Integralism is Not an “Option”

The “Options” phenomenon is quite out of control, and even Rod Dreher, progenitor of the so-called Benedict Option, seems to recognize it. In a recent American Conservative blog post, “Benedict and the Omnibus of Options,” Dreher attempts to defend “his option” (which he ultimately credits to Alasdair MacIntyre) against the plethora of others floating around out there. Devastated though I was to see no mention of my own comprehensive list of “Options” in Dreher’s post, that devastation quickly gave way to confusion over what exactly the Benedict Option is other than a call for Christians to retreat, set-up shop away from the world at large, and wait for the present storm to blow over. If that is what the Benedict Option is at its core, then it is an option set-up for a select few persons who have the means to relocate from their current jobs and find (or invent) new ones. Not everyone writes for a mainline conservative magazine after all, and very few these days have the agrarian or artisan chops to make it in one of the communities Dreher idealizes as embodying the Benedict Option.

None of this is to say that any of the other “Options” currently on display are more attractive than the Benedict Option. Almost all of them are under-theorized, vague, and impracticable, mainly because they rely on a catchy name rather than a careful reflection on what Christians ought to do in the light of both reason and revelation. Nowhere among these many “Options” is any mention made of the social rights of Christ the King nor the fact that Western Christendom, for centuries, has furnished detailed analyses of, and authentically Christian responses to, liberalism. And let us not forget that at the end of the day liberalism is the problem.

While Dreher is no longer a Catholic, surely he must be aware of the Catholic counterrevolutionary tradition that emerged in the 19th C. and received papal support in documents such as Blessed Pius IX’s Syllabus Errorum and Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei. Until the middle of the 20th C. there existed a legion of Catholic thinkers—clerical and lay—who continued the pious fight against the encroachment of liberalism, both within the Church and society at large. These men did not sound the alarms of retreat; they dug their heels into the ground, sometimes at great professional and personal cost. Their concern was not first and foremost that they should be able to carve out some quiet, comfortable living space for themselves. No, their concern was to uphold the rights of Christ—Priest, Prophet, and King—while refusing to surrender libertas ecclesiae.

Some of these men, and the theological truths they espoused, were referred to as “integralists” (or integrists). In more recent decades the term has been warped into a disparaging epithet for certain pockets of traditional Catholics such as the Society of St. Pius X. Even more recently, however, integralism has been taken up by a small, but growing, band of Catholics. Dissatisfied with the previous generation’s attempt to marry liberalism and Catholicism and incredulous toward certain (though not all) “radical” attempts to blend Catholicism with ideological categories which have already been condemned by the Church’s social magisterium, integralists keep faith with Pope St. Pius X in desiring to restore all things in Christ. Their weapons are not merely words, but prayer. Their spirit is not only a spirit of resistance, but a spirit of crusade. Now is not the time to abandon the world. Now is the time to convert it. When Christ gave His Church the Great Commission, He did not provide it with any other options.