Posts tagged with: Anglican saints

indi-patrickAn aristocratic British teenager is kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, escapes and returns home, becomes a priest, returns to his land of captivity and face off against hordes of Druids. Here are five facts about the amazing life of St. Patrick, the Indiana Jones of Christian saints:

1. Taken from his home in southern Britain, Patrick was captured by pirates in A.D. 405 when he was only sixteen years old and sold into slavery in Ireland. He would spend over half a decade as a captive in the pagan land of Druids. During his captivity, Patrick embraced the Christian faith of his upbringing, something that had mattered little to him before his kidnapping.

2. Patrick managed to escape Ireland and make his way back to his home in Britain. Inspired by a dream, he sensed God’s call to return to Ireland in order to share the gospel with the pagans. Patrick assumed he’d meet his demise in Ireland, yet never feared. “Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises,” he said. “But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven.”

3. Pagan kings and warlords felt threatened by Patrick’s missionary work. But Patrick was able obtain the favor of local leaders and to gain safe passage by paying bribes to authorities in Ireland. Of the bribes he paid, Patrick said, “I do not regret this nor do I regard it as enough. I am paying out still and I shall pay out more.”

4. A legend often associated with St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea during one of his sermons. But snakes are not actually found in post-glacial Ireland because of the country’s geographical position. Some historians believe the snake imagery in the legend alludes to Patrick banishing Druids from Ireland.

5. Though we can’t be sure when Patrick died, tradition holds that he lived into his seventies and died on March 17 in the latter half of the fifth-century A.D. In twenty-five or thirty years of evangelistic work, he led thousands of Irish pagans to Christ and was responsible for Ireland’s becoming one of the most Christian nations in Europe. For this reason he is called “the apostle of the Irish.”

thomas-aquinasaugustine-of-hippoAs I noted previously, I’ve been involved this month in a panel discussion over at Cato Unbound on the issue of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.

Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.

Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”

In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”

David Lohmeyer turned up this excellent clip from the original Star Trek series:
Kirk opens the clip by referencing the Nazi “leader principle” (das Führerprinzip). Soon after Hitler’s election as chancellor in 1933, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a (partial) radio address and later lectured publicly on the topic of the “leader principle” and its meaning for the younger generation. These texts are important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Bonhoeffer compares the office of “leader” to a kind of inherent law of life (or natural law) that determines whether or not the leader is actually meeting his responsibilities and obligations. Thus the leader is not beyond the law, as the Nazi version of the principle held.

 

For “men seeking absolute power,” as Spock puts it, this rule of law must be denied. Therefore the reason that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is that it arrogates power to a creature that is beyond its inherent nature as creature and distinct from and beholden to a creator. It makes a man into a god.

Thus, writes Bonhoeffer,

People and especially youth will feel the need to give a leader authority over them as long as they do not feel themselves to be mature, strong, responsible enough to themselves fulfill the demands placed in this authority. The leader will have to be responsibly aware of this clear restriction of his authority. If the leader understands his function differently from that thus established, if the leader does not repeatedly provide the led with clear details on the limited nature of the task and on their own responsibility, if the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a misleader, then the leader is acting improperly both toward the led as well as toward himself.

The leader’s function must be balanced, Bonhoeffer continues, with the other orders of the world: “The leader must lead the led into responsibility toward the social structures of life, toward father, teacher, judge, state. The leader must radically reject the temptation to become an idol, that is, the ultimate authority of the led.”

This is, as Bonhoeffer notes, the perennial temptation of those with political power, and it follows from the basic fallenness of humanity. Spock says rightly, “Your whole earth history is made up of men seeking absolute power.” We are, as fallen creatures, constantly creating idols, out of ourselves and our surroundings. As Bones McCoy puts it, when “a man holds that much power, even with the best intentions, [he] just can’t resist the urge to play God.”

It is comforting, I think, that Lord Acton’s wisdom survives into the 23rd century: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”