S GUIDE TO COVENANTAL THEOLOGY
Again, if we imagine a world in which truly public figures exist 'naturally,' and only some of these public
figures are bishops and priests, we are back imagining a world that supposedly can find meaning within some
time-less framework that is prior to the New Covenant.
I am perfectly well aware that our everyday vocabulary practically demands that we call people like kings
and presidents 'public figures,' and we are still free to do so, as long as we recognize that if we really take that
language completely seriously, it doesn't work, and it never will. Taking it seriously inevitably puts us back
into some time-less framework in which some king, or some president, or at least some concept or reality, is
prior to the New Covenant.
So, we just have to bite the bullet and call a spade a spade: the only truly public figures are part of the
sacramental 'order,' the Eucharistic 'order' of history. That means: bishops and priests, alone.
Now that you know who the only truly public figures in history are, we can begin to discuss the truly
covenantal freedom of the relationship between Man's 'private' work or prayer and the public work of the
Church, as Fr. Keefe sees it.
In effect, Fr. Keefe says that bishops and priests need to take the Fall with utter seriousness: Man has the
freedom to destroy himself and everything else as thoroughly as his powers permit. Only some trivialization
of the Fall allows this message to go unnoticed. It is only the impossible Catholic optimism, the absolute
confidence, not in Man, but in the Lord of history, which permits bishops and priests to proclaim this
ridiculous covenantal freedom, but it is the same absolute confidence in the Lord of history that also calls for
the proclamation of that freedom in all seriousness.
In this way Fr. Keefe not only endorses the work of Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., regarding the
relationship between the Catholic Church and the civil order, work available in the compilation entitled We
Hold These Truths. Fr. Keefe goes far beyond endorsement, and does something that will prove to have great
significance for the Church: he gives Fr. Murray's work a sacramental ground. He relates Fr. Murray's
conclusions directly to the freedom given in the New Covenant itself.
As Fr. Murray saw, the freedom of the civil order is grounded in the prior freedom of the Church. Fr.
Murray grounds this freedom in the natural law and in tradition. This may give the impression, as many
'natural law' arguments do, that the freedom of the Church, and the subordinate yet real freedom of the civil
order, ought to be available to "reason" as 'flesh' alone. What Fr. Keefe sees is that the grounding of both
orders is in fact covenantal. Therefore, the freedom of the civil order is covenantal, free, and historical with
the full weight of those words as he develops them in Covenantal Theology.
Fr. Keefe sees that the freedom of the civil order identified by Fr. Murray has a direct basis in the New
Covenant. That this extraordinary insight is a mere implication of the argument developed in Covenantal
Theology should serve as some mark of how important an argument it is.
Fr. Keefe puts this in negative terms, but it is fair to turn it around and put it in positive terms. Bishops
and priests of the Church have a sacramental responsibility to protect the (humanly) impossible freedom of
the 'private' civil order.
First and foremost, they do this by being clearly public figures. Otherwise, the 'private' civil order is
impeded in its free appropriation of the public work given solely in and through the Church's free liturgical
mediation of her faith. If bishops and priests are not clearly public figures, there are no clearly public figures,
by definition, since bishops and priests are the only possible public figures.
Once bishops and priests are not obviously public figures, if, for example, they begin to intrude on the
civil order, then, among other things, they risk giving scandal. It becomes easier to conclude that no genuinely
public figures can exist in 'flesh,' and easier to conclude that the only realm that exists in 'flesh' is 'private.'
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.