Monday, November 30, 2009

The Rise of the Empress Wu

Empress Wu Zetain

The history of China is fascinating one and full of strange and wonderful events. One of the strangest and most extraordinary is the story of the Empress Wu Zetian.

This story is not well known to the non-Chinese but it does have massive doses of sex and violence to say nothing of carpet chewing over the top plot and intrigue.

This story is about how not only did the Empress Wu Zetian became the de-facto ruler of China but decided to go for it all and make herself Emperor. To became the only women in Chinese history to make herself not just ruler of China but the official ruler of China.1

The Empress Wu Zetian or to give her name Wu Chao, had started out as a concubine in the harem of the second Tang Emperor and had gone on from that to make herself all powerful during the reign of the third Tang Emperor.

To give some background. In the late 6th century C.E., the Sui dynasty had reunified China after almost 400 years of division, civil war and chaos since the fall of the Han dynasty, (c. 220 C.E.)2

The second Sui Emperor, Yang Ti, had dissipated the good will created by his father Wen Ti with a series of brutal policies and wasteful extravagance.3 The result was widespread revolt. Eventually Yang Ti was overthrown by a coup and strangled.4

During this chaos Gaozu took the Chinese capital of Chang-an and established the Tang dynasty by proclaiming himself Emperor in 618 C.E. During all of this he was aided and apparently heavily prodded by his able and ruthless son Taizong. By 626 C.E. China was reunified.5

Taizong in a series of rather ruthless intrigues eliminated his two older brothers and then compelled his father Gaozu to abdicate in 626 C.E. Gaozu lived until 635 C.E. in retirement.

Taizong is considered to be one of the greatest if not the greatest of Chinese Emperors and his reign became a model for how a Chinese Emperor should rule.6

Emperor Taizong

However despite the glory of his reign it was marred by the continual violent intrigues within the court including the usual interminable struggle of the succession.

During all of this Wu Chao entered the Imperial court as a concubine.

Wu Chao was born in the year 625 C.E., and we have the usual stories that were popular among Chinese writers and historians concerning alleged portents that indicated that she would rule. It is rather annoying that historians who should know better take these rather amusing stories concocted after the fact with any sort of seriousness. They are simply not to be taken as anything other than post-hoc concoctions.7

One story has it that a Chinese “face” reader, after examining her face and the way she walked when he examined her at the age of c. 3 years concluded that if she was a girl she would become Emperor of China. Given Chinese and official Confucian attitudes towards women this story can be dismissed as a post-hoc fantasy.8

Other stories like the alleged fact that she liked to wear boy’s clothes as a child and like to explore and go about un-supervised unlike the typical lives of aristocratic girls of the time are more substantial than fantasies concerning alleged prognostications of her future power. This is so because such reports make sense given the very forceful and independent personality Wu Chao would show as Empress. So it would not be a surprise if she exhibited such characteristics as a child.9

Wu Chao’s family, the Wu, although of impeccable aristocratic background and supporters of the Tang dynasty was not a particularity important family and they were to be of little importance or use to Wu Chao in her rise to power. In fact unlike virtually every other Empress who rose to power in Chinese history it was not Wu Chao’s family that was responsible for her rise to power but Wu Chao who was responsible for her families rise to power.10

At the age of 13 in 638 C. E., Wu Chao was selected to be a concubine for the harem of Taizong. She was selected mainly because of her beauty.

We have little idea of what the next decade was like for Wu Chao. It appears that she stayed a minor concubine and further she had no children which severely limited any chance that she could rise in the palace hierarchy. Again several stories are told about Wu Zetain during this time period but they are not really all that plausible but they do give a good idea of what people thought were her chief character traits. Included in these stories is the following which the Empress Wu Zetian allegedly told in later life.
Emperor Taizong had a horse with the name "Lion Stallion," and it was so large and strong that no one could get on its back. I was a lady in waiting attending Emperor Taizong, and I suggested to him, "I only need three things to subordinate it: an iron whip, an iron hammer, and a sharp dagger. I will whip it with the iron whip. If it does not submit, I will hammer its head with the iron hammer. If it still does not submit, I will cut its throat with the dagger." Emperor Taizong praised my bravery. Do you really believe that you are qualified to dirty my dagger.11
Apparently the Emperor Taizong was a little taken aback by Wu Chao’s rather formidable nature and did not advance her in the palace hierarchy.

In the year 649 C.E., the Emperor Taizong died to be succeeded by his son Emperor Gaozong; considered a weak and rather spineless figure, who reigned until 683 C.E.

Emperor Gaozong

Now at the time the custom of the court was that the concubines of the old Emperor upon the Emperor’s death, who had not had children, would retire to live in Buddhist Nunneries.

Thus it appears that at the age of 24 the Wu Chao would live the rest of her life as a Buddhist Nun. That did not happen for the following reasons.12

It appears that Wu Chao had made the acquaintance of Gaozong before Taizong’s death. The story was that Wu Chao seduced him before his father’s death. Since sleeping with the Emperor’s wives and concubines was considered treason and could even get a Emperor’s son killed or disinherited this idea is at least doubtful. Further it fits the rather dull stereotype of the sexually insatiable strong women who gets ahead using sex, that is a common cliché in Chinese historical writing.13

It does appear to be the case though that Wu Chao and Gaozong knew each other and that Gaozong had a certain fondness for her even before his father’s death.

According to the writers what happened was that Gaozong’s Empress named Wang and the Emperor’s favourite concubine Hsiao were engaged in a serious power struggle and the Empress, who was childless, endeavoured to bring Wu Chao back as a rival to keep Hsiao at bay in the interminable game of palace politics.

However what seems to have actually happened is that Wu Chao kept in touch with both Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wang in an effort to cut short her retirement. Wu Chao apparently promised undying gratitude and loyalty to the Empress Wang if she arranged for her to be brought back or at least did not oppose it.

During her exile Wu Chao composed the following poem addressed to Gaozong:
Watching red turn to green, my thoughts are tangled and scattered,
I am dishevelled and torn from my longing for you, my lord.
If you fail to believe that lately I have shed tears constantly,
Open my chest and look for the skirt of pomegranate-red.14
Whatever the actual details of the matter in the year 650 Emperor Gaozong visited the Convent Wu Chao was living at and brought her back to court as one of his concubines. An act which was considered incredibly scandalous, especially since sleeping with your father’s concubines was considered a form of incest.15

Now of course Chinese historians attribute boundless ambition to Wu Chao from the beginning. I rather suspect that what actually was going on was the simple desire of a young women to escape confinement and return to the excitement of court.

What happened next is probably what was decisive. Wu Chao found out that both the Empress Wang and Hsiao, Emperor Gaozong’s favourite concubine were very unpopular at court, further she found out that Gaozong needed help in actually running the Empire. Both those discoveries were decisive in the Empress Wu’s ascent to power.16

Gaozong has had, to put it mildly, an enormous amount of bad press for allegedly being a weakling, a sexual pervert, a stupid man and a complete tool in the hands of Wu Chao. There is room to question that verdict. It appears likely that he was actually fairly intelligent and further that he never became a complete tool in hands of Wu Chao. However it does appear that he was physically a very sickly man subject to blinding headaches and general serious physical weakness, and has he got older he got weaker. It also appears that unlike a lot of weak people he had enough sense to realize that he needed help. In other words Gaozong was simply not up to the demands of running the Empire. It appears that his wife Wang and his other concubines were of absolutely no help to him in terms of helping him rule. They seemed to be more interested in getting riches and favours for themselves and their families than helping him. Wu Chao almost from the moment she was released from confinement was involved in helping him administer and acting to as an advisor to him; that rather than her alleged submission to Gaozong’s supposed sexual perversions was the likely source of her rise to power. Also despite what the historians said later it should be considered at least plausible that Wu Chao, although ruthlessly ambitious genuinely loved her husband.

Wu Chao also shortly began to have children which made the position of the Empress Wang more precarious.

Within a few years Wu Chao began to intrigue against the Empress Wang and the concubine Hsiao. It was no contest. Not only were they both unpopular, they simply were not as bright or good at the game of court politics. Unlike Empress Wang and Hsiao, who dissipated it, Wu Chao used the favours and wealth she received to set up a network of spies in the palace along with a network of people who were loyal to her. The fact that, at least, face to face she exercised tact and modesty also helped. Further Wu Chao deliberately sought out and helped those that the Empress Wang and her family had offended. A high degree of ruthlessness also helped.

In one particularity grotesque incident after Wu Chao gave birth to a daughter. The Empress Wang visited the child. Shortly afterwards the child died. Wu Chao blamed the Empress. Some later Chinese Historians claimed that Wu Chao strangled the child in order to blame the Empress Wang for the death. Aside from indicating the degree of animosity against the Wu Chao by later historians the charge can be dismissed, given that it was a age of very high infant mortality. Although Wu Chao’s willingness to so accuse Empress Wang is a rather telling indication of ruthlessness.17

Wu Chao then introduced Gaozong to her sister, Ho-Lan further cementing her hold over him; given that Gaozong and Ho-Lan soon became lovers.

Wu Chao then began a series of rather complicated intrigues aimed at replacing Empress Wang with herself as Empress. As part of the game of court politics Empress Wang’s mother was banned from court for allegedly practicing sorcery against Wu Chao. Many of Gaozong’s advisors were adamantly opposed to making Wu Chao Empress and opposed the move. Wu Chao was livid, for by this time she had taken to listening to the Emperor’s advisers advising the Emperor from behind a screen. Given that this was very unusual this indicates the role that Wu Chao had already taken as an advisor to the Emperor.

It took a while but gradually Wu Chao got rid of the advisers who opposed her elevation to becoming Empress, by championing a court faction that supported her as a way of getting rid of the old guard and coming to power.

Eventually Empress Wang and Hsiao were accused of plotting to poison the Emperor and disposed and replaced by Wu Chao in 655 C.E. Not long after they were killed by having their hands and feet cut off and being left to bleed to death. The new Empress Wu Zetian punished those who had opposed her elevation to power and rewarded her allies. Her son Li Hung was made crown prince replacing Li Chung the Empress Wang’s adopted son who was not long for this world.18

The Empress Wang took her fall and death rather stoically. The concubine Hsiao was a lot less resigned. Hsiao allegedly said:
‘Wu is a deceitful fox, who had sealed my fate,’ she said. ‘I pray that in all my future lives I will come back as a cat, and she is a mouse. Then in each life I will tear her throat out’19
The Empress Wu is said to have removed all the cats from the various Imperial palaces in response.

The next few years were an interminable wrangle of petty palace intrigues and vendettas as the Empress Wu Zetian consolidated her position with considerable bloodshed and ruthlessness, but on a more constructive note showed a extraordinary talent for selecting able men to help rule the empire. Among those eliminated were certain relatives of the Empress Wang who had blocked Wu Zetain’s ascent and who she considered threats to her position.

Two things marked the great turning point by which Wu Zetian became if the not the sole ruler of the Empire the main ruler with her husband Gaozong giving up most authority to her although he did not make her regent. In late 660 C.E. Gaozong got very seriously ill and the Empress Wu Zetian took over the day to day administration of the Empire. She very quickly proved to be remarkably able and had the stamina for the tedious time consuming work of day to day administration. Although the Emperor eventually recovered Wu Zetain remained active in the day to day administration of the empire from then on. It appears that from then on even when the Emperor was in good health most of the day to day administrative work remained in the hands of the Empress Wu Zetain.

A few years after this, in 663 C.E., a final attempt was made to dispose Wu Zetain. It appears that Wu Zetain had employed a certain Taoist priest who was alleged to have engaged in sorcery. Certain of the Emperor Gaozong’s advisors used this to get from him a degree ousting Wu Zetain as Empress. The fact that Wu Zetain had also been acting arrogantly had also enraged the Emperor. Unfortunately for the plotters the Empress had spies all over the palace who reported this too her. Wu Zetain rather than hide or beg went and confronted her husband Gaozong. The historians claim that Gaozong just gave in fearing her anger. Rather doubtful. It appears that Wu Zetain got rid of the Taoist priest and started acting more modestly and less arrogantly. No doubt she reminded her husband of her considerable political and administrative skills and her basic loyalty to him. The advisors and officials who advised Gaozong on this course of action were arrested and imprisoned. Wu Zetain was now securely position as if not ruler of China as at least co-ruler of China.20

The dynastic history records as follows concerning the aftermath of this final attempt to oust Wu Zetain:
From this event, whenever the Emperor attended to business, the Empress hung a curtain and listened from behind it. There was no matter of government, great or small, she did not hear. The whole sovereign power of the Empire passed into her hands. Life and death, reward or punishment were hers to decide. The Son of Heaven sat on the throne and folded his hands, that is all. In court and in the country, they were called the Two Sages.21
At another time I will look at the process by which Wu Zetain made herself official ruler of China.

Tang Dynasty China in 700 C.E.

1. Dawson, Raymond, Imperial China, Penguin Books, London, 1972, pp. 88-89, Benn, Charles, China’s Golden Age, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 4-5.

2. IBID, pp. 52-65.

3. IBID, Benn, p. 1, Wen Ti reigned 581-604 C.E. Yang Ti 604-618 C.E. Executions, the brutal building of the Grand canal and incredible extravagance in the midst of famine and natural disaster were the back ground to revolt along with disastrous invasions of Korea.

4. Dawson, p. 64.

5. Yes that is where the orange drink got its name.

6. See Dawson, pp. 69-81, Fitzgerald, C. P., Son of Heaven, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1933, for a biography of this extraordinary man. Benn gives an excellent overview of what life was like during the Tang dynasty.

7. Both Fitzgerald, C. P., The Empress Wu, Second Edition, Cresset Press, London, 1968, and Cawthorne, Nigel, Daughter of Heaven, One World Pub., Oxford, 2007, take these stories too seriously.

8. See Cawthorne, pp. 18-19, Fitzgerald, 1968, repeats the story in his prologue.

9. IBID, pp. 16-18. See also Fitzgerald, 1968, pp. 1-15.

10. Both Cawthorne and Fitzgerald both make this quite clear. See also Dawson pp. 81-85.

11. Wikipedia, Wu Zetian Here. Quoting a Chinese Historian.

12. Cawthorne, pp. 66-71, Dawson, pp. 81-82.

13. IBID, pp. 44-61, 66-67, 70-73. See also Fitzgerald 1968.

14. Cawthrone p. 69.

15. IBID, 70-71, See also Fitzgerald, 1968.

16. IBID, p. 73. See also Dawson, pp. 81-83.

17. IBID, p. 74, Dawson, p. 82, Fitzgerald , 1968 is especially emphatic that it is unlikely that the Empress Wu murdered the child.

18. IBID, pp 76-78, 83-84, Dawson, pp. 81-83. See also Fitzgerald 1968.

19. IBID, p. 83. Quoting a Chinese Historian.

20. IBID, pp. 91-92, 94-95. See also Fitzgerald, 1968.

21. Cawthrone, p. 96. Quoting the Dynastic History. Part of quote also appears in Dawson, p. 82 and Fitzgerald, 1968.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Syllabus of Errors

Pius IX
In 1864 Pope Pius IX published as an appendix to his Papal Encyclical Quanta Cura a Syllabus listing the errors of the Modern Age.1 It helped propel the Papacy into an age of reaction and gave the forces that opposed the Catholic Church enormous ammunition in their battle against it.

Now in all fairness to Pius IX he had stated out as a relatively Liberal Pope but his treatment during the Revolutions of 1848-49 C.E., had soured his disposition towards the modern world. During it he had been forced to flee when revolutionaries seized control of Rome. He had not been very well treated. Further the aim of the revolutionaries was to divest the papacy of the Papal States, and create a secular united Italy. The Pope was not congenial to the idea of losing the Papal States and the fact that a great many of the Liberals and Nationalists who wanted a secular united Italy were very anti-clerical did not help.2

When the Pope was restored by French troops in 1849 he inaugurated a period of reaction. The various liberal measures that had characterized the beginning of his reign were not reinstated instead the autocratic, features of the Papal States reinforced and so was clerical domination. The result was that Papal rule in the Papal States became deeply unpopular. Everything from censorship, to arbitrary Police power was significantly increased. In many respects the Papal States, aside from being poorly governed, were a Police state; riddled with informers and Secret Police agents.3

It was only the presence of French troops that kept the Papal States from collapsing due to internal tensions. It was agreed that so long as French troops remained any attempt to overthrow the Papacy would fail. It is only fair to mention that there were violent revolutionaries who desired to overthrow the Papal States and make Rome the Capital of a United Italy.4

When the great Italian Diplomat Cavour of Piedmont acting for the King of Sardinia, (who was also ruler of Piedmont), managed to with the aid of France to acquire the greater part of Italy in the years 1858-1861. This included most of the Papal States which simply collapsed into the hands of Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia who thereby became King of Italy.5

This thoroughly enraged Pius IX who believed that a vast Satanic conspiracy was out to destroy the Church and that the Church needed in order to pursue its functions the temporal domination of the Papal States. The fact that the inhabitants of the Papal states were heartedly sick of incompetent, authoritarian, clerical rule was of course irrelevant to him. With French troops still in Rome the Pope was able to keep control of the area around Rome and continue the rule of the clerics.6

Feeling that the world was closing in on the Church and that the forces of darkness were gathering to smother the Church he felt the need for a counterblast as well as demanding that the conquered portions of the Papal states be handed back to him. Pius IX thus absolutely refused to negotiate at all.7

An example of Pius’ intransigence to say nothing of it being an example of intrinsic evil, was the case of Edgardo Mortara. Edgardo Mortara was a young Jewish boy who had been secretly baptised by a Christian servant in the first two years of his life. Later when this was revealed, Papal Police kidnapped the child took him to Rome, refused to return the child to his parents and proceeded to brainwash the young boy into becoming a fervent Catholic. All this with Pius IX strong supported. During this whole disgraceful affair Pius IX whined continually; viewing himself as the victim. Sadly Edgardo Mortara was far from the only example of this type of wickedness. Not surprisingly this generated a great deal of bad publicity.8

That Italian nationalists wanted to unify Italy and make Rome the capital of Italy was not a surprise that Pius IX refused to recognize that many of these Italian Nationalists were sincere Catholics perfectly willing to negotiate generous terms with the Papacy was ignored by Pius IX to him they were all servants of Satan out to destroy the Church.9

It was in this most inauspicious circumstance that in 1864 along with the Encyclical Quanta Cura the so-called Syllabus of Errors was attached to it and also released. Consisting of quotations of previous Papal documents it is basically a cry of impotent rage and anger at the modern world and much of it is even in mid-nineteenth century terms both flaky and repellent.

The following is the complete Syllabus of Errors with my commentary on some of the more absurd bits.
Pope Pius IX

1. There exists no Supreme, all-wise, all-provident Divine Being, distinct from the universe, and God is identical with the nature of things, and is, therefore, subject to changes. In effect, God is produced in man and in the world, and all things are God and have the very substance of God, and God is one and the same thing with the world, and, therefore, spirit with matter, necessity with liberty, good with evil, justice with injustice.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.
Why Pius IX is wasting his time condemning Pantheism, a doctrine of then as now of only moderate appeal is beyond me.
2. All action of God upon man and the world is to be denied.—Ibid.

3. Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil; it is law to itself, and suffices, by its natural force, to secure the welfare of men and of nations.—Ibid.

4. All the truths of religion proceed from the innate strength of human reason; hence reason is the ultimate standard by which man can and ought to arrive at the knowledge of all truths of every kind.—Ibid. and Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9, 1846, etc.
Pius IX fails to recognize that he as just condemned a great many Catholic theologians who thought the truths of Christianity were perfectly in tune with human reason.
5. Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to a continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the advancement of human reason.—Ibid.
Since Humans are imperfect I fail to see how their interpretation of divine revelation could be anything but imperfect.
6. The faith of Christ is in opposition to human reason and divine revelation not only is not useful, but is even hurtful to the perfection of man.—Ibid.
7. The prophecies and miracles set forth and recorded in the Sacred Scriptures are the fiction of poets, and the mysteries of the Christian faith the result of philosophical investigations. In the books of the Old and the New Testament there are contained mythical inventions, and Jesus Christ is Himself a myth.
An attack on the then emerging discipline of Biblical criticism. And of course a demand that Catholics ignore it and refuse to have anything to do with it.

8. As human reason is placed on a level with religion itself, so theological must be treated in the same manner as philosophical sciences.—Allocution "Singulari quadam," Dec. 9, 1854.

9. All the dogmas of the Christian religion are indiscriminately the object of natural science or philosophy, and human reason, enlightened solely in an historical way, is able, by its own natural strength and principles, to attain to the true science of even the most abstruse dogmas; provided only that such dogmas be proposed to reason itself as its object.—Letters to the Archbishop of Munich, "Gravissimas inter," Dec. 11, 1862, and "Tuas libenter," Dec. 21, 1863.

10. As the philosopher is one thing, and philosophy another, so it is the right and duty of the philosopher to subject himself to the authority which he shall have proved to be true; but philosophy neither can nor ought to submit to any such authority.—Ibid., Dec. 11, 1862.
Not exactly well phrased. This of course is actually a reference to Catholic Theologians and Philosophers having to submit themselves to the authority of the Catholic hierarchy.
11. The Church not only ought never to pass judgment on philosophy, but ought to tolerate the errors of philosophy, leaving it to correct itself.—Ibid., Dec. 21, 1863.
An attack on the idea that Philosophers and others have freedom of expression.

12. The decrees of the Apostolic See and of the Roman congregations impede the true progress of science.—Ibid.
Well one could give the example of Galileo here.

13. The method and principles by which the old scholastic doctors cultivated theology are no longer suitable to the demands of our times and to the progress of the sciences.—Ibid.

14. Philosophy is to be treated without taking any account of supernatural revelation.—Ibid.


15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862; Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.
One of Pius IX’s great bugaboos, freedom of religion. To Pius a great and terrible evil. So he hysterically denounced freedom of religion and even worst the terrible refusal of states to make life difficult for non-Catholics.
16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.—Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9, 1846.

17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.—Encyclical "Quanto conficiamur," Aug. 10, 1863, etc.
Since of course salvation can only be found in the Catholic Church any attempt to even suggest that salvation may be attained outside it is of course both wicked and evil.
18. Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church.—Encyclical "Noscitis," Dec. 8, 1849.
Of course Protestantism is the great heresy of which no-compromise or accommodation can ever be made with.

Pests of this kind are frequently reprobated in the severest terms in the Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9, 1846, Allocution "Quibus quantisque," April 20, 1849, Encyclical "Noscitis et nobiscum," Dec. 8, 1849, Allocution "Singulari quadam," Dec. 9, 1854, Encyclical "Quanto conficiamur," Aug. 10, 1863.
Since both Socialism and Communism threatened the temporal authority, (wealth and power) of the church they are both to be condemned. Organizations that promote those ideas, including Liberal-Catholicism are also condemned. The fear of higher Biblical criticism is also obvious.
19. The Church is not a true and perfect society, entirely free- nor is she endowed with proper and perpetual rights of her own, conferred upon her by her Divine Founder; but it appertains to the civil power to define what are the rights of the Church, and the limits within which she may exercise those rights.—Allocution "Singulari quadam," Dec. 9, 1854, etc.
Interestingly this is not a traditional Catholic belief but is in fact contrary to centuries of practice whereby the Church agreed to having her power limited by allowing the state to at least have some say in national church affairs. The outstanding example of this was the French Church which traditionally had an enormous amount of independence from Rome and was to a large extent run by the French government.11
20. The ecclesiastical power ought not to exercise its authority without the permission and assent of the civil government.—Allocution "Meminit unusquisque," Sept. 30, 1861.

21. The Church has not the power of defining dogmatically that the religion of the Catholic Church is the only true religion.—Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.
The desire of Pius IX to impose Catholicism is made quite clear.

22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.—Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, "Tuas libenter," Dec. 21, 1863.
Free thought is wicked especially if exercised by Catholics.

23. Roman pontiffs and ecumenical councils have wandered outside the limits of their powers, have usurped the rights of princes, and have even erred in defining matters of faith and morals.—Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.
Well in the Middle Ages and early modern times a great many Catholic Theologians etc., would have fully agreed with this point of view.
24. The Church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect.—Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.
No doubt trying to justify the Police state that was the Papal States at this time.

25. Besides the power inherent in the episcopate, other temporal power has been attributed to it by the civil authority granted either explicitly or tacitly, which on that account is revocable by the civil authority whenever it thinks fit.—Ibid.

26. The Church has no innate and legitimate right of acquiring and possessing property.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856; Encyclical "Incredibili," Sept. 7, 1863.

27. The sacred ministers of the Church and the Roman pontiff are to be absolutely excluded from every charge and dominion over temporal affairs.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

28. It is not lawful for bishops to publish even letters Apostolic without the permission of Government.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856.

29. Favours granted by the Roman pontiff ought to be considered null, unless they have been sought for through the civil government.—Ibid.
The above are a whole list of complaints that the Church is not subject to the state and that its authority over temporal matters is strictly limited.
30. The immunity of the Church and of ecclesiastical persons derived its origin from civil law.—Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.
Pius IX lets the cat out of the bag. The Church is superior to the state. Of course Pius IX is wrong and those commentators who stated that the immunity of clerical persons from Civil law originated in Civil law itself were right. Thus we see the beginning of the idea that the Church is not subject to the state but the state should be in many respects subject to the Church.
31. The ecclesiastical forum or tribunal for the temporal causes, whether civil or criminal, of clerics, ought by all means to be abolished, even without consulting and against the protest of the Holy See.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856; Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.

32. The personal immunity by which clerics are exonerated from military conscription and service in the army may be abolished without violation either of natural right or equity. Its abolition is called for by civil progress, especially in a society framed on the model of a liberal government.—Letter to the Bishop of Monreale "Singularis nobisque," Sept. 29, 1864.
Again the Church is not subject to the state.

33. It does not appertain exclusively to the power of ecclesiastical jurisdiction by right, proper and innate, to direct the teaching of theological questions.—Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, "Tuas libenter," Dec. 21, 1863.

34. The teaching of those who compare the Sovereign Pontiff to a prince, free and acting in the universal Church, is a doctrine which prevailed in the Middle Ages.—Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.

35. There is nothing to prevent the decree of a general council, or the act of all peoples, from transferring the supreme pontificate from the bishop and city of Rome to another bishop and another city.—Ibid.
Actually this is a truism. It was certainly doctrine in the later Middle Ages that General Councils of the Church could both depose and make Popes and they did so on a number of occasions.
36. The definition of a national council does not admit of any subsequent discussion, and the civil authority car assume this principle as the basis of its acts.—Ibid.

37. National churches, withdrawn from the authority of the Roman pontiff and altogether separated, can be established.—Allocution "Multis gravibusque," Dec. 17, 1860.

38. The Roman pontiffs have, by their too arbitrary conduct, contributed to the division of the Church into Eastern and Western.—Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.
Here Pius IX quarrels with history. The idea that the Catholic Church contributed nothing to the division of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is simply special pleading.

39. The State, as being the origin and source of all rights, is endowed with a certain right not circumscribed by any limits.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

40. The teaching of the Catholic Church is hostile to the well- being and interests of society.—Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9, 1846; Allocution "Quibus quantisque," April 20, 1849.

41. The civil government, even when in the hands of an infidel sovereign, has a right to an indirect negative power over religious affairs. It therefore possesses not only the right called that of "exsequatur," but also that of appeal, called "appellatio ab abusu."—Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851
Roughly translated. The state can only do things that benefit the Church not anything that impedes it, has defined by Pius IX.
42. In the case of conflicting laws enacted by the two powers, the civil law prevails.—Ibid.

43. The secular Dower has authority to rescind, declare and render null, solemn conventions, commonly called concordats, entered into with the Apostolic See, regarding the use of rights appertaining to ecclesiastical immunity, without the consent of the Apostolic See, and even in spite of its protest.—Allocution "Multis gravibusque," Dec. 17, 1860; Allocution "In consistoriali," Nov. 1, 1850.
Here is a legitimate call for complaint. It was true that various powers were unilaterally rescinding agreements that had given the Church many rights over education etc. This would of course be infuriating. Of course a lot of it was because these powers and privileges were in favour of Catholicism and not given to any other faith and thus violated the Liberal idea of neutrality in matters of religion.
44. The civil authority may interfere in matters relating to religion, morality and spiritual government: hence, it can pass judgment on the instructions issued for the guidance of consciences, conformably with their mission, by the pastors of the Church. Further, it has the right to make enactments regarding the administration of the divine sacraments, and the dispositions necessary for receiving them.—Allocutions "In consistoriali," Nov. 1, 1850, and "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

45. The entire government of public schools in which the youth- of a Christian state is educated, except (to a certain extent) in the case of episcopal seminaries, may and ought to appertain to the civil power, and belong to it so far that no other authority whatsoever shall be recognized as having any right to interfere in the discipline of the schools, the arrangement of the studies, the conferring of degrees, in the choice or approval of the teachers.—Allocutions "Quibus luctuosissimis," Sept. 5, 1851, and "In consistoriali," Nov. 1, 1850.

46. Moreover, even in ecclesiastical seminaries, the method of studies to be adopted is subject to the civil authority.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856.

47. The best theory of civil society requires that popular schools open to children of every class of the people, and, generally, all public institutes intended for instruction in letters and philosophical sciences and for carrying on the education of youth, should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, control and interference, and should be fully subjected to the civil and political power at the pleasure of the rulers, and according to the standard of the prevalent opinions of the age.—Epistle to the Archbishop of Freiburg, "Cum non sine," July 14, 1864.
Public education by the state in a faith neutral manner is of course wicked; public education must continue to be the monopoly of the Church.

48. Catholics may approve of the system of educating youth unconnected with Catholic faith and the power of the Church, and which regards the knowledge of merely natural things, and only, or at least primarily, the ends of earthly social life.—Ibid.

49. The civil power may prevent the prelates of the Church and the faithful from communicating freely and mutually with the Roman pontiff.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

50. Lay authority possesses of itself the right of presenting bishops, and may require of them to undertake the administration of the diocese before they receive canonical institution, and the Letters Apostolic from the Holy See.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856.

51. And, further, the lay government has the right of deposing bishops from their pastoral functions, and is not bound to obey the Roman pontiff in those things which relate to the institution of bishoprics and the appointment of bishops.—Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852, Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.

52. Government can, by its own right, alter the age prescribed by the Church for the religious profession of women and men; and may require of all religious orders to admit no person to take solemn vows without its permission.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856.

53. The laws enacted for the protection of religious orders and regarding their rights and duties ought to be abolished; nay, more, civil Government may lend its assistance to all who desire to renounce the obligation which they have undertaken of a religious life, and to break their vows. Government may also suppress the said religious orders, as likewise collegiate churches and simple benefices, even those of advowson and subject their property and revenues to the administration and pleasure of the civil power.—Allocutions "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852; "Probe memineritis," Jan. 22, 1855; "Cum saepe," July 26, 1855.

54. Kings and princes are not only exempt from the jurisdiction of the Church, but are superior to the Church in deciding questions of jurisdiction.—Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.

55. The Church ought to be separated from the .State, and the State from the Church.—Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.
Again Pius IX longs for those days in the Middle Ages when some Popes were able to dictate to Kings. It of interest that although the Church was to be free of the authority of the state, the state was not to be free of the authority of the Church.
56. Moral laws do not stand in need of the divine sanction, and it is not at all necessary that human laws should be made conformable to the laws of nature and receive their power of binding from God.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

57. The science of philosophical things and morals and also civil laws may and ought to keep aloof from divine and ecclesiastical authority.—Ibid.

58. No other forces are to be recognized except those which reside in matter, and all the rectitude and excellence of morality ought to be placed in the accumulation and increase of riches by every possible means, and the gratification of pleasure.—Ibid.; Encyclical "Quanto conficiamur," Aug. 10, 1863.

59. Right consists in the material fact. All human duties are an empty word, and all human facts have the force of right.—Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

60. Authority is nothing else but numbers and the sum total of material forces.—Ibid.
So I guess democracy is a bad idea.

61. The injustice of an act when successful inflicts no injury on the sanctity of right.—Allocution "Jamdudum cernimus," March 18, 1861.

62. The principle of non-intervention, as it is called, ought to be proclaimed and observed.—Allocution "Novos et ante," Sept. 28, 1860.
What Pius IX means is non intervention in terms of religion. From his point of view intervention in favour of Catholicism is always mandated and against other religions.
63. It is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel against them.—Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9, 1864; Allocution "Quibusque vestrum," Oct. 4, 1847; "Noscitis et Nobiscum," Dec. 8, 1849; Apostolic Letter "Cum Catholica."
How Pius IX squares this with his condemnation of state interference in Church affairs is not clear. Although it is obvious it is a swipe at the revolutionaries of 1848.
64. The violation of any solemn oath, as well as any wicked and flagitious action repugnant to the eternal law, is not only not blamable but is altogether lawful and worthy of the highest praise when done through love of country.—Allocution "Quibus quantisque," April 20, 1849.
This is a swipe at those states which abrogated agreements with the Vatican.

65. The doctrine that Christ has raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament cannot be at all tolerated.—Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.

66. The Sacrament of Marriage is only a something accessory to the contract and separate from it, and the sacrament itself consists in the nuptial benediction alone.—Ibid.

67. By the law of nature, the marriage tie is not indissoluble, and in many cases divorce properly so called may be decreed by the civil authority.—Ibid.; Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.
This is again a truism. Of course the Church granted “Divorces” all the time it simply called them annulments.

68. The Church has not the power of establishing diriment impediments of marriage, but such a power belongs to the civil authority by which existing impediments are to be removed.—Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.
Again a simple truism going back to the Roman Empire.

69. In the dark ages the Church began to establish diriment impediments, not by her own right, but by using a power borrowed from the State.—Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.

70. The canons of the Council of Trent, which anathematize those who dare to deny to the Church the right of establishing diriment impediments, either are not dogmatic or must be understood as referring to such borrowed power.—Ibid.

71. The form of solemnizing marriage prescribed by the Council of Trent, under pain of nullity, does not bind in cases where the civil law lays down another form, and declares that when this new form is used the marriage shall be valid.

72. Boniface VIII was the first who declared that the vow of chastity taken at ordination renders marriage void.—Ibid.

73. In force of a merely civil contract there may exist between Christians a real marriage, and it is false to say either that the marriage contract between Christians is always a sacrament, or that there is no contract if the sacrament be excluded.—Ibid.; Letter to the King of Sardinia, Sept. 9, 1852; Allocutions "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852, "Multis gravibusque," Dec. 17, 1860.

74. Matrimonial causes and espousals belong by their nature to civil tribunals.—Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9 1846; Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851, "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851; Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.
Pius IX clearly wants Marriage to be under the control of the Church. This is of course nonsense. That marriage is a civil contract sanctified by the state is a simple truism. The sacrament of marriage as defined by the Church is a different thing. It is clear that Pius IX wanted the abolition of Civil Marriage.

75. The children of the Christian and Catholic Church are divided amongst themselves about the compatibility of the temporal with the spiritual power.—"Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.
Another truism.

76. The abolition of the temporal power of which the Apostolic See is possessed would contribute in the greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church.—Allocutions "Quibus quantisque," April 20, 1849, "Si semper antea," May 20, 1850.


77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.—Allocution "Nemo vestrum," July 26, 1855.

78. Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.—Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.

79. Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism.—Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856.
Pius IX really did abominate religious tolerance. But then the religious tolerance of the Papal states was pretty minimal. Again what he longed for was a return to the theocratic states of the Middle Ages complete with State Churches and the suppression of contrary belief.
80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.—Allocution "Jamdudum cernimus," March 18, 1861.
What can one say to such obscurantism?

The following paragraphs, although often appended to The Syllabus, actually derive from the encyclical of 21 November 1873, Etsi multa (On the Church in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland), by the same Holy Father, Pope Pius IX.
The faith teaches us and human reason demonstrates that a double order of things exists, and that we must therefore distinguish between the two earthly powers, the one of natural origin which provides for secular affairs and the tranquillity of human society, the other of supernatural origin, which presides over the City of God, that is to say the Church of Christ, which has been divinely instituted for the sake of souls and of eternal salvation.... The duties of this twofold power are most wisely ordered in such a way that to God is given what is God's (Matt. 22:21), and because of God to Caesar what is Caesar's, who is great because he is smaller than heaven. Certainly the Church has never disobeyed this divine command, the Church which always and everywhere instructs the faithful to show the respect which they should inviolably have for the supreme authority and its secular rights....
.... Venerable Brethren, you see clearly enough how sad and full of perils is the condition of Catholics in the regions of Europe which We have mentioned. Nor are things any better or circumstances calmer in America, where some regions are so hostile to Catholics that their governments seem to deny by their actions the Catholic faith they claim to profess. In fact, there, for the last few years, a ferocious war on the Church, its institutions and the rights of the Apostolic See has been raging.... Venerable Brothers, it is surprising that in our time such a great war is being waged against the Catholic Church. But anyone who knows the nature, desires and intentions of the sects, whether they be called masonic or bear another name, and compares them with the nature the systems and the vastness of the obstacles by which the Church has been assailed almost everywhere, cannot doubt that the present misfortune must mainly be imputed to the frauds and machinations of these sects. It is from them that the synagogue of Satan, which gathers its troops against the Church of Christ, takes its strength. In the past Our predecessors, vigilant even from the beginning in Israel, had already denounced them to the kings and the nations, and had condemned them time and time again, and even We have not failed in this duty. If those who would have been able to avert such a deadly scourge had only had more faith in the supreme Pastors of the Church! But this scourge, winding through sinuous caverns, . . . deceiving many with astute frauds, finally has arrived at the point where it comes forth impetuously from its hiding places and triumphs as a powerful master. Since the throng of its propagandists has grown enormously, these wicked groups think that they have already become masters of the world and that they have almost reached their pre-established goal. Having sometimes obtained what they desired, and that is power, in several countries, they boldly turn the help of powers and authorities which they have secured to trying to submit the Church of God to the most cruel servitude, to undermine the foundations on which it rests, to contaminate its splendid qualities; and, moreover, to strike it with frequent blows, to shake it, to overthrow it, and, if possible, to make it disappear completely from the earth. Things being thus, Venerable Brothers, make every effort to defend the faithful which are entrusted to you against the insidious contagion of these sects and to save from perdition those who unfortunately have inscribed themselves in such sects. Make known and attack those who, whether suffering from, or planning, deception, are not afraid to affirm that these shady congregations aim only at the profit of society, at progress and mutual benefit. Explain to them often and impress deeply on their souls the Papal constitutions on this subject and teach, them that the masonic associations are anathematized by them not only in Europe but also in America and wherever they may be in the whole world.
This screed is of interest in indicating the mindset of Pius IX and his advisors. Especially notable is the mention of Masons, who in the demonology of 19th century Catholicism are leading the forces of darkness against the Church. As for the double order of things it is clear that Pius IX regards the Order of the Church as clearly superior to the order of “Caesar”. The desire to subordinate the state to the Church is clear and obvious.
To the Archbishops and Bishops of Prussia concerning the situation of the Catholic Church faced with persecution by that Government....

But although they (the bishops resisting persecution) should be praised rather than pitied, the scorn of episcopal dignity, the violation of the liberty and the rights of the Church, the ill treatment which does not only oppress those dioceses, but also the others of the Kingdom of Prussia, demand that We, owing to the Apostolic office with which God has entrusted us in spite of Our insufficient merit, protest against laws which have produced such great evils and make one fear even greater ones; and as far as we are able to do so with the sacred authority of divine law, We vindicate for the Church the freedom which has been trodden underfoot with sacrilegious violence. That is why by this letter we intend to do Our duty by announcing openly to all those whom this matter concerns and to the whole Catholic world, that these laws are null and void because they are absolutely contrary to the divine constitution of the Church. In fact, with respect to matters which concern the holy ministry, Our Lord did not put the mighty of this century in charge, but Saint Peter, whom he entrusted not only with feeding his sheep, but also the goats; therefore no power in the world, however great it may be, can deprive of the pastoral office those whom the Holy Ghost has made Bishops in order to feed the Church of God.
What Pius IX is referring to here is the so-called Kultur-Kampf waged by Bismarck against the Church. This is perhaps the only genuine example of real persecution and a attack on the Church that can be characterized as unfair in the entire document.12

The aftermath of all this was not pretty. The Syllabus was greeted with dismay by much of Europe and even much Catholic opinion was shocked. Pius IX once again displayed his remarkable talent for shooting himself in the foot. He would later on denounce Democracy, elections, freedom of the press etc., etc., thus cementing his reputation as a Medieval theocrat and a through reactionary. He would meditate endlessly about how persecuted he was and whine about his sufferings.

Like so many fanatics Pius IX demanded that practitioners of the faith he supported be given freedom to practice their faith; in this case Catholicism. However he totally denied that other faiths must have that freedom also. Pius IX just never saw that what he thought of as “error” had the right to be exercised. It was wrong in his eyes to persecute the Catholic Church but it was right for the Catholic Church to persecute others.

In 1870 at the first Lateran Council the doctrine of Papal Infallibility would be proclaimed. It was of course a futile gesture of defiance against the modern world. The attempt to introduce it generated a good deal of opposition among the Bishops at the conference who regarded it as at once inexpedient and heretical. Pius IX was however adamant to scream defiance at the world.13

Amazingly the version of infallibility that was past was a considerably watered down version of what Pius IX wanted. Pius IX’s monomania was quite large. The opposition was able to do that much but even so it was not enough.14

That this doctrine was in defiance of both Church History and previous Church doctrine is manifest. The idea that a Pope like Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope, would be infallible is just too ludicrous for words. It was all part of Pius IX’s drive to complete the transformation of the Papacy into an absolute monarchy.

The reaction of the rest of the world was one of dismay and ridicule. Even most of the Catholic powers were not pleased and viewed this has a threat to the autonomy of their national churches. Napoleon III who was in charge of the French troops protecting Papal domination in Rome was seriously annoyed. It was ignored as much as possible.15

Of course 1870 witnessed retribution for Pius IX’s foolishness. The Franco-Prussian war broke out and the French withdrew their troops from Rome. The Italians marched in and took the city without much resistance amid scenes of wild popular rejoicing. The new government proceeded to introduce freedom of the press, religion and to dismantle the Secret Police and other acts that Pius IX found ungodly. 16

Pius IX spent the last years of his life, (he lived until 1878), whining about his imprisonment, intriguing for the return of the Papal states complete with secret police, and making life as difficult as possible for the new Italian government. He was described as “The Prisoner of the Vatican” in the propaganda feed to credulous Catholics. Pius IX absolutely refused to negotiate he wanted at a minimum the return of the Papal states. That the inhabitants of the former Papal states most definitely did NOT want a return to Papal rule was considered by Pius IX of no relevance.17

Pius IX lived in a most comfortable “prison”, but then this “prison” was largely self inflicted.

Pius IX died in 1878 thereby ending one of the most disastrous Papacies ever. Although a pious and charming man and very likable, he was a disaster for the Catholic Church and his legacy unfortunately lives on.

Papal States

1. De Rosa, Peter, Vicars of Christ, Bantam Press, New York, 1988, p. 244.

2. Kertzer, David I., Prisoner of the Vatican, Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 2004, pp. 9-21, De Rosa, pp. 128-136, Wills, Gary, Papal Sin, Image Books, Toronto, 2000, pp. 40-45.

3. IBID, De Rosa.

4. Kertzer, pp. 9-21.

5. IBID, Note 3.

6. De Rosa, pp. 131-132.

7. Kertzer, pp. 65-67.

8. Wills, pp. 41-44, De Rosa, p. 195.

9. Kertzer, pp. 59-72, De Rosa, pp. 131-132.

10. All quotes from the Syllabus of Errors, EWTN, Here.

11. Goubert, Pierre, Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen, Vintage Books, 1970, pp. 151-155.

12. Craig, Gordon A., Germany 1866-1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1978, pp. 69-78.

13. Wills, pp. 246-259, Kertzer, pp. 22-32, De Rosa, pp. 133-136.

14. IBID.

15. De Rosa, pp. 135-136, Kertzer, p. 32.

16. De Rosa, pp. 131-132, Kertzer, pp. 59-72.

17. De Rosa, p. 132, Wills, pp, 239-244, Kertzer, pp. 100-108.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, November 20, 2009

Augustus’ Problem


The emperor Augustus who grew up with the name Octavian was undoubtedly one of the most important men who ever lived. A man whose influence on our present day world is massive.

Now Octavian, who was born in 63 B.C.E. and died in 14 C.E.1 did not do it all by himself he had lots of help and a great deal of good luck. To make it very simple he had the extraordinary good fortune to be born in the Julii family and to be the nephew of Julius Caesar. Even more extraordinary Julius managed to have, by Roman standards, no legitimate children alive by the time he was assassinated.2

Shortly before Caesar was murdered, 44 B.C.E., he changed his will making Octavian, at the time of the assassination 18 years old, his heir.3

Now Caesar is in many respects a truly extraordinary individual, a brilliant general and a great writer and an in all respects a dazzling personage. He is also in my opinion overrated has a politician. Although certainly capable he owed his success to the trump card of his military ability and his ability to hold onto the loyalty of his men. As a politician he had numerous deficiencies, despite all his skills and brilliance he lacked any real ability to solve Rome’s severe century old crisis.4

Julius Caesar

For over a century before Caesar’s murder Rome had been racked by a series of steadily escalating crises that sapped the foundations of the Roman state. Basically what happened was that Rome’s Republican city Government, admirably suited to conquest and expansion and promoting a certain degree of internal stability was breaking down under the impact of empire and conquest. Rome’s government was a city state government that was best suited for a city state and not for an empire.5

The fact that this government was very unusual in terms of usual sort of city state government in the ancient world in its ability to absorb and integrate conquered territories including the steady expansion of its citizen base. This was combined with a remarkably effective military machine that by 150 B.C.E., made Rome the greatest power in the Mediterranean. Frankly the other great powers of the day simply could not cope with Roman military power. These other powers were steadily disposed or conquered so that by the lifetime of Julius Caesar Rome had no other power to fear.6

Rome did however have to fear its own internal divisions.

The tensions produced by the dichotomy between the centralization of authority in Rome and the essentially provincial nature of government resulted in a steady increase in tension. The vast wealth pouring into Rome had massively increased the wealth of the Roman Aristocracy at the same time tensions in the countryside between the aristocracy and the ordinary Roman citizen had increased massively. Further the massive wealth that Rome now had had spurred output of all sorts and given rise to the creation of a large new moneyed class whose wealth was formed on their ability to lend money. This also created a very large class of debtors who could not pay their debts.7

The simple fact was that Rome was tearing it self apart in civil discord. It was likely that the empire would fly apart into several pieces. In fact in the late 90’s early 80’s B.C.E., the empire had in fact come close to terminal collapse when the Italian allies of Rome succeeded from the empire and thus ignited the Social War. The war was terminated by giving the remaining Italian allies what they had long wanted Roman citizenship. But it had been a close call.8

Further the Republic was riddled with corruption and ruthless exploitation, notably by the governors and their lackeys sent to govern the conquered provinces. This corruption was also sapping the political strength of the state.9

The decline of the old Roman Aristocracy and the rise of soldier politicians like Sulla and Marius also were precursors to the death of the Republic. Another ominous development was the practice of violent purges and proscriptions. Starting with the Gracchi c. 130-115 B.C.E., the scale of these proscriptions escalated until during the rule of Sulla thousands were killed in a reign of terror.10

The solution to this problem was clear the imposition of one man rule and the supporting bureaucracy to support that rule. Here was the crunch. This solution was in effect no solution at all. The very beliefs and political practices that had made Rome strong and powerful enough to create an empire without precedent in the Mediterranean world also made this an apparent non-solution. The Roman Aristocracy was deeply, almost pathologically anti-monarchical. Any rule by one man offended their deepest political instincts and was considered almost completely unacceptable. Further the only system that promised long term stability was a type of hereditary monarchy, which by Roman tradition was considered totally unacceptable. The term for King in Latin “Rex” was considered a curse and insult. Given this any man who attempted to impose one man rule or a monarchy risked virtually certain assassination attempts and was not likely to live long.11

Caesar attempted to get around this by making himself Dictator for life. Dictator was a well established Roman practice for emergencies, however traditionally it was only for periods of 6 months. Caesar’s perpetual Dictatorship was offensive and considered clearly extra-legal. Further rather than stay behind and continue the long difficult process of restoring and reforming the empire Caesar was about to embark on an eastern campaign leaving his staff to govern most of empire. This was too much for the pride of the Roman aristocracy. It was bad enough to be governed by one man, even one as capable as Caesar, but to be governed by his secretaries and thus left out of the main sources of power was too much. Not surprisingly Caesar was assassinated.12 Caesar failed and why he failed is not surprising:
For all his immeasurable abilities as a general and administrator, he had failed, and would have continued to fail, to rescue Rome from its major dilemma. It was this. The Republic, obviously, had become impotent, and, that being so, there was no practical alternative to one-man rule. Yet one-man rule was just what the nobles, although incapable of ruling any more, categorically refused to accept; and so they put him to death. It seemed an insoluble problem. Yet there now came another sort of man altogether, who preformed the seemingly impossible task of finding a solution after all: he was the 19-year-old Octavian, grand nephew of Julius Caesar who had adopted him in his will as his son.13
That was Augustus’ problem; later in another posting I will discuss Augustus’ solution.

1. Wells, Colin, The Roman Empire, 2nd Edition, Fontana Books, London, 1992, p. 286.

2. IBID. pp. 11-14, Julius Caesar had a daughter Julia who died young and by Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt a son nicknamed Caesarian, actual name Ptolemy. Under Roman rules Caesar could not name Caesarian his heir. See Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, 2nd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1979, Julius Caesar, s, 1, Dio, Cassius, The Roman History: The Reign of Augustus, Penguin Books, London, 1987, Book 50, s. 1.

3. Suetonius, Augustus, s. 4.

4. Grant Michael, History of Rome, Faber and Faber, London, 1979, pp. 192-198, Crawford, Michael, The Roman Republic, 2nd Edition, Fontana books, London, 1978, pp. 182-186.

5. Dudley, Donald, Roman Society, Penguin Books, London, 1970, p. 115.

6. Crawford, pp. 94-106.

7. Grant, pp. 168-169.

8. The actual succession was an act of desperation and the war which is very poorly documented was apparently extremely ferocious and bloody. It was also inconclusive and only ended by Rome conceding citizenship. See Crawford, pp. 138-144, Grant, pp. 156-158, Dudley, pp. 99-100.

9. Grant, pp. 161-174.

10. Syme, Ronald, The Roman Revolution, Oxford University Press, London, 1939, pp. 16-17, Crawford, pp. 150-151, Grant, pp. 161-162.

11. Grant, pp. 196-198, Dudley, pp. 115-116, Crawford, pp. 184-186.

12. IBID, Grant, Dudley, pp. 113-116, Crawford, pp. 182-186.

13. Grant, p. 198.

Pierre Cloutier

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Moral Cretinism Part II
Lying and Murder

In a past posting I discussed a morally repugnant piece of garbage that sought to excuse the Khmer Rouge. Well I’ve just found a piece of crud that in some respects outdoes that bit of slime ball idiocy.

It comes from the website Answers in Genesis or AIG for short.1 In this piece a Mr. Bodie Hodge answers the question about whether or not it is ever right to lie.2 Mr. Hodge makes a complete hash of it.

Below I will quote the full E-Mail exchange with my comments concerning Mr. Hodge’s morally cretinist views.

You, know I almost hate to do this because I know how much email you guys handle. . . But I want to respond to Bodie Hodge’s “contradictions” article on Rahab’s “lie”. Bodie is almost always right on the mark and is probably my favourite feedback man, but in this case I have to take exception to his saying that it is always wrong to lie . . . The ninth commandment says we should never bear false witness against our neighbour (or anyone). But if the Nazis are looking for Jews, and you know where they are, it would not be wrong to lie, in order to protect them, nor would this be bearing false witness “against” someone . . . I think in the same way the Israeli midwives lied to the Egyptians about the birthing of male babies in Moses’s day . . . I know its a rare exception, but there may be other circumstances when it might be appropriate to “lie”, although obviously, 99% percent of the time it would be wrong . . . Keep up the good work, all of you, your ministry is the most awesome in the world, just blows me away. M.H.3

Scene from the movie Sophie's Choice

Now Mr/s M.H., is of course giving to moral absolutists an extreme example just to see if they are willing to bend their un-bendable moral absolutism in order to do good. Or even to realize that this is a morally difficult situation and sometimes you have to commit one sin to avoid a greater one and/or to do good. Of course being a Fundamentalist moral cretin our analyst fails spectacularly.
Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis and thanks for the comments. I know this can be a touchy subject, but please bear with me as I try to explain. Keep in mind that I, too, am not perfect but will try to answer as scripturally as possible. (Also, sorry for the length—but this feedback will allow me the breadth that I did not have with the contradiction article on Rahab on the website.)4
To refine Mr. Hodge’s position. Scripturally means to him sections of the Bible I like, interpreted the way I like. Further Mr. Hodge elevates the detailed word of the Bible above mere human considerations and that includes other people’s lives and of course this is a form of idolatry. And of course he forgets that bit about the word kills but the spirit gives life.

Righteous Lies?

Bearing false witness is a lie, and in Hebrew the word for false in Exodus 20:16 is sheqer, which literally means “lie.” It is derived from the Hebrew word shaqar, which means “deal falsely, be false, trick, and cheat.” There are many verses in the Bible that reaffirm the Ninth Commandment, and a couple are:5
Well first of all a word is interpreted in context with other words, and the text does say bear false witness. It seems clear that it is referring to judicial and judicial like proceedings and is not intended to be a blanket prohibition of all lying regardless of circumstances or situations. So it seems that the commandment against bearing false witness does not ban lying in all situations. It is of interest that Mr. Hodge ignores context in order to get the result he wants.

Leviticus 19:11
You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.

1John 2:21
I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

The devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), and one lie to God the Holy Spirit was worthy of instant death for Ananias (Acts 5:3–5). Paul points out that even if he were to lie for the glory of God, he would be deemed a sinner for such an act:

Romans 3:7
For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, thy am I also still judged as a sinner?6
Note that Mr. Hodge then cherry picks appropriate quotations to back up the view that he is obviously taking that lying is indeed a heinous sin. I note he selects passages which in his opinion support an absolutist interpretation of the prohibition against lying. It is of interest that Rabbi’s of the rabbinical age that began before Jesus and lasted until 500 C.E., argued the notion that in order to save a life you could break many of the Mosaic laws. Because some divine commands, like the duty to preserve innocent life have priority over others.

It is of interest that he quotes the Bible about the Devil being the father of lies, which is fascinating, so lying to save someone, can only be prompted by the Devil. How fascinating.

This all of course assumes that Mr. Hodge is quoting the passages properly and in context, an assumption that may not be accurate.
In light of such passages, does a “righteous lie” really exist? The most common example sent to me was envisioning the Holocaust and being placed in the position of lying to potentially protect someone’s life. Like most, if placed in such a difficult situation, it would be very difficult. In fact, I could never be sure what I would do, especially if it were a loved one.7
A bit of dawn breaks in Mr. Hodge’s head. He admits that he would not know what to do and that he would be sorely tempted to lie. However this dawn is only temporary and Mr. Hodge reverts back to mindless obedience to the literal word.
But consider for a moment that we are all already sentenced to die because we are sinners (Romans 5:12). It is going to happen regardless. If a lie helps keep someone alive for a matter of moments compared to eternity, was the lie, which is high treason against the Creator, worth it?8
So Mr. Hodge elevates lying to “high treason” against God. Wow! Is this any lie? Well it appears to be the case with Mr. Hodge. So is Mr. Hodge really saying that lying to save an innocent life is punishable by eternal damnation? In effect Mr. Hodge is saying that being a murderer / accessory to murder is a lesser sin than lying! So helping to murder an innocent human being despite its violation of so many passages in the Bible, i.e., “thou shall NOT kill". (Here in the King James Bible sense of murder) is nothing compared to a lie. And note Mr. Hodge does not even talk about graduations of lies. Does lying like when you told some body she looked good in that dress when they did not a lie that will damn you for eternity? Well it appears from Mr. Hodge that yes it does.

I further note that this turns God into a monster obsessed with a rule that is in the circumstances utterly trivial.

But then we here the real reason why you should not lie. It does not make any difference because you’re going to die anyway and compared to eternity it is trivial. So by this calculus murder is trivial, after all death is going to happen anyway. So why pray tell live at all! In other words other people’s lives don’t matter very much. Our Mr. Hodge is not finished however.
It would be like sitting in a cell on death row and when the guards come to take your roommate to the electric chair, you lie to the guards and say you don’t know where the person went—while your roommate is hiding under their covers on the bed. Does it really help? Since we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), death is coming for us, and there is an appointed time (Ecclesiastes 3:2).9
Well Mr. Hodge the analogy is bad. First of all the people we are lying to protect are INNOCENT. Secondly if we lie they have a better chance of surviving. Third the authorities (Nazis') in this case are violating every commandment in the book including thou shall not kill. The fact is the Nazis' can not be sure, unlike the inmate in this case that there is anyone there and it is possible for you to save them by lying and you would almost certainly get them killed by telling the truth. The appointed time stuff is interesting is Mr. Hodge stating that God decided when the innocents who were murdered in the Holocaust died it was their “appointed time”? If so then Mr. Hodge is saying God is responsible for their deaths. Once again God the monster.
Proverbs 12:19
The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Is it worth sinning against God to try to buy a moment of time next to eternity—intentionally lying is foolish and would only harm the extent of your own life (Ecclesiastes 7:17). Let’s look further at Scripture for an example of a situation where a lie could have saved a life.10
Once again Mr. Hodge states that intentionally lying is wicked because it is foolish. Let me get this, lying to save an innocent party from wrongful death etc., is foolish but telling the truth and being an accessory to murder is wise!? But then we see the secret meaning Mr. Hodge’s vomits. Mr. Hodge states that it would harm the extent of your own life. In other words God is such an anal retentive asshole that he would damn you for saving an innocent by lying. However if you tell the truth and are an accessory to murder he will reward you with eternal joy in heaven. Besides what is an innocent being murdered anyway compared to your eternal bliss in heaven? They would eventually die anyway?!

The self centered moralistic idiocy of this to elevate one owns sense of “proper” moral behavior over the lives of others beggars belief.

It is of interest to note that Mr. Hodge seems to think truth all the time is a good thing because in the end it pays well.

Stephen in Acts 6–7 preached Christ, and men came against him. This culminated with a question by the high priest in Acts 7:1who said: “Are these things so?” At this point, Stephen could have done a “righteous lie” to save his life so that he could have many more years to preach the gospel. However, Stephen laid a long and appropriate foundation for Christ—then preached Christ. And they killed him.

But this event triggered a persecution that sent the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19) and peaked with Paul (who consented to Stephen’s death) coming to Christ and taking the message to the Gentiles and writing several books of the New Testament. The Lord had a greater purpose for Stephen—even though it cost him his life. Keep in mind, however, that this, and other examples, are about the person in question—not another.11
Aside from the fact that Stephen’s hypothetical lie was to save himself not others and so doesn’t meet the situation described at all. The other problem is that given that human beings want to go on living and who in their right mind would blame Stephen for lying to save himself. That he did not shows enormous courage and faith. Since God is supposed to be forgiving I rather suspect he would forgive a lie designed to save one’s own life.

Of course the question in the Nazi hypothetical is aside from the considerable courage required to hide these people, remember hiding someone is a form of deception, it requires considerable courage to lie, deceive etc., to keep those people safe.

Do We Know What God Had in Mind?

I often wonder if a Nazi soldier asked if someone was there hiding and they told the truth before God, could the Lord have in mind a greater purpose? Could God have used that person to free a great many people who ultimately died in the Holocaust? Or have done something to stop the war earlier? Or cause a great number of Jews and Nazi’s to come to know Christ? It is possible, but we simply cannot know. And one should not dwell too long on “what ifs” anyway.12
The question is not what God had in mind but what these men had in mind. What they had in mind was rounding up these innocent, (yes I’m overusing the word); people in order to kill them. Given that that was their objective lying to stop them carrying it out seems reasonable. As for what God had in mind!? What the hell are you implying? Are you saying that somehow the Holocaust was part of God’s plan?!
This paragraph is utterly revolting. Mr. Hodge seems to be implying that by telling the truth in this hypothetical situation that somehow this is part of God’s plan to save souls. That this is a greater purpose. No doubt the Holocaust was also part of God’s “greater purpose”. What a monstrous conception of God.

But then the great purpose is to get more people to “know Christ”, little matters like saving their lives are nothing compared to that.

The implication seems to be that by telling the truth and helping to murder these innocents these people find Christ and are saved and are rewarded with an eternity of bliss. No doubt those innocents who are murdered and do not find Christ get an eternity of suffering in hell.

It is also of interest that Mr. Hodge seems to not realize that by lying, hopefully successfully, these liars help prevent the Nazi soldiers involved of being guilty of murder. But then what their doing is nothing compared to lying according to Mr. Hodge.
No doubt, there is great value in the truth (John 8:32). As fallible, sinful human beings, our imperfect thoughts may not be able to comprehend what God has in mind, and we need to strive to trust God when He speaks on this subject, regardless how hard it may be. We need to place our faith fully in Christ and trust in God in all things—and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
I’m not saying this to be “preachy,” because I really don’t know what I would do in such a situation. However, I would pray that the Lord would grant me the wisdom to know what to say and how to say it—but more preferably—how to avoid being in that situation in the first place.13
So we should just trust God and avoid using our god given brains. This is known as abdication of responsibility. It is also called cowardice.

Mr. Hodge then again admits he would not know what to do in this situation. Again admitting he might do the right thing and lie his head off. He would of course pray about saying the right thing. Why pray, THE RIGHT THING TO DO IS TO LIE!!! But then the cowardice comes in, Mr. Hodge would try to avoid getting in that situation. Just how would he do it?

I would suspect he would simply refuse to help so he would not have to lie. He would refuse to help innocent people because he just cannot lie even to save their lives. Well if that is the case he should definitely refuse to help them if he lacks the moral courage to lie to save them and would prefer to sacrifice their lives on the altar of his “moral” code.

The fact is by agreeing to hide them the person doing so is agreeing to do what is necessary to keep them safe and this includes an enormous amount of deception and yes, lying. Further Mr. Hodge conveniently forgets that by refusing to obey the Nazi rules against sheltering Jews, the hiders were disobeying Paul’s injunction that the authorities are ordained by God and should be obeyed. If Mr. Hodge cannot do any of this he should not be hiding these people at all.
If Forced into This Situation . . . What Then?
Let’s consider again the Nazi-Holocaust situation: there seems to be a conflict in the situation to lie before God to try to save someone else’s life. The result is often called the “greater good” or “lesser of two evils.”
I’ve been told in the past that the lesser of these two evils would be to lie to save a life—hence the common phrase “a righteous lie.” This is often justified by appealing to the command to love our neighbor (Romans 13:9).
But how does God view this, remembering that God is a discerner of our motives. To God, a lie for selfish motive was worthy of death to Ananias. But, in fact, just one sin is worthy of death (Genesis 2:17). (This should be a reminder that we should continually praise God for His grace that is bestowed upon us). But let’s look at Scripture again. The two greatest commandments are:
Mark 12:28–31
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first1 commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus tells us that all the commandments can be summed up into these two statements. But of these two, the first is to love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. So, this would trump the second. Our actions toward God should trump our actions toward men. Peter also affirmed this:
Acts 5:29
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” If we love God, we should obey Him (John 14:15). To love God first means to obey Him first—before looking at our neighbor. So, is the greater good trusting God when He says not to lie or trusting in our fallible, sinful minds about the uncertain future?14
The moral cretinism is now full blown. After mentioning the very obvious lesser of two evils argument Mr. Hodge engages in some really twisted scripture pulling to justify his stance of truth telling at all costs; including the lives of innocent people.

Of course Mr. Hodge’s quote about one sin is worthy of death is of course to imply that lying to the Nazis about innocent people being hidden by you is a crime worthy of death, i.e., eternal punishment. Of course being guilty of murder by telling the truth is of little consequence. Opps! Hold it. God frowns upon murder. What about “thy brother’s blood cries out from the earth”. It is that which I think God will reproach these truth tellers for at judgment. I further note that God condemned Cain for murdering his brother not for Cain lying about knowing where his brother was.

Firstly Jesus’ commandment about is about loving God and part of the proof of loving God is loving your neighbour, how does it show love of God to condemn your neighbour to death?

Then Mr. Hodge goes into a favorite Fundamentalist mantra; obedience. Yep we should obey God and never argue or disagree with him but like mindless automatons obey him. Or at least Mr. Hodge’s version of him. But in the end blind obedience to God and some, in the circumstances, trivial rule trumps simple human decency. We owe absolute obedience to God. Yet just how are being obedient to God if we by not lying treat our neighbour badly. Condemn them. Damn them. In this twisted case our selfish need to please God, in the way Mr. Hodge thinks God should be pleased, trumps our duty to our neighbour. Just how God is going to be impressed by that is beyond me. Further obedience to God requires that we obey a sinful, genocidal regime and cooperate in sending innocent (there’s that word again) people to their deaths. It in other words requires and mandates obedience to the orders of a thoroughly vile regime. This is called capitulation to evil.
Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a life—keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway.
As Christians, we need to keep in mind that Jesus Christ reigns. All authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and He sits on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 8:1). Nothing can happen without His say. Even Satan could not touch Peter without Christ’s approval (Luke 22:31). Regardless, if one were to lie or not, Jesus Christ is in control of timing every person’s life and able to discern our motives. It is not for us to worry over what might become, but rather to place our faith and obedience in Christ and to let Him do the reigning. For we do not know the future, whereas God has been telling the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).15
Now starts the weaselling and sophistical attempts to evade the consequences of telling the truth in this case.

Mr. Hodge weasels quite grotesquely. He argues that we don’t know for sure that it would save a life. Really! The great majority of Jews who were caught by the Nazis were murdered. The majority of survivors were those who had fled or were hidden. Those who survived the camps were the young and the fit, (and only a minority of those) at least when they entered the camps. The elderly, very young, infirm, pregnant women etc., were first on the list to be murdered. So it was an extremely good bet that they would die.

Besides does one need the certainty of saving someone? No of course not. Telling the truth would have in the circumstances the near certainty of getting them killed lying at least as the chance of saving them. So of course you lie.

But of course Mr. Hodge evades accepting responsibility by saying you can’t be sure they would die. That is crap it would be in the circumstances virtually certain. So guess what you would be responsible for not lying and sealing their fate.

Of course even if one puts aside the issue of death. There is the fact that telling the truth, assuming it doesn’t get them killed, would condemn these innocents (yes that word again) to terrible, undeserved suffering which if you lie you have a chance of preventing them from enduring.

There is more crap about lying possibly not preventing the search. So what! Lying has a hell of lot better chance of preventing the search than not lying. Mr. Hodge continues to try to evade the issue that telling the truth might get someone killed by postulating a hypothetical.

As for the nonsense about we all die eventually anyway. What an inhuman evil way to conceptualize death, and human suffering, but then it always easier when someone else is suffering and dying. It is of note that our author states that God (Jesus Christ) is in control of the “timing” of everyone’s life. This of course means that God is responsible for the Holocaust and we should not thwart God’s ordained times for people, even if they are innocents, (yeah once again that word), to die.

We should not worry about what might happen in the future to those innocent (yet again) people for ours is not the future to see que sera, sera! This is pure abdication of responsibility for other people. I wonder does Mr. Hodge plan at all for his future? If he does, does he realize that he is not placing his faith in God and letting God reign?

Of course God gave us brains and not to think about the future and the consequences of our acts is simple cowardice. What Mr, Hodge is considering is an act of incredible hubris, that of putting a very narrow conception of “morals” above others. The arrogance is breathtaking.

Mr. Hodge also never considers the possibility of refusing to answer the question at all and therefore avoiding lying. But then I strongly suspect there is an element of obeying authority even if they are Nazis in his analysis.

Of course the problem with saying nothing is that it would almost certainly be interpreted as an admission that you are hiding someone. And that would doom the people you are trying to save as much as a yes.

As for trusting in God is it not remarkable that Mr. Hodge is writing for a blog, (AIG) that is actively trying to get Creationism taught in schools. Just why are they not trusting to God and letting God reign? Why are they actively doing anything at all? Not a lot of faith in God it seems.
Wow, you put a lot of work in to that answer Bodie, and from a biblical basis too. I agree with you 100% about lying to protect yourself, that could be interpreted as mere cowardice, and I think most of your biblical examples dealt with that. However there is a scripture in Exodus ch.1 vs. 15–22, in which the Jewish midwives are told to kill all the male babies they delivered but refused to do so. When asked why they hadn’t destroyed the babies, they told the Egyptians the Hebrew women simply gave birth faster than the Egyptian women, and had the babies before the midwives got there. Vs.17 however says that the Jewish midwives saved the male children alive, so here they are lying not only to save the male babies but probably to escape punishment from the Egyptians. Vs. 20 says that God dealt well with the midwives for doing this. I think this is one of the rare examples or cases where lying would truly not be offensive to our Creator. At any rate, I think this scripture shows that not all lies are equal, at least to my mind. In that most lies are done for self advancement, self protection, greed, etc., but some are done at least with the intention of protecting others, their reputations or physical selves. I can’t fault your stance though, your conscience and the Word must be your guide. Keep up the good work.—M.H.
Ms/r M.H., is in my opinion being very kind to Mr. Hodge, who deserves nothing but contempt. But he raises an interesting example from scripture of lying for a good cause.
I looked up the passage about the midwives, and I, personally, don’t believe they lied. Scripture doesn’t really say they did. Please see the context:
Exodus 1:15–22
Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?” And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. And so it was, because the midwives feared God that He provided households for them. So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.” Naturally, their fear of God led them to refuse the order to murder. It makes more sense to me that they could have informed the Hebrew wives what the Pharaoh had commanded, and, thus, many of the Israelite women were giving birth before the midwives would arrive so they would not be in a position of killing the child. Perhaps the midwives took their time to arrive as well. That would allow the children to survive and the midwives to speak the truth to Pharaoh. What would make pregnant mothers more vigorous or lively to have the child born? Make them aware that if they do not give birth quickly their child’s life may be in danger. There are any number of ways the mothers and midwives could have avoided it.
With humbleness in Christ, Bodie16
What a convoluted stew of crap. Mr. Hodge is desperately trying to save his (im)moral position regarding lying so he comes up with this absurd piece of drivel. And we get the usual false humility that ill conceals a Everest of pride and conceit.

The text clearly says that the midwives “saved the male children alive” this seems to imply that the midwives performed their duties has midwives and lied about it to Pharaoh. This common sense explanation makes sense unlike Mr. Hodge’s absurd distortions and fantasizing.

But then it appears that to Mr. Hodge lying is a worst sin than participating in murder.

Strangely people like Mr. Hodge have no problems with killing in war or killing in self defence, this despite the fact that the Bible condemns killing or at least murder. It seems never to occur to him that protecting one self or others may justify lying as it does killing in self defence etc. But then others have thought like Mr. Hodges. Immanuel Kant for one.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was famous for his categorical imperative that it was always wrong to lie even to a murderer looking for a victim. This is quite accurately characterized as stunningly inhuman and frankly evil. The convoluted philosophical nostrums that Kant engaged in to justify this repellent stew boil down to the notion that lying is so evil that enabling murder is just not as wicked. Of course only someone living in a provincial backwater like Königsberg, obsessed with philosophical minutia, and little understanding of real life could possibly have advanced such a repellent and evil notion. But then to Kant his philosophical abstractions were more important than real people.17

In the case of Mr. Hodge we have a similar idea, in this case his inhuman, evil idea of what God demands trumps human decency. Mr. Hodge seems to hope he would have the courage to tell the truth and thus be a murderer, or at least an accessory to attempted murder, thus earn his reward in heaven. Well I hope he never has anyone taking refugee with him.

In Erasmus' Praise of Folly he ridicules some of the Scolastics for thinking that it is:
...better to let the whole world perish down to the last crumb and stich, as they say, than to tell a single tiny insignifigant lie.18
Erasmus viewed views as such no-nothing nonsense. As the commentary of the above noted passage says:

That a lie may not be told to save the world from destruction admirabily illustrates the way the scholastics derived moral norms from absract principles rather than human needs. Lies are intrinsically evil. The end does not justify the means, and no extrinsic end can therefore justify a lie. The application of abstract principle is logical, but the resulting norm takes no account of charity or compassion.19
Thus Mr. Hodge like Kantshows a stunning lack of compassion and basic humanity, but like the scholastics their principles trumped human decency.

I do not know what I would do in a similar situation. I would hope I would hide these people and, yes, lie through my teeth to keep them safe.

1. Answers in Genesis, Here

2. Hodge, Bodie, Feedback: A Righteous Lie, in Answers in Genesis, Here.

3. IBID.

4. IBID.

5. IBID.

6. IBID.

7. IBID.

8. IBID.

9. IBID.

10. IBID.

11. IBID.

12. IBID.

13. IBID.

14. IBID.

15. IBID.

16. IBID.

17. Kant, Immanuel, On a Supposed Right to tell Lies from Benevolent Motives, in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics, Kongmans, Green and Co, London, 1898, can be found at Online Library of Liberty, Here.
Here is a sample of Kant’s reasoning:
If, then, we define a lie merely as an intentionally false declaration towards another man, we need not add that it must injure another; as the jurists think proper to put in their definition (mendacium est falsiloquium in præjudicium alterius). For it always injures another; if not another individual, yet mankind generally, since it vitiates the source of justice. This benevolent lie may, however, by accident (casus) become punishable even by civil laws; and that which escapes liability to punishment only by accident may be condemned as a wrong even by external laws. For instance, if you have by a lie hindered a man who is even now planning a murder, you are legally responsible for all the consequences. But if you have strictly adhered to the truth, public justice can find no fault with you, be the unforeseen consequence what it may. It is possible that whilst you have honestly answered Yes to the murderer’s question, whether his intended victim is in the house, the latter may have gone out nobserved, and so not have come in the way of the murderer, and the deed therefore have not been done; whereas, if you lied and said he was not in the house, and he had really gone out (though unknown to you) so that the murderer met him as he went, and executed his purpose on him, then you might with justice be accused as the cause of his death. For, if you had spoken the truth as well as you knew it, perhaps the murderer while seeking for his enemy in the house might have been caught by neighbours coming up and the deed been prevented. Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it, even before the civil tribunal, and must pay the penalty for them, however unforeseen they may have been; because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to them were admitted.
To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is therefore a sacred unconditional command of reason, and not to be limited by any expediency.
The above reasoning is sublime in its idiocy. Note Kant very carefully avoids dealing with the issue of what happens if you answer yes and the murderer comes in and kills the person. Or if the person is cowering in a corner within your line of sight. So you know he is in the house. I note that Kant stupidly states that you are responsible if you lie to a murderer but are not responsible if you tell the truth and the murderer kills that person because you told the truth. The convoluted hypotheticals of Kant about the person not being there if you tell the truth, blah, blah, are evasions of the issue. We can speculate all we like. The bottom line is protecting that person from being murdered.
To state that being truthful is an unconditional duty not limited by any sort of expediency is simply evil. But then Kant believes that lying is a greater sin than being an accessory to murder. To call Kant’s position disgusting, immoral, evil etc., is to state the unvarnished truth.

18. Erasmus, Praise of Folly, Penguin Books, London, 1971, p. 156.

19. IBID, p. 156 Note 102.

Pierre Cloutier