Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lord Acton: Freedom and its only guarantor

Lord Acton on the History of Freedom in Antiquity:

"In the fourth century A.D., there came to be “one essential and inevitable transformation in politics. Popular governments had existed, and also mixed and federal governments, but there had been no limited government, no State the circumference of whose authority had been defined by a force external to its own. That was the great problem which philosophy had raised, and which no statesmanship had been able to solve.

Those who proclaimed the assistance of a higher authority had indeed a metaphysical barrier before the governments, but they had known to make it real. All that Socrates could effect by way of protest against the tyranny of the reformed democracy was to die for his convictions. The Stoics could only advise the wise man to hold aloof from politics, keeping the unwritten law in his heart.

But when Christ said, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,' whose words, spoken on His last visit to the Temple, three days before His Death, gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed, and bounds it had never acknowledged; and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of freedom. For our Lord not only delivered the precept, but created the force to execute it.

To maintain the necessary immunity in one supreme sphere, to reduce all political authority within defined limits, ceased to be an aspiration of patient reasoners, and was made the perpetual charge and care of the most energetic institution and the most universal association in the world [i.e. Catholic Church].

The new law, the new spirit, the new authority, gave to liberty a meaning and a value it had not possessed in the philosophy or in the constitution of Greece or Rome before the knowledge of truth makes us free."


Sky View comments:

Just as the Greeks and the Romans could only offer ideas- some of them good -about how to guarantee freedom, so too does conservatism find itself in a similar predicament. Both ancient Greece and Rome failed to connect political prosperity and freedom to the morality of the people. You can have all the right ideas on paper, but if society is morally deficient and weak in character, freedom will remain only a theory. As such, a moral strength and a spiritual power to observe the dsicipline of freedom had to be provided, as it still does; but Greek philosophers, with all of their academic acumen, and Roman administrators, with their genius for law, could not make it happen. Neither can conservatives retain the blessings of liberty in America without Christianity; or should I say, the Catholic Church.

Our Lord Jesus conferred the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter in a peculiar location- at Caesarea-Phillipi. This was a ancient city named after Caesar and Herod. For the first century Jews, these two rulers represented political tyranny. Yet, it was the Church that Christ founded on St. Peter that would serve, in years to come, as the force that would challenge the State's claim to unlimited power. If Catholics only knew their own history, and what the Church meant in terms of inaugurating freedom and sustaining it, perhaps the Church in America would become, once again, a force to be reckoned with.

However, in 2012, there are many Catholics- clergy and lay -who aid and abet the State's quest for power by looking to it as the principal instrument of charity. In fact, many in the Church petition the federal government to provide for the poor and the needy. But as Pope Leo XIII said, in extreme cases this is necessary, but as a matter of policy it only empowers the State. This is why the same pope was at pains to say that providing for the needy was a matter of charity, not justice. It is a service that ought to be carried out by the private sector, not the public sector. Indeed, the Catholic Church used to be "the" institution that educated youth and aided the poor on a wide scale. Today, the State has taken over what the Church used to do and worse yet, many Catholics are just fine with this.

As long as Catholics forget their own history and continue to call on the Nanny State- instead of Mother Church -to provide basic services to people such as charity and education, then I am afraid the Church cannot be that force for freedom like it once was. The only long term check and balance against the supremacy of the State is the Church. But like I said, and it bears repeating, if members of this very same Church aid and abet this State's claim to supremacy by giving it the power to provide for every human need, then this will not only undermine the liberty of U.S. citizens but the Church's own liberty to carry out her own mission.

On the other hand, if we but reflect on the words of Lord Acton and let his historical insights inform our confidence, then the Church can be, once again, a real practical force for freedom and human rights.