Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Apotheosis of the Written Constitution

A troublesome thought has taken deep root in the South:  that the fate of Christian civilization is tied to the fate of written constitutions.  The Southern poet Paul Hamilton Hayne spoke of it this way during the War years:

 . . .

"Our course is righteous, and our aims are just!
Behold, we seek
Not merely to preserve for noble wives
The virtuous pride of unpolluted lives,
To shield our daughters from the servile hand,
And leave our sons their heirloom of command,
In generous perpetuity of trust;
Not only to defend those ancient laws,
Which Saxon sturdiness and Norman fire
Welded forevermore with freedom's cause,
And handed scathless down from sire to sire--
Nor yet our grand religion, and our Christ,
Unsoiled by secular hates, or sordid harms,
(Though these had sure sufficed
To urge the feeblest Sybarite to arms)--
But more than all, because embracing all,
Ensuring all, self-government, the boon
Our patriot statesmen strove to win and keep,
From prescient Pinckney and the wise Calhoun
To him, that gallant knight,
The youngest champion in the Senate hall,
Who, led and guarded by a luminous fate,
His armor, Courage, and his war-horse, Right,
Dared through the lists of eloquence to sweep
Against the proud Bois Guilbert of debate!

 . . .

Source:  ‘My Mother-Land’, Poems of Paul Hamilton Hayne: Electronic Edition, http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/hayne/hayne.html#hayne65, 2004, p. 66, accessed 29 Jan. 2016; © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.)

This idea persists strongly today among Southerners.  See, e.g., Prof Marshall DeRosa’s talk ‘The Confederate Rule of Law’ from 2015 (http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/media/the-confederate-rule-of-law/).  But the truth is quite different from this.  To understand why, we must look back through Western European history.

In the pagan Roman Empire, the emperor was the supreme authority in both political and religious matters (Robert Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome, A. Nevill, trans., New York, Ny.: Routledge, 2001, pgs. 134-5).  There was truly little to hinder the outworking of his will.  But with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine and the Roman Empire along with him, this changed.  The Christian Roman Emperor remained the highest political power, but his religious power he yielded to the Orthodox Church’s bishops, though as a dutiful child of the Church he nevertheless used his temporal power to aid her: calling Ecumenical Councils to settle theological controversies, passing laws to strengthen Christian morals in his realm, protecting the Church from physical attacks, using his own personal resources to build churches, monasteries, hospitals, and the like.   

The conversion of the Roman Empire had further effects on how the emperor wielded his political power.  Even in this sphere, he was no longer a power unto himself.  He was now a steward, ruling at the behest of Christ the King of all, to Whom he would have to give an account of his reign (Ryan Hunter, ‘In This Great Service’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/81926.htm, posted 9 Sept. 2015, accessed same day).   Thus, he was not only subject to his own conscience in a deeper way than before, but also to the leaders of the Church, for he also was a sheep of Christ’s flock in need of salvation.  A story from the life of the Emperor Theodosius the Great is illustrative of this point: 

Once he [Emperor Theodosius--W.G.] was about to enact bloody punishment of the people of Antioch for a rebellion, but relented when St Placilla (September 14) and Patriarch Flavian enjoined him to be merciful.

Source:  John Brady, ‘Pious Emperor Theodosius the Great (395)’, http://www.abbamoses.com/months/january.html, entry for 17 January, accessed 1 Jan. 2016

Once the people of Antioch rioted and tore down a pair of statues of the Emperor Theodosius and his wife. Two generals came from Constantinople, planning to inflict a bloody punishment on the people. Saint Macedonian, learning of this, came to the city and sought out the generals, asking them to take a message to the Emperor: that he, being human and subject to weakness like all men, should not be immoderately angry with other men; and that he should not, in return for the destruction of lifeless images, destroy those who are the very image of God.

Source:  John Brady, ‘Our Holy Father Macedonian (ca. 430)’, http://www.abbamoses.com/months/january.html, entry for 24 January, accessed 1 Jan. 2016

This, then, is the normative political experience of Christian peoples in both East and West, from Spain to Ethiopia to Russia, since the time of St Constantine:  A Christian king - whether the High King over all the Christian Empire or the lesser kings who rule over the nations that are part of the Empire - who is the highest political power in his realm, but whose power is nonetheless limited by his love for God and for his people, by his yearning for their salvation and for his, and by his desire also for their earthly wellbeing.  Because of these new circumstances introduced by Orthodox Christianity, many kings and queens placed the ultimate check on their own power, renouncing their thrones willingly to become monks (e.g., St Symeon the Myrrh Gusher of Serbia, Sts Ceolwulf of Northumbria and Sebbe of Essex, St Balthild of France, or St Peter of Bulgaria) or to become passion-bearers like Sts Boris and Gleb of Russia, for the sake of a better resurrection or for the welfare of their people (and sometimes both).

And these failing, there was the rebuke of the Church when needed, whether from bishops, monks, fools-for-Christ’s-sake, etc.

But in Western Europe, after the moving of the Imperial capitol to Constantinople, as conditions began to worsen because of the waves of barbarian invaders, and with the rise to prominence of St Augustine’s theological thought, a new order began to develop, or, rather, a return to the old order of pagan Rome.  The bishops of Rome begat within their hearts the desire to be the sole religious and political authority of the Roman Empire, after the manner of the pagan Roman emperors.  From about the ninth century on (Door to Paradise: Jesus Christ in Ancient Orthodoxy, Platina, Ca.: Saint Herman Press, p. 12), this lust grew, until in 1054 the final break with the Holy Orthodox Church came to pass (the Great Schism).

From this point forward, because of its new theology based on the absent Christ and His present vicar (i.e., the Pope of Rome), absolute divine simplicity, the double procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, the penal atonement theory of salvation, etc., the Roman Catholic Church (and later the Protestant churches, for they did not repent of enough of these theological innovations and in some cases worsened them) became a merely earthly institution, and thus a competitor with the other earthly kingdoms of the world for political dominion, rather than remaining the Holy, Divine-human Body of Christ, which works to unite all the earthly creation with God so it can be filled with His Light and life.

With this revolution in Christianity in the West, the churches were no longer able to sanctify and temper political power as in the days before the Great Schism, and became instead greedy to wield it themselves, and the exercise of power by the rulers, whether in church or state, became more and more harsh and brutal in nature.  Finally sickening of the wars between the Roman Catholic and Protestant rulers, Papal armies, the Inquisition, and the like, Western Europeans turned away from the disfigured Christianity they had come to know and began devising heavily secular systems and schemes to reign in their out-of-control rulers and to bring peace and wellbeing to all the people.  Thus was born the Enlightenment idea of the written constitution based mostly on human reason as the proper way to organize a government which would rule the people justly by preventing evil actions from being carried out by those in the government through the dispersion of powers and checks and balances among different office-holders, branches, and departments, lists of rights, and so forth. 

The adoration of these paper constructs has reached absurd heights in the West, where ‘constitutional values and rights’ have become more important than the teachings of the churches in shaping morals and in forming political policies.  The humanistic, secular constitution has become master of both state and church.

The South, not yet seeing this reality, still considers them a guardian of Christianity, but as we have seen (and as the news reports continue to affirm in the involuntary American and European Unions), they are nothing less than a replacement of the Orthodox Church’s check on the actions of the government (and society at large) either with a demon-like clashing of factions within the government or with the very unreliable restraint of ‘the will of the people’ (who are guided mostly by disordered passions and appetites, http://jaysanalysis.com/2016/01/20/half-jaysanalysis-republic-bk-8-the-pythagorean-city/), both of which bear bitter fruit for the nation-family.

Dixie was on much more solid footing when she was defending the ‘unconstitutional’ authority of her gentlemen-planters before the War, whose heavy labors of self-sacrifice on behalf of the spiritual and temporal good of their families, servants, slaves, and neighbors, guided by their pastors, bishops, and priests and the Holy Scriptures, was much akin to the pattern of Orthodox Christian kings in East and West before-mentioned.

Written constitutions can be helpful in clarifying the powers and duties of government officials and such like, but they are not the highest development in the art of politics.  That place probably belongs to the Orthodox Christian king, whose powers are bound by his devotion to God, to the Church, and to his people (who are his extended family).  For the Grace of God, whether partaken of during prayer or received through the holy oil used to anoint the king, the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ eaten and drunk during the Divine Liturgy, and the other sacraments of the Orthodox Church, is stronger than even the mightiest chain forged in the fires of the constitutional furnace to forhold the evil designs of men. 

The South and all of Western Europe have been beguiled long enough:  It is the symphony of Church and state, bishop and king, that will bring about good government and a better future for the nations, not the abstractions of the fallen and worldly rational mind that fill so much of written constitutions.

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