The Catholic Culture Podcast: Ep. 83 – The American Founding’s Medieval Roots


Aug 26, 2020

While the left continues crudely to paint America’s founding as
a mere expression of white supremacy, certain thinkers on the right
have been making their own attack on American principles. They
argue that America’s founding principles are fundamentally a
product of an Enlightenment liberalism incompatible with natural
law and faith. They find in the Constitution seeds of moral
relativism, leading inevitably to Obergefell and gender

To this position Robert Reilly’s new book America on Trial:
A Defense of the Founding
is a powerful rejoinder, arguing
that the Founding’s roots lie a few millennia further back than the

With superb scholarship, he examines the whole history of
Western culture up to the Founding, beginning with the Greeks,
Hebrews and early Christians, proceeding through the Middle Ages to
the Protestant Revolt and the debate over the divine right of
kings. It becomes clear that the American Founding was part of a
millennium-long debate over the question of which is supreme,
reason or will.

This interview focuses primarily on the original explication of
several important American constitutional principles in medieval
ecclesiastical and secular law. At the end, Thomas poses some tough
questions about the compatibility of the First Amendment with the
teachings of Leo XIII about Church-state relations and free speech
in Immortale Dei.

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[2:09] The stakes of the debate over America’s founding

[10:38] Christianity diminished the role of the state…

[17:15] …while granting legitimacy to the state within its own
secular sphere

[22:38] The two swords; separation of temporal and spiritual

[25:36] The king must respect the ancient customs of the

[29:02] Developments in canon law: consent of the governed, the
right to representation

[39:08] The Coronation Charter and the Magna Carta, right to

[42:56] Natural and divine law trump human positive law, both
secular and ecclesiastical

[46:14] The importance of England’s role in the formation of the
American colonies

[48:57] Political implications of the debate over God’s
Intellect vs. pure arbitrary Will

[53:43] How consent works: the basis of a democratic majority
and minority

[57:54] The dependence of a democratic republic on the virtue of
its people

[1:06:15] Revolution against US govt. justified during slavery
and today? Role of prudence

[1:13:40] Does the Constitution conflict with Catholic teaching
on Church and state?

[1:28:34] Is Constitutional freedom of speech correct from a
Catholic POV?

[1:36:47] Modern-day barbarism: the re-tribalization of Man with
identity politics

[1:39:39] Does the Constitution mandate free speech on the state


Robert Reilly, America on Trial: A Defense of the

Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei (On the Christian
Constitution of States)

Pope Leo XIII, Longuinqua (On Catholicism in the United

Phil Lawler’s review of America on Trial

David Upham’s critique of America on Trial 

Book mentioned: The Ancient City by Fustel de Coulanges

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