Legislation Abounded

“Hence arose demagogues like the Gracchi and Lucius Appuleius Saturnis – and the senate’s partisans such as Marcus Livius Drusus with their equally comprehensive offers.  By these, Italian hopes were raised, only to be dashed by the tribunes’ vetoes.  Even during the Social and Civil Wars, contradictory legislation continued.  Then the dictator Sulla repealed or altered earlier laws, and passed more himself.  A pause followed; but not for long, since disorder quickly returned owing to the legislation of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (II), and the tribunes soon regained their power of unlimited popular agitation.  Thenceforward measures were concerned with personal instead of national issues.  Corruption reached its climax, and legislation abounded.”  Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome III. 27, trans. Michael Grant (London: Penguin, 1956, reprint 1996),  pp. 132-133. [Emphasis added]

In this paragraph Cornelius Tacitus (b. c. AD 56) summarized part of the late history of the Roman Republic from 133 BC to 77 BC.  At this time, Roman dominance of the Mediterranean world was already changing the Roman State from a Republic to an empire. Various factions emerged in a struggle for power that lasted for decades.  Every leader of a faction seemed to want only to enrich his allies and punish his enemies.  Sulla did this ruthlessly through mass executions and exiles.  As Tacitus points out, they passed new laws constantly, but these laws only served their corrupt enforcers.

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Imitate the Martyr

“It is the passion of the most blessed martyr Cyprian that has made this day into a feast for us, and the celebration of his triumph that has brought us together in such a spirit of devotion. But the right way to celebrate the festivals of the martyrs should be by imitating their virtues.  It’s easy enough to celebrate in honor of a martyr; the great thing is to imitate the martyr’s faith and patience.  Let us do the first thing in such a way that we commit ourselves to the second.  Let us celebrate the feast, that we prefer rather to imitate the virtues.”*

In this sermon, Augustine of Hippo preached at the church in Carthage where the great martyr, Cyprian, was buried. By the early fifth century (when Augustine was preaching), the observance of Cyprian’s martyrdom in AD 258 had become an established liturgical event. Later in this sermon, Augustine rebukes some people for celebrating the martyr in worldly ways including dancing and excessive drinking. Notice how he explains the proper manner to observe the festival of a martyr: imitate their virtues. According to Augustine, martyrs are not spiritual intercessors but rather patterns of holy living. Later in the sermon he described how to do this:

“So, despise the world, Christians; despise the world, despise it. The martyrs despised it, the apostles despised it, the blessed Cyprian despised it, whose memory we are celebrating today. You all want to be rich, want to be held in honor, want to enjoy good health; the man in whose memory you have come together despised the lot. Why, I want to know, do you have so much love for what the man you honor like this had such contempt–the man whom you wouldn’t be honoring like this if he hadn’t held it all in contempt? Why do I find you to be a lover of these very things whose scorner you venerate? Certainly, if he had loved these things, you wouldn’t be venerating him.”**

Augustine usually brings the focus on the Christian back to love. He preaches here what he taught in other works: our love determines our true identity and thus our actions. Cyprian became a martyr because he rejected the sinful world and loved God more then men. It would be foolish to observe this festival by doing the opposite. To honor Cyprian we must follow Cyprian’s love and actions. How do we despise the world and love rightly? Augustine concluded:

“The way lies open; Christ is the door. For you too the door was opened, when his side was pierced by the lance. Call to mind what flowed out from there, and choose the way you may enter. From the side of the Lord hanging and dying on the cross, after it had been pierced by the lance, water and blood flowed out. In one is to be found your purification, in the other your redemption.”***

*Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 311: On the Birthday of the Martyr Cyprian, in Sermons III/9, trans. Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1994), 71.  [Emphasis added]

**Ibid., 72.


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Force and Consent: Liberalism vs. Collectivism

“I challenge the Liberal gentleman to tell if ever in history there has been a government that was based solely on popular consent and that renounced all use of force whatsoever.  A government so constructed there has never been and never will be.  Consent is an ever-changing thing like the shifting sand on the sea coast.  It can never be permanent:  It can never be complete…If it be accepted as an axiom that any system of government whatever creates malcontents, how are you going to prevent this discontent form overflowing and constituting a menace to the stability of the State?  You will prevent it by force.  By assembling of the greatest force possible.  By the inexorable use of this force whenever it is necessary.  Take away from any government whatsoever force–and by force is meant physical, armed force–and leave it only its immoral principles, and that government will be at the mercy of the first organized group that decides to overthrow it.  Fascism now throws these lifeless theories out to rot.” Benito Mussolini, Force and Consent (1923) in The Western Heritage, eds. Kagan, Ozment, Turner, 9th Ed (2007), p. 888.

Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in late 1922 by appointment of the Italian monarch, Victor Emmanuel III.  When he published this work the following year, he was still seeking to consolidate his power through political coalitions.  It is important to point out that “Liberal” here does not mean what Americans or Canadians have called “Liberal” since the mid-twentieth century.  Liberal here means the nineteenth-century philosophy that combined personal liberty,  popular consent via elections, and laissez-faire economics.  Mussolini rejected these things and wanted to replace them with a heavily regulated economy that focused on the collective nation instead of individuals’ choices.  Collectivists (socialists, fascists, national socialists) all shared this disdain of individual-based liberalism.  The progressive movements in the USA adopted many of these collectivist ideas in less extreme forms in the early twentieth century.  Many people in these movements eventually adopted the term “liberal” to describe themselves despite their adoption of many collectivist ideas.*  In the following section, Mussolini concluded prophetically:

The truth evident now to all who are not warped by [liberal] dogmatism is that men have tired of liberty.  They have made an orgy of it.  Liberty is today no longer the chaste and austere virgin for whom the generations of the first half of the last century fought and died.  For the gallant, restless and bitter youth who face the dawn of a new history there are other words that exercise a far greater fascination, and those words are: order, hierarchy, discipline…” [Emphasis added]

After the ravages of the foolish Great War that led to millions of deaths, the destruction of nations, and economies, many of the youth did want these things.  People in many countries to varying degrees began to choose collectivist policies over personal liberty.  Exactly 100 years later (2022), it seems the world has embraced such things again.  History does rhyme and human nature does not change.

*F.A. Hayek. The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents. The Definitive Edition. Ed. Bruce Caldwell. 2007. [Original Text published in 1944 by U of Chicago], pp. 76-77.

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Slavish Obedience

“He seduced the army with bonuses, and his cheap food policy was successful bait for civilians.  Indeed, he attracted everybody’s goodwill by the enjoyable gift of peace.  Then he gradually pushed ahead and absorbed the functions of the senate, the officials, and even the law.  Opposition did not exist.  War and judicial murder had disposed of all men of spirit.  Upper-class survivors found that slavish obedience was the way to succeed, both politically and financially.  They had profited from the revolution, and so now they liked the security of the existing arrangement better than the dangerous uncertainties of the old regime.  Besides, the new order was popular in the provinces.  There, government by the Senate and the People was looked upon sceptically as a matter of sparring dignitaries and extortionate officials.  The legal system had provided no remedy against these, since it was wholly incapacitated by violence, favouritism, and – most of all – bribery.” Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, trans. Michael Grant (London: Penguin, 1956, reprint 1996),  p. 32.  {British spelling is used in this translation.}  [Emphasis added]

In this manner, Tacitus (b.c. A.D. 56) described how Octavian (later known as Caesar Augustus) became the ruler of the Roman Empire.  The Annals cover the period from Augustus’s last years to the death of Nero. While he claimed to write without indignation or partisanship, Tacitus included harsh criticism of early Imperial Rome.  The late Roman Republic had been evolving into a real empire for 200 years by this time.  When Romans realized how wealthy they could become through conquest and plunder, they could not be satiated.

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Power and Justice

“On the remedy of the Passion others have said that it is understood in justice and mercy. For our Savior, although He was all powerful, was able to free man (hominem) from the power (potestate) of darkness by the word alone of his own power (virtutis suae).  But in our liberation, He preferred justice rather than power (potentia), because the devil is a lover of power, [but] one who forsakes justice.  In whom men (homines) preferred to imitate him who desire power and hold hatred for justice. What is that justice?  Listen.  Christ is innocent, and free from all sin.  He alone is free among the dead; not having the cause of sin but [He is] under the author of sin.  Just as He himself said: “the prince of this world comes, and he has not found anything in me [John 14:30].” Richard of St Victor, Sermo in die Paschae, PL 196:1069 [my translation]

In this sermon for Easter, Richard of St Victor (d.1173) preached on Christ’s redemption of sinful humanity.  While he wrote many theological and devotional works related to medieval Christianity, as a teacher and prior, he would have preached too. When Richard wrote, “others have said,” he was referring to earlier debates among theologians about the relationship between God’s justice and the devil’s power.  Anselm of Canterbury and Hugh of St Victor (the first great teacher from Richard’s abbey) had both written about these debates in their famous works.  Richard seems to understand the basic ideas and combines various elements of different theories of redemption in this sermon:

“There was nothing in Christ found from [the sinful world’s] complete substance, nevertheless [the devil] killed the innocent One, and therefore [the devil] was commanded to draw back from those guilty ones who flee to Christ for refuge.  [The devil] killed Him who owed nothing to death, and [the devil] was commanded to draw back from those debtors of death who believed in Him who died for them.  Moreover, in this [action] the mercy of our redemption is indicated:  By His own charity and with compassion for our misery, Christ endured death in obedience to the Father and in this [action] itself itself He merited much before God the Father and he granted His own merit to His members. In His own Passion, He destroyed him who had the authority [imperium] of death and atoned for the guilt of man (hominis) and reconciled the sinner to God the Father, and just as David killed Goliath with his own sword, so Christ destroyed the devil with his own weapons.” Ibid. [my translation]

Motivated by love and compassion, Christ became a human being and allowed the devil to murder him with his temporal power.  However, now the devil attacked an innocent man who paid the debt for all his fellow human beings.  He paid the debt of death and gave the merit He earned to those who believe in him.  Thereby, He removed humanity’s guilt and reconciled God and sinners.  Instead of using his divine power against the devil and for humanity, Christ used His human weakness in his suffering to overcome the devil and redeem sinful humanity.  In this way, He revealed his justice and mercy as the only real power.

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Martin Luther on Monastic Vows

“There is no doubt that the monastic vow is in itself a most dangerous thing because it is without the authority and example of Scripture.  Neither the early church nor the New Testament knows anything at all of the taking of this kind of vow, much less do they approve of a lifelong vow of very rare and remarkable chastity.” Martin Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther On Monastic Vows, LW 44:252 [emphasis added]

Martin Luther wrote these words in late 1521 on the nature of monasticism.  Originally, he intended this work on monastic vows (over 100 pages in the English translation) to be a guide for those now leaving the monastic life.   As early as 1520, he had criticized the practice of mandated priestly celibacy and wrote that priests should be allowed to marry.  In this work, Dr. Luther took on the idea of monastic vows.  When someone joined a monastery or certain religious orders, he or she took vows of chastity.  Compared to marriage, it was a lifelong commitment to remain celibate, not to marry, and resist carnal temptation.

Monasticism and other forms of the specialized religious life proliferated after the twelfth century to the sixteenth century.  This included male and female forms of the religious life.  Even many quasi-monastic groups appeared that sometimes became formal religious orders appeared.  Luther had taken a vow as an Augustinian hermit to remain chaste for his life too.  After 1517, he clearly began to struggle with the reasoning behind such vows. However, he did not fully reject monastic vows publicly until 1521.  Although this book did not appear in print until March 1522, Luther already prepared a second edition by June 1522.  Luther’s colleague, Justus Jonas, wrote a German translation of Luther’s original Latin in the same year. 

This work demonstrates the logical conclusion from Luther’s theology of justification by faith in Christ and his view of the authority of Holy Scripture.  He argues that monastic vows from their inception were human inventions and not commanded by God.  In fact, God, according to Luther, ordained the opposite from creation as he wrote in The Estate of Marriage in 1522.  

“Don’t let yourself be fooled on this score, even if you should make ten oaths, vows, covenants, and adamantine or ironclad pledges.  For as you cannot solemnly promise that you will not be a man or woman (and if you should make such a promise it would be foolishness and of no avail since you cannot make yourself something other than what you are), so you cannot promise that you will not produce seed or multiply…And should you make such a promise, it too would be foolishness and of no avail, for to produce seed and to multiply is a matter of God’s ordinance [geschöpffe], not your power.”  [LW 45:19] 

Martin Luther did not marry until 1525.  Perhaps, he did not find the right woman for him, but he wrote that he did not plan to marry before that time.  Katharina von Bora, a former Cistercian nun, changed that plan.  However, Luther had already come to a theological conclusion about his own (and Katharina’s) monastic vows of chastity.  Vows are not based on true faith in Christ and go against the foundation of his understanding of the Bible, as he explained: 

“Now it must be seen more generally that monastic vows are without faith.  It has been proved, and established by irrefutable testimonies, that everything which is not of faith is sin, and that it is faith alone which effects the remission of sins and restores certainty, serenity, and freedom from sins to the conscience.  Good works, however, or, to give them their proper name, the fruits of faith, do not really pertain to the remission of sins and a serene conscience, but are the fruits of a forgiveness already granted and still present, as well as a good conscience.” Martin Luther, The Judgment of Martin Luther On Monastic Vows, LW 44: 279. [emphasis added]

By 1526, Martin the troubled theologian and monastic hermit had become Martin the husband and father.  Notice the difference in his appearance in 1525:

BAG13642 Portrait of Martin Luther, 1525 (oil on panel) by Cranach, Lucas, the Elder (1472-1553); 40×26.6 cm; © Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, UK; (add.info.: Luther (1483-1546) German religious reformer;); German, out of copyright

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The Martyr Remains

“[The psalmist] says next: the back of his back is like pale gold.  Better pale gold than glittering brass: ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men.’ Gold is the Word, gold is wisdom.  This gold discolored itself, concealing the form of God and displaying the form of a servant.  It also discolored the Church, which says: ‘Do not gaze at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has scorched me.’ So then, her back is like pale gold, because she did blush at the swarthiness of the cross, she was not terrified by the bitterness of the passion, she did not flee from the ugliness of the wounds.  She even takes joy in them, and hopes that her last end may bear their likeness.   Accordingly she hears [the words]: ‘My dove in the clefts of the rock’, because all her affections are preoccupied with the wounds of Christ; she abides in them by constant meditation.  From this comes endurance for martyrdom, from this her immense trust in the Most High.  The martyr need not be afraid of raising his bloodless and bruised face to him by whose wounds he is healed, to present to him a glorious likeness of his death.”*

Here we read one of Bernard of Clairvaux’s beautifully written sermons on the Song of Songs.  He followed (and expanded) the traditional monastic exegesis of this ancient love poem as a depiction of the mystical union between the Christian and Christ.  He adds a discussion of martyrdom in this sermon.  Notice the martyr draws strength from meditation on the wounds of Christ.  The martyr’s heart focuses on the ugliness and torture of the cross but this strengthens the martyr’s resolve.  In this way, the martyr perseveres to the end.  Bernard concludes:

“While gazing on the Lord’s wounds he will indeed not feel his own.  The martyr remains jubilant and triumphant though his whole body is mangled; even while the steel is gashing his sides he looks around with courage and elation at the holy blood pouring from his flesh.  Where then is the soul of the martyr? In a safe place, of course; in the rock, or course; in the heart of Jesus, of course, in the wounds open for it to enter.”** 

How does the martyr do this?  Love.  The bodily and emotional pain are present, but the martyr rejects them for the love of Christ.  

*Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 61. III. 7, trans. Kilian Walsh, On the Song of Songs III  (Kalamazoo 1979), p. 146. [Emphasis added]

**Idem, Sermon 61.III.8, p. 147. 

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A Pride So Great

“The third reason [for Christ’s advent] is for our advantage, so that [Christ] would make satisfaction for the first lie. Moreover, that lie was a pride so great that the man (homo) might lift up himself in the mind even to equality with God. Indeed, while opposites are cured by opposite things, it is necessary that in order to make satisfaction for this pride some important man had to be brought down from the height of divinity even to the humility of a man.  No one could do this unless he was God and man.  For that reason, God became a man.” Ralph Ardent, Homilia X: In natali Domini, PL 155:1700. [my translation]

Ralph Ardent was a scholastic theologian and regular canon of the second half of the twelfth century and the early thirteenth century.  He left a large collection of sermons that reflect his theological education.  In this sermon on the birth of Christ, he explains four reasons for why Jesus came down from heaven and became a human being.  In this quote, Ralph describes the third of four reasons: the advantage or use for sinful humanity.  The first lie is the serpent’s lie to Eve: ” You shall not die you shall be as gods.”  Pride falsely convinced humans that they could ascend to be like God.  The only cure for human pride is its opposite: divine humility.

Following the Augustinian tradition  medieval theologians focused on the contest between devilish pride and divine humility. Pride led to the devil’s fall from heaven and humanity’s fall into sin.  Medieval artists also depicted the triumph of humility over pride as in this stained glass window found in a museum in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany).  Check out another example here: Humility Overcomes Pride

Most likely, Ralph used earlier scholastic writings for his sources, like Peter Lombard’s Sentences.  Lombard’s work became the standard theological text in the Western Catholic Church.  Peter Lombard wrote the following on Christ’s humility as the means to overcome the devil’s pride and thereby redeem humanity:

“But did he, through his death, redeem us from the devil and sin, and open to the entrance to glory? God decreed ‘in a mystery,’ as Ambrose says, that man, because of the first sin, should not be allowed into paradise, that is, should not be admitted to the contemplation of God, unless so much humility should be found in one man which might suffice for all who follow him, just as in the first man was found such pride as to harm all who followed him.  Among men, none was found through whom this might be fulfilled, except the lion of the tribe of Juda, who opened the book and broke the seals, fulfilling all justice in himself, that is, the most complete humility, than which there can be no greater.  Other men were debtors, and each one’s virtue and humility was scarcely sufficient for himself.  And so none of them could offer a sacrificial victim sufficient for our reconciliation.  But the man Christ was sufficient and perfect victim; he was much more humbled in tasting the bitterness of death than Adam had become proud in his guilty pleasure through eating of the forbidden tree.  And so,  the latter’s pride was ruin to all, expelling him from paradise and closing its doors to others, much more able was Christ’s humility, by which he tasted death, to open the entrance of the heavenly kingdom to all who follow him, by the fulfillment of God’s decree, for it cancelled the chirograph of the decree.“** Peter Lombard, The Sentences, Book 3,  Distinction xviii, chap. 5. 2 (54)., translated by Giulio Silano (Toronto, 2008), pp. 76-77

*Bold print is added

**Colossians 2:14 (Italics in the original)

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The Blood of Abel

This painting comes from late medieval Strasbourg (c. 1410) It is currently in an art museum in Colmar, Alsace (France). Source of Image

This image demonstrates the summation of medieval Christian piety with the bleeding, dying Jesus and the compassionate Blessed Mother.  These devotional emphases became more pronounced in twelfth-century sermons and devotional works.  The artistic flowering of the late medieval period and early Renaissance also adopted many of these devotional themes.  As I was reading Peter of Blois’s sermon on the Lord’s Supper, Peter’s words reminded me of this image.  They read:

“For Christ with his own hands affixed our sins to the cross and so that he might redeem wretched man (homo). After a multitude of miseries, he offered himself as the evening sacrifice.” Peter of Blois, Sermo 19: On the Lord’s Supper, PL 207:615D [my translation]

“For, the Passion made atonement for all our iniquities.  The blood of Abel calls out for vengeance, the blood of Christ calls out for redemption.  This is the blood of the unspotted Lamb, with whom the highest priest, having found holy, eternal redemption, entered once.” Peter of Blois, Sermo 19: On the Lord’s Supper, PL 207:616 [my translation]

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History As a Good or Bad Medicine

“In the same way political history is also made up of three parts.  The first consists of the industrious study and collation of documents; the second is topographical and includes the survey of cities, places, rivers, harbours, and in general the special features of land and sea and the distances of one place from another; while the third is concerned with political activity. And just as in the case of medicine, many people aspire to write history because of the high opinion in which political history has been held; but most of them bring to the undertaking nothing to justify their claim to write it except irresponsibility, recklessness and roguery.  They court favours like vendors of drugs and will always say whatever the occasion may require for the sake of scraping together a living by this means.  I need say no more about authors of this kind.” Polybius, The Histories XII. 25e, trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert (London: Penguin, 1979), p. 442-43.

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