Friday 20th April 2018

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

A Book Review… The Moral Logic That Joins Christianity With Civil Liberty

November 28, 2017 Featured Today No Comments


Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2017. 448 pp.

In the opening pages of this book, historian Larry Siedentop, Emeritus Fellow of Keble College Oxford, asks, does it make sense to talk about the West? “People who live in the nations once described as part of Christendom — what many would call the post-Christian world — seem to have lost their bearings. Some may welcome this condition, seeing it as liberation from historical myths such as the biblical story of human sin and redemption or a belief in progress ‘guaranteed’ by developments in science.”
Siedentop is convinced that, like it or not, we are in a period of competing beliefs, and it behooves us in the West to understand who we are. The West is challenged on two major fronts, in Europe by Islamic fundamentalism — a world in which religious law excludes a secular sphere — and elsewhere by Marxist socialism, transformed into quasi-capitalism as in China. He then asks, “Can the West still be defined in terms of shared beliefs, ‘liberalism,’ for example?”
Liberalism, he believes, has come to stand for nonbelief, for indifference, for permissiveness, for decadence. If we are to understand ourselves, that is, understand the relationship between our beliefs and our social institutions, we must delve into the history to determine what made us what we are. Deep moral changes in belief, he acknowledges, can take centuries to develop and modify social institutions.
The book tells a fascinating story of how the “individual” became the organizing social principle in the West, and how moral equality became protected before the law. Many people in the West today describe themselves as Christian without going to church or having even a rudimentary knowledge of Christian doctrine. Forgotten is the origin of the moral logic that joins Christianity with civil liberty. Human equality is not decreed by nature, but by culture. The cultural and legal recognition of human equality is not simply told. Give the scope of this volume, a reviewer can only point to a few things that have elicited his interest and perhaps convey the tone of the volume.
In the first century after Christ, we find St. Paul teaching that the “Brotherhood of Mankind under the Fatherhood of God” entails seeing one’s self in others. Whereas men are not equally endowed by nature, they stand morally equal before God. By the second half of the third century, Christianity had become recognized as a component of the Roman Empire. Ambrose and Augustine had become major players. Augustine’s City of God became a template for an understanding of separate roles of civic and ecclesial authority. There were legacies from the past that had to be dealt with.
Siedentop insists that the ancient world was by no means secular. He identifies three inseparable customs inherited from pre-Roman antiquity: 1) domestic religion, 2) family, and 3) the right of property. Every family had its hearth, its ancestors, and its gods, i.e., gods only adored by the family, gods who protected it alone. There was a crucial distinction between public and domestic spheres. The family was everything, a world in which obligation, gods, and priesthood were exclusively domestic.
At the core of such ancient thinking, Siedentop finds an assumption of natural inequality. The ancients instinctively saw a hierarchy or pyramid. Different levels of social status reflected inherent differences in being. The paterfamilias, priest, or citizen did not have to justify his status. His superior status reflected his nature. Reason or logos provided the key, both in the natural and social order. Thought and being (or status) it was assumed were collateral.
Early chapters are devoted to the roles played by Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Gregory the Great, Benedict, and monasticism in the unification of Europe. Charlemagne was undoubtedly the most important. In a reign of nearly fifty years he established Frankish control over most of Western Europe. Given the fall of the Roman Empire and the chaos that remained, Charlemagne attempted to establish social order, create a defensible frontier, and suppress the ever barbarian threat.
Above all he wanted to establish a Christian empire and to propagate correct beliefs and practices which he regarded as the precondition for order and unity. To that end, with the help of Alcuin, he devoted resources to improving education for both the clergy and the people. In Siedentop’s judgment, “Charlemagne presided over the last gasp of antiquity and the foundation of Europe.”
The Council of Reims (1049) decreed the protection of the poor and the sanctity of marriage, condemned consanguinity, and limited the power of the paterfamilias. Europe at the prodding of the Church was acquiring a moral identity. Pope Urban II’s call to halt the spread of Islam revealed a Christian Europe. In Siedentop’s estimation, “The Crusades were a truly universal event, involving all strata of the population. They revealed a people with a shared identity.”
Liberalism as a coherent doctrine, Siedentop maintains, was not born effortlessly. As a political system it developed against the fiercest resistance of the Catholic Church. By the fifteenth century belief in moral equality, natural rights, representative government, and the importance of free enquiry had come to be accepted. They were employed against the Church’s claim to have a right to enforce Christian belief with the help of secular authorities. The Reformation put an end to confessional unity in Europe: Religion came to be looked upon as a private affair, a matter of conscience. Mounting opposition to the claims of the Church was fostered by the natural rights theory of Grotius and Hobbes, and by religious skepticism. Calls for toleration widened until it even included atheism. The only birthright recognized by the liberal tradition is individual freedom.
In the closing pages of the book, Siedentop asks, “Will Europeans come to understand the moral logic that joins Christianity with civil liberty?” It is a pertinent question. The freedoms Europeans take for granted are challenged as a result of the massive immigration of Muslims into Europe who desire to replace the laws of the states that received them with Sharia law. The old warfare between those of religious belief and “godless” secularism may have run its course. The religious camp eventually came to accept civil liberty and religious pluralism. The French anticlericals, with the exception of hard-line Marxists and writers like Richard Dawkins, have given up on their attempt to extirpate religious belief.
The new conflict between Christianity and Islam may be in principle irresolvable — a prospect that needs to be faced.
Siedentop has grounds to argue that, in its origin, “the liberal ideal” is Christianity’s gift to the world. That is, from the time of St. Paul, the belief that moral equality implies a private sphere distinct from the civic, one in which each individual is free to make his decisions apart from secular authorities. That sphere of conscience and free action, the joining of rights with duties, finds its expression in the doctrine we know as separation of church and state. Secularism in its ancient sense, Siedentop insists, does not mean nonbelief or indifference.

Share Button

2017 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Priests are performing exorcisms over the phone, cardinal claims

Priests have been carrying out exorcisms over the phone as demand continues to rise, a Cardinal has said. Speaking at the Vatican’s annual exorcist training conference in Rome, Cardinal Ernest Simoni said priests are delivering prayers of liberation, part of…Continue Reading

Twitter suspends right-wing commentator Mark Dice for saying transsexualism is a mental illness

April 16, 2018 ( – Right-wing commentator Mark Dice, famous for YouTube video interviews with random passers-by in public spaces, says that his Twitter account was suspended Thursday of last week after he implied that transgenderism is a mental illness.…Continue Reading

Pope: ‘Troubled’ over Syria, praying for Alfie Evans

At the Regina Caeli, Pope Francis calls for greater commitment from the international community for a joint action for peace in Syria. He also asks that Alfie, who is suffering from a degenerative disease and whom doctors want to deny…Continue Reading

There’s no ‘bridge’ between modernism and faithful Catholicism

April 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic Church today is suffering greatly from a split among the faithful.  This split is evident in matters pertaining to the liturgy, doctrine, social teaching, morality, theology, and even in how the Faithful view…Continue Reading

Trump Unleashes Military Strikes on Syria Over Chemical Attack

President Donald Trump said he had approved military strikes on Syria in retaliation for an apparent chemical attack by the regime of Bashar al-Assad on a rebel town. “A short time ago I ordered the United States armed forces to…Continue Reading

Full text of Pope Francis’ letter to Chilean bishops

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2018 / 04:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a letter addressed to Chile’s bishops, Pope Francis admitted to making “serious mistakes” in handling the nation’s massive sex abuse crisis and asked for forgiveness. The pope summoned Chile’s…Continue Reading

Citing growing interest in Traditional Latin Mass, Archbishop Chaput creates quasi-parish

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 12, 2018 / 12:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new quasi-parish for Catholics interested in the Traditional Latin Mass will open in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at a church that had been part of a 2014 parish merger.…Continue Reading

Cecile Richards speaking at Catholic university in SF Archdiocese

Cecile Richards, a national leader for women’s rights and social and economic justice, has been added to the Institute for Leadership Studies (ILS) 2018 Spring Leadership Lecture Series at Dominican University of California. The series is presented by Dominican in…Continue Reading

Pope Francis releases exhortation on holiness

VATICAN CITY — God calls all Christians to be saints — not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his…Continue Reading

Cuomo Loots A Catholic Charity

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a disturbing new way to raise revenue: using government muscle to squeeze private organizations into “voluntarily” writing billion-dollar checks. That’s what he did to Fidelis Care, a nonprofit health plan affiliated with the Catholic Church, and…Continue Reading

Chappaquiddick And Us

Ah, you can always predict The New York Times;  from covering up the crimes of Stalin, courtesy of their Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Walter Duranty, their goal is to ever protect the left.  Thus, it is unsurprising that they published a hit…Continue Reading

Catholic morality has been replaced by a destructive sexuality

During the course of his journalistic and literary career, Cork writer Seán O’Faoláin (1900-1991) was fond of lists, often with a view to lampooning the excessive strictures of his era. He was 20-years-old and a university student before he learned…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Discriminating Mercy: Defending Christ And His Church With True Love


  By DON FIER (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., graciously took time out of his busy schedule to grant The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to the Shrine. Included among the topics…Continue Reading

Developing Lives Of Peace After The Heart Of Mary

By RAYMOND LEO CARDINAL BURKE (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke delivered the address below at the 32nd Annual Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World,” Galt House, Louisville, Ky., July 22, 2017. The address is reprinted here with the kind permission of Cardinal Burke. All rights reserved. This is part one of the…Continue Reading


Today . . .

The surprising reason why LGBT and abortion activists have been close allies from the beginning

CLEVELAND, Ohio, April 17, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The pro-abortion and LGBT movements are linked spiritually, ideologically and politically, a Christian pro-family advocate says. Because of this, it has become more important than ever before for pro-life and family advocates to unite against these enemies of life and the family. Former abortion volunteer and Christian convert Linda Harvey explained to a recent pro-life conference how the LGBT and abortion movements have the common elements of rejecting God’s…Continue Reading

A plea for mercy: Thomas Evans asks Pope Francis to save little Alfie

ROME, April 16, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Alfie Evans’ father has said he is knocking “on the Church’s door” asking for help to save his son from being euthanized, and is pleading that his “voice be brought to the Holy Father” so that Alfie can be transferred to “the Pope’s hospital” in Rome. In a letter sent on Sunday to the archbishop of Liverpool, Thomas Evans also confirmed that he and Alfie are both

Syrian patriarchs condemn ‘unjust aggression’ of Friday allied airstrikes, ask for prayers

Damascus, Syria, Apr 15, 2018 / 03:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The airstrikes carried out by the United States, the United Kingdom and France against Syria on Friday constituted “unjust” and “brutal” aggression, the patriarchs of the major Christian Churches in Syria have said in a joint statement. President Donald Trump ordered the airstrikes along with the U.K. and France in a joint show of military force following the suspected use of chemical warfare by the…Continue Reading

FULL TEXT: Cardinal Burke’s talk on the limits of papal power

ROME, April 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — What is the extent of papal power? Are there any limits, and if so how is the violation of those limits judged and corrected? These and other questions were addressed by Cardinal Raymond Burke last Saturday, April 7, at a conference in Rome titled ‘Catholic Church: Where are you heading?’ The afternoon symposium, sponsored by the ‘Frie

Trump supporters slam decision to launch strikes against Syria

Prominent supporters of President Trump are expressing skepticism over his decision to launch airstrikes against Syria, slamming the move as overly aggressive and unnecessary. Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham both questioned Trump’s decision Friday to launch strikes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack last weekend that the U.S. has attributed to the Syrian government. Carlson noted the move was inconsistent with the president’s message during his 2016 campaign, and Ingraham said


A Book Review… Edith Stein’s Love Of Wisdom

By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN Edith Stein: The Life and Legacy of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda (Sophia Institute Press: Manchester, NH, 2017), 221 pp.; paperback $15.95. Available from or 1-800-888-9344. An engaging, comprehensive introduction to the life, writings, thought, and martyrdom of a Jewish convert to the Catholic faith beatified…Continue Reading

Neither Left Nor Right, But Catholic… The Illusion Of Independent Thinking

By STEPHEN M. KRASON (Editor’s Note: Stephen M. Krason’s “Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic” column appears monthly [sometimes bimonthly]. He is professor of political science and legal studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society…Continue Reading

A Book Review… The Interruption Of A Catholic Renaissance

By JUDE DOUGHERTY Douthat, Ross. To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. xvii + 234 pp. Available at (Editor’s Note: Please also see James K. Fitzpatrick’s review of the Douthat book in The Wanderer, March 1, 2018, p. 1.) + + + The Archdiocese…Continue Reading

The Incredible Enlarging Child

By DONALD DeMARCO Psychologists who study perception tell us that we interpret things against a background. We notice what is called the figure, but we interpret the figure in relation to a background which we do not notice. A candle is holy when set on an altar, romantic on a piano, eerie in a jack-o-lantern,…Continue Reading

Has The War Party Hooked Trump?

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN With his Sunday, April 8 tweet that Bashar Assad, “Animal Assad,” ordered a gas attack on Syrian civilians, and Vladimir Putin was morally complicit in the atrocity, President Donald Trump just painted himself and us into a corner. “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless chemical attack in Syria,” tweeted…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Raymond Cardinal Burke… Pope Francis Is “Increasing The Confusion”

(Editor’s Note: Below is the full text of an April 5 interview Raymond Cardinal Burke granted to an Italian Catholic publication, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. LifeSiteNews reprinted that interview with permission of Riccardo Cascioli, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana’s editor, and we provide it here. All rights reserved. (Diane Montagna did the translation for LifeSiteNews.) + + + ROME (LifeSiteNews) —…Continue Reading

The Sheep Of The Lord’s Flock

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Fourth Sunday Of Easter (YR B) Readings: Acts 4:8-12 1 John 3:1-2 John 10:11-18 Our faith is one of mystery and what might appear to some as contradictions. Of course, there are no contradictions; paradox would probably be the better word to describe it. Our readings today describe several paradoxes for our consideration. First, we hear…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… Confusion, Straw Men Mar Papal Document

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Pope Francis gets high marks in his latest apostolic exhortation on personal holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate (GE), for defending solid teaching on at least one embattled doctrinal truth: “Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to ‘deliver us from evil.’ That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more…Continue Reading

The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… Christ Is The Fulfillment Of The Sacrifices Of The Old Law

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 24 In the two previous articles, we considered the three most important ceremonies of the Old Law, namely, the Sacrifice of the Covenant, the Pasch, and the Day of Atonement. In the New Testament, the Sacrifice of Calvary is closely connected to those three central Jewish sacrifices. In this article, we will see how…Continue Reading

Overview Of The Eight Beatitudes

By DON FIER The dignity of the human person, as we saw last week, “is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], n. 1700). Precisely because he is “endowed with a spiritual soul, with intellect and with free will, the human person is from his very conception ordered to God…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Pedro Calungsod

By CAROLE BRESLIN Guam, a small island about 1,600 miles east of the Philippines, is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This small island, which has played an important role in U.S. military activities in Southeast Asia since the early twenty-first century, was recently a pawn in the political chess game with North Korea. The Jesuits first came to…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Agnes Of Montepulciano

By CAROLE BRESLIN When St. Therese of Lisieux was only 15 years old, she begged her father to let her enter a convent. Her parents, Saints Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin, were faithful Catholics and raised their children to cherish the religious life. About six hundred years before St. Therese was born, another saint had the same ambition: to join…Continue Reading