Rick Santorum and the Kingship of Christ, Part Two

“Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?”
—John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (May 16, 1821)

In the first part of this essay, we began with an overview of the relations between the Church and the Roman imperial State in late antiquity, since this established for Catholics the practical and theoretical foundations of the Catholic Social Teaching on this matter.

This second part will treat the experience of Roman Catholics during the Founding era, since this period establishes the particular milieu in which American political rhetoric was forged and continues to find its orientation; but first, let us link the two worlds—the rich Catholic traditions worked over centuries and culminating in Bellarmine, and the new revolutionary climate of a zealous Protestantism.

St. Robert Bellarmine, Papist & Patriot?

 

St. Robert Bellarmine, with whom we concluded the last section, has been identified by early twentieth-century Catholic scholars as influential on the debates concerning the limits of State (or Crown) authority in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Some years ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting several of the ancient libraries of Great Britain looking at anti-Bellarmine pamphlets, most of which had been generated during the reign of King James I (VI).  We may safely conclude on the basis of the numerous academic and political enemies that Bellarmine had in the English-speaking world that his works would have been widely-circulated or referenced by both Royalist and Parliamentarian apologists of the early modern period.  That a work is oft cited does not mean that its critics understand it, of course.  It has long been a common place to assert that because the likes of Johannes Althusius, Algernon Sidney, Robert Filmer, of John Locke read Bellarmine, and because the Founders read Althusius, Sidney, Filmer, and Locke, it is probable that Bellarmine influenced the Founding—at least indirectly.   This view was not merely held in Catholic academic circles.  In 1917, Gaillard Hunt, editor of the collected writings of James Madison pointed to Bellarmine as a crucial source for key ideas in both the Virginia Declaration of Rights as well as the Declaration of Independence.

Bellarmine’s championing of the indirect power of the Papacy over all the states of Christian Europe set him into collision with the advocates of those regimes.  In particular, Bellarmine had penned a large body of work to refute the views of William Barclay and other apostate Catholics, who had sold their birth-right for the pottage of court appointments and public recognition in Britain.  As a result, it is reasonable to believe that those trawling for ideas on how to curtail State power, would be familiar with Bellarmine’s devastating arguments. On the other hand, apologists for the new Protestant (or Anglican) regime, would not have liked Bellarmine’s continued insistence that the Church—especially through the Papacy—had a superior role in the relationship between church and state.  One need go no further than “the judicious” Hooker to see the impossibility of the Anglican position.  Relying on the scholastics, Hooker saw that the temporal and spiritual realm were distinct, but not separate.  Yet, he could find no way to countenance the prick of Catholic critics that the Anglican sect was but the fabrication of a lecherous prince, so that the church and the state must also be separate.  Somehow, the embrace of two divergent approaches won the moderate sounding name of via media.  In fact, Hooker’s Law of Ecclesiastical Polity spawned a worm that would slowly eat its way into the traditional understanding of a distinct, but not separate church-state relation.

It is a stretch to see St. Robert’s hand firmly guiding those gathered in Philadelphia who prayed to the Father of Lights in summer of 1776. Nevertheless, to him some gratitude should be shown for limiting revolutionary ideas and contributing to that portion of political theory which was not a departure from the tradition established by Aristotle, purified by St. Augustine, and renewed by St. Thomas.

If there was direct transmitter of these traditional ideas into the America milieu, it may well have been John Carroll, who in the 1750s and ‘60s had been trained as a Jesuit at St. Omer in French Flanders and were, like students at Jesuit institutions throughout Europe, he would have read Bellarmine’s works. 

From Mixed to Confused: The American Experience

Let us turn to John Carroll and his apparent care for advancing a policy of separation.  Carroll, as a priest, accompanied the American expedition to encourage dissension and rebellion in Quebec in 1775.  Although the freedom to exercise religion granted by the British Crown to Catholics in Quebec was a key policy igniting the American Revolution, the colonists suddenly saw the wisdom of finding a way to accommodate Catholic worship and practices when the utility of French and Spanish arms, expertise, and gold were critical.

Through the Quebec Act of June 1774, King George granted that “his Majesty’s subjects, professing the religion of the church of Rome . . . may have, hold, and enjoy the free exercise of the religion of the Church of Rome.”  This formal recognition of the Catholic Faith and the growing tolerance towards Catholicism in the British Empire (outside of Ireland) infuriated many of the American colonists, and support for a formal “separation of Church and State” could well be considered an outgrowth of this virulent anti-Catholicism.

There was great fear throughout Protestant churches that “establishment” of religion was heading towards the colonies.  King George’s growing tolerance towards Roman Catholics was twisted into political cause by both colonists and royal-critics in the British Isles.  Anti-Catholicism was de rigueur in the British political tradition, especially for those who sided against the Crown.

The climate then in which John Carroll operated was a Protestant world where—from the Mayflower Compact onward—religion and civil power were tightly intertwined, but where the ever-fractious nature of Protestantism and the constant terror of “papism” made an enduring role for Christianity in the civil order a source of constant anxiety rather than consolation.

To his credit, Fr. John Carroll had deep misgivings about participating in the Quebec gambit.  His reservations illustrate how disquieting men of the Eighteenth Century found the strain of balancing the temporal and spiritual order and preserving their individual integrity.

“I have observed that when ministers of religion leave the duties of their profession to take a busy part in political matters, they generally fall into contempt, and sometimes even bring discredit to the cause in whose service they are engaged.”

Carroll had studied with English and Irish Catholics long-used to persecution at the hands of the established church of England.  Carroll may well have thought it nearly impossible for Bellarmine’s teaching ever to be re-established in Britain, and in the colonies men faced the daunting task of finding a way for Catholics to flourish on Protestant shores.  Certainly, the establishment of a church—at least in his mind—would have meant Anglicanism and thus a life for Catholics that careened between precarious toleration and open persecution.

Towards a Tolerable Constitution: Catholics and John Adams Quell the Terror

The Carrolls and the vast majority of Catholics in the thirteen colonies actively supported the war effort, just as the vast majority of Catholics in Quebec supported the British Crown.  After the war, prominent Catholics in the United States backed a federal model of government, so long as that government established no particular religion but created the circumstance for religious freedom.  The Carrolls and other Catholics contributed steadily in their own small way to achieve the First Amendment—a document that said nothing of the separation of Church and State.

Some Founders, such as Jefferson and Madison, were clearly in favor of a robust “separation” and understood the First Amendment as such.   Some wished each new State to determine its own established religion.  Others, like John Adams, had been open to establishment of something very broad, such as was envisioned in the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts, largely authored by Adams himself.

In its second article, the Massachusetts Constitution affirmed that “no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments, provided he doth not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.”

The third article invested the legislature with the authority to see to the support of worship and religious education because “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality.” The goal was to ensure there would be “public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”

The article ends by asserting that “every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.”

Clearly, the first Massachusetts Constitution supported a quasi-establishment of Protestantism as the State Religion while granting, at least implicitly, religious freedom to “other denominations of Christians”—presumably Catholics.  In any case, it demonstrates clearly that some of the founding generation did not see the separation of church and state as vitally important or even sensible in creating a culture that would support “good order and the preservation of civil government.”

To his credit, Adams, who understood the difficulties of a pan-Protestant establishment, did not retreat into a position of “separation,” but advanced toleration.  Adams was tolerant even of Catholicism, which he personally reviled as evidenced in a passage from a letter to Jefferson:

“I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits…. Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gypsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola’s. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.”(May 5, 1816)

Anti-Catholic comments such as this abound in the writings of Adams and most of the Founders.  I include them not to demonstrate their bigotry, which was common for the age.  Adams makes equally harsh comments about Protestant sects and is perpetually troubled at the history of Christianity since the Reformation.  I include them to demonstrate the incredible pressure that would have existed for Catholics in America to embrace any arrangement that would allow them to live their faith without fear of reprisals.

John Carroll reluctantly led American Catholics in a pamphlet war in which he threw his support behind the neutrality of no establishment.  In the circumstances that faced Catholics in America, Carroll supported the idea of “general toleration,” as he called it.  Klugewicz goes too far in asserting that Carroll, or any other Catholic, was a “champion of separation of church of state, out of self-interest if not out of principle.”

Carroll may have had both a practical and evangelistic goal in mind, however, in so supporting toleration:  “if we have the wisdom and temper to preserve, America may come to exhibit a proof to the world, that general and equal toleration, by giving free circulation to fair argument, is the most effectual method to bring all denominations of Christians to a unity of faith.”

This remark does not strictly express the Catholic teaching on the matter, but neither does it speak of “separation,” which would have been contrary to Catholic teaching.

John Carroll’s stance reveals something about the challenges that would face the application of Church’s teaching in a modern, pluralistic, political society.  The Holy See might well have recognized unique American difficulties and was likely to have been accommodating for what was belligerent missionary territory.  Perhaps the apparent indifference of the new Americans towards one particular form of Christianity and their constitutional hostility to an established Church seemed tolerable when compared to the gross abuse Pius was suffering at the hands of the governments of the great European states.  Yet general toleration was not and is not a positive teaching of the Church; it can, however, can be permitted, or put into effect as policy, for a higher good.

With “Humiliation and Prayer”: Catholics as Citizens

In 1798, while across the Atlantic, France and Europe were swallowed into madness, Fr. John Thayer, a New England convert and Catholic missionary, preached on the need for national calm.  Napoleon’s revolutionary imperialism had brought him into naval conflict with a nation indebted to France for its freedom.  Americans were divided between those whose young national pride was provoked by French impunity, and those whose Republican sympathies and political memory cried out for armed support of France.

Thayer addressed the small Catholic community in Boston amidst the confusion of loyalties—should Americans support Adams in his decision to side with England against France, or should they pursue the more radical path of the Jeffersonian Republicans?  Thayer called for acts of “humiliation and prayer” in support of Adams.  I would suggest that he did so for he knew clearly the strong differences that were emerging between the Jeffersonians—who desired a state free of religious entanglement and the Federalists who conceded on the issue of establishment, but would not concede on the central importance of religion to a stable regime.

Thayer also praised the young American Constitution, which, he said, “unites a proper degree of energy with all liberty… Praise be God, that this happy constitution, under which persons of all denominations enjoy security for their lives, property, and liberty—whether spiritual or political, is still unimpaired and in full operation.”  The sermon goes on hailing the virtues of the Federal government, which “protects us.”  Thayer was giving a common expression to the Catholic gratitude for a toleration and support.

A glance at Democracy in America reveals an interesting observation made shortly after Thayer’s time.  In his brief reflection on the progress of Catholics in the early Republic, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that the Catholic Church engendered and would continue to engender both hatred and silent admiration.  Many Catholics would be swallowed up, he predicted, in the indifferentism and pantheism that the new American democracy encouraged.

Indeed, Papal condemnations of the absolute separation of Church and State made a similar argument: when the Church is made to be an equal indifferently with any other “belief system,” souls would be lost as Error reigned free.  Tocqueville contended that an age was coming when men would try to sustain religious submission to religious teaching in certain areas of their lives, but hold back in others.  In the end, he concluded, the numbers of those who tried to balance both religious identity and a kind of periodic heterodoxy would decline, and that “our descendants will tend increasingly to divide into only two parts, some leaving Christianity entirely and the others embracing the Church of Rome.”  Prescient words.

While the general tenor of American thought spoke of “toleration,” Jefferson and Madison were famous for their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as advancing a full separation between Church and State.   It must be admitted that certain early documents, such as the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, which states that “the United States is not, in any sense, founded upon the Christian religion,” provide some support for “separationists” victories, but the majority did not.

For a trust-worthy contextualization of the First Amendment and the sentiments towards religion in public life, it is surely better to rely on the influential 1840 Exposition of the Constitution by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.  In his Exposition, Story reflected that, at the time of the founding, “the general, if not universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State” so long as private conscience was not violated.  Story concluded that “an attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.”  Clearly, this study—perhaps the most important examination of the U.S. Constitution written—argues in favor of the position that Klugewicz critically associates with “knee-jerk negative reaction” of many Catholics and “social conservatives”—such as Senator Santorum.

Perhaps this is an opportune moment in American history for a broader conversation about the meaning of expressions like “church and state” “separation,” and “religious liberty.”  It certainly would be helpful for Catholics to be equipped with an accurate understanding of their own Social Teaching.  It could prevent the grave embarrassment suffered by thoughtful and practicing Catholics when they see rampant ignorance of the Social Teachings or when they witness the enduring conservative principles of the western political tradition trashed by co-religionists holding public office.  Perhaps the likes of Pelosi and Sibelius will yield to a learned Catholic community that actually embraces and practices the Faith, but that can only happen if the Faith and the fullness of the Faith is understood.  The Holy Father has, after all, made regular mention of the creative minorities that alone will hold true to the Faith and renew society.

The third part of this essay will review the teaching of the Church with respect to the separation of church and state and end with a consideration of Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech as a decisive moment in American politics.

William Edmund Fahey

By

Dr. William Edmund Fahey is President and Fellow of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

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