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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Father Rutler: Extremism

Father George W. Rutler
The foundational documents of our nation were influenced by Catholic political philosophers such as Aquinas, Suárez, Báñez, Gregory of Valencia and Saint Robert Bellarmine, who wrote before theorists like Hobbes and Rousseau. This contradicts a popular impression that democracy was the invention of the Protestant Reformation. Luther and Calvin considered popular assemblies highly suspect. The concept of the Divine Right of Kings, which was a prelude to what we call “statism” and “big government,” was systematized by the Protestant counselor to King James I of England, Robert Filmer.
For all his vague Deism, Thomas Jefferson might have acknowledged those Catholic sources, if obliquely, in his eloquent phrases. The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion and Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests for public office were developments rooted in the Thomistic outlines of human rights and dignity declared in the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbraoth.
This was lost on some senators who have violated Constitutional guarantees by subjecting judicial nominees to religious tests. One senator complained to a Catholic nominee for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Two other senators said that the President’s nominee for a federal district court in Nebraska was unsuitable because his membership in the Knights of Columbus committed him to “a number of extreme positions.” Members of their political party consider opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion “extreme.” This would characterize the Pope as an extremist, but at least he is not a judicial nominee.
In the Statuary Hall of our nation’s Capitol are sculptures portraying heroes who represent the best of the history and culture of each state. They include Saint Junípero Serra of California, Saint Damien de Veuster of Hawaii, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Maryland, Father Eusebio Kino of Arizona, General James Shields of Illinois, Chief Justice Edward Douglass White of Louisiana, Father Jacques Marquette of Wisconsin, Patrick McCarran of Nevada, Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, John Burke of North Dakota, John McLoughlin of Oregon, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart Pariseau of Washington, and John Edward Kenna of West Virginia, all of whom were Catholic. These canonized saints, statesmen, soldiers, jurists and pioneers would be extremists unworthy of public office in the estimation of some current senators for whom subscription to natural law and obedience to the Ten Commandments are violations of what they fantasize as the norm of moral being.
The coruscating illiteracy of such senators burlesques reason. At every performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, audiences wait for the fifth scene of the second act, when the haunting statue of the Commendatore comes alive and knocks on the door to the sound of trombones. Would that all those statues of some of our nation’s greatest figures might come down from their pedestals and challenge the vacant minds of those inquisitorial senators to explain what constitutes extremism.


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