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“The identification of the church with the whole of organized society is the fundamental feature which distinguishes the Middle Ages from earlier and later periods of history. At its widest limits it is a feature of European history from the fourth to the eighteenth century – from Constantine to Voltaire. In theory, during the whole of this period only orthodox and obedient believers could enjoy the full rights of citizenship … It was not just a government, however grandiose its operations. It was the whole of human society subject to the will of God. It was the ark of salvation in a sea of destruction. How far there could be any rational social order outside the ark of the church was a disputed question, but at its best, it could only be very limited. It was membership of the church that gave men a thoroughly intelligible purpose and place in God’s universe. The church was not only a state, it was the state: it was not only a society, it was the society – the human societas perfecta. Not only all political activities but all learning and thought were functions of the church. Besides taking over the political order of the Roman Empire, the church appropriated the science of Greece and the literature of Rome, and it turned them into instruments of human well-being in this world. To all this it added salvation – the final and exclusive possession of its members. And so in all its fullness it was the society of rational and redeemed mankind.”

– R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages

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The Regensburg Forum is hosting a debate between Thomas Pink and Steven Wedgeworth (a Reformed Protestant) concerning the compatibility of Dignitatis Humanae with the historic teaching of the Church. Pink (famously) says it is compatible because it concerns only the coercive power of the state and Wedgeworth says it isn’t compatible. Pink’s opening argument is here. Wedgeworth’s reply is here. Wedgeworth’s argument is that DH is just too enthusiastic about religious liberty and the fact that it is a fruit of the Gospel for the Declaration to be merely a grudging concession that the state alone has no power to coerce in religious matters – but don’t you worry when we have our hands on the temporal power we will be burning heretics again by right of the spiritual power to coerce (via the temporal). DH does not, Wedgeworth contends, merely observe that modern secular states cannot coerce in religious matters in a neutral way as an interesting fact. No, it claims this as a gain for mankind derived from the Gospel. As such it clearly violates traditional Leonine teaching which sees the enforcement of the Church’s coercive religious authority by the temporal power as an ideal arrangement in Christian societies.

Undoubtedly, the tone of DH points in this direction and is consequently difficult to swallow for an orthodox theologian. Nevertheless, Wedgeworth’s critique fails. As Pink observes, religion now transcends the power of the state because of divine positive law not because of natural law. On its own the state would have the right and the duty to discover and then embrace and enforce the form of worship appointed by God. However, it so happens that God has appointed a form – Catholicism – which prohibits the exercise (in its own right) of religious coercion by the state. The true faith brings with it supernatural certainty. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church 157 teaches,

Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but “the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.” “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

Thus the freedom afforded to the non-beleiver to consider and embrace the true faith free from molestation by the temporal power – because coercive power over religion has been denied to the state in the order of the Gospel – is not taken from the believer. The believer’s conscience can never be violated by the enforcement of his duties as a Catholic because he knows with surpassing certainty the truth of the Catholic faith and consequently of his obligations under it. The Council is careful to make this distinction (whether by providence alone or human design I do not know),

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The formal heretic or apostate by definition acts in a manner contrary to his own beliefs and in Christendom the Church by means of the temporal power seeks to compel him to act in accordance with his own beliefs. Furthermore, the temporal power can never be employed to prevent a person repudiating or leaving (see: DH 6) the Catholic religion as it is utterly impossible to reverse the effects of baptism or erase the baptismal character and thus neither the temporal power nor the spiritual need exert themselves to prevent someone doing the impossible.

Religious liberty consists in the freedom of non-believers to discover and embrace the Catholic Faith without coercion and the freedom of believers to continue to profess the Catholic Faith in accordance with their supernaturally enlightened consciences. Should the believers in question be so blessed as to live in Christendom, they have the added blessing of being prevented from violating their consciences by the temporal sword duly subordinated to the spiritual power.

Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Of course, if the social and civil consequences of the Gospel for the adherents of the true religion in society were so radically divergent from the conditions obtaining under the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 13:6-9) as Wedgeworth’s interpretation of DH (and perhaps his own private view) implies it would be hard to believe that it was the same God revealing Himself in both Testaments. But then that has always been a difficulty for Protestants. 

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I have been reading with interest some of the critiques of Leo XIII’s Ralliement that have proliferated of late. As usual the most nuanced observations emanate from Sancrucensis. However, they all seem to miss the central point of the policy as expounded in Leo XII’s own documents i.e. it concerns only the constitutional form. Furthermore, the policy does not at all require that its adherents repudiate either a preference for other constitutional forms or a long term ambition to establish them by lawful means. As Leo says in Au Milieu “it must be carefully observed that whatever be the form of civil power in a nation, it cannot be considered so definitive as to have the right to remain immutable, even though such were the intention of those who, in the beginning, determined it”. All Leo XIII asks of the lay faithful is that they treat the question of regime for what it is, a secondary one, and concentrate on non-negotiable matters instead. It is a peculiarly modern error to suppose that the solution to all man’s ills or even his merely temporal difficulties lies in the question of regime. Certainly, it is an important technical question the answer to which will vary according to time and place and other contingencies but it is entirely secondary to questions of natural and divine law. I cannot see therefore how this policy is open to criticism. The salvation of souls cannot be subordinated to one form of government still less the interests of one dynasty. Catholicism was the established religion in France during Leo XIII’s lifetime. Much of the discussion I have seen seems to assume the Ralliement consists in an acceptance of the separation of Church and state but this is obviously untrue. The Ralliement was directed at avoiding the separation of Church and state. The 1905 Loi de Separation represented the failure of the Ralliement. To what must that failure be ascribed? It is far from clear that it is down to the incoherence or imprudence of Leo’s policy rather it may equally plausibly be ascribed the intransigence of the ideological forerunners of those who criticise it now, those who insist on putting the restoration of the crown ahead of the conformity of the civil order to natural and divine law and so prevented the formation of an effective broad front of Catholic forces in France. An intransigent royalist might well reply that if only intransigent Catholic republicans had been willing to adopt royalism the civil order might equally well or more easily been conformed to natural and divine law. The problem with this response is that natural and divine law themselves require that we submit to the de facto power. “The powers that be are ordained of God”. In that sense the Ralliement isn’t even a prudential judgement it is Catholic doctrine.

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“Rome, that made the civilised world, used to have two Suns, that made the two roads visible, that of the world, and that of God. One has quenched the other: and the sword and the shepherd’s crook are joined: and the one linked to the other must run to harm, since, being joined, one will not fear the other. If you do not believe me, look closely at the crop, since every plant is known by its seed.”

– Purgatorio Canto XVI

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.

 

 

 

Deus, qui ad exhibenda nostre redemptionis mysteria terram promissionis elegisti, libera eam, quaesumus, ab instantia paganorum, ut gentilium incredulitate confusa populus Christianus de tue virtutis potentia glorietur.

 

 

O God, who chose the Land of Promise to display the mysteries of our redemption, free it, we pray, from the presence of the heathen, that with the disbelief of the gentiles being confounded, the Christian people may glory in the power of your strength.

 

 

Deus qui ammirabili providentia cuncta disponis, te suppliciter exoramus, ut terram, quam unigenitus filius tuus proprio sanguine consecravit, de manibus inimicorum crucis eripiens restituas cultui christiano, vota fidelium ad eius liberationem instantium misericorditer dirigendo in viam salutis eterne. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Filium tuum: qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. R. Amen.

 

 

O God, who arrange all things with wonderful foresight, we suppliantly entreat you to restore to Christian worship, wresting it from the hands of the enemies of the cross, the land that your only-begotten Son consecrated with his own blood, by mercifully directing the prayers of the faithful who are pressing for its delivery into the way of everlasting salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. R. Amen

 

 

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