When Josef Pieper Asked Carl Schmitt About the Common Good.

On the very first evening I asked him why, in his book on “the concept of the political” he had not written a syllable about the bonum commune, since the whole meaning of politics surely lay in the realization of the common good. He retorted sharply: “Anyone who speaks of the bonum commune is intent on deception.” Of course it was no answer; but it had the effect of initially disarming his opponent. (From Josef Pieper’s autobiography, via Incudi Reddere)

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Ralliement! Ralliement! Ralliement! 

Over at The Josias, we have just posted a thought-provoking essay on Leo XIII policy of ralliement and its implications for our situation today by Felix de St. Vincent. Yesterday, Patrick Smith had posted a reflection on the same topic at Semiduplex, with some interesting quotes from Leo XIII’s letter Notre consolation, in which Pope Leo defended the policy against its critics. (Notre consolation has yet to be translated into English; we hope to offer a translation at The Josias soon). On Wednesday I had myself offered a reflection on ralliement in the form of an introduction to Pope Benedict XV’s letter Celeberrima evenisse. Continue reading

Online Reading Group: Before Church and State

I have been reading— almost devouring— Andrew Willard Jones’s new book new book, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX.  Having been thinking about the relation of temporal and spiritual power for a long time now, I have found it highly illuminating, and therefore also highly exhilarating and exciting. Jones describes is own exhilaration on discovering John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory, and Before Church and State has had a similar effect on me.  Wanting to go through it again more slowly, I have decided to start an online reading group, with some friends from The Josias, and anyone else who would like to join us. We will go through the book slowly, one chapter a week. The discussion of the introduction will start on Thursday, June 1st. To sign up, fill out the following form:

The Spirit of Burke

In a post on Brexit I had asked the following rhetorical question: “Can much of the spirit of either Burke or Cobbett be found anywhere in practical politics today?” As far as the spirit of Cobbett goes, the question remains rhetorical. But Theresa May’s new Conservative Manifesto has more of the spirit of Burke than one would expect from a successor of Margaret Thatcher. For instance: Continue reading

Meador, Feil, and Smith on Integralism and Dyarchy

In an intelligent piece on six different Christian responses to political liberalism, Jake Meador,  the energetic editor of Mere Orthodoxyvice-president of The Davenant Trustproper football blogger, and old-fashioned Magisterial Protestant, gives serious attention to Catholic Integralism. He also features Catholic Integralism in an amusing quiz: What Political Theology Are You?

It pleases me that the term “Integralism” has caught on a little in the blogosphere in recent years. The term had fallen somewhat out of use after Vatican II in languages other than French, but its German equivalent was used in an essay of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s, from which David Schindler adopted the English form for his classification of different Catholic responses to political liberalism in Heart of the World, Center of the Church. Balthasar and Schindler had used the term in a pejorative sense, but I adopted it with commendatory sense first in an obituary on Ronald McArthur and then in a long essay in defense of the idea. I have unfolded the idea of Catholic Integralism further with other writers over at The Josias.

One reason that serious, Magisterial Protestants like Meador are glad to see work being done on Catholic Integralism is that they agree with much of the Integralist critique of liberalism. But another reason, I think, is that Protestant political theology was largely developed in polemical Abgrenzung to the Catholic Integralist tradition. Thus, having Catholic Integralist to whom they can point helps them expound their own position.

Predictably, Meador agrees with one of the standard objections that has always been brought against Integralism. Namely, that it does not preserve the distinction between spiritual and temporal power; that it does not render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Integralism, so the objection has gone for centuries, pays lip-service to the dyarchy of powers, but really it is monarchical, striving for a universal monarchy of the Pope over all other powers. JA Feil at The Josias and P.J. Smith at Semiduplex have both posted responses to Meador, defending Integralism against that objection. They both argue that Integralism does really preserve the distinction of the two powers. The temporal end is indeed subordinate to the spiritual end, but the Integralist tradition, even in its strongest formulation by Pope Boniface VIII, never took this to mean that the temporal power is subordinate to the spiritual power the way a lesser officer is subordinate to the general in an army. There is nothing that a lesser officer does that is outside the authority of the general. But Integralists have always accepted the teaching that by the will of Christ, the spiritual power only judges the temporal when the temporal acts directly contrary to the supernatural end. They have always upheld Pope Gelasius’s teaching in Tractate IV that the reason for this limitation is that Christ wanted to give a remedy to human pride:

For Christ, mindful of human frailty, regulated with an excellent disposition what pertained to the salvation of his people. Thus he distinguished between the offices of both powers according to their own proper activities and separate dignities, wanting his people to be saved by healthful humility and not carried away again by human pride, so that Christian emperors would need priests for attaining eternal life, and priests would avail themselves of imperial regulations in the conduct of temporal affairs. In this fashion spiritual activity would be set apart from worldly encroachments and the ‘soldier of God’ (2 Tim 2:4) would not be involved in secular affairs, while on the other hand he who was involved in secular affairs would not seem to preside over divine matters. Thus the humility of each order would be preserved, neither being exalted by the subservience of the other, and each profession would be especially fitted for its appropriate functions.

The actual application of this teaching was the cause of a great deal of tension in the Middle Ages, and in part the Reformation was born out of the desire of doing away with that tension. And what was the result of the Reformation? It was thought by some that a more perfect independence of Christian magistrates would actually make Europe more Christian.  But the “human pride” of the Protestant magistrates, unchecked by a superordinate spiritual power, had free reign. At first many of them tried to promote spiritual ends. But eventually, contrary to their intention, those magistrates (and their Catholic imitators) contributed to the rise of the secular culture of the modern West that only recognizes temporal ends.

Yves Simon’s Correspondence with Charles de Koninck and Jacques Maritain on the Common Good

My last post reminded me of a correspondence between Yves Simon and both de Koninck and Maritain on the common good that my father translated some years ago. So I got permission from my father to post it at The Charles De Koninck Project. It’s a fascinating correspondence, and gives a lot of details about the controversy over de Koninck’s book. Consider, for example, this description of a party at Simon’s house in South Bend:

After the lecture there was a party at my house. I had told W[aldemar Gurian] to open fire. He didn’t delay. Hardly had De Koninck sat down when he got the fatal question right in the solar plexus: Who are these personalists? De K[oninck] hesitated visibly and showed a little less Belgian good nature and a little more reserve. He mentioned a Californian review (do you remember, The Personalist, which Mounier discovered four or five years after launching Esprit); Adler and Farrel; Garrigou-Lagrange (with insistence), Fr. Schwalm, the author of lessons in social philosophy. As for Esprit—he did not know it; Maritain—he did not know him. When we insisted that the whole world believed Primacy of the Common Good was directed against you, he asked if the ideas of Maritain are such that one could recognize them in the personalism he described: the common good as mere instrument, etc. We insisted that many readers have the impression that you shared these idiocies. In private conversation I told De K[oninck] twice that, whatever his intentions may have been his book was being exploited “as an instrument of defamation,” that I would not want to have this on my conscience, and that he should publish an article or a note to put an end to this. His objection: “But then I would have to read Maritain! I don’t have the time.” Gurian could not believe that he has not read you. As for me, I believe it readily.

Nieto on politics and nature and the dependence of the city on the village

We’ve published another Nieto paper at The Josias: Nature and Art in the Village.” It was originally read at a conference. It’s worth watching video of Nieto reading it, embedded above, to get a sense of his style. At the end he reads out a section of one of his poems. This lecture is about the way in which the Cartesian/Baconian project of the domination of nature through technology has estranged man from nature, including his own nature, and the necessity of recovering the sort of life in proximity to nature that used to be lived in villages for the revival of true political (i.e. “city” ) life.

Nieto on Right and Left

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John Francis Nieto

Over at The Josias we have posted a brilliant essay on the inadequacy of thinking of politics in terms of right and left by John Francis Nieto. He goes right to the heart of the matter: man’s natural inclination toward the common good. He argues that the modern right and left share a fundamental misunderstanding of the common good that deeply mares their whole approach to politics. And that therefore when in our attempts to combat specific political problems we implicitly accept the reigning framework we give up something essential.

Nieto was a tutor of mine at Thomas Aquinas College, and I learned much from him— and not only in the classroom. He is a truly hospitable man, and often used to invite us students over for magnificent feasts of his own cooking and truly philosophical conversations that would last till far into the night. He is an accomplished poet as well as a philosopher and theologian, and has a marvelous capacity for communicating his love of beauty and goodness and truth to others.

We have another one of his essays lined up for publication at The Josias soon.

Liturgy as Court Ritual

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Pontifical High Mass at the Throne in the Usus Antiquior

Peter Kwasniewski has a wonderful post up at The New Liturgical Movement defending the liturgy as ‘Court Ritual’. He argues that especially in our democratic times it is necessary to emphasize that the Sacred Liturgy is a the court ritual of Christ the King as well as the oblation of Christ the Priest:

Monarchy or princedom, the oldest and arguably the most natural form of political organization, has been a far more consistent part of the human experience and of the formation of Christian culture than the democratic/egalitarian ideology of “self-evident truths” of which we have persuaded ourselves in modernity. Regardless of whether we think democracy can be made to work or not, in the realm of supernatural mysteries, Christianity is purely and entirely monarchical. Against the backdrop of the Old Testament revelation of God as the (one and only) great King over all the earth, and of the people of Israel as a kingly, priestly people ruled by prophets, judges, and ultimately the Davidic dynasty, we profess that Christ is our King, the Lord of heaven and earth, of all times, past, present, and to come, of this world and of the next; that His angels and saints are His royal court; that He deigns to call us His friends and brethren, yes, but such that we know that we never cease to be His servants. We long for His courts and tabernacles. The thick “politicism” of the imagery points to the real, sovereign polity of the Mystical Body, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church as a societas perfecta and altogether perfected in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the great King. Our ecclesial sacrifice, the Most Holy Eucharist, is a kingly and high-priestly oblation.

Consequently, the modern fixation on democracy, as if it were the best or the only good form of government, not only does not abolish our need for the language of kingship and courtliness, but makes it far more needed than ever before, in order to impress on our minds the way things really stand in the definitive reality of the kingdom of God. All of our democratic and egalitarian experiments will fall away at the end of time, as the glorious reign of Christ the King is revealed to all the nations, and those who have submitted to His gentle yoke will be raised to eternal life in glorified flesh while those who have rejected Him will wail and gnash their teeth, condemned to eternal fire in unending torment. The liturgy should reflect the truth of God — His absolute monarchy, His paternal rule, His hierarchical court in the unspeakable splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem — and not the passing truths of our modern provisional political organizations, or, in other words, that continual redesign of the liturgy, in language and ceremonies and ministers, for which the noveltymongers are agitating.

Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Many years ago, in my undergraduate thesis, I made a similar point (though with much less eloquence):

The principle of active participation, which the Second Vatican Council was so right to insist on, has been nearly everywhere misunderstood and misapplied. This is because in modern democracy participation in the political order is understood in terms of being one of the rulers. We see this understanding of participation taken over so that active participation in the life of the Parish or Diocese is understood as participation in “pastoral councils” and similar tom-foolery. In the Sacred Liturgy active participation is taken to mandate all kinds of laypeople messing around in the sanctuary as lectors, ‘introducers,’ extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc. This banal caricature of true active participation and the priesthood of the faithful persists despite all efforts of the Magisterium to correct it. The problem is that when political government ceases to be what it should be the “wonderful resemblance” that it bears to God’s government, of which Pope Leo XIII speaks, is destroyed. But grace builds on nature and men ought to be disposed to the higher by the lower. (p. 36)