Still, most of us have no business attending every argument we’re invited to. For the sake of peace and order, and barring particularly egregious circumstances (the determination of which forms the true heart of this controversy), every man should assume the legitimacy of his own government. That is, in fact, the actual praxis of the Catholic Church, which has such a preference for peace that it prefers to err on the side of legitimizing usurpers, even handing a crown to Napoleon himself. Which reminds me: I believe that someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, the question of political legitimacy will be made easier than any of us dreamed possible. In the meantime let us fight with all we have to make those “egregious circumstances” unthinkable.
– Jeff Culbreath from What’s Wrong with the World
Dear Mr. Culbreath,
You and your fellow bloggers have had a number of interesting discussions recently at your blog about what constitutes a legitimate government, how a government develops legitimacy, and how it loses legitimacy. I don’t have much to add at the moment except that I was listening this morning to the famous Catholic convert Steve Ray, who is in England right now at the famous National Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham. He was talking about the destruction of the Catholic monastaries under Henry and the persecution of the church in general and I can’t help but think that what Henry did made his government illegitimate and worthy of rebellion. However, at the same time, whatever Henry’s faults and those around him who created the Anglican church (e.g. Cranmer), eventually the Church of England became a Christian church full of beauty and grace and part of the fabric of English life and government. In other words, it became legitimate.
Now of course, the Anglican church is in some sense dying in England and the Catholic Church is making a comeback — so perhaps you are right — the Catholic response to government upheaval and turmoil should always be to work for justice within the framework of the government that exists (“render unto Caeser”) and keep in mind that our mission on Earth will always be limited in some sense to preaching Christ crucified and doing our best with the grace He gives us.