Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Theory of Certitude


Joseph-Marie comte de Maistre

Yesterday we looked at the Abbé Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais’s rather one-sided notion of the separation of Church and State: that the State must not attempt to control the Church, but that the Church must have complete control of the State.  De Lamennais’s ideal society was a democratic theocracy, in contrast to the theory of Joseph-Marie comte de Maistre (1753-1821) that the ideal society was a monarchic theocracy. . . .
We noted that de Lamennais’s ideas regarding separation of Church and State and advocacy of a theocracy were rooted in something called his “theory of certitude.”  And that is?  That reason (and thus all rights) are inherent not in individual human beings, but in the generality, the collective.  Individuals accept on faith what the collective has reasoned out.
Ultimately contradicting de Lamennais’s own position on individual sovereignty, the theory of certitude was essentially a restatement of Plato’s error that ideas exist independently of the human mind.  It also led inevitably to the socialist idea that God grants rights to the collective (an idea), which then grants them to actual human beings as expedient.
Pius XI
This was a theory Pius XI would condemn a century later in § 117 of Quadragesimo Anno as “utterly foreign to Christian truth.”  De Lamennais’s Neo-Catholic contribution to socialist theory was to insist on the ultramontane belief that the Catholic Church in the person of the pope, not the State, should decide what rights people should have.
By rejecting all non-democratic forms of government and making the Church, a religious authority, the final authority on civil rights, de Lamennais effectively replaced justice, the highest civil virtue, with charity, the highest religious virtue.  Confusing the natural and the supernatural, this greatly strengthened the case for religious or Christian socialism based on a distorted charity that tries to take the place of justice, against secular or scientific socialism based on distorted justice that tries to take the place of charity.
De Lamennais’s theory of certitude also led to his development of a theory of a universal religion as the logical end of Neo-Catholicism, which he presented in the final two volumes of his Essai in 1823 and 1824.  In de Lamennais’s universal religion, truth is determined by consensus, not by reason or faith founded on reason.  The true religion, therefore, is the one that can produce the greatest number of witnesses.
This, according to de Lamennais, is the Catholic Church, it being “the only religion which began with the world and perpetuates itself with it.”  To oversimplify somewhat, all people — according to de Lamennais — have always believed what the Catholic Church teaches, and the Catholic Church teaches what all people have always believed.  (We didn’t say we said we believed him, only that he believed it, or said he did.)
Louis-Philippe de Bourbon
Louis-Philippe (1773-1850), “the Citizen King,” ascended the throne following the “July Revolution” of 1830.  Viewing the new king as no better than the old, de Lamennais used his journal, L’Avenir, to support his idea of a democratic theocracy as the only way to protect the Church and secure equal religious and civil rights to all citizens.
His socialism, emphasis on the theory of certitude, and the violence with which de Lamennais expressed himself on the illegitimacy of non-democratic civil authority gave rise to questions about his orthodoxy.  This was particularly serious in light of the fact that Pius VIII (perhaps a trifle precipitously) had bestowed the title “Most Christian King” on Louis-Philippe.
Despite the popularity of the journal, de Lamennais voluntarily suspended publication of L’Avenir after little over a year.  Accompanied by Montalembert and Jean Baptiste Henri Lacordaire (1802-1861), de Lamennais went to Rome in November 1831 to present his case in person to Pope Gregory XVI (Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari, 1765-1846, elected 1831), as Pius VIII had died in November 1830, the same month in which de Lamennais had put l’Avenir on hiatus.
Calling themselves “the Pilgrims of Liberty,” they were granted an audience with the pope almost immediately.  As this was a social call, and Gregory XVI was dealing with the effects of uprisings in the Papal States and demands for the establishment of a republic, they were warned not to raise any political matters, which would be dealt with in due time.
Cardinal Pacca
A few days later, Bartolomeo Cardinal Pacca (1756-1844) suggested the trio should leave Rome.  Pacca told them Gregory XVI agreed that de Lamennais, Montalembert, and Lacordaire had the right to request the pope’s approval of their political views.  Due to the situation in the Papal States and the pope’s new policy of dealing with existing and de facto governments, however, Gregory XVI preferred to leave the matter unresolved.
Gregory XVI was, in fact, under extreme pressure from both the French civil authorities and the Gallicanists in the Church to condemn de Lamennais’s democratic principles, not merely curb his exaggerated and imprudent application of them.  As a condemnation would have been contrary to Catholic doctrine, however, the pope could not anathematize de Lamennais’s work.
At the same time, Gregory XVI had never been out of Italy and spoke only Italian and Latin.  He did not have an adequate grasp of European politics and the growing trend toward recognition of popular sovereignty.  He felt it would not be prudent for him to give official approval of democracy, given the political situation as he (almost) understood it.
Jean Baptiste Henri Lacordaire
Montalembert and Lacordaire left Rome, but de Lamennais remained, hoping to persuade the pope to change his mind.  Gregory XVI, however, in the belief that the November Uprising in Poland (November 29, 1830 to October 21, 1831) had been staged to prevent a Russian proposal to use Polish troops to support the Catholic royalist cause and suppress the July Revolution in France and the Belgian Revolution of 1830, condemned the revolutionaries.
The Russian proposal, frankly, was a violation of the Polish constitution.  It did, in fact, trigger the rising, but it was not the cause, which was the growing list of grievances against Czarist oppression.  Nor was the proposal intended to support the Catholic cause, except incidentally, but to expand Russian influence in Western Europe, something of which Gregory XVI would have been aware had he had a better grasp of international affairs.
Outraged at what he regarded as a betrayal of democracy, however unwitting, de Lamennais quit Rome in disgust.  A few days later, August 15, 1832, Gregory XVI issued Mirari Vos, the encyclical “On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism,” the bulk of which addressed liberal doctrines that de Lamennais himself condemned.  These included separation of Church and State, democratic principles that denied the ultimate sovereignty of God, attacks on duly constituted authority (although de Lamennais disagreed that any monarchy could be “duly constituted”), and freedom of conscience.
Pope Gregory XVI
We covered the “freedom of conscience” condemnation in a prior posting.  Now we can understand what it was that Gregory XVI was really condemning when he mentioned “separation of Church and State.”
Again, it’s not what it sounds like.  The pope referred to the liberal demand for complete isolation of religious society from civil society and the banning of all religious matters from public life.
He did not refer to the essential separation of administration, authority, and spheres of activity found in the original intent of the U.S. Constitution.  The Catholic Church maintains that the State should not interfere in purely religious matters, especially not sanctioning the establishment of an official government church, and the Church should not interfere in purely civil matters.  De Lamennais was correct in saying that the State should not control the Church, but dead wrong when he insisted that the Church must control the State — and the pope tried to correct him on it.
. . . and de Lamennais didn’t like being corrected. . . .
#30#

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