Divide and Conquer
Letter no. 1
Basilique-Cathedrale Marie-Reine Du Monde
I sent out this letter yesterday to fellow Catholics in the Archdiocese of Montreal. Some have suggested I share it more widely, so I am doing that here, with minor modifications for clarity. The event that provoked it was the Premier's sudden announcement, on the tenth day 'til Christmas, that only those able and willing to produce a vaxpass would be allowed to attend religious services, at which they must remain masked and seated throughout.
This, presumably, will be followed by an Order in Council formalizing the new regulations. For those who don't know, Quebec has been routinely renewing its emergency powers every ten days since March of last year. Like other Canadian jurisdictions, it is now governed by ministerial diktat, without regard for the Constitution. There is no end to this in sight, for the new-style "pandemic" has been designed with the flexibility requisite to permanency.
The following letter is intended to help those Catholics who are paying attention to understand that the Quiet Revolution is now complete. It used to be said, inaccurately, that the Church controlled the State. Then it was said that the State had liberated itself from the Church. Now it can be said that the State controls the Church. Official Catholicism lives on in Quebec only as a creature of the State, and the State itself lives on only in and as a State of Exception.
Not all readers will catch the biblical allusions in this letter, or in the accompanying statement, but the drift of both should be plain enough...
Friday, 17 December 2021
Friends in Christ,
I am grieved, as many of you are, by the latest assault of the Quebec government on sanity, on liberty, on good will. We are not dealing, it seems, with men of good will or even of good sense. If every mutation of a coronavirus is an excuse to continue dismantling the Church and our society, what remains but "a fearful prospect of judgment"? Will that judgment be delivered by feeble human courts, which alternately enable or restrain the carnage, or will it be delivered by the divine Court? Neither too much hope, nor too much fear, should be directed toward the former, though efforts must be made there. But all hope and holy fear must be directed toward the latter, which always has the last word.
I note that the government has previously elevated, and now demoted, religious gatherings from “essential services” to “entertainment” status. Religion is neither of those things; or at all events the Catholic Church is neither of those things. It is called to live in essential service to God, and only so to man. (The first great commandment always governs the second.) The State has no say at all in this. The world-age in which the State exists, itself exists for the sake of the Church and its evangelical mission, as the apostles and apologists and council fathers have all said. Were it not for that mission, divine judgment would already have fallen. Of this I tried to remind us in a lecture delivered in Washington just as the pandemic was breaking. I also tried to point out last December, in Christmas at the Hotel California, that we would face such a situation as we now face. In this situation, in which passports are mandated even for Mass, I firmly believe that civil disobedience is necessary, for God’s sake.
There is no time to review the theological or political or medical or legal situation in detail, or to attempt consensus on all that. As Catholics, we must act now, and act decisively. Will we celebrate the first coming of our Lord in the unity of the Spirit and in the truth of the Word of God? Or will we permit ourselves to be divided and conquered?
I have written a brief reflection, appended here, in which I try to get at the point of principle on which we must act. I have already sent it to the archbishop, but it is not merely bishops or clergy or lay leaders who must act, but all of us. It is not the vaccinated or the unvaccinated who must act; rather everyone must act. Those very categories, as they are being used today, only serve to unite society by purging dissent; and, worse, to divide the Church by subjecting it once again, with unbelievers, to life-long bondage through the fear of death.
My advice, whatever happens meanwhile, is to present yourself before the Lord at the great feast of Christmas—when we “come before the Lord with singing,” like the angels who announced him to the shepherds—and to do so without presenting a passport. The passport cedes to men authority over the house of God that does not belong to them. It gives a new and false meaning to the ancient liturgical cry, “the doors, the doors!
I further advise presenting your face, not hiding it, especially as you approach the altar. The face is for God and for the other, as I remarked in Fading Glory. It is a work of the devil to take away the face—the face that should reflect the glory of God—and to substitute instead a masked, digital identify that none can read but the Beast. The scriptures do not speak in vain about the mark of the Beast. This is already being demanded in the hand, as of Monday. Soon enough, if we do not refuse it, it will be demanded on the hand or the forehead: a diabolical parody of our identity in Christ, of the invisible mark of our salvation received in baptism and confirmation.
It is a, if not the, articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae—an article of faith by which the Church stands or falls – that the Church has but one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and that its boundaries are marked by the holy sacrament of baptism and not by some coded simulacrum invented by man; invented, as it happens, in testimony to what Giorgio Agamben has called “medicine as religion” (Where are we now? The Epidemic as Politics, 49–54). If we do not take a stand here, on the matter of passports, we take no stand at all.
I have just now, after writing the above, seen the statement of Cardinal Lacroix, who has indeed taken no stand. Or rather he has chosen, evidently with many of his brother bishops, the path of introducing schism into his own flock. I would point out that neither the cardinal nor the AECQ has any canonical authority in or over our diocese. And that no prelate, including our own, can issue commands contrary to canon law (see e.g. nn. 213, 528, 843, and 912), much less to the gospel itself, that are binding on the faithful.
Yours in Christ,
Articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The Church has authority from Jesus Christ himself to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. When baptizing it admits to the body and fellowship of Christ, and to the other sacraments of the Church, hence to the kingdom whose keys were entrusted to Peter.
This authority cannot be derogated to, or appropriated by, the State or agents associated with the State. The Church belongs to none but Christ. It has full authority, under Christ, to bind and to loose in matters that concern the kingdom of heaven, beginning with its own assemblies and liturgies.
It follows that the State cannot decide the features of those liturgies or forbid the attendance of the baptized or some portion of the baptized. If it attempts to do so, it is acting ultra vires and in defiance of God. It must be disobeyed, for it is always right to obey God rather than man. Were it to be obeyed, the sole authority of Christ over the Church, and the very being and function of the Church in that place, would be called into question.
In Quebec today, as in other secular jurisdictions, it is incumbent upon the Church and all the faithful to refuse to substitute a "vaccination passport" for the baptismal certificate. It is incumbent upon the Church to receive, not to turn away, the faithful or anyone who is genuinely enquiring after Jesus. Neither "health and safety" nor any concern of secular authorities can provide licit grounds for dividing the body of Christ. In the Church "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
It is unnecessary and inappropriate for the Church, as the city of God, to appeal to constitutional rights and freedoms belonging to citizens of the earthly city (including Christians) in defence of its own assemblies. It is unnecessary to wait on courts and judges. The liberty of citizens—their freedom of conscience and religion, of movement and association, etc.—can and should be defended by appeal to the Constitution. But the libertas ecclesiae precedes and take priority even over the Constitution. It is a gift of God unmediated by the State.
Historically, this liberty—this ambassadorial status and liberty—has had to be reasserted many times against the illegitimate claims of the State, often at considerable cost. Now is such a time. A clear No must be said to Premier Legault and a clear Yes to our Lord. Orders in Council, however they stand constitutionally, do not trump the commandments and decrees of the King of the Universe whose birth we are about to celebrate.
In "The Face and the Mask" (8 Oct. 2020), Agamben rightly contends that "the face is the site of politics... A country that decides to renounce its face, to cover with masks the faces of its citizens everywhere is, then, a country that has purged itself of any political dimension. Inhabiting this empty space, which is at every moment subjected to a control which knows no limits, individuals now live in isolation from one another. They have lost the immediate and sensible foundation of their community, and they can only exchange messages directed towards a name that no longer possesses a face. A faceless name."
I have been asked about the nature of the disobedience in question. In reply, I wish to be clear that I am not recommending the disruption of religious services. I am not advocating—indeed, I repudiate—any attempt to fight lawlessness with lawlessness, whether in the Church or in the State, or in some combination of the two that amounts to a civil religion or a State church. I am however contesting what passes for lawfulness. I am advocating refusal to behave lawlessly oneself by rendering to Caesar what Caesar, through lawless law, lawlessly demands. The particular prudential judgments belonging to that refusal always require careful thought and prayer. But the basic principle here is not difficult to grasp. Caesar has no right to determine who does or doesn't approach the altar of God, and the bishops here in Quebec have made a fundamental mistake in conceding such a right, and then trying to work round it by some sort of "accommodation" of those the State has excluded. That, quite frankly, is a fool's game, even on the political level, to say nothing of the scientific or medical level, on which it is perfectly clear that the attempt to separate the vaccinated and the unvaccinated has exactly zero value. But it is the theological level that matters most, per the articulus stantis provided above. More will have to be said about all of this, but for the moment I simply refer enquirers to my previous comment.