By- Guenter Lewy

"Guenter Lewy left his native Germany as a boy of fifteen in 1939, emigrated to Palestine and then to the United States. He has since taught at Columbia University and Smith College, and is now Associate Professor of Government at the University of Massachusetts McGraw-Hill Book Company New York London Sydney Toronto Copyright 1964 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS No. 64-21072

Chapter 12 [final chapter]

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...... Counter Reformation, such as Suarez and Mariana, taught the legitimacy of resisting tyranny, including the right of killing a tyrant who had usurped the reigns of government. During these centuries of struggle between 'imperium' and 'sacerdotium' the doctrines of popular sovereignty and the right of resistance to tyranny were useful tools-to both of the contending parties; the papacy repeatedly absolved subjects from allegiance to heretical rulers, and tyrannicide resolved many a problem in the religious strife of the Reformation.

But these doctrines were forgotten in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries after the ideas of the Enlightenment and revolutionary anti-clerical forces had attacked the privileges of the Church on many fronts, and absolute monarchies provided the only source of protection.

The encyclical letters of Popes Gregory XVI [1831-1846] and the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX [1864] therefore resolutely condemned any acts of rebellion. Even Leo XIII still castigated revolutionary violence, no matter how great the provocation: And if at any time it happen that the power of the state is rashly and tyrannically wielded by Princes, the teaching of the Catholic Church does not allow an insurrection on private authority against them, lest public order be only the more disturbed, and lest society take greater hurt therefrom. And when affairs come to such a pass that there is no other hope of safety, she teaches that relief may be hastened by the merits of Christian patience and by earnest prayers to God."

When in the twentieth century revolutionary movements appeared on the scene which were friendly to the Church, Catholic teaching once more returned to an acceptance of resistance and revolt under certain circumstances. In 1925 Charles Maurras, the leader of the 'Action Francaise', was tried for having threatened the life of the French Minister of the Interior. Jacques Maritain, then a professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris, testified as a defense witness and argued the thesis "that Maurras' threat must be taken as the extreme measure of legitimate defense of social order."19 The Mexican bishops in 1927, as already mentioned, supported the revolt of the 'Cristeros'. And in 1937, against the background of the Spanish Civil War, in which most members of the Spanish hierarchy sided with the rebel, General Franco, Pope Pius XI drew a distinction


between just and unjust insurrections. He upheld "recourse to force" as an act of "self-defense" against those dragging a nation to ruin, with the qualification that the means used might not be intrinsically evil and "bring greater harm to the community than the harm they were intended to remedy."20

The possibility of success appears to be one of the factors determining the Church's attitude to rebellions. She wants to be on the winning side. This desire is reflected in her recognition of 'de facto' governments, even if established through a coup d'etat. The acceptance of such regimes, taught Leo XIII, "is not only permissible, but even obligatory, being imposed by the need of the social good.... This is all the more imperative because an insurrection stirs up hatred among citizens, provokes civil war and may throw a nation into chaos and anarchy...."21 Once a regime has demonstrated its ability to remain in power, the Church will come to terms with it in order to restore the possibility of orderly worship, just as she will try to work with a government that is strongly entrenched in power, even if tyrannical.

This realistic acceptance of the political facts of life can, of course, be justified not only by criteria of statecraft, but also on moral grounds. Peace and order are an unquestionable good, and the shedding of blood in an insurrection without chance of success might be considered criminal. But such realism not only makes right the consequence of might; it means, in effect, that the Church in most cases can offer no guidance to her followers on whether they may or may not attempt to overthrow a tyrannical regime. Revolutionary groups can rarely know in advance whether their rebellion will succeed or merely aggravate suffering. Yet, should an attempt to depose a hated tyranny be foregone for that reason ? Even in cases where failure is almost sure, rebellion may represent an act of moral protest of the greatest importance. "We must prove to the world and to future generations," declared Major-General Henning von Tresckow in June 1944, "that the men of the German resistance dared to take the decisive step and to hazard their lives upon it. Compared with this object, nothing else matters."22 Should one deny the moral greatness and heroism of such a man, who is willing to stake his life upon the cleansing of his nation's name ?

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..... Catholic theologians today are divided on the question of active resistance, and Papal teaching is insufficiently clear. Pius XI rejected the use of evil means in any recourse to force without indicating what constitutes "evil means." Some theologians distinguish between the killing and the murder of a tyrant, while others would limit the legitimacy of tyrannicide to cases involving usurpers of political power.23

Recently a French officer, charged with the submachine gun ambush of General De Gaulle in August 1962, defended himself by saying that he had committed an act of tyrannicide, which the Church had approved in certain periods of her history. The French hierarchy promptly disassociated herself from this argument. The Church, an official communique explained, denies that it is ever permissible to "put at the service of a cause, even a good one, means that are intrinsically evil."24 Does this mean that the attempt upon Hitler's life on July 20, 1944, was illicit? Does not such an absolute prohibition of recourse to evil means often lead to consequences that magnify evil ? Why is the life of a Hitler more to be preserved than that of the countless innocent victims who might have been saved by the timely killing of such a tyrant?

The ambiguity of the Church's position on the legitimacy of resistance to constituted authority is of considerable advantage, for with it she can sail a flexible course adaptable to the ebb and flow of the tides of circumstances. But such cautious helmsmanship, such waiting on the sidelines of history, leaves the individual Catholic burdened with a decision in the making of which he should have moral guidance from his Church. Often, moreover, his bishops will seek to conform his thinking to what they consider the long-range interests of the Church, and these interests may or may not coincide with those of the people involved. During the time of the Algerian rebellion the French episcopate could not agree upon a common evaluation of the insurrection.

The Church's political doctrine, in line with the scriptural injunctions to obey the powers that be, grants the presumption of


.... legitimacy to all types of government provided they are firmly in possession of power. The decision on whether and how far to oppose a regime that is or becomes tyrannical will be made by the episcopate of that country primarily in terms of that state's attitude to the rights of religion. If the Church, as in Fascist Italy and essentially also in Nazi Germany, is allowed to pursue her pastoral mission, the bishops will exhort their followers to render willing obedience to the State. But if the Church's rights are assaulted, as happened in Mexico between 1917 and 1936 and in Spain under the republican regime at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, if churches are burnt and priests killed, the Church will support even an insurrection, provided the rebels promise to protect her interests and seem to have a chance to prevail against the legitimate government.

3. The Moral Dimension of Politics

The German Swiss theologian, Hans Kung, has noted that "the Church, being of men, is forever under the temptation to make herself at home in the world, to regard her worldly successes as the coming of the Kingdom of God, to be intent only on making herself secure and powerful and free from opposition and persecution."26

Here, indeed, is the fundamental dilemma. The Church is in the world to preach the word of God, to continue the work of Christ irrespective of cost, to be a moral force. But the Church also is an institution interested in self-preservation, extension of influence and the enhancement of her mission as organ of salvation.

To use the sociological categories of Ernst Troeltsch, Catholicism is a church rather than a sect. It is an example of "that type of organization which is overwhelmingly conservative,.... becomes an integral part of the existing social order,.... [and which knows to attain her end] by a process of adaptation and compromise."27 The Catholic Church, as a church, has usually been unable to separate her ideal aims from her interest in survival and she has often found her own gospel a liability rather than a source of strength. She has therefore from time to time retreated behind the cloister walls, and instead of being the salt of the earth has become a force tragically upholding injustice and tyranny.