Friday, March 10, 2006

A very Catholic post

I neglected, in my discussion of the book ‘Why the War was Wrong’, one of the most powerful arguments against the invasion of Iraq, because it was not mentioned in the book. This is the argument from authority. The Pope said it was a bad idea. This ought to give people like me, who cavil at being labelled ‘ex-catholic’, some pause.

Ought I to submit to the Pope’s judgment, on the basis of St. Ignatius Loyola’s dictum ‘I must believe that the white I see is black’? Is it valid to mount any counterargument while avoiding the label ‘ex-catholic’? The only way I can see is to separate, not church and state, but the spiritual and temporal powers. There is some feeble justification for this in the words of Christ, ‘render unto God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s’. The Pope is supreme in matters of faith and morals, but not in politics: it is his responsibility to explain the rules governing the use of power, not to interpret the rules himself for each possible case.

There is certainly plenty of room to exercise judgment in the application of the rules, because here is basically all St. Thomas Aquinas has to say about war in the Summa Theologica: ‘In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. ... Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. ... Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a right intention, so that they intend the advancement of good or the avoidance of evil.’

Whose role is it to exercise temporal power? The heretics of the north gave over this power to the individual rulers of their dinky little countries- the King of Sweden, or of England, or in Prussia. Traditionally, however, the temporal power for the defense and unity of Christendom was invested in the Emperor. Either the Holy Roman Emperor in the West, or the plain old Roman Emperor in the East. Dante, in De Monarchia, makes a number of arguments for the proposition that the heathen Roman Empire was divinely instituted as the paramount temporal power on the planet. He argues that the Holy Roman Emperor as succesor to the Roman Emperors, does not derive his power from the Pope, but independently direct from God. Thus, while he must use their power for Christian aims, his relationship with the Pope is as younger brother to older brother, rather than servant to master. This is not of course de fide- Dante’s book was on the Index of Forbidden Books until 1881- but it is a legitimate tradition of Catholic thought expressed by a very saintly chap.

Dante’s arguments for the divine sanction of the Roman Empire are admittedly feeble to modern ears. He extolls the nobility of the Romans who built the Empire, credulously recounts various pro-Roman miracles occuring in the Roman annals as signs of God’s favour, and comes perilously close to a ‘might makes right’ arugment. Here is his very panglossian ‘whatever is, is right’ interpretation of history: ‘For since the resolving of a universal dispute is of greater concern to God that the resolving of a limited dispute, and in some limited disputes we seek to know divine judgment through champions... there is no doubt that the victory among those competing in the race for world domination was won in accordance with God’s judgment. The Roman people won the race to rule the world against all competition. This will be clear if, when we consider the competitors, we also consider the prize or finishing post. The prize or finishing-post was to rule over all mortals: this is what we mean by ‘empire’. But none achieved this except the Roman people.’

But of course, they didn’t really. The Chinese Emperors, among many others, would dispute the suggestion that the Roman people ruled over all mortals. Nobody really won the race for world domination until 1991...

1 comment:

Marco said...

My whole philosophy on the benefits of separating Church and state are based on the separation of the spiritual and temporal powers. Jesus' statement you quoted sums it up neatly for me. As you pointed out somewhere in the past, constitutional powers in some ways take primacy and are also a form of ideology. I feel constitutional powers should be neither spiritual nor temporal, but structural and general in nature. The constitution is just there to keep the other powers in their place. I would really like to see a world constitution, perhaps based on a really successful one like the US's. Simple and pragmatic NOT like the EU's rediculous attempt.