25 April 2018

Constitutional vs Absolute Monarchy

I belong to a Facebook group dedicated to the counter revolution. It is basically a monarchist group, with a predominantly Catholic membership, many of whom are Traditionalist. Recently someone created a poll with four choices, 'Do you prefer, 1) Absolute Monarchy, 2) Constitutional Monarchy (executive), 3) Other, 4) Constitutional Monarchy (ceremonial)?'

I have been amazed at the results. A large majority of the membership has opted for Absolute Monarchy. Why am I surprised? Because the concept of absolute monarchy is a pagan concept, rooted in the Roman Imperial idea that the monarch is the sole source of law. It had been totally forgotten in the Catholic Kingdoms of the Middle Ages since the Roman Law had been lost, only being rediscovered in the 11th century.

By then, the Office of Kingship had organically developed into what I'm sure the creator of the poll would consider Constitutional Monarchy (executive). The power of the King was hedged round by the Church, the Liberties of free men and the Corporations, which included cities, universities, guilds, etc. 

As an example, in  Magna Carta of 1215 in its very first article, King John says, 'FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. (This article was obviously violated by the heresiarch Henry VIII in his striving for absolutism.) In the second article, he says, 'TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:', followed by a lengthy list of what the king cannot do. In the 13th article, King John stated, 'The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.'

Far from the king being absolute and the source of law, the mediæval king was rex sub lege, a 'king under the law'. In fact, St Thomas Aquinas wrote a treatise on monarchy, titled De regno, ad regem Cypri in which he explains that a monarchy, with some limitations set by an aristocracy and democratic elements, was the best and most just form of government. He also emphasised the monarch's duty to uphold the divine and natural law and abide by limitations imposed on the monarch by custom and existing law. He taught that kings are God's representatives in their territories. But the church, represented by the popes, is above the king in matters of doctrine and morality. As a consequence, the kings and other worldly rulers are obliged to adapt their laws to the Catholic church's doctrines and ethics, which of course the theorists of absolute monarchy implicitly deny.

The concept of absolute monarchy or the divine right of kings, 'kicked around' for quite awhile, after the Reception of Roman Law, some kings trying to establish absolutism, but being successfully resisted. It wasn't until the Renaissance and the Protestant Deformation that the concept got traction. Renaissance Humanism with its return to Classical sources soon lent its hand to the protestant princes who wanted to control the Church in their realms. 

In fact, one of the earliest theorists of a complete theory of absolute monarchy or the divine right of kings was the Calvinist James VI&I of Scotland and England in his works, 'The Trve Lawe of free Monarchies: Or, The Reciprock and Mvtvall Dvtie Betwixt a free King, and his naturall Subiectes' and 'Basilikon Doron'.

When it was taken up by the Catholic Kings of France, it led inexorably to the heresy of Gallicanism, which made its own the heresy of Conciliarism. The Church resisted French absolutism vigourously, but it held on tenuously until the Revolution destroyed the monarchy.

In conclusion I am amazed at the number of Catholics who hold a pagan/protestant political philosophy which inevitably leads to heresy.


  1. Thanks be to God, I'm one of the ones who answered in favor of Executive Constitutional Monarchy. No Pagan/Protestant tentacles in my soul!

  2. I think the issue here is one of definitions. I voted for absolute monarchy, believing that to mean that the authority of the King came from God and not from a Constitution (which implies, at least in my mind, that the authority of the King comes from some social contract and therefore from the consent of those who are to be governed by the King himself). I did not mean, by absolutism, the Gallican Kings nor the Kingship of James VI/I.


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