Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The 4th of July 2006

“America is the Only Nation in the World Founded on a Creed”[1]

G.K. Chesterton:

“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that al men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.”

“(The Spaniard) might burn a philosopher because he was heterodox; but he must accept a barbarian because he was orthodox. And we see, even in modern times, that the same Church which is blamed for making sages heretics is also blamed for making savages priests. Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites al men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial. The missionary can condemn a cannibal, precisely because he cannot condemn a Sandwich Islander. And in something of the same spirit the American may exclude a polygamist, precisely because he cannot exclude a Turk.”

The Creed: The Declaration of Independence

Robert N. Bellah remarks: “America’s myth of origin is a strategic point of departure because the comparative study of religion has found that where a people conceives itself to have started reveals much about it most basic self-conceptions. At first glance the problem of origin in America seems a relatively simple one. Unlike most historic peoples, America as a nation began on a definite date, July Fourth, 1776. Thus in analyzing America’s myth of origin, close attention must be paid to the mythic significance of the Declaration of Independence, which is considerable. Or taking a less precise definition of beginning, one might consider the whole period, from the Declaration of Independence to the inauguration of Washington under the new Constitution, as the origin time of the American nation. America began as the result of a series of conscious decision. The acts embodying those decisions have a kind of absolute meaning-creating significance.”[2]

Bellah goes on: “To the early Puritans, conversion was an intensely personal and individual experience of salvation, and the prerequisite of church membership. A public account of such a person experience, subject to inquiry and examination and the confirmation of goodly moral character, was required from each prospective member…. In addition to the inward covenant there was also the outward or national covenant to which all New Englanders were conceived of as belonging or at least to which they were subject. This was the basis of civil society”[3] (underline mine).

Then in 1740, there occurred the so-called “Great Awakening, the wave of religious revivals that swept through all the colonies” and engendered a heightened consciousness of dignity, autonomy and self-determination and provoking an even higher and more sensitive reaction to the slightest encroachment of England (a tax on tea) on colonial self-government.

The Irruption

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Self-Evidence From Faith-Experience: Historically, North America passed through the experience of 150 years of Christian faith lived by mostly baptized Protestants with benefit of Scripture, prayer and work. As we have seen in previous blogs, the experience of faith as self-gift to the revealing Christ creates a consciousness of self-dignity and rights:

“(I)n the beginning, America was Protestant: that point has been emphasized by every historian of the United States. Therefore we turn to the doctrines and the mentality and the social characteristics of what we call Protestantism – or rather, of certain types of Reformers. But also we need to remind ourselves that when we call early America Protestant, we mean that America was Christian. The fundamental Christian convictions… were not undone at the Reformation. Instead, certain of those beliefs received a renewed emphasis from Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the other Reformers…. The Protestant Reformers believed that they were reasserting and reviving the teachings of the early Church of Christ….

“The vast majority of people in the thirteen Colonies professed the Christian religion in one or another of its Protestant aspects – chiefly in Anglicanism, in Puritanism (an offshoot of Calvinism), or in Presbyterianism (another offshoot of Calvinism)…. This should be borne in mind: despite the ferocity of the Wars of Religion, the similarities among various Christian bodies are more important than their differences, where we have to do with questions of the order of the soul and of the commonwealth. Hideously though Catholics and Protestants often dealt with one another, still their understanding of man and of society had come from one Christian root.”

Gordon S. Wood - the primier historian of the American Revolutionary period - has pointed out that the American Revolution was truly unique. He asserts: “(I)t did not seem to have been a usual revolution, the sources of its force and its momentum appeared strangely unaccountable. `In other revolutions, the sword has been drawn by the arm of offended freedom, under and oppression that threatened the vital powers of society.’ But this seemed hardly true of the American Revolution. There was none of the legendary tyranny of history that had so often driven desperate people into rebellion. The Americans were not an oppressed people; they had not crushing imperial shackles to throw off. In fact, the Americans knew they were probably freer and less burdened with cumbersome feudal and hierarchical restraints than any part of mankind in the eighteenth century. To its victims, the Tories, the Revolution was truly incomprehensible. Never in history, said Daniel Leonard, had there been so much rebellion with so `little real cause.’”[5] Read in the word "objective" here, because the "real cause" is the subjective sensibility accruing to a lived faith-experience.

Later, Wood says, “(It had) reversed in a revolutionary way the traditional conception of politics: the stability of government no longer relied, as it had for centuries, upon its embodiment of the basic social forces of the state. Indeed, it now depended upon the prevention of the various social interests from incorporating themselves too firmly in the government…. . The eighteenth century had sought to understand politics, as it had all of life, by capturing in an integrated, ordered, changeless ideal the totality and complexity of the world – an ideal that the concept of the mixed constitution and the proportioned social hierarchy on which it rested perfectly expressed. In such an ideal there could be only potential energy, no kinetic energy, only a static equilibrium among synthetic orders, and no motion among the particular, miscellaneous parts that made up the society. By destroying this ideal Americans placed a new emphasis on the piecemeal and the concrete in politics at the expense of order and completeness. The Constitution represented both the climax and the finale of the American Enlightenment, both the fulfillment and the end of the belief that the endless variety and perplexity of society could be reduced to a simple and harmonious system. By attempting to formulate a theory of politics that would represent reality as it was, the Americans of 1787 shattered the classical Whig world of 1776[6]… And the Americans had demonstrated to the world how a people could fundamentally and yet peaceably alter their forms of government. `This revolution principle – that, the sovereign power residing in the people, they may change their constitution and government whenever they please – is' said James Wilson, `not a principle of discord, rancor, or war: it is a principle of melioration, contentment, and peace.’ Americans had in fact institutionalized and legitimized revolution. Thereafter, they believed, new knowledge about the nature of government could be converted into concrete form without resorting to violence. Let no one, concluded Chipman, now rashly predict `that this beautiful system is, with the crazy empires of antiquity, destined to a speedy dissolution; or that it must in time, thro’ the degeneracy of the people, and a corruption of its principles, of necessity give place to a system of remediless tyranny and oppression.’ By actually implementing the old and trite conception of the sovereignty of the people, by infusing political and even legal life into the people, Americans had created, said Wilson, `the great panacea of human politics.’”[7]
No Virtue, No Commonwealth; No Religion, No Virtue:
Prior to the 1776 Revolution, Wood portrays the American mind: "It was not the force of arms which made the ancient republics great or which ultimately destroyed them. It was rather the character and spirit of their people. Frugality, industry, temperance, and simplicity - the rustic traits of the sturdy yeoman - were the stuff that made a society strong. The virile martial qualities - the scorn of ease, the contempt of danger, the love of valor - were what made a nation great. The obsessive term was luxury, both a cause and a symptom of social sickness. This luxury, not mere wealth but that `dull... animal enjoyment' which left `minds stupified, and bodies enervated, by wallowing for ever in one continual puddle of voluptuousness,' was what corrupted a society: the love of refinement, the desire for distinction and elegance eventually weakened a people and left them soft and effeminate, dissipated cowards, unfit and undesiring to serve the state. `Then slumbers that virtuuos jealousy of public men and public measures, which was wont to scrutinize not only actions but motives: then nods that active zeal, which, with eagle eye watched, and with nervous arm defended the constitution... Thus, before a nation is completely deprived of freedom, she must be fitted for slavery by her vices.' Repbulics died not from invasions from without but from decay from within." (Wood, 52-53).
After the Revolution, "The American people were no longer uniquely virtuous. They were `a Luxurious Voluptuous indolent expensive people without Economy or Industry.' `Instead of finding general proofs of industry, economy, temperance, and other republican virutes,' some American now saw themselves as `a nation that was more luxurious, more indolent, and more extravagant, than any other people on the face of the earth.' Such a people could not possess the proper character for republican government. America was not to be another Sparta or Rome after all. Americans had hoped to establish `great, wholesome equal republics,' but the `high expectations' ... seemed smashed" (Wood, 424).
However great the temptation to impose a theocracy on the nation, it was resisted by the hard fought consciousness of the dignity of the person and the right to religious freedom that had emerged from 150 years of self-transcendence.

Solution of the Relation of Church and State:

John Courtney Murray, S.J., the author of the Conciliar schema on Religious Freedom ("Dignitatis Humanae") observes that "the United States of America (is) the first state in the history of the world that was established by the uniquely revolutionary means of a formal consitutional consent."[8] The key to the solution was conceptually formulated by Pope Leo XIII. The following are Murray's remarks:

“I consider that by some manner of genius he (Leo XIII) put forth the principle of solution. It is contained in the special twist, so to speak, that he gave to the Gelasian doctrine.[9] Consistently he posits as the root of the necessity of an `orderly relation’ between the two powers the fact that `utriusque imperium est in eosdem,’ the rule of both is over the same one man. If therefore there is confleict and not harmony between them, the conflict is felt in the depths of the personal conscience, which knows itself to be obligated to both of the powers which are from God. Their harmony therefore is required by the unity and integrity of the human personality. The whole Gelasian doctrine is thus made to grow, from the standpoint of the finality of the diarchy [Church and State] , out of the essential datum, `civis idem et christianus,’ the same one man who is citizen and also a Christian.

“This sets the Gelasian doctrine in genuinely modern perspectives, which are not those of medieval times. In the medieval universe of discourse the root of the matter was not the unity of the human person, citizen and Christian, but rather the unity of the social body which was both Church and state, the respublica Christiana, whose unity required the subordination of regnum to sacerdotium because it was an inferior function within the one body, instrumental to the good of the body, which was identically the good of the church. The medieval starting point was the Church, and it set the doctrine of the two powers in characteristic social perspectives. Their `union’ was a requirement of social unity. These perspectives and their consequences were carried over into the so-called confessional state wit its `Union of Throne and Altar.’ Its predominant finality was likewise social unity, now conceived as national unity. It is obvious, for instance, now in contemporary Spain, where the Union of Throne and Altar still [1949] exists in a special form; the problem of Church-state relationships is conceived in function of the problem of national unity.

“However, the Leonine starting point is not the Church nor are its perspectives social. Its starting point is the dualism within the human person, who is both child of God, member of the Church, and also member of the human community, citizen of a state – endowed in each capacity with a set of rights, which are of different origin but which must be organized into an organic whole. And the principle of organization is the primacy of the spiritu7al aspect of his nature, which implies the fundamental right to have the two powers to which he is subject in harmony with each other. The finality of this harmony is ot a social unity but a personal unity – the integrity of the human personality. It is only by preservation of this integrity that man is truly `free,’ empowered to be n fullness what he is – citizen and Christian. This freedom is a positive empowerment – the full faculty of obeying the law which he knows to have the primacy (the law of Christ as mediated by the Church), under due obedience to the other law to which he is also subject, the human law of the state. Unless these two obediences are in harmony, there is no freedom.

“My point is that this Leonine restatement of the Gelasian doctrine opens in principle the way to the solution of the ancient problem in its modern position – the manner of exercise of the indirect power, the manner of maintaining the primacy of the spiritual under respect for the autonomy of the temporal. [Read here, “secular”]. Leo XIII was in advance of Pius XII in placing `the whole man in his concrete and historical reality at the center of the whole social order in its two components, Church and state, whose dualism corresponds to the dualism in man himself and whose orderly relationship is the exigence of the unity of human personality…. In the developed conditions of modern political society they are not the medieval sacerdotium and imperium, nor yet the Throne and Altar of the confessional state. The are sacerdotium and civis idem et christianus.”

The Hermeneutic of Continuity and Reform

Benedict XVI offers the American Revolution as the “model of a modern state.” As we have seen on previous blogs, on December 22, 2005 in an address to the Roman Curia, he stated that “the modern age had also experienced developments. People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern state that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.” He goes on to explain that “if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus tripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.

“It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.

“The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern state with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt. 22, 21), as well as with the church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. 1 tm. 2, 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the state.

“The martyrs of the early church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedomof conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith – a profession that no state can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God’s grace in freedom of conscience.”

Faith and Reason

As we have seen, the relation of the Church and the State as institutions is separation. This necessity is founded on the identity of the citizen of the state as believer who has the inalienable right, and therefore, freedom, to determine himself in his gift of self to God. God wants his love, and therefore, God wants his freedom. He must not be coerced, but enabled to be free and responsible morally to seek the truth, and when finding it, adhere to it.

This is ultimately grounded on the relation of faith and reason. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger – on this topic – wrote: “What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational, just as the state that aims at being perfect becomes tyrannical. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason. The connection between the state and its Christian foundations is imperative precisely if it is to remain the state and be pluralist.”[12]

[1] G.K. Chesterton, “What is America?”41-42.

[2] Robert N. Bellah, “The Broken Covenant,” Crossroad (Seabury) (1975) 3.
[3] Ibid. 18.
[4] Russell Kirk, “The Roots of American Order,” Regnery Gateway
[5] Gordon S. Wood, “The Creation of the American Republic,” Norton (1972) 3.
[6] Ibid. 606.
[7] Ibid. 613-614.
[8] John Courtney Murray, S.J., “Contemporary Orientations of Catholic thought on Church and State in the Light of History,” Theological Studies Vol X, June 1949, Number 2, 187.
[9] Following Mt. 22, 21 of giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, Pope Gelasius (494) resisted the unicity of the res publica Christiana: “There are two, august Emperor, by which this world is governed, the sacred authority of priests and the royal power….” Cf. H. Rahner, “Church and State in Early Christianity,” Ignatius(1992) 174.
[10] Ibid. 220-222.
[11] Benedict XVI, “Interpreting Vatican II,” Origins January 26, 2006; Vol. 35; No. 32, 537-538.
[12] J. Ratzinger, “A Christian Orientation in a Pluralistic Democracy?” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad, (1988) 218.

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