- Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow 

Why would Orthodox Christian Russia, led by a believer, ally itself with Protestant America and Catholic Europe to encourage the Israeli Jews to liquidate a rebellion of Palestinian Arabs, mostly Moslem, after they tried to defend one of their Holy Places from Jewish invasion, and counter-attacked with more military resourcefulness than the Crusader Alliance has seen for many years?

Holy Places mean to believers what red lines mean to soldiers. Crossing them is an immediate  reason to open fire.  Since ancient times there has been an invariable rule of war on the territory of Palestine – set the locals at war with each other but never allow one to be strong enough to challenge imperial rule. The red lines have been drawn accordingly. From the Greeks to the Romans, Byzantines, Caliphs, Ottomans, and then the Soviets, the rule was never to allow Israel to become too strong; the red line in Palestine was the one Israel’s forces should never dare to cross.

As the Israelis have been breaking the rule by crossing the red lines to expand their territory, the Russians have broken the rule by accepting and giving ground. The first time was by Boris Yeltsin, who was never his own master outside Russia’s borders or inside; and now, in the past month, by Vladimir Putin.  For this reason, disallowing Israel from becoming too strong has been the dividing line between the Russian General Staff, Defence Ministry, the intelligence services,  and lately the Foreign Ministry, who have stuck to the rule and the red line; and Putin who has not. Although this rule is a strategic one, a reason of state, not an article of religion, Putin’s position – unexplained in public – is one of personal conviction endorsed by the Church and Patriarch Kirill.

Understanding that this has happened before requires a historical reference. For today, the point of comparison is the “Concordat” negotiated by Napoleon and Pope Pius VII between 1800 and 1801. Comparing doesn’t require taking the side of the Pope as he plotted war against Napoleon; signed an agreement on terms for the subordination of the church to the state; was taken prisoner of war as he tried to break the pact to the Church’s advantage when Napoleon was losing his power on the battlefields of Russia and Waterloo.

What these histories 220 years apart tell us  – the history of the Concordat signed on July 14, 1801, and Article 67.1 of the Russian Constitution, signed on July 3, 2020 —  is the same. Religion is not only the belief of the people (some of them), it is an ideology of rule in which religiosity is the camouflage for a campaign of territorial conquest and economic enrichment.  Documenting this is a new book by Ambrogio A. Caiani, just  published by the Yale University Press, which claims  to demonstrate how, between 1800 and 1812,  Napoleon of France, impious revolutionary, committed secularist, cruel imperialist, was defeated by Pius VII, representative of the superior church of the true God.  

The author, a confessing believer, displays his partisanship for the Pope against Napoleon; this   should not detract from the value of the parallels with the story  in Russia today, as the Palestinians celebrate their moral victory over Israel; as Putin celebrates the birthdays of the Pacific Fleet and of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, but keeps his silence on Palestine.

The bitter negotiations between the representatives of Napoleon and Pius appeared to have been resolved on final terms of agreement which was due for signing on July 13, 1801. At the last minute, however, the pope’s men refused to accept the wording of the subordination of the church to the state in secular France, and the removal from the preamble of mention of the government’s Catholic faith. They were also gagging on the salaried employment of priests by the state;  the retention of pre-revolutionary church property by its new state and private owners; and the principle of secularism which subordinated all religious beliefs, as well as atheism, to equality under the law.

The clerics edited the text and sent it back to Napoleon. The next evening at dinner Napoleon tore the document into pieces, declaring:  “So, Monsieur Cardinal, you want a breach! I have no need of Rome. I will act alone. I have no need of the pope. If Henry VIII [of England]   who had barely an eighth of my power could change the religion of his country  and succeed in this endeavour,  well I know how,  and will be able to do the same.”

Left to right: Napoleon as First Consul, 1801; Pope Pius VII in 1805; Ambrogio Caiani.

Caiani tells his story from the Vatican documents, and from his personal conviction that Napoleon started as a fanatic and ended as a loser responsible for an agreement with the pope which “backfired badly …produc[ing] the unintended consequence of heightening the pope’s spiritual authority and increasing his control over the Catholic hierarchy.”

The wording of the Concordat, on which Napoleon finally compromised, says in its preamble “the Government of the French Republic recognizes that the Roman, Catholic and Apostolic religion is the religion of the great majority of French citizens. His Holiness likewise recognizes that this same religion has derived and in this moment again expects the greatest benefit and grandeur from the establishment of the Catholic worship in France and from the personal profession of it which the Consuls of the Republic make.”

This was no more than a statement of personal and past beliefs, for Article 17 provided that “in case any one of the successors of the present First Consul [Napoleon] shall not be Catholic, the rights and prerogatives mentioned in the article above and the nomination to bishoprics shall be regulated, as regards him, by a new convention.”

The terms of secularism going forward were to be much stricter. Article 1 assigned freedom of worship to the Catholic Church but no priority, subjecting it to “conformity with the police regulations which the Government shall deem necessary for the public tranquillity.” Provisions followed in the pact restricting the number of church dioceses, regulating and paying clerical appointments (with a “suitable [state] stipend”), preserving the prior dispersal and sale of church property, and requiring an oath of loyalty from clerics, banning them from plotting against “the public tranquillity”. Read the Concordat in full here.   

The new amendments to the Russian Constitution were signed by the President into law last July . There was no change to Articles 13 and 14 from their 1993 form which was emphatically secular and even-handed between the Russian Church, the other religions, and atheism:

Source: http://www.constitution.ru/

The Patriarch and his men have waged a fierce campaign to change this wording and install the priority of the Church in the constitutional order. Read that story here.

On January 31,  2019, in a ceremony with the President, Kirill proclaimed the Russian Church to be the sovereign equal of the Russian state. The ideological implications of this anti-constitutional announcement were anticipated in this report at the time.  The Church’s campaign to change the constitution had commenced. In the picture, beside Putin, left to right: Patriarch Kirill; Metropolitan Varsonofy (Anatoly Sudakov) who is Chancellor of the Synod and Finance Minister; Metropolitan Tikhon (Georgiy Shevkunov) , National Security Advisor; and Metropolitan Hilarion (Grigoriy Alfeyev), Foreign Minister.

As Pius had done before him, Kirill aimed first at the preamble of the constitution. The 1993 version, pushed past the referendum threshold  on a rigged vote,  declared that “we, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common fate on our land, … preserving the historically established state unity, proceeding from the universally recognized principles of equality and self-determination of peoples, revering the memory of ancestors who have conveyed to us the love for the Fatherland, belief in the good and justice, reviving the sovereign statehood of Russia and asserting the firmness of its democratic basic, striving to ensure the well-being and prosperity of Russia, proceeding from the responsibility for our Fatherland before the present and future generations, recognizing ourselves as part of the world community, adopt the CONSTITUTION OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION”.

Kirill demanded that the name of God appear in the document, but was frustrated in his attempt to place it in the preamble. Instead, Putin agreed that God would be  placed at the new Article 67.1.  

This was the old Article 67:

Source: http://www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-04.htm For more on the God amendment, click to read.

The new Article 67 reads this way:

Source: https://cis-legislation.com/

It is clear to academic specialists, constitutional lawyers, and to churchmen that the sub-paragraph 2 was designed to make a fundamental change to the Church’s advantage, not only in the Constitution but in Russia’s governance.   The new paragraph, according to Polish expert Jakub Sadowski,  “is linked to lines 2, 3 and 4 of the preamble. It appeals to their content, makes itself structurally similar to them and re-codes them… The subject is no longer ‘we, the people’, but ‘the Russian Federation’… one can still find a clear trace of ‘we, the people’—in the phrase ‘ancestors who handed us ideals and faith in God’… what in the preamble was a category of collective self-description takes on a programmatic nature in the main text as the basis of the state system.”

What was a secular state has been re-coded to require a government with “faith in God.” Napoleon’s compromise did not go this far. Just how transforming the Russian wording was in legal principle and political consequence was described by Mikhail Antonov (right), a constitutional law professor in St. Petersburg.  He criticised sub-paragraph 2 for obliterating the history of Soviet atheism and paving the way to the elimination of the secular requirements of Articles 13 and 14. “This construction makes ‘belief in God’ a cornerstone of national unity and an important legitimation tool for the vital principle of one indivisible state. Under this broad interpretation, the mention of God in Article 67.1 threatens the principle of secularity of the Russian Federation enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.”

What was obvious to the lawyers a year ago is less obvious in the first foreign policy test of the new Russian religiosity. This is the significance of the silent endorsement by Church and President of this month’s Israeli attacks on the Palestinians, details of which have been reported here and here.  Kirill and Putin appear to be standing alone; the silence has covered the deep unease of the uniformed services of the state.

As one of their number points out anonymously, for the first time in post-tsarist Russia, reason of state has been trumped by religion of state.

Leave a Reply