Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Uncle Tom’s Catholics

“By Their Perks You Will Know Them”

(The Remnant, April 30, 2006)

Holy Week burst into my household this year along with an e-mail from a pro-life organization eager to pass on news of electrifying religious import. Leaders of both Church and State, I was joyfully informed, had jointly preached a Crusade against moral relativism at the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Their words had stirred the numerous, battle-scarred militants attending the gathering to still more vigorous efforts to overcome this wicked adversary and its nefarious works. The ultimate goal of the e-mail was to urge me to take up my Cross and join the already existing regiment of faith-driven activists in its next and perhaps decisive offensive. There was only one significant point missing from the recruitment message: the fact that the unit which I was summoned to enter was a battalion of slaves; a company that ought to bear the name of Uncle Tom’s Catholics.

In rejecting this exuberant electronic offer to enlist, I by no means wish to disparage its approval both of Crusading as well as the cooperative labors of Church and State. The first enterprise is a noble one, the second pursuit an absolute necessity. Neither do I mean to call the good will of the militants leading the recruitment drive into question. My purpose is to lament their judgment; to insist that they are beating their war drums in an inappropriate way; to warn them that they have been fooled into slavish subservience to anti-Catholic principles while seeking to achieve their laudable pro-life goal, with the entire undertaking, good and bad, presented as an indivisible, unquestionably sacred venture.

I need to begin by noting that Uncle Tom’s Catholics is a very old regiment indeed, already enlisting soldiers in the first days of the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire nearly seventeen hundred years ago. It emerged once the powerful understood how support for the Faith could aid in the justification and maintenance of their own positions and wealth, and otherwise powerless Church leaders and missionaries learned that connection with the mighty was of the greatest value in the work of Christianization.

Now cooperation of the powerful and the powerless does not inevitably have to produce religious slavishness. Given an openness to real conversion on the side of the rulers, and a combination of a prudent realism with steadfastness in the Faith on the part of the helpless Christian, mutually advantageous results can and often were achieved. But where these necessary pre-conditions to cooperation have been lacking, or where they have slackened miserably over time, the servile consequences have been horrendous. State support for Christianity has then led to the subversion of true religion and the elaboration of a doctrinal and moral revisionism useful primarily to the attainment of secular goals. Church reliance upon the backing of the powerful at that point has become nothing other than the lazy Catholic’s “easy way out”. It has reflected a satisfaction with the outward pomp and mere appearance of a Christendom which has abandoned the immensely harder work required for a truly substantive transformation in Christ. Such circumstances have favored the unseemly career-building of Uncle Tom popes, Uncle Tom bishops, Uncle Tom abbots and Uncle Tom priests, all of whom shape an Uncle Tom laity. They have encouraged a social-climbing, perk-seeking, and often outrightly cynical Christian population which grasps the truth that its stale bread is buttered on its secular side; which sees that its Master’s will has to be baptized as eminently Catholic in order for even this insipid morsel to be swallowed in peace and quiet.

An instructive example of the problems accompanying the interaction of the powerful and the powerless is offered by the experience of potentates and priests working to build medieval Christendom under the Merovingian and Carolingian Kings and Mayors of the Palace in Gaul from the Sixth through the Ninth Centuries. Many of the leaders of these two dynasties were honestly committed to sponsoring the Catholic cause. Some were not. Both the pious and the impious alike, however, were faced with the temptation to make an exact equation between the progress of the Christian message and the extension of Frankish borders and the satisfaction of the political and financial needs of the ruler and his nobles. Hence the combination of solid support for the Church with the confiscation or misdirection of ecclesiastical property for military purposes, the appointment of unworthy but politically influential men to key bishoprics, the campaigns of forced baptism, and the imposition of tithes upon those forcibly converted before they even were taught what their new Faith was all about.

What should a Catholic do under these circumstances? The extensive correspondence of St. Boniface (c. 672/680-754), Apostle to the Germans, (all of it available through the Internet) gives us a pretty sound indication of the proper line to take. His realization of the dependence of the weak Christian missions upon the aid of the Frankish State was clearly outlined in his letter to Grifo, a son and possible successor to Charles Martel, in 741. Here he asked “that in the event of your coming to power you will help the clerics, priests, monks, nuns and all the servants of God in Thuringia, and that you will protect the Christians from the hostility of the heathens, so that they may not be destroyed by them.” (R. Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversions, U. of California, 1999, p. 236) St. Boniface was also well aware, as his close friend and confidant, Bishop Daniel of Winchester, had taught him, that pagan man was truly impressed by power and riches, and that mobilizing both to aid the cause of the Truth could even win their minds and hearts (Ibid., pp. 242-243).

Nevertheless, knowing as he did the worldly temptations indulged at the Frankish court, the venality of its bishops, and the rapacity of its nobles, the Apostle to the Germans was disgusted by the corruption that his prudent, realistic working with the system could easily seem to condone. He burned with passionate desire to end this cause for scandal. In consequence, St. Boniface exploited every opportunity he could find to change the “structures of sin” of the Frankish Kingdom and the mentality of his frightening and often perverse guardians. Hence his fight to enlist the two sons who did take up Martel’s legacy—Carloman (Mayor of the Palace in Austrasia, the eastern section of the Frankish realm) and Pippin (the Mayor in Neustria, the western area)—to push through drastic Church and social reforms. These were decreed at the First Germanic Council of 742 (site unknown), and at follow up synods at Leptine and Soissons in the next year. St. Boniface’s crusading spirit earned him the undying hatred of many degenerate prelates and layman. Courageous Catholic that he was, he could care less. What else could he possibly do?

Perhaps what Uncle Tom’s Catholics do under the same circumstances? They also accept the help of the State, do what prudence demands in order to obtain it, and seem, precisely as St. Boniface worried, to condone the doctrinal and moral abuses that accompany the successes they may win. Unlike him, however, they never dare to rock the boat in such a way as ever to correct the flaws of the system. After all, their Masters might be too upset by the uppity-ness reflected by such critical behavior! And as any glance at the careers of corrupt prelates immediately indicated, there were so many earthly perks to be gained by encouraging “business as usual” anyway.

Alas, the situation in the Frankish Kingdom, after a noticeable improvement, veered far away from the model the courageous St. Boniface had laid out for it by the second half of the Ninth Century. Circumstances more and more favored the manipulation of the Church by the powerful, and encouraged the careers of clergy and laity who acquiesced in such exploitation. As time went on, and the unjust dominance of the “Throne” over the “Altar” went unquestioned, Uncle Tom’s Catholics passed beyond merely thinking themselves prudent in their acceptance of what they might recognize to be a corrupt reality. They actually began to view this aberrant situation as a positive norm. The bending of the Church under the yoke of powerful rulers who proclaimed themselves to be her “friends” was seen as the sole, age-old, apostolic path to the creation of a peaceful Christian Order. In other words, good willed Catholic soldiers in the slave brigade fell prey to the Stockholm Syndrome in a big, big way.

It was for this reason that the reform movement pursued by the monks of Cluny and popes like St. Gregory VII (1073-1085) found it to be so difficult to assert the rightful independence of the Church, teach the need for a transformation of all men and institutions in Christ that might sometimes conflict with the wishes of her powerful “friends”, and enlighten the faithful to the fact that they had swelled the ranks of Uncle Tom’s Catholics. A cooperation of the powerless with the powerful which involved unquestioning subservience of the Altar to the Throne, was, they often fruitlessly cried out, a fraudulent abuse which had become a “custom”. This custom was then treated as a truth and a good, its long-lasting character being cited as proof positive of its holiness. This was a terrible mistake, St. Gregory VII insisted. When “the Lord says ‘I am the Truth and the Life’”, he noted, “he did not say ‘I am custom’ but ‘I am Truth’ (non dixit sum consuetudo, sed Veritas)”(Quoted by Christopher Dawson in Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, Doubleday, 1991, pp. 134-135).

For many good and decent slaves of the day, such statements made no sense. They seemed to be horrifying innovations. Uncle Tom’s Catholics saw in such an emphasis on the true rights of the powerless Altar over the powerful Throne a recipe for a divisive, peace-disturbing rocking of the ship of both Church and State. And violent upheaval it did, indeed, cause! How could the disruptions arising from the movement for Church freedom be anything other than highly anti-Christian and downright slimy in character? Hence the complaints of the author of De Unitate Ecclesiae Conservanda:

Peace, says the Lord, I leave to you, My peace I give unto you. Wherefore, whenever the sons of the Church are compelled to make war, they do this not by the teaching of Christ and the tradition of the Church, but from necessity, and by a certain contagion of Babylon, the earthly city, through which the sons of Jerusalem journey during their earthly life.

What a mystery of iniquity is now being worked by those who call themselves monks and, confounding the Church and the state in their perverse doctrine, oppose and set themselves up against the royal power…{so that} for seventeen years and more, everywhere in the Roman Empire there are wars and seditions, the burning of churches and monasteries, bishop is set against bishop, clergy against clergy, people against people, and father against son, and brother against brother. (Ibid., pp. 135-136)

But let us leap from the Eleventh Century to the present troubled revolutionary era. Contemporary counterrevolutionary Catholics still understand the necessity of working together prudently with the State. Nevertheless, like St. Boniface and the proponents of Clunaic-Gregorian reform, they have insisted that this can only be done properly when Catholics labor to make the Bride of Christ independent, self-conscious, and militantly true to her mission to teach and correct. What has horrified them is that while the Church in modern times has freed herself from one servile form of the union of Throne and Altar—that of the regalists of Absolute Monarchy—she has been subordinated by Uncle Tom’s Catholics to another and infinitely more rigorous task master—Liberal Democracy. Liberal-Democratic Absolutism, especially in its Americanist form, is a more dangerous Master than any previous power engaged in the manipulation of Christianity because a) it confuses people by claiming adamantly not to be doing what it most certainly is—namely bending religion to suit the demands of the State; b) it has apparently really convinced Uncle Tom’s Catholics, contrary to Church doctrine, that it is the only truly legitimate form of government and the best guarantor of their freedom known in history in the bargain; and c) it has offered them a highly effective set of rhetorical tools for avoiding answering criticisms of its lies and modus operandi.

That finally brings us back again to the problem of my e-mail concerning the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Here I was summoned to take up my Cross in the Crusade against moral relativism precisely because it was backed so strongly by both Throne and Altar. So far, potentially so good. But what exactly was this moral relativism which I was supposed to attack? One thing, according to the representative of the Church who spoke to the militants at the gathering. Quite another by the agent of the State, President George W. Bush.

What was moral relativism for President Bush? Moral relativism, for our crusading political leader, was the horrendous evil that would strip “liberty” of its one, true, absolutely crystal-clear meaning and supreme universal value for every blessed creature on this planet. And what was the definition of liberty for him? Why, naturally, what the “American Founding” defined it as meaning. And this, the President went on to say, was the same as the meaning given to freedom by the Catholic Church, leading to her glorious defense of human life. What other meaning could be attributed to liberty, he intimated, except the perverse one offered by those wicked moral relativists seeking to subvert it?

Now it is legitimate to argue, like the spokesman for the organization to whom I e-mailed my dismay regarding the breakfast, that “prudence” requires Catholics fighting for pro-life causes to work with a State that is not totally to its liking. But, as St. Boniface noted, there is a price to pay for such activity. Bad things sneak in alongside the good that can be achieved. Evil seems to be condoned. Moreover, such “prudential” labors must be accompanied by efforts to correct erring minds when the opportunity arises.

Now the bad things sneaking in on this occasion, and the evils which seemed to be condoned by applauding their proponent, were precisely connected with the definition of liberty that the President claimed was absolute, crystal clear, American and Catholic. That definition is founded upon Protestant and Enlightenment corruptions of an orthodox vision of freedom. This false notion of liberty is then regularly and justifiably used by supporters of abortion and various other manifestations of libertinism to promote their causes. It is being spread around the entire globe today by hypocritical, lying and unjust warfare with little if any respect for human life and dignity. The “friendship” for Catholics proclaimed by its presidential spokesman is a blatantly manipulative one, the exact equivalent of so very many in the past, designed to equate the cause of the Church with that of the neo-conservative Republican Party.

One of the glorious blessings of this fraudulent liberty, praised at every sacred ceremony of the Holy American Empire, is the gift of freedom of speech. Would this Prayer Breakfast not have been a wonderful moment to use that blessing to point out that the Catholic understanding of liberty actually differs radically from that of the American Founding? Or even to begin to suggest that there might be the tiniest pipsqueak of a difference between Church ideas and goals and those of George Bush? And if these points could not have been made in a speech, was it not possible to do so by at least not loudly applauding the manipulative sophist equating the two?

For Uncle Tom’s Catholics, today as yesterday, the answer to these questions is a resounding “no”. Throne and Altar are too firmly and happily united to the advantage of the powerful for a different response to be given. No correcting suggestions of a St. Boniface for the United States! Keep your irascible mouths tightly shut, all ye potential Apostles to the Americans! After all, you cannot fix what is not broken!

In fact, the spokesman with whom I corresponded went through all the rhetorical arguments flown on the slave regiment’s flags in order to make that point, whether he realized it or not. These, of course, began with the necessity for Catholic prudence—that prudence which I am convinced will gradually prove its real imprudence and self-destructiveness the more that Bush’s morally imperative version of freedom triumphs. They then moved into a frank expression of honest incomprehension regarding my dismay over Bush’s speech and the reaction to it. How else could anyone conceivably fight “leftist totalitarianism”, he asked, than through the American system and its vision of religious liberty—a system and a vision which, again, I believe actually contributes most effectively to bringing that totalitarianism in its libertine, feminist, and homosexual forms, into being.

The difficulty with continuing a dialogue over such matters once this point has been reached is that a truly profound discussion has to begin. A presentation of the entire Catholic alternative to the dominant forms of Enlightenment social theory and a critique of the Founding would be required. This discussion, as I have noted in previous articles in The Remnant, is never really permitted. It would take time away from prudently imprudent and militantly self-destructive action. It would sound as innovative, rebellious, peace-threatening and anti-Christian as the arguments of Pope Gregory VII in the 1000’s. Besides, as a friend of Fr. Richard Neuhaus told a colleague of mine who tried to use him as an intermediary to organize a debate on this topic some years ago, such matters are too delicate to bring before the general public. True, indeed. After all, they might make Uncle Tom’s Catholics restive and lead them to call for forty acres and a mule instead of a deeper and more voluntary enslavement. And what other boots are there left to lick except those of the American system anyway?

As I said, I do not question the good will of the people who summoned me to Crusade, or that of the many luminaries at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Perhaps those attending the gathering gagged on their pancakes when hearing the President’s equation of moral relativism with any questioning of the American definition of freedom. The bishop’s speech at the occasion gave serious hope this might be true, and I kept longing, when I read the e-mail, to find that two and two had openly been put together for the enlightenment of the audience. In any case, I am sure that most contemporary Uncle Tom’s Catholics are primarily in the regiment because they simply have not stared the long-lasting American “customs” that have shaped them squarely in the eyes and learned that they are really not the same as Catholic Truth. Still, I cannot know for certain what the average Prayer Breakfast luminary’s attitude was, at least not from my e-mail. All I got wind of for sure was the applause that George Bush, manipulator extraordinaire, received.

Whether sought for or not, there are a lot of perks that go along with being seen and heard giving such applause, whether it be for emperors, kings, dukes, counts, or American presidents. If nothing else, one can gain that frisson of joy offered by proximity to the wielders of power. It is the hunt for and possession of such perks that identifies a good number of Uncle Tom’s Catholics throughout Church History. Sorry Lord Acton, but powerlessness, and the attendant yearning to find a way to get close to the powerful owners of the Big House, also seems quite clearly to tend to corrupt.

Luminaries of the American Catholic world, many of you have sacrificed your lives in the Crusade for life. Put down your breakfast forks and wake up to smell the coffee. Continue your battle in a truly prudent Catholic manner, one that combines hard labor with critical correction of false friends. You will not get the perks that go along with being Uncle Tom’s Catholics, but you have nothing really to lose but your chains.

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