Arthurian Republicanism

ArthurArthur’s title to the throne is hereditary. He does not acquire it through political virtue. It is, furthermore, unknown to him. The advantage of heredity – that the pursuit of power corrupts even more than its possession – is therefore magnified in his case. He thinks he is the younger son of Sir Ector. He is identified by means of a wonder sought from God by national prayer led by the Metropolitan of Londinium. When the sign first appears on Christmas Day, in the presence of the entire political nation, Arthur is not present. He is present on the Feast of Circumcision as page to Sir Kay.  He is being trained in the skills necessary for the exercise of the temporal power in his day, as befits what he believes to be his gentle but not exalted rank, but in a mode of service. Sir Kay has already been a knight for three months. The sight of the wonder is supposed to be guarded in a pavilion by ten knights but they have gone to the tournament. The tournament is the symbol of all those skills necessary for the governance of the temporal city which are nonetheless mere skills and not virtues. Sir Kay, the bully, is bursting to display his prowess at the joust and as is later revealed, should the opportunity present itself, to be king. Arthur doesn’t even know what the sword is, he draws it to help his brother while going the extra mile to serve him. He draws it alone in front of St Paul’s the outpost of the City of God in the world while the world is at the tourney. In Sir Ector’s oath the codes of honour and virtue combine to force Kay to admit that Arthur is King.


Then stood the realm in great jeopardy long while, for every lord that was mighty of men made him strong, and many weened to have been king. Then Merlin went to the Bishop of London, and counselled him for to send for all the lords of the realm, and all the gentlemen of arms, that they should to London come by Christmas, upon pain of cursing; and for this cause, that Jesus, that was born on that night, that he would of his great mercy show some miracle, as he was come to be king of mankind, for to show some miracle who should be rightwise king of this realm. So the Archbishop, by the advice of Merlin, sent for all the lords and gentlemen of arms that they should come by Christmas even unto London. And many of them made them clean of their life, that their prayer might be the more acceptable unto God. So in the greatest church of St Paul’s all the estates were long or day in the church for to pray. And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus:—Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all Britain. Then the people marvelled, and told it to the Archbishop.

I command, said the Archbishop, that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done. So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword. And when they saw the scripture some assayed, such as would have been king. But none might stir the sword nor move it. He is not here, said the Archbishop, that shall achieve the sword, but doubt not God will make him known. But this is my counsel, said the Archbishop, that we let purvey ten knights, men of good fame, and they to keep this sword. So it was ordained, and then there was made a cry, that every man should assay that would, for to win the sword. And upon New Year’s Day the lords let make a jousts and a tournament, that all knights that would joust or tourney there might play, and all this was ordained for to keep the lords together and the commons, for the Archbishop trusted that God would make him known that should win the sword.

So upon New Year’s Day, when the service was done, the lords rode unto the field, some to joust and some to tourney, and so it happened that Sir Ector, that had great livelihood about London, rode unto the jousts, and with him rode Sir Kay his son, and young Arthur that was his nourished brother; and Sir Kay was made knight at All Hallowmass afore. So as they rode to the jousts-ward, Sir Kay lost his sword, for he had left it at his father’s lodging, and so he prayed young Arthur for to ride for his sword. I will well, said Arthur, and rode fast after the sword, and when he came home, the lady and all were out to see the jousting. Then was Arthur wroth, and said to himself, I will ride to the churchyard, and take the sword with me that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Sir Kay shall not be without a sword this day. So when he came to the churchyard, Sir Arthur alighted and tied his horse to the stile, and so he went to the tent, and found no knights there, for they were at the jousting. And so he handled the sword by the handles, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone, and took his horse and rode his way until he came to his brother Sir Kay, and delivered him the sword. And as soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he wist well it was the sword of the stone, and so he rode to his father Sir Ector, and said: Sir, lo here is the sword of the stone, wherefore I must be king of this land. When Sir Ector beheld the sword, he returned again and came to the church, and there they alighted all three, and went into the church. And anon he made Sir Kay swear upon a book how he came to that sword. Sir, said Sir Kay, by my brother Arthur, for he brought it to me. How gat ye this sword? said Sir Ector to Arthur. Sir, I will tell you. When I came home for my brother’s sword, I found nobody at home to deliver me his sword; and so I thought my brother Sir Kay should not be swordless, and so I came hither eagerly and pulled it out of the stone without any pain. Found ye any knights about this sword? said Sir Ector. Nay, said Arthur. Now, said Sir Ector to Arthur, I understand ye must be king of this land. Wherefore I, said Arthur, and for what cause? Sir, said Ector, for God will have it so; for there should never man have drawn out this sword, but he that shall be rightwise king of this land. Now let me see whether ye can put the sword there as it was, and pull it out again. That is no mastery, said Arthur, and so he put it in the stone; wherewithal Sir Ector assayed to pull out the sword and failed.

Now assay, said Sir Ector unto Sir Kay. And anon he pulled at the sword with all his might; but it would not be. Now shall ye assay, said Sir Ector to Arthur. I will well, said Arthur, and pulled it out easily. And therewithal Sir Ector knelt down to the earth, and Sir Kay. Alas, said Arthur, my own dear father and brother, why kneel ye to me? Nay, nay, my lord Arthur, it is not so; I was never your father nor of your blood, but I wot well ye are of an higher blood than I weened ye were. And then Sir Ector told him all, how he was betaken him for to nourish him, and by whose commandment, and by Merlin’s deliverance.

Then Arthur made great dole when he understood that Sir Ector was not his father. Sir, said Ector unto Arthur, will ye be my good and gracious lord when ye are king? Else were I to blame, said Arthur, for ye are the man in the world that I am most beholden to, and my good lady and mother your wife, that as well as her own hath fostered me and kept. And if ever it be God’s will that I be king as ye say, ye shall desire of me what I may do, and I shall not fail you; God forbid I should fail you Sir, said Sir Ector, I will ask no more of you, but that ye will make my son, your foster brother, Sir Kay, seneschal of all your lands. That shall be done, said Arthur, and more, by the faith of my body, that never man shall have that office but he, while he and I live.


Then that old Seer made answer playing on him
And saying, ‘Son, I have seen the good ship sail
Keel upward, and mast downward, in the heavens,
And solid turrets topsy-turvy in air:
And here is truth; but an it please thee not,
Take thou the truth as thou hast told it me.
For truly as thou sayest, a Fairy King
And Fairy Queens have built the city, son;
They came from out a sacred mountain-cleft
Toward the sunrise, each with harp in hand,
And built it to the music of their harps.
And, as thou sayest, it is enchanted, son,
For there is nothing in it as it seems
Saving the King; though some there be that hold
The King a shadow, and the city real:
Yet take thou heed of him, for, so thou pass
Beneath this archway, then wilt thou become
A thrall to his enchantments, for the King
Will bind thee by such vows, as is a shame
A man should not be bound by, yet the which
No man can keep; but, so thou dread to swear,
Pass not beneath this gateway, but abide
Without, among the cattle of the field.
For an ye heard a music, like enow
They are building still, seeing the city is built
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built for ever.’


[A]ccepting of persons in any transaction is, properly speaking, to take as a deciding factor in that transaction some aspect of the person that has nothing to do with the matter; for example, when I give a benefice to a person just because he is a noble or is handsome. For nobility or beauty have nothing to do with the question of getting a benefice. But if some aspect of the person does have something to do with the matter, then if I consider that aspect in settling the matter, I do not accept the person; for example, if I give a benefice to a person because he is good and will serve the Church well, or because he is well-educated and honourable, I am not an acceptor of persons. Therefore to accept the person is nothing other than to consider some aspect of the person that has no relation to the business. Hence, since God in His works and benefits regards nothing that pre-exists on the side of the creature-for that which pertains to the creature is an effect of His election—but takes as His measure merely what pleases His will, according to which He effects all things, and not the condition of their person, as is said in Ephesians (1:11), it is evident that He does not regard the person of man.

–  St Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians


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”.


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

Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labour, on the rights of the labouring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV. There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.

– Pius XI

Hamish Fraser once observed that the universal restoration of the traditional liturgy would not solve the crisis in the church. The traditional liturgy was, after all, universally observed before the crisis arose and it did not prevent it. That which was not upheld and which would have prevented the crisis, the absence of which led to the crisis and the restoration of which alone will solve it, is the preaching of the Social Kingship of Christ. However, as Hilary White has recently and eloquently observed the Kingship of Christ exists exclusively for the salvation of souls. When His disciples could not find Him in Capharnaum they found the Lord alone in the hills praying. He said to them “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” As I once heard a very holy monk observe, the word here translated as ‘came out’ is ἐξῆλθον the same word as Our Lord uses in John 8:42 to describe His eternal generation. He went out into the hills to prepare to preach to the people. He came out from the Father in eternity that He might breathe forth the Spirit. He came into the world to save mankind, but that salvation consists in going out from the perishing city as He went out from Capharnaum to share in the eternal processions of the Divine Persons through prayer – the one thing necessary. Only in this light are any temporal benefits (such as the people of Caphernum sought) even benefits. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

St Benedict says “To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.” But he is not addressing would-be statesmen or even the fathers of families, he is addressing would-be monks. The Social Kingship of Christ consists in the reordering and subordination of temporal realities to the supernatural end. Its foundation lies in the recognition of the utterly surpassing nature of that end. Its foundation is in the monastery and the monastery’s foundation is in heaven. Without this all temporal Christian struggle is worthless. The path of restoration proceeds from the monastery through the liturgy to the capitol and back again, but cut off  from its source and destination it will nought avail.

I have had the opportunity over the years four times to celebrate the feast of Christ the King on its traditional date in the United States of America according to the traditional rite. On one of those occasions the Mass was arranged by a lay ‘Latin Mass Community’ who ensured that it was celebrated with gusto. A High Mass with full choir, Blessed Sacrament procession and the solemn intoning of the Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the other occasions the Mass was offered by the FSSP. Now the FSSP are splendid fellows but the liturgy was not at all celebrated with the vigour and pomp one might expect for the Feast instituted to combat social and political modernism, the consecration was recited in a frankly perfunctory manner (and one occasion omitted entirely), there was no procession and the Blessed Sacrament was not exposed. Most seriously of all there was absolutely no mention made in the sermon of the Social Kingship of Christ on any of these occasions.

Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in order to compel the clergy to preach this doctrine.

[A]lthough in all the feasts of our Lord the material object of worship is Christ, nevertheless their formal object is something quite distinct from his royal title and dignity. We have commanded its observance on a Sunday in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too, free from their daily tasks, may in a spirit of holy joy give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ. The last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for this purpose, because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect. Make it your duty and your task, Venerable Brethren, to see that sermons are preached to the people in every parish to teach them the meaning and the importance of this feast, that they may so order their lives as to be worthy of faithful and obedient subjects of the Divine King.

Hamish Fraser famously described the American Catholic as “a Protestant who goes to Mass”. There is, alas, all too much truth in this ungenerous observation. One is often struck by the way in which American Catholics will say “I’m Catholic” rather than “I am a Catholic” as if ‘Catholic’ were one among a number of flavours of Christian. They will even talk about ‘Catholics and Christians’ as if there were some other sort of Christian or as if Catholics were not Christians or as if there were some kind of generic ‘mere Christianity’ approximating mildly conservative Protestantism upon which Marian devotion and five sacraments and the Real Presence are (hopefully) harmless baroque accretions.

Fr Brian Harrison observes:

[R]ejecting papal authority in favour of one’s own individual judgment was a perfect recipe for religious anarchy. And in medieval Christendom it was much easier to see that fact – and also to see that such anarchy is thoroughly undesirable – than it is in modern Western society. Desensitised after several centuries spent under a socio-political umbrella that shelters multiple coexistent Christian denominations, we have now, as a society, baptised this chaotic anarchy with the bland name of “religious pluralism”, and have come to see it as an instance of normal and healthy progress, rather than of pathological decline from the revealed norm of a Catholic polity that recognises the kingship of Christ. (After all, isn’t such ‘pluralism’ a cornerstone of democracy and a guarantee of individual liberty?) Those of us who are converts to the faith can testify from experience that for modern Protestants right across the liberal-evangelical-fundamentalist spectrum, the co-existence of many Christian denominations or “churches”, while theoretically acknowledged as falling short of the biblical ideal of Christian unity, is for practical purposes taken for granted as something normal, natural and inevitable – pretty much like the co-existence of many different countries, languages, styles of music, or ice cream flavours. From that perspective it is precisely “Rome” that appears as the renegade – the black sheep in the Christian fold – by virtue of her “arrogant” claim to be the one and only true Church. And let us recall the full radicality of this Protestant critique. It is not that the Southern Baptists (let us say) object to the aforesaid claim simply because they consider their own denomination, rather than “Rome”, to be the one true Church. That would basically be the same kind of objection that many claimants to this or that national throne have made over the centuries against rival claimants: “It is not you, but I, who am the rightful king!” No, the Protestant position cuts much deeper. It is like objecting to someone’s claim to the throne of England on the grounds that no such throne exists! It’s like protesting that anyone at all who claims to be England’s rightful ruler is ipso facto an impostor and potential tyrant whose pretensions must be firmly resisted! For the common position now shared by Protestants is precisely that no single Christian denomination may claim to be the Church founded by Christ, and, therefore, that no leader of any one denomination may dare claim the authority to make doctrinal or governing decisions that bind all Christians. Rather, it is said, each denomination should respectfully recognise many (or even all) of the others as being true, that is, real, “churches”, and so limit itself to making the modest claim of being preferable to the others in one way or another – for instance, by virtue of possessing what it believes is a better understanding of Scripture. In other words, the different organised “churches”, according to this ecclesiology, are seen as being in this respect pretty much like banks, schools, cars, brands of toothpaste, or any other sorts of commodities and services. It is considered legitimate to promote one or other as being of better quality than the rest; but just as it would be outrageous and beyond the pale for Wells Fargo to claim seriously that none of its competitors is truly a bank, or for General Motors to claim that nobody else makes real automobiles, or for Colgate ads to proclaim that what you’ll get in tubes of other brands is not just inferior toothpaste but fake toothpaste – so Protestants right across the liberal-conservative spectrum consider it theologically outrageous and beyond the pale for any single Christian denomination (read: Roman Catholicism) to claim that it is the one and only real Church.

The analogy of a disputed throne versus ideological republicanism is quite apt. The nonsense that legitimate governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed” goes hand in hand with nominalist contractualist ecclesiology. It is this Protestant vision and only this vision that could make sense of an intended adherence to the Gospel and a simultaneous acceptance of the ‘separation of Church and State’ as desirable for its own sake. The superstitious awe in which the citizens of the USA are expected to hold the Freemasons and Deists who composed their constitution and Declaration of Independence forbids the very idea of taking an axe to the First Amendment. American Catholics are expected to fly the flag of the US in the very sanctuaries of their Churches. This is extremely rare to non-existent even in countries that are or were formally Catholic, but this is the flag of the first western polity since the Edict of Theodosius in 380 to withhold recognition from Christ and which substituted the five pointed star for the Cross on its flag. This secularised banner is often, even in churches, hoisted on a staff surmounted by a golden eagle, the very symbol the Labarum supplanted and which was employed to desecrate the Holy of Holies in 70 AD.

Between the World Wars liberal economics and politics seemed tired. The world was torn between totalitarian ideologies that demanded the whole person. The Church thrived in this context with an integral vision of God and man that answered all the aspirations of the human person in freedom and ranged her against “the modern world in arms”. The Leonine formula of indifference to the form of regime but implacable insistence on the conformity of the civil order to the Divine and Natural Laws made vast strides against Modernity. In the wake of the Second World War the USA was left as the hegemonic power and the ideology of its founders has eaten away at the Church. The ‘Boston Heresy Case‘ was a disaster as the quasi-condemnation of Feeney’s garbled version of explicitism seemingly justified the complete surrender of the American church to the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. The United Kingdom, born of the revolution of 1688, has this paradoxical advantage: the sovereign is subjected to a religious test. The Jacobites, like the colony of Maryland, became entangled in the dubious cause of religious liberty. The rectification of the British constitution, upon the conversion of the Monarch and the people, requires only a single Act of Parliament.

Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux!

Dieu et Mon Droit

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.

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

a. d. iii Ides Sep.

Anno Domini MDLXXXIX


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