Integralism and the Logic of the Cross

I. Timothy Troutner’s Objections to Integralism

Catholic integralism is the position that politics should be ordered to the common good of human life, both temporal and spiritual, and that temporal and spiritual authority ought therefore to have an ordered relation. As a consequence, it rejects modern liberal understandings of freedom. Timothy Troutner, in a recent article, strongly objects to the integralist position. Troutner argues that integralists in reacting to liberalism become liberalism’s mirror image. Liberalism, he claims, is understandable as a reaction to real errors in Christendom, and promoted, though in a distorted way, the precious Christian truths of the goodness of liberty and equality that Christendom had forgotten. In simply rejecting liberalism as a deception of the Anti-Christ, Troutner argues, integralists end up defending indefensible crimes of Christendom, and condemning important truths associated with liberalism. Integralists commit a fatal error, Troutner thinks, in attempting to attain spiritual ends by means of coercive, temporal power. In this, he suggests they play the role of the devil. Just as the devil tempted Christ in the desert with the kingdoms of the world, so integralists tempt the Church with the use of worldly power. But the power that the Church uses should be quite different he maintains. Just as Christ rejected the devil’s temptation and chose to win his victory through the self-emptying sacrifice of the Cross, so too the Church must strive for the spiritual end with spiritual means, with a power that takes its form from Christ’s kenotic love.

Troutner’s conclusion that integralism must be rejected by Catholics is, however, false. The arguments that he uses to support it are based on exaggerations and misunderstandings. He tries to distinguish his own understanding of freedom and equality from the liberal understanding. But he does not distinguish them enough. For Troutner, as for liberals, freedom and equality are opposed to hierarchy and obedience. Whereas, in reality, true freedom and true equality depend on hierarchy and on obedience.

Troutner accuses integralists of uncritically accepting everything about Christendom that liberals reject, thus blinding their eyes to the errors of Christendom. But integralists have always distinguished abuses of power in Christendom and its proper uses. It is Troutner who uncritically accepts liberal rejections of the use of temporal power for spiritual ends an sich. Troutner manifests here a view of temporal power as so deformed by libido dominandi that it can never be used for good ends. On Troutner’s view, grace does not heal, elevate, and perfect man’s political nature, rather it replaces it with an inclination to a vague and inconsistent anarchism. Moreover, Troutner’s contention that integralists promote a worldly understanding of power not formed by Christ’s kenotic love, misunderstands both the form of power in Christendom and (more importantly) Christ’s love. Christ self-emptying in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion is meant to restore and elevate the hierarchy of creation wounded by sin, not to replace it with egalitarianism. Nor was the Church’s juridical understanding of herself in Christendom an imitation of worldly power, unaffected by Christ’s kenosis. In fact, the very opposite is the case: the form of temporal politics in Christendom was a conscious imitation of the hierarchy of the Church and the rules of the monastic orders. And the ruler was always understood as an image of Christ, bound to give himself for the common good of his commonwealth just as Christ offered himself for the Church.

I am grateful for Troutner’s article, because it gives me the opportunity to clarify the properly theological character of integralism. I will do so by considering the following  points: the liberal understanding of freedom and equality as a reactionary rejection of the goods of hierarchy (II.), the goodness of created hierarchy (III.), the wounding of that hierarchy through sin (IV.), the restoration and elevation of it through Christ (V.), the Christological form of politics in Christendom (VI.), and finally the incoherence of Troutner’s Christian anarchism (VII.).

II. Liberalism’s Reactionary Rejection of Hierarchy

The modern liberal project has always aimed at overcoming unjust inequality and servitude. Liberals have understood the special privileges of aristocratic classes as a form of unjust domination that has to be steadily overcome in favor of equal civil and domestic liberty for all. Each person should have as much liberty as is consistent with the same liberty in others. In this, liberalism promotes in a half-hearted way—moderated by cautious procedures and indirect mechanisms—the same program of liberation that has been pursued in a direct and violent way by revolutionary and totalitarian leftism. Two of the most eloquent recent defenses of this program are Helena Rosenblatt’s The Lost History of Liberalism and Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind.

Rosenblatt’s book is a history of liberalism from a frankly liberal perspective. She attempts to defend liberalism against critics who see it as individualistic and egotistical, and as undermining virtue and religion. The liberal tradition, she argues, is founded on the ideal of the ancient virtue of generous and public-spirited liberality, purified of its aristocratic element. Apart from a few marginal libertarian cranks, she argues, the liberal tradition—the tradition of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lincoln—has always aimed at the public good, convinced that the abolition of privilege and the establishment of civil and domestic liberty serves that good, and fosters true virtue. Liberals, she argues, have not been against religion as such, but have only opposed reactionary forms of religion such as the Catholic Church which by teaching the goodness of hierarchy and obedience has always given ideological cover to tyranny.

Robin’s book is a strident defense of the same program of liberation in the form of an attack on the reactionary conservatism that has always opposed it. “Since the modern era began,” Robin writes, “men and women in subordinate positions have marched against their superiors in the state, church, workplace, and other hierarchical institutions.” Robin sees this series of rebellions of subjects against their rulers—the bourgeoisie against the nobles, peasants against land owners, workers against industrialists, wives against husbands, and so on—as fully just. Conversely, the reactionary response has always been unjust. It has been the response of those who enjoy an unjust share of power and liberty to defend that share. Reactionaries have always clothed their propaganda in high-sounding, public-spirited words, but this has always been a pure concoction of lies. The original defense of hierarchy, Robin perceptively notes, was in terms of “ancient and medieval ideas of an orderly universe, in which permanent hierarchies of power reflected the eternal structure of the cosmos.” Later reactionaries were to modify such justifications somewhat, due to the decline of their plausibility after the anti-teleological Scientific Revolution, but the original justification remains the foundation of reactionary thought. Again, like Rosenblatt, Robin sees the Catholic Church, with her hierarchical understanding of Divine Order, as being one of the chief culprits in spinning the web of reactionary lies.

As an integralist I am convinced that Rosenblatt and Robin are in error. Creation truly does reflect the goodness of the Creator through the wonderful harmony of hierarchy—an order of goods, an order of beings, an order of rulers and subjects. And human affairs are indeed best when they reflect that order; when they are composed of many parts each subordinated to the other, the lower obeying the higher in humble obedience, the higher helping the lower in loving condescension. Rightly understood, freedom and equality are true goods. As rational beings, men are capable of understanding their good and pursuing it by their own will: true freedom. As beings of the same specific nature, men are all called to participate in the same common good: true equality. But freedom and equality are goods that depend on hierarchy and rule, obedience and humility. “If you remain with my teaching,” our Lord says, “then you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). True liberty is not opposed to hierarchy and obedience; it depends on obedience to the hierarchy of truth and goodness. And the same is true of equality: “You are my friends if you do what I tell you to. No longer do I call you slaves, because the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I call you friends, because I made known to you all that I heard from my father.” (John 15:14-15). Jesus raises his disciples from slavery to a quasi-equality with God, so that they can even call him friends. But this quasi-equality depends on submissive obedience to the commands of the Lord. It is only in losing our lives in this obedience that we find our true lives and reach our deepest desires. Indeed, the great wonder of this quasi-equality depends on a more fundamental inequality. It is because God, as the shoreless ocean of perfect happiness, is so infinitely higher than us that his condescension in calling us into the friendship of his Trinitarian life is so marvelous.

I admit, of course, that in human affairs the good of hierarchy has often been abused. Rulers have often exploited their subjects for selfish advantage rather than aiding them to attain to the common good. And, indeed, the world has seen many false hierarchies—such as chattel slavery—founded on unjust principles. But the abuse of something does not take away its proper use.

Liberalism is a reactionary program in Troutner’s sense of the word. In reacting to the abuses of hierarchy, liberalism sees hierarchy itself as evil. This inevitably backfires. By misunderstanding liberty and equality as opposed to hierarchy, liberals deprive those whom they would liberate of true liberty, true equality, and truly common goods. The result is a tyranny worse than that which came before.

III. The Glory of God and Goodness of Cosmic Hierarchy

God is infinitely and perfectly happy. He is the absolute fullness of being, the shoreless ocean of perfection, the entirely satisfying good. And he possesses his infinite being, perfection, and goodness by an unspeakably joyful act of self-comprehension. An act of the most intense and complete life—all at once, undivided, and undistended, and yet eternal. In this eternal instant of his happiness he expresses his self-comprehension in an interior Word, a Word Who so faithfully expresses the Divine comprehension that he is himself God: God the Son. The eternal Son is not a second god, but the one and only God. The Father looks at the Son and sees in him the perfect image of his life, sharing indeed the very same act of infinitely happy life. And the Son looks at the Father and sees in him the source of that infinitely good and joyful life that he is. And Father and Son love each other with a boundlessly intense love. This love they express to each other by breathing together an eternal sigh of love—a sign, a kiss, an embrace, a gift: the Holy Spirit. So perfectly does the Holy Spirit express the Divine love, that he is himself the one God.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the infinite happiness of the divine life shared, given, and received in perfect unity. In them perfect necessity coincides with something like freedom, and perfect equality coincides with a holy order of subordination. The Trinitarian processions are entirely necessary; the Father cannot but generate the Son, and Father and Son cannot but breathe the Holy Spirit. And yet these processions are altogether personal and (as it were) voluntary acts—in this sense they are free. The Persons of the Blessed Trinity are entirely equal, since each is the One God. And yet there must be an “order” among them, since, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “where plurality exists without order, confusion exists.” Order consists in the relation of many to one beginning. The beginning here is the Father. Not a beginning in time—since Son and Spirit are equally eternal—but a beginning in procession. And this order from the beginning implies subordination, as Blessed John Henry Newman says: “the very idea of order implies the idea of the subordinate . . . a subordination exists between Person and Person, and this is the incommunicable glory of the God of Grace.” The Son is subordinate to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is subordinate to Father and Son. Newman calls the order of the Divine Persons “glory,” because order or harmony is one of the essential properties of beauty. The order of the Divine Persons is the greatest and most piercing of beauties, and therefore the most luminous glory. Son and Spirit love their subordination in this order. They never stand on their dignity or assert their rights. Joseph Ratzinger writes of the Son that he is: “a completely open being, a being ‘from’ and ‘towards,’ that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own.” The same is true of the Holy Spirit.

Although the persons of the Blessed Trinity lack nothing, yet by a wholly gratuitous outpouring of their goodness they decide to create creatures, who participate by way of similitude in their Creator. They create the intellectual light of the angels—pure spirits so great that they exceed in natural perfection the whole of the visible world. Each angel by a single infused thought knows more than all human philosophers of all the ages together. Each one reflects by its unique nature some ray of the Divine light, and thereby glorifies the creator. These spirits are incomparably more numerous than the trillions upon trillions of visible stars. And they are all unequal—from the highest seraph to the lowest angel: a holy order of holy orders, holy principalities, hierarchies ordered by and toward their origin and end: the Hierē Archē, the Holy Beginning of all.

Each angel is like a universe on its own, and yet the unity of order between them is the highest natural good in which they share. God wills that they be bound together in this order with the higher ruling the lower, and lower submitting to the higher. The harmonious unity of order in this countless multitude of spiritual creatures is a more perfect reflection of the divine goodness, a more perfect glorification of God, than any angelic nature taken by itself. The order of the angels is a ravishingly beautiful symphony of spiritual life. As Dionysius writes, the celestial orders through their “mutual indwellings” and “the providences of the higher for those beneath them” are “Evangelists of the Divine Silence” revealing him in whom the participate.

In this order each good angel loves his subordination to his superiors, and to the whole order. Their delight in the reflection of God in the common good of their order, and in their contemplation of him in their natural knowledge, would have already been a very great happiness. But God wished to raise them to a greater happiness still. By grace he gives those who accept it a share in his Divine life, an unmediated Vision of his essence. And so the angelic hierarchies stand before him, beholding his face, and crying out in an ecstasy of love and wonder: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts” (Isa 6:3).

Here again there is a kind of equality, for each angel enjoys the same common good, but it is an equality that depends on the inequality of their hierarchical order. The spiritual symphony whereby the angels proclaim the Divine Silence is entirely determined in all its acts and motions, and yet this is a completely voluntary and personal determination—in a sense, it is freedom.

Next comes the material and visible creation: the galaxies and stars, and then the Earth with its oceans and mountains, and its living creatures, plants, and animals, who in their unknowing lives still show some trace of the beauty of their creator. And then comes man who is bridge between the material and spiritual worlds: a body vivified by a spiritual soul. The visible and the invisible are therefore a single order. It is this order which is the greatest manifestation of God outside of himself, and it is what he principally intends in creation. As Beatrice puts it in Dante’s Paradiso, the order that things have among themselves is “the form that makes the world resemble God.” Spiritual creatures find their perfection and happiness in submitting to this order; in being subject to other creatures; in being like the Divine Son (to use Ratzinger’s words again) completely open beings, beings “from” and “towards,” that nowhere cling to themselves and nowhere stand on their own.

Man comes to knowledge of the whole of which he is a part, and the Creator to which he is ordered, indirectly. His soul is at first dark and ignorant, all its knowledge coming from the impressions of its bodily senses. The other visible things are for his sake; they are words spoken to man by God to communicate himself to the human mind: “what is His and invisible, His eternal power and divinity, has been perceived by the mind through what He has made” (Rom 1:20). But, wounded by sin, it is only with great difficulty that man can come to knowledge. He must first master his lower passions and purify his thoughts by the moral virtues, and then ascend by reasoning to the intellectual virtue of wisdom. He establishes thereby a hierarchical order between body and soul and between the various faculties of the soul, with everything ruled by the noblest faculty: reason. The virtuous man becomes a microcosm, reflecting in his soul the order of the whole of creation. And by subduing, naming, and cultivating the irrational creatures he brings them up into fuller participation in that order.

This order is reflected in an even greater way in the communities in which men seek their good together. First in the family, and the tribe or village, and then in the complete community of the polity. The polity is practically necessary for human beings to attain to virtue. Here too, a hierarchical order of rulers and subjects is fitting. Unlike the angelic hierarchies, which are given by nature, human hierarchies have to be constructed by human reason. Unlike the angels, human beings are equal in their essential nature. Their hierarchies are therefore in one respect an even better reflection of the order of the Divine Persons: subordination to natural equals. The construction of human hierarchy is therefore not a tragic necessity, but a great good—the highest and most godlike intrinsic practical good of human beings. It is a life which imitates Heaven. By submitting to such hierarchical order, men are educated to become like the Eternal Son, beings entirely “from” and “toward,” who do not stand on their own dignity or oppose their rights to the common good.

The intrinsic common good of political life is called “peace”; it is a beautiful symphony of virtuous life. My fellow integralist Jose Mena described peace well as not merely “a condition in which we agree not to go to war,” but rather “the harmonious activity of God’s creation working together within the order of divine providence for the good of all and the worship of God.” Peace is “bustling” and “fruitful,” and manifests itself in all the virtuous actions of mutual care.

A good person loves his subordination to the common good of peace. He finds his dignity in obeying his rulers for the sake of a good in which both he and they share, in cooperating with those of his own rank in common subordination to that good, and in helping his subjects to attain to it. There is here a kind of freedom—for each is enabled to achieve the true good which he really wants. And there is a kind of equality—for each shares in the same common good. But such freedom and such equality depend for their very existence on obedience and inequality.

IV. Lucifer’s Proto-Liberal Rebellion Against Hierarchy

The common good of order to which creatures are meant to submit is a greater good for them than any private good. But for creatures to love that good more than their private good requires a certain self-transcendence. The origin of sin is in a refusal of that self-transcendence, a refusal to submit to a higher good. Lucifer, the Morning Star of creation, the highest being in the order of nature, was too proud to submit himself to the common good:

How wise thou wast, how peerlessly fair . . . a cherub thou shouldst be, thy wings outstretched in protection . . . From the day of thy creation all was perfect in thee, till thou didst prove false . . . A heart made proud by its own beauty, wisdom ruined through its own dazzling brightness. (Ezek 28:12-17).

The sin of Lucifer is a refusal of the common good, because that good is hierarchical and demands subordination.

As Charles De Koninck explains, Lucifer felt injured in his dignity by the invitation to participate of a good common to many. Lucifer’s exalted nature, and the high freedom that it gave him, were not enough to secure him, since freedom is only good to the extent that it submits itself to order. To quote De Koninck: “The dignity of the created person is not without ties, and the purpose of our liberty is not to overcome these ties, but to free us by strengthening them. These ties are the principal cause of our dignity. Liberty itself is not a guarantee of dignity and of practical truth.” And he refers to the following words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Aversion from God has the nature of an end, inasmuch as it is sought for under the appearance of liberty, according to Jer. 2:20: For a long time you have broken the yoke, you have broken bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’” Lucifer’s sin was therefore a proto-liberal rebellion against hierarchy and obedience.

After having ruined himself by rebelling against God, Lucifer tempts others into rebellion with him. By tempting Adam into Original Sin, he brings the whole human race into his rebellion. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden is a sin of disobedience, a failure to submit to the order established by God for their common good. Instead of becoming free thereby, they become the slaves of sin, unable to attain the good that they truly desire. From the sin of our first parents onward a shadow lies across the course of human events. Human beings rebel against God and worship false idols, and then their relations among themselves are corrupted by libido dominandi, the lust of domination. Subjects rebel against their rulers, and rulers tyrannize over their subjects and exploit them for private advantage, rather than guiding them to participation in the common good.

V. The Restoration of Hierarchy in the Kenosis of the Cross

Since original sin was rebellion against hierarchy, our Lord’s work of salvation is the exact opposite. He, the Eternal Son, God from God, Light from Light, enters into his own creation, taking on the form of a slave in order to heal disobedience through obedience: “Even though he was the son, he learned obedience from his sufferings; and, made perfect, he became for all who obey him the cause of everlasting salvation” (Heb 5:8-9). As the eternal Son he was always obedient to the Father, but in his suffering he “learned” obedience in our nature.

Jesus is not a proto-Jacobin revolutionary who comes to liberate subjects from submission to their rulers. On the contrary, he is the obedient one who comes to teach obedience. Certainly, he also comes to comfort the poor and the afflicted, to call tyrants to conversion, and to heal the wounds caused by the abuse of hierarchy through a preferential option for the poor and miserable. Therefore, the tyrants of his time saw him as a dangerous revolutionary. But they were in error. As St. Quodvultdeus says about (and to) Herod:

When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come. Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil.

As long as he is a tyrant who exploits the poor and weak, Herod should indeed fear Christ who comes to save the poor and oppressed. But as a tyrant Herod is himself a rebel. If he were to start ruling for the common good, his power would be legitimate, and he would receive his authority from God. In that case he would have nothing to fear from our Lord. Indeed, as the First Epistle of St. Peter teaches, the Gospel is a call to all subjects to obey their rulers:

For love of the Lord, then, bow to every kind of human authority; to the king, who enjoys the chief power, and to the magistrates who hold his commission to punish criminals and encourage honest men. To silence, by honest living, the ignorant chatter of fools; that is what God expects of you. Free men, but the liberty you enjoy is not to be made a pretext for wrong-doing; it is to be used in God’s service. Give all men their due; to the brethren, your love; to God, your reverence; to the king, due honor. You who are slaves must be submissive to your masters, and show all respect, not only to those who are kind and considerate, but to those who are hard to please. It does a man credit when he bears undeserved ill treatment with the thought of God in his heart . . . Indeed, you are engaged to this by the call of Christ; he suffered for our sakes, and left you his own example; you were to follow in his footsteps . . . You, too, who are wives must be submissive to your husbands . . . It may be God’s will that we should suffer for doing right; better that, than for doing wrong. It was thus that Christ died as a ransom, paid once for all, on behalf of our sins, he the innocent for us the guilty, so as to present us in God’s sight . . . He sits, now, at the right hand of God, annihilating death, to make us heirs of eternal life; he has taken his journey to heaven, with all the angels and powers and princedoms made subject under his feet. (2:13-3:22).

The program of obedience sketched out here is the opposite of the program of liberation described by the likes of Rosenblatt and Robin.

Troutner is right to indicate that Christ in his first coming did not use any coercive measures to lead men towards their end, but this is because he was winning the interior grace necessary for them to obey. He never denies the legitimate use of coercion in a world wounded by sin and vice. And, indeed, his apostles make use of coercive measures in the early Church. They wield the spiritual sword of excommunication themselves. And they hand evildoers over to other powers for temporal punishment. St. Peter delivers Ananias and Sapphira to the punitive power of God for attempting to deceive the Church (Acts 5). And St. Paul urges the Corinthians to excommunicate a man guilty of incest and hand him over to the devil for bodily punishment: “When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Cor 5:4-5).

Troutner rightly points out that our Lord still resembles a slaughtered lamb in the visions of the Apocalypse, bearing the wounds that are the sign of the mild humility of his first coming. But Troutner fails to mention that the same lamb will come again in Glory at the end of days and consign all who reject his salvation to the punishment of eternal fire: “For if the word spoken by the angels proved certain, and every transgression and disobedience got its just punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb 2:2-3). Contrary to what Troutner implies, the humility of Christ in his self-emptying Incarnation and Passion does not destroy the nature of political power; it presupposes, heals, perfects, and elevates it.

VI. Christ and the Form of Christendom

Troutner claims that the integration of spiritual and temporal power in medieval Christendom obscured the nature of the Church. By seeing herself as a juridical societas perfecta (complete society), she lost sight of her true nature. She begins to resemble worldly powers no-longer reflecting her Christological “form.” We have already seen in the preceding question that Troutner’s understanding of the Christological form is defective. The form of Christ’s saving acts does not in fact exclude all coercive uses of power. But there is another error in Troutner’s claim. It is not true that the medieval Church formed herself on the model of worldly power. The obverse is true: the temporal powers of Christendom modeled themselves on the hierarchy of the Church and the rules of the monastic orders. Of course, medieval Christendom included many different political arrangements and theories, and I do not mean to defend them all. But I do wish to defend some of its most characteristic forms. I want to defend the ideal of a hierarchical society in which elements of freedom and equality depend on hierarchies of inequality and subordination. And, I want defend the authoritative ideal of the relation of temporal and spiritual power taught by popes such as St. Gregory VII and Innocent III.

The barbarian tribes who conquered the Western Roman Empire had traditionally been bound together by blood-solidarity in what Francis Fukuyama calls “segmentary, tribal institutions.” This blood-solidarity broke down, “usually within a couple of generations after a barbarian tribe’s conversion to Christianity.” What replaced it were relations of fealty between lords and vassals, modeled in certain respects on monastic vows. And (even more importantly) what Andrew Jones calls “networks of counsel and aid,” which went far beyond the networks of fealty and were based on the understanding of Christian charity as a form of friendship.

Perhaps no document is more useful for understanding the political ideals of Christendom than the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia. The Rule is written not for complete political communities, but for monasteries, and yet its influence on medieval political life and jurisprudence was profound.

The monastic community described by St. Benedict is a strictly hierarchical order, in which every monk has an exactly defined place in a scale that ranges from the abbot through all the rest of the monks ranked by the time of entry, down to the monk or novice who was last to enter: “He who shall have come into the monastery at the second hour of a day shall know himself to be junior to him who came at the first hour of that day, of whatever age or dignity he may be.” (RB 63). Those who rank lower are to honor and obey those who rank higher and address them as Nonnus (Reverend Father), while the higher ranked are to love those below them, and condescend to call them Frater (Brother). Already here we see a certain equality that depends on hierarchy. If a slave enters the monastery, and later his former master joins as well, the slave ranks higher than the one who was his master: “For whether slaves or freemen we are all one in Christ and under the one Lord bear equal rank of subjection.” (RB 2). Moreover, each monk contributes to the common good of the monastery, and all can make their voices heard in chapter: “We have said that all are to be called to counsel because it is often to the younger that the Lord reveals what is better.” (RB 3).

The abbot is to be obeyed in everything, and to be called Dominus (Lord) and Abbas (Father), because “he is regarded as the vicar of Christ in the monastery.” The abbot is to rule his monastery with wisdom and gentleness. He is to apply punishments both corporal (beatings) and spiritual (exclusion from common prayer and meals). In administering these punishments the abbot has to be mindful of different dispositions:

Suiting his actions to circumstances, mingling gentleness with severity, let him show now the rigor of a master, now the loving affection of a father; in other words, he should sternly reprove the undisciplined and the restless; the obedient and the meek and the patient ones, on the other hand, he ought rather to entreat to advance in holiness; but such, however, as are not amenable to correction and are contemptuous of authority, we charge him to rebuke and punish. Let him not shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they make their appearance, let him do his utmost to pluck them out by the roots, remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo (RB 2).

But he must also be mindful not to punish too severely “lest, seeking too vigorously to cleanse off the rust, he may break the vessel” (RB 64).

Is the “form” of the abbot’s power as described by St. Benedict too worldly? Is he a victim of what Troutner calls “cognitive dissonance” in using punishments to help his monks to conform themselves to a crucified Lord? Surely not. The form of abbatial authority is truly Christological. The use of punishment in the Rule is a reaction to violation of the peace, meant to lead monks back to Christ, and the witness of monastic saints throughout the centuries testifies to its wisdom. The goal is to lead sinners to true freedom:

If anything somewhat severe be laid down in this rule, as reason may dictate, in order to amend faults or preserve charity, do not straightway depart full of fear from the way of salvation, which way cannot be entered upon except by beginnings which are difficult. But when one shall have advanced in this manner of life and in faith, he shall run with his heart enlarged and with an unspeakable sweetness of love on the way of God’s commandments. (RB, Prologue).

As Andrew Jones has shown in Before Church and State, the use of coercive power in Christendom was seen precisely along the lines of punishment in Benedict. The two swords, temporal and spiritual, were seen as being necessary to punish those who rebelled against the peace, and the more they were successful in leading Christians back to Christ, the less they had to be used.

The Rulers of Christendom were seen as being—like abbots—vicars of Christ. Ernst Kantorowicz, in his masterpiece The King’s Two Bodies, gives a wealth of detail on the Christological understanding of medieval Kingship. The King was seen as the principle of the order of peace in his kingdom, bound to serve it, and bound even to give his life for it as Christ did for the Church. For example, he quotes Cardinal Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, as follows: “The Prince himself, the head of the mystical body of the respublica, is held to sacrifice his life whenever the commonweal demands it.”

The great medieval king-saints were particularly praised for their Christ-like devotion to the poor and wretched. Every Holy Thursday they would symbolize that devotion by washing the feet of twelve poor men with their own hands. In their alms-giving and in their punishment of tyrannical lords, these kings were to remedy the wounds caused by abuses of inequality.

The forms of Medieval representation, such as the Estates General, the Parliament, and the Cortes, were meant, like the monastic chapter, to allow different ranks of the social order to contribute to deliberation about the common good. Thus, there were forms of equality imbedded in a society of unequals. Society itself was meant to mirror the life of the Blessed Trinity with Laity, Secular Clergy, and Monks; or King, Lords, and Commons representing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In their hierarchical orders of obedience they were meant to grow in virtue and devotion to the common good, becoming conformed to the Son of God, beings entirely “from” and “toward.”

It is certainly true that Christendom did not always live up to such ideals. There were many abuses. But Troutner makes no distinction between abusive and legitimate uses of temporal power. It would be wearisome to go through the examples of the uses of power that Troutner mentions, and distinguish abuses from proper uses (Thomas Pink and others can be consulted on most of them). The point that I want to make here is a more fundamental one: power has good uses. Troutner quotes a passage from Augustine’s De Trinitate in which Augustine teaches that the devil is to be conquered not by power, but by justice. But Troutner omits the immediately following sentence in which Augustine clarifies the point: “Not that power is to be shunned as though it were something evil; but the order must be preserved, whereby justice is before it.” (De Trinitate, XIII,13). The point is that justice precedes power, not that power has no role. When power is preceded by justice it can become a good, albeit secondary, instrument to be used prudently in defending the peace and leading those who have strayed back to the right path. Rulers must be careful not to scrape off the rust too violently, lest they break the vessel. But they must also be mindful of Heli, the priest of Silo (Eli of Shiloh), who neglected to punish his sons, to the great detriment of the common good of Israel.

VII. Against Troutner’s Christian Anarchism

Having rejected integralism, Troutner is not willing simply to capitulate to liberalism. He proposes another model for a non-liberal Catholic politics: namely the Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day. The idea is to work practically at the local level to help the needy, combat oppression, and embody as much as possible the principles of love, charity, justice, and the universal destination of goods. Troutner recognizes the limits of such local communities. But his hope is that they can become “workshops for imagining, along with non-Catholics of good will, an end to capitalism and the replacement of liberal democracy with something that preserves its achievements.”

Now, Dorothy Day was certainly an admirable woman, full of love for God and his beloved poor. But her movement is not an adequate model for Catholic politics. Day was an anarchist and a pacifist, deeply formed before her conversion by revolutionary leftism. This helped her to see certain kinds of injustice very clearly. And we have much to learn from her denunciations of capitalist exploitation. But it also prevented her from adequately understanding the goods of hierarchy and obedience, and the legitimate uses of coercion in fostering the common good. She tried to base her movement on the Sermon on the Mount. But her interpretation of those verses was incomplete, because she did not see clearly enough how they are to be read in the light of other parts of the New Testament.

To illustrate what I mean, let me recall an anecdote from Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness:

William Gauchat who headed the house of hospitality, furnished an apartment for single women in need, and a married couple arriving first, were sheltered there. But when Bill wanted to put a few single women into the empty bedrooms, the couple announced that they had possession and refused to allow them entrance. Our guests know that we will not call upon the police to evict them, that we are trying to follow the dear Lord’s teachings, “If anyone take your coat, let go your cloak also to him.” When another family came to Maryfarm, we explained that we were trying to open a retreat house and that we did not have room for them. It was the family of one of our own willful leaders who “loved God and did as he pleased.” He did not wish to remain on a farm belonging to his father, where he was forced to work too hard. He and his wife refused to listen and unpacked their things to stay with us. First they took over the lower farmhouse. After a few conflicts due to their possessing themselves of retreat house goods (as common goods) they moved to the upper farm to join Victor. For the following year they continued their guerrilla tactics from the upper farm, coming down to make raids on the retreat house food and furnishings, explaining to retreatants that they were true Catholic Workers and that the retreat house was a perversion of the movement.

Contrast this description with the Rule of St. Benedict as described above. Superficially, Day’s approach might seem more faithful to Matthew 5:40. But one must read such passages more carefully and in a wider context. When Jesus himself was stuck on the face by the servant of the High Priest, he did not turn the other cheek, but rebuked the unjust action with sharp words (John 18:22-23). Much less did he turn other people’s cheeks. In reality, the approach of the Rule of St. Benedict is more faithful to the Gospel. To allow thieves to thieve with impunity is good neither for those whom they wrong, nor for the thieves themselves. A moderate use of coercion against such injustices can help to lead people to virtue and restoration of the beauty of hierarchy in their souls.

Day was deeply influenced by her friend Peter Maurin. Maurin had been a member of Le Sillon, the Catholic democratic movement, condemned by Pope St. Pius X in Notre charge apostolique. Pius X particularly condemned Le Sillon’s liberal egalitarianism. He points out that a community of persons needs authority to direct them to the common good, and that in a world wounded by sin this authority needs coercive power to oppose “the selfishness of the wicked.” And he shows that obedience to such authority does not degrade man but exalts him, since it is “in the final analysis, obedience to God.”

We integralists seek true freedom and true equality in obedience to God and obedience to our fellow creatures for the sake of God. This is the logic of the cross: raised up towards Heaven on the vertical trunk of that life-giving tree, we open our arms wide in fraternal charity, allowing our hands to be nailed in holy obedience to its horizontal branches. We strive with confidence to conform human life to the pattern of heavenly hierarchies. Convinced that, however imperfectly, our common life can be suffused with harmony and beauty—men, women, and children of every degree submitting in joy and delight to the common good in which they all share, raising by their common life a hymn of praise to the triune God. And we are convinced that however daunting the task, however violent the powers that oppose us, nothing that we do will be in vain. Every movement towards the freedom of obedience and the joy of the common good will be taken up and perfected in the New Jerusalem that is to come.

Editorial Note: The author wish to thank the members of various integralist organizations on the internet for assistance in composing this essay. Special thanks to: S.B., S.D., T.D., A.F., J.F., N.G., P.I., J.K., E.M., C.P., P.J.S., Z.T., and T.G.A.W. Viribus unitis.


Featured Image: Sitiens lucem, San Clemente Church interior, 6 February 2009; Source: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.


Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist

Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., is a monk of Stift Heiligenkreuz and he blogs at Sancrucensis.

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