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.

Life Speeds By

Seneca’s first Epistle discusses using time, and how we waste it:

Greetings from Seneca to his friend Lucilius.

CONTINUE to act thus, my dear Lucilius – set yourself free for your own sake; gather and save your time, which till lately has been forced from you, or filched away, or has merely slipped from your hands. Make yourself believe the truth of my words, – that certain moments are torn from us, that some are gently removed, and that others glide beyond our reach. The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness. Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose. What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed, Whatever years be behind us are in death’s hands.

Therefore, Lucilius, do as you write me that you are doing: hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of to-day’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by. Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession. What fools these mortals be! They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can easily be replaced, to be charged in the reckoning, after they have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of that precious commodity, – time! And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.

You may desire to know how I, who preach to you so freely, am practising. I confess frankly: my expense account balances, as you would expect from one who is free-handed but careful. I cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can at least tell you what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss; I can give you the reasons why I am a poor man. My situation, however, is the same as that of many who are reduced to slender means through no fault of their own: every one forgives them, but no one comes to their rescue.

What is the state of things, then? It is this: I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him. I advise you, however, to keep what is really yours; and you cannot begin too early. For, as our ancestors believed, it is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask./a Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile. Farewell

Stellman and Hahn

Jason Stellman’s notice of conversion has been the topic of the week in certain Reformed circles. A lot of good commentary has been offered on why this conversion happened and what was wrong about it. Peter Leithart, in particular, has penned several great entries on the subject.

Stellman’s trajectory matches Scott Hahn’s in many regards, with the exception of Hahn being into theonomy for about ten seconds before he jumped. This reminds me of a post I wrote seven years ago, which said in part:

So under Hahn’s linear view, when one linchpin was pulled out of his system, the entire thing collapsed. Sola Scriptura was not taught in the Bible, therefore his Protestant apologetic was made of straw.

Opposed to this viewpoint is a web based, nonlinear, postmodern epistemology. This type of thinking has been described as “all of the beliefs in the system standing in relations of mutual support, but none being epistemically prior to the others.” (Greco and Sosa) My pastor said that Hahn could have started from the fact that angels exist, and built upon that, for example, rather than Sola Scriptura.

I’m more of a critical realist, so I’m not sure that I totally agree with this approach, but I do think it has merit. In my view, the historical record does not support the outlandish claims of apologists for Rome and the Eastern Orthodox. St. Luke painting icons of Mary anyone?


Leithart describes scholasticism as follows:

On the surface, scholasticism was a systematic way of organizing theology and a method for resolving apparent contradictions in the tradition. Medieval theologians inherited a rich and varied tradition but one that was not always internally consistent. When Augustine says X, and Ambrose says Y, and the Bible says Z, what are we to do? Is this a contradiction, or are they speaking of different things or of the same thing in different ways? Add Aristotle into the mix, and you have most of the sources for scholastic theology. Scholasticism was also an attempt to harmonize faith and reason, an effort to demonstrate that the truths of Christian faith did not contradict logic and reason.

Plantinga is an Anglican

It was pointed out elsewhere that Theodore (not Cornelius as I mistakenly said earlier) Plantinga is now an Anglican. Witness:

The Canterbury Trail

Some of the reformationals, reacting against these developments began to cast a longing eye at the Canterbury Trail, as Robert Webber has called it. But when they departed for Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic or Anglican churches (called Episcopalian in the USA), they were not taking a step that can be hailed as reformational in the classic sense. Of course there are also reformationals who simply started out as Anglicans and were never enticed into joining a Reformed church, such as Craig Bartholomew.

Reformationals eyeing the Canterbury Trail could appeal to Abraham Kuyper for a degree of understanding, for in his book on worship Kuyper had written that the “English church” was much more developed in liturgical respects (liturgisch veel fijner ontwikkeld). And there was nothing particularly original about the decision of some of the reformationals to choose the Canterbury Trail; they could hardly congratulate themselves for being on the cutting edge. Rather, what they were doing was going back; in other words, they were embracing worship practices and sacramental emphases and forms of church governance which had been rejected by their ecclesiastical forefathers in centuries past.

It was as though the middle had fallen away. Many people had grown to love the “low-church” tendency that was more and more taking over the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Gordon Spykman (1926-93) observed that while Lutherans were toning down their sacramental emphasis by thinking more like Calvinists, the Calvinists were moving away from their traditional position and beginning to sound more and more like the Zwinglians, who had advanced the “memorial feast” view of the eucharist during the early days of the Reformation. But a minority abhorred these developments and began to yearn for sacrament and liturgy and tradition. Some discovered the celebrated Anglican Book of Common Prayer and were drawn into the Anglican communion, while others remained closet Anglicans.

I was among those who were drawn to the Book of Common Prayer: early in the new millennium I turned Anglican. The aftermath of the worship wars within the Christian Reformed denomination were a major factor in my decision, as was the coldness toward the 1944 problem and toward the many Canadian Reformed people living among us that I had experienced especially during my days of ecumenical endeavor in the early 1990s (see my remarks above). There was, in addition, a third, very personal factor in my decision, which I will not discuss here.


Aristotle Again

Rushdoony points out that pernicious affect that Aristotle has on Western theology (although he mistakenly attributes his influence to ‘scholasticism’ when in fact he had been there all along):

When Scholasticism reintroduced Aristotle’s humanism into Western history, the consequence was the decline of orthodox Christianity and its trinitarian answer to the problem of the one and the many and universals. The universals of Scholasticism became the Hellenic ideas or forms, and the Trinity itself was reevaluated in terms of these forms to become substance (the Father), structure (the Son), and process (the Spirit), so that the Trinity became simply the common being of the universe analyzed into its aspects. The universals thus had no small immanence, and the struggle of medieval Europe came increasingly to be a contest between claimants to the title of concrete universal, i.e., the immanent expression of ultimate order. Church, state, and university alike claimed supremacy and sovereignty, as did the anarchic and ultimate individual of such groups as the Adamites and other movements of the day. The mystics also claimed the same realization of the universal in their experience.

Life is Vapor – Rejoice!

Commenting on Ecclesiastes in general, Peter Leithart writes:

…the exhortation to joy, feasting and productive labor is inferred from the fact that life is vaporous and short. Joy is not a contradiction to the reality of a vaporous world; joy is the “fitting” response to a vaporous world. This is neither Stoic resignation nor Epicurean hedonism. Epicurean “joy” is a desperate whistling past the graveyard, a hedonism haunted by the realization that the world is under no one’s control. Epicurean joy is finally tragic joy. Solomonic joy is a hedonism that arises from the confidence that the world is always under Yaweh’s control. Solomon is saying that the world itself teaches us that it is not under our control, but Solomon adds the implication that the world is under God’s control. Instead of chafing at our finitude and yearning to be as gods, Solomon counsels that we rejoice in our limits and in all the vaporous life that we are given.

– Deep Comedy

It’s All Ours

Jaroslav Pelikan writes about the common “plunder the Egyptians” attitude of the church fathers:

The attitude of the church fathers toward classical thought contained a somewhat analogous judgment of its historic role. “Whatever things were rightly said among all men,” wrote Justin, “are the property of us Christians.” Christianity laid claim to all that was good and noble in the tradition of classical thought, for this had been inspired by the seminal Logos, who became flesh in Jesus Christ. This meant that not only Moses but Socrates had been both fulfilled and superseded by the coming of Jesus.

I’d add that as Classical Protestants, this can be our attitude towards the riches we can find in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writings. Not all of their thoughts are dross, after all, and the careful reader can harvest both good and bad from them, or any other baptized Christian.