Monday, April 25, 2011
Refuting Republicanism in Christianity Part I
To take the less sacred first, we shall start with the historical arguments. Among Orthodox Christians I have yet to find any who advocate republicanism from a religious standpoint (which is to the credit of the Orthodox). When it comes to Catholics and Protestants usually there is some historical prejudice that comes in to play. Most Catholic republicans who are serious Catholics, certainly in the English-speaking world, have obvious political prejudices for making them want to believe that Christianity is inherently republican. In places like North America or Australia this usually goes back to the plight of the Irish Catholics at the hands of the English and later British. The British monarchy is officially, legally and emphatically Protestant and anti-Catholic, they associate the monarchy of Britain with monarchy in general and therefore they condemn all monarchy as Protestant and evil and republicanism as good and Catholic -because the Irish Catholics founded a republic.
Obviously, such a simplistic viewpoint does not take a great deal of effort to refute. In the first place, when England first became involved in Ireland both countries were Catholic. In the second place, the worst atrocities ever carried out against the Irish were done when Britain was a republic (the Irish had supported the King believe it or not) and the original Irish rebels did not fight for republicanism but for a different (and Catholic) monarch. Furthermore, the original Irish republicans were following the example of the French Revolution, which was their inspiration, which was violently anti-Catholic. It may also surprise some to know that many if not most of the original Irish nationalists were Protestants or simply irreligious men when not. Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, the founders of the United Irishmen and Young Ireland and many other groups that later evolved into the IRA were Protestants. On the other hand, Dan O’Connell, an Irish Catholic and a nationalist, was horrified by the revolutionary French republic and advocated only a repeal of the Act of Union and political independence for Ireland and not the overthrow of the monarchy. The sectarian conflicts as we know them did not come until much later, mostly in the north and then mostly led by members of the IRA who were often socialists, communists and not in any sense good Catholics.
Other Catholics, in Latin America, again make a patriotic issue out of this, in a way putting nationalism before religion (and it is a shame when that happens because nationalism *always* wins). They remain Catholic but put aside the religious support for monarchy in order to oppose the imperial rule of Spain. The problem, of course, is that most of these countries, once becoming independent, eventually stopped being officially Catholic as well and in many cases even turned violently secularist. More intellectual types might take a broader historical view and turn to the many clashes between the Church and the Crown in numerous countries throughout history but seen most blatantly in Germany with the “Investiture Dispute”. Surely that shows Catholic opposition to monarchy since the Italian republics tended to support the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor and many of the aristocrats opposed the Pontiff? No, and quite obviously not as these people seem to overlook the fact that those aristocrats and those emperors were all Catholic as well! Moreover, at no time did the Pope ever try to abolish the Holy Roman monarchy, at most he tried to remove an anti-clerical monarch with a pro-clerical one. It was the Papacy that had first established the office of Holy Roman Emperor and at no time in any of the Church conflicts with the kings of Europe did they ever advocate having no king at all.
Finally, there are those who say that all of that may be true but all that really matters is the here and now and today the Catholic Church and all the recent pontiffs have supported republics and liberal democracy and opposed monarchy. Once again, those people would be wrong, though perhaps not as entirely wrong as I would like. Republicanism and liberal democracy is certainly the prevailing trend in the Catholic Church as in the world at large, however, their support for republicanism cannot countermand the past support of priests, bishops, pontiffs and saints for monarchy. Moreover, regardless of political pronouncements on this or that subject, recent pontiffs have actually never said anything against monarchy and probably had more ties to monarchy than one would think. Pope St Pius X was a staunch monarchist and Pope Bl. Pius XI famously instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King. The relationship of Pope Pius XII (a product of the old Roman “Black Nobility”) and the downfall of the Italian monarchy was complicated but suffice it to say that he regretted the loss of it. Even when papal pronouncements on freedom and democracy became the norm you had Pope John Paul II beatifying the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, something he certainly would not have done if he was anti-monarchy or felt monarchy was un-Christian.
For Protestants, the issue is difficult to tackle since there is no common Protestant doctrine; it is far too diverse an entity to address as a whole. Traditionally most placed their emphasis on the Bible alone and that subject will be addressed in Part II of this mini-series. However, most Protestant denominations today can be traced back to one of two sources: Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church he founded or the Church of England founded by King Henry VIII. These two are easy to address. Martin Luther was a staunch monarchist and that was one thing he never really wavered on throughout his life. He exalted the assorted princes of Germany and said that it was the monarchs (rather than the popes) who carried out the divine will on earth. In fact, when misconstrued teachings of his were taken up by a popular rebellion of the lower class he wrote one of his most controversial works calling on the princes to get to work wiping out the peasants! Rest assured, Luther was no republican and would have been horrified at such a suggestion. Evidence can also be seen in the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, the only countries in which Lutheranism is the official state religion, all are monarchies.
Finally, we have the Church of England. Today the Anglican Communion is rife with republicans even though there is probably no Christian tradition wherein this makes less sense than Anglicanism. The Church of England was founded by a monarch (Henry VIII), fully defined by another monarch (Elizabeth I) and had as its foundational principle non-interference with the royal power. Here is a case where the form of government is not decided by religion but where the religion itself came from a form of government. In other words, the monarchy did not come from the Church of England; the Church of England came from the monarchy. The King was recognized as the “supreme head on earth” of the church and supreme in religious matters. To this day, as far as I know, the Church of England is the only major Christian denomination wherein the supreme position is held by a hereditary monarch rather than a purely religious figure. This was also later extended somewhat in the Protestant community in the English-speaking world following the Toleration Act of 1689 which extended religious freedom to everyone except Catholics as a way of consolidating all English-speaking Protestants behind the monarchy.
King Henry VIII, who founded the Church of England, while not exactly a paragon of virtue, was a very religious man and quite a Biblical scholar. Both Luther and the leaders of the Anglican movement looked to Scripture to show that monarchy was the form of government God favored above all others. Christians of every sort did the same and in Part II of this refutation of Christian republicanism we will look into how utterly futile it is to try to use the Bible to justify republicanism.