Monday, June 17, 2013

The Sacred Heart and the Cause

The month of June, in the Catholic Church, is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (as we have touched on before) and this is relevant to readers here because of the extent to which the Sacred Heart has been adopted as the symbol of a great many royalist, monarchist and/or counterrevolutionary movements throughout history. To this day it remains a favorite emblem for traditionalist causes, in the Catholic world at least. Why is this? I cannot say with certainty. The Sacred Heart represents many things to many people but, I suppose, a general way of defining what it is supposed to represent is the enduring love and sacrifice of Christ for humanity. This applies to everyone, of course, and still does not quite explain why monarchists in particular would be attached to it, but perhaps other aspects of historical context will. For myself, I cannot help but think it has something to do with the Sacred Heart coming to be associated with “lost causes” (as some might have guessed from the image of it I have on the right-hand sidebar). The movements that first come to mind when I think of royalists or traditionalists who adopted the Sacred Heart as a badge are the French counterrevolutionaries of the Vendee, the Carlists of Spain and the Cristeros of Mexico. Two out of the three were overtly royalist but one thing they do all have in common is that all of them were, ultimately, unsuccessful. I am sure some may argue that point but I mean only that they did not win a smashing battlefield victory, make their enemies beg for mercy and hold triumphs in Paris, Madrid or Mexico City.

Perhaps then the attachment comes from an acknowledgement that earthly success seems a remote possibility but the cause is sacred and the struggle more important than the outcome itself. Devotion to the Sacred Heart, while long encouraged by the Jesuits, was particularly emphasized after the fall of Papal Rome when the Pope had shut himself up in the Vatican and refused to come out. If one were to look at the number of parish churches named “Sacred Heart” many, possibly most of them, were founded during that period when the Pope called himself the “Prisoner of the Vatican” which may have gone a long way to encouraging the association of the Sacred Heart with traditionalism as well as the “lost cause”. It was certainly strong for a great many Catholic monarchists as the defense of the political power of the Pope was very much dominated by French royalists, though there were the occasional republican-minded papal volunteer just as there were monarchists and republicans on the opposing side but certainly not the same as the mindset that predominated amongst the papal forces and the “Black Nobility”. It was also Pope Pius IX who made the Feast of the Sacred Heart obligatory for the whole Catholic Church (doing so when he still ruled Rome politically). Even then it was already something of a royalist symbol but a more specifically French one when compared to other countries.

Although the devotion had long existed it was the visions of St Margaret Marie Alacoque, in France, that caused it to become much more widespread. The story goes that the saint urged King Louis XIV (at divine request) to put the image of the Sacred Heart on his royal coat of arms which the “Sun King” declined to do. That may, in part, explain why French royalists, after the outbreak of the Revolution and the horrors that went with that, adopted the Sacred Heart as their badge. For the royalist counterrevolutionaries, the Sacred Heart badge was usually the closest thing they had to a “uniform” as it was so widespread. No doubt the French royalists carrying flags with the Sacred Heart and wearing Sacred Heart badges on their clothes went a long way to making it a religious symbol closely associated with the idea of restoring the monarchy and, in particular, a traditional Catholic monarchy which might have been somewhat different than the way it had been under the martyred King Louis XVI or even much farther back. The ties are not direct or even all that strong but one can see a slight connection in the principles that many dissident monarchist groups were fighting for.

One does not often think of the Jacobites in connection with the Sacred Heart, yet there may have been a few who took to it. One devotee of the Sacred Heart was the Jesuit priest St Claude de la Colombiere who, for a time, was the personal chaplain to the future Queen Mary of Modena, wife of the Duke of York who later became King James II for whom the Jacobite cause first sprang into being. The Jacobites endorsed the idea of a strong monarchy in a decentralized state (or states), believing in the “divine right of kings” while also rejecting the Act of Union (passed by a monarch they held to be illegitimate) that bound England, Scotland and Ireland together under one government. They did not advocate the division of the three kingdoms exactly but rather wanted England, Scotland and Ireland to be governed separately according to their own laws and customs under one shared monarch. The Sacred Heart may not be much associated with the Jacobites (their most famous symbol probably being the white rose) but given that the movement was not exclusively Catholic (though it increasingly became largely so) this is not surprising. However, given what they believed in, we can see many parallels with another traditionalist, monarchist dissident group that certainly did take up the Sacred Heart symbol in a big way. That, of course, was the Carlists of Spain.

The Carlists, originally (before being pulled in every possible direction by various factions and claimants) consisted of the supporters of the only recently renounced absolute monarchy of Spain, so something similar to the “divine right” concept while also including a great many that we might today call “regionalists”. They too wanted greater government at the local level rather than in Madrid with the local regions of Spain being governed by their own laws and customs and their previous special favors. In effect, this meant going back more to the way things had been in Spain under the House of Hapsburg prior to the War of Spanish Succession, doing away with the centralization that had taken effect under the House of Bourbon which tended to concentrate power, following the example of the great Louis XIV in France. The similarities between what the Jacobites and the Carlists were wanting are striking and the Carlists did what the Bourbon monarch in France had refused to do and displayed the Sacred Heart on the royal coat of arms. One can easily tell a flag used by the Carlists for the Sacred Heart featuring in the center of the arms. The Carlists also sewed Sacred Heart badges onto their uniforms and the symbol persisted even into the Twentieth Century. One can find photos from the Spanish Civil War of the Carlists fighting for Franco and the nationalists with the Sacred Heart painted on their trucks or scratched into the stocks of their rifles.

The French royalists, at least at the time of the counterrevolution in the Vendee, did not have any sort of political program as the Jacobites and the Carlists had. Even with those groups, it took some time to develop. However, I tend to think they would have come up with something similar, perhaps rolling back some of the Bourbon centralization that had been seen at least since the time of Louis XIII, combined with a sacred view of the monarchy and perhaps a more corporatist model of political and economic representation along the lines put forward by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI. In Mexico the Cristeros likewise did not, themselves, have a very well developed political program, being more concerned with simply stopping the government from exterminating them. However, later Catholic groups would take up much the same cause minus any reference to monarchy. That being said, there did exist a minority group that desired closer ties with Spain (and by extension the Spanish monarchy) as part of greater solidarity (not exactly unity) throughout the Spanish-speaking world across Latin America, Spain and even The Philippines. At the very least it would represent a more traditional way of governing in the context of Mexican history though, depending on the circumstances, the Catholic Church had been on both sides of several issues, centralization of power being a good example.

Mexico, like the rest of the Spanish colonial empire, had been rather decentralized under the Hapsburgs. The Bourbons centralized things more but in either case the Church was always on the side of God, Country and King (as the Carlists would say). When independence came, the Church was on the side of Iturbide and after his brief hold on power the Catholic Church was mostly (not entirely) on the same side as the aristocrats and military men who supported centralization over states’ rights (centralists versus federalists they were called then). Sometimes this was because Church leaders saw it as necessary at the time, and many of the political leaders had been monarchists (Bustamante) or flirted with the idea (Santa Anna) and sometimes it was simply because the federalists were anti-clerical and the centralists were not. Naturally one would support the side that means you the least harm. Later on, after the Cristero war (la Cristiada) and the Revolution, things became a bit more clear-cut for the discerning Mexican Catholic with the emergence of the National Synarchist Union in direct opposition to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (which is back in power again) and which consciously drew on the struggle of the Cristeros while advocating for a more Catholic, more hierarchical Mexico organized according to natural, traditional groups rather than the class distinctions favored by both the socialists and (to a lesser extent) the capitalists (not because of any greater righteousness on their part but simply because labor and ownership hating each other is bad for business). Will this group be successful? The current trend of Mexican politics would seem to say “no”. Like others they have divided and may not even be a token force on the political scene anymore.

However, that may make the symbolism of the Sacred Heart all the more valid for all of these groups. As I have said before, I admire the roots of all of these groups even while being dismayed at what they later became and I have no time for anyone who claims to be a monarchist while not supporting their monarch. For many it has become no more than a justification for moaning and groaning and denigrating reigning monarchs in the imaginary world of the internet. It is time wasted as it will accomplish nothing and, many times, what these types want cannot be achieved. The world will never be exactly the same as it was. However, rather than aiding the republicans by withholding support or heaping scorn on existing monarchies and causing division amongst monarchists, I would urge all like-minded people to instead focus on the values these groups had in common. Values they, evidently, thought well represented by the Sacred Heart. You can make the case for greater respect to the monarchy, decentralized power and an organic organization of society without calling for a change of dynasty. Work on converting your fellow man and you may find that everything else will fall into place on its own. As I have said here in the past many times, institutions and rulers usually reflect the values and priorities of their people -and this was true even before “democratic” representative government. Abortion became legal in Belgium in spite of the King refusing to give assent to the bill. Why? Because the public wished it. King Baudouin was a perfectly fine and admirable monarch. He did not need changing, the electorate did. Work on changing that, spreading the values of monarchy, faith and fatherland and you may find that your complaints about the dynasty have evaporated.


  1. Fascinating read, thank you for the interesting post!

  2. Ohhhh... I just came here by accident and already love you, whoever you are. There is no emoticon for it! <3


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