IotaChi

The admirable Peter Kwasniewski is always worth reading. He has written an article on OnePeterFive which is the exception that proves the rule. For this particular article, although I could hardly agree less with its central tenet, is certainly extremely stimulating. Dr Kwasniewski seeks to extol the virtues of monarchy as a system of government and insinuates that this claim is somehow connected to the Social Kingship of Christ. No such connection exists. The dogma of the Kingship of Christ should emphatically not be confused with the non-doctrinal question of which form of regime ought to be preferred, because this is specifically an indifferent matter on which the laity are free to chose whichever governmental form they consider best in itself and/or most suited to the character and customs of their particular society. As Leo XIII explains:

What amply justifies the wisdom of the Church is that in her relations with political powers she makes abstraction of the forms which differentiate them and treats with them concerning the great religious interests of nations, knowing that hers is the duty to undertake their tutelage above all other interests.

 and elsewhere

Again, it is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power. Of the various forms of government, the Church does not reject any that are fitted to procure the welfare of the subject; she wishes only – and this nature itself requires – that they should be constituted without involving wrong to any one, and especially without violating the rights of the Church. Unless it be otherwise determined, by reason of some exceptional condition of things, it is expedient to take part in the administration of public affairs. And the Church approves of every one devoting his services to the common good, and doing all that he can for the defence, preservation, and prosperity of his country. Neither does the Church condemn those who, if it can be done without violation of justice, wish to make their country independent of any foreign or despotic power. Nor does she blame those who wish to assign to the State the power of self-government, and to its citizens the greatest possible measure of prosperity. The Church has always most faithfully fostered civil liberty, and this was seen especially in Italy, in the municipal prosperity, and wealth, and glory which were obtained at a time when the salutary power of the Church had spread, without opposition, to all parts of the State.

Undoubtedly the replacement of the original Feast of Christ the King was inspired by Maritainian errors, but the confusion of the question of regime with the non-negotiable question of the Social Kingship of Christ is itself one of the most fundamental of those errors. The list of royal saints supplied by Kwasniewski is not relevant. There is no question but that kings and queens can be saints, but what about St Severinus Boethius and St Thomas More and the multitude of non-aristocratic saints (such as St Francis) raised in the Mediaeval Italian republics? The Middle Ages were replete with polities of every shape and size. The transformation of them all into hereditary monarchies is an early modern and post-revolutionary phenomenon which coincided with the general secularisation of the West and precipitated the anti-Christian regimes of late modernity.

It is very odd indeed to claim that the rarity of saints under modern secular republics and constitutional monarchies indicates that these governmental forms themselves are detrimental to sanctity rather than that secularism is to blame (a secularism bred in the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). The theory of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ is an anti-Catholic Protestant invention. It is dispiriting that Dr Kwasniewski lists the absolutist Charles I who died for the ‘protestant religion’ and the incompetent tyrant Nicholas II of Russia (both persecutors of the faithful) as saints.

The Angelic Doctor recommends a form of government composed in equal parts of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. St Augustine says that the ideal form of government is one in which a virtuous people chooses its own rulers. St Leo the Great declares ‘he who is over all should be chosen by all’. This indeed is the primitive and apostolic structure of the Church herself and yet Kwasniewski writes:

In a fallen world where all of our efforts are dogged by evil and doomed (eventually) to failure, Christian monarchy is, nevertheless, the best political system that has ever been devised or could ever be devised. As we can infer from its much greater antiquity and universality, it is the system most natural to human beings as political animals; it is the system most akin to the supernatural government of the Church; it is the system that lends itself most readily to collaboration and cooperation with the Church in the salvation of men’s souls.

It was the mixed polity if anything which was the characteristic governmental form of the Middle Ages and Aristotle considers pure monarchy to correspond to the primitive stage of human development when the polis has not yet fully emerged from the family or tribe. Kwasniewski employs the traditional royalist tactic of equivocating on the ancient and modern meanings of the word ‘democracy’, claiming that Plato and Aristotle (neither of whom would have described modern western states as ‘democracies’) “maintained that democracy, far from being a stable form of government, is always teetering on the edge of anarchy or tyranny”. For Plato and Aristotle ‘democracy’ meant a polity in which there was no chief executive of the state, the college of rulers was directly elected on a one-year term and the laws were enacted by plebiscite. This has nothing to do with ‘democracy’ in the modern sense. But, as it happens, monarchy is the only form of government expressly critiqued in the Bible (1 Samuel 8:5-20).

And they said to him: Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: make us a king, to judge us, as all nations have. And the word was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel, that they should say: Give us a king, to judge us. And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel: Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to thee. For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them. According to all their works, they have done from the day that I brought them out of Egypt until this day: as they have forsaken me, and served strange gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken to their voice: but yet testify to them, and foretell them the right of the king, that shall reign over them. Then Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people that had desired a king of him, And said: This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots, And he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots. Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants. Moreover he will take the tenth of your corn, and of the revenues of your vineyards, to give his eunuchs and servants. Your servants also and handmaids, and your goodliest young men, and your asses he will take away, and put them to his work. Your flocks also he will tithe, and you shall be his servants. And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves. and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king. But the people would not hear the voice of Samuel, and they said: Nay: but there shall be a king over us. And we also will be like all nations.

The Lord accedes to the demands of the people but brings good out of evil by Himself taking flesh from the seed of David so that now the Lord is once more the King of Israel. Doubtless, this is why He translated the seat of the covenant to Rome. For, as St Thomas reminds us, “the royal name was hateful to the Romans”. Indeed, the perfect mixed form advocated by Aquinas (ST IaIIae, 105, 1) was first attempted by the Romans and identified by Polybius. It is praised by no less an authority than Scripture itself (1 Maccabees 8:14-16).

And none of all these [Romans] wore a crown, or was clothed in purple, to be magnified thereby. And that they made themselves a senate house, and consulted daily three hundred and twenty men, that sat in council always for the people, that they might do the things that were right. And that they committed their government to one man every year, to rule over all their country, and they all obey one, and there is no envy, nor jealousy amongst them.

“Has not the Church simply been demoted to the status of a private bowling league that can be permitted or suppressed at whim?” the good doctor laments, but it is the ‘enlightened’ depots of the eighteenth century who effected this transformation and the republicans of the Catholic League who foresaw and strove to prevent it. Surely, the doctrine of the Kingship of Christ understood in the light of these passages precisely suggests that a non-regal governmental form is the most fitting for the temporal government of the Christian people? As St Gregory the Great reminded the Emperor Phocas “the kings of the nations are the lords of slaves but the Emperor of the Republic is the lord of free men”.

sobieski_detail_matejko

[Jan III Sobieski, by the grace of God and the will of the people, King of the Republic of Poland]

Advertisements