MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 27

Pope Leo XIII Catholicism and the State

by Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

Part Eight:

The Shepherds of Statism

    "To resist unjust laws is a duty imposed by our baptismal obligatons. It is a duty, though, that falls chiefly upon our shepherds, the bishops, most of whom in the United States long ago made their accommodation to the rise and triumph of the modern State. We fight evil directly. And we attempt to plant the seeds for the conversion of souls as the precondition of the conversion of the country, something that most of the bishops of this country have never been interested in accomplishing."

   The admission that some evils have to be tolerated in society is far different, however, than saying that the law can licitly protect such evils or actually promote them as some sort of "civil right." The trafficking in and use of hallucinogenic drugs are grave sins against the Fifth Commandment that place in jeopardy not only the welfare of the individual(s) involved but those who might be harmed by the erratic behavior produced by those drugs. There are only a handful of sins that are truly "private" in nature. Most sins have a very social dimension to them. Indeed, even the most private of sins can cause a soul to be so disoriented in the direction of personal gratification that it could, if not confessed and absolved in the confessional, lead the sinner to become an active agent of hostility, disorder, and outright violence in his relations with others. Grave evils need to be curbed by the power of a State organized according to Catholic principles.

   Alas, the use of labels that are defined in highly subjective ways by many different people is precisely the problem we are dealing with in our considerations. A Catholic is supposed to be neither conservative nor liberal. A Catholic is supposed to be a Catholic, a person who fits neatly into no secular categorization. Oh, a Catholic might be an Augustinian or a Thomas or a Dun-Scotist in his philosophical bent. All well and good. Those schools of thought are well-defined. Terms such as libertarianism are not well-defined, and, as demonstrated above, even the definitions that do exist do not apply to all of the possible permutations caused by its use. As far as I know there is no "pope" of libertarianism, so who is to say that one definition is the one and only definition of the term?

   Pope Leo XIII went on in Libertas to explain that human liberty can be understood in its fullness and thus protected most completely only by the teaching and sanctifying offices of Holy Mother Church:

       "These precepts of the truest and highest teaching, made known to us by the light of reason itself, the Church, instructed by the example and doctrine of her divine Author, has ever propagated and asserted; for she has made them the measure of her office and of her teaching to the Christian nations. As to morals, the laws of the Gospel not only immeasurably surpass the wisdom of the heathen, but are an invitation and an introduction to a state of holiness unknown to the ancients; and bringing man nearer to God, they make him at once the possessor of a more perfect liberty. Thus, the powerful influence of the Church has ever been manifested in the custody and protection of the civil and political liberty of the people. The enumeration of its merits in this respect does not belong to our present purpose. It is sufficient to recall the fact that slavery, that old reproach of the heathen nations, was mainly abolished by the beneficent efforts of the Church. The impartiality of the law and the true brotherhood of man were first asserted by Jesus Christ; and His apostles re-echoed His voice when they declared that in future there was to be neither Jew or Gentile, nor barbarian, nor Scythian, but all were brothers in Christ. So powerful, so conspicuous, in this respect is the influence of the Church that experience abundantly testifies how savage customs are longer possible in any land where she has once set her foot; but that gentleness speedily takes the place of cruelty, and the light of truth quickly dispels the darkness of barbarism. Nor has the Church been less lavish in the benefits she has conferred on civilized nations in every age, either by resisting the tyranny of the wicked, or by protecting the innocent and helpless from injury, or, finally, by using her influence in the support of any form of government which commended itself to the citizens at home, because of its justice, or was feared by their enemies without, because of its power."

   Once again, Pope Leo, as he did throughout the quarter-century of his pontificate, is pointing out simple truths of history, tracing out for us "modern men" that the path to retard the growing power of the State in his day (he saw all of the evils of our present day, including the monster, tyrant State) is to be found by knowing and then emulating the history of how the first Christendom was established. The task to "restore all things in Christ," the phrase from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians that was the motto of Pope Saint Pius X's pontificate from 1903-1914, is not impossible. It is our day. Some will call us "restorationists" in an effort to disparage us. However, we are restorationists: we want to restore the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as exercised by Holy Mother Church as the only antidote to the abuses of the modern State.

   As Pope Leo XIII noted in Tametsi in 1900:

       "The case of governments is much the same as that of the individual; they must run into fatal issues, if they depart from the way. The Creator and Redeemer of human nature, the Son of God, is King and Lord of the world, and holds absolute sovereignty over men, both as individuals and as members of society. . . . Therefore, the law of Christ ought to hold sway in human society, and in communities so far as to be the teacher and guide of public no less than private life. This being divinely appointed and provided, no one may resist with impunity, and it fares ill with any commonwealth in which Christian institutions are not allowed their proper place. Let Jesus be excluded, and human reason is left without its greatest protection and illumination; the very notion is easily lost of the end for which God created human society, to wit,: that by help of their civil union the citizens should attain their natural good, but nevertheless in a way not to conflict with that highest and most perfect and enduring good which is above nature. Their minds busy with a hundred confused projects, rulers and subjects alike travel a devious road: bereft, as they are, of safe guidance and fixed principle.

       "Just as it is pitiable and calamitous to wander out of the way, so it is to desert the truth. But the first absolute and essential truth is Christ, the Word of God, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father, who with the Father is one. I am the Way and the Truth. Accordingly, if truth is sought, let human reason first of all obey Jesus Christ and rest secure in His authoritative teaching, because by Christ's voice the truth itself speaks."

   Pope Leo XIII used his entire pontificate to present to the entire world the authoritative teaching of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was not proffering his "opinion." He was teaching authoritatively in the name of the One whose vicar he was for twenty-five years, not quite correctly that "it fares ill with any commonwealth in which Christian institutions are not allowed their proper place." That is, we do not have to reinvent the wheel philosophically. The answers to the problem of modernity is to turn to Christ the King and Mary our Queen. This is not pietism or fideism. This is what used to be called, and was defended so ably by Pope Pius XI, Catholic Action. As Pope Leo noted in a review of his pontificate just one year prior to his death, "Hence in proportion as society separates itself from the Church, which is an important element in its strength, by so much does it decline, or its woes are multiplied for the reason that they are separated whom God wished to bind together." Just as libertarianism, no matter how it is defined, provides no substitute for the social teaching of the true Church, a Catholic is not going to find any shelter in the promotion of anarchy, another term that is laden with as many different interpretations as it has exponents. Some prominent conservative columnists have expressed their embrace of anarchy, although they have not given a precise definition of the term, basing their conclusion on their beliefs that the State is bound to become tyrannical and abusive:

       "It's entirely possible that states - organized force -- will always rule this world, and that we will have at best a choice among evils. And some states are worse than others in important ways: anyone in his right mind would prefer living in the United States to life under a Stalin. But to say a thing is inevitable, or less onerous than something else, is not to say it is good.

       "For most people, 'anarchy' is a disturbing word, suggesting chaos, violence, antinomianism-- things they hope the state can control or prevent. The term 'state,' despite its bloody history, doesn't disturb them. Yet it's the state that is truly chaotic, because it means the rule of the strong and cunning. They imagine that anarchy would naturally terminate in the rule of thugs. But mere thugs can't assert a plausible right to rule. Only the state, with its propaganda apparatus, can do that. This is what 'legitimacy' means. Anarchists obviously need a more seductive label.

       " 'But what would you replace the state with?' The question reveals an inability to imagine human society without the state. Yet it would seem that an institution that can take 200,000,000 lives within a century hardly needs to be 'replaced.'

       "Christians, and especially Americans, have long been misled about all this by their good fortune. Since the conversion of Rome, most Western rulers have been more or less inhibited by Christian morality (though, often enough, not so's you'd notice), and even warfare became somewhat civilized for centuries; and this has bred the assumption that the state isn't necessarily an evil at all. But as that morality loses its cultural grip, as it is rapidly doing, this confusion will dissipate. More and more we can expect the state to show its nature nakedly."

   As right as they might be on so many things, they are so very wrong about their definition of the state. Their erroneous definition of the state leads them to embrace a vague conception of anarchy, which they do not spell out in any kind of specificity, leaving it to the reader's imagination to consider a world without the state, an entity that they believe is evil of its nature.

   A careful and dispassionate review of authentic history shows us that the era of modernity, which rejects, ultimately, even the Incarnation, no less the necessity of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as exercised by His true Church, is the problem. Consider, for example, Father E. Cahill's discussion of the State found in his The Framework of a Christian State:

       "Hence there are three types of human association that form a class apart, namely, the Church, the Family, and the State or Nation. The existence and scope of these, the essential principles of their structure, the fundamental rights and duties of the members are determined by God's law, and cannot be altered by human authority. Of these, the Church differs from the family and the nation in that the two latter are natural societies. Their immediate object has to do with man's temporal interests; and their existence and scope, as well as their fundamental structure, spring from the law of nature which was ordained by God in the very act of creating man. Hence the essential principles that govern their activities can be ascertained by the light of reason. The Church, on the other hand, is supernatural. Its object is to lead men to their supernatural destiny, which is direct union with God; and its foundation and constitution depend upon God's positive revelation to man.

       "Again, the Church and the nation differ from all other types of human associations in that they are perfect societies. They--and only they--have within themselves all that is required for the complete and ful realisation of the ends at which they aim. Neither can, within its own sphere, be validly subordinated to any human power outside itself; while every other human society, even the family, is more or less dependent upon them. It is on this account that the Church and the State are called Perfect societies, while all the others, even the Family, are Imperfect societies."

   Father Cahill goes on to state the seminal nature of the work of Leo XIII and Pius XI:

       "The great Encyclicals of Leo XIII, promulgated in the last quarter of the 19th century (1878-1901), contain a statement of the main principles of Catholic social philosophy and are generally accepted as the ground-work of Social Science. The teaching which they contain has been confirmed and in some particulars more fully developed in several Papal pronouncements of more recent date. The recent Encyclicals of our Present Holy Father Pius XI, especially those on Christian Education, on Marriage, and on the Social Order, are of the first importance in this connection."

   Admitting that Saint Augustine took a dimmer view of the State than did Saint Thomas Aquinas, it must be remembered, though, that the former lived before the State came under the sway of the Social Kingship of Christ, whereas the latter lived at the apex of that kingship, having seen the way in which Christendom had developed in the eight centuries separating himself from the great Bishop of Hippo. The State is not bound to become tyrannical or abusive. That it became so in the wake of the Protestant Revolt and the rise of Freemasonry, as described at length earlier in the passages cited from Father Fahey's The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, is what influenced some of the American founding fathers to embrace what is now called the "old republicanism" enshrined in the Articles of Confederation. Having thus failed to provide what they deemed was the necessary balance between liberty and order in that document, the Constitution was an attempt to provide a stronger central government that would be able to exercise only those powers given to it, the rest being reserved to the states. As noted earlier, though, the effort to delimit a central government's powers by means of Federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, limits on popular democracy (the electoral college, indirect election of senators, a non-elected judiciary) was bound to degenerate over time as the Constitution admits of no authority above it to defend it against misinterpretation and misapplication. Just as the Social Kingship was the brake, although never perfectly applied, on the possible misuse of temporal power by individual rulers in the Middle Ages, so could it have been such a brake in a democratic republic. A papal legate would have been deputed to cast a suspensory veto in those instances where efforts were being made to violate the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and natural law. James Madison makes clear in The Federalist, Number One, however, that the "new science of politics" found in the Constitution was a very specific rejection of the Middle Ages, and therein lies its fatal flaw. "To exclude the Church founded by God Himself, from the business of making laws. . .is a grave and fatal flaw." Indeed.

   Pope Leo XIII explained the importance of authority in civil society this way in Libertas:

       "Moreover, the highest duty is to respect authority, and obediently to submit to just law; and by this the members of a community are effectually protected from the wrongdoing of evil men. Lawful power is from God, and 'he that resisteth the power, restisteth the ordinance of God'; wherefore, obedience is greatly ennobled when subjected to an authority which is the most just and supreme of all. But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God. Thus, an effectual barrier being opposed to tyranny, the State will not have all its own way, but the interests and the rights of all will be safeguarded-the rights of individuals, of domestic society and of all the members of the commonwealth; all being free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as We have shown, true liberty really consists."

   A resistance to unjust laws is not anarchy. Individuals who resist unjust laws might be accused of anarchical tendencies, of being selective in their obedience to the ordinances of the State. However, the Church has taught consistently that it is a crime to obey an unjust law and, indeed, citizens must work to change unjust laws and practices, as I will demonstrate in passages from Pope Leo XIII's Sapientiae Christianae. This does not mean, however, that the State is evil or bound to be unjust.

   Consider the words of Pope Leo XIII in Sapientiae Christianae:

       "Hallowed therefore in the minds of Christians is the very idea of public authority, in which they recognize some likeness and symbol as it were of the divine Majesty, even when it is exercised by one unworthy. A just and due reverence to the law abides in them, not from force and threats, but from a consciousness of duty; for God hath not given us the spirit of fear.

       "But if the laws of the State are manifestly at variance with the divine law, containing enactments hurtful to the Church, or conveying injunctions adverse to the duties imposed by religion, or if they violate in the person of the supreme Pontiff the authority of Jesus Christ, then truly, to resist becomes a positive duty, to obey a crime; a crime, moreover, combined with misdemeanor against the State itself, inasmuch as every offense levelled against religion is also a sin against the State. Here anew it becomes evident how unjust is the reproach of sedition: for the obedience due to rulers and legislators is not refused; but there is a deviation from their will in those precepts only which they have no power to enjoin. Commands that are issued adversely to the honor of God, and hence are beyond the scope of justice, must be looked upon as anything rather than laws. You are fully aware, Venerable Brothers, that this is the very contention of the Apostle St. Paul, who in writing to Titus, after reminding Christians that they are to be subject to princes and powers, and to obey at a word, at once adds, And to be ready to every good work. Thereby he openly declares that if the laws of men contain injunctions contrary to the eternal law of God, it is right not to obey them. In like manner the prince of the apostles gave this courageous and sublime answer to those who would have deprived him of the liberty of preaching the Gospel: If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye, for we cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard.

       "Wherefore, to love both countries, that of earth below and that of heaven above, yet in such mode that the love of our heavenly surpass the love of our earthly home, and that human laws be never set above the divine law, is the essential duty of Christians, and the fountain-head, so to say, from which all duties spring. The Redeemer of mankind of Himself has said: For this was I born, and for this I came into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth. In like manner, I am come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled? In the knowledge of this truth, which constitutes the highest perfection of the mind; in divine charity which, in like manner, completes the will, all Christian life and liberty abide. This noble patrimony of truth and charity entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Church, she defends and maintains ever with untiring endeavor and watchfulness."

   To resist unjust laws is a duty imposed by our baptismal obligatons. It is a duty, though, that falls chiefly upon our shepherds, the bishops, most of whom in the United States long ago made their accommodation to the rise and triumph of the modern State. We fight evil directly. And we attempt to plant the seeds for the conversion of souls as the precondition of the conversion of the country, something that most of the bishops of this country have never been interested in accomplishing.

   If the Catholic bishops of the United States corporately had not been as influenced by the Americanist ethos (the exaltation of all things pertaining to American constitutionalism and religious indifferentism and cultural pluralism), then they would not have been complicit in the rise of the American monster state. Having embraced the Democratic Party as the mechanism of upward social mobility in the nineteenth century, the bishops of the United States looked the other way as the anti-Catholic Woodrow Wilson did the bidding of the Masonic revolutionaries in Mexico, and they looked the other way as he imposed one statist policy after another, starting immediately after his inauguration in 1913, four years prior to our unjustified entry into what was then called the Great War. The bishops and their bureaucratic apparatchiks did the bidding of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal, overlooking the patent violation of the natural law principle of subsidiarity that had been enunciated so clearly in 1931 by Pope Pius XI in Quadregesimo Anno. The bishops of the 1960s applauded the social engineering of the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson, and were largely silent in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade for fear that their beloved statists in the Democratic Party would suffer at the ballot boxes if opposition to abortion became a litmus test among rank and file Catholics. They ranted and raved at Ronald Reagan, who did not reduce the size of the Federal government as he promised to do, as though he was the quintessence of evil, later giving Bill Clinton a free pass on almost everything he wanted to do by means of the coercive power of the state. The American bishops bear a great responsibility for the rise of statism in this country precisely because of the accommodations made to the prevailing ethos of Americanism from the beginning of the republic, never taking seriously the admonitions of Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI to work for the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ.

   You see, if the bishops of the United States understood the true principles of the State as contained in the authentic tradition of the Church (which, as Michael Davies demonstrates with devastating logic, was broken at the Second Vatican Council with Dignitatis Humanae), then they would have resisted Wilson and Roosevelt and Johnson and Clinton. They would have been urging Catholics to engage in a justifiable refusal to file and to pay their federal and state income taxes as a way of protesting State sponsorship of abject evils such as contraception and abortion. They would have excommunicated pro-abortion Catholics in public life. They would have upheld the principle of subsidiarity and reaffirmed the rights of the family in all matters, especially as pertains the right of parents to discharge their duties as the principal educators of their children. They would not have been silent as the Republican Party became a statist clone of the Democratic Party.

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

MAY 2003
volume 14, no. 27

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