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Christ the King and

the Catholic Tea Party

Christopher A. Ferrara POSTED: Monday October 11, 2010

"A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."

Dr. Martin Luther King

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

( It is impossible not to sympathize with the rank-and-file members of the nationwide “Tea Party” movement, who view with panic and outrage the political events of the past two years. With the election of Barack Obama, that international man of mystery, an already amoral and out-of-control federal government threatens to become an outright dictatorship by an elected oligarchy and an unaccountable permanent bureaucracy.

Only a hundred years after the fall of the House of Hapsburg under President Wilson’s tank treads, Americans suffer under the yoke of an illimitable “government of the people, for the people and by the people.” On the Left, the partisans of Big Government demand even more power for Washington, while on the Right the radical libertarians (including the Catholics among them) demand a utopian abolition of the State, while “moderate” libertarians and generic “conservatives” appeal to Jeffersonian liberalism.

Since both the party of the Left and the party of the Right are composed of liberals of one sort or another, they both appeal to the very premises that gave birth to the tyrannical modern State: the “will of the people,” “individual rights,” “self-ownership,” the “consenting adult” principle, the limitation of government to material concerns, the divorce of religion from politics and of human law from divine law.

In our age of “religious freedom,” hailed by both the Left and the Right, the State declares the dissolution of sacramental marriages and the breakup of families and households, abortion is a constitutional right, homosexuals demand the right to marry (with the support even of certain Catholic libertarians), while priests and prelates cower in fear over the prospect of losing their tax exemptions or an investigation for “hate speech.” The State, separated from the Church, dies the death of a body politic that has lost its soul.

The Founders… Again?

The rank-and-file Tea Partiers know that something is terribly wrong with America. They have reached the point of open resistance to the regime in Washington, and that is a welcome development. Also welcome is the prospect of a massive shift of Congressional power away from the Democrats in the elections next month, fueled largely by Tea Party activism.  As broken as the American political process is, the reduction of Obama the Narcissist to a lame duck with a teleprompter cannot but warm our hearts.

But for all their good intentions, it seems the rank and file of the Tea Party movement do not understand the true nature of the enemy they face, for their leaders will not tell them.  Their leaders, who have made themselves richer than ever by goading the masses with cries of “let freedom ring!”, have corralled the whole movement into yet another appeal to the Founders and the Framers of the Constitution, which is to say yet another appeal to the will of the majority—the same majority that elected Obama.

The good people at the grassroots of the Tea Party movement have not been told by their leaders that the enemy they face is Power unrestrained by the fear of God or the law of the Gospel, not merely Power that does not abide by a constitutional text that says nothing of God or His law. They do not understand that Liberty has always been just another name for Power, but Power of a kind that did not exist and could not exist when rulers were Christian and feared for their own salvation.

For people with any sense of the broad sweep of history, the golden legend that “the age of democratic revolution” freed mankind from the yoke of “popery” and monarchical tyranny can only evoke contemptuous laughter. One who has a working knowledge of American history in particular will, when he hears the golden legend, think of such things as President Washington marching over the Alleghenies with his army of 15,000 militiamen to crush the Whiskey Rebellion (against a federal tax on whiskey), or President John Adams’s last-minute pardon from death by hanging for the participants in the Fries Rebellion (against a direct federal tax on real estate and slaves), which Adams regally granted in 1800 because “the late wicked and treasonable insurrection against the just authority of the United States of sundry persons [has]… been speedily suppressed without any of the calamities usually attending rebellion…” 

How quickly the “Spirit of 1776” was extinguished once its proponents gained power!  One will think also of President Thomas Jefferson’s tyrannical embargo of the entire United States overseas shipping industry, with the aid of the U.S. military, in order to serve Napoleon’s equally tyrannical embargo of all trade with Britain as part of his “Continental System” during the Napoleonic Wars.

These were early manifestations of the imperial Presidency and the smothering federal supremacy that the anti-Federalists predicted would develop the moment the Framers emerged from that locked room in Philadelphia to announce that they had junked the Articles of Confederation and devised an entirely new federal government—the first extended republic in human history—whose enactments would be, precisely as the Constitution itself declares, “the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” It did not take a prophet to see what that language would mean in practice.

Anyone who has made a serious study of the early history of the Republic will have come across the writings of the pseudonymous anti-Federalist “Brutus,” generally believed to have been Robert Yates, a New York jurist and delegate to the Philadelphia Convention who was among the sixteen delegates that refused to sign the Philadelphia resolutions comprising the proposed Constitution.

Like Patrick Henry, “Brutus” (a pseudonym evidently intended to evoke the assassination of Caesar in order to prevent the overthrow of the Roman Republic) focused on the mischief of the “necessary and proper clause,” as well as the “supremacy clause,” warning that “the government will have complete judicial and executive authority to carry all their laws into effect, which will be paramount to the judicial and executive authority of the individual states: in vain therefore will be all interference of the legislatures, courts, or magistrates of any of the states on the subject; for they will be subordinate to the general government, and engaged by oath to support it, and will be constitutionally bound to submit to their decisions.”  (Cf. The Anti-Federalist Papers, “Brutus,” No. 6.).

Furthermore, wrote “Brutus,” the taxing power (not just the later-added income tax) would make the federal government a colossus the people would inevitably find themselves powerless to resist:

The general legislature [Congress] will be empowered to lay any tax they chuse [sic], to annex any penalties they please to the breach of their revenue laws; and to appoint as many officers as they may think proper to collect the taxes…. And the courts of law, which they will be authorized to institute, will have cognizance of every case arising under the revenue laws, the conduct of all the officers employed in collecting them; and the officers of these courts will execute their judgments. There is no way, therefore, of avoiding the destruction of the state governments… unless the people rise up, and, with a strong hand, resist and prevent the execution of constitutional laws. The fear of this, will, it is presumed, restrain the general government, for some time, within proper bounds; but it will not be many years before they will have a revenue, and force, at their command, which will place them above any apprehensions on that score.

The end result of the power to tax, the “necessary and proper” clause, and the “supremacy” clause, “Brutus” predicted in 1787, would be a national government that

will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, follow the servants into the parlour, preside over the table, and note down all he eats or drinks; it will attend him to his bed chamber, and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the professional man in his office or study; it will watch the merchant in his counting house or his store; it will follow the mechanic to his shop and in his work, and will haunt him in his family and in his bed; it will be the constant companion of the farmer in all his industrious labor…; it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage; and finally, it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people and in all the circumstances in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them will be, GIVE! GIVE!

The anti-Federalists’ prediction about what the Framers had wrought has been fulfilled to the letter. And yet it is to the Framers that the fat and happy leaders of the Tea Party movement would have us appeal today—one more time.

It is Time for a Catholic Approach

No, not this time.  If our nation is to avoid self-destruction on the basis of the very principle on which it was founded—the will of “we, the People” operating through a centralized national government; the will of the people who elected Obama and may well elect him again—this time we need an entirely new approach.  And that approach is laid out for us in the social teaching of the Catholic Church. 

The Tea Party movement has an immense energy that could work wonders for the common good, if only those who lead it would provide its members with the correct principles on which to proceed. The Church provides those principles, and if the movement adopted them it would become unstoppable. Those principles are two:  First, subsidiarity. Second, the divine origin of all political authority, including its divinely imposed limits.

Concerning subsidiarity, we do not need schooling on the limits of government from that slave-owning mocker of orthodox Christianity, Thomas Jefferson, who defended the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 as a legitimate exercise of federal authority and was a virtual dictator during his second term as President.  Neither he nor the Constitution is the source of the moral truth that any government violates natural justice and must be resisted when it arrogates to itself functions that belong of right to lower levels of authority. 

As Pius XI taught in Quadragesimo Anno: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” The principle of subsidiarity, applied according to the objective moral order, is what the Tea Party movement should be invoking instead of a resistance based on the fickle sentiments of the same electoral majorities that have produced the very crisis against which the movement is reacting.

All resistance to the abuse of power must be founded ultimately upon the recognition that there is no sovereignty on this earth that is not ultimately derived from and subject to the sovereignty of God and the rule of His law. 

If even Martin Luther King could see this, and said as much in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, no Catholic has any excuse for not defending this truth as the only solid ground of resistance to unjust and immoral laws. Yet I am informed that a prominent Catholic libertarian polemicist, let us call him Arrogans, has remarked that the sovereignty of God is “unhelpful except to describe God’s authority over the universe.” Since the universe would appear to include America, it is hard to see what is meant by this affirmation.  At any rate, Arrogans reveals a scant knowledge of the Church’s teaching or even the Western jurisprudential tradition from Augustine to Blackstone, which is founded upon a recognition of the logical impossibility of human authority without divine authority at its origin: “Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above,” said our Lord to Pilate. (Cf. John 19:11).

The Enlightenment-bred notion of the “sovereignty of the people” is, as we have seen, nothing but a formula for a boundless tyranny of the majority—the very majority whose decisions in the last election produced the President and Congress the Tea Party movement so rightly opposes.

 The Constitution Read the Catholic Way

Our Arrogans has previously ridiculed Catholic defenders of the sovereignty of Christ the King over all nations as crypto-monarchists who seek to establish a Catholic confessional state in America.  This is ignorance wedded to demagoguery. 

The problem is not so much the form of government, but rather the lack of a correct understanding of the divine source and limitations of human authority. Arrogans either does not know or chooses not to disclose the authentic Catholic teaching. As Pope Leo XIII declared in his landmark encyclical Libertas: “[I]t is not of itself wrong to prefer a democratic form of government, if only the Catholic doctrine be maintained as to the origin and exercise of power.” Indeed, if read in light of the Catholic teaching, the Constitution could serve us well.  For then the document would not be a mere piece of paper handed down by fallible men, but rather what it ought to be: a sacred covenant between ruler and subject, limited in all its provisions by divine law and the requirements of natural law and natural justice.

In fact, as I have mentioned before on these pages, little more than a hundred years ago even conservative Protestants recognized that the Constitution lacked this aspect of a sacred covenant because of its conspicuous failure to mention God, much less Jesus Christ—and this in what was supposed to be a Christian nation. Thus, as I have earlier noted, in 1874 a nationwide movement of prominent Protestant clergy, academics, legislators and jurists known as the National Reform Association (NRA) presented a Memorial and Petition to Congress, which had been circulating since 1864, calling for nothing less than an explicit recognition of the sovereignty of God and the Social Kingship of Christ in the Constitution.  Referring to “our national sins, which have provoked the Divine displeasure”—that is, the Civil War—and the need of “of imploring forgiveness through Jesus Christ,” NRA’s petition called upon Congress to initiate the process for amending the Constitution’s Preamble to read as follows:

We, the people of the United States, [humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government,] and in order to form a more perfect union…

Our situation is dire indeed when contemporary “Catholic libertarians” like Arrogans invoke Thomas Jefferson instead of Christ, mocking Catholic defenders of the divine truth that even conservative non-Catholics took seriously within the lifetime of our great-grandparents. By appealing to Jefferson instead of Christ, however, “Catholic libertarians” only insure that the Constitution remains a mere human convention and thus, in our present circumstances, a dead letter.

Hadley Arkes, the renowned Jewish constitutional scholar, rightly argued more than twenty years ago that we must go “beyond the Constitution” in order to save the Constitution from becoming an engine of incalculable moral destruction. As Arkes rightly asked in his famous book by that title: “[W]hy would a constitution merit our faith if it were not committed in principle to justice rather than tyranny? Why should we summon our faith in the Constitution if there is no moral ground of conviction to support that faith?” By this Arkes meant “an independent ground of right and wrong… a moral understanding that does not depend on the vagaries of local cultures,” rather than “a ground of jurisprudence that reduces to ‘the habits of the tribe’ or to the opinions that are dominant in a particular country.” When Arkes wrote Beyond the Constitution he was already moving toward the Catholic position, so it is not surprising that he entered the Church in April of this year.

Only the Catholic doctrine on what Leo called “the origin and exercise of power” can provide the moral ground for a Constitution that stands for something more than merely the will of the people who wrote it, or ratified it, or amended it. In the absence of that doctrine—which happens to apply to every nation on the face of the earth, even if “Catholic libertarians” seem unaware of this—the Constitution poses no ultimate impediment to power that knows no limits save those provisionally imposed by capricious majorities ungoverned by any standard besides fifty-percent-plus-one of “we, the People.” And who but “we, the People” gave us Barack Obama as President in the first place?

What is needed, then, is a Constitution read the Catholic way rather than the Jeffersonian way, for the Jeffersonian reading requires what Jefferson himself insisted upon in his First Inaugural Address: “absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics…” This “vital principle of republics,” if not limited in its operation by the restraints of divine and natural law, can only mean the collapse of the moral order we now endure. Here Catholics should be mindful of the prophetic words of that great American Catholic convert, Orestes Brownson, writing in 1873—a year before the NRA’s petition to Congress. Having pronounced the Constitution a dead letter some years before, precisely because it had created a mass democracy ungoverned by the dictates of revealed truth, Brownson offered this devastating prognosis for the Republic:

Where the people are Catholic and submissive to the law of God, as declared and applied by the vicar of Christ and supreme pastor of the church, democracy may be a good form of government; but combined with Protestantism or infidelity in the people, its inevitable tendency is to lower the standard of morality, to enfeeble intellect, to abase character, and to retard civilization, as even our short American experience amply proves. Our republic may have had a material expansion and growth; but every observing and reflecting American, whose memory goes back, as mine does, over fifty years, sees that in all else it is tending downward, and is on the declivity to utter barbarism.  [Brownson’s Quarterly Review, “Introduction to Last Series,” January 1873, p. 5]

The Need for Genuine Catholic Leadership

As I sat down to write this piece, I learned that the Polish hierarchy had just rejected a lay movement to consecrate Poland to Christ the King, declaring—just as Arrogans has suggested—that the people involved should devote themselves instead to “deepening faith in Christ as the ‘King of the Universe.’” King of the Universe, but not of Poland?  This nonsense is what passes for enlightened Catholic thought in the post-Vatican II epoch.

Tellingly, the lay movement calls itself “The Movement for the Sovereignty of the Polish People,” and its mass demonstration in Warsaw featured “national flags and pictures of the Crowned Christ, King of Parliament.” At least some Catholics in Poland understand what the Church means by sovereignty, even if their bishops do not.  As these members of the Polish laity recognize, only Christ the King can resolve the crisis of sovereignty that now threatens the very existence of Western civilization.  Catholics in America need to follow their example before it is too late.

The Tea Party movement could indeed “take back our country,” but only if it follows the principles that God has ordained for the right ordering of the State, failing which the movement will degenerate into yet another ineffectual manifestation of ephemeral majority sentiment [not unlike Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich’s famous “Contract With America” during the 1994 Congressional election campaign. MJM].

The problem, however—as we see with Arrogans—is that the vast majority of Catholics in this country, including the hierarchy, no longer exhibit any belief in the teaching of their own Church on the sovereignty of God and the supremacy of His law as the ground and limit of human authority. They have thus been reduced to practical atheists in their approach to the sociopolitical crisis of our time, recommending only “practical solutions” based on a “consensus” that merely pushes us closer to the edge of the abyss toward which the majority is inexorably moving America because there is simply no leader in the opposition who will oppose the principle of majority rule when it conflicts with God’s rule.

Harnessed to the right principles, the Tea Party movement could actually topple the powers that be and begin a fourth or fifth Great Awakening in America—a true awakening rather than a transient popular flirtation with various Protestant enthusiasms. As things now stand, however, the movement is being led by such blind guides as Glenn Beck, a fallen away Catholic who joined that classically American religion, Mormonism, and who recently invoked Washington, Madison and Jefferson as our saviors from the Obama regime. Ironically enough, all three members of this “holy trinity” expanded federal power when they served as President.

The time has come for Catholics in the Tea Party movement to act as Catholics and take the lead wherever they can, proclaiming openly the Catholic doctrine on subsidiarity and the sovereignty of God over every man and every nation. It is not Washington, Madison and Jefferson who will deliver us, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  The time has come for a Catholic Tea Party that will take its inspiration, not from the human Founders of one nation, but from the divine Founder of the Universe, who is King of all nations and governments, as our fellow members of the laity in Poland have so fearlessly proclaimed.

Only Christ the King can save the Republic from the final consequences of its own errors. And without Him we can do nothing, as He Himself admonished His subjects when He walked the earth. “He ruleth by his power forever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” (Psalm 66:7)  Only when Catholics begin to act as if they still believe that Christ is King will America be able to change course before she goes the way of all rebellious nations.

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