Sunday, January 27, 2013

Albert Camus on the Death of Louis XVI

From Camus' The Rebel:
On January 21, with the murder of the King-priest, was consummated what has significantly been called the passion of Louis XVI. It is certainly a crying scandal that the public assassination of a weak but goodhearted man has been presented as a great moment in French history. That scaffold marked no climax—far from it. But the fact remains that, by its consequences, the condemnation of the King is at the crux of our contemporary history. It symbolizes the secularization of our history and the dis-incarnation of the Christian God. Up to now God played a part in history through the medium of the kings. But His representative in history has been killed, for there is no longer a king.Therefore there is nothing but a semblance of God, relegated to the heaven of principles.

The revolutionaries may well refer to the Gospel, but in fact they dealt a terrible blow to Christianity, from which it has not yet recovered. It really seems as if the execution of the King, followed, as we know, by hysterical scenes of suicide and madness, took place in complete awareness of what was being done. Louis XVI seems, sometimes, to have doubted his divine right, though he systematically rejected any projected legislation which threatened his faith.

But from the moment that he suspected or knew his fate, he seemed to identify himself, as his language betrayed,with his divine mission, so that there would be no possible doubt that the attempt on his person was aimed at the King-Christ, the incarnation of the divinity, and not at the craven flesh of a mere man. His bedside book in the Temple was the Imitation. The calmness and perfection that this man of rather average sensibility displayed during his last moments, his indifference to everything of this world, and, finally, his brief display of weakness on the solitary scaffold, so far removed from the people whose ears he had wanted to reach, while the terrible rolling of the drum drowned his voice, give us the right to imagine that it was not Capet who died, but Louis appointed by divine right, and that with him, in a certain manner, died temporal Christianity. To emphasize this sacred bond, his confessor sustained him, in his moment of weakness, by reminding him of his "resemblance" to the God of Sorrows. And Louis XVI recovers himself and speaks in the language of this God: "I shall drink," he says, "the cup to the last dregs." Then he commits himself, trembling, into the hands of an ignoble executioner. (Read more.)


julygirl said...

Beauifully put, and so true...the same could be said of the Russian Revolution and the brutal murder of Tsar Nicholas and his innocent family. The French Revolution was a portent of things to come.

elena maria vidal said...

Here is a comment from author Genevieve Kineke which for some reason did not get published by Blogger. Genevieve says:

"Interesting, but I was just reading Belloc today ("Characters of the Reformation") and unless I've misunderstood either Camus or Belloc, they each seem to have a different view of the "divine right." Belloc attributes the first use of the "divine right of kings" to James I, and it wasn't a good thing.

"At this point it is important to understand how this phrase, which sounds to us so quaint, 'The Divine Right of Kings,' is really identical with our most modern nationalist doctrine. In the time of James I, rather more than three hundred years ago, men talked of the think in terms of the rights of Princes, that is monarchs, rather than in terms of the rights of nations. But it applied even then just as much to states in which there was no Prince; it applied to an independent democratic Republic like Geneva, or an aristocratic Republic like Berne or Holland, or to any of the Free Cities of Germany. The operative word in the sentence is not 'King' but 'Divine,'--and when people talked of 'Divine Right' they meant the right to govern with private responsibility to God alone, and not to any general organisation of Christendom here on earth."

Thus Belloc points out that the Divine Right was actually the signal of the break with Rome, jettisoning accountability to the rest of the Mystical Body, and making each nation-state autocratic in the pursuit of its own private [secular] ends.

What I had always thought was a Christian ideal is really a pernicious idea that was at the heart of darkness."

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks for writing, Genevieve!! I am sorry your comment did not show up at first. I cannot imagine why, since this is a great comment. I agree, Divine Right of Kings was actually part of the long struggle between the secular powers and Rome called Cesaro-papism. It manifested itself as Gallicanism under Louis XIV, in which the King usurped the powers of the Pope by being the one to appoint bishops. This led to some unholy bishops such as Talleyrand. Such abuses of spiritual authority led directly to the French revolution.

elena maria vidal said...

I think what is meant in the quote from Camus is the belief that a Christian king shared in the Kingship of Christ. He ruled because of Christ and the laws of the Kingdom were to be based upon the Gospel. With Gallicanism this ancient idea became exaggerated. However, from its origins in the early centuries the French kingship emphasized the participation in the Kingship of Christ in that the Kings were admitted to holy orders during the coronation ceremony, at the hands of the bishop. That is what Camus means when he says "King-priest."