May Catholics Overthrow or Even Kill a Tyrant? – 9 Comments by Aquinas

Listers, may Catholics overthrow or even kill a tyrant? The answer to this question is one St. Thomas Aquinas pondered over his lifetime. In contemplating the assassination of Julius Caesar, a young Aquinas seemed to state that not only can a Catholic kill a tyrant, there are times he should be praised for it. Later in life, when writing at the request of the King of Cyprus, Aquinas takes a very different view. He praises the Early Church martyrs who were slaughtered like sheep before the Roman Emperors, and notes how their witness gave birth to the Church. Assassinations, it seems, are contrary to apostolic teaching. In the twilight of his short life, the Angelic Doctor once again addressed the issue in his Summa Theologica. In this reflection, he appears to present a more mature version of his earliest answer. He jettisons the blanket prohibition against it, but he also does not directly state anyone should be praised for it. While possibly a moral act, it is an incredibly complicated one requiring great considerations of prudence and justice.

 

Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard

 

1. Do Christians have to obey secular authorities at all?

In his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas Aquinas takes up the question “Whether Christians are bound to obey secular powers, especially tyrants?” The young Aquinas’ commentary “was written between 1252 and 1256 when he was in his late twenties and a ‘bachelor,’ or apprentice professor, at the University of Paris.”1 Regarding whether or not Christians must obey secular authorities, St. Thomas Aquinas is very clear the answer is yes. The Angelic Doctor lists several scriptures for consideration:

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.2

Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.3

Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.4

In general, the Angelic Doctor says the following, “Obedience, by keeping a commandment, has for its [formal] object the obligation, involved in the commandment, that it be kept. Now this obligation originates in that the commanding authority has the power to impose an obligation binding not only to external but also to internal and spiritual obedience—“for conscience sake”, as the Apostle says (Rom. xiii, 5.) For power (authority) comes from God, as the Apostle implies in the same place. Hence, Christians are bound to obey the authorities inasmuch as they are from God; and they are not bound to obey inasmuch as the authority is not from God.”5

 

2. May Christians rebel against Authority gained by Violence?

Having established that Holy Scripture does in fact posit that Christians should be obedient to secular authorities, Aquinas moves on to discussing what happens if these authorities are evil. As always, the good Doctor makes several key distinctions. First, what about “defects” in the way in which a secular authority came to power? First, Aquinas states that those who are unworthy of power, but become a secular power regardless should still be obeyed. Second, however, are those who acquire power through violence or any illegitimate means. Aquinas teaches, “we say that in such a case there is no lawful authority at all. He who seizes power by violence does not become a true holder of power.”6 Consequently, since there is no legitimate authority, “anybody may repel this domination.”7 Aquinas allows the caveat here that even those secular powers gained by illegitimate means may become legitimate if there is “consent of the subjects or by a recognition being extended to him by a higher authority.”8 In this case, the illegitimate ruler would become a legitimate true ruler and would merit obedience.

 

3. May Christians disobey a Tyrant’s abuse of authority?

What if a secular authority gains his office by legitimate means but then abuses his power? Aquinas differentiates between two kinds of abuse. First, Aquinas states what has echoed in Christendom since the time of St. Augustine: an unjust law is no law. The Angelic Doctor teaches:

First, a commandment emanating from the authority might be contrary to the very end in view of which authority is instituted, i.e., to be an educator to, and a preserver of, virtue. Should therefore the authority command an act of sin contrary to virtue, we not only are not obliged to obey but we are also obliged not to obey, according to the example of the holy martyrs who preferred death to obeying those ungodly tyrants.9

The second abuse is where a secular authority issues a demand outside the scope of his power. Under this circumstances, the Christian would not be obliged to obey the command.10 Note the distinction between these two abuses. If the tyrant commands the Christian to sin, he must not obey the tyrant, while in the second case of abuse, the Christian is just not obliged to obey – but presumably may obey if prudent to do so.

 

4. Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised?

The scholastic method is characterized by a dialectic approach. As seen in the Sentences and in the Summa Theologica, the author will first list several “objections” or rather thoughts that are either wrong or need to be clarified. Second, there will be the “sed contra” or the body of the author’s answer on the question presented. Third, the author will then write out the necessary “replies” to the listed objections.

In his question from the Sentences, St. Thomas Aquinas lists the following objection:

If it is a legitimate and even a praiseworthy deed to kill a person, then no obligation of obedience exists toward that person. Now in the Book on Duties [De Officiis I, 8, 26] Cicero justifies Julius Caesar’s assassins. Although Caesar was a close friend of his, yet by usurping the empire he proved himself to be a tyrant. Therefore toward such powers there is no obligation of obedience.

In addressing this objection, St. Thomas Aquinas gives what is probably the most notable line of his entire answer. He replies as follows:

To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.

The last line of the objection is noteworthy and should be compared to his later thoughts in On Kingship and the Summa Theologica. First, its the only part of the question in which he explicitly speaks of assassinating the tyrant. Second, the scholar Paul E. Sigmund observes Aquinas “seems to endorse killing a tyrant who has usurped his office (as distinct from one who has abused his power).” St. Thomas Aquinas On Politics and Ethics, Translated & Edited by Paul E. Sigmund, 24.))

 

On Kingship

 

5. Is Killing a Tyrant Against Apostolic Teaching?

In 1265, the King of Cyprus asked Thomas Aquinas to write a treatise on kingship. The work, however, was never completed – presumably due to the death of the king in 1267.11 Writing approximately a decade after his Commentary, Aquinas’ view on tyrants undergoes a shift. In Chapter Six, the Angelic Doctor takes up the question of how to limit the possibility of tyranny. According to Aquinas, a monarchy represents a better regime than a aristocracy or a polity; however, monarchies are susceptible to becoming the worst form of a regime – a tyranny. After discussing certain safeguards to place upon the power of the monarch, Aquinas addresses the issue of what to do if you already have a tyrant. The Angelic Doctor states:

If the tyranny is so extreme that it is unbearable, some have argued that it is a virtuous act for brave men to run the risk of death in order to kill a tyrant and liberate the community. We have an example of this in the Old Testament where a certain Ehud killed Eglon, the king of Moab, with the dagger on his thigh because he was oppressing the people of God – and was made a judge of the people.12

But this is not in accordance with Apostolic teaching. Peter teaches us to be subejct not only to good and temperate rulers but also to the ill-tempered. “If anyone bears undeserved suffering out of reverence for God, this is (the work of) grace.”13

In On Kingship, the Common Doctor appears to clearly state acting against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching. He gives as his example the Early Church suffering under the Roman Emperors. Specifically, he notes how their peaceful witness of Christ in the face of a tyrannical Roman Emperor helped convert the world to Christ.14 Regarding Ehud, Aquinas posits that Ehud must have understood himself as acting against an “enemy king” rather than a “ruler who was a tyrant.”15 Aquinas contrasts the story of Ehud with the story of the assignation of Joas, the King of Judah. Though Joas was arguably a tyrant, those who killed the rightful king were put to death.16

 

6. Under whose Judgment is a King a Tyrant?

Another issue Aquinas has with an individual assassinating a tyrant is private judgement. Aquinas states, “it would be very dangerous for the community and for its rulers if any individual, using his private judgment could attempt to kill those in government, even when they are tyrants.”17 In other words, who determines the king is a tyrant and that tyrant deserves death? Aquinas is particularly concerned with evil men. He warns, “evil men find the rule of kings no less oppressive than that of tyrants since [King] Solomon says, ‘A wise king scatters the impious.'”18 If a king may be determined to be a tyrant worthy of assassination under private judgement, the community risks evil men killing a good king. Aquinas observes, “the more likely consequence of such presumption would therefore be to threaten the community with the loss of its king, rather than to benefit it by getting rid of a tyrant.”19 Aquinas comments in On Kingship stand in contrast to his words in the Sentences that appear to even allow the praise of one who kills a tyrant.

 

7. Do Catholics living under a Tyrant have any Recourse?

Is there an option between martyrdom and assassination? Aquinas give three possible solutions. First, though kings may not be determined to be tyrants under private judgment, they may be subject to public judgment. The Angelic Doctor notes, “if a given community has the right to appoint a ruler it is not unjust for the community to depose the king or restrict his power if he abuses it by becoming a tyrant.”20 Second, the people may appeal to a higher political authority – “if on the other hand, it is the right of a higher authority to appoint a king over certain community, then the remedy for the wickedness of the tyrant is to be sought from that authority.”21 Aquinas gives the example of how the Roman Emperor would appoint or at least allow a Jewish king, and if the Jewish king became a tyrant the Jews could appeal to Rome for aid. Third, “if no human aid is possible against the tyrant, recourse is to be made to God, the king of all, who is the help of those in tribulation.”22 In general, Aquinas holds that the people should repent and abstain from sin and hope in God.23

 

Summa Theologica

 

8. What is the Sin of Sedition?

The Angelic Doctor composed the Summa between 1265 and 1274. In this unfinished work, the Angelic Doctor once again addresses this issue of tyranny by speaking of sedition, a vice contrary to peace.24 First, Aquinas observes that sedition is a special type of sin. Sedition is analogous to war and strife insofar as it deals with aggression.25 Sedition is distinct from war and strife insofar as war most properly deals with an external foe, while sedition deals internal foes. Aquinas states, sedition is “between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when one part of the state rises in tumult against another part.”26 Second, Aquinas asks “whether sedition is always a mortal sin?” Relying on St. Paul’s epistle to Corinth, Aquinas holds that sedition is a moral sin.27 He teaches:

Wherefore it is evident that the unity to which sedition is opposed is the unity of law and common good: whence it follows manifestly that sedition is opposed to justice and the common good. Therefore by reason of its genus it is a mortal sin, and its gravity will be all the greater according as the common good which it assails surpasses the private good which is assailed by strife.28

According to Aquinas, the sin of sedition is first and foremost in “its authors,” and secondarily, “it is in those who are led by them to disturb the common good.”29

 

9. Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised (Revisited)?

Pursuant to the dialectic method of the scholastics, Aquinas puts forward an objection to the idea that sedition is always a mortal sin. What is most interesting about this objection is that is sounds quite familiar – it sounds like his own comments in his Sentences. He presents the objection:

Further, it is praiseworthy to deliver a multitude from a tyrannical rule. Yet this cannot easily be done without some dissension in the multitude, if one part of the multitude seeks to retain the tyrant, while the rest strive to dethrone him. Therefore there can be sedition without mortal sin.

The objection’s use of the term praiseworthy is notable, since it calls to mind Aquinas’ comment on Cicero’s justification of Julius Caesar’s assassins: “In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.” In response to this objection – an objection that is limned in his own previous thinking – Aquinas gives the following answer:

A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant’s rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant’s government. Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude.30

It is interesting to read this passage in light of Aquinas’ previous answers. First, note that the blanket statement of On Kingship that rebellion against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching is not present here. The answer in the Summa is more akin to the answer a young Aquinas gave in his Sentences. It might also be noted that the work in which Aquinas does not give an avenue for rebelling against a tyrannical king was also the only work written for a king. Second, similarly to certain distinction he made in his Sentences, Aquinas stresses the virtue of prudence. The relationship between prudence and justice is that of means to an end. Justice is the what, and prudence is the how. Note in his answer in the Summa he teaches that though a virtuous man may be just in rebelling against a tyrant, it may not be prudent to do so. For example, especially in the Middle East or Africa, how many times has a tyrant been deposed only to be replaced by belligerent warlords? – a tentative peace with marginal respect for human dignity replaced by full blown war and chaos? Third, it is interesting that in his Summa answer he shifts the sin of sedition from the “rebels” to the tyrant. In other words, it is the tyrant who bears the responsibility for how is actions sow strife and war among his people. Fourth, while the Summa answer is more analogous to Aquinas answer is the Sentences, it does appear more muted. In the Summa, he does not mention whether or not men who assassinate a tyrant should be praised. He leaves that qualifier in the objection but does not necessarily contradict it in his reply.31

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More Political Lists from St. Peter’s List

  1. Sentences: See Aquinas Commentary for historical background. In part, “The Sentences of Peter Lombard—composed in the mid-twelfth century—was largely a collection of patristic sayings covering the whole body of Christian doctrine. The Sentences was the standard theological textbook until the sixteenth century and writing a commentary on it was a rite of passage of sorts, normally completed during a professor’s first few years of teaching, during which time he lectured on the text. Aquinas’ first major theological work was such a commentary. Aquinas’ Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (Scriptum super libros Sententiarum), was written between 1252 and 1256 when he was in his late twenties and a “bachelor,” or apprentice professor, at the University of Paris. []
  2. 1 Peter 2:18, RSV. []
  3. Romans 13:2, RSV. []
  4. Romans 13: 5, RSV. []
  5. Sentences: All quotes from the Sentences are taken from the translation posted by the Dominican House of Studies. SPL thanks them for their effort to bring the Common Doctor’s texts to the internet. []
  6. Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, II, D.44 q. 2. []
  7. Id. []
  8. Id. []
  9. Id. []
  10. Id. []
  11. Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 14. []
  12. Judges 3:15-24; emphasis added. []
  13. Quoting I Peter 2:19. []
  14. See On Kingship, chp. 6; Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 24. []
  15. Id. []
  16. Id., see, II Kings 14:5-6. []
  17. Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 24. []
  18. Id. []
  19. Id. []
  20. Id. []
  21. Id. at 25. []
  22. Id. []
  23. On Kingship: It probably cannot be emphasized enough that out of the three works, the one work that does not allow for virtuous persons to rightfully rebel against a tyrant king was the work written for a king; second, Aquinas’ solutions appear to be a bit impractical. True, if the public elected the ruler the public has the authority to depose a ruler, but the ruler is now a tyrant – he is not going to leave because the populace tells him to do so. []
  24. ST. II-II.42. []
  25. Id. at 42.1. []
  26. Id. []
  27. Id. at 42.2; see II Cor. 12:20. []
  28. Id. – trans. for Summa Theologica is the Black Friar translation unless otherwise noted. []
  29. Id. []
  30. Id. at 42.2 ad. 3. []
  31. Summa Answer: There is also a consideration of how to handle the critique he set forth in On Kingship regarding private judgment not having authority to judge the king a tyrant. The Summa answer does not necessarily directly address the issue; What Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach? – obviously, the Catechism is not going to take up the question of whether the assassin of a tyrant should be praised, but the general framework of understanding the Church’s political philosophy is present. Most pertinent to this discussion, it clearly shows that (1) man is a political animal by nature (2) all authority is given by God (3) Christians have a duty to obey secular authority, however (4) an unjust law is no law. The Catechism does not necessarily go into detail about what a Christian should actually do when faced with an unjust law – not obey it, yes, but nothing necessarily in the proactive sense. §§ 1897-1927. []

4 Reasons Aquinas on Rights and Modern Individual Rights are Very Different

It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights.

Listers, at an academic seminar studying the differences between ancient and modern thought, the concept of individual rights was presented. It was stated that the modern notion of individual rights (and even the natural right concepts of early modernity) was in direct contradiction to the Catholic doctrine of Natural Law. Individual rights were predicated upon understanding each citizen as an autonomous moral universe that had a right (read: desire) to everything as long as it did not infringe upon the autonomy of another. In contrast, Natural Law is an external standard imprinted upon all humanity participated in by reason.1 In short, the notion of individual rights is a direct rejection of Natural Law. At this point, a student raised his hand and submitted that this could not be true, because St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of individual rights. Apparently, if you ever wanted to watch a room of politically minded Thomists explode in ire, this was a good way to do it.

It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights. In fact, Aquinas’ use of the term right appears synonymous with the term just; thus, many simply use the term just instead of right to avoid the modern baggage the term right imparts. The following is a brief summary of St. Thomas Aquinas’ question Of Right in his Summa Theologica.2 The reader may note that Aquinas’ use of the terms equality and right are ripe for equivocation. We must be sure to read Aquinas as Aquinas, and not import our modern definitions into his teachings. The following list seeks to clarify Aquinas, and let the Angelic Doctor speak on the virtue of justice free from modern misreadings.

 

1. Why Justice is Unique Among the Virtues

A habit is a series of actions that constitute a practice, and a good habit is called a virtue. According to Aristotle, Holy Scripture, and St. Thomas Aquinas, there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Each virtue holds the soul to reason when faced with its respective object. For example, the virtue of prudence is the habit of right reasoning – it is the means by which we rationally choose good ends. The virtue of temperance holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable; thus, the bar patron who decides against the proverbial “one more drink” saves himself from drunkenness through temperance. The virtue of fortitude holds the soul to reason in the face of something fearful. The soldier who holds the line against the cavalry charge has fortitude.

In these cases, virtue perfects the soldier and the patron in matters that only befit them in relation to themselves.3 The virtue of justice, however, is different. Justice “directs man in his relations with others.”4 In other words, justice is unique, because it is fundamentally relational. Justice deals with a person’s relation with his neighbor. A person may demonstrate prudence, temperance, or fortitude simply by their own actions, while a person can only demonstrate justice in relation to someone else. Aquinas says this shows a “kind of equality.”5 While the modern notion of equality has strong egalitarian undertones, equality, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is simply the proportionate relationship of one thing to another.6 The Angelic Doctor’s notion of right hinges strongly upon his concept of equality in justice.

 

2. Understanding Right(s) According to Aquinas

Modernity is obsessed with rights language. Almost all of the ethical and political discourse in the modern West is now expressed in individual rights. The West has, without a doubt, lost its moral vocabulary. To confuse the modern notion of rights – which is little more than the desires of the autonomous moral universe of the individual – with Aquinas’ notion of what is right under the virtue of justice, would be a profound error.

The virtue of Justice is “the habit which makes men capable of doing just actions.”7 What then are just actions? Aquinas teaches that which is just is “a work that is adjusted to another person according to some kind of equality.”8 The concept of just is also expressed in the term right; thus, that which is just will also be right.9 The Angelic Doctor gives two types of rights for consideration.

Natural Right – A relation that is objectively just, where a person gives and receives that which is of equal value in return; there is a natural equality.

Positive Right – A relation that is subjectively just, where one party deems that which they receive to be satisfactory; a positive right may either be (1) a private agreement between two individuals, or (2) a public agreement where the whole community agrees.

For example, if someone inquired for how many hours should a laborer be paid who worked five hours – the objective answer is five hours. There is a natural equality between working five hours and being paid five hours. The relation here is a natural right. In contrast, if two merchants form a contract to trade ten red widgets for six green widgets, this may be subjectively just for the two parties involved. It is a positive right.

 

3. On Special Species of Rights

When Aquinas speaks of natural right and positive right, he is speaking of an agreement between two individuals, neither of whom are subject to one another. For Aquinas, this is just or right simply.10 Now, the habit of justice has as its object the just, and the just or right “depends on commensuration with another person.”11 How then do we speak of relations that seem to belong to justice but are not of equal parties?

For example, there is the relationship between a father and his son or the relationship between a master and his slave. In both cases, there is certainly a justice between both parties as they are both human beings.12 On the other hand, there is an inequality in the relationship that makes it wanting of what is perfectly just. Since justice deals with the relation of one person to another, these relations are still governed by the virtue of justice; therefore, Aquinas speaks of a parental right of the parents over the children and a dominative right of the master over the slave.

Finally, there is also the relation between the husband and the wife. Notice, that for Aquinas, the relation between the husband and wife has a greater capacity for justice than parental right or dominative right – but it still falls short of true justice shared between equals. The Common Doctor states:

A wife, though she is something belonging to the husband, since she stands related to him as to her own body, as the Apostle declares (Ephesians 5:28), is nevertheless more distinct from her husband, than a son from his father, or a slave from his master: for she is received into a kind of social life, that of matrimony, wherefore according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 6) there is more scope for justice between husband and wife than between father and son, or master and slave, because, as husband and wife have an immediate relation to the community of the household, as stated in Polit. i, 2,5, it follows that between them there is “domestic justice” rather than “civic.”

In conclusion, there is the what is just or right simply, and this is may be expressed between two equals in either natural right or positive right. In contrast, there are several other species of right: the parental right of parents over their children, the dominative right of masters over their slaves, and the greater domestic right between a husband and wife.

 

4. The Modern Notion of Rights

A little clarification by contrast may help display the giant intellectual chasm between Aquinas’ species of justice called rights and modern notions of the same term. Though Machiavelli arguably planted the first seeds of modernity, it was Thomas Hobbes who began the West’s obsession with rights language. In fact, in many ways, what Machiavelli did for the prince (i.e., allowing him to separate politics from ethics, virtue), Thomas Hobbes did for each individual citizen.13 In Chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts, Hobbes articulates one of the monumental shifts in ancient to modern thought: individual rights. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church never spoke in terms of individual rights. The standard for the state and for its citizens was natural law. What was good and what was evil was not predicated upon man’s judgment, but rather by the external standard set upon him by nature. In Hobbes’ deconstruction of nature into a realm of war and chaos, he gives the West its first true taste of rights predicated upon the individual. He states:

And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone against everyone, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies, it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endues, there can be no security to any man how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.

It is shocking to many that the first notion of individual rights in the West is predicated upon each person’s ability to murder one another. For Hobbes, nature is chaotic and warlike, thus, each man has the unmitigated right of self-preservation – a right that went as far as to go to “everything, even to one another’s body.” Whereas Aquinas taught the natural inclinations of humanity were (1) self-preservation (2) the procreation and education of offspring and (3) to seek happiness, the good; Hobbes reduces them all to an unbridled right of self-preservation.14 The brutality of Hobbes will later be made more palatable by John Locke, and later in modernity the standard of nature will be discarded altogether – leaving each individual an autonomous moral universe brimming with manufactured rights.

Much more could be said on the transition from ancient to modern political thought, but this snippet of Hobbes simply goes to show the outrageous difference between Aquinas’ use of the term right and the modern notion of rights. The real question is, how are faithful Catholics who believe in Natural Law supposed to be virtuous in a world that defines all politics and morality in rights language? Something to ponder.

 

SPL Catechesis on the Soul & Virtue

 

  1. Natural Law: 3 Steps to Understand how Humanity Participates in Natural Law and The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World. []
  2. ST II-II.57 []
  3. ST II-II.57.1. “On the other hand the other virtues perfect man in those matters only which befit in relations to himself.” []
  4. Id. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Id. []
  7. Id., citing the Philosopher, Aristotle, in Ethics v. 1. []
  8. Id. at a. 2. []
  9. “For this reason justice has its own special proper object over and above the other virtues, and this object is called the just, which is the same as right. Hence it is evident that right is the object of justice.” Id. at a. 1. []
  10. Id. at a. 4 []
  11. Id. []
  12. “Hence in so far as each of them is a man, there is justice towards them in a way.” Id. at a. 4, reply 2. []
  13. Machiavelli & Hobbes: For more on this claim, see 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli’s The Prince and A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  14. “The paragraph is notable within the Western intellectual tradition as the beginning of “rights language.” Hobbes is setting the stage for the Leviathan. Men, unable to live in the warring chaos of nature, will seek self-preservation by transferring their rights to the Leviathan. The state will be their salvation from each other and from the natural state of war and chaos.” From the Catholic Guide to Hobbes, cited above. []

The West has Lost its Moral Vocabulary: 8 Traditional Catholic Answers about Virtue

What does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe.

Listers, what does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe. Where virtues can discuss justice as something apart from any individual, values are meaningless without the worth imported to them from the individual. A Catholic parish may be rooted in the “values of Christ,” but the local Muslim or atheist community would submit totally different value systems. In politics, one party may value “traditional marriage,” while another party may value “same-sex marriage.” In the West, political discourse has become obsessed with values generally under the guise of individual rights language; yet, is this the best moral jargon the West has to offer? The West was built upon a moral vocabulary that contemplated the soul and virtue. The following eight questions are meant to serve as an introduction to virtue in general – both moral and intellectual. The list is not meant to discuss any particular moral or political issue, but it is meant to offer a moral vocabulary rooted in reason and common to all humanity. And while it is not necessary to understand the following questions, a greater insight into the virtues may be gained by first contemplating the soul –  7 Questions on the Powers of the Human Soul Compared to Other Souls.1

 

1. What is a virtue?

A virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”2 Virtue cannot be reduced to a single act. A man who returns a lost wallet he found in a park may be virtuous, but a single act is not dispositive of virtue. To determine if someone is a virtuous person, often the totality of their actions are considered. The key question is – does this person have a habit of doing what is right? A habit may be defined as a series of actions that constitute a practice. The Philosopher, Aristotle, says a habit is “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.”3 A habit that disposes someone to what is good or well for them is called a virtue. It is a good habit. A habit that disposes someone to what is evil or ill for them is called a vice. It is a bad habit. Those who have a habit of doing what is good are properly called virtuous, while those who have a habit of doing what is bad are rightly called vicious.

 

2. How does virtue or vice define a person?

If a person is labeled virtuous or vicious, the label goes beyond the content of their actions and seems to define the very person. Virtue and vice are different species of the genus of habit. A virtue is a good habit, and a is vice a bad habit. An inquiry into which genus habit should be a species under aids in unlocking the deeper nature of a person’s actions. According to Aristotle and Aquinas, habit is a species of quality. The category of quality is one of the ten categories from Aristotle’s Organon. In a broad sense, the categories articulate everything that may be an object of human apprehension. For example, a table. The category of quantity denotes how many tables there are, the category of relations denotes if it is a superior or inferior table compared to other tables, and category of place denotes where the table is, and so forth. The category of quality has four different types: first, shape (rectangular, circular, etc.), second, sense qualities (hot, cold, loud, quiet, etc.), third, capacity (a man has the capacity to run swiftly or a table to bear a great weight), and fourth, dispositions (the quality of being disposed an act). Habit is a species of quality in the fourth sense – of dispositions. Therefore, a habit, whether a virtue or vice, defines the very quality of its subject, the person, as either being disposed to good or evil.4

 

3. Can non-Catholics be virtuous?

Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The natural virtues or “human virtues” are known as “natural,” because they are naturally available to all humanity.5 Every human is a rational animal and is able to acquire the natural virtues. In other words, a person does not need to be Catholic to have the natural virtues. The natural virtues can serve as a common table of dialogue between persons of all faiths and creeds. Each person is a rational animal – meaning they are endowed with the power of the intellect in their soul. Each person has the power to rationally reflect upon their own actions, which is the basis for morality. Acting virtuously is nothing more than acting rationally. Each human – regardless of their “worldview” – is expected to act rationally and hold to the common standard of natural virtue. It is obvious, however, that though all men may acquire the natural virtues, not all men do. One key observation is that virtues are habits, not mandated instincts. The rational soul is like clay upon the potter’s wheel. The rational animal, by the power of the his or her intellect, may choose to act rationally (good) or irrationally (bad). The rational animal may form his or herself into a virtuous or vicious individual. Second, it is true that the rational soul is inclined to what is truly good and rational. All persons choose what is good. The caveat is that the mover of the soul, the power of the will, often times moves the soul toward apparent goods and not actual goods.6 Consequently, though man is a rational animal, he often makes irrational choices toward apparent goods, which can develop into vices. In fact, entire cultures or religions may suppress individuals from being virtuous by habituating them to apparent goods.

 

4. What moral virtues are available to all humanity?

The Cardinal Virtues are the natural moral virtues available to all men. Drawing from both the ancient Greek philosophical tradition and the ancient Hebrew faith of the Old Testament, the Church teaches that there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.7 Prudence is the “elective habit” and may be said to simply be “right reason in action.”8 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual and moral virtue. Justice is the virtue whereby a person gives what is due to both God and neighbor.9 It is the virtue of being well-ordered. Justice has the distinction of being the highest virtue of politics or the state. Temperance is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable that would lure it away.10 In contrast, fortitude is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something that would scare it away.11 The soldier that stands his ground despite an oncoming onslaught is engaging in fortitude. A husband or wife that holds true to their marriage vows despite the allure of adulterous sexual pleasure is engaging in temperance. These four virtues are the “cardinal” virtues, because of the “pivotal role” they hold in morality.12 The Cardinal Virtues are available to all humanity, because they are acquired virtues – meaning they may be “acquired by human effort.”13 Each rational animal, as a creature of the Creator, may acquire these moral virtues, which in turn prepare the soul “for communion with divine love.”14 For grace always perfects nature; thus, the person with great natural virtue has laid a great foundation for divine love.

 

5. Are there virtues that must be given to humanity?

Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The Theological Virtues are moral virtues that are given by God. While the Cardinal Virtues are natural virtues, thus they may be acquired by all rational animals; the Theological Virtues are infused virtues, which means they are infused into the individual by God. There are three Theological Virtues: faith, hope, and charity. The Virtue of Faith is that by which Catholics “believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.”15 Truth is not a concept – it is a person, Jesus Christ, and he has wedded himself to humanity through his bride, his body, the Church. The Virtue of Faith, however, cannot be reduced to mere intellect assent. True faith is both belief and living out that belief. The Virtue of Hope is the “anchor of the soul.”16 Hope anchors the believer in virtue by instilling in him a desire for the Kingdom of God, a trust in Jesus Christ, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.17 The Virtue of Charity is the mother of all virtues. It is the virtue by which we love God for his own sake and our neighbors as ourselves.18 Just as the soul is the form of the body, Charity is the form of all virtue – it actuates the potential of virtue. It is the anima (soul) of virtue, because “the practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony.”19 Though the Theological Virtues are infused into the person by God, they are properly habits, because once they are given it is the choice of the individual to habituate himself toward the goods of faith, hope, and charity.

 

6. Are there other virtues besides the moral virtues?

Along with the moral virtues, there are the intellectual virtues. The intellectual virtues may be distinguished into two categories: the speculative virtues and the practical virtues. The power of the intellect is the hallmark power of the rational soul, and the speculative virtues help perfect the intellect’s ability to consider truth. Aquinas teaches the speculative virtues “may indeed be called virtues in so far as they confer aptness for a good work, viz. the consideration of truth (since this is the good work of the intellect).”20 There are three habits that perfect the speculative intellect: understanding, wisdom, and science. Now, the speculative intellect has as its end the consideration of truth, and truth itself is a twofold consideration. First, there is the truth that is known in itself. Aquinas submits, “what is known in itself, is as a ‘principle,’ and is at once understood by the intellect.”21 The habit that perfects the speculative intellect’s consideration of principles is the virtue of understanding. It is the “habit of principles.”22 The principles in question are known in themselves, because they are indemonstrable – they are not deduced from other truths. For example, “a whole is greater than its parts.” Moreover, there is the “first indemonstrable principle,” which is the foundation for all others – “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time.”23 The second aspect of truth is that which is known to be true “through another.”24 In other words, it is known through the ability to reason. The virtue of wisdom contemplates the highest causes in the universe and allows the intellect to place all being in a rational order. For example, wisdom rationalizes there are living beings and non-living beings, the under living beings there are animals and plants, under animals there is the rational animal and the non-rational animals, and so forth. Science is simply a “body of knowledge,” thus, the virtue of science perfects the intellect through the study of the different bodies of knowable matter. So whereas wisdom will set everything in proper order according to the highest causes, science will study the specific and distinguished bodies of knowledge, e.g., chemistry, astronomy, zoology, botany, etc. So, as Aquinas teaches, “there are different habits of scientific knowledge; whereas there is but one wisdom.”25 One wisdom sets the order, while habits of scientific knowledge are as numerous as the potential to separate one body of knowledge from another.

 

7. Are there other intellectual virtues?

Along with the speculative virtues, there are the practical virtues of art and prudence. The virtue of art is the habit of knowing how to make things. Aquinas states, “Art is nothing else but ‘the right reason about certain works to be made.'”26 Art is understood as an operative/practical habit – in contrast with a speculative habit – for it perfects in the craftsman an “aptness to work well.”27 The second operative or practical habit is prudence. If art is the “right reason of things to be made,” then prudence is the “right reason of things to be done.”28 In the virtue of art, there is an “action passing into outward matter” to create an external object. Through the art of smithing, the blacksmith smiths a plow. In the virtue of prudence, there is an “action abiding in the agent.” Through the virtue of prudence, the blacksmith decides to start his day before dawn. Aquinas summarizes the distinction as “prudence stands in the same relation to such like human actions, consisting in the use of powers and habits, as art does to outward making: since each is the perfect reason about the things with which it is concerned.”29 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual virtue and a moral virtue. For example, the blacksmith may make prudent choices in how to operate his smith, while he also may make prudent choices in how to treat his family. Prudence perfects reason, which is necessary in both intellectual and moral matters.30

 

8. Why are the intellect virtues not moral virtues?

Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. - "The Latin inscription reads: 'We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'"
Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. – “The Latin inscription reads: ‘We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'”

If a man is a great botanist does that make him a moral or immoral person? Neither – the acumen of the intellectual virtues, save prudence, does not have a direct moral import. A person may be incredibly intelligent and also vicious at the same time. The intellect does, however, have an indirect moral consideration. For example, the blacksmith has the habit of scientific knowledge needed to smith, and he knows the art of smithing. The moral consideration is what the blacksmith wills to do with the knowledge and art he has. He may create brittle plows and sell them to cheat patrons of their money. He may create the finest swords in the region and donate them to those fighting on the front lines. The moral consideration is not the knowledge itself, but what the soul wills to do with the knowledge. For example, when the will moves the soul to use knowledge for a just or charitable purpose, then the act is a moral act.31

 

  1. Published on All Saints Day 2014 – All you holy men and women of God, pray for us. []
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) § 1803 []
  3. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2 []
  4. The Categories: A quick sketch of Aristotle’s Categories found in his work, Organon. (1) Substance – that which cannot be predicated of anything else; thus, this particular man or this particular chair; note that while the accidents of the substance may change (e.g., the chair becomes rough or changes color), if the substance changes it forfeits existence (e.g., a human is a human, it cannot change to anything more or less than a human). (2) Quantity (3) Relation – things can be inferior or superior to others, etc. (4) Quality – as described above (5) Place – a substance may be here or there (6) Time – the table is one day old or hundred days old (7) Position – the table is upright or overturned (8) State (or Condition) – the table is in this or that condition (9) Action – to produce a change, e.g., a man may run or kick (10) Affection – to receive an act or to be acted upon, e.g., the table is kicked by the man. []
  5. CCC § 1804 []
  6. ST.II-I.8.1 []
  7. CCC §§ 1805-11 []
  8. CCC § 1806 []
  9. Id. at § 1807 []
  10. Id. at § 1809 []
  11. Id. at § 1808 []
  12. Id. at § 1805 []
  13. Id. []
  14. Id. []
  15. Id. at § 1814 []
  16. Id. at § 1820 []
  17. Id. at §§ 1817-18 []
  18. Id. at §§ 1822-29 []
  19. Id. at § 1827, citing Col 3:14. []
  20. ST. I-II.57.1 []
  21. Id. at a. 2 []
  22. Id. []
  23. Indemonstrable Principles: I-II.94.2 – for example, “Hence it is that, as Boethius says… certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.” SPL discusses indemonstrable principles in the list The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World.” []
  24. Id. at a. 2 []
  25. Id. []
  26. Id. at a. 3. []
  27. Id. []
  28. Id. at a. 4, cf. Metaph. ix, text. 16 []
  29. Id. at a. 3-4 []
  30. Id. at a. 5. []
  31. Id. at a. 1. []

A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know

“I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death.”

Listers, the Leviathan offers man salvation in a world where the state of nature is war and chaos. Peace is simply an interlude to more war. The very equality of humanity rests upon the belief that even the weakest may devise a way to murder the strongest; thus, through violence and murder, all men are equal. Though Hobbes’ views on statecraft, violence, and religion were arguably found distasteful to his contemporaries,  history still remembers him fondly for one importance reason: he rejected Catholicism and the ancient philosophers. He offered the world a different philosophy in which to view and govern itself than that of the ancients and medievals. He gifts later philosophers, most notably Locke, different material to work with than that offered by the Church. Hobbes jettisons the natural law and virtue teachings of the Church, he mocks the doctrine of transubstantiation as “madness,” and ultimately places all religion at the foot of the state, the Leviathan.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which Hobbes broke with the philosophy of the ancients and of the Church. Hobbes is particularly important as he begins modernity’s focus on “rights language.” The autonomy of the individual expressed in “individual rights” becomes the hallmark of modern political and moral thought. Extrinsic standards, e.g., natural law, are pulled down as the individual is lifted up. Studying the moderns and how they interrelate is vital to a Catholic attempting to live an authentic faith in a modern world. It is unsettling to realize that the philosophies that shaped the modern world almost always shared a common trait: they were only able to posit their ideas by rejecting Catholicism.

 

Clarification by Contrast: Political Thought in the Ancients

 

The magnification of the "Leviathan" on the original cover of Hobbes' work. The Leviathan is composed of people.
The magnification of the “Leviathan” on the original cover of Hobbes’ work. The Leviathan is composed of people.

1. His Predecessor, Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s The Prince was unprecedented insofar as it removed statecraft from the standards of traditional virtue. Virtue, under Machiavelli, devolved from a habit of the good – prudence, justice, temperance, & fortitude – to the ability to gain and maintain political power through force and fear. In Chapter XV, he writes:

But, it being my intention to write a thing which shall be useful to him who apprehends it, it appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real truth of a matter than the imagination of it; for many have imagined republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil.

What are the imagined republics? Machiavelli is referring to the cities in speech that were common among the ancient philosophers, most notably Plato & Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle speaks of nature as a standard and sees men as political animals that inhabit a polis ordered by the natural virtue of justice.1 The most notable imagined republic, however, for Machiavelli is the Kingdom of God as articulated by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Here Machiavelli breaks with the western political tradition by advocating that the prince not live as men ought to live, but embrace and become “virtuous” in how men do live. He discards the “imagine republics” governed by virtue, and imports a statecraft designed to gain and maintain power through force and fear. Notice too, that Machiavelli believes the prince who strives to live virtuously according to the imagined republics will bring about his own ruin, while the prince who lives according to “real truth” will bring about his preservation.2

 

2. Historical Context & Brief Biography

Sixty-one years after the death of Machiavelli, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury was born (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679). He was raised in England in the aftermath of King Henry VIII separating the Church of England from the Church in Rome and in a Europe in the throes of the Protestant Reformation. So-called “religious wars” riddled the continent as political powers utilized various religious factions for political gain. The Roman Catholic Church was also in a time of reform as it had held the Council of Trent (1545-63). Hobbes spent most of his time in Continental Europe (1629-31; 1634-7). Due to his support of the English King in a time where Parliament was attempting to limit the monarchal powers, he was exiled to France (1640-51). In 1651, he returned to England after his criticisms of the papacy angered the French Catholic faithful. Thomas Hobbes died in 1679.3

 

3. De Cive: Mutual Fear

In The Citizen, Hobbes does for the citizen what Machiavelli did for the prince. Machiavelli’s teaching removed the prince’s political engagement from the traditional standards of virtue and replaced them with the reworked concept of virtue as the ability to gain and maintain power. Hobbes follows Machiavelli’s rework aimed at the prince and delivers it to the individual citizen. Consequently, when Hobbes speaks of the “virtue of justice,” the virtue is no longer concerned with good of the soul or the virtuous ordering of society. Hobbes’ virtue is concerned with power and material goods.4

In The Citizen, Hobbes posits that society’s primary function is to “preserve humans from mutual violence.” Here Hobbes jettisons Aristotle and the Western Tradition’s belief that man is by nature a communal political animal in search of the common good. Instead, Hobbes submits that man seeks only his own good and comes together in societal structures out of a common fear.

We must therefore resolve, that the original of all great, and lasting societies, consisted not in the mutual good will men had towards each other, but in the mutual fear they had of each other.

The state in ancient philosophy, the polis, was oriented toward the common good. The polis existed so that all men might live well. Men and polis sought the standards of nature and natural virtue. Under Hobbes, nature will undergo a significant transformation. Hobbes begins to articulate a political philosophy in which persons, by nature, have a mutual fear of one another. To understand why a mutual fear – not mutual good – is the foundation of Hobbes’ Leviathan, you must understand his view on nature and man’s right to self-preservation.

 

4. Equality through Violence

A hallmark of Hobbes’ philosophy is that society finds equality in the ability of each person to murder the other.

How easy a matter it is, even for the weakest man to kill the strongest, there is no reason why any man trusting to his own strength should conceive himself made by nature above others: they are equals who can do equal things one against the other; but they who can do the greatest things, (namely kill) can do equal things. All men therefore among themselves are by nature equal… therefore the first foundation of natural right is this, that every man as much as in him lies endeavor to protect his life and members.

Further articulating the rights of persons, Hobbes states, “every man has a right to preserve himself, he must also be allowed a right to use all the means, and do all the actions, without which he cannot preserve himself.” If man has in his arsenal “all the means,” to what end may he use them? Hobbes answers, “nature hath given to everyone a right to all.” According to nature, man has a right to everything through whatever means necessary and is equal to one another in the ability to murder.

To have all, and do all, is lawful for all. And this is that which is meant by that common saying, “Nature hath given all to all,” from whence we understand likewise, that in the state of nature, profit is the measure of right.

It is notable that Hobbes acknowledges that “profit is the measure of right.” Overall, we see Hobbes equate self-preservation with morality. It would be difficult to exaggerate the break this view of nature has with the traditional western political tradition and the Catholic Church. The break becomes a key characteristic of modernity: nature is not a standard to be followed but something to overcome, to conquer, and to vex. Where Machiavelli’s work was written to serve his own political end, Hobbes has purposely broken with the Ancients and attempted to be, in his mind, the first political philosopher.

 

5. The State of Nature is War

Following Hobbes’ teaching on individual rights, it is no surprise that for him the state of nature is war. Peace is simply an interlude to more war.

It cannot be denied but that the natural state of men, before they entered into society, was a mere war, and that not simply, but a war of all men, against all men…

Gone is the ordered law of nature imprinted on the hearts of men; nature as a chaotic state of war is the new philosophy. A state in which men exist in mutual fear of falling victim to the unbridled natural right of another’s self-preservation. If equality is found in the mutual ability to murder one another and war is the natural state of man, what is Hobbes’ solution? Society is formed out of a contractual agreement whereby out of preservation the citizen transfers his power to the state. An idea he takes up in great detail in his Leviathan.

 

6. The Leviathan: Introduction

In accordance with the principles set forth in The Citizen, Hobbes begins to articulate a whole new vision of human life and society. Unlike Aristotle who begins his discourse on politics with what is common sense, Hobbes intends to establish a new modern political science in terms of motion and power. In fact, Hobbes takes geometry as his model science and guide for constructing his new science of politics.5

In his introduction, Hobbes speaks of nature and of the Leviathan. First, of nature, he states:

Nature (the art whereby God had made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that I can make an artificial animal.

As intimated in The Citizen, for Hobbes, nature is mechanistic. Humanity can now not only create art that mimics nature, but art that controls nature. Nature is a machine – albeit a violent and bellicose machine – to be understood and controlled. For Hobbes, man finds himself in a chaotic state of war, but he has the ability to deliver himself. He can create the Leviathan.

Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body…

The Leviathan is the great artificial construct or machine that is man at large. The ancients held that nature was a standard. Nature was a good and good habits were natural virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Under Hobbes, nature is a machine to be utilized and his reworking of the virtues is arguably presents them as something akin to mechanistic passions to be controlled.6

 

7. The Leviathan: On Virtue

In Chapter VIII, Hobbes reworks virtue in a similar fashion as Machiavelli. For St. Thomas Aquinas, virtue is a good habit. For example, justice is the natural virtue of being well-ordered or ordered according to right reason. It is a natural virtue, because it is available to all men by nature. Under Hobbes, virtue becomes whatever men seek as valued. He begins his chapter:

Virtue generally, in all sorts of subjects, is somewhat that is valued for eminence; and consists in comparison. For if all things were equally in all men, nothing would be prized. 

It is also notable Hobbes ends Chapter VIII with a critique of Fr. Francisco Suárez, a prominent Spanish Jesuit scholastic. Typical of modernity, he does not actually offer a philosophical rebuttal of the scholastics, but rather mocks their works as absurd and intended to drive men mad.

So that this kind of absurdity may rightly be numbered amongst the many sorts of madness; and all the time that, guided by clear thoughts of their worldly lust, they forbear disputing or writing thus, but lucid intervals. And thus much of the virtues and defects intellectual. 

The above quote is specifically speaking about the doctrine of transubstantiation. It is difficult to exaggerate the point that the moderns never actually engaged Catholicism and ancient philosophy, but rather simply mocked it and offered the people something more palatable to their desires. It is amongst history’s most tragic errors to believe that Modernity offered the people something more rational than what they had; the “Enlightenment” did little else than enlighten what people desired.

 

8. The Leviathan: On Power & Worth

In Chapter X: Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honor, & Worthiness, Hobbes articulates the theme of power, which is a major theme in his philosophy. He avers there are two types of power: natural and instrumental. The former is “the eminence of the faculties of body, or mind; as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility.” The latter type of power is described as “powers which, acquired by these [the natural powers], or by fortune, are means and instruments to acquire more; as riches, reputation, friends, and the secret working of God, which me call good luck.” For Hobbes, the Leviathan grants value and dignity to a person based upon the usefulness of their power. He writes:

The value of worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and therefore is not absolutely, but a thing dependent on the need and judgement of another.

The public worth of a man, which is the value set on him by the Commonwealth, is that which men commonly call dignity. And this value of him by the Commonwealth is understood by offices of command, judicature, public employment; or by names and titles introduced for distinction of such value.

Hobbes articulation of power is reminiscent of Machiavelli. Where the ancients spoke of power as a means to a virtuous end, both Hobbes and Machiavelli speak of power as an independent category, an end in and of itself. For the ancients, the end sought by power, to be good for the state, had to be virtuous, it had to be accordance with the natural order. For Hobbes, power is a means to any number of subjective ends. The value of the end sought by power and the value of the person seeking it is externally placed on it by the Commonwealth, the Leviathan. Note how Hobbes couples together a person’s dignity with their “public worth,” and this “worth” or value is gifted to him by the Leviathan.

 

9. Leviathan: The Restless Pursuit of Power

Chapter XI: Of the Difference of Manners represents one of the clearest breaks with the ancients. He states quite clearly that there is no supreme good or final end.

To which end we are to consider that the felicty of this life consists not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such finis ultimus nor summum bonum as is spoke of in the books of the old moral philosophers.

The idea that there is a supreme good and final end for humanity was a hallmark of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. What then does Hobbes submit as a substitution? He writes:

Felicity is a continual progress of the desire from one object ot another, the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter… so that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death.

For Hobbes, it appears that the supreme good and final end are fanciful characteristics of the old cities in speech. Man is left with a “restless desire for power after power, that ceases only in death.” Traditional God had been the final end of man and towards that end man ordered his steps. For Hobbes, the tearing down the supreme good and final end – which were ultimately God – only to erect a temporal pursuit of power in its place imports numerous question on how Hobbes actually views God and religion.

 

10. Leviathan: On Religion

Chapter XII: On Religion is a milestone in the Western intellectual tradition. In this chapter, Hobbes offers a discussion on what he takes to be a mythical account of the origins of man. He writes:

Seeing there are no signs nor fruit of religion but in man only, there is no cause to doubt but that the seed of religion is also only in man; and consists in some peculiar quality, or at least in some eminent degree thereof, not to be found in other living creatures….

This perpetual fear, always accompanying mankind in the ignorance of causes, as it were in the dark, must needs have for object something. And therefore when there is nothing to be seen, there is nothing to accuse either of their good or evil fortune but some power or agent invisible: in which seen perhaps it was that some of the old poets said that the gods were first created by human fear: which, spoke of the gods (that is to say, of the man gods of the Gentiles) is very true.

Hobbes then turns his attention to the monotheistic tradition in the West and makes a slight but significant change to a notable philosophic argument for God.

But the acknowledging of one God eternal, infinite, and omnipotent may more easily be derived from the desire men have to know the causes of natural bodies, and their several virtues and operations, than from the fear of what was to befall them in time to come. For he that, from any effect he sees come to pass, should reason to the next and immediate cause thereof, and from thence to the cause of that cause, and plunge himself profoundly in the pursuit of causes, shall at last come to this, that there must be (as even the heathen philosophers confessed) one First Mover; that is, a first and an eternal cause of all things; which is that which men mean by the name of God: and all this without thought of their fortune, the solicitude whereof both inclines to fear and hinders them from the search of the causes of other things; and thereby gives occasion of feigning of as many gods as there be men that feign them.

Hobbes’ treatment of the First Mover argument warrants a few comments. First, it is one of the only positive statements he makes regarding Aristotle. Second, Hobbes sets the First Mover into his view of a mechanistic nature; thus, the First Mover is not seen as Being-itself – that which perpetually sustains all being – but rather the First Mover is that which simply started the machine. Hobbes then turns his attention to how these natural inclinations toward God in man unfolded into religion.

And in these four things, opinion of ghosts, ignorance of second causes, devotion towards what men fear, and taking of things casual for prognostics, consists the natural seed of religion; which, by reason of the different fancies, judgments, and passions of several men, hath frown up into ceremonies so different that those which are used by one man are for the most part ridiculous to another.

Hobbes then takes up the question of what is the purpose of a religion that is invented out of these natural seeds within man? He states there are two types of men that have cultivated these seeds of religion. The first did it according to their own invention and the second did it by God’s commandment.

But both sorts have done it with a purpose to make those men that relied on them the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, and civil society. So that the religion of the former sort is a part of human politics; and teaches part of the duty which early kings require of their subjects. And the religion of the latter sort is divine politics; and contains precepts to those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom of God. Of the former sort were all the founders of Commonwealths, and the law gives of the Gentiles; of the latter sort were Abraham, Moses, and our Bless Savior, by whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of God.

Though he attempts to make a distinction between invented religions and Christianity, they ultimately serve the same purpose and suffer under the same “natural seed” criticisms. Modernity must be understood by knowing how each modern philosopher relates to the other. For Hobbes and Machiavelli, Hobbes does for the citizen what Machiavelli did for the prince. After Hobbes, the next great modern philosopher is John Locke. Hobbes’ critique of religion was found too caustic by the British population; thus, Locke smooths out Hobbes’ rough critique and makes it more palatable for the general public. Christianity is accepted by the early modern philosophers, but it is almost immediately reduced into a moral myth and with political utility. It remains a respected theme until its radical rejection by Nietzsche.

In distinction, Catholicism stands as the greatest impediment to the “new” thoughts of the moderns and is immediately rejected. The character of this rejection is most important. As demonstrated in Hobbes’ “critique” of Scholasticism, Catholicism – and more particularly Scholasticism and Aquinas – are never actually philosophically addressed and refuted. The methodology of the moderns is to submit a counter philosophy and then simply mock Catholicism. A shallow and intellectually dishonest method still popular today.

In this spirit, Hobbes turns his attention to the “Church in Rome.”

Also the religion of the Church of Rome was partly for the same cause abolished in England and many other parts of Christendom, insomuch as the failing of virtue in the pastors makes faith fail in the people, and partly from bringing of the philosophy and doctrine of Aristotle into religion by the Schoolmen; from whence there arose so many contradiction and absurdities as brought the clergy into a reputation both of ignorance and of fraudulent intention, and inclined people to revolt from them, either against the will of their own princes as in France and Holland, or with their will as in England. Lastly, amongst the points by the Church of Rome declared necessary for salvation, there by so many manifestly to the advantage of the Pope so man of his spiritual subjects residing in the territories of other Christian prince that, were it not for the mutual emulation of those princes, they might without war or trouble exclude all foreign authority as easily as it has been excluded in England.

For who is there that does not see to whose benefit it conduces to have it believed that a king hath not his authority from Christ unless a bishop crown him? That a king, if he be a priest, cannot marry? That whether a prince be born in lawful marriage, or not, must be judge by authority from Rome? That subjects may be freed from their allegiance if by the court of Rome the king be judged a heretic? That a king, as Childeric of France, may be deposed by a Pope, as Pope Zachary, for no cause, and his kingdom given to one of his subjects? That the clergy, and regulars, in what country soever, shall be exempt from the jurisdiction of their Masses, and values of purgatory, with other signs of private interest enough to mortify the most lively faith, if, as i said, the civil magistrate and custom did not more sustain it than any opinion they have of the sanctity, wisdom, or probity of their teachers? So that i may attribute all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same cause, and that is unpleasing priests; and those not only amongst Catholics, but even in that Church that has presumed most of reformation.

A few things of note. As modern philosophy devalues religion, it lifts the state up to take its place. Under Hobbes, religion becomes a tool of the state by which it finds a means to keep the citizens obedient. Catholicism stands in direct conflict with this approach. First, Catholicism holds the state accountable to natural law, an extrinsic standard placed upon the state. Second, Catholicism is universal – it extends past the boundaries of the state and is thus considered “foreign” by the moderns. The Church in Rome is a foreign threat to the now great Leviathan. The idea of Catholicism as a threat to the new modern way of living will endure throughout the modern philosophers and in Locke will manifest in seeing Catholic citizens as untrustworthy members of the state due to their foreign allegiances. A critique that was heavily submitted in the history of the United State of America and arguably only waned not because America became more tolerant, but because American Catholics became less Catholic.

 

11. Man Finds Salvation in the Leviathan

Following his discussion on religion, Hobbes takes up what he believes to be the true account of humanity in Chapter XIII. A series of selected quotes from this section will demonstrate the foundation Hobbes lays for understanding human equality: the potential to murder one another.

For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machinations of by confederacy without others that are in the same danger with himself.

Hobbes believes he has discovered the natural foundation for equality, because if the weakest can murder the strongest then there is equality. He places this equality into his universe where nature is a perpetual state of war and all men seek power. He continues, as well, to rewrite the virtues according to his new narrative:

For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto.

Prudence, under the ancients and the Church, was the elective habit, the habit of right reasoning. The virtues were predicated upon nature as a standard of the good, but under Hobbes, nature has been rewritten and thus the virtues must be rewritten as well.

It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighed these things that nature should thus dissociate and render men apt to invade and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this inference, made from the passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience.

Nature has become something that has to be overcome. It is no longer a standard of the good, but a chaotic warring state that must be dominated by the Leviathan. The idea of nature as something to be vexed and conquered is a hallmark of the new modern thought. While Hobbes speaks of it in a political manner, Francis Bacon will speak of it in a scientific manner – nature as something to be tortured until she gives up her secrets. The ancients and the Church saw natural law as a standard to hold up to all men, but now nature has become something to be dominated and morality a subjective end of the state. It is the state, not nature, in which men find virtue.

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are non of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude.

It is ever more evident in the writings of Hobbes that in subjecting religion to the ends of the state and rewriting nature as a state of chaos, man finds his salvation in the Commonwealth, the Leviathan. Before society, the nature state of man is unbridled self-preservation.

 

12. The Beginning of Rights Language

In Chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts, Hobbes articulates one of the monumental shifts in ancient to modern thought: individual rights. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church never spoke in terms of individual rights. The standard for the state and for its citizens was natural law. What was good and what was evil was not predicated upon man’s judgment, but rather by the external standard set upon him by nature. In Hobbes’ deconstruction of nature into a realm of war and chaos, he gives the West its first true taste of rights predicated upon the individual.

And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone against everyone, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies, it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endues, there can be no security to any man how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.

The paragraph is notable within the Western intellectual tradition as the beginning of “rights language.” Hobbes is setting the stage for the Leviathan. Men, unable to live in the warring chaos of nature, will seek self-preservation by transferring their rights to the Leviathan. The state will be their salvation from each other and from the natural state of war and chaos.

  1. Aristotle: Read more on Aristotle’s view of natural law and politics with a brief note on Plato at Political Animals & The Philosopher King. []
  2. Machiavelli: For a further Catholic introduction to Machiavelli please visit 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli’s The Prince. []
  3. Thomas Hobbes Biography: More may be read on Stanford’s Philosophy Encyclopedia entry on Thomas Hobbes and other resources may be garnered from the Wikipedia article. []
  4. De Cive Quotes: All quotes from The Citizen are taken from Chapter 1: Of the State of Men Without Civil Society and have been edited in accordance with modern English spelling. []
  5. Geometry: Hobbes discusses his attempt to present his “political science” with the clarity of geometry in Chapter V. []
  6. The Passions: Where Aristotle had right reason and good habits, Hobbes has only mechanistic passions. In Chapter VI, Hobbes avers that men are externally moved, by the passions, either in aversion or in appetite. Aquinas spoke of passions as those things that acted on man and moved him toward one thing or another, but Aquinas also spoke of virtue as something that could guide the passions. Moreover, the will was that which moved men internally. Hobbes seems to only speak of passions. []

15 Catholic Quotes in Response to the SCOTUS Rulings on DOMA and Prop 8

“It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” – Justice Scalia

Recommended Reading

 

Quotes

Scalia More hat
Justice Scalia wearing his St. Thomas More replica hat.

“But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual.”

“All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence— indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” – Justice Scalia, U.S. v. Windsor, dissent. [Source]

 

“Our culture has taken for granted for far too long what human nature, experience, common sense, and God’s wise design all confirm: the difference between a man and a woman matters, and the difference between a mom and a dad matters. While the culture has failed in many ways to be marriage-strengthening, this is no reason to give up. Now is the time to strengthen marriage, not redefine it…” – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. [Source]

 

“Today’s decisions will also undoubtedly contribute to concerted efforts not just to redefine marriage but to dismantle it, efforts which represent a serious threat to religious liberty and conscience rights for countless people of faith. This threat to religious freedom is one of many, locally and nationally, that has prompted our current Fortnight for Freedom, which we hope will inspire people throughout the country to prayer, education, and action to preserve religious liberty.” – Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore [Source]

 

“While today’s decision voids federal law it opens the doors to others: it allows the citizens of each state the opportunity to uphold the true definition of marriage by voting for representatives and legislation that defend the true definition of marriage. I call on all people of good will to make their voices heard through the democratic process by upholding marriage in their home states… This archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic priest will ever be compelled to condone- even silently – same-sex “marriages.” – The Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA. [Source]

 

“The response of the Catholic Church is universal and unchanged. Marriage is not a societal construct, but is rather an institution given by God and written in the laws of nature, established at the creation of the world. With this in mind, no government power has the authority or ability to redefine the essence of marriage. Their redefinition only causes them to officially speak incorrectly about marriage.” – From the Office of the Bishop, the Diocese of Tulsa [Source]

 

“At this time, we as Catholics reaffirm that no court decision can recreate reality or change the truth about marriage, and we mourn for what will likely be lost for many as a result of this decision – the conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman and the freedom that comes from living in that conviction. We will continue to pray for a renewed respect for the complementarity of the sexes and the authentic goods of marriage.” – Archbishop Coakley of the Diocese of Oklahoma City [Source]

 

“Anthony McLeod Kennedy, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, authored today’s majority opinion striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This was his third sodomy case at the Supreme Court where he authored the pro-sodomy opinion. He also authored a 1996 opinion overriding Colorado’s constitution, where Kennedy invented a federal right for practicing homosexuals to have special discrimination claim rights. And he authored the infamous 2003 decision inventing a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, overriding state laws… The bishop, the Most Reverend Paul Stephen Loverde, has stood firm in a position of Communion-on-Demand, no matter who presents himself at the altar rail (or missing rail, as the bishop has also banned the construction of altar rails). We shall see if Bishop Loverde is content with a three-time author of pro-sodomy decisions receiving Communion in his diocese this Sunday, or if the time is finally now to exert some nominal discipline. Sodomy is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, even in the Diocese of Arlington, right?”  Adfero, Justice Anthony Kennedy: “full communion,” Rorate Caeli. [Source]

 

“Justice Kennedy wrote, ‘The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.’ This is only slightly less outrageously self-contradictory than his famous ‘mystery” utterance: ‘At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.'”That statement was written by Justice Kennedy (along with Justices Souter and O’Connor) in his opinion on the 1992 case, “Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”  Father Fessio, S.J. [Source]

 

“Catholic teaching protects the dignity of every human person, all deserving love and respect, including those who experience same-sex attraction. This is a reality that calls for compassion, sensitivity, and pastoral care. But no one –especially a child, is served by marriage redefinition.” – Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta [Source]

 

“While civil law establishes societal standards of conduct, we must also consider the natural law, moral law and divine revelation,” Bishop Wester said. “It is from these fonts of wisdom and grace that we Catholics understand that marriage between one man and one woman is a gift to humanity. The blessings of such a marriage cannot be legislated, litigated or changed by civil authorities.” – The Most Reverend John C. Wester, Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City [Source]

 

“The well-being of our society, our nation, and our families is intimately linked to the institution of marriage. These decisions by the United States Supreme Court will make significantly more difficult our work of upholding the truth that marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. Such decisions, made by any civic authority, do not serve the common good.” – Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron [Source]

 

“The truth is that marriage is between a man and a woman… Court decisions may change, but the truth does not… The Catholic Church will be faithful to this truth whether it is convenient or not.” – Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mobile [Source]

 

Updated 6-27-13

“As in the case of Roe v. Wade striking down abortion laws forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court has again usurped its legitimate prerogative through a raw exercise of judicial power by giving legal protection to an intrinsic evil… These hollow decisions are absolutely devoid of moral authority. It is becoming increasingly and abundantly clear that what secular law now calls “marriage” has no semblance to the sacred institution of Holy Matrimony. People of faith are called to reject the redefinition of marriage and bear witness to the truth of Holy Matrimony as a lasting, loving and life-giving union between one man and one woman.” – Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois [Source]

 

“The Bishops of Massachusetts are extremely disappointed that the Court has struck down DOMA. The Church continues to stand for the traditional definition of marriage, an institution which unites one man and one woman with any children who may come from that union. Marriage, as a natural institution, predates both religion and government and is grounded in the nature of the human person. Protecting the traditional definition of marriage affirms the basic rights and dignity of women and men while safeguarding the basic rights of children.” – Massachusetts Catholic Conference Statement on DOMA Ruling [Source]

Updated 7-1-13

How serious a threat to marriage and society is the Supreme Court decision on DOMA?

Without being able to go into the actual text of the decision, what the decision represents, sadly, for our society, is a loss of the sense of nature, and specifically human nature, and the continuation in the highest judicial decisions of the pretence to define, for instance, the meaning of human life, define marriage in a way other than nature herself defines marriage. So this is one more step down a path which is destructive. So it’s a very serious matter, and we have to, as citizens of the United States, reawaken and insist on the respect for human life and also for the integrity of the marital union.

Do you see it being reversed in any way?

I certainly hope so — I hope people of good will fight for the sake of saving marriage, because marriage and the family are the first cell of the whole life of society. This is not a particularly Catholic issue, and that should be made clear. Surely, the Catholic Church teaches the moral law, but this has to do with the moral law written on every human heart, and you can’t tell me the founders of the United States of America didn’t have a respect for nature and a profound sense of it. In any case, we must have it.

How should the Church best respond to this?

The Church should teach very effectively and also encourage her members to be active in politics, in education and every aspect of society to promote a sound understanding of marriage and the family.

– Interview with His Eminence Cardinal Burke, National Catholic Register [Source]

 

Listers, if you have a recommended quote share it in the comment box. We’ll be updating this list as this historical event unfolds. Keep Calm and Catholic On. 

The 2 Books by Cardinal Ratzinger that Will Change Your Life

“Politics is the realm of reason – not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice.”

Listers, if Catholics are to live a life of virtue then there are two primary sciences – bodies of knowledge – all Catholics should study: the “Noble Science” and the “Queen of the Sciences.” The corpus of writings from Cardinal Ratzinger is as vast and as it is impressive. An excellent survey of his writings can by found in Abram’s The 6 Books of Pope Benedict XVI Every Catholic Should Read. The list at hand takes a different approach.

A Unique Review: Why were these works chosen?
It is typical of a positive book review to go into great detail lauding the message and delivery of the particular author. For the review at hand, we take a different approach and presuppose that Cardinal Ratzinger’s works are brimming with solid Catholic erudition and strike with a clear and orthodox Catholic tone. The purpose of the review is to step back from the works and truly understand the overall sciences in which they are written. It is to move the reader from thinking of works as well written on this or that subject, to understanding that different bodies of knowledge are not isolated from each other. In fact, the word we use for understanding the proper ordering of knowledge is wisdom. The higher bodies of knowledge – higher sciences – order the lower ones; thus, if one truly grasps the importance of a higher science and can study an excellent work on that science, it will have “trickle down” effect on all the other areas in their life. It is in this focus that we must first explain the science and then suggest a work by Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Noble Science

According to Aristotle’s Politics, man is by nature a political animal. It is by nature that humans gather together and form political bodies. Human political order begins with the household and the natural relationship between a husband and a wife. Built upon the natural order of the family, society grows from the village and then to the self-sufficient city. This concept of the”city” is known as the polis, which is a philosophical term referring to any political body under a single government, i.e., a socially and economically differentiated political community. For Aristotle, the polis is as natural to humanity as the forest is to the earth. Man, his household, his communities, are all natural sub-political parts of the polis. Aristotle posited that any person who could live without the polis must be either a beast or a god. The polis is natural to man and man needs the polis. He needs community and order. The order that the polis gives man allows man to live and live well.

Aristotle, The Louvre – via Wikicommons Sting aka Eric Gaba

How then should the polis be ordered? Since the polis is a natural institution populated by political animals, man, as the rational animal, must reflect upon nature and act according to reason. When man acts according to his reason, according to what is most properly natural to him as the rational animal, then these acts become habits and good habits are referred to as virtues. Aristotle claims that the virtue that belongs to the polis is justice, because justice is the virtue of proper order. As Aristotle says, “just as man is the best of animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all.” It is in the polis that man is able to live well, because it gives an architectonic order to all the areas of man’s life. It is the polis man finds a natural completion, which is in practicality the “greatest of goods.” This is why politics is referred to as the “Noble Science.”1

In his introduction to the Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas lays out a brief explanation of why politics is the Noble Science. There are two primary categories of sciences: the speculative and the practical. The speculative sciences are ordered toward the “knowledge of truth,” the contemplation of “natural things,” while the practical sciences are ordered toward a work – things made by man -that imitate nature. Within the practical sciences, there are things man will make that are ordered according to a specific use, e.g., a ship or a house, and a things specific use is ordered toward a specific good, e.g., ships for sailing; however, man can also make things which have as their specific end the ordering man himself, e.g., laws. The things that have their end in the proper ordering of man come together as a whole in the polis and since the end is always greater than the means the polis is “therefore necessarily superior to all the other wholes that may be known and constituted by human reason.” Aquinas’ statement has two parts: the polis is superior to all other wholes and is the greatest whole constitute by human reason. Following Aristotle, we see that the first claim is because the polis gives order to all other areas of man’s life and the second claim is become the order of the polis is derived by human reason contemplating nature, i.e., natural law and the virtues.2

Within practical science there are the mechanical sciences that deal with an agent acting upon an external matter, e.g., a smith or a shipwright. In distinction to the mechanical sciences there are the moral sciences. The moral sciences deal with the actions that remain with the agent, e.g., deliberating, willing, choosing, etc. The political science is therefore a moral science, because it is concerned with the ordering of men and their actions. Aquinas concludes, “If the most important science, then, is the one that deals with what is most noble and perfect, of all the practical sciences political science must necessarily be the most important and must play the role of architectonic science with reference to all the others, inasmuch as it is concerned with the highest and perfect good in human affairs.” The order of the polis – its laws, et al. – is derived from nature or natural law, man’s habitual obedience to these natural and rational laws is virtue, and the natural virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Yet, how does one apply the timeless truths of natural law and virtue to a modernist world that was born out of an explicit rejection of Catholicism? It is one thing to speak of the polis and another to apply it to a liberal democracy. One of the defining attributes of St. Thomas Aquinas was his ability to engage his era and all its ills and imperfections. As Catholics living within modernity, how do we work for a proper polis? Cue Cardinal Ratzinger. Values in a Time of Upheaval is a short and often overlooked work of political brilliance. St. Peter’s List has previously called attention to this work by including it in our 6 Books for a Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. For a student of Catholic political thought, a collection of politically orientated essays by the ironclad mind of Cardinal Ratzinger – now Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome – is a godsend. The text is a compilation of essays and speeches given by the illustrious Cardinal over the span of several decades. It is a short work that lends itself to a brief but fruitful reading. The reason it will “change your life” is it comments on the Catholic understanding of the Noble Science couched in a world given over to modernist theory and praxis. To what degree Cardinal Ratzinger did or did not adhere to St. Thomas Aquinas is not the question put forth here. The genius of the work is that it is a bridge between the principles of Catholic political thought and the world around us. It challenges the reader to engage the polis by going into great detail on the role of a Catholic citizen within an Enlightenment based democracy. In his own words:

“The state is not itself the source of truth and morality […] Nor can it produce truth via the majority.”

 

“In place of utopian dreams and ideals, today we find a pragmatism that is determined to extract from the world the maximum satisfaction possible. This, however, does not make it pointless to consider once again the characteristics of the secular messianism that appeared on the world stage in Marxism, because it still leads a ghostly existence deep in the souls of many people, and it has the potential to emerge again and again in new forms.”

 

“Politics is the realm of reason – not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice.”

 

“The totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century promised us that they would set up a liberated, just world – and they demanded hecatombs of victims in this cause.”

One dichotomy that exemplifies the problem Catholicism has with modern political thought is the notion of individual rights. As the good Cardinal mentions several times in his work, the rights of an individual are seen in the modern West as autonomous moral universes that often clash with one another. Rights have become little more than desires and products of the unadulterated human will. In contradistinction, the Catholic tradition never focused on rights at all – it focused on someone external to the individual citizen, natural law. Just skimming this particular dialogue – individual rights v. natural law – pours forth a host of explanations and answers on why Catholicism is at such odds with the world around it. Those more interested in Cardinal Ratzinger’s work can reference SPL’s collection of political quotes from the work: 29 Quotes on Political and Religion by Cardinal Ratzinger. One of the best treatises on a Catholic’s response to living in a modernist democratic regime was a document composed by the CDF under the good Cardinal entitled: Doctrinal Note: The Participation of Catholics in Politica Life. Moreover, proper Catholic political thought has been a mainstay topic at SPL and a catalogue of our lists on the subject can be found at The Educated Catholic Voter: 10 Lists on the Catholic Citizen. As Catholics may we study the highest whole of human reason, the Noble Science, so that we may live well ordered lives and work toward a society where all may live well.

 

Theology, Stanza della Segnature by Raphael

The Queen of the Sciences

If politics is the noble and architectonic science of human affairs, how does a Catholic approach politics and theology? In the time of Augustine until the thirteenth century nature and natural law sat in a jarring juxtaposition with the revealed truth of God. In fact, many theologians proposed that there were two truths: one of nature and one of divine revelation – a traditional Islamic answer. The Church was then given a gift: the Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas proposed that faith and reason were and must always remain in harmony with one another. Grace is not isolated from nature, is it not a replacement of nature, and it is not contradictory to nature. In essence, grace perfects nature; thus, if you have a science based on nature, say politics, and a science based on grace, say theology, then the science of theology should perfect and elevate the natural science of politics. In this light, theology – more truly the unerring Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the “Queen of the Sciences” that perfects all other sciences by properly ordering them according to the virtues.

However, what does it mean when we say a higher science orders the lower?

The official “Sede Vacante” stamp following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.

Imagine the construction of a house. There is a plumber to handle the plumbing and a carpenter for the carpentry. And though these two arts are distinct, the two artisans must work together. Even if both workers excel within their own field, the overall order of the home will suffer if they are not in harmony.

However, neither plumbing nor carpentry can speak to how the home must be built as a whole. What is needed is a higher principle that can order both plumbing and carpentry to the proper goal of building a home. The principle is architecture; therefore, while the plumber and the carpenter may be wise concerning the principles of their respective arts, it is the architect who is wise concerning the order of the house. He is the wisest concerning the house, because his wisdom orders the lower principles according to the higher. In his own words, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order.” According to St. Augustine, “order is the appropriate disposition of things equal and unequal, by giving each its proper place.” As seen with the architect, wisdom is knowledge properly ordered, and the wise must have the prudence to do it.

The highest cause, the Uncaused Cause, the cause the universe and its order, is God. Theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the architectonic study that is most properly wisdom, because the “knowledge of divine things” sheds light on the appropriate order of all other things. Now, let us be clear. God is not only known through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in Scripture, but also in the imprint of the Creator upon Creation. Hence, the Catholic Church finds herself guarding and elucidating both Sacred Scripture and Nature. Certain truths, like the Trinity or the Incarnation of Jesus Christ had to be revealed to us, because they are above human wisdom. Other truths, such as the natural virtues, were discernible by human reason. These revealed and discerned truths are guaranteed by Christ and His Church and compose the Sacred Doctrine that orders all things and is rightly called the Queen of the Sciences.

The examples are endless, because Sacred Doctrine orders everything from our souls to our finances. However, say a technological break through leads to a scientifically astonishing surgical procedure. Now say that technology is used for abortions. Just as the carpenter cannot speak to the proper order of a home as a whole, neither can science – as much as it tries – speak to the whole order of existence. We see this particularly in its inability to speak on moral order. It is not that science is necessarily deficient, but rather its judgments are limited by its empirical purview. Much like the plumber and carpenter, it begs for a higher principle to order its steps.

Our world is saturated by debates that fall directly into this dialogue. Whether it be stem cell research, gay marriage, education, or abortion, differing guiding principles are in steep competition. There is always a “highest principle” at work, but unfortunately many see that principle as the unhindered human will. How then does the Spirit of the Liturgy relate to this concept of the Queen of the Sciences? At first glance there appears a disconnect between the focus of the the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church as the Queen of the Sciences and Cardinal Ratzinger’s work on the Liturgy; however, the acute connection between the two is that for most Catholics it is precisely in the liturgy that they are catechized. It is in the liturgy that they see and believe and have their minds ordered toward the understanding that God and his wisdom is the highest principle. Our post-Vatican II world is suffering what is arguably the most comprehensive catechetical crisis since the Reformation and Catholics will never be well catechized and never succeed at a “New Evangelization” until the liturgy is brought back into a “hermeneutic of continuity” with the overall Sacred Tradition of the Church. Attempting to evangelize before one is well catechized puts the cart before the horse. What Holy Mother Church needs is a liturgical reform – and arguably a reverent liturgy that truly reflects the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be the greatest evangelical tool. In this belief, we turn to the work of Cardinal Ratzinger.

SPL’s John Henry writes, “Spirit of the Liturgy is in my opinion a book that all Christians of the True Faith should not only own but read often. Cardinal Ratzinger served as one of the chief theologians for the Second Vatican Council; thus, he possesses the ability to show the ‘liturgical development along the path sketched out by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.'”3 There is a famous book with the same title written by Romano Guardini that the good Cardinal uses as his inspiration:

“My purpose here is to assist this renewal of understanding of the Liturgy. Its basic intentions coincide with what Guardini wanted to achieve. The only difference is that I had to translate what Guardini did at the end of the First World War, in a totally different historical situation, into the context of our present-day questions, hopes and dangers. Like Guardini, I am not attempting to involve myself with scholarly discussion and research. I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and to the right way to give faith it’s central form of expression in the Liturgy.” – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

John continues, “this work can be understood by all: scholars, theologians, historians, parish priests, religious, and most important of all the laity. Cardinal Ratzinger uses historical, biblical, philosophical thought in order to express what Catholic worship is was and should be.” The Cardinal’s work is considered an instant classic by those working to restore the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Arguably one of the most poignant passages is his comment on the Golden Calf pericope in the Old Testament:

“But the real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of ‘institution’. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity – then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation…”

“No where is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf… the cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf.”

Ratzinger’s reading of the Golden Calf episode is unique insofar as it is often read as a complete turning away from the God of Israel and modern readers condemn the Israelites as abandoning the true God; however, the Cardinal states that it is more subtle. It is not a complete abandonment, but rather the Israelites with their high priest were attempting to worship the true God of Israel as they saw fit. This reading turns the story from one modern Christianity normally  passes over in judgement of the Israelites to one capturing the very heart of modernist Christianity. It echoes the core of all protestantism and unfortunately resonates in much of today’s Catholic population. The Cardinal sums up his reading by stating, “the worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult,” and “the narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship.”

This is but a glimpse of the profound liturgical insight found within Cardinal Ratzinger’s work. Within an understanding of the Queen of the Sciences and her all encompassing order, read The Spirit of the Liturgy with an eye towards renewing the mainstay of all Catholic catechesis and evangelism: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

Why these works will change your life
We return to our original premise, that these two works by Cardinal Ratzinger will change your life. The why is now better understood. Yes, it is because the good Cardinal writes in an acute and clear manner and always bears the mark of orthodoxy, but it is also because you – as the reader – will have a greater appreciation for the sciences in which the works are written. The Cardinal’s ideas and quotes will find fertile ground within the wisdom of the reader, because the reader will know the architectonic ordering affect that both the Noble Science and the Queen of the Sciences have on their life. Understanding the order of knowledge allows one to be truly wise and order their lives in an holistic Christ-like manner.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Common Doctor of the Universal Church, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, patron of statesmen and politicians, pray for us.
Mother Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.

  1. ARISTOTLE: Further comments on Aristotle’s Politics may be found at The Political Animal and the Philosopher King and Understanding Aristotle: 22 Definitions from the Politics. []
  2. AQUINAS: The Angelic Doctor’s commentary on Aristotle’s Politics may be found at Aquinas’ Introduction to the Politics. []
  3. Quote take from The Catholic Answer []

3 Prayers by St. Thomas More for Catholic Lawyers

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Listers, this hackneyed quote is taken from a minor character in Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Often quoted in glee and with a smirk, it raises the question of why society enjoys a “good” lawyer joke.

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Listers, this hackneyed quote is taken from a minor character in Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Often quoted in glee and with a smirk, it raises the question of why society enjoys a “good” lawyer joke. “The answer is simple,” states Strickland and Read in The Lawyer Myth, “in a nation so law-focused and with such pervasive economic and social regulation, lawyers have immense power. This kind of lawyer power, access, and control is deeply resented.”1 How should a Catholic lawyer wield this power and rise above the stereotypes? While there are many excellent examples of Catholic lawyers and law societies defending the virtues of the Church, the saint Sir Thomas More stands as the exemplar and patron of all lawyers and statesmen. Turning to his soul and genius, let law students, lawyers, and all those engaged in the Common Good of society meditate on his life and prayers.

The 1966 Oscar Award winning classic, “A Man for All Seasons.”

Sir Thomas More, ora pro nobis.

Sir Thomas More (/ˈmɔr/; 7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), known to Catholics as Saint Thomas More since 1935, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and was Lord Chancellor from October 1529 to 16 May 1532. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935. He is commemorated by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr”. He was an opponent of the Protestant Reformation and in particular of Martin Luther and William Tyndale.

Intellectuals and statesmen across Europe were stunned by More’s execution. Erasmus saluted him as one “whose soul was more pure than any snow, whose genius was such that England never had and never again will have its like”. Two centuries later Jonathan Swift said he was “the person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced,” a sentiment with which Samuel Johnson agreed. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper said in 1977 that More was “the first great Englishman whom we feel that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our cool northern renaissance.”2

 

The signature of Sir Thomas More

 

1. A Prayer by an Imprisoned Sir Thomas More

The following is reported to have been written while St. Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Give me the grace, Good Lord to set the world at naught.
To set the mind firmly on You and not to hang upon the words of men’s mouths.

To be content to be solitary.
Not to long for worldly pleasures. Little by little utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of all its business.

Not to long to hear of earthly things, but that the hearing of worldly fancies may be displeasing to me. Gladly to be thinking of God, piteously to call for His help. To lean into the comfort of God. Busily to labor to love Him.

To know my own vileness and wretchedness. To humble myself under the mighty hand of God. To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity. Gladly to bear my purgatory here. To be joyful in tribulations. To walk the narrow way that leads to life.

To have the last thing in remembrance.
To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand.
To make death no stranger to me. To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell.
To pray for pardon before the judge comes.
To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me.

For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks.

To buy the time again that I have lost.
To abstain from vain conversations.
To shun foolish mirth and gladness.
To cut off unnecessary recreations.
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at naught, for the winning of Christ.

To think my worst enemies my best friends, for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred. These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasures of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all in one heap. Amen3

 

2. Litany of Sir Thomas More

The martyr and patron of statesmen, politicians, and lawyers.4

V. Lord, have mercy
R. Lord have mercy
V. Christ, have mercy
R. Christ have mercy
V. Lord, have mercy
R. Lord have mercy
V. Christ hear us
R. Christ, graciously hear us

V. St. Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, R. Pray for us (Repeat after each invocation)
St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers
St. Thomas More, Patron of Justices, Judges and Magistrates
St. Thomas More, Model of Integrity and Virtue in Public and Private Life
St. Thomas More, Servant of the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ
St. Thomas More, Model of Holiness in the Sacrament of Marriage
St. Thomas More, Teacher of his Children in the Catholic Faith
St. Thomas More, Defender of the Weak and the Poor
St. Thomas More, Promoter of Human Life and Dignity

V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Spare us O Lord
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Graciously hear us O Lord
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Have mercy on us

Let us pray:
O Glorious St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, your life of
prayer and penance and your zeal for justice, integrity and firm principle in public and family life led you to the path of martyrdom and sainthood. Intercede for our Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, that they may be courageous and effective in their defense and promotion of the sanctity of human life — the foundation of all other human rights. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.5

 

3. A Lawyer’s Prayer to St. Thomas More

Thomas More , counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints:

Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients’ tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul.

Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God’s first. Amen.6

 

SPL on Law and Politics
The politics of a well-ordered society is a constant and deep theme throughout SPL. Those interested in the Catholic (read: virtuous and proper) perspective on society should consult our lists on LAW, POLITICS, and the COMMON GOOD. Cheers.

  1. The Lawyer Myth – The book is not one written from a Catholic perspective, but does promote the overall theme of lawyers as agents of justice and healing with our society. []
  2. Introductory paragraph for Sir Thomas More – Source []
  3. Imprisoned Prayer – Source []
  4. Extended Patronage of Sir Thomas More: KCYM (Kerala Catholic Youth Movement); Adopted children; Ateneo de Manila Law School; civil servants; Diocese of Arlington; Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee; University of Malta; University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters; court clerks; lawyers, politicians, and statesmen; stepparents; widowers; difficult marriages; large families – Source []
  5. Litany of Sir Thomas More – Source []
  6. Lawyer’s Prayer – Source []

Forest of Suicides: 6 Comments on Dante’s Punishment for the Self-Violent

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

Listers, for a study of Dante’s Divine Comedy Volume One: The Inferno we turn to the translation and commentary crafted by Mark Musa. Musa’s translation is marked by a clear and understandable translation that allows the story to unfold and escape being bogged down in rhetorical flourishing, cf. Wordsworth’s translation. The commentary that accompanies each canto explains the Inferno’s rich symbolism as a medieval Dante would have intended it. Moreover, those familiar with the Inferno will know it is ripe with historical figures and local Italian politics that have no other significance nowadays than being mentioned in Dante’s magnus opus. Musa’s commentary provides a reliable guide through the esoteric Italian political landscape in order to appreciate the brilliant commentary on humanity and sin within the Inferno.1

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

The Centaurs patrolling the boiling-blood river of Phlegethon.

1. The Circle of Violence

Ring One: Violence Against Others
The 7th Circle of Hell is Violence. Violence is broken into three distinct rings with corresponding sins: violence against others, violence against the self, and violence against God. Those suffering the just punishment for violence against others wade in a river of boiling blood and fire. Each individual’s body is submerged in the boiling river of blood – the Phlegethon – according to the intensity of their violence sins. The river is patrolled by centaurs that shoot arrows at those who rise in the river above their allotted level.

Ring Three: Violence Against God
The third ring is those who were violent against God and nature. The ring is composed of burning sands with fiery rain and those who justly occupy this desert are blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. The blasphemers are made to lie down in the hellish sands, the sodomites are in a constant state of running in packs, and the usurers are made to sit.

Between these two rings lies the ring of those who have done violence to themselves.

In order for the shade-tree to speak, Dante must break off a branch.

2. The Fate of Suicides

The moment that the violent soul departs
the body it has torn itself away from
Minos sends it down to the seventh hold

It drops to the wood, not in a place allotted,
but anywhere that fortune tosses it.
there, like a grain of spelt, it germinate.

The primary occupants of the ring of violence to the self are suicides. Since the suicides have “denied the God-given sanctity of their bodies on earth,” they are deemed unfit for human form. At the gates of hell stands King Minos who judges to what level of hell the damned should be condemned. Since they tore themselves away from their body through violence, Minos discards their souls into the Forest of Suicides and the soul grows into an anguished and gnarled tree or bush. Notice the placement of the soul is haphazard and disordered – “anywhere that fortune tosses it” – analogous to how the Suicides treated their bodies.2

 

3. The Harpies

The souls of the Suicides endure further pain and torment due to the harpies that inhabit the forest. A harpy is a creature with a bloated bird-like body with the head of a woman. These harpies nest in the forest, “rend the branches of the trees,” and feast on their leaves. The pain this causes to the trees and shrubs is immense and it is only when they suffer this pain can the Suicides make a sound and make their suffering known.3

 

4. Unique Punishment on Judgement Day

Like the rest, we shall return to claim our bodies,
but never again to wear them – wrong it is
for a man to have again what he once cast off.

We shall drag them here and, all along the mournful
forest, our bodies shall hand forever more,
each one on a thorn of its own alien shade.

All the shades of Hell will be called before God for the Final Judgement. At this time the soul will be united back with the body except for those who committed suicide. For those who acted violently against themselves, they will bring their body back to hell with them and have it adorn their branches. As the condemned suicide shade states, “wrong it is for a man to have again what he once cast off.”4 Suffering in an inhuman form, the shade will be forced to contemplate the body in front of him that he violated.

The Profligates – The Violently Prodigal.

5. The Other Suffering Souls

Suicides are not the only shades that inhabit the ring of violence against the self. The other group is the Profligates “who did violence to their earthly goods by not valuing them as they should have, just as the Suicides did not value their bodies.” These are those who squandered their property and lives to a violent level. As Dante is speaking with a Suicide – he must break off a branch before it can speak – he sees two shades running through the forest:

Behind these two the wood was overrun
by packs of black bitches ravenous and ready,
like hunting dogs just broken from their chains;

they sank their fangs in that poor wretch who hid,
they ripped him open piece by piece, and then
ran off with mouthfuls of his wretched limbs

The Profligates run through the forest crashing through trees and shrubs whilst they are being chased by a pack of vicious black dogs. The pain here is multifaceted as the Profligates suffer the pain and fear of running through densely packed forest and ultimately being torn apart by hounds, while the chase itself causes excruciated pain for the trees and shrubs that are broken and trampled.5

 

6. The Black Hounds

Much ink has been spilt trying to explain the significance of the black hounds and they have been labeled as “conscience, poverty, ruin and death, remorse, [and] creditors.” However, it is important to note that violence is the theme of the Seventh Circle and the Profligates are distinguished from the shades of Spendthrifts and Misers due to their waste reaching violent depths. Keeping with the motif of the ring, the hounds “probably represent that violent force which drove the Profligates to their end: they seem to be the dramatization of the act of violence itself.” One of the Profligates is identified by Dante as Giacomo da Sant’Andrea and “is reported to have set on fire several houses on his estate” just for the pleasure of watching them burn.6

  1. Dorothy L. Sayers “Hell” quote via Source []
  2.  Divine Comedy Volume One: The Inferno by Mark Musa, p. 193 []
  3. 193 []
  4. 193 []
  5. 193 []
  6. 194 []

24 Points from His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III on the Crisis in Syria (2012)

The crisis in Syria has escalated to a civil war standards and has claimed the lives of thousands. Amongst those most marginalized by the conflict are our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters.

Listers, the crisis in Syria has escalated to a civil war standards and has claimed the lives of thousands. Amongst those most marginalized by the conflict are our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters. The spiritual leader for many of those Catholics is His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III (Laham), Patriarch Of Antioch and All the East, Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He has released a 24 point statement which SPL now presents in full.1 Those unfamiliar with the other churches and rites within the Catholic Church can find more information at 5 Questions About the Eastern Catholic Churches.

A demonstration against Assad in Homs, Syria. Edited from Wikipedia entry on the Syrian Conflict (2011-Present)

His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III (Laham), of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Syria, has imparted these reflections and observations as a vademecum to throw light on the attitudes of the local Church towards the dramatic events in Syria and on certain moral contortions in relation to these events.

Dear friends,

1. The greatest danger in Syria at present is anarchy, lack of security and the massive influx of weapons from all sides. Violence is, alas, the dominant language today and violence begets violence. In Syria, this danger is ensnaring and affecting all citizens, regardless of race, religion or political persuasion.

2. Christians, too, are exposed to this same danger, but they are the weak link. Defenceless, they are the group most liable to exploitation, extortion, kidnapping, torture and even elimination. But they are also the peace-making, unarmed group, calling for dialogue, reconciliation, peace and unity among all the sons and daughters of the same homeland. This is the rarest kind of talk that many do not wish to hear. We Christians, to whom was entrusted the Gospel of Peace, feel ourselves called to further it.

3. Nevertheless, there is no Muslim-Christian conflict. Christians are not targeted as such, but can be reckoned among the victims of chaos and lack of security.

4. The greatest danger is interference from Arab or Western foreign elements. This interference takes the form of weapons, money and one-sided, programmed, subversive means of communication.

5. Such interference is harmful even to what is called the opposition. It is injurious to the just claims that are expressed more or less everywhere. This interference harms national unity at home by mixing up the cards.

6. This interference also weakens the specifically Christian voice of moderation and more particularly, the voice of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria. Local Churches have made their voices heard on several occasions and the declarations of the heads of the Christian Churches are characterised by moderation and the call for reform, freedom and democracy and for fighting corruption, supporting development and freedom of speech and the promotion of dialogue.

7. Nowhere in these declarations is there any allusion to the persecution of Christians, who, as we have seen, are not targeted as such. Neither is there any allusion to concepts of “Muslims,” “Salafists,” “fundamentalists,” “opponents,” “fear,” “regime” or “Party.” The declarations called for more dialogue and more reforms and participation in parliamentary parties and elections.

8. The language of the declarations was always positive, peaceable, calling for love and dialogue and rejecting resorting to arms. It advocated protecting defenceless citizens and not involving civilians in fighting. In short, the declarations are very remote from extremism of any kind. Though civic, they are in no way against such and such a group, either at home or abroad.

9. I don’t know what the reason is for the campaign against the leaders of the Churches in Syria and against their standpoints. I wonder from where come the labels that are stuck on them of compromise, exploitation and collusion with the regime, of time-serving, servitude or laziness?

10. It should be known that the State and its leaders have never addressed to Church leaders any directive or inducement to make a statement or adopt a particular position. The freedom of Church leaders was everywhere assured and still is to this day, whether in their behaviour or their private or public statements. In March 2012, I made a personal tour of European capitals. I asked no permission or guidance from anybody and no-one asked me to adopt any particular stance. I outlined that in a paper that summarised most of my convictions with regard to the situation prevailing in Syria.

11. It is possible for everyone to see the papers I’ve published with successive calls for fasting, prayer, dialogue, reconciliation, rejection of violence and avoiding resorting to arms…There are also the statements of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria and the declarations of the three Patriarchs whose patriarchal headquarters are in Syria: namely the Greek Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox and the Greek Catholic Patriarchs (cf. http://www.pgc-lb.org/eng/news_and_events/Nouvelles-de-Syrie).

12. These leaders and the communiqués that they have published are the official voice of the Churches in Syria. Further, as Patriarch and President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria, I call upon everyone to consider this voice as the authoritative stance of the Church in Syria. We allow no-one to speak in our name or in the name of Syria’s Christians, mar our statements or label us with charges of any kind whatever.

13. Similarly, it is subversive to doubt the credibility of the Church’s leaders or their transparency, fidelity and objectivity, the veracity of their sources of information or the news that they broadcast. The Church leaders don’t rely on the media, but they are in continual contact with their priests, monks and nuns and lay-people and all other citizens. They are leaders who look after the concerns of the Christian faithful and are also in contact with citizens of all denominations and with well-known leading members of the country. In all these situations they are free in their behaviour, movements and statements. They always call for mutual edification, dialogue and solidarity among all.

14. On the other hand, we think that the attitudes of certain persons and particular institutions, and the press campaign, are harming Christians in Syria and exposing them to danger, kidnapping, exploitation and even death. These attitudes heap false accusations on Christians, sowing doubt in their hearts and spreading fear and isolation. As a result, they help their exodus both inside the country and abroad…

15. These very attitudes claiming inopportunely to be interested in Christians can increase the radicalism of certain armed factions against Christians. They exacerbate relations between citizens, especially between Christian and Muslim citizens, as was the case in Homs, Qusayr, Yabrud and Dmeineh Sharqieh, etc…

16. That is why we are inviting these institutions and persons to concern themselves rather with civil peace in Syria. Let them support the call for dialogue and reconciliation, and the rejection of violence. Let them work to preserve the security of defenceless civilians in the current conflict, so as not to expose them to danger, lest they become the target of attacks of one faction or another…and so succumb, as victims of anarchy, insecurity, terrorism, exploitation, kidnapping and liquidation, as we mentioned above.

17. These reflections and observations spring from our Christian faith and patriotic convictions together with our knowledge of our Christian history and Syrian heritage, particularly with regard to living together, openness and mutual respect, despite the difficult period which our country is going through, during which relations between civilians have been abused, whether they are Christian, Muslim or other.

18. Our positions and reflections spring from our conviction that, despite the abundant bloodshed and hatred that have been shown, with feelings of enmity and rancour, Syrians, because of their long history, remain experts in living together and can resolve this dangerous crisis, unique in their history, helping one another, loving each other and forgiving and working together for the common future.

19. We also put a lot of hope in the initiatives of civil society to strengthen love and links among Syrians whom the conflict threatens to destroy. We pray for the success of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) movement in which delegates from all Churches are active alongside members of other denominations. This represents a foundation for effective resolution of the tragic events.

20. Similarly, we believe, hope and expect the Ministry of Reconciliation, created especially for the Mussalaha movement, to succeed in its mission of bringing back unity and love to the hearts of all: it prepares the way to resolve the conflict. We place a lot of hope in the creation of the new Ministry of Reconciliation.

21. Naturally, we are still calling once more for the rejection of violence and for stopping the cycle of killings and destruction, especially of destitute civilians, who are really defenceless victims, whether they are Christian or Muslim.

22. We should like to state truly and frankly that our position as Christians stems from the fact that we are Christian citizens in a secular society. The so-called prerogatives supposedly enjoyed by Christians in Syria are only the universal rights of all Syrian citizens regardless of the denomination or faith to which they belong. There is an historical basis for that in the confessional “millet” system dating back to the time of Ottoman rule. The Patriarch was then head of his Church in both the religious and secular sense. The business of private Church jurisprudence developed during the French protectorate, then under successive Syrian governments up to the present one, so the assertion that the status of Christians is the fruit of their adherence to the regime and will fall with it is absolutely false!

23. The Islamic world needs the Christian presence alongside it, with it and for it, in liaison and interaction, as was the case historically. This presence will and must continue. I say that Islam needs Christianity and that Muslims need Christians and we shall stay with them and for them as we have done in the past and throughout 1433 (Islamic) years of common history.1

APPEAL

24. To conclude: As Christians we address our big appeal to the Arab world to call it to unity: the division of the Arab world has always been the major target at home and abroad. This division is the reason for the dangers that are lying in wait for the region and is the cause of the absence of a just and comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict is the basis and primordial cause of the majority of misfortunes, crises and wars in the Arab world. This conflict, according to the testimony of His Holiness the Pope, of many churchmen, Apostolic Nuncios, and even of Jewish Israeli politicians, is the primordial cause of the Christian exodus. Yes, the division of the Arab world, according to the testimony of the persons cited above, has been hindering a solution to this conflict for sixty-four years! (cf. the opinion of Tzipi Livni2 in The Financial Times 13/07/2012).

Peace lies in the unity of the Arab world and the safety of Christians can only be assured by the unity of the Arab world, from which flow the circumstances favourable to living together and Muslim-Christian and inter-Muslim dialogue. The greatest danger in this field affects Islam itself when it is divided along the fracture lines of the Arab world, evidence for that being the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. This phenomenon is more dangerous than the danger that Christians or other denominations are incurring in Syria and the region.

Crises and wars are the cause of the exodus of Christians and the cause of the deterioration of Muslim-Christian relations.

Europeans, take an interest in the unity of the Arab world, if you want to help Christians.

Europeans, solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if you want to help Christians.

Europeans, work for peace in the Middle East, if you want to help Christians.

Our common destiny for us all, Arab Christians and Muslims…is the same. Don’t cut us off from our Arab community environment, nor from our Muslim community environment.

Help us to play our role and fulfil our mission in the Arab world so that we can be present in it, with it and for it…and there be as light, salt and leaven.

Take an interest in us in and because of our community environment. In your analyses don’t make us out to be intruders in our Arab Muslim-Christian world, nor agents in it, dhimmis protected by you or others than you.

Help us to be Christians of the Church of the Arabs and Church of Islam.

Europeans: don’t hide your interests behind your zeal for Christians!

We invite our brothers and sisters in the Arab East and in Europe and everywhere else, states, religious or humanitarian institutions to help us in this unity undertaking and we say: “One united Arab voice and one united Western voice can return security and safety to Syria and all the Middle East, as we walk together towards a better future.” Thank you in advance to all who will respond to this call.

We need the unique role of the Pope and the Vatican and hope that the visit of the Pope to Lebanon next September will be a support for these reflections that I’ve drafted on the situation in the Arab world and more precisely in Syria.

May the Lord of history grant us his Holy Spirit to guide us on the paths of good! Amen.

+Gregorios III (Laham)
Melkite Greek Catholic
Patriarch Of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

  1. Source: The document was brought to our attention by Rorate Caeli and originally taken from the eparchy website. []

Political Animals: 5 Lessons from the Opening Pages of Aristotle’s Politics

In the development of political philosophy, few works have played “such an important role in the social and political life of the Christian West” as Aristotle’sPolitics.

Listers, Aristotelian political thought is at the cornerstone of Western Civilization. It is especially important in its articulation of the importance of the family or household, of natural justice, and of humans as naturally political animals. In the development of political philosophy, few works have played “such an important role in the social and political life of the Christian West” as Aristotle’s Politics.1 The following list serves to articulate five basic lessons from the opening pages of Aristotle’s Politics. A glossary of terms may be found at Understanding Aristotle: 22 Definitions from the Politics. The natural justice presented by Aristotle laid the foundation for St. Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of Natural Law. For an introduction to the Angelic Doctor’s teachings, see 3 Steps to Understand How Humanity Participates in Natural Law and The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World.

 

1. Partnerships

In Chapter One of Book One of the Politics, Aristotle makes the following observation:

Since we see that every city is some sort of partnership, and that every partnership is constituted for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what is held to be good), it is clear that all partnerships aim at some good, and that the partnership that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or the political partnership.2

As Book One continues, Aristotle observes how these natural political partnerships come together to form the state or the polis. He will speak of the household, the collection of households – the village, and finally the collection of villages – the polis. In his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that for Aristotle, politics is a practical science that contains ethics or the moral sciences. The two cannot be separated. Second, Aquinas notes that Aristotle holds politics to be the “architectonic science” of the practical sciences. In other words, in the well-ordered polis, other sciences are allowed to flourish; however, if a polis is disordered, e.g., corruption, war, poor education, broken households, etc., then all the sciences will suffer.3 As stated above, for Aristotle, the political partnership – the polis – is the “partnership that is most authoritative of all… and aims at the most authoritative good of all.” For Aristotle, the science of politics is the highest practical science.

 

2. Natural Relations of the Household

Aristotle begins with humanity’s most fundamental political partnership: the household.4 He observes “there must of necessity be a conjunction of persons who cannot exist without one another.”5 He posits two such conjunctions or partnerships. First, the primary partnership of the household is the natural partnership of reproduction between male and female; and the second partnership is the relation between what Aristotle calls the “naturally ruling and ruled.”6 In his commentary on the Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas observes that both partnerships of the household are for preservation: in the partnership between husband and wife, “nature aims” at preservation through the “generation” of offspring, while in the latter parternship of ruling and ruled, nature aims “at the preservation of things generated.”7 While Aristotle uses slavery to exemplify the ruling/ruled relation, the fundamental principle at work is a reciprocal relationship of survival. Aquinas comments that the master (the ruler) “by reason of his wisdom can foresee mentally” what must be done to survive, and the slave or subject (the ruled) “who abounds in bodily strength” would not be able “to survive if he were not ruled by the prudence of another.”8 Aristotle observes that “poor persons have an ox instead of a servant.”9 Thus the twofold natural association of the household exists for the “needs of daily life.”10

 

3. The Polis & the Political Animal

What is the relation between different households? Aristotle submits the village as “the first partnership arising from [the union of] several households and for the sake of nondaily needs.”11 For Aristotle, the partnership between the different households cannot be reduced to mere proximity; rather, it is an interactive relationship of commerce. The partnership of the village becomes “above all an extension of the household.”12 As suspected, the polis then is the union of several villages.13 The polis “reaches a level of full self-sufficiency, so to speak; and while coming into being for the sake of living, it exists for the sake of living well.”14 Aristotle teaches that the thing “for the sake of which [a thing exists… is what is best.”15 Thus, for the polis, it is best for the polis when it exists in a state of self-sufficiency where all persons may live well.

Aristotle observes that “the city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.”16 Man, the rational animal, is also political. Persons will always naturally gather together in families and form societies for the goal of living well. Note that Aristotle is not advocating a certain regime, e.g., democracy or aristocracy. Underneath all regimes is nature, and nature states that the polis is a natural partnership entered into by naturally political animals.

 

 

4. Temporal and Ontological Primacy

Aristotle begins to reflect upon how all these political parts are related to the political whole. He teaches:

The city is thus prior by nature to the household and to each of us. For the whole must of necessity be prior to the part; for if the whole [body] is destroyed there will not be a foot or a hand…

The manner in which a part and a whole related to one another is important in philosophical inquiry. When speaking of the relation of a whole to its parts, there is an chronological ordering and there is an ontological ordering. For example, in building a house, the architect may erect certain parts of the house, like walls. The walls come first in the chronological ordering of the house; however, it is due to the idea of the house that the walls have come at all – thus, the house comes first in the ontological ordering, because it gives the walls purpose. Aristotle applies this logic to the polis. In the chronological ordering, individual persons, households, and villages come before the polis; however, in the ontological ordering, the polis comes first. He teaches, “that the city is both by nature and prior to each individual, then, is clear.”17 Just a wall finds purpose in the whole of the house; so too does the political animal find purpose in the polis. In fact, Aristotle states that if a person – who should be a part within a polis – attempts to live without the polis, that individual must be “either a beast or a god.”18

 

5. The Virtue of Justice

Aristotle praises the individual who “first constituted [a city]” as the person “responsible for the greatest of goods.”19 He states that humans “are the best of the animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all.”20 He goes on to state, “without virtue, he is the most unholy and most savage [of the animals], and the worst with regard to sex and food.”21 Note that Aristotle’s comments move further into the discussion of how the parts relate to the whole. He mentions lawadjudication, and virtue when speaking of the individual political animal’s relation to the polis. What then is the proper order between all the parts – individual, household, village – and the polis? Aristotle answers, “the virtue of justice is a thing belonging to the city. For adjudication is an arrangement of the political partnership, and adjudication is judgement as to what is just.”22 The proper ordering of the polis is the natural virtue of justice.23

  1. Guerra, Marc. Christians as Political Animals: Taking the Measure of Modernity and Modern Democracy (Wilmington: ISI Publishing, 2010), 124. []
  2. Book One, Chapter One. []
  3. Commentary on the Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas, Medieval Political Philosophy, 298-300. []
  4. Aristotle, Trans. Carnes Lord. The Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984), 35, 6. []
  5. Id., 36. []
  6. Id., 35. – Hierarchy is Nature to Man: Aristotle does not advocate an egalitarian view of reason, as will be shown below. []
  7. St. Thomas Aquinas. Eds. Lerner, Ralph & Mushsin Mahdi. Trans. Fortin, Ernest & Peter O’Neill. Medieval Political Philosophy: A Source Book, Commentary on the Politics (New York: Cornell U. Publishing, 1972), 304. []
  8. Id. []
  9. Politics, 36. []
  10. Aristotle, 36. []
  11. Id. []
  12. Id. []
  13. Id. []
  14. Id., 36-7. []
  15. Id., 37. []
  16. Id. []
  17. Id. []
  18. Id., 37. []
  19. Id. []
  20. Id. 37-8. []
  21. Id. []
  22. Id. []
  23. Plato: The following seeks to bring Aristotle’s thought alongside his predecessor, Plato. They are not explicitly in Book One of the Politics. Moreover, they set the stage for understanding the political contributions of both St. Augustine and St. Aquinas. Turning to Aristotle’s tutor, Plato records in The Republic Socrates stating, “the question of who should rule is to some extent identical to the question of the best regime.” As the aforementioned partnership between the ruled and the ruler in Aristotle, Plato agrees that men differ in their ability and capacity to reason. Ergo, it stands that the philosopher, who “knows best what is needed for the perfection of each human being and therefore can best judge what is due to each human being,” should rule. Here Plato’s Socrates advocates the Philosopher-King. It is only the philosopher who has the wisdom and time to discover and reflect upon nature in order to correctly order the polis by the natural virtue of justice. However, there develops a certain antagonism between the philosopher and the polis, or more particular the citizens, insofar as the philosopher is isolated in his understanding of justice. Nature is not intelligible to everyone in the same capacity. In an attempt to have everyone participate in a polis whose foundations they could not fully understand, Plato’s Socrates posits the Noble Lie. He says, “Could we somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need… one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?” He goes on to explain an elaborate myth that could encourage people to live by certain standards. However, it stands that the “quest for the best political order” or rather the “establishment of the best regime depends necessarily on uncontrollable, elusive fortuna or chance.” According to Platonic thought, the antagonism between the philosopher and the polis revealed the “unlikely coming together, of philosophy and political power.” Man as a natural political animal, the natural polis as ordered by justice, and fortune’s role in the best regime lays the foundation for political thought in the West. []

Patriotism Is Not Enough: 7 Comments On Being a Good Man and a Good Citizen

“Regime means simultaneously the form of the life of a society , its style of life, its moral taste, form of society, form of state, form of government, spirit of laws.”

1. Regime: The Spirit of Laws

Listers, the term “regime” is often used as a pejorative to describe dictators and oppressive governments; however, the true and historical use of the term regime reveals a longstanding inquiry into how humans – as political animals – organize politically. Unlike modernity, “classical political philosophy is guided by the question of the best regime,” because the “cause of the laws is the regime.” The regime is that which colors all political life and acts as the “guiding theme” of the polis.1

“Regime is the order, the form, which gives society its character. Regime is therefore a specific manner of life. Regime is the form of life as living together, the manner of living of society and in society, since this manner depends decisively on the predominance of human beings of a certain type, on the manifest domination of society by human beings of a certain type. Regime means the whole, which we are today in the habit of viewing primarily a fragmentized form:

Regime means simultaneously the form of the life of a society , its style of life, its moral taste, form of society, form of state, form of government, spirit of laws.”

2. Constitution of Athens

Turning to the man St. Thomas Aquinas dubbed “The Philosopher,” Aristotle approaches the subject of the regime and the citizen in his work Constitution of Athens. Aristotle is attributed by ancient sources as having written up to 170 different political constitutions and that many were either written by or written with his students.2 The constitutions are widely considered research for his Politics and thus serve to show a rough sketch of preliminary political thought.

If classical political philosophy is engaged with the question of the best regime, then what is the good citizen? In the Constitution of Athens, Aristotle “suggests that the good citizen is a man who serves his country well, without any regard to the differences of regimes.” To wit, the good citizen would be the “patriotic citizen.”

3. A Good Citizen in Hitler’s Germany

In his political magnus opus – the Politics – The Philosopher refines his study of the good citizen by suggesting “there is not the good citizen without qualification,” because “what it means to be a good citizen depends entirely on the regime.”  For a modern example:

“A good citizen in Hitler’s Germany would be a bad citizen elsewhere. But whereas good citizen is relative to the regime, good man does not have such a relativity. The meaning of good man is always and everywhere the same.”

4. Virtue and the Best Regime

“The good man is identical with the good citizen only in one case – in the case of the best regime. For only in the best regime is the good of the regime and the good of the good man identical, that goal being virtue. This amounts to saying that in his Politics Aristotle questions the proposition that patriotism is enough.”

For Aristotle, both the forest and the polis exist by nature. If men are by nature political animals then it is by their nature that they gather into political bodies. Virtue is “the goodness, excellence, or right operation of a person or thing.”3 Virtue is not an act, but a habit; it is the “right operation of a person or thing,” and that operation is determined by the thing’s nature – nature is literally the essence of a thing in operation. As political animals born in modernity, we must resist the temptation to read “virtues” as “values.” The latter being an almost meaningless statement totally dependent upon a relative reference – the individual’s will. When the regime fulfills its nature by being virtuous the individual may in virtue be a good man and a good citizen.

5. Patriot vs Partisan

“From the point of view of the patriot, the fatherland is more important than any difference of regimes. From the point of view of the patriot, he who prefers any regime to the fatherland is a partisan, if not a traitor.”

“Aristotle says in effect that the partisan sees deeper than the patriot but that only one kind of partisan is superior to the patriot; this is the partisan of virtue.”

6. Patriots As Doting Mothers

“One can express Aristotle’s thought as follows: patriotism is not enough for the same reason that the most doting mother is happier if her child is good than if he is bad.”

“A mother loves her child because he is her own; she loves what is her own. But she also loves the good. All human love is subject to the law that it be both love of one’s own and love of the good, and there is necessarily a tension between one’s own and the good, a tension which may well lead to a break, be it only the breaking of a heart.”

In essence, mothers will love their children even if they are bad, but the mother would be happier if the child were good; so too, the patriot cannot simply love his country as is, but must love it more if it is good – therefore the fatherland or nation must be seen together with the regime and the quality of the regime.

7. Matter and Form

“The relation between one’s own and the good finds its political expression in the relation between the fatherland and the regime. In the language of the classical metaphysics, the fatherland or the nation is the matter whereas the regime is the form.”

Matter is in potential to form. By this simple statement it is meant that matter does not ever exist without form. There is no woodness, but the matter of wood in the form of a tree, a chair or a table. So too is the matter of a fatherland or nation always found with the form of a regime – not matter how complex or chaotic.4

 

Final Thoughts
All quotation from the above article are taken from An Introduction to Political Philosophy: 10 Essays by Leo Strauss, 33-34, unless otherwise noted. Commentary on Strauss’ text and a critique of the Jewish – not Catholic – author can be found on SPL’s 6 Books for a Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. Outside of the germane lists cited in the footnotes, my listing of the Problems with Modern Democracy is the immediate successor to this list in thought and theme. There is also a broader introduction to classical philosophy’s question of the best regime in my list: The Best Regime: 5 Thoughts on Classical Political Philosophy.

  1. Polis: Greek for “city,” the term polis has come to be used as a stand in for referring to a self-sustaining political body, e.g., the United States of America, etc. []
  2. Constitution of Athens: Text and Info []
  3. Virtue: 22 Definitions to Understand Aristotle []
  4. Matter & Form: SPL’s list discussing both the material and formal cause of things, along with the efficient and final cause. []

The Best Regime: 5 Thoughts on Classical Political Philosophy

“Classical political philosophy is guided by the question of the best regime.” – Leo Strauss.

Listers, when Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle spoke of politics they spoke in terms of the regime and of the best regime. To properly unlock this term, SPL turns to Leo Strauss, a pathfinder among modern political philosophy insofar as he understood and articulated the ancient and modern’s dialogue.1

Since political philosophy is the “noble science” and the deals with the highest of human goods, it is a primary place for understanding the differences in ancient and modern thought. In ancient thought or classical political philosophy the primary question was one of the best regime.2

Classical political philosophy is guided by the question of the best regime.

In his work An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays Leo Strauss touches upon the term regime and its importance amongst the ancients. SPL highly recommends the work for anyone wanting to be properly introduced to political philosophy.

Plato (left) & Aristotle (right) discussing the nature of form.

1. Cause & Effect

The problem of speaking of laws rests on the fact there are various types of legislative bodies. The laws are dependent upon the legislator(s), and monarchies, democracies, oligarchies, and any mixture thereof differ in legislative methods. Consequently, the focus shifts from the laws to the legislators and to all the factors that define them. As Strauss articulates:3

The legislator is the governing body, and the character of the governing body depends on the whole social and political order, the politeia, the regime.

A proper focus on law inevitably leads to a focus on the regime, because the regime is the cause and the laws are the effect.

2. Regime: “A Specific Manner of Life”

Strauss comments that the “regime is the order, the form, which gives society its character.” He goes on to note:

Regime is the form of life as living together, the manner of living of society and in society… Regime means that whole, which we today are in the habit of viewing primarily in a fragmentized form: regime means simultaneously the form of life of a society, its style of life, its moral taste, form of society, form of state, form of government, spirit of laws.

The ancients speak of regimes because it addresses the political whole. It is the form of several vital aspects that moderns have habitually separated into distinct spheres. Moreover, out of the organization of each regime comes a goal. A goal for the regime and all its holistically unites. Each different regime “explicitly or implicitly” demonstrates a “claim,” and these claims “extend beyond the boundaries of any given society.” Inevitably, the various claims of various regimes conflict with one another.4

The regime then is the whole, the form, of aspects of human society, and by its own organization and order demonstrates a goal – which includes external and often discordant claims.

3. Chance

A unique character of ancient or classical political philosophy is its reverence of chance. The ancients spoke of regimes, which ultimately led to questions of the best regime. However, the best regime cannot be brought about by knowledge of the best techniques or the power of the will of men, but by chance.

The actualization of the best regime depends on the coming together, on the coincidence of, things which have a natural tendency to move away from each other (e.g., on the coincidence of philosophy and political power); its actualization depends therefore on chance.

The acknowledgement of chance in the classical political philosophy is a foreign concept to modern political philosophy and is almost jarring to modern sensibilities. Without question, moderns believe chance is conquered by the bold, by the cunning, and by the most prepared. The modern view is directly attributable to Machiavelli, who was the first to explicitly reject classical political philosophy. In The Prince, Machiavelli speaks of dominion over chance by those who are willing to force themselves upon Lady Fortune. The intimated rape of Lady Fortune in Machiavelli’s seminal work has become a general principle of modern politics.

The basic notion behind the acknowledgment of chance in classical political thought is that the individual’s assent to the highest principles of life is an arduous path only accomplished by a few, how little hope is there then that all of society, the regime, will be formed properly.5

SPL’s In Depth List Over Machiavelli’s Rejection of Classical Political Thought

4. The Patriotic Citizen & The Good Citizen

In his work Constitution of Athens, Aristotle speaks of the Patriotic Citizen as one who loves his country regardless of the regime, because his “loyalty belongs first and last to the fatherland.” In his Politics, Aristotle says The Good Citizen is dependent upon the corresponding regime or rather the Good Citizen is characterized by his regime. However, Strauss points out that “a good citizen in Hitler’s Germany would be a bad citizen elsewhere.”

There is a contrast between being a good citizen and being a good man. Still, a harmony may be struck, because “the good man is identical with the good citizen only in one case – in the case of the best regime.”

Strauss continues:

For only in the best regime is the good of the regime and the good of the good man identical, that goal being virtue. This amounts to saying that in his Politics Aristotle questions the proposition that patriotism is enough.

The patriot is like a “doting mother” who loves his country regardless of whether it is good or bad. The patriot is likely to see someone who favors a certain regime over the fatherland itself as “a partisan, if not a traitor.” The partisan is only “superior to the patriot” in one instance, the partisan of the best regime, i.e., the “partisan of virtue.”6 Virtue is a quality of the best regime.

5. Matter & Form

As implied by the previous points, the regime is the form and the society or nation is the matter. It is the form that gives order and existence to the matter. Matter is seen as potency and form as the act; thus, the regime acts upon the nation to give it order and existence.

Strauss explains:

The relation between one’s own and the good finds its political expression in the relation between the fatherland and the regime. In the language of classical metaphysics, the fatherland or the nation is the matter whereas the regime is the form.

The form is a “higher consideration” than the mere matter; thus, the pursuit of the best regime carries more dignity than simple adulation of one’s own fatherland. Strauss compares this regime/fatherland relationship to the relation between the Torah and the nation of Israel.7

An SPL Explanation of Matter & Form

Read More Lists SPL:
Political Animals: Book One of Aristotle’s Politics
St. Thomas Aquinas’ Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics
Political Definitions from Aristotle’s Politics

HHAmbrose

  1. The Ancient & Modern Dialogue: The ancient and modern’s dialogue rests upon the idea that modernity was a rejection of ancient thought and not a natural development or perfection of what had come before; however, the “ancients” or the Greek philosophers, Early Church Fathers, and the Scholastics did not live in a fanciful world and there is no legitimate advocacy to return to some previous utopia. Rather, the ancients and the moderns must be in dialogue with one another if we are to understand and flourish in this world. []
  2. An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss, 33. []
  3. Strauss, 32 []
  4. Strauss, 32 []
  5. Strauss, 33 []
  6. Strauss, 33 []
  7. Strauss, 34 []

Understanding Aristotle: 22 Definitions from The Politics

It would be difficult to overestimate the influence Aristotle’s Politics has had in shaping the Christian West. Whether it be the Saints who drew from his natural wisdom, or the early modern philosophers who held him as their foil, the West has always been in dialogue with Aristotle’s political thought.

It would be difficult to overestimate the influence Aristotle’s Politics has had in shaping the Christian West. Whether it be the Saints who drew from his natural wisdom, or the early modern philosophers who held him as their foil, the West has always been in dialogue with Aristotle’s political thought. In the excellent work, Christians as Political Animals, Dr. Marc Guerra states:

Aristotle’s Politics offered a coherent account of political life to which Christians could appeal in grappling with the thorny problems that plague that life, especially when one introduces a sovereign transpolitical community such as the Church. By emphasizing the natural, as opposed to the divine, origins of the city, the Politics, at least in principle, allowed the transpolitical religion to draw sharp distinctions between political and ecclesiastical authorities.

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, would toil to show that an intelligible purposeful nature and Divine Revelation and Order are harmonious. Understanding the principle that grace perfects nature, the beloved Dumb Ox used God’s self-revelation and Aristotle’s natural philosophy to demonstrate that the entire cosmos was ordered according to Four Laws: Eternal Law, Divine Law, Natural Law, and Human Law. Catholic political thought, which includes the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, draws heavily from St. Thomas’ teaching, which in turn draw from The Philosopher, Aristotle.

 

The Politics

The following are a collection of selected terms from the glossary of Carnes Lord’s translation of the Politics. The Lord translation is the premiere English translation and is highly recommended.

Aristocracy (aristokratia): any for of regime in which virtue is taken into account in the selection of officials; more properly, rule of the few who are best (aristoi) on the basis of virtue, or aregime centrally concerned with the cultivation and practice of virtue

Art (techne): any practical or productive activity based on a body of communicable knowledge or expertize. The related term technites is rendered “artisan.”

Barbarian (barbaros): anyone of non-Greek stock, including relatively civilized peoples such as the Persians or the Phoenicians of Carthage.

Citizen (polites): a free person who is entitled to participate in the political life of a city throughthe holding of deliberative and judicial office.

City (polis): a political community characterized by social and economic differentiation, the rule of law, and republican government; the chief urban center of community

Custom (ethos): the custom of a city or the habit of an individual ; also translated “habit.” The related verb ethizein is rendered “to habituate.”

Democracy (demokratia): any regime in which the “people” (demos) rule or control the authoritative institutions of the city; more properly, rule of the poor or the majority in their own interest.

Palazzo Ducale in Venice (Aristotle the Legislator) via Wikicommons, Giovanni Dall’Orto

End (telos): the character of a thing when fully formed, its completion or perfection. Of related terms, teleios is rendered “complete,” teleisthai “to be completed.”

Happiness (eudaimonia): happiness as a settled condition and state of mind, well-being. See Nicomachean Ethics 1. “blessed” (makarios) is a stronger term connoting an extraordinary degree of happiness comparable to that associated with the gods.

Justice (to dikaion): what is right, fair, or morallyjustifiable; a right or rightful claim (this sense is generally rendered “[claim to]claim to justice”). Of related terms, the adjective dikaios is translated “just,” the adverb dikaios “justly” or “justifiablly”: dikaiosyne is rendered “[the virtue of] justice.”

Law (nomos): written or unwritten law, custom, or convention. Nomos in the broad sense (often translated elswhere as “convention”) is frequently understood to opposition to physis, “nature.” Related terms are nomimos, “lawful,” ta nomima, “usages” or “ordinances,” nomisma, “money,” and nomizein, “to consider.”

Moderation (sophrosyne): the virtue that controls the desires, particularly bodily desires; its opposite is the vice of “licentiousness” (akolasia). See Nicomachean Ethics 3.10-12. The related adjective sophron is translated “sound”; it connotes soundness of mind or good sense as well as self-control. “Moderate” and “moderateness” render metrios and metriotes respectively, terms which connote a measured or balanced condition.

Nature (physis): origin, growth, development (the related verb phyein is translated “to grow” or “to develop”); the character of a thing when fully developed, its nature; nature or the universe. For Aristotle and the Greeks generally, “nature” is a term of distinction (it is frequently found in opposition to “chance,” “art” or “law”), implying a standard of value independent of human thought or action.

Order (kosmos): order, beauty, adornement (also rendered “ordered beauty”); the visible universe or cosmos (rendered “universe”). “Orderers” (kosmoi) was the term for a magistracy in Crete similar to Spartan overseers. “Orderlieness” renders eukosmia, a term connoting public order or decency. The verb kosmein is translated “to adorn.”

Palazzo Ducale in Venice (Aristotle as the Symbol for Logic) via Wikicommons, Giovanni Dall’Orto

Polity (politeia): a form of popular rule involving oligarchic feautures and directed to the common interests; more properly, any regime combining oligarchy and democracy.

Power (dynamis): the capacity or potential of a thing in a general sense (dynamis derives from the common verb dynasthai, “to be able”); the nature or character of a thing as expressed in its potential; power in a specifically political and military sense; a military force; also rendered “capacity.” Dynastoi, a term referring to exceptionally wealthy and powerful men, is translated “the powerful.”

Prudence (phronesis): goodsense or soundness of mind; wisdom or intelligence; prudence. In Aristotle’s thought, phronesis is the virtue associated with the active or practical portion of the rational part of the soul, prudence or practucal wisdom.

Regime (politaei): the organizations of officies in a city, particualrly the most authoritative; the effective government or governing body of a city; the way of life of a city as refelcted in the end pursuied by the city as a whole and by those constituting its governing body (the commong translation “constitution” is misleading insofar as it connotes a form of legal order).

Science (episteme): knowledge in a general sense; an organized body of knowledge, a science (generally use of theoretical sciences as distinct from applied sciences or “arts”).

Vice (kakia): Badness, baseness, viciousness, vice. The adjective kakos is rendered “bad” or “wrong,” the substantive kakon as “ill.”

Virtue (arete): the goodness, excellence, or right operation of a person or thing. See Nicomachean Ethics 2.1-6

Vulgar (banausos): characteristic of craftsmen engaged in manual work (as distinct from laborers, farmers, or merchants); more properly, characteristics of any work, art, or king of learning incompatible with the education of free persons in virtue.

Queen of the Sciences: 4 Questions to Understand the Throne of Theology

Modernity has attempted – with great anthropic success – to dethrone the Divine Science as Queen of all other bodies of knowledge.

Queen of the Sciences:
Understanding the Throne of Theology [Part 1]

Listers, before we begin, let me say what this post is and is not. It is not necessarily apologetic in nature, because I have left out many of the arguments that would be necessary for a typical Catholic vs Atheist debate. What I hope to accomplish is what I believe St. Thomas Aquinas hoped to achieve in the very first question of his Summa Theologica. That is, I want to reiterate and supply the vocabulary and principles Holy Mother Church has given us to both live and understand our faith.

Often we spend so much time trying to prove our Faith correct, we forget to actually contemplate the Faith itself. I propose we step back and reflect upon the basic fundamentals of Catholic Theology. In doing so, I believe our lives will be enriched with God’s truth, and yes, consequently we will gain greater clarity and insight into our apologetics. With that said, we begin.

1. What does it mean to be wise?

Imagine the construction of a house. There is a plumber to handle the plumbing and a carpenter for the carpentry. And though these two arts are distinct, the two artisans must work together. Even if both workers excel within their own field, the overall order of the home will suffer if they are not in harmony.

However, neither plumbing nor carpentry can speak to how the home must be built as a whole. What is needed is a higher principle that can order both plumbing and carpentry to the proper goal of building a home. The principle is architecture; therefore, while the plumber and the carpenter may be wise concerning the principles of their respective arts, it is the architect who is wise concerning the order of the house. He is the wisest concerning the house, because his wisdom orders the lower principles according to the higher. In his own words, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order.”

2. What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

According to St. Augustine, “order is the appropriate disposition of things equal and unequal, by giving each its proper place.” As seen with the architect, wisdom is knowledge properly ordered, and the wise must have the prudence to do it.

The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, GOZZOLI, Benozzo, a section.

3. What is the highest principle?

The highest cause, the Uncaused Cause, the cause the universe and its order, is God. Theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the architectonic study that is most properly wisdom, because the “knowledge of divine things” sheds light on the appropriate order of all other things. Now, let us be clear. God is not only known through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in Scripture, but also in the imprint of the Creator upon Creation. Hence, the Catholic Church finds herself guarding and elucidating both Sacred Scripture and Nature. Certain truths, like the Trinity or the Incarnation of Jesus Christ had to be revealed to us, because they are above human wisdom. Other truths, such as the natural virtues, were discernable by human reason. These revealed and discerned truths are guaranteed by Christ and His Church and compose the Sacred Doctrine that orders all things and is rightly called the Queen of the Sciences.

4. What is a practical example of this teaching?

The examples are endless, because Sacred Doctrine orders everything from our souls to our finances. However, say a technological break through leads to a scientifically astonishing surgical procedure. Now say that technology is used for abortions. Just as the carpenter cannot speak to the proper order of a home as a whole, neither can science – as much as it tries – speak to the whole order of existence. We see this particularly in its inability to speak on moral order. It is not that science is necessarily deficient, but rather its judgments are limited by its empirical purview. Much like the plumber and carpenter, it begs for a higher principle to order its steps.

Our world is saturated by debates that fall directly into this dialogue. Whether it be stem cell research, gay marriage, education, or abortion, differing guiding principles are in steep competition. There is always a “highest principle” at work, but unfortunately many see that principle as the unhindered human will.

In the second part, we will look at why sacred doctrine is a science.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelic Doctor, pray for us.
HHAmbrose

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