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Integralism, Liberalism, Or … What?

The First Things book review essay by Father Romanus Cessario [1] in which the Dominican priest defends Pope Pius IX’s actions in the 1858 Edgardo Mortara case has stirred up a hornet’s nest. I wrote about it yesterday [2], and was quite critical of Father Cessario for his full-throated defense of Pius IX and the Church of that day. Cessario wrote:

In his case, divine Providence kindly arranged for his being introduced into a regular Christian life. Edgardo received instruction about the gift baptism imparted to him.

What he’s talking about is the Church permanently removing a Jewish boy who had been secretly baptized by the housemaid from his parents, so that he could be raised as the Catholic that he was by baptism. Cessario presents this atrocity as if it were a blessing from God.

Father Cessario, it appears, has a way with euphemism. In this lecture [3], he contends that the Church was victimized by the reporting of the sexual abuse scandal. Excerpt:

In other words, it’s more accurate to speak of priests raping and molesting children as “unchastity” as opposed to sexual abuse. This makes sense, I suppose, given that Cessario longs for the return of the old privilegium fori — the right the Catholic Church once held (not in the US) to exempt its priests from trial in secular courts, and instead grant them trial in ecclesiastical courts.

Read the entire paper here. [3] If you depend on Father Cessario for your information about the John Geoghan case, you will not learn that Geoghan was a serial child molester who preyed on the children of the poor. You will not learn that the Archdiocese of Boston knew all about Geoghan’s crimes, and kept reassigning him to parish work. Geoghan and his molesting confrères were guilty only of “unchastity,” and poor Cardinal Law was hard done by the media. This is repulsive clericalist claptrap, but it does give you an idea of the mindset behind this particular defender of Pius IX’s sacred kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.


I bring up Cessario’s paper in this Mortara discussion because both cases compel conservative Catholics (and sympathetic Christians in other churches, like me) to face squarely the serious issues emerging from the clash between liberalism and integralism. It is not so difficult for us to perceive the many problems with liberalism, from a traditional Christian point of view. But we need to think clearly about the proposed integralist solution to these problems, and whether it is a solution at all.

Integralism [4] is the belief that a nation is one, and that there should be an integration of Church and State. The term was coined by the far-right French Catholic Charles Maurras to describe the reactionary response to 19th and early 20th century French anticlericalism. Here, from the pro-integralist website The Josias, is a short definition of integralism [5]:

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal [6]. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated [7] to the spiritual power.

If you want to know more about Catholic integralism, The Josias [8] is a good place to begin.

The Eastern Orthodox churches have an ancient history of the Church and the State being tied closely together. The social teaching document of the Russian Orthodox Church [9] is really interesting in this regard. It calls for a separation of Church and State — or at least regards this as normative in modernity — but also calls for both to work together for the good of society. Notice this in III.7 (emphasis in the original):

Any change in the form of government to that more religiously rooted, introduced without spiritualising society itself, will inevitably degenerate into falsehood and hypocrisy and make this form weak and valueless in the eyes of the people. However, one cannot altogether exclude the possibility of such a spiritual revival of society as to make natural a religiously higher form of government. But under slavery one should follow St. Paul advice: «if thou mayest be free, use it rather» (1 Cor. 7:21). At the same time, the Church should give more attention not to the system of the outer organisation of state, but to the inner condition of her members’ hearts. Therefore, the Church does not believe it possible for her to become an initiator of any change in the form of government. Along the same line, the 1994 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church stressed the soundness of the attitude whereby «the Church does not give preference to any social system or any of the existing political doctrines».

The Russian model offers ways to think about the relationship between Church and State that are more harmonious (“symphonic” is the word the Russians use) without being integrated. Yet the Russians seem well aware that their model emerges out of their society’s own history, and that it is only really workable in a society that is predominantly Orthodox. A superficial reading of the document makes it easy to imagine that this model could work in predominantly Catholic countries, at least in theory. Perhaps it could be adapted to predominantly Christian countries. I would be quite interested to read Catholic and/or Orthodox scholars who have compared and contrasted Catholic integralism with the Russian Orthodox model. I am not sufficiently well informed about either to understand their similarities and their differences.

We have to remember, though, that it is quite unrealistic to expect anything like that to take root in the US or Europe any time soon. As the Russian document observes, without the re-spiritualization (reconversion) of society, a form of government that involves the Church to the degree proposed by the Orthodox is fraught with peril. But it’s also true that, as the document says, we can’t discount that a form of government that is more religiously favorable in nature could emerge from that re-spiritualization.

Regular readers know that I write often about the problems with liberalism, particularly its hegemonic overreach in its advocacy of emancipating the choosing individual. It is by no means a fantasy to imagine the liberal state removing children who consider themselves to be transgendered removing them from the homes of parents, Christian or otherwise, who deny that they are. Ontario last year passed a bill adding denial of gender identity and expression to its list of reasons why the state may remove a child from a family. Officials said [10] Christian concerns that the government would seize trans kids from families on that basis alone are exaggerated.

I wouldn’t trust that at all. LGBT advocates are very quick to argue that unless you give transgender youth whatever they ask for, they are at suicide risk. If a government accepts that parents denying a child’s self-professed gender identity and expression is a valid reason for intervening to protect the child, and authorities accept the argument that a child living with unsupportive parents is a suicide risk, then why wouldn’t the state intervene?

Despite its pretenses, liberalism is not neutral (and if you doubt that, I urge you to read James Kalb’s brilliant book The Tyranny of Liberalism [11], the title of which makes it sound like a conservative talk radio screed, which it absolutely is not). Nevertheless, a consideration of the Mortara case, as well as reading Fr. Cessario’s meditations on the abuse scandal, ought to make it clear why liberalism is not to be dismissed tout court, even by conservative religious critics of liberalism.

Let me put it like this. I agree with those who say that Edgardo Mortara was, in a real (= not merely symbolic) sense, transformed into a Christian by his baptism. But it does not follow that it was therefore morally right to remove the Mortara boy from his Jewish family, against their will, to raise him in a religion he had not chosen, nor would his parents have chosen for him. Yes, there is a certain logical consistency in what the pope did, but on that same logic, wouldn’t it make sense for the Church to send squads out into the world to baptize non-Christian children for their own eternal good, then have the state seize those children from their parents so that they can receive the Catholic upbringing that their baptism mandates?

Nobody would advocate such a scheme, but if you accept the cold logic justifying the Mortara boy’s seizure — that it was good and necessary to save his soul — then on what grounds would you object? After all, can we really rest easy, knowing there are all those unbaptized children headed for Hell? (I don’t believe this, obviously; I’m proposing a thought experiment.)

In the real world that we live in — the post-Christian world — it seems to me imprudent for conservative American Christians, including Catholics, to give up so easily on liberalism, despite all its problems. Militant liberalism is turning into a secular version of Pius IX’s church. The First Amendment — an artifact of liberalism — is our greatest protection as an increasing (and increasingly despised) minority. It is not absolute protection, but what else do we have?

Besides which, even though I am a critic of liberalism, I do not want to live in a Christian state that reserves the right to seize children from their families for religious reasons, and that allows the clergy to be above the same law that governs all of us. Do you, my fellow conservative Christian?

This is the kind of thing I believe Patrick Deneen is talking about in his new book Why Liberalism Failed,  [12] when he says at the end that in looking forward to whatever comes next, we should not discount the good things that liberalism brought us. We are not going to return to the Papal States, nor should we wish to even if it were possible. Pluralism is a fact, at least in the United States. Absent the re-spiritualization of society — which is a primary goal of my Benedict Option [13] — we traditional Christians are going to have to do our very best to retain the rights to live as we believe God calls us to live. I don’t see any practical prospect for this except by appealing to liberal ideas and categories.

But it’s also true, as Deneen demonstrates persuasively in his book, that liberalism is unsustainable. (See my interview with Deneen from yesterday [14] for a sense of his argument.) In contemplating what will emerge from liberalism — a process that Deneen concedes will take a long, long time, and will be pretty messy — it would do us conservatives and traditionalists well to consider why liberalism emerged in the first place.

And it would do liberals and progressives well to confront the limitations of liberalism, and whether or not they want to turn into left-wing versions of Pius IX, and use the coercive power of government to enforce their idea of the Good, on the principle that “error has no rights”? After all, Pius IX’s denunciation of religious liberty came in the wake of revolutionary regimes in Europe, especially France, actively persecuting the Church and confiscating its churches and monasteries — all under the name of religious liberty. At what point would contemporary liberals be willing to grant conservative religious believers the right to live according to principles that liberals believe are wrong?

These are not abstract questions. Pope Francis has strong beliefs about the desirability of immigration to Europe. Would integralists really be at ease with European governments yielding public policy to the pope’s wishes on this point? Plus, at some point in the next few years, there will be a transgender Edgardo Mortara, and we will see secular liberals be as ardent as Pio Nono was. Yesterday on Twitter I brought this up, and a Catholic priest responded that the situations are not compatible, because Catholicism (and Catholic baptism) is true, and transgenderism is not. Yeah, well good luck with that argument in the American courts. Liberalism is deeply problematic, but I don’t see what realistic alternatives we have.

I welcome your input. Please stay focused on the topic. Any comments ranting about anti-Catholic bias, anti-trans bigotry, etc, will not be approved. Let’s have an intelligent discussion and disputation, shall we?

124 Comments (Open | Close)

124 Comments To "Integralism, Liberalism, Or … What?"

#1 Comment By Brendan On January 12, 2018 @ 10:10 am

My sense is that the integralists themselves realize that the integralist project is only feasible if the entire society is spiritualized in the same vein. This is basically the same thing that the Moscow Patriarchate was talking about — a true integralism is clearly the ideal from the Christian point of view, but in order to be feasible (and also to not be disastrous) the entire society has to be spiritualized and in the same vein. A good example of this is Andrew Jones recent study of medieval France, “Before Church and State”, which describes an integralist reality of the age, but is very clear that this was seated on a thoroughly spiritualized culture — if you do not have this, you cannot have integralism … and we clearly do not have this and are not close to having it.

I don’t think that means that continued liberalism is the only answer, or even the “least worst” answer. Perhaps the best approach, in theory, I have come across is that of Milbanks and Pabst’s “The Politics of Virtue”, which approaches things not from the perspective of trying to recreate a pre-liberal integralism, but rather from the perspective of re-emphasizing public and private virtue — shared virtue — as the basis for economic, social and political life, and moving away from liberalism’s twin obsessions (depending on whether one prefers the “conservative” flavor of liberalism or the “progressive” flavor) of economic and personal (today often sexual) libertarianism, both of which are grinding down social, economic and political life. It will be hard enough to achieve something like what Milbank and Pabst are talking about, I think, given how entrenched the liberal and libertarian/libertine mindsets are in the West (it will never be easy to convince most people to give up their sex, drugs and rock-n-roll unless we are plunged into an obvious and insoluble crisis, it seems to me) and they aren’t even talking about integralism. Still, this kind of thing gives me more hope than the bleak liberal nightmare does.

#2 Comment By JonF On January 12, 2018 @ 1:10 pm

Re: Rod, the principle that clerics should be put on trial only in ecclesiastical courts is an example of the same principle set forth in the Magna Cart

Nope, because this was not just a claim that clergy should only have other clergy on the jury if they were standing trial– it was a claim that clergy were exempt from civil law entirely and had no duty to follow it. That was the main bone of attention between Henry II and Beckett well before the Magna Carta, and later kings continued to reject the claim. Edward IV even tossed a bishop in the Tower for supporting the Lancastrians.

#3 Comment By JonF On January 12, 2018 @ 1:17 pm

Re: you are mistaken if you think that such a such a fusion of the two is what integralism is. Integralism does mean supporting he notion that the Pope should wield both complete temporal and spiritual authority.

People seem to be saying something akin to that: the civil rulers must be under the thumb of religious authorities even when it comes to secular matters (not just their own personal faith). That’s Innocent III stuff, and it was never well accepted in Christiandom, East or West, for all that some kings, in dire need of allies, did swear feudal oaths to the Pope as their lord. and of course there were rulers who tried to dominate the Church too: the Russian Church spent two hundred years in thrall to the tsars after Peter the Great all but reduced it to an Imperial Bureau of Religion. Both are very wrong. State and church are concerned with rather different matters at different levels of reality. The American system occasionally leads to extreme results, but overall it is the best solution to the state-church dilemma. Let the state keep public order and administer justice, and let the Church preach salvation and be a conduit for Grace– no need for them to meddle with each other at all.

#4 Comment By DEC01 On January 12, 2018 @ 1:48 pm

To not gonna use my name-

I bet you would win big in the court of public opinion, are you sure it is better to stay anonymous? If your story is what you say it is, the CPS workers terrorizing your family are monsters that ought to be exposed.

For what it is worth, I thought a story like yours could be maybe happen someday, but am surprised to hear someone saying it is happening now.

Also, it is hardly a small step from threatening to take “LGBT” children from non-affirming parents, and banning such parents from adopting and fostering, to threatening to take not yet “LGBT” kids, or never letting them go home in the first place, just in case said kids turn out to “be LGBT” or even to just prevent them from becoming “violent bullies”. Some how, some way, this possibility needs to be nipped in the bud now. I have a one year old and hope to have more. I would rather not live in fear of the CPS. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where a teacher reports a non LGBT affirming family out of “concern” and things snow ball from there. In states like Illinois, it may already be the case that the CPS could remove the children for observation and then use their “we dont release children in state care to people who do not affirm LGBT” policy to not let those children go home.

#5 Comment By Anastasios On January 12, 2018 @ 2:21 pm

“I don’t think liberalism is going to last — it’s not that I want it to go away, but I think it is going to go away, probably in my lifetime . . .”

That’s quite a claim.

Well, Rod’s definition of liberalism seems rather idiosyncratic and is laden with emotional attachments to certain policies, social arrangements, and legal/constitutional stances that he (and others) see as definitive of the liberal project, whereas many would see them as incidental and bound to particular contexts. In other words, the end of liberalism is code for things going to hell in a hand basket. I tend to agree with him that, in terms of the things he invests with such emotional freight, things don’t look good. But I seriously doubt that means the end of the liberal project as such. I am exactly the same age he is, and think that the world I will die in will still be liberal, although markedly less friendly toward and tolerant of Christianity and markedly more given to vicious politics and social divisions. But that will not mark the death of liberalism. That world will be a liberal world, just as was the Jim Crow South, the McCarthyite North, socialist Britain, anti-clerical France, besieged Israel, collectivist Scandinavia, and any number of other examples of societies that differ rather markedly from modern America.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 12, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

In this respect, the removal of Edgardo Mortara is exactly identical to CPS child removals.

Giuseppe has a valid point. If is is EVER legally or morally acceptable to remove a child from their parents’ custody “for the best interests of the child,” then we have to discuss if or why THIS particular reason is legally justified, or morally justified.

It appears that at the time in question, published laws validated the removal of this child from his parents’ home. Whether that law was morally acceptable, we may well debate. And of course, one of the ultimate abominations making this possible was the existence of Papal States — the antithesis of “my kingdom is not of this world.”

I have a legal citation for the parent whose daughter has been rendered a virtual free agent by CPS: Calabretta v. Floyd. It was one of those times when Pacific Legal Foundation won a case hands down in the Ninth Circuit. It was a different set of facts, but the law regarding when the state may and may not intervene are summarized and comprehensively cited very well. The case also exemplifies how social workers get carried away with expansive notions of the scope of their own authority, when there is no legal basis to their claims, and, how police officers often get roped into blindly backing up the social worker, again, without any legal basis.

Or the same lens that was used until very recently to deny adoption to same sex couples you mean?

Poor example. I think given the totality of circumstances in most adoption fields, a competent, devoted gay couple is MUCH better than bouncing around the foster care system, or adoption by an alcoholic abusive married heterosexual couple who are mostly doing it for the extra cash.

But, in an all-other-things-being-equal, objective, general evaluation, I think the jury is still very much out on whether there are subtle psycho-social reasons, even biochemical reasons, that a child does best with a family providing adult parents and role models of each sex. It is the biological norm, after all. It requires a certain artificiality to even get to have two parents of the same sex. And ultimately, the welfare of the child, not the desire for validation of the couple, is paramount.

#7 Comment By LFM On January 12, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

“Militant liberalism is turning into a secular version of Pius IX’s church.” Yes. I’ve seen this coming for years. In fact, here and there in my comments on various blogs I’ve actually mentioned it in so many words. In fact, the story of Edgardo Montara was in my mind in this very context, but I’ve never brought it up because I thought that I might as well leave ‘liberals’ to do their own research.

Are you sure that these people, the ‘militant liberals’ as you term them, are entitled to the label ‘liberal’ at all, though? I make a point of calling them progressives because so often I can see nothing liberal about them: the worst of them do not believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and a number go so far as to reject democracy itself, at least in as much as it gives political power to people who vote for men like Donald Trump.

#8 Comment By William Dalton On January 12, 2018 @ 8:58 pm


“Nope, because this was not just a claim that clergy should only have other clergy on the jury if they were standing trial– it was a claim that clergy were exempt from civil law entirely and had no duty to follow it. That was the main bone of attention between Henry II and Beckett well before the Magna Carta, and later kings continued to reject the claim. Edward IV even tossed a bishop in the Tower for supporting the Lancastrians.”

If by “civil law” you mean laws that protected ruling monarchs from the opposition of their subjects, you are right. There is no reason for clergy, who answer only to God and their superiors, to give regard to them. In fact, in a society with few other checks upon the power of an absolute monarch (long before the rise of independent Parliaments) a Church independent of the State was one of the rich contributions of the English to the Western World. More than one of them wished to be rid of “troublesome priests”.

#9 Comment By Anne (the other one) On January 12, 2018 @ 8:58 pm

Interesting enough, St. Teresa of Avila, with a Jewish grandfather, approved the idea of forced conversion of Jews. I wonder as Edgardo Mortara became a highly regarded priest, would St. Teresa see the hand of God in Mortara’s baptism.

Forced conversion is no longer used by the Catholic Church, but by Evangelical Americans.

“To tens of millions of evangelicals, adoption is a new front in the culture wars: Overseas, conservative Christians preside over a spiraling boom-bust adoption market in countries where people are poor and regulations weak, recruiting “orphans” from intact but vulnerable families.”


“A group of Baptists kidnapped children from Haiti — some of whom were separated from their family because of the devastation there, not because their parents had died — in the name of Jesus.”


#10 Comment By Antonia On January 12, 2018 @ 9:09 pm

Not on integralism, but re the quote from Fr. Cessario:
He says “secular therapies for treatment of victims of sexual abuse differ from sacramental remedies for the sin of unchastity.” This is puzzling. I thought the unchastity was committed by the abuser, not the victim???

#11 Comment By William Dalton On January 12, 2018 @ 10:01 pm

“The Church of Rome, the Orthodox Church and the other Eastern churches, the Lutherans, all teach baptismal regeneration. So do all the Church Fathers. The Reformed baptismal theology propounded by Mr. Dalton is a conceit unknown before the 16th Century.”

Except of course in the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. Baptism, without a converted heart, no more makes you a Christian than circumcision makes you a true Jew. The Christian Church baptizes its children because, as in the case of Jewish children who are circumcised, the administration of the sacrament marks the child as a member of the community of faith. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which does require that those who participate in Holy Communion understand the nature of the Body and Blood of Christ which they receive in taking the Sacrament provides real spiritual nourishment (or poison to the unbelieving). There is no such teaching regarding Baptism.

As for Lutherans, they, like the Reformed, will not baptize an infant except at the request of the parent or guardian of the child – one who will undertake the [17] to raise the child in the faith.

#12 Comment By Seven sleepers On January 13, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

From monomakhos

“To me, the very conversation of Church vs. State is a non-starter. There really was no separation and there isn’t one now. The American government, much like Harvard at the time, was Unitarian from the start. Our government was Unitarian Christian for nearly 2 centuries. Then, much like the Unitarian denomination itself which always dominates Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the Government also merged with Universalist denomination in the late 1950’s.

There is no “default” position. Our government is simply the weakest form of Christianity you could devise. One that provides an outer shell for wars, tragedies and triumphs, while alienating the fewest folks, and most importantly, does not impede consumption. Even drives it.

This is not the problem. Far from it. This may even be laudable under other circumstances. The problem is education. Public education. It installs the universalist position in kids so often and so early that at any point later in life they do come to faith, it is always a kind of anxious, nervous faith, one that is acutely aware that they are “falling afoul” the received wisdom of rejecting exclusive truth claims. It takes until your late 30’s to gather the social courage to NOT feel like you are committing a crime against others by having faith. Not every Catholic school kid stays Catholic, but every one that does, that went to Mass during school, and grew up 8 hours a day in an environment where the faith was normal and actually good, retains that normalcy later. While public school kids, youth group and camp and etc. aside, no matter how old, still feel like “the culture” is not right. How many orthodox sites are like this? And how many people here went to religious school? Even the two words together is a greater blasphemy than Church and State.

Until Christians of all stripes remove their kids from public education, the culture is doomed. It’s like making your kids run 10 miles backwards into hell, and then tell them ok, you;re 18, turn around and run out, all by themselves, with the entire new cohort coming at them. Its a crime.

And it was foreseen.

“the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of Atheism which the world has ever seen.[1]”

If you fix that problem George, the Church/State thing becomes irrelevant.

So where are those Orthodox schools again?


#13 Comment By Scott Smith On January 13, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

“I agree with those who say that Edgardo Mortara was, in a real (= not merely symbolic) sense, transformed into a Christian by his baptism.” I don’t agree with them. Baptizing children who don’t know what’s going on no more makes them a Christian than baptizing pagans at the point of a sword. Baptism should occur after one embraces Jesus as Lord and Savior.

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 14, 2018 @ 10:42 am

Baptizing children who don’t know what’s going on no more makes them a Christian than baptizing pagans at the point of a sword. Baptism should occur after one embraces Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I joined a church at what must be past the mid-point of my lifespan that practices both infant and adult baptism. Our pastor introduces every infant baptism by noting that the baby has no idea what is going on, so baptism is really a promise by parents, godparents, other family in attendance, and the congregation participating to raise the child in the faith. Adult baptism, then, is a commitment by the individual being baptized.

#15 Comment By William Tighe On January 14, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

William Dalton wrote:

Except of course in the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

Except of course in the Reformed interpretation of the teachings of the holy Scriptures, invented in the Sixteenth Century.

There, fixed it.

#16 Comment By JonF On January 14, 2018 @ 4:59 pm

Re: In fact, in a society with few other checks upon the power of an absolute monarch (long before the rise of independent Parliaments) a Church independent of the State was one of the rich contributions of the English to the Western World.

Absolute monarchy was a creation of the early modern period. Medieval monarchs were not absolute, and not just because of the Church. Kings who got above their place were subject to being reminded that they were not all-powerful: hence King John at Runymede, Pedro the Cruel of Castile being overthrown and killed, (St.) Alexander Nevsky being sent into exile by Novgorod and later recalled. Absolute monarchy was the brainchild of the Hapsburgs, Tudors, Bourbons and Romanovs.

#17 Comment By William Tighe On January 15, 2018 @ 4:04 pm

“Absolute monarchy was the brainchild of the Hapsburgs, Tudors, Bourbons and Romanovs.”

No, it was initially the brainchild of the Protestant Reformers, who all (except for Calvin) believed in the absolute authority of magistrates (especially monarchs) over their subjects – although once their movement took off, and was threatened by Catholic authorities, they changed their tune, like Luther, deferring to lawyers who argued that there was a right for nobles to resist a religiously-repressive Catholic ruler.

Among Catholics, it took its origin in France, in reaction to the religious strife of the decades after 1560; absolutist views were formulated, in particular, by that religiously-ambiguous character, Jean Bodin (1530-1596) and embraced by the “Politique” party of Catholic nobles and officials. The first of my two late Doktorväter ) J. H. Hexter did some very illuminating studies of the contrast between Bodin’s views of French monarchical authority, and those of Claude de Seyssel (d. 1520) some decades earlier. Bodin was an absolutist, Seyssel was not – nor did Seyssel think France an “absolute” monarchy.

#18 Comment By JonF On January 16, 2018 @ 1:45 pm

Re: No, it was initially the brainchild of the Protestant Reformers, who all (except for Calvin) believed in the absolute authority of magistrates

Huh? No. Absolutism was a-borning in England from the day Henry Tudor sent Richard III’s naked and abused corpse to a shallow grave at the monastery in Leicester. That was forty some years before that Henry’s son and namesake told the Pope to go stuff it. In Spain it got going when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada and sicced the Inquisition on anyone they considered suspect. It was much delayed in France owing to the turmoil of the Reformation and the extinction of the House of Valois. In Austria it was a reaction to the danger of the Turks just to the east. In Russia (no Protestants there) Ivan IV Grozny strove mightily to make himself absolute, though it all fell apart when he died and a century passed before Peter the Great achieved what Ivan had begun.

#19 Comment By Stephen Peterson On January 16, 2018 @ 9:24 pm

Firstly, it would be inaccurate to say that Mortara was taken to “save him from Hell”. He was taken because his baptismal promises were real obligations imposed on him, and his Jewish parents couldn’t help him fulfill them, thereby making him an oathbreaker. This is also the reason why we shouldn’t randomly baptise the children of heathen – it places an undue burden on the wider society to help those children live their baptismal promises. Yes, the idea that an infant can make binding promises is difficult for someone raised in a liberal society, dominated by the “tyranny of consent” to understand, but this was the ancient understanding of infant baptism.

Secondly, “privilegium fori” is really not that dissimilar to diplomatic immunity, a concept we’re familiar with an readily accept. If a foreign diplomat commits an offence on our soil, our grievance is not personally with the diplomat but with the nation he represents. Similarly, if a priest offends, it should be the diocese that answers, not the priest himself. In such a situation, dioceses will be adequately motivated to take appropriate steps against aggrieving priests.

#20 Comment By William Tighe On January 16, 2018 @ 9:48 pm

All I will say in response to JonF is that perhaps he and I disagree on what “absolutism” is. I mean the theory (to which the practice might correspond to a lesser or greater extent) that the monarch – or “sovereign,” since it was not limited to monarchies – was ab legibus solutum, that is, above, and so not bound to obey, the laws (however might it might be a good idea, to give a “good example,” for the monarch/sovereign to obey, or conform to, them). All “absolute monarchs” are not necessarily despots or tyrants, not are all despots and tyrants necessarily absolute monarchs.

England never was an “absolute monarchy,” and certainly not under Henry VII who, although he stretched his “fiscal powers” to their limits, never ruled without parliamentary consent. Henry VIII came closer, especially after the 1539 Proclamations Act (repealed in 1547) gave royal proclamations the force of law, and provided (rather ineffective) means of enforcing them – but even that Act was parliamentary legislation; however, in my view he was certainly a despot and a tyrant in the 1530s and 40s, even is not an “absolute monarch.” In Scotland, royal authority was less legally limited than in England, but Scottish governmental structures were more rudimentary than in England, and a monarch who was incompetent or pushed his power too wilfully would often encounter opposition and revolt.

Even in France, the “textbook example” of “absolute monarchy,” the triumph of “absolutism,” really created under Louis XIII and reaching its apogee under that indefatigable workaholic Louis XIV – who, unlike Philip II of Spain, knew how to delegate authority – with a long ineffectual twilight under Louis XV and XVI, was never “absolutely absolute,” as witness the manner in which Louis XVI’s attempt to put his two illegitimate sons into the line of succession was annulled as “illegal” by the Parlement of Paris immediately after the king’s death.

The most perfect and complete examples of “absolute monarchy” in Europe at the time were Denmark, after the royal coup d’etat in 1661, and Prussia by the time of the Great Eletor’s death in 1688.

#21 Comment By JonF On January 17, 2018 @ 1:23 pm

Re: I mean the theory

OK, fair enough. I am talking about the practice whereby kings centralized power in themselves generally by limiting or abolishing long-established privileges and powers possessed by the nobility, assorted “free cities”, and the Church.
Henry VII whom I mentioned was a pragmatist (as well as a miser and paranoid) and he didn’t bother with theory. But he dated his reign from the day before Bosworth, thereby letting him dangle a treason attainder over the head of everyone who had fought against him; he banned private armies by which the nobles had resisted royal power for centuries; he imposed heavy taxes using means that would shame a Mafia don; his propagandists ballyooed his regime as a sort of Arthurian revival, with a genealogist confecting a line of descent for him from Arthur; he ended the right of ecclesial sanctuary; and he locked up in the Tower everyone he even suspected might harbor a disloyal thought. And yes, his son took it even further. And yes, Parliament still existed, even under Henry VIII. But Parliament was stocked with yes-men, and those who did not hasten to do the royal will did not prosper. The Tudors also called Parliament as little as they could– Elizabeth called just eleven Parliaments in a reign of 45 years. The institution was at some risk of going the way of the Etats-Generals when the ham-handedness of the Stuarts gave it new impetus.

Getting back to the larger issue, you are correct when you note that (some) Reformers gave their full-throated approval to absolutism– but they did not invent it. A number of other trends came together to produce it: the mastery of gunpowder and artillery ended the reign of castle and knight in warfare and made possible professional armies under central control; urban population grew rapidly as the Continent finally threw off the demographic effects of the Black Death; printing made it possible to promulgate both royal decrees and propaganda to a populace where literacy was steadily improving; an economic explosion (much of it due to the Columbian Exchange and the surge of trade with Asia) made money available for all manner of centralized projects; the troubles of the latter Middle Ages, and in the east the threats of the Turks and Tatars, left large populations longing for strong rulers to restore order and provide security; the Church fell into corruption and sloth blunting its moral stature (true in Russia as well).

#22 Comment By JonF On January 17, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

Re: as witness the manner in which Louis XVI’s attempt to put his two illegitimate sons into the line of succession was annulled as “illegal” by the Parlement of Paris

I assume you mean Louis XIV whose legitimate line was pruned by a smallpox outbreak to a single grandson (who was king of Spain) and his children, and another great-grandson to serve as king of France. Louis no doubt remember the chaos attendant on the extinction of the Valois line, as well as the final peace treaty in the Spanish war by which everyone swore up and down the the new Spanish Bourbons would never rule in France.

#23 Comment By William Tighe On January 17, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

“I assume you mean Louis XIV …”

Yes, thank you; my mistake.

I think that the right of ecclesiastical sanctuary, curtailed by Henry VII and even more by Henry VIII, lasted in a very attenuated form into the reign of James I.

#24 Comment By JonF On January 18, 2018 @ 4:44 pm

Re: I think that the right of ecclesiastical sanctuary, curtailed by Henry VII and even more by Henry VIII, lasted in a very attenuated form into the reign of James I.

In regards to common malefactors (if a church deigned to shelter them– it was up to the church to make that decisions). Henry VII’s change applied to traitors and rebels against royal authority.