Those Were the Days (again)

What a church with discipline (and even a little 2k) looks like:

[The] argument for Trump recalls an earlier episode in Catholicism and political theology, the condemnation of L’Action française (AF) by Pope Pius XI in 1927. AF was an anti-liberal political movement in early twentieth-century France. It was a monarchist and nationalist movement centering on the French literary figure Charles Maurras, who held that in order for France to become great again, she must exhibit a national, religious, and political unity that could only be achieved by sloughing off liberal republicanism and embracing “integral nationalism.”

Maurras himself had lost his Catholic faith and was an agnostic, but his “throne and altar” politics appealed to many Catholic clergy and laity. Maurras saw the Catholic Church as a French institution capable of uniting Frenchmen politically. The Church was basically an instrument for implementing Maurras’s cry of “la politique d’abord,” or “politics first!” (Compare this with Trump’s recent appeal to evangelical Christians.) Maurras was also politically anti-Semitic, for Judaism was not French and not a religion capable of uniting the French. Maurras later obtained the sixteenth seat in L’Academie française, the same seat occupied by Cardinal Dupanloup in the nineteenth century. He supported the Vichy regime and spent five years in prison after World War II for doing so. He died with little support, even though he had influenced an entire generation of French politicians and intellectuals, Charles de Gaulle among them.

In spite of Maurras’s anti-Semitism and because his movement promised restitution and renewed privilege for a beleaguered Church, many Catholics supported AF. The waves of the French Revolution had continued to break over the Church in France, with the most recent assault at the time being the 1905 Law of Separation, which finally separated the Church from the Republic, except that all Church property was placed under state ownership and under the management of government-supervised lay committees. To many French Catholics, the Law of Separation showed the futility of Leo XIII’s ralliement policy of trying to find a modus vivendi for French Catholics in the Third Republic’s secular democracy. Hence the swing to anti-liberal, monarchist, restorationist movements like AF, movements generally labeled “integralist.”

One of the Catholics supporting AF was Jacques Maritain, who had affiliated himself with AF on the advice of his spiritual director, Fr. Clérissac. Maritain hoped that he could temper the components of integral nationalism incompatible with Catholicism through his association with Maurras in their joint publication Revue Universelle, for which Maritain wrote for seven years.

The Vatican had contemplated a condemnation of AF for some time, and the Holy Office’s desire to place Maurras’s writings on the Index was checked only by the outbreak of World War I. But late in 1926 after hearing of more French Catholic youth joining AF, Pius XI prohibited Catholic membership in AF’s “school” and Catholic support for AF’s publications. In early 1927, the official condemnation and excommunications began, shocking many French Catholics. Two French bishops lost their sees for failing to comply with the condemnation, and the great ecclesiologist Billot lost his cardinal’s hat. Papal ralliement was here to stay, and any party spirit suffused with pagan attitudes was deemed incompatible with Catholic political involvement. The condemnations were a watershed moment for Maritain, who quickly began to reevaluate his political and social commitments in light of his ultimate commitment to the Catholic faith. His apology for the condemnation of AF, Primauté du spirituel (1927), set the trajectory for his most famous political works, Humanisme intégral (1936) and Man and the State (1951). These works later influenced the Fathers of Vatican II, including Pope Paul VI.

It is possible for popes to act even when they are not temporal princes.

The Vatican wanted Catholics to refuse an attractive but ultimately self-defeating choice in supporting AF, and today American Catholics face a similar sort of choice. Now Trump is dissimilar to Maurras in many ways. The latter was revered for his intellectual and literary ability and had coherent and firm philosophico-political commitments, while Trump has demonstrated a shocking ignorance of Christianity and malleable, opportunistic political positions. Although both in a sense promoted the “liberty of the Church,” Maurras did so through throne and altar restorationism while Trump does so through an appeal to religious liberty.

So what’s the lesson?

The lesson from the AF crisis bears mentioning today. The Church, both her teaching office and her living members, constantly must discern whether new means for political action are compatible with a genuine concern for the common good and the integrity of Catholics involved in politics.

Is such discernment the consequence of losing confidence in the bishops?

Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops. Archbishop Fulton Sheen

But I thought episcopacy and apostolic succession was what made Protestantism look like such a poor alternative for western Christians.

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Spirituality of the Church Roman Style

Pius XI gets it right (for a graph or two anyway):

14. Let Us explain briefly the nature and meaning of this lordship of Christ. It consists, We need scarcely say, in a threefold power which is essential to lordship. This is sufficiently clear from the scriptural testimony already adduced concerning the universal dominion of our Redeemer, and moreover it is a dogma of faith that Jesus Christ was given to man, not only as our Redeemer, but also as a law-giver, to whom obedience is due. Not only do the gospels tell us that he made laws, but they present him to us in the act of making them. Those who keep them show their love for their Divine Master, and he promises that they shall remain in his love. He claimed judicial power as received from his Father, when the Jews accused him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. “For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son.” In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.

15. This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things. That this is so the above quotations from Scripture amply prove, and Christ by his own action confirms it. On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honor and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.

But then he falls back into the things-go-better-with-Christ meme:

20. If the kingdom of Christ, then, receives, as it should, all nations under its way, there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth – he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity; who said also: “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! “Then at length,” to use the words addressed by our predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, twenty-five years ago to the bishops of the Universal Church, “then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”

21. That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever. The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.

If we applied these parts of the encyclical to the current work of reforming the Vatican Bank, I mean, the Institute on Religious Works, we might recognize the truth of graphs 14 and 15 and see the holes in 20 and 21. In a recent interview with John Allen, George Cardinal Pell admitted that the techniques of modern bureaucratic structures administered by lay people (even secular lay people) may do a better job of overseeing a financial institution than church officers:

Cynics say they’ve seen previous waves of supposed financial reform in the Vatican come and go, and nothing much ever changes. What makes this different?

Nobody in living memory has seen anything like this before. What’s so new are the structural reforms. We’ve now got different focuses of authority and checks and balances. We’re also injecting some of the top financial people from around the world into the leadership of these different agencies, and they won’t stay on these boards if the businesses aren’t run properly.

We’ve never seen such an injection of lay leadership into the senior ranks of the Church as we’re seeing now with finances. That’s extremely healthy, because it’s an area in which we clerics don’t necessarily have any expertise.

Going forward, you won’t be able to change the system back to what it was before simply by changing one person. A whole network of institutions is being set up, with more to come.

The lesson may be, then, that Christ’s spiritual rule is different from his secular rule and that the church operates differently from society. Only Constantine echoing David makes us think Christians hold the key to running the world (and look how well Israel and the Holy Roman Empire turned out).