Nature and Art in the Village

by John Francis Nieto


The following paper was read at the conference “The Idea of a Village,” May 2016. A video of the lecture can be found here.


We of the twenty-first century look for the village in legend and folk tale, to some extent in history and there, much more as we look back, less and less as we come forward.  This is no accident, for reasons I will go on to point out.  This fact and a few others make much of what I am about to say seem ‘abstract’ and ‘ideal’.  Yet what I say here about the village is utterly ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’.  Man cannot—I propose—have healthy familial life and just political order unless these take root and find support in village life. Continue reading

On Recovering a Genuine Thomism in Our Times

by Peter Kwasniewski


“There is no doubt that Bonaventure thought of himself as a theologian, and was, moreover, seen by his contemporaries as a theologus. But, keeping in mind the whole history of philosophy, we should not neglect the fact that the model of philosophy which celebrates the so-called “autonomy of philosophical thought” is itself an historically contingent model. Can one credibly speak of “pure philosophical thought” in Aristotle, Averroes, or Albert the Great?” [1]

It takes little effort to draw out the moral of Andreas Speer’s observations. If scholastic philosophy had not allowed itself in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to become detached from the fullness of Christian life, from speculative theology as well as the communal liturgical life of the believer, if it had not over time sequestered itself in a strange nook situated between empirical science and daily life, it would not have suffered the fate of being overshadowed and eventually disregarded by its more impressive, or at least more insistent, rivals. The recovery of philosophy’s rightful place will require the undoing of many false steps, not the least of which was the divorce of philosophical exploration from theological discourse, and the concomitant divorce of systematic theology from liturgical worship and a valid and comprehensive aesthetic sense. If these diverse areas are one day to be synthesized again, they stand in need of philosophy, with the inestimable services it provides in dialectic and demonstration, method and vocabulary; they stand even more in need of sacred liturgy, the solemn worship of God, the end to which they should all be ordained on our earthly pilgrimage.[2]

It seems to me that the Christian thinker must detect and root out a lingering intellectualism, an exaggerated and therefore distorted elevation of one aspect of man. Indeed, one must recognize that such an elevation distorts the larger and more fully human framework in which Aristotle places the very nobility of intellectual activities. Aristotle had seen a part—the most important part, it is true, but not the whole—of what it means to say that man bears within him a divine spark. Book X of the Ethics marks both an advance and a regression for the theory of human perfection and the imago Dei. Compared with Presocratic panpsychism and pantheism, it is an advance; compared with Plato’s insight into the cosmic and psychic eros that urges man and even, in a way, the whole of creation, toward assimilation to God, it is arguably a step backwards. However, as Josef Pieper (and Bonaventure long before him) recognized, the Aristotelian and Platonic accounts are not rivals but halves in need of reunification. And I think Pieper is right to see St. Thomas as having effected the theoretical reunification, which took place by means of fusing Augustine, Dionysius, and Aristotle in the furnace of the Christian mystery.

These considerations coalesce around the mystery of the human body, a subject concerning which Gabriel Marcel, and more famously Pope John Paul II, have carried out incisive metaphysical and theological investigations. I say “mystery” because, though it is the soul that is enslaved to sin and cries out for the freedom of grace, it is nevertheless the body—the body of the Word Incarnate making contact with our bodies in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist—through which this salvation comes to us, with all its spiritual perfections originating in God and destined for our souls.

*          *          *

There is a still deeper problem, and I confess I do not see that it permits of an easy solution. The Church teaches us authoritatively that we are to study the works of the Angelic Doctor—there can be no doubt about her counsel, so often and so forcefully has it been repeated. Therefore we set about doing so, in full confidence that Holy Mother Church is guiding us along the right path. The question immediately arises: Exactly how are we to study St. Thomas? At our place in history, occupying a certain position with regard to all the upheavals and developments, good and bad, that have taken place in the last seven hundred years, how are we to carry out this study? It seems to me that there are two basically different ways of going about it.

First, there is the historically sensitive approach, what one might (in a generous mood) call the hermeneutics of incarnation, which attempts to place Thomas in all the right factual contexts—social, cultural, psychological, spiritual—in an effort to recover something of the immediacy of environment, subtlety of contemporaneous influence, and depth of intellectual background within and behind Thomas’s teaching. For example, one would insist on reading Thomas as a theologian first and foremost; one would understand him as not only an Aristotelian but also an Augustinian and a Neoplatonist of sorts; one would see him as a moment, albeit an exceedingly bright moment, in the larger and very complex development of medieval theology; one would make an effort to view his works steadily in the light of the Fathers, in the light of Boethius, Dionysius, John Damascene, the Victorines, Peter Lombard, and so forth, recognizing that Thomas is above all a Patristic and Scriptural author; one would take into account the extraordinary history of the Hellenistic, Jewish, and Islamic interpretations of Aristotle and other ancient authors that reached Thomas after being handled by numerous philosophical merchants and middlemen down through the centuries.

A very different approach, found in Great Books or liberal arts programs, may be styled “letting the text speak for itself. Students and teacher grapple with a text from St. Thomas, without in most cases having done the background work that the historically sensitive method would consider absolutely necessary. Partisans of the hands-on approach tend to argue that the historical method collapses into historicism and that sometimes the worst way to read an author is to submerge him, or his individuality and his works, in a network of infinitesimally charted associations. To open up a book written by a great author and simply read its contents, doing the best one can: this is taken to be not only possible but desirable, since it clears away distractions, prevents disproportionate attention to details at the expense of a general but decisive grasp of the whole, and relieves to a large extent the philosophically paralyzing pressure exerted by the demands of cultural history. The person who advocates “just reading the text” really means to say that the text is important only insofar as it raises and answers, or makes an attempt at answering, the “perennial questions”; the text as an artifact (and in a certain sense, even the author as an writer) ceases to be central, giving way to the thing itself which is being discussed. We use the text in order to find out, or come closer to apprehending, the truth about things; as Thomas himself says, we are not interested in knowing what men’s opinions happen to be, but rather what the truth of the matter is.

These two methods are compatible to some extent, as any good scholar knows. But it is obvious that they are on a collision course with one another, if one considers strictly their inner trajectory, their foundational assumptions, their systematic claims. And each method, by itself, is defective. If the goal of our studies is not to know just what Thomas says, at the same time our goal cannot be just to know the truth of a certain matter; for why, then, should we study St. Thomas’s works—why not a scholastic manual, or a catechism, or a thick book written by a German scholar who summarizes the entire history of Catholic thinking on x, y, and z? Why would the Church recommend Thomas? It cannot be simply that he has a logical mind or shows an extensive familiarity with the great sources. There are many such thinkers in our tradition. It must be something about Thomas’s personally achieved synthesis; the spirit that breathes in his works; the peculiar gifts of mind and expression that belonged to him; the insights he had, which others have not surpassed.

We do, then, want to study Thomas, both to know the truth about things and because of the special quality of Thomas’s works, or rather, the theological genius responsible for them. We are interested in the saint as well as the subject matter; we cannot divide the person who probed reality from the reality he probed. This relationship is a corollary of our belief in the living communion of saints. When we study Thomas properly, we are communicating with him in a manner difficult to put into words. That is why many Thomists I know preface their study of St. Thomas with a prayer to him. It may be no more than a silent “pray for me,” a prayer that places the thinker in the presence of the teacher who lives in eternal life. In this way, studying and teaching Thomas or any great Christian thinker can be a form of prayer, a dialogue that rises above the historical contingencies binding the student to his place and time. When we place ourselves into communion with Thomas, we are necessarily linked to his and our common Teacher, the Word “who enlightens every man that comes into the world.” In a similar vein, Gabriel Marcel writes that “to pray to God is without any question the only way to think of God, or more accurately, a sort of equivalent, raised to a higher power, of the action which would, on a lower plane, be thinking of someone.”[3]

It is difficult for me to find exact words for the notion I have in mind, but it would go something like this: we commit a fundamental act of betrayal when we treat a man or his works as a mere springboard, a set of exercises, a bag of ideas, a toolshed of mental rakes and trowels. There is an inseparable link between a person and his works (a point well developed by Wojtyła in Person and Act), but even more so between the saint and his sanctity, his theology, his life in God.

Thus the second method described above seems to prescind from Thomas the thinker, from all the ideas, books, influences, surroundings, agitations, assignments, devotions that made him who he was—and thus made his works what they are. The first method, on the other hand, never seems to ask a question or pursue a train of thought for its own sake; in fact, it appears to have a problem exactly contrary to that of the other method, namely, the problem of not being ahistorical and disinterested enough to become wholly absorbed in the matter at stake just because of what it is. And would it not be strange to claim to be studying the “real” Thomas if one did not enter wholeheartedly and passionately into the substance of what he discusses, exactly as he did? In other words, to the extent that Thomas himself was thoroughly transhistorical in his thinking, the most historically accurate appropriation of his legacy is to enter into the transhistorical domain of truth alongside him. A pure historicist could never be a good interpreter of Thomas the truth-lover, just as a pure theorist could never grasp what is contingent about Thomas the 13th-century Dominican.

The first or historical method is artificial and, at worst, servile, whereas the second or theoretical method can be naive and, when exaggerated, incapable of coming to grips with its materials. The historical attitude risks becoming a lifeless catalog of data, whereas the philosophical stance may shrink into empty disputation, pointless repetition, stony insensibility, and ultimate irrelevance. The historian may degenerate into an historicist, the philosopher into a philosophist.[4] That such degeneration frequently occurs is obvious to all; its prevention, or better, the surmounting of any reductionism, must be among the ends actively willed and worked towards by a Catholic thinker.

We are living in an age acutely conscious of history, which is as much as to say, acutely self-conscious. As thinkers we have become convinced that our judgments are steeped in temporality and contingency. Marcel expresses this point vividly, if hyperbolically:

Our appreciations of a work of art are always, say what we will to the contrary, affected by the “climate of the age,” they reflect the unconscious general assumptions which we share with our contemporaries during some given period in history; the historically conditioned attitude is something which, for all of us, is quite inescapable; and perhaps we cannot even imagine, without tangling ourselves in contradictions, a dehistoricized attitude in the name of which completely objective judgments, judgments quite untainted by the local, the temporal, the personal, and, in a word, quite free from relativity, could be made about works of art, literature, and philosophy.[5]

We cannot shirk off this consciousness as though it were a stifling garment, not only because it is a powerful and ubiquitous force but, more importantly, because it contains some truth.

How, then, should we bring together history, that is, historical consciousness with all that it implies (for example, a basic honesty and humility, an awareness of the severe limitations of any period or thinker—one cannot expect even the greatest mind or school to have asked all the questions that need to be asked, or to have given answers incapable of improvement or development), and the unhistoried act of philosophy which wells up in a soul animated by wonder and the longing for truth? Evidently, we have to aim at a difficult reconciliation: one and the same person needs to be a philosopher (who, qua philosopher, has no concern with history) and a person attentive to historical context and its lessons, or, to look at it from the other side, a historian (who qua historian is not competent to resolve questions of meaning) awake to philosophical implications and unafraid of drawing them out.

These and other problems are evoked the moment one is told to “study St. Thomas” or “follow St. Thomas as a guide.”[6] One must sort them out and arrive at an intelligent practical solution; one has to choose a line right down the middle and try to hold a steady course against the winds of either extreme. But before all else, one has to be aware of the difficulty. If, for example, a Thomist dismisses secondary scholarship, historical research, and textual criticism, he betrays the very truth he claims to be serving by failing to take advantage of ways in which he could come to understand it more deeply.[7] If a Thomist fails to realize that Thomas can be fully appreciated and thus kept within a living tradition only to the extent that he is consciously read in light of—or better, kept in constant companionship with—the Fathers of the Church and his own medieval contemporaries,[8] then such a one will perpetuate (and unless God intervenes, will even add to) the simplistic positions, peremptory dismissals, shallow appraisals, inadequate categorizations, unintelligible formulations, and unappealing lumps of detached and dessicated scholasticism with which our heritage is loaded, and in so doing, will, by an exquisite contradiction, continue to undermine the tradition to which he has dedicated his efforts. St. Thomas only lives to the extent that he is placed into dialogue with the best thinkers of our own time—or at least, to the extent that the study of his work, even when done for the sake of understanding it on its own terms, does not terminate in a kind of literary fetishism which has as its end the preservation of a secret initiatic knowledge. What is needed are men like Josef Pieper and Charles De Koninck, who, having become familiar with its fertile richness, can apply Thomas’s thought to contemporary problems, and at the same time can take modern insights and incorporate them positively into the investigation of the perennial questions with which philosophy must be chiefly occupied. As Maritain observes:

Thomism is not a museum piece. No doubt, like other systems of medieval philosophy, indeed, philosophic systems of all ages, it must be studied historically. All the great philosophies, whether of the Middle Ages or any other period, have that in their substance which to an extent triumphs over time. But Thomism does so more completely than any other since it harmonizes and exceeds them all, in a synthesis which transcends all its components. It is relevant to every epoch. It answers modern problems, both theoretical and practical. In the face of contemporary aspirations and perplexities, it displays a power to fashion and emancipate the mind. We therefore look to Thomism at the present day to save: in the speculative order, intellectual values; in the practical order, so far as they can be saved by philosophy, human values. In short, we are concerned not with an archaeological but with a living Thomism. It is our duty to grasp the reality and the requirements of such a philosophy.

This duty gives rise to a double obligation. We must defend the traditional wisdom and the continuity of the philosophia perennis against the prejudices of modern individualism, insofar as it values, seeks, and delights in novelty for its own sake, and is interested in a system of thought only insofar as it is a creation, the creation of a novel conception of the world. But equally we must show that this wisdom is eternally young and always inventive, and involves a fundamental need, inherent in its very being, to grow and renew itself. And so doing we must combat the prejudices of those who would fix it at a particular stage of its development and fail to understand its essentially progressive nature.[9]

Thomism has its timeless side and its time-bound side, just as Thomas has his unparalleled stretches of genius and his occasional weaknesses. Theology neither began nor ended with St. Thomas; even more is this true of philosophy. Too much scholastic learning leads, moreover, to “canned” or “instant” answers, where a person behaves as if, when faced with a given question, he need only select the right package and unwrap the ready-made answer. One is reminded of the way that the Cartesian or Baconian experimenter confronts nature with his calibrated instruments, ready to inject the intelligibility furnished by hypothetical ideas, already anticipating the answer to whatever questions he may pose. There is another problem with the type of philosopher at hand: he has far too great confidence in his own education and reasoning powers, as evidenced by a strong habit of answering quickly, without (one is tempted to say) really thinking. He will propose the swift and exhaustive answer, which, in one stroke, destroys not only the question as an opportunity for dialectic wherein the nature of the difficulty as well as different pathways into its resolution are glimpsed, but also all of its wonder and complexity as a question that will always recur.

Anything that is not won with labor, any fruit we taste without having earned a right to its savor, can be a cause of frustration or weariness, whereas that which is purchased with labor is used with greater enjoyment. Attractiveness, whether physical or intellectual, seems to result chiefly from the possibility of disclosing a hidden beauty whose outward contours prepossess us to want to see it naked. That is to say, we have to know that what we see is not all there is, that our sight has only glanced upon the surface; and this awareness of limitation in our knowledge of a thing impels us onward to know it in full, “to penetrate its very core,” as Thomas says when treating of the effects of love.

The origin of philosophy is wonder; and wonder naturally expresses itself in the form of questions, the most important being the “why” or “for what purpose.” Philosophy, then, expresses its origin in the question, it takes its point of departure from questioning and formulating questions. To remain true to its origins, it must never lose sight of the wonder which initially inspired the questions, the restless search for better formulation, the deeper wonder arising from the always partial answers that outline a path to fullness of truth. For philosophy to remain alive, then, it must never “settle” a question in such a way that it becomes impossible to raise the question any longer. The moment that an answer is prepackaged, provided in a bottle or given as an instant mix, it ceases to respond to the living question, and detaches itself both from the activity of philosophizing and from its goal, which is the truth seen through the medium of the question.

The “technique” or treatment of a problem begins with its first expression as a question. The way a question is asked limits and disposes the ways in which any answer to it—right or wrong—may be given. If we are asked: “Who made the world?” we may answer: “God made it,” “Chance made it,” “Love and hate made it,” or what you will. But if we reply: “Nobody made it,” we will be accused of trying to be cryptic, smart, or unsympathetic. For in this last instance, we have only seemingly given an answer; in reality we have rejected the question. The questioner feels called upon to repeat his problem. . . . A question is really an ambiguous proposition; the answer is its determination. There can be only a certain number of alternatives that will complete its sense. In this way the intellectual treatment of any datum, any experience, any subject, is determined by the nature of our questions, and only carried out in the answers.[10]

A question must be invested with a personal meaning before an answer can acquire its due importance or significance. The questions make possible the answers, they are the condition for the truth’s appearing. If the questions as real questions are lost, the truth contained in traditional answers is lost as well, replaced with a simulacrum that one can only idolize or ignore—a peril to thought, in either case. The question in philosophy is like a good wine that must breathe before its full flavor can be tasted. The materials from which the question arises are like the grapes that must be crushed to yield their sweet liquid; and just as this liquid must be allowed to sit and ferment before the wine can be produced, so too the question must have time to ferment, to develop its own potencies and work upon itself, before it can acquire the flavor that invites the palate to savor it. The same is true when it comes to proposed answers. An approach to philosophy which makes it consist in a correspondence of formulaic questions and catechetical answers threatens to suffocate the motivating eros of philosophy, the loving exploration which sustains thoughtful inquiry. “Just as the imagination of a form without estimation of fittingness or harmfulness does not move the sensitive appetite, so neither does the apprehension of the true without the aspect of goodness and desirability” (Ia-IIae qu. 9, art. 1). The wise man tastes what he knows, he rejoices in the feast.

Clarity of thought, or getting a purchase on the truth about something, often requires not only distance from the object but removal from the place where one thinks one will find the answers. Instead of reading a treatise on poetry, for example, one will understand its essence better by relishing a large number of good poems and, moreover, listening to a lot of music and taking many walks in the fields and mountains. If one has not explored the thing and its cousins first, one will get nowhere with formal considerations. In like manner, one can understand St. Thomas much better by making forays into Augustine, Gregory, Dionysius, Bonaventure, and more importantly, by living (with necessary adjustments) the kind of life he lived; one will return to Thomas with brighter and keener eyes, and will discover more riches there than if one had restricted oneself to a strict Thomistic diet. It is in the same spirit that I once recommended to an overly rationalistic friend that he take a “vacation from thinking”; why not spend some time listening to Gregorian chant and Beethoven’s string quartets, or visit museums where you can gaze for hours at Rembrandt portraits?

System-building is among the greatest evils of modern philosophy. It is contrary to the genuine nature of philosophy as one sees it, for example, in Plato, Bonaventure, or Marcel. Thomas himself is not a system-builder because he does not pretend to deduce everything from a handful of first principles. He leans on Scripture; he leans on his predecessors; he leans on natural reason and experience; he leans on dialectic with others. He is not unfolding a predetermined pattern which he finds wrapped up in his own mind, à la Spinoza. The synthesis he produced is designed to be a beginning and to admit of perfecting by others, even as it perfected what preceded it. Thomas is a dialogical thinker; anyone who ponders the format of most of his works will appreciate this fact. It is a decisive fact, for it means that we must use Thomas dialogically, as a guide to the truth who wishes to apprentice us in a way of life, as did the desert fathers when young aspiring monks came out eagerly to hear their apothegms. Thomas’s most characteristic activity as a member of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Paris was to engage in quaestiones disputatae et quodlibetales, the redactions of which give us a keener appreciation for the role of living speech, dialectical encounter, in Thomas’s thinking; one sees, in the format of the actually disputed question, the open-ended nature of scholastic discourse.

That Thomas’s greatest work looked, to him, like so much straw in comparison with the vision he had been granted on December 6, 1273, does not mean that we should dispense with this masterful “summary of theology,” but rather, that we should study it in such a way as to be straining ever closer to the realities it evokes, realities which infinitely transcend the letter of the text. How absurd it would be to give any student the impression that sacra doctrina begins with the confusion of Scripture but culminates in the clarity of the Summa theologiæ! St. Thomas himself, the magister sacrae paginae, would be shocked to see his own “straw”—useful though it is as a bed on which to lay the Christ-child—taken as the centermost principle of Catholic formation, when in reality this principle is, and shall always be, the Word of God in his written tokens and Eucharistic presence. We are all familiar with Thomas’s admission that he learned more from his crucifix than from all the books he had read; we have heard that he rested his head upon the tabernacle and sought divine help whenever he encountered a difficulty; we know that he celebrated a Mass in the morning and immediately served a second Mass afterwards. Can we say the same—are we imitators of him, as he was of Paul, and Paul of Christ? The Church proposes him to us as a model of the holy theologian, and holiness counts a great deal more than knowledge, or rather, knowledge is worthwhile when it is a cause and effect of deification.

In the Summa’s structure of part, treatise, question, article, objections, sed contra, corpus, and responses, I see not a rigid systematization or ossification of inquiry but a Socratic model of amicable confrontation distilled into polished notes, seminae conversationis, condensed dialogues for the student and teacher to consult in common when they wish to open up a problem anew and come to grips with what is at stake in it. Every article is a locus meditationis, which can therefore also function as a principle of true dialogue, since all dialogue presupposes an awareness of participating in truths common to all the speakers, or put differently, speech can become philosophical only to the extent that it evokes and invokes what is truly common to many. The writings of St. Thomas, organized according to scholastic custom, should be considered loci meditationis, readily assimilable and abundantly nourishing, capable of fostering the contemplative act whereby the student rises above the text—rises, in a certain sense, outside his contingent place in the material conversation—into the heart of the problem or mystery being considered; and as this act becomes habitual to him, the student can rise past the problem, can go through the mystery, into the very Heart of Christ, towards whom everything in St. Thomas is ultimately directed.

Philosophy (a fortiori, theology) are endeavors wherein a stable depositum of questions, ranging from the highest universality to the lowest particularity, must be posed again and again, not only to make progress, but more importantly, to return to the sources of thought and life—sources to which man is always in danger of growing numb, of which he can lose sight, from which he often wanders in forgetfulness. “This perpetual beginning again, which may seem scandalous to the scientist or the technician, is an inevitable part of all genuinely philosophical work; and perhaps it reflects in its own order the fresh start of every new awakening and of every birth.”[11]

The need always to “begin anew”—which has nothing to do with the Cartesian artifice of razing the foundations and starting from scratch—stems from the inescapable task of self-criticism, the task of purging dross, reassessing terminology, weighing antitheses, pursuing new insights, and incorporating new givens. The commitment to clarity and precision forces the philosopher to question his own questions and retain an inward distance from his answers. “Let us remember that for the philosopher everything is in some way a trial; how can he fail to be almost overwhelmed by the disconcerting multiplicity of the empiric data which he has to take into account, by the fear of falling into arbitrary simplifications?”[12] In the continual striving for greater breadth and height and depth, he preserves the attitude of beginning anew even when he has gone far into the truth.

For this reason, stubborn attachment to a favored terminology or network of distinctions might actually undermine the meaning of the terms and the legitimacy of the system in use. In one of his unforgettable metaphors, Marcel says that when we adhere to certain expressions or formulae too fixedly, “what I am tempted to call a mental clot is formed, which interrupts the circulation of thought; and it is precisely this circulation of thought which we have to re-establish. I mean that the words, so to say, interpose themselves between me and the thought I am driving at; they get a bogey-like and unwelcome reality of their own; they become an obstacle instead of remaining an instrument.”[13]

Keeping in view St. Thomas’s manner of doing theology and the proper way to approach his indispensable textbook, it is evident why Marcel errs in saying, evidently with Thomists in mind, that

the very structure of duration and of life show[s] that philosophical thought is unfaithful to reality whenever it attempts to proceed from conclusion to conclusion towards a Summa which, in the end, needs only to be expounded and memorised paragraph by paragraph.[14]

If my analysis is correct, St. Thomas, the most famous Summa author of the Church, is not touched at all by Marcel’s complaint. Thomas never attempted to capture the whole of natural reality—much less the infinity of God and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ—by “proceeding from conclusion to conclusion” so as to “sum up” everything that can be known. The fact that he has been presented in this way is a great misfortune whose evil effects we can never too diligently combat. If one bears in mind the kind of students for whom Thomas was writing—young men who would be steeped in the fruits of lectio divina, beneficiaries of a constant encounter with the word of God in prayer, in the divine office, in the sacred liturgy, in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament where the Word escapes its textual prison and comes to us in the flesh—if one bears in mind the life of these young men, and if one is careful to cultivate among modern pupils of St. Thomas a comparable discipline, it will not be difficult to see how much more subtle is the true relationship between a Summa of theology and the life of oratio et labor to which the Christian is called.

In St. Thomas’s mind, there is always something preceding and something succeeding the use of a theology textbook or attendance at a series of lectures; the theologian provides no more than an evanescent middle term between life and thought, experience and reflection. Beforehand there must be the praeparatio of prayer and penance; afterwards, there must be action and contemplation, transcendence and incarnation, a continual circulation from earth to heaven, self to neighbor to God. If there is no prayer and no active charity, the study of theology (even more, the study of a textbook or a disputation) is perfectly useless, as St. Bonaventure stressed over and over to his Franciscan brethren.


NOTES

[1] Andreas Speer, “Bonaventure and the Question of a Medieval Philosophy” in Medieval Philosophy and Theology 6 (1997): 43.

[2] From a different angle, John Inglis, in his article “Does Aquinas Do Epistemology?” (Journal of Neoplatonic Studies 5.2 [1997]: 29–57), joins a larger movement critical of the once-common effort to separate out independent disciplines, e.g., ontology, epistemology, psychology, from the writings of St. Thomas. The modern university’s division of the sciences has well-nigh destroyed the unity of ancient-medieval thought by failing to apprehend its root cause, the integral vision of “the Catholica,” which resists atomization and automation, the splitting apart and separating off of internally connected goals, methods, and activities.

[3] Being and Having, trans. Katherine Farrer (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 31. The words of Balthasar are even more pointed: “There is no truth except in prayer.” From the letter he sent to his Jesuit confreres in 1950, quoted in de Lubac, Service of the Church, 375.

[4] The historicist also tends to revel in a Walpurgisnacht of scholarly references and cross-references, infinite rounds of commentary and counter-commentary, tome-thick textual apparatuses, much like the brainy deconstructionists who delight to exhibit their linguistic and hermeneutical dexterity. Yet I have always felt suspicious of such pyrotechnical displays. I notice at any rate the great distance that separates a supreme genius like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, or Thomas from the flock of contemporary scholars with their flamboyant academic phylacteries. There is a different feel, having everything to do with the presence or absence of eros for truth and for God. There is something irredeemably empty about any act of analysis or synthesis, however brilliant it may be, when this eros is absent. “Dilettantism treated seriously, and knowledge pursued mechanically, end by becoming pedantry” (Goethe, Maxims, n. 132).

[5] The Mystery of Being, vol. I, 197.

[6] Any attempts to downplay the Magisterium’s clear and oft-repeated recommendations of St. Thomas as the foremost guide in Catholic philosophy and theology are short-sighted, harmful, and in many cases dishonest. Of course, a Catholic thinker need not style himself a Thomist. But someone who is not a Thomist, or who does not wish to be placed into a certain school, does not thereby acquire the right to attack or dismiss St. Thomas. A deep respect for Thomas’s teaching, as well as a consistent and sustained effort to consult his works, is mandated by the Church, even in the period of the Council and the post-Council.

[7] Even the simplest text has a history; and the weightier or older or lengthier the text, the deeper and more complex its history. Take the example of Thomas’s “Treatise on Law.” If you hand it to a beginning philosophy student, he will learn much from it; one can go a long way in the classroom with so rich a segment of the Summa. But consider how we excerpt that treatise and read it in isolation, from a later vantage in history, when tremendous philosophical transformations in law, society, government, nature, have long since occurred. Consider then how, owing to our tendency to isolate passages, the true context of this particular treatise, along with its presuppositions and implications—its bearing on the whole of Thomas’s theology and theory of law—have been forgotten, if not undermined. Much recent scholarship has shown how grievously the fabric of Thomas’s thought has been rent by false divisions and lack of balance, by neoscholastic assumptions and agendas, by undetected modern suppositions. What I have illustrated using the Treatise on Law could be illustrated with any commonly used (and commonly alienated) portion of Thomas’s work. Inglis gives a fine example, the attempt to carve out a formal “epistemology” from the Summa theologiae or the De veritate. To be aware of the historicity of a text also involves an awareness of its “negative history,” the story of its misinterpretations or mishandlings and the way these mistakes have given rise to the wrong questions, the wrong critiques, the wrong appropriations. Reading an old and venerable text is no simple matter after all!

[8] The writings of Josef Pieper exemplify of the kind of approach I have in mind: one thinks especially of his introduction to St. Thomas, his trilogy on the theological virtues, his work on the cardinal virtues, his little book on eschatology, and his remarkable book The Silence of St. Thomas.

[9] From A Preface to Metaphysics.

[10] Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key.

[11] Gabriel Marcel, “An Essay in Autobiography,” in The Philosophy of Existentialism, trans. Manya Harari (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), 125.

[12] Marcel, Mystery of Being, vol. II, Faith & Reality, trans. René Hague (Chicago: Regnery, 1960), 160.

[13] Mystery of Being, vol. 2, 12-13.

[14] Ibid.

Contrasting Concepts of Freedom

The following paper was delivered at the Conference Heute gerecht leben: Impulse zu Ordnungskonzeptionen aus katholischer, orthodoxer und schiitischer Tradition, Vienna, September 19th, 2016.[1] A pdf version can be found at the VIQo Circle website.


That in all things God might be glorified.

1. Two concepts of freedom, two forms of culture

The contemporary world is being dominated ever more by a secular, liberal, hedonistic anti-culture that is a threat to true human happiness, and flourishing. This secular anti-culture originated in the West in a rejection of the traditional culture of Western Christendom, but it has now become a global force, and one therefore that Islam will have to contend with as well. One way of understanding the conflict between secular anti-culture and the traditional Christian culture against which it rebelled is to distinguish their very different concepts of freedom. In the following reflections I want to consider the concept of freedom found in the Bible and the Christian tradition (and to some extent in the philosophy of antiquity), and then contrast it with the secular concept, rooted in the philosophy of the so-called Enlightenment. I shall try to show why the secular concept of freedom is so dangerous.

One can consider freedom on many different levels. For the sake of clarity I shall distinguish between three such levels: 1) exterior or political freedom, 2) interior or natural freedom, 3) moral freedom. The secular and Christian concepts of freedom differ on all three levels. I shall summarize the differences briefly before considering each view more closely.

1) For the Christian tradition external freedom means not being subordinated to another’s good, not being a slave. Politically such freedom is realized by a political rule that orders people to their own true common good— a good that is truly good for them. For the secular tradition of the Enlightenment in contrast, external freedom means not being commanded by another to act in one way rather than another. Negatively this kind of freedom is realized by limiting the scope of government to the preservation of external peace, leaving each citizen free to seek whatever he thinks is the good. Positively it is realized by the participation of all citizens in political rule— so that everyone can claim to be “self-ruled.”

2) Interior or natural freedom is taken in the mainstream of the Christian tradition to mean the ability of man to understand what is good, deliberate about how it is to be attained, and choose means suitable to attaining it. Unlike the animals, man is not determined by instinct, but is able to deliberate about his actions. On the secular view, however, internal or natural freedom is taken to mean a completely undetermined self-movement of will. On the secular view man is free not only to deliberate about how to attain the good, but to decide for himself what the good is.

3) Moral freedom, according to the Christian tradition, means knowing what the true good for man is, and what means are necessary to attain it, and being able to make use of those means. Moral freedom means being liberated from bad habits and disordered passions that lead us away from what we know is the good. To be morally free is to live in accordance with the nature that God has given us— it is to be virtuous and wise. For secular culture on the other hand, moral freedom means not being determined by cultural pressures, rejecting conformity for the sake of “authenticity” and “originality” deciding on one’s own peculiar way of living human life, based on one’s own “freely chosen” (i.e. arbitrarily chosen) “values.”

2. True freedom

The Book of Exodus is a story of liberation, of attaining freedom. The people of Israel is enslaved, they are forced to work hard for the Egyptians. Their slavery is in the first place an external slavery: they are forced to work for the good of their Egyptians masters rather than their own good, to realize their master’s end, not their own end. Their liberation is therefore also in the first place and external, political liberation. They are to be liberated from the power of Egypt in order to attain to their own true good and end as the chosen people of God.

“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” (Ex 5:1) God’s message to Pharaoh demands an external, political freedom for his people in order that they might attain to their true good, which consists in worshiping God (holding a sacrificial feast in God’s honor). But it becomes clear in the desert that the people need moral freedom as well as political freedom to be able to attain to their good. They are enslaved to the false gods of Egypt and to their own disordered passions— they fall back into idolatry, and long for the fleshpots of Egypt. They are unable to live as God’s chosen people in peace and justice, worshiping Him alone.

The Ten Commandments can be seen as an aid that God gives to the people to teach them moral freedom. God introduces the commandments by reminding the people of their liberation from Egypt: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) But the commandments are meant to bring them to a truer liberation: liberation from sin.

The giving of the commandments implies that the people have natural freedom, that is, “free will.” They must be able to understand the good, and chose the means that lead to it. In Deuteronomy God emphasizes their need to make a choice:

See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

The law shows the way to life, to the true good, and the people are able to understand this and choose to obey the law.

In the New Testament, St. Paul, tells us that the law was not enough. Human nature is wounded by original sin. And it is too difficult for persons with this wounded nature to follow the law, even though they know that it leads to life. But the grace of Christ heals human nature, and gives it the power to obey the law, and to attain to an even greater good than the life promised in the Old Testament. St. Paul teaches that Christ’s grace frees us from the law, insofar as it enables to do the good spontaneously without need for the law. I quote a famous passage from the Epistle to the Galatians at length:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” […] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:13-23)

The desires of the flesh prevent us from doing what we would, that is what we truly desire, what leads to our true good. But the power of the Spirit enables us to be free from the law, not because it gives us permission to break the law, but because it enables us to fulfill the essence of the law, which consists in loving the good, easily and without coercion.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches that He has come to liberate the people from slavery to sin:

Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:31-34)

The Jewish leaders think that they are already free, but Jesus teaches them that true moral freedom will only come if they remain with Him, allowing themselves to be formed by Him, so that they know God as their true good and attain to unity with Him.

The vision of freedom given in the Bible was further unfolded throughout the Christian tradition. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is the first great theorist of “free will,” as a faculty of choosing.[2] This faculty chooses which of our inclinations to follow. But it is naturally inclined to happiness; it chooses to follow inclinations, only because they seem to lead to happiness. All men want to be happy. The will is not “free” to desire unhappiness. Happiness is found in wisdom, which is the attainment of God as the highest good, and no one can be prevented from attaining God against his will. Therefore, no one can be made unhappy against his will. But everyone wills happiness. So why is it that so many persons are not happy? How is that possible? How can one both will to be happy and choose not to be happy? “How does anyone suffer an unhappy life by his will, since absolutely no one wills to live unhappily?”[3] Augustine’s answer is that the will is able to err by choosing things that are incompatible with happiness, even while continuing to will happiness:

All the people you mentioned, who follow different things, pursue good and avoid evil. Yet because different things seem good to one person and to another, they follow different things. Thus anyone pursuing what should not have been pursued – even though he pursues it only because it appears good to him – nevertheless is in error. […] To the extent that all people pursue the happy life, then, they are not in error. But people are in error to the extent that they stray from the road of life that leads to happiness, even if they profess and protest that they only want to attain happiness; “error” means following something that does not lead where we want to reach.[4]

Here Augustine is arguing that those who err are deceived by a false appearance of good. But how does such deception arise? Augustine argues that there are three kinds of false appearance of good:

but the will sins when it is turned away from the unchangeable and common good, towards its private good, or towards something external, or towards something lower. The will is turned to its private good when it wants to be in its own power; it is turned to something external when it is eager to know the personal affairs of other people, or anything that is not its business; it is turned to something lower when it takes delight in bodily pleasures.[5]

The “great and fundamental good” of human beings is a common good, in the sense that “he who is unwilling to share this possession cannot have it,”[6] but for this very reason turning away towards one’s own private good has an appearance of the self-sufficiency proper to God. In the Confessions, in wondering about why he had stolen pears as an adolescent, Augustine describes this false appearance in terms of apparent freedom:

Of what excellence of my Lord was I making perverse and vicious imitation? Perhaps it was the thrill of acting against Your law—at least in appearance, since I had no power to do so in fact, the delight a prisoner might have in making some small gesture of liberty—getting a deceptive sense of omnipotence from doing something forbidden without immediate punishment.[7]

In struggling with the question of what led him to steal the pears, Augustine also explains turning toward the external and toward the lower in terms of deceptive appearances of likeness to God, and yet a mystery remains. For, Augustine teaches that it is natural for the will to be turned toward God, where true happiness is to be found.[8] The the turning away is a defect, a weakness, a sort of nothingness, a failure to be what we are: “We admit that this movement is sin, since it is a defective movement, and every defect is from nothing.”[9]

St. Thomas Aquinas further developed Augustine’s account with the help of Aristotle. According to St. Thomas, will is a faculty that is dependent on the faculty of reason. It is rational desire. Just as there is a desire in the sensitive part of the soul when we sense something pleasurable to senses (eg. when we smell good food), so there is desire in the rational part of the soul when we understand something good. And the faculty for this desire is the will. As soon as reason understands something as good, the will moves toward it. To understand something as good is to understand it as contributing to my perfection and completion. That is, as leading to the final end, which is happiness. Now since there are many individual good things that can lead to happiness, the will is free to choose among them.[10] The very highest good, the attainment of which is happiness, is God. In this life, however, the mind does not necessarily see the connection of God and happiness, and thus, while it necessarily desires happiness, it does not yet necessarily desire God. In Heaven, where we shall directly attain to God, it will not be possible for the will to turn away from Him.[11] In earthly life, however, the knowledge of God is indirect, and therefore weak.

Sharpening Augustine’s account with Aristotelian notions, St. Thomas gives two ways in which we can be deceived by a false appearance of good. The first comes from the fact that in this life all our knowledge is begins with sense-knowledge. Only with effort does the mind rise above sensible particulars to universal truths. Similarly the first goods that we first know are sensible goods, and so the desires of man are first pulled down towards those goods, and only with effort does the will rise to desire more universal goods.[12] The second way in which we can be deceived comes from the fact that the God, in Whom our happiness lies, is the common good, of all creation, but the good that is first known to us is the proper good of our nature. Thus to seek God as our good requires that we subordinate ourselves to Him, this requires a certain self-transcendence, which can fail.[13]

St. Thomas’s account of freedom was officially endorsed by the popes of the 19th century in their struggle with modern liberalism. In his great encyclical Libertas (1888), Pope Leo XIII summarized St. Thomas’s teaching on natural, moral, and political freedom. He explains that natural freedom is called natural because it is not acquired but is given to man by God as part of man’s created nature.[14] Because man has universal, rational knowledge he knows not only particular, sensible goods, but also the good in general. He therefore understands that no particular good is necessary to man, and he can then choose those particular goods that he thinks suitable means to his highest good and final end.[15] In order for a person to choose some particular good they must understand it as being good, that is, as desirable, as contributing toward the complete goodness of the final goal of life.[16] But because both reason and will are fallible, man can be deceived by a false appearance of good.[17]

Moral freedom is the freedom from such error: the ability to know what means really lead to happiness and the ability to make use of them. To attain such freedom man has a need for law, which is “a fixed rule of teaching” in which “reason prescribes to the will what it should seek after or shun, in order to the eventual attainment of man’s last end.”[18] Law is thus not contrary to freedom, but a great help in attaining it.

The most important kind of law is natural law, which is “our reason, commanding us to do right and forbidding sin.” This voice of reason has the force of an obligatory law, because it is given to us by God, the author of our nature.[19]

Political freedom is attained when the laws of a society correspond to the natural law. In such a case the laws do not enslave the people by ordering them to someone else’s good, but rather help them to attain what is really good for them— the common good in which their happiness lies— they help them to be morally free.[20] Thus Leo XIII teaches that political freedom is not dependent on any particular form of government, such as democracy. Any government that makes laws that are compatible with the natural law, whether it is monarchical, aristocratic, democratic, or some mixture of those three, gives its subjects or citizens political freedom.[21] Participation of the greater number of the members of a society in political life might be a good means to helping frame laws that are in fact ordered to the common good (rather than the private good of some faction), but such participation is only a means; the essence of political freedom consists in the ordering of the laws to the true common good.[22]

3. False Freedom

The account of freedom that I have just sketched out sees human freedom at every level as being tied to an objective order of the good. But another account of freedom came to be dominant in modern times, an account that sees freedom as independent from any objective good. Such has, of course, ancient antecedents. Even in the book of Genesis the serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit that God has forbidden by saying, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). This can be understood to mean that you will be independent of the objective order of good established by God, and will yourself decide what is good and what is evil.[23] This is tempting because it flatters human pride, giving human beings an apparently more exalted status. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that such pride is always the reason for rebellion against God.[24] The Roman poet Lucretius gave an account of freedom as “pleasure driven randomness” that is similarly disengaged from any objective order of good.[25]

But in modern times such an account of freedom became dominant. Ironically, the modern view of freedom was developed out of the view that can be found in certain late-medieval theologians, who certainly did not want to rebel against God, but rather to emphasize the sovereignty of God’s will. Peter of John Olivi (c. 1248-1298),[26] John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308),[27] and especially William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347)[28] developed a theory of free will that saw it as completely arbitrary determination, not constrained by natural desire for the good. They applied this account to God in the first place, but then also to man. According to Ockham, the choice of the will does not follow knowledge of the good, but rather precedes all other acts including knowledge: “For I can freely chose to know or not to know, to will or not to will.”[29]

But it was the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) who must be seen as the true father of the modern idea of freedom. Descartes’s philosophy of pure thought emptied the natural world of all inherent goodness and teleology.[30] The world was seen merely as material for human domination, the imposition of human will. Hence will was not seen as appetite for an objective good, but as pure self-determination. Descartes is very explicit that freedom of the will makes the human person independent of God: “freewill[…] makes us in a certain manner equal to God and exempts us from being his subjects.”[31]

Descartes’s idea of freewill was highly influential on all of modern philosophy. Modern ideas of political freedom were especially indebted to him. If the freedom of the will means the will is not determined by the good, but only by itself, then political freedom can no longer consist in having laws ordered to the true good. Instead, modern so-called “liberal” political theory understands political freedom as self-legislation. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), to take only one particularly clear example,[32] argued that a ruler who tries to order its subjects to their own true good would be acting against their freedom:

A Government founded upon the principle of Benevolence towards the people—after the analogy of a father to his children, and therefore called a paternal Government—would be one in which the Subjects would be regarded as children or minors unable to distinguish what is beneficial or injurious to them. These subjects would be thus compelled to act in a merely passive way; and they would be trained to expect solely from the Judgment of the Sovereign and just as he might will it, merely out of his goodness, all that ought to make them happy. Such a Government would be the greatest conceivable Despotism; for it would present a Constitution that would abolish all Liberty in the Subjects and leave them no Rights.[33]

In order to preserve freedom, Kant argues, the government must be limited to balancing the freedom of different individuals:

No one has a right to compel me to be happy in the peculiar way in which he may think of the well-being of other men; but everyone is entitled to seek his own happiness in the way that seems to him best, if it does not infringe the liberty [i.e. freedom] of others in striving after a similar end for themselves when their Liberty is capable of consisting with the Right of Liberty in all others according to possible universal laws.[34]

This is one side of modern political theory, and it has had tremendous consequences. One thing that it demands is the complete independence of the state from religion, since religion always proposes a definite idea of human happiness, and therefore is seen as a threat to freedom. In the West, this view of political freedom has been embedded in the laws. A particularly clear expression of it was given by the United States Supreme Court:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.[35]

But there is also another side to the modern idea of political freedom, namely the demand that each citizen participate in the framing of the laws. Kant expresses the reason for this demand as follows:

All right, in fact, depends on the laws. A public law, however, which determines for all what is to be legally allowed or not allowed in their regard, is the act of a public Will, from which all right proceeds and which therefore itself can do no wrong to anyone. For this, however, there is no other Will competent than that of the whole people, as it is only when all determine about all that each one in consequence determines about himself. For it is only to himself that one can do no wrong.[36]

This demand is fulfilled by representative democracies. Hence, in the modern view, the only legitimate form of government is democracy.[37]

It has often been noted that there is a certain tension between the two sides of the modern idea of political freedom, with some modern political movements giving more emphasis to the first, and others to the second. But almost all modern political movements accept both sides in some form or other.[38]

Another important element in the modern idea of freedom, what we might call the modern ideal of moral freedom arose out of the Romantic reaction against the rationalism of philosophers such as Descartes and Kant. The 18th and 19th century Romantics rejected the Cartesian idea of cool, dis-engaged will and reason, confronted with a neutral meaningless world of extension. But Romanticism did not return to a pre-Cartesian, teleological world-view. It wanted to preserve the sovereignty of the human subject, but in a new way. Therefore it imagined an inchoate “current of life” underlying all things that expresses itself through living things, striving for ever higher expression. Man’s spirit is stirred by the sublime in nature, and this allows him to “create” new expressions of spirit that articulate and bring into being what was only potential before.[39] This Romantic vision underwent many developments and changes over time, but what remained was the idea that for a human being to be really free they had to express themselves in their own unique way. Human desire, on this view, is not elicited by good things, but is rather a potential force that expresses itself, and brings “value” (as the good now comes to be called) into existence. Freedom means being “true to oneself” by finding an “authentic” way of expressing one’s desires, and thus creating one’s own “values.”[40]

The Romantic, expressivist idea of freedom was an important element in bringing about the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, which continues to our own day. Sexual desire being particularly strong and ecstatic, contemporary culture sees sexual expression as a key to “authenticity” and freedom. Hence the proliferation of various forms of sexual perversion, all seen as “authentic self-expressions,” giving value and meaning to human life. And hence the violent opposition to the natural law, which forbids such perversions, when it is proclaimed by traditional Christians and Muslims.

4. Conclusion: The Slave of Sin

The modern idea of freedom, and the “liberal” culture built on it, have many attractions. Their individualistic, self-determining, approach to the good does do away with some of the limits and self-sacrifices demanded by an approach based on a common pursuit of objective ends. It gives room for movement and an independence from others. Moreover, as our very own Heinz Theisen has argued,[41] such an individualistic approach can avoid some of the conflicts that arise from different views of what the objective good for man is. In our discussions he also raised the point that in such a liberal order individuals are free to accept religious teaching on God as the final end of human life, the good in whom alone we can find happiness.

But the advantages of the modern view of freedom come at a great price. The attempt to determine one’s own “values” for oneself often means that one becomes dominated by one’s own passions; the desires and loathings that arise from the sense-knowledge in which all our knowledge begins. This is not freedom, but slavery. The American novelist David Foster Wallace spoke of the “default settings” of human beings as being the “worship” of things like money, sexual allure, and power, but that the “worship” of such things will “eat you alive.”[42] To become free of such things requires great effort, and usually a communal effort.

The claim that the modern culture of liberal freedom leaves room for those who hold to an older notion of freedom as related to objective good to follow their beliefs has to be qualified. The very fact that the whole culture is based on the competing, modern, “liberal” view of freedom exerts tremendous pressure on those who would hold an older view to conform. As David Schindler put it:

Liberalism invites us to adopt only its freedom and its institutions while (putatively) permitting us to supply our own theories which will give meaning to freedom and free institutions; but liberalism does so— paradoxically— all the while hiding the very theory (of liberalism) which alone justifies this (purported) extrinsic relation between freedom institution and theory. In fact, this very extrinsic relation, which is taken to guarantee a supposedly ‘empty freedom,’ already embodies a definite, though hidden, conception of human nature and destiny[.][43]

Thus, the crisis of religious faith that we are witnessing in the West today is a logical outcome of the prevalence of this liberal idea of freedom, which inevitably leads to viewing religion as a limit on freedom. The supposedly neutral view of the good, in which each person decides his values for himself, really turns persons away from their true good, in which alone true happiness can be found. In its place it sets an ethics of arbitrary self-expression that is becoming more and more perverse and irrational by the day. This is not freedom, but slavery: “every one who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). I am therefore convinced that we should oppose the modern view of freedom by every possible means. The most important means of opposition is the revival of the traditional and true account of freedom.


[1] I have revised my remarks in the light of the discussion at the conference. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the organizers and participants in the conference especially Christian Machek, Taher Amini Golestani, the Johannes-Messner-Gesellschaft, the Institut für Religion und Frieden of the Austrian Military Diocese, the International Institute for Peace and Religions, and the ViQo Circle for Catholic-Shi’a Dialogue on Religion, Philosophy, and Political Theory. I would also like to thank Peter Kwasniewski, Alan Fimister, and Susan Waldstein for helpful comments.

[2] See: Johannes Brachtendorf, Einleitung to Augustinus, De libero arbitrio – Der freie Wille, vol. 9 of Augustinus Opera – Werke (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2006), p. 45; Eva Brann, Un-Willing: an Inquiry into the Rise of the Will’s Power and an Attempt to Undo it (Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2014), pp. 22-37. Brachtendorf and Brann go slightly too far in saying that Augustine invented the will— the denial of the term “will” to ancient concepts such as the Aristotelian boulesis seems to me to be based on a too narrow, modern concept of will. As Brann herself admits, Thomas Aquinas’s account of voluntas (will) corresponds to Aristotle’s account of boulesis— if one can call the one “will” why not the other?

[3] De libero Arbitrio, 1.14.30.100; On the Free Choice of the Will, On Grace and Free Choice, and Other Writings, trans. Peter King (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 25.

[4] De libero Arbitrio, 2.9.26.100-101; trans. King, p. 50.

[5] De libero Arbitrio, 2.19.53.199; trans. King, p. 70.

[6] De civitate Dei, XV,5; The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: The Modern Library, 1993), p. 483.

[7] Confessiones, II,VI; The Confessions, trans. Frank Sheed, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006), p. 32.

[8] See: William R. O’Connor, The Natural Desire for God (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1948), pp. 18-25.

[9] De libero Arbitrio, 2.19.53.200-2.20.54.204; trans. King, pp. 70-71.

[10] Summa theologiae, Ia q83 a1 c.

[11] «Until through the certitude of the Divine Vision the necessity of such connection be shown, the will does not adhere to God of necessity, nor to those things which are of God. But the will of the man who sees God in His essence of necessity adheres to God, just as now we desire of necessity to be happy.» (Summa theologiae, Ia q83 a1 c).

[12] See: Charles De Koninck, On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists, trans. Sean Collins, in: The Aquinas Review 4 (1997), pp. 10-71, at pp. 45-46.

[13] «Indeed, although natural inclination of the will is present in every volitional agent to will and to love its own perfection so that it cannot will the contrary of this, yet it is not so naturally implanted in the agent to so order its perfection to another end, that it cannot fail in regard to it, for the higher end is not proper to its nature, but to a higher nature. It is left, then, to the agent’s choice, to order his own proper perfection to a higher end.» (Summa contra gentiles, III,109).

[14] Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Libertas (Rome, June 20, 1888), English translation: https://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_20061888_libertas.html (accessed October 2, 2016), ¶1.

[15] Libertas, ¶3.

[16] Libertas, ¶5.

[17] Libertas, ¶6.

[18] Libertas, ¶7.

[19] Libertas, ¶8.

[20] Libertas, ¶10; cf. my essays “The Politics of Nostalgia,” Sancrucensis, April 29, 2014: https://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/the-politics-of-nostalgia (accessed November 8, 2016), and “The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good,” The Josias, February 3, 2015: https://thejosias.com/2015/02/03/the-good-the-highest-good-and-the-common-good (accessed November 8, 2016).

[21] See: Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Diuturnum illud (Rome, June 29, 1881), English translation: https://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_29061881_diuturnum.html (accessed November 8, 2016), ¶7.

[22] «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 defense, 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 has spread, without opposition, to all parts of the State.» (Libertas, ¶¶45-46).

[23] That was famously the interpretation given by Heinrich Heine, who saw the parallels with modern philosophy in the shape of G.W.F. Hegel: «there are indeed many […] beautiful and noteworthy narratives in the Bible […] as, for example, just at the beginning, there is the story of the forbidden tree in Paradise and of the serpent, that little adjunct professor who lectured on Hegelian philosophy six thousand years before Hegel’s birth. This blue-stocking without feet demonstrated very ingeniously how the absolute consists in the identity of being and knowing, how man becomes God through cognition, or, what is the same thing, how the God in man thereby attains self-consciousness. This formula is not so clear as the original words: When ye eat of the tree of knowledge ye shall be as God!» (Heinrich Heine, Religion and Philosophy in Germany, trans. John Snodgrass (London: Trübner and Co., 1882), p. 13 (I have slightly modified the translation).

[24] «Aversion from God has the nature of an end, inasmuch as it is sought for under the appearance of freedom, according to Jer. 2:20: “Of old you have broken my yoke, you hast burst my bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’”» Summa theologiae, IIIa q8 a7 c.

[25] Brann, Un-Willing, p. 14.

[26] See: Dominic Whitehead, O.F.M., The Pre-eminence of the Will in the Philosophical Anthropology of Petrus Iohannis Olivi (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Vienna, forthcoming).

[27] See: Brann, Unwilling, pp. 60-64.

[28] See: Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Sources of Christian Ethics, trans. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995), chs. 10, 14.

[29] Quoted in: Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, p. 331.

[30] See the chapter on Descartes in my forthcoming dissertation. A draft of the Descartes chapter is available online: https://www.academia.edu/13118432/Symbolic_Calculation_and_the_Scientific_Revolution.

[31] René Descartes, Letter to Christina Queen of Sweden, 10 November, 1647, in: The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham et al., 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985-1991), vol. 3, p. 326. Cf. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press, 1989), p. 147.

[32] Similar accounts had already been given by “liberal” thinkers as diverse as John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

[33] Immanuel Kant, “The Principles of Political Right Considered in Connection with the Relation of Theory to Practice in the Right of the State,” in: Kant’s Principles of Politics, Including his Essay on Perpetual Peace, ed. and trans. William Hastie (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1891), p. 36.

[34] Kant, “The Principles of Political Right,” p. 36.

[35] Planned Parenthood v. Casey, United States Supreme Court, 1992: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/505/833.html (accessed November 11, 2016).

[36] Kant, “The Principles of Political Right,” pp. 42-43.

[37] See: Waldstein, “The Politics of Nostalgia.”

[38] Cf. Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in: idem, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 118-172.

[39] See: Taylor, Sources of the Self, ch. 21.

[40] Cf. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).

[41] Heinz Theisen, “Coexistence and Cooperation of Civilizations,” ViQo Circle: https://viqocircle.org/2016/11/09/theisen-on-coexistence-and-cooperation-of-civilizations/ (accessed November 11, 2016).

[42] David Foster Wallace, “Kenyon Commencement Speech,” in: Dave Eggers (ed.), The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pp. 355-364, at p. 362.

[43] David L. Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 33-34.

Integralism and Gelasian Dyarchy

(Note: I have revised the central section of this essay since its original posting in the light of constructive criticism.[1] A printable version can be found here).

1. Introduction: Three Theories

Political philosophy or politics, according to Aristotle, has an architectonic role in the practical order because it is concerned with the highest good.[2] All other practical sciences and arts are ordered to it, because their goals are sought for the sake of the goal of politics, but the goal of politics is sought only for its own sake. Politics is concerned with the final end, and hence it is the final judge of good and bad, of what is to be sought and of what is to be shunned. It is politics that judges something to be good without qualification, and not only in some respect.[3]

Aristotle sees this as following from the very notion of the good as a final cause. In order to desire anything at all, one must see it as tending toward one’s end, one’s perfection. Most goods are desired for the sake of something else; food, for example, is desired for the sake of preserving life, and the preservation of life is desired for the sake of other activities such as festivity and philosophy. But such a chain of ends cannot go on forever. There must be some final end that is desired for its own sake. If there were no such final end nothing could be desired at all; human desire would make no sense. Nor can there be more than one final end, since in that case there would be no rational way of choosing between different goods—the human will would be radically split and turned against itself.[4]

And this final end, which Aristotle calls eudaimonia (blessedness), is not only the goal of man merely considered as an individual, but even more his goal as a part of political society: “For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete.”[5] That is to say, the final end of man is a common good, a good that is shared in by all without being divided or diminished.[6] And Aristotle sees this common good as being the good of the city-state, which he thinks of as a “perfect society” (to borrow a later term): a society whose end is man’s complete good, and which includes all other societies (such as the family, the village, and voluntary associations) as its parts. Thus politics has the role of ordering and integrating all of human life, both individual and corporate, by guiding it toward its final goal. Politics is not a violent imposition of power, but a legitimate and binding authority that aids human persons in the achievement of their true end.[7]

Aristotle’s marvelously simple account of politics and the good seems to be challenged, or at least complicated, by Christianity. “Duo… sunt:” there are two powers by which the world is chiefly ruled, Pope St. Gelasius wrote in his classic letter to the Emperor Anastasius, which was to be endlessly cited and interpreted by subsequent popes:

There are two, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority (auctoritas sacrata) of the priests and the royal power (regalis potestas). Of these, that of the priests is weightier, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment. You are also aware, most clement son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in divine matters you bend your neck devotedly to the bishops and await from them the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly sacraments you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these things you depend on their judgment rather than wish to bend them to your will. If the ministers of religion, recognizing the supremacy granted you from heaven in matters affecting the public order, obey your laws, lest otherwise they might obstruct the course of secular affairs by irrelevant considerations, with what readiness should you not yield them obedience to whom is assigned the dispensing of the sacred mysteries of religion?[8]

The so-called “Gelasian dyarchy” of pontifical authority and imperial power, of spiritual and temporal power, was deeply rooted in Scripture and tradition.[9] From the beginning Christianity did not deny the legitimacy of the existing political order, it recognized therein an authority founded in God’s creation and granted by His providence. But like any part of creation it saw the political as wounded by sin and in need of healing in the present, and in the eschatological future of elevation, fulfillment, and transcendence by a higher form of communal life. The order of creation was seen as a good, but temporary and preliminary order—a sign of a yet better order to come. The Lord’s famous dictum according to which one must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but unto God the things that are God’s (Mt 22:21) did not at all conform to expectations about the Messiah. The Messiah was expected to end Roman rule and re-establish the rule of God. But our Lord does not immediately destroy the existing order; instead He plants the Kingdom of God as a seed that is to grow in the midst of that existing order. Only at His triumphant return at the end of time will He replace earthly powers with the New Jerusalem.

There are many different ways of understanding the Gelasian dyarchy. I will discuss only three of them: Augustinian radicalism, integralism, and Whig Thomism. My main focus will be on what I term integralism, which I will argue is the only adequate understanding of Gelasian dyarchy. Integralism reads Gelasius in the light of the unfolding of his teaching in the magisterium of the popes of the High Middle Ages—from St. Gregory VII to Boniface VIII— and in the light of the opposition to modern liberalism in the popes of the 19th and 20th centuries. Integralism sees the two distinct powers as being harmonized by the explicit subordination of the temporal to the spiritual.

Integralism has fallen out of fashion since the teaching Church ostensibly abandoned it at Vatican II, and opinion is now divided among various alternative positions. I shall argue, however, that Vatican II did not and could not abandon the essence of integralism. Nevertheless, I shall unfold chiefly by considering two of the many alternate understandings of dyarchy. The two that I consider are not necessarily the most important, but I consider them because they formulate clarifying objections to integralism, and because they contain important insights that have to be integrated into integralism.

What (for lack of a better term) I call Augustinian radicalism comes close to abandoning the idea of dyarchy altogether. It takes a highly pessimistic view of earthly power, which it associates with Augustine’s city of man, it emphasizes the temporal, passing nature of such power, and sees a quasi-inevitable conflict between it and the Church. The Church on this account should reject the coercive means used by earthly power, and by already living in an anticipatory fashion the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, serve as a sign of contradiction to the powers that are passing away. This position comes in many forms and degrees. The writers of whom I am thinking in particular are Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Baxter, C.S.C, John Milbank, and William T. Cavanaugh as well as Dorothy Day, whose practical example serves as an inspiration to many of the others.

Whig Thomism on the other hand, takes a much more positive view of temporal power. The Whig Thomists emphasize the distinction between the two powers. Welcoming a certain form of the separation of Church and state, they reject any juridical subordination of the state to the Church, and hold that the influence of the Church on the state should come only through the Church’s influence on the consciences of individual citizens. By far the most eloquent and insightful expositor of Whig Thomism was John Courtney Murray, S.J.

The question of the relation of spiritual to temporal power is intimately connected to the question of the relation nature and grace. Christianity is able to distinguish between the two powers, because it is a religion of grace, which does not destroy the order of nature, but presupposes, elevates, and perfects it. I shall argue that Augustinian radicalism tends to exaggerate towards a monism of grace, in which the natural loses all standing. Whig Thomism, on the other hand, tends to exaggerate the distinction, not sufficiently understanding that nature is for the sake of grace. Only integralism fits well with a fully satisfactory account of the elevation and perfection of natural teleology in grace.

The question of dyarchy is not, however, reducible to the problem of nature and grace. Insofar the relation of the two powers is a political question, it depends on an account of the common good. Augustinian radicalism’s theology of grace leads to an inability to see the transcendence of the natural common good of political life, and thus to a misunderstanding of what it means for political authority to be derived from God. Hence its excessively negative judgment on all coercive power, a judgment that is ultimately irreconcilable with magisterial teaching on political authority. Whig Thomism adopts a “personalist” account of the good, reducing the common good to a mere instrumental/useful good, and adopting a liberal misunderstanding of the role of political authority. This misunderstanding is at the root of the Whig Thomists’ erroneous notion that the indirect influence of the Church on the temporal order through the consciences of individual citizens is enough to fulfill the demands of the Social Kingship of Christ.

2. Augustinian Radicalism

2.1 The Two Cities

The establishment by Christianity of an authority distinct from earthly power without the immediate destruction of earthly power can be seen as necessarily causing a violent conflict.[10] I have called the position that tends in that direction “Augustinian radicalism.” The term “radicalism” is meant to suggest that it sees Christianity as challenging the roots of earthly power, and as having revolutionary social implications. “Radicalism” is also meant to suggest affinities with certain “radical” secular political movements such as anarcho-syndicalism, with which Augustinian radicalism often shares an approach to concrete social problems, but Augustinian radicalism is itself thoroughly anti-secular.

A figure often held up as an example by Augustinian radicals is the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day. Michael Baxter, C.S.C., describes Day’s movement as follows:

The ethos of the Catholic Worker may be summed up as a commitment to embodying the lesson in the parable of the last judgment. In that parable, the Son of man is identified as a king and the virtuous enter eternal life by putting into practice the works enumerated by the king: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and caring for prisoners. Thus, performing these practices is what it means to live under the Kingship of Christ. […] Thus the concrete embodiment of this christologically-formed politics has ranged widely over the years: fighting for housing rights for the poor; supporting labor, such as striking sailors and farm workers; setting up work camps for conscientious objectors during World War II; protesting against nuclear weapons; organizing resistance to the draft and the Vietnam War; harboring Central American refugees; and so on. […] [T]he Catholic Worker takes Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno in a distributist or decentralist direction, which results in a “localist politics” that provides an alternative to the depersonalizing bureaucracy of the modern liberal nation-state.[11]

Dorothy Day was deeply mistrustful of the nation-state. She often quoted St. Hilary as saying “the less you have of Caesar’s the less you have to give him.”[12] That is, she wanted to accept as little as possible from the state so as not to be in a relation of dependence on it. If one accepts coins from Caesar, one must render taxes to Caesar, but if one makes no use of money, then one is not bound to pay taxes. Day wanted to begin living another kind of society within the “shell” of the old society: a new kind of cooperative society that would live entirely without coercion, applying the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount as literally as possible. The hope was that this new society would slowly begin to replace the old, violent, coercive, acquisitive society. As she put it:

But, and I cannot stress this enough, we must never forget our objective, which is to build that kind of society “where it is easier for people to be good.” […] We must keep in mind the fact that we are active pacifists and anarchists. Or peacemaker personalists. Or libertarians, pluralists, decentralists – whatever you want to call it. It certainly needs to be presented in many lights, this teaching of revolution, non-violent social change. We begin now within the shell of the old to rebuild society.[13]

The new society that is growing within the old is a sort of anticipation of the eternal city; the old is passing away. It is not clear to whether the old society will pass away entirely before the Second Coming. Fr. Baxter and the Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas, in a notable paper that the co-authored, write that the old society will to some extent endure till the ἔσχατον, and that therefore the tension between the societies will societies will remain. Significantly, Baxter and Hauerwas identify the new society with the Church herself, which they describe as a form of political life. Therefore, they can describe the enduring tension as a tension between Church and state:

Christians are called first and foremost not to resolve the tension between church and state, but to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ in their lives, which means leaving church–state relations profoundly unresolved, until the day when He comes again in glory.[14]

I have called Augustinian radicalism “Augustinian” because its proponents often use St. Augustine’s City of God to describe the relation between the old and the new. The “shell of the old society” is identified with the city of man, while the new society that is being built by the practice of the Gospel is identified with the City of God. Thus the Anglican Augustinian radical John Milbank writes:

In Augustine, there is, disconcertingly, nothing recognizable as a ‘theory of Church and State’, no delineation of their respective natural spheres of operation. The civitas terrena is not regarded by him as a ‘state’ in the modern sense of a sphere of sovereignty, preoccupied with the business of government. Instead this civitas, as Augustine finds it in the present, is the vestigial remains of an entire pagan mode of practice, stretching back to Babylon. There is no set of positive objectives that are its own peculiar business, and the city of God makes a usus of exactly the same range of finite goods, although for different ends[.][15]

It is hard to see how such a reading that identifies earthly power as such with the civitas terrena, and thus sets up an inevitably antagonistic relation between the Church and earthly power is reconcilable with the Gelasian duo sunt. Of course, as an Anglican, Milbank need not scruple at rejecting the Gelasian teaching. Catholic Augustinian radicals, however, ought to do so. Surprisingly, however, Catholic theologian William T. Cavanaugh seems to argue that there is an opposition between the Augustinian and Gelasian positions, and that the Augustinian position is the correct one:

The problem can be seen in considering the difference between Augustine’s “Two cities have been formed by two loves” and Pope Gelasius I’s famous and influential dictum “Two there are…by which this world is ruled.” For Augustine church and coercive government represent two cities, two distinct societies which represent two distinct moments of salvation history. There is not one society in which there is a division of labour. In Gelasius’ words half a century later, there is one city with two rulers, “the consecrated authority of priests and the royal power.” The eschatological reference is not absent; for Gelasius, the distribution of power between priest and king is a sign that Christ’s coming has put a check on human pride. Nevertheless, the element of time has been flattened out into space. The one city is now divided into “spheres,” and, as Gelasius says, “each sphere has a specially qualified and trained profession.”[16]

There is an important element of truth in what Cavanaugh is saying, as well as a subtle misreading of Gelasius (to both of which I will return), but first it is important to note his identification of “coercive government” with the city of man.

Although there are many differences between different proponents of Augustinian radicalism, they all share a profoundly negative view of coercion. Stanley Hauerwas is of course a pacifist. Following the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, he claims that Christian theological justifications of coercive power are all betrayals of the Gospel aimed at making Christianity acceptable to rulers.[17] John Milbank’s view is more subtle. He notes that St. Augustine sees coercion as an effect of the fall, but that St. Augustine also teaches that the City of God makes “use” of the peace established by earthly coercion, ordering that superficial peace to the peace of the Heavenly City, and that she can even make a “pastoral” use of coercion herself.[18] But Milbank sees this position as the “most problematic” element of Augustine’s social thought.[19] Milbank argues that given Augustine’s own principles even a “pastoral” use of coercion cannot escape the taint of sin:

The revolutionary aspect of [Augustine’s] social thought was to deny any ontological purchase to dominium, or power for its own sake: absolute imperium, absolute property rights, market exchange purely for profit, are all seen by him a sinful and violent, which means as privations of Being. But his account of a legitimate, non-sinful, ‘pedagogic’ coercion partially violates this ontology, insofar as it makes some punishment positive, and ascribes it to the action of divine will. This is inconsistent, because in any act of coercion, however mild and benignly motivated, there is still present a moment of ‘pure’ violence, externally and arbitrarily related to the end one has in mind, just as the school-master’s beating with canes has no intrinsic connection with the lesson he seeks to teach. […] Because punishment must, by definition, inflict some harm, however temporary, it has an inherently negative, privative relationship to Being, and cannot therefore, by Augustine’s own lights, escape the taint of sin.[20]

The position that we see emerging from the Augustinian radicals is of an insoluble conflict between the City of God and any coercive earthly authority. All earthly powers belong to a tragic drama of sin that is passing away. The role of the City of God is to enact on the same stage a comic drama, through a practice of entirely non-coercive social life generously giving without expectation of repayment, and suffering evil without murmur or retaliation. In an evocative and amusing comparison, Cavanaugh compares the city of man to Ariadne in Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos, and the city of God to Zerbinetta, disrupting Ariadne’s opera seria with an improvised opera buffa.[21]

2.2 An Integralist Critique of Augustinian Radicalism

There is much truth in Augustinian radicalism. It is quite right to emphasize that there is no third city between the City of God and the city of man.[22] I can even agree with Milbank’s words: “insofar as imperium lies outside ecclesia, it is an essentially tragic reality.”[23] Augustinian radicalism is right to resist an exaggerated distinction between nature and grace (as the discussion of Whig Thomism below will demonstrate). Its own account of the relation of nature and grace, however, goes too far in the opposite direction. In following Henri de Lubac’s teaching on natural desire for the supernatural, Augustinian radicals tend to evacuate the theonomic structure of natural teleology.[24] Grace elevates and perfects nature, but does not replace it. Divine charity does not invalidate the demands of natural justice. The supernatural end of the City of God is indeed the absolutely final end to which all other ends must be in some way subordinate; but it does not do-away with a common good of temporal life that is final in its own order. And crucially, it does not do away with the coercive methods of natural political authority, even while it subordinates them (in some sense) to a higher authority.

The coercive authority of temporal rule derives from the primacy of the common good, from the fact that the common good is more divine than any good of an individual as an individual. Human persons are not parts of a community the way that parts of a body are parts. Nevertheless, they do relate to the common good in a way similar to the way parts relate to a whole. The participate (share in a partial way) in that good, as a good which is for them better than any private good of their own. The common good is really the good of the citizens (they are the subjects who attain to it), but it is not ordered to them as its end. Rather they are ordered to it as their end. Created perfection is a participation in the perfection of God, who is the most universal common good. That is, a creature’s own good is found more in God than in itself, and all creatures by nature (not only by grace) tend more toward God than toward themselves. But God is not the only common good. In the order of nature, God’s perfection is participated in most fully by the universe as a whole. Thus the order of the universe is for any creature a better good than its own private good, a better good for which it can give up any private good. And, again in the natural order, the highest created common good attainable by human action is the common good of a perfect human society, which is a microcosm of the common good of the universe, and a higher good than any good belonging to individual men as individuals.[25] Thus Hauerwas is completely wrong to suppose that the Catholic tradition’s acceptance of political uses of coercion (including capital punishment) is a watering down of Christian ethics to make them acceptable to rulers. Rather that tradition is a recognition of the fact that even the temporal common good transcends all individual goods. The use of the sword by temporal rulers is therefore not violence done by one individual against another, but rather the exercise of an authority granted by God (cf. Rom 13) through the common good, which is “more divine” than any private good. Similarly, Milbank is wrong to suggest that any punishment must be sinful, since its violence is only extrinsically related to the good to which it is trying to lead the sinner. In view of the common good, the authoritative use of the sword is really like a surgeon cutting the body for the sake of health—the violence, though a physical evil, is a moral good because it is intrinsically demanded by justice.

Cavanaugh writes: “the Church is not a merely particular association, but participates in the life of the triune God, who is the only good that can be common to all.”[26] This amounts to saying that God as directly attained to by grace (“life of the triune God”) is the only common good. This is an unacceptable monism of grace, totally un-reconcilable with the Catholic tradition (as re-iterated for instance in Gaudium et Spes[27]). Nevertheless, Cavanaugh’s position has a certain plausibility derived from his critique of the modern, liberal state, which he argues is not really ordered to any common good, and does not see itself as so ordered.[28] Cavanaugh’s portrait of the modern, liberal nation state is highly persuasive, and it raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the political authority exercised by such states. Questions similar to those raised by Augustine in his critique of the Roman Empire as being ordered to a false illusion of justice. To the extent that political authorities do not subordinate the temporal common good to the eternal common good they almost inevitably are sucked into the sinful dynamic of the city of man. All of earthly reality must be subjected to the Kingship of Christ.

But how does such subordination take place? Not by replacing natural coercive power with a Christian anarcho-syndicalism, but rather with a (moderate version) of what Henri-Xavier Arquillière controversially called “political Augustinianism.”[29] Political Augustinianism differs from Augustinian radicalism in that it recognizes the legitimacy of coercive political power, but sees the need of integrating that power into the Church. Political authority thus integrated is not a separate city opposed to the City of God, but rather a particular order within that city, one in which the laity rather than the clergy exercise authority, an authority that they receive through the natural law and the temporal common good (at least on the moderate interpretation of the theory[30]), but which they must exercise to serve the eternal common good that is under the authority of the clergy. But that, simply put, is integralism. And it is the interpretation that the Church has always given to the dyarchy of powers.

3. The Integralist Reading of Gelasian Dyarchy

Catholic integralism (not to be confused with secular movements such as integral nationalism) was a name first applied in the 19th and early 20th centuries to Catholics who defended the anti-liberal and anti-modernist teachings of the popes.[31] Particularly integralism came to be associated with a defense of pontifical teachings against the separation of Church and state, and the claim that Social Kingship of Christ demands an explicit subordination of all areas of human social and political life to God through His Church.[32] But the roots of the Catholic Social teaching that integralism defends reach much further back than the anti-liberal teachings of the 19th century popes. They reach back to the counter-reformation political theology to which those popes appealed, and even further to the development of Gelasian dyarchy in the teaching of the medieval popes.

In his classic study of the relation of lay and clerical power in the Middle Ages, Walter Ullmann argues that the medieval papacy’s claims to authority show “a unity of themes and a consistency of principles” that were detectable even in late antiquity, before the name “pope” began to be used.[33] And the most fundamental theme of these claims was the theme of the Church.[34] The Church was understood not as a purely invisible, spiritual community, but as a visible society:

The Church designates the corporate union of all believers in Christ, as it was so manifestly made clear in Pauline doctrine. But this doctrine also makes it clear that this body, the unum corpus, is not merely a pneumatic or sacramental or spiritual body, but also an organic, concrete and earthy society. This dual nature of the corpus Christi is of fundamental importance: the element, however, which brings this concrete body into existence, which makes the union a corporate entity, is the spiritual element of the Christian faith: this element alone gives this body its complexion. As a body the corpus Christi is in need of direction and orientation: although the many constitute this unum corpus, not all have the same functions within it. There are gradations of functions within this body[.][35]

Given this account of the visible Church, Papal authority had political arguments, and Ullmann shows the arguments for Papal authority can be understood as political arguments along the following lines:

In the realm of government the teleological principle upon which any society must needs rest, operates through the principle of functional qualification. For society and its government are two complementary concepts. The latter directs the former in accordance with its underlying purpose or aim, its “finis” or “telos,” Only those who are qualified, claim to be entitled to govern; and the qualification depends upon the nature and purpose of society. The function of rulership presupposes the fulfilment of certain qualifications. He who is qualified to translate the purpose for which society exists, into concrete terms and measures, acts in the capacity of a ruler: he functions as a ruler, because he is appropriately qualified. This principle of functional qualification is operative in any society. The form of rulership or government, whether monarchic or oligarchic or aristocratic and so forth, may vary, but this does not affect the general principle.[36]

Membership in the Church was conferred by baptism, but membership did not of itself grant the necessary qualification for governing the Church:

Another element, namely ordination, was needed to secure, according to Papal views, the right to direct the Church. The distinction between ordained and unordained members of the Church, between clerics and laymen, was the distinction which was not only to give medieval society its peculiar imprint, but also to make the problems of this society, that is, of Latin Christendom, accessible to understanding. The distinction—not between Church and State, but between clergy and laity as parts of one and the same unit—is a thread that runs throughout the medieval period.[37]

The one qualified to rule the whole Church on earth was the bishop of Rome, as was already clearly expressed by Leo the Great:

When Pope Leo I spoke of himself as functioning on behalf of St Peter—“cuius vice fungimur”—he succinctly expressed the principle of functional qualification in monarchic form. By virtue of succeeding to the chair of St Peter, Leo claimed that he alone was functionally qualified to rule the universal Church, that is, to rule it on the monarchic principle. This designation by Leo of the Pope as “Vicar of St Peter” was new; the idea which it embodied was not. The formula chosen by Leo was the dress in which the idea of the principatus of the Roman Church was clothed. The idea embodied in the term principatus belongs to the realm of government. And government concerned the direction and orientation of the body of Christians, that is, of the universal Church.[38]

The conception of the Church that Ullmann lays out here seems to be monarchical rather than dyarchical; it seems to be a Christian, universalist version of the Aristotelian theory of the polis. And yet, Ullmann sees the basic lines of this theory as being already taught by St. Gelasius in the very locus classicus of dyarchy:

Since the Pope alone has the principatus over the Christian body, the emperor, according to Gelasius, must be directed by the sacerdotium. The secular power has not only no right to issue decrees fixing the faith, since the emperor is no bishop, but he also must carry out his government according to the directions given to him by the priesthood. […] Again, considering the nature and character of [the] Christian corpus, Gelasius’s claim that the priesthood must direct royal power, is self-evident[…] Consequently, in this Christian world, in the “mundus,” the secular power has a mere “potestas,” whilst the principatus of the pope expresses itself in the Pontifical auctoritas. And this auctoritas being divinely conferred for the purpose of governing the Christian body corporate, is logically enough sacrata, whilst the emperor’s power is a simple “regalis potestas”. This is a thoroughly juristic terminology employed by Gelasius. Auctoritas is the faculty of shaping things creatively and in a binding manner, whilst potestas is the power to execute what the auctoritas has laid down. The Roman senate had auctoritas, the Roman magistrate had potestas. […] Whilst, however, this fundamental difference between the pontifical auctoritas and the imperial potestas was clear to anyone versed in Roman juristic terminology and ideology, Gelasius superimposed a typical Christian argument upon it: in a Roman-Christian world, the sacred Pontifical auctoritas is all the greater, as it has to render an account even for the doings of the kings themselves on the Day of Judgment. […] And since rulership comes from God […] God’s priests are particularly concerned with the emperor’s exercise of the (divinely conferred) rulership: and since in a Christian society, of which the emperor through baptism is a member, every human action has a definite purpose and in so far has an essential religious ingredient, the emperors should submit their governmental actions to the ecclesiastical superiors and should not order the latter about, since they alone know what is, and what is not, divine and therefore Christian: they alone have auctoritas within a Christian body corporate.[39]

Ullmann’s reading of the auctoritas – potestas distinction has been criticized from an historical-critical perspective, with critics arguing that he anachronistically reads Gelasius in the light of the popes of the High Middle Ages.[40] I think that Ullmann makes a fairly strong case for his reading even on historical-critical grounds. But, in any case, a theological reading of a magisterial text has to go beyond mere historical criticism and interpret the teaching in the light of other Church teachings.

In his interpretation of another important Gelasian text, Tractate IV, Ullmann gives a reading of the task of the imperial power that makes it seem similar to the to the task given to the deacons in Acts 6:[41]

According to Gelasius, Christian emperorship originates in Christ Himself. Christ was the last Rex et Pontifex, the last Melchisedek, and by “a marvellous dispensation” He had discerned between the functions of the royal and of the sacerdotal power. Since the time of Christ no emperor had arrogated to himself the title of a Pontiff and no pontiff had claimed the height of royal power, although the pontiffs were actually, through Christ’s generosity and in a very special sense, both royal and priestly. But Christ, “mindful of human fragility” had discerned between the functions of each power: “discrevit officia potestatis utriusque.” His reason for so doing was two fold. On the one hand, it is written that no one warring for God should be entangled with secular things. The raison d’être of the royal power was to relieve the clerics of the burden of having to care for their carnal and material wants. For the temporal necessities the pontiffs indeed need the emperors, so that they can devote themselves to their functions properly and are not distracted by the pursuit of these carnal matters, but the emperors, Christian as they are, need the pontiffs for the achievement of eternal salvation. On the other hand, Gelasius introduces the very important and fruitful principle of functional order operating within society. To each part of an organic whole is assigned a special function and each member should adhere to the scope of functions allotted to him: then there will be order, or as Gelasius put it, human haughtiness—humana superbia—will be prevented from coming into its own again. This principle of functional order is a principle which is necessitated by the manifold functions which a body has to perform in order to be an integrated whole: it is a principle which will play a major part in the fully developed hierocratic ideology.[42]

An important point that emerges from Tractate IV is that the functional dyarchy of powers arises from “human pride,” that is from sin. Without the effects of sin, temporal matters would not be a distraction from sacred matters, and there would be no need to distinguish them. Because, however, we live in a fallen world, it is necessary for the spiritual power to be freed of care for earthly matters. This “diaconal” or “ministerial” understanding of the temporal power was to be taught very explicitly by Gregory the Great. In a letter to the Byzantine Emperor Maurice, Gregory writes: “Power over all people has been conceded from on high to the one who governs, such that the earthly kingdom would be a service which subordinates itself to the heavenly kingdom.”[43] Gregory was certainly influenced by Augustine in this (Cf. eg. Civ. Dei V,24 and XIX,17), and, like Augustine, he sees the necessity of temporal power particularly for curbing sin. As Arquillière puts it:

[Gregory the Great] speaks of the pontiff who, with the help of princes, is concentrated on the restriction of the reign of sin and the promotion of the action of grace. The mission of the religious king had, by its very nature, become paramount in a Christianized society. It captures, from the beginning, the confusion of powers which would mark the Middle Ages, the essentially spiritual character of pontifical intervention. […] [By] inculcating the duty of kings with the discipline of the Church, Gregory opened an unlimited opening for the interventions of the Holy See.[44]

Arquillière’s reference to “confusion of powers” points to his main thesis: that the political Augustinianism of the medieval popes absorbed the temporal order too much into the spiritual order, thus destroying the legitimate autonomy of earthly authority. Douglas Kries, commenting on Arquillière’s thesis, claims that Augustine’s “obfuscation of the boundary between the natural and the supernatural” did provide the premises for the strictly monarchical view of spiritual power developed by consistent medieval hierocrats.[45] This is very similar to my critique of Augustinian radicalism above. But the tradition political theory of the medieval popes is not quite so simplistic.

In Ullmann’s portrayal, the medieval papal theory seems monarchical, not dyarchical. There is one body of Christians ordered to the end of eternal life. The ruler of this body is the pope. Temporal rulers are ministers of the pope with care of mundane matters. And yet the dyarchical element, derived from Gelasius, was always preserved: on account of human pride, God has established two powers. At times, the medieval popes seem to deny the Gelasian teaching by saying that the temporal power is derived not immediately from God, but rather mediately through the spiritual power. A careful reading, however, shows that this is not the case. The temporal power is derived from God, however, it can only have legitimacy if it submits itself to the spiritual power, which has care of the final end. That is, the temporal power inevitably serves the city of man if it is detached the spiritual power, but if it is subordinates itself to the spiritual power it can play a helpful role in the city of God.

Innocent III in one text compares spiritual and temporal power to the sun and moon:

Just as God, founder of the universe, has constituted two large luminaries in the firmament of Heaven, a major one to dominate the day and a minor one to dominate the night, so he has established in the firmament of the Universal Church, which is signified by the name of Heaven, two great dignities, a major one to preside—so to speak—over the days of the souls, and a minor one to preside over the nights of the bodies. They are the Pontifical authority and the royal power. Thus, as the moon receives its light from the sun and for this very reason is minor both in quantity and in quality, in its size and in its effect, so the royal power derives from the Pontifical authority the splendour of its dignity, the more of which is inherent in it, the less is the light with which it is adorned, whereas the more it is distant from its reach, the more it benefits in splendour.[46]

At first sight this text would seem to be in tension with the Gelasian dyarchy; if the temporal power “derives from the Pontifical authority” than how will the “human pride” of pontiffs be curbed? But at second glance one sees that the tension is indeed maintained. It is indeed God who has “constituted two large luminaries.” And therefore Innocent, in another text, teaches that the spiritual power only intervenes in earthly affairs “ratione peccati,” by reason of sin. Thus he writes:

No one, therefore, may suppose that we intend to disturb or diminish the jurisdiction or power of the illustrious king of the French just as he himself does not want to and should not impede our jurisdiction and power; as we are insufficient to discharge all our jurisdiction, why should we wish to usurp that of someone else? […] For we do not intend to render justice in feudal matters, in which the jurisdiction belongs to him, unless something may be detracted from the common law by some special privilege or contrary custom, but we want to decide in the matter of sins, of which the censure undoubtedly pertains to us and we can and must exercise it against any one. In this, indeed, we do not lean on human constitutions, but much more on Divine law, because our power is not from man but from God: any one who has a sound mind knows that it belongs to our office to draw away any Christian from any mortal sin and, if he despises the correction, to coerce him with ecclesiastical penalties.[47]

Similarly, Pope Boniface VIII, in a speech to French ambassadors, defended himself against the accusation of contradicting the Gelasian teaching, he said:

We have been learned in the law for forty years, and we know very well that the powers established by God are two. How should or can anyone suppose that anything so foolish or stupid [as the contrary] is or has been in our head? We declare that we do not wish to usurp the jurisdiction of the king in any way… But the king cannot deny that he is subject to us ratione peccati … Our predecessors deposed three kings of France… And although we are not worthy to walk in the footsteps of our predecessors, if the king committed the same crimes as those kings committed, or greater ones, we should, with great grief and sadness, dismiss him like a servant.[48]

One could read Boniface as merely paying lip service to the dyarchy, while interpreting the power ratione peccati so broadly as to effectively make the pope a universal monarch. But this is not how the Catholic tradition developed the teachings of Boniface and his predecessors.

The key to understanding the dyarchy comes from the elaboration of the hierarchy of ends in scholastic theology. An important point is the distinction between two different kinds of happiness to which man can attain, one in the natural order, and one in the supernatural. St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

Now man’s happiness is twofold, as was also stated above. One is proportionate to human nature, a happiness, to wit, which man can obtain by means of his natural principles. The other is a happiness surpassing man’s nature, and which man can obtain by the power of God alone, by a kind of participation of the Godhead, about which it is written that by Christ we are made “partakers of the Divine nature.” And because such happiness surpasses the capacity of human nature, man’s natural principles which enable him to act well according to his capacity, do not suffice to direct man to this same happiness.[49]

Now, there is clearly an order between these two kinds of happiness. Natural happiness is ordered to supernatural happiness, as St. Thomas teaches in the De Regno:

Through virtuous living man is further ordained to a higher end, which consists in the enjoyment of God, as we have said above. Consequently, 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.[50]

If supernatural final end could be attained by the power of human natural activity, then the temporal rulers would have the care of it. But since it cannot, the final end is under the care of the spiritual power. The powers are distinct, but the lower is ordered to the superior:

Thus, in order that spiritual things might be distinguished from earthly things, the ministry of this kingdom has been entrusted not to earthly kings but to priests, and most of all to the chief priest, the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff. To him all the kings of the Christian People are to be subject as to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For those to whom pertains the care of intermediate ends should be subject to him to whom pertains the care of the ultimate end, and be directed by his rule..[51]

The temporal is, however, not entirely swallowed up in the spiritual. It does receive its authority from God (through the natural law), not from the spiritual authority. As the young Thomas taught in the Commentary on the Sentences:

There are two ways in which a higher power and a lower can be related. In one way, the lower power may be completely derived from the higher, and the whole power of the lower will then be founded upon the power of the higher; in which case we should obey the higher power before the lower simply and in all things [. . .] In this way […] is the power of the emperor related to that of the proconsul. […] In another way, a higher and lower power can be such that each arises from some supreme power which arranges them in relation to each other as it wishes. In this case, the one will not be subject to the other save in respect of those things in which it has been subjected to the other by the supreme power; and only in such things are we to obey the higher power before the lower. […] Spiritual and secular power are both derived from the Divine power, and so secular power is subject to spiritual power insofar as this is ordered by God: that is, in those things which pertain to the salvation of the soul. In such matters, then, the spiritual power is to be obeyed before the secular. But in those things which pertain to the civil good, the secular power should be obeyed before the spiritual, according to Matthew 22:21: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’[52]

On the high-medieval view that I have elaborated, therefore, both powers are within the City of God. The temporal power must be subordinate to the spiritual power, or else it will become mere violence, and yet it does not derive its authority from the spiritual power: it derives its authority from God through the natural law. Nature is not destroyed by grace, and yet nature must be subordinated to grace.

This medieval view was, however, to become partially obscured in the context of the post-Reformation “confessional state.” Baroque scholasticism tended to treat the question not as a question of two powers within the one City of God, but rather as question of the relation of two (relatively) perfect societies: the Church and the state. There was a tendency here to slightly exaggerate the distinction between nature and grace, and not to see the extent to which nature is for the sake of grace.[53]

One can see the slight exaggeration of the autonomy of the natural in later scholastic manuals. In his 20th century manual, the great neo-Thomist philosopher Henri Grenier’s argues that temporal happiness is not strictly speaking a means to the end eternal happiness, because no natural operation can be a direct means to the supernatural end:

The end of civil society, i.e., of the State, is the temporal happiness of this life. But the temporal happiness of this life is a complete good in its own order: for it is not a part of eternal happiness, nor is it of its nature a means of directly attaining eternal happiness, for there can be no natural proportion between natural good and supernatural good.[54]

Now it is true that there is no proportion between natural good and supernatural good, but the acts in which temporal happiness consists must themselves be elevated by grace to become such means.

Grenier concludes from his position that the Church is not one all-encompassing perfect society. That there are two societies, one ordered to the temporal good, one to the eternal: the Church and the polity. And that neither of these societies is absolutely speaking a perfect society:

Neither the Church nor the State [i.e. the political community], from the point of view of the moral order, may be called a perfect society, as we have already seen. For a perfect society is a society whose end is man’s complete good, and which embraces all other societies as its parts. But the Church does not embrace all other societies as its parts—civil society is not a part of the Church; and its end is not man’s complete good, but rather his highest good.[55]

Grenier does, however, hold that both Church and state are “juridically perfect,” that is, that each has everything necessary to attain its goal, and that the goal of each is supreme in its own order.[56]

Now, in one sense Grenier is right. If by “the Church” he means the hierarchy of the spiritual power, then indeed it does not embrace the temporal order as a part. But a more proper meaning of “the Church” is simply the City of God, and in this sense the Church includes both the temporal and the spiritual powers as its parts. The City of God is indeed an all-embracing community, ruled by Christ the King.

While the reasons that Grenier gives are not quite right, his practical conclusions tend to match those of the medieval popes: the temporal power is subject to the spiritual power ratione peccati. Later, however, the neo-scholastic framing of the question in terms of Church and state as juridically perfect societies, with only indirect subordination of one to the other, lent itself to erroneous interpretations. Thus Grenier’s fellow Laval School Thomist Charles de Koninck was to write:

[T]he distinction between State and Church is radical. The ends that define these societies are different; and these societies can be called perfect to the extent that they are sufficient unto themselves. […] I do not believe that it is henceforth permitted to maintain that the State can again consent to be the secular arm of a religious society. […] To be the secular arm of the Church appears to me to be contrary to the nature of the State as complete society, sovereign and autonomous.[57]

Such misunderstandings could have been avoided by a more careful reading of the teachings of Pope Leo XIII, who gave a very full account of the relation of the two powers. In Immortale Dei Pope Leo writes:

The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. ‘For the powers that are, are ordained of God.’ […] There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority.[58]

Like his medieval predecessors, Leo frames the question as a question of the relation of two powers. Each of the two powers is instituted by God, and each has a certain legitimate sphere. But the temporal power can only live properly if it is subordinated to the spiritual power, which is like its soul.

Leo XIII’s position is that such integration should have juridical form. That is, that the earthly power should explicitly and officially recognize the authority of the Church, and form its laws in accordance with Church law. But we now turn to another theory of how the primacy of the spiritual should be realized: Whig Thomism.

4. Whig Thomism

The term Whig Thomism refers to various writers who agree with Lord Acton that the first Whig was St. Thomas. That is, they try to show that there is harmony between the Whig strand of Enlightenment liberalism and the political philosophy of St Thomas.[59] Notable examples are Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Richard John Neuhaus, all of whom have been deeply influenced by Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.[60]

Unlike some of his later followers, John Courtney Murray was careful to try to avoid contradicting any element of authoritative Catholic Social Teaching. He did not, however, succeed. In an important essay, written over a decade before Vatican II, he proposed that the American model of Church-state relation escaped the condemnation since it is able to preserve the primacy of the spiritual:

What the First Amendment fundamentally declares, as the constitutional will of the American people, is the ‘lay’ character of the state, its non-competence in the field of religion, the restriction of its competence to the secular and temporal. There is here a unique historical realization of the ‘lay’ state—unique because this lay state is not laicized or laicizing, on the Continental model. This lay state does not pretend to be The Whole—an absolutely autonomous, all-embracing religio-political magnitude with its own quasi-religious content—such, for instance, as the Third Republic was in the minds of the small knot of men who shaped it. On the contrary, there is in the First Amendment a recognition of the primacy of the spiritual—a recognition that is again unique, in that it is a recognition of the primacy of the spiritual life of the human person, as a value supreme over any values incorporated in the state. There is too an implicit recognition that this region of man’s spiritual life is the source from which the state itself receives its ethical content, its moral purpose, and the higher norm that governs the operation of its political processes.[61]

For Murray, the primacy of the spiritual power is thus realized not by an official recognition of the authority of the Church, but rather by a recognition on the part of the state of the authority of the individual consciences of its citizens, who are to form the state according to the dictates of those consciences through democratic processes. Thus, according to Murray, the Catholic citizens of such a state can subordinate its end to the final end, by making sure that its laws are in accord with the law of God.

Murray argues that this amounts to a new application of the Gelasian teaching on dyarchy:

Its premise is the Christian dualist concept of man; and it recognizes that a dyarchy therefore governs the life of man and of society. However, this dyarchy has not the form that prevailed in the Middle Ages—the dualism of auctoritas sacrata pontificum and regalis potestas (with its oscillations between caesaropapism and hierocratism). Nor is it the dyarchy constituted in the so-called confessional state of post-Reformation times—the juridically established co-partnership in society of state and Church (Catholic or Protestant—the Protestant form being the ‘Church-state’ of Erastian tendency, and the Catholic form being the ‘state-Church’ with boundaries of jurisdiction laid down chiefly by concordat). The terms of the dyarchy visible in the First Amendment are not state and Church (that manner of dyarchy is constitutionally excluded by the provision against ‘establishment of religion’), but state and human person, civis idem et christianus (to adopt Leo XIII’s phrase).[62]

The reference to Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei is crucial to Murray. He puts much weight on Leo XIII’s teaching that spiritual and temporal power come into contact because they rule over the same persons. Seventeen years later he was to claim that Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae adopted a “personalist” account of society that supported his thesis:

[T]he Declaration embraces the political doctrine of Pius XII on the juridical state (as it is called in Continental idiom), that is, on government as constitutional and as limited in function—its primary function being juridical, namely, the protection and promotion of the rights of man and the facilitation of the performance of man’s native duties. The primacy of this function is based on Pius XII’s personalist conception of society—on the premise that the ‘human person is the foundation, the goal, and the bearer of the whole social process,’ including the processes of government.[63]

The main problem that I have with Murray’s position is with his understanding of the “personalist” conception of society (supposedly) taught by Vatican II and Pope Pius XII.

In a previous essay, I unfolded David Schindler’s profound critique of Murray’s teaching on religious liberty.[64] Schindler argues that the sort of separation of Church and state found in the First Amendment to the American Constitution actually involves an implicit theory of religion:

The human act in its basic structure, for purposes of the constitutional ordering of society, is understood to be silent about God (cf. “articles of peace”). But this means that, when theists go on to fill this silence with speech, they must now do so precisely by way of addition and in their capacity as private members of society.[65]

In my previous essay I discussed how Schindler shows that Murray separates nature and grace too much, taking insufficient account of the way in which nature is ordered to grace. But here I want to attend to Murray’s problematic account of the common good to which Schindler’s critique also alludes. Note Schindler’s emphasis on the private nature of the influence of the spiritual power on society through the consciences of its citizens in Murray’s account.

Murray’s “personalist” understanding of human society is “personalist” in the precise sense of that term so ably attacked by Charles de Koninck in On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists.[66] On Murray’s account the political community is ordered not to the greatest temporal good of man, but simply to “the protection and promotion of the rights of man and the facilitation of the performance of man’s native duties.”[67] But this is to fundamentally misunderstand that man’s chief temporal good is the common good of natural happiness. And since the primacy of the common good is based on the fact that even in the natural order it is greater participation in the divine good than any merely private good, it is necessary that those who have charge of the common good order it explicitly to God. As de Koninck argues:

When those in whose charge the common good lies do not order it explicitly to God, is society not corrupted at its very root? […] If, in truth, the politician must possess all the moral virtues and prudence, is this not because he is at the head and must judge and order all things towards the common good of political society, and the latter to God?[68]

This is true even on the natural level. But, according to the consistent magisterium of the popes from Gelasius I to Leo XIII, the coming of Christ means that the ordering of the temporal common good to God must be achieved by the one who has care for it submitting to the auctoritas sacrata of the Church.[69] Thus Leo XIII writes in Immortale Dei:

Men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its teaching and practice—not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion—it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will.[70]

The consistency of this teaching with Dignitatis Humanae has been amply demonstrated by Thomas Pink.[71] As a matter of policy, the Church does not currently make use of the state as an instrument for coercing her members, but this does not affect the duty of the state to recognize the true religion. As Dignitatis Humanae itself declares: “Religious freedom […] leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”[72]

In 1951, Fr. F.J. Connell criticized Murray for not leaving traditional Catholic doctrine on the duty of societies toward the true religion untouched.[73] Connell gave the usual account of Church-state relations found in neo-Scholastic manuals of the day. But Murray lashed back in an angry reply, in which he accused Connell of being a “crypto-monarchist,”[74] and argued that Connell’s position on the duties of the temporal power would only make sense in the most extremely paternalistic form of absolute monarchy:

Perhaps Fr. Connell is not a conceptualist in his political philosophy. Perhaps when he speaks of “the state” he may actually, if unwittingly, mean the unlimited monarch, the king in the tradition of the French classical monarchy, who was also “Father of the People,” possessed of the total ius politiae, and therefore the single source of law and governmental decision. […] Clearly, if the term, “the state,” really means a regimen regale in the technical sense, a monarchic state governed singly from the top down, with unlimited power centered in the hands of “the civil ruler,” the king, it might become possible to make sense out of Fr. Connell’s theory of the obligations of “the state.” The obligation to investigate the claims of the Church and to permit her to preach could be exactly located—in the king; for nothing that concerns the state lies outside his official duty, and there are no limits to his functions. […] This leads to an important conclusion. In the logic of Fr. Connell’s theories there is inherent a denial of the transcendence of the Church to political forms—the principle that occupied so central a place in the doctrine of Leo XIII.[75]

Now, I am by no means a crypto-monarchist (having always been quite open in my monarchism), but the question of monarchism is entirely irrelevant, and is raised by Murray merely to throw dust in his readers’ eyes. Nothing prevents a political community with a democratic, republican, or mixed form of government from fulfilling its obligations toward the true religion in the manner described by Connell.

The reason why it would be difficult for the United States of America to fulfill those obligations is not because they form a republic, but because (at least as Murray understands them) they have enshrined a liberal conception of political life in their constitution.[76] The American Republic (at least by Murray’s time) does not see itself as ordering itself to the common good of earthly happiness, but rather to securing the God-given rights of its citizens. And that is precisely the problem. Murray’s reference to Leo XIII’s teaching on the Church’s official indifference to different political forms is stunningly inapposite. Because Leo explicitly teaches that all such forms can be legitimate on the condition that they serve the common good. And, in fact, Leo concludes from that principle that any society must have some (whether one or many) who have charge of the common good, and order the whole society to it:

A society can neither exist nor be conceived in which there is no one to govern the wills of individuals, in such a way as to make, as it were, one will out of many, and to impel them rightly and orderly to the common good; therefore, God has willed that in a civil society there should be some to rule the multitude.[77]

The reason why Murray’s Whig Thomism fails, is that by taking an overly personalistic view of political community, he does not understand the transcendence of the temporal common good, and therefore cannot understand how that good is to be ordered to the eternal good.

5. Conclusion: A Practical Synthesis

One reason why in our day Augustinian radicalism and Whig Thomism seem more plausible to many than integralism is that the first two seem to offer much clearer guidance on what practical steps to take in our current historical situation. There is no country on earth today where an integralist program is likely to have any immediate success. But the Christian anarcho-syndicalist projects of Augustinian radicalism can be started at anytime. And nothing prevents one from making the Whig-Thomist attempt at influencing the laws of one’s country through democratic procedure. What is an integralist to do?

In part I think that an integralist will do both what Augustinian radicals do and what Whig-Thomists do, but he will do them in a way formed by integralism. In the wasteland of late-capitalist society there is certainly a great need for the sort of alternative communities advocated by Augustinian-radicals. Communities in which virtues can be fostered and common goods achieved. Integralists form such communities too. But they form them knowing that they cannot attain to the most complete common good of the natural order, the common good that can only be achieved by a societas perfecta. Moreover, they form them in a way that takes a more realistic attitude toward coercion. Integralists are often to be found in Benedictine monasteries (especially in the Congregation of Solesmes), but Benedictine monasteries include coercive punishments in their way of life—at least the sort of punishments that are possible for a voluntary community. Contrast the strict rule of Benedictine life with the following description of events in a community founded by Dorothy Day:

William Gauchat who headed the house of hospitality, furnished an apartment for single women in need, and a married couple arriving first, were sheltered there. But when Bill wanted to put a few single women into the empty bedrooms, the couple announced that they had possession and refused to allow them entrance. Our guests know that we will not call upon the police to evict them, that we are trying to follow the dear Lord’s teachings, “If anyone take your coat, let go your cloak also to him. . . .” When another family came to Maryfarm, we explained that we were trying to open a retreat house and that we did not have room for them. It was the family of one of our own willful leaders who “loved God and did as he pleased.” He did not wish to remain on a farm belonging to his father, where he was forced to work too hard. He and his wife refused to listen and unpacked their things to stay with us. First they took over the lower farmhouse. After a few conflicts due to their possessing themselves of retreat house goods (as common goods) they moved to the upper farm to join Victor. For the following year they continued their guerrilla tactics from the upper farm, coming down to make raids on the retreat house food and furnishings, explaining to retreatants that they were true Catholic Workers and that the retreat house was a perversion of the movement.[78]

Now, I mean no disrespect to Dorothy Day (who was certainly a great saint), but a well-ordered community needs authority with the power to enforce rules, and integralists recognize that fact.

And of course, integralists can participate in democratic politics, trying as much as possible to shape the laws according to the natural law. This was the whole point of Pope Leo XIII’s policy of ralliement. Critics of raillement argue that this policy leads to its practitioners being corrupted by liberalism.[79] But this can be avoided, as Leo XIII intended, by keeping hold of a thoroughly anti-liberal political philosophy, and never forgetting that the current liberal order of political life is profoundly disordered.


[1] My thanks especially to Alan Fimister, for his critique of my account of potestas indirecta. I would also like to thank James Bogle, the Rev. Hugh Barbour, O.Praem., and John Milbank for their comments.

[2] Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a-b.

[3] Cf. Nichomachean Ethics, 1152b.

[4] Cf. James Chastek, “Christ’s Pluralism,” Just Thomism (blog), April 22, 2012: https://thomism.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/christs-pluralism/ (accessed February 22, 2016): “Aristotle no doubt thought [this opinion] was logically necessary: if we lack one single court of final appeal, how will we avoid chaos and anarchy? If one person or body is not ultimately in charge, how is anyone in charge? Admitting two ‘final judges’ means that some disputes are unresolvable even in principle—unless we are so polyannic as to assume that they will never come into conflict.”

[5] Nichomachean Ethics, 1094b.

[6] Cf. Henri Grenier, “The Dignity of Politics and the End of the Polity,” in: The Josias, June 17, 2015: https://thejosias.com/2015/06/17/the-dignity-of-politics-and-the-end-of-the-polity/ (accessed February 22, 2016); Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., “The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good,” in: The Josias, February 3, 2015: https://thejosias.com/2015/02/03/the-good-the-highest-good-and-the-common-good/ (accessed February 22, 2016).

[7] Cf. Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., “The Politics of Nostalgia,” Sancrucensis (blog), April 29, 2014: https://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/the-politics-of-nostalgia/ (accessed February 22, 2016).

[8] Pope St. Gelasius I, Famuli vestrae pietatis [also known as Duo sunt], in: Andreas Thiel (ed.), Epistolae Romanorum Pontificum, Vol. 1 (Braunsberg: Eduard Peter, 1868), pp. 349-358, at p. 350-351; trans. John S. Ott: http://www.web.pdx.edu/~ott/Gelasius/ (accessed February 22, 2016).

[9] The rest of this paragraph is taken from my essay “Religious Liberty and Tradition,” Part III, in: The Josias, January 2, 2015: https://thejosias.com/2015/01/02/religious-liberty-and-tradition-iii/ (accessed February 22, 2016).

[10] The Thomist blogger James Chastek once put the problem as follows: “Admitting two “final judges” means that some disputes are unresolvable even in principle—unless we are so polyannic as to assume that they will never come into conflict. And yet this crazy pluralism is exactly what strikes Christians as necessary and reasonable since we recognize the necessity of civil society while at the same time having no religious civil code, even while we claim to make final and definitive pronouncements affecting the civil order. I have usually read Christ’s claim that he “brought not peace, but a sword” as simply another way of his restating that he is a “sign of contradiction”, but I wonder now if there is not a more radical sense to it: Christ insisted in the integrity and even autonomy of civil power and his Church, even though he knew that one need not wait long to hit upon some point upon which they disagree. […] Christ describes the world (before his return) as a “house divided”. This strikes a very ominous note, given that Christ is very clear that such a house cannot stand since it is set in fundamental contradiction with itself.” Chastek, “Christ’s Pluralism.”

[11] Michael Baxter, C.S.C., “‘Overall, the First Amendment Has Been Very Good for Christianity’ — Not!: A Response to Dyson’s Rebuke,” in: DePaul Law Review 43.2 (1994), pp.425-448, at pp.444-445.

[12] Dorothy Day, “Sanctuary,” in: The Catholic Worker, February 1969: http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/895.html (accessed February 23, 2016).

[13] Day, “Sanctuary.”

[14] Stanley Hauerwas and Michael Baxter, C.S.C., “The Kingship of Christ: Why Freedom of ‘Belief’ Is Not Enough,” in: DePaul Law Review 42.1 (1992), p.126.

[15] John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006 [1996]), p. 410.

[16] William T. Cavanaugh, “From One City to Two: Christian Reimagining of Political Space,” in: Political Theology 7.3 (2006), pp. 299-321, at p. 309.

[17] See for example: Stanley Hauerwas, “A Christian Critique of Christian America,” in: The Hauerwas Reader, ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 459-480.

[18] Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, pp. 410-411.

[19] Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, p. 411.

[20] Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, p. 426.

[21] Cavanaugh, “From One City to Two,” pp. 315-318.

[22] See: Tracey Rowland, “Augustinian and Thomist Engagements with the World,” in: American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 83.3 (2009), pp. 441-459.

[23] Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, p. 425. It is not clear whether this is actually Milbank’s own position, since he is merely trying to tease out the implications of Augustine’s position in the text cited. But in any case, my analysis has shown that this is the direction in which Augustinian radicalism tends.

[24] I have unfolded this point in more detail in the following blog-essays: “Integralism,” Sancrucensis (blog), January 16, 2014: https://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/integralism/ (accessed March 1, 2016); and “De Lubac and His Critics Make the Same Error,” Sancrucensis (blog), July 20, 2014: https://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/de-lubac-and-his-critics-make-the-same-error/ (accessed March 1, 2016).

[25] See: Waldstein, “The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good.”

[26] William T. Cavanaugh, “Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is Not the Keeper of the Common Good,” in: Modern Theology 20.2 (2004): pp. 243-274, at p. 274.

[27] “Now many of our contemporaries seem to fear that a closer bond between human activity and religion will work against the independence of men, of societies, or of the sciences. If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use, and regulated by men, then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by modern man, but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstance of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order.” GS §36.

[28] Cavanaugh, “Killing for the Telephone Company,” passim.

[29] Arquillière’s book L’augustinisme politique: Essai sur la formation des théories politiques du Moyen Âge (Paris: Vrin, 1955) argued that the hierocratic political theory of the High Middle Ages was a development out of premises found in Augustine. This notion was vigorously disputed by other writers, who argued that the hierocratic theory is totally irreconcilable with Augustine himself. See: Michael Bruno, Political Augustinianism: Modern Interpretations of Augustine’s Political Thought (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), ch. 1.

[30] The extreme version of the theory sees temporal power as being delegated by the spiritual power. I will show the problems with such a theory below.

[31] For the history of the term in a Catholic context see: Christopher van der Krogt, “Catholic Fundamentalism or Catholic Integralism?” in: To Strive and Not to Yield: Essays in Honour of Colin Brown, ed. James Veitch (Wellington: Victoria University, 1992), pp. 123-35.

[32] See: Gabriel Sanchez, “Illiberal Catholicism One Year On,” in: The Front Porch Republic, January 26, 2015: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2015/01/illiberal-catholicism-one-year/(accessed March 1, 2016); idem, “Catholic Integralism and the Social Kingship of Christ,” in: The Josias, January 23, 2015: https://thejosias.com/2015/01/23/catholic-integralism-and-the-social-kingship-of-christ/(accessed March 1, 2016). Note that “integralism” is used in by some authors in quite a different sense. John Milbank, for instance, uses “integralism” to refer to the nouvelle theologie’s integration of nature and grace, and uses the term “integrism” for what I will be calling integralism. See: Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, pp. 206-207.

[33] Walter Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages: A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1962), p. 1.

[34] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, p. 1.

[35] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, pp. 2-3.

[36] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, p. 2.

[37] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, pp. 1-2.

[38] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, p. 2.

[39] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, pp. 20-22.

[40] See, for example: Alan Cotrell, “Auctoritas and Potestas: A Reevaluation of the Correspondence of Gelasius I on Papal-Imperial Relations,” in: Medieval Studies 55 (1993), pp. 95-109.

[41] Fittingly the Holy Roman Emperor would later serve as a deacon or a subdeacon in certain liturgical celebrations. See: Marc Bloch, The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrofula in England and France, trans. J.E. Anderson (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015 [1971) p.117.

[42] Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government, pp. 24-25. The key passage of Tractate IV that Ullmann is interpreting runs as follows: “For Christ, mindful of human frailty, regulated with an excellent disposition what pertained to the salvation of his people. Thus he distinguished between the offices of both powers according to their own proper activities and separate dignities, wanting his people to be saved by healthful humility and not carried away again by human pride, so that Christian emperors would need priests for attaining eternal life, and priests would avail themselves of imperial regulations in the conduct of temporal affairs. In this fashion spiritual activity would be set apart from worldly encroachments and the ‘soldier of God’ (2 Tim 2:4) would not be involved in secular affairs, while on the other hand he who was involved in secular affairs would not seem to preside over divine matters. Thus the humility of each order would be preserved, neither being exalted by the subservience of the other, and each profession would be especially fitted for its appropriate functions.” Trans. in: Hugo Rahner, S.J., Church and State in Early Christianity, trans. Leo Donald Davis, S.J., Kindle e-book (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006 [1992]).

[43] Epist. III,65; translated in: Martin Rhonheimer, The Common Good of Constitutional Democracy: Essays in Political Philosophy and on Catholic Social Teaching, ed. William F. Murphy (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press), p. 7.

[44] Arquillière, L’augustinisme politique, p.40; citation and translation: Bruno, Political Augustinianism, p. 37.

[45] Douglas Kries, “Political Augustinianism,” in: Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fritzgerald, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), p. 657, cited in: Bruno, Political Augustinianism, p. 39.

[46] Innocent III, Sicut universitatis conditor, November 3, 1198, in: Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall (ed. and trans.), Church and State Through the Centuries: A Collection of Historic Documents with Commentaries (London: Burns and Oats, 1954), p. 73.

[47] Innocent III, Novit ille, 1204: in: Ehler and Morrall, Church and State Through the Centuries, pp. 69-70.

[48] Boniface VIII, Licet haec verba, 1302, translation in: Giles of Rome’s on Ecclesiastical Power: A Medieval Theory of World Government, ed. and trans. R.W. Dyson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), p. xv-xvi.

[49] S. Th. IaIIae Q.62, A.1, c.

[50] De Regno ad Regem Cypri, I,15.

[51] De Regno, I,15.

[52] Sent. II, Dist. 44, Q. 3, A 4; trans. in: R.W. Dyson (ed. and trans.), Aquinas: Political Writings, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 277-278. Thomas makes an exception, however, for the Pope, whom he sees as has supreme temporal as well as supreme spiritual authority: “Unless perhaps the spiritual and secular powers are conjoined, as in the pope, who holds the summit of both powers: that is, the spiritual and the secular, through the disposition of Him Who is both priest and king.” (Ibid.) But that exception is not necessarily demanded by the popes’ own teachings, as we have already seen. The pope can be seen as holding the summit of the spiritual power only, and having authority over the temporal only insofar as the temporal is subordinated to the spiritual. Even Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam, the most extensive claim of authority on the part of the pope is consistent with this view. Boniface writes: “Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.” (Translation: http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/docs/unamsanctum.htm (accessed March 6, 2016). That is, the temporal sword is in the power of the pope, but not in the sense that the pope himself wields that sword.

[53] I am grateful to Alan Fimister for correcting an earlier version of this essay with regard to this point, as well as with regard to the discussion of Grenier below.

[54] Henri Grenier, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. III, Moral Philosophy, trans. J.P.E. O’Hanley (Charlottetown: St. Dunstan’s University, 1949), p. 474.

[55] Grenier, Moral Philosophy, p. 471.

[56] Moral Philosophy, pp. 472-474.

[57] Charles de Koninck, “What is Caesar’s,” trans. David Quackenbush: https://www.scribd.com/doc/200567591/What-is-Caesar-s (accessed March 2, 2016).

[58] Leo XIII, Immortale Dei §§13-14; Cf. Thomas Pink, “Opening Adress,” Pink-Rhonheimer debate on the interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae, University of Notre Dame, November 20, 2015: https://www.academia.edu/19136187/Pink-Rhonheimer_debate_at_Notre_Dame_on_the_interpretation_of_Dignitatis_Humanae_-_opening_address (accessed March 2, 2016), pp. 2-5.

[59] See: Michael Novak, “The Return of the Catholic Whig,” in: First Things, March 1990: http://www.firstthings.com/article/1990/03/006-the-return-of-the-catholic-whig(accessed March 2, 2016).

[60] See: Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 16.

[61] John Courtney Murray, S.J., “Contemporary Orientations of Catholic Thought on Church and State in the Light of History,” in: Theological Studies 10 (1949): pp. 177–234, at pp. 188-189.

[62] Murray, “Contemporary Orientations,” p. 189.

[63] John Courtney Murray, S.J., “The Issue of Church and State at Vatican Council II,” in: Religious Liberty: Catholic Struggles with Pluralism, ed. J. Leon Hooper (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993): http://www.library.georgetown.edu/woodstock/murray/1966h.

[64] Waldstein, “Integralism.”

[65] David Schindler, “Religious Freedom, Truth & American Liberalism: Another Look at John Courtney Murray,” in: Communio 21.4 (1994): pp. 696-741, at p. 722.

[66] Charles de Koninck, On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists, trans. Sean Collins, in: Aquinas Review (1997), pp. 10-71: http://www.thomasaquinas.edu/pdfs/aquinas-review/1997/1997-dekoninck-common-good.pdf (accessed March 2, 2016).

[67] My account of Murray here is admittedly somewhat simplistic. A fuller account would have to show that Murray’s distinction of civil society and the state is finally incoherent, and thus cannot be the means of allowing him to escape the errors of personalism.

[68] De Koninck, On the Primacy of the Common Good, p. 69.

[69] Sadly, de Koninck does not seem to have quite understood this further point. Hence his denial of the right of the Church to use the state as a secular arm. See: De Koninck, “What is Caesar’s.”

[70] Immortale Dei, §6.

[71] See my discussion of Pink in: Waldstein, “Religious Liberty and Tradition,” part II: https://thejosias.com/2015/01/01/vatican-ii-and-religious-liberty-ii/ (accessed March 2, 2016).

[72] Dignitatis Humanae, §1.

[73] F.J. Connell, “The Theory of the ‘Lay State’,” in: The American Ecclesiastical Review 125.1 (1951), pp. 7-18.

[74] John Courtney Murray, “For the Freedom and Transcendence of the Church,” in: The American Ecclesiastical Review 126.3 (1952), pp. 28–48, at p. 43.

[75] Murray, “For the Freedom and Transcendence of the Church,” pp. 37-38.

[76] One can question whether all of the American founders would have accepted Murray’s liberal reading of the constitution. There was certainly a liberal element in the founding, but there was also an older, classical republican element with a robust account of the common good. See: Felix de St. Vincent, “‘In Dread of Modernity’: Republican Liberty and the Common Good in the American Tradition,” in: The Josias, May 18, 2015: https://thejosias.com/2015/05/18/in-dread-of-modernity-republican-liberty-and-the-common-good-in-the-american-tradition/ (accessed March 3, 2016).

[77] Diuturnum Illud, §11.

[78] Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness (San Francisco: Harper, 1997 [1952]), pp. 261-262.

[79] See: Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., “Catholic Action and Ralliement,” in: The Josias, February 13, 2016: https://thejosias.com/2016/02/13/catholic-action-and-ralliement/ (accessed March 2, 2016).

World Government is Required by Natural Law


In Laudato Si’ ¶175, Pope Francis cites Pope Benedict’s argument that the global challenges facing the contemporary world require ‘true world political authority.’ Certain soi-disant conservatives have again objected to this teaching. But, as Pope Francis himself points out, it is ‘in continuity with the social teaching of the Church.’ The perennial teaching of the Church here adopts a theme of ancient political philosophy. While classical Attic philosophy held that man was naturally political, that is, that his communal life was limited to a community of the size of the ancient Greek polis, this view was challenged very early on by the view that the commonality and universality of reason implies that there can be a single human community, an empire. Plutarch summarizes this view in the first oration On the Fortune of Alexander, in which he argues that Alexander was right to differ with his teacher Aristotle on this matter:

[Alexander] did not, as Aristotle advised him, rule the Grecians like a moderate prince and insult over the barbarians like an absolute tyrant; nor did he take particular care of the first as his friends and domestics, and scorn the latter as mere brutes and vegetables; which would have filled his empire with fugitive incendiaries and perfidious tumults. But believing himself sent from Heaven as the common moderator and arbiter of all nations, and subduing those by force whom he could not associate to himself by fair offers, he labored thus, that he might bring all regions, far and near, under the same dominion. And then, as in a festival goblet, mixing lives, manners, customs, wedlock, all together, he ordained that every one should take the whole habitable world for his country, of which his camp and army should be the chief metropolis and garrison; that his friends and kindred should be the good and virtuous, and that the vicious only should be accounted foreigners.

Plutarch’s view of empire was not yet subsidiary enough. It was left to the great Roman poet Virgil to give an image of an empire that would operate on the principle of subsidiarity, respecting the legitimate spheres of local governments and local customs, binding each place will to the universal through piety toward the local. It was this Virgilian ideal of empire that was taken up and Christianized in the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire— an ideal given masterful theoretical exposition in Dante’s De Monarchia. And it was to the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire that Catholic Social Teaching has consistently appealed.

Pope Francis is thus quite right to appeal to the continuity of Catholic Social Teaching on this point. One element of the traditional teaching that he omits to mention, however, is that such a supranational authority would have to be subordinated to the Catholic Church to avoid setting itself up as an idol. As Alan Fimister argues in his important book on Catholic Social Teaching and the European Union:

Secular utopian federalism and Catholic solidarism differ markedly, in that the former seeks the replacement of the sovereign nation state with a new sovereign federal entity whereas the latter seeks to build a supranational edifice whose final justification is supernatural upon the essentially natural foundations of enduring nation states. (Robert Schuman: Neo Scholastic Humanism and the Reunification of Europe, p. 256).

The basic point that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis make is, however, entirely sound. The following sections from Henri Grenier’s manual of Thomistic Moral Philosophy show how clearly it follows from the nature of the common good. — The Editors


  1. Statement of the question

1° International society is defined: a society which comprises all States, and directs them to their common good, i.e., to the common good of all mankind.

International society neither absorbs nor abolishes States, but leaves them their independence and autonomy in their own order.

International society, as directing all States to the common good of mankind, must possess true authority, superior to the authority of any individual States.

The subject of this authority must be determined by man, just as the organization and constitution of international society must be determined by him.

2° All who deny the specific unity of the human race conceive international society as unlawful and impossible.

Moreover, all who consider the State as the source of all rights, in doing so, deny that international society has its foundation in nature.

Again, all who conceive a perfect society as absolutely autonomous and independent hold that the State cannot be subject to the authority of an international society.

But we have already learned that a perfect society is a society which pursues a perfect good, i.e., the fulness of happiness in life.

Hence we teach that international society is founded in nature, and is directed to the good of all civil societies, i.e., of all States or nations.

  1. Statement of the thesis

Thesis: International society is founded in nature, and is directed to the good of all nations.

First part: International society is founded in nature.— International society is founded in nature if all States are naturally united by mutual moral and juridical bonds, and must tend to the common good of all mankind. But all States are naturally united by mutual moral and juridical bonds, and must tend to the common good of all mankind. Therefore.[1]

Major.— In this case, we have all the requisites of an international society: a) the pursuit of a specific common good, i.e., the common good of all mankind; b) the juridical union of all States for the pursuit of the common good of the whole human race.

Minor.a) All States are united by mutual moral and juridical bonds.— This is so because, as we have already proved, international law exists.

b) All States must tend to the common good of all mankind. Mankind, i.e., the human race, has unity of origin, unity of nature, and unity of territory or habitation, which is the whole world. Hence all men, all groups or communities of men, and all States must tend to the common good of all mankind.

Second part: International society is directed to the common good of all nations, i.e., of all States.— 1° International society leaves each State its autonomy in its own order, and directs the common good of each State to a more perfect common good, which is the common good of all nations.

2° International society fosters peace and harmony among nations, because the enforcement of international law belongs to a superior authority, just as the enforcement of laws governing the relations between individual persons is reserved to the political authority. Hence States can, without recourse to war, settle their quarrels according to the principles of justice.


[1] « A disposition, in fact, of the divinely-sanctioned natural order divides the human race into social groups, nations or States, which are mutually independent in organization and in the direction of their internal life, But for all that, the human race is bound together by reciprocal ties, moral and juridical, into a great commonwealth directed to the good of all nations and ruled by special laws which protect its unity and promote its prosperity.» (Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus, n. 65).

The Dignity of Politics and the End of the Polity

by Henri Grenier


We have published several extracts from Henri Grenier’s Manual of Thomistic moral philosophy on The Josias. We find Grenier’s manual notable for its rich understanding of the common good. Grenier’s understanding of the common good allowed him, as an early reviewer noted, to return to Aristotle’s division of practical science into ethics (or monastics), domestics (or economics), and politics, with politics given pride of place. Many other modern Thomists, affected by liberal-reductionist accounts of the common good, saw the final end of man as being a matter of individual ethics, and reduced politics to a subdivision of the special ethics. But Grenier recovered Aristotle’s insight that the end of man and of the polity are the same (Ethics I,2), that is, that the end of man is a common good. It follows from this that in the natural order politics is the preeminent moral science. The following sections are taken from the General Introduction, where Grenier defends Aristotle’s division of practical philosophy, and the preeminent role it gives to politics; and from the section on the causes of civil society, where he argues that the end of civil society is happiness. — The Editors


821. Division of Moral Philosophy

1° Moral Philosophy, as a practical science, is specified by its end, which is the principle of human acts and the formal object quo of moral science, i.e., of the science of human operations.

2° Man is a social animal, and, in the natural order, is a part, i.e., a member, of two societies: domestic society and civil or political society.

3° Society is a whole of which man is a part. Continue reading

The End of the Family and the End of Civil Society

by Charles De Koninck


In 1943 the Belgian born dean of the department of philosophy at the University of Laval in Quebec, Charles De Koninck (1906-1965), published his controversial book On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists, in which he argued that the private good of persons is subordinate to their common good. De Koninck is at pains to show that his position is not totalitarian, nevertheless, many of his critics remained unconvinced. One of the objections that he anticipates, but which was nevertheless repeated by his critics, was that the free man is causa sui (for his own sake), and that therefore it would be repugnant to his dignity to be ordered to the good of the community. De Koninck responds as follows: Continue reading