I am born of a rank which recognizes no superior but God, to whom alone I am responsible for my actions. (King Richard I of England)
Many Americans now seem oblivious to the fact that, like the Divine Right of Kings, the whole understanding of right and rights on which America's constitution of self-government relies makes no sense without reference to God. In effect, American Declaration of Independence takes the logic of King Richard's bold statement about the prerogatives of his royal lineage and applies it to all human beings who acknowledge and respect the sovereignty of their creator, God. The Declaration recognizes what was once the haughty prerogative of a precious few as the birthright of all humanity.
It's noteworthy that King Richard made the famous statement quoted above while a prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor, on trial for alleged war crimes involved in certain of his military victories. In that moment, he was a powerless king being tried for his abuse of power. But though bereft of arms and armies, he could powerfully appeal to God, knowing that the Emperor who tried him relied on a claim to sovereign power as much dependent on the authority of God as his own. As Christian monarchs, they relied on the logic of King Richard's battle cry "God and [is?] my Right," and the reverence that saw all superior power subject to the supreme authority of the first and greatest power of all, the power of Almighty God.
The situation in which King Richard appealed to God resembles that of most ordinary human beings in human history. They found themselves subject to the superior power of those who triumphed over them. But in most times and places, they were not of a mind to assert the prerogatives of their merely human heritage. In any case, their defeat was taken as definite disproof of their right to claim divine patronage. Even if they were children of God, the empirical evidence proclaimed that their patron [Father] had deserted them.
Until the birth of Christ — Christ was born into an empire more than normally reliant on the premise that superior power was the sine qua non of royal birth. In Roman times, "God and my right" certainly meant "God and my right arm," with the latter's power required to seal the warrant of sovereignty. Under Roman law, defeated kings were not brought to Rome for trial, for in battle they had already been tried and found wanting. They were brought to Rome to be the ornaments of Roman pride; symbols of the fact that their great houses had fallen under the shadow of Rome's dominion.
But when Richard I stood captive before the Holy Roman Emperor, both stood as sovereigns in Christendom, the Kingdom of Christ and God. And though he stood a prisoner, Richard could claim the favor of God no less than Jesus Christ, who stood before the Sanhedrin and before the agent of Rome's imperium, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, though every semblance of the scene denied His sovereign right. When He submitted to the intended humiliation of crucifixion, the arms that raised the cross raised Christ in glorious obedience to the governor of all creation, whose rule inspired and heartbeat and infused the blood of those who drew the cords and wielded the hammers that nailed Him to the cross.
When he stood before Emperor Henry VI, bereft of every power but the claim to do right, according to God's will, King Richard I prefigured the effective meaning of Christ's ministry for all those subject to God's rule, who dare to act accordingly. Christ was not only, as Machiavelli slyly implied, an unarmed prophet. Christ was the King of Kings, armed in by God's spirit with the true and all-powerful wisdom of the one almighty and absolute God. As one being, they animate every living soul, coming in the guise of weakness to proclaim a strength that prevails from within, even when every external sign and circumstance seems bound to reject, disprove and cast it away.
The logic of the American Declaration of Independence extends King Richard’s bold assertion of rank to every human being willing to do right, according to God's will. This latter argument of right was the one Richard staunchly made to defend against the charges made against him. Was Emperor Henry struck by its truth? God only knows, though in the end, it was greatly due to the Emperor's financial and dynastic advantage to release Richard. But long after these events transpired, on a continent not yet suspected by the Europeans of that day, a whole people would step onto the stage of human events to claim "among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station" in which we recognize no superior but God, to whom alone we are responsible for our actions.
Does the American body politic today know and understand that this claim of rank from God is the root of our authority to govern ourselves? People these days talk incessantly of freedom, justice and rights. But once we assume there is no authority beyond human fatality, passionate will and material power, all such talk is meaningless. For where there is no transcendent authority over all, justice is the good of the stronger. The outcome of battle determines the meaning of justice and erases the claim of any human equality except while the outcome of the battle still hangs in the balance.
In this condition, people cannot hope to live without fear; a world where people cannot hope to prevail against threats to their peaceful habitation except by submitting themselves to whatever arbitrary power suspends the state of perpetually incipient conflict that must otherwise prevail without intermission. People of goodwill who strive to live according to Christ's words and example know that there will be no permanent solution to this triumph of perpetual fear until Christ comes, glorified by God, to reign over all. But from the beginning, communities form of people conquered in their spirit by Christ's triumphant surrender to the will of God have resolved to come together to live according to the sovereignty of God that rules their hearts.
A prominent filmmaker is renowned for a documentary predicated on pondering the loss entailed for the world, without America. But we will not appreciate the danger we face as a nation until we seriously wrestle with the impossibility of imagining the positive outcomes of America's history without our Declaration creed; without the faith and reverence it exemplifies in the God, our lawgiver, and in the Word of Creation, that dwelt among us in and through Jesus Christ.
More than ever before in our history, people who profess to live according to the wholesome (catholic) Word of God in Christ, must strive to remember and represent that profession in their vocation as citizens. Failing that, America must fail — even if, for a time, her buildings stand and her profits rise. The loss of good faith and the loss of decent character it portends will have extinguished the light of true hope she has upheld for all the world. For the last, best hope of America is in Christ. It shall be lost unless we turn to seek it once again in Him.