In Christ is Neither Greek Nor Jew

Forgive my impatience, but I would have thought the yearning for monarchs died in the First World War, and any romanticism about dictatorships died in the Second World War and the Cold War that followed. I am not merely surprised, I am deeply shocked and troubled to find so many persons yearning for chains.

A reader with the perfectly cromulent Biblical (and Starwarsian) name of Luke writes and asks:

My read on the Church is that it teaches rightful submission to authority (so long as the authority issues moral commands). All submit to Christ and His Church, clerics to the Pope, priests to their bishops, laity to their priests. Outside of the Church families submit to the authority of the husband / father, students to the teacher, citizens to the police, judges and government (render unto Caesar).

My comment: submission to lawful authority in all things save only that which contravenes God’s law has been taught from the beginning of the Church. Likewise the submission of children to parents, wives to husbands, slaves to masters and no on.

The Church teaches both the submission to lawful authority, and teaches the equality of men. Say what you will, but this is no more a paradox than to teach the whole divinity and whole humanity of Christ.

Luke continues:

At the height of Christendom, say during the scholastic period, governments were monarchies. Popes crowned kings and emperors, not republics and democratically voted leaders. Even the Papal States were run non-democratically. I am unaware of encyclicals or exhortations teaching that all citizens should have equal political weighting.

Historically it seems like republics and democracies have existed in pagan and Protestant lands but monarchies under the Church. I know that is not the case in the past couple centuries in the few remaining Catholic countries but the Church is not at its zenith these days.

To me the re-emergence of republic / democratic governance following the Protestant Revolt makes sense. They reject the authority of the Church and so later reject the authority of the monarchs.

But maybe the answer is that none of this matter is related to Church teachings, although if it is evil for men not to have equal weight in vote then it seems like the Church should teach that through its history.

My comment: The idea that God, as the author of history, set royal and imperial families and master races and priestly castes to rule and to shepherd the conquered peoples, serfs, slaves and untouchables is at odds with no ancient teaching of the Church. But the startling and alarming teaching is side by side with this, that God is no respecter of persons, and that all men are brothers.

Now, in theory, one could hold one’s brother as a legal slave. In practice, historically, this was almost never done. The Spartans, for example, were regarded as diabolically cruel for keeping their fellow Hellenes as Helots, instead of the more civilized practice of enslaving barbarians and foreigners. So the teaching of universal brotherhood is at odds with the institution of slavery, and there have been encyclicals and bulls and sermons condemning slavery from the Ante-Nicene days onward.

But you are correct that there is no history of condemnation of monarchy in an of itself.

Christianity was born under an Imperial form of government, thrived under the limited monarchies of the Middle Ages, expanded to other continents under the absolute monarchies of the Age of Discovery, and flourished more in America, where the Church was shattered into countless rival denominations, while in Europe with their established churches and national churches, Christianity dwindled.

Indeed, in the transition between the ancient world and the medieval, the tumults and disorders that accompanied each election by the Praetorians or the Legions of an new Imperator to the Purple was aggravated by the fact that anyone, including camel drivers or barbarians, who caught the fancy of the Legionnaires, or won favor in a successful campaign, could be the next Caesar.

As a practical political measure, the limitation of the candidates for kings in the Middle Ages to family members of the current royal family was an act of prudence. It is similar to allowing judges to stay in office for life during good behavior, or requiring a trial by jury before hanging a felon. These things are strategies meant to deter and minimize one particular source of abuse.

About the practical matters and prudential judgments, I think the Church has little to say. She partakes of eternity, and is above politics, save only where the political order becomes an idol, or a source of injustice.

I venture to say the Church favors any form of government which encourages the brotherhood of man, the protection of human rights, and minimizes violence.

Myself I can think of no ground on which the Church would say an orderly and civilized Christian monarchy like that enjoyed by England was somehow less pleasing to heaven than a bloodthirsty and unjust Antichristian republic like that terrorizing France, and the world, after the French Revolution.

As best we can tell from the sad record of the disorders marring the time of the Judges, when (so the Chronicler wryly notes) “every man did what seemed right in his own eyes”, and, later, as best we can tell from the lament of Samuel when the Sons of Israel demand an anointed king like unto the kings of their neighbors be placed over them, the existence of governments at all is a regrettable necessity, an awkward splint and crutch meant for broken leg bones, on which the Sons of Adam cannot stand upright.

Indeed, I would say that the unwritten constitution of England is as sound as the written constitution of America, protects the same rights, and has roughly the same rate of success per year of protecting versus trampling those rights, once the differences in age is factored in. The goal sought by both is the same, while the practical tactics employed by either differ.

This is not true, by the way, in any Eastern or Near-Eastern despotism, nor the pre-Christian kingdoms where Pharaohs and Tennyos were worshiped as gods or the sons of gods, nor in any post-christian socialist totalitarianism of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Soviet Russia. In those places, the monarchs were not monarchs in the Christian sense of the word, but autocrats possess of anarchic and unlimited power. Christian kings were always held to be answerable to a higher law than their own will.

The forms of government are the constitution of the state. A certain constitution of government is meant to produce peace and justice, based on the practical considerations of how human nature in general operates. It is a technique for achieving a certain goal; it is not a goal in and of itself.

But to deny the concept of equality before the law involves a logical self contradiction.  If you are advocating to abolish equality before the law, this means only one of two things:

(1) you are claiming to be of the servile race, the servant caste, or the serf family, and that and that, independent of your merits and my demerits, I am born with the right to command your life, to say how you shall work, and at what reward, and what you shall think and say and do. You are not responsible for your life, but I am.

(2) you are claiming to be of the master race, the ruling caste, or the noble family that has conquered by race or caste or family, and that, independent of your demerits and my merits, you are born with the right to command my life, , to say how I shall work, and at what reward, and what I shall think and say and do. I am not responsible for my life, but you are.

Either option is utterly contrary to the Christian teaching that each man’s deeds and his alone are all he brings with him on Judgment Day to testify before the Lord.

No man is made a saint because he is anointed king; no man is condemned to extra years of purgatory because he is born the son of a slave, ergo is born vulgar, base, and ignoble. Birth does not matter to Christ at all.

The ancient, medieval, and monarchic societies judged, rightly or wrongly, that their peoples were too tumultuous and immoral to be trusted with civic rights.

Voting for abbots and Pope was allowed, and for some German kings, but otherwise the sovereignty was confined to the leading family of a successful conquering race.

This idea neither contradicts Christian teaching, nor makes the civic inequality of monarchic societies more than a necessary evil, usually the product of the need to maintain order over the descendants of peoples the ancestors of the ruling class conquered (as the Normans and Saxons in England.)

More to the point, if your are claiming (1) then your claim refutes itself. If you are by your own declaration a member of the non-ruling caste or class, then your opinion on the proper way to rule a society is impeached, invalid, and not to be heard. Slaves do not discuss politics with free men.

If you are claiming (2), this is a declaration of war, and you speak so at the peril of your life and limb, since free men ever stand ready to maim or kill whoever dares rob them of their God-given rights.

In this second case, there is nothing to say and no argument to make. Once you have struck a blow on the shield, the knight rides forth and utters defiance.

If your claim is that you are my born superior in rank, I defy you. I am a free man, a Virginian. Sic Semper Tyrannis. There is no one born of higher rank than mine.

If you deny this, then take up your arms and prove it. If you are unwilling to shed my blood at rob me of my God-given rights, then you should be unwilling to speak such contemptible trash.

Now, what would the Church say to this? Am I under a duty to be free, when the comfort of slavery awaits, and, yes, the possibility that if my tribe is defeated in combat, to yield and beg for bonds, to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, may be the only way to save our miserable lives?

I read no such duty anywhere in the Bible. Peaceful submission to oppression in the confidence that God will avenge all ills is a commonplace theme in Biblical history.

And so is freeing the Jews from Egyptian bondage, with the corresponding duty imposed on the Jews not to enslave, abuse or mistreat the stranger or sojourner among them.

You might not see any trace of civil equality in the Bible or in Medieval history. And yet the concept has no other origin spot.

The Bible is what Saint Patrick used when the Druids of Ireland were overthrown, and he had to write new laws. He wrote of the equality of man.

The Magna Carta of England, promoted by the Church and by the Barons over the objections of King John, drew its inspiration from the Irish source, which means, from Saint Patrick from Moses from God.

Aquinas went so far as to argue that respect of persons is forbidden as a sin, calling on Deuteronomy 1:17 for support. ” Listen to the pleadings of each man, and give a just award to citizen and to stranger alike. Listen impartially to great and small, without undue regard for any man; it is God’s justice you are administering.”

This ‘respect of persons’ is the selfsame inequality before the law for which you are arguing. The word of God unambiguously condemns it.

In turn English law developed a refined respect for the rights of the individual even within the confines of a class system. A man might be a peasant, but even a peasant’s hut was his castle, and not even the king could enter without warrant or permission.

The American Revolution was not a revolution at all, but merely a revival of the long-known and long-protected English rights (which came from the Church, which came from Moses, which came from God) that had been trampled by a single unwise and ambitious kings and his abnormally suppliant Parliament. Even at that it was a near things, and many an Englishman saw the Colonists as being well within their rights.

So my question in return is this: You say that Christendom supported monarchy for most of history. Fair enough; it did. But the idea of equality is the only original idea in politics anyone has ever had. I see no trace of it outside of the three great roots of Christendom: Jews morality, Roman law, Greek philosophy.

I see no trace of equality outside of any land save those once under the shade of that wide reaching tree of many branches and leaves called the One, True, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

So to say that equality is not a Church teaching is odd indeed. Like the scientific method, it appears in history where and only where the Christian faith holds sway, and it recedes and vanishes wherever antichristian or postchristian belief triumphs (idolatry, Mohammedanism, socialism).

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