The Origins of Liberalism
They Have Uncrowned Him
by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
"If you do not read, you will sooner or later be traitors, because you will not have understood the root of the evil." It is these words that one of my colleagues recommended on one occasion.1
One cannot indeed either understand the present crisis of the Church, or know the true face of the people in present-day Rome, or therefore grasp the attitude to take vis-à-vis the events, if he does not research into the causes, if he does not go back up the course of their history, if he does not find out the primary source of that liberalism condemned by the popes for the past two centuries.
Our Light: the Voice of the Popes
We will set out then from the origins, as the Sovereign Pontiffs do, when they denounce the confusions that are at hand. Now, always while indicting liberalism, the popes look farther into the past; and all of them, from Pius VI to Benedict XV, take the crisis back to the struggle engaged in against the Church in the sixteenth century by Protestantism, and to the naturalism of which this heresy was the cause and the first one to spread it.
The Renaissance and Naturalism
Naturalism is found beforehand in the Renaissance, which, in its effort to recover the riches of the ancient pagan cultures, and of the Greek culture and art in particular, came to glorify man, nature, and natural forces to an exaggerated degree. In exalting the goodness and the power of nature, one devalued and made disappear from the minds of men the necessity of grace, the fact that humanity is destined for the supernatural order, and the light brought in by revelation. Under a pretext of art, they determined to introduce then everywhere, even in the churches, that nudism—we can speak without exaggeration of nudism—which triumphs in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Without doubt, looked at from the point of view of art, those works have their value; but they have, alas, above all a carnal aspect of exaltation of the flesh that is really opposed to the teaching of the Gospel: "For the flesh covets against the spirit," says Saint Paul, "and the spirit militates against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17).
I do not condemn this art if it is kept in secular museums, but I do not see in it a means of expressing the truth of the Redemption, that is to say, the happy submission of mended nature to grace. My judgment will certainly be different on the baroque art of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, especially in the countries that resisted Protestantism: the baroque will still call on chubby angels, but this art that is very much of movement and of sometimes pathetic expression is a cry of triumph for the Redemption, a chant of victory for Catholicism over the pessimism of a cold and hopeless Protestantism.
Protestantism and Naturalism
Speaking precisely, it can seem strange and paradoxical to qualify Protestantism as being naturalism. There is nothing in Luther of this exaltation of the intrinsic good of nature, since, according to him, nature is incurably fallen and concupiscence is invincible. Nonetheless the excessively nihilistic look that the Protestant casts onto himself results in a practical naturalism: by dint of depreciating nature and exalting the force of faith alone, one relegates divine grace and the supernatural order to the domain of abstractions. For the Protestants, grace does not operate like a true interior renewal; baptism is not the restoring of an habitual supernatural state, it is only an act of faith in Jesus Christ, who justifies and saves. Nature is not restored by grace, it remains intrinsically corrupt, and faith obtains from God only that He throws over our sins the modest cloak of Noah. From then on, the whole supernatural organism that baptism has just added to nature by taking root in it, all the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, are reduced to nothingness, brought back as they are to that lone frenzied act of faith—confidence in a Redeemer who does not let us off except to withdraw far from His creature, leaving an ever so colossal abyss between man, permanently miserable, and the thrice holy transcendant God. This pseudo-super-naturalism, as Father Garrigou-Lagrange calls it, in the end leaves man, although redeemed, to the mere strength of his natural virtues; he collapses fatally, in naturalism, so well do the opposite extremes join up! Jacques Maritain well expresses the naturalist outcome of Lutheranism:
Human nature will only have to reject as a vain theological accessory the cloak of a grace that is nothing for it, and to take back onto itself its self-confidence, in order to become that nice emancipated beast whose unbroken infallible progress delights the universe today. (Trois Reformateurs, p. 35.)
And this naturalism will be applied especially to the civic and social order: grace being reduced to a fiduciary sentiment of faith, the Redemption now consists only of an individual and private religiosity, without a hold on the public life. The public order: economic and political, is therefore condemned to live and to develop itself outside Our Lord Jesus Christ. At the extreme, the Protestant will look for the criterion of his justification in the eyes of God in his economic success; it is in this sense that he will gladly inscribe onto the door of his house this sentence of the Old Testament: "Honor God with thy goods, give Him the first-fruits of all thy revenues, and then thy granaries will be abundantly filled and thy cisterns will overflow with wine" (Proverbs 3:9-10).
Jacques Maritain has some good words on the materialism of Protestantism, which will give birth to economic liberalism and to capitalism:
Behind Luther's appeals to the Lamb who saves, behind his outbursts of confidence and his faith in the pardon of sins, there is a human creature who raises up his head and who arranges his affairs very well in the mud where he is immersed by the fault of Adam! He will manage in the world, he will follow the will of force, the imperialist instinct, the law of this world which is his world. God will be only an ally, a mighty one." (op. cit., pp. 52-53.)
The result of Protestantism will be that men will attach themselves more to the goods of this world and will forget the eternal goods. And if a certain Puritanism comes to exercise an exterior supervision over public morality, it will not impregnate men's hearts with the truly Christian spirit, which is a supernatural spirit, called primacy of the spiritual. Protestantism will be led necessarily to proclaim the emancipation of the temporal vis-à-vis the spiritual. Now it is precisely that emancipation that is going to be rediscovered in liberalism. The popes then had good reason to denounce this naturalism of Protestant inspiration as the origin of the liberalism that disrupted Christianity in 1789 and 1848. The Leo XIII says:
This audacity of faithless men, which threatens civil society every day with more serious destruction, and which stirs up anxiety and trouble in all minds, has its cause and its origin in those poisoned doctrines which, spread out in these latest times among the peoples like seeds of vices, have born very malignant fruits in their season. Indeed you know very well, Venerable Brethren, that the cruel war that has been declared since the sixteenth century against the Catholic Faith by the innovators, aimed at this goal of turning aside all revelation and overthrowing the whole supernatural order, in order that access may be opened up to the discoveries or rather the frenzies of unaided reason." (Quod apostolici, December 28, 1878.)
And closer to our time, Pope Benedict XV:
Since the first three centuries and the origins of the Church, in the course of which the blood of Christians fertilized the entire earth, one can say that the Church never was in such a danger as that which showed itself at the end of the eighteenth century. It was then indeed that a Philosophy in delirium, a prolonging of the heresy and the apostasy of the Innovators, acquired a universal power of seduction over minds and brought about a total bewilderment, with the settled purpose of ruining the Christian foundations of society, not only in France, but little by little in all the nations." (Letter Anno jam exeunte, March 7, 1917.)
Birth of Political Naturalism
Protestantism had set up a very harsh attack against the Church and caused a deep tearing of Christianity in the sixteenth century, but it did not succeed in penetrating the Catholic nations with the venom of its political and social naturalism, until this secularizing spirit had reached the university people, and then those who were called the "Philosophers of the Lights."
In reality, philosophically, Protestantism and juridical positivism have a common origin in the nominalism of the decadent Middle Ages, which led as well to Luther with his purely extrinsic and nominal idea of the Redemption, as to Descartes with his idea of an unintelligible divine law submitted to the pure good pleasure of God's will. All of Christian philosophy however affirmed with Saint Thomas Aquinas the unity of the eternal divine law and of the natural human law: "The natural law is nothing except a participation in the eternal law by the rational creature," writes the Angelic Doctor. But with Descartes, a break is already made between the divine right and the natural, human right. After him the university people and the jurists will not be long in practicing the same separation. Thus Hugo Grotius (1625), summed up by Paul Hazard:
But divine right? Grotius tries to safeguard it. What we have just said, he declares, would take place even if we should grant—what cannot be conceded without a crime—that there is no God, or that human affairs are not the object of His solicitude. Since God and Providence exist without any doubt, we have here a source of right, in addition to that which emanates from nature. "This natural right itself can be attributed to God, since the divinity has willed that such principles exist in us." The law of God, the law of nature…continues Paul Hazard, this double formula, it is not Grotius who invented it, the Middle Ages knew it already. Where is its character of newness? How does it happen that it is criticized, condemned by the doctors? For whom does it create a stir? The novelty consists in the separation of the two terms, which makes a way for itself; in their opposition, which tends to assert itself; in an attempt at conciliation as an afterthought, which by its mere self supposes the idea of a rupture. (La crise de conscience europeenne, Paris, Fayard, 1961, 3rd part, chapter 3.)
The jurist Pufendorf (1672) and the philosopher Locke (1689) completed the secularization of the natural right. The philosophy of the Enlightenment imagines a "state of nature" that has no more to do with the realism of Christian philosophy and that culminates in the idealism with the myth of the good savage of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The natural law is reduced to a cohesion of sentiments which man has of himself and which are shared by the majority of men; the following dialogue is found in Voltaire:
B. What is the natural law?
A. The instinct that makes us feel justice.
B. What do you call just and unjust?
A. What appears as such to the entire world.
Such an outcome is the fruit of a reason that has lost its way, that in its thirst for emancipation from God and His revelation has likewise burned the bridges connecting him with the simple procedures of the natural order, which the supernatural divine revelation recalls and the Magisterium of the Church confirms. If the Revolution separated the civil power from the power of the Church, that is, at root, because it had already for a long time been separating faith and reason for those who adorned themselves with the name of philosophers. It will not be out of place to recall what Vatican Council I teaches on this subject:
Not only can faith and reason never be in disagreement, but they mutually lend themselves support as well; since right reason demonstrates the foundations of the faith and, illuminated with the light of faith, devotes itself to the knowledge of the divine things while faith, for its part, frees and protects reason from errors and teaches it with a multi-faceted learning. (Constitution de fide catholica "Dei Filius," Denziger 1799).
But the Revolution took place precisely in the name of the goddess Reason, of reason deified, of the reason that sets itself up as the supreme norm of truth and falsity, of good and evil.
Naturalism, Rationalism, Liberalism
You will catch a glimpse from this of how much all these errors overlap one another: liberalism, naturalism, finally rationalism, which are only complementary aspects of what must be called the Revolution. There where right reason, illuminated by the Faith, sees only harmony and subordination, the deified reason hollows out abysses and raises up walls: nature without grace, material prosperity without the searching for eternal goods, the civil power separated from the ecclesiastical power, politics without God or Jesus Christ, the rights of man against the rights of God, and finally freedom without truth.
It is in that spirit that the Revolution happened; it was being prepared for more than two centuries already in people's minds, as I have tried to show you. But it is only at the end of the eighteenth century that it succeeded and bore its decisive fruits: its political fruits, in favor of the writings of the philosophers, the encyclopedists, and of an unimaginable activity of Freemasonry (1517: revolt of Luther, who burned the Bull of the Pope at Wittenberg; 1717: foundation of the Grand Lodge of London), which in a few decades had penetrated and set up cells in the whole ruling class.
Freemasonry: Propagator of These Errors
With what precision, with what clear-sightedness the Sovereign Pontiffs denounced this enterprise. Pope Leo XIII exposes it in Quod apostolici already quoted, and again in the Encyclical Humanum Genus of August 20, 1884, on the sect of the Freemasons:
In our time the instigators of evil seem to have formed a coalition in an immense effort, under the impulse and with the help of a society spread out in a great number of places and skillfully organized, the Society of the Freemasons.
In their vigilant solicitudes for the salvation of the Christian people, Our predecessors had very quickly recognized this principal enemy at the moment when, coming out of the darkness of an occult conspiracy, it sprang forth to the attack in the full light of day.
Leo XIII then mentions the popes who have already condemned Freemasonry: Clement XII, in the Encyclical In Eminenti, of April 27, 1738, brought excommunication against the Freemasons; Benedict XIV renewed this condemnation in the Encyclical Providas of March 16, 1751; Pius VII with the Encyclical Ecclesiam of September 13, 1821, particularly denounced the Carbonari; Leo XII with his Apostolic Constitution Quo graviora of March 13, 1826, unmasked in addition the secret society L'Universitaire, which was attempting to pervert the youth; Pius VIII with his Encyclical Traditi of May 24, 1829; Pius IX, in his consistorial allocution of September 25, 1865, and the Encyclical Quanta cura of December 8, 1864, spoke in the same way.
Then, deploring how little the governments were taking into account these very serious warnings, Leo XIII reports the dreadful progress of the sect:
It results from this that, in the lapse of a century and a half, the sect of the Freemasons has made unbelievable progress. Using at the same time boldness and cunning, it has invaded all the ranks of the social hierarchy and is beginning to seize a power, in the bosom of the modern States, which is equivalent to sovereignty.
What would he say now, when there is no government that does not comply with the decrees of the Masonic lodges! (Even the communist countries should not be excepted, since the communist party is a pure Masonic society, with the sole difference that it is perfectly legal and public.) And it is now for the assault on the hierarchy of the Church that the Masonic spirit or Masonry itself rises up with ranks closed. But I will come back to that.
What is then the Masonic spirit? Here you have it declared in a few words from the mouth of Senator Goblet d'Aviello, member of the Grand Orient of Belgium, speaking on August 5, 1877, at the lodge of the Philanthropic Friends of Brussels:
Say to the beginners that Masonry…is above all a school of vulgarization and a finishing school, a sort of laboratory where the great ideas of the age come to be combined and affirmed in order to spread out in the secular world in a tangible and practical form. Tell them, in a word, that we are the philosophy of liberalism.
It is enough to tell you, dear readers, that even if I do not always name it, Freemasonry is at the center of the topics of which I am going to speak to you in all the following subjects.
Additional chapters will appear in coming months, and the complete book should be ready by the first of the year!
1. Father Paul Aulagnier, September 17,1981.