The Catholic origins of Democracy

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It looks like there is a strong case for the Catholic origins of modern democracy.  Modern democracy can be traced back to Catholic roots, and was not the product of the reformation.  There is convincing evidence that Thomas Jefferson, , knew of the political teachings of Robert Bellarmine, a Catholic Cardinal.  Even before Bellarmine, a Jesuit, Thomas Aquinas taught the idea.

Furthermore, the American Declaration of Independence may have been drawn up with Cardinal Bellarmine’s teachings in mind.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

Ironic, considering the views of many fundamentalists regarding Jesuits.

Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence by Fr John Rager has the following to say:

The principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence are identically the political thought and theory predominant and traditional among representative Catholic churchmen of the time. It would appear that the framers of this great document drew inspiration, encouragement, and political ideals from Catholic sources. Father Rager shows goes further in showing that democracy is not a discovery of modern political thought, but rather has its roots in ancient and medieval theories of government. In fact the ancient Church, which is often depicted as retarding modern enlightenment, liberty, and democracy, was the very agency which produced the great protagonists of democracy in the period of its greatest danger.

Democracy then is not a discovery of modern political thought. Its sources are to be sought in ancient and medieval theories of government. Christianity injected something into the governments of nations that worked for democracy, that emphasized the natural equality and liberty of men. We can think of real Christianity only as democratic, never as aristocratic or autocratic. The Middle Ages were democratic and the Middle Ages were Catholic. Western civilized Europe was Catholic for a round thousand years. The doctrine of St. Thomas, as just quoted, gives eloquent testimony of the democratic political thought representative of that age.

The question might be asked: Why was it at all necessary for men in the eighteenth century to make such emphatic declarations of democratic rights? The answer is: Because the two preceding centuries had fairly destroyed the ancient rights of the people and the medieval democratic principle of government by popular consent. In its place there was elaborated at that time the new theory of the “Divine Right of Kings” which enthroned royal autocracy and absolute monarchy.

A Protestant concept, that.

Modern democracy is often asserted to be the child of the Reformation. Nothing is farther from the truth. Robert Filmer, private theologian of James I of England, in his theory of Divine right, proclaimed, “The king can do no wrong. The most sacred order of kings is of Divine right.” John Neville Figgis, who seems little inclined to give Catholicism undue credit, makes the following assertions. “Luther based royal authority upon Divine right with practically no reservation” (“Gerson to Grotius,” p. 61). “That to the Reformation was in some sort due the prevalence of the notion of the Divine Right of Kings is generally admitted.” (“Divine Right of Kings,” p. 15).

“Luther denied any limitation of political power either by Pope or people, nor can it be said that he showed any sympathy for representative institutions; he upheld the inalienable and Divine authority of kings in order to hew down the Upas tree of Rome.” “There had been elaborated at this time a theory of unlimited jurisdiction of the crown and of non-resistance upon any pretense” (“Cambridge Modern History,” Vol III, p. 739). “Wycliffe would not allow that the king be subject to positive law” (“Divine Right of Kings,” p. 69). Lord Acton wrote: “Lutheran writers constantly condemn the democratic literature that arose in the second age of the Reformation.”…”Calvin judged that the people were unfit to govern themselves, and declared the popular assembly an abuse” (“History of Freedom,” p. 42).

Odd, that the reformers did away with the people’s right to govern themselves, yet their teaching resulted in the people interpreting the Bible according to their own whims and fancies.  I suppose that when your true rights are removed, you assert rights you don’t even have.  It’s a normal reaction.  Instead of the successors of the Apostles, appointed by God to lead the faith, as we see in the New Testament, Protestantism became a religion “of the people, for the people, by the people,” because government had been removed from their power and turned into an autocracy run by a king claiming to be appointed by God.  Even today, at least nominally, the Church of England is headed by the British Monarch.

Protestantism turned reality on its head.  It is the faith once delivered that is not up for vote, not to be determined “by the people.”

There exist “sufficient reasons to believe that the framers of the Declaration of Independence drew inspiration and political ideals of democracy from the political doctrines of Cardinal Bellarmine, whose writings were well known and discussed on both sides of the Atlantic.

… the American Declaration, which was so admirable and dignified an expression of the American mind is at the same time an accurate expression of the Catholic mind, medieval and modern.

There is, however, this comment that follows in the same paragraph:

This statement does not wish to infer that the American Declaration is not an expression as well of the non-Catholic American mind.

The article concludes:

With this identity of American and Catholic political principle established, and with plausible evidence of most probable contact of the formulator of our American Declaration with prominent Catholic sources of democratic theory, why should it be taken from the Catholic American citizen proudly to claim identity and uniformity of political thought with that of his fellow-citizen, and why should he not rejoice in the belief that his co-religionist forebears have taken actual part in the laying of that political foundation upon which rests, today, the greatest, happiest and most prosperous nation in the world?

Traditionally, America is seen by some as being a Protestant nation founded by Protestants on Protestant principles.  It seems that Catholic principles are just that – catholic, universal, and were seen by the founders of the USA to be worth incorporating into their own government.

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