Saturday 28 October 2017

Aquinas on tyranny – another American Blog that fails to understand Catholic tradition…

The Roman Senators surround Julius Caesar before assassinating him...

A Blog called “St Peter’s List” (SPL) presumes to teach its readers what is the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on tyranny but, I would argue, fails to understand his teaching, although it does cite the relevant passages of St Thomas.

The blog post is entitled “May Catholics Overthrow or Even Kill a Tyrant? - 9 Comments by Aquinas” and can be read here.

I shall attempt here to show why its analysis is erroneous.

It begins thus:

“…may Catholics overthrow or even kill a tyrant? The answer to this question is one St. Thomas Aquinas pondered over his lifetime. In contemplating the assassination of Julius Caesar, a young Aquinas seemed to state that not only can a Catholic kill a tyrant, there are times he should be praised for it. Later in life, when writing at the request of the King of Cyprus, Aquinas takes a very different view… In the twilight of his short life, the Angelic Doctor once again addressed the issue in his Summa Theologica. In this reflection, he appears to present a more mature version of his earliest answer. He jettisons the blanket prohibition against it...”

In fact, Aquinas is consistent throughout and did not contradict himself or “take a different view” or “mature” and “jettison” his earlier view.

St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor

There is a perennial problem with many American Catholic blogs because so many Americans are fatally stamped, from their earliest years, with an erroneous belief in the justice of their own immoral revolution of 1776, constantly seek to justify it, and so skew, often radically, their understanding of the ancient teaching of Catholic theology and even of Classical pagan philosophy.

In truth, the American Founding Fathers were rebels and traitors to legitimate authority, deeply anti-Catholic, and indeed anti-Christian in any orthodox sense. Most were Freemasons, Deists and Unitarians, if not outright unbelievers. The one Catholic, Charles Carroll, was highly heterodox in his understanding of the Catholic faith.

The American rebels gather to plot treason and insurrection against their legitimate King

This failure to understand St Thomas arises from the failure to understand the meaning of the Greek word τύραννος – and its Latin derivative, tyrannus – both of which originally meant one who has usurped authority or rules unconstitutionally.

Even the French philosophe Rousseau admitted this in his Social Contract when he wrote of the word:

“In the exact sense, a tyrant is an individual who arrogates to himself the royal authority without having a right to it. This is how the Greeks understood the word 'tyrant': they applied it indifferently to good and bad princes whose authority was not legitimate.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau,
French radical and author of The Social Contract

In the teaching of Aquinas, and other Doctors, a tyrant is one who usurps power either by overthrowing the true ruler or, if already ruler, usurps or overthrows the Constitution of his realm and rules unconstitutionally.

Even in these two cases, there must be a legitimate authority to determine whether the tyrant is an usurper. It cannot be the province of a private citizen or subject so to decide. Usually, this authority is the ousted true ruler.

The reason for this is not far to seek: an inferior may not judge a superior or else all law is overthrown, anarchy succeeds, no state can ever be secure and the strong impose their will upon the weak, the very antithesis of the Rule of Law.

Armed with this understanding, it soon becomes clear where SPL has gone astray in its thinking.

De Sententia - Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Dist 44, Art 2

SPL first cites the Sentences and rightly notes that St Thomas enjoins obedience to the secular power, citing Scripture in support and noting that all true authority comes from God. However, Christians are not bound to obey authority that “does not come from God”.

SPL also rightly quotes St Thomas, summarising thus:

“First, Aquinas states that those who are unworthy of power, but become a secular power regardless, should still be obeyed. Second, however, are those who acquire power through violence or any illegitimate means. Aquinas teaches, ‘we say that in such a case there is no lawful authority at all. He who seizes power by violence does not become a true holder of power’…Aquinas allows the caveat here that even those secular powers gained by illegitimate means may become legitimate if there is ‘consent of the subjects or by a recognition being extended to him by a higher authority’. In this case, the illegitimate ruler would become a legitimate true ruler and would merit obedience.”

SPL also rightly notes that St Thomas teaches that Christians are not bound to obey a tyrant, though they might prudently choose to do so.

Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, the "Master of the Sentences",
and author of the Four Books of the Sentences, the standard textbook of medieval theology 

SPL then refers to the question posed by St Thomas “Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised?” stating:

“In his question from the Sentences, St. Thomas Aquinas lists the following objection:

‘5. If it is a legitimate and even a praiseworthy deed to kill a person, then no obligation of obedience exists toward that person. Now in the Book on Duties [De Officiis I, 8, 26] Cicero justifies Julius Caesar’s assassins. Although Caesar was a close friend of his, yet by usurping the empire he proved himself to be a tyrant. Therefore toward such powers there is no obligation of obedience.’

…He [Aquinas] replies as follows:

‘Ad 5. To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.’

The last line of the objection is noteworthy and should be compared to his later thoughts in On Kingship and the Summa Theologica. First, it is the only part of the question in which he explicitly speaks of assassinating the tyrant. Second, the scholar Paul E. Sigmund observes Aquinas ‘seems to endorse killing a tyrant who has usurped his office (as distinct from one who has abused his power - St. Thomas Aquinas On Politics and Ethics, Translated & Edited by Paul E. Sigmund, 24).”

Now within this very explanation there sits the evidence that St Thomas did not change his mind or teaching, contrary to what SPL wrongly asserts.

The scholar Paul Sigmund is correct. St Thomas does not endorse the killing of a ruler who has abused his power but only he who has usurped his office or rules unconstitutionally (and then only by public, not private, authority).

Further, St Thomas is not here expressing a view as to whether Caesar was legitimately killed, which is a highly contested claim, but only opens up the possibility of allowing the removal of a tyrant when there is “no recourse to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper”.

But he does not clarify what kind of judgment is meant and we cannot assume that this means that a private citizen or subject may exercise that judgment for himself, particularly as St Thomas teaches the contrary later.

What St Thomas later writes must be taken as a gloss upon his earlier writing, just as Scriptural exegetes do with Holy Writ rather than simply assuming, as sceptics and unbelievers try to do, that Scripture contradicts itself.

As we shall see, St Thomas forbids private individuals to act on their own authority (as the American revolutionaries immorally did).

It follows that he must thus still require a superior to exercise judgment of some sort, even if that cannot be a formal, legal judgment in the full sense.

That, then, is what we must assume St Thomas means when he says “there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper”.

We shall see this confirmed in the next text cited by SPL, even though SPL misconstrues it.

De Regno - On Kingship, chapters 6 & 7

SPL cites De Regno saying: “Writing approximately a decade after his Commentary, Aquinas’ view on tyrants undergoes a shift.”

But does it?

In fact, no, it does not undergo a “shift” at all.

In Chapter 6, St Thomas writes:

“If the tyranny is so extreme that it is unbearable, some have argued that it is a virtuous act for brave men to run the risk of death in order to kill a tyrant and liberate the community…But this is not in accordance with Apostolic teaching. Peter teaches us to be subject not only to good and temperate rulers but also to the ill-tempered. ‘If anyone bears undeserved suffering out of reverence for God, this is (the work of) grace.’”

SPL rightly comments:

“Another issue Aquinas has with an individual assassinating a tyrant is private judgement. Aquinas states, ‘it would be very dangerous for the community and for its rulers if any individual, using his private judgment could attempt to kill those in government, even when they are tyrants’. In other words, who determines the king is a tyrant and that tyrant deserves death? ...If a king may be determined to be a tyrant worthy of assassination under private judgement, the community risks evil men killing a good king. Aquinas observes, ‘the more likely consequence of such presumption would therefore be to threaten the community with the loss of its king, rather than to benefit it by getting rid of a tyrant’.”

But then SPL wrongly claims:

“Aquinas’ comments in On Kingship stand in contrast to his words in the Sentences that appear to even allow the praise of one who kills a tyrant.”

This comments fails to make a proper distinction and does injustice to St Thomas by presuming he contradicts himself.

In Chapter 7 of De Regno, St Thomas clearly teaches that no private citizen or subject may take upon himself to judge a tyrant and then remove him but rather teaches that this is the province of a superior, such as a higher power or a group or assembly who have constitutional authority to select the ruler. Therefore we must assume that when, in the Sentences, he speaks of “no recourse to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper”, he means in a formal, legal judgment in the full sense.

Nevertheless, St Thomas must still require some superior to exercise judgment of some sort against the tyrant, thereby giving the private citizen or subject the right to remove the tyrant.

Such a superior might typically be the ousted king or ruler, giving orders from exile, or perhaps the Supreme Pontiff, exercising the supreme spiritual power, which, although a spiritual not temporal power, nevertheless is superior to the temporal in the matter of conscience.

Thus, St Thomas is entirely consistent, not self-contradictory, contrary to the claims of SPL.

Indeed, SPL could have determined this for itself by its own later citation of Chapter 7 of De Regno, when it writes:

“Is there an option between martyrdom and assassination? Aquinas gives three possible solutions. First, though kings may not be determined to be tyrants under private judgment, they may be subject to public judgment. The Angelic Doctor notes, ‘if a given community has the right to appoint a ruler it is not unjust for the community to depose the king or restrict his power if he abuses it by becoming a tyrant’. Second, the people may appeal to a higher political authority – ‘if on the other hand, it is the right of a higher authority to appoint a king over a certain community, then the remedy for the wickedness of the tyrant is to be sought from that authority’”.

But, as SPL is compelled to admit, St Thomas then expressly says as follows:

“Furthermore, it seems that to proceed against the cruelty of tyrants is an action to be undertaken, not through the private presumption of a few, but rather by public authority.”

Next SPL cites the Summa Theologica on sedition.

De Seditione - Summa Theologica II-II, 42, 1-2

SPL notes: 

“Aquinas states, sedition is ‘between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when one part of the state rises in tumult against another part’”…and…relying on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, Aquinas holds that sedition is a mortal sin…”

Next SPL considers the 3rd objection in Article 2 of Question 42 which states thus:

“Objection 3. Further, it is praiseworthy to deliver a multitude from a tyrannical rule. Yet this cannot easily be done without some dissension in the multitude, if one part of the multitude seeks to retain the tyrant, while the rest strive to dethrone him. Therefore there can be sedition without mortal sin.”

St Thomas answers thus:

“Reply to Objection 3. A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant's rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant's government. Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude.”

Here SPL makes it most egregious error by arguing thus:

“First, note that the blanket statement of On Kingship that rebellion against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching is not present here. The answer in the Summa is more akin to the answer a young Aquinas gave in his Sentences. It might also be noted that the work in which Aquinas does not give an avenue for rebelling against a tyrannical king was also the only work written for a king….”

In fact, none of the answers of St Thomas are out of harmony or self-contradictory, nor is there any “blanket statement” that overthrowing a tyrant is “contrary to apostolic teaching”.

First, what St Thomas teaches, in De Regno, is that “to proceed against the cruelty of tyrants is an action to be undertaken, not through the private presumption of a few, but rather by public authority”.

Thus, private citizens or subjects may be empowered by proper authority, e.g. the ousted ruler, to take action against the tyrant, such as happened in England when General Monck restored King Charles II to the throne and, later still, when the Jacobite uprising in Scotland sought to restore King James III & VIII, the Catholic nephew of King Charles II, to the throne usurped by the Whig Revolution of 1688.

James Francis Edward Stuart, King James III & VIII,
the true Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was to be restored by the Jacobite uprising against the usurping Hanoverian government

The Jacobite uprising was thus a just uprising, in stark contrast to the American Revolution, which was an unjust rebellion and an usurpation.

Second, we see above a hint of that Americanism that has so affected many otherwise good American minds against kingship, that form of government which the Catholic Church always gave preference to and which Pope Pius VI, in Pourquoi Notre Voix of 1793, called “the best of all governments”, as did St Thomas himself in De Regno 3:19 (“it is best for a human multitude to be ruled by one person”).

The implication here by SPL is that St Thomas was only writing as he did to please a king, the King of Cyprus, for whom he wrote De Regno. This is a shameful implication and unworthy of SPL.

In his Reply to Objection 3, St Thomas nowhere teaches that a private citizen or subject may take it upon himself to overthrow the tyrant. Taken together with his other teachings, it is clear that St Thomas means here an overthrow of the tyrant which has been sanctioned by proper authority, not merely by a private citizen, as he teaches in De Regno, Ch. 7.

Further, in speaking of a tyrant, St Thomas cites Aristotle (“the Philosopher”) who uses the word “tyrant” in the Greek sense of an usurper or one who usurps the Constitution and rules unconstitutionally, not merely a bad or oppressive or unpopular ruler.

the great philosopher of ancient Greece

It is in this sense that a tyrannical government is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, and the tyrant is seditious because he has overthrown the proper authority of the state.

A ruler is not a tyrant merely because he is personally bad, or rules badly, or is unpopular, which, unless he acts unconstitutionally, can only be a very subjective judgment and certainly no basis for his overthrow.

This, indeed, was the rationale behind the German officers, particularly the conscientious Catholic Colonel Claus, Count Schenk von Stauffenberg, who carefully considered, under spiritual direction, whether or not Adolf Hitler was a tyrant in the Greek and Thomist sense, i.e. an usurper, so that he could be removed, by assassination if necessary.

Colonel Claus, Count Schenk von Stauffenberg,
the Catholic and aristocratic German cavalry officer who laid a bomb for Hitler which failed to kill the tyrant
but cost Stauffenberg his life when he was later shot for his part in the plot to overthrow Hitler

It was argued that Hitler was an usurper because he used the Enabling Acts (Ermächtigungsgesetz) of 1933, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution obtained by illegal intimidation of non-Nazi deputies of the Reichstag, that gave the German Cabinet – in effect, Chancellor Adolf Hitler – the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag.

Together with the Reichstag Fire Decree (Reichstagsbrandverordnung), the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State (Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat), these laws were used to pass, illegally, the Fuhrer Act (Gesetz über das Staatsoberhaupt des Deutschen Reichs) on 1 August 1934, merging the office of the Reichspräsident with that of the Reichskanzler in the person of Adolf Hitler and thus creating an illegal dictatorship.

The legal and moral questions were complex and it was only after much soul-searching that Stauffenberg and the others were willing to take action.

Moreover, they conscientiously did not do so as mere private citizens but acted upon the authority of political figures who had been elected to public offices under the old Weimar Republic which, it was argued, was the last true constitutionally legitimate authority in Germany, before the Hitlerite usurpation.

Under Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and Dr Carl Goerdeler, they were to be the post-Hitler government of a free Germany. Stauffenberg and the other officers felt able to follow their orders to rid the country of the tyrant but it was no easy analysis since the Nazis had carefully covered their tracks and appeared to have acted within the law.

Colonel-General Ludwig Beck
who was to be the new President of Germany after the assassination of Hitler and the overthrow of the Nazi government

On this same analysis, we can readily see that the claim of the Catalan government, on 27 October 2017, to declare itself independent of Spain has no moral justification whatsoever and is no more than an immoral sedition, an usurpation, a coup d’etat, and contrary to the common good.

The Spanish government is thus morally right to act against the sedition and to remove the usurpers.

Senor Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister
faced with a treacherous, seditious and illegal rebellion in the province of Catalonia on 27 October 2017

The analysis of SPL however, is over-hasty and tendentious, misjudges St Thomas and, I would argue, does not represent Catholic theology fairly or properly and thus should be revised by its authors.

I hope and trust that they will do so.



Unknown said...

While I agree with much that you have written clarifying the teaching of St. Thomas, I think your understanding of the American War is mistaken in several crucial points. Firstly the Americans were not revolting against a legitimate authority, but rebelling against the heir of a usurper, who had previously supported the banned outlaw Frederick of Prussia. Secondly they were not acting as private persons, but as officials of government deriving their authority from an existing government(the colonial assemblies). Thirdly, the object of the rebellion was not the death of the oppressor, but the defense of the territories subject to the government acting against the usurper (the colonies). And finally, it would seem that the rebellion, though it had anti-Catholic elements, was not anti-Catholic in itself, as Pope Leo XIII lauded it in his encyclical Longinqua: "Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church."

Tribunus said...

Dear Habsburg Restorationist,

With respect you are sorely deluding yourself and all the more so given that you are a believer in the Habsburg restoration, a polity as far removed from that of America as could be imagined.

Your responses are, alas, all too easily answered.

(1) Firstly, the Americans certainly WERE revolting against a legitimate authority, and one that was not only lawful but recognised as such by no less a person than the Pope himself.

Further, being the heir of an usurper does not make the heir an usurper, particularly as the usurper was already 4 reigns and nearly 100 years earlier. As St Thomas makes clear in the quotes I gave above, even an usurper can become legitimate if there is no opposition and the people accept it, as they clearly did with King George III, if for no other reason than because there were more serious threats than the Hanoverians threatening the peace of Britain and Europe, including your American traitors. I repeat: the Pope had already recognised the legitimacy of King George III.

If you think that supporting Frederick of Prussia de-legitimates a king then you undermine the legitimacy of all rulers. Political leaders make all kinds of alliances with all kinds of people. That does not de-legitimate them and it is frankly ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

(3) Secondly, the rebels certainly WERE acting as private persons. Their duty as officials of government, deriving their authority from an existing government which in turn derived its authority from the British Crown, obliged them to be loyal to that same Crown. It is PRECISELY the nature of treachery and rebellion that those who have given oaths of loyalty to the superior power break them. That is exactly what the American traitors did and that is why they were traitors and seditious rebels.


Tribunus said...


(4) Thirdly, not a single one of the American traitors argued that King George III was an "usurper" and that the Stuart successor was the true king. That is precisely because the American traitors were anti-Catholic and the very last thing they wanted was the return of a Catholic king. What they wanted was a Deist-Unitarian secular republic and they wanted it precisely to serve their own selfish interests - raising the tea tariffs again so that they would keep their profits, severing legal ties with Britain so that the decision of Lord Mansfield in the Kings Bench against slavery would not stop them keeping slaves. This was a classic sedition, breaking the Constitution, betraying King and people and all for the benefit of the traitors, masquerading as friends of the people. It was the beginning of a republic that was, is, and always has been, a plutocrats' republic for the rich few at the top.

(5) Fifthly and finally, I am glad that you admit that it was a rebellion. That, of course, is enough to condemn it. But it is wrong, and, with respect, frankly laughable to say that the rebellion was not anti-Catholic when it was obviously so and the traitors were loudly outspoken, in crude and blatant terms, against the Catholic Church. If further evidence were needed, the traitors' citing of the Quebec Act as one of the so-called "intolerable Acts" of King George III says it all. This was little more than the Act establishing the Catholic religion as the religion of Quebec state. Why should the American traitors object to what was happening in Canada? Simply because they were so anti-Catholic that they did not want a Catholic state on their doorstep.

There is not one word of approval in Longinqua, the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, of the American rebellion. His obvious concern is for the establishment of the hierarchy in the Republic and the maintenance of good relations with the Church.

For the same reasons, Pope Leo XIII called for a "Ralliement" to the French Republic. Do you think this meant that he approved the French Revolution? No, of course not. He detested that revolution. But, since both revolutions were now 100 years old, he was compelled to practice realpolitik and recognise them....just as his predecessor had been obliged to do with the Hanoverian dynasty.

Thus, your own argument defeats you. If you cite Pope Leo in aid of the American republic then you must cite his predecessor in aid of the which case you must accept that the American traitors were indeed seditious traitors against the legitimate authority of the British Crown.

And let us not forget that, within 4 years, the very same Pope, Leo XIII, was condemning a heresy that had infected the Americans which he did not shrink from calling by the name of "Americanism" in the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae.

It is right to take a leaf out of Pope Leo's book and look forward to the future, accepting the inevitable, that the American republic is here to stay and making the most of it BUT without pretending that historical facts are not facts and that the American revolution was anything other than a treacherous sedition by selfish men, rebelling against their legitimate sovereign and government.

Unknown said...

In regard to the response to points 1 & 2: George III's alliance with Frederick II was no mere alliance but a revolt against his legitimate Sovereign the Emperor as well a breach of the peace of Christendom, in clear contradiction to his duties as Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, and thus implicated him in the Imperial Ban (Reichsbann) against Frederick for the invasion of Saxony. Regarding his legitimacy as King of England (and regarding in part point 5), it had not been 31 years since the last uprising in favor of the legitimate King, and according to the Catholic understand of legitimacy as expounded by Dr. Hans Karl von von Zeßner-Spitzenberg, the legitimacy of the descendants of a usurper are not contingent on his acceptance by the populace but the extinction of legitimate claimants as well as recognition by a higher authority;

“Did not Pope Leo XIII declare, in an Encyclical to French Catholics, that a new authority might, for the sake of the Common Good, receive the right to rule, when the rightful authorities have been removed and are no longer available, and a chaos has arisen so that the maintenance of order requires that new powers be established?

This is to be answered, new legitimacy comes from such emergency power only when the old Authorities and their rightfully appointed successors are not only removed from power, but no longer actually exist. In that case the path lies open, indeed it creates a new necessity, for the establishment of a new legitimate authority. So long as the rightful Authorities are merely hindered and incapacitated, the emergency order is only permitted as an emergency order, that is to say as a curator or guardian, for so long as the rightful Authority is repressed and its Restoration hindered. However it must not set itself in opposition to this. It is therefore merely legal.”

The government of George III clearly set itself in opposition to the return of the legitimate King, thus rendering itself illegitimate.

In regard to point 3 (and in part 5):

The oaths of loyalty of the American officials were not absolute, but contingent on the respect for the establish law which the English government was contravening ("He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."). In such case the oaths can be considered null and void, especially considering the rebellions previous to it. In your post you make a distinction between an uprising and a rebellion, but there are many uprisings in history that bear the title "rebellion" which were perfectly just and legitimate. The rebellions of the Vendee, the Chouannerie, the Tyroleans of Andreas Hofer, the Sanfedisti, and the Pro-Bourbon Briganti are all examples of this.

To be continued...

Unknown said...


In regard to point 4 and the rest of point 5: That the officials of the American government referred to George III as a tyrant and not as a usurper, does not alter the fact that he forfeited any right to legitimate government by acting as usurper against King Charles III and Cardinal-King Henry IX. It is not the perception of the Americans which justifies their actions but the actual circumstances surrounding the legitimacy of the holder of the crown, even if they themselves were unaware of those circumstances. As to anti-Catholicism, it is indeed true that there were anti-Catholics in the American government and in the populace who supported the rebellion, but it must not be forgotten that the Papist Act of George III included oath for Catholics to take denying key doctrines of the Church, and that the only official protest of the Quebec Act makes no mention of Catholicism but condemns it "For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies." (Further there were objections to territory being given to Quebec which had by law and charter been granted to Pennsylvania and New York.) Both Charles Carroll and Bishop John Carroll were highly regarded by Pope Pius VI who recognized the American Government and condemned the French Revolution. Further, the Catholic Kings of Spain and France recognized the American Government and supported it against George III, and one of the greatest heroes of the Chouannerie, Charles Armand Tuffin marquis de la Rouërie, was a great friend of Washington and soldier in the American War, before giving his life in defense of his King and Duke (Charles Tuffin was a Breton, and thus his sovereign was the King of France as Duke of Brittany). Regarding the word "Americanism" the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae explicitly identifies it as a purely theological heresy, even going to so far as to say: "But if by this name are to be understood certain endowments of mind which belong to the American people, just as other characteristics belong to various other nations, and if, moreover, by it is designated your political condition and the laws and customs by which you are governed, there is no reason to take exception to the name."

It may seem strange that I am defending the origin of a country so far from the Empire as America, but I consider myself merely following in the footsteps of my inspiration the great Catholic Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in defending an adopted fatherland against misconceptions prevalent in traditional Catholic circles. Then too, many of the great Restorationists preceding myself either came to or from America, and many considered themselves patriots of a country which begin not in a revolution but in a legitimate rebellion. I do not think I can convince you, but I can give a convincing argument in its defense. May God bless you and I will continued to look forward to your writings.

Tribunus said...

Dear Habsburg Restorationist,

I respond again.

Points 1 & 2: George III's alliance with Frederick II may be relevant to his position as Prince-Elector of Hanover but it is totally irrelevant to his legitimacy as King of Britain.

Dr. Hans Karl von von Zeßner-Spitzenberg did not (and would not) teach that the legitimacy of the descendants of a usurper are forever contingent upon the extinction of legitimate claimants, indefinitely into the future since he would know that this would be the end of all kingship and government since claimants could claim hundreds of years later, when objections had long since subsided.

That is a recipe for endless revolution, a point of view which one does not expect from a Habsburg loyalist!

Both St Robert Bellarmine and St Thomas Aquinas teach that time, and the absence of serious opposition, legitimates the usurper.

As you say, Pope Leo XIII, a great Thomist, taught the same.

You claim that “this new legitimacy comes from such emergency power only when the old Authorities and their rightfully appointed successors are not only removed from power, but no longer actually exist".

St Robert, St Thomas and Pope Leo teach the exact opposite and for the reasons I said i.e. that if, as on your argument, a claim could be maintained 300 years later, with no serious objection in the interim, no government would ever be safe and secure and the laws of all governments permanently open to question.

Your emergency curator theory is correct so long as there is a realistic possibility of restoring the legitimate authority. After it becomes disproportionate to restore the legitimate authority, then it would be a very serious sin to attempt it. This is a primary precept on just war of both St Thomas and St Augustine, among other Doctors of the Church.

The government of George III did not set itself in opposition to the return of the Stuarts since there was, by then, no serious plan to restore the Stuarts.

Moreover, as I told you, but you conveniently ignore, the Pope had already recognised the legitimacy of King George III and his government.

Points 3 and 5: your arguments are again wholly fallacious, indeed to the point of being almost laughable.

Far from the British government contravening its own laws (evidence of which you provide not a tiny skerrick), it was the American rebels who were breaching the law and that in the most serious way imaginable i.e. by treason to the Crown.

However, even if, and you provide not a skerrrick of proof, the British government were acting illegally, it is not for its inferiors to sit in ad hoc, private judgment against the leaders of the government, in the way you suggest.

Appeal should be made to the courts or higher authority. This was not even contemplated for one second since the aim of the American rebels was not redress of grievance, it was revolution, pure and simple, and for entirely selfish reasons: they wanted to keep their slaves and the slave trade and they wanted to maintain their tea, and other, monopolies.

It is thus ridiculous to say that American officials could absolve themselves form their oaths to the Crown. If that were so, no government would ever be safe.

Tribunus said...

As to nomenclature, what you call a rebellion matters not. It is the facts that matter.

The fact is that the American rebels raised an illegal and immoral rebellion and sinned very grievously in so doing. They were traitors who deserved defeat, trial and, upon a guilty verdict, execution or a lengthy prison term.

When you consider their anti-Catholic, anti-Christian opinions, they particularly deserve censure and, if they did not repent before their deaths, can be safely assumed to have gone to Hell where the first revolutionary, Satan, originally declared “non serviam” – “I shall not serve”.

Legitimate uprisings consist in restorations of the legitimate government in circumstances where the government seeks restoration and it is proportionately possible to be successful.

If any of those elements are missing, then such an uprising becomes a rebellion or a sedition, not a restoration.

Thus the Jacobite uprising was a legitimate attempted restoration, ordered by the true King, as were the Hofer, Vendean and Chouan uprisings.

The American rebellion was not.

It had zero authority - in law, in morality, in justice and in fact.

It was truly called a rebellion and was immoral, illegal and unjust.

As Dr Johnson so aptly put it when describing the American rebels: “why is that the yelps for liberty come loudest from the drivers of slaves?”.


Tribunus said...

Points 4 and remainder point 5: I have already answered your argument here. In sum:

- King George III usurps no power. It was the Revolutionaries of 1688 that did that, nearly 100 years earlier. By the reign of George III, there was no serious opposition (there being more serious seditions now in place elsewhere) and the Pope had already recognised him;
- To suggest that the American rebels were interested in restoring the Stuarts has but to be stated for its absurdity to be instantly manifest. They wanted the very opposite: a new, anti-Catholic, republican government, in stark opposition to the legitimate authorities reigning in Christendom. Indeed, they hated and opposed the whole idea of Christendom!
- There were not merely “anti-Catholics in the American government and in the populace who supported the rebellion” but the entire leadership of the American rebellion (save the Modernist Carroll) were anti-Catholic and most were anti-Christian, being Deists, Unitarians and Freemasons.
- Your characterisation of the Papist Act 1778 is entirely backwards. It was, in fact, a Catholic relief act of King George’s government and entitled “AN ACT FOR THE RELIEF OF HIS MAJESTY'S SUBJECTS PROFESSING THE POPISH RELIGION”. It required, in swearing any oath to the Crown (which was not obligatory) to promise allegiance to the king and his successors, to repudiate that it was lawful to murder heretics, that sovereigns excommunicated by the pope could be deposed or murdered by their subjects, and "that the pope of Rome, or any other foreign prince, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority or pre-eminence, directly or indirectly within this realm". Only the latter quote could trouble the conscience of Catholics (and then only as regards the indirect power of the Pope) but it could nevertheless be interpreted in a benevolent manner allowing the taking of the oath. Most important, it was a vast improvement on previous acts which were for the suppressing of Catholicism. Thus to criticise this Act is to fail to understand the history of the Penal laws.
- You are wrong about the Quebec Act. It is clear from the writings of the rebels that they objected to it because it established Catholicism in Quebec and they hated Catholicism. The language you cite is precisely the sort of double-speak that anti-Catholics used when attacking the Catholic Church and Catholic rulers. The Penal Laws of England are full of such euphemisms. But the private writings of the rebels makes it abundantly clear what they really thought. They hated true and orthodox Catholicism and that is why they hated the Quebec Act.
- The transfer of land to Quebec was entirely legal and within the government’s right. If it was thought not then the proper place to challenge it was in court, not by rebellion.
- Pius VI had no choice but to appoint Carroll bishop of Baltimore since he was the only man the rebels would allow to be bishop and allow practice of the Catholic religion. To suggest this makes him “highly regarded” is another comment bordering upon the laughable. It is notorious that Pope Pius VI was himself in a deeply weakened position. French troops commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the papal troops and occupied the Papal States in 1796. In 1798, upon his refusal to renounce his temporal power, Pius was taken prisoner and transported to France by the rebel Bonaparte. He died one year later in Valence, still imprisoned.
- Further, the reason that the Catholic Kings of Spain and France recognised the American Government was because they were at war with Britain and needed allies. It was a purely political decision. They both lived to regret it since they, too, suffered revolutions not long after.


Tribunus said...


- The Marquis de la Rouërie is but one man and is hardly the last word on Catholic teaching and the public law of the Church. He was also a highly eccentric individual. His impetuous temperament led to a stormy, riotous and rebellious youth, in and around the French royal court, serving as an officer in the gardes françaises. Infatuated with an actress (Mademoiselle Fleury born 1766), he was thwarted in his intention of marrying her and met his rival, the Count of Bourbon-Busset, in a duel, but duels were condemned by the Church and the King. He thus fell into disgrace with the King and the Church, was ejected from the gardes, took poison, attempting self-murder. However, his friends met him there and prevented his suicide. He was, at that time, no real Catholic. Indeed, he was a revolutionary, strongly supported the very first revolutionary act which was of the Breton Estates (and went as one of the “angry” deputies), resigning his commission. He was committed to the Bastille as a rebel. He welcomed the Revolution but later changed his mind when the Breton nobility meekly capitulated to the Third Estate. He then became an enemy of the Revolution. Far too many French nobles, bitten by the disease of Modernism and Freemasonry, had courted the Revolution only to find themselves eaten up by it, opposing it far, far, far too late. De la Rouërie was but one of far too many. Your choice of him thus proves my case, not your own.
- The encyclical Testem Benevolentiae certainly does explicitly identify “Americanism” as a theological heresy, for such it certainly is. Moreover, it clearly emanates from the Revolution, as is made clear. But no-one is criticising the American people, as a people, since only a tiny number made up the initiating rebels. What you cite by no means represents an approval of the Revolution. Far from it. By the time of the encyclical, the American government had gained legitimacy since there was no effective opposition to it and the British government had long since recognised it. As I said to you earlier, the American government became legitimate just as the government of King George III did. You can’t recognise one but not the other. Your arguments are thus self-defeating.


Tribunus said...


Finally, I can certainly assure you that the late, great Catholic Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, in defending an adopted fatherland against misconceptions prevalent in traditional Catholic circles, never, for one moment, endorsed, approved or supported the acts of the American rebels, any more than he did the rebels of the French Revolution. He was always an anti-revolutionary. Unfortunately, his Catholicism was a little watery since he rejected the Church's infallible teaching in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

You do not give a successful defence of the American rebellion, let alone a convincing one. Your arguments are, with respect, and I am sorry to say, entirely flawed and rebutted.

If you wish to persuade me, or any rational person, you need convincing and fact-based arguments. Thus far you have provided none.

Therefore you cannot be surprised that neither I, nor any rational person, is convinced.

America has had a legitimate government, arguably since the Treaty of Paris 1783, when the British government signed a treaty recognising it. This is why Pope Pius VI, on 26 November 1784, established the Apostolic Prefecture of the United States. Likewise, the Anglican Episcopal church established an Episcopal bishopric in 1783.

This was no endorsement of the original rebellion. On the contrary.

Thus your claim that the rebellion had anything to do with the Stuarts, and was the reason for the rebels challenging the illegitimacy of the Hanoverians, fails utterly.

If you were right, the American government would not have negotiated with the government of King George III.

In fact, they did so and even refer to him in the treaty document as King of Great Britain and Ireland, Prince-Elector of Hanover and all his other claimed titles. They clearly recognised him as the true monarch of Great Britain, not the Stuarts.

Thus the American rebellion was an immoral, illegal and unjust rebellion by a Freemasonic, Deist-Unitarian, anti-Catholic, slave-owning and treasonous oligarchy bent on their own selfish motives.

The legitimacy of the American republic does not begin until 1783, at the Treaty of Paris.

The rebellion itself was never legitimate but treasonous, illegal and immoral.

It is that simple.

Unknown said...

The words I give from Dr. Hans Karl von von Zeßner-Spitzenberg (“Did not Pope Leo XIII declare... It is therefore merely legal.") are a direct quote, not a theory of my own, you can find them in Legitimität und Legalität.

As for Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn rejecting the Church's infallible teaching in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, I had never heard this claimed nor read any of his writing that suggest this. Could you please provide me with a source? I have provided quotations for my arguments (although I neglected one for Kuehnelt-Leddihn: "And yet it is undoubtedly the American War of Independence (which was not a revolution!) that provided the main psychological momentum for the French Revolution. Of course there were also other intellectual and political currents contributing to the French Revolution. First of all, there was the "example" of England, frequently and tirelessly cited by Voltaire, who owed so much to this northern neighbor of France." Leftism pg 59.) Also I am well aware of the Marquis de la Rouërie's failing but their can be no doubt that he was no revolutionary and that he died a heroic death. The accusation that he welcomed the Revolution appears to spurious, the Breton Association's founding principle was that " the King to put the state to strengthen the foundations of the monarchy, and return the happiness of its people, the exercise of authority tempered by laws, and restore the true French Constitution, which can easily be reconciled with a reasonable freedom." "The purpose of the association is to contribute primarily to the most peaceful return of the monarchy, the salvation of the rights of the province, the properties and honor."

My defense of the American War is perhaps neither successful nor convincing to those of a certain political philosophy, but you have countered it not with direct facts, but rather with interpretations of supposed facts. For instance the claim that John Carroll was a Modernist is not only anachronistic, but you have provided no reasons for the claim other than that he supported what you consider an "immoral rebellion". You claim that an act requiring Catholics to take an oath denying a fundamental part of Church teaching (which George III himself for the most part opposed as too lenient) as benevolent relief seems very strange considering your convictions. Would you accept a similar statement from the late Emperor Joseph II?

In any case feel free not to respond to this, if you would only provide me the source for your statement about Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. May God bless you.

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

What an excellent article! Thank you for it. I would like to share it on my blog, with proper attribution and links to yours here, of course. Please let me know if you object.

Tribunus said...

Your latest post merely re-hashes your earlier errors which have already been rebutted. They do not improve with repetition.

Dr Hans Karl von Zeßner-Spitzenberg is not a Doctor of the Church, still less a Pope and is not even a theologian of any great note. Even so, he does not concur with the false case that you make out.
He does not contradict the argument that, when the rightful authorities are no longer available, new powers may be established i.e. to preserve good government.

That is precisely what happened in the time of King George III. Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart, Duke of York and de jure King Henry IX, ceased to press the Stuart claim and made peace with King George, the latter giving him a pension. Thereafter, no Stuart claimant pressed their claim and they do not do so to this day.

End of your bogus “case”.

Thus “the rightful Authorities” were not “merely hindered and incapacitated” but were not pressing their claim at all.

As for Ritter Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn rejecting the Church's infallible teaching in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, he said so personally to my wife, ipse dixit, but I have only the word of my wife to that effect. If you can prove her wrong, that would be good.

Your latest quote from the good Ritter goes no way to proving your case. Whether one calls it a revolution (and, let’s face it, all Americans do) it was an immoral rebellion and, as Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn himself admits, it provided the “main psychological momentum for the French Revolution” which, not least in in his mouth, is a sure and certain condemnation of it!

With respect, you are simply clutching desperately at straws.

You are also wrong about the Marquis de la Rouërie. For much of his life he was indeed a revolutionary. He was a supporter of the Breton Estates’ rebellion which started the whole French Revolution. It is good that he later changed his mind but that hardly makes him the last word on the subject. More straw-clutching, I’m afraid.

Your defence of the American Revolution is neither successful nor convincing – period – regardless of political philosophy.

I have certainly rebutted your case and I have done so with facts, history and reason. The conclusion is inescapable.

It is YOU who attempt to wrest a false meaning out of the facts that the facts simply will not sustain.

It is, and was, a notorious fact that the Carrolls were proto-Modernists and children of the Enlightenment as much as of the Church. You live in a naive twilight if you are unaware of this. That is why they were was popular with the American rebels – they essentially shared their views, whilst purporting to remain Catholic. John Carroll was little different.

The claim is also very far from “anachronistic” since the views of Enlightenment Catholics were the very basis for the later Modernist movement, as you would know if you had studied it.

Tribunus said...

I have already rebutted your views on the Papist Act and, once again, they do not improve with repetition.

Do I have to keep repeating myself before you pay attention?

Your characterisation of the Papist Act 1778 is entirely backwards. It was, in fact, a Catholic relief Act of King George’s government and entitled “AN ACT FOR THE RELIEF OF HIS MAJESTY'S SUBJECTS PROFESSING THE POPISH RELIGION”.

It required, in swearing any oath to the Crown (which was not obligatory) to promise allegiance to the King and his successors, to repudiate that it was lawful to murder heretics, that sovereigns excommunicated by the pope could be deposed or murdered by their subjects, and "that the pope of Rome, or any other foreign prince, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority or pre-eminence, directly or indirectly within this realm". No Catholic need object to such an oath, contrary to the entirely false impression you give that they were being asked to deny “a fundamental part of Church teaching”.

What fundamental part?

None. Simple.

Your claim is unsustainable.

Moreover, this was a vast improvement on previous Penal Laws, such as that which made it treason just to be a Catholic priest, punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering.

Your case on this point is unsustainable.

The American Revolution was an unjust, immoral, selfish, treacherous, traitorous rebellion by rich, slave-owning, anti-Catholic Freemasons who wanted to enrich themselves further by driving slaves, maintaining their monopolies and exploiting the poor, the natives and the blacks.

They were a parcel of self-seeking political rogues and, for the most part, bigoted anti-Catholics to boot.

Their bad example was then followed in France with disastrous consequences for the whole world from which we are still suffering.

Tribunus said...

Dear Jovan-Marya Weismiller,

Please feel free to use this article with attribution.

I am glad you liked it!

Anonymous said...

"Most were Freemasons, Deists and Unitarians, if not outright unbelievers. "

Is there a source for this claim? Certainly, some were hardly Christian (Thomas Jefferson springs to mind especially), but this is the first I have heard that "most" (i.e. more than half) of them were not.