Listers, His Holiness Pope Francis’ arrival to the United States was paved by a considerable amount of political posturing. The Roman Pontiff’s focus on the poor, the immigrant, and the environment was too liberal for many, while his focus on marriage, the unborn, and religious liberty was too right for many. The following political cartoons represent the US political climate during the Pope’s September 2015 visit for the World Meeting of Families.1
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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:
The book has contemporary significance: that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times.
The book is inexhaustible: it can be read again and again with benefit.
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 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. [↩]
The linked edition is recommended by TAC; Recommended by UD Phd Politics. [↩]
The linked Allan Bloom edition is recommended by TAC and also the preferred edition of AMU; Recommended by UD Phd Core Curriculum. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
Recommended TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Core Curriculum. AMU heavily recommended the linked Frank Sheed translation. [↩]
The linked Cambridged edition recommended by TAC; UD Phd Politics; AMU suggestions Book XIX. [↩]
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. [↩]
Recommended by both the UD PhD Politics and TAC. [↩]
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. [↩]
Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. [↩]
Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU; the linked Hackett Classics anthology edition recommended by TAC. [↩]
Linked Hackett Classics edition recommended by TAC; recommended by the UD Phd Politics. [↩]
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 Feuerbach & German Ideology. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
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.))
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
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
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, II, D.44 q. 2. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights.
Listers, at an academic seminar studying the differences between ancient and modern thought, the concept of individual rights was presented. It was stated that the modern notion of individual rights (and even the natural right concepts of early modernity) was in direct contradiction to the Catholic doctrine of Natural Law. Individual rights were predicated upon understanding each citizen as an autonomous moral universe that had a right (read: desire) to everything as long as it did not infringe upon the autonomy of another. In contrast, Natural Law is an external standard imprinted upon all humanity participated in by reason.1 In short, the notion of individual rights is a direct rejection of Natural Law. At this point, a student raised his hand and submitted that this could not be true, because St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of individual rights. Apparently, if you ever wanted to watch a room of politically minded Thomists explode in ire, this was a good way to do it.
It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights. In fact, Aquinas’ use of the term right appears synonymous with the term just; thus, many simply use the term just instead of right to avoid the modern baggage the term right imparts. The following is a brief summary of St. Thomas Aquinas’ question Of Right in his Summa Theologica.2 The reader may note that Aquinas’ use of the terms equality and right are ripe for equivocation. We must be sure to read Aquinas as Aquinas, and not import our modern definitions into his teachings. The following list seeks to clarify Aquinas, and let the Angelic Doctor speak on the virtue of justice free from modern misreadings.
1. Why Justice is Unique Among the Virtues
A habit is a series of actions that constitute a practice, and a good habit is called a virtue. According to Aristotle, Holy Scripture, and St. Thomas Aquinas, there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Each virtue holds the soul to reason when faced with its respective object. For example, the virtue of prudence is the habit of right reasoning – it is the means by which we rationally choose good ends. The virtue of temperance holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable; thus, the bar patron who decides against the proverbial “one more drink” saves himself from drunkenness through temperance. The virtue of fortitude holds the soul to reason in the face of something fearful. The soldier who holds the line against the cavalry charge has fortitude.
In these cases, virtue perfects the soldier and the patron in matters that only befit them in relation to themselves.3 The virtue of justice, however, is different. Justice “directs man in his relations with others.”4 In other words, justice is unique, because it is fundamentally relational. Justice deals with a person’s relation with his neighbor. A person may demonstrate prudence, temperance, or fortitude simply by their own actions, while a person can only demonstrate justice in relation to someone else. Aquinas says this shows a “kind of equality.”5 While the modern notion of equality has strong egalitarian undertones, equality, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is simply the proportionate relationship of one thing to another.6 The Angelic Doctor’s notion of right hinges strongly upon his concept of equality in justice.
2. Understanding Right(s) According to Aquinas
Modernity is obsessed with rights language. Almost all of the ethical and political discourse in the modern West is now expressed in individual rights. The West has, without a doubt, lost its moral vocabulary. To confuse the modern notion of rights – which is little more than the desires of the autonomous moral universe of the individual – with Aquinas’ notion of what is right under the virtue of justice, would be a profound error.
The virtue of Justice is “the habit which makes men capable of doing just actions.”7 What then are just actions? Aquinas teaches that which is just is “a work that is adjusted to another person according to some kind of equality.”8 The concept of just is also expressed in the term right; thus, that which is just will also be right.9 The Angelic Doctor gives two types of rights for consideration.
Natural Right – A relation that is objectively just, where a person gives and receives that which is of equal value in return; there is a natural equality.
Positive Right – A relation that is subjectively just, where one party deems that which they receive to be satisfactory; a positive right may either be (1) a private agreement between two individuals, or (2) a public agreement where the whole community agrees.
For example, if someone inquired for how many hours should a laborer be paid who worked five hours – the objective answer is five hours. There is a natural equality between working five hours and being paid five hours. The relation here is a natural right. In contrast, if two merchants form a contract to trade ten red widgets for six green widgets, this may be subjectively just for the two parties involved. It is a positive right.
3. On Special Species of Rights
When Aquinas speaks of natural right and positive right, he is speaking of an agreement between two individuals, neither of whom are subject to one another. For Aquinas, this is just or right simply.10 Now, the habit of justice has as its object the just, and the just or right “depends on commensuration with another person.”11 How then do we speak of relations that seem to belong to justice but are not of equal parties?
For example, there is the relationship between a father and his son or the relationship between a master and his slave. In both cases, there is certainly a justice between both parties as they are both human beings.12 On the other hand, there is an inequality in the relationship that makes it wanting of what is perfectly just. Since justice deals with the relation of one person to another, these relations are still governed by the virtue of justice; therefore, Aquinas speaks of a parental right of the parents over the children and a dominative right of the master over the slave.
Finally, there is also the relation between the husband and the wife. Notice, that for Aquinas, the relation between the husband and wife has a greater capacity for justice than parental right or dominative right – but it still falls short of true justice shared between equals. The Common Doctor states:
A wife, though she is something belonging to the husband, since she stands related to him as to her own body, as the Apostle declares (Ephesians 5:28), is nevertheless more distinct from her husband, than a son from his father, or a slave from his master: for she is received into a kind of social life, that of matrimony, wherefore according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 6) there is more scope for justice between husband and wife than between father and son, or master and slave, because, as husband and wife have an immediate relation to the community of the household, as stated in Polit. i, 2,5, it follows that between them there is “domestic justice” rather than “civic.”
In conclusion, there is the what is just or right simply, and this is may be expressed between two equals in either natural right or positive right. In contrast, there are several other species of right: the parental right of parents over their children, the dominative right of masters over their slaves, and the greater domestic right between a husband and wife.
4. The Modern Notion of Rights
A little clarification by contrast may help display the giant intellectual chasm between Aquinas’ species of justice called rights and modern notions of the same term. Though Machiavelli arguably planted the first seeds of modernity, it was Thomas Hobbes who began the West’s obsession with rights language. In fact, in many ways, what Machiavelli did for the prince (i.e., allowing him to separate politics from ethics, virtue), Thomas Hobbes did for each individual citizen.13 In Chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts, Hobbes articulates one of the monumental shifts in ancient to modern thought: individual rights. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church never spoke in terms of individual rights. The standard for the state and for its citizens was natural law. What was good and what was evil was not predicated upon man’s judgment, but rather by the external standard set upon him by nature. In Hobbes’ deconstruction of nature into a realm of war and chaos, he gives the West its first true taste of rights predicated upon the individual. He states:
And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone against everyone, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies, it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endues, there can be no security to any man how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.
It is shocking to many that the first notion of individual rights in the West is predicated upon each person’s ability to murder one another. For Hobbes, nature is chaotic and warlike, thus, each man has the unmitigated right of self-preservation – a right that went as far as to go to “everything, even to one another’s body.” Whereas Aquinas taught the natural inclinations of humanity were (1) self-preservation (2) the procreation and education of offspring and (3) to seek happiness, the good; Hobbes reduces them all to an unbridled right of self-preservation.14 The brutality of Hobbes will later be made more palatable by John Locke, and later in modernity the standard of nature will be discarded altogether – leaving each individual an autonomous moral universe brimming with manufactured rights.
Much more could be said on the transition from ancient to modern political thought, but this snippet of Hobbes simply goes to show the outrageous difference between Aquinas’ use of the term right and the modern notion of rights. The real question is, how are faithful Catholics who believe in Natural Law supposed to be virtuous in a world that defines all politics and morality in rights language? Something to ponder.
“For this reason justice has its own special proper object over and above the other virtues, and this object is called the just, which is the same as right. Hence it is evident that right is the object of justice.” Id. at a. 1. [↩]
“The paragraph is notable within the Western intellectual tradition as the beginning of “rights language.” Hobbes is setting the stage for the Leviathan. Men, unable to live in the warring chaos of nature, will seek self-preservation by transferring their rights to the Leviathan. The state will be their salvation from each other and from the natural state of war and chaos.” From the Catholic Guide to Hobbes, cited above. [↩]
“I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I emphasize the word: ‘stop’. I’m not saying to drop bombs, to make war, but to stop the aggressor.” – H.H. Pope Francis
1. Christians are Peace-Loving Citizens
“Excellency, we Christians are peace-loving citizens caught up in the middle of a clash between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as attacks from Military groups. Our community has suffered a disproportionate share of hardship caused by sectarian conflicts, terrorist attacks, migration and now even ethnic cleansing: the militants want to wipe out the Christian community… We urge the United Nations to develop a plan or strategy to protect and preserve our heritage, looted and burned by the militants. They continue to burn churches and ancient monasteries. The old churches and monasteries will be difficult to rebuild.”
– Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church Louis Raphael Sako, Letter to Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, Vatican Radio. 7-24-14.
2. International Action Must Stop the Violence
“In the same spirit, I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.”
The pope’s ambassador to Baghdad, told Vatican radio that the American strikes are “something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State forces] could not be stopped… you can see these kids sleeping on the streets… [there is so much] suffering.”
“It is a humanitarian disaster. I have witnessed a hard time and a bitter history of my country and especially my beloved Church. The monster of our time (ISIS) maims all without mercy. When I see Christians persecuted in my country, humiliated and driven from their homes, it really hurt my heart. In addition, before the genocide of Christians in Iraq, there is a total silence from the international community. The fate of Christians rests between humiliation and departure, what misery!”
6. Vatican: Islamic Leaders Must Denounce the Jihadists
“The whole world has witnessed with incredulity what is now called the “Restoration of the Caliphate,” which had been abolished on October 29,1923 by Kamal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. Opposition to this “restoration” by the majority of religious institutions and Muslim politicians has not prevented the “Islamic State” jihadists from committing and continuing to commit unspeakable criminal acts.
This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity:
the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation;
the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places;
the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of a tax (jizya) or forced exile;
the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people, including children, elderly, pregnant women and the sick;
the abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as spoils of war (sabaya);
the imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation;
the destruction of places of worship and Christian and Muslim burial places;
the forced occupation or desecration of churches and monasteries;
the removal of crucifixes and other Christian religious symbols as well as those of other religious communities;
the destruction of a priceless Christian religious and cultural heritage;
indiscriminate violence aimed at terrorizing people to force them to surrender or flee.
No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator, as Pope Francis has often reminded us… All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?”
– The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Declaration, working English translation of original French. 8-12-14.
7. Pope Francis on Just War
During the press conference of His Holiness Pope Francis’ in-flight return from Korea to Rome, His Holiness was asked “As you know, United States military forces have just begun to bomb terrorists in Iraq in order to prevent a genocide, to protect the future of minorities — I’m also thinking of the Catholics in your care. Do you approve of this American bombing?”1
His Holiness Pope Francis answered:
“Thank you for your very clear question. In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I emphasize the word: “stop”. I’m not saying to drop bombs, to make war, but to stop the aggressor. The means used to stop him would have to be evaluated. Stopping an unjust aggressor is licit. But we also need to remember! How many times, with this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powers have taken over peoples and carried on an actual war of conquest! One nation alone cannot determine how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there was the idea of the United Nations: that is where discussion is to take place, to say: Is this an unjust aggressor? It would seem so. How do we stop him?” This alone, nothing else.”
“Second, minorities. Thanks for using that word. Because people say to me: “the Christians, the poor Christians…”. And it is true, they are suffering, and martyrs, yes, there are many martyrs. But there are also men and women, religious minorities, not all Christians, and all are equal before God. To stop an unjust aggressor is a right of humanity, but it is also a right that the aggressor be stopped in order not to do evil.”
“The international community, principally the United States and European Union, due to their moral and historic responsibility towards Iraq, cannot be indifferent… What has happened is terrible and horrific, therefore, we need an urgent and effective international support from all the people of good will to save the Christians and Yezidis, genuine components of the Iraqi society, from extinction, knowing that silence and passivity will encourage ISIS fundamentalists to commit more tragedies! The question is who will be the next.”
“The Church must help those most in need, because their rights are being trampled upon… The Church is for the poor and the voiceless. We must be present and never tire of saying these things in homilies and speeches; and to influence, if possible, the political situation.” He recalled the words of Pope Francis when he returned from Korea, and said “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.” Pope Francis also emphasized the means to do this “must be evaluated.”
“The situation of your sheep is miserable. They die and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot do it anymore. We, priests, religious, are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children… Your Holiness, I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who every day struggle and weaken more. I’m afraid that death will snatch some away. Send us your blessing so that we may have the strength to go on and maybe we can still resist.”
“Even when killing an innocent, they scream, ‘Allahu Akbar.’ These Islamists are going back to the seventh century, especially in a radical way and with war… The majority of Muslims are shocked by the actions of these terrorists, but many see them as authentic Muslims, and so few speak clearly against them…The astonishing thing, as you said at the very beginning, is that they are fighting the immorality of the West and Western hedonism. But they are doing many more immoral things in the name of Islam.”
“What these peaceful Christians and loyal citizens experienced is a real genocide, a sad ending, and a proof of the privation of the religious, human, moral, and national values.Therefore, it is a shameful stain in history. Everybody should know is a threat for all!”
13. If Muslims won’t denounce Islamic brutality, move back to Islamdom
“Rather we are asking the Muslims who live among us to show that they are honourable men, and publicly condemn these persecutions and acts of cruelty. Otherwise they ought to have the courage to leave our country, because nobody wants to have enemies in their own home.”
“As part of the humanitarian community, we are confronted with the greatest crisis the world has faced since the Second World War. And in a terrible echo of that war, in Mosul in Iraq, the Arabic letter for “n,” the first letter in the word “Nazarene”, was painted on doors to identify the homes of Christians who were then beaten or executed… In a message to Arabic speaking pilgrims at the General Audience last Wednesday, Pope Francis said, “The Church faces hatred with love, defeats violence with forgiveness; responds to weapons with prayer.” For the Caritas confederation our first task is a humanitarian one. The challenge is staggering.”
“They preferred Christ to their homes or properties… Iraq is… the country of wars,” Bishop Warduni sighs. “We were living with Muslims and others but we were not prepared – never, never – for this situation. And Caritas must do something for them. Because our Lord said: whatever you are doing for any small one of my brothers, you are doing for Me. And He also told us to love one another…how did He love us? He loved us on the Cross. So, He asks from every Christian to do like Him: to love the others as ourselves. To sacrifice for them also, even in our life.”
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.
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
“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
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.
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
Geometry: Hobbes discusses his attempt to present his “political science” with the clarity of geometry in Chapter V. [↩]
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. [↩]
“It appears that Kass stepped into the modern world in order to show it wanting from the inside out.”
Listers, the concept of a “right to become dead” by the assistance of another is non-sensical. Neither in the ancient world’s focus on natural law nor in modernity’s obsession with individual rights is a right to become dead a tenable position. The following is the Part III of our discussion on Leon Kass’ treatment of euthanasia. In Part I, Kass laid out why a right to die is philosophically inconsistent with how rights have been traditionally articulated by modern philosophers. In Part II, we turned to individual modern philosophers – Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rousseau, & Nietzsche – and demonstrated that the right to become dead stands in contradiction to these founders of modernity. In the following Part III, we examine Kass’ method of using the moderns to debunk a supposedly “modern” right and juxtapose it with Aristotle and Catholicism.
In the concluding remarks of Kass’ article, a brief paragraph is tacked on entitled A Coda: About Rights. Kass’ understanding is that “we distort our understanding of rights and weaken their respectability in their proper sphere by allowing them to be invented – without ground in nature or in reason.” The new rights or “invented rights” are then forced upon “moral questions that lie outside the limited domain of rights,” and consequently “our understanding of moral deliberation and the moral life” is reduced to and conformed to rights language. Furthermore, “we subvert the primacy and necessity of prudence by pretending that the assertion of rights will produce the best – and most moral – results.”
14. Halt the Thoughtless Use of “Rights Language”
Kass ends his piece with two exhortations: first, to “call a halt to all this dangerous thoughtlessness about rights,” and second, to “specifically, refuse to talk any longer about a ‘right to die.’” The latter exhortation sits quite comfortably with the rest of the article, but what is the reader supposed to make of the former declaration? Two immediate questions arise: what is the limited domain of rights? and What limits that domain? These considerations and even the vocabulary employed in them does not seem inline with his earlier use of Hobbes and Locke. Taking into account these brief but albeit important considerations of rights overall, how should one understand Kass’ argument against the right to die?
15. Using the Moderns Against Modernity
The beginning of Kass’ argument is marked by an invocation to Thomas Hobbes as the original father of natural rights. The question can now be asked whether Kass’ articulation of rights is even inline with the Hobbesian notion of rights he begins with? The answer appears to be no. Throughout the article Kass intimates nature as a standard or a norm, by which rights are grounded and found to be rational. However, how does Thomas Hobbes view nature? Nature is no longer exemplary but hostile. At best, nature under Hobbes – and Locke – can be seen as a negative norm. Gleaned from this view of nature is the notion of self-preservation, which serves as the basis for the early modern natural rights. While Kass uses this theory of natural rights to combat a right to die ethic, it is difficult to imagine the modern theory he utilizes is one to which he agrees. The early modern natural rights theory tends to reduce nature into rights; thus, the teleological end of nature is discarded in favor of individual rights. The natural rights of the individual become the end.
Though Kass used Hobbes and Locke to debunk the claimants of a right to die ethic, it appears that the two thinkers are then directly criticized by Kass in his concluding coda. While he does speak of inventing new rights – which is certainly a criticism of the Nietzschean creativity free of nature and reason – he also speaks of the danger of reducing all questions of morality to rights language. However, if one follows the early modern reduction of nature into natural rights, then it would be impossible to articulate many of Kass’ concerns, e.g., “moral questions that lie outside the limited domain of rights,” and the understanding and boundaries of the “proper sphere” of rights. Furthering the quest to properly understand Kass’ argument, what should one make of his use of Rousseau and Kant? If anything, these two thinkers are even more removed from understanding nature as normative. Rousseau replaces nature with theoretical historicism, and Kant replace nature with the human will and universal maxims. Regardless, even these two thinkers removed from seeing nature as a standard still hold self-preservation and human dignity to such a degree that the right to die is non-sensible.
16. Nature: The Ancient View v. The Modern View
In a search of a fuller understanding of Kass’ argument, it may be fruitful to not only focus on what is said but also on what is not said. Those familiar with the writings of Kass would have noticed two prime characteristics missing from this treatise on the right to die: any mention of the soul and pre-modern philosophy. A treatment on the manner in which Kass invokes the soul, Greek philosophy, and the Jewish Wisdom literature would be exhaustive endeavor. Rather, a brief look at how Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity is bookended by these concepts could illuminate much of Kass’ argument. In the first chapter of the book, Kass lays several heavy criticisms on the modern notion of nature. Modern science sees nature as something to vex and utilize. “Hidden truths are gained by acting on nature,” observes Kass, “through experiment, twisting her arm to make her cough up her secrets.” In contrast, “ancient science had sought knowledge of what things are, to be contemplated as an end in itself.”
Modern science sees nature as something to vex and utilize. “Hidden truths are gained by acting on nature,” observes Kass, “through experiment, twisting her arm to make her cough up her secrets.” In contrast, “ancient science had sought knowledge of what things are, to be contemplated as an end in itself.”
Nature was contemplated as a standard, something normative and exemplary. Riddled with references to ancient perceptions, Aristotle, and Plato, the first section of the book demonstrates Kass’ superb understanding of the dialogue between the ancients (pre-moderns) and the moderns. It is in the context of that dialogue that most of the book resides. However, again, there is no explicit mention of the ancients in the argument against the right to die. Moreover, while he invokes Hobbes as a seemingly good source in that argument, in the first section on the book he invokes Hobbes in a pejorative sense. How was this modern notion of nature ushered in? “It is, according to Hobbes,” states Kass, “the fear of a violent death that awakens human reason and the quest for mastery.” Within the beginning of his work and in the right to die discussion, it is clear that the arguments that Kass presents pivot on a proper understanding of nature. It is also clear that while Hobbes seemed to philosophically disagree with a right to die, his critique of nature as a hostile and negative norm is part of a larger societal problem.
17. Why Kass Stepped into the Modern World
The ending of the work is almost a direct mirroring of the beginning. Marked within the context of the ancients and modern, Kass calls upon modern man to understand the limitations of biology by a proper understanding of nature. Kass’ advice includes a movement away from a Cartesian view of the soul to the contemplation of all three types of souls according to Aristotle. Here again, Kass is seen to be employing a host of ancient and modern thinkers in an attempt to bring our modern sensibilities in discussion with a true sense of nature. Within this ancient and moderns context – which certainly bookends his work and colors the entire text between – what can be made of Kass’ argument against the right to die? It appears that Kass stepped into the modern world in order to show it wanting from the inside out. While he disagrees with Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant in many areas, these thinkers were key in the formation of the modern polis. Hence, the wisdom of Kass’ argument is to show that even by its own standards, the modern polis has no grounds to justify a right to die.
18. Suicide as an Injustice Against the State
Turning to an ancient that Kass quotes often, Aristotle speaks of suicide and the polis. According to The Philosopher, if a man commits suicide it is a “violation of correct reason” and an “injustice” has occurred. However, what suffers injustice? It cannot be the individual, because “he suffers it willingly, and no one willingly suffers injustice.” Aristotle places the injustice against the polis. St. Thomas Aquinas brings clarity to Aristotle’s claim by briefly elaborating on it in his question on suicide. St. Thomas comments, “because every part belongs to the whole,” and “every man is part of the community” and “belongs to that community.” Consequently, the man who kills himself “injures the community.” In his Politics, Aristotle clearly states, “man is by nature a political animal.” And since the polis “exists by nature,” man as a citizen is sub-political part of the polis. It is then when the part removes itself from the whole – in which it found its order – the polis suffers an injustice.
19. The Injustices of the “Right to Die”
The concept that the citizen can cause an injustice against the polis is not only visible in Kass’ critique of a right to die and euthanasia, but colors his overall criticism of the abuse of rights language. Those citizens which “go to court and demand [their] rights” – regardless of societal implications – are only “short-circuiting” the common good of the state. For clarification, Kass seems to paint two types of injustice in his argument against the right to die: first and foremost the disorder that a right to die imparts to the common good of the polis, and secondly the overall abuse of individual “new rights” – in which a right to die is a part – against the overarching common good of all citizens. To those pre-modern thinkers that held nature to be an exemplary standard and the formative principle of the polis and the citizen, a right to die claim appears ad absurdum. Hence, though Kass’ view on the modern notion of nature only makes two brief appearances, he seemingly found it a better argument to use modern philosophy against itself.
20. The Angelic Doctor on Suicide
St. Thomas submits more reasons suicide is unlawful. He states, suicide is contrary to nature “because everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can.”  St. Thomas labels suicide as “always a mortal sin,” because it is “contrary to the natural law and to charity.” Another reason is that “whoever takes his own life sins against God,” because “life is God’s gift to man.” Moreover, as God is the Divine Ruler it “belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life.” Though in a dramatically lessened state, certain concepts St. Thomas presents are still present in the early modern thinkers. The natural inclination for a thing to survive or rather the inclination to self-preservation is the foundation for the early modern notion of rights. However, as stated, self-preservation becomes end in itself – embodied in individual rights – and thus lacks the external and guiding teleology of nature as a whole. St. Thomas’ use of self-preservation is tempered by virtue and by placing nature within a cosmological whole. Before addressing the implications of an ordered cosmos, the distinction between Locke’s concept of the individual’s self-possession and Aristotle and St. Thomas’ account of the political animal as part of the polis should be noted. In a certain manner, the Thomistic part/whole distinction between the citizen and the polis implies the individual is actually publicly possessed. Locke’s account – even if presented in the mitigated form Kass grants – provides a good example of the burgeoning autonomy of modern man as a creature self-owned.
21. Kass & Catholicism
Any mention of comparing Kass and St. Thomas Aquinas could immediately precipitate volumes. Within the context of Kass’ piece, there is however one important comparison worth making. Kass speaks earlier of the limited domain of rights and how the entire discussion of what is right and moral cannot be reduced to rights language simply. It appears to be a safe assumption that the broader context of speaking about what is good and moral is nature, in which natural rights are just a species. For Kass, it seems easy to draw out the principle that it is nature that limits the domain of individual rights. The more problematic question is as follows: for Kass, what limits nature? Kass can speak of what rights are and why they are that way by invoking a classical notion of nature. However, can Kass answer not only what is nature, but more importantly why is nature this way?
Kass can speak of what rights are and why they are that way by invoking a classical notion of nature. However, can Kass answer not only what is nature, but more importantly why is nature this way?
The knee-jerk reaction is to answer “God,” but this is unsatisfactory. While it is true the Hebrew Bible would attribute the authorship of nature to God, it is less clear whether one could actually extract a philosophy of nature from the Jewish text. Moreover, holding to nature in the details as Kass does, presupposes an articulate and clear view of nature. In contrast, St. Thomas speaks of nature as limited by placing it within an ordered and divinely authored cosmos. The natural inclinations of creatures are simply the creature’s participation in the Eternal Law, i.e., the Divine Wisdom that permeates all things and moves all things toward their end. Furthermore, there is Human Law and Divine Law. Human Law specifies the broader Natural Law into ordinances of reason for the the polis, and Divine Law clarifies Natural Law and reveals those things which are not demonstrable from nature. In the ordered cosmos of St. Thomas, wisdom is found in understanding the higher causes as revealed by God and the causality of nature as observed by man. Consequently, St. Thomas can speak of nature as a part of a whole; thus, he can detail its limitations and precepts. The question is not whether Kass needs the ordered cosmos of Catholicism to be able to speak of nature, but rather whether Kass needs the ordered cosmos of Catholicism in order to speak of nature in the detail that he does. Regarding the latter question, it seems difficult to know what Kass’ answers to the why question of nature would be without being able to articulate it as a part of a whole.
22. The Indefensible Right to Die
The right to die is neither a classical right claimed against something nor a welfare right demanding a good. Stepping into the early modern context, Kass shows modernity wanting in regards to any defensible position on the right to die. The right to die is a Nietzschean “new right.” It is severed from nature, self-preservation, and even rationality. As stated by Kass, this only possible grounding for the right to die is really no grounding at all. The two brief marks on his argument that address the language of rights per se display the pre-modern view of nature undergirding many of his comments. Nature is to be seen as a standard. Nature is the correct foundation and limitation to proper rights language and provides an overall norm by which to judge issues of goodness and morality. Whether or not Kass can then answer the question of what limits and guides nature is not known. What is known, is that Catholicism can.
This concludes the three part SPL study of Leon Kass on the so-called Right to Die.
Drunk off its political and scientific successes, modern thought and practice have abandoned the modest and moderate beginnings of political modernity.
Listers, this is Part II of an ongoing in depth discussion on euthanasia – “the right to become dead.” The list relies on the wisdom of Leon Kass and his discussion of how the right to become dead isn’t even compatible with the modernity’s own philosophy. It should be noted that the article presupposes the right to become dead is not a right in the classic sense and certainly not in the Catholic sense.
Are the ‘right to die’ arguments compatible with the Hobbesian notion of a blameless liberty? Before addressing this question, Kass has a brief section on why people seek a right to die. However, tucked among the commentary of fearful patients and societal concerns is a brief but telling diatribe against the dangers of thinking in terms of individual rights. He states, “truth to tell, public discourse about moral matters in the United States is much impoverished by our eagerness to transform questions of the right and the good into questions about individual rights.”  These individual rights are marked with a “non-negotiable and absolutized character,” which serves as a “most durable battering ram against the status quo.”  Kass’ vitriolic view continues: “never mind that it fuels resentments and breeds hatreds, that it ignores the consequences to society, or that it short circuits a political process that is more amenable to working out a balanced view of the common good.”  The battering ram wielding citizen simply goes “to court and demands [his] rights.” 
Truth to tell, public discourse about moral matters in the United States is much impoverished by our eagerness to transform questions of the right and the good into questions about individual rights.
However, as soon the critique of rights per se began, it appears to subside. Oddly enough, Kass then returns to the original question and begins to critique the right to die by the traditional modern system of rights. The shift in focus leaves the reader with several questions. If the canon of individual rights impoverishes the question of what is good, then what is the canon? Moreover, if the isolated system of individual rights is deficient, why does Kass continue to critique the right to die by an impotent system? Setting these questions aside, Kass continues to question whether a right to die is justified within a modern natural rights context.
8. The Right to Die is Nonsensical, Even to the Modern Philosophers
According to the “great philosophical teachers of natural rights, the very notion of a right to die is nonsensical.”  The philosophical foundation for natural rights is self-preservation. “As we learn from Hobbes and from John Locke,” observes Kass, “all the rights of man, given by nature, presuppose our self-interested attachment to our own lives.”  Immediately the contradiction of trying to predicate a right to self-negation upon a foundation of self-preservation is clear. This distinction is not only clear to those who argue against a right to die, but even to those who argue for it. The German-born philosopher Hans Jonas (d. 1993) – an advocate for the right to die – comments, “every other right ever argued, claimed, granted, or denied can be viewed as an extension of this primary right [to life].” 
9. Locke’s View on Suicide and Self-Ownership
While arguably the right to die via the aid of medical technologies may be a new phenomenon, certainly the question of a right to commit suicide was not lost to the modern thinkers. Locke states that man “has not [the] liberty to destroy himself,” because nature “teaches all mankind… no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”  However, one could see Lockean thought backing a right to die: “yet every man has a property in his own person; thus nobody has a right to but himself.”  Is it the case then that Locke’s apparent belief in self-ownership could support the right to die? Returning to the notion of a classical right, Kass sees that these rights were asserted against something or someone; thus, Locke’s self-ownership “is less a metaphysical statement declaring self-ownership than a political statement denying ownership by another.”  Lockean self-ownership could be rendered: “my body and my life are my property only in the limited sense that they are not yours.”  In the classical sense of natural rights, there appears no foundation for a right to die; moreover, there is certainly no “right to the assistance of others,” as the so-called obliged suicide-assistant “has neither a natural duty nor a natural right to become an actual assistant-in-death.” 
What of the government, can it be held in obligation to assist in death? “The liberal state,” notes Kass, “instituted above all to protect life, can never countenance such a right to kill, even on request.” 
10. Rousseau & Kant Yield No Room for a “Right to Die”
However, how can the late modern thinkers be seen to address a right to die, especially those who set nature aside? Neither Jean-Jacque Rousseau nor Immanuel Kant can be seen as advocates of a right to die. Regarding Rousseau, Kass notes Rousseau’s “complaints about the ills of civil society” demonstrated in the fact it threatens “life and limb” instead of its “main purpose” in protecting them. Rousseau calls upon men like himself – those who lack the simplicity to simply return to the woods and eat “grass and acorns” – to “respect the sacred bonds” of the society, to love and serve “their fellow-men,” and to support the “good and wise princes who will know how to prevent, cure, or palliate that pack of abuses and evils always ready to overpower” the citizens. 
As Kass observes, the state supports life and the citizen cultivates that support. Again, a life-centered political base does not make room for a right to die. Turning to Kant, Kass sees that “the self-willed act of self-destruction is simply self-contradictory.”  Kant states, “to dispose of oneself as a mere means to some end of one’s own liking is to degrade the humanity in one’s person, which, after all, was entrusted to man to preserve.”  Kass comments on the “heavy irony that it should be autonomy, the moral notion the world owes mainly to Kant, that is now invoked as the justifying ground of a right to die.”  Through a Kantian lens, autonomy is the “self-legislation” of the “rational maxim” – an adherence to one’s “true self,” i.e., “with one’s rational will determined by a universalizable” moral maxim.  Neither the early moderns nor the late moderns yield any space for a right to die ethic. Whether it be a principle of self-preservation, a life-centered polis, or a notion of the dignity of humanity, neither a classical right nor a welfare right of assisted-death can be supported.
11. The Right to Die and Nietzschean Autonomy
However, the present modern notion of autonomy has come to mean “doing as you please,” which as Kass explains, is “compatible no less with self-indulgence than with self-control.”  Leaving behind the nature of the early moderns and the rationality of the later moderns, the new “Nietzschean self” holds only to “his true ‘self’ rather in unconditioned acts of pure creative will.”  The autonomy of the individual is rooted in the will. Without a normative nature or any rational maxims, it seems the right to die is unhindered and viable. However, Kass still observes several problems for the right to die argument. “First, one cannot establish on this basis a right to have someone else’s assistance in committing suicide,” because the patient’s autonomy would then have to violate the unwilling assistant’s autonomy.  Second, what if the assistant-to-death is willing? The autonomy of the patient could justify his or her own suicide, but it cannot justify or “ground” the assistant’s right to kill the patient.  Third, the patient – granted the right could even be grounded – in question would have to be “mentally competent and alert” in order to request assisted suicide.  Kass notes this would rule out the euthanasia of the comatose, vegetable, or mentally incompetent patient.
Drunk off its political and scientific successes, modern thought and practice have abandoned the modest and moderate beginnings of political modernity.
What if they had left in their will to be euthanatized? The question is philosophically problematic, as Kass states, because “the person who gave them long ago may no longer be ‘the same person’ when they become relevant,” e.g., “can my 63-year-old self truly prescribe today the best interests for my 75-year-old and senile self?”  Further complicating the scenario, Kass posits: “it is self-contradictory to assert that a proxy not chosen by the patient can exercise the patient’s rights of autonomy.”  A right to die intrinsically places an obligation on some other third-party assistant; however, setting aside the fact that the individual lacks the ground to claim such a right, it appears that neither the medical community nor the government can assist the individual in suicide.
However, Kass’ critiques and the Nietzschean based “new rights” have a major point of contention: the critiques rest on logic, while the new rights do not. Following Nietzsche, the new rights – in distinction to the classical or the welfare rights – rest upon the will and are therefore formed by a notion of self-becoming and creativity. These “creative beings are open-ended” and the “society of new rights is characterized by a loss of predictability and normality.”  The bearer of the new rights “does not even flinch before self-contradictions; indeed, he can display the triumph of his will most especially in self-negation.”  Without nature as a standard or any other externality hindering the human will, can there now be a right to die? “Here at last is the only possible philosophical ground for a right to die: arbitrary will,” state Kass, a will “backed by moral relativism” – “which is to say, no ground at all.” 
12. Where Suicide is Now the Glorious Act of the Will
“Drunk off its political and scientific successes,” states Kass, “modern thought and practice have abandoned the modest and moderate beginnings of political modernity.”  The theory of natural rights predicated upon self-preservation and life has given way to the “non-natural rights of self-creation and self-expression.”  These “new rights” impose upon the natural self an artificial product of the human will. Instead of being formed by nature, history, or God this new self-creation finds its authenticity in being able to assert its will against those very externalities. As Kass notes, the will of the self-created individual – protected by the new rights – can assert itself against its own body, the “rules of society,” and even the “dictates of reason.”  The will can strike out against those things which form it and give it life. It is no surprise then that for the individual of self-creation “self-negation through suicide and the right to die can be the ultimate form of self-assertion.”  The right to die is now not only an act of compassionate charity and the correction of a cosmic injustice, but the final and glorious act of man’s own radically autonomous will.
Kass sees three dangers arise as this new right to die permeates the modern ethos. First, the affirmation of an individual’s right to die “will translate into an obligation on the part of others to kill or help kill.”  What if the assistance was not obligatory, but only those who wanted to aid in death would do so? Kass still believes “society would be drastically altered.”  The alteration would be particularly tragic if the state was reluctant to take up the role as “euthanizer,” because “it would surrender its monopoly on the legal use of lethal force.”  Moreover, it should be noted the power of lethal force lies within the government in order that it would “protect innocent life, its first responsibility” – a stark contrast to the utilization of that lethal power upon the willing innocent.  Second, the practice will inevitably spread beyond those who “knowingly and freely request death.”  Kass notes that many who would be thought to be candidates for euthanasia either are in a doubted rational state or simply lack rationality altogether. The pressure to euthanize the incoherent and even the irrational unwilling will steadily increases and the practice itself will be seen to be more and more legitimate. The third danger of accepting the right to die is the impact it will have on the medical community. “The medical profession’s devotion to heal and refusal to kill – its ethical center,” according to Kass, “will be permanently destroyed, and with it, patient trust and physicianly self-restraint.”  Regardless of the fact that the right to die has no “defensible grounding,” these dangers are a real reality within the present modern polis.
Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, referred to Robert Spencer as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”
Listers, Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, referred to Robert Spencer as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”1 According to his website, Jihad Watch, “Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of twelve books, including two New York Times bestsellers, The Truth About Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (both Regnery). His latest books are Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins (ISI) and Not Peace But A Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam (Catholic Answers).”
“Spencer has led seminars on Islam and jihad for the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the U.S. intelligence community.”2 Jihad Watch – a site from which SPL often shares otherwise unreported accounts of Islamic terrorism – answers the question Why Jihad Watch? by stating, “Because non-Muslims in the West, as well as in India, China, Russia, and the world over, are facing a concerted effort by Islamic jihadists, the motives and goals of whom are largely ignored by the Western media, to destroy their societies and impose Islamic law upon them — and to commit violence to that end even while their overall goal remains out of reach. That effort goes under the general rubric of jihad.”3 Robert Spencer is also available on Twitter at the handle @JihadWatchRS.4
Islam…Is it a religion of peace?…Are Muslims an easy ally in the fight against global secularization and the culture of death?…Are their beliefs really so different than our own? Some Christians view Islam as a sister religion, a branch of the same Abrahamic tree—lacking the fullness of revelation but nonetheless a religion of peace. Others are more critical of Islamic teachings but still see Muslims as valuable partners in the global fight against secularization and the Culture of Death.
In Not Peace but a Sword, Robert Spencer argues they’re both wrong—and warns Christians against the danger of thinking that Islam is an easy ally. Many Christian groups, including the Catholic Church, do recognize whatever is good and true in Islam, and their leaders rightly pursue peaceful accord and common ground with all religions. Spencer argues, however, that real peace can come only from truth. Where there is falsehood in Islamic doctrine, morals, and practice, papering over the truth actually hurts the cause of peace.
And so Spencer, the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen books dealing with Islam and the West, shines the light of truth on areas where Christians and Muslims don’t just quibble over small details but fundamentally disagree, including:
The character of God, Jesus, and divine revelation
The nature of truth and the source of moral law
Religious freedom and other basic human rights
Life issues, marriage, and sexual morality
The rights and dignity of women
He demonstrates how these differences are not academic but real-world. They are critical and drive Muslim behavior toward Christians and others. If we fail to open our eyes to these differences, we do so at our peril. He demonstrates how these differences are not academic but real-world. They are critical and drive Muslim behavior toward Christians and others. If we fail to open our eyes to these differences, we do so at our peril.
“Robert Spencer is a careful observer of Islam and a courageous voice on behalf of Christians. In Not Peace But a Sword he shows us how to take Islam seriously without falling into alarmism, hatred, or bigotry, and provides a needed corrective to media disinformation.”
– Scott Hahn, Fr. Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville
“A great many Catholics know only a Disney-fied version of Islam, and still cling to the dangerous illusion that Muslims and Christians share much in common. But as Robert Spencer ably demonstrates, beneath the surface similarities lies a deep and possibly unbridgeable gulf. This is must reading not only for Catholics but for all Christians.”
– William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West
Robert Spencer carefully examines the challenge posed to Christianity by an increasingly militant Islam. His case is calm, lucid, accurate, and uncompromising in its presentation of the facts of history. He provides an honest and unflinching account of the roots of Christian/Muslim tensions, a robust defense of Jesus Christ and Christianity in response to Muslim claims, and a sobering wake-up call to all Christians.
– Patrick Madrid, author of Envoy for Christ: 25 Years as a Catholic Apologist and host of the Right Here, Right Now radio show
Are jihadists dying for a fiction? Everything you thought you knew about Islam is about to change. Did Muhammad exist? It is a question that few have thought—or dared—to ask. Virtually everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, takes for granted that the prophet of Islam lived and led in seventh-century Arabia.
But this widely accepted story begins to crumble on close examination, as Robert Spencer shows in his eye-opening new book.
In his blockbuster bestseller The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer revealed the shocking contents of the earliest Islamic biographical material about the prophet of Islam. Now, in Did Muhammad Exist?, he uncovers that material’s surprisingly shaky historical foundations. Spencer meticulously examines historical records, archaeological findings, and pioneering new scholarship to reconstruct what we can know about Muhammad, the Qur’an, and the early days of Islam. The evidence he presents challenges the most fundamental assumptions about Islam’s origins.
How the earliest biographical material about Muhammad dates from at least 125 years after his reported death
How six decades passed before the Arabian conquerors—or the people they conquered—even mentioned Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islam
The startling evidence that the Qur’an was constructed from existing materials—including pre-Islamic Christian texts
How even Muslim scholars acknowledge that countless reports of Muhammad’s deeds were fabricated
Why a famous mosque inscription may refer not to Muhammad but, astonishingly, to Jesus
How the oldest records referring to a man named Muhammad bear little resemblance to the now-standard Islamic account of the life of the prophet
The many indications that Arabian leaders fashioned Islam for political reasons
Far from an anti-Islamic polemic, Did Muhammad Exist? is a sober but unflinching look at the origins of one of the world’s major religions. While Judaism and Christianity have been subjected to searching historical criticism for more than two centuries, Islam has never received the same treatment on any significant scale. The real story of Muhammad and early Islam has long remained in the shadows. Robert Spencer brings it into the light at long last.
“[Spencer] has engaged in concerted detective work of a scholarly nature. His book is no polemic. It is a serious quest for facts. . . . Well-written and moves right along.”
— Washington Times
“Robert Spencer has displayed brilliant scholarship and fierce courage in his previous books. In this one he perseveres and confronts with deep erudition the most topical problem of our century.”
— Bat Ye’or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam
Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics utilizes a popular question-and-answer format so that all Catholics – both the theological novice and the well-catechized – can learn the basics of Islam. Co-authors Robert Spencer and Daniel Ali, a convert from Islam, give you a solid understanding of Islam’s unique teachings including:
The Islamic view of God
The role of Jesus in Islamic theology
Islam’s controversial theology of jihad, or “holy war”
Why Islam’s strong beliefs are so attractive to secularized Western societies
The role of women in Islam
Inside Islam is an essential resource for anyone who wants to know more about this historic religion from the Middle East. After reading this book, you will have a better understanding of the issues discussed every day in the news.5
The Koran: It may be the most controversial book in the world. Some see it as a paean to peace, others call it a violent mandate for worldwide Islamic supremacy. How can one book lead to such dramatically different conclusions? New York Times bestselling author Robert Spencer reveals the truth in The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran: not many Westerners know what’s in the Koran, since so few have actually read it — even among the legions of politicians, diplomats, analysts, and editorial writers who vehemently insist that the Koran preaches tolerance.
Now, Spencer unveils the mysteries lying behind this powerful book, guiding readers through the controversies surrounding the Koran’s origins and its most contentious passages. Stripping out the obsolete debates, Spencer focuses on the Koran’s decrees toward Jews, Christians, and other Infidels, explaining how they were viewed in Muhammad’s time, what they’ve supposedly done wrong, and most important, what the Koran has in store for them.
“Meticulous, comprehensive, indispensable. `I read the Koran so you don’t have to,’ Spencer writes–but even for those of us who have read the Koran, this is a richly illuminating work.”
– Bruce Bawer, author of Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom and While Europe Slept
“Governing officials and media spokesmen may ignore Spencer’s warnings, but they do so at their own risk, because Islamic jihadists are not ignoring what’s in the Koran, and are working to destroy our freedoms in obedience to Koranic dictates. In illuminating for Westerners exactly what the Koran teaches, Spencer has performed a valuable service in the defense of Western civilization against the Islamic jihad.”
– Geert Wilders, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Party for Freedom (PVV), the Netherlands
“Unlike most of today’s self-styled experts, Robert Spencer won’t tell you that `slay the idolaters wherever you find them’ really means `love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ In The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, Spencer shows once again that he is America’s most informed, fearless, and compelling voice on modern jihadism, insisting that we come to grips with the words behind the ideology that fuels international terror.”
– Andrew C. McCarthy, senior fellow at the National Review Institute and author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad
Does America face a jihadist threat that’s even bigger than terrorism?
While our homeland security efforts are focused on preventing terrorist attacks, another jihadist threat is growing right here in America–in plain sight.
In Stealth Jihad, Islam expert and New York Times bestselling author Robert Spencer blows the whistle on a long-term plot by Islamic jihadists to undermine the United States. This effort aims not to bring America to its knees through attacks with guns or bombs, but to subvert the country from within–by gradually Islamizing America. The ultimate goal, the stealth jihadists themselves declare, is nothing less than the adoption of Islamic law in the United States.
Describing the disturbing ease with which stealth jihadists have already become ensconced in the American political and media landscapes, Spencer exposes the full modus operandi of the movement as revealed in a stunning document unveiled in a recent terrorism funding trial. In this unsettling book, he explains:
Which Islamic fundamentalist organization is behind the stealth jihad
How stealth jihadists have reinvented themselves as mainstream civil rights activists–despite their many past declarations of Islamic supremacism
How stealth jihadists played a key role in formulating U.S. government guidelines for the War on Terror
How insistence on “accommodating” Islamic cultural and religious practices in America is part of a calculated strategy to achieve a dangerous larger agenda
The effort by stealth jihadists to whitewash the teaching of Islam in schools
What can be done to defeat the stealth jihad and preserve America’s liberty
America, Spencer demonstrates, is all but oblivious to a new kind of threat presented by a loosely organized movement whose activists are well funded, highly motivated, and relentless in pursuit of their agenda. This book is a wake-up call for a country so focused on foreign threats that it has left itself vulnerable to a growing danger much closer to home.
Back Cover: Everything (well, almost everything) you know about Islam and the Crusades is wrong because most textbooks and popular history books are written by left-wing academics and Islamic apologists who justify their contemporary political agendas with contrived historical “facts.” But fear not: Robert Spencer (author of the bestseller Islam Unveiled) refutes the popular myths in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Spencer reveals facts that you won’t be taught in school and will never hear on the evening news, supplies a revealing list of “Books You Must Not Read” (as far as the PC left is concerned), and takes you on a fast-paced politically incorrect tour of Islamic teaching and Crusades history that will give you all the information you need to understand the true nature of the global conflict America faces today.
“A clarion call for the defense of the West before it is too late.” – Ibn Warraq, author
“A much-needed antidote to the poisonous propaganda that compromises our current battle against jihadist murder.” – Bruce Thornton, historian
“An enormous amount of well-researched material. Throws the ball back into the camp of Arabist historians.” – Walid Phares, terror analyst
“Assails, with much erudition, the taboos imposed by the Politically Correct League.” – Bat Ye’or, historian
“The courageous Robert Spencer busts myths and tells truths about jihadists that no one else will tell.” – Michelle Malkin, bestselling author and columnist
A complete list of Robert’s Spencers work is available on the Amazon Author’s Page. Please take the time to visit Jihad Watch and to follow @JihadWatchRS on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all book descriptions and reviews were taken from Amazon.
Robert Spencer: Read his full bio and an interview on Jihad Watch [↩]
Jihad Watch: Read more about why you should read Jihad Watch [↩]
A Caution: On his Twitter account, Robert Spencer tends to retweet some of the vulgarities Muslims tweet at him and retweet many of their threats. While the purpose is most probably to reveal what is being said to him, it can make for a very brutal or vulgar statement appearing in your Twitter feed. [↩]
If we all die, why fight to secure it as a right? The matter at hand is not death, simply speaking, but rather assisted suicide – “in short, a right to become dead, by assistance if necessary.”
Listers, is there a right to assisted suicide – what type of right do people claim it is? To address this question, we turn to the mind of Leon Kass. Though not a Catholic, Kass’ understanding of natural law and ills of modernity is better than most. His treatment of assisted suicide is particularly interesting because he uses the modern philosophers against modernity to show that even by this modern world’s own philosophies, there is no right to die. The first part of the discussion will address what is a right and what type of right could assisted suicide be.
1. A Right to Die: An Introduction
Is there a right to die? Rather, if an individual finds his or herself in a state in which the individual no longer wants to live, do they have the right to oblige another into assisting their suicide? In his book entitled Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, Leon Kass takes up the connection between assisted suicide and individual rights.
In his chapter Is There A Right To Die?, Kass carefully submits an argument presenting that even by several of the philosophies that shaped modernity there is only one conclusion: there is no defensible philosophic foundation for the right to die. However, the lack of philosophical framework has not stopped the modern polis from giving into the demands of right to die claimants. Kass not only brings to light several of the dangers of allowing a right to die position to find legitimacy in the polis, but also calls into question the proper limitation of rights overall.
2. Free to or a Right to Act?
If there is a “right to die,” then it is a new right unlike any other. Leon Kass observes the right to die is “grounded neither in nature nor in reason.” In order to properly understand this critique it must be asked: what is a right? Examining their origin, Kass refers to Thomas Hobbes as the “first teacher of rights.” According to Kass, Hobbes submits a right to be “a blameless liberty,” which means, “not everything we are free to do, morally or legally, we have a right to do.” A “true right,” as seen by Kass, “would be at least a blameless or permitted liberty, at best a praiseworthy or even a rightful liberty, to do or not to do, without anyone else’s interference or opposition.” There is a distinction between what one is free to do, and what one has a naturalright to do. For a mundane example, one may be at liberty to wear “offensive perfumes,” but that does not mean one has a natural right to do so.
3. Classical Rights and Welfare Rights
Kass parses out two general types of rights traditionally seen in the modern polis: the first are the “more negative classical rights,” and the second are the more entitlement based “welfare rights.” The former were “asserted to protect” individuals from external authorities or peers by declaring certain liberties “blameless or rightful.” The latter are a later modern addition in which “certain opportunities or goods” must be provided – “usually by the government” – due to the individual’s right to them. Welfare rights are seemingly best read with the following distinction in mind: there is a difference between stating an individual has a right to possess a good, and submitting that an individual has a right for that good to be given to them.
What is the canon by which a right should be judged? Kass intimates that the answer is justice. He avers, “having a right means having a justified claim against others that they act in a fitting manner: either that they refrain from interfering or they deliver what is justly owed.” Obligation undergirds this view of a right. As Kass states, “whether to noninterference or to some entitled good or service” a right “necessarily implies another person’s obligation.”
4. The Right to Become Dead
Given the adumbrated language of rights, how then could a right to die be articulated? Like many political mantras, the phrase right to die is a misnomer. “Taken literally,” says Kass, “a right to die would denote merely a right to the inevitable.” If we all die, why fight to secure it as a right? The matter at hand is not death, simply speaking, but rather assisted suicide – “in short, a right to become dead, by assistance if necessary.”
How then is this assistance practically performed within the medical community? Kass delivers two notions of such a right: “the well-established common-law right” to refuse various forms of treatment and the “newly alleged ‘right to die.’” The latter is as already stated, the assisted suicide via the refusal of therapy “so that death will occur,” while the former “permits the refusal of therapy, even a respirator, even if it means accepting an increased risk of death.” Furthermore, the former “would seem to be more about choosing how to live while dying, the latter mainly about a choice for death.” For Kass, the former is not a misnomer, while the latter is.
5. A Right to Deadly Assistance
And what of the notion of obligation that accompanies the concept of a right? Here is term assistance is key. The right to die does not include suicide, because suicide simply speaking does not involve the medical community. However, if that individual cannot perform the suicidal act, then – in respect of their right to die – the medical community and/or government must assist them. “They claim is not only a right to attempt suicide,” observes Kass, “but a right to succeed, and this means, in practice, a right to the deadly assistance of others.”
6. The Claim of Cosmic Injustice
How should one categorize the right to die? Is it a classical right defending the individual from an injustice or is it a welfare right claiming the possession of some good? If it is classical then it seems it must be asserted against the medical community that sustains the patient’s life or against the legal community that has criminalized assisted suicide. If it is a welfare right then it must claim the good of assistance in suicide must be provided if demanded. Moreover, could the right to die not be asserted “against nature, which has dealt [the individual] a bad hand by keeping [him] alive” in an undesirable condition? Here Kass notes the “most radical formulations” of a right to die argument: “the complaint of human pride against what our tyrannical tendencies lead us to experience as ‘cosmic injustice, directed against me.’” Placed within this context, the individual’s right to die is not only marked with a “compassionate charity,” but now carries the trait of “compensatory justice.”
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…
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.
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…
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…
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-
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.
Nine videos that will encourage you to share your Catholic faith.
Listers, we encourage you to share your faith by sharing these videos. The Catholic faith is a beautiful and rich religion and so many inside and outside of the Church are blind to its beauty. We’ve catalogued a multitude of video-lists, but this is our second collection of heart-warming Catholic goodness. The first list of this nature is entitled Proud To Be Catholic: 5 Videos That Stir The Soul.
A short film exploring the shrine church of Ss. Peter, Paul and Philomena, on the Wirral. Canon Montjean, the rector of the shrine, discusses aspects of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, as well as showing the viewer some of the features of the church.
2. Classic: “Why I love religion, and love Jesus.”
A response to the video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”. The purpose of this video is to do a response from a Catholic perspective, in a spirit of love, but also with a spirit of passion to defend our Mother the Church. The things that are said are not meant to offend, but we do have to be direct about what we believe and what we stand for.
3. Yes to You
The topic of homosexuality and the issues around same sex marriage are very charged in our culture right now. The goal of this video is to communicate what the Church teaches about this topic. However, as the title would suggest, the underlying sentiment throughout the whole presentation is that the Church is a refuge of love for all of humanity. Those that would say that the Church is “anti-gay” are either misinformed or deliberately distorting the truth to push their own agenda.
For all those who watch this video please understand that the lasting message of “Yes To You” is to let you know that right where you are, with all of your questions, challenges and struggles that the Church indeed says yes to you. You are welcomed and you are loved. We are all in this together.
4. Invocation 2012 Colorado Republican State Assembly
Invocation offered by Father Andrew Kemberling, Pastor at St. Thomas More Catholic Parish at the 2012 Colorado Republican State Assembly and Convention in Denver on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
5. Mark Wahlberg on Faith, Family and Hard Work
6. Cardinal Burke at Clear Creek
“His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke Visits Clear Creek Monastery in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma and celebrates Mass.”
7. Catholic Social Teaching
This is actually a the video for the Annual Catholic Appeal of 2013 for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. We find it worth sharing, because it is done well.
8. STOP the HHS Mandate
An adrenaline limned video by Catholic Vote. “The HHS Mandate is a direct attack on our first liberty and an assault on all people of faith. We MUST stand together to defeat it. Get involved today at www.catholicvote.org.”
9. God is Dead
We obviously enjoy Fr. Pontifex. The Youtube description:
This video is in response to the claims of the “New Atheism.” One that has been presented by the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. One who holds faith is NOT irrational. Science and reason are not incompatible with faith in fact they complement each other very well because they come from the same source, God. We hope that this video touches the hearts of many people. If you seek to dialogue in the commentary below please be respectful of those you are communicating with. Slander, foul language and the like will not be tolerated. May God, who is fully alive, bless each viewer.
In 2009, Bergoglio said that extreme poverty and the “unjust economic structures that give rise to great inequalities” are violations of human rights and that social debt is “immoral, unjust and illegitimate.”
Listers, habemus papam Franciscum. The world was stunned and the pundits proved wrong as the Argentinian Jesuit walked out on the Loggia of St. Peter’s. In a soft but strong voice, Pope Francis gave his first words as the Vicar of Christ:
Brothers and sisters good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.
First of all I would like to say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him…
And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence…
I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.1
The world waits to see how the pontificate of Pope Francis will shape the world and the Catholic Church. Below are his comments as a Prince of Church on several different moral issues.
Abortion is without a doubt one of the greatest moral evils within modernity. As the “Advocate of Christian Memory,” a pope must take up the mantle of defending the culture of life – a defense the Early Church held against the pagans of Rome.
He once called abortion a “death sentence” for unborn children, during a 2007 speech and likening opposition to abortion to opposition to the death penalty.
In an October 2, 2007 speech Bergoglio said that “we aren’t in agreement with the death penalty,” but “in Argentina we have the death penalty. A child conceived by the rape of a mentally ill or retarded woman can be condemned to death.”2
Notice he does not flench on abortion being a “death penalty” for those conceived in rape. Though a child may be conceived by horrid means, that individual child’s life is still innocent and untouched by that evil. God help America if we believe the worth of a child is articulated by the means of its conception.
2. On Receiving the Eucharist
The Cardinal speaks on the worthiness to receive communion regarding those who support grave evils.
The new Pope referred to abortion and communion, saying “we should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence’, that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated. This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.”3
Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also wrote on the worthiness of a Catholic to receive communion when he was a Cardinal in the CDF.
Notice the Cardinal’s distinction between the apparent and institutionalized euthanasia and the “clandestine euthanasia.”
The new pontiff also denounced euthanasia and assisted suicide, calling it a “culture of discarding” the elderly.
“In Argentina there is clandestine euthanasia. Social services pay up to a certain point; if you pass it, ‘die, you are very old’. Today, elderly people are discarded when, in reality, they are the seat of wisdom of the society,” he said “The right to life means allowing people to live and not killing, allowing them to grow, to eat, to be educated, to be healed, and to be permitted to die with dignity.”4
Hopefully the acute language and highly quotable phrases the Cardinal used to denounce homosexuality will appear in his pontificate as well. He refers to the bill legalizing homosexual marriage as a “machination of the Father of Lies” and that homosexual marriage was a “dire anthropological throwback.”
He has affirmed church teaching on homosexuality, including that men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. Though equating the pursuit of their equal rights as the devil’s work . He strongly opposed legislation introduced in 2010 by the Argentine Government to allow same-sex marriage, calling it a “real and dire anthropological throwback”. In a letter to the monasteries of Buenos Aires, he wrote:
“Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
He has also insisted that adoption by homosexuals is a form of discrimination against children. This position received a rebuke from Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who said the church’s tone was reminiscent of “medieval times and the Inquisition”.5
Rorate Caeli has been kind enough to publish the letter Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, wrote to the Carmelite Nuns of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires regarding the bill to legalize homosexual marriage in its full text.
5. On Poverty
The Pope’s proclivity towards austerity and his work with the downtrodden and sick will most likely translate to poverty being a central pillar of this Jesuit papacy. Just prior to being raised to the Office of St. Peter, the Cardinal wrote a tremendous lenten letter that threaded social ills, the spirituality of lent, and the hope of Christ together in a powerful manner. His comments on poverty and the social injustices that create it are a constant theme of his writings.
In 2009, Bergoglio said that extreme poverty and the “unjust economic structures that give rise to great inequalities” are violations of human rights and that social debt is “immoral, unjust and illegitimate.” During a 48-hour public servant strike in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bergoglio observed the differences between, “poor people who are persecuted for demanding work, and rich people who are applauded for fleeing from justice.”6
The Cardinal has also commented on how extreme poverty is a violation of human rights.
Social debt is “immoral, unjust and illegitimate,” the cardinal said, emphasizing that this is especially true when it occurs “in a nation that has the objective conditions for avoiding or correcting such harm.” “Unfortunately,” he noted, it seems that those same countries “opt for exacerbating inequalities even more.”
Argentineans have the duty “to work to change the structural causes and personal or corporate attitudes that give rise to this situation (of poverty), and through dialogue reach agreements that allow us to transform this painful reality we refer to when we speak about social debt,” the prelate said.
Cardinal Bergoglio said the challenge to eradicate poverty could not be truthfully met as long as the poor continue to be dependents of the State. The government and other organizations should instead work to create the social conditions that will promote and protect the rights of the poor and enable them to be the builders of their own future, he explained.7
It is impossible to mention Jesuit from South America and not inquire where this Cardinal turned Pope stands on Liberation Theology. His official biographer comments:
“Is Bergoglio a progressive — a liberation theologist even? No. He’s no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes,” [Bergoglio’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin] said.
Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina’s top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.8
As the first pope from Latin America and the first non-European pope since one from Syria almost 1200 years ago, it is expected that this Holy Roman Pontiff will speak out against poverty and speak for the downtrodden in a way not seen in some time.
6. On Children
The Cardinal speaks candidly about some of the more vulgar and to outsiders largely unknown abuses of children in South America.
Bergoglio noted that “the most mentioned word in the Aparecida Document is ‘life’, because the Church is very conscious of the fact that the cheapest thing in Latin America, the thing with the lowest price, is life.”
The cardinal called the abuse of children “demographic terrorism,” and blasted Argentine society for tolerating their exploitation. “Children are mistreated, and are not educated or fed. Many are made into prostitutes and exploited,” he said. “And this happens here in Buenos Aires, in the great city of the south. Child prostitution is offered in some five star hotels: it is included in the entertainment menu, under the heading ‘Other’.”9
On a similar note, the Cardinal has addressed sex trafficking – a grave crime that normally targets the young and vulnerable.
“In our city there are people committing human sacrifice, killing the dignity of these men and these women, these girls and boys that are submitted to this treatment, to slavery. We cannot remain calm.” …. The cardinal urged his fellow citizens to report “breeding grounds for submission, for slavery,” “altars where human sacrifices are offered and which break the will of the people,” asking that “everyone do what they can, but without washing their hands of it, because otherwise we are complicit in this slavery.”10
Shifting to a more positive story, the Cardinal is recorded explaining to children the Gospel and its call to serve the poor.
During his homily, he encouraged children to “seek after Jesus” and to find Him by “opening your hearts,” participating in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and seeing Him in those in need.
“Who told us that we can find Jesus in those most in need?” the cardinal asked. “Mother Teresa,” the children shouted in response.
“And what did Mother Teresa have in her arms? A crucifix? No. A child in need. So, we can find Jesus in each person who is in need,” he said.
After noting that very few children raised their hands when asked if they read the Gospel, Cardinal Bergoglio encouraged the children to say to their priests, “Father, teach me the Gospel.”
He also reminded them that the strength for encountering Jesus “is in the family, in mom and dad.” The cardinal then invited the children to stand up and give “a big round of applause to the Virgin Mary.”11
Regarding children, the Cardinal from Argentina has presided over so-called “Children’s Masses.” The subject of children will be a theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate as he seeks to heal Holy Mother Church and restore her credibility in the wake of the global sex abuse scandal.
7. On Politics
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, politics is the “noble science,” the highest practical science constituted by human reason, and a moral science. Pope Francis spent a good deal of time in Argentina fighting against the modernist reforms of the government. Moreover, within the Church the spectre of liberation theologies that conflate Christ’s justice with Marxist principles was (and still is) a constant presence in Latin America. The Cardinal is reported to have rejected these views, as aforementioned in the On Poverty section.
“To those who are now promising to fix all your problems, I say, ‘Go and fix yourself.’ . . . Have a change of heart. Get to confession, before you need it even more! The current crisis will not be improved by magicians from outside the country and nor will [improvement] come from the golden mouth of our politicians, so accustomed to making incredible promises.”12
Listers, pray for Pope Francis and that he will hear God’s call to rebuild Christ’s Church.
Full Text of Pope Francis’ first words as the Vicar of Christ. [↩]
Wikipedia: Pope Francis . Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraph 2358 ^ InfoBae.com ^ Padgett, Tim (18 July 2010). “The Vatican and Women: Casting the First Stone”. TIME. Retrieved 13 March 2013. ^ Goñi, Uki (July 15, 2010). “Defying Church, Argentina Legalizes Gay Marriage”. Retrieved March 13, 2013. ^ Allen, Jr., John L. (March 3, 2013). “Papabile of the Day: The Men Who Could Be Pope”. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved March 13, 2013. [↩]
Wikipedia: Pope Francis ^ “Extreme poverty is also a violation of human rights, says Argentinean cardinal”. Catholic News Agency. 1 October 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2013. ^ “Argentines protest against pay cuts”. August 8, 2001. Retrieved March 13, 2013. [↩]
His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke Visits Clear Creek Monastery in the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma and celebrates Mass.
3. Cardinal Burke on LCWR
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
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
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
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
Cardinal Burke speaks on books at Loome Booksellers, part II may be found here.
8. On Abortion and Voting
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.
“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’sThe 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.
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.
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?
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.
The last year was a great one for SPL and the community of listers. From must-know Latin hymns to short stories all Catholics should read, SPL catalogued the best in Catholic thought.
Listers, in little over a year St. Peter’s List has become a rapidly growing community of faithful Catholics. Our I Stand with the Catholic Church graphics have been used in religious liberty rallies around the nation and listers have sent fantastic photos of themselves and their loved ones standing for Holy Mother Church. SPL cannot thank you enough for your support and we invite you to continue to check our website daily for news, lists, and updates to the SPL Store. Cheers and Keep Calm and Catholic On.
20. The Idiot’s Guide to Fasting and Abstinence: 5 Things to Know
Drawing from Canon Law, Sacred Tradition, the Early Church Fathers, and Papal teaching SPL writer John Henry gives an excellent introduction to fasting and abstinence.
1983 Code of Canon Law:
Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Christians have always set aside Wednesdays and Fridays as penitential days. Wednesday was the day Our Lord was betrayed and Friday was the day Our Lord was crucified. In most Eastern Catholic churches and Orthodox churches Wednesdays and Fridays are still days of penance. In the Latin Church, only Fridays remain as weekly penitential days on which abstinence from meat and other forms of penance are performed. [Read More]
19. 5 English Hymns Every Catholic Should Know
SPL writer CL Davis lists all five hymns with a brief introduction. For the hymn Hail, Holy Queen, Enthroned Above, he writes: This classic English hymn is really a poetic translation of the ancient “Salve Regina Coelitum” of the Roman Missal. Thanks to Whoopi Goldberg’s rousing interpretation of this hymn in her movie “Sister Act,” it is even recognized amongst many non-Catholics.” [Read More]
18. Regina Sanctissimi Rosarii: 6 Things All Catholics Should Know About the Rosary
Another heavily commented list, John Henry explains the ancient origins of the Holy Rosary and its purpose. “Why pray the Most Holy Rosary? The answer is actually quite simple: It is the request of the all Power Virgin Queen and Mother, Mary. However, one cannot truly call themselves a Roman Catholic if one does not write an entire volume explaining why.” [Read More]
17. 6 Things to Know about the Miracle of the Holy Fire
Our list on Holy Fire has proved to be one of our most controversial and commented on article. While the comments devolve into Catholic vs. Orthodox apologetics/polemics, the list itself serves as an introduction to the reoccurring Orthodox event. The “miracle” itself may be describe as such: The Greek Orthodox Patriarch enters the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday – according to the Orthodox calendar. He proceeds into the Tomb of Christ and begins to pray. A fire is then miraculously enkindled by the Holy Spirit – supposedly the power of the resurrection – and is shared rapidly throughout the Church and all those who are waiting outside. To be clear, it is said that Pope Gregory the IX declared “Holy Fire” a fraud in AD 1238, but a primary source is needed to confirm this papal statement. Today, the miracle is not recognized by the Catholic Church, but is considered a pious tradition of certain Orthodox Churches. [Read More]
16. 5 More Short Stories Every Catholic Should Read
One of many popular literary lists by Catherine, the “5 More” list sequel to her original short stories list – found below – continues to offer entertaining and engaging short stories for the Catholic mind. Catherine opens the list with the following question, “Listers, fiction has a savage appeal to authors and readers because they get entertainment out of some character’s suffering or unhappiness. However, to the credit of all fans of the written word, they also derive entertainment in a resolution, but that always means that something must first be resolved. Why are we, members of humanity, so obsessed with this tension between conflict and resolution?” [Read More]
15. Know Thyself: 10 Reflections from St. Teresa of Avila on the Spiritual Life
Listers, St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great doctors of the Church, wrote some of the most beautiful and animated descriptions of the intricacies of the spiritual life. Although some of her ideas and descriptions appear to be strange to the modern mind, her words still have something to give to this present age, an age of narcissism and selfishness. For example, I attended an evangelical school and always snarkily spoke of such-and-such girl who was “married to Jesus.” Little did I know that such an accusation was really a compliment. [Read More]
14. 8 Quotes from Golden Mouth on Raising Children
Listers, one of the most important basis for children’s spiritual formation is a strong foundation of faith made by their parents. This task is a massive long-term undertaking, which requires the parents to approach their vocation with fear and trembling. [Read More]
“Let us pass to the despotic part of the soul, spirit. We must not eliminate it utterly from the youth nor yet allow him to use it all the time. Let us train boys from earliest childhood to be patient when they suffer wrongs themselves, but, if they see another being wronged, to sally forth courageously and aid the sufferer in fitting measure.” –An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, 66.
Listers, there are many kinds of Catholic Churches, and each kind has further subclasses which make for a rather confusing classification system. Here is a quick list comprised of highlights from the Catholic Encyclopedia pages on various kinds of Churches. [Read More]
12. 8 Prayers Every Catholic Should know in Latin
Listers in 1978 Bl. Pope John Paul II said, “We exhort you all to lift up high the torch of Latin which is even today a bond of unity among peoples of all nations.” Even Vatican II and Pope John XXIII lauded Latin and asked that it remain the universal language of the Church; however, today the Roman Church has turned its back on Latin and blamed it on the ever-shifting spectre or “spirit” of Vatican II. SPL collected 14 quotes on the importance of Latin in the Church and drew many from the actual Vatican II documents and from post-Vatican II popes. Continuing in this proper understanding of Sacred Tradition, it is only fitting that the listers have a list to help them develop their use of Latin. The following prayers are all the prayers one would need to pray the Holy Rosary in Latin. Enjoy. [Read More]
11. 5 Quotes from St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s “The Story of a Soul”
Listers, many people often say that writings by many saints who were monks and nuns are hard to apply outside of the consecrated life. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, monks and nuns perhaps have more time to sit in active prayer than those who are called to the married life, but that does not mean that the spiritual advice they give is inapplicable to the outside world. For a while, I brushed those works off. I thought that those works had little to no bearing on my life. I thought that even if I were to read those works there was no possible way I could pass muster. However, an opportunity arose to read St. Thérèse of Lisieux when some of my friends decided to form a reading group. [Read More]
10. The 7 Authentic Trappist Ales
In 1997, eight Trappist abbeys—six from Belgium (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel), one from the Netherlands (Koningshoeven) and one from Germany (Mariawald) – founded the International Trappist Association (ITA) to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from abusing the Trappist name. This private association created a logo that is assigned to goods (cheese, beer, wine, etc.) that respect precise production criteria. For the beers, these criteria are the following:
The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks.
The brewery, the choices of brewing, and the commercial orientations must obviously depend on the monastic community.
The economic purpose of the brewery must be directed toward assistance and not toward financial profit.
This association has a legal standing, and its logo gives to the consumer some information and guarantees about the produce. [Read More]
9. Glory of Rome: 5 Latin Hymns Every Catholic Should Know
Listers, our study of the best hymns within the treasury of the Church continues with a look at the Latin hymns all Catholics should know. [Read More]
8. 25 Reader Recommended Blogs of 2012
Listers, SPL’s list of 12 Catholic Blogs Worth Your Time garnered a large lister response of other notable Catholics blogs. As promised, we’ve composed a list of the 25 lister recommended blogs. SPL has also articulated a list of the Top 10 Catholic News Sites, which includes popular sites such as New Advent and the National Catholic Register. [Read More]
7. 12 Catholic Blogs Worth you time of 2012
Listers, the following collection of blogs represents the best Catholic voices online. The list is not necessarily in a strict order. If you think there is a blog(s) that should be featured on St. Peter’s List please do not hesitate to name and link the blog in the comment box and we’ll see what we can do. Also, please note this is a list of blogs – and even though SPL has included some that stretch the limits of a blog, other excellent news sites like New Advent and Life Site News will be featured elsewhere. SPL did not list itself, but you can find more lists from us on Twitter and Facebook. [Read More]
6. Top 10 Catholic News Sites of 2012
Listers, it almost goes without question that the mainstream media does not understand religion, much less the one true faith of Holy Mother Church. Catholicism cannot be boiled down to a list of doctrines, but demands a formation of the intellect and way of thinking. To properly report on Catholicism a Catholic news source is a necessity. The following sites represent the best Catholic news outlets available to the laity, and have been distinguished from SPL’s list of the Best in Catholic Blogging. [Read More]
5. Catholics, Obama, and the HHS Mandate: 16 Political Cartoons of 2012
Listers despite the enormous amount of protests and the arduous work of many Catholics and Catholic media companies to spread awareness about the HHS Mandate, President Obama still stands strong in the polls less than 40 days out from the election. The following collection is taken from various sources and composes only a fraction of the material available. Additionally, SPL has provided our introductory paragraph to our gallery of graphics addressing Holy Mother Church and the HHS Mandate. [Read More]
4. The Domestic Church: 7 Steps to a Proper Catholic Home
It has been said that the Catholic home should be seen as “The Domestic Church”. With this being said, the Father is the head, the Mother is the beloved spouse, and the children are brought up learning to love and serve the Blessed Trinity. The true head of the Catholic home is Christ, just as the Head of the Church is the Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness. Christ should be known and recognized in each Catholic home as King; the family’s week should be centered around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and prayer is a must. [Read More]
3. 5 Short Stories that Every Catholic should Read
Listers, The genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention. In a matter of two hours or less, the short story can illustrate some complexities of life without taxing the mind with deep philosophical terms or concepts. As some of us don’t have the proclivity to have intense philosophical and theological discussions on the various nuances of life and faith, the short story provides us with a brief vision on the robust nature of the Christian existence. Many people would suggest that short stories are just for children. However, I would argue that adults need short stories as well. It is one of the few welcome outlets in which adults can hold up a mirror to themselves and observe what they see, warts and all. [Read More]
2. Pope and Beer: 9 Photos to Brighten Your Day
Listers, praise be to Jesus Christ Our Lord that we are not Puritans. Christ did not change wine into water, he change water into wine; and ever since then our Church has had a long and proud history of brewing and refining alcoholic beverages. The following are several photos featuring Cardinal Ratzinger, German beer memorabilia from Pope Benedict XVI’s journey to Germany, and other papal products for your enjoyment. [Read More]
1. I Stand with the Catholic Church: 10 Graphics in Defense of the Church
Listers, the HHS mandate has jolted the soporific Catholic Church in America into action. We are at war. We are in a multi-front conflict that cannot be reduced to violations of religious liberty. The Church is calling the faithful to stand against the scourge of abortion, the unnatural and artificial recreation of marriage and family, and the inalienable right for Catholics to worship God in the mass and serve him in the poor according to the truth of the Gospels. As our world abandons God and natural law for the dictatorship of relativism, Holy Mother Church is calling us to defend the faith and to promote that which is natural and rational in man. [Read More]
“Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs.”
Listers, the following quotes are taken from what has come to be known as the “State of the World” address. Right on the heels of his excellent Christmas Eve homily, His Holiness’ address to the Diplomatic Corps touched on Syria, Iraq, North Africa, and many other nations and their turmoils. Below are the seven most thematic statements and the address in full may be found at Vatican News. SPL offers several lists tracking the acute thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI and also recently published a list from Fr. James V. Schall echoing a similar critique of the Western man’s error in understanding human rights entitled Modern Man Has Lost His Way. A summary of the address may be found as a Vatican video.
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI TO THE MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS
7 January 2013
1. Forgetfulness of God gives rise to violence
Yet from the Christian point of view, the glorification of God and human peace on earth are closely linked, with the result that peace is not simply the fruit of human effort, but a participation in the very love of God. It is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.
2. Baneful Religious Fanaticism
The consequences of forgetfulness of God cannot be separated from those resulting from ignorance of his true countenance, the root of a baneful religious fanaticism which, again in 2012, reaped victims in some countries represented here.
At the same time, I must note with dismay that, in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalizes abortion. Direct abortion, that is to say willed as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. In affirming this, the Catholic Church is not lacking in understanding and mercy, also towards the mother involved. Rather, it is a question of being vigilant lest the law unjustly alter the balance between the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn child, a right belonging equally to both.
4. The Western error on human rights
Sadly, especially in the West, one frequently encounters ambiguities about the meaning of human rights and their corresponding duties. Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs. To be authentic, the defence of rights must instead consider human beings integrally, in their personal and communitarian dimensions.
5. Profit to the detriment of humanity
The crisis developed because profit was all too often made absolute, to the detriment of labour, and because of unrestrained ventures in the financial areas of the economy, rather than attending to the real economy. There is a need, then, to rediscover the meaning of work and proportionate profit. To that end, it would be well to teach people how to resist the temptations of particular and short-term interests, and to look instead to the common good.
6. Religious Liberty
It even happens that believers, and Christians in particular, are prevented from contributing to the common good by their educational and charitable institutions. In order effectively to safeguard the exercise of religious liberty it is essential to respect the right of conscientious objection. This “frontier” of liberty touches upon principles of great importance of an ethical and religious character, rooted in the very dignity of the human person. They are, as it were, the “bearing walls” of any society that wishes to be truly free and democratic. Thus, outlawing individual and institutional conscientious objection in the name of liberty and pluralism paradoxically opens by contrast the door to intolerance and forced uniformity.
7. There is no peace without charity
At the end of the Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, whose fiftieth anniversary will be celebrated this year, my predecessor Blessed John XXIII remarked that peace remains “an empty word” if it is not nourished and completed by charity (AAS 55 , 303). Indeed, it is at the heart of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See and, above all, of the concern of the Successor of Peter and of the whole Catholic Church. Charity cannot take the place of justice that has been denied; nor can justice, on the other hand, replace charity that has been refused. The Church daily practises charity in works of social assistance such as hospitals and clinics, her educational institutions such as orphanages, schools, colleges and universities, and through help given to peoples in distress, especially during and after conflicts.
“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
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
“A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defence of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law.” – CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger
Listers in lieu of some comparison of fleeting political platforms and promises, SPL presents a collection of lists that articulates the Church’s timeless political principles. The following lists pull from USCCB documents that address particular American politics, Vatican documents that address being a Catholic citizen in a democracy, and lists that resurrect our long-neglected political tradition as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas. We invite the listers to begin their catechesis wherever they may be within their understanding of Catholic (read: proper, virtuous, and correct) politics. Whether the starting point is the brevity of the USCCB or the intellectual depths of Aquinas, just start.
What we plead with the listers to avoid is the same hackneyed American political platforms that volley the same shallow and vitriolic points back and forth that reveals nothing but the warring parties’ tribal-political affiliations. America – and arguably the entire West – is not decaying to modernist froth and flotsam because it has the wrong answers, but because it is asking the wrong questions. To wit, Western culture has become to weak to support the Gospel and almost too weak to even support reason and natural law.
SPL has reproduced the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s section on political authority in its entirety and supplemented the teachings with context and definitions from Sacred Tradition.
Does Human Society Need Political Authority?
1897. “Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.”
By “authority” one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.
Can a Catholic Break an Unjust Law?
1903. Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.”
Listers, the USCCB released their Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholics Bishops of the United States and SPL has reproduced the primary points with commentary.
What If a Catholic Votes for a Candidate/Law that Furthers an Intrinsic Evil?
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if they voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would by guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other importnat moral issues involving human life and dignity.
Do Catholic Politicians Have Any Special Duty?
In Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 83, Pope Benedict XVI states the follow:
Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith. Evidently, this is true for all the baptized, yet it is especially incumbent upon those who, bu virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values, such as respect for human life, its defense form conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms.
Listers, paragraphs 40-62 of the USCCB’s document on Faithful Citizenship address the supporting role of Catholic Social Teaching in Catholic political action. Catholic Social Teaching grants Catholics a philosophical and moral platform upon which they may have well-ordered political engagement:
The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues.
Option for the Poor and the Vulnerable
While the common good embraces all, those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern. A basic moral test for our society is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst.
We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are brothers; and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.
Solidarity includes the Scriptural call to welcome the stranger among us – including immigrants seeking work, a safe hom, education for their children, and a decent life for their families.
As Pope Paul VI taught, “If you want peace, work for justice.” (World Day of Peace Message, Jan 1, 1972)
4. 20 Statements by the Vatican on Democratic Societies
Listers, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (2002) – now Pope Benedict XVI – released a doctrinal note responding to “some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life.” If you are not familiar, it is common for bishops to write to the CDF for clarification on certain issues. In return, the CDF answers by explaining the doctrinal position of the Church. The following is considered a note, because it seeks to articulate selected issues, not the whole of Catholic political thought.
Among these, Saint Thomas More, who was proclaimed Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, gave witness by his martyrdom to the inalienable dignity of the human conscience.Though subjected to various forms of psychological pressure, Saint Thomas More refused to compromise, never forsaking the «constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions which distinguished him; he taught by his life and his death that «man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.
A Catholic Critique of Modern Democracy: Cultural Relativism
The following is an exemplary snapshot of the ills of modern democracy by the CDF.
A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defence of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law. Furthermore, it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy. As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value.
Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism. Such a position would seek to deny not only any engagement of Christianity in public or political life, but even the possibility of natural ethics itself. Were this the case, the road would be open to moral anarchy, which would be anything but legitimate pluralism.
Religious Freedom Does Not Translate to All Religions Are Equal
Reflecting on this question, Paul VI taught that «in no way does the Council base this right to religious freedom on the fact that all religions and all teachings, including those that are erroneous, would have more or less equal value; it is based rather on the dignity of the human person, which demands that he not be subjected to external limitations which tend to constrain the conscience in its search for the true religion or in adhering to it». The teaching on freedom of conscience and on religious freedom does not therefore contradict the condemnation of indifferentism and religious relativism by Catholic doctrine; on the contrary, it is fully in accord with it.
Listers, the current modern regimes of the West tout democracy as an end all to tyranny and political strife. While democracy is arguably one of the most practical and successful regimes, it is not a magical balm that automatically assuages injustice. Democracy must be understood according to its internal guiding principles – principles that have been observed and questioned since the ancient Greeks.
Freedom Is an Ambiguous Goal
Classical political philosophy – as demonstrated by such thinkers as Aristotle – held virtue to be the guiding goal of the state. Men are political animals, the state or polis is a natural institution, and they are both guided by “good habits” or the natural virtues. While perfecting natural law by the light of the Incarnate God, the Catholic Church still holds to natural law as the basis of human societies.
Regardless of what the Church or the ancients advocate, modern democracy’s obsession with freedom is fragile in its own right. The most obvious critique is that unlike virtue or any other objective goal, freedom is a means, not an end.
Freedom as a goal is ambiguous, because it is freedom for evil as well as for good.
Due to the focus on freedom, democratic regimes are inherently concerned with the quality of their citizens.
The Link: Education, Leisure, & Wealth
The virtues are nothing more than “good habits,” but those acts that habituate individuals to the good are not subjective nor are they completely innate. Consequently, the formation of a citizen’s character requires education, and education requires leisure. If survival requires children to work the land or tend the animals, the lack of leisure equates to a lack of time for proper education.
If education is tied to leisure, then leisure is tied to one’s standard of living or general wealth. Philosophy was not born of humanity until the race had reached an age where society’s survival had become sufficient enough to allow for some leisure. However, for the children not to be able to work the land or tend the animals – and thus have the leisure to study – a certain amount of wealth is required.
Listers, the following commentary address St. Thomas’ introduction to law and lays the groundwork to understand the Angelic Doctor’s teaching of an ordered Creation. It is hard to overestimate the impact Aquinas had on the Catholic approach to law and politics, especially when considering his use of Aristotle. Aristotle’s Politics is easily in the running for one of the most influential political works in the Western world. Moreover, Aquinas’ use of Aristotle’s observations of nature – man is a political animals, the city is a natural institution, laws are discerned from nature, etc. – coupled with the grace and clarity of divine revelation enabled the Angelic Doctor to articulate law in both a natural and divine sense. To wit, Aquinas places Aristotle’s political views into a divinely ordered Creation and shows the harmony and order of the entire cosmos.
Below is a commentary that strives to break down some of the more dense thomistic jargon and present the reader with a simple preface to Aquinas’ questions over law.
How does Aquinas differ from Aristotle on law?
The notion that St. Thomas simply baptized Aristotle into the Christian faith is nothing more than a blunt caviled statement meant to sow distrust among those unfamiliar with the nuances. In book one of Aristotle’s Politics, the Philosopher describes the following political order: man as a political animal, the relationships of the household and family, the gathering of households together called villages, and the collection of villages called the city or polis. St. Thomas accepts this natural political structure, but also acknowledges a Cosmo-Polis. The notion of a cosmo-polis is only to say that man inhabits an ordered cosmos wherein God governs all of humanity and Creation. St. Thomas uses God’s self-revelation to place Aristotle’s observations of man’s natural political organization into an organized and ordered creation. In Catholic thought, the principle that grace perfects nature unfolds powerfully in thomistic teaching. Here the scope, ambiguities, and even errors based off the incredibly astute observations of nature by Aristotle are perfected according God’s revelation. Nature is not replaced, but its teachings are clarified and held in supreme confidence.
Why does St. Thomas speak of happiness and law?
In the Thomistic sense, laws are orientated toward happiness. However, like most concepts, modernity has hijacked “happiness” and beaten it into a type of self-seeking pleasure or fleeting tenuous joy. Happiness for ancients like Aristotle and scholastics like St. Thomas denotes an obedience to one’s nature, because one is most fulfilled when one embraces that which is natural and denies those things contrary to nature. In the thomistic light, happiness is an effect of right living or living the virtuous life. The connection between laws and happiness is virtue, because the natural virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude – ungird laws of reason and nature. To wit, laws exist to guide men to virtue.
What is law’s relationship to the common good?
Law deals with the Common Good not with private goods. Every Law must be orientated toward the common good of whatever particular scope for which it is legislated, e.g., Divine law pertains to the common good of the People of God, the Church, while Human laws pertain to the secular political laws of the state as ascertained through nature and reason.
Communities naturally asks the individual to lay their personal good for the Common Good. The individual citizen is part of the whole. To wit, the individual is a sub-political part of the overall state. In contrast, modernity has begin to place the individual over the common good, by making the common good bend to the supposed rights of individuals. The modern standard of justice is the individual and their rights, not the overarching good of the state.
God is the Common Good of all things – even the polis – but he may not be the proper or immediate common good of the political community. The political community is innately incapable – due to its capacity – of incorporating certain virtues, perfections, or ordering laws based off the Trinity, etc., as discussed above.
Law must only speak generally to the overall public and cannot speak particularly. For a mundane example, it would be absurd to set speed limitations on individual citizens and not simply place a overarching speed limit on the road or interstate.
Listers, SPL continues its Thomistic Catechesis on Law with presenting Summa Theologica I-II.92.1 – Whether an effect of law is to make men good? Save the one SPL Commentary section and the added title, the following quotes the Angelic Doctor’s article in full. SPL has also rearranged the article to ease the format for those not used to reading the Summa Theologica.
Are laws supposed to make men good?
To Lead Its Subjects to Virtue
And accordingly “the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler,” as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is “that which makes its subject good,” it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect.
It is a modern notion that laws make us good; however, law cannot make one good, but it is an extrinsic principle that inclines or leads citizens to the good. The Natural Virtues – Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude – are available to all men and can be acquired by all men; however, virtue is not an act but a habit. The laws of a State obedient to Natural Law exists to lead men in virtue, but cannot force men to be virtuous. Social engineering and utopian hopes are modern inventions. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor will later on in his treatise on law discuss that the State should not always legislate all virtues, because if the citizens are not themselves virtuous or educated in virtue, it will only create greater evils.
Listers, we turn now to the third part of the USCCB’s document on Faithful Citizenship. The following goals will be quoted verbatim, but the titles are added. For further reading, please check out our threads on poverty, politics, and Catholic Social Teaching.
Protect the Weakest Amongst Us: The Unborn
Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst—innocent unborn children—by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion.
Ethical & Comprehensive Health Care Reform
Provide health care for the growing number of people without it, while respecting human life, human dignity, and religious freedom in our health care system.
Protect Religion’s Pursuit of the Common Good
Encourage families, community groups, economic structures, and government to work together to overcome poverty, pursue the common good, and care for creation, with full respect for religious groups and their right to address social needs in accord with their basic moral convictions.
Application of the Just War Theory
Establish and comply with moral limits on the use of military force—examining for what purposes it may be used, under what authority, and at what human cost—and work for a “responsible transition” to end the war in Iraq.
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.
Christians as Political Animals Marc Guerra, PhD.
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.
Listers, the following is an original SPL composition by HH Ambrose summarizing the first chapter of Aristotle’s Politics and briefly tying it into Plato’s Philosopher King. Aristotelian political thought is the cornerstone of Western Civilization, especially in its articulation of natural law and man’s political nature.
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.
Aristotle begins with humanity’s natural political development: the two partnerships of the household. The first being the natural partnership of reproduction between male and female and the second being the relationship between the “naturally ruling and ruled.” St. Thomas Aquinas observes in his commentary on the Politics, both associations are for preservation: the former “nature aims” at “generation” and in the latter nature has aimed “at the preservation of things generated.” While Aristotle uses slavery to exemplify the latter association, the 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.” Thus the twofold natural association of the household exists for the “needs of daily life.”
“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.
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
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.
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.
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. [↩]
Introductory paragraph for Sir Thomas More – Source [↩]
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 [↩]
Despite the enormous amount of protests and the arduous work of many Catholics and Catholic media companies to spread awareness about the HHS Mandate, President Obama still stands strong in the polls less than 40 days out from the election.
Listers despite the enormous amount of protests and the arduous work of many Catholics and Catholic media companies to spread awareness about the HHS Mandate, President Obama still stands strong in the polls less than 40 days out from the election. The following collection is taken from various sources and composes only a fraction of the material available. Additionally, SPL has provided our introductory paragraph to our gallery of graphics addressing Holy Mother Church and the HHS Mandate.
Listers, the HHS mandate has jolted the soporific Catholic Church in America into action. We are at war. We are in a multi-front conflict that cannot be reduced to violations of religious liberty. The Church is calling the faithful to stand against the scourge of abortion, the unnatural and artificial recreation of marriage and family, and the inalienable right for Catholics to worship God in the mass and serve him in the poor according to the truth of the Gospels. As our world abandons God and natural law for the dictatorship of relativism, Holy Mother Church is calling us to defend the faith and to promote that which is natural and rational in man.
The following political cartoons are from the last year and pertain to the HHS Mandate and their contingent subjects. Please feel free to share these images and submit any that we missed.
“Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Theotókos, I invoke God’s abundant gifts upon all of you with great affection! God grant that all the peoples of the Middle East may live in peace, fraternity and religious freedom! لِيُبَارِك الربُّ جميعَكُم [May God bless all of you!]”
Apostolic Journey to Lebanon
(14-16 September 2012)
On the occasion of the signing and publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.
All quotes are by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI unless otherwise cited.
1. Meeting of His Holiness Benedict XVI with journalists during the flight to Lebanon
“I can tell you that no one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so, because I know that as the situation becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems.”
2. Welcoming ceremony at the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport
“The links between Lebanon and the Successor of Peter are ancient and deep. Mr President, dear friends, I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of men. Christ says, سَلامي أُعطيكُم, “My peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). And looking beyond your country, I also come symbolically to all the countries of the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace, as a friend of God and as a friend of all the inhabitants of all the countries of the region, whatever their origins and beliefs. To them too Christ says: سَلامي أُعطيكُم.”
3. Visit to St. Paul’s Basilica in Harissa and the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
“Fear not, little flock” (Lk 12:32) and remember the promise made to Constantine: “In this sign you will conquer!” Churches of the Middle East, fear not, for the Lord is truly with you, to the close of the age! Fear not, because the universal Church walks at your side and is humanly and spiritually close to you! It is with this hope and this word of encouragement to be active heralds of the faith by your communion and witness, that on Sunday I will entrust the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente to my venerable brother Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, and to all priests, deacons, men and women religious, the seminarians and all the lay faithful. “Be of good cheer” (Jn 16:33)! Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Theotókos, I invoke God’s abundant gifts upon all of you with great affection! God grant that all the peoples of the Middle East may live in peace, fraternity and religious freedom! لِيُبَارِك الربُّ جميعَكُم [May God bless all of you!]”
4. Ecclesia in Medio Oriente: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness
“It is in this restrictive, unstable and lately violence-prone context that God has permitted his Church to grow. She lives there in a remarkable variety of forms. Along with the Catholic Church, a great number of venerable Churches and Ecclesial Communities of more recent date are present in the Middle East. This mosaic demands a significant and continued effort to build unity in respect for the riches of each, and thus to reaffirm the credibility of the proclamation of the Gospel and Christian witness.”
“The Pastors of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris realize with regret and concern that the numbers of their faithful are dwindling in the traditional Patriarchal territories, and for some time now they have had to develop a plan of pastoral care for emigrants… I also exhort the Church’s Pastors in those places where Eastern Catholics have settled to welcome them with charity and fraternal esteem, to facilitate the bonds of communion between emigrants and their Churches of origin, and to enable them to celebrate in accordance with their own traditions and, wherever possible, to develop pastoral and parish activities.”
5. Meeting with members of the government, institutions of the Republic, the diplomatic corps, religious leaders and representatives of the world of culture
May 25th Hall of the Baabda Presidential Palace, 15 September 2012[Full Text]
“We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death. But it is possible for us not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21). It is to this conversion of heart that we are called. Without it, all our coveted human “liberations” prove disappointing, for they are curtailed by our human narrowness, harshness, intolerance, favouritism and desire for revenge. A profound transformation of mind and heart is needed to recover a degree of clarity of vision and impartiality, and the profound meaning of the concepts of justice and the common good.”
6. Luncheon with the Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, members of the Special Council for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops and the papal entourage
Refectory of the Armenian Catholic Patriachate of Bzommar, 15 September 2012[Full Text]
“Dear friends, through the intercession of the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, and of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, let us ask the Lord to bless the Armenian community, so sorely tried down through the ages, and to send to its harvest numerous saintly workers who, because of Christ, are enabled to change the face of our societies, to heal hearts that are broken and to offer courage, strength and hope to those who despair. Thank you!”
7. Meeting with the youth in the square across from the Maronite Patriarchate of Bkerké
“You have a special place in my heart and in the whole Church, because the Church is always young! The Church trusts you. She counts on you! Be young in the Church! Be young with the Church! The Church needs your enthusiasm and your creativity! Youth is the time when we aspire to great ideals, when we study and train for our future work. All this is important and it takes time. Seek beauty and strive for goodness! Bear witness to the grandeur and the dignity of your body which “is for the Lord” (1 Cor 6:13b). Be thoughtful, upright and pure of heart! In the words of Blessed John Paul II, I say to you: “Do not be afraid! Open the doors of your minds and hearts to Christ!”
8. Holy Mass and the presentation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle East
Beirut City Center Waterfront, 16 September 2012[Full Text]
“Dear brothers and sisters who are suffering physically or spiritually, your sufferings are not in vain! Christ the Servant wished to be close to the suffering. He is always close to you. Along your own path, may you always find brothers and sisters who are concrete signs of his loving presence which will never forsake you! Remain ever hopeful because of Christ!”
9. Presentation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle East
Beirut City Center Waterfront, 16 September 2012[Full Text]
“Dear Church in the Middle East, draw from the source of salvation which became a reality in this unique and beloved land! Follow in the footsteps of your fathers in faith, who by tenacity and fidelity opened up the way for humanity to respond to the revelation of God! Among the wonderful diversity of saints who flourished in your land, look for examples and intercessors who will inspire your response to the Lord’s call to walk towards the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will wipe away every one of our tears (cf. Rev 21:4)! May fraternal communion be a support for you in your daily life and the sign of the universal brotherhood which Jesus, the firstborn of many, came to bring! Thus, in this region which saw his actions and heard his words, may the Gospel continue to resonate as it did 2,000 years ago, and may it be lived today and for ever! Thank you.”
“Sadly, the din of weapons continues to make itself heard, along with the cry of the widow and the orphan. Violence and hatred invade people’s lives, and the first victims are women and children. Why so much horror? Why so many dead? I appeal to the international community! I appeal to the Arab countries that, as brothers, they might propose workable solutions respecting the dignity, the rights and the religion of every human person! […] May God grant to your country, to Syria and to the Middle East the gift of peaceful hearts, the silencing of weapons and the cessation of all violence! May men understand that they are all brothers! Mary, our Mother, understands our concern and our needs.”
11. Ecumenical Meeting in the Hall of Honor of the Syro-Catholic Patriarchate of Charfet
“Allow me to acknowledge here the testimony of faith shown by the Syrian Antiochene Church in the course of its glorious history, a testimony to an ardent love for Christ, which has caused it to write some heroic pages of this history, right up to the present, by remaining committed to the faith even to the point of martyrdom. I encourage this Church to be for the peoples of the region a sign of the peace that comes from God as well as a light that keeps their hope alive. I extend this encouragement to all the Churches and ecclesial communities present in the region.”
12. Departure ceremony at the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport
“I pray to God for Lebanon, that she may live in peace and courageously resist all that could destroy or undermine that peace. I hope that Lebanon will continue to permit the plurality of religious traditions and not listen to the voices of those who wish to prevent it. I hope that Lebanon will fortify the communion among all her inhabitants, whatever their community or religion, that she will resolutely reject all that could lead to disunity, and with determination choose brotherhood. These are blossoms pleasing to God, virtues that are possible and that merit consolidation by becoming more deeply rooted. The Virgin Mary, venerated with devotion and tenderness by the faithful of the religious confessions here present, is a sure model for going forward in hope along the path of a lived and authentic brotherhood.”