Kevin DeYoung is channeling yours confessionally with a post about the U.S. founders’ view of human nature. He cites a remarkably Augustinian (though he attributes it narrowly to Calvinism — why can’t he be as generous as I?) passage from James Madison’s Federalist #51, which I happened to be teaching yesterday:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attach. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of man must be connected with the constitutional right of the place.
It may be a reflection of human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
And if this understanding of human nature is good for the goose of temporal authorities, it is just as applicable to the gander of spiritual authorities (since the charism comes and goes like the wind-blowing Spirit). That is one reason why Reformed Protestants prefer councils to bishops. It’s not simply a preference for committee meetings. It is a recognition that shared rule prevents absolute authority from resting in the hands of one man (or if you’re a mainline Protestants, one woman). During the fourteenth and fifteen centuries, the conciliar movement tried to correct the abuses of Renaissance popes who made claims about being the highest power on earth (e.g. Unam Sanctum). It failed within Roman Catholicism (until Vatican II maybe) but prevailed among Presbyterian and Reformed communions who even acknowledge that committees err.
I wonder if the guys at CTC ever consider this after being awe-struck by papal audacity.