Arthurian Republicanism

There was a brief moment in the twelfth century when Manuel I Komnenos considered attempting to undo the Great Schism in grand style by persuading the pope (endlessly troubled by the German emperors) to reverse the translatio imperii and crown the soverign of Constantinople as Holy Roman Emperor. Surely, it was provident and fitting that the first Christian Emperor should have vacated the Eternal City to make way for the Supreme Pontiff. “For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good” as Boniface VIII would say. Looked at this way the Second Rome is no insult to the Elder and the Greater but a fitting seat for the first of all laymen. Perhaps the providential role marked out for Russia at Fatima indicates that the Almighty favours such a reversal of the revolution of 800 (perhaps especially since the Kings of France failed to comply with His earlier requests). As Soliviev famously cried out to Leo XIII:

Oh deathless spirit of the blessed Apostle, invisible minister of the Lord in the government of His visible Church, thou knowest that she has need of an earthly body for her manifestation. Twice already thou hast embodied her in human society: in the Greco-Roman world, and again in the Romano-German world; thou hast made both the empire of Constantine and the Empire of Charlemagne to serve her. After these two provisional incarnations she awaits her third and last incarnation. A whole world full of energies and of yearnings but with no clear consciousness of its destiny knocks at the door of universal history. What is your word ye peoples of the world? […] Your word, O peoples of the world, is free and universal Theocracy, the true solidarity of all nations and classes, the application of Christianity to public life, the Christianising of politics; freedom for all the oppressed, protection for all the weak; social justice and good Christian peace. Open to them therefore, thou key-bearer of Christ, and may the gate of history be for them and for the whole world the gate of the Kingdom of God!

Doubtless the virtual identification of the Church with the Roman Patriarchate in the High Middle Ages was an essential precondition for the ambition and the glory of that greatest of all eras but it was also a stain upon that glory to whose eradication many of the highest deeds of the heroic age were directed. If she does ever rise again Christendom will be breathing with both lungs.

Breathe in here…

Drink deep here…

Period appropriate crusading musical accompaniment…


stitching_the_standard_leightonI was re-reading the De Regno the other day and pondering an odd remark St Thomas makes when describing the various social forms that develop in the course of man’s search for the perfect community (that society which possesses within itself all the necessary means for the attainment of its end). St Thomas deals, as one might expect, with the family, the city, the province (what we might call the ‘country’) and ultimately with Christendom or the Church. However, between the family and the city, in the space moderns would likely call ‘civil society’, he places the vicus.

Now since man must live in a group, because he is not sufficient unto himself to procure the necessities of life were he to remain solitary, it follows that a society will be the more perfect the more it is sufficient unto itself to procure the necessities of life. There is, to some extent, sufficiency for life in one family of one household, namely, insofar as pertains to the natural acts of nourishment and the begetting of offspring and other things of this kind. Self-sufficiency exists, furthermore, in one street with regard to those things which belong to the trade of one guild. In a city, which is the perfect community, it exists with regard to all the necessities of life. Still more self-sufficiency is found in a province because of the need of fighting together and of mutual help against enemies. Hence the man ruling a perfect community, i.e. a city or a province, is antonomastically called the king. The ruler of a household is called father, not king, although he bears a certain resemblance to the king, for which reason kings are sometimes called the fathers of their peoples.

Vicus is here translated ‘street’ as is reasonable given the context although ‘quarter’ might give the sense a little better. He clearly means the district of a city where the members of one guild ply their trade. How could such an area be supposed to have any kind of self sufficiency? One can hardly live off shoes or ironmongery. I think St Thomas must suppose that one guild represents the group responsible for providing one particular element necessary for the temporal live of the city and being thus indispensable is always in a position to trade for the rest. One could, with relative ease, divide up human life into the relevant sectors:

Area of Temporal Life Example of Traditional Guild
Information Scriveners
Energy Chandlers
Water Plumbers
Food Mercers
Furniture Carpenters
Clothing Taylors
Tools Smiths
Buildings Masons
Transportation Farriers
Weapons Fletchers
Learning University (Faculty of Arts)
Health University (Faculty of Medicine)
Organisation University (Faculty of Law)
Salvation University (Faculty of Divinity)

This would seem (with one obvious exception) to divide human life into the necessary areas in all societies in the wayfaring state. Of course, the mediaeval guilds were more diversified than the examples I give in the second column because they were diversified by the natures of their crafts as well as by their ends. However, by St Thomas’s logic, the vicus would be diversified only by the end (for this is what gives it its quasi self-sufficiency). I would suggest that in a society conformed to the tenets of Thomistic social doctrine society ought to be organised in this way. Indeed in England (the Regnum Thomisticum) and then Britain until the nineteenth century it was so organised. The Corporations of each Borough and City (the Masters of all the Guilds) ran the Towns and elected their representatives to Parliaments and the Masters of Oxford, Cambridge and the Scottish Universities governed those Universities and elected their Members of Parliament. The University seats and business vote remained features of British public law up to the nineteen sixties. Earlier still the guilds (at least) provided the non-charitable welfare and insurance functions now usurped by the state and financial institutions. The charitable welfare functions were, of course, provided by the hierarchy and the monastic orders.

What is the obvious exception? It is the manor. In fact, another meaning of the word vicus is village, manor, hamlet or suburban settlement. The knight or lord of the manor is to the urban vicus what the master is in a guild or university. Just as membership of the  University is divided into scholar, bachelor and master and membership of the Guild into apprentice, journeyman and master so membership of the order of chivalry is divided into page, squire and knight. The knight emerged in the chaos which followed the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century. The knight was a local hard-man who controlled an autarchic minimum of agricultural territory farmed by others for whom he provided security and lower governmental functions. His control of this territory was legitimised by military service offered to the ruler of a larger area responsible for higher governmental functions. The guilds and universities found themselves in a similar relationship with the King or Emperor. As Chivalry emerged in the socio-economic-military sense so Chivalry as a code of behaviour and spirituality emerged as the Gospel, the Monastic Orders and the Hierarchy interacted with and elevated this natural phenomenon. Knighthood as such was quite independent of the aristocratic system and was meritocratic. One could even be fined (distraint of knighthood) for failing to be knighted when in possession of the relevant feudal territory. To this day the feudal system in Britain is quite independent of the honours system. Although almost immediately the aristocracy tried to assimilate knighthood reducing it to the lower rung on the table of honours they never truly succeeded. Emperors, Kings and Princes have always fallen over themselves to draw attention to their status as knights rarely do they allude to the fact that they happen to also be a count or a baron.

This other form of vicus also found expression in the Regnum Thomisticum. The Writ of summons to the Model Parliament of 1295 expressly requires that “without delay you cause two knights, of the more discreet and more capable of labour, to be elected from the aforesaid county… and that you have them come to us on the day and at the place aforesaid ; so that the said knights shall then and there have full and sufficient authority on behalf of themselves and the community of the county aforesaid.” In a way therefore the vicus is the basic unit of society in Thomas’s vision, and in fact in Mediaeval England, for the next highest unit is already (in some degree) perfect. The vicus that is the manor or guild (or university) provides something indispensable to society as a whole and thus cannot be eradicated without eradicating the perfection of that society. Its disappearance from the constitutional landscape is a sign that slavery has crept again from out its unquiet grave and slithered its rotting fingers once more around the neck of western man.



Caterina de’ Ricci’s lauda in veneration of Savonaroloa was composed in gratitude for a cure from painful and debilitating illness. Born to a wealthy Florentine family in 1522, she took her vows at the convent of San Vincenzo in Prato in 1536 at the age of 14. By 1540 she had been suffering from an internal illness that had confined her to bed for over a year, and by the end of May the pain had prevented her from sleeping for a whole month. On 22 May, the vigil of Savonarola’s execution, some of his relics were brought to her, but they provided no relief. In the night she threw them onto the floor in exasperation, but regretting her action, she struggled from her bed, and, as she knelt to recover them, the friar appeared to her. He made the sign of the cross and pronounced the healing words sana facta es. She recovered at once. During the next two years the friar reportedly appeared to her in more than a dozen visions.

     Caterina commemorated her miraculous cure in a lauda. As a model she turned to Feo Belcari’s Da che tu m’hai Iddio il cor’ferito; she begins Da che tu m’ hai dimostro tanto amore. The heading specifically names Savonarola and his two Dominican companions. The refrain and first stanza provide a glimpse of the vivid imagery of Caterina’s vision of the friar, and his fiery glow:

– Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs (Oxford University Press, 1998), 132.


Da che tu m’ hai dimostro tanto amore,
Servo di Cristo, con quel dolce sguardo
e con quel don che or m’ è doppio dardo,
sempre t’arò nel mezzo del mio core.

    Nelli tormenti e pene ero somersa,
e tu pietosamente subvenisti:
ogni letizia stava per me persa,
quando la tua pietade ad me apristi:
i’ ti chiamavo; e tu alfin venisti,
come piatoso padre ad una figlia
con quella faccia lucida e vermiglia,
che rutilava lucido splendore.


    Since you have sown me such love,
Servant of Christ, with that sweet glance,
and with that gift which now is a double dart,
I will have you always in the centre of my heart.

    I was submerged in torment and pain
and you mercifully came to my aid:
all joy was lost to me,
when you revealed to me your mercy.
I called you, and you finally came,
like a tender father to a daughter,
with that shining vermillion face
that glowed with brilliant reddish light.


It is impossible for venial sin to be in anyone with original sin alone, and without mortal sin. The reason for this is because before a man comes to the age of discretion, the lack of years hinders the use of reason and excuses him from mortal sin, wherefore, much more does it excuse him from venial sin, if he does anything which is such generically. But when he begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not doing that which is in his power to do. Accordingly thenceforward there cannot be venial sin in him without mortal, until afterwards all sin shall have been remitted to him through grace.


Consistorial address of the Supreme Pontiff Sixtus V in praise of the assassination of king Henry III of France by Br. Jacques Clement OP

Considering in my mind both often and earnestly, and bending my thoughts to muse upon those things, which by the providence of God are lately come to pass, methinks I may rightly usurp that saying of the Prophet Habakkuk, “A work is done in your days which no man will believe when it shall be reported”. The King of France is done to death by the hands of a monk, for unto this it fitly may be applied, albeit the Prophet spake properly of another thing, namely, of the incarnation of our Lord, which exceedeth all wonders and marvels whatsoever, even as the Apostle Paul doth most truly refer the very same words to the resurrection of Christ. When the Prophet speaketh of a work, he will not be understood of any vulgar or ordinary matter, but of some rare, some famous and memorable exploit, as where it is said of the creation of the world, “The heavens are the work of thy hands”; and again, “the seventh day he rested from all the works which he had made”: but where he saith, “It is done”, it is usual in Scripture to understand such a thing as falleth not out by blind chance, by hap hazard, by fortune, or at all adventures, but by the express will, providence, disposition and government of God: as when our Saviour saith, “Ye shall do the works which I do, and greater then these shall ye do”, and many such like places in holy Scripture, but where he saith it was already done, he speaketh after the manner of other Prophets, who for the certainty of the event, are wont to foretell of things to come, as if they were already past; for the Philosophers say that things past are in nature of necessity, things present in a state of now being, and things to come to be merely contingent, that is their judgment; in regard of which necessity, the Prophet Isaiah foretelling a long time before of the death of Christ, said even as after it was said again, “he was lead as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer, he opened not his mouth”; and such a thing is this, whereof we now entreat; this which hath happened in these our days, a work famous, memorable, and almost incredible, a work not wrought without the special providence and government of the almighty; a Monk hath slain a King, not a painted King, one figured out upon a piece of paper or upon a wall, but the King of France, in the middle of his army, being hedged in with his camp and guard on every side, which in deed is such a work, and so brought about as no man will believe it when it shall be reported, and the posterity perhaps will repute it for a fable.

That a King should die or should be slain, men are easily induced to think it, but that he should thus bee cut off, the world will hardly believe it; as that Christ should be borne of a woman, we do easily acknowledge it, but if ye add further that he was borne of a Virgin, my human wit cannot subscribe unto it; likewise that Christ should die it is as easily believed, but being dead to rise again (because that to a natural habit once wholly lost, there is no retiring back again) in the reach of mans capacity it is impossible, and by consequence incredible; that a man out of his sleep, out of his sickness, out of a swoon, or of an ecstasy should recover himself again (for that in the course of nature such things are usual) in human reason we accord unto it, but a dead man to rise again in the judgment of the flesh, it seemed so incredible, that when Paul made mention thereof amongst the Athenian Philosophers, they upbraided him as a “setter forth of strange gods”, and other (as Luke reporteth) laughed at him, and said, “we will hear thee about this matter again”: therefore in such things as are not wont to fall out according to the custom of nature and common course of the world, the Prophet saith that no man will believe when report shall be made, but yet when we remember Gods omnipotent power, and captivate our understandings to the obedience which is through faith, and to the will of Christ we are brought to believe, for by this means that which naturally was incredible is become credible. Therefore I which according to man do not believe that Christ was borne of a Virgin, yet when it is further added, that it was done by the working of the holy Ghost, above the compass of nature, I do verily assent and give credence to it; and when it is said that Christ rose again from the dead, according to mans wit, I cannot yield unto it; but when it is said again that it was done by a divine nature which was in him, then do I most assuredly believe it.

In like manner, albeit according to the wisdom of the flesh and mans understanding, it be incredible or at least very improbable, that so mighty a Prince in the midst of his camp, so guarded with such an armed troupe, should be slaughtered by the hands of one poor silly Friar, yet when I call to mind on the other side, the most heinous misdemeanour of the King, the particular providence of the Almighty ruling in this action, and how strangely and wonderfully God executed his most just decree against him, then do I verily and steadfastly believe it; for why?* We may not refer so notable and strange a work to any other cause, then to the especial providence of God (as we understand, that some there be who ascribe it to other ordinary causes, to fortune and chance, or some such like accidentary event) but they which narrowly look into the course of the whole proceedings, may clearly see how many things were brought about, which without the special supply of a divine assistance, could never be achieved of any man. And certainly we may not think that God doth loosely govern the state of Kings and Kingdoms, and other so excellent and weighty affaires; there are in the holy stories of the bible examples of this kind, to none whereof we can assign any other author then God, but there is none, wherein more clearly shineth the superior working of God then this which now we have in hand. We read that Eleazar to the end he might destroy the persecuting King and enemy of Gods people, did put himself in danger of inevitable death, “When as beholding in the conflict one Elephant more conspicuous then the rest upon which the King was like to be, he rushed violently amidst the route of the enemies, and making way on both sides came to the beast, gat under him, and slew him with his sword, which in the fall fell down upon him, and crushed him to death”; and hear for zeal, for valour of mind, and for the issue of the thing attempted, we finde some resemblance and equality, but for the rest no one thing comparable. Eleazar was a professed soldier, trained up in arms and in the field, one purposely picked out for the battle, and as it oft falleth out enraged with boldness and fury of mind, whereas our monk was never brought up in such broils and martial encounters, but by his trade of life so abhorring from blood, that haply he could scarce endure to see himself let blood; he knew before both his manner of death and place of burial, as that more like one swallowed up into the bowels, then pressed down by the fall of the beast he should be entombed in his own spoils: but this man was to look for both death and tortures more bitter than death, such as he could not dream of, and little doubted he to lie unburied: besides many other points of difference that are between them. And well known likewise is the famous story of the holy woman Judith, who to set free her own besieged city and people of God, took in hand an enterprise (God doubtless directing her thereunto) about the killing of Holofernes, then general of the enemies forces, and in the end she did effect it: in which attempt albeit there are both many and manifest tokens of a superior direction, yet in the death of this King, and deliverance of the city of Paris, wee may see far greater arguments of Gods providence, in as much as in the judgement of man, it was more difficult and impossible than that, for that holy woman opened her purpose to some of the governors, and in their presence, and by their sufferance passed through both the gates and guard of the city, so that she could not be in danger of any search or inquisition, which during the time of assault, is wont to be so straight,* that scarce a fly may pass by unexamined: but being amongst the enemies, through whose tents and several wards she must needs pass, after some trial and examination, for that she was a woman, and had about her neither letters nor weapons, from whence might grow any suspicion, and rendering very probable reasons of her coming to the camp, of her flight and departure from her countrymen, she was licensed to pass without any let, so that as well for those causes, as for her sex and excellent beauty, she might be admitted into the presence of so unchaste a governor, upon whom being intoxicate with wine, she might easily wreak her purpose. This did she, but ours a man of holy orders did both assay and bring about a work of more weight, full of more encumbrances, and wrapt in with so great difficulties & dangers on every side, as it could be accomplished by no wisdom, nor humane policy, neither by any other means but by the manifest appointment and assistance of God: it was requisite that letters of commendation should be procured from them of the contrary faction, it was necessary that he should pass out by that gate of the city, which lead unto the enemies camp, which doubtless was so warded in that troublesome time of the siege, that nothing was unsuspected, neither was any man suffered to pass to and fro, but after a most straight inquiry what letters he conveyed, what news he carried, what business, what weapons he had: but he (a wondrous thing) passed through the watches without all examination, and that with letters of credence to the enemy, which if the citizens had intercepted, without all reprisal or further judgement he had surely died: this was an evident argument of Gods providence; but a greater wonder was that, that the same man soon after without all examination passed through the camp of the enemies likewise, through the sentinels and several watches of the soldiers, and through the guard which was next the body of the King, and in a word, through the whole army, which for the most part was compact of heretics, he himself being a man of holy orders, and clad in a Friars weed, which in the eyes of such men was so odious, that in the places adjoining to Paris, which a little before they had surprised whatsoever monks they took, they either slaughtered, or else most cruelly mistreated; Judith was a woman, therefore no whit hated, and yet often examined, neither carried she ought about her which might endanger her, but this man was a monk, and therefore detested, and came very suspiciously with a knife provided for the feat, and that not closed up in a sheath (which had been more excusable) but altogether naked and hid in his sleeve, which had they bolted out, there had been no way but present execution: these are al so manifest tokens of God’s especial providence, as no exception can be taken against them, nor could it otherwise be but that God even blinded the eyes of the enemies least they should descry him, for as before we said, albeit some there be who unjustly ascribe these things to chance and fortune, we notwithstanding cannot be persuaded to refer them to any cause but to the will of God, nor truly should I otherwise think, but that I have subdued mine understanding to obedience in Christ, who after so wonderful a manner, provided both to set at liberty the city of Paris, which then we understood to be many ways in great perplexity and distress, as also to avenge the most heinous misdeeds of the King, and to take him out of the world, by so unhappy and reproachful a death: and truly we did heretofore with some grief, foretell that it would in time fall out, that as he was the last of his house, so was he like to come to some strange and shameful end, which not only the Cardinals of Joyeuse, of Lenoncourt, and Paris, but the ambassador likewise, which then was liedger with us can well avouch I spake, for why, we call not the dead, but men alive to witness of our words, which all of them full well remember: notwithstanding, howsoever we are now enforced to plead against this hapless king, we do in no wise touch the kingdom and royal state of France, which as we have heretofore, so still hereafter we will prosecute with all fatherly affection and honourable regard, but this we have spoken of the king’s person only, whose unfortunate end hath deprived him of all those rites, which this holy seat, the mother of all the faithful, and specially of Christian princes, is wont to perform to emperors and kings after their decease, which for him likewise we had solemnised, but that the Scripture in such a case doth flatly forbid us. There is (saith Saint John) a sin unto death, I say not for that that any man shall pray, which may be understood either of the sin itself as if he should say, for that sin, or else for the remission of that sin I will not that any man should pray, because it is unpardonable; or that which sorteth to the same end, for that man who committeth a sin unto death, I will not that any man should pray, of which kind likewise our Saviour Christ in Matthew maketh mention, that to him which sinneth against the Holy Ghost, there is no remission either in this world, or in the world to come, where he maketh three sorts of sin, against the Father, against the Son, and against the Holy Ghost, the two former are not so grievous but pardonable, but the third is not to be forgiven: all which difference (as the schoolmen out of the Scriptures deliver it) ariseth out of the diversities of the properties, which are severally ascribed to the several persons of the Trinity: for albeit as there is the same essence, so there is the same power, wisdom and goodness of all the persons (as we learn out of the Creed of Athanasius, when he saith the Father is omnipotent, the Son omnipotent, and the Holy Ghost omnipotent) yet by way of attribution unto the Father is ascribed power, to the Son wisdom, and to the Holy Ghost love, each whereof as they are called properties are so proper to every person, as they cannot be put upon another, and by the contraries of these properties, we come to know the difference and weight of sin; the contrary to power (which is the attribute of the Father) is weakness, so that whatsoever we commit through infirmities and weakness of our nature, may be said to be committed against the Father: the contrary of wisdom is ignorance, through which when a man offendeth, he is saide to offend against the Son, so that those sins which are committed either through mans frailty or ignorance, may easily obtain a pardon: but the third which is love, the property of the Holy Ghost hath for his contrary ingratitude, a most hateful sin, whereby it commeth to pass, that man doth not acknowledge God’s love and benefits towards him, but forgetteth, despiseth, and groweth in hatred of them, and so at length becometh obstinate and impenitent, and this way men offend more grievously and dangerously toward God, then by ignorance or infirmity: therefore these are called sin against the Holy Ghost, which because they are not so often and so easily forgiven, and not without a greater measure of grace, they are reckoned in a sort unpardonable, when as notwithstanding only by reason of man’s impenitence, they are absolutely and simply unpardonable; for whatsoever is committed in this life, though it be against the Holy Ghost, yet by a timely repentance it may be blotted out, but he that persevereth unto the end, leaveth no place for grace and mercy, and for such an offence, or for a man so offending, the Apostle would not that after his death we should pray. And now for that unto our great grief, we are given to understand that the aforesaid King died thus impenitent, as namely, amidst a knot of heretics (for of such people he had mustered out an army) and likewise for that upon his death-bed, he bequeathed the succession of his Kingdome to Navarre, a pronounced and excommunicate heretic, and even at the last point and gasp, he conjured both him and such like as were about him, to take vengeance of those whom he suspected to be the authors of his death: for these and such like manifest tokens of impenitence, our pleasure is that there shall no dead man’s rites be solemnised for him, not for that we do in any sort prejudice the secret judgement and mercy of God toward him, who was able according to his good pleasure, even at the very breathing out of his soul, to turn his heart and have mercy upon him, but this we speak according to that which came into the outward appearance. Our most bountiful Saviour, grant that others being admonished by this fearful example of God’s justice, may return into the way of life, and that which he hath thus in mercy begun, let him in great kindness continue and accomplish, as we hope he will, that we may yield unto him immortal thanks, for delivering his Church from so great mischief and dangers.

Dixit insipiens.

And having thus definitely spoken, he dismissed the consistory with a blessing.

O terque quaterque beati.

a. d. iii Ides Sep.

Anno Domini MDLXXXIX


Alta Trinità beata,
da noi sempre adorata,
Trinità gloriosa
unità maravigliosa,
Alta Trinità beata,
da noi sempre adorata,
Trinità gloriosa
unità maravigliosa,
Tu sei manna saporosa
e tutta desiderosa.
Tu sei manna saporosa
e tutta desiderosa.


In his 1888 Encyclical Libertas Leo XIII proposes the Italian civic republics of the Middle Ages as models of the Church’s zeal for civil liberty.

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 has spread, without opposition, to all parts of the State.

Not only did these glorious republics arise in the benign conditions fostered by the Church, they were also the direct product of the Church’s own divinely established character. Even so hostile a witness as Edward Gibbon was forced to concede that when the Roman Republic’s ideals and legal infrastructure lay in ruins they lived on in the Church their youth renewed like the eagle’s.

The freedom of elections subsisted long after the legal establishment of Christianity, and the subjects of Rome enjoyed in the church the privilege which they had lost in the republic, of choosing the magistrates whom they were bound to obey. As soon as a bishop had closed his eyes, the metropolitan issued a commission to one of his suffragans to administer the vacant see, and prepare, within a limited time, the future election. The right of voting was vested in the inferior clergy, who were best qualified to judge of the merit of the candidates; in the senators or nobles of the city, all those who were distinguished by their rank or property; and finally in the whole body of the people, who on the appointed day flocked in multitudes from the most remote parts of the diocese … it was everywhere admitted, as a fundamental maxim of religious policy, that no bishop could be imposed on an orthodox church without the consent of its members. The emperors, as the guardians of the public peace, and as the first citizens of Rome and Constantinople, might effectually declare their wishes in the choice of a primate; but those absolute monarchs respected the freedom of ecclesiastical elections, and, while they distributed and resumed the honours of the state and army, they allowed eighteen hundred perpetual magistrates to receive their important offices from the free suffrages of the people.

The Fathers did not accept that a bishop could be legitimately imposed upon a diocese without the consent of the faithful. “He who rules over all must be chosen by all” as St Leo the Great declared. Lactantius, the tutor of Constantine, protested at the end of his Divine Institutes that he who cooperated in the assumption of royal airs by the Emperors was a traitor to Christ. “For whosoever shall cast away the conduct becoming a man, and, following present things, shall prostrate himself upon the ground, will be punished as a deserter from his Lord, his commander, and his Father”. St Gregory the Great (vainly) reminded a later Emperor in Byzantium that “the kings of the nations are the masters of slaves but the Emperor of the Republic is the lord of free men”. In De Libero Arbitrio St Augustine confirmed that a virtuous people should elect their own rulers from among their own number.

When all the institutions of the Roman state had fallen into ruin and the rule of law scarcely existed in the West, the Bishop alone remained of the ancient offices of a free people. The markets which preserved the existence of the Italian towns were also the piazze where the people gathered to elect their shepherd. There the citizens of the Italian towns would gather to make other determinations concerning their common life and defence, until eventually they created permanent institutions: a council and consuls and other officers of the republic. In the clarity afforded by the Gregorian reform movement the frontiers of temporal and spiritual jurisdiction were slowly delineated by the bishop and his people. The republics fought to forge a new dominion over the territory of their diocese. Eventually, piece by piece, this development of public law was confirmed by the western emperors seeking safe passage to Rome for their coronation by the Pope or the Imperial rights were bartered away in vain attempt to set one commune against another and reassert imperial authority over Italy. The baptistry established in a place of honour in the centre of the piazza, symbol of the equality of the faithful in Christ, became the shrine of the republic and its banners were lodged within.

Pope Benedict taught that every Catholic insofar as he is a Catholic is a Roman citizen. Not just the spiritual power but the temporal also is within the the Church and within her power. Surely the Roman people have the right to be ruled according to their own laws and liberties. The name of king is hateful to the Roman people. As the admiring ambassadors of Judas Maccabaeus reported, “none of all these wore a crown, or was clothed in purple, to be magnified thereby … 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.” In the beginning it was for natural reasons that they put not their trust in princes in mortal men in whom there is no hope. When the people of Israel sought from their judge Samuel a king like the other nations, God told 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 we have a perfect King, the Son of God and son of David, Who reigns over us from heaven. As of old, so also today, there is a certain idolatry in seeking an earthly king. As St Thomas teaches,

Since society must have the same end as the individual man, it is not the ultimate end of an assembled multitude to live virtuously, but through virtuous living to attain to the possession of God. If this end could be attained by the power of human nature, then the duty of a king would have to include the direction of men to it. We are supposing, of course, that he is called king to whom the supreme power of governing in human affairs is entrusted. Now the higher the end to which a government is ordained, the loftier that government is. Indeed, we always find that the one to whom it pertains to achieve the final end commands those who execute the things that are ordained to that end. For example, the captain, whose business it is to regulate navigation, tells the shipbuilder what kind of ship he must construct to be suitable for navigation; and the ruler of a city, who makes use of arms, tells the blacksmith what kind of arms to make. But because a man does not attain his end, which is the possession of God, by human power but by divine according to the words of the Apostle (Rom 6:23): “By the grace of God life everlasting”—therefore the task of leading him to that last end does not pertain to human but to divine government. Consequently, government of this kind pertains to that king who is not only a man, but also God, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who by making men sons of God brought them to the glory of Heaven.

As, after Christ, it is the monk and the presbyter (rather than the abbot or the bishop) who are most naturally called prophet and priest, so it is the pater familias not the temporal ruler who after Christ is most properly called king. “On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them.” As it was the religious orders (Cluny, Cîteaux and the Order of Preachers) who devised the mechanisms by which the freedoms of the ancient world might be transposed onto vaster geographical expanses bearing fruit at last in the Engish Parliament, it is fitting that every day at Lauds the monk should sing:

The high praise of God shall be in their mouth: and two-edged swords in their hands:
To execute vengeance upon the nations, chastisements among the people:
To bind their kings with fetters, and their nobles with manacles of iron.
To execute upon them the judgment that is written: this glory is to all his saints. Alleluia.


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