Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Roots of Democratic Revolutionaries

Throughout history, political regimes have tried to make the religions within their societies reflect the institutions and qualitites of the political regimes. Why have they done this? In part, so that the political regimes could use the energies of religion to build up, keep, and spread their power. If this is true, then the efforts of those who want to make all religious institutions resemble democratic institutions are likely to further feed the revolutionary flames of messianic democracy in its desire to light the world on fire.

Again, turning to the French Revolution, and the efforts of Pius VI to deal with it, we can see the roots of the problem. The problem of course, does not begin with the French Revolution, but during this time Pius saw how the action of democratic revolutionaries would imitate the revolutionary past, represented by the Arian revolutionaries in the Greek world, or a more modern monarchical revolutionary represented by the thought of Marsilius of Padua. An interesting note, right now in political philosophy, there is a revival in the study of the likes of Marsilius of Padua. Leo Strauss encouraged his some of his students to look into and advance the teachings of Marsilius in our own time. There are at least some among the neocons who have a rather cynical view of religion, that the poltical regime should use it and direct it for advancing its own power.

In part, the propaganda effort over the last year to get us riled up about Islam is an example of using religious energies to get everybody on board in thinking about and hating muslims. This is part of the way that the media is framing the news towards the Middle East, to get religious groups critical and angry at each other in a way that will lead us to not feel so bad when we fight them.

Also, for those out there who don't think the second Iraq war was already in the works during the Clinton administration, here is an interesting article from 1999 from someone who saw it coming and was critical of the fact it was coming:

And here is today's history lesson:

After explaining the provisions, Pius VI indicated whence the principles of the Constitution of the Clergy come. They are principles condemned at the Council of Sens in 1527. At that time, the Church had condemned the way in which Marsilius of Padua flattered princes in The Defender of the Peace, arguing that Bishops can only exercise the authority granted to them by the Princes. In addition, Marsilius had asserted that priests, deacons, Bishops, and Popes all had the same authority. If there was a difference in authority between one and the other, it was only because the secular power had recognized and granted this difference in authority. The secular power could grant and revoke this authority at his will. The Council rightly noted that the principles articulated by Marsilius failed to recognize the legitimate independence that the ecclesial power has from the civil power. The spiritual power has a right to establish laws that it sees as appropriate for the spiritual health of its faithful. It also has the right to punish with legitimate spiritual censures. While it is independent of the temporal power, both are worthy of respect (117-119).

There has never been a time in the Church when the Church has permitted its power over spiritual things to be subordinated to the temporal power. The Church has adhered to and defended this principle from its earliest times. For example, Athanasius made clear to the Arian temporal rulers that they should not meddle in ecclesiastical affairs. He made clear that the temporal rulers have been granted the power of the Empire, but that Athansius and his fellow Bishops had power over the government of the Church and the precepts that governed it. Even a revolutionary, who wished to take over the Empire by violence, should resist touching the spiritual order of the things. According to Athanasius, doing violence against the spiritual order intensified the nature of revolutionary injustice (119-123, here he paraphrases Athanasius speaking to the Arians). Chrysostom also (Commentary on Galations, chapter 1) warned the civil rulers against attempting to alter the dogmas of the Catholic faith (123).

Looking at history, the Pope recognized that in various times and countries there have been and will be political revolutions. He also knew that there have been and will be efforts made by revolutionaries to make the Church conform to their ideas of religion. There is always the potential error of the political regime to impose its principles on the Church. The Church has always resisted such efforts so that it could maintain the freedom to protect and spread its doctrine. The potential danger that the Pope sees emerging as societies fall to democratic revolutions will be an attempt to create democratic Churches to conform to the democratic political structures and cultures that typify democratic regimes. The Pope understood the freedom that a society had to adopt a democratic political regime. He also understood that such a regime would try to influence and control the Church first of all by making it reflect the democratic ideology.

After establishing the principles, Pius VI applied them to the case at hand. The revolutionaries “attributed to themselves the spiritual power and make new rules that are contrary to [the] dogma and discipline [of the Catholic Church]. The Constitution also requires priests and Bishops to take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution that changes the dogma and discipline of the Church (123-125). The Pope concludes: “the necessary effect of this constitution is to destroy the Catholic religion.” (125). For the state to control the teaching of the Church, how to regulate its priests, and how to determine their pastoral mission would be to negate the Church. He understood that to do this would over time destroy the principle of unity that enabled the Church to preserve and spread the sacraments to the individuals who are in need of the fountains of mercy.


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