A Universal Apology Point Thirteen: ON LEGALISM


I am recounting the several reasons I have for accepting that the Catholic Church is what she says she is. The thirteenth point which convinced me was the particular character of the Catholic Church. She is preeminently balanced and just in her approach, a type of justice often dismissed as being legalistic or pharisaic. That dismissal is groundless. A balanced and just approach is the only approach: anything else is emotionalism, perhaps fanaticism.

I will repeat here what I have said many times: The Catholic Church is eminently logical. If Vulcans had a religion, they would be Catholic.

At about this time in my investigations, my beautiful and talented wife, who is considerably more tolerant and supportive of her husband’s eccentricities than she should be, noticed that most of the comments left by readers on my computer journal were left by Catholics, and that there was a particular affinity between their outlook and my own. At her urging, I took up RCIA classes, and began to study Catholicism in earnest.

While I am, there can be no doubt, an extraordinarily silly man (sometimes deliberately) there can be no doubt that I was always of a very sober and serious temper when it came to the deepest questions of life and death. I had a philosophical temper as a child even before I took up the study of philosophy in my youth. I mean that have always honored the rational and intellectual approach to any topic over the enthusiastic and spontaneous. I have never believed that the depth or authenticity of an emotion any evidence in the slightest as to the appropriateness or sanity of that emotion, nor any evidence in the slightest as to the truthfulness of whatever opinion deep and authentic emotion provokes or is provoked by. Nor have I ever regarded philosophy as a mere word-game or diversion, or something without far-reaching consequences in the life of a man or the life of a nation.

It is primarily due to this philosophical temper that I attended law school. The greatest advantage over other law students of my class and generation is that I had been trained in undergraduate school to think, that is, to establish arguments in a rigorous fashion, to understand and to anticipate counterarguments, and to see that some matters had no simple answer, but were matters of qualified, nuanced and careful consideration. My First Year classmates had to spend months unlearning the twin idiotic ideas that there was always one simple right answer and that there was never one simple right answer, whereas to me the idea that there was an argument to be heard on both sides of any issue was as natural as breathing.

But I mean not to dwell on myself. I mention this only to establish that I am qualified to detect a particular character of thought and writing which one finds only in the best philosophers and jurists, in Blackstone as well as Aquinas: the habit of balanced judgment, of examining both sides of an argument, of seeing implications, of allowing exceptions when justice demands, and of ruthlessness forbidding exceptions when she does not.

It was upon reading the catechism of the Catholic Church that I encountered once again the type of mind, that particular highest type, which I had heretofore seen only in jurists and philosophers and other mind of a decidedly rigorous and powerful intellect.

Two examples will suffice. In the matter of abortion, the Church teaches that it is always wrong, and gravely against the dignity of the human person. Whereas in the matter of capital punishment, the Church teaches that it is most often wrong, but in a circumstance where the public safety cannot be obtained in any other way (such as in a nation too poor or war-torn to incarcerate prisoners reliably) capital punishment is not necessarily forbidden.

I will add a third and yet a fourth example. The Catechism teaches that the torture of prisoners of war is always forbidden. The reason for such a strict and absolute prohibition was made painfully clear in recent years in this nation, where one party accused to other of indulging in the practice, and the other reacted, first by denying the charge indignantly, and second by arguing that torture was not absolutely immoral. It is that second argument that should never be voiced or heeded in public, and any Christian faithful to Catholic teaching has no excuse for either.

But, contrariwise, war itself is not forbidden in absolute terms. The Catechism teaching the doctrine defining justice in war, which has informed the conscience of the West up until the Napoleonic times, when the heresy of political liberalism, as displayed by the French across the bloody pages of history, but later by the Socialists of Russia and the National Socialists of Germany, that exquisite barbarian horror known as total war theory.  Just war theory holds that wars can be fought under specific conditions dealing with the justice of the cause, the impossibility of peaceful reconciliation, and the possibility of success. The reason for the careful balancing of causes in the Just War theory was once again made painfully clear in recent years in this nation, which attempted to have a public debate about the justice or injustice of our current war. It was impossible to have a rational conversation about the justice or injustice of the war while using that baroque modern vocabulary and elliptical phrasing moral relativism requires. Among moderns, any statement about justice is dismissed as unjust, because their single (and singularly stupid) moral standard is that it is wrong to have moral standards. The modern cannot talk or think rationally about morality because they hold morals to be individual, mystical, and based on emotion.  Never has a matter of great and momentous public weight be debated so frivolously. Never has a nation needed to be catechized so badly.

I have no doubt that a similar clarity and profundity of thought exists among writers who support non-Catholic theologies, but I have not yet come across them. There are non-Catholic writers I can name who are truly rigorous or truly deep or both, but I have yet to see an official document propounded by their leadership describing in actionable detail the wholeness of the faith.

In general, Protestant denominations tend to admire religious enthusiasm, and the visionary denominations tend to prefer signs and wonders and speaking in tongues, the exorcism of demons and the healing of the sick by prayer alone. I denounce none of these things nor even look at them askance, for the Catholic Church not only has them, she has them properly in balance with other things and is the mother of them all. We alone have professional exorcists and a process to distinguish between real miracles versus hoaxes.

In general, Catholics tend to have everything written down. If you want to know what we believe and why we believe it, or to discover the areas where each believer is at liberty to decide howsoever he sees fit, you can look it up. Like the laws of a just and sober nation, a reasonable man can know the law and know how to conform to it. For a variety of reasons, this is simply not true of many of the other denominations.

One of those reasons for this lack of legality is a lack of international character in other denominations. I have been frankly nonplussed by those whose main resentment against the Catholic Church is her medieval assumption of secular powers. They seem to regard this as a slight against the separation of the state from Church which is so near and dear to the heart of the Constitution of the United States, so cherished by the American people, and as an affront to freedom of conscience. I have even heard faithful Catholic lament the assumption of Constantine to the Purple, on the grounds that the establishment of the Catholic Church as the official state religion of the empire corrupted her.

While a mystic of an Oriental discipline that preaches a purely individual relation to God, and has no communal rites or stances whatsoever, could make this argument, no Protestant can. In the early days, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Calvinism denominations were national churches in precisely the fashion that the Catholic Church after Constantine was not. While a man whose religion has no organization and no leader can mock the idea of having a Pope or a supreme Archbishop without hypocrisy, he cannot whoever is a member of a church whose official theology is that the King of England is the supreme head of the church, or various German princes, and so on.

My main reason for not joining an Eastern Church, such as the Greek or Russian Orthodox, who could show apostolic succession and make other profound claims to being the original and true Church, is precisely their lack of international and independent character. These Eastern Churches have had only three Ecumenical Counsels akin to the Council of Trent or Vatican II, and in recent years, none. For many years they were dependent on the will of the state even for their internal organizational matters.

The idea of the Separation of Church and State is a Protestant idea, or, specifically, it is the cease fire of Protestant denominations finding themselves unable to continue the endless wars their doctrine of making each King his own Pope inevitably creates. The various national Churches engaged in a cease fire by next making each individual man his own Pope, and the Kings were restored partway to the humbler position they occupied before the Reformation.

The Separation of Church and State is surely better than suffering the establishment of national churches, but in recent years this doctrine has mutated into its own opposite: instead of a restriction on government actions when they interfere with Church business, it is now regarded as a restriction on the actions of churchgoers when they interfere with Government business. The creation of state-run schools, the abolition of prayer in schools, the privatization of religious education, the removal of public monuments, such as crosses for war-heroes, or the display of the Ten Commandment on which all Angloamerican law is based from our court houses, the secularization of Christmas, and the requirement that Catholics fund contraception, abortifacient drugs and sterilization, and fund the spreading of doctrine anathema to us, all this and more is a fruit of this inversion of the Protestant cease-fire between the various schismatic sects.

The traditional Catholic division between secular and spiritual powers and orbits of authority makes more sense and is, in the long run, healthier than this agreement to drive all mention of God from the Public Square, an agreement having its roots in an exhaustion from the futility of the religious conflicts brought on by the Reformation.