The Mandate of Heaven

Where God is not reckoned, no lesser authority whatsoever can seem quite legitimate. It’s not just that lesser authorities derive their authority from the supreme authority of God (although they do), but that if there be no supreme authority then there can be no perspective upon things that is indubitably, certainly more competent to reckon truth than any other. And this means that the competitive advantage of competence to truth must be distributed among men more or less adventitiously, rendering any such authority as is anywhere to be found merely capricious, nowise founded upon objective intelligible reasons – which is to say, unjust.

Yet humans crave safety and stability and certainty. These can come only from authority; for no one of us is competent to arrive alone and reliably at authoritative conclusions. Everyone – even such giants as Aristotle or Aquinas – stands on what they take to be the shoulders of giants. But who then are the giants, who the true authorities? The question cannot be answered to anyone’s complete satisfaction unless it be given authoritatively!

The authority we all seek can be recognized as such only in view of something analogous to the Apostolic Succession, by which the knowledge of the past Golden Age is handed down – and known to be handed down – to us unworthy apprentices. Our own idiosyncratic judgements about where true authority lies are just as weak, as ill-informed and so ill-formed, as any others of our evaluations and recognitions of reality. We cannot trust ourselves to decide whom we ought well to trust.

But if we are to credit an ostensible authority, no matter how brightsome its historical pedigree, we must first deem it duly constituted – which is to say, founded upon and derived from the absolute authority of God. An usurper who cannot explain the justification of his usurpation in moral terms spoken first in the Heavens is not a true king. Who cannot understand how to adduce the Mandate of Heaven cannot enjoy it, certainly. He is then nothing more than a foul usurper, and thus a tyrant. His membership in a long unbroken succession of tyrants or usurpers does not suffice to heal this condition. The succession must derive ultimately from God, if it is to be universally credited as worthy, credible, so just – as, i.e., supervening upon and faithfully indicating something transcendent to itself – as, i.e., meaningful.

This is so even for authority respecting empirical matters, such as scientific authority. All such authority is founded upon the presupposition that there exists a truth about things that men can understand. Science presupposes the prior order and intelligibility of the cosmos – presupposes, i.e., that there is a cosmos in the first place, rather than a chaotic jumble of chance events. But to presuppose an intelligible order prior to the observations or interventions of any particular mind, which is therefore fitted to repay rational inquiry with knowledge – an order that is, i.e., a fit object of scientific inquiry in the first place – just is to presuppose Eternal Omniscience that is itself rational, ergo intelligible. “A priori order” is just a different way of referring to God.

No God, then no order. No order, then a fortiori no justice. No justice, then no just rule.

A general atheism, then – or even just a widespread ignorance of what can be properly indicated by “God” – spells social chaos. As we see.

16 thoughts on “The Mandate of Heaven

    • Ain’t it the truth, alas! The deconstructionists will reply that science – like everything – is always political. Even if that’s so, it does not entail that science cannot intend as a matter of political expedience to seek to understand the truth. That an activity is political does not make it altogether wicked, eo ipso, or false. Indeed, “human activity is always political” is one of those ridiculously obvious truisms that only an inveterate academic sophomore could find interesting. How could it possibly be otherwise!?

      Stipulate then that science is inherently political. So what? That’s not necessarily a problem. Nor is it even necessarily a problem that scientists are prone to discover the truth of what the oligarchs would very much like to be true (this is a problem only when the polis would like untrue things to be true (as ours does) and the scientists dutifully go along with the pretense that they are indeed true – no one wants to be the bearer of bad news to the tyrant). The problem is that in its currently popular atheist implementation – the one scientists dress up in, like furries, when they must make public obeisance to the gods of the atheist polis – it has by its avowed atheism implicitly rejected the notion of truth, and therefore of authoritative access thereto. So doing, it has repudiated the notion of science. It’s as if they were Jesuits prancing about and gaily pronouncing that Mary was not really a virgin and the Resurrection was just a symbol. If that’s so, then Jesuits are a waste of time and money, and ought perhaps all to be shot. Likewise also for scientists who proclaim atheism, albeit that for them the connection between atheism and their own perfidious uselessness is more attenuated than the connection between Jesuit apostasy and the absurdity of Jesuits.

      Scientists are not in practice useless, of course, nor are Jesuits. Most are worthy men, doing good work insofar as they are able. This is true even of the atheists among their ranks. But that it is true is due, not to their atheism, but to the theism to which their careers implicitly attest, and which their daily works presuppose.

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  2. “The problem is that in its currently popular atheist implementation – the one scientists dress up in, like furries, when they must make public obeisance to the gods of the atheist polis – it has by its avowed atheism implicitly rejected the notion of truth, and therefore of authoritative access thereto.” Yes, but it might be even more insidious than that. In my own bailiwick of literary studies the majority of scholars for forty years have been trying to turn what they do into what they believe scientists do, but the scientists on whom the literary scholars have been trying to model themselves are not, in fact, scientists, for the reasons that you cite.

    • It’s that doggone mimesis again, no? It’s like fire, or blades, or any efficacious thing: dangerous to at least the degree that they are potentially beneficial.

  3. Here’s part of Pope Leo XIII’s Libertas Praestantissimum:

    18. There are others, somewhat more moderate though not more consistent, who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. Nature herself proclaims the necessity of the State providing means and opportunities whereby the community may be enabled to live properly, that is to say, according to the laws of God. For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enact menu. Besides, those who are in authority owe it to the commonwealth not only to provide for its external well-being and the conveniences of life, but still more to consult the welfare of men’s souls in the wisdom of their legislation. But, for the increase of such benefits, nothing more suitable can be conceived than the laws which have God for their author; and, therefore, they who in their government of the State take no account of these laws abuse political power by causing it to deviate from its proper end and from what nature itself prescribes. And, what is still more important, and what We have more than once pointed out, although the civil authority has not the same proximate end as the spiritual, nor proceeds on the same lines, nevertheless in the exercise of their separate powers they must occasionally meet. For their subjects are the same, and not infrequently they deal with the same objects, though in different ways. Whenever this occurs, since a state of conflict is absurd and manifestly repugnant to the most wise ordinance of God, there must necessarily exist some order or mode of procedure to remove the occasions of difference and contention, and to secure harmony in all things. This harmony has been not inaptly compared to that which exists between the body and the soul for the well-being of both one and the other, the separation of which brings irremediable harm to the body, since it extinguishes its very life.

    19. To make this more evident, the growth of liberty ascribed to our age must be considered apart in its various details. And, first, let us examine that liberty in individuals which is so opposed to the virtue of religion, namely, the liberty of worship, as it is called. This is based on the principle that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none.

    20. But, assuredly, of all the duties which man has to fulfill, that, without doubt, is the chiefest and holiest which commands him to worship God with devotion and piety. This follows of necessity from the truth that we are ever in the power of God, are ever guided by His will and providence, and, having come forth from Him, must return to Him. Add to which, no true virtue can exist without religion, for moral virtue is concerned with those things which lead to God as man’s supreme and ultimate good; and therefore religion, which (as St. Thomas says) “performs those actions which are directly and immediately ordained for the divine honor”,(7) rules and tempers all virtues. And if it be asked which of the many conflicting religions it is necessary to adopt, reason and the natural law unhesitatingly tell us to practice that one which God enjoins, and which men can easily recognize by certain exterior notes, whereby Divine Providence has willed that it should be distinguished, because, in a matter of such moment, the most terrible loss would be the consequence of error. Wherefore, when a liberty such as We have described is offered to man, the power is given him to pervert or abandon with impunity the most sacred of duties, and to exchange the unchangeable good for evil; which, as We have said, is no liberty, but its degradation, and the abject submission of the soul to sin.

    21. This kind of liberty, if considered in relation to the State, clearly implies that there is no reason why the State should offer any homage to God, or should desire any public recognition of Him; that no one form of worship is to be preferred to another, but that all stand on an equal footing, no account being taken of the religion of the people, even if they profess the Catholic faith. But, to justify this, it must needs be taken as true that the State has no duties toward God, or that such duties, if they exist, can be abandoned with impunity, both of which assertions are manifestly false. For it cannot be doubted but that, by the will of God, men are united in civil society; whether its component parts be considered; or its form, which implies authority; or the object of its existence; or the abundance of the vast services which it renders to man. God it is who has made man for society, and has placed him in the company of others like himself, so that what was wanting to his nature, and beyond his attainment if left to his own resources, he might obtain by association with others. Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engravers upon it. This religion, therefore, the rulers of the State must preserve and protect, if they would provide – as they should do – with prudence and usefulness for the good of the community. For public authority exists for the welfare of those whom it governs; and, although its proximate end is to lead men to the prosperity found in this life, yet, in so doing, it ought not to diminish, but rather to increase, man’s capability of attaining to the supreme good in which his everlasting happiness consists: which never can be attained if religion be disregarded.

  4. Oh dear.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein once speculated that if men did not have stereoscopic vision, idealism would probably have triumphed over realism. (The illusion of depth.)

    Likewise, if it weren’t for war, revolution, disaster and pestilence, I imagine relativism might ultimately prove persuasive. It is the product of man that secures the belief that man is a product.

      • “A priori order” is not a reference to God.

        God is the guarantor of the “a posteriori order”, e.g. revealed truth.

        Quine did a nice job of destroying the synthetic/analytic dichotomy, e.g. there is no “a priori” order, there are only arbitrary a priori postulates.

      • If there be anywhere any necessity, there is in it, and in virtue of it, an a priori order. If there is no necessity, then indeed is everything arbitrary.

      • Haven’t you always been suspicious of the atheists? They promise the end of all human suffering, if you just put away your God?

        They really ARE intent on abolishing war, suffering, and human misery aren’t they? They seem to sense that in these cataclysmic events, human life and human societies are weighed on cosmic scales, and it is not humans that do the weighing?

        For all that, when they seize power, they don’t seem to be so very good at the humanitarian thing after all? Their whole system rests on a flight from real justice, rather than a love for humanity.

      • If there is any necessity, it is in language. It cannot be found in the universe of the positivist. On the other hand, the force of history does reveal an “a posteriori order”, neglect of which is lethal.

      • Well, sure. To everyone but necessitarians, the universe is contingent; it is a posteriori, through and through. It is furthermore ordered. If there is necessity, it is not to be found in this world, but in the ideal world of language; the world that is the Word. Only in the Logos is there necessary order. But without it, there can be no order that is contingent, either; for all contingency continges ultimately upon the Logos.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2016/02/28) - Social Matter

  6. Pingback: Mutterings. | Dark Brightness


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