Monday, August 25, 2008

How long till the C.D.F. issues a Notification on neo-Americanism?

Also in yesterday’s Catholic Weekly were some extracts from the ‘Acton Lecture’ delivered by Rev. Fr. Robert A. Sirico at the Centre for Independent Studies. The report is not online yet, so I direct you to the speech itself:

Fr. Sirico is from the dreadful Acton Institute; I will not post a link here but you can find one at Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog. This Institute appears to advocate what I would call neo-Americanism, an updated form of Americanism that extends beyond the religious libertarianism of the original and attempts to incorporate economic libertarianism into Church social teaching.

The lecture begins fairly inoffensively, with “an assertion of two distinct realms: the temporal and the ecclesiastical. In this concept, both the law and the civil magistrate are to be respected, even prayed for.” ‘Distinct’ is the key word, and perfectly appropriate, though of course we must not go as far as to advocate the desirability of their separation as a principle:

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error.
(St. Pius X, Vehementer Nos)
That is, the ideal is that the State as a person confesses Christ, and every person under the State confesses Christ, and therefore, since the two ‘perfect societies’ of Church and State overlap in their membership, they ought to be united in mutual concord and unanimity of action.

Fr. Sirico notes perceptively that “[w]hat is really at issue here is the problem of authority”, and identifies that “Christianity did not, however, see the origin of authority as lying in the state, and it did not see the state as the source of law, much less of morality”. Clearly God is the origin of authority and of law, and the State must acknowledge this authority, do God the homage that He is owed for delegating His authority, and makes its civil laws correspond to the Divine Law.

Indeed, the reliable Rev. Fr. Francis J. Connell C.SS.R. makes very clear that Church-State relations are actually a secondary issue:

In other words, the real point at issue is not the relation between the State and the Catholic Church but rather the relation between the State and Christ the King.
That is, union of Church and State follows from submission of State to its King, Christ.

So far, so good. And one could forgive Father’s rather strange, utilitarian notion of a Christian vision of

a society in which people leave old professions and adopt new ones,take on vocations as priests or nuns, become educated and advance within the culture, become merchants and capitalists who produce wealth
(my emphasis)

or his fanciful depiction of the Dark Ages as a some kind of proto-capitalist utopia:

The so-called Dark Ages saw the origins of the water mill and the windmill, used for capitalistic production. Monastic estates were used for the domestication and production of fish, and for cloth-making. Monasteries were the first modern institutions of complex capitalistic production.
But eventually he makes his errors quite plain:

[Constantine] and his successors certainly went too far in making the Christian faith the official religion and using public resources for the construction of churches. But when one looks at this history, we need to carefully distinguish between unjust practices of the present day and the roots of what would eventually lead to what we now know as modern-day freedom. It was Christianity itself, and not atheism, secularism or materialism, that first advanced the idea that the state and the Church were distinct and separate entities. The concept that institutions could flourish in the absence of civic approval is what led to the creation of the university, the monastery, the hospital, the rule of law in courts, and the flourishing of science and institutional and international charity.
(my emphasis)
So Fr. Sirico is really just offering what I call crypto-secularism: he turns his back on 1 500 years of Church practice and 150 years of permanently-valid doctrine (which only needed to be written down in response to challenges from the revolutionaries of 1789 and 1848). Preposterously, he argues that

Indeed, it is Christianity that lies at the root of the body of ideas we know today as classical liberalism, which can be summed up in four essential claims: all people have rights that cannot be abrogated; society flourishes most when the state is a resource of last resort; economic advance is desirable and made possible through free exchange; and the social peace is best maintained when religion and the state are separated.
Let’s take a closer look at these ‘four claims’:

1) “all people have rights that cannot be abrogated”: yes, but the object of any right can only ever be what is true and good.

2) “society flourishes most when the state is a resource of last resort”: this is just one of the assumptions of economic rationalism; it has no place in Christian doctrine.

3) “economic advance is desirable”: not in itself.

4) “the social peace is best maintained when religion and the state are separated”: false in principle, possibly true in certain circumstances.

When Fr. Sirico speaks of “the authentic Christian liberalism of the nineteenth century, which in turn connects backwards in time to the Middle Ages, to Augustine, to the Church Fathers, and finally to the words of Jesus”, one wonders whether the Anglicans are the only ones prone to ‘ecclesial amnesia’: does he not know that the ‘Liberal Catholic’ political movement was condemned unequivocally by the Popes of the time? Indeed, Fr. Sirico analysis of currents in nineteenth-century Catholic political thought is far too simplistic: he says that

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, at a time when democracy was rising, the Papal States were under serious strain, and radical political movements were on the move, two general camps emerged within the Catholic Church. On one side, there were the ultramontanists, who favoured the temporal power and regarded the idea of religious liberty as a fateful surrender to secularism and modernism. On the other side were the liberals, who embraced religious liberty and argued that papal infallibility should be embraced only in the strictly defined terms related to its own competency of faith and morals, but not to politics or economics.
Concessions to false religions can only ever be a toleration based on circumstances, and a concession in principle is indeed a “fateful surrender to secularism and modernism”. And his reading of the Syllabus of Errors is simply not supported by the text:

Even Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors could be read as compatible with an embrace of liberty if we recognise that while it condemned the view that the Church must be universally separated from the state (understood as the state confining religion to the purely private sphere—the goal of today’s radical secularists), it tolerated the view that the Church can be made prudently and advantageously distinct from the state.
Here we see confusion in his argument: that “the view that the Church can be made prudently and advantageously distinct from the state” is tolerable is not in question (and ‘distinct’ is the wrong word anyway, since Church and State are distinct), while in fact it is Fr. Sirico’s views on Church-States relations at the level of principles that Bl. Pius IX was condemning.

When Fr. Sirico describes ‘liberation theology’ as “essentially a baptised form of Marxism” it is hard to ignore the savage irony that what he and the Acton Institute advocate is really just a ‘baptised form’ of libertarianism and economic rationalism. How can they not see this? Indeed, Marxism and economic rationalism aren’t fundamentally all that different: they share the same foundation, namely materialistic determinism, though while Marxism focuses on the social level, at which circumstances in the factors of production determine the course of history (historical materialism), economic rationalism focuses on the individual, with man conceived of as homo economicus, with a utility function into which ones plugs the numbers and determines his behaviour.

We see this materialism crop up again when Fr. Sirico writes off the era of Christendom as being one in which the fact that

the tyrant professed Christianity was an incidental fact: he was merely using the culturally dominant religion as a cover for his true ambition
and it is an insult to the likes of Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, St. Edward the Confessor and St. Louis IX.

What is it with people trying to graft onto Tradition that which can never organically be a part of it? Why the constant conformity to the spirit of the age? Why can they not be content simply ‘to hand on what they have received’?

What is perhaps most telling about Fr. Sirico’s position is the complete absence of any reference in this lecture to one of the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching, namely the common good. Search for keywords like ‘common good’ or ‘public good’ or public welfare or common welfare and you will find nothing. Indeed, one must ask of Fr. Sirico: does he agree that the common good is the proper end of the State? Does he agree that the common good is the relevant criterion for determining when to restrict liberty (an important question given that his lecture was, after all, on the topic of ‘Must Religion be a Threat to Liberty?’)? Does he agree that the State is a juridical and moral person that is capable of acknowledging God as the source of its authority, of the blessings that it enjoys and of its very existence, i.e., that the State really can be confessional? Just what is this man’s theory of the State?

Reginaldvs Cantvar

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