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The Danger of Trump to Postliberal Catholicism

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A few weeks ago our friends at Catholic Family News had an interesting discussion in which Dr. Brian McCall gave a controversial but important opinion regarding the condemnation of Action franćaise by Pius XI. Listen below at 40:00:

The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre says that the 1926 condemnation of Action française was the “turning point in the history of the Church; from then on the bishoprics were given to left-wing clerics whilst all opposition to liberalism was falsely tarred with the same brush as Action Française.”[1] This was at the very moment when the “Avant-guarde Theological Generation” was arising, which would triumph at and after Vatican II.[2]

I don’t think anyone can argue that the condemnation of Action française was a terrible mistake by Pius XI, which is only worsened by his failure to consecrate Russia, leading to World War II.

But what was Dr. McCall saying? McCall is making the same argument of Jacques Maritain in his book Primauté du spirituel, which served to justify the condemnation in 1927. The fact is, there can be no politics which does not maintain the primacy of the spiritual.

This important truth about post-Liberal Catholic politics is summed up in the person of Charles Maurras, the founder and leader of Action française. The man was a lapsed Catholic turned Agnostic. And yet he realised what “New Atheist” Richard Dawkins could admit recently, that he did not want to live in a world that was not at least “culturally Christian.” And so Charles Maurras co-founded and helped to lead Action française until the Pope saw that the Church could not support any political movement which failed to place “Jesus is King” at the forefront of everything – from souls to society. And thus, shortly before this condemnation, Pius XI had already done one of his greatest acts as Pope – institute the Feast of Christ the King.

The Meddling of Popes in Affairs of the Laity

But before I draw out the important point McCall makes for our times regarding Trump, I would like to state emphatically that it was Papal interference in the domain of the laity that helped to create a confused political situation, leading to the Avant-guarde generation that triumphed after Vatican II. As I have argued elsewhere, the false spirit of Vatican I de facto suppressed the dogma non definitum of the Two Swords doctrine.

What is the Two Swords doctrine? Before the Liberal revolt, “the Church” was the community of all the baptised, and the laity governed the Church according to the temporal sword, and the clergy governed the Church according to the spiritual sword. This is why we should reject the Liberal phrase “Church and State,” for the very terms negate the Two Swords dogma. No, “The Church” is all the baptised. “The State” is merely the lay rulers of the Church. The Pope is not the Church and the Church is not the Pope.

But beginning especially with Bl. Pius IX, the Pope overreacted to the Liberal takeover. Pio Nono broke with centuries of tradition by disallowing lay participation at Vatican I. Then Leo XIII became the first Liberal Pope to go beyond his authority with Third Republic France, dictating to the laity what should be their political views in the temporal sphere. This led to Le Sillon, which was condemned by Pius X – another Papal interference, right or wrong, in the domain of the laity. And then came the condemnation of Action française – more papal interference – which was immediately reversed by Pius XII.

Thus the nation of France – one of the most influential Catholic nations of the modern period – was constantly swung back and forth by Papal interference in the domain of the laity. As Fimister notes, the doctrine of the Two Swords was understood to mean that the clerics “may intervene in the temporal only ratione peccati, only when the temporal strays from its sphere into conflict with natural or divine law.” Whatever we might think of the defects in Le Sillon or Action française, what grave sin justified the entire suppression of a lay political movement? These were overreactions on the part of the popes of modernity, and because of the false spirit of Vatican I, too many lay rules of the Church – the old nobility – obediently went along with this papal excess. This situation ultimately led to the de facto imposition of Liberalism onto the world’s remaining Catholic nations after Vatican II, when the Vatican was imposing American-style “religious liberty” on nations like Spain, and the laity were laying down as if clerics should be the politicians. This, then, has a direct line to Pope Francis’s attempt to dictate to the world’s governments that the death penalty – the literal temporal sword – cannot be wielded any longer, as Kwasniewski notes in an important essay.

This is why I submit that the problems of the Vatican II era must be dealt with at their roots, which predate that Council by a few generations. Recovering the Two Swords doctrine is critical for this in the post-Liberal conversation among Catholic lay nobility who have become leaders in politics and society. Now, let’s return to McCall’s important point.

Why Trump is a Danger

McCall makes the point of Maritain that political movements must keep the spiritual primary. The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus rules society from the throne of every heart and every family and every parish community. This is the Power that Kings and Presidents must bow down to. But McCall’s passing comment at the end is the most important. He says this:

There is an inherent danger [in the movement of Action française] and I think it’s worth thinking about, if you’re following a leader who’s sort of advancing the banner of Christ the King that he doesn’t even really believe in. Because we’re really, I think, seeing a revival of that kind of movement. We’ve talked… somebody was asking about the Prime Minister of Italy. We have her, we have Milei in Argentina, we had Bolsonaro even to some extent in Brazil, Trump in America… [they] are sort of figures like Charles Maurras, and I think it’s worth our time to think about. Obviously, we’d rather have that than what we have now, but are we putting a band aid on something by that that doesn’t have the whole real solution. And that doesn’t mean I’m saying go vote for Joe Biden or anything like that [chuckles] clearly… Maybe we need to do this [support Trump] as a short term measure now, but we need to have larger strategic thinking than that.

It seems what McCall is getting at is that the standard for Catholic politicians is King St. Louis IX. By that standard, every president of these United States is a dismal failure. Period.

I would hazard to say that Trump was among the “least worst” presidents. I voted for him twice and I’ll vote for him again. But does he really believe that Jesus is King? The man has the maturity of a playground bully and the sanctity of a smart pagan. I think that the Christian enthusiasm for Trump, even from Catholics, has been ignorant at best and dangerous at worst.

The greatest enemy of the summum bonum is not that which is evil, because it is too easily avoided. Rather the greatest enemy of the good is that which is “almost good.”

This is how the Devil tricks us – not with evil per se, but with something which is partially good.

If Trump can get the prize for the “least worst president” in history, that’s really not saying much. Because ultimately, our standard for Catholic governance is not St. Louis but His Majesty Himself, Jesus Christ Our Lord. How does Trump match up to imitating the King of Kings? He’s a sorry excuse for a Christian, in the first place, much less the leader of the American Empire.

The fact that I will receive hate mail for this essay will prove my point exactly. Why are Catholics so enthusiastic about Trump? I will vote for him again, but I’m not going to make him into an idol, nor even an ideal politician. Catholics, says McCall, need to focus much more on “larger strategic thinking.” And when a Catholic thinks “larger” he does not think like Trump, who thinks according to the world – i.e. national and international politics. When a Catholic thinks “larger” he thinks subsidiarity.

That’s why you need to purchase your Sacred Heart Flag now and focus on organising your lay-led procession for June. Submit your articles now for Sacred Heart Month. (Remember: it’s the job of the laity to sanctify the streets – that’s not the clergy’s job nor do we need permission from them to do it.) Moreover, when’s the last time you were zealous for local politics? Do you know who runs your city commission? Why not? Enthrone the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus in your family, then enthrone Him in your city in the month of June and beyond.

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

[1] Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, The Biography of Marcel Lefebvre (Kansas City, MO: The Angelus Press, 2004), 49.

[2] Jon Kirwan,  An Avant-garde Theological Generation: The Nouvelle Théologie and the French Crisis of Modernity (United Kingdom: Oxford University Press,  2018).

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