Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Christian Constitution

It is a saying often heard among conservative circles, that the constitutions of the States, and the [u.] S. Constitution in particular, along with the Declaration of Independence, are among the highest achievements of Christian thinking on government.

But is this true?

A monastery is the closest this fallen world will come to seeing the City of God realized among us, for the life of the monk (or nun) is totally given over to fulfuling the commands of Christ’s Gospel.  It is, so to speak, a very small Christian country.  What provisions, then, do their ‘constitutions’ contain?  How are they like the constitutions that we have adopted?  How different?  Using the monastic rule written by St Columbanus (sometimes Columban) of Ireland (reposed 615) and the Declaration and [u.] S. Constitution as our primary documents, let us take a look.


-Declaration (Approaching Deism):
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

-Constitution (Completely focused on the world):
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-Monastic rule (Proper focus on God and man, echoing Our Lord’s words):
ABOVE all things we must love God with our whole heart and with our whole mind and our neighbor as ourselves; all our works must be informed with this love.

On Who Ought to Govern

-Declaration and Constitution (the majority, whether regenerate or not):
 . . . all men are created equal . . . Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . (Declaration)

 . . . but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. (Constitution, Article VI, Section 3)

-Monastic rule (godly elders):
At the first word of a superior all rise to obey, because by obeying they obey God, according to the word of the Lord Jesus: "He that heareth you, heareth me." If, therefore any hearing a word of command don’t rise straightway he shall be judged disobedient. Whoever contradicts incurs the crime of contumacy; he is not only guilty of disobedience but by opening the gateway of refractoriness to others he becomes the seducer of many. If anyone obeys with grumbling, his obedience, not coming from the heart, is disobedience; therefore, until he shows his good will, his work is of no avail.

To what limits should obedience be carried? Obedience unto death is certainly enjoined on us, because Christ was obedient to His Father for us, unto death. "Let this mind be in you," says the Apostle, "which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and inhabit found as a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient (to His Father) unto death, even to the death of the cross." The true disciple of Christ must obey in all things; no matter how hard or distasteful the task laid upon him may be, he must set about its fulfillment with zeal and joy, because only such obedience is acceptable to the Lord, who says: "He that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me." Wherefore also He says of the disciple worthy of Him: "Where I am, there also shall My minister be with Me." (Chapter 1)

On Freedom of Speech

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  (1st Amendment)

-Monastic rule:
The Rule of silence must be diligently observed, for it is written: "The service of justice shall be quietness and peace." All superfluity of words must be avoided; except in cases of necessity or utility, the monk must be silent, because, according to the Scripture, "in the multitude of words there shall not want sin." Hence our Savior says: "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Justly indeed shall they be condemned who would not, though able, speak just words, but preferred in their garrulousness to speak wicked, unjust, ungodly, vain, injurious, double-meaning, false, quarrelsome, abusive, shameful, absurd, blasphemous, harsh, and crooked words. These and such like words must never pass the lips of the monk, whose tongue must ever be governed by prudence and right reason, lest by his talkativeness he be betrayed into detractions and contradictions born of pride. (Chapter 2)

On the Purpose of Life

-Declaration (Building a worldly kingdom):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, . . . that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  (See also the Constitution’s preamble.)

-Monastic rule (Rejecting worldliness; saving one’s soul; spiritual progress):
3. The food of the monks shall be coarse, consisting of cabbage, vegetables, flour mixed with water, and a biscuit, and taken toward evening. Surfeiting must be guarded against in eating, and drunkenness in drinking, so that what is partaken may sustain, not injure, the body, for by overloading the stomach the mind becomes stupid. Those who look out for the eternal reward should satisfy only their real needs in this life. True discretion requires that food and work shall be duly proportioned. It is reasonable to promote spiritual progress by bringing the flesh into subjection by abstinence, but if abstinence is practiced to excess, it ceases to be a virtue and becomes a vice. Hence the monk must fast daily, but also daily refresh his body with food; since he must indulge his body, he must do so sparingly and by means of the coarsest food; for only to this end does he eat daily that he may be able to make daily progress in virtue, pray daily, work daily, and read daily.

4. Monks to whom for Christ's sake the world is crucified and who are crucified to the world, must sedulously guard against covetousness, seeing that it is wrong for them not only to be possessed of superfluities, but even to desire them. It is not what they possess that matters, but rather how their wills are affected by their possessions. Those who have left all things to follow Christ the Lord with the cross of daily fear have treasure in heaven. Therefore, as they are to possess much in heaven, they ought to be content with little, nay, with the barest necessaries on earth, remembering that in monks covetousness is a leprosy, as it was in Giezi, of the sons of the prophets; and the cause of treason and perdition, as it was in the disciple of Christ, and of death, as it was in Ananias and Sapphira, the half-hearted followers of the Apostles. Utter nakedness, therefore, and contempt of earthly goods is the first perfection of the monk; the second is the cleansing of the heart from every vice; the third, perfect and unbroken love of God and of divine things, which is the fruit of renouncement of all things of earth. Few indeed are the things that are really necessary to us to sustain life, or rather, according to the words of the Lord, but one thing, food. We need, however, to have our senses purified by the grace of God to understand spiritually the words of our Lord to Martha.

In short, the Declaration and [u.] S. Constitution are not quite the exemplars of Christian thought that many have been told that they are.  They are, after all, products of the godless Enlightenment, which teach us that man ought to be free of as many social restrictions as possible to pursue whatever seems best to his conscience.  Each man is sovereign, pursuing his own interests, even at the expense of others.

Under a truly Christian form of government, things are very different.  All is humility, love, the rejecting of one’s own will for the sake of others, generosity, and so on.  The final chapters of St Columban’s rule are telling in this regard:

8. Mortification is the most important part of the monastic rule. "Do nothing without counsel," says the Holy Scripture. Wherefore, if nothing is to be done without counsel, everything must be done with counsel.

 . . .

If this be so, the monk must fly all pride of liberty, and learn to obey with true humility, without hesitation, without murmuring, for only then will the yoke of Christ be sweet and His burden light. Until he has learned the humility of Christ, he cannot taste the sweetness of the yoke of Christ nor the lightness of His burden. For the soul, harassed with sin and toil, finds repose only in humility. Humility is its sole refreshment amidst so many evils. The more it withdraws itself from the vanity and uncertainty without, the more rest and refreshment will it find within. What before seemed bitter, and hard, and painful, will now be light, and smooth, and pleasant. Mortification is indeed intolerable to the proud and hard of heart, but a consolation to him who loves only what is meek and lowly. No one, however, it must be remembered, can attain to the full possession of the felicity of this martyrdom unless all his desires, all his aspirations be directed toward it. to the exclusion of every other aim whatsoever.

The mortification of the monk is threefold: he must never think what he pleases, never speak what he pleases, never go where he pleases. No matter how distasteful the command imposed on him may be, he shall always say to his superior: "Not as I will, but as thou wilt," after the example of our Savior, who says elsewhere: "I came down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him that sent Me."

9. The monk shall live in a monastery under the rule of one father and in the company of many brethren, in order that he may learn humility from one, patience from another. One will teach him silence, another meekness. He shall not do what pleases him; he shall eat what is set before him, clothe himself with what is given him, do the work assigned to him, be subject to a superior whom he does not like. He shall go to bed so tired that he may fall asleep while going, and rise before he has had sufficient rest. If he suffers ill-usage, he shall be silent; he shall fear the head of the monastery as a master, and love him as a father, being ever convinced that what he commands is profitable to him; nor shall he criticize the words of the elders because it is his duty to obey and to do what he is bidden, as Moses says: "Attend, and hear, oh Israel."

More ought to be said, and perhaps will be in the future.  But for now let us simply acknowledge that our current social organization and the ideas behind it are not purely Christian and are in many ways opposed to the Church’s teachings. 

Beware those who make idols of the Founding Fathers and their writings.


St Columbanus’s monastic rule:

Declaration of Independence:

[u.] S. Constitution

No comments:

Post a Comment