The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This and That No. 15

My last essay, Christian Orthodoxy Versus the Gnostic Heresy of The Suicide Cult, was the final essay in my 2011 theological series. It is also the sequel I promised back in February to The Suicide Cult. This series has taken longer than I expected or wished to complete. I had planned on posting the final essay on Trinity Sunday. This is the Fifth Sunday after Trinity.

My next series of essays, on the topic of Arts and Culture, will begin with a review of T. S. Eliot's Notes Towards a Definition of Culture. Before writing the review I intend to re-read it, although my most recent reading of it was less than half a year ago. I will start my next reading of Eliot's book once I am finished one of the books I am currently reading, Charles Williams' Descent into Hell. I am down to the last few pages of this book so I expect to be finished it, and starting on Eliot's book again tonight. I am also currently reading Simone Weil's Waiting for God and Paul Johnson's Art: A New History. I might review the latter in my Arts and Culture series.

Charles Williams is an author I have intended to read for quite some time but have until recently had difficulty finding copies of his works. I read his War in Heaven last week - which I recommend to anyone who likes C. S. Lewis' space trilogy. Williams was a friend of Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and was with them and a number of others part an informal club of sorts that met at a pub called the Bird and Baby to read and discuss their writings. Like Lewis and Tolkien he was a traditionalist Christian (he was orthodox Anglican) whose views are reflected in his books. He wrote seven novels in total. I hope to read the other five soon.

The news this weekend has been full of the tragic massacre and bombing in Norway. The newsmedia has been placing a great deal of emphasis upon the madman's blond hair and blue eyes. Ordinarily they try to under-emphasize the ethnicity of criminals and terrorists. I wonder why that is?

In case you failed to pick up on it that last question was written with a heavy dose of sarcasm. In this sick-minded murderer the "Great White Defendant" sought after by the Bronx D.A. in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities has finally materialized. He is a bit out of the Bronx D. A.'s jurisdiction however.

The media is reporting that the killer is a "Christian" even a "Christian fundamentalist". That is a curious way of describing someone who said "I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie", described himself as "pro-gay" and was apparently a Freemason. "Christian fundamentalist" appears to be a more inclusive label than we had previously realized.

Whatever the killer's religious views actually were this was, of course, a terrible tragedy and a horrible atrocity. Norway needs our prayers in this time of suffering.

Mark and Connie Fournier of Free Dominion also continue to need our prayers as their legal battles against their persecutors continue. This past week their motion to dismiss the libel suit against them by left-wing blogger "Dr. Dawg" was heard. Dr. Dawg sued the Fourniers because one of their posters, the venerable Peter O'Donnell, called him a Taliban supporter or something to that effect over his position on the Omar Khadr case. If such name-calling now counts as libel, then surely countless people such as Free Dominion's Maikeru, who have been falsely labelled "Nazis" by Dr. Dawg in the past have a case for a libel suit against him. So, for that matter, do I. Dr. Dawg called me an "apartheid supporter". I have declared on many occasions, my sympathy for the Afrikaner people, my disgust with the dishonorable and cowardly Western governments that betrayed the Afrikaners and forced them into their present plight, and my absolute contempt for the ANC, their Communist ideology, and the white-washed former leader of their militant wing the Umkhonto we Sizwe, Nelson Mandela. I never supported their policy of apartheid, however, which I considered unjust but also none of my business, none of the business of the self-righteous, progressive, do-gooder, busy-bodies who were determined to end it, and a lesser injustice to that which was brought about by the rise of the ANC. I suppose Dr. Dawg would call that a "distinction without a difference". Whatever. I have no intention of suing him and if he has any decency he will drop this silly lawsuit against the Fourniers.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Christian Orthodoxy Versus the Gnostic Heresy of the Suicide Cult

In the seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul , after being driven from Thessalonica and Berea, arrived in Athens. He sent away for Silas and Timothy and, while waiting for them, he told people about Jesus in the synagogues and the market place. There, a number of philosophers from the Epicurean and Stoic schools heard him and they brought him to the Areopagus where they could hear him speak at length. His sermon is recorded in verses 22 to 31.

St. Paul began his sermon by noting how religious the Athenians are, how they have altars to various deities all over the place, and even an altar to “the Unknown God”. This became his way of introducing them to the Christian God: “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you”. He told them about the God Who created and rules over all things. He told them that this God:

hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us (vv. 26-27)

In these verses, St. Paul declares that all peoples on the world are related. This was clear in the Old Testament. Adam and Eve are depicted as the father and mother of all human beings in the first chapters of Genesis, and later all people after the Great Flood are said to be the descendents of the survivors – Noah and his wife, and their three sons and their wives. The Book of Genesis includes a genealogical table showing how all the peoples known to the ancient Israelites were descended from one or the other of Noah’s sons.

While the idea of a common descent for all human beings was not unknown to the ancient Greeks it was far from being the only view on the subject. St. Paul clearly brought it up in order to emphasize that the God he was telling them about was not the god of some foreign people but the God of all peoples.

Some Christians have surprisingly taken to using verse 26 to baptize the left-wing doctrine of racial nihilism. This is surprising for two reasons. First, the authors of the book One Blood (1) are evangelicals involved in creationist ministry. Fundamentalists are not exactly noted for their love of left-wing, progressive, and liberal viewpoints. The primary author of the book, Ken Ham, the Australian born founder and director of Answers in Genesis. His co-authors are affiliated with his ministry. The second reason is that the verse clearly does not support the interpretation Ham has given it.

If all Ham had said about the verse was that it upholds the idea expressed in the children’s song “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world” then he would be obviously correct. He takes his interpretation a bit further than that, I am afraid.

Ham would like us to believe that the statement, that all nations are “made of one blood”, means that racial categories and identities are completely arbitrary and man made with no real existence. The idea of “race” he argues, is dangerous, because it leads to racism and Nazism. The idea of race, he says, is the product of Darwinian thinking and therefore should be considered suspect by believers and followers in the Biblical God.

What, however, is the pedigree of the idea that race is an arbitrary category, a social construct with no real existence?

The first person I am aware of to make this astonishing claim was Franz Boas, the German born father of the American school of Cultural Anthropology. While Boas was a noted opponent of the teachings of evolutionists like Sir Francis Galton, this was hardly born out of a concern for Biblical orthodoxy and a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Boas was a progressive with revolutionary sympathies. What he opposed in Galton’s teachings was the idea that man’s inherited nature shapes his behavior – a view that has a lot more in common with Christian orthodoxy than the opposing viewpoint, championed by men like Boas, that human nature is a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate for the progressive to write upon, malleable putty in the hands of the progressive social experimenter.

Boas passed his views on to his students, the most famous of whom were Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Ashley Montagu. Montagu expounded upon Boas’ views at length in his book Man’s Most Dangerous Myth (2) and would later write a report on the subject for the United Nations.

Later, Harvard biologists Richard C. Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould would promote the same idea. Both men were noted for their far-left ideology and their willingness to blend politics with science. They were both associated with the radical group “Science for the People” for example, and Lewontin once said that “There is nothing in Marx, Lenin or Mao that is or can be in contradiction with a particular set of phenomena in the objective world”. Trofin Lysenko felt the same way. In the early ‘70’s, Lewontin published a paper entitled “The Apportionment of Human Diversity” (3) which argued that because a far greater portion of human diversity was to be found between individuals within racial populations, than between different racial populations themselves, therefore race was an invalid biological classification. This argument is pure boloney. It is also true that there is a far greater amount of diversity between individual females or between individual males, than there is between the sexes. Sex is determined, after all, on the basis of a single chromosome out of 46. Does that mean that sex is an invalid biological category?

At the time Lewontin made his famous argument the human genome had yet to be mapped. Later in the century, the American government would fund the Human Genome Project. The HGP and Celera Genomics, a private research organization headed by J. Craig Venter competed against each other to produce the first map of the human genome. Upon the completion of the sequencing in 2000 Venter announced that they had proven that race was “not a scientific concept”. The reasoning behind this irresponsible statement, however, is subject to the same criticism as Lewontin’s.

The idea that race is an arbitrary social construct and not a biological reality began with and was propagated throughout the 20th Century by scientists who held far-left revolutionary ideas (and who were generally atheists) and who did not seem to feel the need to separate their science from their ideology. That a Christian would try to find support for such an idea in the Bible, while at the same time accusing the opposite view (that race exists and is important) of being a “Darwinian” idea is truly astonishing.

The reason for it is not difficult to deduce however. In the post-WWII era “racism” has climbed to the top of the totem pole of sins condemned by Western societies. Ken Ham and his associated undoubtedly wish to show that something so vehemently condemned by the society in which they live is also completely against the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

Acts 17:26 however, does not prove that race does not exist or that it is important. On the contrary, it establishes the exact opposite. For the verse does not say that God took all the nations and peoples of the world and erased the differences and distinctions between them, making them one people. Rather it says that that He took one blood – that is one blood line, one lineage – and out of it made the many different nations of the world. St. Paul clearly states that God is the author of the nations of the world. How can we call unimportant that which God has created?

“Nations” and “races” are not the same thing, of course. The concepts, however, overlap like the circles in a Venn diagram. Both words, in their root meanings, point to the concept of biological descent. Both words identify groups composed of people with a common ancestry that sets them apart from other people giving them a distinct identity. Such a concept is quite compatible with the common ancestry that identifies people of all races and nations as human. If two people are both Englishmen, indicating a common national identity, it does not follow that they are both members of the Smith family. A nation, is a large people group with a common ancestry, that is distinguished from other groups primarily by cultural characteristics – language, religion, attire, manners and customs, history, etc. A race is a large people group with a common ancestry that is distinguished from other groups primarily by physical characteristics – skin colour, facial structure, etc.

When we talk about “racism” as a sin or a social evil we are not speaking in accordance with Scriptural truth. This is because the recently coined term “racism” is too broad and vague in its meaning. It is used to cover everything from serious racial injustice (genocide, enslaving another race, etc.) to more trivial matters such as telling ethnic jokes, to things which are not sinful at all such as merely distinguishing between races or having patriotic attachment and affection towards one’s own people. The last mentioned is not only not a sin but it is even a virtue.

It would be more in keeping with the Scriptures to condemn “racial injustice”. For while that phrase is no more found in Scripture than the word “racism” the much simpler concept those words represent is clearly against Scriptural teachings. “Racial injustice” simply means being unjust to a racial group, or to an individual because he is a member of a particular racial group. This falls under the category of injustice in general which is condemned in the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament we find that God included a number of regulations, in His covenant with Israel, governing how they were to behave towards “strangers”, i.e., non-Israelites amongst them. They are told not to oppress the stranger and are reminded of their own experience of oppression in the land of Egypt . (Ex. 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33). This was also stated positively as a command to love the stranger for the same reason (Lev. 19:34, Deut. 10:19). There was to be one law for both the Israelite and for the stranger (Ex. 12:49, Lev. 24:22, Num. 15:15-16,29). The stranger was to be provided for along with the poor, widows, and orphans (Lev. 19:10, 23:22, Deut. 10:18, 14:21,24:19-21, 26:12-13). The stranger was to receive justice (Deut. 1:16; 24:17, 27:19) and to have the same legal protections as the Israelite (Num 35:15).

If all of that sounds like a recipe for racial liberalism of the kind that exists today, there are other provisions in the Law that need to be taken into consideration. The “one law” for the Israelite and stranger did not forbid the Israelite from charging the stranger for the use of money lent, although he was forbidden to lend to his “brother” (fellow Israelite) this way (Deut. 23:20) . The stranger in Israel was excluded from the Passover (Ex. 12:43) unless he and all males in his family agreed to be circumcised (12:48). He was not allowed to eat things consecrated on the altar (Ex 29:33, 22:10, 13) and this prohibition extended even to the daughter of a priest if she happened to marry a stranger (22:12) unless she return to her father’s house without child (22:13) . The stranger was not allowed to come near the tabernacle upon pain of death (Num 1:51, 3:10, 38, 16:40, 18:4, 7). He was excluded from ruling over Israel as king (Deut. 17:15). He was expected, while sojourning in Israel, to keep the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10, 23:12, Deut. 5:14), to refrain from eating blood (Lev. 17:12), to keep God’s statutes and not commit any abominations (Lev. 18:26), and to not commit blasphemy (24:16), whatever his own custom may be.

In summary, the Israelites were told to treat aliens among them justly, but this justice did not include full social equality with the Israelites.

The Old Testament law was a covenant that functioned as the constitution for a particular nation. It was not a universal template upon which every nation was to build its constitution and should not be treated as such. That does not mean, however, that it should be treated as irrelevant to the contemporary situation by Christians.

In this case, the passages of the Old Testament law that pertain to the stranger, do not cover the situation created by liberal governments in the 20th Century. After WWII, liberal governments in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe began actively seeking large numbers of immigrants. However much the Torah told the Israelites to treat the stranger well it nowhere commanded the Israelites to actively seek to bring strangers into their midst. Furthermore, 20th and 21st Century liberal governments have been actively recruiting these masses of immigrants at a time when they have established affirmative action policies that give immigrants preferential treatment over people born in their country. While the Old Testament law demanded that the stranger be provided for and treated with justice it never hinted that the Israelites should treat him better than they do their own people. Finally, liberal governments began encouraging mass immigration at a time when domestic fertility rates were below population replacement levels. Those rates have remained low ever since and liberal governments show no indication that they will stop the mass importation of immigrants any time soon. When governments encourage long-term mass immigration at a time when fertility is that low that means they have essentially decided to replace their people. There is absolutely no support for such a policy in the Old Testament.

Nor is there any in the New Testament.

This has not prevented clergy and other Bible teachers from reading support for such policies into the New Testament text. The most common texts chosen for such eisegesis are passages which teach that God is the God of all people and that the Gospel is to be preached to all people, such as the Acts 17 passage we looked at earlier, the Great Commission, and St. Paul’s statement in Romans that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation “to the Jew first and also the Greek” and passages which teach the spiritual unity of believers from all people groups in the Church and in the Kingdom of God.

Nowhere in any of these passages is there any indication that Christ wants His Church to try to bring about the political and social re-unification of mankind. The statement in Acts 17 that God is the Author of the nations, Who determined beforehand when they would rise and fall and what would be the boundaries of their territory presents an excellent reason why Christians should not support such efforts.

It has been argued that because Christ has dealt with sin once and for all in His Atoning death that therefore all judgments on sin, all curses, in the Old Testament are reversed. The division of the world into the nations in the Old Testament is presented as being such a judgment, this line of reasoning goes, therefore after the world’s redemption in Christ, the curse is lifted and God now desires the union of that which in judgment He separated.

There is some truth in that, like there is in all heresies, but it is only partial truth mixed with a tremendous amount of error.

The account of the separation of the nations is found in the 11th chapter of the Book of Genesis. Prior to this chapter was chapter 10 giving the genealogical table of the nations which follows immediately after the end of the account of Noah’s life in chapter 9. After the Flood God had told mankind to “Be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth”. At the beginning of chapter 11 they had not quite done that. They had multiplied but instead of replenishing the earth they had all dwelt in the plain of Shinar. It was there that they under the rule of King Nimrod (10:10) built the city that would become Babylon. In it they began construction of a huge tower. This was done in express defiance of God. They said their tower’s top would “reach unto heaven” and that they were building it “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” which they would have to be if they were to fulfill God’s command to “replenish the earth”.

God, the chapter tells us, was not impressed. He paid a visit to their ziggurat and confused their tongues, making it so they spoke different languages and could not understand each other. By doing this God “scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth”.

Is there any indication in the New Testament that God wants this reversed?

Not in the way such Christian teachers who have jumped on the anti-racist bandwagon think. The reversal of a scattering is a bringing together in unity. The New Testament does speak of a bringing together of people from all nations, who have been made one in Christ. This however, takes place not on earth but before the throne of God in heaven:

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. (Rev. 5:9)

This unity of the redeemed from all people groups in the Kingdom of God in heaven is not a unity accomplished by political efforts upon the earth in the present age.

The Kingdom of God does have a manifestation upon earth in the present age. That is the Christian Church. If there is to be any transnational unity accomplished upon earth in this age with God’s blessing it will be within the Church. Lo and behold, that is exactly where the New Testament locates such unity.

In the second chapter of the book of Acts we have the account of the first Christian Pentecost. Fifty days after the Lord’s Resurrection, ten after His Ascension, the Apostles were waiting in the upper room in Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Filled with the Holy Ghost that first Whitsunday, they went to the window and addressed the multitude of people, who were present from all over the Roman world in Jerusalem that day. Each man heard them speak in his own tongue.

This event is widely considered to be the official founding of the Christian Church and it is here that we see the earthly manifestation of the heavenly unity spoken of by St. John in the Book of Revelation. Those who heard the Gospel in a multitude of different tongues on Pentecost and believed, were united into one body, the Church. These were all Jews but later in the Book of Acts the Gentiles would be brought in to the Church as well when they too heard the Gospel and believed.

Thus St. Paul would write to the Church in Ephesus about the how in Christ, the Law as a barrier between Jews and Gentiles had been removed, and to the Galatian Church he would write:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul clearly does not mean that these distinctions were to be eliminated altogether. Had he meant that, his instructions to the Church of Ephesus about the way husbands and wives, and masters and slaves, should behave towards each other would be meaningless nonsense, as would a number of other passages in his epistles. What he was saying here is that all believers, regardless of their race, sex, or status, are full partakers in the grace and blessings of God in Jesus Christ to Whom they are united in faith and therefore made one with each other.

There is no mandate there for the Church to try to eliminate these distinctions in civil society or for the Church to attempt to eliminate the political and social distinct identies of people groups.

The Scriptures teach that mankind was created in God’s image, that man fell into sin and was exiled from Paradise, that Christ has redeemed man from sin through His death and resurrection, and that He will bring redeemed man to Paradise once more. That will only be accomplished, however, by His grace in the age to come. The belief that Paradise can be restored to man through human effort has been the fundamental error of every leftist movement throughout history. Attempts to do so result in conditions that resemble Hell far more than they do Paradise.

This is as true of the attempt to achieve Paradise though unity by rubbing out or at least minimizing the importance of the lines between different people groups as it is of any other leftist utopian scheme. Consider the results of anti-racist and multi-culturalist policies in Western countries.

Laws which prohibit racial discrimination on the part of private property owners and businessmen do not produce “color-blind” business practices. They produce affirmative action practices where companies hire a certain number of employees from racial minorities regardless of their qualifications in order that they cannot be sued for discriminatory practices. Laws and government policies that force members of various ethnic groups together in various social contexts do not produce mutual understanding and racial harmony. They produce ethnic tension and racial conflict.

Anti-racism forces people to lie to others and to themselves. It requires people to assert, against all observable evidence, that racial groups differ from each other only in the trivial matter of physical appearance. It recently produced the spectacle, at once comic and tragic, of the world’s most powerful country patting itself on the back because beyond its racial past. What was the event that prompted this round of liberal self-congratulation? The election of the first president in the history of the United States chosen largely for the color of his skin.

Consider the effect of laws against “hate”, which make a crime a hate crime with stiffer penalties if it is motivated by racial prejudice. The relatively small number of such crimes committed by white people are treated as a serious epidemic of hate that needs to be eliminated from society. Meanwhile, the astronomically larger numbers of violent crimes committed against white people by members of certain racial minorities are not considered “hate crimes” even though racial hatred obviously plays a large role in these crimes. Or, consider laws against “hate speech”. Violent language calling for the murder of white people in quite common in certain forms of music and literature. This never seems to be considered “hate speech”. Far more irenic writing than this has caused people to be dragged before Human Rights Tribunals. The atmosphere of self-deception generated by laws like this could have come out of George Orwell’s 1984.

Anti-racism encourages people to behave dishonorably towards friends and loved ones. A person accused of “racism” becomes a pariah and that person’s friends are expected to disown and denounce him or else risk becoming tainted with guilt by association.

Anti-racism produces serious injustice towards a number of different people groups. The white farmers of Rhodesia were the victims of the influence of anti-racism in Western governments as much as they were the victims of Robert Mugabe and his thugs. The Afrikaners in South Africa are currently being murdered at genocidal rates because of the same influence of anti-racism on Western governments.

The worst form of injustice anti-racism produces, however, is ethnic suicide. A tremendous number of nations – all who would fall within the racial category variously called white, European, or Caucasian – are in danger of demographic death due to the combination of low fertility and high immigration over the same long period of time. The anti-racist considers genocide to be the greatest of all sins. Genocide, however, is still genocide even when it is committed against your own people. Indeed, that genocide is far worse than any other kind of genocide because it is a betrayal of people to whom you have specific duties and are supposed to be loyal. (4)

In The New Science of Politics, (5) Dr. Eric Voegelin identified as a characteristic of gnosticism, the ancient heresy against which the leaders of the orthodox, Apostolic, Christian Church contended in the early centuries, attempts to create on earth in the present age, the Paradise promised to the believer in the age to come. To do so was to “immanentize the eschaton”. This Gnosticism lies at the heart of all progressive, utopian movements – including anti-racism and multiculturalism.

Orthodox Christians of all branches of Christ’s Church should reject this Gnostic heresy in its ugly contemporary manifestation.

(1) Ken Ham, Carl Wieland, Don Batten, One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism (Green Forest: Master Books, 1999).

(2) Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942).

(3) Richard C. Lewontin “The Apportionment of Human Diversity” in Evolutionary Biology 6 (1972), pp. 381-398.

(4) Regarding affirmative action and minority set asides, Dr. Thomas Fleming wrote “Such disgusting and immoral policies are worse than any form of racism I have encountered because they teach us to hate precisely those whom we are most supposed to love”. Thomas Fleming, “The Audacity of Hate”, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, , October 2008, p. 11.

(5) Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1952).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What’s so Social about Justice?

That which the Greeks called dikaiosyne and which we call justice has been sought after by men for millennia. But what is justice? A great deal of thought has been directed towards answering that question since the days of Socrates. It was the subject of Plato’s most important dialogue, The Republic, and lay at the heart of Aristotle’s Ethics as well. It has been considered no less important by the great thinkers of the Church, from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas. While there can hardly be said to be a consensus among Western thinkers, classical and Christian, on the subject, it is generally agreed that the essence of justice lies in everyone receiving that which is due him.

In Christianity there is another concept which exists in tension with justice but which is regarded as being of equal importance. That concept is the concept of mercy. In evangelical Sunday Schools, mercy is frequently linked with grace, and the two are distinguished by saying “mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve, i.e., punishment” and “grace is when you get what you don’t deserve, i.e., God’s acceptance and favour”. While this is a nice way of showing the positive and negative sides of God’s saving work in Christ, it does not reflect Scriptural usage and can produce a serious misunderstanding of the concept of mercy. To define mercy as “not getting the punishment you deserve” is to define mercy as the negation of justice. Throughout Scripture, however, we find the concepts of mercy and justice linked together.

Take, for example, the sixth chapter of the book of Micah. In this chapter, in the midst of an indictment against His people, God reminds them of the incident of Balak and Balaam. The former was a king of Moab and the latter a prophet. The Book of Numbers records how Balak sent for Balaam to curse Israel. God warned Balaam against doing so, and Balaam refused to go. Balak insisted, however, and God told Balaam to go, but to speak only the words God would give him. He emphasized the point in the famous episode involving the angel and the donkey. When Balaam finally came to Balak, he did the opposite of what Balak asked and blessed Israel instead of cursing them. In Micah, God refers to a part of the story that was not recorded in the book of Numbers. Balak is said to have inquired of Balaam as to how he should approach the Lord – with sacrifices of calves, rams and “rivers of oil”? Balak even offers to sacrifice his firstborn son. God’s answer to this question, given to Balak through Balaam, and here quoted by Micah as a message for God’s people is:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (verse 8)

This is pretty much the opposite of what Balak had in mind. In this verse, however, which concisely sums up what God demands of people, justice and mercy are listed together. If the one meant “giving people what is due them” and the other means “not giving them what they deserve” this verse wouldn’t make much sense.

The Greek word for mercy is eleos. This word can also be rendered “loving-kindness” and has the basic meaning of doing good to other people out of love, particularly to those who are suffering or in need. Clemency – the granting of forgiveness or pardon to someone who has done wrong, and therefore is in need of forgiveness and pardon – is obviously included within mercy. It is, however, but one aspect of mercy and is merciful because it is an act of kindness towards someone who needs it, not because it is a negation of strict justice. (1)

If clemency is but one aspect of mercy, what others are there?

In the Pio Monte della Misericordia, a church in Naples, Italy, there is a painting at the high altar by Caravaggio, the early 17th Century master who in his brief, tempestuous life introduced techniques of chiaroscuro and realism that influenced painting for centuries after him. This painting is called “The Seven Works of Mercy”, a common religious theme but one which is usually painted as a series rather than as a single painting. The acts in question are the corporal works of mercy – feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty drink, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, and burying the dead. Caravaggio borrows stories from the Bible, classical history, and the lives of the saints to illustrate these works. The concept of the “works of mercy” is an old one, and the works themselves are for the most part taken from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.

In the ancient concept of the “seven works of mercy” there is an important revelation about how the Christian faith regards help for the needy. These acts are not called “works of justice”. What this tells us is that Christianity has long regarded helping the needy as something that should be done out of Christian love – charity (2) and not out of a sense that need equals entitlement. If a person were entitled to receive whatever he needed from other people then giving him what he needed would be considered justice and not mercy.

It is important that we keep this in mind when we consider the notion of “social justice”. As we shall see, justice and mercy are often confused with each other in the ideas of those who speak of “social justice”. This was not, however, the case with the first people who first thought up the concept of social justice.

The expression “social justice” is a fairly recent one, having been first coined in the 19th century. Since it was originally used to express a concept that had been formulated in response to conditions brought upon by modernity and the Industrial Revolution it would be fair to say that the concept is quite recent as well, although its proponents would point to ancient antecedents of their ideas.

What do the words “social justice” mean? If we take the “justice” in “social justice” to be the “justice” that has been a recognizable subject of discussion for thousands of years, then what kind of justice is indicated by adding the word “social”?

One possibility is that “social” has a contextual sense – “social justice” is justice within society rather than justice outside society. If this is the case it would appear to be an unnecessary redundancy as it is difficult to conceive of what this justice outside of society would look like.

Another possibility is that “social justice” is justice between societies rather than between individual persons.

Then there is the possibility that “social justice” is justice between social groups within a society.

This last possibility corresponds best with how the words “social justice” were originally used. The first people to speak of “social justice” were Roman Catholic priests in the 19th Century. The concept was introduced in the context of criticism of capitalism, i.e., the modern economic system brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Their concern was that certain classes, in particular the new class of industrial laborers, were not being treated with justice under this new system. This would seem to indicate an overlap between the idea of social justice and that of socialism. It is important, therefore, to note the difference between the two concepts. Even in the 19th Century socialism had many forms but these all shared the common idea that the private ownership of productive property was the source of injustice between social classes, and should therefore be replaced by a form of collective ownership. The Roman Catholic theologians who first thought in terms of “social justice” did not share this idea. The importance of private property had always been recognized by the Christian Church (the commandment “thou shalt not steal” would be meaningless without it) and so the theologians who called for “social justice” in the 19th Century, were careful to say that socialism is not justice. The most authoritative statement the Roman Catholic Church put forward on this subject was Rerum Novarum, an encyclical by Pope Leo XIII. In this encyclical, socialism was condemned as vehemently as capitalism.

The concepts of social justice and of socialism have both evolved since the 19th Century and in the late 20th Century the line of distinction between them began to get rather blurred. Marxists and other socialists now often express their demands in terms of “social justice” and Marxism has tainted the thinking of many within the Church. Today, the words “social justice” are often understood to include any number of crack-brained ideas such as “affirmative action” (3), “foreign aid” (4), “the welfare state” (5), and “fair trade” (6). It is notable that many of these concepts, when put into practice, actually have negative consequences for the very class of people the original socialists and original “social justice” theorists were concerned for, the industrial working class (7).

T. S. Eliot, in a footnote to the introduction to his Notes towards the Definition of Culture, warns us against precisely this sort of thing:

I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term ‘social justice’. From meaning ‘justice in relations between groups of classes’ it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relations should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of ‘social justice’, which from the point of view of ‘justice’ was not just. The term ‘social justice’ is in danger of losing its rational content—which would be replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just.(8)

This is sound advice. If social justice is “justice in relations between groups of classes” that means that each group or class would receive from the others that which is due them, that which they legitimately have a claim to. This, of course, raises the question of what claims different classes legitimately have on each other or on society as a whole.

The original social justice theorists clearly felt that industrial workers were not receiving what was due them under capitalism. A new class had been formed, of people dependent upon a factory wage for their living. Their wages were low, in some cases barely enough to sustain their existence, and they had little security against the threat of unemployment.

The concern was that this would become a permanent arrangement and that this new class – the proletariat – would become the largest class in society. These conditions are to violent revolution what the meeting of hot and cold air fronts are to violent storms, and the 19th Century saw the fomenting of violent revolutions all across Europe. This is the historical backdrop against which Karl Marx – who welcomed revolution as the means to a paradise on earth – formed his theories. Against that same backdrop, the 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum was written.

The root of the problem, for Leo XIII, was not the private ownership of property but that “the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place” (9). The socialists’ proposed solution to the problem is such that “carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer” because the motive of the worker in entering into paid labour is “to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own”. Therefore socialists “by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner”. Worse, their proposals are “manifestly against justice”, because “every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own”. After several paragraphs of arguments in favour of this position he writes “The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.” (10)

In Rerum Novarum, the distinction between justice and mercy is clear. Calling upon the historical teachings of the Church, Leo XIII distinguishes between the ownership and use of property. Christianity upholds a man’s right to own property – but also insists that there is a right and a wrong use of it. Christianity insists that the wealthy are to share with the needy, but adds qualifications. It is to be done out of charity rather than obligation enforced by the state, for example.

That the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, as presented in this encyclical, are incompatible with socialism, and vice versa, should be obvious to everyone. Unfortunately, it has not been.

Ludwig von Mises, for example, after acknowledging that “the most recent development of Christian social theory has led the Church to recognize the fundamental rightfulness of private property in the means of production” declares that “the Church desires nothing but State Socialism of a particular color”. (11) In a footnote to this Mises refers to Rerum Novarum saying that in it Catholicism “has recognized the origin of private property in Natural Law; but simultaneously the Church laid down a series of fundamental ethical principles for the distribution of incomes, which could be put into practice only under State Socialism”.

Who was Ludwig von Mises and why did he bizarrely misinterpret a vehemently anti-socialist document as being pro-socialist?

Ludwig von Mises was the most important 20th century theorist of the Austrian School of Economics (12), a school of thought within liberalism. Liberalism was the idea that each distinct human being was an “individual”, that the individual in his rational powers possessed all that he needed to bring him to truth, and that society is the contractual creation of individuals which exists only to serve the interests of free, equal, individuals. It had been born out of Cartesian rationalism, Lockean social contract theory, and the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mills, all unsound ideas. Liberalism’s theory of economics was centred around the idea of the “free market”. The “free market” was not a literal marketplace but a way of describing what takes place when people who have goods or services they wish to sell enter into voluntary exchanges with people who wish to buy those goods and services. Without government interference (taxes, price-fixing, subsidies, etc.), liberalism argues, the market, governed by the forces of supply and demand, will produce the outcome is for the best for everybody – buyer, seller, and the community in general.

What reasons did liberalism give for this confidence in the market?

When a seller and a buyer come to a voluntary agreement about a sale, the former receives a price that he has agreed to sell for and the latter pays a price that he has agreed to pay. In a voluntary transaction the seller has the right not to sell for a price that he feels is too low and the buyer has the right not to buy at a price he feels is too high. Both therefore, enter the transaction believing that they will be better off for having made it than they would be if they had not.

The Austrian School called this the “subjective theory of value”. Each party to a voluntary transaction exchanges something he has for something else he needs or wants more. He therefore exchanges that which he values less for that which he values more. This is true whether he is a seller or a buyer - and these terms are relative and interchangeable because a seller is “buying” money with some other commodity. Both sides, therefore, gain from the transaction.

These arguments for the free market are obviously valid in a general sense. They are rather simplistic, however. There are needs and there are needs. Suppose a man is in dire and urgent need of something, and the only way he could afford it is by selling his house. There is only one prospective buyer and he takes advantage of the man’s desperate situation by offering him just the amount of money he needs and not a cent more, although this is considerably lower than the house is appraised at. Would this transaction be a non-zero sum affair where both sides gain?

How about if the man’s house is a farm which has been in his family for generations and which is the sole source of income for him and his family?

A possible answer to these questions is to suggest that this situation is not really describing a voluntary transaction. If someone were to place a gun to a man’s head and order him to sell his house for next to nothing the sale would not be regarded as a voluntary transaction. Yet the only difference between that situation and the one described above is that the one man uses a gun whereas the other uses his victim’s desperate circumstances.

Now lets ask the important question. Is there anything morally wrong with the way the one man took advantage of the other?

Most of us would not hesitate to answer with “Yes, of course there is, what on earth is the matter with you?”

Mises, however, would say that the question is inappropriate. He makes it absolutely clear in Human Action that it is not just state interference with the market that he objects to. He maintains that morality should not be allowed to interfere with the market either. (13) Moral distinctions between “right” and “wrong”, he argued, are arbitrary and irrational. The market involves rational people coming to rational terms about material transactions. “Irrational” considerations, such as morality, are an intrusion into the market which keep it from functioning at its best.

One of Mises’ colleagues radically disagreed with him on this. Wilhelm Roepke was born in Germany in the last weeks of the 19th Century. He was brought up in the country of his birth, for which he fought in WWI. Shortly after the war he was led, through reading Mises, to abandon the socialism he had initially been attracted to. He became an economist of the Austrian School and for the rest of his life championed the free market against socialism and collectivism of all sorts. This led to his flight from Germany after the Nazis took control. In exile, he taught economics first in Instanbul, then in Switzerland where he settled and lived for the rest of his life.

In 1942, Roepke published the first volume in a trilogy of books about the decay of culture and civilization in the modern Western world.. It was published in English under the title The Social Crisis of Our Times in 1950. (14) In these works Roepke lamented the exodus of people from farms and rural areas to large cities, the way production was becoming concentrated in large industrial factories, and how, as a result of these trends, a large part of the population of Western countries was becoming proletarianized – i.e./ transformed into a large class of individuals, alienated from each other and their society, and permanently dependent upon wages from large companies rather than property of their own for their living. Roepke called this mass society.

Roepke argued that there was an intrinsic trend towards socialism in mass society. In 1960, he followed up this trilogy with A Humane Economy. (15) In this book Roepke argued that it was best to “entrust economic order, not to planning, coercion, and penalties, but to the spontaneous and free co-operation of people through the market, price and competition, and at the same time to regard property as the pillar of this free order”. (p. 3). He also argued, however, that:

[T]he market economy is not everything. It must find its place within a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices, and competition. (p. 6)

In this, Roepke is not contradicting himself, although he is certainly at odds with his mentor Mises. Where Mises regarded moral and social concerns as irrational intrusions that distort the free market, Roepke understood that the market could only properly function within the framework of a moral and social order. While Roepke opposed every form of economic collectivism that Mises opposes – communism, socialism, nazism, welfarism, etc., Roepke understood where the real problem lay:

Now nothing is more detrimental to a sound general order appropriate to human nature than two things: mass and concentration. (pp. 6-7)

These things were characteristics, not just of totalitarian regimes, but of modern liberal democracies as well:

In all fields, mass and concentration are the mark of modern society; they smother the area of individual responsibility, life, and thought and give the strongest impulse to collective thought and feeling. The small circles—from the family on up—with their human warmth and natural solidarity, are giving way before mass and concentration, before the amorphous conglomeration of people in huge cities and industrial centers, before rootlessness and mass organizations, before the anonymous bureaucracy of giant concerns and eventually, of government itself, which holds this crumbling society together through the coercive machinery of the welfare state, the police, and the tax screw. (p. 7)

In his condemnation of mass society and his championing of decentralized government, localism, small-scale economics, and a moral and social framework for the free market that includes Christian ethics, strong local communities, and healthy social institutions, Roepke was echoing the social concerns of Pope Leo XIII. It was a deliberate echo, for although Roepke was a Protestant, a faithful Lutheran, he was influenced by and an admirer of such writers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc who popularized the Pope’s social ethics.

These earlier writers condemned mass society in both its capitalist and socialist forms and understood that the former leads inevitably to the latter. In 1912 Hilaire Belloc argued that capitalism and socialism were both converging towards a new form of social organization that he called the “servile state”. (16) Capitalism, he argued, was unstable and the only alternatives to it were collectivism (public ownership of the means of production), distributism (the means of production privately owned by a large number of small property owners), and the servile state. The second was the option he promoted, the third was the one he predicted. In the servile state, there would be no middle class to speak of. A large working class would work for the small propertied class but would also be maintained by the government in periods when there is not enough work for full employment. Belloc’s book in many ways is a remarkably accurate description of the “welfare state” of today.

Austrian School liberals such as Mises identified the free market and private property they defended on paper with “capitalism”, the social/economic reality of the late 18th to early 20th centuries that was produced by the Industrial Revolution. This was a mistake, a mistake the liberals shared with the Marxists and with Pope Leo XIII. Neither the Industrial Revolution nor 19th century capitalism was brought about by central governments, influenced by liberal theory, setting aside economic regulations and controls and introducing free market reforms. Indeed, interference in the economy had been required to make the transition to capitalism. If Marx was right about anything it was that liberal theory was an ex post facto rationalization and justification of capitalism and not either an honest description of it or the cause of it.

In the 20th Century however, when several countries tried to put socialist ideas into practice, the merit of the liberal argument for economic freedom and private property against central planning became apparent. The miserable conditions that existed in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites under Communism justify Leo XIII’s prediction that under socialism “the working man himself would be among the first to suffer.”

Historically, the entire period including the capitalist era of the 19th century and the welfare/socialist era of the 20th should be looked upon as a continuous era in which modern mass society developed. It was characterized, in both the capitalist and socialist periods, by the concentration of political power in the hands of the central state, by the concentration of productive property into large centrally administered conglomerations (whether privately or publicly owned), and by the reorganization of society away from a loose network of families, communities, and other organic social entities into a large mass, of indistinguishable, equal, “individuals”.

If justice is when everyone receives that which he is entitled to, mass society is massively socially unjust. This is not because there are huge discrepancies in wealth between “the rich” and “the poor”. It is because human happiness depends upon a lot more than material goods. This is something, neither the liberals nor the socialists, have ever been able to understand. Human beings require individuality (which is erased in the mass society that treats them as generic “individuals”), roots, and the security which only family and community can provide. The wealthiest man in the world would be miserable without these things. The poorest man in the world would be happy with them.

If mass society, in which political power and economic control are increasingly concentrated and centralized, is the enemy of families, local communities, and an organic social network, the justice opponents of mass society seek, will only be found in the combination of political and economic decentralization with economic liberty and the security of private property. It will also require the resurrection of traditional, religious, moral and ethical restraints on human behavior.

Today’s advocates of “social justice”, insist that a man’s need alone entitles him to resources that must be taken from other people or provided from the common purse of society. Biblical and traditional Christianity does not teach this. Orthodox Christian ethics teaches that need by itself, makes a person an object of the mercy which God commands Christians to practice. This does not amount to an entitlement because mercy can only be practiced voluntarily out of the motivation of charity – Christian love.

St. Paul, in his epistles, both condemned free-riding of the kind which modern welfarism/socialism encourages (2 Thess 3:10-12) and declared that a man has a moral duty to provide for those of his household (1 Tim. 5:8). In the first passage we see that need is not an entitlement and that even mercy is to be withheld in certain situations, in the second we see that social relationships generate social duties.
It follows from this, that a Christian concept of “social justice” must be based upon the duties that exist within the relationships in the family, community, and church and not upon the idea that the “have nots” are entitled to something from the “haves” on the basis of sheer need alone.

Those within the Church who preach a “social justice” that resembles socialism, usually rely upon the Old Testament more than the New. Even there, however, they will find little support for their ideas. The justice, the prophets demanded for widows and orphans, was protection from the law against being defrauded by those who would take advantage of their vulnerable situation. It was not an entitlement to the resources of strangers. The requirement that sold land be returned to its original owners in the Year of Jubilee was based upon the feudal relationship that existed between God and Israel. God was a feudal lord, the Israelites His resident-tenants. They therefore had only leasing rights, not selling rights. The provision that the land would return to the original holder or his heirs in the Year of Jubilee was not guaranteed to benefit the poor at the expense of the rich. It was conceivable that the man who “sold” the land would get richer and the man who “bought” the land would get poorer, before Jubilee.

A truly Christian concept of “social justice” cannot be based upon the idea that one stranger owes something to another stranger on the basis of the one being wealthy and the other being needy. Wilhelm Roepke’s “humane economy”, his “third way” in which private property and economy liberty are secure in the context of a politically and economically decentralized, social framework, in which a healthy, large middle class exists in strong local communities, would be far more just in every sense of the word, than the socialism proposed by most people who talk about “social justice” today.

(1)The relationship between a mercy that includes clemency and justice will obviously be one of tension, but not necessarily of contradiction. In the Book of Romans, St. Paul famously addresses this question by explaining how Christ’s atoning death as the propitiation for our sins is the way in which God can be both just Himself, and at the same time declare righteous sinners who trust in Christ. Christ’s atonement is an act of mercy, in which God does not just set the demands of justice against sinners aside, but meets those demands Himself out of His love for people who would otherwise be doomed to perish.

(2)Hence the current non-theological meaning of the word “charity” as “helping the needy”. Note that the Latin charitas, which translates the Greek agape, is related to the Greeks words for grace and gifts. Christian love is to be, like the love of God Himself, a giving love.

(3) Affirmative action is a euphemism for what is often called “reverse discrimination”. See Frederick R. Lynch’s Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action (Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishing, 1991), Jared Taylor, Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America (New York: Carrol and Graf, 1992), and Steven Farron’s The Affirmative Action Hoax: Diversity, the Importance of Character, and Other Lies, (Santa Ana: Seven Locks Press, 2005) for an extensive description of just how unjust this policy actually is. The last two have been released in second editions by the New Century Foundation in 2005 and 2010 respectively.

(4) Foreign aid is when the government of one country gives money to another country (which generally means to the government of the other country). While this is done for a number of reasons, in the post-WWII era it has been common for political leftists to call for foreign aid as a form of relief for poverty and other forms of suffering in the part of the world that is called the “Third World” or “developing world”. In recent decades it has become common for the left’s demands to be expressed in terms of “justice”. An obvious example of this is to be found in the nauseating drivel we hear from celebrity spokesmen for the left, like Bob Geldof and Bono, in favour of their pet causes. What they do not mention to the crowds hanging on their every word, is that the money they are demanding that Western governments take from their own people, to give to other countries, nearly always ends up in the bank accounts of the military dictators, “presidents for life”, and other irresponsible, kleptocratic governors who are themselves a significant part of the problems people in that part of the world face.

(5) See Jim Powell’s FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003) for a description of the USA’s first welfare state programs introduced in the Great Depression, and how harmful they were to the people they were supposed to be helping. Also see Charles Murray’s Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984, 1994) for a documentation of how the social programs that expanded the American welfare state in that period of time just made the problems they were supposed to alleviate worse.

(6) “Fair trade” means deliberately paying more for a commodity than its market price so that the producers of the commodity will receive a “living wage”. As with all subsidies, it helps out a few producers, while harming many more (it drives the market price of the commodity down).

(7) An interesting study of how the left has switched its alliances and betrayed its original base is found in Dr. Paul E. Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millenium (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2005).

(8) T. S. Eliot, Notes toward a Definition of Culture (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1962) pp. 16-17. The first edition of this book came out in 1948.


(10) You are all undoubtedly as shocked as I am that these quotations from this classical papal encyclical on “the rights and duties of capital and labour” are never brought up by the priests whom American left-wing propagandist Michael Moore interviews in his “Capitalism: A Love Story”.

(11) Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1981), p. 226. This is a reprint of the translation, by J. Kahane, of the 2nd edition of Mises’ Die Gemeinwirtschaft which was published in 1932. The quotations are taken from the last page of the subsection “Christian Socialism” in chapter 15 “Particular Forms of Socialism”. On the first page of this subsection (p. 223) Mises writes “Simple faith and economic rationalism cannot dwell together”.

(12) The Austrian School goes back to Carl Menger and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk in the 19th Century but its principle figures were active in the 20th Century. A popular introduction to Austrian economics is Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way To Understand Basic Economics (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1979) originally published by Harper and Brothers in 1946. The most famous Austrian volume is undoubtedly Friedrich A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1944).

(13) Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1996). This is the 4th revised edition of a work originally published by Yale University Press in 1949. See page 724 and following for an example of what I am talking about. In the first paragraph of the section “Righteousness as the Ultimate Standard of the Individual’s Action” Mises’ brings up advocates of social reform “accomplished by compliance with the principles of Christianity” in which “conscience should also guide well-intentioned people in their dealings on the market”. Such people believe “a return to the Lord’s commandments and to the precepts of the moral code, a turning away from the vices of greed and selfishness” will make it “easy to reconcile private ownership of the means of production with justice, righteousness, and fairness”. As a result “People will dethrone the Moloch capitalism without enthroning the Moloch state”. Mises then launches into a hysterical rant against such sensible suggestions, equating them with collectivism and coercion, and insisting that the decision of the individual is absolute and above such arbitrary judgments as morality.

(14) This trilogy consisted of Die Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart (1942), first published in English as The Social Crisis of our Times by the University of Chicago Press in 1950, Civitas Humana (1944) published in English as The Moral Foundations of Civil Society by William Hodge and Company in 1948, and Internationale Ordnung—heute (1945), published in English as International Order and Economic Integration by D. Reidel Publishing in 1959. The first two volumes were reprinted by Transaction Publishers of New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.A. in 1992 and 1996 respectively. All three volumes can be found online in .pdf format at the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s website:

(15) Wilhelm Roepke, A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Chicago: Henry Regnery & Co., 1960). Quotations in this essay are taken from the 3rd edition, published by ISI Books, the book publishing arm of the Intercollegiate Scholastic Institute of Wilmington, Delaware in 1998.

(16) Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State (London & Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1912).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Christian Virtues

Today, when the subject of ethics and morality is brought up, our tendency is to associate these concepts with rules governing behavior. We think of right and wrong in terms of dos and don’ts pertaining to particular acts.

While rules of behavior are an important part of ethics, they are not the only part. Nor are they necessarily the most important. The terms “ethics” and “morality” are derived from the Greek and Latin words meaning “habit” or “custom”, terms which refer to regular patterns of behavior. People naturally form regular patterns of behavior over time, which shape the qualities that make up their character. If those qualities are positive and beneficial for the individual person and the society to which he belongs, they are considered virtues. If they are negative and detrimental, however, they are considered to be vices.

Homer, in his epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey did not analyze virtues the way the Athenian philosophers would later do. Instead, he told stories that illustrated the virtues the Greeks thought appropriate for heroes – strength and bravery, friendship, loyalty and honour. Socrates, at least as he appears in the dialogues of Plato, made the qualities considered virtues by the ancient Athenians the subject of his inquiries. This was a major development in philosophy, as the various pre-Socratic schools of philosophy, such as the Milesians and Eleatics, had focused instead upon questions about the nature of the universe. Socrates, as Plato depicts him, engaged people in conversations about the definition of particular virtues. In the Laches, for example, Laches and Nicias (1) go to Socrates when they find that they are not in agreement about whether the value of being trained to fight in armour, and this leads into a dialogue in which Socrates interrogates them about the meaning of courage or bravery. Aristotle would later make the systematic study of virtue the subject of his works on Ethics, both the shorter Eudemean and longer Nicomachean versions.

The Christian Church has inherited much from the Greeks as it has from the Jews. Contrary to the assertions of some, that the “Hellenization” of Christianity led the Church astray, the New Testament writers themselves, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, incorporate Greek ideas into their explanation of the Christian faith. Christian ethics has both Jewish and Greek components. The most obvious example of the former are the Ten Commandments, the famous rules given to the Israelites through Moses on Mt. Sinai.

What about the Greek component?

The Christian Church, from the Patristic era through the Middle Ages, identified and emphasized seven virtues. These are divided into two categories, the theological and the cardinal. The theological virtues are those mentioned by St. Paul in the last verse of the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Church in Corinth:

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

The cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude were originally the chief virtues of Greek thought. Their inclusion in Christian thought is not to be attributed solely to neo-Platonic influence in the early Church, however. They are also found in a Scriptural text, in the seventh verse of the eighth chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon:

And if a man love righteousness her labours are virtues: for she teacheth temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude: which are such things, as men can have nothing more profitable in their life. (2)

The Wisdom of Solomon is a deuterocanonical book, a book which is found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament but not in the Hebrew Old Testament as it has come down to us. I do not wish to sidetrack this essay by discussing the canonicity of such writings here, suffice it to say that they were part of the writings recognized as Old Testament Scripture by the Greek-speaking Church from the first century on.

The cardinal virtues are also called the moral virtues. The distinction the early Church Fathers made between the theological and cardinal/moral virtues is that the latter are strictly moral and as such, can be displayed by a pagan. The theological virtues can only be present in a person’s life through the working of God’s grace.

The Cardinal Virtues


As with the names of many of these virtues, prudence is a word we do not use very often today, although the adjectival form “prudent” is still common. Many people may only be familiar with the word as an archaic proper name found in literature dating back to the era in which it was common for people to be named after Biblical people or theological/moral concepts.(3)

Prudence is not quite the same thing as common sense, although the two are similar. Discernment and discretion are also similar in meaning to prudence. Prudence is a form of wisdom applied to everyday living. The Greek word translated prudence in Wisdom of Solomon 8:7 is phronesis. This word occurs only twice in the New Testament (4) but it is common in classical Greek philosophical texts. Aristotle divided the virtues into two basic categories – virtues of character, and virtues of the intellect. He wrapped up the virtues of the character with justice in Book V of the Nicomachean Ethics, then turns to the virtues of the intellect in Book VI. Phronesis, which connects the intellectual virtues to the moral virtues, occupies the bulk of this Book (5) In Aristotle’s description, this is the virtue lies in the capacity to deliberate correctly about what is good for oneself and for others, and is the virtue required to properly administer the affairs of a household or a state. It is the ability to make good and wise decisions for oneself and for those under one’s authority.

Thus, when we speak of a person as being prudent, we usually are talking about someone who makes his decisions cautiously and carefully after having considered their possible ramifications, and weighed their long-term consequences against the short-term. It might surprise some that prudence is considered to be a Christian virtue, as it obviously includes the concepts of calculation and self-interest. The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon, in the verse prior to the verse listing the cardinal virtues writes:

And if prudence work; who of all that are, is a more cunning workman than she?

Self-interest and calculation, however, are not intrinsically anti-Christian. They only become so when they are not moderated and balanced by the self-giving love that is Christian charity. Prudence is more than mere cunningness or craftiness. A person who possesses the latter, is good at discerning the path of self-preservation and following it. A person who possesses prudence, is able to discern when the way of self-preservation is not in fact the best way to act, and acts accordingly.

Prudence is not highly valued in modern Western societies. Cunningness is still valued highly, perhaps more than ever before as the notion that it is always “stupid” to do something against one’s own immediate self-interest has become popular. Discernment, however, is thought poorly of in societies that have made discrimination into the highest of vices. A person who cannot distinguish between types of people (which is all the word “discrimination” means – it does not necessarily include the sense of acting unfairly to one type) will not be capable of distinguishing between types of actions.

Our current lack of prudence is perhaps most evident in the way we handle our finances. It has always been considered prudent to save a portion of one’s income for the future. To spend all of one’s substance, and then borrow more to keep on spending, is not ordinarily considered to be wise. Indeed, it is generally considered to be an indicator of extreme folly. Today, however, everybody from the government down is doing this.

There are three reasons to save money. The first is as insurance against old age and/or future disability or unemployment. The second reason is that if you save your money, and allow it collect interest it will grow and you will have more to spend in the long run if you save than if you don’t. The third reason, is the possibility that your money will be worth more per unit at a future date than it is today, which is what happens when there is a general growth in production with little to no inflation.

The first reason is always valid. It never changes, and for that reason it is always prudent to save. Inflation, however, can undermine the last two reasons to save. The term inflation refers to an increase in the money supply which causes the value of your money per unit to drop. If the value of your money per unit is constantly decreasing, then it makes more sense to spend it today than tomorrow, and more sense to spend it tomorrow than ten years down the road. Inflation also cancels out the benefit of collecting interest if the larger total amount that you end up with will actually be worth less than if you spend it as you get it.

People generally only complain about inflation when they see the prices of goods and services go up. This is when inflation is most visible. That does not mean that inflation is only present when prices are going up. If the production of other commodities is increased, their value per unit will go down. Therefore, if you increase the money supply and production at the same time, the inflation will not be visible to you in the prices of the commodities whose production levels have gone up.

The way the present economic system works in the West, companies try to keep prices low by growth in production, while governments and their central banks inflate the money supply. The former lowers the value of commodities per unit, the latter the value of money per unit. Doing the latter, encourages people to spend their money in the present and even to borrow, because the value of money is constantly decreasing. This kind of spending is also, conveniently but not coincidentally, the only way to keep an economy that depends upon constant growth running.

It should be obvious to anyone that this system is unsustainable on any kind of a long-term basis. It is therefore most imprudent to persist in it. Moreover, the behavior it encourages and reinforces in us as individual persons is imprudent as well, although we cannot excuse ourselves by pointing the finger at the government and the banks. It is still wiser and more prudent to save your money than to spend it all, and always will be.

This is just one of many ways in which we have abandoned the traditional virtue of prudence and in abandoning the traditional for the modern have demonstrated how much we still need the former.


If prudence is a virtue which is very much out of sync with the spirit of the present age, how much more so is temperance. It too is not a word we use often these days. The Authorized Version lists it as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. There it translates the Greek word egkrateia. More recent translations tend to render this as “self-control”, a meaning which is apparent when the word is broken down into its components, the first person pronoun ego and the word kratos meaning power or dominion (6). This is not the word that is found in Wisdom of Solomon 8:7, however. That word is sophrosyne.

Like phronesis, this word is not common in the New Testament (7), but was an important word in classical philosophy. It is the virtue discussed by Socrates and Charmides in Plato’s dialogue named after the latter. This word has given translators headaches for centuries, as its definition gave Socrates and Charmides headaches in Plato. It is formed by combining the root of the word for “salvation”, “soundness” or “health” with the word phren which means “mind” or “brain” (and which is also the root of phronesis). This would suggest that it has the meaning of “being in one’s right mind” or “being sound of mind”. The word was not quite used the way we would use those phrases in English, however. Aristotle, who saw every virtue as a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency, placed sophrosyne between the opposite vices of over –indulgence and under-indulgence in the pleasures of everyday life. This would suggest the meaning of “moderation” which is a closely related concept to “self-control”. This is why sophrosyne is traditionally rendered temperance in Latin and English, for that word means to moderate, to qualify, to, well, temper.

Temperance then, is the virtue of moderation, or more specifically the virtue of keeping one’s desires, impulses, and passions under control and not indulging in them to excess.

The virtue of temperance is incompatible with modern materialistic consumerism. Materialistic consumerism is the underlying basis of both capitalism (8) and socialism. The capitalist system, which requires constant growth in material production to maintain a high level of reward for both capital and labour, must be supported by aggressive advertising aimed at convincing people that items which were formerly considered to be luxuries are now indispensable, and that last year’s model of a particular good, should be replaced with this year’s, even though there is nothing wrong with it, because this year’s is “newer and better”. While some socialists criticize these aspects of capitalism, the system they promote is no different. Socialism’s complaint against capitalism, is not that it reduces the purpose of human existence to material consumption, but that some people are able to consume at far higher levels than others. Socialism is a democratic rather than a liberal movement – it purports to speak for “the people” rather than “the individual” – and like all democratic movements depends upon the generation of envy among the many against the “privileged few” for its strength. If the deadly sin of the capitalist is greed or avarice, then, as Dorothy Sayers pointed out, the deadly sin of the socialist is envy (9). In the 20th Century, socialism in most Western countries moved from its original goal of eliminating private ownership of productive property in favour of public ownership to the goal of establishing a “floor” – a standard of living, below which nobody would be allowed to fall, paid for out of the public purse. Capitalist countries were generally willing to implement this, and socialism’s activities since have generally been aimed at raising the level of the floor. We see in this, that the difference between capitalism and socialism is not as big as the advocates of either system make it out to be. The belief that material consumption is the path to happiness, and that human beings are therefore homo oeconomi, who exist in order to consume, is inherent to both systems.

On the other side of the virtue of temperance, there is a heresy in the Church that goes to the opposite extreme. This heresy demands complete abstinence rather than moderation, as the appropriate Christian approach to most earthly pleasures. Those who hold to this heresy would not tell the tobacco smoker, for example, that it is wrong to allow himself to be enslaved to tobacco and to damage his health in his bondage. Instead they would say “it is a sin to smoke”, a position that has no Scriptural justification (10) and which does not allow for the suggestion that smoking moderate amounts of tobacco, in less-harmful and less-addictive forms than cigarettes, like a tobacco pipe or cigars is morally acceptable. The latter suggestion, however, is more consistent with the concept of temperance. The heresy substitutes the Islamic doctrine regarding the consumption alcohol (that it is always prohibited) for the traditional doctrine of Judaism and Christianity (that is acceptable in moderation but that drunkenness is sinful). Since this heresy generally pops up only in Protestant circles, its supporters might say “we don’t care about tradition, all that matters is what the Bible says”. Their doctrine, however, does tremendous violence to the plain meaning of Scripture in which wine is spoken of a blessing from God, was miraculously produced by the Son of God Himself, and is one of the elements of the Lord’s Supper. It is rather ironic that social reform organizations in the Progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, who wished to see a total prohibition on alcohol enforced by the laws of the land, called themselves “temperance” societies, when it is hardly the practice of moderation that they were promoting.

Between the hedonistic consumerism of modern capitalism and socialism on the one hand, and the excessive asceticism of puritanical (11) elements of the Church, lies the classical and Christian virtue of temperance, in which the blessings of God are to be enjoyed by man in moderation rather than excess and in which men are to rule their passions rather than to be ruled by them.


In the Wisdom of Solomon the word translated “justice” is dikaiosyne, the same word which figures prominently in Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics. This word is generally translated “righteousness” in the New Testament, both in the Authorized Version and in more contemporary versions. It is helpful, in understanding the meaning of these words to know, that where English has two sets of words built upon the stems “just” and “right”, the corresponding meanings in Greek are expressed by a single family of words built upon the root dik-, the basic meaning of which is to “show” or “point”. Thus “righteousness” and “justice” are the same thing.

Or, they are not. Aristotle in his Ethics distinguishes between a dikaiosyne which is synonymous with virtue itself, embracing all virtues within itself, and a dikaiosyne which is more limited in meaning and which is a particular virtue. We could identify the former with “righteousness” and the latter with “justice” in the way the two words are generally used in English. Aristotle’s translators don’t do this because it would unnecessarily add confusion to the text if two different words were used when Aristotle is distinguishing between two uses of the same word.

If we acknowledge this distinction, the question becomes which of these meanings is intended in the Wisdom of Solomon. Which is the cardinal virtue?

Since phronesis or prudence has typically considered to be the chief of the cardinal virtues from the early Church onwards, it stands to reason that the cardinal virtue of dikaiosyne is the specialized virtue and not the virtue that embraces all others. What is the meaning of this kind of dikaiosyne? What is “justice”?

We know, from the way the word is used legally and politically, that it involves making right decisions. The Authorized Version, reflecting an older English usage that is in this case illuminating, frequently uses the word “judgment” as a synonym for “justice”. When two parties disagree and a third party is called in to judge their case if he makes the right decision it is called “justice”. Let us say the disagreement was between two neighbors over their property. One man claims that the dividing line between his property and his neighbor’s is the line between two trees. His neighbor, however, claims that both trees are on his property and that the boundary is actually at a rock pile closer to the first man’s house. The person who can judge correctly – who can show or point out the real boundary, thus assigning to each man what is properly his own – is the man who can provide justice in this case.

This is the classical way in which justice is defined – to give to each person that which he has a right to, that which is his own (12). This, of course, pertains to more than just material goods. If we are arguing against another person’s point of view, we often acknowledge a point in our opponents favour by saying “to be just…” This reflects our understanding that the other person is entitled to have his case heard. This is why our legal system is set up so that people cannot be convicted of a crime without an opportunity to plead their side of the story. Everyone is entitled to his day in court and if we condemn a person without allowing them this opportunity we have done an injustice. This basic principle of the English system of justice, is not a product of rationalism, “The Enlightenment” or liberalism. Its roots lie in the classical and Christian understanding of justice.


There are two Greek words which can be translated “man”. One of these can also have the meaning of “human being” . The other can also have the meaning of “husband”. The first is anthropos the second is aner (13). The word andreia, which is the word for “fortitude” in the Wisdom of Solomon, is derived from the word for “man, husband”. This would suggest that the word means “manliness” (14) and it is used in classical writings to mean “bravery” or “courage”, especially on the battle field.

It might seem, at first glance, that here we have an instance where the Christian use of the term drastically departs from the classical use of the term. Surely, we might conclude, the Christian concept of courage or bravery as a virtue, understands a spiritual or moral courage or bravery, rather than a literal martial courage. Does not St. Paul use imagery from war to describe the Christian’s spiritual struggle with sin and the forces of evil?

While the Bible does use martial imagery in this fashion that does not mean that fortitude in its literal sense cannot be conceived of as a Christian virtue. If we reflect upon the experience of the early Church it will become obvious how literal fortitude can be a Christian virtue.

Why is it that many people have a mental reservation about thinking about a martial virtue as a Christian virtue? It is because a soldier’s job is to kill for his country. Even those of us who do not agree with the radicals who believe that the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount condemns capital punishment and fighting for one’s country in war (15) might question raising a quality associated with killing others, no matter how justifiable, to the level of one of the seven most praiseworthy traits in Christian ethics. After all, did Jesus not go quietly “like a lamb to the slaughter” when they arrested, tried, beat, and crucified Him?

What is the quality, however, which a society looks for in its defenders that it calls by the name “bravery” or “courage”? Is it the ability to kill without compunction?

No, it is the willingness to face potential death without backing down.

Just like Jesus did when He went to the Cross to redeem the world from sin.

Just as Stephen did, when stoned by the Sanhedrin for his faith in Jesus. Just as St. Peter did, when, having been sentenced to die, he asked only that he be crucified upside down because he was unworthy to be crucified in the same way as his Lord.

In the early centuries of the Church Christians experienced persecution and martyrdom for their faith as they have done from time to time ever since and still do in some parts of the world today. It takes the virtue of fortitude to be a martyr.

The Theological Virtues

The three theological virtues (or heavenly graces) are distinguished from the cardinal virtues in that they go beyond mere morality and display the working of grace in the Christian life. This does not mean that unbelievers do not possess faith, hope, or love in any sense of these words. It means rather that specifically Christian faith, hope, and love are different from generic faith, hope, and love, that they are qualities which take on a new dimension and meaning, because of the working of God’s Spirit in the life and heart of the believer.


Faith, in the New Testament, is multifaceted. It is the response in the heart of the sinner to the Gospel, awakened in the heart by the Holy Spirit through the life-giving seed of the Word, and the instrument through which the grace of God communicated in the Gospel is received. St. Paul also includes it among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. This is an interesting paradox. Faith is the means by which a believer walks by the Spirit. It is when the believer walks by the Spirit that the Spirit produces the fruit. Faith is also part of the fruit. In this we see that faith has many dimensions.

Two additional dimensions are found in 1 Corinthians. In chapter twelve, verse nine, faith is identified as a gift of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are not identical to the fruit of the Spirit. St. Paul does not speak of fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, but of the fruit of the Spirit in the singular. This indicates that the Spirit works to produce everything that is called His fruit in the lives of believers as they walk by faith. The gifts of the Spirit, however, are distributed differently. They are distributed among all believers, but not each gift to each believer. The entire point of the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians would be lost if this were not the case. The point of that chapter is that the Church, being the body of Christ, is one body made up of many parts, and that each of the parts has its own unique role to play, its own contribution to make, and should not envy the others. The diversity of the gifts should not be allowed to threaten the unity of the body.

This leads naturally into the thirteenth chapter, where faith appears again. Here, however, it is clearly not the gift given to some spoken of previously. It is classified rather with hope and charity. The purpose of the thirteenth chapter is to demonstrate how it is better to have charity or love, than to have all of the gifts of the Spirit. The latter are said to be meaningless and worthless apart from Christian love. From this contrast we see that the love of which St. Paul speaks, is not merely the best of the gifts, but in a category apart from the gifts. To this category, faith and hope also belong. St. Paul does not use the word “virtue” but the way in which he describes love as a superior way of living, justifies the early Church’s decision to apply that word to faith, hope, and love.

To call faith a virtue goes very much against the grain of the modern age. In the so-called “Enlightenment” which began the modern age, reason and science were exalted as the paths that would lead mankind to a new golden era. Faith was condemned by the new rationalists as being the enemy of reason. This has led to a number of misconceptions as to the nature of faith. Among those influenced by the “Enlightenment” rationalist view of faith, there is the idea that “faith” means believing something with little to no evidence, or in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary. This is not what faith means.

The Greek word pistis, like its English translation “faith”, simply means “belief” or “trust”. When you or I believe that Sir John A. MacDonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada or trust that our best friend will keep his promise to return the book we loaned him we are exercising pistis, or faith. Everybody, even the most hardened religious skeptic, uses faith every day of his life.

The difference between faith in general and Christian faith in particular, is not that the latter lacks evidence or is possessed in the face of evidence to the contrary. The difference is in the content of the faith (what is believed) and the object of the faith (Who is believed). The content of Christian faith is God’s self-revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ and the object of Christian faith is God Himself, as revealed in Jesus Christ. There is only one other difference between Christian faith and generic faith and that is that the Holy Spirit, Who causes God’s word to bring forth Christian faith in our hearts, uses this faith as a vehicle to transform our lives. The many dimensions of faith that we have seen – as the instrument of receiving God’s grace, the fruit of the Spirit, the gift of the Spirit, and finally the Christian virtue, are examples of this last difference, showing how the intervention of God’s grace can take something everyday, like our capacity for trusting someone, and work wonders with it.

The Christian faith is hardly irrational. Faith is always rational when it is placed in someone with the ability to keep his word and the disposition to do so. The God Christians believe in, exists outside of the universe of time and space, and is it’s Creator and Sovereign Lord. As such, He is not bound by its limitations. This means that He is able to do whatever He promises. What about His character? Skeptics frequently try to impugn the character of God by saying that if He really possessed the power the Christian faith attributes to Him, and really was just and loving, He would not allow the evil and suffering in the world. Thus, the argument runs, God can be all-powerful or just and loving, but not both. God’s own answer to that, throughout Scripture, is that He will not allow His creatures to dictate terms to Him. He is Sovereign and does not answer to man. He has revealed, both His justice and His love, by coming down to earth, sharing our condition, becoming one of us, and suffering at our hands, in order to save us – ultimately from ourselves. That is the character of Someone Who is worthy of being trusted

The virtue of faith, however, does not lie in its reasonableness but in its ability to make a man that which he should be. Aristotle defined the “good” of a subject in terms of its function. A knife is a good knife if it can cut well. The same holds true for men, Aristotle argued, and therefore the chief good of man is man’s ability to fulfill the chief end of man, i.e., the purpose of his existence. This is man’s virtue, and lesser virtues are virtues in that they contribute to it as lesser ends or goods, serve the chief good of man.

The end or purpose of man, the Christian faith teaches, is to be found in God. God is our Creator, and our purpose for existing is not something we determine for ourselves but that for which He created us. “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord”, St. Augustine wrote, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee”. Or, as the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith beautifully put it “Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”

If our chief good lies in God, the virtue of faith lies in the fact that it is what connects us to God, and is thus an indispensable means to our chief and highest end. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6) Faith is not, however, the chief theological virtue. That honour belongs to charity, or Christian love.


The three theological virtues are closely related to each other. Hope, or elpis as it is called in the Greek, is an extension of faith. If faith is our confidence in God as revealed in Christ, hope is the expectation that His promises bring to the hearts of all those who trust in Him. “I may not know what the future holds” as the saying goes, “but I know Who holds the future”.

Today, we use the word “hope” to express our desires, what we want to happen in the future, regardless of whether we have any real expectation that it will happen or not. “I hope it will be cooler tomorrow” we say in the midst of a heat wave that is predicted to last until the end of the month.

The Greek word elpis, originally had a meaning that was rather the opposite of this. It was used to express what one expected to happen, regardless of whether one wanted it to happen or not. “I expect to die a grizzly death at the hands of an axe-murderer” is a morbidly pessimistic thought that could be expressed with the word elpis just as well as the thought “I expect to inherit a fortune and live in the lap of luxury for the rest of my life”.

Both the English hope and the Greek elpis, however, have another sense, one which combines expectation and desire. This is the meaning of hope as a theological virtue. We look forward, with a certain expectation, to that which is the desire of our hearts, the return of the Son of God to receive us unto Himself eternally. This attitude of expectation, is that of the Bride of Christ, anticipating the arrival of the Bridegroom. This hope is founded upon faith, and flows out of faith like a river flows from a spring. It is the believer’s comfort in the moment of bereavement (1 Thess. 4:13). St. Paul goes so far as to say that we are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24) which produces perseverance and patience within us.

That hope, in the sense of combined expectation and desire, is essential for a healthy mind and moral life, was understood by the ancients. In the story the 8th Century BC poet Hesiod told in Works and Days of Pandora, Greek mythology’s equivalent of Eve, Hope was also in the jar containing all the evils of the world which she unwittingly opened. Hope remained trapped in the jar after all the evils were unleashed upon the world. This being a tale of divine judgment the meaning would seem to be that all of the suffering in the world is even worse in the absence of hope. There was little hope in the pre-Christian religion in which there was no anticipated resurrection and everybody, righteous and wicked alike, were doomed to the gloomy, darkness of Hades. It was only in the redemption and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His promise to return to take us to a place in His Father’s house that He will prepare for us, that a foundation was truly lain for the hope the pagan Greeks sensed the need for. Thus, just as Christian faith is only produced in the heart by the Word and Spirit of God, (Rom 10:17), Christian hope is only produced in the heart on the grounds of Christian faith. It is through the last, and greatest, of the theological virtues, however, that faith is connected to Christian living, for faith “worketh by love”.


The Authorized Version of the Bible of 1611 translates the Greek word agape as “charity” in 1 Corinthians 13. This was done to make a theological statement. The love which St. Paul is talking about in this chapter is not just any love, but Christian love, the kind of love which was manifested in Christ and which can only be present in the human soul by God’s grace through the union of the believer with Jesus Christ. Charity, is the technical theological term for this kind of love. It also has the more common meaning of “giving to the needy” which does not truly do justice to the meaning of agape. For this reason more recent versions generally use the word “love”. This is not necessarily an improvement. Whereas the meaning of charity has become too narrow the meaning of love has become too broad. We use it today to speak of feelings of romantic attachment and of intense sexual passion. We also use it flippantly to refer to our preference for particular brands of material goods. The philosophy expressed in contemporary popular culture elegizes love as the highest possible good, the only thing people need, with little to no reflection upon what this “love” actually is. Little is gained, in the way of clarity, by translating agape love rather than charity.

The theological virtues are greater than the cardinal virtues because they are produced in the soul by the grace of God. Charity, is clearly identified by St. Paul as the greatest of the theological virtues. It is therefore the greatest virtue of all – the “greatest thing in the world” as Henry Drummond called it. We see this throughout the New Testament. When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus answered, not by quoting one of the famous Ten, but by quoting “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength”. He added that the second greatest commandment was similar to the first “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. All the Law and the Prophets, He said, are summed up in these two commandments.

Later, on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. “That ye love one another as I have loved you.”. This is a commandment with a double meaning. It means both that we are to love each other because Christ loved us, and that we are to love each other in the way Christ loved us. In the words that followed, Jesus made it clear what that involved: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Love was God’s motivation in giving His only Son to save the fallen world (Jn. 3:16) and it was out of love that Jesus endured the Cross for us. It is only because God loved us in this way that we are able to love with Christian agape love (1 Jn. 4:19). Love is the very nature of God Himself (1 Jn 4:8).

There is no way of describing or defining Christian love of charity that can improve upon the description given by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. It is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. Modern translations of it are frequently read out in wedding ceremonies. This is an appropriate use because the Scriptures liken the relationship between Christ and His Church to that of a husband and a wife. In Ephesians, husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. It is therefore appropriate, that on the day a man and woman marry, and the man commits to loving his wife as Christ loved the Church, that they be reminded of what exactly that love looks like. It must be remembered, however, that the passage is talking about the virtue of Christian love and not about romantic love.

St. Paul writes:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

(1) These were Athenian generals in the Peloponnesian War. This conflict between Athens and Sparta lasted 30 years, and ended in Athens’ defeat a few years before Socrates’ trial and condemnation. Laches and Nicias had negotiated the famous “Peace of Nicias” in 421 BC which ended the first phase of the war. When the fighting resumed, however, both men were killed in famous Athenian defeats. Laches was killed first, in the Battle of Mantinea in 418 BC. Then Nicias was appointed one of the generals in charge of the Sicilian invasion of 415 BC which ended disasterously for Athens. He was captured and executed by the Spartans, after losing all of his forces at the siege of Syracuse. Thus makes Plato’s choice of them as interlocutors with Socrates on the subject of the virtue of bravery rather interesting.

(2) As with other Scriptural passages, I have followed my custom of quoting the Authorised Version of 1611. In the Authorized Version, the deuterocanonical writings such as the Wisdom of Solomon, are placed between the Old and New Testament under the heading “The Apocrypha”.

(3) There are more recent examples of this, but one can be found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Canterbury Tales, an assorted group of people, including Chaucer himself, gathered together in a tavern and set out the next day on a trip to Canterbury, guided by the host of their inn. They agreed to take part in a competition, along the way, to see who could tell the best story. When it got to Chaucer’s own turn, he started out with “The Tale of Sir Topas” a poem that is never finished because the host interrupts Chaucer, complaining that his poem had caused his ears to ache, that rhymes of this sort can go to the devil, and that his “rymyng is nat worth a toord”. He tells Chaucer to tell a story in prose, and Chaucer complies with “The Tale of Melibee” a story, in which a wealthy man, whose home had been invaded and the female members of his household beaten, planned a war of revenge against his enemies, but was persuaded against it by his wife. Most of the story is a long, tedious, debate between the two of them. His wife’s name was Dame Prudence.

(4) Luke 1:17 and Ephesians 1:8. The Authorized Version renders it as “wisdom” in Luke and “prudence” in Ephesians.

(5) The translations of Aristotle that I have consulted generally translate phronesis with “practical wisdom” or “practical judgment” rather than prudence.

(6) The “crat” in words like “democrat” and “autocrat” comes from kratos.

(7) It is found all of three times, and is rendered by “sobriety” and “soberness” in the Authorized Version.

(8) As always, when I speak critically of capitalism, I do not mean either the private ownership of property or the freedom to sell one’s product in the market. Both of these have been around since the beginning of history. I refer instead to the modern economy as a whole.

(9) “The Other Six Deadly Sins”, found in Dorothy L. Sayers, The Whimsical Christian: 18 Essays, (New York: MacMillan, 1978).

(10) 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:18-20 don’t apply. In the first passage the second person plural is used, which tells us that the Temple referred to is the believers collectively, i.e. the Church. The second passage is a bit more complicated, because in the larger context starting with verse 15, St. Paul uses the second personal plural possessive pronoun hymon with both the plural somata (verse 15) and the singular soma (verse 19). The first verse must be referring to literal, physical bodies, the second would seem to be referring to the Church again. Let us suppose, however, that verse 19 is talking about the physical body of the particular believer, as verse 15 is, and then jump backwards in the text and use this verse to identify the body –Temple in the third chapter with the believer’s physical body. The larger context in chapter six is talking about fornication, and if we are to allow chapter six to interpret chapter three in this way, the defiling (or destroying) in verse 17 would have to be a reference to fornication as well. If someone were to argue that fornication is what St. Paul had specifically in mind, but that there is a broader application that includes tobacco smoking, the obvious rebuttal of this would be to refer to Matthew 15:11, 17-20. For it is just as valid to lump tobacco smoking, which is not mentioned in Scripture, in with eating with unwashed hands as it does to lump it in with fornication, in a “broader application” of a passage.

(11) The heresy does not really have a name, although it is often called “Puritanism”. This is rather unfair to the historical Puritans, however, whose error was of an entirely different nature. The Reformation had started as a reaction against theological and moral corruption in the Church. The Puritans, were English Calvinistic Reformers who took things too far. They took the position that unless a traditional, Church practice could be shown to be explicitly given a warrant in Scripture, the practice should be done away with as “unscriptural”, meaning “anti-scriptural”. This brought them into conflict with the establishment of the English Church who took the position that everything in the Catholic tradition that could not be shown to be explicitly contrary to Scripture should be retained. A number of preachers have been considered, and considered themselves, to be heirs of the Puritans. Perhaps the best 19th Century example was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Baptist pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Mr. Spurgeon was a noted cigar smoker.

(12) Hence the long segment in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics about “distributive justice”, i.e., justly distributing the profits of a joint enterprise, or of goods owned collectively by the community.

(13) This is a third declension noun and as such its stem cannot be found from the nominative singular, because a stem letter is frequently dropped before the case ending is applied, but rather the genitive singular andros. Such English words as “misandry” (hatred of men) and “polyandry” (having many husbands) are derived from this word.

(14) This term, because of the phenomenon commonly known as “political correctness”, has been marked by the left-wing, self-appointed guardians of the public’s mental hygiene for obsolescence. Harvey C. Mansfield, however, has defended the word and the concept in a recent volume Manliness, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006)the writing and publishing of which displayed great fortitude.

(15) The Sermon on the Mount cannot honestly be interpreted as forbidding capital punishment or serving one’s country in war (or swearing oaths in court for that matter). To arrive at that interpretation, one has to strip verses 17-19 of
Matthew 5 of all meaning.