Sunday, 17 May 2020

May We Shout at Boris?

Screenshot of Daily Mail May 11/12 article
Good morning and happy Sunday! I apologise to anyone eagerly awaiting my thoughts on Fr. Crean's and Dr. Fimister's chapter on the origins of temporal authority in Integralism. It is thirty pages long, and I finished it just now.

I am glad the authors provided an overview of each chapter in a list of "Theses" because readers like me who have not read the political philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas profit from a repetition of the key concepts.

Chapter 5 is thirty pages long and, as I said, while elegant and clear, it demands an attention span and depth of thought not encouraged by two decades of online reading.

The principal argument of this chapter (for anarchy-leaning me) is that temporal authority is willed by God and that it would be necessary even if there had been no Fall. The chapter usefully begins, however, with a distinction between Aristotle's concept of man's earthly goal and liberalism.

According to Aristotle, man's greatest good is carrying out the virtues of, firstly, "speculative wisdom"  and, secondly, "practical wisdom  and character". The highest action of the first is the contemplation of God. The second are ideally "practised in the company of friends, supported by a healthy body and by the minimum sufficiency of material goods, as a free citizen of a free and self-sufficient city where all the citizens know one another, a city possessing peace within and security without." So far, so Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

I am trying to imagine an Edinburgh in which everyone knows everybody, including the shifting sands of foreign students, and failing. In fact, it is hard to imagine everyone in my eight-flat building, let alone everyone in this street, knowing everybody in it. "We keep ourselves to ourselves" is an expression used in the area, which sounds very selfish, when you think of it. I suppose we are now keeping ourselves to ourselves with a vengeance, aren't we? A Royal Wedding or Royal Birth or even  a commemoration of World War II may be an excuse for street party in London or even Glasgow, but not here. Alas.

Liberalism, on the other hand, claims that "political authority exists principally to secure for each person the greatest possible exercise of liberty compatible with the freedom of others." Despite its defence by such great names as John Stuart Mill and John Rawls (whom I seem to remember from an MA thesis I once proofread), our Catholic authors pronounce the idea that free will, or free action, "is itself the highest human good" is "absurd."

"...[A] creature's free action as such cannot be its highest good, since this action can be evil. It is quite conceivable, and indeed often the case, that human beings freely render themselves miserable," state Fimister and Crean.

"Alas!" I replied with my pencil.

My next scribbles are a ? followed by another ? because I don't understand why adult human beings would have needed ruling if we lived in an unfallen world and were unfallen ourselves. Aquinas says that any social life needs someone to oversee the common good.

But when I think about it, Our Lady, who was sinless, was ruled by St Joseph, and moreover, Our Blessed Lord, who was God, permitted Himself to be subject to both His mother and His foster father. Goodness gracious, no wonder St. Joseph has nothing to say in the Gospel.

Thus, from the example of both Our Lord and Our Lady, it is quite clear that there is such a thing as the authority of a husband and a father even in the perfect society of the Holy Family. Dr. Fimister and Fr. Crean may use this argument for free. I am still not sure why Our Lord and Our Lady needed ruling, but apparently they did. Yes, it's all very well to say Herod, but a single angel would have been more than a match for him. In related news, Herod had a particularly horrible death.

The authors' write of the separation of temporal and spiritual power, including the thought that "it is very desirable and the pope not be subject, even de facto, to any temporal sovereign." However, he is a temporal sovereign, I point out. He used to be the temporal sovereign of the Papal States, and he continues to be the head of state for Vatican City.

Our current pontiff is not popular among some of my friends in Rome, and the first time B.A. and I were in Rome following his election, we were rather stunned by how freely our pals criticised him over a restaurant lunch a stone's throw from the Colosseum. I kept thinking some Scarpia-like figure was going to arrest us all and throw us in a dungeon.

My next thought was to wonder to what extent the pope should interest himself in temporal affairs, especially given the as yet unproven rumour that Pope Francis made a donation to Hilary Clinton's campaign and the regular appearance of such non-Catholic personalities as Jeffrey Sachs in the Vatican. Sometimes Catholics worry that the spiritual power of our bishops is subjecting itself to temporal power, instead of the other way around, as Fimister, Crean and Aquinas would prefer. But in Malaysia, I noted in the margins, the temporal authority supports rather vigorously the celebration of the Islamic Ramadan.

(Question: Is it better to live in Malaysia than in the United Kingdom?)

"Since Pentecost ... all temporal rulers must be subject to the authority of the Catholic Church," write Fimister and Crean, paraphrasing Aquinas, who said "To [the Roman Pontiff] all the kings of the Christian people are to be subject as to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself."

"But what if he's a bad pope?" I scribbled.

When I was at university, the answer to this was that however wicked in his personal life a given pope, he at least never messed around with the doctrines of the faith. We assured each other that messing with the doctrine of the faith was a step too far even for popes like Alexander VI.

(Amusingly, having just asked B.A. which is the pontiff  most notorious for his vices, he replied "Alexander VI,  but he never touched doctrine.")

I don't think I can do this chapter justice with a blogpost. There are too many concepts. Perhaps the best thing I can do now is write the questions that I wrote in the margins as I read.

Is temporal authority as we currently experience it in Britain, almost completely indifferent to spiritual authority,  like the licitness of a pagan marriage?

Could English Catholics have legitimately overthrown Elizabeth I?

Is not advising Catholics to put up with a tyrant analogous to telling a beaten wife in the confessional that she should put up with her husband's bad behaviour?

Did Henry IX ever actually renounce his claim to the thrones of England and Scotland and acknowledge the rule of the House of Hanover?

And now I must prepare to watch Mass online. Interestingly, in the situation of closing churches to private prayer, it would seem that the officially Protestant state took advice from Cardinal Vince Nichols in this matter, reversing a previous decision to allow Christians to pray privately in our churches. Given the idea that the primary temporal end of man is to contemplate God, and given that it is unproven that private prayer in a church opens citizens to infection, one really needs to scribble several question marks around all that.


Update: After reading this chapter, I am still uncertain as to whether or not we may shout at the Prime Minister (or even at the "wee Jimmy Krankie woman") although I suspect not. I am absolutely sure that we must never shout at the Queen.

Update 2: Marking up a book with your thoughts can be dangerous if your husband is also reading the book.

"The husband's authority over his wife does not depend on his wife's continued consent to it," read B.A. aloud. "Sad face."

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