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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pius X on Democracy

Was poring over various criticisms of Jacques Maritain's political philosophy the other day when I came across an Apostolic Letter of Pius X "Notre Charge Apostolique" which I hadn't read in years. It concerns a French Christian Democratic movement the Sillon which had strayed beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy in its enthusiasm for Democracy. The letter is characteristically hard line. I was reminded of Dietrich von Hildebrand's call for us to "storm heaven with the prayer that the spirit of St. Pius X might once again fill the hierarchy, that the great words anathema sit might once again ring out against all heretics, and especially against all the members of the 'fifth column' within the Church." What surprised me about the Apostolic Letter is that Pius X appears to exclude Bellarmine's view on the origin of civil authority (that it comes from God but through the people).

"The Sillon places public authority primarily in the people, from whom it then flows into the government in such a manner, however, that it continues to reside in the people. But Leo XIII absolutely condemned this doctrine in his Encyclical 'Diuturnum Illud'” on political government in which he said:

'Modern writers in great numbers, following in the footsteps of those who called themselves philosophers in the last century, declare that all power comes from the people; consequently those who exercise power in society do not exercise it from their own authority, but from an authority delegated to them by the people and on the condition that it can be revoked by the will of the people from whom they hold it. Quite contrary is the sentiment of Catholics who hold that the right of government derives from God as its natural and necessary principle.'

Admittedly, the Sillon holds that authority - which first places in the people - descends from God, but in such a way 'as to return from below upwards, whilst in the organization of the Church power descends from above downwards'.

But besides its being abnormal for the delegation of power to ascend, since it is in its nature to descend, Leo XIII refuted in advance this attempt to reconcile Catholic Doctrine with the error of philosophism. For, he continues: 'It is necessary to remark here that those who preside over the government of public affairs may indeed, in certain cases, be chosen by the will and judgment of the multitude without repugnance or opposition to Catholic doctrine. But whilst this choice marks out the ruler, it does not confer upon him the authority to govern; it does not delegate the power, it designates the person who will be invested with it.'"

Now, I had always understood Leo XIII to be speaking in this sense but lots of people still go round promoting Bellarmine's view that soverignty comes to the rulers through the people. I wonder if they are aware of Pius X's condemnation of this view? Of course this condemnation is not a problem for those who prefer Democracy as a form of government it just means that we exercise our vote Dei Gratia. However, it is a problem for those who suppose Democracy to be the only legitimate form of government.