‘Constitutionalism: A Yankee Errand in the South’
The Southern fervor for written constitutions is in fact a secularized version of Puritan millennialism: the Southern version of the ‘city on a hill’.
Southerners place a high value on written political constitutions and think highly of their contributions to the understanding of them. Many books and articles about either the [u]nited States Constitution of 1787 or the Constitution of the Confederate States have been and continue to be written by Southerners. The origins of this tendency, however, ought to dampen their enthusiasm: It is not native to Dixie but instead has its roots in Puritan beliefs that drifted southward in the 18th hundredyear. The Southern fervor for written constitutions is in fact a secularized version of Puritan millennialism: the Southern version of the ‘city on a hill’.
II. The Southern Tradition of Government
To understand this it is necessary to know the earlier political practices of Southerners before this change took hold. They are of two kinds, neither of which resembles the obsession with written charters of New England and later Southerners: the view of the Royalists/Cavaliers from southwest England who settled the coastal regions of Virginia and the other Southern colonies, and the view of the northern Irish, Scottish, and northern English who settled the backcountry of the South.
For the parts of the South settled by the Cavaliers, the system of government of county and vestry gentlemen, House of Burgesses, Royal Governor and Council, and King (Fischer, pgs. 407-8) was not one sprung from a philosopher’s pen:
This system of government developed in Virginia by a process of prescription. As early as the year 1679 it was spoken of as “the constitution of the country,” in the traditional British sense of unwritten customs and established institutions, rather than the future American sense of fundamental written law. This “constitution” was radically different from the polity of Massachusetts. But the gentlemen oligarchs of Virginia thought of it as the ordinary and natural way in which English-speaking people ordered their political affairs.
William Fitzhugh wrote in 1684, “The laws we have made amongst us here since our first settlement, are merely made for our own particular Constitution, when the laws of England were thought inconvenient in that particular, and rather disadvantageous & burdensome . . . Our continual usage and practice since the first settlement, hath been according to the laws and customs of England.” Any other idea of “laws and customs” was not merely uncongenial to Virginia gentlemen. It was literally inconceivable (p. 410).
As for the backcountry folk, they disliked any overly formal arrangement of government:
This system of order gave rise to a special style of backcountry politics which was far removed from classical ideas of democracy and aristocracy. It was a highly distinctive type of polity which Charles Lee appropriately called “macocracy”—that is, “rule by the race of Macs.” This system of macocracy was a structure of highly personal politics without deference to social rank. In that respect it was very different from Virginia. In the early eighteenth century, William Byrd observed of the back settlements, “They are rarely guilty of flattering or making any court to their governors, but treat them with all the excesses of freedom and familiarity.” It was also a polity without strong political institutions, and in that regard very far removed from New England. There was comparatively little formal structure to local government—no town meetings, no vestries, no commissions, and courts of uncertain authority. But within the same broad tradition of self-government common to all English-speaking people, the borderers of North Britain easily improvised their own politics.
. . .
The politics of the backcountry consisted mainly of charismatic leaders and personal followings, cemented by strong and forceful acts such as Jackson’s behavior at Jonesboro. The rhetoric that these leaders used sometimes sounded democratic, but it was easily misunderstood by those who were not part of this folk culture. The Jacksonian movement was a case in point. To easterners, Andrew Jackson looked and sounded like a Democrat. But in his own culture, his rhetoric had a very different function. Historian Thomas Abernethy observes that Andrew Jackson never championed the cause of the people; he merely invited the people to champion him. This was a style of politics which placed a heavy premium upon personal loyalty. In the American backcountry, as on the British borders, loyalty was the most powerful cement of political relationships. Disloyalty was the primary political sin.
. . .
. . . For many generations, backcountry politics were mainly a collision of highly personal factions and followings, rather than ethnic blocs or ideological parties or social classes. Charismatic appeals carried elections, which tended to be decided on questions of personal style (pgs. 772, 775, and 776).
This unlove for a parchment government by Southerners continued up to the War, through men like John Randolph of Roanoke, who once famously exclaimed, ‘A fig for the constitution!’ (Kirk, p. 163) and George Fitzhugh:
Institutions are what men can sees feel, venerate and understand. The institutions of Moses and of Alfred remain to this day, those of Numa and Lycurgus had a long and flourishing life. These sages laid down no abstract propositions, founded their institutions on no general principles, had no written constitutions. They were wise from experience, adopted what history and experience had tested, and never trusted to a priori speculations, like a More, a Locke, a Jefferson, or an Abbe Sieyes. Constitutions should never be written till several centuries after governments have been instituted, for it requires that length of time to ascertain how institutions will operate. No matter how you define and limit, in words, the powers and duties of each department of government, they will each be sure to exercise as much power as possible, and to encroach to the utmost of their ability on the powers of other departments. When the Commons were invoked to Parliament, the king had no idea they would usurp the taxing powers; but having successfully done so; it became part of the English constitution, that the people alone could tax themselves. It was never intended that ninety-nine guilty should escape, sooner than one innocent man be punished; yet, finding that the result of the English judicial system, the judges and lawyers made a merit of necessity, and adopted it as a maxim of the common law. So, in a hundred instances we could show, that in England a constitution means the modus operandi of institutions, not prescribed, but ascertained from experience. In this country we shall soon have two constitutions, that a priori thing which nobody regards, and that practical constitution deduced from observation of the workings of our institutions. - Whigs disregard our written constitution, when banks, tariffs or internal improvements are in question; Democrats respect it not when there is a chance to get more territory; and Young America, the dominant party of the day, will jump through its paper obstructions with as much dexterity as harlequin does through the hoop. State governments, and senators, and representatives, and militia, and cities, and churches, and colleges, and universities, and landed property, are institutions. Things of flesh and blood, that know their rights, "and knowing dare maintain them." We should cherish them. They will give permanence to government, and security to State Rights. But the abstract doctrines of nullification and secession, the general principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Constitution of the United States, afford no protection of rights, no valid limitations of power, no security to State Rights. The power to construe them, is the power to nullify them. Mere paper guarantees, like the constitutions of Abbe Sieyes, are as worthless as the paper on which they are written.
Our institutions, founded on such generalities and abstractions as those of which we are treating, are like a splendid edifice built upon kegs of gunpowder. The abolitionists are trying to apply the match to the explosive materials under our Parliament House; we are endeavoring to anticipate them by drenching those materials with ridicule. No body deems them worth the trouble of argument, or the labor of removal. They will soon become incombustible and innocuous (pgs. 187-9).
But there was another view in competition with this one, mentioned at the outset, which would become dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries, and remains so up to the present. What brought about this change?
III. Yankee Ideas Invade the South
We will find the answer by delving into New England’s religious and political ideas and the effect they had on the Southern colonies. To begin with, ‘The idea of written fundamental laws and liberties existed from the beginning of the Bay Colony’ (Fischer, p. 202). Furthermore,
Before going ashore at Plymouth, the Pilgrims signed a covenant for civil government which created a Holy Commonwealth. It was called the “Mayflower Compact,” and it reads in part:
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, . . . do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. . . .
In 1630 Governor John Winthrop laid out a similar exclusive covenant for the Holy Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as the Arabella approached Salem.
It is of the nature and essence of every society to be knit together by some covenant, either expressed or implied. . . .
. . .
Thus stands the cause between God and us: we are entered into a covenant with Him for this work; we have taken out a commission, the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. . . . (Eidsmoe, pgs. 29, 30; text of Mayflower Compact copied from plimoth.org)
As we have seen, this approach to government is very different from that of the early South. However, through the religious revivals of the 18th century, some of whose most influential leaders were from New England, they would become popular in Dixie as well. But to understand the potency of the ideas which arose during the Great Awakening, we have to look at the religious beliefs of the earliest New England Puritans and go forward from there.
By their reckoning, the Puritans were the New Israel sent to New England to inaugurate the millennial reign of Christ on earth:
. . . the clergy explained the meaning of the American wilderness. What seemed merely another worldly enterprise, financed by English entrepreneurs, was in reality a mission for “the Generall Restoration of Mankind from the Curse of the Fall, and the opening of [the last stage in] that Scheme of the Divine Proceedings, which was to bring a blessing upon all the Nations of the Earth (Bercovitch, p. 43).
. . . Without doubt, [therefore,] the Lord Jesus hath a peculiar respect unto this place, and for this people. This is Immanuels Land. Christ by a wonderful Providence hath dispossessed Satan, who reigned securely in these Ends of the Earth, for Ages the Lord knoweth how many, and here the Lord hath caused as it were New Jerusalem to come down from Heaven; He dwells in this place . . . (Increase Mather in Bercovitch, p. 60)
The vision of New England as New Israel would gradually expand to include more of North America:
. . . When, accordingly, they felt that history was undermining their ideal, they had no choice but to explain history away. They did so . . ., in a daring “application” of their genetics of salvation, by extending the legend of the fathers to the story of America itself.
According to the second- and third-generation orthodoxy, the New World at large – not just New England but the entire continent – was destined for an errand in sacred history. Like Canaan of old, America was the child of prophecy and promise. . . .
. . .
. . . Oakes and his colleagues confirmed “Dr. Twiss his Opinion that when New Jerusalem should come down from Heaven America would be the seat of it” and urged prayer to hurry its descent. “’Tis the prerogative of New-England above all the Countries of the world” because “the New English Churches are a preface to the New Heavens” (pgs. 69, 72).
Jonathan Edwards, one of the leaders of the New England revival movement in the 1700s, would further entrench these ideas about the New World:
. . . it seems safe to say that, at the height of this fervor, Edwards adopted wholesale the Puritan vision of the New World. America was discovered, he writes, to prepare “the way for the future, glorious times,” so “that the new and most glorious state of God’s church on earth might commence there.” In other words, discovery was not, in this case, simply an event in history, the opening of new territories to European Christians. It was the unveiling of some momentous truth, as an inspired exegete unveils the meaning of some obscure passage in Scripture. In this hermeneutic sense, Edwards discovered America in Scripture, specifically in the apocalyptic passage, Isaiah 66:19. And like the Puritan Jeremiahs before him, he proceeded to celebrate the “golden age” of the first planters as “the dawn of that glorious day.” For “if we consider the circumstances of the settlement of New England,” he felt sure, “it must needs appear . . . to be the place whence this work [the arrival of “the new heavens and the new earth”] shall principally take its rise.” In any case, “we can’t reasonably think otherwise, than that this great work of God . . . will begin in America” (pgs. 99-100).
. . . From the perspective I have been advancing, his contribution was to make revivalism a force toward independence by making it part of the evolving belief in America’s mission. . . .
. . . Edwards drew out the proto-nationalistic tendencies of the New England Way. He inherited the concept of a new chosen people, and enlarged its constituency from saintly New England theocrats to newborn American saints. In fact, if not in theory, theocracy had meant tribalism, the literal and exclusive continuity from elect father to (presumably) elect son. Revivalist conversion opened the ranks of the American army of Christ to every white Protestant believer. Whereas the Puritan covenant renewals called the children of New England to their filial obligations, the Edwardsian concerts of prayer sought to awaken all prospective American saints, north and south, to the state of their souls, the shortcomings of their society, and the destiny of their New World Canaan.
In effect, Edwards expanded the Puritans’ genetics of salvation into a genealogy of the latter-day American church. He rendered the legend of the founding fathers the common property of all New World evangelicals, and thus opened the prospect for expanding the Puritan past into a figura of the American Way. . . . By freeing the jeremiad from the confines of theocracy, he harnessed the Puritan vision to the conditions of a new age. The New England Way, as he explained it, was above all a shadow or type of the “blessed union of love” that would knit together, as one city on a hill, all of Protestant America (pgs. 105-6).
And when that New England Way of Protestant love failed, it was the secular U. S. Constitution that would take its place as the bond that held the chosen people of America together and helped them advance toward the millennium of Man. The beginnings of this constitutional millennialism come in the French and Indian War:
Edwards’s enthusiasm about the French and Indian War is a striking testament to the continuities between revivalist and civil millennialism. But the war contributed in its own right toward broadening the scope of the jeremiad. The revivalists had enlarged the errand to include the visible saints not only of Massachusetts but of all the English colonies. The established clergy from 1745 to 1763 went further still. In mobilizing the “patriotic inhabitants of Protestant America,” they associated “our Sion” with “our Colonies” in a wholly secular sense. The basis of their plea was not only religion but specifically the civic traditions of Anglo-America – not only evangelical Protestantism, that is, but English libertarianism. . . . as Paul Varg has observed, they also speak over and again of America and Americans, and increasingly they extol “the founding fathers, who left England . . . and labored in the expectation that the blessings of freedom would be the inheritance of their posterity (p. 117).” . . .
. . . These terms were to carry special force in the next two decades; I call attention to them now to indicate the widening scope of the myth. . . . “Liberty was the noble errand of our fathers across the Atlantic”; they “set the seas and skies, Monsters and savages, Tyrants and Devils at Defyance, for the sake of liberty.” So adapted and revised, the legend of the Puritan founders belonged unequivocally to all white Protestant colonists (Jonathan Mayhew quoted; pgs. 117-8).
This era marked the fatal change in which civil freedom became imbued with a religious character, in which it became the telos of those in the colonies, whether North or South. But let us continue with the story. The aforementioned developments opened the door for the colonies’ demand for independence:
The cause now was independence, not British-American Protestantism; the social ideal a republic, not a theocracy or an enlightened monarchy. And of course the enemy assumed another, subtler, and more perfidious form. The English king, rather than the French, was now the instrument of the Scarlet Whore; England rather than French Canada was the modern Babylon; the danger within came from European fashions and royal agents rather than from Indians, Jesuits, or heretics (p. 119).
This mindset would eventually lead to the divinization of the later acts of the colonies/States, especially the writing of the Constitution of 1787, and the South was fully a part of this:
It would be another generation or so before this typology of mission could be fully rendered – before Washington could be enshrined as savior, his mighty deeds expounded, his apostles ranked, the Judas in their midst identified, the Declaration of Independence adequately compared to the Sermon on the Mount, the sacred places and objects (Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, the Liberty Bell) properly labeled, the Constitution duly ordained (in Emerson’s words) as “the best book in the world” next to the New Testament, and the Revolution, summarily, “indissolubly linked” (as John Quincy Adams put it) with “the birthday . . . of the Savior,” as being the social, moral, and political correlative of “the Redeemer’s mission on earth,” and thus “the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven” (p. 129). . . .
“The people of America,” wrote John Adams in his defence of the Constitution, “have now the best opportunity and the greatest trust in their hands that Providence ever committed to so small a number since the transgression of the first pair; if they betray their trust their guilt will merit even greater punishment than other nations have suffered and the indignation of Heaven” (p. 135).
. . . The tradition itself [of July 4th addresses--W.G.] is said to begin with an oration delivered in 1778 at Charlestown, South Carolina, hailing “the Revolution as the beginning of a new age in human history”; . . . In Maine, Virginia, and South Carolina, July Fourth orators explained the correspondence between local progress and “the vast designs of providence” for “the universal redemption of the human race” (p. 141).
The Kentucky Southerner William Evans Arthur shows how far this sort of secular Puritan millennialism had penetrated the South in a July 4th oration he gave in 1850 in Covington, Kentucky:
. . . Each “return of this our National birth-day,” Arthur intones,
Proves yet more fully the peculiar and the commanding power of the Constitution to shape the destiny of this great people, and to firmly guide them through all the trying emergencies and changeful events inseparable from the uncertainties of life, and the instability of human affairs, to the fullest happiness and to the broadest renown. . . . Steadily in majestic defiance of the general wreck of surrounding empires the rock upon which our Fathers happily builded extends its surface, increases its density, and exalts its summit. Onward! Onward! (p. 145)
He speaks of ‘the “glorious Constitution under which we live, and move, and have our being”’ (p. 148).
Precisely because the Constitution provided the “sacred confines” of progress, we must henceforth take heed, in fear and trembling, never to lose sight of that eternal vigilance . . . which will ever be requisite to preserve . . . our common inheritance! I hope this generation will never forget that if . . . by any misdoing upon their part harm comes to the glorious trust which they hold and enjoy, they will be sternly required . . . to solemnly answer and atone for the trust which they shall have abused, with black ingratitude and violated faith, to the ruin of millions born after them! . . . [For take the Constitution] from us – dot but an i, or cross but a t, contrary to the spirit it breathes, and like the bird which flew from Noah’s ark, our liberties will then have gone, to return no more forever, and we have become a by-word and a scoff for . . . mankind (p. 150).
And in closing,
The American is the ark of safety, the anointed civilizer, the only visible source of light and heat and repose to the dark and discordant and troubled World, which is heaving and groaning, and livid in convulsions all around him! He is Liberty’s chosen apostle; he is a master workman, and universal space is his workshop, and universal perfectibility his hallowed aim. . . . Like the disc of the sun, his own system is without blemish, lustrous and vitalizing! . . . Rainbows of promise and visions of grandeur crowd upon his enraptured mind. . . . Faithful to the constitution by which [America] has risen so rapidly from bondage to sovereignty, from poverty to opulence, from obscurity to fame . . . her future must be more than her past, “one tide of glory – one unclouded blaze” (p. 151)
IV. The Disease of Constitutionalism
In speaking of constitutionalism in these terms, the Puritans’ millennial errand into the wilderness had now been officially transferred to the South: She now has a divinely given duty, has formed a covenant with God, to establish the millennium of the constitutional republic and to teach others the principles of ‘true republicanism’ so they can experience its beatitude for themselves (see for e.g., here https://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/blog/the-alabama-memorial-preservation-act-and-the-political-market/ and here https://archive.lewrockwell.com/orig3/acton-lee.html). She is a long way now from the quiet life of the plantation exemplified in the diary of one of her early sons, William Byrd II, from the English common law, etc.
But this deifying of paper and ink is not a healthy way to approach politics. The early colonial Southern thinking was better. To get back to sound politics, we must seek out the errors that lie at back of the modern focus on written constitutions.
Chief among these are false Godlore and manlore (theology and anthropology), which lead to a distortion of man’s true calling. Philip Sherrard writes,
The realization itself by man of his own uncreated and indwelling logos is something beyond the reach of all natural powers of soul and body, reason and sense:
It is truly impossible to be united to God unless, besides purifying ourselves, we come to be outside or, rather, above ourselves, having left all that which pertains to the sensible world and risen above all ideas, reasonings, and even all knowledge and above reason itself, being entirely under the influence of the intellectual sense and having reached that ignorance which is above knowledge and (what is the same) above every kind of philosophy [quote of St Gregory Palamas--W.G.].
This ‘intellectual sense’ . . . is not, therefore, the consequence of any theoretical and abstract speculation; it is, on the contrary, the consequence of a long process of purification and prayer in which God is revealed in the heart. The intellect (νους) [i.e., the nous--W.G.] is not in this context the equivalent of the mind or of any mental or rational faculty; it is of another order altogether, being indeed, precisely the spiritual image of God in man and naturally deiform, and having its seat not in the mind but in the heart. It is the heart which is the intellectual, or spiritual, centre of the whole psychophysical nature of man, and the intellectual sense spoken of above, and the spiritual discernment and enlightenment which go with it, can only be achieved through a bringing of the mind itself into the heart; for it is only in this ‘treasury of thought’ that the intellect ‘purified and illuminated, having manifestly entered into the possession of the grace of God and perceiving itself . . . does not contemplate only its own image, but the clarity formed in the image by the grace of God . . . that which accomplishes the incomprehensible union with the Supreme, through which the intellect, surpassing human capacities, sees God in the Spirit’ [quote of St Gregory Palamas--W.G.]. . . . In such a union, man does not merely contemplate what is outside and beyond himself; he becomes himself what he contemplates, the uncreated ground of his own proper being in which the whole of himself, body and soul, participates, and through which he is deified, ‘not by the way of ascending from reason or from the visible world by the guesswork of analogy’, but by mingling ‘unutterably with the light which is above sense and thought’ and by seeing ‘God in himself as in a mirror’ [quote of St Gregory Palamas--W.G.].
What such a realization presupposes is, of course, a recognition of its possibility. Unless it is admitted, first, that God is the actual immanent hypostasis, or spiritual cause, of man’s being, and second, that man possesses some faculty superior to the reason and all other natural and created faculties, through which he can ‘know’ that cause, then the idea of his deification is meaningless. For this deification proceeds from God and from man’s direct intuition of His transfiguring light. In that light, man knows, in an absolute sense, both his own divine cause, and the causal energies of all created things. If, therefore, either the immanence of God in man, or the possession by man of such a faculty as that indicated, is denied, then the realization in question will be regarded as impossible; and the effect will be to shift attention from it, and to substitute for it the idea that the purpose of man’s life, and the nature of the knowledge he may possess of God, himself, and other created things, are conditioned by, and proceed from, the relative and natural faculties, whether mental or sensory, which he has at his disposal.
Yet precisely the possibility of this realization was, if not denied, at least obscured by the main conceptions of much Latin theology, particularly in its Augustinian and Thomist forms. We have seen that in this theology what came to hold a central position was the notion of God as essentially identical with absolute and perfect Being: God’s Essence and His Being are one. . . . The Being of God is therefore of an absolute simplicity and indivisibility, and any qualities or properties attributed to God, such as those St. Augustine calls the ‘principial forms, or stable and immutable essences of things’, and the Fathers His uncreated powers and energies, must be indistinguishably identified with His Being. But if this is so—and it is here that we approach the subject of how the realization in question is obscured by the main conceptions of Latin theology—if this is so, and if no distinction is recognized in God such as that made by the Fathers between the absolute simplicity and indivisibility of His pre-ontological Essence and the multiplicity and divisibility of His ontological powers and energies, what relationship can there be between God and the world? Or what knowledge can man possess either of God, of himself, or of other created things? (pgs. 140-3)
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. . . the type of knowledge which Aquinas regards as the highest accessible to man is of quite a different order from that of the ‘gnosis’ of the [Orthodox--W.G.] Christian Fathers. As we have seen, Aquinas regards the direct intuition of divine essences as beyond man’s reach: the human intellect as it works in this earthly life can know only by turning to the material and sensible . . . Man’s intellect, the highest faculty he possesses or can possess, is, for Aquinas, physical and created, and there can be no direct intuition by it of what is metaphysical and uncreated. All that man can know of the latter, the limit of his knowledge of the Divine, himself, and other sensible things, amounts, after he has gathered together and meditated on the abstractions he has derived from these things, to a mere collection of concepts which may be said to have an analogical likeness to the Divine, but nothing more. And if the supreme end of man is beatitude (there can be no question of a deification such as that envisaged by the [Orthodox--W.G.] Fathers), this beatitude is also, where man is concerned, created and human, and in any case can only be attained by man after death. All that is accessible to man on earth is an imperfect and secondary beatitude which consists in the study of the speculative sciences, whose proper object is sensible; for just as natural forms are analogous to supernatural forms, so the study of the speculative sciences has a sort of analogical resemblance to the perfect beatitude. To what extent this is a limitation of the full perspective of Christian thought there is here no need to emphasize (pgs. 149-50).
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. . . on the one hand, the truths of revelation will now be regarded as beyond the capacity of man to realize in a direct fashion; and, on the other hand, since the reason takes the place of the spiritual intellect as man’s supreme faculty, its conclusions in themselves will be thought to represent the most complete knowledge of the Divine accessible to man during his earthly life. A purely natural faculty—the reason—which is, while untransformed through participation in the spiritual knowledge of the intellect, necessarily subject to diabolic activity, is now regarded as the instrument of human beatitude (p. 152).
. . .
This almost ‘idolatrous’ attitude to creation and to natural and human history is demanded by the premises we have been discussing: the assumption that the eternal and extra-temporal nature of the truths of revelation is entirely beyond man’s intuition, and that the only knowledge he can possess of it is the analogical and conceptual knowledge derived by the reason from the data provided by the sensible world, will automatically have the effect of shifting the focus of attention away from the contemplation of these truths on to the sensible world, from the supernatural to the natural, from vision to observation; and hence the sensible and natural world, and history as part of it, will acquire an interest quite out of proportion to that given them in normal times. The ‘facts’ of nature, just as the ‘facts’ of history, are the starting-point of that process of abstraction through which the intellect receives its determination, is brought from potency to act, and thus, to the extent possible to man, ‘knows’ God and achieves beatitude (pgs. 154-5).
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. . . although participative and intuitive knowledge of God is thus beyond our scope, we can nevertheless know God in the logical order, that alone to which our knowledge refers, by analogy. Causes are in a certain manner reflected in their effects; therefore, since God is the cause of the created world, of the logical order, we can in a certain manner know Him in it: those logical characteristics we can discern in nature, such as measure, form, and order . . ., which reflect what our reason tells us must necessarily be the ontological perfections of a God who is perfect Being, will give us an analogical knowledge of God. We can know the analogy, the logical characteristic of the created effect, without knowing the cause, the ontological perfection of the transcendent God. The analogy is the means through which a thing is indicated; what is indicated is itself unknowable.
These assumptions, that we can have no participative and intuitive knowledge of God and that, consequently, our only possible knowledge of Him is an analogical knowledge derived from the sensible world, had the effect, as we remarked, of shifting attention from the vision to observation, from the inward presence to the outward present . . . (p. 156).
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It would be out of place in this context even to try to indicate all the multiple consequences of the formation of this scientific and secular mentality. Two of them, however, it may be relevant to observe. The first, and most immediately apparent, is the growth of individualism. . . . the individuality of the knowing subject is not transcended through the realization of a supra-individual reality, but is limited by its dependence on the sensible world for any knowledge it may acquire: a condition of its knowing anything is that it remains open to external objects and allows those objects to communicate their own images to it.
Thus, while for Aquinas there can be no question of surpassing individuality from, so to speak, above, there is the necessity of restricting it from below . . . . When, however, with Descartes, the human mind was declared independent of external objects for its knowledge, even this restriction from below on individuality was removed. The individual human mind is now regarded not only as the arbiter of knowledge, but also as entirely self-sufficient [quite in step with Augustinianism; see Sherrard, p. 145 - W.G.]; it possesses its own conclusions within itself, and it is these which determine not only its own reality, but also that of everything else. There is no principle of truth or judgement higher than the entirely subjective and self-sufficient individual human reason. What this reason grasps most easily and most clearly is true. What we, as individual rational human beings, understand is valid. And here is to be found the assumption on which Protestantism, the ‘Enlightenment’ movement, modern democracy, and much else besides, are based.
The second of the consequences of this new mentality which it is relevant to observe in this context is the complement of the first: the growth of the quantitative collective spirit, principally in a national and, more recently, an international form. . . . where the chief end of life is held to be that achieved through participation in the Divine locally manifested in the mystagogical life of the [Orthodox--W.G.] Church, loyalty is primarily to the Church, and hence to what is essentially of a spiritual nature, and there can be no question of substituting for this loyalty, or of subordinating it to, purposes of a collective nature in the sense indicated. The self-assertive and centrifugal tendencies of local temporal powers will be held in check and neutralized through the common recognition of principles and values of a spiritual and qualitative order, and the unity which is a consequence of this will derive, not from material interests, such as property, but from a sense of sharing in a common framework of spiritual values. And it was to such a sense of sharing in a common framework of spiritual values, in this case embodied in the [Orthodox--W.G.] Christian tradition, that medieval [pre-Schism--W.G.] Christendom owed its unity, of the significance and nature of which we have spoken.
The rational in itself, on the other hand, is quite incapable of realizing a principle of unity through inner communion in a spiritual order, for the simple reason that, as we have seen, it cannot surpass the natural and logical order. It is therefore compelled to substitute for this inner principle an external principle of unity that is no more than an abstract representation of the former. Yet not only are such abstract representations ultimately subjective in nature, since the reason which makes them is a purely individual faculty; but also there can be no spiritual or qualitative difference between one such representation and another. Hence, what will determine the acceptance of one rather than of another on the historic plane will be of a temporal and quantitative nature only. . . .
The loss, therefore, in the West of a universal and qualitative unity deriving from participation in a common framework of spiritual values was to result in the end in the substitution of a multitude of abstract and quantitative unities. Each unity was of a different and rival character, since each was based on varying and mutually exclusive ideas not only of what represented the principle of unity, but also of what was to be achieved through the unity: this latter might be, for example, the consolidation under a single rule of all the churches, or of peoples inhabiting a particular geographical area, or possessing a common language, or even merely sharing common cultural, political, economic, or class interests. Loyalty was now to such quantitative concepts, and these would themselves reflect more and more entirely individual, selfish, and material interests, whatever the ideal guise they might assume. Individualism and collectivism are opposite sides of the same coin, and their growth in the West can be traced back to the same secular rationalism which led to the break-up of the medieval [pre-Schism--W.G.] Christian ethos and to the formation of modern Western society and culture (pgs. 160-4).
Having lost sight of the nous and of union with God in the after-Schism West and reduced himself to a soul-body duality in which the reason is his highest faculty and beatitude, nothing was left to Western man but the earth. And so, when Mr Sherrard says this,
The rational in itself, on the other hand, is quite incapable of realizing a principle of unity through inner communion in a spiritual order, for the simple reason that, as we have seen, it cannot surpass the natural and logical order. It is therefore compelled to substitute for this inner principle an external principle of unity that is no more than an abstract representation of the former.
we must see that the u. S. Constitution is precisely one of these external ‘abstract representations’ that stand in the place of a real spiritual unity amongst a people, which Western countries – including the South - are unable to achieve presently because of the principles they have accepted. Written charters should certainly not be held up as the highest achievement of Western political development, for they are an inferior form of unity - contrived, outward, mechanical. They are a dried husk from which all the life of former times has left.
More than this, faith in written constitutions and in their underlying metaphysics ultimately leads to despair. That of New England is manifest in The Education of Henry Adams (published 1907/1918, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Adams#Writings_by_Adams, 6 Sept. 2017). Commenting on that book Mr Bercovitch writes,
Not a certain culture has failed, he tells us, but culture itself. “The moral law had expired – like the Constitution”; so, too, had every other hope that once duped mankind into a dream of progress. The “degradation of American democratic principles . . . [was] symptomatic of a massive dissipation of solar energy,” of “mankind’s physical and moral decay,” and of the “inevitable cosmic decline [which] began on that instant the human race was inserted into the solar system.” It is continuing revolution re-presented as the death urge, an errand into the abyss (p. 196).
That despair has reached the South and may be seen in Robert Penn Warren’s Flood (published in 1964, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Penn_Warren#Works, 6 Sept. 2017):
. . . in it Warren envisions the Southern experience—the Southern white experience—as one not of enveloping community but one of ineffable loneliness. . . . Extending his reflections on Goldfarb into a general declamation on the theme of loneliness in the South, Brad declares: “ . . . the whole South is lonesome. It is as lonesome as coon hunting, which has always been a favorite sport, and that is lonesomer than anything except frog-gigging on a dark night in a deep pond on your skiff leaking, and some folks prefer it that way.” Brad continues: “ . . . the South is the country where a man gets drunk just so he can feel lonesomer and then comes to town and picks a fight for companionship.” The Confederate States, he says, “were founded on lonesomeness.” And he moves on to an explicit repudiation of the concept of the South as a community. The “shared experience . . . that makes the word South,” he tells Yasha, is “lonesomeness”: “ . . . no Southerner believes that there is any South. He just believes that if he keeps on saying the word he will lose some of the angry lonesomeness. The only folks in the South who are not lonesome are the colored folks. They may be angry but they are not lonesome.”
The heart of the race problem, Brad observes, is the envy the white folks have of the black sense of community. . . . Continuing in this vein, Brad asserts that Southerners pray but not because they believe in God. They believe in “the black hole in the sky God left when He went away” (Simpson, pgs. 91-2).
The language here is exactly what Mr Sherrard has told us above: The absent, unknowable God of Aquinas, of the post-Schism West in general, leads to the experience of feeling abandoned by God. In the South this is expressed by Mr Warren as white loneliness. This is further confirmed by the experience of the ‘colored folks’ in the South, who, having been shielded for the most part from the West’s revolt of the reason, if it may be put that way, and retaining much of their pre-Modern African mindset, do not suffer from this hopelessness.
V. Southern Symphonia
This despair does not have to be a permanent condition, though. Old Rome is a case in point. During the time of the heathen Emperors, she was in a state akin to the South we have described above:
For what lay at the root of the failure of the Empire was an inadequate, and false, picture of the universe and of man’s life in it. By dividing reality into two parts between which there could be no proper relationship because there was no common principle through which they could be related; by attributing to the one part, that identified with rational order, a superiority which was, with regard to the other part, formless materiality, practically speaking absolute; and by acting on the assumption that this represented a true estimation of things, the Roman mind exposed itself to one of those ‘judgements of God’ that all erratic ideologies, and the activities based on them, bring in their train. For in fact the aspect of reality which is accessible to the direct grasp of the reason is a negligible part of the whole, and the consequence of regarding it as if it were the whole, or at least the only part of the whole that had positive and ‘divine’ significance, was ultimately to provoke in the mind itself, a growing sense of helplessness, to the point of hysteria, in the face of all that it could not submit to rational categories and thus ‘civilize’. . . .
. . . man cannot live by bread alone; and the search to achieve, on the social and human plane, an ideal of stability and perfection—of, in short, civilization—to the point of subordinating the whole inner and spiritual side of life to that ideal, could only result in the despair and failure of which we have spoken (Sherrard, pgs. 19-20).
What was it that raised Rome from this sense of hopelessness? The conversion of the Empire to the Orthodox Faith, along with the Emperor Constantine himself:
And if there was, as Eusebius also indicates, some observable sense of relief on the triumph of Constantine the Great, and the feeling that society stood on the threshold of a new age, not the least of the reasons for this may, surely, have been that the Emperor, through his conversion, had made himself the representative of a religion [the Orthodox Church - W.G.] which promised to restore the integrity of that inner and spiritual side of life, and to release the human mind from the bondage in which it was enclosed (Sherrard, pgs. 20-1).
What is it Eusebius says? Mr Sherrard quotes this passage (p. 3) from Eusebius’s Church History (Book X, Ch. 9):
6. But Constantine, the mightiest victor, adorned with every virtue of piety, together with his son Crispus, a most God-beloved prince, and in all respects like his father, recovered the East which belonged to them; and they formed one united Roman empire as of old, bringing under their peaceful sway the whole world from the rising of the sun to the opposite quarter, both north and south, even to the extremities of the declining day.
7. All fear therefore of those who had formerly afflicted them was taken away from men, and they celebrated splendid and festive days. Everything was filled with light, and those who before were downcast beheld each other with smiling faces and beaming eyes. With dances and hymns, in city and country, they glorified first of all God the universal King, because they had been thus taught, and then the pious emperor with his God-beloved children.
8. There was oblivion of past evils and forgetfulness of every deed of impiety; there was enjoyment of present benefits and expectation of those yet to come. Edicts full of clemency and laws containing tokens of benevolence and true piety were issued in every place by the victorious emperor.
9. Thus after all tyranny had been purged away, the empire which belonged to them was preserved firm and without a rival for Constantine and his sons alone. And having obliterated the godlessness of their predecessors, recognizing the benefits conferred upon them by God, they exhibited their love of virtue and their love of God, and their piety and gratitude to the Deity, by the deeds which they performed in the sight of all men.
The foundations on which Orthodox Christendom stand, her primordial ‘constitution’, are the Church and the Empire, and both derive their authority directly from God:
There are two great gifts which God, in his love for man, has granted from on high: the priesthood . . . and the imperial dignity (Basileia). The first serves divine things, while the latter directs and administers human affairs; both, however, proceed from the same origin and adorn the life of mankind. Hence, nothing should be a source of care to the emperors as the dignity of priests, since it is for their (imperial) welfare that they constantly implore God. For if the priesthood is in every way free from blame and possesses access to God, and if the emperors administer equitably and judiciously the state entrusted to their care, general harmony (symphonia tis agathe) will result and whatever is beneficial will be bestowed upon the human race (Emperor St Justinian the Great, forenote to his Novella 6, in Kelley, p. 106, note 29).
The West has destroyed both by a vicious dialectic set in motion by the after-Schism Papacy: The Roman Catholic Pope (thesis) undermined the authority of the Western Emperor, claiming supremacy in the spheres of both Church and state; the earthly rulers of Protestant countries (antithesis) then struck at the Pope’s spiritual and temporal powers, taking them for themselves; finally, ‘the people’ (synthesis), rejecting the absolute claims of both Pope and Protestant prince, now claim to be the final authority themselves in both the religious and political spheres (see Sherrard, pgs. 201-4).
Deep within the South, however, there is the memory of symphonia, of the special place of God’s anointed king within the life the Church and the political world. In her colonial history, there are found practices such as this:
On a Sunday in Anglican Virginia, these liturgical structures of common prayer, religious rhetoric and sacred harmony were joined to yet another set of secular rituals which preceded and followed the service itself. At Christ Church, Lancaster County, Virginia, built by the great planter Robert “King” Carter, the act of worship began with a grand entrance by the patriarch himself. “On the sabbath,” writes historian Louis Morton, “no member of the congregation dared to enter Christ Church until Carter’s carriage, drawn by six lively horses, drew up before its entrance. ‘King’ Carter would then alight and enter the place of worship, the others following respectfully. After he had taken his seat, the service would start” (Fischer, p. 338).
This is remarkably similar to the practice of the Orthodox Emperor in New Rome/Constantinople, who would lead a procession of worshippers from the palace to Hagia Sophia cathedral on feast days and the like to take part in the Divine Liturgy (Fr John Strickland, audio file, http://audio.ancientfaith.com/paradiseutopia/pau_2013-06-13.mp3 , final section beginning at about the 40:20 mark).
The South identifies herself closely with the Roman experience. Professor M. E. Bradford, alluding to a poem on Southern origins he quoted from earlier in his essay, says,
Drayton envisions no attempt to improve upon the dominant culture of Britannia. The plantation of Virginia will be new in the sense of extension or re-creation—as Rome was a fresh but minimally different Troy, made out of the residue from a particular stream of history and for the sake of its perpetuation, with the possibility of felt discontinuity reduced to whatever comes from the experience of setting as opportunity sans impiety. . . .
The allusion to Aeneas, looking both back and forward, is therefore an expected commonplace in the serious literature of the South (‘First Fathers’, p. 172).
Since this is so, it should not trouble her greatly to follow the path from despair to hope that Rome followed: from the dead-end of one-sided rationalism into the fulness of life found in the Orthodox Church. But, alas for Dixie, the last Roman Emperor, Tsar Saint Nicholas II, along with his wife and children, was cruelly martyred by the Bolsheviks in 1918, and the Christian Roman Empire is no more. Until the restoration of the Tsar in Russia, then, she must expect life in the Orthodox Church to be something of a catacomb existence, as the Church is without her protector for now.
But, despite this, no one should believe for a moment that the experience of the union of Heaven with earth in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, whether in the South or anywhere else, will be diminished in any way by the absence of the Christian Emperor. The martyrs and confessors of some of the South’s forebears in Orthodox Gaul/France (amongst others who could be mentioned) in the time before St Constantine ended the Roman persecutions of Christians are testimony to this. In the second century under the Emperor Antoninus Verus, it is recorded by Eusebius in his Church History (Book V, Ch. 1):
17. But the whole wrath of the populace, and governor, and soldiers was aroused exceedingly against Sanctus, the deacon from Vienne, and Maturus, a late convert, yet a noble combatant, and against Attalus, a native of Pergamos where he had always been a pillar and foundation, and Blandina, through whom Christ showed that things which appear mean and obscure and despicable to men are with God of great glory, 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 through love toward him manifested in power, and not boasting in appearance.
18. For while we all trembled, and her earthly mistress, who was herself also one of the witnesses, feared that on account of the weakness of her body, she would be unable to make bold confession, Blandina was filled with such power as to be delivered and raised above those who were torturing her by turns from morning till evening in every manner, so that they acknowledged that they were conquered, and could do nothing more to her. And they were astonished at her endurance, as her entire body was mangled and broken; and they testified that one of these forms of torture was sufficient to destroy life, not to speak of so many and so great sufferings.
19. But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, renewed her strength in her confession; and her comfort and recreation and relief from the pain of her sufferings was in exclaiming, 'I am a Christian, and there is nothing vile done by us.'
20. But Sanctus also endured marvelously and superhumanly all the outrages which he suffered. While the wicked men hoped, by the continuance and severity of his tortures to wring something from him which he ought not to say, he girded himself against them with such firmness that he would not even tell his name, or the nation or city to which he belonged, or whether he was bond or free, but answered in the Roman tongue to all their questions, 'I am a Christian.' He confessed this instead of name and city and race and everything besides, and the people heard from him no other word.
21. There arose therefore on the part of the governor and his tormentors a great desire to conquer him; but having nothing more that they could do to him, they finally fastened red-hot brazen plates to the most tender parts of his body.
22. And these indeed were burned, but he continued unbending and unyielding, firm in his confession, and refreshed and strengthened by the heavenly fountain of the water of life, flowing from the bowels of Christ.
23. And his body was a witness of his sufferings, being one complete wound and bruise, drawn out of shape, and altogether unlike a human form. Christ, suffering in him, manifested his glory, delivering him from his adversary, and making him an ensample for the others, showing that nothing is fearful where the love of the Father is, and nothing painful where there is the glory of Christ.
24. For when the wicked men tortured him a second time after some days, supposing that with his body swollen and inflamed to such a degree that he could not bear the touch of a hand, if they should again apply the same instruments, they would overcome him, or at least by his death under his sufferings others would be made afraid, not only did not this occur, but, contrary to all human expectation, his body arose and stood erect in the midst of the subsequent torments, and resumed its original appearance and the use of its limbs, so that, through the grace of Christ, these second sufferings became to him, not torture, but healing.
The South does share with these holy martyrs and confessors an experience of great suffering, endured during the War of Northern Aggression and the so-called Reconstruction, part of which was due to the more traditional Christian beliefs she held on to, over against those of the Yankees (who have since slipped into the twilight of post-modernity, or hyper-individualism, as Dr Clark Carlton called it recently: http://audio.ancientfaith.com/specials/dos2017/carlton.mp3). However, rather than unite this cross of hers with Christ’s Holy Cross and thus gaining the Grace to persevere as best she could as a separate Christian country within Yankeedom despite losing the War, toil, oppression, etc., Dixie threw aside her cross and joined in the folly of Yankee constitutionalism (and all that comes along with it that has been described above) in which she was already mired fairly deeply before the War.
But the Grace of God does not come by means of a written constitution, nor should one expect too many worldly blessings from such an one over the long run, being as it is a secular substitute for the Orthodox Church. But perhaps with much repentance and humility in that Church, the children of the South will grow to the stature of the blessed saints of Christ - ‘forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith’ (from The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, https://www.goarch.org/-/the-divine-liturgy-of-saint-john-chrysostom, 7 Sept. 2017).
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