So I’m reading a book by Christopher Ferrara entitled Liberty: The God That Failed and it got me thinking. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, one finds this:
401. The Church’s social doctrine indicates the criteria for exercising the right to resistance : “Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave and prolonged violation of fundamental rights, 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted, 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders, 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution”. Recourse to arms is seen as an extreme remedy for putting an end to a “manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country”.
From Ferrara’s book and what I know of the Revolution itself, I fail to see how recourse to armed revolt was justified. Certainly the Enlightenment thinking behind the Revolution was fundamentally at odds with Catholic teaching, including St Thomas calling revolt ‘sedition’ and the long standing view that authority was divinely ordained. Indeed, under Julian the Apostate Christians obeyed his rule when it did not conflict with Church teaching, even serving in his army.
This is not even to bring up then Church teaching on the confessional state, which was affirmed until the Second Vatican Council.
So, was it justified?