Saturday 28 October 2017

Aquinas on tyranny – another American Blog that fails to understand Catholic tradition…

The Roman Senators surround Julius Caesar before assassinating him...

A Blog called “St Peter’s List” (SPL) presumes to teach its readers what is the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on tyranny but, I would argue, fails to understand his teaching, although it does cite the relevant passages of St Thomas.

The blog post is entitled “May Catholics Overthrow or Even Kill a Tyrant? - 9 Comments by Aquinas” and can be read here.

I shall attempt here to show why its analysis is erroneous.

It begins thus:

“…may Catholics overthrow or even kill a tyrant? The answer to this question is one St. Thomas Aquinas pondered over his lifetime. In contemplating the assassination of Julius Caesar, a young Aquinas seemed to state that not only can a Catholic kill a tyrant, there are times he should be praised for it. Later in life, when writing at the request of the King of Cyprus, Aquinas takes a very different view… In the twilight of his short life, the Angelic Doctor once again addressed the issue in his Summa Theologica. In this reflection, he appears to present a more mature version of his earliest answer. He jettisons the blanket prohibition against it...”

In fact, Aquinas is consistent throughout and did not contradict himself or “take a different view” or “mature” and “jettison” his earlier view.

St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor

There is a perennial problem with many American Catholic blogs because so many Americans are fatally stamped, from their earliest years, with an erroneous belief in the justice of their own immoral revolution of 1776, constantly seek to justify it, and so skew, often radically, their understanding of the ancient teaching of Catholic theology and even of Classical pagan philosophy.

In truth, the American Founding Fathers were rebels and traitors to legitimate authority, deeply anti-Catholic, and indeed anti-Christian in any orthodox sense. Most were Freemasons, Deists and Unitarians, if not outright unbelievers. The one Catholic, Charles Carroll, was highly heterodox in his understanding of the Catholic faith.

The American rebels gather to plot treason and insurrection against their legitimate King

This failure to understand St Thomas arises from the failure to understand the meaning of the Greek word τύραννος – and its Latin derivative, tyrannus – both of which originally meant one who has usurped authority or rules unconstitutionally.

Even the French philosophe Rousseau admitted this in his Social Contract when he wrote of the word:

“In the exact sense, a tyrant is an individual who arrogates to himself the royal authority without having a right to it. This is how the Greeks understood the word 'tyrant': they applied it indifferently to good and bad princes whose authority was not legitimate.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau,
French radical and author of The Social Contract

In the teaching of Aquinas, and other Doctors, a tyrant is one who usurps power either by overthrowing the true ruler or, if already ruler, usurps or overthrows the Constitution of his realm and rules unconstitutionally.

Even in these two cases, there must be a legitimate authority to determine whether the tyrant is an usurper. It cannot be the province of a private citizen or subject so to decide. Usually, this authority is the ousted true ruler.

The reason for this is not far to seek: an inferior may not judge a superior or else all law is overthrown, anarchy succeeds, no state can ever be secure and the strong impose their will upon the weak, the very antithesis of the Rule of Law.

Armed with this understanding, it soon becomes clear where SPL has gone astray in its thinking.

De Sententia - Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Dist 44, Art 2

SPL first cites the Sentences and rightly notes that St Thomas enjoins obedience to the secular power, citing Scripture in support and noting that all true authority comes from God. However, Christians are not bound to obey authority that “does not come from God”.

SPL also rightly quotes St Thomas, summarising thus:

“First, Aquinas states that those who are unworthy of power, but become a secular power regardless, should still be obeyed. Second, however, are those who acquire power through violence or any illegitimate means. Aquinas teaches, ‘we say that in such a case there is no lawful authority at all. He who seizes power by violence does not become a true holder of power’…Aquinas allows the caveat here that even those secular powers gained by illegitimate means may become legitimate if there is ‘consent of the subjects or by a recognition being extended to him by a higher authority’. In this case, the illegitimate ruler would become a legitimate true ruler and would merit obedience.”

SPL also rightly notes that St Thomas teaches that Christians are not bound to obey a tyrant, though they might prudently choose to do so.

Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, the "Master of the Sentences",
and author of the Four Books of the Sentences, the standard textbook of medieval theology 

SPL then refers to the question posed by St Thomas “Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised?” stating:

“In his question from the Sentences, St. Thomas Aquinas lists the following objection:

‘5. If it is a legitimate and even a praiseworthy deed to kill a person, then no obligation of obedience exists toward that person. Now in the Book on Duties [De Officiis I, 8, 26] Cicero justifies Julius Caesar’s assassins. Although Caesar was a close friend of his, yet by usurping the empire he proved himself to be a tyrant. Therefore toward such powers there is no obligation of obedience.’

…He [Aquinas] replies as follows:

‘Ad 5. To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.’

The last line of the objection is noteworthy and should be compared to his later thoughts in On Kingship and the Summa Theologica. First, it is the only part of the question in which he explicitly speaks of assassinating the tyrant. Second, the scholar Paul E. Sigmund observes Aquinas ‘seems to endorse killing a tyrant who has usurped his office (as distinct from one who has abused his power - St. Thomas Aquinas On Politics and Ethics, Translated & Edited by Paul E. Sigmund, 24).”

Now within this very explanation there sits the evidence that St Thomas did not change his mind or teaching, contrary to what SPL wrongly asserts.

The scholar Paul Sigmund is correct. St Thomas does not endorse the killing of a ruler who has abused his power but only he who has usurped his office or rules unconstitutionally (and then only by public, not private, authority).

Further, St Thomas is not here expressing a view as to whether Caesar was legitimately killed, which is a highly contested claim, but only opens up the possibility of allowing the removal of a tyrant when there is “no recourse to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper”.

But he does not clarify what kind of judgment is meant and we cannot assume that this means that a private citizen or subject may exercise that judgment for himself, particularly as St Thomas teaches the contrary later.

What St Thomas later writes must be taken as a gloss upon his earlier writing, just as Scriptural exegetes do with Holy Writ rather than simply assuming, as sceptics and unbelievers try to do, that Scripture contradicts itself.

As we shall see, St Thomas forbids private individuals to act on their own authority (as the American revolutionaries immorally did).

It follows that he must thus still require a superior to exercise judgment of some sort, even if that cannot be a formal, legal judgment in the full sense.

That, then, is what we must assume St Thomas means when he says “there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper”.

We shall see this confirmed in the next text cited by SPL, even though SPL misconstrues it.

De Regno - On Kingship, chapters 6 & 7

SPL cites De Regno saying: “Writing approximately a decade after his Commentary, Aquinas’ view on tyrants undergoes a shift.”

But does it?

In fact, no, it does not undergo a “shift” at all.

In Chapter 6, St Thomas writes:

“If the tyranny is so extreme that it is unbearable, some have argued that it is a virtuous act for brave men to run the risk of death in order to kill a tyrant and liberate the community…But this is not in accordance with Apostolic teaching. Peter teaches us to be subject not only to good and temperate rulers but also to the ill-tempered. ‘If anyone bears undeserved suffering out of reverence for God, this is (the work of) grace.’”

SPL rightly comments:

“Another issue Aquinas has with an individual assassinating a tyrant is private judgement. Aquinas states, ‘it would be very dangerous for the community and for its rulers if any individual, using his private judgment could attempt to kill those in government, even when they are tyrants’. In other words, who determines the king is a tyrant and that tyrant deserves death? ...If a king may be determined to be a tyrant worthy of assassination under private judgement, the community risks evil men killing a good king. Aquinas observes, ‘the more likely consequence of such presumption would therefore be to threaten the community with the loss of its king, rather than to benefit it by getting rid of a tyrant’.”

But then SPL wrongly claims:

“Aquinas’ comments in On Kingship stand in contrast to his words in the Sentences that appear to even allow the praise of one who kills a tyrant.”

This comments fails to make a proper distinction and does injustice to St Thomas by presuming he contradicts himself.

In Chapter 7 of De Regno, St Thomas clearly teaches that no private citizen or subject may take upon himself to judge a tyrant and then remove him but rather teaches that this is the province of a superior, such as a higher power or a group or assembly who have constitutional authority to select the ruler. Therefore we must assume that when, in the Sentences, he speaks of “no recourse to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper”, he means in a formal, legal judgment in the full sense.

Nevertheless, St Thomas must still require some superior to exercise judgment of some sort against the tyrant, thereby giving the private citizen or subject the right to remove the tyrant.

Such a superior might typically be the ousted king or ruler, giving orders from exile, or perhaps the Supreme Pontiff, exercising the supreme spiritual power, which, although a spiritual not temporal power, nevertheless is superior to the temporal in the matter of conscience.

Thus, St Thomas is entirely consistent, not self-contradictory, contrary to the claims of SPL.

Indeed, SPL could have determined this for itself by its own later citation of Chapter 7 of De Regno, when it writes:

“Is there an option between martyrdom and assassination? Aquinas gives three possible solutions. First, though kings may not be determined to be tyrants under private judgment, they may be subject to public judgment. The Angelic Doctor notes, ‘if a given community has the right to appoint a ruler it is not unjust for the community to depose the king or restrict his power if he abuses it by becoming a tyrant’. Second, the people may appeal to a higher political authority – ‘if on the other hand, it is the right of a higher authority to appoint a king over a certain community, then the remedy for the wickedness of the tyrant is to be sought from that authority’”.

But, as SPL is compelled to admit, St Thomas then expressly says as follows:

“Furthermore, it seems that to proceed against the cruelty of tyrants is an action to be undertaken, not through the private presumption of a few, but rather by public authority.”

Next SPL cites the Summa Theologica on sedition.

De Seditione - Summa Theologica II-II, 42, 1-2

SPL notes: 

“Aquinas states, sedition is ‘between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when one part of the state rises in tumult against another part’”…and…relying on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, Aquinas holds that sedition is a mortal sin…”

Next SPL considers the 3rd objection in Article 2 of Question 42 which states thus:

“Objection 3. Further, it is praiseworthy to deliver a multitude from a tyrannical rule. Yet this cannot easily be done without some dissension in the multitude, if one part of the multitude seeks to retain the tyrant, while the rest strive to dethrone him. Therefore there can be sedition without mortal sin.”

St Thomas answers thus:

“Reply to Objection 3. A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant's rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant's government. Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude.”

Here SPL makes it most egregious error by arguing thus:

“First, note that the blanket statement of On Kingship that rebellion against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching is not present here. The answer in the Summa is more akin to the answer a young Aquinas gave in his Sentences. It might also be noted that the work in which Aquinas does not give an avenue for rebelling against a tyrannical king was also the only work written for a king….”

In fact, none of the answers of St Thomas are out of harmony or self-contradictory, nor is there any “blanket statement” that overthrowing a tyrant is “contrary to apostolic teaching”.

First, what St Thomas teaches, in De Regno, is that “to proceed against the cruelty of tyrants is an action to be undertaken, not through the private presumption of a few, but rather by public authority”.

Thus, private citizens or subjects may be empowered by proper authority, e.g. the ousted ruler, to take action against the tyrant, such as happened in England when General Monck restored King Charles II to the throne and, later still, when the Jacobite uprising in Scotland sought to restore King James III & VIII, the Catholic nephew of King Charles II, to the throne usurped by the Whig Revolution of 1688.

James Francis Edward Stuart, King James III & VIII,
the true Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was to be restored by the Jacobite uprising against the usurping Hanoverian government

The Jacobite uprising was thus a just uprising, in stark contrast to the American Revolution, which was an unjust rebellion and an usurpation.

Second, we see above a hint of that Americanism that has so affected many otherwise good American minds against kingship, that form of government which the Catholic Church always gave preference to and which Pope Pius VI, in Pourquoi Notre Voix of 1793, called “the best of all governments”, as did St Thomas himself in De Regno 3:19 (“it is best for a human multitude to be ruled by one person”).

The implication here by SPL is that St Thomas was only writing as he did to please a king, the King of Cyprus, for whom he wrote De Regno. This is a shameful implication and unworthy of SPL.

In his Reply to Objection 3, St Thomas nowhere teaches that a private citizen or subject may take it upon himself to overthrow the tyrant. Taken together with his other teachings, it is clear that St Thomas means here an overthrow of the tyrant which has been sanctioned by proper authority, not merely by a private citizen, as he teaches in De Regno, Ch. 7.

Further, in speaking of a tyrant, St Thomas cites Aristotle (“the Philosopher”) who uses the word “tyrant” in the Greek sense of an usurper or one who usurps the Constitution and rules unconstitutionally, not merely a bad or oppressive or unpopular ruler.

the great philosopher of ancient Greece

It is in this sense that a tyrannical government is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, and the tyrant is seditious because he has overthrown the proper authority of the state.

A ruler is not a tyrant merely because he is personally bad, or rules badly, or is unpopular, which, unless he acts unconstitutionally, can only be a very subjective judgment and certainly no basis for his overthrow.

This, indeed, was the rationale behind the German officers, particularly the conscientious Catholic Colonel Claus, Count Schenk von Stauffenberg, who carefully considered, under spiritual direction, whether or not Adolf Hitler was a tyrant in the Greek and Thomist sense, i.e. an usurper, so that he could be removed, by assassination if necessary.

Colonel Claus, Count Schenk von Stauffenberg,
the Catholic and aristocratic German cavalry officer who laid a bomb for Hitler which failed to kill the tyrant
but cost Stauffenberg his life when he was later shot for his part in the plot to overthrow Hitler

It was argued that Hitler was an usurper because he used the Enabling Acts (Ermächtigungsgesetz) of 1933, an amendment to the Weimar Constitution obtained by illegal intimidation of non-Nazi deputies of the Reichstag, that gave the German Cabinet – in effect, Chancellor Adolf Hitler – the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag.

Together with the Reichstag Fire Decree (Reichstagsbrandverordnung), the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State (Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat), these laws were used to pass, illegally, the Fuhrer Act (Gesetz über das Staatsoberhaupt des Deutschen Reichs) on 1 August 1934, merging the office of the Reichspräsident with that of the Reichskanzler in the person of Adolf Hitler and thus creating an illegal dictatorship.

The legal and moral questions were complex and it was only after much soul-searching that Stauffenberg and the others were willing to take action.

Moreover, they conscientiously did not do so as mere private citizens but acted upon the authority of political figures who had been elected to public offices under the old Weimar Republic which, it was argued, was the last true constitutionally legitimate authority in Germany, before the Hitlerite usurpation.

Under Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and Dr Carl Goerdeler, they were to be the post-Hitler government of a free Germany. Stauffenberg and the other officers felt able to follow their orders to rid the country of the tyrant but it was no easy analysis since the Nazis had carefully covered their tracks and appeared to have acted within the law.

Colonel-General Ludwig Beck
who was to be the new President of Germany after the assassination of Hitler and the overthrow of the Nazi government

On this same analysis, we can readily see that the claim of the Catalan government, on 27 October 2017, to declare itself independent of Spain has no moral justification whatsoever and is no more than an immoral sedition, an usurpation, a coup d’etat, and contrary to the common good.

The Spanish government is thus morally right to act against the sedition and to remove the usurpers.

Senor Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister
faced with a treacherous, seditious and illegal rebellion in the province of Catalonia on 27 October 2017

The analysis of SPL however, is over-hasty and tendentious, misjudges St Thomas and, I would argue, does not represent Catholic theology fairly or properly and thus should be revised by its authors.

I hope and trust that they will do so.


Saturday 7 October 2017

7 October - The Battle of Lepanto - Don John of Austria defeats a much larger Muslim Turkish navy....

The battle of Lepanto, 7 October 1571

On 7 October 1571, Don John of Austria, son of the Emperor Charles V, commanding the navies of the Pope and the Emperor, together with the navies of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and of Spain and Venice, defeated a much larger Muslim Turkish navy off the coast of Greece at a place now called Naupactos.

To the men of his day this place was called by its Roman name:


How did this extraordinary victory come about?

The answer is simple enough. it was obtained - yet again - by the most powerful weapon known to men: the holy Dominican Rosary chaplet of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Prior to this, one of the greatest naval battles of Roman Christendom, the Pope, St Pius V, himself a Dominican friar, ordered the praying of the Holy Rosary throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, just as was later to be done before the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

As a result the feast of our Lady of Victory (later our Lady of the Rosary) was instituted by the popes for an everlasting memory.

Let us hear what Abbot Prosper Gueranger OSB of Solesmes says of that great battle and feast in his great work, The Liturgical Year (the book read to St Therese of Lisieux when she was a child):

"Soliman II, the greatest of the Sultans, taking advantage of the confusion caused in the West by Luther, had filled the 16th century with terror by his exploits. He left to his son, Selim II, the prospect of being able at length to carry out the ambition of his race: to subjugate Rome and Vienna, the Pope and the Emperor, to the power of the crescent.

The Turkish fleet had already mastered the greater part of the Mediterannean, and was threatening Italy, when, on 7 October 1571, it came into action, in the Gulf of Lepanto, against the pontifical galleys supported by the fleets of Spain and Venice.

It was Sunday; throughout the world the confraternities of the Rosary were engaged in their work of intercession. Supernaturally enlightened, St Pius V watched from the Vatican the battle undertaken by the leader he had chosen, Don John of Austria, against the 300 vessels of Islam.

Don John of Austria

The illustrious Pontiff, whose life's work was now completed, did not survive to celebrate the anniversary of the triumph; but he perpetuated the memory of it by an annual commemoration of our Lady of Victory.

His successor, Gregory XIII, altered the title to our Lady of the Rosary, and appointed the first Sunday of October for the new feast [now celebrated on 7 October, the actual day of the battle - ed], authorising its celebration in those churches which possessed an altar under that invocation
A century and a half later, this limited concession was made general. As [now Venerable]Innocent XI, in memory of the deliverance of Vienna by King Jan Sobieski, had extended the feast of the most Holy Name of Mary to the whole Church, so, in 1716, Clement XI inscribed the feast of the Rosary on the universal calendar, in gratitude for the victory gained by Prince Eugene of Savoy [commander-in-chief of the Imperial forces] at Peterwardein, on 5 August, under the auspices of our Lady of the snow. This victory was followed by the raising of the siege of Corfu, and completed a year later by the taking of Belgrade."

After Vienna, Peterwardein and Belgrade, the Muslim Turks were finally routed and never again troubled Roman Christendom.

Such was - and is - the extraordinary power of the Holy Rosary of St Dominic.

Beads of Paternosters and Aves have been said from very early times and were commonly said by the knights and sergeants of the Military religious Orders when in battle and on campaign, when they could not say their Office.

St Dominic formalised the current Dominican Rosary prior to the Battle of Muret in 1213 (that battle was again won on 12 September - the day after the mysterious 9/11) when he prayed for Count Simon de Montfort and his 700 knights as they sallied forth against a huge army of 50,000 Albigensians - rather like Theoden of Rohan against the massive army of Saruman and Isengard in The Lord of the Rings.

Like Theoden, de Montfort and his knights routed the Albigensians by charging straight into their midst. They gained the Albigensian headquarters and when their leader, the heretic King Peter of Aragon, was slain, the Albigensians fled.

Nevertheless, Count Simon wept over the corpse of King Peter whom he had known and admired as a soldier and whom he had hoped could be spared, powerful heretic and enemy though he was.

Thus the day was won and the tiny Catholic army triumphed over the huge heretic army. This, again, was another great victory obtained by the all-powerful Rosary of our Lady.

Small wonder, then, that our Lady has so often appeared and asked her children to pray the Holy Rosary for victory and peace, as she did to St Bernarde of Lourdes (St Bernadette) and later to the little shepherds at Fatima in 1917 during the Great War.

When we face fearful odds in the cause of right we must turn to our Lady and to her powerful weapon - the sword of the spirit - the chaplet of the Holy Rosary.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
St Dominic, pray for us!
St Pius V, pray for us!
Ven Innocent XI, pray for us!