Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brownsonian Americanist Wisdom on Separation of Church and State


"There is no country in the world where the Church is or ever has been as free to govern her children according to her own discipline and laws, or where Pius IX is so truly Pope as the United States," said Orestes Augustus Brownson's in his 1868 Conversations on Liberalism and the Church. The short work is a surprisingly fresh read, probably because Modernity has come up with no new arguments against the Church in 150 years, and the best defense of the Faith against the god Progress that I've yet read.

The book, like many philosophical tracts, takes the form of a dialogue, in this case between a progressive newspaper editor and an immigrant Catholic priest from Spain. The following excerpt is not so much a defense of the Church, but of the American constitutional order, a passion of Brownson's evidenced by his 1866 tome The American Republic; Constitution, Tendencies and Destiny:
    "Yet you know perfectly well, Reverend Father, that the Church condemns those of her children who advocate the separation of Church and State."

    "Those she condemns are not those who mean by the separation of Church and state the order established by the Constitution of the American Republic, but those who mean by it the absolute independence and supremacy of the secular order, the emancipation of the state from the law of God, its freedom to suppress the Church whenever it finds her in the way of its ambition, its policy, its schemes of injustice against either its own subjects or against foreign states. In the Old World the separation of Church and state means the supremacy of the state alike in spirituals and temporals, as in Russia, Prussia, Great Britain, and other states, or at least, the right of the state to define the boundaries of the Church, and to enlarge or contract the sphere of her freedom at will. This right is claimed, is asserted for itself in every European state, and the state holds itself free to restrict the freedom of the Church or to exclude her altogether, as it sees proper. This claim renders concordats or treaties between the Church and the State necessary in order to secure to the Church some degree of freedom and independence. What the Church condemns under the head of separation of Church and State, is the independence of the state of the laws of God, the abrogation of these concordats, and the right of the state to abrogate them by its own authority without her consent, as has been done in the Italian states by the pretended kingdom of Italy, and more recently by Austria, which places the Church at the mercy of the state. In your republic concordats are not necessary. The state disclaims all authority in spirituals, and by its fundamental law recognizes the independence and freedom of the spiritual order, and its obligation to protect and defend the Church with all its power in the peaceable exercise of her spiritual freedom, which is more than the most favorable concordat has ever yet secured to her elsewhere. There is no country in the world where the Church is or ever has been as free to govern her children according to her own discipline and laws, or where Pius IX is so truly Pope as the United States. And this freedom is not held here as a grant from the state revocable at its will, but is the right of conscience of each and every citizen; one of those rights of man, or rather of God, which are antecedent to civil society, and which government is instituted to protect and defend. Rome would have but a small share of that wisdom and sagacity she gets credit for, if she should seek or suffer her children to seek to substitute for this system any system which does or ever has obtained in the Old World."
Let us give credit where credit is due and remember that it was the first clause of Magna Carta which guaranteed "that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired."

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.