Absolutely null and utterly void

The essential error of Anglicanism is the subjection of the spiritual to the temporal power. This can never be permitted, because the discretionary authority of the temporal power concerns indifferent “matters of technique”, for which the spiritual power “is neither suitably equipped nor endowed by office”. In all things, however, which are connected with the moral law — questions which touch upon the deposit of truth that God has committed to the successors of the Apostles — the hierarchy of the Church exercises supreme jurisdiction, and God demands that the truths of the moral law be urged upon temporal rulers in season and out of season. This is why our faith teaches that the successor of St Peter is the visible head not only of the clergy but of the whole Church, clergy and laity, and why those who deny it utter heresy. Catholics in contrast must, as our creed demands, receive and profess all those things delivered, defined, and declared by the First Ecumenical Council of the Vatican concerning the primacy of the Roman Pontiff and condemn, reject and anathematise all things to the contrary.   

Periodically one encounters persons who imagine that Henry VIII was a Catholic because he adhered to many elements of Catholic doctrine. He was nothing of the sort. In removing himself from the supreme jurisdiction of the spiritual power, he separated himself from Christ’s mystical body. As St Thomas teaches:

“Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith. The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently, whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith.”

Today, we are all too familiar with the “Catholic” politician who is “personally opposed” to abortion but in his public duties removes every obstacle to this monstrous crime. Such persons argue only expedience or “choice” to justify their wicked acts. The sovereign of the United Kingdom can claim that “convention” — that is, in Catholic terms, customary public law — requires that he withhold assent to bills passed by both Houses of Parliament only upon the advice of his ministers. Customary public law cannot exculpate him from enacting per se immoral “laws” any more than a soldier can excuse a war crime on the grounds that he was “only obeying orders”.

There is a deep irony in the fact that the crown, which weaponised parliament to demand that its subjects forswear their consciences out of obedience to the temporal power, should find that power has drained away into the hands of that very parliament, which now demands in turn that the crown foreswear its conscience out of a like obedience. But irony notwithstanding, conscience demands that the same response be given to the murderous parliament as was given to the murderous monarch: “I am Caesar’s good servant but God’s first.”

No doubt this is why Pope Zachary advised Pepin the Short that it is not appropriate for someone to bear the name of king while exercising no actual power. By such an arrangement, a person is made morally responsible for actions over which he has little real power. Likewise, St Augustine taught that public law cannot be argued in favour of immoral public acts. The divine and natural laws cannot be subjected to the laws of men. 

“Human beings and peoples [do not] belong to the class of things that are eternal, and can neither change nor perish […but are] changeable and subject to time […] Therefore if a people is well-ordered and serious minded, and carefully watches over the common good, and everyone in it values private affairs less than the public interest, is it not right to enact a law which allows this people to choose their own magistrates to look after their own interests — that is the public interest? […] But suppose that the same people becomes gradually depraved. They come to prefer private interest to the public good. Votes are bought and sold. Corrupted by those who covert honours they hand over power to wicked and profligate men. In such a case would it not be right for a good and powerful man (if one could be found) to take from this people the power of conferring honours and to limit it to the discretion of a few good people, or even to one?”

Of course, no one is suggesting any pro-life military coups, but St Augustine clearly has no idea that human public law in any way trumps the demands of the moral law. 

Indeed, it is particularly incongruous for admirers of hereditary monarchy as a system to argue that a monarch imprisoned by conventions which purportedly require him to give assent to even immoral “laws” should submit to this wickedness rather than defy the will of the amoral representatives of a purportedly sovereign people. 

Even if we were to imagine what is clearly not the case — that the assent given by the monarch is universally recognised as purely ceremonial, such that he is not morally compromised in any way by the assertion that the bill under consideration reflects his will — this would still achieve nothing, because such a false assertion would itself be gravely immoral. Apologists for freemasonry sometimes justify the wicked oaths taken by its adherents on the grounds that they are not seriously meant, to which Catholics rightly object that this excuse resolves nothing. If the mason means his words, he commits blasphemy; if not, perjury. It remains the case that the fact of the monarch’s assent is being solemnly asserted in parliament by commissioners purportedly working for him and this assertion is a necessary precondition of the bill becoming law. He is still able to instruct his ministers not to permit this ceremony to occur, or even to repudiate it by a public statement.

An unjust law is no law but an act of violence. When a man refuses to conform his actions to a putative human law which demands the contravention of divine or natural law, he is not acting as a revolutionary but as a counter-revolutionary. To conform to the putative human law in this case would be to do evil (contravene the law of God) that good (social peace) may come of it. But this peace is a mere absence of conflict and controversy among men. It is not the tranquillity of order which can come only with the conformity of human society to God’s law. “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

Imagine a second-century Christian is summoned before a Roman magistrate and instructed to burn incense before a statue of Jupiter. Naturally he refuses, steeling himself for the agonies of the arena, until an officious lawyer reassures him that Gaius and Ulpian insist that convention requires that he really must give the incommunicable name to wood and stone (or, at the very least, have it put about that he has done so), and so he is quite free of responsibility in the matter. What nonsense! What blasphemy!

Human customary public law determines a question indifferent in itself. That is, whatever it prohibits or commands is rendered forbidden or obligatory because of the human law itself. The human law does not in such cases express an antecedent prohibition and command already present in natural or divine law, but is itself the source of obligation, deriving its force from God’s will that man live in society, not from any specific divine command. When obeying the human law would cause one to contravene divine or natural law, the human law loses its force as law. Indeed, following it becomes sinful. Our Lord has very severe things to say about those who contravene divine or natural law for the sake of human law. “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6–8).

Scripture itself excludes the idea that one might simulate consent to an immoral act with which one privately disagrees. In the Second Book of the Maccabees chapter 6 (appropriately enough the reading for the Feast of Ss John Fisher and Thomas More), we read:

“Eleazar one of the chief of the scribes, a man advanced in years, and of a comely countenance, was pressed to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. But he, choosing rather a most glorious death than a hateful life, went forward voluntarily to the torment. And considering in what manner he was come to it, patiently bearing, he determined not to do any unlawful things for the love of life. But they that stood by, being moved with wicked pity, for the old friendship they had with the man, taking him aside, desired that flesh might be brought, which it was lawful for him to eat, that he might make as if he had eaten, as the king had commanded of the flesh of the sacrifice: That by so doing he might be delivered from death: and for the sake of their old friendship with the man they did him this courtesy. But he began to consider the dignity of his age, and his ancient years, and the inbred honour of his grey head, and his good life and conversation from a child: and he answered without delay, according to the ordinances of the holy law made by God, saying, that he would rather be sent into the other world. For it doth not become our age, said he, to dissemble: whereby many young persons might think that Eleazar, at the age of fourscore and ten years, was gone over to the life of the heathens: And so they, through my dissimulation, and for a little time of a corruptible life, should be deceived, and hereby I should bring a stain and a curse upon my old age. For though, for the present time, I should be delivered from the punishments of men, yet should I not escape the hand of the Almighty neither alive nor dead. Wherefore by departing manfully out of this life, I shall shew myself worthy of my old age: And I shall leave an example of fortitude to young men, if with a ready mind and constancy I suffer an honourable death, for the most venerable and most holy laws. And having spoken thus, he was forthwith carried to execution. And they that led him, and had been a little before more mild, were changed to wrath for the words he had spoken, which they thought were uttered out of arrogancy. But when he was now ready to die with the stripes, he groaned, and said: O Lord, who hast the holy knowledge, thou knowest manifestly that whereas I might be delivered from death, I suffer grevious pains in body: but in soul am well content to suffer these things because I fear thee. Thus did this man die, leaving not only to young men, but also to the whole nation, the memory of his death for an example of virtue and fortitude.”

The British Monarch is of course an Anglican, formed not only in error but in precisely this error: that we should render unto Caesar that which is God’s. Catholics have no such excuse.  

Those delivered by God’s grace from the thraldom of Anglicanism should not look back but renounce without reservation its works and pomps. As the greatest of converts from that sect memorably exclaimed, “Return to the Church of England! No! ‘The net is broken, and we are delivered.’ I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if, in my old age I left ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.”

From under the altars cry out the voices of the English martyrs and from the abortuaries and incinerators that disfigure this realm the voices of the innocents join with theirs: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”