Right and Freedom: Our Conference in Summary

The Saint Benedict Center Conference, on October seventh and eighth, drew a diverse multitude from as far away as Florida, Idaho, and California to the Center’s New-England campus. The theme of the conference was “Right and Freedom: Catholic Considerations on Misused Concepts.”

Below are summaries of all the presentations, with links to each speaker’s bio. All of the talks are available for purchase, either singly (CD or MP3), or as a complete set (CD or MP3).

Dr. Robert Hickson: Helping the Truth Along A Little: Some Nuanced Catholic Understandings of ‘Right’ and ‘Freedom’

Quoting American humorist, Artemis Ward, Dr. Hickson spoke of four of his favorite writers, who have “have helped the truth along without encumbering it with themselves”: Joseph Sobran, Evelyn Waugh, Hilaire Belloc, and Maurice Baring. He also showed a tremendous appreciation for Evelyn Waugh, two of whose books are among his favorites, Helena and Saint Edmund Campion. The English martyr’s “way of sacrifice,” showed not only what to have “freedom from,” but what to have “freedom for.” Robert Hickson’s personal association with Jesuit Father John Hardon, whom he quoted copiously, provided a dogmatic framework to these literary considerations.

Brother André Marie: Freemen Established Under Grace

Taking the theme of his talk from the Rule of Saint Augustine, which ends with the doctor’s exhortation that the brothers observe the rule “not like slaves under the law, but like freemen established under grace,” Brother André first establishes a foundation for the freedom of the will as a power inherent in man. The act of the will is in the choosing (or not choosing) of some good. Elevated by supernatural grace, these acts of the will, still in need of the prompting of actual grace, are meritorious unto eternal life. With supporting quotes from scripture, Saint Augustine, and other doctors, Brother clarifies the true meaning of freedom as it is exercised by the will and then, from there, he builds the corresponding new man of virtue perfected in grace, free of sin and death and self through his union with Christ.

Sister Maria Philomena: Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide’: Was Jiminy Cricket Right?

This talk might have been entitled “Conscience 101, in Sixty Minutes.” It was an excellent summation of perennial philosophy’s teaching on the nature of man in relation to his two spiritual faculties of intellect and will. Sister establishes conscience in the intellect, which has truth for its proper object. If the will of man is good, it embraces the natural law as the good that it knows by reason. Sister explains how the conscience ought to conform to the natural law and deal with reality, not lies. Conscience continues to be informed by God’s positive law as grace builds on nature, making the mind and will of man to mature in perfection.

Gary Potter: Democracy and the Illusion of Freedom

Historian Mr. Gary Potter began his talk with a kind of tossing of the gauntlet, stating that there is not now nor has there ever been a genuine political conservatism in America. How could there be, he surmised, when every conservative must sing the praises of the founding fathers who made war against their monarch and established a liberal government of “We the people”? Gary made use of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 two-volume opus, Democracy in America, which, he says, many reference but few read. In his tour of America, de Tocqueville saw the American experience as an obsession with individual liberty that would inevitably lead to a powerful centralized state and a new species of benevolent oppression, keeping its populace in a perpetual childhood. The first victory of the secular state was over the family, argued Potter, when it introduced civil marriage, a prelude to state judiciaries giving marriage licenses to homosexuals. Potter pointed ahead to the bigger challenges that are surely coming. We must ever be in spiritual training if we wish to persevere and be an example to others.

Dr. G.C. Dilsaver: Rights & Wrongs: Ecclesiastically, Socially, and Personally

Author of Three Marks of Manhood and founder of Imago Dei Psychotherapy, Dr. Dilsaver put the issue of “rights” under the concept of “duties.” Whatever rights we have as rational beings derive from our duties before God. We have the duty to live according to the revealed truth: to know, love, and serve God and worship Him in truth. Error has no rights, nor do narcissistic moral aberrations; these are wrongs and, as such, a negation of reality and the natural law. Dr. Dilsaver handles his subject masterfully, one might even say, clinically, as he examines “rights and wrongs” as manifested ecclesiastically from the Protestant revolt until today, socially, and personally. Piety, he emphasizes, is essential in our duty to promote the Catholic counter-culture. It is a gift of the Holy Ghost for which we must pray. From it we have order, in religious worship of God, in the home and family where the paternity and kingship of the father is respected, and in society where true patriotism is valued.

Charles Coulombe: Kingship and Sacrament: What the Coronation Rites Tell Us

Mr. Coulombe, MC of the conference, spoke about the Church and state as united authorities in the ages of Faith, ideally legislated in the liturgical rite of a Catholic king’s coronation. Peppered with lively and witty commentary, this was a fascinating presentation of the rite as given in the “bishop’s book,” the Roman Pontificale. Harkening back to the prophet Samuel’s anointing of Saul as the first King of Israel, the Metropolitan archbishop would anoint the king in a ritual that was highly sacramental, though short of being an eighth sacrament. Originally, the king would be donned in military uniform, but later he wore liturgical vestments. Before the actual crowning, the metropolitan would require the royal candidate to promise his piety to God, by whose power he would reign, keep and defend the Catholic Faith, honor the liberty of the Church, rule over all with justice, punish malefactors, and defend the poor, the weak, and widows. Then came a stern warning that the king’s own salvation would depend on how well he fulfilled his duties, not to some, but to all of his subjects. Coulombe prefaced the theme of his talk with a summary of the ongoing victories of the secular, anti-Christian state, from the French Revolution until today. He expresses in this preface his own historian’s theory of Vatican II.

Brian Kelly: The Liberty of the Children of God

Mr. Kelly’s talk examined the concept of liberty in its misused sense, in its true and natural sense as it proceeds from the embrace of the eternal truth of the natural law, and in its supernatural sense as it manifests itself under grace in the volitional acts of those who are reborn as adopted children of God. Americans have been saturated with expansive notions of liberty, some true, most false, from the time of the revolutionary war until today. Using the wisdom of the saints, Holy Scripture, and Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “On the Nature of Human Liberty,” Mr. Kelly demonstrates how choosing to do evil, although a free act, is a self-imposed bondage to vice. Sin constricts the soul, narrows its capacity for good, and renders the will lame and blind like a man trying to walk in utter darkness. Kelly provides the more poignant passages from Leo XIII’s brilliant and challenging encyclical, which deal with every aspect of human liberty, and, most importantly, its divine right as due to the Church, and for which we pray the Leonine prayers after Mass. Taking Our Lord’s words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” Mr. Kelly explains how liberty of the spirit is an effect of embracing the revealed truths of Faith. Freedom is not only a freedom from sin, but a freedom to do. To do what? Love God and perform acts of charity for our neighbor.

C.J. Doyle: Considering Two Ideas of ‘Right’: Catholic and American

The subject of C.J. Doyle’s talk was the issue of “rights” from the Catholic and the American perspective. Mr. Doyle begins his presentation with a look at the condition of Catholics in the thirteen colonies just prior to and shortly after the Revolutionary War, when Catholics were a mere 1% of the population. That figure would have risen above the 22% that it is today had not the Church lost four million Catholic immigrants in one hundred years to the allure of an easier and more prosperous life as Protestants and/or masons. With his rapid-fire delivery, Doyle provides a succession of facts to demonstrate, with few exceptions, how strong was the anti-Catholic sentiment among the founding fathers. If, as a Catholic, you think you know American history and you do not know, for example, what the Quebec Act was, this talk would be worth hearing. The big problem for American Catholics? Americanism, which never went away, but dissolved into a worse state of supine indifferentism. This affliction was not due to the machinations of the Church’s usual enemies, but to American Catholics themselves who sold out as cultural conformists. The solution, said Doyle, is to confront the opposition with an informed Catholic militancy and convert America to the true religion.