If I told you that everything done by the Nazis in Germany was all legal, you might think me insane, but it’s true.1 They started the takeover of the country by putting in bad laws. If you are a legal positivist who disregards the Natural Law — as are most of our executives, judges, and legislators — you can legislate evil and it becomes “legal.”
As one of our Sisters pointed out to me this morning, today’s Liturgical Year entry provides a wonderful passage from the writings of Saint Hilary of Poitiers on not trying to please civil rulers at the expense of the Faith.
Read it and the few words of introduction to it from Dom Guéranger and tell me this is not very timely. And in case a Catholic bishop happens across these lines: Your Excellency, please take heart. When you talk like this, there are many of us who will “have your back.”
Here are some words of Dom Guéranger introducing the passage from Saint Hilary:
When some people spoke to Hilary in favour of those who had been traitors to the Church, and had been disloyal to Jesus Christ, in order to keep in the good graces of the Emperor, they ventured to tell the Saint that their conduct was justifiable, on the ground that they had but obeyed the Law! The holy Pontiff was indignant at this profanation of the word, and, in his Book against Auxentius, courageously reminds his fellow Bishops of the origin of the Church: how her very establishment depended on the breaking of unjust human laws, and how she counts it one of her glories to infringe all such laws as would oppose her existence, her development, and her action.
And here are the words of great Doctor known as the “Athanasius of the West”:
We have a contempt for all the trouble that men of these days are giving themselves; and I am grieved to see them holding such mad opinions as that God needs man’s patronage, and that the Church of Christ requires to be upheld by an ambition that curries favour with the world. I ask of you Bishops, what favour did the Apostles court, in order that they might preach the Gospel? Who were the princes that helped them to preach Christ, and convert almost the whole world from idolatry to God? Did they, who sang hymns to God in prisons and chains, and whilst bleeding from being scourged – did they accept offices from the state? Did Paul wait for a royal permission to draw men to the Church of Christ? Did he, think you, cringe for the patronage of a Nero, or a Vespasian, or a Decius, whose very hatred of our faith was the occasion of its being more triumphantly preached? These Apostles, who lived by the labour of their own hands, who assembled the Faithful in garrets and hiding-places, who visited villages and towns, and wellnigh the whole world, traveling over sea and land, in spite of the Senate’s decrees and Imperial Edicts – these men, according to your principles, had not received the keys of the kingdom of heaven! What say you to all this manifestation of God’s power in the very face of man’s opposition, when the more there was a prohibition to preach Christ, the more that preaching was exercised?
See also: Dom Guéranger on the Lay Faithful Resisting Heterodox Prelates (Like Nestorius)
- That is, if you are a legal positivist and think that things contrary to the natural law can ever truly be made legal — which they can’t ↩