Lucifer, The First Liberal By ARTHUR M. HIPPLER , Wanderer .March 03
… the principles of liberalism mirror the Devil’s original revolt.
By ARTHUR M. HIPPLER
In his encyclical on The Nature of True Liberty (Libertas Praestantissimum), Leo XIII makes the remarkable claim that liberalism is diabolic in its origins. "But many there are who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer, and adopt as their own his rebellious cry, I will not serve; and consequently substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license. Such, for instance, are the men belonging to that widely spread and powerful organization, who, usurping the name of liberty, style themselves liberals" (Libertas Praestantissimum, n.14). Although the Holy Father’s comparison may seem hyperbolic, nonetheless the principles of liberalism mirror the Devil’s original revolt.
While many political opinions and projects are lumped together under the name of liberalism, we should remind ourselves of its most fundamental basis. As Leo XIII explains, liberalism begins with the rejection of both natural and divine law; the "followers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself; from which arises that ethical system which they style independent morality" (LP, n.15). Morality comes neither from God nor human nature.
For the liberal, morality is created by the free choice of society. Whether one studies Hobbes or Rousseau, one finds no law higher than the human law. In the words of Pope Leo, "just as every man’s individual reason is his only rule of life, so the collective reason of the community should be the supreme guide in the management of all public affairs" (ibid.). This divorce of the moral law from politics affects our understanding of democracy up to the present day, as Pope John Paul notes in Evangelium Vitae (n. 70).
This rejection of God’s rule through the moral law is the sin of Lucifer. As St. Thomas explains, the Devil rejected the law of God for a disordered form of freedom: "The end of the Devil is the aversion of the rational creature from God; hence from the beginning he has endeavored to lead man from obeying the divine precept. But aversion from God has the nature of an end, inasmuch as it is sought for under the appearance of liberty, according to Jer. 2:20: ‘Of old time thou hast broken my yoke, thou hast burst my bands, and thou saidst, I will not serve’" (IIIa, Q.8, art.7).
This rebellion was imitated by our first parents, when they decided to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil, and "be like God." While sharing in the divine image and likeness is part of our perfection, St. Thomas teaches that man desired this divine likeness in a disordered way by eating of the forbidden fruit: "The first man sinned chiefly by coveting God’s likeness as regards knowledge of good and evil, according to the serpent’s instigation, namely that by his own natural power he might decide what was good, and what was evil for him to do" (IIaIIae, Q.163, a.2). Here is the liberal principle in its first expression: Man alone should decide good and evil apart from God.
While many understand liberalism as a freedom for certain political equality and civil rights, more fundamentally liberalism is a freedom from the moral law and the teaching authority of the Church. One cannot speak of "Catholic liberals" without contradiction, or at the very least, equivocation. Liberalism, like socialism and Communism, has been condemned by Pope after Pope in the social encyclicals. If we are tempted to minimize the evils of this error, we would do well to remind ourselves that Pope Leo XIII presents Lucifer to us as the original liberal.
(Dr. Arthur M. Hippler is the director of the Office of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis.)