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.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The People is Sovereign Under God

“THERE IS NO AUTHORITY except from God, and those that exist have been established by God," says St. Paul to the Romans (Rom. 13:1). This reality is mediated through human nature, particularly in man's social nature, which finds its ultimate source and in fact its end in God the Creator. It is man's nature to live with others of his kind. It is a necessity that such a common life have an ordering principle, which requires both ruler and rule, government and law, and the authority requisite to both. This natural law chain between authority and God is what is implied in St. Paul's succinct statement.

Drawing from Pope John XXIII's Encyclical Pacem in terris, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church amplifies on the relationship between human political authority and God and the natural law linkage or chain between both:

Since God made men social by nature, and since no society can hold together unless some one be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently God for its author.

(Compendium, No.393)

The necessity of political authority is what defines its responsibilities and what defines its limits. The political authority is responsible for ordering freedom and encouraging virtue with a view to the common good of a people of which it has charge:
Political authority must guarantee an ordered and upright community life without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups, but disciplining and orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subjects, for the attainment of the common good.
(Compendium, No. 394) It is significant that the Compendium speaks of an "ordered" community life as well as an "upright" community life. It understands political authority to have some responsibility for assuring the virtue of its citizens. It advocates something different than some sort of liberalism, where order, but not uprightness, is what authority is about.

Indeed, in the Church's understanding of the foundations of political authority, morality and authority, morality and community, morality and law are never apart. "Political authority, in fact, 'whether in the community as such or in institutions representing the State, must always be exercised within the limits of morality and on behalf of the dynamically conceived common good, according to a juridical order enjoying legal status. When such is the case citizens are conscience-bound to obey.'" (Compendium, No. 394) (quoting VII, Gaudium et spes, 74)

Authority, therefore, cannot be used against the common good and in favor of some groups over others. Authority likewise cannot be used to protect immoral acts--and calling immoral acts "rights" so as to clothe them with the protective mantle of the State is a word game which covers an underlying abuse of authority. Finally, authority must not use immoral means, even to achieve legitimate ends.

It is only a State that understands these moral restraints upon its authority that can issue laws that bind in conscience. An authority that believes itself unattached to the natural law--even one that does dons a contrived multi-colored coat of pluralism, multiculturalism, or liberalism--is really nothing but a naked tyrant.

The ultimate source of public or political authority is God. Yet God acts through a people: Vox populi, vox Dei. It is "the people considered in its entirety" that is the source of political "sovereignty." (Compendium, No. 395) How this sovereignty of the people is transferred or conveyed to public authority, to the organs of government, may vary. The Church allows for diverse regimes that are compatible with the customs, traditions, history, and values of a people. The people, however, in some fashion "preserves the prerogative to assert this sovereignty in evaluating the work of those charged with governing and also in replacing them when they do not fulfill their functions satisfactorily." This sovereignty resident in the people is something no law, no regime, no authority can take away. This "right" in the people is "operative in every State and in every kind of political regime." (Compendium, No. 395). The Church rejects the extreme authoritarianism of Hobbes or Bodin.

For this reason, the Church has recognized the unique value of democratic forms in the contemporary setting since democratic forms seem best to recognize and to allow for the expression of a people's sovereignty. A democratic form of government, "due to its procedures for verification, allows and guarantees [the] fullest application" of a people's sovereignty over its government. (Compendium, No. 395)

The people, however, though in possession of sovereignty, do not have this quality independent of God. For this reason, the "mere consent of the people is not . . . sufficient for considering 'just' the ways in which political authority is exercised." (Compendium, No. 395) No individual is exempt from the natural law. Likewise, no people is exempt from the natural law. The people are not the source of the natural law, and any authority in the people is exercised "under God."

There are times when the vox populi is not the vox Dei. We must not forget that the people chose Barabbas over Christ, and it was democracy in action that forced Socrates to drink his hemlock. Mob rule has never been a pretty sight. Sometimes, as Heraclitus so poignantly reminds us, the wise is one only, not many, and there is the law of one.*

*Heraclitus, DK B32, DK B33 (ἕν τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει Ζηνὸς ὄνομα) (The wise is one only. It is unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus.) and (νόμος καὶ βουλῇ πείθεσθαι ἑνός) (And it is law, too, to obey the counsel of one.)

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