February 15, 2008

Earlier this week, I mentioned the latest attempt by Michael Gerson to demonize conservatives by reviving the “€œSocial Gospel,”€ a fuzzy pink mass of “€œidealism”€ coughed up by progressives who quickly mistook it for Jesus. And so they began to worship it instead. Along the way, Gerson tries to polish up the tainted name of Woodrow Wilson. In the past week news has emerged that Jesus seems to disagree. 

On February 1, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Catholic Church has recognized the final miracle required to make a saint of one of Wilson’s greatest enemies, Habsburg Emperor Karl I. It seems that a Florida Baptist from Kissimmee, at the encouragement of a Catholic friend, invoked Karl’s intercession for help with metastatic breast cancer. As the Sentinel notes: “€œA judicial tribunal convened by the Diocese of Orlando and officially concluded Thursday has found that there is no medical explanation for the woman’s dramatic recovery, and more than half a dozen doctors in two states—most of them non-Catholics “€“ agreed.”€ That makes two miraculous interventions attributed to Karl, enough for the pope to certify that Karl is in heaven.

It’s rarely remembered now, but Woodrow Wilson set as one of the primary war aims of the U.S. as she entered (thanks to his careful maneuvering) World War I the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. As a multi-ethnic state based not on 19th century nationalism but ancient dynastic loyalty cemented by a majority Catholic faith, it offended his modern notions of what should constitute a country”€”and as a good Princeton academic, who was in addition convinced that he personally embodied the Will of God, Wilson knew that he could do better.

On the other side of the conflict was Austro-Hungarian emperor Karl I, who took power during the war, and strove mightily to end it by negotiation. As I wrote in The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living:

Karl is known for abolishing flogging, dueling, and other abuses in the army he briefly commanded, restricting the use of poison gas and civilian bombing, and attempting to decentralize power among the ethnic groups of his polyglot monarchy, which he came to rule in 1917. Karl insisted on eating the same rations as an ordinary civilian”€”refusing even white bread, which he handed out to his troops. His court photographer reported seeing the newly-crowned emperor visiting a battlefield full of corpses”€”and collapsing into tears. Karl murmured, audibly: “€œNo man can any longer answer to God for this. As soon as possible I shall put a stop to it.”€

Almost immediately, Karl began attempts to negotiate a “€œpeace without recriminations”€ to end the criminal slaughter of World War I. He was the only sovereign in Europe to attempt such a peace. Had he succeeded, the world might never have witnessed a Bolshevik or Nazi regime, a Holocaust, a Ukrainian famine, a Dresden or a Hiroshima.

Karl’s clarity and charity, alas, were no match for the war parties that ruled in London and Berlin, Paris and Washington, from 1914-1918. President Woodrow Wilson insisted personally on the dismemberment of the Austrian monarchy. Fighting dragged on another fateful year”€”giving Lenin the chance to seize power in Russia”€”before it ended with the collapse of Germany and Austria. The victors”€™ peace imposed by the Allies sowed the bitterness which would someday bring the Nazis to prominence. The weak republics carved out of Austria’s corpse would all, one day, fall first to Hitler’s armies”€”and then to Stalin’s. So went this world “€œmade safe for democracy.”€  

Exiled on the wintry island of Funchal with his young family, Karl soon succumbed to disease, and died while still a young man. The night before he passed, he whispered to his wife Zita: “€œAll my aspiration has ever been to know as clearly as possible the will of God in all things and to follow it, and precisely in the most perfect manner.”€ By the Church’s infallible judgment, he succeeded.

Soon the Blessed Karl I will be St. Karl, while Wilson’s name continues its slow decline into disgrace. (Kudos to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism for giving the toilet one more flush.) But not everyone is happy about this new canonization. The Sentinel reporter quotes leftist Jesuit Thomas Reese, whom the Vatican forced to resign as editor of America, emitting the following whine: “€œThis is the kind of canonization I don’t think is terribly helpful. We don’t need any more kings or princes or bishops . . . We need to find saints that connect to ordinary people. The cult of beautiful people and royalty and superstars—that should not be what the church is about.”€

Leave aside the fact that when Pope John Paul II was canonizing thousands of “€œordinary people,”€ Reese’s modernist friends complained that John Paul had turned the Vatican into a “€œsaint factory.”€ What about the fact that Karl I was not a “€œbeautiful person”€ when he died, but a hunted exile trying to keep his family alive”€”persecuted for having followed his beliefs, and for interfering with Woodrow Wilson’s vision?

Let’s remember what the likes of Thomas Reese regard as “€œhelpful.”€ Reese was one of the theologians involved in leaking criticisms of the comprehensive Catechism of the Catholic Church to the media”€”even as bishops were still examining an early, secret draft. Reese led a campaign to try to sink the Catechism, apparently concerned that it would clear away the fogs of obfuscation he and his faction had been wafting since Vatican II. It certainly is less than “€œhelpful”€ to the likes of Thomas Reese for modern Catholics to see examples of sanctity like Karl”€”men who weren’t contemporary liberals, or progressive “€œreformers,”€ but rather sternly brave, true to the institutions to which they were born, and humbly loyal to the teachings of their Church. Such men no doubt scare the skin off creatures like Reese, as they appalled Woodrow Wilson. Against their sterile sophistry, we now have the verdict of sanctity.


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