26 Quotes from Pope Francis’ Visit to Washington D.C. and New York City

Listers, Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is one marked with historic firsts. His Holiness Pope Francis was the first Roman Pontiff to address a full joint session of the U.S. Congress. Second, Pope Francis was the first Vicar of Christ to address the United Nations at the opening of a General Assembly. As expected, Pope Francis’ remarks were difficult to predict and the reactions to his words ranged from unrestrained praise to unadulterated criticism. The following graphics display how different sources highlighted different aspects of the pontiff’s speeches.

 


 

 

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 (WASHINGTON, DC)
9:15 a.m. Welcome ceremony and meeting with President Obama at the White House
11:00 a.m. Papal Parade along the Ellipse and the National Mall (time approximate)
11:30 a.m. Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew’s Cathedral
4:15 p.m. Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

 

US Francis 1

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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 (WASHINGTON, DC, NEW YORK CITY)
9:20 a.m. Address to Joint Meeting of the United States Congress
11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
4:00 p.m. Depart from Joint Base Andrews
5:00 p.m. Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport
6:45 p.m. Evening Prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

 

US Francis 4

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25 (NEW YORK CITY)
8:30 a.m. Visit to the United Nations and Address to the United Nations General Assembly
11:30 a.m. Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center
4:00 p.m. Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem
5:00 p.m. Procession through Central Park (time approximate)
6:00 p.m. Mass at Madison Square Garden

 

US Francis 16

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When the World’s Statesmen Called for a Patron: 24 Quotes on Thomas More’s Sainthood

Listers, St. Thomas More is known as the “Man for All Seasons” – but he is also a man claimed by all ages. Exactly why Sir Thomas More became a saint is a question that seems to draw out competing philosophies. In the petition to have More declared a saint, the petitioners wrote, “He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience.” The modern St. Thomas More is often praised for his unconquerable conscience. This coloring of St. Thomas More is not a surprise given the aim of modernity. The grand project of modernity is to emancipate the human will from God, nature, history, and even reason. All that remains is the unbridled human will. The modern praise of More seems to have a modern hue. Consequently, he becomes a saint of autonomy – a man who had a “adamantine sense of self” that refused to break.

The unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church.

It is not that the modern notion is necessarily wrong in what is asserts, but rather its assertion is incomplete. What is missing from these considerations is the ancient notion of a well-formed conscience. The modern sentiments deemphasize whether or not More’s conscience was actually correct and focus primarily on him standing up for what he believes. The traditional praises of More focus on his well-formed conscience. In the modern notion it does not matter if More was Catholic or not. He could be a saint for any individual who stands up for what they believe. In modernity’s project of autonomy, staying true to one’s conscience is admirable, but the contents of one’s conscience are far less important. In contrast, the traditional More – and arguably the authentically Catholic one – begs students of his life to examine his conscience. Unpacking More’s well-formed conscience brings up topics of natural law, the virtues, political engagement, the Church’s role in civil life, and the Catholic Church as Christ’s only Church. Under the traditional view, the unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church. He had formed his conscience according to the Church, and when the world asked him to betray her, he knew exactly who he was in Christ Jesus. There is little doubt the authentically Catholic Thomas More makes the modern world uncomfortable; thus, there is a push – both inside and outside the Church – to refashion More as a modern hero of autonomy.

 

William Frederick Yeames, The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death, 1872. Wikipedia.
William Frederick Yeames, The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death, 1872. Wikipedia.

 

PETITION SENT TO JOHN PAUL II
FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF SAINT THOMAS MORE
AS PATRON OF STATESMEN

 

1. Christian Steadfastness
The Christian steadfastness which Thomas More demonstrated in martyrdom has made his name famous down through the centuries. In his own lifetime, he was already known throughout Europe for his scholarship and his innovative views, which led him, for example, to give his daughters the same education his son received – a revolutionary development in those times.1

 

2. Utopia – The Intellectual Puzzle
His work as a writer — especially his translations of the Greek satirist Lucian, his collection of original poems, and his great classic Utopia — lent his name incomparable prestige. Utopia continues to be Thomas More’s best-known work. Modeled on Plato’s Republic, this intellectual puzzle is one of the finest case studies ever devised for the political philosopher and the student of human nature. Like the Republic, Utopia is filled with internal contradictions that invite the attentive reader to think deeply about the perennial ethical values which give meaning to personal and social life.

 

3. Famous Last Words
His last words, “I die the King’s good servant and God’s first,” remain an inspiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of the common good.

 

4. Holiness as the Fullness of Humanity
It reflects, moreover, an admiration which transcends the specific contributions that Saint Thomas More made in the various fields in which he worked — as humanist, apologist, judge, legislator, diplomat and statesman — and focuses on the man himself: the idea that holiness is the fulness of humanity appears, in this case, quite tangibly true.

 

5. Model of Moral Integrity
Your Holiness’s predecessor in the Chair of Peter, Pope Pius XI, in the Bull of Canonization, presented Saint Thomas More as a model of proven moral integrity for all Christians and defined him as laicorum hominum decus et ornamentum.

 

6. Faith & Culture
In Saint Thomas More, there was no sign of that split between faith and culture, between timeless principles and daily life, which the Second Vatican Council laments as “among of the gravest errors of our time” (Gaudium et spes, n. 43).

 

7. Founder of Common Law
As a lawyer and judge, he established the interpretation and formulation of laws (he is rightly considered one of the founders of the study of the English common law) which safeguard true social justice and build peace between individuals and nations.

 

8. The Patron of the Poor
More eager to eliminate the causes of injustice than to repress it, he did not separate his passionate but prudent advocacy of the common good from the constant practice of charity: his fellow citizens called him the “patron of the poor.” An unconditional and benevolent dedication to justice with regard to the human person and liberty was the guiding rule of his conduct as a magistrate. While serving all men, Saint Thomas More knew well how to serve his king, that is the state, but wanted above all to serve God.

 

9. World’s Public Servants Call for a Patron
The timeliness of this convergence of political commitment and moral conviction, this harmony between the supernatural and the human, and this seamless unity of life have caused many public servants from various countries to join the Committee for the Proclamation of Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, as Patron of Politicians.

 

10. Politics – A Difficult Form of Service
Politics was not, for him, a matter of personal advantage, but rather an often difficult form of service, for which he had prepared himself not only through the study of the history, laws and culture of his own country, but also and especially through the examination of human nature, its grandeur and weaknesses, and of the ever-imperfect conditions of social life.

 

11. A Modern Martyr of Freedom
He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience: a perennial temptation — one to which the history of the 20th century bears tragic witness — of political regimes that do not recognize anything superior to themselves.

 

12. Martyr for Primacy of Conscience
A martyr for freedom, then, precisely because he was a martyr for the primacy of conscience which, firmly grounded in the search for the truth, renders us responsible for our decisions, that is to say, masters of ourselves and thus free from all bonds except that bond — proper to a creature — which binds us to God.

 

13. We Ask Sir Thomas More to Become a Saint
Therefore, certain that we act for the good of future society and trusting that our petition will find a benevolent welcome with Your Holiness, we ask that Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, faithful servant of the King, but God’s first, be proclaimed “Patron of Statesmen.”

 

Site of scaffold at Tower Hill where More was executed by decapitation - Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), Wikipedia.
Site of scaffold at Tower Hill where More was executed by decapitation – Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), Wikipedia.

 

APOSTOLIC LETTER
ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO
PROCLAIMING SAINT THOMAS MORE
PATRON OF STATESMEN AND POLITICIANS

POPE JOHN PAUL II
FOR PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE

 

14. Imperishable Example of Moral Integrity
Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.2

 

15. Well Ordered House & Life
Throughout his life he was an affectionate and faithful husband and father, deeply involved in his children’s religious, moral and intellectual education. His house offered a welcome to his children’s spouses and his grandchildren, and was always open to his many young friends in search of the truth or of their own calling in life. Family life also gave him ample opportunity for prayer in common and lectio divina, as well as for happy and wholesome relaxation. Thomas attended daily Mass in the parish church, but the austere penances which he practised were known only to his immediate family.

 

16. Appointed as Lord Chancellor
Highly esteemed by everyone for his unfailing moral integrity, sharpness of mind, his open and humorous character, and his extraordinary learning, in 1529 at a time of political and economic crisis in the country he was appointed by the King to the post of Lord Chancellor. The first layman to occupy this position, Thomas faced an extremely difficult period, as he sought to serve King and country.

 

17. Resigned & Reduced to Poverty
In 1532, not wishing to support Henry VIII’s intention to take control of the Church in England, he resigned. He withdrew from public life, resigning himself to suffering poverty with his family and being deserted by many people who, in the moment of trial, proved to be false friends.

 

18. The Trial
At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded.

 

19. Beatified in 1886
In 1850 the English Catholic Hierarchy was re-established. This made it possible to initiate the causes of many martyrs. Thomas More, together with 53 other martyrs, including Bishop John Fisher, was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. And with John Fisher, he was canonized by Pius XI in 1935, on the fourth centenary of his martyrdom.

 

20. Government as an Exercise in Virtue
His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue. Unwavering in this rigorous moral stance, this English statesman placed his own public activity at the service of the person, especially if that person was weak or poor; he dealt with social controversies with a superb sense of fairness; he was vigorously committed to favouring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young.

 

21. Politics & Morality
What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.

 

22. Rights of Conscience
And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience which is “the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul” (Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 58), even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time.

 

23. Freedom from the State
The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power. Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature.

 

24. St. Thomas More
Therefore, after due consideration and willingly acceding to the petitions addressed to me, I establish and declare Saint Thomas More the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, and I decree that he be ascribed all the liturgical honours and privileges which, according to law, belong to the Patrons of categories of people.

  1. Petition Sent to St. JPII for the Proclamation of Saint Thomas More as Patron of Statesmen. []
  2. Motu Proprio Proclaiming Saint Thomas More Patron of Statesmen & Politicians. []

Great Books: 31 Political Works Recommended by Faithful Catholic Colleges

Listers, certain “Great Books” have shaped the course of the Western world. Mortimer J. Adler, a Roman Catholic philosopher and professor, presented three criterion for a book to be considered “great,” he stated:

  1. The book has contemporary significance: that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times.
  2. The book is inexhaustible: it can be read again and again with benefit.
  3. The book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.1

While over one hundred universities and colleges in the United States and Canada have some form of a Great Books program, SPL has relied on three to compile this list: Thomas Aquinas College, the University of Dallas, and Ave Maria University. Thomas Aquinas College (“TAC”) – whose entire four year liberal arts program is a Great Books only program – explains the purpose of the Great Books tradition:

Yet the great books are not the objects of study at the College. Students here do not read these works — Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, Newton, and so many others — as outstanding examples of the creativity of the human spirit (though that they certainly are). Nor do they read them to become more familiar with Western culture and civilization (valuable though that is). Rather, Thomas Aquinas College students read the great books because, more than any other works, when studied under the light of the teaching Church, they can open up the truth about reality.2

Reading the Great Books of the Western tradition imports an insight into our modern culture that is completely unparalleled. Advocacy of the great books, however, suffers from a fatal flaw. For example, a Roman Catholic and a secular humanist may both agree Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes should be included as a great work; however, they would differ significantly on why that book is great. Was it a great contribution to the West? – or was it a great mistake? Notice in their statement on the Great Books, TAC states, “when studied under the light of Church teaching.” Many of the “great” books are incredibly anti-Catholic. Some times they are explicitly anti-Catholic, like Hobbes mocking the scholastics and transubstantiation. Often times they present a theory and praxis that has led to today’s crisis of modernity.3 In fact, the entirety of modernity may be said to have started as a rejection. Consequently, a Catholic institution that recommends the Great Books, but does not present them through the lens of Truth, Jesus Christ, may in fact be undercutting its own commitment to the Church.4 The what to study is just as important as how to study it.

The following list is drawn from faithful Catholic institutions that present the Great Books under the Truth of the Church. TAC is a four year liberal arts college that centers its entire eduction on a Great Books program.5 The University of Dallas (“UD”) offers a very unique Great Books Program. The University offers doctoral degrees in Literature, Philosophy, and Politics, but places all of these students together for the beginning of their studies; thus, they have a Great Books core curriculum for when their students are together, and then they have a Great Books program tailored for each individual program.6 The graduate theology department of Ave Maria University (“AMU”) has found a unique way to present the Great Books. Instead of having a flat list, AMU presents them within the “Dialogue of the Ancients & Moderns,” which orders the books to show the interrelation. For example, the dialogue approach will list several works that build off each other, and then offer a “clarification by contrast” by listing the works that took a different path.  In other words, the dialogue of Ancients & Moderns method attempts to adopt a pedagogical prudence into the very listing of the works themselves.

The following is a synthesis of the lists from all three Catholic institutions. The footnotes indicate not only the source of each recommended reading, but also which institution recommended the linked translation. Following the example of AMU, the list is divided into “ancients” and “moderns,” but is otherwise simply presented as a flat list. The list is geared toward Catholic thinkers in the United States, since it recommends certain core U.S. political documents. Finally, only the UD Politics Phd program is tailored specifically to politics. The political contributions of TAC & AMU are pulled from their general Great Books lists. For those seeking Catholic commentary on how to understand these Great Works, please note the footnotes for suggested works that could serve as primers not only to the individual suggested works but also to Catholic political thought overall.7

 

The Great Books
Politics

 

The Ancients

1. The Holy Bible8

2. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.9

3. Plato, The Republic.10

4. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.11

5. Aristotle, Politics.12

6. Plutarch, Parallel Lives.13

7. Augustine, Confessions.14

8. Augustine, City of God.15

9. Thomas Aquinas, Selections of the Summa Theologica.16

10. Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship.17

 

The Moderns

11. Machiavelli, The Prince.18

12. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.19

13. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government20

14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First and Second Discourses.21

15. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract.22

16. Articles of Confederation.23

17. Declaration of Independence.24

18. United States Constitution of 1787.25

19. Virginia (1776) and Massachusetts (1780) Declarations of Rights.26

20. Northwest Ordinance of 178727

21. The Federalist Papers28

22. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.29

23. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.30

24. Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals31

25. Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto32

26. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America33

27. Abraham Lincoln, Various Texts.34

28. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates35

29. John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action36

30. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”37

31. Leo Strauss, Selections indicating his approach to political philosophy.38

  1. Mortimer List taken from Wikipedia, citing Adler, Mortimer J. “Selecting Works for the 1990 Edition of the Great Books of the Western World,” page 142. []
  2. TAC Website, The Great Books. []
  3. See 4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity. []
  4. See, Against Great Books by Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen on First Things. []
  5. TAC Great Books List. []
  6. UD Great Books: Core Curriculum & Other Curriculums. []
  7. Catholic Political Thought: For those seeking an introduction to Catholic political thought, see 6 Books for Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. []
  8. The Bible is not a “political” text per se, but it arguably colors almost all thought in the West. Whether a Great Books list focuses on politics or literature, the Bible remains a must-read text. AMU suggests an emphasis on Genesis, Exodus 1-15, 19-14, Deut. 5-11, 28-30, Hosea, Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, Job; in the New Testament, Matthew, John, Galations, Ephesians. UD PhD core curriculum recommends a focus on the following biblical texts: Genesis, Exodus, Job, Psalms (1, 2, 22, 23, 29, 37, 47, 51, 53, 73, 95, 110, 130, 146-150), Isaiah, Matthew, John, Romans, Corinthians I and II, Revelation; TAC lists the entire Bible on their syllabus. []
  9. The linked edition is recommended by TAC; Recommended by UD Phd Politics. []
  10. The linked Allan Bloom edition is recommended by TAC and also the preferred edition of AMU; Recommended by UD Phd Core Curriculum. []
  11. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and the UD PhD Core Curriculum. TAC recommends the Oxford edition of Nicomachean Ethics. A common edition at AMU is the linked Irwin translation. []
  12. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Politics; the Lord’s translation is widely regarded as the best English translation (explicitly recommended by TAC & AMU. SPL has a list of Aristotelian definitions – taken from the Lord trans. – that may be helpful, along with numerous lists tagged under Aristotle. []
  13. TAC recommends the edition linked and an emphasis on the following: Lycurgus, Pericles, Aristides, Alcibiades, Marcellus, Caius Marius, Sylla, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Marcus Brutus, Comparison of Dion and Brutus; UD Phd Politics recommends: Theseus, Romulus; Lycurgus, Numa; Alcibiades, Coriolanus; Alexander, Caesar. []
  14. Recommended TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Core Curriculum. AMU heavily recommended the linked Frank Sheed translation. []
  15. The linked Cambridged edition recommended by TAC; UD Phd Politics; AMU suggestions Book XIX. []
  16. UD Phd Core Curriculum recommends Summa Theologiae I, 1-5 (Questions on Theology and God) II.1, 90-110, 112-113 (Questions on Law and Grace); the UD Phd Politics Curriculum recommends St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Treatise on Law,” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, Questions 90-101, 104-108); TAC recommends similar corresponding Summa selections; SPL has written extensively on St. Thomas Aquinas, especially on his Treatise on Law and virtue, see Aquinas’ Catechesis on the Virtues and Aquinas’ Guide to Natural Law. []
  17. Recommended by both the UD PhD Politics and TAC. []
  18. The Mansfield translation recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. SPL offers: 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli. []
  19. The Hackett Classic edition recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Politics & AMU. SPL offers: A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  20. University of Dallas Phd Politics curriculum recommends: all of the Second Treatise, plus the following selections from the First Treatise: ch. 1, sec. 1-3; ch. 2, sec. 6, 7, 9, 14; ch. 4, sec. 21-27, 33, 39, 42, 43; ch. 5, sec. 44-45, 47; ch. 6, sec. 53-54, 56-59, 61; ch. 9, sec. 86-100; ch. 11, sec. 106; TAC recommends the Hackett Classic edition of the Second Treatise on Government; recommended by AMU. []
  21. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. []
  22. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU; the linked Hackett Classics anthology edition recommended by TAC. []
  23. Recommended by TAC. []
  24. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  25. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  26. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  27. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  28. TAC recommends the linked Modern Classics Library edition, and the UD Phd Politics curriculum recommends, No. 6, 9, 10, 15, 48, 49, 51, 57, 62, 70, 78. []
  29. Linked edition recommended by TAC. []
  30. Recommended by the UD PhD Core Curriculum. []
  31. Linked Hackett Classics edition recommended by TAC; recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  32. TAC recommends the linked text; The UD PhD Politics also emphasizes: (The Marx-Engels Reader, 469-500); Engels’ Eulogy (681-82); Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (683-717); “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” (53-65); Theses on Feuerbach (143-45); “On the Jewish Question” (26-52); “1844 Manuscripts” (70-93); German Ideology (146-200); Address of the Central Committee (501-511); on non-violent revolution and “Critique of the Gotha Program” (522-541); AMU recommends the Manifesto and Theses on FeuerbachGerman Ideology. []
  33. TAC and UD recommend Mansfield edition, linked; UD PhD Politics emphasizes “appropriate selections showing his approach to the topic.” For example: Introduction (pp. 3-15), vol 1, pt 1, ch 2-5 (27-93), vol 1, pt 2, ch 5-6 (187-235), vol 1, pt 2, ch 9 (264-302), vol 2, pt 2, ch 1-8 (479-503), vol 2, pt 3, ch 8-12 (558-576), vol 2, pt 4, ch 1-3 and 6-8 (639-645, 661-676) (page numbers are from the Mansfield translation. []
  34. The UD PhD Politics recommends: Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), Speech on Dred Scott (1857), First and Second Inaugural Addresses, Address to Congress on July 4, 1861, Gettysburg Address. []
  35. TAC recommends the linked Douglas edition; The UD PhD Politics recommends the Robert W. Johannsen edition, (New York: Oxford, 1965); UD particularly recommends the selections showing the views of both Lincoln and Douglas. For example, 14-36, 78-79, 86-92, 145-49, 162-63, 195-200, 206-226, 229-39, 242-44. []
  36. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  37. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics, while the Core Curriculum recommends the entirety of Being and Time. []
  38. The UD PhD Politics recommends, for example, What is Political Philosophy, Chapter 1, 2, 3, and 9; or, Natural Right and History: Introduction, chapters 1 and 4, and one of the modern subchapters. Along with AMU, SPL highly recommends the essay The Three Waves of Modernity in his Introduction to Political Philosophy. SPL has written a summary list entitled 4 Steps to Understanding the Crisis of Modernity. []

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

***************

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. []

The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World

Aquinas teaches the three precepts of Natural Law are (1) self-preservation (2) procreation & education of offspring, and (3) natural inclination toward the good, God.

Brief Outline of the Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of the Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end.

Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.

The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear, and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT
The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love, and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT

Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law. 

 

Sunset over New York City 1932. - Wikipedia
Sunset over New York City 1932. – Wikipedia

 

1. What is Natural Law?

“It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law.”1 Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end. Similar to how the carpenter’s idea of a chair is then imprinted onto the wood, so too is Eternal law imprinted upon all things. The imprint of Eternal Law on man is Natural Law. It is the general moral precepts imprinted on the hearts of humanity; however, individual persons participate in Natural Law via their reasoning. Aquinas believes all persons may know Natural Law through their reason, but not all persons reason equally. Aquinas does not posit an egalitarian view of reason. Some persons will understand more and some less. Notice too this is a very concrete notion of participation that is available to all humanity. While participation is an abused word in philosophical and theological circles, Aquinas presents a brilliant notion of participation in the Eternal through the Natural Law.2

 

2. What is the first indemonstrable principle?

What is meant by the term “first indemonstrable principle”? It is called indemonstrable because it is not deduced from any other truth. If I say Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Socrates is mortal. The last statement is a deduction from the first two. An indemonstrable principle is not deduced. It is simply known. Aquinas gives the following examples:

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.

What is the first indemonstrable principle? Aquinas calls this particular indemonstrable principle first because it is the basis for all other principles. The Angelic Doctor states:

Wherefore the first indemonstrable principle is that “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,” which is based on the notion of “being” and “not-being”: and on this principle all others are based, as is stated in Metaph. iv, text. 9.

The first indemonstrable principle of our apprehension is being. This exists. This does not exist. It is in a person’s apprehension, simply; however, since man is a rational animal, what is the first thing a person apprehends via reason? Following Aristotle, Aquinas teaches:

Now as “being” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so “good” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good. Consequently the first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that “good is that which all things seek after.”

The first principle of practical reason is “the aspect of good.” All men seek what is good. The concept can seem lofty, but a more mundane example is happiness. Aquinas posits that all men seek happiness as well. While most do not associate happiness with the law, the concept of happiness is an excellent starting point for discussing natural law. In general, there is a logical movement from understanding that all men seek happiness, to the fuller understanding that all men seek what is good, to a discussion of what is the good that all men seek. Starting the conversation with all men seek happiness is generally more palatable to modern man than all men seek the good, God.

 

3. What is the first precept of law?

In short, the first indemonstrable principle of apprehension, simply, is being. The first indemonstrable principle of practical reason is good. And if all men are rational animals then all men seek what is good. Aquinas applies this rationale to the law:

Hence this is the first precept of law, that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.

Aquinas arrives at the first precept of law: “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” It is upon this precept all other precepts flow. Keep in mind Aquinas’ definition of law as well. A law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”3

 

4. Is there an order to the moral precepts?

The first precept of law – that good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided – is the foundation to the general moral precepts of natural law. Before going into detail about these precepts, Aquinas explains how the precepts will be ordered. He teaches that precepts of natural law will be ordered according to the natural inclinations in man.

Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law.

Discussed further below, Aquinas will order the precepts of natural law according to man’s inclinations – with the lower inclinations being ordered by the higher inclinations, i.e., that inclination man shares with all things that live will be the lowest, while the inclination that is unique to man as the only rational animal will be highest.

Note, however, that Aquinas speaks of inclinations and not instinct. Typically, an instinct is determined toward an end, while an inclination tends towards an end – but is ultimately indeterminate. Humanity is not born participating in Natural Law, but persons are born with the inclinations toward the precepts of Natural Law. Man participates in those inclinations by reason; thus, the wicked, for example, do not participate in Natural Law for they are recalcitrant to their inclinations toward the precepts of Natural Law.

It should be noted that this discussion is paramount to understanding Aquinas’ treatment of virtue and vice. For a man who acts repeatedly on those inclinations toward the good forms a habit. Habits that create a disposition toward the good are called virtues. Habits that reject those inclinations and dispose persons toward evil are called vices. It also rests on the neglected truth that sin is always and forever irrational.

 

5. What are the precepts of Natural Law?

According to Aquinas, there are three precepts that should be considered when discussing Natural Law. The Angelic Doctor states:

Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law.

Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals” [Pandect. Just. I, tit. i], such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth.

Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.

To wit, the three precepts are (1) self-preservation (2) procreation & education of offspring and (3) natural inclination toward the good, God; however, how do these precepts relate to one another? Are they all equal? Do they compete against one another? To the contrary, Aquinas holds to the general truth that a higher principle orders the lower. For example, the first and second precepts are those we share with both plants and animals. All things seek self-preservation. The second precept is shared with animals, because irrational animals procreate and educate their offspring; however, it is the third precept, the highest precept, that is predicated upon man as man, i.e., the rational animal. It is specifically man’s inclination toward the good, the truth, God, that should order the other two precepts.

For example, among the irrational animals, it appears the first precept of self-preservation is not always true. Nature is full of examples of mothers who would die to protect their young or males that die in order to procreate. In these examples, the lower precept of self-preservation is ordered and governed by the higher precept of procreating and educating offspring. In the rational animal, man, the third precept of seeking God should order self-preservation and the manner in which humanity procreates and educates. The operative word is should, because man is not forced to hold to the precepts of Natural Law – but only chooses to via reason. The wicked, for example, will not hold to these precepts nor will they order them correctly.

 

6. How does Aquinas differ from Modernist views?

Broadly speaking, nature may be spoken of in three ways: a Thomistic nature, a reductionist nature, and a mechanistic nature. The Thomistic nature is characterized by the belief that (1) the general moral precepts of Natural Law are available to all men in some degree, (2) man participates in these general moral precepts via his reason, and (3) the moral precepts exist in a hierarchical order.

Arguably, a reductionist theory reverses the teachings of Aquinas. In Aquinas, the higher orders the lower, while a reductionist view advocates that the lower orders the higher. If humanity has a moral question, it should look to the animals or the environment. For example, man’s sexuality is understood by looking at the sexual life of animals. Is homosexual activity permissible for man? Well, homosexuality does periodically occur among animals species; thus, it is permissible and not contrary to natural law. To wit, the rational animals uses his rationality to conclude that which is permissible for the irrational animals is permissible for man.

The reductionist view is often times associated with a Hobbesian view of nature. Thomas Hobbes taught that nature is a constant state of war. Nature is a violent chaos. Nature is the red tooth and claw. In more evolutionary terms, natural law is simply the survival of the fittest. The first precept of self-preservation dominates all others. Here man looks to nature and discards it as a moral standard. Instead of viewing reason as the principle by which the lower precepts of nature are ordered, man sees his reason as the instrument that overcomes nature. Nature becomes something to vex and dominate, not follow. Man views himself as something liberated from nature and free to create social and moral constructs free from any natural external standard.

Mechanistic theories are based off strict necessity. Mechanistic views hold that man is governed under a biological illusion, i.e., free will is actually determined by nature. While the Thomistic approach holds that nature is not governed by a strict necessity, it does not exclude biology playing a role in the decision making of human beings. For example, a full moon’s gravitational pull affects both the oceans and the human body. While the Thomistic view acknowledges influences, it does not believe man is forced or biologically determined to certain ends. Reason and free will remain. One key issue with the mechanistic view of nature is that it flattens nature into equal parts, i.e., both rational and irrational animals are equitable under the force of nature. In contrast, the Thomistic view holds a certain gradation or hierarchy to nature, with man, the rational animal, being the higher creature – the creature that has the natural precept to seek the good, God.


 

SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference

  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1
  6. Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law – I-II.93
  7. 3 Steps to Understand How Humanity Participates in Natural Law – I-II.94.1
  1. Natural Law, cf. I-II.91.2. []
  2. Natural Law: All quotes unless otherwise specified are taken from the Summa Theologica I-II.94.2. []
  3. Definition of a Law: ST I-II.90.4. []

3 Steps to Understand How Humanity Participates in Natural Law

The vehicle by which man knows Natural Law is reason and understanding. Here, Aquinas makes a second important distinction – some men will understand more, some less. Aquinas is not promoting an egalitarian view of reason. All men may know, but all men will not know equally.

The Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end.

Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.

The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear, and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT
The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love, and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT

Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law.

 

Leonardo da Vinci, sketches of the brain.
Leonardo da Vinci, sketches of the brain.

1. Do all men know Natural Law?

Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things to their end. In his treatment on Eternal Law, Aquinas teaches that man does not know Eternal Law directly, but can know the law by its effects. Just as one may know the sun by its sunlight. Eternal Law is imprinted on all things and all things partake in Eternal Law; and, it is from this imprint that all things “derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”1

How may one describe the “respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends” in humanity? The Angelic Doctor states, “wherefore [the rational creature, i.e., man] has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law.”2 In his treatment on Eternal Law, Aquinas differs from some ancient philosophers by stating all men may know Natural Law. The vehicle by which man knows Natural Law is reason and understanding. Here, Aquinas makes a second important distinction – some men will understand more, some less. Aquinas is not promoting an egalitarian view of reason. All men may know, but all men will not know equally.

In clarification by contrast, the rational animal of Creation, i.e., the human, participates in Natural Law by reason, but the irrational animals participate in Natural Law by an “inward motive principle.” Note the important implication that humanity participates in Natural Law by choice.

 

2. What is a habit?

Aquinas’ first question is whether or not Natural Law may be spoken of as a habit. What is a habit? A habit is a series of acts that constitute a practice. The Philosopher, Aristotle, defines a habit as “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.” Those habits which habituate the person toward the good, we call virtues. Those habits that dispose the person to evil are call vices. A person’s habits define who they are. Following Aristotle, Aquinas notes that habits are a species of quality. In this light, the Philosopher states, “a habit is a quality which it is difficult to change.”3 

There are naturally good habits, which are called the Natural Virtues or the Cardinal Virtues, i.e., prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Prudence is the “elective habit” the habit of right reasoning. Justice is the habit of proper order and the highest virtue of the State. Temperance is the habit that holds a person to reason in the face of something pleasurable. Fortitude is the habit that holds a person to reason when something would push it away in fear. These are called the Natural Virtues because they are available to all men. Is Natural Law, then, like a natural virtue?

 

3. Is Natural Law a habit?

Is Natural Law a habit? Aquinas makes the distinction between that which is a habit and that which persons hold as a habit. Natural Law is a habit in the second sense. In in first notion, Natural Law cannot be an essential habit of humanity, because Natural Law is “something appointed by reason.” Natural Law is the Eternal Law of God imprinted onto man, but man’s participation in Natural Law comes through understanding. Here, Aquinas highlights infants and the wicked as those who do not participate in Natural Law. Consequently, it is not an essential habit of mankind. 

Natural Law is a habit in the second sense. Aquinas makes the distinction that indemonstrable principles themselves are not habits, but they are the principles of the habits. Consequently, Natural Law insofar as it is indemonstrable is not a habit, but it is the principle behind many habits. For example, St. Basil speaks of synderesis as a “law of the mind.” Synderesis may be summarized as a habit by which a man knows what is good and what is evil. In Aquinas’ understanding, synderesis would be the habit that has as its principle Natural Law, but Natural Law itself would not properly be a habit, but a law. It follows, that Natural Law would also be the principle behind all the Natural Virtues discussed above.

The next question Aquinas takes up in his discussion on law is what are the precepts of Natural Law? Or rather, if Natural Law is the principle of good habits, what is it that Natural Law imports to those who reflect on it? What are its general moral precepts?


SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference

  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1
  6. Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law – I-II.93
  1. Natural Law: This list is a summary of I-II.94.1 []
  2. Natural Law & Scripture: While there are many examples, Aquinas uses the following as an example of an innate moral compass in man: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law. []
  3. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2. []

Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law

The following list is taken from the Summa Theologica Prima Secundae question 93, entitled, The Eternal Law. A proper understanding of the Eternal Law of God, the Divine Government, serves as an excellent foundation to issues such as politics, natural law, divine providence, hell, and nature.

SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference
  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1

 

The Weaver, AD 1524.
The Weaver, AD 1524.

Brief Outline of the Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of the Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end.

Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.

The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear, and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT
The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love, and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT

Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law.

The following list is taken from the Summa Theologica Prima Secundae question 93, entitled, The Eternal Law. A proper understanding of the Eternal Law of God, the Divine Government, serves as an excellent foundation to issues such as politics, natural law, divine providence, hell, and nature.

 

The carpenter is the efficient cause of change in the wood.
The carpenter is the efficient cause of change in the wood.

1. Does Eternal law exist? – If so, what is it?

Think of a craftsman and his art. Before the craftsman or artificer creates his art, there exists in the craftsmen a type of that art. If the artificer is going to craft a boat, there exists in him the rationale and order of a boat. He then takes that idea of the boat and imprints it on the wood. Aquinas takes up this example to answer whether or not the eternal law is a sovereign type existing in God? He states:

Just as in every artificer there pre-exists a type of the things that are made by his art, so too in every governor there must pre-exist the type of the order of those things that are to be done by those who are subject to his government. And just as the type of the things yet to be made by an art is called the art or exemplar of the products of that art, so too the type in him who governs the acts of his subjects, bears the character of a law, provided the other conditions be present which we have mentioned above (Article 90).

Following Aquinas, as the art pre-exists in the artificer, so does the law pre-exist in the governor. In both cases, there is a preexistent order that moves from the mind to the thing being ordered. With law, it moves from order of law in the governor, to his subjects being ordered. How is this principle applied to God? The Universal Doctor states:

Now God, by His wisdom, is the Creator of all things in relation to which He stands as the artificer to the products of his art, as stated in the I, 14, 8. Moreover He governs all the acts and movements that are to be found in each single creature, as was also stated in the I, 103, 5. Wherefore as the type of the Divine Wisdom, inasmuch as by It all things are created, has the character of art, exemplar or idea; so the type of Divine Wisdom, as moving all things to their due end, bears the character of law. Accordingly the eternal law is nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.

Returning to the original question, does Eternal Law exist? Yes, it is a type of Divine Wisdom. What is it? It is “nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.” As the artificer imposes the order in his mind onto his art and orders it accordingly, so too has God, the Artificer, created existence; however, note that it is not a single act – God created the world, but he continues to move all things to their end.

 

Sunrise at the Ruins of Knowlton Church, England via Wikicommons, Simon Barnes
Sunrise at the Ruins of Knowlton Church, England via Wikicommons, Simon Barnes

2. Can humanity know the Eternal Law of God?

If Eternal Law is a type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end, can humanity know and understand this law? One key to understanding Aquinas is that he retains in his mind at all times the distinction between Creator and Creature; thus, in this context, we are asking whether or not creatures may know the Divine Wisdom of the Creator? Anytime you speak of how a creature may know the Creator, God, you must make distinctions, because the creature is finite but the Creator infinite. And since Aquinas excels at making distinctions, he states:

A thing may be known in two ways: first, in itself; secondly, in its effect, wherein some likeness of that thing is found: thus someone not seeing the sun in its substance, may know it by its rays. So then no one can know the eternal law, as it is in itself, except the blessed who see God in His Essence.1 But every rational creature knows it in its reflection, greater or less. For every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection and participation of the eternal law, which is the unchangeable truth, as Augustine says (De Vera Relig. xxxi). Now all men know the truth to a certain extent, at least as to the common principles of the natural law: and as to the others, they partake of the knowledge of truth, some more, some less; and in this respect are more or less cognizant of the eternal law.

Humanity understands the Eternal Law through its effects. Using Aquinas’ example, one may know the sun by seeing its light without having to see the sun itself. Note that Aquinas’ states “every rational creature knowns it in its reflection, greater or less.” The term every means that Aquinas is not limiting knowledge of the Eternal Law to the philosophers; however, his phrase greater or less also lets us know this is not an egalitarian view of reason either. The vehicle by which all men – “some more, some less” – know the Eternal Law of God is Natural Law. In other words, as Aquinas quotes St. Augustine in his sed contra, “knowledge of the eternal law is imprinted on us.”2

 

Lady Justice (Latin: Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Dike) is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. - Wikipedia, Lady Justice
Lady Justice (Latin: Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Dike) is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. – Wikipedia, Lady Justice

3. Is every law a derivative of the Eternal Law?

The short answer is yes. Aquinas states, “all laws proceed from the eternal law.” Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end. It is no wonder, that in explaining how all laws are derivative of the Eternal Law, Aquinas speaks of a primary mover and a secondary mover:

Now wherever there are movers ordained to one another, the power of the second mover must needs be derived from the power of the first mover; since the second mover does not move except in so far as it is moved by the first.

As in question one discussing the artificer, Aquinas takes this principle of movement and places it in the governor/artificer relationship:

Wherefore we observe the same in all those who govern, so that the plan of government is derived by secondary governors from the governor in chief; thus the plan of what is to be done in a state flows from the king’s command to his inferior administrators: and again in things of art the plan of whatever is to be done by art flows from the chief craftsman to the under-crafts-men, who work with their hands.

Following Aristotle, Aquinas understands that the human mind moves from what is simple to what is complex. Here, Aquinas speaks of movement, then of movement within the mundane roles of a governor and an artificer, and finally in the context of Eternal Law. The Angelic Doctor explains:

Since then the eternal law is the plan of government in the Chief Governor, all the plans of government in the inferior governors must be derived from the eternal law. But these plans of inferior governors are all other laws besides the eternal law. Therefore all laws, in so far as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law. Hence Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 6) that “in temporal law there is nothing just and lawful, but what man has drawn from the eternal law.”

All laws are drawn from Eternal Law. Humanity understands – some more, some less – the Eternal Law through the Natural Law that is imprinted on all Creation, i.e., on both the creatures and the creation around them. In knowing the Eternal Law through Natural Law, humanity can create just and rational Human Laws. What about evil human laws? Aquinas answers:

Human law has the nature of law in so far as it partakes of right reason; and it is clear that, in this respect, it is derived from the eternal law. But in so far as it deviates from reason, it is called an unjust law, and has the nature, not of law but of violence. Nevertheless even an unjust law, in so far as it retains some appearance of law, though being framed by one who is in power, is derived from the eternal law; since all power is from the Lord God, according to Romans 13:1.3

Aquinas’ answer raises two preliminary issues on Human Law. First, if Human Law draws from Natural Law, it will be rational. Remember that the state or polis is a natural institution governed by the natural virtues. The highest of these virtues being justice. Consequently, it loses its character of a law if it is unjust and subsequently takes on a character of violence; hence, an unjust law is no law. However, Aquinas does note that even an unjust law retains the appearance of a law if made by the proper power. How then, a Catholic should engage with a state that has promulgated an unjust law is not only a question of great interest, but one that is of increasing importance in our modernist age.  

 

The Beatific Vision in Dante's Paradisio by Gustave Dore.
The Beatific Vision in Dante’s Paradiso by Gustave Dore.

4. Is there anything not governed by Eternal Law?

Yes, actually. Aquinas’ original question is Whether necessary and eternal things are subject to the eternal law? The answer is arguably yes and no. It depends on what necessary means. Read how Aquinas speaks of the Eternal Law as Divine Government:

As stated above (Article 1), the eternal law is the type of the Divine government. Consequently whatever is subject to the Divine government, is subject to the eternal law: while if anything is not subject to the Divine government, neither is it subject to the eternal law. The application of this distinction may be gathered by looking around us. For those things are subject to human government, which can be done by man; but what pertains to the nature of man is not subject to human government; for instance, that he should have a soul, hands, or feet. 

Human Government governs all things which “can be done by man,” but not those things which cannot. Similarly, the Divine Government governs all things created by God. What then, is not governed by Eternal Law?

Accordingly all that is in things created by God, whether it be contingent or necessary, is subject to the eternal law: while things pertaining to the Divine Nature or Essence are not subject to the eternal law, but are the eternal law itself.

It is God, the uncreated, that is not governed by Eternal Law. Eternal Law is a type of Divine Wisdom, and God himself is Wisdom and Truth. Read Aquinas again, “the Divine nature or Essence are not subject to eternal law, but are the eternal law itself.” One interesting example is Christ. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he is certainly not created and consequently not subject to Eternal Law; however, Christ’s created human nature is subject to the Eternal Law.4

 

"Cannibal Tree" - A tree grown around a sawed off stump Wikicommons Jan Tik
“Cannibal Tree” – A tree grown around a sawed off stump, Wikicommons Jan Tik

5. Is nature subject to Eternal Law or Human Law?

Thus far, Natural Law has been spoken of as the Eternal Law imprinted upon the hearts of humanity. Man is a rational animal and may come to know the Eternal Law – more or less – through his own reason. The question here is what of irrational animals? In Human Law, the governor orders the acts and moves his subject according to the law. Is it also proper to speak of Human Law ordering and moving the irrational animals, e.g., the ox or the horse? Aquinas states:

We must speak otherwise of the law of man, than of the eternal law which is the law of God. For the law of man extends only to rational creatures subject to man. The reason of this is because law directs the actions of those that are subject to the government of someone: wherefore, properly speaking, none imposes a law on his own actions. Now whatever is done regarding the use of irrational things subject to man, is done by the act of man himself moving those things, for these irrational creatures do not move themselves, but are moved by others, as stated above (Question 1, Article 2). Consequently man cannot impose laws on irrational beings, however much they may be subject to him. But he can impose laws on rational beings subject to him, in so far as by his command or pronouncement of any kind, he imprints on their minds a rule which is a principle of action.

The answer then is no. While irrational animals are subject to man, he does not impose laws on them. Man does, however, order humanity according to Human law as he can imprint a law on their mind. How then should we speak of irrational animals and nature?

Now just as man, by such pronouncement, impresses a kind of inward principle of action on the man that is subject to him, so God imprints on the whole of nature the principles of its proper actions. And so, in this way, God is said to command the whole of nature, according to Psalm 148:6: “He hath made a decree, and it shall not pass away.” And thus all actions and movements of the whole of nature are subject to the eternal law. Consequently irrational creatures are subject to the eternal law, through being moved by Divine providence; but not, as rational creatures are, through understanding the Divine commandment.

Two things of note. First, God alone has ordered nature and moves all things to their end. Second, man’s participation in the Eternal Law differs from that of the rest of nature. Man is a rational animal and participates by “understanding the Divine commandment.”5 The irrational creatures and the whole of nature a subject to Eternal Law “through being moved by Divine providence.”

 

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin.
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin.

6. Are all actions, even sin, subject to Eternal Law?

Aquinas begins in his sed contra by quoting St. Augustine, “Nothing evades the laws of the most high Creator and Governor, for by Him the peace of the universe is administered.” As seen in the above question on nature, there are two ways in which creation participates in the Eternal Law: first, the rational animal, the human, “by way of knowledge,” while the irrational animals “by way of an inward motive principle.” However, what of wicked rational animals?

Both ways, however, are imperfect, and to a certain extent destroyed, in the wicked; because in them the natural inclination to virtue is corrupted by vicious habits, and, moreover, the natural knowledge of good is darkened by passions and habits of sin. But in the good both ways are found more perfect: because in them, besides the natural knowledge of good, there is the added knowledge of faith and wisdom; and again, besides the natural inclination to good, there is the added motive of grace and virtue.

A few things of note. First, the imprint of Eternal Law on the human heart gives humanity a natural inclination to virtue. Both the national inclination and the virtues – good habits – are part of Natural Law. Sin, however, is in a true sense unnatural and consequently irrational. It darkens humanity’s “natural knowledge of the good.” So, how does this fit with the Eternal Law?

Accordingly, the good are perfectly subject to the eternal law, as always acting according to it: whereas the wicked are subject to the eternal law, imperfectly as to their actions, indeed, since both their knowledge of good, and their inclination thereto, are imperfect; but this imperfection on the part of action is supplied on the part of passion, in so far as they suffer what the eternal law decrees concerning them, according as they fail to act in harmony with that law. Hence Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 15): “I esteem that the righteous act according to the eternal law; and (De Catech. Rud. xviii): Out of the just misery of the souls which deserted Him, God knew how to furnish the inferior parts of His creation with most suitable laws.”

The wicked may be said to have an imperfect participation in the Eternal Law. They do not adhere to the Eternal Law imprinted on their hearts; however, the Eternal Law still moves all things to their end. The Eternal Law is just and moves the wicked to their just end, damnation.

  1. Beatific Vision: Aquinas states that no one knows the Eternal Law in itself except the Bless’d in heaven. Phrases like this often unsettle Eastern-oriented Catholics/Orthodox who enjoy the mystery of God. The distinction here is that even the saints in heaven, though the may know God, do not comprehend him. God is the Inexhaustible Good; thus, no creature may exhaust his goodness. They know God, but they continually bathe in his endless glory and mystery. Aquinas’ is also known for saying that man cannot exhaust the essence of a fly. These caveats are good to keep in mind when speaking of how the West speaks of “knowing” God. []
  2. In Itself & In Its Effect in Scripture: The distinction Aquinas’ makes about knowing Eternal Law in itself and in itself effects in also seen in Scripture. In the first objection to ST I-II.93.2, the objector points out I Cor. 2:11, which states “the things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.” In Aquinas’ answer to this object, he counters with Rom. 1:20, “The invisible things of God . . . are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” The first is the Divine Law in itself, while the second is the Divine Law in its effects. []
  3. Aquinas on Human Law: The argument here is that there are wicked laws, therefore not all laws are derived from the Eternal Law. (ST I-II.93.3.obj 2) Aquinas’ answer, supra, is copied from ad. 2 of the same article. []
  4. Aquinas on Christ and Eternal Law: This object is raised in ST I-II93.4.obj 2 and answered in ad. 2 of the same article. []
  5. Rational and Irrational Animals Under Natural Law: In a post-Enlightenment world, the distinction between irrational and rational creatures has been lost. For example, when most people speak of “natural law” they think of the brutal and violent law of nature. The lion preys on the antelope. Only the strongest specimens survive. Consequently, nature is seen as something brutal – think of Hobbes, who stated the natural state of man is war and violence. They look at nature and see violence and predicate their actions upon their observations. In other words, the rational creature looks to the actions of the irrational creature to determine a moral code. In modernism, nature as a moral law, a standard, has been lost. It is arguable that the majority simply cannot view nature as a moral law due to the actions of animals and hurricanes; thus, the external standard of Natural Law – think Eternal Law imprinted human hearts, e.g., the natural virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude – is moot. In its stead, is the individual – the autonomous moral universe of the modern self. []

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. 

5 Catholic Documents on Family, Sex, and Homosexuality

Listers, though not an exhaustive list, we want to bring several Catholic documents to the forefront 0f the discussion of family and marriage. One of the many reasons our society cannot have a thoughtful conversation on homosexuality is because we’ve lost our vocabulary to even discuss the family. Too often a conversation on family, sex, or homosexuality devolves to one side blindly tossing out Bible verses and the other presenting shallow hackneyed slogans, e.g., “love is love.” A direct problem with supporting the natural family on the flat basis of “the Bible says so” is it communicates to the pro-homosexuality camp that the sole argument against same-sex marriage is religious; therefore, if one simply interprets the Bible differently or does not care what the Bible says, there is no argument against same-sex marriage. Moreover, this common mistake of Christians of using the Bible alone paints their camp as a religiously tyrannical – attempting to use their religion to suppress those who are not in it.

What needs to be brought to the conversation is twofold. First, we do need a proper religious understanding of marriage. Protestants and Catholic communities are plagued with divorce and contraceptive use and this immediately undercuts any proper argument on sexuality or marriage. Second, we need a proper philosophical understanding of marriage’s role within the state as articulated by natural law. Reason and nature are common to all men. While Catholicism has assumed these principles into its theological understanding of marriage – for grace perfects nature and the sacramental marriage of the Church perfects the natural institution – we must have the philosophical understanding to explain the natural institution to non-Catholics. Marriage has always been viewed a the primary and foundational sub-political part of the state – with both marriage and the political body of the state being viewed as natural institutions of the rational and political animal, man; however, today marriage has been reduced to a shallow romance that is solely about feeling loved and has been divorced from procreation or really any civic responsibility. The conversation needs to be rebooted and Catholics need to lead the way.

 

The following documents are a sampling of the Church’s teachings and are presented in chronological order without commentary. What documents do you think should be added to this list? Tell us and we’ll add them on.

 

1. Casti Connubii by Pope Pius XI, 1930.

How great is the dignity of chaste wedlock, Venerable Brethren, may be judged best from this that Christ Our Lord, Son of the Eternal Father, having assumed the nature of fallen man, not only, with His loving desire of compassing the redemption of our race, ordained it in an especial manner as the principle and foundation of domestic society and therefore of all human intercourse, but also raised it to the rank of a truly and great sacrament of the New Law, restored it to the original purity of its divine institution, and accordingly entrusted all its discipline and care to His spouse the Church…

Casti Connubii full text.

 

2. Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, 1968.

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.

Read Humanae Vitae in full.

 

3. Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, 1981.

The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture. Many families are living this situation in fidelity to those values that constitute the foundation of the institution of the family. Others have become uncertain and bewildered over their role or even doubtful and almost unaware of the ultimate meaning and truth of conjugal and family life. Finally, there are others who are hindered by various situations of injustice in the realization of their fundamental rights.

Knowing that marriage and the family constitute one of the most precious of human values, the Church wishes to speak and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives. Supporting the first, illuminating the second and assisting the others, the Church offers her services to every person who wonders about the destiny of marriage and the family.(1)

In a particular way the Church addresses the young, who are beginning their journey towards marriage and family life, for the purpose of presenting them with new horizons, helping them to discover the beauty and grandeur of the vocation to love and the service of life…

Read Familiaris Consortio – full text.

 

4. CDF: On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986

The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles. Since this debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons…

Read the CDF letter in full.

 

 5. Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, USCCB, 2009.

Among the many blessings that God has showered upon us in Christ is the blessing of
marriage, a gift bestowed by the Creator from the creation of the human race. His hand has
inscribed the vocation to marriage in the very nature of man and woman (see Gn 1:27-28, 2:21-
24).

Father, by your plan man and woman are united,
and married life has been established
as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin
or washed away by the flood.

Original Sin introduced evil and disorder into the world. As a consequence of the break
with God, this first sin ruptured the original communion between man and woman. Nonetheless,
the original blessing of marriage was never revoked.

Read the USCCB document in full.

Have a document you think should be added to this list? Provide it in the comment box below and we’ll add it. 

8 Notable Videos from His Eminence Cardinal Burke

“Our observance of liturgical law is a fundamental expression of love of Christ and of the Church.” – Cardinal Burke, Divine Love Made Flesh

Cardinal Burke on SPL

Cardinal Burke: 10 Photos of this Wondrous Prince of the Church
Cardinal Burke at Notre-Dame de Fontgombault: 21 Photos
The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration: 8 Teachings from Cardinal Burke

 

VIDEOS

1. Call to Martyrdom by Cardinal Burke

2-22-13

 

2. At Clear Creek Monastery

12-14-12

His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke Visits Clear Creek Monastery in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma and celebrates Mass.

 

3. Cardinal Burke on LCWR

8-9-12

On The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Vatican Supreme Court), spoke to the controversy surrounding the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the Vatican’s intervention with LCWR. He further discussed the conference’s right to exist.

 

4. The Call of Beauty

7-6-12

Five years after Pope Benedict liberalized the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, now known as the extraordinary form, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke reflects on its significance for the universal church.

 

5. On neglected traditions post-Vatican II

6-25-12

Today’s “First Take: Vatican” hears from the former archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, on the revival of traditional devotions.

 

6. On the SSPX

6-15-12

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, talked to CNS about the ongoing reconciliation talks with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.

 

7. Cardinal Burke’s Book Recommendations

7-28-11

Cardinal Burke speaks on books at Loome Booksellers, part II may be found here.

 

8. On Abortion and Voting

10-27-10

The video is a selection of Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke in a 25 minute interview on October 20, 2010 discussing the obligations of Catholics when voting. The full video is available here.

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 []

Modern Man Has Lost His Way: 13 Comments on the Western Heritage of Christ and Socrates

“The controversy as to the relations between Pope and Emperor, stripped of its non-essentials, was a controversy as to the end and purpose of life on earth.” – J.W. Allen

Listers, Father James V. Schall S.J. is one of the preeminent Catholic political thinkers of our time. Fr. Schall’s “The Point of Medieval Political Philosophy” is found within his collection of excellent essays entitled The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical & Political Essays (p. 151-161). SPL highly recommends the work and has previously recommended the erudition of Fr. Schall in the list 6 Books for a Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. The essay focuses on Catholicism’s heritage and belief that Faith and Reason are harmonious – an orthodox claim not found in Judaism or Islam.1 The problem is that this heritage of faith and reason that built the West is now no longer found in modern man. Fr. Schall’s essay is an excellent and brief commentary on what modern man can learn from the medieval political mind.

SPL has selected various quotes, provided titles, and in certain cases provided footnotes with commentary and/or lists for further reading. All quotes are taken from the essay and are attributed to Fr. Schall unless otherwise cited.

 

1. Socrates and Christ

“We should… formally receive as European citizens every new generation, at an adequate time, and during the ceremony present to each youth a copy of a book bearing the text from Plato describing the death of Socrates, and from the Gospels, describing the death of Christ, not merely because they are the two spiritual fathers of Europe but because they both perished at the hands of the state.” – Spanish philosopher Salvador de Madariage, receiving the International Charlemagne Peace Prize

 

2. Political Realism

“All medieval thinkers had read their Augustine, who told them not to be surprised if such dire events as the killing of Socrates and of Christ should happen again and again in this world, in their very midst, in their very cities. Boethius, who was killed by an emperor, and Sir Thomas More, who was killed by a king, at the far ends of the middle ages, can be said to stand as proof of this possibility. The Augustinian heritage of “political realism” has prepared us for what ought not to happen but still does happen among us.”2

 

3. Political Animals

“Medieval men came later to read Aquinas, who told them that the state, while it could indeed be ruled by wicked men and be configured in distorted regimes, also, as Aristotle maintained, had something positive to accomplish, by and for honorable men in and about this world. Man was a political animal, even in the Fall, even before the Fall. The polity was not simply or primarily the result of original sin, even though that sin had plenty to do with how it appeared among us and why there were recurring disorders that the state could not seem effectively to remedy.”3

 

4. Pope and Emperor

“The controversy as to the relations between Pope and Emperor, stripped of its non-essentials, was a controversy as to the end and purpose of life on earth.” – J.W. Allen

 

5. Man Both Belongs to and Transcends the Politics

“Medieval political philosophy is the effort to think properly about politics when man, in his one given being, both belongs to and transcends the civitas, the civil community. […] For medieval thinkers, politics had a place within overall intellectual order. But it did not form the intellectual order itself.”

 

6. What is Philosophy?

“Philosophy itself is the effort to understand, by the unaided power of the human intellect, what is, in its causes and its wholeness.”

 

7. The Erroneous Two Truths Theory

“The famous ‘two truths theory’ in Arabic and late medieval theory sought to propose a workable solution for any problems between revelation and reason whereby the two could ‘contradict’ each other; that is, though contradictory, both could be true. This move, however, split the integrity of the human mind in two. Medieval theory, including medieval political philosophy, at its best, however, found enough reason in revelation and enough perplexing lacunae in reason to lead it to suspect that the whole includes both in some coherent order.”4

 

8. A Block to Islam’s Progression

“One of those blocks (that prevent the ‘Middle East from entering the mainstream of modernity’) is the orthodox tenet that the Koran and the scriptures contain all the knowledge required to deal with the problems of contemporary society.” – Arnold Beichman of Milton Viorst

 

9. Islam Is a Political Religion

“For Christianity, revelation is not a substitute for experience or for the books of the political thinkers about the proper rule of the city. The Koran, on the other hand, is conceived to be a description of the best city or regime. All regimes not embodying its strictures are held to be inferior. That is, revelation is a law.”

 

10. The Silence of the Muslim Philosopher

“For the Muslims, the law has replaced politics, so that the philosopher has to become a strictly private man in order to survive. Unlike Socrates, the philosopher is not killed by the state; rather he is simply reduced to silence or irrelevance.”

 

11. Catholic Mystery, Not Uncertainty

“Medieval theory did not consider the human mind every to match or comprehend the divine mind and its relationship through eternal law to the order of things. There was a certain contentment with mystery, but a mystery that was bathed in light and not confusion. All intelligence, including human intelligence, was able to know after its own manner.”5

 

12. The End of Medieval Thinking

“The transition from William of Occam and Marsilius of Padua to Hobbes marks the end of medieval thinking. The divine will, presupposed to nothing but itself, presupposed to no divine reason in Occam and Marsilius, becomes political will in Hobbes, again a will presupposed to nothing but itself.”

 

13. The Most-Telling Absence

“This book is the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages, the absence of whose presence has defined our modernity.”6

  1. Faith and Reason: An example of this claim would be that both Judaism and Islam are law based religions – both political religions – while Catholicism is a religion of dogmas (and properly understand as transpolitical). The latter requires a harmony of faith and reason to ascertain the truth of the dogma, while the former requires only obedience to the law. This observation is a classic understanding and has been expressed by both Fr. Schall and the Jewish philosopher Leo Strauss. []
  2. Further Reading: While St. Augustine gifted the idea of “political realism” to Catholicism, his own political thought had a significant gap – nature and natural law. SPL has addressed this lacuna in Augustinian political thought in the list The Enchanted Forest: 6 Political Teachings from St. Augustine. Furthermore, SPL has also catelogued many of St. Thomas More’s prayers in the list Lets Kill All the Lawyers. []
  3. Further Reading: Understanding Aristotle, his political thought, and his contribution to Western Civilization has become a main topic on SPL (An exhaustive list of articles with Aristotle here). The most pertinent list to understand Fr. Schall’s comments is Political Animals and the Philosopher King: 9 Thoughts from Book One of Aristotle’s Politics. []
  4. Two Truths Theory: Particularly with the dawn of Aristotle, both Catholicism and Islam struggled to understand the relationship of reason and faith. The struggle was epitomized with Aristotle’s rational articulation of nature as an enclosed system of laws, i.e., natural law. Before Aquinas, Averroes, the Islamic philosopher, submitted a “two truths theory” – one truth of revelation and one truth of reason. []
  5. Mystery & Uncertainty: The medieval mind’s mystery bathed in light may be seen in how the Incarnation is at its heart a mystery, but by the light of reason men have contemplated and explored the mystery – even thought there is mystery, man may know certain things with certainty   The modern mind sees the mystery within Catholicism and misuses it to bathe the entire religion in uncertainty, unraveling dogmas and sacred tradition. []
  6. Further Reading: SPL has written extensively on Aquinas (click here) and on the subject of law (click here); however, the best starting point for a thomistic understanding of law is Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions. Enjoy. []

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 []

6 Books for a Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought

The following works have been selected because they share the common theme of addressing Catholic political thought within the longstanding tradition of the Catholic Church. The works address what Spinoza entitled the theologico-political problem.

Listers, the following texts provide an in depth introduction to Catholic political thought. The works are arranged in a sapiential order, i.e., the prescribed order has an intentional didactic development, which should help the reader be introduced to the great depth of the Catholic political tradition without feeling overwhelmed and being drowned in alien jargon or concepts. Nothing is worse than being interested in a subject and either feeling lost on where to begin or wasting time on the wrong book.

The Order of the Works:
Wisdom is knowledge properly ordered, and wise men must demonstrate the virtue of prudence to properly order that knowledge. Since many men wiser than myself would organize these works differently, let me explain the prudence behind the order. The books are arranged for those who have little to no knowledge of Catholic political thought. Academicians may point to starting with St. Thomas first for his architectonic treatment or turn to reading the primary works of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. While both are legitimate introductory methods, I have catered this list to the non-academicians; thus, I found it best to start with broad and cogent primers and then move into the primary works.

Another photograph from the Library of Congress.

Why These Works Were Selected:
The following works have been selected because they share the common theme of addressing Catholic political thought within the longstanding tradition of the Catholic Church. The works – especially those within Straussian influence – address what Spinoza entitled the theologico-political problem. The aforesaid problem has three primary areas of dialogue: between philosophy and political life, between theology and moral/political life, and between the theological and the philosophical life. The depth of this dialogue presents an arduous undertaking and the following authors – save the primary texts – have the assiduous minds necessary to the task.

Another and inseparable theme of these works is the dialogue of the ancients and moderns. In gist, modernity is seen as a willful break from ancient wisdom, and as such there is a necessity and fruitfulness in comparing the ancient and modern political thinkers. The view lends itself to a proper holistic view of political philosophy, and tends to avoid many neoconservative pitfalls.1 Listers, please enjoy these works and may they guide you deeper into living the well-ordered virtuous life of Christ. As SPL’s motto goes, The Catholic Life is the Good Life.

1. Christians as Political Animals

Marc Guerra, PhD. Ave Maria University

SPL highly recommends the Catholic political primer of Marc Guerra. The work systematically introduces the political thought of such greats as Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas, and presents excellent insights into several modern thinkers: the Jewish thinker Leo Strauss, the astute Catholic political pundit Fr. James Schall, and Guerra’s mentor Fr. Ernest Fortin. Overall, the text presents in depth Catholic political thought in such a manner as anyone who is interested in proper politics can glean timeless principles and modern concerns.

A few quotes from the pages of Guerra’s work:

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.

Although the supernatural order of grace perfects the order of nature, it does so in a way that respects the integrity and hierarchical structure of the natural order.

What the Christian faith requires of the political order, according to Aquinas, is for the city to move men prudentially toward the common good and to the life of virtue that corresponds to their naturally given end.

Read more: Christians as Political Animals on Amazon.

2. Roman Catholic Political Philosophy

Fr. James V. Schall

Fr. Schall represents an excellent representation of Catholic political thought outside the direct influence of Leo Strauss. Fr. Schall’s political primer is an excellent and well-respected introduction to Catholic political thought that takes into account modernity and the longstanding tradition of Catholic thought.

James Schall is one of the giants of contemporary Catholic thought. This volume is essential reading not just for Catholics but for anyone interested in the nature of political philosophy as a tradition of inquiry and the vitally important question of the relationship of faith and reason.
Grasso, Kenneth

Roman Catholic Political Philosophy will provide rewarding reading to any student, professor, or lay reader who is interested in the relationship between religion and philosophy, especially as this has developed within the Catholic tradition.
Review Of Metaphysics

Read More: Roman Catholic Political Philosophy on Amazon.

3. Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays

Leo Strauss

The Jewish political philosopher Leo Strauss is a brilliant and controversial figure. Arguably one of the most prominent and influential political philosophers of the 20th century, Strauss helped to introduce the political field to the dialogue of the ancients and moderns. With an unparalleled understanding of classical political philosophy, Strauss critiqued modernity and posited that proper fecundity within political philosophy will only occur when classical philosophy and modernity are juxtaposed.2

It is important to stress a few details about Strauss from a Catholic perspective. First, he is obviously not Catholic, and therefore many of his solutions lack the illuminating truth of Christ and his Church. More specifically, Strauss does not hold to a harmony of faith and reason; thus, Athens and Jerusalem (moreover, Rome) are held in a tension with one another, despite their similar problems with modernity.

Strauss’ influence is undeniable and from the Catholic perspective his critique of modernity in light of a unique acumen of classical political philosophy is pathbreaking and incredibly harmonious with much of Catholic thought – because both Strauss and Catholics are drawing from classical political philosophy. Again, Strauss’ weakness is his lack of Catholic belief, which leads to an absence of Medieval wisdom in his texts. More specifically than the ancient and modern’s dialogue, Strauss resurrected the aforementioned theologico-political problem, and that rebirth is still influencing the shape of modern political thought. If anything of Strauss’ is to be read, I highly recommend the essay: The Three Waves of Modernity; it is unparalleled in its historical critique of modernity, because it offers the reader a succinct infrastructure in understanding the formation of the modern world.3

Read More: Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays on Amazon.

4. Politics

Aristotle, trans. Carnes Lord

It would be difficult to overestimate the impact Aristotle’s Politics has had on Western political thought and Catholic political thought in particular. It should suffice to say that since St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron of all Catholic education, a special attention should be paid to the pagan philosopher’s contemplation of nature from which the Angelic Doctor drew his foundational view of nature.

In his work, Christians as Political Animals, Dr. Marc Guerra explains Aristotle’s influence. The Church, coming off St. Augustine’s political thought – which lacked a sufficient account of nature – was searching for a way to articulate the order of nature and the divine order.

Guerra explains:4

This sheds light on the reason why Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics came to play such an important role in Christian medieval intellectual life and Aristotle’s Politics such an important role in the social and political life of the Christian West.

Aristotle’s Politics offered a coherent account of political life to which Christians could appeal in grappling with the thorny problems that plague 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.

With the help of the Politics, the Christian West was able to chart a principled middle course between the extremes of theocracy and caesaropapism.

SPL would also like to stress that not all translations are equal, and students looking to start reading Aristotle’s Politics are strongly advised to read the erudite translation of Carnes Lord.

Read More: Aristotle’s Politics, trans. Lord, on Amazon.

5. Summa Theologica, I.II.90-108

St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province

In many ways, St. Thomas’ text on Law should be read first, because he lays out the architectonic landscape for Catholic political thought. The Angelic Doctor articulates political philosophy – or Human Law – in light of the entire divinely ordered cosmos. The so-called “Dumb Ox,” explains the Four Laws: Eternal Law, Divine Law, Natural Law, and Human Law. It is characteristic of ancient classical philosophy and medieval thought to contemplate parts in light of the whole; thus, the laws of the state, i.e., the polis, is placed within an ordered cosmos, or creation.

Though St. Thomas Aquinas laws out the architectonic Catholic view of law, the difficulty in reading it first is due to two problems: the first is that the Angelic Doctor assumes his reader has been classically trained, and secondly, despite the already arduous nature of classical training, the Church is now currently suffering from either non-catechized or ill-catechized generations of the faithful.

For these reasons SPL recommends looking into the aforesaid primer of Guerra before all else, and then possibly looking into Strauss for an in depth education in ancient thought and/or turning to Aristotle’s Politics itself.

Those unfamiliar with the importance of the unique Doctor of the Church should read SPL’s List of Papal Quotes on St. Thomas Aquinas. For example:

Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because “he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.”

Read More:
The Fathers of the English Dominican Province’s trans.,  Summa Theologica on Amazon.
The entire Summa Theologica online.

6. Values in a Time of Upheaval

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI

For a student of Catholic political thought, a collection of politically orientated essays by the ironclad mind of Cardinal Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – 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.

A few sapiential quotes from the now Holy Father:

Freedom preserves its dignity only as long as it retain the relationship to it ethical foundations and to its ethical task.

The first elementis the absoluteness that must be affirmed with regard to human dignity and human rights. This is antecedent to every law promulgated by the state.

The true meaning of the teaching authority of the pope is that he is the advocate of Christian memory. He does not impose something from the outside but develops and defends Christian memory.

The work is an excellent sampling of the political themes and philosophies now popular in the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI.

Read More: Values in a Time of Upheaval on Amazon.

Helpful Introductory Political Lists on SPL:
22 Definitions from Aristotle’s Politics
St. Thomas’ Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics
Political Animals: Book One of Aristotle’s Politics
Political Authority: 8 Teachings of the Catholic Church
Best Regime: 5 Thoughts from Classical Political Philosophy

  1. Neoconservative Pitfalls: while worthy of an entire post, it should be sufficient to state that neoconservative thought is generally born after mainstream conservative thought suffers a quick and radical liberal break. In the Church, we could point to the aftermath of Vatican II. Hence, in reaction to this new liberalism, conservatives reunite, but often with insufficient knowledge of what proper conservatism was before the break, e.g., a neoconservative could argue he is a conservative because he is against women priests or liturgical dancers, while a true conservative – taking in the whole of tradition – might suggest he is actually very liberal for taking the Eucharist while standing or receiving it in his hand. Political thought is no different. Those who engage in holistic thought embrace an “ancient and modern’s dialogue,” and see those neoconservatives who are busy touting liberty, rights, and freedom as still being on the liberal end of the spectrum. Keen observers can see this unfolding in modern Catholic political action, as Catholic quote the American Constitution and very recent documents on human dignity and freedom, but remain mute on such timeless political truths as nature, natural law, and virtue. To be clear, it is not that concepts such as freedom are wrong, but rather they are misguided when not addressed holistically. []
  2. A History of Erudition: Allan Bloom – then a young student of Strauss – introduced Fr. Ernest Fortin to the writings of Strauss. Fr. Fortin then went on to become a prominent political thinker at Boston College, and instructed a young student of his, now Dr. Marc Guerra of Ave Maria University. []
  3. Strauss & the Pope: Strauss’ Three Waves of Modernity essay shares some striking similarities with Pope Benedict XVI’s famous Regensburg Lecture – which lays out three stages within modernity from a theological perspective. []
  4. Guerra, 124. []