29 March 2023

Disembodied Church and Zombie State

Mr Coulombe's thoughts on the future of existing states. 'The zombie governments of this world shall continue to bounce off each other until they rot completely.'

From The European Conservative

By Charles Coulombe, BA, KtSS

While the soul—like the Church—is indeed immortal, neither the body nor the State are. The zombie governments of this world shall continue to bounce off each other until they rot completely.

The First Sunday in Lent is, in the Byzantine Calendar used by both Catholics and Orthodox of that Rite, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. It is an observance that honours the triumph by the orthodox Catholics of East and West over the Iconoclasts at the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 AD, at a time when Rome and Constantinople stood firmly united. Although a Latin Christian of the Anglican Ordinariate myself (though a cradle Catholic), this year I found myself carrying an icon of Bl. Emperor-King Karl of Austria-Hungary in the traditional procession with icons which is a feature of the day’s observances. It was with that in mind that—after the equally traditional denunciation of various heresies which follows—I listened to the commemorations of various degrees of believers, including:

To the most holy emperor Constantine, Equal-to-the-Apostles, to his mother Helena; to the Orthodox emperors Theodosius the Great, Theodosius the Younger, Justinian; to the most pious Grand Duke Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, to the Grand Duchess Olga, and all other Orthodox emperors and empresses, princes and princesses, eternal memory!

This prompted many musings, indeed. For one thing, many of those present were Ukrainians or Ruthenians; they have friends and relations at this moment fighting with the Russians—who in turn commemorate Ss. Vladimir and Olga in exactly the same manner this day, equally claiming them as their forbears with Ukrainians and Belarusians. For another, the Byzantine Rite prayers for the Emperor in the liturgies of Ss. Basil and John Chrysostom were used equally for Bl. Karl and for his wartime opponent, Tsar Nicholas II (although Karl was also named in the Latin-Rite prayers for Good Friday and Holy Saturday). There is a certain fittingness in this last, because Habsburgs and Romanovs were in some sense successors to the Holy Roman and Byzantine Emperors; Aachen/Vienna and Moscow/St. Petersburg thus carried on the traditions of Imperial Rome and Constantinople. 

Such thoughts led further to considerations of how Theodosius the Great had made baptism entrance into Roman citizenship as well as membership of the Church—thus incarnating, as it were, Christ’s union of His Davidic Kingship with the Communio of the Church at the Last Supper. From that time on, both in the various Imperial manifestations of East and West, as well as in the Kingdoms from Ireland to Russia that formed on ‘their’ soil and whose Kings claimed to be subject to them, Church and State were seen as two distinct facets of the same Res Publica Christiana. This notion survived the various schisms between East and West, and the Protestant Revolt (although Catholics suddenly found themselves shoved out of the Body Politic in those countries where the new religion prevailed—and its adherents received the same treatment where it did not). But the horrors and the bloodshed of that time led directly to the rise of Deism and the Enlightenment, and the far worse bloodshed of the French and subsequent revolutions, all of which targeted Christianity in its various forms. By turns violent and peaceful, the rise of secularism eventually pushed Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism out of any real say over policy in their respective countries. Indeed, the experience of COVID has shown that in the vast majority of nations, the Church is not considered in any sense an equal partner with the State, but a mere private association like the Rotary Club—and with no more rights than the Rotary Club has. Sadly, this is a situation in which the vast majority of ecclesiastical hierarchs have happily acquiesced.

Nevertheless, wherever it is considered advantageous by the secular and progressivist governments, bits and pieces of the old arrangements with Christianity are retained—either out of a desire to clothe the ugly realities of current public life in somewhat more presentable garb, or else to wring some real advantage out of the remaining band of believers. In the United States, where Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “Separation of Church and State” (it does not appear in our Constitution since several of our first states retained established Churches when that document was ratified, and as late as 1986 the Supreme Court maintained that the United States comprise a “Christian Country,” whatever that might mean), this is expressed in a number of ways. Apart from the Episcopalian National Cathedral acting as the backdrop for much of our civic ceremonial (and similar scenes taking place in each of our state capitals), clerical chaplains are actively recruited to encourage soldiers, sailors, airmen, policemen, and firemen to continue to risk their lives. Government tolerates any “Faith-Based Initiatives” that spend money (and so save the government some expense) without proselytising. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops and each State Catholic Conference are listened to when what they have to say echoes existing government policy, and ignored when it does not. Christmas is a national holiday—and in a few areas, Good Friday, Epiphany, and All Saints’ Day as well.

Indeed, in almost all post-Catholic and in some other countries, Catholic Military Dioceses are welcome, for the same reason they are in the U.S.A. The same goes for such post-Christian countries as Britain and the Crown Commonwealth, Scandinavia, and Benelux. But there are other bits and pieces retained as curiosities or for some minor political advantage. Most formerly believing nations retain presences in Rome (embassies to the Holy See and sometimes the Order of Malta, national churches, academies, national seminaries, and pilgrim hospices), and the Holy Land (sponsored churches, monasteries, and yet more pilgrim hospices). In the latter place, France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium are “consular” nations receiving special privileges from the Franciscan “Custody of the Holy Land;” even the Double Eagle remains there in shadow: the Austrian Hospice and the Russian Mission to the Holy Land—both begun and endowed by Kaisers and Tsars. For that matter, around the globe, the Carthusians still pray for the restoration of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem—of which the last major remnant, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, struggles manfully to keep the Catholic Church in the Holy Land funded.

Although the vestigial nature of official Christianity in Britain is often invoked in that country’s Monarchical ceremonial—no doubt to reach a crescendo in the forthcoming Coronation—such also survives elsewhere. The president of France, heir of Robespierre, has nevertheless inherited a canonry of St. John Lateran from the Most Christian Kings, while the King of Spain has a similar honour over at St. Mary Major. Macron must approve the Bishops appointed to France—and, indeed, many countries retain such privileges as codified in the given nation’s concordat, if any. Needless to say, regardless of how anti-Christian a government’s policies may be, they do tend to continue to observe something of the Church’s liturgical year in the calendar of holidays and in tolerance or encouragement of the various customs thereof. But as much as this writer enjoys the ritual invocation of Almighty God in American courts, the Regimental Collects of the British Army, the annual march of civic officials in European Corpus Christi processions, and the handful of New England villages whose Meeting Houses continue to shelter both town government and Congregationalist (or Unitarian) parish as they have since colonial days, he cannot help but see it all as a bit of theatre or make-believe—though no less gripping for all that.

The raw truth is very different. Lovely as all of these trappings are, they would vanish in a heartbeat if the local ecclesiastical leadership seriously challenged the powers-that-be in regard to things like euthanasia, abortion, or gender confusion. The Archbishop of Canterbury would be immediately out of a job, while Cardinal Gregory would find, at the very least, that President Biden would not show up for the Red Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. One wonders how long the German bishops would enjoy the Church Tax if they were committed to the Catholic Faith. Even in Russia, where at least lip service is paid to Christian morality (although abortion remains legal, as it has been since 1918), the extravagant support given to the Russian Orthodox Church would vanish if it seriously dissented from government policy. Indeed, these days the only opponents Bishops seem disposed to attack are those who hold to the Church’s traditions—knowing, of course, that those hapless Traditionalists have no recourse. It is ever the mark of the bully that he abuses the weak while kowtowing to the powerful.

One might see the Church as having been the form of society in the Ages of Faith, as the State was its matter. For the Medievals, the separation of the Body’s form—the Soul—from its matter was the very definition of death. Today, the Churches, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, are quite as effectively separated from the States they formerly animated as any soul from any corpse. Much of their leadership flit about, intent on proving themselves relevant to the mouldering pile of flesh which once they ensouled. But it is a pointless task, really, as the corpse cares nothing about them. Indeed, in the tragic case of so many Catholic parishes in America, during the COVID lockdown their websites counselled their parishioners to “Make a perfect act of contrition and a spiritual communion, and donate HERE.” A clearer insistence on one’s own spiritual irrelevance would be harder to envision—nor a better inducement to ending donations.

But let us not think that the corpse of the State lies empty and quiet—by no means! Every society requires a State Church of some kind to operate—an animating philosophy of some sort—to give authority and legitimacy to its rulership, and some kind of “morality” to their subjects. Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shinto all animate various nations around the planet. But nature abhors a vacuum, and in those countries formed by the now effectively-banished-from-public-life Christianity, the Faith of their Fathers has been replaced by a quasi-religious faith which sees barren sexuality and infanticide as sacred, death as the greatest evil which paradoxically may be freely dealt out to the defenceless, and the masters of the State as the wisest of all who must be obeyed unquestioningly by their servants. They must be obeyed, whether that means shutting down half a nation’s farms against their owners’ wills, seizing the bank accounts of supposed enemies who speak out against the rulership, or just shutting down a nation’s economy. It would perhaps not be so bad if these measures—draconian and dictatorial as they are—ever worked to the advantage of the populace whom the masters claim to represent; but they do not. Blind to and uncaring about their subjects’ needs, they do as they please. These are the creatures who appear to be lurching like the Walking Dead toward nuclear war.

Even if that supreme catastrophe should be avoided, and sanity at least momentarily prevails in Washington and Moscow, there is no guarantee they and their similar blind fellow leaderships shall not steer us into other and perhaps worse mischief. If the European nations have lost their soul, as many commentators have said, the same is no less true for the countries of Europe beyond the Seas, from San Francisco to Vladivostok, and from Buenos Aires to Cape Town and Sydney. 

While the soul—like the Church—is indeed immortal, neither the body nor the State are. The zombie governments of this world shall continue to bounce off each other—unless these be the Last Days—until they rot completely, and are replaced by entirely different entities and societies which the Church shall have to evangelise in their turn … or perhaps the existing lands of what was once Christendom can be restored to life.

But first, the Catholic Church must reconcile herself with herself, and have a leadership committed to her Faith, which they practise as her Lord and Founder once delivered to her. The rupture with and within the Eastern Churches must be healed, and as perhaps presaged by the Ordinariates, those elements of the State Churches and Landeskirchen of Northern Europe who still retain a desire for Christian orthodoxy must be brought back into the fold of the Church Universal. Yet essential as these things are for the restoration of political health to the West, they must be done not for political ends, but for purely spiritual and salvific ones: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

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