Even though Integralism has fallen out of favor among many within the Catholic Church, including much of the clergy, nobody can reasonably deny that the Church doesn’t still officially teach it. In fact, there are a lot of things the Church officially teaches, and many Catholics (clergy included) don’t like, often ignore, and try to pretend the Church has changed its teaching, when in fact it has not. This would include the Church’s teachings on artificial contraception, unmarried cohabitation, homosexuality, and yes even the transubstantiation. I’ve actually had arguments with Catholic theology professors and religious directors over the transubstantiation. These people (who are in charge of teaching Catholics the Faith) actually held to the position that the transubstantiation is not literal (which is a condemned heresy). Then I’ve had arguments with Catholic priests, pastors of parishes no less, who denied the teaching of the First Vatican Council that the pope speaks infallibly ex cathedra. They (yes, there have been more than one), asserted that the pope is not infallible unless the college of bishops agree with him in an ecumenical council (which is another condemned heresy). Finally, I’ve sparred with priests and lay parish leaders over the Church’s teachings on salvation, hell and even the divine nature of Jesus Christ. So it is no surprise to me at all that such a poorly catechized Church today (both the laity and the clergy in some cases) would have a problem with Catholic integralism. Of course they don’t believe it anymore. Nor do they believe the Church’s teachings on artificial contraception, unmarried cohabitation, homosexuality, papal infallibility, salvation, hell and Christ’s divinity. If they deny the Church’s teachings on these things, they’ll deny the Church’s teachings on integralism too.
I am a Catholic Integralist. Just as I defended distributism in a previous essay, (yes, I am a distributist too), so I’ll defend integralism in this essay. That said, I’ll do so by explaining my take on it first. I find that most arguments, against such things as distributism and integralism, rely heavily on strawmen tactics. By that, I mean the opponent argues against an assertion about distributism or integralism that doesn’t really exist. Here’s an example. In the case of distributism, the opponent argues against the immorality and sin of taking private property away from people (theft) and redistributing it to others. The argument is sound and persuasive. There’s only one problem. That isn’t what distributism advocates. In fact, distributism opposes the government redistribution of both wealth and property. The opponents of distributism make a good argument against socialism, fascism and communism. For that, I clap and say bravo! But I have yet to hear them make a valid argument against distributism. I dare say, they may not even know what distributism is. They’re making arguments against a system of economics they clearly don’t understand, and they’ve falsely assumed is another system of economics. The same is often true with integralism. Opponents usually argue effectively and persuasively against a system of government that isn’t really integralism, then they thump their chests and pronounce their victory over integralism. They built a strawman, called it “integralism,” then effectively tore it down while proclaiming their victory. The only problem is, the strawman they built was not integralism. It was just their false version of what they wrongly think integralism is.
So what is integralism? The Josias, a website dedicated to publishing articles about Catholic Integralism, puts it this way in three sentences…
The Church Militant video above, at the top of the written form of this essay, is an excellent primer on Catholic integralism, outlining what the system is in practical terms. Basically, the gist is simple. Jesus Christ is King over all things, and His Catholic Church is the only church ever established by him. Therefore, any government established by the followers of Jesus Christ must be subject to the moral teachings of His Catholic Church, and it must acknowledge His Catholic Church as teaching His moral authority of objective truth, because He is objective Truth. Any other system of government is woefully inadequate for a Christian people, harmful to society in general, and ultimately destined to collapse because it is not built on objective truth.
Such was the case with the ancient Roman Empire. It was built on the untruth of Paganism, so it was destined to collapse. When it did, it was eventually replaced by Christendom, which lasted more than a thousand years, until various countries abandoned the Catholic Church and eventually started tinkering with other systems of government that no longer acknowledged Christ or his Catholic Church. Those governments lasted (or will last) only insofar as they embrace some objective truth. The less objective truth they embrace, the quicker they will fall. The Soviet Union, for example, lasted only 75 years, having embraced the untruth of godless atheism, legalized theft, institutionalized covetousness, and for a time, mandated adultery and fornication (but that’s another story). It collapsed under its own weight and moral bankruptcy. Today, President Vladimir Putin is encouraging a return to Russian Orthodoxy, because he knows that without Christianity, the new Russian Federation will suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union. He’s even toying with the idea of bringing back the czars! Nazi Germany lasted only 12 years, having prematurely fallen by its own bad strategic decisions, which again were made by failure to embrace objective truth. It is doubtful the Third Reich would have lasted more than a couple generations, even if it had behaved well by not attacking its neighbors. This is because Nazism embraced the untruth of Heathen Paganism, combined with obsolete race theory, along with a cruel interpretation of natural selection. Even if it survived World War II, it’s collapse was inevitable. Communist China should have collapsed years ago. It remains only because of economic mollycoddling by Western powers through sweetheart trade deals. France has gone through no less than five separate republics since throwing off their monarchy in the French Revolution, mainly because of its governmental rejection of objective Catholic truth, embracing the ideologies of the Enlightenment and Freemasonry. The United States is currently in decline, and will likely collapse at some future date, partly because America’s founders rejected some objective truths at its founding, but mostly because the US Federal Government rejected all objective truth in the 1960s, starting with John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to the Houston Ministerial Association, where he distanced his political beliefs from his Catholic Faith. That set a dangerous precedence. It was followed by Supreme Court decisions that ended prayer in public school. The United States government took an extreme anti-religion position in the years that followed, effectively sending the message that objective truth is unknowable. It’s no coincidence that America’s downward spiral began in the 1960s and has not stopped since. America’s decline will continue until the American people demand a government that returns to the objective truth of the Christian Faith. If we don’t, then our federal government will inevitably collapse. After that, who knows what happens!? Do we start over with another one? — like France? Or do we break up into different countries — each trying something different — like the Soviet Union? I think it will most likely be the latter. The following maps are concepts that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but nevertheless capture the idea of what may soon await the late, great United States if the people fail to demand a return to Christian governance…
So, what is Catholic Integralism, or at least my understanding of it? To me, it looks a lot like what already exists in Costa Rica. There, we have a small Central American country, with both political and economic stability, where the Catholic Church is adopted as the official state religion. What does that mean for Costa Ricans? Simply put, Costa Ricans can practice any religion they want (or they can practice no religion at all) as a matter of personal preference. The state does not interfere with that, and considers it a civil right. However, on the flip side, the state cannot be sued for promoting Catholic religion in law, architecture, monuments, or public school curriculum. Likewise, state laws are based (for the most part) on Catholic moral teaching. For example, abortion is illegal in Costa Rica, outside of medical necessity to save the life of the mother. Catholic Integralism does not support an absolute separation of church and state, but rather an ordered separation, where the state is placed in a separate but subordinate position to the Catholic Church. This is how it is in Costa Rica. A similar, though not necessarily identical, arrangement exists in the European states of Malta, Monaco and Liechtenstein. So when people ask hypothetically: what would Catholic Integralism look like? There need not be a hypothetical answer, because the reality already exists and has for some time. Just look to Costa Rica, Malta, Monaco and Liechtenstein. If you want to know what a Protestant version would be like, you need look no further than England, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Tuvalu, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland. Do any of these places oppress human rights? Hardly! Those who propose the notion that integralism will infringe upon civil rights, and force unwanted religion upon people, clearly do not know what they’re talking about. They have embraced a Hollywood version of a theocratic dystopia, that is completely disconnected from political reality.
Many people mistake integralism for theocracy. They think they’re the same thing. They are not. Under integralism, the state is subordinate to the moral authority and objective truth taught by the church. Under theocracy, the state becomes the church. Under integralism, the state remains separate but subordinate to the church. Under theocracy, there is no distinction between the state and the church at all. Under integralism, your religious leader is one person, and your state representative is another. Under theocracy, your religious leader and state representative are the same person. Under integralism, holding to a religion that is different from the state church is a protected civil right. Under theocracy, it’s treason. As I said above, I am an integralist, not a theocrat. Please don’t confuse the two.
Integralism can take different forms, and while it is ideal for the state to recognize Christianity (preferably the Catholic Church) as the official, state religion, such recognition is not necessary for integralism to be pursued on a political level. Nor is a certain form of government required either. While constitutional monarchy is probably the most ideal form of integralist government, the goals of integralism can still be achieved through a republic as well, just as they are in Costa Rica and Malta. (Monaco and Liechtenstein are monarchies.) Here in the United States, a secular republic, integralism surfaces every time Christians bring moral issues to bear in politics. What Christians are saying (whether Catholic or Protestant) is that there is objective truth and a moral authority higher than our states and federal governments. Therefore our states and federal government should recognize these objective truths and moral authority in law, even if they don’t officially recognize the churches that teach them.
When people oppose this, usually with the line “keep your religion out of politics,” what they’re really saying is this. “There is no objective truth and all religions are the same.” It’s important to understand this, because when we do, we’ll discover that all political issues come down to religious beliefs. It’s just that some people, such as many Democrats in the United States for example, subconsciously embrace the religious notion of omnism (which is syncretism taken to its logical conclusion) as well as moral relativism. While other Democrats are just straight-up agnostics or atheists. The embrace of these religious ideas (omnism, agnosticism, atheism and moral relativism) inevitably leads societies away from Christianity, which ultimately leads to the widespread acceptance of immoral acts that are harmful to society. This can, and often does, lead to the eventual collapse of the governments that mollycoddle this sort of thinking. That’s because supposed neutrality between all religions (and no religion at all) is effectively indistinguishable from state atheism. That is, in practical application, it’s the same thing. This is why I assert that the United States, ever since the 1960s, now faces the same destiny as the Soviet Union, which is total collapse and breakup into multiple different nations, each one going its separate way.
To survive, governments have to project the notion that there is objective truth and moral absolutes. Without these things, how does a government convince people that certain behaviors are wrong? How does it convince people that its enforcement of laws are not just the bullying of one group’s arbitrary opinion over another group? The answer is it can’t. Ultimately, the government that mollycoddles omnism, agnosticism, atheism and moral relativism, signs its own death certificate. Because in time, the majority of the population will decide that there is no objective truth or moral absolutes. When that happens, look out! Because history shows they usually take it out on their government. Lawlessness leads to government collapse, and the only way to rule such an unruly people is with brute force. Thus, such governments are eventually replaced by military dictatorships. So it is, for a time. That is, until they totally collapse under their own weight.
There are those Catholics who wrongly assert that the Catholic Church has changed her teaching, and rejected integralism. Some of them are clergy. To back this, they point to the Second Vatican Council document Dignitatis Humanae where it says the following…
If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice.
Finally, government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.
It follows that a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people, by force or fear or other means, the profession or repudiation of any religion, or when it hinders men from joining or leaving a religious community. All the more is it a violation of the will of God and of the sacred rights of the person and the family of nations when force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion, either in the whole of mankind or in a particular country or in a definite community.Dignitatis Humanae, 6
Of course, this doesn’t really prove anything against integralism. It does blow theocracy out of the water, as well as state-mandated atheism, but it doesn’t do a thing to integralism. As I said above, integralism recognizes the right of people to claim a different religion, other than the one embraced by the state. As I also said above, conscientious objection to the state religion is a civil right under integralism. Under theocracy, however, it’s treason. What the Second Vatican Council opposes, in Dignitatis Humanae, is theocracy not integralism. For in the same document it states plainly…
Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.…
There is a further consideration. The religious acts whereby men, in private and in public and out of a sense of personal conviction, direct their lives to God transcend by their very nature the order of terrestrial and temporal affairs. Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious….Dignitatis Humanae 1 & 3
As you can see, Dignitatis Humanae in no way contradicts the previous teaching of the Church on integralism. Rather, it simply clarifies it. So as to state that in no way should the Church’s historical teaching on integralism be misconstrued as to advocate the denial of basic civil rights regarding individual religious preference. In other words, integralism is not theocracy. Those who assert that Dignitatis Humanae somehow changed the Church’s historical teaching on integralism reveal their superficial reading of the document. It does nothing of the sort. Rather, it insures that integralism remains integralism, and calls upon both the state and the Faithful to prevent it from degenerating into theocracy.
Then, of course there is always the argument used by Modernists and Liberal Protestants alike, which is the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, where Jesus answers Pilate who asked “Are you the king of the Jews?” To which Jesus responded: “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” (John 18:36) They correctly point out that Christ’s kingship is a spiritual one, reigning through the hearts of men, not a physical one, reigning through brute force. Where they begin to error is in the assertion that Christians should just accept whatever form of government is foisted upon them, because Christ’s kingship is not of this world. That is an error. Nowhere did Christ say that Christians couldn’t strive to bring elements of his kingship into this world through peaceful and practical means. In fact, it’s ridiculous to assert that he did. Are we to believe that a nation of Christians, say 90% in population, should surrender their right of government to the 10% of citizens who are non-Christians? Does that even make sense from a democratic point of view? Doesn’t it make more sense that a nation of Christians, who recognize that Christ’s kingship is not of the world, would delegate the responsibilities and authority of government to men responsive to his Church, though not directly an instrument of it? Does it not make sense that such a Christian majority would create a separate government, apart from the Church, to function in subordination to the Church’s teachings, all the while protecting the civil rights of non-Christians? In the New Testament, there appear to be only three things that Christ condemned in regards to Christians and government: (1) failure to pay taxes, (2) taking up arms in insurrection, and (3) using government force or coercion to make new converts. Beyond that, there is nothing in Christ’s teachings that prohibit the creation of a civil government that recognizes the Kingship of Christ and the moral authority of his Catholic Church, especially if there are enough citizens to do it in a peaceful and practical way.
Some opponents of integralism attack it by stereotyping integralists. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for example, a radical Leftist organization that often classifies people who disagree with it as “hate groups,” stereotypes integralists as radical-traditionalist Catholics who: reject the Second Vatican Council, embrace Antisemitism and oppose women’s rights. Of course, the SPLC would have a hard time stereotyping me, a traditional Catholic who embraces the Second Vatican Council as 100% pastoral, is of Jewish heritage on my mother’s side, hates Antisemitism as much as I hate anti-Catholicism, and respects women’s rights so long as it doesn’t involve killing babies in the womb. Let the opponents of integralism stereotype us all they like. It only weakens their argument in the long run, as more and more people find out that such stereotypes are complete bullshit.
Lastly, integralism is not the pursuit of a utopian society, and I don’t know any integralists who say it is. Rather, integralism is the pursuit of better governance, not perfect governance. The world was not a paradise in medieval times when integralism was the norm in Europe, and as much as modern Costa Rica seems like a nice little country, I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s perfect. The same goes for Malta, Monaco, and Liechtenstein. None of them are perfect. There is no such thing as utopia this side of heaven. I think most integralists know that. Opponents of integralism will sometimes accuse integralists of seeking a utopian society. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we seek is a society that is governed by laws based on basic Christian morality, which is something we’re not getting in the United States, Canada or most of Western civilization these days. We seek a government that is practical, stable and lasting, as opposed to a government that is constantly beset by one social revolution after another. We understand that the work of evangelization belongs solely to the Church, not the state, but at the same time we seek a state that doesn’t actively work against it either. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me.
For these, and other reasons, many Christians in North America and Europe are turning back to integralism as an outward expression of their Christian faith in the realm of politics. Granted, many Evangelicals are not familiar with the term integralism, or the advanced development of the idea under Catholic teaching, but they’re starting to get a sense of it through their own studies of Scripture and intuition. Indeed, the New Testament teaches that the authority of the state (even the Pagan state) is established by God. So it stands to reason that if you have enough Christians, a Christian state is not unreasonable, and in many cases desirable, even to some non-Christians. A number of these Evangelicals refer to this thinking as “Christian nationalism.” While there is nothing technically wrong with that term, in and of itself, it can evoke negative connotations for those who misunderstand. For the immature Christian, the term could potentially lead to a reduction of God and religion to political life alone. This could potentially lead to creeping theocracy, or even totalitarianism in the name of Christ. While both are unlikely, as the New Testament stands as a constant guard against such things, there is no limit to the depths of depravity mankind is capable of sinking under the right circumstances. I understand that the term “Christian nationalism” is employed primarily by Evangelicals for lack of a better term. To remedy this, I propose the term “integralism” and “integralist” be used instead. It’s a descriptive and tidy word with an interesting history. Once used as an insult by Liberals and Modernists against Catholics who insisted on integrating (hence the name) the Catholic Faith into every aspect of our lives, including politics, we adopted the slur as our moniker, much in the same way the American colonists embraced the British slur “Yankee.” So from this Yankee Integralist, to all integralists around the world, let us continue to pray, unite, and work toward bringing Christ back into our society, our laws and (yes) even our government system itself.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.