Speech given after dinner at Chavagnes International College on 3rd October, 2004 at a special Austro-Hungarian Dinner to mark the Beatification of the Emperor Charles of Austria.

by Mr. Francis Altiere (Then History Master at the College, now priest of the Institute of Christ the King).

It has become fashionable—certainly in my own native country and, I suspect, in others as well—for Catholic politicians to separate their religion from their politics and their public life.  Although our Lord had instructed his followers not to hide their lamp under a bushel basket, many public officials today shamefully hide their Catholic convictions, if they possess them at all, and uphold legal obscenities such as abortion.  The Christian ruler who defends the downtrodden, loves his family, and enshrines in law the authority of the Church seems to us to-day a mere relic of mediaeval times, and yet, within the memory of those still alive, there were public figures who did precisely these things.  Blessed Charles I, the last emperor of Austria, was one such man.  The occasion of his beatification gives us the opportunity to reflect on the social teaching of the Church and the lasting spiritual value of monarchy.  With regard to both, Charles was an exemplary model.

The Spiritual Value of Monarchy. The Church acknowledges the legitimacy of multiple forms of government—whether democracy, aristocracy, or monarchy—provided that the common good of society and the rights of the Church are respected.[1] Even though any form of government is conceivably capable of ensuring the common good, there is yet a certain spiritual quality possessed preeminently by monarchy.[2]  For this reason, Pope Pius VI pronounced monarchy to be simply “the best of all governments,” when he condemned the execution of King Louis XVI at the hands of the French revolutionists.[3]  Charles did not accept the prevalent modern notion of the absolute separation of Church and state—which Pope Saint Pius X had stigmatised as “a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error.”[4]  He did not hesitate to rule his Empire according to the immutable precepts of the divine law of God, and—both as a private man and as a monarch—he paid as much attention to spiritual matters as to temporal.  Although there have been wicked monarchs, the Church calendar bristles with the feast-days of canonised kings, queens, and emperors—not a few of whom were the ancestors of Charles I.  Indeed, the crown which Charles wore as king of Hungary had been made a thousand years before for his ancestor, St. Stephen.  As king and emperor, Charles insisted that the laws he signed should always refer to God, who is the source of all legitimate human laws.  When, towards the end of the Great War, voices were raised against Habsburg empire, Charles protested, “My crown is a sacred trust given to me by God.  I can never forsake that trust or my people.”  During his exile, there were occasions when would-be supporters approached the deposed king with unscrupulous plans to regain the throne.  Charles, who understood well the nature of a king’s obligations, protested: “As a Catholic monarch, I will never make a deal with the devil—even for the return of my throne.” 

Catholic Social Teaching. The proclamation Charles issued upon his accession to the throne neatly illustrates the solicitude which he had for the welfare of his subjects and his desire to rule as a true Christian monarch.  “I desire to be a just and benign rule to my peoples,” the new emperor began.

I will hold high their constitutional freedoms and other dues and carefully preserve the equality of everyone before the law.  It will be my ceaseless endeavor to promote the moral and spiritual welfare of my peoples, and to protect freedom and order in my lands and to ensure for all productive branches of society the fruits of honest work.[5]

Charles understood very well the teaching of the Gospel, “unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required,”[6] and he bore in mind not only the welfare of his own subjects, but also of other peoples, as his desperate pleas for peace during the First World War show.  It was his adherence to principle rather than to pragmatism that led Charles to reject absolutely the German plan to ship Lenin into Russia—against whom Germany and Austria were then at war.  Realising the evils that would come to the Russian people from the likes of Lenin, the emperor would have no part in such a plan.  Like the man who lays down his life for his friends, Charles offered up the sufferings of his exile and his illness for his former subjects.  “I must suffer like this,” he said, “so that my peoples can come together again.”  Charles understood perfectly that a ruler must tend to the common good of his people, and as a Catholic hero, this ruler also understood that their common good has both material and spiritual components.  May Blessed Charles I be a model to all those striving to rebuild Christendom.

There were other speeches on that occasion from Mr. Robert Asch and VIth Former, Alex Morrison, now Fr Stephen Morrison O Praem.


[1] See, e.g., Pope Leo XIII, encyclical Sapientiae Christianae (“On Christians as Citizens,” 10 January 1890), §28: “On like grounds, the Church, the guardian always of her own right and most observant of that of others, holds that it is not her province to decide which is the best amongst many diverse forms of government and the civil institutions of Christian states, and amid the various kinds of state rule she does not disapprove of any, provided the respect due to religion and the observance of good morals be upheld.”

[2] In recent decades the Church has warmed enthusiastically to democracy, but these words of warning of Pope John Paul II should be considered: “Democracy cannot be idolised to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a ‘system’ and as such is a means and not an end. Its ‘moral’ value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behaviour, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs”: encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“On the Gospel of Life,” 25 March 1995), §70.  More sobering still is the warning of Pope St Pius X: “By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, democracy, far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backwards for civilisation”: Notre Charge Apostolique (“Our Apostolic Mandate,” 15 August 1910).

[3] These comments were made in secret consistory on 17 June 1793.  The relevant section of the Holy Father’s discourse is as follows: “In fact, after having abolished the monarchy, the best of all governments, [the French National Assembly] had transferred all the public power to the people—the people which, guided neither by reason nor by counsels, forms just ideas on no point whatsoever; assesses few things in accordance with the truth and evaluates a great many according to mere opinion, which is ever fickle, and ever easy to deceive and to lead into every excess, ungrateful, arrogant, and cruel”: Pope Pius VI, allocution Pourquoi Notre Voix, §2.

[4] Pope St. Pius X, encyclical Vehementer Nos (“On the French Law of Separation,” 11 February 1906), §3.

[5] Quoted by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, in The Last Habsburg (Weybright and Talley: New York, 1968), p. 49.

[6] St. Luke 12:48.

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