Replying to a Poor Dismissal of Integralism

Too much perhaps is being made of a recent article appearing in Civiltà Cattolica by Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Argentine Presbyterian Pastor Marcelo Figueroa entitled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism.” (A copy of the piece is archived at Rorate Caeli.) That it would call to the carpet certain aspects of American political life and culture, including the current presidential administration, is far less troubling than the manner in which it (unintentionally?) distorts Catholic integralism.

For instance, the article states that “[b]oth Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.” While there are certainly some conservative and traditional Catholics who likely endorse this “ecumenist of conflict,” anyone familiar with authentic integralist writings will know that intregalists would find the idea of a generic “theocratic type of state” that embraces the interests of both fundamentalist Protestants and the Catholic Church nauseating. Integralism, at its core, concerns the relationship between the spiritual and the temporal, that is, the Church and state. It is only the proper relationship of the state to the one Church of Christ, which is the Catholic Church, which integralism promotes; the relationship between the state and some watered-down, ecumenically constructed, and generic “Christianity” is not part of the integralist project.

It is doubtful the authors of the piece set out with any intention to be precise in its limited discussion of integralism. Before the article ends, integralism has been conflated with fundamentalism even though nothing could be further from the truth. Fundamentalism, at its core, is fideistic, antirational, and needlessly reactionary. Integralism, by contrast, embraces the whole of the Western intellectual tradition, from Athens to Jerusalem. It drinks deeply from the well of reason in the service of upholding the truth of revelation. Integralism, when it is authentically Catholic, does not call for Christians to flee the world, but to transform it—to restore all things in Christ.

Granted, there are certainly socio-political matters which are of grave concern to not only integralists, but all Christians of good will. For instance, the reemergence of militant Islam, both in the Middle East and the West, threatens the very survival of Christianity. Secular-liberal culture, with its emphasis on individualism, liberty, and relativism, threatens the common good. This only makes sense since it was not long ago that Catholics and most Protestants shared a common moral vocabulary despite the grave theological and philosophical differences which divided them. And though Protestantism must carry the blame for helping to usher in some of the worst aspects of modernity, it cannot be denied that some today still hold true to the precepts of the Decalogue and the message of the Gospel.

In the coming years it will be necessary for integralists to present a stronger, more united front against its uncultured despisers. Unsophisticated dismissals such as the one presented by Spadaro and Figueroa are easily refuted. More pressing perhaps are the well-intentioned, though often misinformed, critiques emanating from Catholics who, despite rejecting liberalism, still remain beholden to both liberal categories of thought and an unfortunate desire to “fit in” with certain secular academic currents that are still perceived as “edgy” and “hip” by a typically youthful segment of the Catholic population. The challenge is not so much to defeat them in a battle of ideas so much as to convert them to the cause of upholding the social rights of Christ the King.

Integralism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Following yesterday’s brief post on integralism, I was asked whether the Eastern Orthodox Church, either now or in the past, has an integralist tradition. Although there have been certain Orthodox-backed political movements that contain what might be called “integralist elements,” it seems to me that integralism—with its powerful emphasis on the subordination of the temporal to the spiritual—has no deep roots in the Orthodox East. This is because, since the days of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox have promoted symphonia, that is, a complementary relationship between church and state with neither being subordinate to the other.

At the legal level, symphonia first appears in Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis as at the start of Book 6 of the Novels. Here is the Preface in full from the 1932 translation of S.P. Scott.

The priesthood and the Empire are the two greatest gifts which God, in His infinite clemency, has bestowed upon mortals; the former has reference to Divine matters, the latter presides over and directs human affairs, and both, proceeding from the same principle, adorn the life of mankind; hence nothing should be such a source of care to the emperors as the honor of the priests who constantly pray to God for their salvation. For if the priesthood is, everywhere free from blame, and the Empire full of confidence in God is administered equitably and judiciously, general good will result, and whatever is beneficial will be bestowed upon the human race. Therefore We have the greatest solicitude for the observance of the divine rules and the preservation of the honor of the priesthood, which, if they are maintained, will result in the greatest advantages that can be conferred upon us by God, as well as in the confirmation of those which We already enjoy, and whatever We have not yet obtained We shall hereafter acquire. For all things terminate happily where the beginning is proper and agreeable to God. We think that this will take place if the sacred rules of the Church which the just, praiseworthy, and adorable Apostles, the inspectors and ministers of the Word of God, and the Holy Fathers have explained and preserved for Us, are obeyed.

Notice that there is no acknowledgment here that the state is subordinate to the church, or that the church can rightfully exercise indirect temporal authority. Rather, Justinian is proposing a sort of equilibrium in principle, albeit one that was rarely achieved during the long history of Byzantium or in any other Orthodox empire. In fact, Book 131 of the Novels, Justinian takes it upon himself to enact as a matter of civil law the canon law promulgated at the first four Ecumenical Councils.

Therefore We order that the sacred, ecclesiastical rules which were adopted and confirmed by the four Holy Councils, that is to say, that of the three hundred and eighteen bishops held at Nicea, that of the one hundred and fifty bishops held at Constantinople, the first one of Ephesus, where Nestorius was condemned, and the one assembled at Chalcedon, where Eutyches and Nestorius were anathematized, shall be considered as laws. We accept the dogmas of these four Councils as sacred writings, and observe their rules as legally effective.

Again, contrary to the integralist position that the state has no independent authority over spiritual matters, the symphonia introduced by Justinian presupposes that the state may turn the canonical into the civil (or not) as it sees fit. And, in fact, during the course of the Byzantine Empire, the conflation of civil and canon law would become far more frequent, resulting in the Orthodox Church being compelled to develop a form of ecclesiastical divorce that still plagues the Orthodox communion to this day.

With symphonia remaining largely an abstract ideal, the practical outcome of Orthodox political theology was the advent of caesaropapism with the state taking a direct role in ecclesiastical affairs. While several Eastern Saints felt compelled to resist this tendency, including Ss. John Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Maximus the Confessor, their witness was never enough to put an end to the practice. With the fall of Constantinople and the rise of Russia as the last Orthodox imperial power, caesaropapism continued to be the normative model for church/state relations in the Orthodox East. Indeed, caesaropapism appears to be alive and well in contemporary Russia, with the Russian Orthodox Church serving as a handmaid of Russian state policy, including international aggression in places such as Georgia and Ukraine.

None of this is to say that the Eastern Orthodox could not develop an authentic integralist tradition, though to do so would mean setting aside the ideal of symphonia in favor of a much broader understanding of the proper relationship between church and state. The Christian East is not devoid of an integralist tradition, after all. The role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in building up strong national and civil institutions in Galicia from the 18th century onward is an excellent example of “integralism in action.” Although the aspiration for a free Ukrainian state was torn apart by two world wars and Soviet aggression, the practical potential borne out of a proper ordering of church and state should never be doubted.

The Return of Integralism

I must admit I was caught off guard a couple of days ago when integralism became a talking point on Catholic social media. The source of this discussion was an article by Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy, “Indexing Political Theologies: Six Christianity and Culture Strategies.” One of the “options” made available was “Catholic Integralism,” which has been neatly defined by Pater Edmund Waldstein over at The Josias:

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

Meador, however, is skeptical that integralism can develop into a real movement in the United States since “the only way American Catholicism has been able to establish a political foothold in America is by repudiating Integralism.” I agree with Meador that embracing liberalism over integralism has been the historic practice of American Catholicism, though there’s no reason it had to be that way. By the early part of the 20th century Catholics had gained a comfortable foothold in American social and economic life; there was little incentive to “rock the boat.” By the 1960s, liberal distortions had penetrated large swathes of the Catholic Church, leading to the distorting declarations of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty, the modern world, and the relationship of the Church with non-Christian religions. It has taken 50 years, but a growing number of Catholics (not all of them traditionalists) are discontent with the liberal fruits of Vatican II; they are now taking a wider view of Catholic Tradition, including the Church’s social magisterium as it developed from the Patristic period through the age of liberal revolution. This is why integralism is back on the scene.

There is a great deal more to be done, of course. Meador is right to observe “that the most pressing need for the integralists would seem to be catechetical—how do you teach American Catholics their church’s traditional political theology and how do you do it in a way that sticks in a place that is so famously hostile to such political theology?” However, the very fact that Meador—and others who are not necessarily integralists—are writing on this topic means that the message is starting to get out. The Josias, which has been quietly building-up an archive of fresh integralist writings and translations, has been acknowledged in The American Conservative and The New York Times. (Additionally, I have worked for several years to present integralism both practically and theoretically.) And beyond all of that, a large body of Catholic social writings from yesteryear, covering everything from economics to the proper composition of the state, are back in print and available from outlets such as Angelus Press, Loreto Press, and IHI Books. There is no shortage of materials available for those looking to learn.

But, yes, there are challenges. The integralist community remains rather small and confined mainly (though not exclusively) to traditional Latin Catholic circles. Integralists, unlike the liberals, don’t have the benefit of a well-funded propaganda machine like the Acton Institute, nor are they likely to curry favor with Church hierarchs beholden to liberal values. But with God, all things are possible. Just a few years ago, nobody was speaking about integralism, let alone writing about it in a fresh and invigorating way. Up until various Catholic (and some non-Catholic) camps started identifying themselves as “Radical Catholics” or “Illiberal Catholics” or the “Benedict Option” became a household word, those holding integralist views (meaning those who faithfully adhere to what the Catholic Church has always taught about the relationship between the temporal and spiritual orders) never felt inclined to define themselves. Now, with so many “options” circulating about, it’s become a necessity—and that’s not a bad thing.

After Talking About Integralism

Last Friday I gave a talk on integralism for a Catholic men’s group here in Grand Rapids. It was my fourth talk for them, the most “popular” being my lengthy lecture on the (in)compatibility of libertarianism with Catholicism. Much of what I had to say was built upon articles, blog posts, and my ever-expanding book manuscript. At the outset of the talk, I half-jokingly said that integralism is nothing more than Catholics following what the Church has always taught, not just with respect to politics and society, but all facets of natural and supernatural life. It became clear to me over the course of my 90-minute speaking engagement that I wasn’t saying anything “new.” That is, I was not attempting to advance a pet ideology or catchy socio-cultural posture; I was imply explaining, inter alia, the relationship of spiritual and temporal authority; the social kingship of Christ; and the duty of all Catholics to follow divine and natural law, even when they conflict with civil positive law.

So it is strange (and depressing) to look at ostensibly Catholic publications, blogs, and social media to see so many self-professed conservative and traditional Catholics promoting ideas, positions, and candidates which are at odds with what the Church professes to be true. Pragmatism—and a last desperate grasp at political relevance—seems to be animating far too many Catholics to support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump along with policies that uphold economic liberalism, war mongering, and religious indifferentism. Granted, this is not a new problem. For more than a century, American Catholicism has capitulated to the spirit of the times in order to prove that Catholics, like Protestants, Jews, and atheists, can be “good Americans” while (privately) holding fast to their (personal) religious beliefs.

A year ago I had thought that, given the deplorable state of American political life, this election cycle would witness a noticeable rise in outspoken Catholics who simply cannot abide by the despicable choices secular democracy has furnished us. Instead, what I see are more and more Catholics who love to go on about “orthodoxy” and “tradition” doubling-down on liberalism because they have duped themselves into believing that our state of affairs will be noticeably improved by the Republican Party over the Democratic Party. Granted, some of the panic-button pushers are willing to concede that the GOP is a shell of its former self with very little left on its platform to appeal to so-called social conservatives or the religious right. However, these same folk fear that another four (or eight) years of Democratic rule will yield catastrophic results for both Catholicism and the United States.

Personally, I am not willing to give in to fear, at least not yet (and, God willing, not ever). No credible evidence, coupled with a cogent argument, has yet been presented to convince me that I ought to cast a single vote this November which runs contrary to conscience—a conscience shaped by reason and revelation. If someone asks me what integralism “looks like” in action, that is it. Integralism means following the Church, not the Zeitgeist. Integralism means foregoing compromises with evil even at great professional and personal cost. Integralism, above all else, means upholding the social rights of Christ the King and never genuflecting before earthly powers and temporal thrones which have divorced themselves from God’s appointed spiritual authority, our Holy Mother Church.

More From Pater Edmund on Integralism

Pater Edmund Waldstein, whose writings on monarchism and integralism have had a profound impact on my own thinking (see here), has an outstanding new article up at The Josias entitled “Integralism and the Gelasian Dyarchy.” More than just a restatement of the integralist thesis, Waldstein’s piece provides a powerful critique of radical Augustinian and Whig Thomist approaches to spiritual and temporal power. Here is a brief excerpt:

What (for lack of a better term) I call Augustinian radicalism comes close to abandoning the idea of dyarchy altogether. It takes a highly pessimistic view of earthly power, which it associates with Augustine’s city of man, it emphasizes the temporal, passing nature of such power, and sees a quasi-inevitable conflict between it and the Church. The Church on this account should reject the coercive means used by earthly power, and by already living in an anticipatory fashion the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, serve as a sign of contradiction to the powers that are passing away. This position comes in many forms and degrees. The writers of whom I am thinking in particular are Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Baxter, C.S.C, John Milbank, and William T. Cavanaugh as well as Dorothy Day, whose practical example serves as an inspiration to many of the others.

Whig Thomism on the other hand, takes a much more positive view of temporal power. The Whig Thomists emphasize the distinction between the two powers. Welcoming a certain form of the separation of Church and state, they reject any juridical subordination of the state to the Church, and hold that the influence of the Church on the state should come only through the Church’s influence on the consciences of individual citizens. By far the most eloquent and insightful expositor of Whig Thomism was John Courtney Murray, S.J.

The question of the relation of spiritual to temporal power is intimately connected to the question of the relation nature and grace. Christianity is able to distinguish between the two powers, because it is a religion of grace, which does not destroy the order of nature, but presupposes, elevates, and perfects it. I shall argue that Augustinian radicalism tends to exaggerate towards a monism of grace, in which the natural loses all standing. Whig Thomism, on the other hand, tends to exaggerate the distinction, not sufficiently understanding that nature is for the sake of grace. Only integralism fits well with a fully satisfactory account of the elevation and perfection of natural teleology in grace.

Waldstein’s words warrant careful and deep reflection, particularly during an era where the most “popular” alternative available to our present situation is one or another escapist “options” which appear to be rooted more in certain lifestyle aesthetics than Scripture or tradition.