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How The World Thinks with T.S. Eliot, p. iii

January 25, 2019

 Above: The Shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, where he was struck down by Hugh de Morville and others walking to Evensong.

 

We pick up with Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral with the third knight, Hugh de Morville. He enters the front stage to give an account of why he participated in the killing of St. Thomas Becket. We will find the following ethical theories espoused:
 

  • Utilitarianism

  • Erastianism

  • Violence for the sake of Social Justice

 

Hugh: I am going to appeal not to your emotions but to your reason. You are a hard-headed sensible people, as I can see, and not to be taken in by emotional clap-trap. I therefore ask you to consider soberly: what were the Archbishop's aims? and what are King Henry's aims?

 

Here he appeals to "reason," but we haven't seen what he means by "reason" yet. Whose reason? This is an ancient rhetorical strategy to make you dispositionally open to what he's saying, lest you tacitly be perceived as being "unreasonable." He actually is playing on emotions, on a desire to seem rational to him.

 

Hugh: The King's aim has been perfectly consistent. During the reign of the late Queen Matilda and the irruption of the unhappy usurper Stephen, the kingdom was very much divided. Our King saw that the one thing needful was to restore order: to curb the excessive powers of local government, which were usually exercised for selfish and often for seditious ends, and to systematise the judiciary. There was utter chaos: there were three kings of justice and three kinds of court: that of the King, that of the Bishops, and that of the baronage...Had becket concurred with the King's wishes, we would have had an almost ideal State: a union of spiritual and temporal administration.

 

An appeal to consistency isn't enough. An archer who misses the target every time is consistent, but still a terrible shot. So is a cook who burns dinner every night.


Second, the desire to "restore order" seems rational and just. But whose account of order? Why if one person thinks The Church should be the arbiter of Faith and Morals and the other thinks it should be The State? HIs account of chaos, disorder, and selfish behavior is all correct. However, it leaves us with the question, "Given The State is in disarray, are you suggesting murder is an acceptable means to the end of restoring order? What Sir Hugh believes is "rational" is "the end justifies the means." Once you accept that, sure, murder is fine.

 

Sir Hugh de Morville here acts as a Utilitarian. He believes in "the greater good" rather than "The Common Good." He appeals to ends, consequences, "getting the job done," or "you gotta' break a few eggs to make an omelette." Most of us practically don't believe this once we start suggesting awful potential means, e.g. sacrifice one innocent to save a hundred, butcher your neighbor's dog since you need breakfast, kill millions in death camps for medical progress, etc. Second, there's a logical problem. An end consists of its means, and good and evil are logical opposites, so it can't be that evil means "add up" to a good. It just "adds up" to a contradiction. 

 

Utilitarians typically think of themselves as "practical" and of their opponents as "idealists." I.e. if you're not Utilitarian, then you're a Kantian. From the Catholic perspective, the ends don't justify the means so the Utilitarians are wrong. Likewise there are certain laws which can never be broken, but there are rules that exist for times and purposes that may be suspended, refined, or removed altogether. E.g. The Dogma of The Holy Trinity cannot change; clerical celibacy may allow acception such as with Catholic Priests who are married and in The POCSP.

 

In short, Mr. Hugh de Morville, find another way to bring about good that doesn't include doing evil. Anything that draws you further away from God is the most impractical thing you could do. No State will exist in The New Heavens and The New Earth, so to subordinate the fate of your soul to whether or not The State is doing fine by its own standards is quite impractical.

 

Hugh: The moment that Becket, at the King's instance, had been made Archbishop, he resigned the office of Chancellor, he became more priestly than the priests, he ostentatiously and offensively adopted an ascetic manner of life, he openly abandoned every policy that he had heretofore supported, he affirmed immediately that there was a higher order than that which our King, as he as the King's servant, had for so many years striven to establish; and that-God knows why-the two orders were incompatible.

 

Here Sir Hugh appeals to our own spiritual Sloth. He hopes as lazy Christians we'll hear "asceticism" and think of ridiculous mean fasting, abstaining, or practicing mortification. We'll hopefully think, "My goodness, so Medieval!" and excuse ourselves those barbarous practices. Our need to not practice The Faith then will rest on our belief that The Fall didn't really hurt us all that bad, right? We thus shall not believe in repenting, in changing our mind. Once we believe that, the idea that Thomas Becket worked so hard to establish public policy only now to change his mind will seem ridiculous to our ears. Becket will seem a madman. Lastly, we're exhorted to understand that violence is the only way to deal with such madmen. Now you see how the rejection of one doctrine becomes a landslide unto rejecting others. If you bite onto Sir Hugh's logic for a second, he's got you hook, line, and sinker. Catholicism is a also a package deal, take the whole or leave the whole. This ain't a buffet. 

 

In regards to the "incompatibility" of the two orders: the classical expression of Church-State relations is that The Church is authority over Faith and Morals, and only over civic matters insofar as it is necessarily involved with ecclesial matters. For an example on this last caveat, say a King practices usury, tortures his citizens for fun, and sacrifices children for a successful season. The Church could declare he has contradicted Natural Law, and thus declare that rebellion would not be disobedience. This is extreme. From day to day her limitation to Faith and Morals means she doesn't go about arresting, taxing, or executing people.

 

After Henry VIII the Anglican theologian John Hooker wrote The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to defend the position of The Church being subordinate to The State even on matters of Faith and Morals. This position became known as Erastianism after the Swiss theologian Erastus, who Hooker knew. Now imagine The Church trying to say to a Christian State, "Look, Jesus taught on divorce in Matthew 5 and 19" only to have The State say, "We will decide what morals are true." The Church could try to make a Natural Law argument on marriage at this point, but imagine a Henry VIII saying, "Ehhh...I sorta' want to get divorced. So we're not doing Natural Law either. It's just my will, and I am The State."

 

Modern Erastianism exists frequently in Christians who wish to "serve" but implicitly come to mean "The Church exists for The World, to serve her, to make the world better, etc." The idea of Christians serving The State just to make the world better implies The Church exists for the world. But this contradicts Catholic Doctrine:

 

760 Christians of the first centuries said, "The world was created for the sake of the Church." God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the "convocation" of men in Christ, and this "convocation" is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things
-The Catechism of the Catholic Church

 

This quotation was used by The Patristics St. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) and Tertullian (160-220 AD). It cleanly expresses The Will of God The Father for salvation for all His Creation. This Will for Salvation we call "The Church." Thus The World exists for The Church, not the other way around. Service then is about everlasting life, not about making the world a better place. The world will be shaken in its foundations on That Day, and the New Heavens and the New Earth will perfect Creation, but remove the City of Man altogether, for there will only be The City of God.

 

Hugh: No one regrets the necessity for violence more than we do. Unhappily, there are times when violence is the only way in which social justice can be secured


Last but not least, violence for the sake of Social Justice. This is a big issue in our world today especially as you approach any major University. A kind of quiet Marxism has laid fallow for decades in The Academy waiting to reawaken. In its essence it defines "power" as the ability to "do anything." By this definition Pontius is powerful and Jesus is not, Herod is strong and John the Baptist is not, the saints are powerless and tyrants are powerful, The World is mighty and God the All-Powerful is powerless to stop evil, powerful men. What a contradiction to God's classical attribute of Omnipotence. Literature, History, Philosophy, and Foreign Language departments have been entirely invaded by this definition of "power."

 

As C.S. Lewis says in Abolition of Man, you signed your kid up for a grammar class and they came out with wacky political ideas. Grammar is necessary for definitions, but teaching such definitions is not a matter of Socratic dialectic as it is spreading Secular Dogma. Coupled with this are now increased calls to violence on all sides. It ain't pretty. And it ain't just. In this way though, violence for Social Justice This is perhaps one of the most complicated forms of an ethic of Vengeance that the world has ever seen. Still, it's barbaric as vengeance ever was, even if it hides in classrooms and textbooks. What makes it all the worse is the way The World has taken The Catholic Church's teaching on "Social Justice," inserted a Marxist definition of "power," cherry picked doctrine, and set it loose. The result is the making of characters like Hugh de Morville only in 2019, who think violence is necessary for their version of social justice. Of course violence is the "only way," because they think martyrdom is not an option. They think death is the worst thing that can happen.

 

And that my friends is the way The World thinks...with T.S. Eliot.

 

So to Sir Hugh de Morville, no, I don't believe The Church exists for the sake of The State's Order. No, I don't believe the ends justify the means. No I don't find any of that sensible or rational. And no, death is not something to be avoided by all means. The Crucifixion challenges all this. Therefore, with St. Paul, I too will "know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corithians 2:2). This is the litmus test for what is "rational" if you are one of the faithful. So much for Hugh de Morville. We'll pick up next time with the Fourth Knight who is the last to speak.

 

 

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