Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Ep. 83—The American Founding’s Medieval Roots—Robert Reilly

By Catholic Culture Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 26, 2020 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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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 ideology.

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 Enlightenment.

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.


[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 authority

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

[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 revolution

[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 level?


Robert Reilly, America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding

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

Pope Leo XIII, Longuinqua (On Catholicism in the United States)

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

Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus. Download the Catholic Culture Podcast soundtrack.

Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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