Aquinas on Tyrannical Government

St. Thomas Aquinas, II-II, Question 42:

Tyrannical governance is unjust, since it is ordered to the private good of the ruler, not to the common good, as the Philosopher makes clear in the Politics and the Ethics. And so disturbances of such governance does not have the character or rebellion, except, perhaps, in cases where the tyrant’s governance is so inordinately disturbed that the subject people suffer greater harm from the resulting disturbance than from the tyrant’s governance. Rather, tyrants, who by seeking greater domination incite discontent and rebellion in the people subject to them, are the rebels. For governance is tyrannical when ordered to the ruler’s own good to the detriment of the people.

Bishops must Rebuke Emperors

In the Year of our Lord 390, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I exacted retribution on the citizens of Thessalonica for an uprising. The Church Father Theodoret recounts what happened:

The emperor was fired with anger when he heard the news, and unable to endure the rush of his passion, did not even check its onset by the curb of reason, but allowed his rage to be the minister of his vengeance. When the imperial passion had received its authority, as though itself an independent prince, it broke the bonds and yoke of reason, unsheathed swords of injustice right and left without distinction, and slew innocent and guilty together. No trial preceded the sentence. No condemnation was passed on the perpetrators of the crimes. Multitudes were mowed down like ears of grain in harvest-tide. It is said that seven thousand perished.

St. Ambrose of Milan heard of the massacre and forbid the Emperor from entering the Church. The entire account can be found in Theodoret, but in part he says:

Fired with divine zeal the holy Ambrosius exclaimed “Rufinus, I tell you beforehand; I shall prevent him from crossing the sacred threshold. If he is for changing his sovereign power into that of a tyrant I too will gladly submit to a violent death.” On this Rufinus sent a messenger to inform the emperor in what mind the archbishop was, and exhorted him to remain within the palace. Theodosius had already reached the middle of the forum when he received the message. “I will go,” said he, “and accept the disgrace I deserve.” He advanced to the sacred precincts but did not enter the holy building. The archbishop was seated in the house of salutation and there the emperor approached him and besought that his bonds might be loosed.

“Your coming” said Ambrose “is the coming of a tyrant. You are raging against God; you are trampling on his laws.” “No,” said Theodosius, “I do not attack laws laid down, I do not seek wrongfully to cross the sacred threshold; but I ask you to loose my bond, to take into account the mercy of our common Lord, and not to shut against me a door which our master has opened for all them that repent.” The archbishop replied “What repentance have you shown since your tremendous crime? You have inflicted wounds right hard to heal; what salve have you applied?”“Yours” said the emperor “is the duty alike of pointing out and of mixing the salve. It is for me to receive what is given me.” Then said the divine Ambrosius “You let your passion minister justice, your passion not your reason gives judgment. Put forth therefore an edict which shall make the sentence of your passion null and void; let the sentences which have been published inflicting death or confiscation be suspended for thirty days awaiting the judgment of reason. When the days shall have elapsed let them that wrote the sentences exhibit their orders, and then, and not till then, when passion has calmed down, reason acting as sole judge shall examine the sentences and will see whether they be right or wrong. If it find them wrong it will cancel the deeds; if they be righteous it will confirm them, and the interval of time will inflict no wrong on them that have been rightly condemned.”

In a letter to the Emperor, St. Ambrose says:

Should I keep silence? But then my conscience would be bound, my utterance taken away, which would be the most wretched condition of all. And where would be that text? If the priest speak not to him that erreth, he who errs shall die in his sin, and the priest shall be liable to the penalty because he warned not the erring.

Ambrose believed that it is the duty of a priest to correct all those in error, up to and including the Emperor of Rome, lest the priest become responsible for not speaking the truth to him. He is referring to Ezekiel 3.18:

If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.

This is the testimony and example of the ancient Church handed down to us as a pattern of how to deal with tyrants who massacre their own people.

Totalitarianism was Supported by the Masses

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt says that that the Soviet and Nazi totalitarian systems rested on mass support:

No doubt, the fact that totalitarian government, its open criminality notwithstanding, rests on mass support is very disquieting. It is therefore hardly surprising that scholars as well as statesmen often refuse to recognize it, the former by believing in the magic of propaganda and brainwashing, the latter by simply denying it…A recent publication of secret reports on German public opinion during the war (from 1939 to 1944), issued by the Security Service of the SS, is very revealing in this respect. It shows, first, that the population was remarkably well informed about all so-called secrets – massacres of Jews in Poland, preparation of the attack on Russia, etc. – and second, the “extent to which the the victims of propaganda had remained able to form independent opinions.” However, the point of the matter is that this did not in the least weaken the general support of the Hitler regime. It is quite obvious that mass support for totalitarianism comes neither from ignorance nor from brainwashing.

The Failure of the West

The impending collapse of Western governments and of the social order can be traced to a failure to embrace the ethical norms that God has revealed to us in the Scripture. An overall greed and lack of self control have contributed heavily to our living far beyond our means. Spending on military domination and the impossible schemes of the Welfare State have bankrupted our governments.
The entities that arise from the wreckage of the coming cataclysm will have to embrace frugality, restraint and prudence. The best way to achieve these virtues is the way of submission to God and new life in Him.

Calvinism is Hot in China

So says this post by Andrew Brown:

The most conservative estimates of the new converts to Christianity is 500,000; there is a new church built every month. Calvinist Christianity has a culture of phenomenal industry. Calvin himself, in his time in Geneva, preached every day and twice on Sundays: shorthand writers at the foot of his pulpit took down 108 volumes of his sermons, though most of these have been lost and his reputation rests on the books and pamphlets that he wrote himself. In China now, this kind of Christianity is seen as forward-looking, rational, intellectually serious, and favourable to making money.

Brown refers to, “Wang Xiaochao, a philosopher at one of the Beijing universities, has translated the two major works of St Augustine, the Confessions and the City of God, into Chinese directly from Latin.”

Western Calvinists should pay attention to a big reason that the Chinese are interested in Calvin: his theology of resistance:

Calvinism isn’t a religion of subservience to any government. The great national myths of Calvinist cultures are all of wars against imperialist oppressors: the Dutch against the Spanish, the Scots against the English; the Americans against the British. So when the Chinese house churches first emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution in the 80s and 90s “They began to search what theology will support and inform [them]. They read Luther and said, ‘not him’. So they read Calvin, and they said ‘him, because he has a theology of resistance.’ Luther can’t teach them or inform them how to deal with a government that is opposition.”

We will need this theology as our governments become increasingly oppressive.

Social Doctrine on Abortion

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published by the Roman Catholic Church clearly outlines how Christian politicians should treat abortion. Since Protestant churches are sorely lacking in applied ethical standards, we might learn from these documents both how to deal with unjust, evil laws, and how to anticipate martyrdom:

When — concerning areas or realities that involve fundamental ethical duties — legislative or political choices contrary to Christian principles and values are proposed or made, the Magisterium teaches that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals”. In cases where it is not possible to avoid the implementation of such political programmes or to block or abrogate such laws, the Magisterium teaches that a parliamentary representative, whose personal absolute opposition to these programmes or laws is clear and known to all, may legitimately support proposals aimed at limiting the damage caused by such programmes or laws and at diminishing their negative effects on the level of culture and public morality. In this regard, a typical example of such a case would be a law permitting abortion. The representative’s vote, in any case, cannot be interpreted as support of an unjust law but only as a contribution to reducing the negative consequences of a legislative provision, the responsibility for which lies entirely with those who have brought it into being.

Faced with the many situations involving fundamental and indispensable moral duties, it must be remembered that Christian witness is to be considered a fundamental obligation that can even lead to the sacrificing of one’s life, to martyrdom in the name of love and human dignity. The history of the past twenty centuries, as well as that of the last century, is filled with martyrs for Christian truth, witnesses to the faith, hope and love founded on the Gospel. Martyrdom is the witness of one who has been personally conformed to Jesus crucified, expressed in the supreme form of shedding one’s blood according to the teaching of the Gospel: if “a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies … it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

One of the footnotes here points to John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, which says:

73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. “They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God” (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law. In this sense, the opportunity to refuse to take part in the phases of consultation, preparation and execution of these acts against life should be guaranteed to physicians, health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals, clinics and convalescent facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane.

Sexual Mores

What possible reason can our secular majorities have to censure David Petraeus or the pedophiles in the Britain? They certainly wouldn’t appeal to Scripture. So what could possibly be wrong with adultery or any other act?

2016

Who will run next time? Here’s my rough draft of a guess, which I will have to revisit in late 2015 (God willing).

GOP:
Jeb Bush
Marco Rubio
Paul Ryan
Sarah Palin – possibly third party
Rand Paul
Chris Christie
Kelly Ayotte
Rick Santorum

Democrats:
Hillary
Joe Biden
Andrew Cuomo
Martin O’Malley
Duval Patrick

Mark Warner

Wilson: Repent

From Doug Wilson:

2. Given the wickedness of key elements in Obama’s agenda (abortion, sodomy, thievery through taxation, etc.) we know that whatever the Lord is doing, it is for judgment and not for blessing. And in Scripture, whenever judgment is pending, or has begun, the appropriate response is repentance — not mobilization or organizing our remaining tatters.

Postmillennial optimism does not mean the world gets better without repentance. It means that the gospel is powerful to save, and when the gospel is preached rightly it comes in the form of “repent and believe.” Repent of what? Repent of our sins. Believe what? Believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

Over the next four years our energies should be focused on getting all Christian kids out of the government schools. If your kids are educated by people who are soft in the head, why would you expect them to grow up and not vote for people who are soft in the head? Students become like their teachers (Luke 6:40). Don’t lament the fact that Obama won if over 90% of your children’s teachers voted for him.

We also need Christians with a thorough-going biblical worldview writing good books, making good movies, and recording good music. As I have argued before, you can’t have a naval war without ships, you can’t have tank warfare without tanks, and you can’t fight a culture war without a culture. And by Christian culture, incidentally, I do not mean pious schlock and I do not mean hipster poses with extra mousse in your hair to make it stick up.

Mattson: Forward

From Brian Mattson:

I look at the electoral map and I see a sea of red and tiny pockets of blue. Those pockets of blue are major urban population centers, filled with young millennials bewitched by the mind-numbing, soothing language of Progressivism: tolerance, compassion, social justice, etc. They are persuaded by the likes of JayZ and Katy Perry, as depressing as that is. Politics is downstream from culture. We have a lot of work to do persuading these voters that a culture of life, strong civil society, free market enterprise, and the impartiality of justice (i.e., not identity politics) leads to human flourishing and Progressivism does not. We cannot simply assume they’ll grow out of it as they get older. They may, and often do. But we need to be more proactive because these people obviously vote before their eventual enlightenment. I have some ideas of my own and I’m open to suggestions.

But these ultra-liberal urban centers are also filled with upper-income elites who seem utterly entrenched in political liberalism. What is so amazing about this is that these rich liberals are not engaging in free sex or aborting their babies (a major campaign pitch of the Obama campaign in the final days). They are getting married, staying married, and having kids. Yet they seem to think the Republic is at stake if those young millennials don’t get free contraceptives or abortifacients. My point? Upper class liberals live more conservatively than they vote. This is a fact, and you can read all about it in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. We need to start persuading these people.

I look at these blue urban pockets and something else strikes me. How would these electoral areas look if large evangelical church pastors had not stubbornly refused for the past few decades to teach and preach anything politically related? I think of Tim Keller, of whom I have the greatest admiration. I believe he is under-serving his people in New York City if his teaching never translates into political matters. And he purposely makes sure it never translates into political matters. Upper income elites need to be encouraged to vote the values they actually live (by and large), and young millennials need to be encouraged to make the connections between the Christian Faith they get on Sunday and the ballot booth they enter on Tuesday. (I’ve written a book to do just that, by the way. Buy it now. More than ever. Give it to your children and all their friends.)