Saturday, August 25, 2012

Political Holiness

Since 2004, St. Thomas More has officially been the patron saint of statesmen. But, long before Thomas More, there were statesman saints, holy medieval kings and queens honored in the Church’s calendar – St. Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia (c.907-929), St. Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor (972-1024), St. Stephen, Apostolic King of Hungary (969-1038), St. Edward the Confessor, King of England (1003-1066), St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland (c.1045-1093), St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal (1271-1336), and the most famous medieval ruler of them all, St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270), whom the Church commemorates today.
Louis IX’s mother, Blanche of Castile is supposed to have told him, "I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.” Apparently, he took his mother’s admonition very much to heart! Upon his canonization in 1297, so strong was popular devotion to St. Louis IX that the introduction of his feast bumped the Apostle St. Bartholomew to the previous day!

In Munich in January 1919 (when Central and Eastern Europe was quite literally coming apart, thanks to that absurd failure of statesmanship that was World War I), the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) gave his famous lecture Politik als Beruf (“Politics As a Vocation”), which eventually became a must read for serious 20th-century students of politics and its ethical challenges. Long before Weber, however, St. Louis IX and other saintly medieval kings and queens had lived out politics as a vocation in the fullest sense, incorporating their political calling within the universal vocation to holiness. Nor was the vocation to holiness in political life confined to the Middle Ages. Consider the case of Weber’s contemporary, Blessed Kaiser Karl I (1887-1922), who reigned as Austrian Emperor and Apostolic King of Hungary from 1916 until he was tragically deposed as one of World War I’s losers in 1918.

The Medieval world was significantly different from ours – in both good ways and bad. But, even allowing for all the obvious differences in circumstances, St. Louis IX’s advice to his son, remains relevant for a political vocation in any age. “Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater. Be just to your subjects, swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather than with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all your subjects live in justice and peace …”

If nothing else, that certainly sounds a lot better than the platform of either party in the present election!

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