Time of Passiontide
volume 14, no. 16
Catholicism and the State
by Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Part Two: The Christian Concept of the State
"Sadly, the French Masons were ahead of their time. The contemporary Church of the postconciliar era has consigned the Syllabus to the dustbin of history. This is the case in no small measure because of the infiltration of the highest ranks of Holy Mother Church by Masons. However, it remains the case that the teaching of the Church is what it is, even though contemporary revisionists and positivists from within her ranks seek to flush the past down the Orwellian memory hole. As Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods point out in The Great Facade, no pronouncement of the Church can be termed a "development of doctrine" if it indeed contradicts Tradition. That is why Catholics have the obligation to study the documents of the past, as an honest reading of them will reveal just how prophetic the popes of the past were concerning our own situation today."
Although a far cry from the overt Catholicity of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II's words above illustrate the fact that even a man who is very much a philosophical liberal sees problems with the socialist state, especially as its is violative of the natural law principle of subsidiarity.
Father Cahill described briefly the Christian concept of the State, a concept that will be elaborated on at some length below and in future installments:
"In marked contrast with non-Christian theories and avoiding the extremes of each, stands the Christian teaching on the origin, nature and purpose of civil society. Christians agree with Pagans, Liberals and Socialists in asserting that the immediate purpose of the State is to promote the temporal good and happiness of the people. But in Christian philosophy in contrast with most non-Christian schools man's temporal good is taken to include his moral and intellectual interests as well as his material well-being; and is regarded as subordinate to the eternal happiness which is man's ultimate end.
"Again, according to the Christian concept of the State, the members come before the State itself, which can never override man's inalienable rights, nor limit any of their natural rights, except for a sufficient cause connected with the public good. For the State as a corporate body comes into being solely with a view to the good of the members, and has no interests or rights of its own which are not founded upon the rights and interests of the families and individuals that compose it. Hence all the activities and laws of the ruling authority must be directed solely to promote the public good of the citizens. In so far as they clash with that, they are unlawful and invalid. . . .
"Again, the State is not something apart from its members as the ancient pagans implied: nor is it a conventional society as the Liberals assert; neither is it the result of blind physical evolution, as the Socialists teach; but it is a union of families and individuals held together by reciprocal rights and duties. It is ordained by the natural law, which has determined its structures, its functions, and the extent and limitations of its powers. Its purpose is to supplement not to override, personal endeavor and the helps of family life..
"The State includes the whole organised nation with all the living forces that compose it. The central authority is only one element in it (albeit the most important one), and must not absorb the activities of other lesser forces or organisations, but should foster private initiative whether individual or collective, while directing it along lines conducive to the public good.
"Again, the State is subject to the same moral law as the individual person: and the government of the State in dealing with its own members as well as with other corporate bodies or individuals is bound by the laws of justice, charity and religion. The actual government or central authority in the State is usually also bound by positive laws-the fundamental laws of the constitution-which it cannot change without the clear consent of the people.
"Finally, the State cannot interfere with the legitimate action of the Church to which God has committed the duty of guiding and assisting men in the pursuit of their eternal happiness. The State might conceivably have been so constituted as to satisfy completely all that is required to supplement individual and domestic activities; and thus might have been the only type of a perfect and supreme society. But as a matter of fact, God has instituted the Church, another society equally perfect and supreme, and committed to it the care of man's eternal interests, which are thus withdrawn from the control of the State.
"Hence, although it is the natural function of the State to promote men's good and happiness, there are whole spheres of activity-religious, personal and domestic-reserved from its control, but even in these, the State is bound to afford protection and assistance where required."
Most of the rest of this monograph will be spent elaborating on the nature of the Christian concept of the State, elucidated as it has been by the authoritative teaching of Holy Mother Church. Again, while debate takes place among orthodox Catholic scholars concerning the application of received teaching in concrete circumstances (and sometimes revolves around the abandonment of the patrimony of the past in the postconciliar era), no orthodox Catholic scholar contends that the State is unnatural to man and that human social life can be organized successfully without a State that at least minimally recognizes the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law, to say nothing of an absolute subordination to the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as exercised by Holy Mother Church.
Some commentators, however, have come to the conclusion that the state itself is bound to become tyrannical, prompting them to believe that anarchy is the only solution to protect the individual's life, liberty, and property from the whims of professional, careerist politicians and power-hungry social-engineers in the bureaucracy, to say nothing of autocratic, positivist judges who use linguistic deconstructionism to justify statism (and every moral aberration imaginable). These commentators are wrong. They have come to a conclusion based on a false premise, namely, that the state itself is unjust and destined to become corrupt over the course of time. Their conclusions are logical if you accept the false premise. However, the falsity of the premise must be examined with care.
A reliance on secular writers, however, is precisely what leads to the embrace of false premises, which results always and inevitably in bad consequences. A Catholic is supposed to understand that everything in the world is to be seen through the eyes of the true. Everything, including the nature and construct of the State and the civil government formed to exercise its authority in the temporal realm. There is no more cogent summary of the social teaching of the Catholic Church, which binds the consciences of all Catholics in all circumstances for all times, than that found in Father Denis Fahey's Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, which contains a brilliant summary of the encyclical letters of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI on the State.
A Catholic Understanding of the History of the State and Its Corruption
Father Fahey begins his book with an overview of how a Catholic is supposed to view and to study history:
"History is concerned with individual and contingent facts. In order to discern the supreme causes and laws of the events which historians narrate, we must stand out from, and place ourselves above these events. To do this with certainty one should, of course, be enlightened by Him Who holds all things in the hollow of His hand. Unaided human reason cannot even attempt to give an account of the supreme interests at stake in the world, for the world, as it is historically, these interests are supernatural."
That is, unaided human reason cannot explain anything about the world as it does not take into account man's supernatural origin and his eternal destiny. We are not living in the world of ancient Greece or ancient Rome, a time when philosophers had to grope their way to an understanding of things solely by human reason. The Incarnation has taken place. Our Lord has offered Himself up to the Father in Spirit and in Truth on the wood of the Holy Cross, thereby redeeming sinful mankind. He has established His true Church to be the means by which the fruits of that Redemptive Act are administered to the souls of individual men until the end of time and to be the repository in which is safeguarded the Deposit of Faith, which is essential for the right ordering of souls and of human societies. Anyone who overlooks or denies the importance of these truths to men as they live together in nations will fail to explain adequately why problems exist and how they can be ameliorated over the course of time.
Father Fahey went on to explain:
"Human reason strengthened by faith, that is, by the acceptance of the information God has given us about the world through His Son and through the Society founded by Him, can attempt to give this account, though with a lively consciousness of its limitations. It is only when we shall be in possession of the Beatific Vision that the full beauty of the Divine Plan which is being worked out in the world will be visible to us. Until then, we can only make an imperfect attempt at what be, not the philosophy, but the theology of history. The theologian who has the Catholic Faith is in touch with the full reality of the world, and can therefore undertake to show, however feebly and imperfectly, the interplay of the supreme realities of life."
Father Fahey's words resonate with truth. Only a believing Catholic can come to understand how the events of the world fit together, albeit imperfectly. A Catholic understands that man suffers from the vestigial after-effects of Original Sin, and that he needs sanctifying grace to enlighten the intellect and to strengthen the will in order to save his soul. Moreover, though, a Catholic understands that he has been baptized into a visible, hierarchical society, namely, the Mystical Body of Christ that is the Church, and that he has the obligation to learn what the God-Man has entrusted to her. A Catholic has to remember at all times that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became Man in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb to place Himself under the authority of His own creatures in Nazareth. This was to teach us that we are to live under authority-in the family, in the Church, in the State-at all times and that we are to obey all legitimate authority, properly exercised, in all things that do not pertain to sin. Although Our Lord's Hidden Years are not recorded for the most part in Sacred Scripture, His Hidden Years teach us the importance of recognizing that authority is from God and it is a wicked thing to seek to liberate one's self from the very concept of authority in this vale of tears.
Father Fathey continues to explain the utter futility of the secularistic and naturalistic ways of examining the world:
"The philosopher, as such, knows nothing about the reality of the divine life of Grace, which we lost by the Fall of our First Parents, and nothing of the Mystical Body of Christ through which we receive back that life. The philosophy of history, if it is to be true philosophy, that is, knowledge by supreme causes, must therefore be rather the theology of history. Yet how few, even among those who have the Catholic Faith, think of turning to the instructions and warnings issued by the representatives of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth, when they wish to ascertain the root causes of the present chaotic condition of the world!"
The fact that some Catholic commentators speak in glowing terms of the "insights" offered by secularists without making public advertence to those instructions and warnings, even though they say they had read the encyclical letters, makes Father Fahey's prophetic wisdom more pertinent now than when it was offered seventy years ago. A fallacious view of the State both in theory and in practice is bound to arise if we ignore and/or reject the prophetic wisdom of Pope Leo XIII, contained in such encyclical letters as Humanum Genus, Immortale Dei, Sapientiae Christianae, Libertas Praestimissimus, Mirare Caritatis, and Testem Benevolentiae (an apostolical letter) to discover how the libertarians and anarchists and conservatives base their approach to government and the State on thoroughly false premises. Additionally, a reading of Pope Pius XI's Urbi Arcano, Quas Primas, Divini Illius Magistri, Casti Connubii, and Divini Redemptoris to understand how the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as exercised by His true Church constitutes the only protection against the corruption of the State by a one-person tyrant or by the mobocracy of the modern democratic ethos. This is to say nothing of the insights found in Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno about the obligations of the State to base economic life on principles that reflect the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law, starting with the principle of subsidiarity. No secularist has one blessed thing to offer us to understand man and society.
Father Fahey went on to write:
"The supreme law, illustrated in the actual historical world, is that it is well or ill with it, simply and absolutely (simplicter), in proportion as it accepts or rejects God's plan for the restoration of our Real Life, the Life of Grace, lost by original sin. The events of our age, as of every age, are in the last analysis, the results of man's acceptance or rejection of the Divine Plan for ordered human life. They are, therefore, the consequences of the application to action of the ideas of what is order and what is disorder, which have been held by different minds. Accordingly, the appreciation of these events and of their consequences for the future must be based on what we Catholics know by faith about the order of the world, and we must turn, first all, to the documents in which the Vicar of Christ have outlined for us what is in accordance with the Divine Plan and what is opposed to it. The theology of history must therefore never lose sight of Papal pronouncements on the tendencies of an age or its spirit. Now, one such outstanding pronounce with regard to the political order of our day is the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX, and it is my intention to lay particular stress on it. The study is rendered more attractive by the fact that the enemies of the Catholic Church attack this Papal document continually. For example, the French Masonic review, L'Acacia (November 1930), published the Syllabus with an introduction, of which a portion runs as follows:
'We have considered it well to publish again the text of the famous Syllabus, which has become almost impossible to find. As the Church does not wish the Syllabus to be subjected to the judgments and criticisms of the Catholics of the present day, she has systematically bought up and burned the copies in the vernacular which were being offered for sale.'
"These statements are needless to say, foul calumnies of the Catholic Church in the usual Masonic style. The Church is only too anxious that the Syllabus should be well known to Catholics. Pope Leo XIII, the successor of Pope Pius IX, alludes to it in the following terms: '. . . Pius IX branded publicly many false opinions which were gaining ground and afterwards ordered them to be considered in summary form, in order that, in this sea of error, Catholics might have a light that they might safely follow.' (Encyclical Letter, Immortale Dei, 1885.)"
Sadly, the French Masons were ahead of their time. The contemporary Church of the postconciliar era has consigned the Syllabus to the dustbin of history. This is the case in no small measure because of the infiltration of the highest ranks of Holy Mother Church by Masons. However, it remains the case that the teaching of the Church is what it is, even though contemporary revisionists and positivists from within her ranks seek to flush the past down the Orwellian memory hole. As Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods point out in The Great Facade, no pronouncement of the Church can be termed a "development of doctrine" if it indeed contradicts Tradition. That is why Catholics have the obligation to study the documents of the past, as an honest reading of them will reveal just how prophetic the popes of the past were concerning our own situation today.
Father Fahey states:
"Papal documents, treating of the Mystical Body in relation to Politics and Economics, as well as those which deal with the influence of the saints, the truly great men of the world, on their times, are of paramount importance for the study of the theology of history. The Syllabus and the various condemnations of Liberalism by the Sovereign Pontiffs aimed at fixing certain truths firmly in the minds of Catholics. The return to sane thinking about social organization demanded as a prerequisite the purification of thought and the elimination of error."
Once again, therefore, it is essential to know the social teaching of the Catholic Church in order to understand why the modern State has become a church unto itself. It is the rejection of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ that has tainted the State, thereby causing the problems of the modern world exhibited by the secularist ethos in which modern state has degenerated so completely.
"We can thus easily see that the entrance of Christianity into the world has meant two things. Primarily and principally, it has meant the constitution of a supernatural society, the Mystical Body of Christ, absolutely transcending every natural development of culture and civilization. Secondly, it has had for result that this supernatural society, the Catholic Church, began to exercise a profound influence on culture and civilization and modified in far-reaching fashion the existing temporal or natural social order."
As Pope Leo XIII noted in Immortale Dei (and as Pope Pius XI noted in Divini Illius Magistri), it was the Church that civilized the pagan and barbaric peoples of Europe in the First Millennium. Gradually, over the course of time, civil rulers began to understand that they were as bound in their capacities as rulers by the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law as they were in their own individual lives privately. Moreover, these rulers understood that it was the right of the Catholic Church to interpose herself in instances where they had done things-or had proposed to do things - contrary to the those binding precepts and therefore injurious to the salvation of souls. What is injurious to the salvation of souls is injurious to the common good of states, as both popes point out in their respective encyclical letters noted above. This led to tension between Church and State at times, to be sure. However, it produced, albeit never perfectly, a period of time, Christendom, in human history when the tendencies toward absolutism were checked by the exercise of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ upon civil rulers. It is the overthrow of that Social Kingship, dating from the Renaissance and the Protestant Revolt, that has modern the horrors of the modern state, from which so many people rightly recoil without, however, knowing true history and the right principles of the State.
"The indirect power of the Church over temporal affairs, whenever the interests of the Divine Life of souls are involved, presupposes, of course, a clear distinction of nature between the ecclesiastical authority, charged with the care of divine things, and the civil authority, whose mission is concerned with purely temporal matters."
In other words, Church and State are both from God. The State had to be subordinated to the Church in matters of faith and morals and in matters of fundamental justice as the Middle Ages progressed, just as the family itself had to be subordinated to the reality of the Mystical Body of Christ following the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and Our Lady on Pentecost Sunday in the same Upper Room in Jerusalem where Our Lord had instituted the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. To assert that we can live without the State because of the abuses of its modern exemplars is as absurd as to claim that children can live without parents because of widespread instances of physical and emotional abuse of children by parents (which abuses are themselves the result of the rejection of the Deposit of Faith entrusted to the true Church and of the rejection of the necessity of sanctifying grace to see the world clearly and to act in conformity with what is true and just).
"In proportion as the Mystical Body of Christ was accepted by mankind, political and economic thought and action began to respect the jurisdiction and guidance of the Catholic Church, endowed, as she is, with the right of intervention in temporal affairs whenever necessary, because of her participation in the spiritual Kingship of Christ. Thus the natural or temporal common good of States came to be sought in a manner calculated to favour the development of true personality, in and through the Mystical Body of Christ, and social life came more and more fully under the influence of the supreme end of man, the vision of God in Three Divine Persons.
"Accordingly, Catholic Social Order, viewed as a whole, is not primarily the political and social organization of society. It is primarily the supernatural social organism of the Church, and then, secondarily, the temporal or natural social order resulting from the influence of Catholic doctrine on politics and economics and from the embodiment of that influence in social institutions. If instead of Catholic Social Order we use the wider but more convenient expression of Kingdom of God, we may say that the Kingdom of God on earth is in its essence the Church, but, in its integrity, comprises the Church and the temporal social order which the influence of the Church upon the world is every striving to bring into existence. Needless to say, while the general principles of social order remain always the same, social structures will present great differences at different epochs. No particular temporal social order will ever realize all that the Church is capable of giving to the world. The theology of history must include, then, primarily, the study of the foundation and development of the Church, and secondarily, the examination of the ebb and flow of the world's acceptance of the Church's supernatural mission."
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
NEXT: The Family and the State
Time of Passiontide
volume 14, no. 16
CATHOLICISM AND THE STATE