Nothing against George Weigel (which, of course, means I’m about to say something against George Weigel). I know and respect that he is a towering figure in the lay Catholic world who wrote the highly acclaimed biography on St. John Paul II. Still, he never ceases to aggravate me when he talks about faith and politics. His post on “The Catholic Diaspora and the Tragedy of Liberal Catholicism” is a case in point. In this essay, he makes the point that, “The most significant contribution to the universal Church of pre-conciliar liberal Catholicism in America was the development of a Catholic theory of religious freedom—which led, in due course, to Vatican II’s epic Declaration on Religious Freedom.”
The impression I get in general from Mr. Weigel is that he seems to fall in line with those who see both the American system of government and Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom as being, together in one package, landmark achievements in the progress of modern man. This mode of interpreting The Declaration on Religious Freedom appears to bring about implicitly a reverent preference for the Democratic Republic over the Monarchies of old. In this article, he is at it again.
Those of this ilk seem to equate The Declaration on Religious Freedom (which declaration hinges on the use of the phrase “with due limits” to keep it from going into error with Pius XII, Leo XIII, Pius IX, and Gregory XVI) with some sort of recognition that the democratic, constitutional Republic is the natural political form required to bring it about. The Republic is therefore the natural temporal arm to Vatican II. In this paradigm, both Church and State have now “progressed” in freedom away from the regal temporal manifestation of the Faith found in ancient Christendom and toward a higher form where now both the (Democratic Republican) State and the (New) Church “get” the concept of freedom.
So, Catholic confessional states with Kings and Queens are out. Democratic Republics with separation of Church and State are in (because, the “new” way is the way of religious freedom). The Church having a moral obligation to enforce the Truth in the temporal realm for the advancement of an edifying and free society is out. No one forcing their beliefs on others in the public square when it comes to politics is in. This is the perception I get anyway of the “new” relationship between Church and State.
Mr. Weigel attempts to pre-empt the aggravated reaction from people like me by pointing out that the pre-conciliar Church first introduced the ideas in the Declaration. Yet, even so, this does not at all mean that the interpretation is fitting of there being a preference in the post-conciliar Church for Democratic Republics over Monarchies.
In ancient Christendom, under the Catholic Kings and Princes, civilization had the ultimate and optimal relationship between Church and State. The Catholic Princes, precisely because they were Catholic, were subject to the independent moral authority of the Church. The Church, being independent from the State, consistently fought the totalitarian tendencies of the Princes. This is one of the great advantages to having an institutional Church and not just some “spiritual but not religious,” ephemeral, belief system. Institutions can organize defenses. Independent institutions can apply pressure.
The relationship between Church and State given us by the Republic is nothing more than a smoke screen to take Religion out of the public life of The People and then to make it relative and therefore irrelevant. Separation of Church and State in a Democratic Republic like the United States merely subjugates Church to State and makes the State the enemy of religion. That is the historical record of the United States and other republics such as France. The “Constitution” is supposed to replace the independent authority of the Church as the protector against totalitarianism and the guarantor of religious freedom, but we all know how that is working out in the United States.
The relationship between Church and State under the Catholic Monarchies of Christendom was effective in mitigating totalitarianism precisely because the State could not subjugate the independent Church and precisely because the Church was not, is not, and will never be subject to “the Will of the People.”
The Constitution fails in its role to protect us from totalitarianism quite simply because the Constitution is itself, ultimately, subject to that very “Will of the People” which is by its very nature amorphous, changing, and built on sand as opposed to the Rock of unchanging Dogmatic Truths revealed to us through Christ’s institutional Church. Even the totalitarian-oriented King Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” had to yield ultimately to some degree before an independent, sovereign institutional Church as did the Revolutionary “Emperor” Napoleon. A separate and free Church will fight dictators of the State. That is the historical record of Christendom. A separate but subjugated Church in a Republic has no (earthly) power to do so.
What Mr. Weigel fails to mention in the article referenced above is that the mess we are in now regarding religious freedom is less about the Catholic Bishops’ loss of memory regarding their (supposedly landmark) role in helping to bring about an alliance between Church and State for the establishment of religious freedom in America and more about the tragedy that they “Americanized” and revolutionized the local Catholic Church in that process. To put it quite bluntly, they lowered the Church to America rather than raise America to the Church. Therein is the root cause of our troubles.
Tradition, including the T(t)raditions that brought pre-eminence to the aristocracy of the Church, which, as the seed of the Kingdom of God on earth, reflects the Divine Aristocracy of Heaven where Jesus Christ is “King of Kings” (and not a Divine Democratic Republic of Heaven, where Jesus Christ is “President of Presidents” until the next election) was trashed in deference to the Bishops’, along with the Joe and Joline Catholic’s, infatuation with “Americanism.” The Body of Christ began to take on the characteristics of a Church “by the People, of the People, and for the People,” which seems to be the interpretation many have of Vatican II’s call for the involvement of the laity. Instead of the liturgy elevating the American culture, the Bishops allowed the American culture to debase the Liturgy. Masses became and still are, vulgarized because our culture is vulgar. No, the mess we are in now comes not from the Bishops’ poor memory regarding their role in America, it comes from their poor memory regarding their role in the Church.
Weigel seems to me to be under the spell. That spell is that somehow, just somehow, we have to be able to say that both democratic America and the “new” Church represent the ultimate progress of man. The spell says, more or less, that we have evolved to the pinnacle of progress with an American-istic Catholicism. We want to worship both our State and our Religion since we assume God blesses America, and Americanism is therefore somehow, in some vague way, equal to the Church. Weigel’s broad interpretation of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom throws fuel to the fire. Running its course, one becomes just as much a heretic and schismatic for not obeying the tenants of Americanism as he is for not obeying those of the Church.
This is the new dream alliance between the Eternal and the temporal, just as in days of old, the Monarchy represented that alliance as the right arm of the Church. Now, terrifyingly, we have the Church as the right arm of the democracies. Yet, the very specious “progress” we see in this country is exactly the result of these forces in which Mr. Weigel exults. And it is not the type of progress that the spell would delude us into believing. The progress we see here is merely that of the “Revolution” against God and all that is good and decent. Mr. Weigel’s spirit of cooperation between the Bishops and the Republic is no more than the spirit of anti-Christ. It is the spirit that orchestrated the Bolshevik Revolution and before that the French and Protestant Revolutions.
This spirit is not one of freedom. We find freedom only through the un-compromised Body of Christ, His Church, with its authentic Monarchy and aristocracy as a type of the Divine Order in Heaven. The clerics and the laity each have their respective roles in the Church and society as designed by Christ. We seek neither clericalism in the political realm nor lay pastoral work in the governance of the Church. Remember your proper role in the Church dear Bishops, and we, the laity, will free our country. Though, it will not be in the manner described by Mr. Weigel.