During the persecution of Christians in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman prefect Rusticus was frustrated by the serene equanimity of the Christian convert Justin, a Platonic philosopher.
The Romans considered Christianity a superstitio parva (a perverse superstition) and classified its morality as immodica (immoderate) for, among other things, refusing to abort the unborn and "expose" the newly born. Bereft of rational arguments against Christians, Nero blamed them for burning Rome, as some would blame the Jews for the bubonic plague. The demagogic policy, updated by Lenin and made a political craft in our day, was "never let a crisis go unused."
Every great cause attracts its sociopaths who cloak their pathology in the mantel of righteousness. It is always wrong to do something intrinsically evil, no matter how good the desired end may be. If Jesus admonished St. Peter for cutting off a man's ear in an instance of self-defense, the principle of proportionality is much stronger when an individual wildly appropriates to himself the right to kill in cold blood. When an outlaw destroys life in the name of human dignity, however depraved and macabre the target, the raucous contradiction gives cynics a chance to exploit the crime. This is the manner of hypocritical Pharisaism, as opposed to the venerable Pharisees whose righteousness Our Lord said should be exceeded by his disciples. The debased Pharisees gave themselves a bad name because they cynically postured as scandalized in order to haul themselves onto a shaky moral platform higher than their opponents.
I cite the case of a man gone off the edge who committed murder in Kansas in the name of the sacredness of life. Impatient with rational voices, he said: "These men are all talk. What we need is action -- action!" He was rightly called a "misguided fanatic" but opportunists exploited the crisis to blame their political opponents. On the other hand, some deluded people actually defended and praised the murderer.
The Kansas killing to which I refer was the Pottawatomie Massacre; Abraham Lincoln used the term "misguided fanatic"; the opportunists were Southern slaveholders; and those who praised the maverick killer included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The "inventor of American terrorism" was John Brown, whose body "lies a-mouldering in the grave." A more prudent abolitionist, Julia Ward Howe, transposed the lyrics of the old song into a hymn of Christ who "is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." The sane diction of authentic confessors of faith, as opposed to the demented, was very like what Justin patiently told Rusticus: "We hope to suffer torment for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of Our Lord and Saviour."
Father George William Rutler. Weekly Column for June 7, 2009.
Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.
Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He has written many books, including: Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.Copyright © 2009 Father George W. Rutler
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