The Way

Edwin C. Cook November/December 2012

Novus ordo seclorum, a phrase that appears on the American $1 bill, means “a new order for the ages,” and reflects the thinking and intent of the Founders in America at the time of the Continental Congress. For them, the New World discovered by Columbus offered many opportunities for a political experiment that was completely foreign to the medieval system of guilds and monarchies of European society. The constitutional ideas formulated by Thomas Jefferson depended much upon the “balance of powers” from Montesquieu, the democracy and republicanism of Greek society, and the need for law from Roman society.

In contrast to the wars of religion that drenched European soil with blood, the Founders conceptualized a society in which civil peace would reign. To this end, they recognized the need for a separation of church and state; thereby granting to the individual citizen freedom of conscience to follow his or her personal convictions without incurring civil penalties. Relying upon the influence of Baptists, who argued for religious freedom based on “soul liberty,” as well as the philosophical arguments of John Locke and the French philosophes, James Madison formulated the religion clauses of the First Amendment. In essence, the Founders conceived of a country without a king and a church without a pope.

The idea of a novus ordo seclorum has been applied by political theorists in recent decades to the possibilities of one-world governance, in no small part a result of globalization. The Catholic Church is foremost among participants opining on this political possibility. Observing a gradual change in the political landscape from distinct nation-states to continental political communities such as the European Union, several Catholic scholars have postulated regarding the (near) future politics of one-world governance.

As early as 1973 one Jesuit scholar, Carlos Corral Salvador, commented, “The tendency . . . of the world to incorporate itself gradually into supranational communities that supersede the resulting small dimension of each state of today, needs, in order to find fulfillment, each time a fuller, reciprocal conjunction that must be ordered by law.”1 Salvador pointed out the need for a supranational law and a knowledge of the particular ordinances of each state (or nation) in order to incorporate all of them into supranational communities. He next postulated, in logical fashion, that supranational communities grouped by geographical area would lead to a communitas universalis (universal community): “One of the intellectual topics of the great jurists and classical theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was, without doubt, their universal vision with which they gave birth to modern international law. This universalism, will it not be able to continue finding its progressive fulfillment in Europe, as a first step toward a communitas universalis?”2

As if in response to those who find such a suggestion incredulous, especially in view of the religious plurality in the world, Salvador responded: “Does this sound too great to be a reality? Despite this, it should be studied from all angles. One of them, and not necessarily the least of them, is the juridical. . . . What is the current juridical regulation in Europe regarding fundamental principles in religious matters? This knowledge is the beginning point in order to be able one day to arrive at a union and regulation, as much of religious liberty as of the relations of the churches with the diverse states within a united Europe.”3 Salvador not only suggested that a study of current law regarding religious matters in Europe can be beneficial to church-state relations in Europe, but also hinted at it as a pattern for the communitas universalis. He alluded to the eventual “union and regulation, as much of religious liberty as of the relations of the churches with the diverse states.”

Salvador postulated these ideas in 1973. Thirty years later another Catholic scholar, Heinz-Gerhard Justenhoven, investigated the thought of late-nineteenth-century and twentieth-century popes regarding the idea of a communitas universalis. In his article “Peace Through a Public Global Authority in the Papal Teaching From Leo XIII to John XXIII,” he traced the thought of various popes and how they envisioned the development of a communitas universalis.4 He first argued that the United Nations established the theory of international peace by restricting to some extent the national member-states’ sovereignty, but that it lacked the institutional structure to implement it.

Justenhoven argued that Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) desired to restore the moral religious hegemony in a new Christian universal empire. Leo opposed the then-current understanding of international law by which the strength of a nation justified the exercise of its rights. Justenhoven concluded his analysis of Leo XIII’s thought by stating: “Leo believed the arms race [that eventually led to World War I] could be prevented if the medieval ideal of concord among the princes under the pope on the basis of a common law, international law based on natural law, was restored. In the role of an arbitrator, Leo wanted to issue legally binding judgments, based on this international law, on the disputes of princes and thus serve peace between the nations.”5 Although Pope Leo XIII’s desire for the Catholic Church to be recognized as a universal arbiter among the nations did not find fulfillment, subsequent popes continued to seek this goal.

Justenhoven continued his survey of modern popes in regard to an internationally recognized political authority when he commented that Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) desired states to submit to papal arbitration, but only willingly. Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) recognized the societal trend to protect basic human rights6 and argued that an international order should be based on natural law, which in turn would provide ethical standards for the construction of a political system.7 Pius XII argued for the fundamental unity (solidarity) of humankind as the basis of international law. Upon this foundation of natural law shaping the international order, Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) built their concept with a call for an effective international authority that has the power to enforce law.8 States’ sovereignty becomes limited under this schema, requiring the principle of subsidiarity to govern competencies between states’ rights and the international political authority. Subsidiarity applies to the ordering of society and teaches that “functions which subordinate or local organizations perform effectively belong more properly to them than to a dominant central organization.”9 John XXIII also promoted the democratization of the international order as the most effective guarantee of human rights. The common good of the international order must also precede that of the national common good.10

Pope Benedict XVI has laid out a comprehensive model in the Caritatis document.

Pope Benedict XVI and Caritatis in Veritate
Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent encyclical Caritatis in Veritate, addresses the current economic crisis that occurred in 2008 and that still plagues many countries. He makes several salient points regarding the causes and recommendations for a solution, one of which includes the same line of thought as previous popes regarding a universally recognized political authority.

First he begins by addressing the need for integral human development. He states: “Paul VI [1963-1978] clearly understood that the social question had become worldwide, and he grasped the interconnection between the impetus toward the unification of humanity and the Christian ideal of a single family of peoples in solidarity and fraternity.”11 The “social question” referred to traces back to Rerum novarum (1891), which addresses working conditions among industrialized nations, the right to personal property (as opposed to socialism), and the need for economic justice through redistribution. Since it addresses issues of labor, the encyclical includes a section regarding the sanctity of “the Lord’s day” (Sunday in Catholic tradition)12 and how it should be a day free from labor obligations, a point being heavily pushed in Europe currently through an emphasis upon a “family rest day.” (See “The Day” in this issue.) Thus, Rerum novarum established the platform for the later development of Catholic social philosophy.

In Caritatis Benedict XVI argues that human solidarity is a prerequisite for human development. Through recognition of the common humanity we all share, humanity can better understand the dignity of the human person, a key principle in current Catholic social philosophy. Benedict explains how “integral human development as a vocation also demands respect for its truth.”13 He refers to Populorum Progressio (progress of humanity) to argue that integral human development cannot be dissociated from the divine sphere (“transcendent humanism,” as he cites from Populorum Progressio). He contends that the Christian gospel offers humanity the opportunity for true human development and progress.

How should the state then orient itself to the progress and development of humanity? Benedict describes the limitations to state sovereignty as “imposed by the new context of international trade and finance,”14 and argues that public authorities involved in trying to correct the current economic crisis need to be “reviewed and remodeled” to face the challenges of the world today.15

Benedict XVI then addresses another concern of our times, namely, the right to religious freedom. He identifies three false claims to the right to religious freedom, the first being those with terrorist motives, which impedes economic progress and hinders true human development.16 Next he contends with “religious indifference or practical atheism,” arguing that “God is the guarantor of man’s true development,” and that “when the state promotes, teaches, or actually imposes forms of practical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength that is indispensable for attaining integral human development.”17 Benedict XVI criticizes those economically developed countries that export such sentiments along with financial assistance to poorer, less-developed countries, describing such actions as hindering the true progress of humanity.

Globalization and economic factors occupy Benedict’s concerns in articles 33 and 36, respectively, of Caritatis. Regarding globalization, he argues that it results in “worldwide interdependence” through common economic markets, which can result only in good for humanity if the conditions of “charity in truth” are met through a “civilization of love” derived from God.18 Globalization requires a broader knowledge of such powerful forces and how to direct them properly. Resulting economic activity must be “directed toward the pursuit of the common good,” which is the responsibility of the political community. However, he warns that economic activity merely for the pursuit of wealth cannot achieve true human development. To the contrary, it must be balanced by political action, “conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.”19

Regarding political authority, Benedict XVI presents two perspectives that need to be taken as a whole in order to understand the point he is establishing. In article 41 he states that political authority involves a wide range of values, and even refers to subsidiarity as a guiding principle in its actions.20 This seems to suggest that he conceives of political authority at all levels cooperating with economic principles of justice and distribution. He concedes there exists an “urgent need of a true world political authority.” Benedict describes this political authority as needing “to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.”21 From such a description, one might rightly assume Benedict XVI is referring to the Papacy itself, based on the encyclical Caritatis. He goes on to state, “Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.”

These very statements, according to the Catholic World News, elicited a Reuters report that claimed Benedict XVI was calling for “a centralized authority to govern the world economy.”22 Catholic World News denied the Reuters report, but from a balanced analysis of the whole document, especially articles 41 and 67, Benedict refers to political authorities (plural) working in harmony with just economic principles, and he refers to a political authority (singular) to operate according to the very principles he has enunciated in Caritatis. Thus, one is left to conclude that he is referring either to the Papacy or to another political entity that would uphold all of the principles of Catholic social philosophy.

Catholic Concepts of Solidarity and Subsidiarity
Solidarity, in Catholic parlance, refers to the unity of the human race in the pursuit of common interests, values, and a moral vision founded upon Roman Catholic social philosophy. The dignity of the human person is integral to the development of solidarity. The danger inherent to such a goal is that of reestablishing the Corpus Christianum that dominated much of Western European history and resulted in the suppression of religious freedom.

In response to such concerns, the church argues that the corollary principle of solidarity is subsidiarity, which is designed to restrict the centralization of government23 and which, Catholic philosophers claim, allows the individual to be recognized and respected within the communal construct of society under solidarity.

Implications for Religious Freedom
The overarching concern with such a construct of the global community is that of a distorted sense of federalism. Solidarity balanced by subsidiarity is the Catholic alternative to a constitutional, religiously neutral federalism that Catholics believe disallows religion a role in the public square. They argue that typical federalism produces religious indifference through a constitutionally mandated neutral role of government. However, the Catholic alternative places a religious institution, the church, in the role of balancing solidarity with subsidiarity, and thereby establishing a religious institution in the role of arbiter among religious organizations.

The claims of Catholic scholars who defend Caritatis as if the church has never intended to assume a preeminent role as arbiter over a communitas universalis are wholly unfounded—as brought out in the first part of this article. At a minimum one may state that Caritatis alludes to the singular role of a political authority that operates according to Roman Catholic social principles. When one considers that the church claims for itself a transcendental mission (religious dimension) that finds fulfillment in the temporal sphere in relation to humanity (political dimension), the allusion in Caritatis is hardly unnoticeable. Such a model is less progressive than a regression to the role played by the church in the Middle Ages. And a new world governed by such logic might well show the same intolerance to religious diversity—to religious freedom itself.

Edwin Cook has a doctorate in church-state studies from Baylor University, Waco, Texas. He lives in Waco, Texas.

1 Carlos Corral Salvador, S.J., La Libertad Religiosa en la Comunidad Economica Europea (Madrid: Editorial Graficas Espejo, 1973), p. 7.
2 Ibid., pp. 13, 14.
3 Ibid.
4 Heinz-Gerhard Justenhoven, “Peace Through a Public Global Authority in the Papal Teaching From Leo XIII to John XXIII,” in Heinz-Gerhard Justenhoven and James Turner, eds., Rethinking the State in the Age of Globalisation: Catholic Thought and Contemporary Political Theory (Munster: Lit Verlag, 2003).
5 Ibid., p. 172.
6 Ibid., p. 179.
7 Ibid., p. 186.
8 Ibid., p. 187.
9 Edwin Cook, “Gaining the Upper Hand: Subsidiarity and Justice for All?” in Liberty, January/February 2009;
10 Justenhoven, pp. 188-191.
11 Benedict XVI, Caritatis in Veritate, art. 13.
12 Edwin Cook, “Europe and the Issue of Rest,” in Liberty, January/February 2011;
13 Benedict XVI, Caritatis, art. 18.
14 Ibid., art. 24.
15 Ibid., art. 24.
16 Ibid., art. 29.
17 Ibid., art. 29.
18 Ibid., art. 33.
19 Ibid., art. 36.
20 Ibid., art. 41.
21 Ibid., art. 67.
22 Catholic World News, “Caritatis in Veritate: Papal Encyclical Calls for New Moral Approach to Global Economy,” July 8, 2009;
23 Justenhoven, p. 193.

Article Author: Edwin C. Cook

Edwin Cook has a doctorate in church-state studies from Baylor University, Waco, Texas. He writes from Waco.