Solemn Profession of Vows in Heiligenkreuz

My confrèrs PP. Aloysius and Antonius made their solemn profession of vows on the Feast of the Assumption. Continue reading


Liturgy as Court Ritual


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)

Dialogue with a Catholic Leftist

When the Manifesto of the Tradinistas came out I noted that while I agree with their critique of liberalism— and indeed with most of their political positions— I would never consider myself a Tradinista on account of the cultural and historical associations that they embrace. In other words, I would never consider myself a “leftist.” But what exactly does it mean to be a leftist? I recently had a discussion with Coëmgenus on that question that made me understand more clearly what the Tradinistas mean by it, and where I differ from them. With Coëmgenus’s permission, I reproduce a slightly abridged version of our discussion below.

Coëmgenus: People use the word “left” to mean very stupid things.

Sancrucensis: What should “left” be used to mean?

Coëmgenus: I use “left” to mean the inclusion of social questions and questions of production within the realm of the political. So that a distributist who was sufficiently attentive to these things (and did not imply that they were to be solved extrapolitically through spiritual conversion alone) would count as “left” in my book. I give no credence to the idea of a “cultural left”; I see that as the fantasy of certain capitalists who want to wash their hands of certain capitalist problems.

Sancrucensis: Hmm, by your definition, Coëmgenus, Fascists are leftists.

Coëmgenus: Sort of. That’s the critique that’s often made of them by market liberals anyway. But I should probably add that leftism requires that, once one takes such an analytical approach, one tries to rectify differences in class power (ideally by neutralizing distinctions of class) — most fascists seem to have been more concerned to direct labor to some national end than to protect laborers as a class. What some reactionary critics of fascism notice is that fascism does not hesitate to use the rhetoric of helping the common man, but in practice I think this is just for show. The Trump business with Carrier seems like a fine example.

Sancrucensis: I think the addition is helpful. Leftists not only see economic power as a political question, but also think that inequality of economic power is per se unjust/exploitative. This is understandable given that they are reacting to a capitalist society in which the unbalance of economic power is unjust. To me, on the hand, a social order is conceivable with a highly gradational distribution of economic power, but in which economic activity would be subordinated to the genuine common good of the whole society, rather than to the private good of the class that has the most economic power. A corollary to my claim about the possibility of a mixed regime with an extremely hierarchical distribution of political power, but fully ordered to the common good. The leftist position seems to still accept to much of the liberal ideal. It’s democratic checks and balances applied to economy. Or as Comrade Stalin put it:

Bourgeois constitutions usually confine themselves to stating the formal rights of citizens, without bothering about the conditions for the exercise of these rights, about the opportunity of exercising them, about the means by which they can be exercised. They speak of the equality of citizens, but forget that there cannot be real equality between employer and workman, between landlord and peasant, if the former possess wealth and political weight in society while the latter are deprived of both – if the former are exploiters while the latter are exploited. Or again: they speak of freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, but forget that all these liberties may be merely a hollow sound for the working class, if the latter cannot have access to suitable premises for meetings, good printing shops, a sufficient quantity of printing paper, etc.

What distinguishes the draft of the new Constitution is the fact that it does not confine itself to stating the formal rights of citizens, but stresses the guarantee of these rights, the means by which these rights can be exercised. It does not merely proclaim equality of rights for citizens, but ensures it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that the regime of exploitation has been abolished, to the fact that the citizens have been emancipated from all exploitation. It does not merely proclaim the right to work, but ensures it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that there are no crises in Soviet society, and that unemployment has been abolished. It does not merely proclaim democratic liberties, but legislatively ensures them by providing definite material resources. It is clear, therefore, that the democratism of the draft of the new Constitution is not the “ordinary” and “universally recognized” democratism in the abstract, but Socialist democratism.

Coëmgenus: The Stalin quote is good enough as far as it goes. I would not say (differing here from many leftists) that leftism is about eliminating inequality, but about making it subject to politics. This could be the same as your view — a hierarchy in which everything is subordinated to the common good. But most reactionaries who defend hierarchy this way end up wanting parts of the hierarchy to be sui juris — they will admit eg. that the great landowners have a duty to serve the common good, but will either imply that they serve it best through glorifying their houses, or that this duty cannot be enforced by a bunch of filthy peasants. For “a subject and a sovereign are clear different things”. I have no interest in complete equality (both on account of its impossibility and on account of the critique of proceduralism to which you allude), but I hate an inequality that exempts anyone from answering to the common good. In feudalism as practiced, economic power was explicitly articulated through the state (less liberal than in our polity), but each community tended to be put at the service of the private good of the noble personage in charge of it — of course this story is much complicated by the existence of monastic holdings.  

One last thing: checks and balances as such are not bad; this is why I support labor unionism, for example. Not because it’s a guarantee of welfare, but because it addresses what seems to be a frequent failure of negotiation. The error is not to have a procedure but to put one’s hopes for justice in procedure alone.

Sancrucensis:  I agree that checks and balances are not bad in themselves; the “mixed” regime with democratic, aristocratic, and monarchical elements is best. But I think it important that checks and balances don’t tip the regime so far over that one loses the goods of obedience, political piety etc. It is quite true that sovereign and subject are two different things. Even in a democracy there will always be a part that rules and part that is ruled. But in democracy the ruling part has to conceal this fact, and pretend that it is ruling merely as an instrument of the sovereign people. And therefore the goods that are considered most important in a democracy are “vulgar” goods, and the type of human being taken to be the measure is the so-called “common man”. (Leo Strauss has a great discussion of this in ch. 4 of Natural Right and History). In a liberal democracy the ruling part is an oligarchy that rules in the name of the common man, but really for the private advantage of the capitalists. In a “socialist” state it is usually a vanguard party that considers itself to be preparing a post-political future, but really functions as an inefficient oligarchy. So I still think the best solution is one in which the democratic checks and balances are considered secondary, and the greater part of political power is in the hands of an hereditary monarch and an hereditary aristocracy. The hereditary aristocracy should be composed of a landed gentry that is at the same time an urban patriciate (to use Strauss’s terms again)— that is of “gentlemen” who derive their income from the land, but live for part of the year in the city.  Such an aristocracy can of course become corrupt, and seek its own private advantage. But historical experience shows that such an aristocracy— especially when tempered by the monarchical and democratic elements— can cultivate an ethos of true public spirit, and an appreciation for noble goods: for civic friendship and military virtue, for art and philosophy. To the extent that they really pursue such goods they contribute to the common good of every member of the society. To the extent to which natural virtue can dispose men well towards supernatural virtue, I think such a regime does prepare men well for the life of the Church, and conversely the Church can have an ennobling and moderating effect on such an order.

Coëmgenus: I simply cannot imagine an aristocracy that does not degenerate into a faction. The aristocracies of Europe were born as a kind of mafia, and seem to have discovered the common good as a last-ditch effort to win some support when the bourgeoisie was finally about to wipe them out. “Popular sovereignty” can be an idol, but whoever rules rules on behalf of the whole community, and is in a sense their delegate.

The classical throne-and-altar view is that an aristocracy ought to rule while the commoners pray pay and obey, so that the common people are not troubled by the demands of political life. Against that ideal, I want to maintain that the subject never ceases to be a citizen. It is not my vote that creates the common good: even a purely autocratic system is not inevitably unjust. But if I am part of a community its political life is very much my business.

Solemn Profession of Vows in Heiligenkreuz

The video embedded above shows the Mass of the Assumption in Heiligenkreuz yesterday, during which four of my confrères made their solemn profession of vows. The Assumption is the patronal feast of all Cistercian churches, and it is very often the occasion of vows. During the glorious liturgy I thought back to the first time that I witnessed solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Assumption day of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. It was then that I decided to enter Heiligenkreuz myself. And, of course, I thought back to my own solemn vows on Assumption day of 2010. Each subsequent Feast of the Assumption has been for me a renewal of joy and gratitude at being a monk of this abbey. Continue reading

Strength as Weakness; or the Double Edge of Political Form

The US Supreme Court recently oral arguments for why it should judge “gay marriage” to be required by the United States Constitution. One of the main objections brought against the argument was that this question should not be settled by “nine people outside the ballot box,” but rather “the people acting through the democratic process.” I have little sympathy for this line of argument in the abstract. I approve of the idea of nine learned judges wielding great power in the state by deciding which laws are in conformity with the basic principles of the nation. Continue reading

Note on a Novel Recommended by the Pope

The Holy Father recently told reporters to read Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s novel Lord of the World, which he praises for its depiction of  ‘ideological colonization.’ It has been a while since I read Lord of the World, but it is one of those books that stick in the mind. One of the most interesting things about it is Benson’s description of Rome as the last place that resists ‘ideological colonization;’ a city implacably opposed to the false gospel of human progress; an anti-modern, anti-democratic, anti-technological island in a world in which modernity is everywhere triumphant: Continue reading

Garrigou-Lagrange on Kingship

Andrew Strain has posted his translation of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s preface to St Thomas’s On Kingship. I first heard about Garrigou’s piece from Alan Fimister’s brilliant study of Catholic Social Teaching and European unification. Fimister is a republican, but a republican of a very unusual kind; an Hillaire Belloc style republican. He would be willing to defend both the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution. At any rate, Fimister objects to Garrigou-Lagrange’s royalism, and disagrees with his reading of On Kingship. Fimister seems to have three main objections to Garrigou’s piece:

  1. that Garrigou does not distinguish enough between the principles that he takes from St. Thomas, and his own conclusions that he draws from those principles, but which Fimister thinks St Thomas himself would not draw.
  2. that Garrigou exploits a terminological confusion between ancient and modern senses of ‘democracy’: «Garrigou uses the various criticisms Thomas makes of Democracy (the corrupt form of rule by the many) and of rule by the many as such as if they were criticisms of a mixed polity founded on universal franchise, which is what most moderns (but not Thomas) mean by Democracy and the system which Thomas proposes as the best. »
  3. that Garrigou reads Summa Theologica IaIIæ, 105,1 as calling for the aristocratic element to be elected by and from the people, but not as saying that the monarch should be so elected. Fimister thinks that this is the plain meaning of the text: «Garrigou omits to mention […] that Thomas also said that the monarch should be elected from the whole people by the whole people. This of course does not fit with the Royalism the twentieth-century Dominican seeks to foist upon his thirteenth-century confrere.»

Having read Garrigou’s text I would reply as follows to Fimister’s objections:

  • ad 1. this is quite true.
  • ad 2. this I don’t see. Garrigou uses St Thomas’s general arguments against polyarchy, and these seem to me to apply to mixed constitutions in which the polyarchical element is dominant (such as the Third French Republic) as well as to democracies in the ancient sense; it does not however apply to a mixed constitution in which the monarchical element is dominant, which St Thomas thinks is the ideal, and which Fimister falsely claims is the same system as modern ‘democracies’ such as the Third Republic.
  • ad 3. this turns on the interpretation of IaIIæ, 105,1, which is by no means as simple as Fimister would have us think. St Thomas says there that “the rulers” plural (principes) are chosen by and from the people. Garrigou interprets this to mean that the aristocratic element is chosen by the people, Fimister that both the aristocratic and the monarchical elements are. Both interpretations are possible. Garrigou’s is however more plausible in context, since St Thomas is arguing that the government of Israel during the exodus was fitting, and when he applies his model it is the aristocratic element that he sees as being chosen from the people (citing Deuteronomy 1:13). He sees the monarchical element as being realized in Moses, who was of course not chosen by the people.

Roger Scruton

A while ago I posted a response to an First Things essay by Roger Scruton on the good of government. I later sent an abridgment of my post to First Things as a letter to the editor. It appeared in the October issue, with the following reply by Scruton:

As for Fr. Waldstein’s theological vision of the good of government, I can only respond as Burke responded to the Reason advocated by the French Revolutionaries. He wrote: “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.”
Advocates of natural law in the Catholic tradition have often told us that the good is discoverable to reason, and that we have only to consult it. But they tend to be as reluctant as Waldstein to define who is doing the consulting, and how. Burke’s view, that there is a kind of reason that emerges through civil association, and which is both conserved in our traditions and irretrievably dispersed by the attempt to make it explicit, offers, to my mind, a better model of the place of reason in government. On Burke’s view, rational solutions emerge from below, by an invisible hand, and are not imposed from above by those who claim to have privileged knowledge of the natural law. (The same point is made in other terms by Hayek, in his defense of the common law.) One can agree with Kant’s warning against paternal government without thinking that “any submission to an authority other than the self is tyrannical.” As I understand it, the art of living in ­society is precisely the art of submitting to authority—but doing so willingly, and in the little platoons that we ourselves create.

I have the greatest respect for Scruton, and certainly his position is not as bad Kant’s, but I’m still not convinced. He returns my Kant comparison with interest by comparing me to the Jacobins. But I was a little surprised by his saying that am “reluctant” to define who is to determine what the natural law is. True, I gave no account of that in my letter, but in the past I do not think I have been notably reluctant. By coincidence the most recent issue of The European Conservative features an excerpt from one of Scruton’s books and a notably unhesitant essay by me right next to each other in the Table of Contents:

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On seeing this Coëmgenus noted the juxtaposition of Scruton’s title “What is Right” and my subtitle “what is best”—an illustration of two different approaches.

Accountability and Paternalism, Imbalance of Power and Civil Friendship

Roger Scruton embodies much of what is most noble in the classical liberal tradition. I find much to agree with in a recent essay of his on the nature of government. I agree with his main thesis that government is an honest good, rather than a merely useful good, as much of the liberal tradition would hold. I also find much of value in the account of political freedom on which he bases his argument, but I think it incomplete and partly wrong.

Scruton rejects most of the atomism and voluntarism of most liberal accounts of freedom. True freedom, he argues, is developed through community: Continue reading

The Politics of Nostalgia

A few days ago a was in Bratislava to give a lecture at the “Hanus Days,” organized by the Ladislav Hanus Fellowship. One of their organizers had read my undergraduate thesis on monarchy, and had decided to invite me to speak on monarchy and democracy. It was good fun preparing. My basic position hasn’t changed much in eight years, but I think that I at least have a better understanding of the strength of the democratic position now from reading defenses from very different perspectives, including Aelianus on “Arthurian Republicanism,” Matthew Peterson on the common good and the American founders, and Owen White’s defense of leftist egalitarianism (see e.g. his comments on Daniel Nichols’s blog here and here).

I was very impressed by the people from the Ladislav Hanus Fellowship–by their hospitality, their eagerness to think things through, and the excellent questions they raised in the discussion.

I’ve embedded the lecture above, and put the text on scribd and below (for those who prefer html).

Continue reading