The Institutio​n Athwart History

Readers of AT are familiar with my writings as primarily concerned with declining American constitutionalism and American culture. It is a fond goal of my heart to stem both of these tides. Yet today, not three weeks from the termination of the tenure of Pope Benedict XVI, I write of something even fonder (if not wholly unrelated): the role and the fate of the Holy Catholic Church. I suggest to AT readers -- Catholic and otherwise -- a proposition deserving of your utmost scrutiny: that the Catholic Church is the single institution on the face of the Earth which has proven resistant to the abrupt change agency of the secular-Progressive agenda.

While far too many conservatives count themselves among the Church's critics, all conservatives and lovers of human freedom, consciously or not, have benefitted from its continued role as vanguard, God willing.

Since the onset of the 20th Century, only two forces have rebuffed Nazism, Communism, and Islamic Fascism: America and the Church (quite arguably, the latter has done so more effectively). Furthermore, if America is ever to rid itself of its ongoing 50 million -- plus-victim holocaust, and thereby make itself worthy of some of its broad self-congratulations -- with something analogous to South Dakota's recent "personhood amendment," it will only do so via a "hearts and minds" campaign in the direct or indirect fashion of the Church.

But as of Monday, worldwide Catholics take our own turn holding our breath after the Pope's announcement.

For nearly eight years, Pope Benedict has led his pilgrim Church, parrying the phantom peril of the Modern Age: relativism -- that neurotoxin beneath the Progressive fangs. But we practicing Catholics should scarcely be the only party to lament his impending absence from the chair or to await with baited breath the announcement of his successor. The Catholic Church serves an utterly unique capacity: it alone comprises the anti-venom to relativism.

The American Protestant -- in all historical-archaeological senses, I'll admit, the "true American" -- recoils at such a declaration... needlessly. While America's foundation was doubtlessly done in service of the goals of Whig party Anglo-Protestantism -- i.e. keeping Catholics out of Anglo-American republics, or at least out of positions of governance -- such a foundation articulated in the Declaration of Independence was possible only by reference to the Catholic doctrine of natural rights. Whigs like Grotius, Pufendorf, and Locke whose writings motivated Jefferson and the Founders in the 1780s could locate natural rights neither in their Enlightenment epistemologies nor in their Reformation beliefs -- both of which expressly rejected natural law and natural rights. These influential thinkers secretly had to borrow from Magisterial teaching the ideas which eventually fertilized the Declaration and American assumptions about constitutional rights.

Thus, the Catholic Church and America have always borne a tortured relation to one another, and the American Catholic a paradoxical identity: at its beginning, America rejected the Church, yet required her ideas.

But leaving aside the theological disputes which yet sunder the Catholic Church and her Reformationist congregations, it is undeniable that all the common foes of individual freedom, limited government, and true republicanism agree on one common opponent -- that institution athwart history, the Catholic Church. Who else bears the firepower to hold back time's floodgate? Adjudge by reference to the judgment of the enemy, after all -- the following disparate groups all long to bring down the ages upon the Catholic Church:

Communists -- who attempted the assassination of Holy Father John Paul II; their less plucky, more furtive 21st century cousins the sec-progs -- who have recently assailed conscience rights of Church organizations in America; statists of all stripe -- who, like the Nazis, recognized the Church to be the mainstay in the hearts of would-be worshippers of the Reichtstadt; media libertines bent on "fundamentally transforming American culture" -- who have regularly attempted character assassination of both the last two Popes. All these parties well understand the Church to be the big game.

An idiotically profane instance of the last group mentioned can be found here, which I am sad to say was the Yahoo headline article to which I awoke on Monday morning. If I had more time, I would love to publish a thorough redlining of this fatuous rubbish-item.

The point is: as long as the Church stands firm on its millennia-old doctrines, the moral relativism required by all these common opponents of human freedom (who labor to achieve ultimate dominion over the moral life of the individual) cannot be secured.

And in our own hour of crisis, it is high time that the Church receives a modicum of non-Catholic, conservative praise for its "sealing in the vault" the ideas required by true republicanism and by human flourishing.

While robust Protestantism and constitutionalism have played a salutary role in America's "good fight," each suffers from the same malady: text cannot vindicate itself. Even that certain "palladium of rights" codified by our first eight amendments -- the Bill of Rights -- whose very purpose was to state unequivocally the rights the individual possesses over against the federal government, currently comes under Progressive attack, notwithstanding its terse clarity (e.g. "the right to keep and bear...").

Progressives relentlessly labor to pervert - and then subvert -- the meaning of undefended, if clear, texts like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Bible. Text is ever in need of a champion of its ideas, which I've pointed out elsewhere as the most prominent weakness of textual governance (even as a Constitutional Originalist I say this).

The Catholic Church is and has always been that champion. Its apparati and its structures bear aspects of democracy but are by no means hyper-democratic. This means that its doctrines are not subject to tempestuous popular whimsy. In its tripartite teaching voice, the Church combines Biblical scholarship with 2,000 year-old Magisterial philosophy and 2,000 year-old traditions. Thus, the text of Scripture enjoys thicker barricades from the specious hermeneutics of Postmodernism than it would without these two ever-present Catholic aids to interpretation.

As someone who studied theology, philosophy, and Latin at pontifical universities in Rome, alongside many future bishops of the Church from all around the world, I am cursorily acquainted with some of the internal politics of the Vatican. It suffices to say that, just as in American politics, the loudest voices clamoring for the presumptive superseding of the conservative versus progressive paradigm in elections/nominations... are usually themselves advocates of the most violent change and so-called "progress." Thus, I reject their "non-partisan" admonition. This March, one can only hope that the conclave of Cardinals returns a new Pope in concert with the programmatic harmony of the last two Holy Fathers, each of whom steadfastly guarded the lives of the born and unborn members of the human race (if not the Catholic Church).

Only time will tell. But in the meanwhile, American conservatives of all faith backgrounds would do well to remain informed by sources alternative to the Catholic-hostile popular media. Too many conservative Protestants still bear the tincture of anti-Rome foundational sentiment, which of course the Left has seized upon to cultivate further in-fighting within Christendom. It is hardly ecumenism to suggest as I have that conservative American Protestants ought to acknowledge the world-historical indispensability, as our republic spirals toward chaos, of the Catholic Church -- that institution athwart history.