Similarity and difference between temporal and ecclesiastical authorities

Excerpts from The Conservative Vision of Authority.

A man forms his self-identity largely around his loyalties.  To be fully integrated, he needs an ultimate loyalty that defines who he ultimately is.  However, none of his particular communities has the right to make such a claim on him.  To attempt to do so would be tyrannical; it would mean telling him to disregard some valid loyalties while giving to one an ultimacy it doesn’t legitimately possess.  Man is ordered to the entirety of the moral order.  Therefore, the way for a community to legitimate itself is to present itself as a collective commitment to the moral order as a whole.  A family or a state then sees itself as a group built on a common dedication to Goodness itself and Justice itself.

This idea completely reshapes the individual’s understanding of the community’s claims on him.  The community is no longer completely self-interested, but points to a good outside itself.  Nevertheless, the community is not thereby reduced to a means to an external end.  The end is an affirmation of the moral order, and the community precisely is this affirmation.  What has been introduced is the element of authority.  So the difference between a community with authority and one without it is not that the former is more restrictive or “bossier”.  The Soviet Union was totalitarian but anti-authoritarian.  The difference is that a ruler with authority speaks not only in the name of the people’s good or the people’s desires; rather, he speaks primarily for transcendent Justice.  In doing so, the ruler addresses his subjects at their highest level of morality.

One might object that the above description confuses the state with the Church, authority with religion, the ruler with the priest.  Surely, one will say, it is the latter that has always been charged with the intercourse between God and society.  In fact, both ruler and priest mediate God’s presence socially, but in very different ways.

Authority in the state and the family address in God’s name the practical reason.  Authority always speaks in the imperative.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.”  Authority qua authority never speaks in the declarative.  It would be meaningless, for example, for the ruler to command that gambling is wrong.  He may, however, command that the wrongness of gambling be taught in schools, or that gambling shall be punished in some particular way.  Because it speaks in the imperative, the statements of authority are particular rather than universal.  A meaningful command is always limited to its intended recipient.  A ruler can order one subject to stand up and another to sit down without contradicting himself.

The social experience of God has a theoretical or contemplative aspect, as well as a practical one, and this contemplative encounter with God is the realm of the Church.  It consists, first of all, in dogmas—declarative statements about God, His relationship to man, and morality.  Unlike orders, dogmas are by their nature universal; if one is true at all, it is true for everyone, everywhere.  While diversity of authorities, customs, and cultures is natural and good, diversity in dogmatic belief is bad because it means that at least some people are ignorant of the truth.  Ideally, there should be one Church.

The roles of the Church are, then, dogma, ritual, and consecration.  The roles of authority are to establish justice and defend the common good.  In the family, the two roles are combined:  parents both teach and govern; the family is both a domestic church and a domestic kingdom.  In the wider society, the roles are divided, with the Church taking on one, and the State the other.  The two are always distinct, but not separate.  The State relies on the Church to consecrate its authority, since authority is itself a primary example of a sacred thing.  The Church consecrates the rituals that bind the community together, fostering a unity on which the State relies.  The State’s commands base themselves on dogmas.  (“Don’t gamble,” is based on “Gambling is wrong.”)  Both Church and State are sovereign in their own sphere, and they stand or fall together.

Today, the Church has been effectively marginalized, and authority has lost its religious aura.  The State has lost none of its will to power, though.  With the eclipse of the idea of authority, the State is no longer restrained either by respect for a Higher Power or by respect for the equally legitimate authority of the family.  The fall of authority is the rise of administration.

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