“Church news reminds us that it is disastrous to view mission as an act of authority”

Here we are drawn to the “great election of the French,” that is, to presidential elections in which a man (or woman) will come to power or stay there, according to our most common vocabulary. This vote is immediately followed by legislative elections, which, in essence, will be aimed at transforming the judiciary and giving, as it should be, a majority to the new President of the Republic. Thus, the newly elected will be able to have the means to govern the country. But should the president really govern?

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The constitution of our country remains very clear on this matter: The government determines and carries out the policy of the nation. (p. 20); The Prime Minister directs the actions of the government. (p. 21). Isn’t this management or, if you like, the exercise of power? What then is the calling of the President of the Republic? He supports the Constitution. He ensures by his arbitration the normal functioning of the public authorities, as well as the continuity of the state. He is the guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity and compliance with treaties. (Article 5).


These few quotations are enough to show that the presidential function must transcend the governmental function and look after the highest interests of the nation and the great balance of public life. However, as you know, decades of political practice and several constitutional amendments (in particular, a five-year term) have largely redistributed the cards, if not blurred them. Entering the arena of political life and now preoccupied with the day-to-day management of state affairs, the presidential administration is distinguished by its omnipresence and incessant interference, regardless of the personalities that may have succeeded each other. Constantly exposed, he often becomes the object of controversy and even disrespect. To be clear, the President of the Republic lost in power what he wanted to get in the direct exercise of power.

The wisdom of the Romans, the experience of the Church

Because authority is not power. Ancient Rome clearly understood this, attributing the source of power to the people, and entrusting the exercise of power to the senate. On behalf of the people, various “magistrates”, consuls, praetors, city councilors or quaestors exercised military, judicial or administrative power. The Senate had to check and certify, so to speak, that Rome was still in Rome. Thus the consul and his army could seize the new territory, only the senate could make it a Roman province. At the heart of the Roman Republic, the Senate guaranteed Rome’s allegiance to its founding and its fundamental values, and thus ensured the “catonism” of everything Rome did. This function of collective presidency, wisdom and attestation was indeed the dutyauthority which, literally, is the ability to grow from sources.

In her own way and in her field, the Church is well acquainted with the principle of authority. For authority, not power, underlies the mission of Christ, continuing in the mission of His Body. The difficult current situation in our Church reminds us how detrimental it is to view mission or ministry as an exercise of authority. The Church is much more than a functional organization, it is a symbolic and sacramental body, and that is why power is primary and necessary. The exercise of the episcopal ministry has deeply enlightened me in this matter. Since he is the successor of the Apostles and a member of the episcopal college, the bishop certifies that the Church over which he presides is indeed Catholic, inasmuch as it is connected with that which arose from its origin and with that which is spread throughout the world. The ministry of church presidency is a function of authority in the service of fellowship.

Toward a new balance?

Therefore, is it desirable and possible to find the principle of power at the top of the state? It looks like our country really needs it. Many agree that French society is more fragmented, tense, even rebellious than ever, and that it has become like an archipelago whose islands do not converge. Consciously or not, we are waiting for a figure who for the first time can embody the continuity, unity and cohesion of the nation. This figure cannot be that of a strong or providential man, always divisive and random, or that of a “presidential ray”, purely formal and honorary. This must be returned to us through a symbolic and practical rebalancing of our institutions. Like the democracies around us, the supreme state power should be much more free from the direct exercise of power in order to better render the nation the service it owes it.

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