Thursday, October 2, 2008

CAGE MATCH: Pope Leo XIII vs. James Madison

In the American political conscience, the thought of freedom of religion is hardly given a passing glance. Indeed, we owe this which has become such a fundamental part of our collective national psyche to the philosophies which went into our founding credos, and to the men who distilled these ideas and placed them securely into the practice of the jurisprudence of our nation and unto the present age.

Among these men was James Madison, the Princeton-educated Virginian who takes his place in the Pantheon of American statesmen as the “Father of the Constitution.” His contribution to the doctrines of religious freedom which sit so firmly entrenched in our laws and our political consciences may be seen most clearly in his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” written to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785. In that year, the legislature of the Commonwealth had taken up a bill concerning the granting of tax monies to the support of teachers of religion. Madison “remonstrates” against this bill, which he holds to be an usurpation of the rights of the citizens of the Commonwealth, and while a number of the arguments he takes up in this letter are specifically targeted to the character of the bill, his philosophy regarding the matter of Church-State relations in general is quite evident in most of his arguments. Chiefly, he argues that religious faith ought not to be prevailed violently or forcefully upon men, and that it ought to be arrived at through use of rational faculties and conviction. He states that the religion of every man must be left to his own discretion; that the dictates of conscience are to be the arbiter of religious faith for each individual[1]. He goes on to underline that religion ought to be exempt from the authority of society at large and that of the civil government[2], and that the government ought not to interfere with what he calls a natural right of man to practice whichever religion his conscience dictates to him to be true and right[3]. Madison then turns to an accusatory and suspicious tone, saying that entanglements of religion and the state have only led to a denigration of the purity of the Christian religion, of the lessening of sanctity of the clergy due to their being given over to pride, of the ignorance of the laymen, and of “superstition, bigotry, and persecution.[4]” He goes on to state that these entanglements of Church and State have led to hardships and bloodshed brought on by the State’s attempts to remedy the discord between the various sects of Christianity. The American way of “equal and compleat liberty,” Madison asserts, prevents such discord within society[5].

Such thoughts are, to the modern American mind, merely the way things work and have worked. However, it is apparent from a simple reading of Madison’s letter that his case is made with some less-than-grievous flaws which, once exposed to the light of a higher truth than that of mere human wisdom, are exposed as fundamental errors in the judgment of the workings of society—and especially in relation to the Creator and whichever duty must be paid Him.

By this light of a higher truth, of course, it is meant that supreme wisdom which comes from Almighty God and is transmitted through His Church by those to whom it has been imputed to guard and hold sacred the truths of his law. Among the shepherds of the Holy Catholic Church who have spoken at length on such matters as would concern these matters of the State, the most resonant in our own time is Pope Leo XIII. Pope Leo wrote extensively on a number of matters which concern the modern political mind by drawing on that timeless wellspring of wisdom of the Church’s teaching and presenting, boldly and clearly, the truth of many matters political. His encyclical Immortale Dei is no exception. Intrepidly, the Holy Father of blessed memory argues the fundamentals of the traditional Catholic theology on the relationship between Church and State. The purpose of the Church, he states, is the salvation of souls in the first place, but it also provides many temporal goods—a fact which is broadly witnessed to in history by the immense growth in the arts and sciences in particular and in the advancement of civilization in general in the Western world, a growth and advancement for which no other than the Holy Church could have been given praise. Everything which the Church has touched in civil society, the Holy Father asserts, has been changed for the better—especially in the spheres of morality, virtue, culture, and justice. He denies the charge that the Church is unable to assist in the attainment of the ends of civil governments—indeed, the strife in the early centuries of the existence of the Christian religion which was often blamed on Christian presence in the social order was, according to the Holy Father, the just punishment of “an avenging God” upon that social order which opposed and persecuted the Church.[6]

The Holy Father then constructs an argument in support of a close association between the Church and civil governments from the groundwork laid by centuries of Christian philosophy. Firstly, he acknowledges that man is naturally societal—man is incapable of provision for himself apart from that which is afforded by dependence upon others, both in terms of temporal gains and moral and mental goods. In order to attain to a higher state of being, man must exist in society, and from this it is inferable that man dwelling in community is in accord with the natural order and therefore divinely ordained (the equation of natural ordering and divine ordinance is an obvious one; God is creator of all things and set the order to nature—thus, that which is found to be in harmony with the natural order must be divinely ordained to be so).

Since society is both a natural and divine ordinance and in the interest of the good of the men existing in them, it then follows that there is need for some principle with which society must be together bound: a ruler is necessary to hold societies of men together. Citing Romans 13:1, the Holy Father asserts that rulers of men must be subordinate to the will of God, “for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.”[7] The right to rule over human society, Pope Leo continues, is “not bound up with any special mode of government,” but rulers in any system of governance must remember that their power is derived ultimately from that of God and must “set Him before themselves as exemplar and law in administration of the state.” Inspired by the example of God’s dominion over all of Creation, then, it follows that rulers must govern with a fatherly justice—they must rule concerned, above all, with the well-being of the citizens, and not show partisanship toward one individual or a few persons.[8]

The fundamental doctrine of the political philosophy of Pope Leo XIII—and indeed, the Church’s tradition on such matters—is found in where he next carries his argument. Since rulers must govern in the interest of their citizens, since rulers are subordinately ultimately to God, and since the Church has done supreme good to the people both in things heavenly and things of the world, it would behoove those who hold power in the state to act by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, he says, command us to worship God, and “it is a public crime to act as if there were no God.” Therefore, it is sinful that the state should not care for religion, regardless of its reasons against such consideration—be it out of pragmatism which avoids entanglements with religion for the sake of things running smoothly or because one religion or another is popular among the people. All are bound to worship God in the way in which He has commanded, and as such religion must be shielded under law—not compromised by it. All are destined toward Heaven, the Holy Father continues, and so the state must be ordered so as to allow the freedom of human persons to achieve what is their ultimate end and the very reason for their creation on this earth. Upon this sort of granting of freedom to men in society “depends the full and perfect happiness of all mankind.”[9]

Civil societies, then, to safeguard both the well-being of community in general but also of each individual in which communities consist ought to protect and profess religion, which is man’s link to God. The argument thus far has raised a fundamental question—which religion is true? We can see that allowing a religion to guide the state is certainly a worthy thing, but which religion ought that to be? As the Holy Father demonstrates, the true religion is easily proved—in prophecies, miracles, the propagation of the faith in spite of constant and vigorous opposition, and of course, the fervor of the martyrs who gave their lives for the Christian faith.[10] It is clear that the Holy Father means to say that the Catholic religion is and ought to be viewed as the supreme expression of the Christian faith, and indeed the One Church which was founded by Christ. Upon this principle his entire argument rests. Since the Church is not only a society, and association, but that association which is brought together through and in Christ and ordered by his command, it is then wholly apparent that it must not be subservient to the state—but rather that the state ought to be guided by the wisdom of the Church. Indeed, God has ordained two powers over all things in this world—powers ecclesiastical, which govern the divine things, and powers civil, which govern temporal things.[11] Pope Leo states that each is to be supreme in its own kind—the state ought to rule over things temporal, and the Church over things heavenly. In this way, he echoes the thought of St. Augustine, who taught of the separation of the Cities of God and of Man, whilst asserting the supremacy of the City of God. Anywhere in which it would seem that the authority of the two spheres overlap, deference is to be given to the Church, since it is the perfectly constituted society of divine right—and as such aims for the highest end in all things. If it were not true that the Church’s right must be observed in matters where its authority seems to run concurrent with that of civil authority, then man would not know which to follow—“it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two,”[12] says the Holy Father, and thus there would be necessity of one to have greater authority than the other in certain circumstances. God does not allow even the minutest things in nature to work in opposition to one another, but establishes harmony amongst them—and so this harmony must be reflected in societies, also under God’s sovereignty.

The relationship of Church to State, then, Pope Leo asserts, may be likened to that of the union of Body and Soul. The Body, that is, the State, has authority over attaining earthly goods, while the Soul, the Church, that of attaining Heavenly delights. This echoes the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” From all of this we see that there is to be no suspicion of civil societies for the Church or likewise of the Church for governments, there is to be no opposition—but harmony between the two that the good of mankind may flourish both to the attainment of advancement of virtues in this life and the joys of heaven in the next.[13]

A number of doctrines stand in opposition to this sort of harmony, and the Holy Father summarily denounces them as being at variance with both the precepts of the Gospel and with natural law. Firstly, that all men are in equal control of their lives and moreover masters of their own destinies; second, that government is nothing more than the will of the people; third, that “the authority of God (may be) passed over in silence, just as if there were no God or as if He cared nothing for human society, or as if man…owed nothing to God.”[14] These doctrines place the Church in a position less than or equal to that of all other associations which may exist in a society, making her out to be “just another denomination” or a mere group—owing no credit to her divine foundations. When these doctrines come to dominate the consciousness of a society, then the Church suffers—to the point that even when the Church is given what is rightfully hers in society, men cry out in opposition and demand that she be separated from the state. From this opposition, much harm comes to the Christian life—marriage becomes redefined, goods of the clergy and of the Church’s associations are taken, and the Church becomes just another place for people to gather of their own volition, as if it were not divinely founded. The Church is kept thusly in bondage to the state, not allowed to act freely. The Holy Father boldly condemns the doctrine of popular sovereignty, saying that it is “exceedingly well calculated to flatter and to inflame many passions, but which lacks all responsible proof and all power of insuring public safety and preserving order.”[15] This doctrine, once enthroned as the animating principle of the state, leads to an emphasis on the sovereignty of man and an indifference to religion—which in turn can lead to atheism. If believers are to be consistent, the Holy Father says, they must acknowledge that the One God could not have established disparate and opposing wills, but one will and therefore one Church to transmit his will (thus adding another layer to the fundamental argument). Liberty of thought, then, can have a destabilizing effect upon the state and is not to its advantage. True liberty “is a power perfecting man and hence should have truth and goodness for its object.”[16] True liberty is the freedom to do what one must to attain sanctification.

And thus we return to the arguments set forth by James Madison, and it is plain to see that Madison’s philosophy is at variance with that of Pope Leo XIII and of the broader body of the Church’s tradition. There are many points of Madison’s letter which the Holy Father would find himself in agreement with. Notably, these include that religion is “the duty which we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it,” that it “can only be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;”[17] that civil magistrates are not competent to judge matters relating to religious truth; and that the Christian faith flourished apart from the support of human laws and even in spite of those laws which were hostile to her. Where Madison says such things, he agrees with Pope Leo—and indeed, the wording which the Holy Father uses in stating these things is quite similar. However, these points of agreement, however significant, pale when Madison’s arguments are scrutinized in light of those of Pope Leo XIII, who makes a far more compelling case for a close relationship between Church and State than Madison does for their disparity.

In the first case, Madison posits that religion ought to be left to the individual conviction and conscience of every man. While the Catholic tradition holds that man must act according to his conscience, it would also hold that a conscience may be properly or improperly formed. Madison does not allow for this in his assessment—in other words, if a man has a malformed conscience which would cause him to be opposed to what is good and right as concerns religion, a choice in accord with such should not be seen as wrong or in need of correction. Madison’s continuance of this line of thinking finds itself to be in serious contradiction of even itself—that man must render his duty to the Creator as each believes is acceptable to himself. Pope Leo answers this eloquently—if there is one Creator, then there is only one will of that Creator, and therefore only one way which is proper to render homage unto Him. Thus, religion is not a matter of individual tastes, but one rooted in eternal truth as revealed by the one God. Madison again contradicts himself when he says that before man may enter into civil society, “he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe.” If a man’s conscience dictates that there is no “Governour of the Universe,” then how may he enter into political society? To what principle do we look and call supreme when these two dictates contradict—the mandates of individual conscience and the prerequisites of societal association? To Pope Leo, the answer is clear—the wisdom of the Church is supreme to the will of man and to the will of governments.

A further contradiction in Madison’s thinking is found in his description of why freedom of conscience on matters of religion is an “unalienable right;” that it is unalienable because “the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men.”[18] This denies that fundamental and natural state of man as societal which Pope Leo identifies—it is patently impossible for a man to contemplate that which came from his own mind, since all ideas, all thoughts, even the simplest expression of speech, must have come from some other apart from himself. Madison, then, is lacking in epistemological analysis. No man can think independently, since all thoughts are at least in some part inspired by some other thought. It would then follow that men may think good things as concern religious matters, and men may think bad things as concern them, depending upon what evidence has been given to their contemplation. However, Madison seems to rule out the possibility that in political society, the wrongness of one man’s doctrines would require the correction of his brethren.

Madison very interestingly raises the point that religion ought not to be under the sovereignty of the state, which would seem to support the argument contrary to his—that true religion is supreme to the will of the state. In failing to acknowledge one religion or another as supreme in this manner, he errs, at least in kind, in a way identified by Pope Leo—that the Catholic religion is reduced to one option among many or is thought of as equal to, or less than the others. While Madison does not directly imply this, his line of argument depends upon this. In the following section of his letter, he then contradicts himself by implying that establishment of religion is something which must be contracted by the state, when the supremacy of one religion or another is not determined by the majority rule—it is the true Church by her own nature as being founded by Christ that makes her supreme, and it is not for the state to judge whether the Church holds primacy, least of all when the state is constituted according to the majority’s will. Madison says that we acknowledge religion to be of Divine origin, and if this is so, says Pope Leo, then why do we compromise and acknowledge a multiplicity of religions? If there is one God, there is one Divine Will, not many—and not many disparate cults which pay homage to the Almighty in varied and contradictory ways. The believer, says Pope Leo, ought to be consistent[19]—and here we see where Madison’s argument fails. Madison is content to acknowledge that all religions are equally valid, content to an indifference to which religion might contain more or less truth—or even truth in its fullness. Madison does not seem open to the possibility that there might be a religion which claims primacy, a religion which claims a power that comes from on high to the exclusion of other claims to the same power. It is this sort of religious indifference which has pervaded our society—and even those sects found in our society—even up to this day, and which have made the Church’s task in this country difficult. Even the sects who exist in this county seem content to disavow any varying degree of truth and to consider themselves to exist in a sort of false unity—a unity based solely on mutual acceptance of particular errors.

When the freedom of men to enter into whichever religious affiliation they so choose according to the dictates of their consciences is abused, continues Madison, it is not only an offense against man, but against God. Here again, Madison finds himself to be inconsistent with what is true and natural, and here again he ignores the possibility that men may be wrong in their doctrinal observances. It is in the abuse of free will by choosing false doctrines that men offend God, not in men seemingly encroaching on other men’s versions of truth. True freedom, as Pope Leo emphasizes in another encyclical (Libertas Praesentissimum), does not come from slavery to falsehoods, but to obedience to the will of Christ—it is only in obeying Christ and His Church that men are free to grow into what they ought to be. As the Gospel of John says, “the truth will make you free.” Truth is not determined by the will of the majority, but is true by itself, regardless of the opinions of men about it.

Madison goes on to bolster the case against his own argument by speaking of the pre-existence of the religious truth to human policies.[20] By acknowledging that religion is not of human invention, but Divine provenance, he then opens his own argument up to historical criticism. It is plain that there was one Christian faith—plain for the reasons that Madison himself outlines in much the same way that Pope Leo does, as we have already noted—and that it flourished in spite of injurious human activity. If there was a religion which pre-existed such human societies, does it not stand to reason that that religion might also be pre-eminent to the state? Madison then continues with his historical errors, saying almost hysterically that no good can come of the legal establishment of Christianity—that it has “been on trial” for “almost fifteen centuries.”[21] He makes this claim without offering any evidence, merely pointing to a few generalized negative effects to arise from such an association between Church and State. In the first place, before whom has this legal establishment “been on trial?” Madison asserts over and over that the state is not competent to judge religions, so is Christianity on trial before men? How can this be if states constituted of men—which are themselves necessarily greater than individuals—cannot judge religion? Madison’s “evidence” against the association of religion with the state include “pride and indolence among the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both superstition, bigotry, and persecution,”[22] and later on, when speaking of sectarian discord that “torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world.”[23] While it is true that these things have happened in some circumstances, Madison does not seem to be allowing for the principle of abusus non tollit usum. It must be conceded that ill effects have come from Church-State relationships, but these effects must not be blamed on the Church and her doctrines—but rather on the corrupt men who inhabit both Church and State. As Pope Leo says, everywhere that the Church has touched, she has brought change for the better, improvement in virtue and advancement in culture.[24] History’s verdict here does not seem to be in Madison’s favor.

Above all, when James Madison’s doctrines of separation of Church and State, and indeed, those of the American political conscience from his time into our own, are scrutinized in light of the Church’s consistent and ancient teachings, it is apparent that the freedom preached by the American regime then and now is not freedom in its truest sense—freedom in Christ—but a sort of imagined freedom, a sort of license which, if left unbridled, leads to all manner of falsities that are destructive to the constitution of individual souls and to the soul of the state. Madison lacks a clear hierarchy in his division of the wills of the Church, the State, and the individual. He claims that the individual is subordinate to the State, and that religious sentiments then subordinate to the will of the individual—and that the two ought never to interfere with one another. How can this be, when he asserts over and over that the State is not supreme to religion? Further, how can it be when the state is constituted according to the will of the men in whom it consists? It can only be in a mindset which does not allow for there to be one, solid, objective truth. It can only consistently occur in a society wherein state sanctioned relativism is the manner of governance. The near-hysteria of the Founding Fathers of the American regime is echoed today in the anti-religious sentiments of a society which finds itself increasingly individualistic, increasingly opposed to God. These things the Church has met and continues to meet head-on with the ancient wisdom evident from the beginning of creation in its ordering, and then revealed in the fulfillment of God’s promises to men. The Holy Father Pope Leo XIII is a servant of this holy wisdom, and when his thought is matched against that of the Father of the Constitution, it is clear to see which one preaches true freedom. It is clear to see from this assessment the very fortitude of the laws of Almighty God.

[1] Memorial and Remonstrance 1

[2] Ibid., 2

[3] Ibid., 4

[4] Ibid., 6

[5] Ibid., 11

[6] Immortale Dei, 1

[7] Ibid, 3

[8] Ibid, 4

[9] Ibid., 6

[10] Ibid., 7

[11] Ibid., 13

[12] Ibid., 13

[13] Ibid., 14

[14] Ibid., 25

[15] Ibid., 31

[16] Ibid., 32

[17] Memorial and Remonstrance, 1

[18] Ibid., 1

[19] Immortale Dei, 31

[20] Memorial, 6

[21] Ibid., 7

[22] Ibid., 7

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Immortale Dei, 1

Encyclical Letter Immortale Dei of Pope Leo XIII, 1885

Memorial and Remonstrance by James Madison, 1785


Anonymous said...

This young writer needs to look at
a Catholic theologian's works for
the National Institute for the Study of the Declaration of Independence: "Was Frankenstein Really Uncle Sam?" Notes on the State of the Declaration, Vols 1-10, and "My Daily Constitution"; A Natural Law Perspective, vols 1-4.
It might help if he read Vat II.

ACEGC said...

I have read Vatican II. I'm not sure what you're getting at here; in this paper I am merely deconstructing the arguments of James Madison with the Catholic perspective of Leo XIII. I'm also not sure what relevance the article you emailed me has; I don't think that America killed God, and I don't think that Islam is burying Him. Could you please clarify what you mean by this? Furthermore, please tell me what relevance my age has to all this, and please identify yourself in the future--it is very hard to engage in discourse with the anonymous.