The Letter I Wrote to Ralph Klein When I Was 15

Ralph Klein died on Good Friday 2013. Along with Christ, he knew the importance of sacrifice. It is a great testament to his leadership and character that almost every Albertan has some story about ‘King Ralph.’

The first letter that I ever wrote to a politician was to Premier Klein. Receiving a response encouraged me in my youth to be enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in politics. Here’s my letter.

June 1, 2006

Office of the Premier
Room 307, Legislature Building
10800 – 97th Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6

Dear Mr. Ralph Klein:

Thank you for leading our province to where we are today. Your goal towards a debt-free province for the next generation (my generation) was challenging for many as you insisted on a tight budget. However, the fruits of the discipline that you encouraged have rewarded us all with a profit!

It was generous of you to decide to give everyone in our province $400.00 and I find it very interesting and exciting to see, hear, and read how people have chosen or are choosing to spend their money.

I became very interested by the stories that I had heard. Some of the kids at school were excited about buying Ipods, MP3 Players, and other cool toys and electronics. I choose to invest my money in the training that I am required to obtain for a summer work position with the City of Calgary.

It has come to my attention that you have even more money to potentially dispense throughout the province. What a blessing it is to call Alberta home! At first, I thought it that it would be great to get more “Ralphbucks” with my name on it. But, now I think that it is important to put the rest of the money towards education.

I’ve learned that my school is being forced to compromise the values that it stands for and raise money through casinos to provide me with great opportunities such as field trips, option courses, and guest presenters. These programs enhance my learning experiences and make school so much more fun. However, I do believe that the cost is too high when we have to compromise what we believe in to receive a quality Catholic education.

Having to raise money through means that contradict our morals and values can and is influencing all education systems because gambling has so many negative effects on people’s lives. By using the money we are condoning the continuation of this highly addictive activity without even wanting to.

With the financial surplus, I feel strongly that the money should be invested into quality education so that we can continue having special learning experiences without paying the price of compromising our morals and values.

Thank you for your time and consideration and for everything that you have done that has lead our province to this financially responsible place in Canada.

Sincerely,

Amanda Achtman
Grade 9 Student
École Madeleine d’Houet School

Reading Week Part 3: On Hunting by Roger Scruton

This evening I finished reading Roger Scruton’s book On Hunting. It was a delight to read this short memoir indoors on a Saturday snuggled with a blanket and beside a fire. It reminded me of reading books about gruesome trench warfare in cafés while sipping cappuccinos. The circumstances in which I read books on topics like war and hunting are so radically removed from the contents of the books, which makes non-fiction books and autobiographical memoirs seem more like fantasy.

When I was a child, I didn’t like pretending very much. I was very much obsessed with accuracy and with reality. Tea was obviously an indispensable condition for a tea party; juice could not possibly be a substitute. So books that are based very much on reality, but on a reality which is utterly or significantly foreign to me make for very enjoyable reads. Being transported to the world of fox-hunting in Scruton’s book is a bit like being transported to a world of elves or wizards, except the foreign reality is not an imaginary one, but rather an existent one in our world.

When this book was lent to me, my first comment was that it is short. Scruton prefaces his especially autobiographical anecdotes saying, “The length of a biography ought to be dictated by the greatness of the deeds recorded in it. Thousand-page accounts of minor politicians are the greatest offence against literature – especially when written by politicians themselves.” Scruton weaves together an engaging narrative emphasizing the centrality of hunting to his experiences. He says he “resolved to take up hunting during this, the best part of my life. The next ten years were given to fulfilling that ambition, along with two others: to be employed by no-one, and to live by my wits. The three ambitions were really one and the same: I was taking a step back from the modern world into a realm of ancestral freedoms. I was also discovering England.”

The three-fold resolution and the lofty, yet compelling description of what became of his goals lend a larger-than-life quality to his storytelling. Perhaps this is the case with all storytelling though. I think that one of the most insightful lines in C.S. Lewis is this:
“Doesn’t the mere fact of putting something into words of itself  involve an exaggeration?”

Recently, a man I know, a hunter, was explaining to me that he is an atheist but that hunting is the closest he has come to believing in God. The reflection that hunting inspires on nature, on life, and on mortality orient the soul to contemplation of these things. Here is what Roger Scruton says on the matter:

“Of course, I was familiar with hunting prints, with lampshades, table mats and tea trays celebrating ‘the sport of our ancestors’. And being a mere intellectual, I had dismissed them as mass-produced kitsch. But what I observed was neither kitsch nor cliché. There by the willow-cumbered banks I saw the moving image of eternity. Here was an unselfconscious union between species, which was also a rejoicing in the land. It was neither Nature nor Heritage nor any other marketed thing. It was, like God, too shy and true for marketing, as inward and secret and comforting as soul is, and as durable. I know this more clearly now, in retrospect. But I sensed it then, and a strange apprehension came over me, like falling in love – the apprehension of the self taken hostage by an outside force.”

Occasionally throughout the book, I wondered how the book is received by other fox-hunters. After all, Scruton is an intellectual and his book centres around such themes as human nature and the human condition, all while referencing classical texts in politics, history, and literature. It reminded me of J. Glenn Gray’s book The Warriors, which was the most academic book that I read in my War and Interpretation class. Gray’s book is philosophical. It is fundamentally about human nature (of which war is an essential feature) and other eternal things. This is precisely what made Scruton’s book enjoyable for me too though. Because his book is about many more fundamental things than hunting (which is but one example of the deeper truths that are illustrated), the book resonated meaningfully.

Scruton’s book helps in discerning a proper understanding of human persons. Two important passages on this point include: one on looking at people as subjects and one on making distinctions between animals and humans based on what it means to be a moral being:

“God intended that we live in such a way, that we see into the subjectivity of the world – which is God himself. That we can do this is self-evident. How we do it is an unfathomable mystery. And if, in order to bring this mystery about, a process of evolution was required, so that the soul became incarnate at last in a creature which rose only by degrees to such an eminence, then so be it. God moves in a mysterious way. When you look on people as objects, then you see that Darwin was right. When you look on them as subjects, you see that the most important thing about them has no place in Darwin’s theory.”

[…]

“Animals are not moral beings: they have neither rights nor duties, they are not sovereign over their lives, and they can commit no crimes. If they were moral beings, then Kant’s categorical would apply to them: it would be wrong to kill them, capture them, confine them, harm them, or curtail their freedom. But it would also be wrong for them to do these things. Lions would be murderers, cuckoos usurpers, mice burglars, and magpies thieves. The fox would be the worst of living criminals, fully deserving the death penalty which we from time to time administer. For foxes kill not only for food, but with a wanton appetite for death and destruction. In short, to treat animals as moral beings is to mistreat them – is to make demands which they could not satisfy, since they cannot understand them as demands.”

Like the books that I have studied on war last semester, Scruton’s book on hunting surprised me. It was engaging, witty, and persuasive. The book is not abstract, but personal. And from the particulars in Scruton’s experience, he points beyond the specifics to what is universal in human nature. He points to what any reasonable person should consider and that is the question: what is man’s place in nature?

Here are a few of my other favourite quotations from the book:

“Being unpopular is never easy; but being unpopular in a good cause is a shield against despair.”

“For hunting lifts me out of my modernist solitude and throws me down in a pre-modern herd – a composite herd, made up of horse and hound and human, each sharing its gift of excitement and giving its all to the chase.”

“It is a law of human nature that those with least to say spend the most time in saying it.”

“For this is how the suicide of nations begins, when sentimentality prevails over sense.”

“And here is the true reason why women ought not to fight in armies – that, in the moment of supreme danger, they might turn their hostility as much on their comrades as on their foes.”

“Young people need nothing so much as wit, allusion and style. They should be studying advocacy and argument; they should be reading poetry, criticism and the authors who have said things clearly and well. Instead, between bouts of pop music and television, they are handed jargon-ridden drivel by out-dated Parisian gurus, impenetrable texts of sociology, the half-articulate leavings of the grievance trade – yes, and Heidegger, who appeals to the post-modern tutor largely because he makes so little sense.”

Reading Week Part 2: The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

This evening I finished reading José Ortega y Gasset’s book The Revolt of the Masses.
Soon, I intend to write more reflectively on what I have read, but for now, here are my favorite quotations from this exceptional book:

“The masses, suddenly, have made themselves visible, and have installed themselves in the preferred places of society. In the past, the mass, where it existed, went unnoticed. It was a background to the social scene, to the stage of society. Now it has advanced to the footlights, and plays the part of the leading character. There are no longer protagonists as such: there is only the chorus.”

“The characteristic note of our time is the dire truth that the mediocre soul, the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be mediocre, has the gall to assert its right to mediocrity, and goes to impose itself wherever it can. […] The mass crushes everything different, everything outstanding, excellent, individual, select, and choice.”

“The very name is alarming: that a century should call itself “modern,” that is, ultimate, definitive, compared to which all others are merely preterite, humble preparations aspiring to the present!”

“We live at a time which feels itself magnificently capable of any realization, but does not know what to realize. Lord of all things, man is not master of himself. He feels lost in his own abundance. Equipped with more means, more knowledge, more technique than ever, the world today proceeds as did the worst and most unfortunate of all former worlds: it simply drifts.”

“It is false to say, therefore, that in life ‘circumstances decide.’ On the contrary, circumstances are the dilemma, always new, constantly renewed, in the face of which we must make decisions. And it is our character which decides.”

“I do not believe in the absolute determinism of history. On the contrary, I believe that all life, including historical life, is composed of purely momentary instances, each relatively undetermined as far as the previous moment is concerned, so that in each of them reality hesitates, vacilates, marks time, runs in place, paws the ground, and is uncertain of which possibility to choose. This metaphysical wavering, this humming uncertainty, makes everything alive seem to vibrate tremulously.”

“The primary, radical meaning of the word life is made clear when it is used in the sense of biography and not of biology. And this is true for the very good reason that any biology, in the end, is only a chapter in certain biographies, whatever biologists do in the course of their biography. Any other notion is abstraction, fantasy, myth.”

“The world is civilized, but the inhabitant is not: he does not even see its civilization, but uses it as if it were a part of nature. The new man wants his automobile, and enjoys using it, but he thinks it is the spontaneous fruit of some Eden-like tree. His mind does not encompass the artificial, almost unreal nature of civilization, and the enthusiasm he feels for its instruments does not include the principles which make them possible.”

“Philosophy needs no protection, nor attention, nor sympathy, nor interest on the part of the masses. Its perfect uselessness protects it.”

“But the specialist cannot be subsumed under either of these two categories. He is not learned, for his is formally ignorant of all that does not fit into his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, for his is ‘a man of science,’ a scientist, and he knows his own sliver of the universe quite well. We shall have to call him a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, for it means that he will act in all areas in which he is ignorant, not like an ignorant man, but with all the airs of one who is learned in his own special line.”

“For philosophy to rule, it is not necessary that philosophers be rulers (as Plato first wanted) nor even that rulers philosophize (as he more modestly wished later). Both courses would prove fatal. For philosophy to rule it suffices that it exist, that is, that philosophers be philosophers. For over a century now, philosophers have been everything but philosophers: they have been politicians, pedagogues, professors, men of letters, and men of science.”

“Moreover, the mass-man sees in the state an anonymous power, and since he feels himself to be anonymous too, he believes that the state is something of his own. When conflict or crisis occurs in public life, the mass-man will tend to look to the state to assume the burden, take on the problem, take charge directly of solving the matter with its unusurpable means.”

“And this is the greatest danger threatening civilization today: the statification of life, state intervention, the taking over by the state of all social spontaneity. […] The mass tells itself: ‘The state is me,’ it’s own version of L’État, c’est moi. […] The contemporary state and the mass are only the same in being anonymous.”

“Without commandments obliging us to live in certain fashions, our lives become purely arbitrary, they become ‘expendable.'”

“Surely, the best that can humanely be said of any institution is that it should be reformed, for that implies that it is indispensable and that it  is capable of new life.”

“Such is the state. It is not a thing, but a movement.”

“If the state be a project for common action, its reality it purely dynamic: it is a doing, something to be done, the community in action.”

“But the same thing happens if the mass-soul decides to act the revolutionary: the apparent enthusiasm for the manual worker, for the afflicted, for social justice, serves as a mask to disguise the rejection of all obligations – such as courtesy, truth-telling, and, above all, respect for and just estimation of the superior individual.”

“This evasion of all obligation explains in part the phenomenon, half ridiculous and half disgraceful, of the promulgation of the platform of “Youth,” of youth per se. Perhaps our times offer no spectacle more grotesque. Almost comically, people call themselves “young,” because they have been told that youth has more rights than obligations, since the fulfillment of obligations can be postponed until the Greek calends of maturity. Youth has always considered itself exempt from doing or already having done great deeds or feats. It has always lived on credit. This has always been understood as being in the nature of humanity, a kind of feigned right, half ironic and half affectionate, conceded to their juniors by the no-longer young.”

“For morality is always and essentially a feeling of subordination and submission to something, a consciousness to obligation and service. […] Morality cannot be simply ignored. Amorality – a word which lacks even a proper construction – does not exist. If one wants to avoid submitting to any norm , one must, nolens volens, submit to the norm of denying all morality. And that is not amorality, but immorality. It constitutes a negative morality which conserves the empty form of the other morality.”

Reading Week Part 1: The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor

In honour of this week which has been sanctified by the University as “Reading Week”, I will blog about books.

I just finished reading The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor. The book resulted from the Massey Lectures, “The Malaise of Modernity,” which were broadcasted on CBC Radio in 1991.

First, Taylor begins by enumerating the three malaises including: individualism, instrumental reason, and the institutions and structures of industrial-technological society. Individualism is problematic because, “people are no longer sacrificed to the demands of supposedly sacred orders that transcend them” and this contributes to a “loss of meaning.” Instrumental reason is used to refer to “the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of means to a given end” and this means that efficiency is the measurement of success over virtue, for example. Industrial-technological society, Taylor argues, paves the way for “individuals to give a weight to instrumental reason that in serious moral deliberation we would never do” and this he says “is about a loss of freedom.”

Taylor aims to strike a balance in his assessment of modernity between the extreme positions of “the boosters and the knockers.” He thinks that “a systematic cultural pessimism is as misguided as a global cultural optimism.”

And so, he begins to describe authenticity. This is a word I will likely avoid using in the future given how ambiguous and confusing I have found it to be in Taylor’s thought.

Essentially, Taylor wants to resist extreme contempt for modernity because there is a “powerful moral ideal at work” in modern culture. This moral ideal (often distorted by the three malaises of modernity) has to do with a kind of self-fulfilment centred on “being true to oneself, in a specifically modern understanding of that term.” This he calls authenticity and he says it “should be taken as a serious moral ideal.”

Here are some quotations on authenticity to demonstrate why I am confused:

The ethic of authenticity is something relatively new and peculiar to modern culture.

Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, and that is something only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself. I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own. This is the background understanding to the modern ideal of authenticity, and to the goals of self-fulfilment or self-realization in which it is usually couched. This is the background that gives moral force to the culture of authenticity, including its most degraded, absurd, or trivialized forms. It is what gives sense to the idea of ‘doing your own thin’ or ‘finding your own fulfilment.’

Can one say anything in reason to people who are immersed in the contemporary culture of authenticity? Can you talk in reason to people who are deeply into soft relativism, or who seem to accept no allegiance higher than their own development – say, those who seem ready to throw away love, children, democratic solidarity, for the sake of some career advancement?

Authenticity is not the ememy of demands that emanate from beyond the self; it supposes such demands.

Authenticity is a facet of modern individualism.

Authenticity involves originality, it demands a revolt against convention.

Authenticity involves creation and construction as well as discovery, originality and frequently opposition to the rules of society and even potentially to what we recognize as morality. But it is also true, as we saw, that it requires openness to horizons of significance (for otherwise the creation loses the background that can save it from insignificance) and a self-definition in dialogue.

The struggle ought not to be over authenticity, for or against it, but about it, defining its proper meaning.

This is pretty confusing stuff. Authenticity is a word that Taylor uses to describe the tension between bad individualism (atomization) and good individualism (“responsibilization”).

Interspersing numerous pleas to environmentalism, communitarianism, and anti-abortion efforts, his policy prescriptions are generally fairly big leaps from his analytic and socialistic system of thought.

There are many interesting references throughout this book to such wide-ranging thinkers as Tocqueville, Bloom, Arendt, Rawls, MacIntyre, Hutcheson, Rousseau, Hegel, Montesquieu, Foucault, Bacon, Wordsworth, and Rilke.

Ultimately though, I was not very impressed by this book. Perhaps I should try another one. In the meantime, for good reading on modernity, individualism, democracy and so on, it makes sense to return to reading Democracy in America and The Quest for Community from which I have still only read excerpts.

Sacred Trust Abuse Scandals

My child, sit here with me. Tell me what troubles you. Only if you want to. I am Father Gregory. […]
I can’t tell you, Father.
Would you like to go to Confession?
I can’t, Father. I did terrible things.
God forgives all who repent. He sent his only Beloved Son to die for us.
I can’t, Father. I can’t.
But you could tell St. Francis, couldn’t you? […] We’ll sit here and you’ll tell him the things that trouble you. If I sit and listen it will only be a pair of ears for St. Francis and Our Lord. Won’t that help?
– from Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

The sacrament of Confession can be, all at once, mysterious, perplexing, terrifying, humbling, and liberating. The Catchecism says that “even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby
opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a
new future possible.”

The Catechism also says:

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal,” because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the sacrament.

The word ‘sacrament’ comes from the Latin meaning ‘sacred sign.’ The sacraments are intended to point beyond themselves to the fullness of God’s mercy and loving justice. It is the responsibility of the priest to be a servant of God’s forgiveness and to mediate between God and the penitent. The sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation is rooted in both Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

When [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on [the disciples] and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” – John 20:22-23 (NRSV)

Father William Saunders tells this story about the inviolability of the sacramental seal:

A beautiful story (perhaps  embellished with time) which captures the reality of this topic is the life of  St. John Nepomucene (1340-93), the vicar general to the Archbishop of Prague.  King Wenceslaus IV, described as a vicious, young man who easily succumbed to  rage and caprice, was highly suspicious of his wife, the Queen. St. John happened  to be the Queen’s confessor. Although the king himself was unfaithful, he became  incrasingly jealous and suspicious of his wife, who was irreproachable in her  conduct. Wencelaus, as king, demanded that St. John break the sacramental seal.  Although Wencelaus tortured St. John to force him to reveal the Queen’s confessions,  he would not. In the end, St. John was thrown into the River Moldau and drowned  on March 20, 1393. Similar stories abound, especially in the past century during  the awful persecution of the Church under Communism and Naziism, where priests  were tortured, imprisoned, and executed because they would not break the sacramental  seal.

Though “it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (Code of Canon Law, no. 2490), there are instances where priests have betrayed the authority and responsibility of their positions. Though the sexual abuse scandals that have occurred have been the main focus of attention by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the sacred trust abuse scandals deserve, I think, our serious attention, especially in light of dozens of efforts by governments that threaten the inviolability of the sacrament.

Though the known cases of abuses of the sacramental seal are very few relative to the longstanding tradition of secrecy, it is wrong to underestimate these known cases and to omit from our consideration the possibility of many possible unreported cases.

The most startling example of a breach of the sacramental seal that I have learned about occured in the life of a young boy. I will excerpt his whole account of the experience from his autobiography:

An Early Traumatic Experience

You should know that I took my religion very seriously. The first serious crack in my religious belief happened when I was thirteen years old. On a Saturday morning, during the usual pushing and shoving to be the first one into the gym, I accidentally pushed a classmate down the stairs. Throughout the years, hundreds of students must have sailed down these stairs without any serious injuries. This time he was unlucky; he broke his ankle. I was punished with two hours of detention. I went to confession in the afternoon as I did every week, confessed what I did like a good boy, but I didn’t say anything about this incident at home because I didn’t want to spoil Sunday for my parents. They would learn about it soon enough in the coming week.

That evening my confessor, who was a good friend of my father, was visiting at our house. The next morning my father scolded me about the pushing incident, and I was punished because I did not report it to him right away. I was devestated, not because of the punishment, but because of this unheard of breach of confidence by my confessor. Wasn’t it always taught that the secrecy of the confessional could not be broken? Even the most serious crimes that a person tells the priest in the holy confessional cannot be reported to the police. And now this priest, whom I trusted so deeply, who was my steady confessor and knew my whole little world of sins by heart, had broken the secrecy of the confessional for such a minor incident. Only he could have told my father.

Neither my father, mother, nor anyone else from our house had been in town that day. Our telephone was out of order, and none of my classmates lived in our neighbourhood. No one had visited us except my confessor. For a long, long time, I checked all the details of this over and over because this was such a horrible thing to me. Then and even now I am firmly convinced that the priest had violated the secrecy of the confessional. My faith in the holy profession of the priesthood was smashed and doubts began to stir within me. I never went back to him for confession because I could no longer trust him. I told the priest that I was going to our religious instruction teacher in the church near my school because my father lectured me when he discovered I was no longer going to the priest. My father believed it, but I am convinced that the priest knew the real reason. He tried everything to win me back, but I just couldn’t go back to him. In fact, I went even further. I didn’t go to confession at all anymore if I could get away with it. After this incident, I could no longer trust any priest.

In religious instruction we were told that if a person went to communion without confession, he would be severely punished by God. We were told that someone had done that and had dropped dead at the communion rail. With childish simplicity I begged God to be lenient because I could no longer confess faithfully and to forgive my sins, which I now recited directly to him. So I believed I was free of my sins. Full of doubt, I went trembling to the communion rail in strange church. And nothing happened! So I, poor earthworm, believed that God would hear my prayers and agree with what I was doing. The deep, true, childlike faith which so calmly and surely guided my soul until this time was smashed.

How sincere and contrite! Who could refuse pity and sympathy to this boy whose trust and childlike faith were so terribly betrayed? What became of this boy? The next year his father died. The boy was supposed to become a priest. With the loss of faith and the loss of his father, he became zealous to join the military, though he was just fifteen. He doubted his vocation to be a priest and explained that both the traumatic incident of betrayal and having witnessed the trade in holy relics that he had seen in the Holy Land had destroyed his faith in priests. His mother then died and the young man became more and more convinced of his desire to be a soldier.

The one of whom I speak is Rudolph Höss and I have been quoting from his autobiography Death Dealer: Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. According to the back cover, “Höss (1900-1947) was history’s greatest mass murderer, personally supervising the extermination of approximately two million people, mostly Jews at Auschwitz.”

Two months before he was hanged at Auschwitz Höss ended his memoirs saying:

May the general public simply go on seeing me as the bloodthirsty beast, the cruel sadist, the murderer of millions, because the broad masses cannot conceive the Kommandant of Auschwitz in any other way. They will never be able to understand that he also had a heart and that he was not evil.

Though his memoirs are filled with alternations between truthtelling and lying, the challenges in deciphering the truth render the work all the more fascinating. And so, from this Nazi we have an extraordinary testimony on the absolutely paramount secrecy of the Seal of Confession. Though the terrible betrayal of trust (whether sexually or with respect to sacred trust) does not exonerate penitents from future sins, it does rouse heartbreaking sympathy for those who, in their vulnerability and trust, have expected to
place themselves before the mercy of God, but have instead encountered extreme human weakness, and perhaps even Satan.

But “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NRSV), there is a need for the sacrament of Confession. It is a real, transformative event through which God imparts His loving mercy even though priests fall short of mediating (as Christ does) the perfection of the love of God the Father.

In her Letter to a Priest, Simone Weil writes: “The Church is only perfectly pure under one aspect; when considered as guardian of the sacraments. What is perfect is not the Church; it is the body and blood of Christ upon the altars.” Similarly, it could be added: What is perfect is not the confessors; it is the mercy of God poured out through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Confession is a powerful experience. The priests through whom I have confessed my sins have been extraordinary examples of Christ’s love. They have always listened lovingly and patiently. They have often given helpful advice, encouragement, and spiritual direction. I am thankful for their ministry. It is truly amazing that there are priests all around the world listening to hours of confessions every week. They are doctors of the soul and deserve our gratitude for their selfless service. Still, we must encourage and pray for them, that each would “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1)

“The Anonymous Passive”

This evening I attended the first annual Frank Eyck Memorial Lecture in German History at the University of Calgary. Guest lecturer Dr. Christopher Browning from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill spoke on the topic: “Why Did They Kill? Revisiting the Holocaust Perpetrators.” From the lecture, there is one concept that stands out specifically in my mind. According to this site: “When the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, [the north-western German city] Bremen’s police force did not hesitate to side with them. Their decision to collaborate turned civil servants into mass murderers.” Browning told us that a reserve policeman from Bremen who served as the company photographer wrote letters to his wife that have survived and are being studied. For accuracy, I will quote from Browning’s paper on which he based his presentation:

One month later, after reporting on latest packages sent home, he [the Bremen reservist] noted explicitly: “Here all Jews are being shot. Everywhere such actions are underway. Yesterday night 150 Jews from this place were shot, men, women, children, all killed. The Jews are being totally exterminated.” He advised his wife not to think about it—”it must be”—and for the moment to “say nothing about it” to their eldest daughter. Significantly, he wrote in the “anonymous passive” voice—omitting any identification of the actors–so pervasive in postwar accounts but here employed even during the war.

The phrase “the anonymous passive” and Browning’s explanation of it using this example struck me as quite relevant to my recent reflection on the tendency of international relations theorists and international political economists especially to personify non-persons and to dehumanize actual persons so that action is carelessly assigned to non-actors and moral responsibility cannot be properly designated.  “Theorists’ use of abstractions, often involving calling non-persons ‘actors’, leads to a deflection of responsibility. The problem is that you and I are not sure where to direct our moral judgment… either praise or blame.”

Browning’s student Patrick Tobin elaborates on this point in his Master’s Thesis on the second largest Nazi crimes trials after the Nuremberg Trials. He says:

Those interviewed by and large played a difficult balancing game, trying to come across as helpful and open, while reluctant to provide any self-incriminating statements. When confronted with the information about the massacre in Garsden, most acknowledged that this occurred, but made self-exculpatory statements along the lines of “I did not see these things with my own eyes.” Similarly, they tended to speak of the shooting in what Christopher Browning has termed the “anonymous passive,” noting the crimes but omitting the criminals: “After the first group had been shot, the next ten people were led to the grave… In the end, they themselves were shot just as their predecessors.”

Dehumanization is often cited as one of the key tactics of genocidaires. (By the way, this French word for ‘those who commit genocide’ was coined after the genocide in Rwanda and I think we ought to have an English equivalent that is more precise than ‘perpetrator.’) Dehumanization is defined by Browning as the “ability to construct a world in which those whom the perpetrators had killed were not within community of human obligation, but rather totally devalued.”

Using theories, models, paradigms, abstractions, and other “constructs” distract from “the community of human obligation.” Valuing human persons requires a personalist and human action approach to politics. Also, international politics is about more than necessity. Constructing a system of the world according to what is possible rather than according to what is responsible leads to immoral consequences.

What are the Foundations of International Political Economy?

Here are some initial thoughts I have for a paper I am writing in a class called Politics of the International and Economic Order.

I would like to argue that among political scientists, there is a tendency to personify non-persons, while, at the same time, dehumanizing actual persons. This is an especially common temptation for international relations theorists. Though they are often called “actors”, states, governments, international organizations, agencies, departments, programs, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, non-governmental organizations, corporations, etc. do not act. Only human persons act. Action is important because it denotes intellect and will. Only upon recognizing that actions are what human persons (and only human persons) do, can we assign moral responsibility to the persons acting within these larger organizations. Otherwise, individual persons are shielded from responsibility within a bureaucracy and among the masses within a system.

Possible titles include:
Toward a Praxeological Approach to International Political Economy OR,
A Return to International Relations Rooted in Natural Law OR,
A Deconstruction of International Relations

My professor warned me to make sure that it is an International Political Economy paper. The below post is an attempt to understand a bit about the nature and foundations of the sub-discipline.

Dr. James Keeley also advises his students to remember the adage: before you study something, understand it thoroughly. This reminds me of a quotation attributed to Francis Bacon: “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” Sir James Steuart references this quotation in his 1767 work An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy in which he says:

I have read many authors on the subject of political oeconomy; and I have endeavoured to draw from them all the instruction I could. I have travelled, for many years, through different countries, and have examined them, constantly, with an eye to my own subject. I have attempted to draw information from every one with whom I have been acquainted: this, however, I found to be very difficult until I had attained to some previous knowledge of my subject. Such difficulties confirmed to me the justness of Lord Bacon’s remark, that he who can draw information by forming proper questions, must be already possessed of half the science.

In his preface to the Inquiry, Steuart discusses the “complicated interests of society”, the habit of running into “systems [that] are mere conceits”, and the imperfection of language insofar as “the signs of our ideas take the place of the images which they were intended to represent.” It is with these prefatory comments that Steuart anticipates, at the outset, the underlying problems that continue to exist for any person endeavoring to give an account of political economy, whether of the domestic or international variety.

Before analyzing the meaning of “international”, it is worthwhile to first consider the meanings of the terms “politics” and “economics.” The etymologies of these words reveal the oxymoronic quality of such phrases as “International Political Economy” and “International Relations”. Politics is derived from the Greek word politika which Aristotle used to denote “the affairs of the polis[1]“. Economics is derived from the Greek word oikonomia which refers to that which is “practised in the management of a household or family.”[2] Xenophon wrote a treatise titled “Oeconomicus”, or “The Economistin which Socrates and Critobulus dialogue on the science of the household. And so, the origins of the terms politics and economics seem to involve accounts from the perspective of the soul [or the individual] as the city writ small rather than from the perspective of the city as the soul [or individual] writ large.[3]

The preposition ‘inter’ meaning ‘between’ or ‘among’, is derived from Latin and appears in such Latin phrases as: “inter alios, amongst others, other persons”; “inter nos, between ourselves”; “inter partes (Law), of an action: relevant only to the two parties in a particular case”; inter se, between or among themselves”; and “inter vivos, between living persons”.[4] The noun ‘nation’ shares a root with nāscī, meaning to be born and “nation” came into origin in order to describe ‘a people united by common language and culture’, and ‘family, lineage’.[5] Both ‘inter’ and ‘nation’ are etymologically rooted in defining the nature of local phenomena, that is, persons, families, and communities.

From appeals to justice in Thucydides’ History of the Pelopponesian War, to arguments for legitimacy in Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry the Fifth, to the rules outlined in the Geneva Conventions, international relations in its current expression should be understood within the order of history. Providing context serves elucidate that, though a relatively new sub-discipline within political science, international relations is not actually new. Persons perpetually debate about power, authority, legitimacy, duty, stewardship, human dignity, law, nature, and morality.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Iberian scholastics now referred to as ‘the School of Salamanca’ were foundational in laying the intellectual groundwork for contemporary international law and international relations. According to Alves and Moreira:

The origins of (what we now call) international law go back to the Roman law concept of ius gentium [law of nations], a set of principles and rules that are derived from natural reason (and not from national legislators), and are common to all peoples, and apply equally to all mankind. […] Vitoria, Soto, Molina, and Suarez all agreed that the ius gentium was common to all mankind and that it could be recognized by reason even though it was not created through the will of an assembly or human legislator.[6]

In order to rescue international relations from its capture by Machiavellians[7] and men of system[8], political scientists should rekindle the relationship of international relations to international law and the relationship of international law to natural law. A return to understanding international relations as one aspect that is but an extension of natural law would lead to a restoration of moral judgment in this domain of politics. Where moral judgment is the primary aim, individual persons, their acts, and their motives will be returned to the centre of the study of politics. A personalist approach is preferable to a systematic, institutional, statist, or any other approach based upon abstractions. Theorists’ use of abstractions, often involving calling non-persons “actors”, leads to a deflection of responsibility. The problem is that you and I are not sure where to direct our moral judgment… either praise or blame.

As Steuart says: “Man we find acting uniformly in all age, in all countries, and in all climates, from the principles of self-interest, expediency, duty, or passion. In this he is alike, in nothing else.”[9] It is through studying the human person and by offering a humble effort at striking at some truth of human nature and the human condition that international political economy can be helpful to understanding what is local. Claiming to account for the mystery of what is macro is most often a conceit of knowledge and the impetuous for planners to lead communities into “the highest degree of disorder.”[10]

Please leave comments and recommended reading for me in the comments section below.


[1] Polis. Greek “city state” with a certain population and connected to the concept of citizenship based on birthplace.

[2] Oxford English Dictionary.

[3] With reference to Plato’s discussion in The Republic.

[4] Inter, preposition, OED. “inter, prep.”. OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press.

[5] “nation, n.1”. OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press.

[6] Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers. The Salamanca School. Andre Alves and Jose Moreira, 59.

[7] Steuart discusses the Machiavellian tendency to “approv[e] the sacrifice of private concerns in favour of a general plan”.

[8] Smith discusses ‘men of system’ who are “so enamoured with the supposed beauty of their own ideal plan of government that they cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.”

[9] An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy by Steuart.

[10] Smith’s warning about the ‘men of system’.

Little deaths and little resurrections

“We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

These words we spoke as we genuflected at each Station of the Cross. After bundling up to shield ourselves from the cold with our toques, gloves, and boots, we retreatants transitioned from the indoors of the Mount Saint Francis Retreat Centre into the frosty air of the cool outdoors on the outskirts of Cochrane, Alberta.

Passing a white statue of Saint Francis camouflaged in the snow, we then stood at the base of the mount at the First Station. According to this source: “The Stations of the Cross are an ancient form of Christian devotion. They were originally observed by pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, and were popularized by the Franciscans when they were given custody of the holy sites in Jerusalem in the 14th Century.”

At each Station, one of us would read a reflection. One knee bended in the snow, the front of the bottom of our jeans became dampened by the cold wetness. Soon, the bitterness of the cold was becoming sweet as we yearned for some slight discomfort that we might unite our discomfort, however pathetic, to the sorrow of Christ, to his friends, and to his Mother.

The last time that I had participated in the Stations of the Cross was in Mexico on Good Friday. This weekend, I was participating in the Stations in wintry Cochrane at a Fransciscan retreat Centre. I reflected on the continuity of this practice, the consistency of the devotion. Across time, cultures, and weather, the ritual remains.

Our ascent up the mount was simultaneously a descent into the humility of Christ’s passion. I gazed up at the trees that were beautifully covered in snow. Every branch was coated perfectly. Some of the statues were covered with snow. Brushing the snow aside from the faces of statues, we sought to uncover the mystery of the characters who were there with Christ when he carried the cross. We could taste the crispness in the air. The sky was white. We did the stations of the cross, uniting our own suffering to the suffering of Christ. Journeying through this ritual affirmed the smallness of our anxieties compared to the ultimate sacrifice of love made by Christ. The final reflection called us to reflect on how the Christian life is a journey of little deaths and little resurrections. We humbly imitate the salvation story through our lives. Even in the face of profound sorrow, there always remains the hope of immense joy.

This weekend I was on a retreat for youth ministers who serve on the Diocesan Youth Retreat Team. We lead retreats for students of the Calgary Catholic School District and also facilitate retreats through the parishes for sacramental preparation in the diocese.

On Sunday morning, youth minister Michael Chiasson gave an excellent talk. He spoke the topic of anxiety. “Google this word,” he says, “And there will appear 172,000,000 results in 0.18 seconds.” He proceeded to discuss how God brings us in over our heads so that when we get through things, we will look back and know that we didn’t do it by ourselves.

Throughout his talk, I though about two quotations almost in such a way that the first became like a question to which the second served as the answer:

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” – Søren Kierkegaard
and
“Peace is the tranquility of order.” – Saint Augustine

We love our liberty, yet we resent anxiety. Peace is perhaps the love of liberty along with the recognition that this liberty includes the anxiety of responsibility for the fruits of our freedom, for our choices.

Hannah Arendt eloquently says, “Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity. ”

As Augustine understood that “peace is the tranquility of order” which includes disorder, so Arendt understands that liberty is the the tranquility of freedom, including necessity.

It seems reasonable that the desire for liberty, like the desires for knowledge, perfection, etc. cannot be achieved in their fullness in this life. Why, then, should liberty be different? This does not diminish the goodness of liberty, but disposes us to seek moderation even in its pursuit and its defense. Could it be that extremism in the defense of liberty is, in fact, a vice? Libertarians can and will busy themselves their whole lives long seeking liberty. Liberty without limits is boundless, but it is also meaningless. Chesterton said that the liberty of which he chiefly cares is the liberty to bind himself. Socrates said that all that he knew was that he was ignorant. The paradoxical truth seems to be that it is the nature of our liberty to be limited.

In thinking about the relationship between liberty and responsibility and between volition and action, I have been reflecting on this passage in scripture:

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” – John 5:6

According to the Gospel of John, the man who Jesus came upon in Jerusalem had been ill for thirty-eight years. That is a really long time. If you have been in any state for such a length of time, I too would wonder if you are not simply desiring to maintain it. And so Jesus asks the sick man if he wants to be made well. This is a very interesting aspect of the story and one that we can easily forget.

A friend of mine recently shared one of his favorite non-biblical verses and that is the oft-repeated saying: “God helps those who help themselves.”

Is not the story of the man who is asked if he wants to be made well a sort of variation of this saying though? If the man did not want to be made well, Christ could have still healed him since he can do anything, but I doubt that he would have.

When I was a child, I was very curious about one part of the Mass. We would say, “Lord and I not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed!” I would tug on my mother’s shirt and ask her, “What’s the word?” I thought that there was some magic word that we should say to be healed and then she answered me, “The word is: ‘I want to be healed!'”

Too easy, I thought. Is that really all it takes?

Sometimes it seems that instead of wanting to be made well, which requires some work on our part, we would rather that others be made worse. That would be a much easier solution.

Why do people like watching reality television? Recently at the Mustard Seed, after the vice-presidential debate, the show that came on television was Beyond Scared Straight. “The series follows at-risk teens who have been in trouble for everything from fighting, theft, and drugs to promiscuity, gambling and gang-relations. They are forced to spend a day in jail, interact with convicted felons and truly experience what a life behind bars is like. In the end, some change for the better, but for others, nothing changes at all.”

With my Mustard Seed friends, I debriefed this. One resident, with whom I disagree on almost all things political said, “For once I agree with Amanda. This show is exploitative.” What does it say about the state of our culture or even human nature that this show is so succussful and that people delight in the suffering of others?

To whom do you think this type of show appeals? I asked.

“Middle class Americans.”

“Why is that?” I wondered aloud.

Both of us answered nearly in unison that it is because those who view it watch and say with satisfaction, “My life is not that bad.”

As we lead our lives, we find peace when we get glimpses of the fullness of reality as consisting of liberty and limits, healing and vulnerability, order and disorder. Will we be among those who sit on couches watching reality television and delighting in the suffering of others?Will we be like Simon and emerge from a crowd to help strangers and friends to carry their crosses? Perhaps there is a time for all of these activities, in our lives that ever consist of little deaths and little resurrections.

The Valley of the Dry Bones: Genocide and Resurrection

In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.

Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.

One day, our group went down through a valley on a rickety white bus in southern Rwanda and came upon a hill in the middle of the valley. We were led into classrooms of a once-destined technical school filled with tables on which the bodies of victims were laid. These bodies had been preserved using limestone and so we saw bodies frozen in form showing the positions in which they had died. Some of the bodies had their arms crossed, some with their arms in the air, some bodies were sprawled out in utter defeat. There was one room with children and infant victims’ bodies. Sometimes clothing was attached to the preserved corpses. We saw the full bodies of the victims whose families had hurried to the site quickly enough to claim them. These bones testified to the horrors of genocide and to the fragility of human life. Did they also testify to the finality of death?

That evening, I was praying fervently and struggling with the experience. My roommate asked, “May I share with you a reading from scripture that I read today while we were at the memorial site called Murambi?” With my encouragement, she began to read Ezekiel 37 aloud.

“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” I shivered recalling the valley through which we had driven and the hill upon which we had ascended. “He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.” I could still smell the putrid smell of the limestone that looked like chalk upon the dry, preserved corpses. My friend continued reading: “‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.'” I reflected on each body I had seen preserved. For none were the machete blows deserved.

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.'” During the day, across the distance, I saw some children running quickly to greet us Muzungus, a local word meaning aimless wanderers used to refer to foreigners. Oh, we of little faith, I thought. We saw new life upon this hallowed hill.

The reading from Ezekiel continued, “‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.”

Children had been playing on the hill were their ancestors were massacred. Life was continuing where thousands had been slaughtered. I have seen life after genocide, I thought. And if there can be life after genocide then it is not so difficult to imagine life after death. “I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.” Those risen from the ashes of genocide offered a glimpse of the hope of the resurrection. With their lives and their faith they declared life in a former place of death.

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” As my friend read this I could feel the breeze that we had felt that day upon that hill. I reflected on the juxtaposition of the memorial site with the beautiful new lives being lived there now.

“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” I then imagined all those bodies that I had seen rising again.

The reading continued, “I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.” What a message of hope! This message of reconciliation and healing written in the sixth century Before Christ took on so much meaning in light of the genocide in Rwanda. While the country is striving to eliminate tensions between Hutus and Tutsis, the Word of God affirms that these divisions will cease when there is restoration to the unity found in His peace.

I was in awe of this reading’s relevance to our activities of the day. My friend concluded the reading: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” What had been an incredibly challenging day and a great test of faith ended with the reassurance of God’s providence and with the joyous hope of life after death.

This blog is dedicated to my dear friend Rebecca Mattea Chadwick-Shubat who shared Ezekiel 37 with me and we both found consolation in scripture. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement. Philippians 1:3.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121:1

Thoughts on Henry V

Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry the Fifth (1599) portrays a medieval campaign undertaken by a chivalrous Christian king in a just cause leading the defeat of the many French by the few English.
– Barry Cooper, “The Element of Play in Western War”

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, The Western Schism “in the history of the Roman Catholic church, was the period from 1378 to 1417, when there were two, and later three, rival popes [Urban VI, Clement VII, and Alexander V], each with his own following, his own Sacred College of Cardinals, and his own administrative offices. […] The spectacle of rival popes denouncing each other produced great confusion and resulted in a tremendous loss of prestige for the papacy.”

Historian Peter Reid, in A Brief History of Medieval Warfare: The Rise and Fall of English Supremacy at Arms, 1314-1485“, says: “When Henry V came to the throne
[age 27] on the death of his father in March 1413 the political scene was, for the Middle Ages, relatively settled. The king’s council and parliament worked well together, and relative powers and areas of influence over these two bodies of power were well defined. Trade was booming and the country prospered.” Reid explains that, though conditions in England were stable, “there remained a small number of disaffected but influential barons from his father’s reign, who might be encouraged to take advantage of of his absence abroad. These peers or their families had their land taken from them or been dishonoured in other ways by Henry’s father when he usurped the throne from Richard II.”

This Wikipedia article on the Salic law says, “Shakespeare claims that [the French King] Charles VI rejected Henry V’s claim to the French throne on the basis of Salic law’s inheritance rules, leading to the Battle of Agincourt. In fact, the conflict between Salic law and English law was a justification for many overlapping claims between the French  and English monarchs over the French Throne. […] Salic law regulates succession according to sex. Agnatic succession means succession to the throne or fief going to an agnate of the predecessor; for example, a brother, a son, or nearest male relative through the male line, including collateral agnate branches, for example very distant cousins.”

And so, with this historical context, we have a glimpse of the centrality of the question of legitimacy among both the ecclesiastical and political authorities in this medieval period.

In Shakespeare’s play, Henry V asks, “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” In Act 1, he seeks the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury and of the Bishop of Ely. Though a king, Henry was required to subordinate his ambition to the scrutiny of the ecclesial authorities in order to effectively pursue the French throne.

It is exciting to consider the parallels between papal authority and kingly authority. The Great Schism meant that people were, so to speak, of different minds on the issue of legitimacy, risking the shattering of confidence in the papacy more broadly. The French King Charles VI, who was nearly twice Henry’s age, suffered a mental illness called glass delusion whereby he feared that he was made of glass “and therefore likely to shatter into pieces”.

At this point, I am not sure about the origin and development of the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. For this reason, I will focus on the scriptural case for submission to earthly authority found in Romans 13:1-7 where St. Paul writes:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

How could it possibly be that “there is no authority except that which God has established”? Augustine said “an unjust law is not law at all.” Perhaps an illegitimate authority is no authority at all. Dear libertarian and anarchist friends, I am going to move on to a very quick glance at the just war tradition. (We can debate the above scripture verse on Facebook.)

Here are the three conditions for just war according to Thomas Aquinas:

1. The authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged.
2. A just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault.
3. It is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.

In this article, “Henry V, Shakespeare and Just War” Donald McClarey discusses how Henry V’s war was arguably just according to the standards set out by Aquinas, but likely not according to the standards of the contemporary Catechism. McClarey writes:
“As can be easily seen, there are differences between the formulation of the Just War doctrine by the Angelic Doctor and the Catechism. […] The most recent interpretation of the Doctrine in the Catechism seeks to set the bar higher, much higher, for a just war, than Saint Thomas did. […] Morally, I believe that Henry V should properly be judged according to the Just War Doctrine enunciated by Saint Thomas, as it is obviously unfair to hold anyone accountable for a different formulation of the doctrine that arose more than five centuries after his death.”

I found it interesting that McClarey says, “Rulers would often seek the opinions of universities to help bolster their claims, and opinions would often vary.” I say this because the aforementioned Great Schism article says, “Various proposals for ending the schism were made, especially by the University of Paris, which suggested either mutual resignation or a decision by an independent tribunal or a general council.” Another interesting parallel.

Contemporary Social Teaching of the Church and the more recent papal encyclicals do seem to deviate from the just war tradition. In this National Review post “The Just-War Tradition”, George Weigel says:

So the notion that just-war analysis begins with a “presumption against war” (or, as some put it, with a “pacifist premise”) is simply wrong. The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with  legitimate public authority’s moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom. The just-war tradition is not a set of hurdles that moral philosophers, theologians, and clergy set before statesmen. It is a framework for collaborative deliberation about the basic aims of legitimate government  as it engages hostile regimes and networks in the world.

Did it even matter if a war was just? What about pure military necessity? All of this piety and Christian chivalry, all of this rule-following and decorum seems like quite an obstacle, no? In The Prince, Machiavelli advises:

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

Were Henry V’s pious acts manifestations of true religion or Machiavellian pretenses?
I have come across several articles discussing Henry V as a Machiavellian ruler. For the historical Henry at least, this is a clear anachronism. The Battle at Agincourt was in 1415 and The Prince was published more than one hundred years later in 1532.  However, Shakespeare’s play is thought to date from 1599 and there are convincing cases for Machiavellian characters in Shakespearean plays. This makes the historical context and the chronology of publications and political events especially significant.

The other hugely significant event that occurred during this period was the English Reformation. King Henry VIII was prohibited by the pope to divorce and was excommunicated from the Roman Church. There is a lot more interesting history here and I intend to learn it eventually. In 1534, the Acts of Supremacy made Henry the “supreme head in earth of the Church of England”.

Shakespeare was writing for a Church of England audience. He had incentives to satisfy audiences and did not want to be censored, but celebrated. The historical context gives us insight into why Shakespeare downplays the Great Schism and papal authority. Still, there are many ways that the political drama imitates the ecclesiastical drama and of course, there was great interplay between the two because of how entrenched the Church was in the politics of Medieval Europe.

It is often said that the victor writes history. Despite controversy over Shakespeare’s religion and religious sympathies: He who was immersed in the English Reformation wrote history plays!

Book I want to read:
The Just War Tradition: An Introduction by David D. Corey and J. Daryl Charles