Monday 11 June 2012

Why a Christian society should be a monarchy - and why this will (very probably) not happen


This - excerpted from an essay by Fr Michael Azkoul - seems like an excellent summary of what I think is likely to be true: 


THE 20th century has brought an end to sacred monarchy.

To be sure, several nations yet possess a king or queen, but with few exceptions, they reign without ruling. In the West, none of them pretend to hold their position by "the Grace of God," despite the liturgical rhetoric surrounding their coronations. ... nothing is more certain than the disappearance of "sacred kingship" from among so-called Christian nations.


In any case, there has never been a monarch who ruled in the East or in the post-Orthodox West by "the Grace of God," because the existence of true kingship depends upon true faith.

Furthermore, we cannot speak of a heretical society as societas christiana.

The Holy Russian Empire - the last phase of the Roman Imperium, successor to Byzantine or Christian Rome - was the last Christian society and Nicholas II was the last Christian Emperor. His death brought the extinction of "the age of Constantine," the end to God's Plan concerning holy empires.

With the disappearance of Christian Rome, that which restrained world revolution, world atheism, world anarchy, world apostasy, is no more (cf. II Thess. iv, 6).


Secularism characterizes the present age and nowhere is it more obvious than in the principles and policies of the modern democratic state, in which power ascends from the electorate to the elected, to officials and bureaucrats whose only concern, if any at all, is the material and earthly happiness of their constituents.

If there is a place for religion in these "pluralistic societies," it does not inform their attitudes, aspirations and decision-making process. The self-styled "separation of church and state" is a political dogma because it is already a spiritual condition... The secular state is always atheistic.


...The historical evolution of the Western political system from monarchy to democracy is also a process of secularization. By that we mean not only that power was gradually transferred from the ruler to the ruled, the electorate, but also that God and Christian values has come to have less and less influence upon Western life and thought. Power no longer descends from God to His viceroy for the salvation of the people and, of course, the state no longer bears the image of Christ.

The modern political situation is antithetical to that condition which prevailed under the Christian Emperors - or, indeed, under kingship in general. St. Constantine initiated the Christian Roman Empire, the societas christiana in which two ministries, the imperium and sacerdotium, the government and the priesthood, governed one people, a single body politic...


Christian Romans believed they dwelt in an Empire which should encompass the whole world because that Empire was founded on a religion intended for all men.

As a matter of historical fact, the claims of the Empire depended upon the truth of the Christian Faith. The loss of that Faith meant the loss of any claim to the Empire...

The Christian Emperor was not an ordinary ruler. He was vicarius Christi. His coronation was a Sacrament, for he was anointed, as was Saul, David and Solomon, to protect and guide God's People. He was a "messiah," the Saviour, the Spouse of the Bride, the Empire, His Body or, as Professor Kantorwicz puts it, the Empire was his "mystical body," his "second body."...

Also, the coronation of the Basileus or Tzar and the pageantry surrounding it compared to a liturgy. The Patriarch poured oil on his head, a sacramental oil, which signified the king's or emperor's sacred and messianic character, his leadership of God's People. He was the very personification of the "lay priesthood" about which the Apostles spoke.

His position as God's "servant" involved the privilege of entering the sanctuary during the Divine Liturgy to receive the Holy Communion in his hand as was the privilege of the bishop and presbyter. Clearly, then, his authority was not simply political or administrative but spiritual. He was expected to be holy that he might lead his nation into holiness.


He was "the father of his people" whose duties were more than the execution of justice, the prosecution of war and resistance to evil. He was obliged to help the widow and the orphan, to clothe and feed the poor and to defend the Faith. In other words, when he took his coronation oath, he also obliged himself to philanthropia, an imitation of Divine Providence.

On the other hand, the people were expected to obey him as a child obeys his father. No Orthodox spoke of his "rights" - he humbly performed his duties: to God, to the Emperor, to the nation...


...The Orthodox Church has lived with monarchy from the day the Lord established her nearly two thousand years ago. The first monarchy was Roman, sacred and pagan. Of course, some have argued that the Church is "in the world and not of it" and, therefore, it makes little difference what the political structure under which the Church lives; in fact, she ought to have no association with the world whatsoever.

God wished to refuse the Hebrew nation a king and the Orthodox Church is the New Israel. Finally, it would seem that "democracy" would suit Orthodoxy far better than any other form of government, because it is secular. The Church is free to act without the encumbrances of an imperial hierarchy.

First of all, it is important for Orthodoxy to live under a form of government, which is not hostile to Her, even more one, which would encourage Her spiritual and physical growth. The world belongs to Her, as it belongs to Her God. She must, therefore, associate Herself with it in order to sanctify it, to recover it from the Devil.

Thus, when the Lord commanded that all creatures be converted and baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt xxviii, 18), we must assume that those nations would have governments and that these governments themselves must also become Christian.

It is useless to argue that the Church is "in the world but not of it," because that nation converted to Christ is no longer "of it," no longer "from it."

Consequently, if God hoped to deny the request of the ancient Israelites for a king, it was because He did not wish His People to imitate their neighbors. In any case, they had a government whose ruler was God Himself, directing them with a Law from Above through His appointed Judges - Joshua, Samson, etc.


...If God is King in heaven, he must likewise be King on earth. If all of heaven and earth belong to the Lord, then, similarly the Lord's viceroy is governor of the earth. This explains, in another way, why those not subject to the Orthodox emperors were also heretical and pagan.

Let us say, then, that no Orthodox worth his salt can live comfortably in a society where the Will of God is not accomplished.

How, for example, can we be reconciled to a society in which self-interest is the first principle of all action and where confusion, heresy and skepticism are described as good and creative? How do we share in a government whose authority is human and sometimes deliberately anti-Christian?

One cannot imagine a democracy in which the people humble themselves before the bishop. Worst of all, there is no secular society in which Christ, as a cultural fact, is recognized as God. Moreover, if the state must resemble Christ and the state is secular; then, Christ must he viewed as totally human.


...Thus, it would seem to me that an Orthodox Christian is faced with the dilemma of living in a society which is basically hostile and alien to him. Of course, we must honor the president, obey just laws and do no harm to any man. Yet we cannot allow ourselves to become an intrinsic part of secular society.

The early Christians were accused of being "anti-social" because they would not become involved in the affairs of the pagan Roman Empire, so we must expect the same reproach. Furthermore, we must understand that nothing exists to protect us, no Tzar.

We will be threatened even more with the appearance of the Anti-Christ. He will be the product of secular society. He will, almost ironically, establish a secular monarchy, an ecumenical or world kingship. In the end, of course, he will be overthrown by Christ whose kingdom will have no end.



Lordy! said...

Excellent post.

His Body or ... the Empire was his "mystical body," his "second body."...

If you realize the War in Heaven is the underlying reality that manifests in this one, then the mystical or second body is the Empire because the Monarch has triumphed in the Spiritual Realms (the True Reality) first - He has become King therein; the rule in this world is a by-product of that.

We will be threatened even more with the appearance of the Anti-Christ. He will be the product of secular society. He will, almost ironically, establish a secular monarchy, an ecumenical or world kingship.

The Anti-Christ may establish a spiritual, even Christian Monarchy but see himself as betrayed by Christians, and then seek vengeance on Christians.

I didn't find the post explains why a monarchy will (very probably) not happen. Of course basic observation would reveal that it's simply unlikely in view of modernity, but the premise is why a Christian society should be a monarchy. If it were a Christian society, a monarchy would be more likely.

In my view, if it were sufficiently Christian, a monarchy would be inevitable.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lordy - I meant this passage: "The Holy Russian Empire - the last phase of the Roman Imperium, successor to Byzantine or Christian Rome - was the last Christian society and Nicholas II was the last Christian Emperor. His death brought the extinction of "the age of Constantine," the end to God's Plan concerning holy empires."

That since we are in the end times, things may not now be possible that once were possible.

Yet perhaps there might be a temporary revival in Russia and spread from there.

I think this means that Russia will have another chance - but of course they may reject that chance.

Bruce Charlton said...

From Comments by James A Donald:

> "that humans are not ultimately separate but are ultimately united, 'in it together'. And of course *that* is a Christian recognition."

"Leading to the phrase, said of Christian charity "As cold as charity".

"...You, and I, agree that theocracy was pretty good, though I favor the restoration theocracy that lasted in England from 1640 to around 1850 or thereabouts, since that theocracy, unlike Byzantium, fostered scientific, technological, and economic progress.

"Under that theocracy, Britons engaged in slave raiding, piracy, and brigandage in far away parts of the world.

"This worked out surprisingly well for the colonized, for successful mobile bandits tend to become stationary bandits, and are subject to the incentives described by Mencius to provide good government - incentives that while strong for brigands, turned out to be alarmingly weak for bureaucrats.

"When Britain ceased to be a theocracy, the puritans, dissenters, etc, started to care deeply about strangers far away, and Britain became an empire, putting an end to piracy and slavery - with consequences for the colonized far less beneficial than one might expect."


I don't think historical parallels apply in the kind of secular society we inhabit - when you subtract Christianity, it doesn't leave the other hostorical generalizations intact. MM tried to describe a stable society of a traditional type, but minus the core motivation of stable traditional societies. A quixotic quest!

Why does MM NOT favour a Christian monarchy? The reason is that MM is a 'liberal' in the primary sense that he explicitly aims at utilitarian goals - especially the elimination of suffering.

He regards religious monarchy as purely a means to an end; therefore he tries to get the benefits of religion without (what he, as a liberal, sees as) its disadvantages - its unfortunate tendency to regard salvation as more important than peace, prosperity and comfort.

But, as I blogged about some time ago, I am highly confident that MM will become religious (probably Christian, maybe Jewish) sooner or later - because he is an honest seeker.

Then these conceptual difficulties will melt away... But of course the practical reality may remain very bad and worsening - since that is what people are choosing.

Nergol said...

It won't happen, Prof. Charlton? I believe it will. Not soon, but it will.

There are basically (and this is an oversimplification, but I don't mean to write a book here) two views of history - Marxist* and Spenglerian. The first teaches that history is a constant, inexorable march towards... something. Some sort of greater perfection; some state closer to paradise on Earth**. Yes, there are some ups and downs along the road, but in the end the march forward is inevitable. This march is given the name "Progress", as in the root of "Progressive". People who believe in it believe in it fervently, in a near-religious way, seeing it the way that Christians see the arch towards the Kingdom of Heaven. To suggest that it's poppycock to one of them is like walking up to an Evangelical and telling him that the Bible is nonsense. It shocks them, then enrages them, then leaves them in disbelief that anyone could doubt the truth of an idea that is the foundation of their worldview.

Spenglerians, of which I am one, believe exactly this - that "progress" is balderdash, and that there is no appreciably greater state of perfection that man will achieve, or at least will hold onto for long. We believe that history is cyclical: that cultures are born, reach heights, decline, fall, and return to nothing - lather, rinse, repeat. Yes, there are ups and downs - things at the height of a culture are measurably better in virtually every way then they are before or after it. It is easy, therefore, for people who live around the time of the crest of the wave - a little before it, during it, or a little after it and before it declines too precipitously - to believe in "progress", because things have marched inexorably along to a height within their memory. they may understand history, but their belief in "progress" causes them to make that most sadly human of errors, the assumption that "This time will be different". But it won't be. History will not suffer itself to be halted. This culture will fall, and we will start the cycle again. When it does, old ideas, thought long ago discarded, will return.

In other words, there is no such thing as "backwards" institutions, only different points in the cycle. Christian monarchy will come back. It will take centuries, great travail, much suffering, and many stages between now and then, but it will.

(*I don't mean to imply here that everyone who believes in this Marxist view of history is necessarily a Marxist in any other way. Plenty of non-Marxists have this view, including the Cleon Skousen-style American Exceptionalist conservative crowd.)

(**A good example of this is the world of the Federation as seen in Star Trek - Gene Roddenberry is a prime example of someone who had the kind of worldview - including the techno-triumphalism - that I'm talking about.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nergol - Ah well, if you think history is cyclical (a view advocated in the West by a mere handful of intellectuals and only during the past few hundred years) then I suppose I understand your point.

But for a Christian, history is linear - this world has a beginning and an end; things possible early may not be possible later.

Anonymous said...

Following the birth of Prince William's son recently , I am having a debate with Christian friends regarding the current british monarchy . Their's and your view seems to ignore God's "conversation" with Samuel in 1 Samuel 8 where God criticises the Israelites for wanting a king (just like the nations around them) and goes are far as to say that they want a king because they have rejected Him (God ) as their king. He then goes onto warn them what a king will be like - lauding it over them etc etc. I would not see this as a glowing recommendation of your premise that a Christian society should be a Monarchy .

Bruce Charlton said...

@'Anon' - Surely you don't think that this section of the Bible prohibits monarchy as an institution? Or endorses republicanism or democracy?

JvO said...

“Where men are forbidden to honour a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.”
– C. S. Lewis

Some however would interpret this as CSL being in favour of monarchies. I wonder is this in the assumption that they are endowed with wisdom,the custodians of all moral and spiritual virtues ? For me 1 Sam 8:7-18 spells it out very clearly. Yes, God did give in to the people and allowed a King to be appointed, but the consequences were theirs. Not unlike Mat. 19:8. where Jesus refers to Moses allowing men to divorce their wives because of their hardness of heart. The way I see it is that this again was to their own detriment. Are we now to conclude that divorce is the preferred option or that monarchies are the preferred option? Either way is it not a desertion from our first love?

Jim van Ommen.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JvO. CSL's opinion on this matter changed through his life, as he recognized the increasing and irrevocable corruption of democracy, this can be seen in the late Screwtape Proposes a Toast, and his letters. Tolkien was, of course, always against democracy and pro-monarchial.

I take is that there will be a monarchy in Heaven. But here on earth the important thing is not the system, but that it be run on Christian principles, which entails individual people taking personal responsibility (and not subordinating morality to contrived voting results).

We are currently a long, long way from anything remotely desirable politically - and there is a near universal desire to avoid personal responsibility and hide behind arbitrary procedures. Potentially decent politics is confined to mere handfuls of people and banished from public discourse.

JvO said...

Whether he changed his mind or not, the fact remains that this points at a prophetic reality ever since king Saul. More importantly, what about the scriptural references that go to the very core of the people's desire to have a king and what God's warning was. It was a rejection of the King of Kings of their God & Father who cared for them in a way that no worldly king ever has or ever could. I'm not suggesting that other leaders are any different, but at least they have no birthright to rule irrespective of their indulgences, incompetence, and outright wickedness.