Social life must be developed with a view to man's Last End. However, as the Church as taught consistently, she has no specific models of civil governance to offer man. Men are free to debate which particular form of government they consider best suited to their own purposes. What the Church does insist upon, however, is that whatever form of government is considered best suited for the purposes of a particular nature must recognize that there are limits that exist in the nature of things beyond which it may not go legitimately, and that the Church has the God-given right to intervene in case those limits are threatened or actually transgressed. There has never been a period of perfection since the Fall of Adam and Eve from Grace in the Garden of Eden. The Middle Ages was not perfect, although certain epochs within it, particularly the Thirteen Century, came about as close as man can come to realizing a world where the temporal realm was properly subordinated to man's Last End.
Father Fahey writes:
"Politics is the science which as for object the organization of the State in view of the complete common good of the citizens in the natural order, and the means that conduce to it. As the final end of man is, however, not merely natural, the State, charged with the temporal social order, must ever act so as not only not to hinder but also to favour the attaining of man's supreme end, the Vision of God in Three Divine Persons. Political thought and political action, therefore, in an ordered State, will respect the jurisdiction and guidance of the Catholic Church, the divinely-instituted guardian of the moral order, remember that what is morally wrong cannot be politically good. Thus the natural or temporal common good of the State will be always aimed at, in the way best calculated to favour the development of true personality, in and through the Mystical Body of Christ. The civil power will then have a purer and higher notion of its proper end, acquired in the full light of Catholic truth, and political action, both in rulers and ruled, will come fully under the influence of supernatural life."
Our Lord told us to render unto God what is God's and to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. We do not need an endless army of Protestant exegetes to explain this passage to us. It is explained so cogently in the paragraph from Father Fahey quoted immediately above. A Catholic is supposed to understand that there are, as has been noted before, limits in the nature of things beyond which no one, either ruler or subject, may transgress legitimately. What belongs to God, therefore, is a strict observance of His Commandments and a strenuous effort to cooperate with sanctifying grace to grow in sanctity and to amend one's life if he should fall from grace. The civil state has the obligation to do nothing to hinder what belongs to God, and it is a firm obligation to root out from every aspect of its cultural life those things that are injurious to man's last end. This does not mean, however, that the things of God have no place in the realm of Caesar. Not at all.
As the paragraph from Father Fahey quoted immediately above illustrates, civil rulers must be mindful of their Particular Judgments as they administer their duties in the temporal realm. That is, they are called to be honest and just. While, as Pope Pius XI noted consistently, a government might have to provide assistance for a short while to those unable to support themselves, government must be as limited as possible, not using its coercive taxing powers to deprive citizens of their private property and to make them virtual slaves of career politicians. To this end, those who serve in civil government must administer justly fairly according to the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law. They must perform all of their duties well for the honor and glory of God and for the sanctification of their own souls. If, for example, a decision is made to build a road or a bridge, that decision must be based on actual need rather than a desire to cater to the interests of a campaign contributor. If a decision to build a road or a bridge is deemed necessary, then it is important to build the best road or bridge that can be built, one that will be safe to traverse and will not collapse in a matter of years. If the workers of ancient Rome could build highways and aqueducts for the honor and glory of Rome that lasted the test of centuries, then how much more is it important for Catholic officials in public life to make sure that all of what they do in government is just in the sight of the Blessed Trinity and therefore truly in the interests of the common good of all citizens. It is the specific rejection of this understanding, however, that leads men to be slothful, greedy and arrogant in their exercise of power, caring little if citizens are inconvenienced by their bad decisions (while they, the elected officials, feed at the public trough quite merrily). The only antidote to this is the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ.
After providing a review of economics as "the science which studies primarily the personal relations which constitute the family, the relations of husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants, and then, secondarily, the relations of these persons to external goods (the right of property and the use and acquisition of wealth)," Father Fahey discusses just role of political action and legislation in economic matters:
"Political action and legislation, especially in economic matters, must ever seek to strengthen family life, and accordingly, must not only not admit divorce, but must always aim at benefitting the citizens through their families as much as possible. It will be difficult at the present epoch when so many efforts are made to loosen family ties and when riches are worshiped, to restore to the word economy its original meaning. Catholics, however, should not forget that when, following Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI, they are demanding a family wage or aiming at setting up guilds or corporations as auxiliaries of family life, their efforts are directed to the task of restoring the family to its true place in the centre of the economic order. It is worthy of note that the English Poor Laws, which began with Protestantism, introduced the separation of husband and wife in the poorhouses established under them. The Catholic organization of the preceding centuries had respected family life. The importance of the family as the nucleus of the State should be remembered in connection with such questions as that of State-provided meals for school children."
The nature of contemporary life is founded on a rejection of the spirit of Christendom which prevailed in the Middle Ages. Everything has been corrupted as a result, including such words as the State and the economy. There are legitimate roles for the State in the support of the family, something that many conservatives and libertarians reject out-of-hand. A Catholic who accepts the totality of the Church's socialteaching fits neatly into no category associated with secular political philosophy.
Consider, for example, the wisdom of Pope Leo XIII, contained in Immortale Dei in 1885, concerning the nature of the State and the family in the Middle Ages, a wisdom that must be taken into account before one bases a rejection of the State on secularist "thinkers:"
"It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man's natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if he dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life-be it family, social, or civil-with his fellow-men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless some one be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good; every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its author. Hence it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything, without exception, must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single source, namely, God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. There is no power but from God.
"The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature to insure the general welfare. But whatever be the nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount ruler of the world, and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State. For, in things visible, God has fashioned secondary causes, in which His divine action can in some wise be discerned, leading up to the end to which the course of the world is ever tending. In like manner in civil society, God has always willed that there should be a ruling authority, and that they who are invested with it should reflect the divine power and providence in some measure over the human race."
One cannot dismiss the necessity of a ruling authority without addressing himself directly to Pope Leo XII's words here: "In like manner in civil society, God has always willed that there should be a ruling authority. . . ." This is not a mere opinion offered after a brainstorming session. This is the patrimony of Catholic social thought from which no Catholic may legitimately dissent. It is what exists in the nature of things. As has been mentioned earlier (and will be elaborated upon at great length later), the State in the Middle Ages was founded on a recognition of the authority of the true Church to interpose herself when civil rulers proposed to do things (or had actually done things) that were contrary to the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law, hence creating conditions deleterious to the salvation of immortal souls, about which a State cannot be neutral.
A beautiful expression of this recognition can be found in a letter written to his son by Saint Louis IX, found in both the breviary of Tradition and the newer breviary:
"My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin."
That is, one entrusted with the rule over others has an obligation to be especially vigilant about the state of his immortal soul. Mortal sin kills the life of sanctifying grace in the soul, thereby darkening the intellect (which is thus more ready to deny the truth or be slower to accept it) and weakening the will, inclining the sinner more and more to a disordered love of self and to an indulgence in his uncontrolled appetites. A soul in a state of mortal sin is more apt to act contrary to truth and to do so arbitrarily, leading a life of contradiction and confusion that is ultimately reflected in his relations with others. As even Plato himself understood, disorder in the soul leads to disorder in society. Well, disorder in the soul is caused principally by unrepentant mortal sin. If one wants to know one of the chief reasons why the modern State has been corrupted, one should start by looking at the glorification of mortal sin in every aspect of our culture (which is found among those libertarians who believe that the State has no role to play in such issues as contraception or abortion or sodomy, that these are all matters of personal liberty).
Saint Louis went on to explain to his son that he must bear his crosses with patience and be ever grateful for the blessings he receives from God, making sure to avoid become conceited because of the privilege he will be given to serve as a ruler over his subjects. A ruler still must observe the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law, and the standard of his own Particular Judgment is actually higher than any of his subjects because he has been entrusted with the administration of objective justice founded in the splendor of Truth Incarnate.
The great leader of France concluded his letter by writing:
"Be devout and obedience to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies."
There is no more cogent summary of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. Saint Louis was telling his son that he, although destined to be a king, was subordinate to the Church founded by Our Lord upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope. All States, no matter the construct of their civil governments, must be so subordinate.
Importantly, Saint Louis admonished his son to "work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies." The State has the obligation to work to remove those conditions that breed sin in the midst of its cultural life. Yes, sin there will always be. True. However, the State, which the Church teaches has the obligation to help foster those conditions in civil society in which citizens can better save their souls, must not tolerate grave evils (such as blasphemy or willful murder) under cover of law. Saint Thomas Aquinas understood that some evils may have to be tolerated in society. Graver evils, however, undermine the common good and put into jeopardy the pursuit of man's last end, as Pope Leo XIII noted in Sapientiae Christianae in 1890.
Why, though, should the State seek to banish blasphemy and heresies, going so far as to punish blasphemers and heretics? It is quite simple. Those who can violate the Second Commandment in order to do violence against the Holy Name can just as easily do violence against their fellow-men. Those who put into question the received teaching of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man are worse criminals than those who commit physical crimes against persons and property. Why? Because those who can place into question the truths of Our Blessed Lord and Savior make it more possible for people to reject the necessity of the Faith in their own lives and that of their nations, giving rise to the very statist crimes that are of such justifiable concern to those in the libertarian and/or anarchist camps.
The nature of this sort of fatherly concern for things sacred and temporal that existed in the Middle Ages among many, although certainly not all, rulers was noted by Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei:
"They, therefore, who rule should rule with even-handed justice, not as masters, but rather as fathers, for the rule of God over man is most just, and is tempered always with a father's kindness. Government should, moreover, be administered for the well-being of the citizens because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State. Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual or f some few persons, inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. But if those who are in authority rule unjustly, if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly, and if their measures prove hurtful to the people, they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and pre-eminence of their dignity. The mighty should be mightily tormented. Then truly will the majesty of the law meet with the dutiful and willing homage of the people, when they are convinced that their rulers hold authority from God, and feel that it is a matter of justice and duty to obey them, and to show them reverence and fealty, united to a love not unlike that which children show their parents. Let every soul be subject to higher powers. To despise legitimate authority, in whomsoever vested, is unlawful, as a rebellion against the divine will, and whoever resists that, rushes wilfully to destruction. He that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. To cast aside obedience, and by popular violence to incite to revolt, is therefore treason, not against man only, but against God."
These are strong words. Yes, as both Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Robert Bellarmine noted in their respective works, there are grave circumstances in which it might be necessary for a well-organized collection of citizens to rebel against the unjust exercise of power by civil rulers. Such a rebellion must meet the conditions outlined in the Just War Theory. Of particular importance in a consideration as to whether the conditions justifying such a rebellion have been met is the principle of proportionality, something that I treated at length in my analysis as to why the war with Iraq was unjustifiable morally, to say nothing of suicidal in terms of realpolitik.
Nevertheless, as Pope Leo XIII noted in Immortale Dei, the Catholics of the Middle Ages understood full well that an unjust ruler would meet with an unhappy end if he did not repent of his injustice. Subjects, though, continued to pray for their rulers at all times, trusting in the power of the graces won for us by the shedding of Our Lord's Most Precious Blood on Calvary to be applied to even the most hardened of sinners, including those vested with civil rule.
Indeed, it was the Faith itself that served as the check upon renegade rulers and curbed the tendency to absolutism in the State. Pope Leo XIII makes this clear in Immortale Dei (as does Father Fahey, whose work I shall refer to again shortly):
"As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound up to act to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, not less than individuals, owes gratitude to God, who gave it being and maintains it, and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its teaching and practice - not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only true religion - it is a public crime to act as though there no God. So, too, is it a sin in the State not to have care for religion, as something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of the many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, should hold in honor the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favor religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule. For one and all are we destined by our birth and adoption to enjoy, when this frail and fleeting life is ended, a supreme and final good in heaven, and to the attainment of this every endeavor should be directed. Since, then, upon, this depends the full and perfect happiness of mankind, the securing of this end should be of all imaginable interests the most urgent. Hence, civil society, established for the common welfare, should not only safeguard the well-being of the community, but have also at heart the interests of its individual members, in such mode as not in any way to hinder, but in every manner to render as easy as may be, the possession of that highest and unchangeable good for which all should seek. Wherefore, for this purpose, care must especially be taken to preserve unharmed and unimpeded the religion whereof the practice is the link connecting man to God."
Pope Leo is setting out a line of argument that proceeds quite logically, quite Thomistically (it was he, after all, who required the study of Saint Thomas in universities). The State becomes a monster if it does not take account of, rejects, ignores, or, worse yet, makes war against the true Church and the Deposit of Faith contained therein. As Pope Leo noted in Testem Benevolentiae in 1899 - and as Pope Pius XI noted in Divini Illius Magistri in 1929, men need the guidance of the Church to know definitively what is true. However, they also need the sanctifying grace administered only by Holy Mother Church to pursue virtue and scale the heights of personal sanctity, the absolute preconditions for order in society (which will vary, obviously, according to the degree to which individuals cooperate with grace at any point in time). The Church is essential for the proper functioning of the State, which is why the modern State is so corrupt and tyrannical.
Pope Leo XIII went on in Immortale Dei to note:
"Now, it cannot be difficult to find out which is the true religion, if only it be sought with an earnest and unbiased mind; for proofs are abundant and striking. We have, for example, the fulfillment of prophecies; miracles in great number; the rapid spread of the faith in the midst of enemies and in face of overwhelming obstacles; the witness of the martyrs, and the like. From all these it is evident that the only true religion is the one established by Jesus Christ Himself, and which He committed to His Church to propagate."
He went on at a later point in the encyclical to note how the Church had civilized barbaric and pagan peoples, producing Christendom:
"There was time when States were governed by principles of Gospel teaching. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people; permeating all the ranks and relations of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ, established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favor of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond all expectation, whose remembrance is still, and will always be, in renown, witnessed to as they are by countless proofs which can never be blotted out or even obscured by any craft of enemies."
The State, which exhibited so many horrors prior to the Church, was Christianized, producing the effects that will be listed in the next installment from the next passage from Immortale Dei. However, Pope Leo XIII was wrong on one point in the preceding paragraph I will present. The enemies of Christ have been able to blot out and to distort the memory of the past. Sadly, many of those enemies are in the hierarchy of Holy Mother Church, making it more possible for the enemies outside of her ranks to use textbooks and public schools and the means of mass communication to create a "memory of the past" that is wholly false.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
NEXT: A Catholic Understanding of How 'Evangelical Liberty' Forged its way in
- Part Two: The Christian Concept of the State
- Part One: The Pagan, Liberal and Socialist State