Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why are the Papists Aggrieved?

St. John Fisher, Aggrieved Papist

Tomorrow is the Feast Day of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, two English Catholic saints who were martyred rather than bow to the newly-founded State Church of Henry VIII.  By what is by no means a coincidence, today happens to be the beginning of the US Bishop's "Fortnight For Freedom" campaign, a two week period dedicated to prayer and demonstration against President Obama's "HHS mandate," which requires all Catholic and Christian institutions to provide free contraceptives and abortive drugs under the provision of healthcare.  I will be posting frequently about this over the next few weeks, to explain exactly how and why this is so objectionable, why it must be prevented, and why it demonstrates that President Obama should under no circumstances receive a second term of office.  For now, though, I will begin with some more general observations.

In these trying times, we see all around us many, many people both small and great who consider this entire campaign and this entire issue simply facetious, blown-up, and simply a big whopping deal about nothing.  To them, all the talk by the Bishops and by Catholics about "religious freedom" and about "religious beliefs" and "principles" is simply a pseudo-intellectual cover for the real reason why these people oppose the mandate: essentially, psychological and emotional hang-ups on the past, a fear of women and female sexuality, and an overwhelming and irrational desire to force women barefoot into the kitchen to make them sandwiches.  They honestly cannot see why in the universe Catholics will not simply get over their silly little hang-ups and rejoin the larger society, why they will not give up their emotional prejudices and acknowledge the great Principles of Sexual Freedom and Women's Rights--or at least, as the government generously allows them, simply practice their beliefs in private as much as they want, without trying to impose their prejudices on the rest of society or act as though they have any application to anyone besides themselves.  Really, Catholics have no reason to be upset at all.  Haven't we given them plenty of room, really more room than we should?  Certainly, the government finds it necessary to suppress some of their practices (like that of running hospitals and schools that don't give out contraception) that are dangerous to the health of society at large; but otherwise, they are and will be left in perfect peace, without disturbance.  What could Catholics possibly be aggrieved at?
Cardinal Dolan, Aggrieved Papist

The answer which you see more and more people coming to is simply that these people are really and truly dangerous and unreasonable, with a psychological need to impose their prejudices on everyone else, and that this entire affair is no more than a cloaked attempt to eliminate contraception from the entire nation, a War on Women.  Thus, the proper response to the Catholic campaign for "Religious Liberty" is to attempt to reasonably persuade everyone you can within the enemy camp how much it is their own interests to remain peaceable, and otherwise prepare one's defenses against the onslaught.

By what is simply a coincidence, yesterday I came across a book open on a table, and my eye was drawn to a quote from a man with very similar problems with the Catholics of his own day.  I will quote at length:

You will notice that I am not for inciting your people to act offensively towards the Roman Catholics, for they have made ample profession and declarations of remaining quiet and amenable to the government at this time; and I would in charity hope that they are in good earnest; but however, it is the part of wisdom to guard against the worst, while we hope for the best; and I am sure they are best to be trusted when they see us prepare for our defense...Your only course must be to visit them at their houses, and to show them by friendly reasoning where their true interest lies...You may fairly ask them, if their persons and properties have not been in safety ever since they remained quiet and peaceable...Do not their Protestant landlords and masters treat them as kindly as their Popish ones?  And do not their poor receive more charity from Protestants than from those of their own religion?  Penal laws have indeed been made against them, but chiefly against their priests, for the defense of the government against their dangerous principles and practices; but what do the bulk of the papists feel from these laws? ...Now, if these are all undeniable facts, what can any modest and reasonable papist desire more, and how can he be aggrieved?
Josiah Hort, Bemused Protestant
The quote is by one Josiah Hort, the Archbishop of Tuam in Ireland, a prelate of the Anglican Church, issuing a directive to his clergy in the Year of Our Lord 1745.  This Hort was by no means a bad, violent, or even unpleasant man; he was, by all accounts, an excellent preacher, a kind man, and a good friend to many of less than Anglican sympathies, including the famous Isaac Watts.  As a member of the Church of Ireland, he also had some very good reasons for distrusting Catholics, since this was the time of the great Jacobite rebellions, in which the unlawful removal from office of the Catholic King James I by a conspiracy of aristocrats (known, rather absurdly, as the "Glorious Revolution) had led and was leading to massive, popular rebellions in Scotland and England, rebellions that, although they included members of all religious denominations, were supported by many, many Catholics, and, to an extent, endorsed by the papacy, which considered James II to be the legitimate king of England; at the time this was written, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was well under way, and would be crushed once and for all in the near future.  Under these circumstances, Hort appears, in his own eyes, to be taking an extraordinarily generous approach.  The Catholics of his diocese have shown themselves obedient to the new government, not given to rebellion, and Hort for one is all for allowing them to continue to do so.

However, otherwise, it should not be hard even for a modern Protestant to see the absurdity and pompousity of Hort's message.  The "penal laws" of which he speaks, in passing, as something hardly affecting the lives of ordinary Papists, had in the past involved the open slaughter of all priests, the theft of massive tracts of Church property, and the absolute forbidding of Catholic Masses to be said.  In England, it was still a grave and punishable crime to say or participate in a Mass.  In Ireland, however, where the population was overwhelmingly Catholic, such bans were hardly enforceable.  However, that did not prevent the enterprising Anglicans from trying other, less punitive, means of dealing with the incalcitrance of the Papists.  At the time this message was written, the Penal laws included bans on Catholics serving in public office, carrying arms, joining the army, marrying Protestants, voting, serving as lawyers, attending college, caring for orphans, owning a horse worth more than five pounds, teaching school, and performing any function that involved the education of children.  In addition, Catholic priests were required to register with the government to be able to preach, Bishops generally could not, all those not attending Anglican services every Sunday had to pay fines, and any Catholic churches which the government granted permission to be built could only be built out of wood and away from main roads.  In addition, Catholics could not legally decide how their property was inherited, and Catholic heirs converting to Protestantism were rewarded richly; on the other hand, any Protestant converting to Catholicism would have all his lands and property seized by the government and then be indefinitely imprisoned "at the pleasure of the monarch."  And it is this atmosphere in which Hort seems to simply breathe benevolence and long-sufferingness with every word.

From his perspective, though, he and the English government are being quite generous indeed.  The fact that Catholics in Ireland were actually tolerated, actually allowed to exist as Catholics and even to attend Mass, was a privilege not granted to Catholics in the rest of the United Kingdom.  Catholics were actually allowed to be Catholics, and to worship as Catholics, despite the fact that for Hort and all patriotic Englishmen, Catholicism was a dangerous and un-patriotic doctrine that involved allegiance to a foreign prince and had led many men into Jacobite rebellion.  Hort has, in a real sense, allowed them a "right to worship," and this is generous indeed.  All Hort and the government asked was that Catholics abide by the law, practice their private rites as they wished, and not try to spread their dangerous doctrines or impose them on the rest of society.  In such an environment, he asks, how can Catholics not be pleased, and how can they possibly be aggrieved?  They have their rites, their priests, and their backward, superstitious rites.  They may exist as they wish, and they will not be harmed, not be treated badly by their neighbors or oppressed by the Anglican clergy; their Protestant masters will treat them well, their poor receive Protestant charity...what could possibly be the matter with these people that they should be unhappy?  The only reason for such unhappiness must be simply the desire to take over the nation and impose their Papist political and religious prejudices on all; and for that, the government is well and truly justified in keeping them without the strength or resources to do so.
Aggrieved Irish Papists, c. 1850
Let there be no misunderstanding; Josiah Hort was undeniably a man of Principle, a kind and benevolent man, and a friend to many of the Dissenting Protestants also oppressed by penal laws.  Nevertheless, in this matter, he showed himself to be a man that has many a counterpart in the modern world.  This man is perhaps the worst sort of man to deal with if you happen to be at odds with him; he is the man of Principle that does not acknowledge the existence of any Principles save his own.  In this case, it means that Hort cannot think of Catholics' allegiance to their faith as being anything other than an irrational and probably emotional prejudice, and cannot even begin to contemplate the idea that it might actually involve intellectual principles and beliefs comparable to his own.  He simply does not understand that for Catholics to be Catholics does not involve them merely fulfilling certain sentimental prejudices or practicing certain emotional rites, but believing in real religious principles, respecting real religious authorities, and putting them into effect in how they act, in every sphere of life.  That they will not be happy existing as a kind of permanent underclass, permitted to retain their sentimental rites so long as they cause no trouble, is simply a matter of utter bemusement for him.  What is wrong with these people, anyway?

This has obvious parallels with our current situation, though it is of course not so extreme in its application.  The thing is, Obama has, from a Catholic point of view, from the beginning of the affair presented to them nothing less than the image of Josiah Hort, benevolently bemused at the aggrievement of the Papists.  He believes in certain principles, such as Women's Rights and Sexual Freedom, and that Catholics oppose them he considers to be nothing more than a mere emotional prejudice, a sentimental attachment to certain things.  So, naturally, he treats Catholics in the same way one would treat a child with an emotional problem, offering them emotional supports and sentimental gestures while (of course) not actually letting them do what they want, which would be absurd.  Every gesture of Obama's since the scandal broke has been in this vein, from the initial granting of a full year to the Catholic Church to "prepare" for compliance to his "accommodation," which, even if it really is all that it was supposed to be (and it isn't), only eliminates the problem for half of those who would otherwise be affected.  In all of this, Obama has appeared simply bemused that Catholics won't accept these gestures and seem, in fact, more insulted by them than anything; to him, they offer exactly what Catholics are really looking for: enough emotional support and cover to give up on a few sentimental hang-ups and adapt themselves to the times.  That Catholics don't accept them in this vein can only be understood as a result of deliberate twisting and misrepresentation by wicked Bishops and commentators.

If you reversed the situation, though, he would understand immediately; if someone told him that he had a year in which to prepare to serve as an sidewalk counselor at an abortion clinic or to pay for free guns for everyone who wanted one, and after he complained he was informed that he would be granted finally the accommodation of only serving in these roles half as often, he would (rightly) be simply outraged at the suggestion.  Do they really think that a year's time to think will make me give up my principles?  Do they really think that I can accept my principle in half of all cases while ignoring it in the other half?  How dare they!? Of course, he would be quite right to be angry in this situation.  However, Obama and many others simply do not have the intellectual imagination to even for a second conceive that Catholics believe as strongly and as rationally in the wrongness of contraception and of abortion as Obama does in the wrongness of gun rights or of banning abortion.  For him and for many, Principles means "my principles," and "prejudices" means "their principles," and nary the two shall meet.
President Barack Obama, man of Principle
There is a reason for this, and it rests in the conflict not just of two different groups of men of principles, but also of two different kinds of principles: Principles and Religious principles.  Principles in the first sense, in the way in which they are present to many men today, are in a sense Ideas existing unto themselves, representing as much directions as they do fixed concepts; they are spurs pushing the mind in various directions, and are conceptually distanced both from each other and from the world at large.  When a mind is pushed in multiple directions at the same time, of course, it is bound to become a great deal broader.  Thus, the man of Principle is often by far the most broad-minded one in a situation, for, if he is sane and reasonably experienced with actually dealing with the world, he is used to integrating contradictory directions, going so far with one and so far with another, appeasing them all by giving them all something, but never giving any one everything.  On the other hand, he is not at all willing to do anything that would seem to violate the Principle itself, understood as a movement in a certain direction, and least of all to actually Go Backwards on it; for he is always mindful of the terrible things that lie in the Other Direction, which justify his Principle's constant push in this one.

Pope Benedict XVI, man of Religion

For a man of religion, however, principles exist for certain reasons, in relation to certain things, in certain proportions, and (in most cases) form a part of a larger system of the world; unlike the other sort of Principle, they already exist in a manner adapted to the world at large and general experience, and indeed in most cases they are derived from that larger view of the world, that larger religious system.  For a man of religion, a principle is a secondary, contingent thing; not a movement, not a direction, but a simple statement of fact, with certain defined limits and certain defined relations.  Thus, one of the most common accusations against men of religion is that of "inconsistency," that they are simply contradicting their principles when (for instance) a Catholic accepts the use of natural family planning or the use of contraceptives for medical conditions.  This is because, for many, a Principle means not an idea, but a direction; or rather, it means a completely universal application of a certain idea, which is in most cases impossible.  However, because religious principles are much more modest things existing in relation to each other and a larger belief, men of religion are paradoxically far, far more unwilling to break them or do away with them in even the slightest way.  For them, the limits of a principle are not a mere theoretical thing baked on the outside of a proportionless direction, but the very core of what the principle is; to break these borders, either by going too far or not far enough, is not to merely adapt or extend the principle, but to simply violate the principle itself, and all it contains.  Likewise, because these principles exist as part of and draw their force for the most part from the larger system of the world, to violate a principle is in a very real sense to violate the whole system, and the world itself; for a Christian to violate his sexual morality or his principle of justice is thus for him in a real sense to violate Christianity itself, and to offend Christ.

This, in a nutshell, is what the man of Principle can never understand.  For him, God gave us many Principles, and they are no doubt important, but they always have to be altered and adapted to the circumstances, and to do so is not to violate the Principle, but only to not follow as far as one might along what is, essentially, an infinite path.  That the man of Religion will simply not alter or adapt his principles is, for the man of Principle, simply an absurdity; the religious man have some strange sort of emotional need or desire to follow these particular Principles too far.  The man of Principle is always understanding of this state, since it is a state to which he is always tempted; as a man tugged in many directions by infinite paths, he is always tempted to abandon all Principles except one and simply follow that Principle as far as it will lead, thus becoming an Ideologue (or Extremist, if one prefers).  The man of Principle is always hurt when he is accused of being an Ideologue or Extremist, when for him it is obvious that he is anything but, since he constantly adapts his Principles to the situation; but in any case, he is always mindful of the dangers of Ideology, and the fact that it is only constant Compromise and Adaptation that prevent him from going down that dark path.
The Ideologue (note mustache)
Thus, when the man of Religion refuses to Adapt or Rein In his beliefs, the only possible explanation that the man of Principle can conceive of is that the man of Religion is simply an Ideologue, obsessed with following his Principles as far as they will take him, everything else be damned.  The man of Religion is thus necessarily (to the man of Principle) Emotional, Irrational, and above all Dangerous; whatever Principle the man of Religion is refusing to Adapt, the man of Principle is well aware that that Principle leads in the direction of certain dangerous and extreme ideologies such as Naziism (it is always Naziism, no matter what the Principle in question is), and could lead even to acts of violence.  No matter how much the man of Religion protests that he would never do or think such things, that they are forbidden by his religion as such, the man of Principle can never but regard him with fear and distrust; for all that he protests, the mere fact that he refuses to Adapt a Principle pointing in that direction shows that he is already far too emotionally attached to that Principle, and liable at any moment (if he is not there already) to snap and become a Nazi.

As a matter of fact, this situation also afflicts the relationships of almost any two sets of men of Principle, since the other men of Principle are practically always taking some Principle Too Far or Not Far Enough, and so naturally are Ideologues and Extremists headed for Naziism or Socialism or Swedenborgianism.  For every man of Principle is in some sense also a man of Religion, someone with certain fixed ideas of how the world should be that are not alterable or compromiseable; so he is, to the other side, always on these points a Dangerous Ideologue of which we should all be quite frightened, and which we must oppose to our last breath.
Men of Principle do battle (note lack of mustaches)
As a matter of fact, many politicians get eventually very good at Compromising and Adapting in almost purely cosmetic or meaningless ways just enough to convince themselves that they are very much not Ideologues or Extremists, while still continuing to follow the Principle Onwards and Upwards; but again, what they will never to do, however much they wish to appear to be Compromising and Understanding, is to Go Backwards on what they consider to be an important Principle, for that would be to invite the horrors of the Other Direction down upon them all.

All this, of course, is the reason why such men can't come to consider the principles of men of Religion to be really Principles; because, simply, they don't at all match up with their understanding of what a Principle is, and, to the extent they do, they do so only in a way that (for them) necessarily implies emotionalism, sentimentalism, irrationality, and real danger.

This is, essentially, why Obama and the Left simply cannot understand the Catholic Church's stance on the HHS mandate.  All that they are asking, from their point of view, is for the Bishops to Adapt their Principles, and so prove that they are not Extremists; the fact that the President and co themselves, on matters of sexual morality, really are in some sense men of Religion with fixed ideas of Principle which they would never, in a million years, be willing to Adapt, simply has never crossed their mind.  Obama and his associates believe strongly in the Principle of Women's Rights and Sexual Freedom, and are completely unwilling to do anything that might seem to Go Backwards on it; in fact, they are very eager to continue Moving Forwards on it, as this mandate shows.  They are, however, to return to the main point of this article, simply unable to see, in the first place, that their opponents' Principles are indeed real, intellectual principles at all, and, in the latter place, unable to understand their nature as fixed, limited religious principles; and so, they end up treating their opponents either like rather silly children, or else like rabid, irrational Ideologues fighting a War on Women.  The result of all of this is that they are left completely flatfooted by their opponents' response at every step of the way.
The Fixed and Rational Principle
For Catholics, on the other hand, the matter is, and always has been, a matter of fixed and rational principle.  As Catholics, we do not believe in Principles, but in doctrines, in people, and mostly in Catholicism, a complete, rational system that describes why the world exists, how it exists, and how it should exist.  We are simply not willing to violate our entire religious system for the sake of convenience, nor are we about to Adapt it or Compromise on it.  Our system is based on reason, on commandments, and (in short) on truths, many of which are delivered to us from the mouth of Christ himself, who we believe is simply the Truth itself.  To betray Christ, or any other person, in only one way is still to betray him; and for us, and for all Christians, beliefs are always based upon a real, definite, and rational relationship with Christ, the Eternal Word of God.  To suggest to us that we should take one thing that Christ said, turn it into a Principle, and then move in that direction indefinitely is absurd; and it is equally absurd to suggest that we should Adapt or Compromise on a commandment of Christ merely in order to save ourselves from the appearance of being extreme.

In short, the idea that we cannot run schools, hospitals, or charitable organizations in accord with our own religious principles strikes us in just the same way that the idea that they could not run schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, run for office, or own an expensive horse in accord with their religious principles struck the Papists of Josiah Hort's day: in other words, very badly.  Indeed, I will go so far as to say that we, like them, are really and truly Aggrieved about the matter, and do not anticipate being any other way unless and until this decision is reversed.

For us, it is simply and solely a matter of firm, intellectual principle, in the real sense of the word; and until President Obama and the world understands that, then this thing simply is not going to be resolved, period.

To return to the beginning of this whole, monstrously large post, St. Thomas More was very much an aggrieved Papist, considered by many of his contemporaries as being both Extreme and also in decidedly Poor Taste, but was in matter of fact only a very moderate and very scrupulous man of Religion, a Catholic who simply did what every Catholic is called to do: stand for the Truth.  Unless you understand that, you will never understand anything about Catholicism.
Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher: pray for us!

Hostium nostrorum, quaesimus, Domine, elide superbiam.  Et contumaciam eorum dexterae tuae virtute prosterne.  Per Dominum Iesum Christum, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Amen.

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