Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 20: The Christian Concept of the State

LEAVING THE ERRORS of the pantheistic, social contract, liberal, and organic theories of State behind him, Mercier then provides a Christian conception of the State, one predicated basically upon a classical notion of natural law, corrected, as it were, by the revelation of Christ. There are several operative truths that the Christian conception of State seeks to maintain, truths about the nature of the individual and the nature of civil society.

"The individual," Mercier begins, "is by nature a personal and social being." [335(114)] The fact that man is a personal being, that is a person, has great importance. It is the dignity of his end which gives dignity to his personhood.
[Man] has been created for an end which excels every other end, since it is identical with God Himself, inasmuch as He is the object of knowledge and love of mankind. Such an end implies the perfection and the happiness of the rational creature: his perfection, because the knowledge of God is the highest to which we can attain, and the love which this inspires is the most noble of all; his happiness, because the possession of this object appears as the goal of the deepest aspirations of the human soul.
[335(114)] Manifestly, the Christian notion of man, which it shares with classic natural law theory (e.g., Aristotle and Stoics) is world's apart from the selfish, Hobbesian view of man, the individualistic Rousseauian view, the materialistic view of Spencer, or the oddly minimalistic and State-dominated view of Hegel. Of course, Christianity adds a further dignity to man, and assures mankind of a supernatural destiny that is not contrary to his natural destiny, but which, in comparison, makes the natural destiny virtually blanch with inferiority.
[T]he idea of the personality of man is logically bound up with one of the essential dogmas of the Christian religion, namely, the dogma of his supernatural destiny. Being children of the same Father who is in heaven, redeemed by the same Saviour, called to the same celestial inheritance, men are all brethren and possessors of the same essential rights. In this we have the true idea of human personality.

Though each man is a personal being, and so, to that degree, each man has equal dignity in relation to another man, it is also true that man is a social being. This is the teaching of the Doctors of the Church along with the best of the pagans, Plato and Aristotle, for example. The social nature of man is particularly manifest in the institution of the Church, which incorporates each man into the Body of Christ.
[B]y its visible organization, by its precepts of justice and of charity, by its dogmas of the divine Fatherhood, original justice, redemption and communion of saints, the Christian religion proclaims the solidarity and, consequently, the sociability of all mankind.
[335(114)] Christianity therefore promotes individual personality, without ignoring the communal aspects of human life. It does not fall into an impersonal collectivity, but neither does it promote an artificial and lonely individuality.

Christ Dividing Church and State

Both civil society and the State are therefore great goods. However, they are goods ordered and subordinate to the natural and supernatural destiny of man. As such, they are not absolute.
Civil society or the State is not a superior being, some transcendental reality having an ends of its own. it is constituted by the personal members who unit to form it; but yet it is not exclusively the product of their individual wills. Its foundation is indeed nature.
[335-36(115)] Since it finds its foundation in nature, it follows that its rights and its duties find ultimate support or foundation in nature, that is the moral law, itself. Civil society and the State, since they are natural in origin, must also advance, not retard or diminish, human nature's flourishing in a moral sense above all. Nature, however, does not inform us what form the civil society or the Sate must take. That determination appears to be left upon the will of men who have bound themselves in a society. What nature does supply is the instinct and the need in man for some sort of social organization, and that social organization, to be effective, presupposes "another, more august than nature." [336(116)]
The State, then, because demanded by nature, organized by man, willed by God, is at one and the same time an institution natural, human, and divine.
[336(115)] How so divine? "Society exists by the will of God, and therefore obedience of subjects to its authority is by the will of God . . . ." [336(116)] Man is give the power to determine, based upon circumstances, the form by which the State is to administer its authority over civil "As, then, the natural law is the foundation of the rights possessed by the individual and family, it follows that these rights must be respected by the public power."
--Cardinal Mercier

society. "Any form of government is lawful so long as it is properly adapted to fulfill the mission of the State." [336(116)] So the form of the government of the State is to be distinguished from the authority of the government of the State. "Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God." (Rom. 13:1) Since authority stems ultimately from God, it follows that the State has no authority to act against nature, against the moral law, against the interests of civil society or, more particularly, against the interests of man. "Civil society exists for the sake of the individuals composing it." [336(17)]
To provide the general conditions for our happiness and for our perfect development, conditions which we cannot establish and maintain by isolate effort, is the end of civil society, namely, the common weal. Hence the role of the public authority in the society is none other than to direct it towards its end. . . . [T]he first function of authority is to secure that our rights are respected. But it has a further duty to discharge as part of its mission: the common weal consists not only in the absence of injustice, but it also presupposes a state of affairs such as will favour the full exercise of the individual's rights and further the proper development of his faculties. . . . This is what is mean when the State is described as having 'civilization' as its mission.

The State is in no way absolute. It must recognize and is subordinate to the rights of individual, of the family, and of religious society. Ultimately, it is subject to the natural law. Indeed:
The will of the State is supreme and its commands obligatory only in so far as they are in conformity with the natural law, which is the expression of the divine Will . . . As, then, the natural law is the foundation of the rights possessed by the individual and family, it follows that these rights must be respected by the public power . . . . From this may be judged the 'civilizing mission' of the State.
[337(118)] Since a man's self-development is his own work, and not anybody else's work, it follows that the State must allow for private initiative. It must not suppress private action; rather, it ought to encourage it, foster it, nurse it in every possible way. With its strong understanding of human personality and human dignity, the Christian notion of the state opposes the collectivist's ideal. Similarly, the State must recognize the pre-existing natural rights of the marriage state and the family, both natural institutions over which the State has no power other than in their civil effects. "Founded on this [natural]basis, the family enjoys a juridical existence that is independent of the civil law." [337(118)]

Since the advent of Christianity, a third restriction has been placed on government. Before the coming of Christ, religious authority was intermixed with civil authority. The founder of Christianity clearly intended to form a society separate from the State, namely, the Church. By establishing the Church, Christ clearly intended to free the individual conscience from the yoke of secular power. The conscience is not however free in the sense of anarchy. It was not loosed to be outside the pale of law, and so it is "under another power, but this is a spiritual one, whose influence is essentially not one of constraint but of persuasion." [338(118)]
By proclaiming the incompetence of the State in the governance of the soul and the essentially voluntary character of the act of faith, Christianity has laid the foundations of true liberty of conscience. . . . The separation of this twofold jurisdiction and the voluntary nature of the act of faith come from the Founder of the Christian religion.

Cardinal Mercier

But all this Christian political philosophy has been rejected, spurned. It is not part of the public square. The separation of Church and State, which has evolved into secular dogma, a convenient one for the State that since the Protestant reformation has progressively been elbowing out the Church, has kept any semblance of natural law or Christian political philosophy at bay. At best, it is found in books, in catechisms, in Papal encyclicals, or in blogs, but in no other place on earth. Apparently, we prefer liberalism, and we are paying the moral and the social costs associated with that bad choice and that pact with that liberal of all liberals, that libertine known as the Devil.*

*Cf. Leo XIII, Libertas Praestantissimum, No. 14: "But many there are who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer, and adopt as their own his rebellious cry, I will not serve; and consequently substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license. Such, for instance, are the men belonging to that widely spread and powerful organization, who, usurping the name of liberty, style themselves liberals."

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