Common-good conservatism, Vatican II, and Thomas Jefferson

Everyone has read Adrian Vermeule’s piece at The Atlantic advocating for a common-good conservatism. Basically, Vermeule argues, conservatives should abandon originalism in favor of a constitutional approach founded upon the common good, the natural law, and the law of nations. He argues that the powers of the government, while they could be founded upon specific constitutional provisions, need not be founded upon them. Instead, the general constitutional structure and the principles of the common good and just rule would provide the support for the government’s powers.

Vermeule’s piece has met with significant criticism from all quarters. The conservative legal establishment, even the Catholics among them, has too much invested in originalism to abandon it in favor of “progressive” approaches to the Constitution, even when those approaches would further conservative goals. Right- and left-liberals see in Vermeule’s argument incipient authoritarianism: state power untrammeled by the checks and balances of the federal constitution. Through all of this is the thread that, for whatever reason, the suggestion that the Constitution ought to be interpreted according to the natural law and moral principles is seen as dangerously reactionary. Worse still is the idea that the government has the obligation to promote the common good, which is an idea with definite content.

However, I think there are some points that ought to be brought out. First of all, the idea Vermeule advances is simply the doctrine of the Roman Church. In Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council outlined an energetic civil authority with the obligation to promote the common good for the total well-being of its citizens. Second, there is a tradition going back to the founders of the Republic that (1) morality applies to republics as well as men and (2) that there is a law higher than the written constitution. These principles, in fact, may be readily found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. Originalism must reckon with this reality, in addition to its regular citations of Noah Webster’s dictionary and The Federalist.

I.

So-called “common good conservatism” is simply the doctrine of the Roman Church, even in the era following the Second Vatican Council. In Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed, “The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy” (74). Furthermore, “[i]f the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good” (ibid.). However, the authority must be exercised “not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one’s freedom and sense of responsibility” (ibid.). The Council went on to declare that, “[i]t follows also that political authority, both in the community as such and in the representative bodies of the state, must always be exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed toward the common good—with a dynamic concept of that good—according to the juridical order legitimately established or due to be established” (ibid.). When it is so exercised, it is binding in conscience and must be obeyed (ibid.).

The Council also articulates a robust vision of the scope of political authority as well, teaching that “[t]he complex circumstances of our day make it necessary for public authority to intervene more often in social, economic and cultural matters in order to bring about favorable conditions which will give more effective help to citizens and groups in their free pursuit of man’s total well-being” (75). This can extend so far as the temporary restriction of rights for the common good (ibid.). While the Council calls for written instruments of positive law setting forth rights of citizens, the Council also takes care to note that individual citizens have duties to the common good.

One finds in Gaudium et spes, therefore, a vision of the state ordered to and constrained by the common good and the moral law, but within those constraints with significant authority to act broadly and energetically in all spheres of common life to promote the total well-being of its citizens. With the Council’s language about obedience and the duties of citizens to the common good, one could read Gaudium et spes almost as an endorsement of a total state, directing, through intervention in all aspects of life, “the energies of all citizens toward the common good,” and their total well-being.

From the beginning of the integralism debate, Charles de Koninck’s The Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists has been a foundational text. Indeed, one might say that it is the foundational text of integralism in the 21st century. And De Koninck’s explanation of the Thomistic vision of the common good and political authority in service of the common good provides an important background for the Council’s teaching, especially in the context of the vision of the sweeping power of the state. De Koninck’s careful explanations exonerate the Gaudium et spes state from the charge of totalitarianism, though, like Gaudium et spes, De Koninck challenges us to reconsider liberal notions of the limits of the state.

However, I think Vermeule makes an error, at least by the terms of Gaudium et spes. He claims, “[a] corollary is that to act outside or against inherent norms of good rule is to act tyrannically, forfeiting the right to rule, but the central aim of the constitutional order is to promote good rule, not to ‘protect liberty’ as an end in itself.” This is not quite right. In Gaudium et spes, the Council teaches, “[b]ut where citizens are oppressed by a public authority overstepping its competence, they should not protest against those things which are objectively required for the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and the rights of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority, while keeping within those limits drawn by the natural law and the Gospels.” The Council’s teaching is a fairly straightforward restatement of St. Paul’s teaching in the Letter to the Romans and Thomas Aquinas’s teaching in the De Regno and the Summa Theologiae. Legitimacy is not an on-off switch, and where a bad ruler makes ordinances that are still “objectively required for the common good,” the ordinances must still be obeyed.

Whether or not Vermeule’s mistake has significant consequences for his argument is not immediately clear. One could follow Alasdair MacIntyre and claim that the universal accessibility of the natural law is a significant argument against centralization, especially the sort of centralization Vermeule argues for, which is ultimately patterned on the governments of Louis IX and Frederick II. There are problems with MacIntyre’s argument, including—I think—a misreading of some of Frederick’s Sicilian legislation (especially as it relates to his imperial legislation). However, treating legitimacy as an on-off switch makes it harder to rebut MacIntyre’s argument against centralization. Indeed, centralization of a leader supported by a strong bureaucracy presents significant risks if one tyrannical act delegitimizes the entire regime. The problem is much less significant if the act is taken on its own terms without implicating the right to rule.

Prescinding from technical questions such as the nature of legitimacy in the context of tyranny, for Catholics (and others) who have followed the integralism debate over the past few years, the teaching of Gaudium et spes is hardly groundbreaking stuff. Indeed, it is a pretty conventional summary of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. The political community is ordered to the common good, there must be an authority to direct the citizens toward the common good, and the acts of that authority are binding in conscience if they are “exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed toward the common good.” What is interesting is the debate, even among integralists, about Dignitatis humanae and its supposed liberalism hardly takes notice of these statements in Gaudium et spes.

All of this is to say that, for Catholics, even Catholics suspicious of reliance on Pius IX and Leo XIII, there is very little controversial in Vermeule’s common-good conservatism. Indeed, given that the teaching in Gaudium et spes is explicitly founded in some significant part upon natural law, there is very little controversial in Vermeule’s argument for anyone. Of course, this is not quite the case: Vermeule’s piece has become hugely controversial, even among Catholics. Non-Catholic conservatives prefer to emphasize the constitution’s text, rejecting the claim there is a higher law or that morality forms a part of the law.

Vermeule’s Catholic critics must reckon with Gaudium et spes. To assert that there is no room for the common good, for the moral order, in government is to contradict the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, to affect horror at the concept of public authority exercising its power in social, economic, and cultural matters to order the state to the common good and establish conditions propitious for the total well-being of all citizens is to deny outright the teaching that the political authority must be obeyed when it acts in such a manner. So far from casting off the authoritarian teachings of Pius IX and Leo XIII in favor of the fresh air of the Council, Vermeule’s Catholic critics are casting off the Council’s teaching.

Even if they are not casting off the Council’s teaching, they are presenting a vision of the Council that emphasizes the aspects superficially compatible with liberalism in the 20th century. To focus on a few paragraphs in Dignitatis humanae without giving equivalent attention to the teaching in Gaudium et spes is to present a false picture of the Council and its vision for modern society. To challenge this false picture, one need not go so far as to demonstrate the consistency of the Council with the teachings of Pius IX and Leo XIII—to say nothing of Boniface VIII—one need only insist upon the presentation of the Council’s integral teaching, without omissions or distortions. It becomes clear that the Council becomes little more than a pretext, quickly discarded, for adopting liberalism in its entirety.

II.

All of Vermeule’s critics must reckon with the fact that the conception of the common good and the moral order as a framework for government is not altogether alien in the American tradition. Certainly, one can cite Abraham Lincoln at great length, both in his debates with Stephen Douglas, and in his actions during the rebellion, in support of that principle. However, one can find support going back to the every beginning of the Republic. Thomas Jefferson, in his April 28, 1793 “Opinion on the French Treaties,” observed that the “Moral law of our nature” constitutes an important part of the law of nations, and that the “Moral duties which exist between individual and individual in the state of nature, accompany them into a state of society & and the aggregate of the duties of all the individuals composing the society constitutes the duties of that society towards any other . . . .” Indeed, Jefferson went on to observe that God did not release men from their moral duties when they entered into society.

Furthermore, nearly twenty years later, Jefferson, in a September 20, 1810 letter to John B. Colvin, admitted the existence of a law higher than the Constitution. He wrote, “[a] strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation” (emphasis in original). Indeed, Jefferson argued, “[t]o lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.”

The hermeneutic of originalism has to reckon with statements like this. The opinions of the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States, the second Vice President, the first Secretary of State, and member of Congress cannot be held for naught simply because they are not James Madison’s opinions (or Alexander Hamilton’s or any other framer you’d like). If originalism is a coherent interpretative tool and not merely a fig leaf for this or that libertarian policy preference, then Jefferson’s views matter. Indeed, they probably matter more than Noah Webster’s dictionary or floor speeches in Congress by less influential persons.

Of course, one may adduce in opposition to these selections the extract from Jefferson’s commonplace book in which he argues—against the opinions of many learned judges and lawyers—that Christianity was never part of the common law. And even if one does not go that far, one hardly needs lessons in morality from one such as Thomas Jefferson, whose behavior in certain respects has become infamous in recent decades. Yet this does not change the fact that Jefferson’s views constitute part of the civil tradition of the United States.

Some thoughts about Francis’s “Querida Amazonia”

Francis has released Querida Amazonia, his post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation following the 2019 Synod of Bishops meeting on Amazonia. Despite the extensive speculation during the Synod and afterward, Francis did not provide an obvious opening to married priests or deaconesses. The disappointment of his liberal interpreters, by and large self appointed, has been palpable. However, Francis did return to the themes of Laudato si’, his social encyclical, which dealt at great length with technology and ecology. Indeed, Querida Amazonia builds upon Laudato si’ in interesting ways, evoking not only Fr. Romano Guardini, long known as one of Francis’s most important intellectual influences, but also the hugely influential German philosopher, Martin Heidegger. The focus, therefore, on the questions of married priests and deaconesses is, therefore, missing a valuable opportunity to reflect on Francis’s serious philosophical and theological challenge to modernity, especially technology and globalization’s pernicious effects on tradition and traditional ways of life.

I.

For the most part, the ecclesiastical-political dimension has driven the reaction to Querida Amazonia. It cannot be denied that Querida Amazonia is a disappointment: progressives in the Church have been agitating for some time for openings for married priests (sometimes referred to by means of the phrase viri probati) and deaconesses. The problem concerning deaconesses has been a long-running one for Francis. I think his commission studying the historical sources went through one round, issued a report, and then has been reopened in some dimension. The question of married priests—and the concomitant effect on priestly celibacy—predates Francis’s pontificate. However, because Francis is widely believed to be a progressive, there is renewed vigor in the demands.

Based on the Synod’s final report, there were very definite notions that he would open up the question of deaconesses in a broader way. Obviously the memories of Amoris laetitia are still fresh. (Of course, precisely why residents of Amazonia clamored for the two things that have lately been controversial in liberal Catholic spheres is a little unclear.) And reports in the press stoked this expectation. Indeed, shortly before Querida Amazonia was released, there was a definite report that Francis would endorse the ordination of married men. The report went so far as to allege that a draft exhortation had been sent to various prelates in advance of its release. But shortly before the document was released, there were other rumors that Francis would not even address the proposal. These latter rumors turned out to be true: Francis did not open the door to the ordination of married men. He did not even discuss the proposal in any detail.

Querida Amazonia is a second major bust for progressives. The first, Christus vivit, was Francis’s response to the 2018 Youth Synod. It was widely anticipated that this would provide an opening for reconsideration of the Church’s teaching about homosexuality in particular. Much was made, in pre-Synod surveys and in the working document for the Synod, of the fact that young people have difficulty understanding (or even outright disagreements with) the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. When Christus vivit was issued, however, no such opening appeared. Indeed, it was another entry in a long line of papal statements aimed at young people that are wholly uncontroversial.

It has been suggested that Robert Cardinal Sarah and, possibly, Benedict XVI’s intervention—a book in favor of priestly celibacy—had some effect on the Pope’s ultimate decision. Certainly, the book became a significant controversy, with the exact nature of Benedict XVI’s contribution challenged. The book seems to have had consequences for Francis’s government of the Church, with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, heretofore prefect of the Papal Household and Benedict’s personal secretary, being reassigned pretty much permanently to the latter duty. This appears to be Francis’s sanction for Gänswein’s murky role in the whole controversy over Benedict’s involvement. However, in recent weeks another possibility has emerged.

On February 19, Sandro Magister published a lengthy piece arguing that Francis’s decision was motivated by the ongoing issues with the German Church. Magister notes that the German Church’s ongoing “Synodal Way” is aimed—at least in the minds of some of its most prominent voices—at loosening the celibacy requirement for priests, finding some mechanism by which holy orders could be conferred on women, and blessing same-sex relationships. Magister details the series of interventions taken by Francis and his deputies in the Curia to rein in the “Synodal Way,” all of which have been politely received and subsequently ignored by the German authorities. Magister suggests that the silence of Querida Amazonia on the issues of viri probati and deaconesses is part of Francis’s attempt to deflate the German process.

An interesting sidenote: if Magister is correct, Walter Cardinal Kasper has been an important advocate against the German “Synodal Way” as it has developed. Kasper was more or less the villain of the 2014-2015 Synod that produced Amoris laetitia, though his profile has not been so high since the document was released. Magister suggests that Kasper raised the alarm in a way that other German prelates, such as Cardinal Müller or Cardinal Brandmüller could not, and subsequently helped Francis get a handle on the situation in the Church in Germany. It was with the assistance of Kasper’s consultation that Francis wrote his letter to the German Catholics, calling for caution and deliberation.

Whatever the reason for the decision, the self-appointed interpreters of Francis’s pontificate swung into action almost immediately. Francis’s apparent decision not even to refer to the final report of the Synod means that all of the issues in that document remain open. Francis, we are told, meant to present that document and guide its reception by the Church. Of course Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, let the cat out of the bag at the press conference presenting Querida Amazonia: in Episcopalis communio, Francis’s 2018 document reforming the Synod, there’s a mechanism for endorsing the final report and incorporating it into the pope’s ordinary magisterium (art. 18). Francis has not done so, which means that it has the weight of a Synod final document, whatever that may be.

II.

Yet it is a disservice to the Pope’s vision to talk about Querida Amazonia in the narrow, concrete terms of what Francis approved or did not approve. As Matthew Walther has explained, Querida Amazonia is an extraordinary document. Francis returns to the themes of his great encyclical, Laudato si’, but this time by means of poetry and reflection. One is hard pressed to think of another papal document that contains phrases such as “this dream made of water” and “a dance of dolphins,” much less the copious references to poetry. Throughout the document, one detects the influence of Fr. Romano Guardini, who has long been an influence for Francis. One also detects other influences, such as Martin Heidegger.

I have often wanted someone who has a profound knowledge of Francis and Heidegger to write about the connections between the two. Both Laudato si’ and Querida Amazonia seem deeply influenced by Heidegger’s Essay Concerning Technology and his 1966 Spiegel interview, more commonly known as “Only a God Can Save Us.” Francis’s meditations on the traditional Amazonian way of life, affected by technology and exploitation, seem to have roots in Heidegger no less than Guardini. Even the turn to poetry in Querida Amazonia seems as though it is influenced by Heidegger, especially Heidegger’s emphasis on the poetry of Hölderlin. It is true that Francis does not explicitly cite Heidegger, either in Laudato si’ or in Querida Amazonia. In contrast, Francis has explicitly cited Guardini, especially The End of the Modern World. However, it seems strange—to me at any rate—that Francis would be familiar with Guardini’s writings on technology and man without also having some familiarity with Heidegger’s influential writings on the same topics.

A few examples may suffice. Consider the passage from the Spiegel interview: “Everything is functioning. That is precisely what is awesome, that everything functions, that the functioning propels everything more and more toward further functioning, and that technicity increasingly dislodges man and uproots him from the earth.” Compare this with Francis’s assessment of the historical situation in Querida Amazonia: “It is well known that, ever since the final decades of the last century, the Amazon region has been presented as an enormous empty space to be filled, a source of raw resources to be developed, a wild expanse to be domesticated. None of this recognizes the rights of the original peoples; it simply ignores them as if they did not exist, or acts as if the lands on which they live do not belong to them.” Francis appears to be describing in particularly evocative terms the same phenomenon Heidegger is describing. Indeed, in the Spiegel interview, Heidegger used similar terms to describe the process that took place in Provence.

Heidegger went on to say “I know that, according to our human experience and history, everything essential and of great magnitude has arisen only out of the fact that man had a home and was rooted in a tradition.” This statement could well be a summary of chapter two of Querida Amazonia, which includes Francis’s dire warning: “The globalized economy shamelessly damages human, social and cultural richness. The disintegration of families that comes about as a result of forced migrations affects the transmission of values, for ‘the family is and has always been the social institution that has most contributed to keeping our cultures alive.’” In this dimension, we see Francis’s profound conservatism. The globalized economy, for Francis, attacks directly the home and tradition in which man is rooted. Indeed, it attacks the most central element of the home and the tradition as Francis sees it: the family. By reducing individuals to mere economic variables and forcing them to migrate for various reasons, globalization (i.e., late-liberal capitalism) destroys those things that produce “everything essential and of great magnitude” as Heidegger would say.

One could go on in this vein, especially by means of the Essay Concerning Technology. It would be an interesting exercise to consider the similarities between Francis’s treatment of the Amazon and Heidegger’s treatment of the Rhine, especially by means of the poet Hölderlin. Of course, there have been attempts in the past to draw connections, especially via Guardini, between Heidegger and Francis. But I am not sure that I have seen a good, concise presentation, especially drawing upon Francis’s thought about technology. Given that the discussion about Querida Amazonia has been mostly about the concrete questions about what Francis did or did not do, I am pessimistic about whether anyone will take the opportunity to use the springboard presented by Querida Amazonia to write such a presentation.

The unedifying nature of the debate over Querida Amazonia becomes obvious though. Francis has offered the whole Church—indeed, the whole world—an opportunity to discuss issues that are at the very heart of the theological and philosophical tradition, both inside and outside the Church, since the Second World War. His contribution here, especially as a ground for further thought, is no less rich than the philosophical and theological contributions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. To take this opportunity and reduce it to a polemical, ideological confrontation about who did or did not “win” the Synod or who will or will not receive the prize of ordination is, therefore, a superficial response. Worse than that, it is a sign that it no longer really matters what Francis says.

Some thoughts on Francis and the conservatives

Ross Douthat has made waves with a lengthy interview with Raymond Cardinal Burke, who has become a sort of figurehead for the conservative reaction to Francis, and an essay about the future of conservative Catholicism under and after Francis. One point jumps out at me, which is sort of tangentially related to the matter at hand. That is, the extent to which conservative Catholics, at least in Douthat’s estimation, view John Paul II’s pontificate as the stable state of post-Conciliar Catholicism. However, this is, in my view, wrong. For almost all of the hot-button issues of Francis’s pontificate, one sees that he is simply heightening contradictions left by John Paul II. Consequently, the crisis for conservative Catholicism is, fundamentally, a crisis of inattention.

Douthat makes the point like this:

Four years ago I wrote an essay describing the Francis era as a crisis for conservative Catholicism — or at least the conservative Catholicism that believed John Paul II had permanently settled debates over celibacy, divorce, intercommunion and female ordination. That crisis is worse now, manifest in furious arguments within the Catholic right as much as in online opposition to the pope himself. And I don’t think we’re any closer to a definite answer to what happens to conservative Catholicism when it no longer seems to have the papacy on its side.

This narrative seems pretty common to me. Expanded, it goes like this: everything was basically fine until the Council. After the Council, the liberals started causing problems and Paul VI was too paralyzed with horror to do much about the problems. Then John Paul II was elected and he “permanently settled debates over celibacy, divorce, intercommunion and female ordination.” Then Benedict XVI was elected and he developed John Paul’s settlement by opening the door to more traditional liturgical practices. Then Francis came and blew it all up.

This narrative is, I believe, wrong in some pretty important dimensions. First of all, there had been signs of strain in the pre-Conciliar Church, beginning with the modernist crisis addressed by Pius X in Lamentabili and Pascendi. Pius attempted to suppress modernism with things like the Anti-Modernist Oath, but I think we can say that he was ultimately unsuccessful. Benedict XV and Pius XI had pressing social and moral issues to address. However, the doctrinal issues that began to shake the Church under Pius X never really disappeared, leading to Pius XII’s encyclical Humani generis in 1950. The Council took place in the wake of Humani generis, and, indeed, there were fierce debates in the preparatory phases of the Council about the deference owed to Humani generis in particular. Seen in this light, one can say that the post-Conciliar storm that rocked the Church was a continuation (and perhaps an intensification) of a storm that had been rocking the Church for over sixty years by that point. To put it another way: the Council and the aftermath of the Council were the midpoint of the story, not the beginning.

One of the unquestionably good things that is happening, as I have written about on many occasions, is that Catholics are delving deeper and deeper into the traditional teaching of the Church on social and political issues. From this perspective, one begins to see that the 20th-century crises in the Church are merely the continuation of the 18th- and 19th-century crises in the Church. The anti-liberal teachings of Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII did not happen in a vacuum. There are theological differences between liberalism and modernism in the strict senses of both terms, but there is, if one compares Pius IX’s Quanta cura and Syllabus errorum with Pius X’s Pascendi and Lamentabili, a common spirit to the two. And to a certain extent, the crisis in the Church for the past 200 years or more has been a crisis of liberalism, both in theological and social terms. The notion that the Second Vatican Council was the beginning of the period of turmoil is simply false. What can be said is that modern modes of communication have made it easier for people to recognize what is going on, though without much historical context.

But there is a more serious problem for the sort of conservative Catholicism identified by Douthat in his essays. It is the notion of John Paul II as the ideal exemplar for conservative Catholicism in the modern age. In liturgical terms, this is simply not the case; neither Benedict XVI nor Francis have followed John Paul’s lead. Indeed, whether it is Benedict’s unapologetic traditionalism or Francis’s sobriety (which, to my mind, hearkens back to Paul VI after the adoption of the new Mass), neither of the post-2005 popes have come within a country mile of John Paul’s flamboyant liturgical style. But the issue is more significant than mere liturgical style. One could argue that Francis merely heightens the contradictions in the magisterium since 1962. To be more precise: Francis heightens the contradictions in John Paul II’s magisterium.

Now, let me say at the outset that one needn’t accept necessarily the claim that John Paul or Francis deviates (or deviated) from the apostolic faith on any of these issues. One can follow the canonist Bouix’s discussion of the question of the pope heretic to see the various positions taken by learned and eminent doctors. One needs only to accept that certain actions by Francis have been criticized by what Douthat calls conservative Catholics as breaking from the consensus John Paul II established. What conclusions are to be drawn if it is shown that Francis is actually closer to John Paul than previously suggested, I leave to the reader.

Let’s consider three burning issues of Francis’s pontificate: the Amoris laetitia debate, the 2018 decision to amend the Catechism to declare the death penalty inadmissible, and Francis’s interfaith enthusiasm. These may, in fact, be the primary points of contention with respect to Francis’s pontificate. Other issues are controversial, such as Francis’s social teaching in Laudato si’, but Francis’s critics are simply wrong. Francis is more or less completely in line with his predecessors and his frank suspicion of modernity is, in fact, closer to the teaching of Pius IX and Leo XIII than some of John Paul and Benedict’s social encyclicals. As I’ve said on several occasions (though maybe not here): putting Romano Guardini and Martin Heidegger in a retort and mixing them up does not precipitate out a conventional European liberal. It does no good to call Francis a “globalist” or whatever, either, when his two immediate predecessors have also been globalists in almost exactly the same way. So, the three burning issues I identify are, I think, the live controversies in Francis’s pontificate. 

On the question of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, it seems fairly clear that Francis is heightening a contradiction left in John Paul’s magisterium. Familiaris consortio, pointed to as the touchstone of perennial Catholic teaching with respect to the divorced and remarried, says, more or less, that the they can live together “as brother and sister.” One could read Amoris laetitia as providing some guidance for what the Church’s response is when what would happen does happen. (Douthat closes by quoting T.S. Eliot; there is another Eliot line applicable to the debate over divorce and remarriage: “What you get married for if you don’t want children?”) One could also point to John Paul’s 1996 letter to Cardinal Baum, then the major penitentiary, in which he observes, “it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin.” In other words, Amoris laetitia simply pulls together the strands of John Paul’s teaching and makes manifest what was merely implicit.

One could make two other points. First, Veritatis splendor says that concrete circumstances cannot make evil actions good, but they can make evil actions less evil (no. 77). John Paul made this point at some length earlier in his pontificate, in Reconciliatio et paenitentia (no. 17), when he wrote, “Clearly there can occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint and which have an influence on the sinner’s subjective culpability.” This is more or less Rocco Buttiglione’s argument in favor of consistency between Amoris laetitia and Veritatis splendor. Second, there is a sense in which Amoris laetitia‘s practice, if taken literally, represents a significant assault on laxity about communion for the divorced and remarried. The decision about whether one should approach communion is, in many cases, not taken after careful discernment with one’s pastor. We all have stories and it would be unedifying to repeat them. However, requiring people to at least have a chat with Father before trooping up for communion would be an improvement over the practice in many American parishes, whatever else it would be.

Turning back to the question at hand, Francis’s decision in 2018 to amend the Catechism to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” simply emphasizes John Paul’s turn from the Church’s traditional teaching on the death penalty. In Evangelium vitae, John Paul said “[i]t is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” Cardinal Ladaria’s letter explaining the change to the Catechism bases itself heavily on John Paul’s teaching. Certainly the 2018 amendment is logical if one begins with John Paul’s teaching. The death penalty is admissible only in cases of absolute necessity; there are no cases of absolute necessity today; therefore, the death penalty is not admissible. You can decide for yourself whether John Paul’s premise holds up in the light of the Church’s prior teaching, but it seems clear that Francis’s teaching flows from John Paul’s.

Finally, Francis’s interfaith enthusiasm, notably the controversial Abu Dhabi document but especially the unedifying Pachamama affair during the Amazon Synod, seems to be nothing more or less than a continuation of John Paul’s interfaith enthusiasm. One has only to look back at the history of John Paul’s interfaith efforts, whether it was the 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi or his exuberance with respect to the Koran, to see precedents for Francis’s various statements. And the reactions to John Paul’s actions have been more or less the same. Indeed, the similarity of the events is confirmed by the similarity of the reactions to the events. Consider Archbishop Lefebvre’s December 2, 1986 declaration against the events in Assisi or his August 27, 1986 letter to a handful of cardinals about the same events. There is not a lot of daylight between the rhetoric surrounding the recent Pachamama affair in Rome and Archbishop Lefebvre’s response to Assisi in particular.

Lefebvre’s reaction is particularly important here. Douthat asks a question in the context of Cardinal Burke’s position, namely whether the pope can lead a schism. Cardinal Burke rejects the idea, but Douthat goes on to say:

The pull of such ideas, though, explains why you need only take a step beyond Burke’s position to end up as a kind of de facto sedevacantist, a believer that the pope is not really the pope — or, alternatively, that the church is so corrupted and compromised by modernity that the pope might technically still be pope but his authority doesn’t matter anymore. This is the flavor of a lot of very-online traditionalism, and it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t (eventually) lead many of its adherents to a separation from the larger church, joining the traditionalist quasi-exile pioneered after Vatican II by the Society of Saint Pius X.

One must remember that Archbishop Lefebvre’s position was expressed most forcefully on November 21, 1974, following the visitation of the Ecône seminary by Belgian priests deputed by Paul VI as apostolic visitors. The main assault on the Society of St. Pius X by the Roman authorities took place in the wake of the November 1974 declaration and with the declaration as a pretext for the action. In other words, the most serious phase in the conflict between Archbishop Lefebvre and Rome began only in early 1975. Much of Archbishop Lefebvre’s conflict with the Roman authorities, therefore, took place while John Paul II was pope. Indeed, Archbishop Lefebvre routinely stated that John Paul was expressing the spirit of the Council. Consider, to take one example aside from his criticism of the Assisi spectacle, his comments about the 1983 Code of Canon Law. All of this is to say that Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X found themselves at odds with John Paul II more or less to the same extent and for the same reasons that they found themselves at odds with Paul VI.

As a special bonus issue, consider the brewing controversy over deaconesses. Francis has promised to reopen his commission examining the question after the Synod mentioned that in the Synod fathers’ consultations, the indigenous people of the Amazon demanded deaconesses. I will set to one side how curious it is that the people of the Amazon happened to demand action on one of the modernists’ obsessions and in precisely the manner that the modernists want. The deaconess controversy is simply a heightening of the contradiction inherent in the teaching that the diaconate is a ministry of humble service, as opposed to part of the sacramental priesthood. This issue began with Lumen gentium (no. 29) and was enshrined in the Code of Canon Law by Benedict XVI in Omnium in mentem. The suggestion that Benedict opened the door to female deacons has been pretty firmly rejected by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, but the diaconate as a ministry of humble service, as opposed to a liturgical ministry and part of the sacramental priesthood, presents contradictions. It is also historically incorrect, but that’s another story.

For all of these reasons, I think the notion that Francis represents a significant break with John Paul II particularly is misguided. Francis has, as I have said, heightened contradictions inherent in John Paul’s magisterium or continued practices that John Paul was criticized sharply for. To the extent that Francis represents a crisis for conservative Catholicism, it is ultimately a crisis that has existed for some time. Conservative Catholics, for reasons I think have more to do with broadly political reasons, have simply failed to engage meaningfully with the issues John Paul presented during his pontificate and find themselves confronted with clearer expressions of those issues by Francis.

The brick through the window

At Public Discourse, the Witherspoon Institute’s online journal of anti-integralist thought, Hillsdale professor Korey Maas warns that, “[i]nsofar as prominent and influential Catholics insist that Catholicism is fundamentally incompatible with the liberal tradition, liberals will feel increasingly justified in reaching the same conclusion.” He goes on to say, “[a]ttempts to convince fellow Catholics that the ‘teaching of the Catholic Church, always and everywhere,’ idealizes the confessional state and sanctions religious coercion will inevitably convince many non-Catholics, liberal and otherwise, that this is indeed the case.” However, Maas’s argument has more to do, we think, with silencing integralists and other Catholics not committed to the Catholic liberalism of the late 20th century than with warning of any impending doom.

This is unfortunate. Instead of coming up with silly arguments for why integralism is dangerous or whatever, liberals like Maas really ought to be doing what illiberal Catholics have been doing: rediscovering their own tradition. And they should cast their gaze on more than the tradition of the United States. The fusion between Catholic liberalism and American conservatism has permanently damaged Catholic liberalism, especially as American conservatism has failed to deliver on its promises. For reasons we will get into in a moment, Maas probably does not care all that much about specifically Catholic liberalism, but that’s neither here nor there. Focusing on policing integralist (or, more broadly, illiberal) rhetoric does not create a compelling case for liberalism. If anything, it reveals that the case for integralism is more compelling than any actually existing case for liberalism.

Maas’s argument goes like this. In the 19th century, America was deeply anti-Catholic. We see today flashes of that old anti-Catholicism in the treatment afforded to Donald Trump’s judicial nominees Amy Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. Maas contends that the Church blunted some of that old anti-Catholicism by the Second Vatican Council’s openness to liberalism. This is a sort of skewed view, since there were openings to the postwar liberal-democratic order under Pope Pius XII. But to tell that story would be to take some of the focus away from the United States. At any rate, Maas thinks that the Church’s apparent turn toward liberalism—exemplified by John F. Kennedy’s statements during the 1960 presidential campaign—is what made the proud American tradition of anti-Catholicism seem silly.

After the story of anti-Catholicism, we get the customary parade of horribles. A fellow named Philip Primeau was very 19th century when discussing Jacob Rees-Mogg’s denunciation of any scrutiny of one’s religious views. Maas is aghast that Primeau thinks Rees-Mogg should have stood his ground on truth. Maas is also disturbed that Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen has been so gauche to suggest that actually existing American liberalism may in fact be incompatible with orthodox Catholicism. Naturally, there is the stale lament about how First Things got radical for about two minutes. (Why Ryan T. Anderson, editor-in-chief of Public Discourse, has run so many pieces about First Things is a bit baffling, isn’t it?) Maas mentions, among other things, Fr. Romanus Cessario’s piece on the Mortara affair. He graciously declines to mention that R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, disavowed the piece subsequently. He also wrote at least one or two self-flagellating apologies before he disavowed it. No doubt Dr. Maas wanted to spare Reno from any further pain, though it would have been altogether more honest—even if less delicate—to have said that the Mortara exchange marked the end of First Things‘ flirtation with integralism.

We should be, once again, clear that the Church is fundamentally anti-liberal in its doctrine, no matter how unpleasant this may be to those committed to some flavor of liberalism. Maas cites Semiduplex for the proposition that the teachings of Quanta cura and Syllabus are infallible and irreformable, including the 77th, 78th, 79th, and 80th condemnations of Syllabus. Why he didn’t simply cite John Joy’s brilliant essays is beyond us. But behind John Joy stands the great canonist F.X. Wernz, among others, who argue for the infallibility not only of Pius IX’s teachings but also Leo XIII’s explanations of those teachings. One can also read John Henry Newman’s great anti-liberal writings if one needs a literary and philosophical expansion of the Church’s anti-liberalism. Whether or not this is politic, it is true.

A young Catholic writer and friend is fond of saying that every disagreement about tone (or, we might expand his saying, rhetoric) hides a substantive disagreement. And it is clear, given what we believe to be the clear theological notes of the anti-liberal and integralist teachings of Pius IX and Leo XIII, that Maas’s argument, superficially about the danger of illiberal rhetoric, hides a substantive disagreement. Maas clearly does not believe that the teachings of Pius IX and Leo XIII are infallible and irreformable. Indeed, based on a quick Twitter search, it appears that Maas may be some sort of protestant, maybe even a Lutheran. It would surprise us very much, then, if a Lutheran (or any other protestant, for that matter) believed that these—or any other—teachings were infallible and irreformable. One imagines that the only Catholicism pleasing to Maas is a Catholicism that looks basically the same as Lutheranism or whatever. It would also be altogether more honest just to say that and leave it there.

But of course Maas doesn’t. He does, however, eventually come to his punchline: the rising tide of Catholic illiberalism might be taken seriously by liberals. Maas warns, “[t]he ‘last acceptable prejudice,’ instead of an irrational prejudgment, will increasingly be deemed a warranted conviction based on the rational arguments put forward by Catholic intellectuals themselves.” The old anti-Catholicism, flaring up in the Barrett and Kavanaugh hearings, will take root because the liberals will once again see Catholicism as an enemy. We hate to be so blunt, but this is just about the dumbest thing we could imagine. There is also a sort of sinister note to it, isn’t there? The protestant Korey Maas warning Catholics that if they do not do something about the integralists, there will be trouble. A brick through the window in the dead of night or a mural depicting the heroic Orangemen would be more effective, we suppose, but folks do the best they can.

At any rate, Maas cannot really mean that because of some debates among Catholic professors, writers, and WordPress bloggers, liberals will suddenly realize that Church is doctrinally opposed to liberalism. We are flattered by the idea that Dianne Feinstein and Mazie Hirono read Semiduplex and decided to keep our influence out of the federal judiciary. But we are not so silly as to believe that that’s true. Democrats gave Barrett and Kavanaugh a rough time because Democrats achieved a bunch of policy victories in the federal courts—e.g., Roe, Casey, Windsor, Obergefell—and they are not interested in Donald Trump’s judicial nominees taking them away. Stare decisis is, after all, not in the Constitution. What Harry Blackmun and Anthony Kennedy gave, John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch can take away. That’s what the fight over Trump’s judicial nominees is about, not Quanta cura and the confessional state.

Moreover, it is clear that Catholicism is fundamentally incompatible with the trajectory of modern liberalism, not because Catholicism holds that the confessional state is the ideal or that heretics may be punished by the state, but because modern liberalism is fast going off the rails. Media outlets across the political spectrum report daily of cases where deviation from left-liberal consensus is punished severely. College campuses are unrecognizable, with even once-radical figures like Camille Paglia being shouted down for their problematic views. Major corporations are following the money and implementing the left-liberal consensus in various ways. The Masterpiece Cakeshop case shows that left-liberal activists are willing to weaponize state institutions, like the Colorado civil rights commission, in order to coerce individuals into accepting the views of others. Maas may not realize it, but prominent Catholic thinkers like Patrick Deneen and Adrian Vermeule devote a fair bit of time to discussing these trends, too.

In contrast, the spirit of the Second Vatican Council is hopelessly reactionary. Maas might not know this, but even Catholic liberals cannot accept same-sex “marriage” or abortion. (Even Fr. James Martin, SJ, one of the loudest pro-gay voices in the Church today, is a regular, staunch defender of the unborn on social media.) There are no signs that Pope Francis, regularly accused by friend and foe of reinvigorating the spirit of the Council after the perceived setbacks of 1978-2013, intends on retreating in any meaningful way from the Church’s positions on those issues. He also gives few signs of willingness to retreat on the question of women’s ordination—though after the interventions of Paul VI and John Paul II, it is clear that he could not change the Church’s teaching on that, even if he wanted to. Any one of these positions, which are held even by liberals like those at Public Discourse, would be enough to get the Church “canceled” as the kids say. To hold all three? Unforgivable.

And it is simply not clear that defending liberal toleration will achieve even tactical objectives in the current climate. For one thing, the people who are loudest about problematic views on college campuses, on social media, and in various boycott campaigns are simply not all that liberal. They themselves do not recognize a meaningful “right” to profess unacceptable opinions. Indeed, as Professor Paglia recently discovered at the University of the Arts, these unacceptable positions are seen as actual violence. We are simply unconvinced that pleas for liberal toleration will have much success with people who view one’s opinions as actual violence. The anti-Catholicism Maas professes to be worried about is already here, whether it is overt or not, and it is based on issues entirely unrelated to the confessional state and the use of state power to coerce heretics. Just ask the Pennsylvania state legislator who harassed teenagers praying outside a Planned Parenthood. Dollars to donuts, he wouldn’t know integralism from a load of coal.

However, the specter of coming anti-Catholicism is rhetorically useful for Maas. The implicit point of his article is: if things get bad, it will be the integralists’ fault. From here it is only a short step to arguing that integralists must be silenced before they make things get bad. In a sense, Maas’s essay concedes the wild success of integralism in the terms that actually matter (i.e., doctrinal and forensic), and mounts a last-ditch defense by ginning up the specter of anti-Catholicism as a response to Catholic illiberalism. Sure, he cites some of his fellow Public Discourse authors like Robert T. Miller, who have argued gamely and wrongly that integralism does not have the theological note that the integralists think it does. But these pieces have not been all that successful, for a variety of reasons ranging from “They’re not right” to “They’re boring.” There is no sense waiting for the liberals to mass and make a compelling counterattack. Instead, Maas makes the only play available: he retreats to warning about the inherent danger of illiberal Catholicism.

This is a pity! For our part, we believe that the only way liberalism is going to make a comeback among Catholic thinkers is by abandoning the tedious connection with American conservative politics. Instead, it is necessary to argue for the sort of postwar Christian democracy that formed the core of the European project. To be sure, it went wrong like American liberalism. It is awfully hard to see the ideals of the heady days of the 1950s and 1960s in the micromanaging Brussels bureaucracy or the smug condescension of contemporary European leaders like Guy Verhofstadt. Nevertheless, it is in the Christian-democratic project that liberalism’s best hope lays. This will no doubt be a grief to Catholic liberals who have long seen Catholicism and American conservatism as two peas in a pod, but they will be more grieved by far if they continue to see liberalism slide into irrelevance.

Integralism, authority, and inequality

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

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

And in English:

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

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

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

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

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

In English:

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

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

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

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

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

In English:

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

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

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

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

In English:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV.

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

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

V.

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

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

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

The direction of integralism in 2019

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

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Vermeule to Newman

Former Catholic and amateur butter importer Rod Dreher has criticized Harvard Law professor and current Catholic Adrian Vermeule for his insufficiently critical stance toward Pope Francis. Dreher, currently in communion with one of the several Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, argues that Vermeule’s ultramontanism stems from Vermeule’s Schmittian priors. You can read the blog post and decide for yourselves. However, Dreher’s screed follows hot on the heels of a general meltdown over Francis’s decision to canonize Pope Paul VI. Additionally, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò continues to publish statements about his allegations regarding the handling of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s case. All of these things have us thinking about the correct mode of criticism and the need for crucial distinctions.

In some circles, it seems that the default position on Francis is one of criticism. This is true both. in traditionalist circles and mainstream conservative circles. Michael Brendan Dougherty just had a cover story at National Review setting forth “the case against Pope Francis.” Likewise, Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a lengthy book, which is in some respects very critical of Francis. Other voices from more traditionalist circles, like H.J.A. Sire and Peter Kwasniewski, have been heard, raising issues personal and theological about Francis and his pontificate. Speaking purely for ourselves, and going purely on impressions, there seems to have been a shift in the criticism of Francis from raising questions about particular acts toward a general opposition to his pontificate.

We would not pretend that there are not serious questions about Francis’s pontificate. John Joy, for example, has set out an (unanswerable) argument that the Church’s teaching on the death penalty is infallible and irreformable, despite Francis’s decision to declare it “inadmissible.” We have discussed on innumerable occasions the debate over Amoris laetitia, which seems for the moment to have died down. (Francis’s insistence on the independence of episcopal conferences seems to have cut both ways in this case.) There are other issues that have cropped up, and the ongoing Youth Synod has been a flashpoint for still other issues, including same-sex attraction, contraception, and even the ghost of liturgical reform (a ghost that has gotten long in the tooth and whose shroud is moth eaten by now).

The doctrinal issues are, to our mind, somewhat separate and apart from the ongoing crisis roiling the American Church. The current iteration of the sex-abuse scandal has led to the downfall of not only Archbishop Theodore McCarrick but also Washington’s Donald Cardinal Wuerl. It appears that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a RICO investigation into the Church in Pennsylvania. This will, no doubt, please those Catholics who were calling for greater state intervention into the Church in the wake of the latest abuse revelations. (For our part, we are far from sure that this will end as well as the voices calling for intervention think it will.) The American crisis follows on the heels of the protracted, frankly embarrassing affair in Chile.

One might say, perhaps not unreasonably, that the default position toward Francis in these circles is critical because there is so much to be critical about. However, it seems to us that a fundamental principle is lost when the default position toward Francis becomes one of criticism. Indeed, we might go so far as to say that there is an inversion of the right order of things when this is the case. Here we could discuss Thomas, who held that fraternal correction is a matter of virtue and therefore subject to all the requirements for any act of virtue. There have been magisterial interventions, both by the Plenary Councils of Baltimore and by Leo XIII, about the duties of Catholics commenting on current events. To our knowledge, no one has collected these interventions in one place for serious study. Hopefully someone more inclined to careful research and scholarship will do so.

But maybe they don’t have to.

It may not please Professor Vermeule to know that, in all of this, we are reminded of Blessed John Henry Newman, who, in a sermon preached October 7, 1866 (somewhat before Pius IX called the Vatican Council, when the infallibility debate reached its fever pitch), said:

[W]hat need I say more to measure our own duty to it and to him who sits in it, than to say that in his administration of Christ’s kingdom, in his religious acts, we must never oppose his will, or dispute his word, or criticise his policy, or shrink from his side? There are kings of the earth who have despotic authority, which their subjects obey indeed but disown in their hearts; but we must never murmur at that absolute rule which the Sovereign Pontiff has over us, because it is given to him by Christ, and, in obeying him, we are obeying his Lord. We must never suffer ourselves to doubt, that, in his government of the Church, he is guided by an intelligence more than human. His yoke is the yoke of Christ, he has the responsibility of his own acts, not we; and to his Lord must he render account, not to us. Even in secular matters it is ever safe to be on his side, dangerous to be on the side of his enemies. Our duty is,—not indeed to mix up Christ’s Vicar with this or that party of men, because he in his high station is above all parties,—but to look at his formal deeds, and to follow him whither he goeth, and never to desert him, however we may be tried, but to defend him at all hazards, and against all comers, as a son would a father, and as a wife a husband, knowing that his cause is the cause of God.

The whole sermon is well worth reading, not least because it treats at length of the Papal States and the union between the Church and state power. However, for our purposes the extract here is sufficient.

Recall also Newman’s so-called biglietto speech, given May 12, 1879, upon the formal notification that Pope Leo XIII, who had been elected pope just over a year before, had raised Newman to the dignity of cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. “For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion.” Newman went on to say on that occasion,

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.

Perhaps the current criticism of Francis is not quite Newman’s loathed liberalism in religion. However, it is not so far off as one might like to imagine. Certainly the right to express one’s opinions of Francis—good, bad, especially bad, or otherwise—is implicit in all of the criticism of Francis swirling today. Therefore, it seems to us that there is something profoundly illiberal in Newman’s insistence in 1866 that, in the pope’s religious acts, Catholics “must never oppose his will, or dispute his word, or criticise his policy, or shrink from his side.” This view rejects, fundamentally, that every opinion ought to be expressed. Indeed, it holds that basically no opinion ought to be expressed, except, of course, opinions supportive of the pope’s rule over the Church.

Consequently, Professor Vermeule’s position seems to us to be an entirely reasonable anti-liberal position. One of the leading opponents of liberalism of the 19th century adopted a position no less deferential to the pope than Vermeule’s apparent ultramontanism. Of course, there are other explanations, including the notion that Professor Vermeule does not think Francis is as disastrous as his critics do. But given his thorough anti-liberalism in other respects, it is at least plausible that his attitude toward the Pope is motivated by distrust and dislike for liberalism.

Dreher is not wrong when he notes a fundamental tension in this position; that is, Francis seems a committed partisan of political and theological liberalism and it therefore is bizarre to adopt an anti-liberal attitude toward criticizing him. This, we think, is a misreading of Francis’s pontificate. It is far from clear that Francis is the liberal that has been advertised. Certainly in political and environmental terms, he is no liberal. Indeed, as Rusty Reno noted, Francis is as suspicious of liberal modernity as Pius IX ever was. And there’s a case to be made that Francis thinks that liberal modernity has rendered us incapable of strenuous moral life. This is, in fact, far bleaker than anything Pius IX ever held. And it is, of course, debatable. Highly debatable.

Even if Francis is a liberal, it is far from clear to us that the proper response is liberalism. This, then, is the crux of the problem. Barring the Head of the Church returning, there will be other popes. Perhaps some will be, in the words of the great Louisiana philosopher and theologian I.J. Reilly, good authoritarian popes. Perhaps some will be liberals. However, the anti-liberal position works as well with a good authoritarian pope as it does with a liberal pope. Indeed, it works even better. And it has the advantage of avoiding a perpetual oscillation between ultramontanism and neo-Gallicanism.