is somehow inconsistent with his own vision of a postmodern, post-liberal society.
Nevertheless, one might respond that Francis does not want Christians to turn to the medieval Church and the subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal tradition of the Church as part of this cultural revolution. Yet such a reading is hard to square with Laudato si’, which fits squarely into the Church’s suspicion of modernity and liberalism. At First Things (a publication for which we occasionally write), R.R. Reno, shortly after Francis handed down Laudato si’, described the encyclical as a return to the Church’s anti-modern teaching. Indeed, Reno argues that Laudato si’ presents a postmodern reading of Vatican II’s landmark document, Gaudium et spes. Professor Faggioli makes a similar point, arguing that some conservative Catholics adopt a conciliar postmodernism. That is, some Catholics think that Vatican II no longer has anything to teach us. (Precisely why this matters especially in the case of Vatican II, he never says. Certainly most Catholics no longer think that Trent or Chalcedon have anything to teach us, but you don’t see Professor Faggioli writing articles in Commonweal about that.) But consider this: in 172 notes, Laudato si’ cites Vatican II three times—in point of fact, Gaudium et spes—and generally only for a phrase. Is it possible that an ecumenical council rooted so firmly in the circumstances of the early 1960s is no longer quite so relevant? Indeed, is it possible that, despite the wishes of some aging liberals in Bologna and Berlin and Boston, the world of 2017 does not have overmuch in common with the world of 1965? Francis, at least, seems to understand that the crises of today require thoughtful responses on their own terms, without nostalgia for the false promises of liberalism that were so beguiling in the 1960s.
Whether his staunchest supporters get that is another question.
At The Josias, the estimable Felix de St. Vincent has a new essay, Four Basic Political Principles in Christian Philosophy. It is an excellent essay that sets forth simply and directly the four eponymous principles and answers some misconceptions about the thought of Augustine and Thomas. More than that, it is an excellent critique of liberal political thought. One understands, after reading St. Vincent’s piece, precisely how liberal political thought rejects the classical Christian conception of politics. (And, therefore, the conception of politics that governed the west until, practically speaking, the day before yesterday.)
We would suggest, however, that by focusing on Thomas’s Treatise on Law, St. Vincent overlooked a text that resolves the question of mastership in the state of grace, particularly with respect to Augustine’s thought. We won’t spoil St. Vincent’s carefully wrought argument for you, but we will say, by way of introduction, that one of the objections St. Vincent answers is the claim that Augustine believed that politics were a function of the fall. That is, when sin entered the world, so too did politics. Now, a Thomist, following the Stagirite, would necessarily be leery of this claim. St. Vincent rejects the claim at some length using the Treatise on Law. However, the text St. Vincent may have overlooked is Ia q.96 a.4. We shall quote it at length, first in Latin:
Respondeo dicendum quod dominium accipitur dupliciter. Uno modo, secundum quod opponitur servituti, et sic dominus dicitur cui aliquis subditur ut servus. Alio modo accipitur dominium, secundum quod communiter refertur ad subiectum qualitercumque, et sic etiam ille qui habet officium gubernandi et dirigendi liberos, dominus dici potest. Primo ergo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini non dominaretur, sed secundo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini dominari potuisset. Cuius ratio est, quia servus in hoc differt a libero, quod liber est causa sui, ut dicitur in principio Metaphys.; servus autem ordinatur ad alium. Tunc ergo aliquis dominatur alicui ut servo, quando eum cui dominatur ad propriam utilitatem sui, scilicet dominantis, refert. Et quia unicuique est appetibile proprium bonum, et per consequens contristabile est unicuique quod illud bonum quod deberet esse suum, cedat alteri tantum; ideo tale dominium non potest esse sine poena subiectorum. Propter quod, in statu innocentiae non fuisset tale dominium hominis ad hominem.
Tunc vero dominatur aliquis alteri ut libero, quando dirigit ipsum ad proprium bonum eius qui dirigitur, vel ad bonum commune. Et tale dominium hominis, ad hominem in statu innocentiae fuisset, propter duo. Primo quidem, quia homo naturaliter est animal sociale, unde homines in statu innocentiae socialiter vixissent. Socialis autem vita multorum esse non posset, nisi aliquis praesideret, qui ad bonum commune intenderet, multi enim per se intendunt ad multa, unus vero ad unum. Et ideo philosophus dicit, in principio Politic., quod quandocumque multa ordinantur ad unum, semper invenitur unum ut principale et dirigens. Secundo quia, si unus homo habuisset super alium supereminentiam scientiae et iustitiae, inconveniens fuisset nisi hoc exequeretur in utilitatem aliorum; secundum quod dicitur I Petr. IV, unusquisque gratiam quam accepit, in alterutrum illam administrantes. Unde Augustinus dicit, XIX de Civ. Dei, quod iusti non dominandi cupiditate imperant, sed officio consulendi, hoc naturalis ordo praescribit, ita Deus hominem condidit.
(Emphasis supplied.) Now in English:
I answer that, Mastership has a twofold meaning. First, as opposed to slavery, in which sense a master means one to whom another is subject as a slave. In another sense mastership is referred in a general sense to any kind of subject; and in this sense even he who has the office of governing and directing free men, can be called a master. In the state of innocence man could have been a master of men, not in the former but in the latter sense. This distinction is founded on the reason that a slave differs from a free man in that the latter has the disposal of himself, as is stated in the beginning of the Metaphysics, whereas a slave is ordered to another. So that one man is master of another as his slave when he refers the one whose master he is, to his own—namely the master’s use. And since every man’s proper good is desirable to himself, and consequently it is a grievous matter to anyone to yield to another what ought to be one’s own, therefore such dominion implies of necessity a pain inflicted on the subject; and consequently in the state of innocence such a mastership could not have existed between man and man.
But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons. First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Wherefore the Philosopher says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them. Secondly, if one man surpassed another in knowledge and virtue, this would not have been fitting unless these gifts conduced to the benefit of others, according to 1 Pt. 4:10, “As every man hath received grace, ministering the same one to another.” Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 14): “Just men command not by the love of domineering, but by the service of counsel”: and (De Civ. Dei xix, 15): “The natural order of things requires this; and thus did God make man.”
(Emphasis supplied.) Thomas does some interesting things here. One, he implies that nature itself requires a ruler to order the state to the common good. Two, he argues that a natural ruler—one surpassing others in knowledge and virtue—may have emerged. (Aquinas teaches us in Ia q.96 a.3 that there would have been inequality even in the state of innocence.) This natural ruler would have directed others to the common good as a result of his excellence. Then, Aquinas quotes Augustine in support of his argument.
Aquinas discusses in several places throughout his works, from the De Regno to the Summa, some of these ideas; that is, that political life requires a ruler to orient the state toward the common good and that inequality is natural. (But go back to Ia q.96 a.3 to see what Aquinas means by inequality.) These are important ideas in the subsequent magisterium, especially the political teachings of Leo XIII and St. Pius X, even if they are decidedly unpopular ideas in post-enlightenment liberal thought. St. Vincent points toward these ideas in his excellent essay. However, we think St. Vincent’s essay is improved—even if indirectly—by having in mind the place where Thomas addressed the issue directly of politics in the state of innocence.