That peace is indivisible
“The definition of ‘peace’ in our common usage, as in our politics, has been narrowed to the absence of armed conflict. This is extremely suggestive, of an order in which peace, as any good, must be humanly imposed. Peace, to the mind that has taken the transcendental claims of democracy for granted, is a question of law enforcement. It is thus paradoxically the product of contention.”
I flag this graf from my column entitled, “Mandate of Heaven,” over at Catholic Thing this morning. Perhaps it is incomprehensible. Often things which seem obvious to me, prove incomprehensible to my readers, though the explanation may be my incompetence as a writer. In this case, the understanding of the rest of the column depends upon the understanding of this graf. So let me take another kick at it.
There is a natural order. The Chinese understood this; we understood it, once upon a time. I would go so far as to say everyone is born understanding it, but I mentioned ancient Chinese, and mediaeval Europeans, because they were able to articulate it, superbly. I count this a magnificent civilizational achievement on both sides: even more for the Chinese, for they did not have the advantage of the Hebrew and Greek theological foundation upon which our western, Catholic sages could build; let alone the Christian scheme of prayer to guide them.
On both sides, today, some of the general comprehension remains, but in a degenerate form. This is like the decay of empirical science, through the pagan Roman era, after the achievements of the Hellenist Alexandrians — when what had come to be understood, chastely, continued to be understood, but in a manner applied, technocratic, superstitious, scientistic. (Something similar has been happening in our own day, wonderfully captured in the term, “settled science.” That is to say, empirical science put entirely at the service of prognostication, technique, magic, and of course, a gnostic pursuit of power.)
Similarly, in China, a philosophy which from its height provided a vista over what we in the West would call “natural law,” decayed into cast straws and what falls now under the generic term, feng shui. That there is “something in it” could go without saying; but that something is a more vivid and, as I have said, more chaste comprehension of the natural order — and with this the requirement for humility in all human enterprise, and the need, patiently, quietly, and as it were, “aesthetically,” to discern the grain of moral nature, and cut with it instead of trying to cut across it.
For we have come to want what we must serve, to serve us instead.
We are incidentally in grave danger, within the Catholic Church today, from the invasion of a very worldly, “happy-clap,” cafeteria gnosticism — not outside but now inside the Church — undermining and subverting a doctrinal edifice that was maintained over twenty centuries in accord with both faith and reason. Prayer ceases to be anchored in the clarity of the Sacraments, and becomes increasingly a private appeal to the sky-gods for the provision of signs and wonders. Rather than purify ourselves for the Communion, we demand that the Communion be served to all regardless. Rather than be reconciled to Christ, we demand that Christ be reconciled, to our own recklessly sinful behaviour — and just “be there for us,” like any pagan sky-god.
In my interminable mutterings against “democracy,” I draw attention to this inversion: the notion that God must serve Man at Man’s pleasure, for it is beneath the dignity of Man to serve God. We are the Arbiters of Being, on this view, and if God will not bless and advance our lusts for sex, wealth, knowledge and power, then “God is dead”; or to be killed; or if he cannot be killed, banished. And those who persist in invoking Him will be dealt with, in due course, to the full extent of Man’s Law. That is what “democracy” has delivered for us: the condition exactly opposite to that of being at peace with God and His Creation.
In pointing to this, and with it to the monstrous, Kafkaesque, “Nanny States” which men have invented to serve their own humanly-constructed formulas of justice, I am consciously overriding the first principle of the “Americanism” against which Leo XIII wrote, in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. I am plainly denying “the separation of Church and State.”
It is interesting to me, that most of the discussion of that encyclical is nonsense. Pope Leo, writing in 1899, is assumed to be ranting against a wide range of modern tendencies which he vaguely associates with faraway “America,” and hardly understands. I doubt most of its smug critics have actually read the document, for they betray ignorance of its content and structure at every turn. But those who give some indication that they have at least glanced over it, including those of a mind to half-defend it, often either fail to understand, or more likely, flinch from understanding.
The encyclical is not vague. It boldly, courageously, directly takes on the specifically American constitutional precept of “the separation of Church and State,” which had evolved, by the end of the XIXth century, even beyond what its original authors intended. He takes it on because, even by 1899, it has come to be accepted within many limbs of the Catholic Church herself. The pope declares that in Catholic teaching — which even the bishops of America are obliged to maintain — there can be no such separation, no such divorce, no jurisdictional trick by which God may be “privatized.” In effect, a nation or society that has chosen to erect, publicly, a Berlin Wall between Man and his Maker, has chosen to go to Hell. And even in strictly worldly terms, after more than two centuries of that official “separation,” we are getting there: paying for the consequences of a mistake that we refuse to correct.
(Note, that “the separation of Church and State” was not an issue in the Treaties of Westphalia, where it occurred to neither Protestants nor Catholics to suggest that religion could be a matter of personal taste; for the full atomization of Western man came later. And that even among the Founding Fathers of USA, the point was to avoid Christian sectarianism, not to challenge America’s unambiguously Christian heritage and identity.)
Pope Leo’s Catholic teaching is hard, for Americans especially but, too, for democrats everywhere. It flies in the face of everything we now believe to have been established, once and for all time, in the Enlightenment — signed in the blood of the American and French Revolutions. Verily, we think our freedom depends, not on God, but on the guarantees of personal autonomy dictated by the authors of revolutionary law.
We truly believe this — as the result, I would say, of generations of intense Statist propaganda, going back well beyond the Enlightenment, to the Reformation. We believe this to the extent that Catholic Christians imagine Christ’s, “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” to be an affirmation of the separation of Church and State from the other, divine side. On this basis, generations even of Catholics have been raised, affronted by the claims of their own Saviour, and quick to side with Caesar in any public clash.
As a Loyalist, myself — i.e. descended from people who fled the newly-created United States rather than be subjected to that new, revolutionary order — it is a little too easy for me to overlook the pain every patriotic American Catholic must feel, however sublimated, at the root of his being. He must, as a patriotic citizen, pledge allegiance to a flag, and Constitution, premised on the denial of an irrefutable tenet of his Catholic faith. He must either ignore, or find a sophistical way around, the very question of conscience that led Saint Thomas More to the Tower. For More, too, refused the separation of Church and State. That was the profound divorce he opposed, vastly more significant than the desire of Henry VIII to be copulating legally with his wife’s chambermaid, Anne Boleyn.
But there I have taken it back to the first delicate point of fission, the modest launch of the Modern Schism in small, selfish, and sleazy acts of statecraft so many centuries ago; the butterfly sneeze as it were, which begat the hurricane, which tore through Western Civilization — just as Saint Thomas More foresaw — leaving moral, spiritual, and material wreckage not only in its direct path, but swirling abroad to every horizon.
I’ve been trying to write a book on this, incidentally. It distracts me from this Idleblog sometimes. I’ve been trying to do it for years, under the provisional title, Christ the King — scattering little fragments here and there along my way. For I know it is impossible for the modern man, after these intervening centuries, to conceive of his religion as anything other than a “compartment” of the mansion in which he lives; that he has been raised, trained, tested to think that way, and to feel mightily oppressed by any other suggestion. I know that this man cannot imagine the Christendom which he believes even his own Church abandoned, centuries ago. By now, one impossibility has been heaped on another, till we have a Babel of impossibilities, reaching up into the clouds. It is impossible for this man to imagine his own city, our old familiar City of Man, as if that Tower had never been erected.
But with God, all things are possible.