Monday, October 01, 2007

John Paul II on the Use of Violence

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994). As the Jubilee year for the new millennium approaches, the Pontiff calls for "a spirit of repentance" for the historical acquiescence of "sons and daughters of the Church" in "intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth", especially during the second millennium now ending. He goes on (#35):

It is very true that an equitable historical judgment must include an attentive study of the cultural conditions of that time. Under their powerful influence, many, perhaps, considered in all good faith that a sincere witness to the truth required the simultaneous suppression, or at least the isolation, of contrary opinions (sinceram veritatis testificationem simul iubere alienas opiniones extingui vel saltem secludi42). Many causes often converged to sow the seeds of that intolerance and immoderate zeal from which only a relatively few great and truly free minds, deeply penetrated by God, were able to detach themselves. Nevertheless, recognizing these mitigating circumstances does not dispense the Church from the duty of profoundly lamenting the weakness of so many of her own sons who disfigured her countenance, preventing it from fully reflecting the image of the crucified Lord who was the supreme witness to patient love and humble meekness. From these painful episodes of the past a lesson for the future emerges, namely, that every Christian should be led to keep firmly in mind this golden principle enunciated by the Council: "Truth does not impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power" (Dignitatis Humanae, #1).

http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt119.html

16 comments:

Andy Bodoh said...

Thank you for offering a passage supportive of the legitimacy of custom against efforts to say that a longstanding custom is illigitimate.

yankee angel said...

It seems to me that the point of the passage is that violence is never an acceptable way to uphold and defend truth and virtue. A point which Geoff frequently makes and which I think this passage enunciates very well.

Andy Bodoh said...

Very true. One can not legitimately be coerced (with the exception of parental authority) to change their opinion of truth. But this passage only talks about truth, not virtue.

However, read John Paul's support of a diversity of cultures, including Slavorum Apostoli, Sollicitudo rei sociallis, Veritatis Splendor, Centesimus annus, Evangelium Vitea and Fides et ratio. In these he defends the customs of people against all criticisms but immorality. Why? Because each of these cultures reflect the peoples' unique efforts to explain truth and their customs are ways to express that truth.

From Fides et ratio:
Every people has its own native and seminal wisdom which, as a true cultural treasure, tends to find voice and develop in forms which are genuinely philosophical. One example of this is the basic form of philosophical knowledge which is evident to this day in the postulates which inspire national and international legal systems in regulating the life of society.

John Paul defends truth as it develops in a diversity of cultures, and defends the customs that are expression of these truths.

Andy Bodoh said...

A clearer transaltion of the passage can be found on the Vatican website:
35. Another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth.
It is true that an accurate historical judgment cannot prescind from careful study of the cultural conditioning of the times, as a result of which many people may have held in good faith that an authentic witness to the truth could include suppressing the opinions of others or at least paying no attention to them. Many factors frequently converged to create assumptions which justified intolerance and fostered an emotional climate from which only great spirits, truly free and filled with God, were in some way able to break free. Yet the consideration of mitigating factors does not exonerate the Church from the obligation to express profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of her sons and daughters who sullied her face, preventing her from fully mirroring the image of her crucified Lord, the supreme witness of patient love and of humble meekness. From these painful moments of the past a lesson can be drawn for the future, leading all Christians to adhere fully to the sublime principle stated by the Council: "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power"."


What is important to note is that here John Paul is talking about religious truth (Revelation). He is discussing eccumenical initiatives. It is also speaking about actions of the Christians qua Christians. Read it in context.

He refers back to Dignitatis Humanae. The full passage of this reads:

"First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you" (Matt. 28: 19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.

This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."


In the very next paragraph:
"This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."

What are the due limits? Later in the document:

"Society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order."

Geoff said...

Very true. One can not legitimately be coerced (with the exception of parental authority) to change their opinion of truth. But this passage only talks about truth, not virtue.

It's talking about any kind of truth. You cannot use force to protect an intangible except when the truth is protected secondarily, through protecting a physical entity. (In practice, life and liberty would fall under this, as well.) A custom is an intangible. And anyone is free to live their customs. At their own expense.

Andy Bodoh said...

You cannot use force to protect an intangible except when the truth is protected secondarily, through protecting a physical entity. (In practice, life and liberty would fall under this, as well.)

Why Geoff? "Ownership" is intangible. "Rights" are intangible. "Life" is an abstraction from a state of being. "Human dignity" is intangible. All relationships are intangible.

"Intangible" is the contradictory of "tangible". You are saying that we can only primarily protect the tangible. Protect it from what? Matter (the tangible) has no value (of any sort) without spirit (intangible). You should be enough of a free market economist to figure that out.

Andy Bodoh said...

"[The cited passage is] talking about any kind of truth."

First, read the passage in context. The document is about ecumanism. The passage is discussing historical situations in which Christians have done grave injustices to other Christians in the name of the Faith.

It is true that John Paul cites to the Declaration on Religious Freedom, which has some very broad language. But that language must be understood in the context of the universal Church of 1964. The document was chiefly directed against totalitarian regimes that were attempting to quash religious practice in societies in which religious practice had always been strong. It is directed primarily to the nation-state, not to the small community. Thus, trying to read the document as a defense of libertarian dissent in a small community is, a the very least, a stretch.

Furthermore, as I said above, the declaration specifically says that the freedom of religion is not to be used to claim that the state has no authority. It says that the state "is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order." Where do these norms come from? Practical reasonableness stemming from day-to-day circumstances of life in society regarding three things: first "the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights", second "the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice", and third "out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality."

Now, are these norms universal? Yes. However, the particular norms are not always applied in the same way. As Fides et ratio explains, man is naturally a philosopher but an individual's philosphy is largely shaped by norms and concepts he learned from others in society that generally direct him towards specific conclusions. He talks about this in the passage you cite: "Many factors frequently converged to create assumptions which justified intolerance and fostered an emotional climate from which only great spirits, truly free and filled with God, were in some way able to break free." However, in Fides et Ratio

Now, you would use the passage to say that society can not do anything about one's behavior as long as that behavior is founded on his conception of truth. This leads you to say that the only legitimate government is a libertarian government.

However, in John Paul celebrates the diversity of cultures and of social customs. In Centesimus annus he says "At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God. Different cultures are basically different ways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence." He adds a warning: "When this question is eliminated, the culture and moral life of nations are corrupted.

In Fides et Ratio John Paul defends philosophy, which tries to get at truth by answery questions like the quesiton of God. He argues that there is a legitimate diversity of philosophies, including political philosophies: "Every people has its own native and seminal wisdom which, as a true cultural treasure, tends to find voice and develop in forms which are genuinely philosophical. One example of this is the basic form of philosophical knowledge which is evident to this day in the postulates which inspire national and international legal systems in regulating the life of society."

In other words, there is a legitimate diversity of national and international legal systems, founded on a legitimate diversity of philosophies.

That raises the question, what about human rights (or in Geoff's vocabulary, the ill defined rights to life, liberty and property)? Read the passage above again: The state "is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order." These judicial norms, as we have seen are based on custom (practical reason, i.e. applied philisophy, applied to a society's particular circumstance and development). Thus the test of 1)reasonableness and 2)morallity, that I have emphasized.

If libertarianism is the only legitimate political philosophy, as Geoff claims it is, then Geoff ought to be able to demostrate that all other political philosophies are either totally inconsistent with practical reasonableness (i.e. they don't even accomplish what they intend), or that they ar immoral (contrary to human nature. He would also have to demonstrate that libertarianism is not, but that is another debate.

Andy Bodoh said...

One further point:

The document is talking about tolerance. It says "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power", but that is the nature of truth. Knowledge of truth (conformity of intellect to reality) is never aided by violence. Violence does not contribute to understanding or shape the intellect towards reality

Geoff would have us believe that the only purpose of morality legistation is to impose truth. He seems to imply that any law that a person can reasonably dispute (and he would say that laws protecting the ill defined rights to life, liberty and property are the only that can't be reasonably disputed) does "violence" against the person, or is somehow "intolerant" of that person's pursuit of truth.

Such is not the case. There is no violence because there is no binding obligation. If one does not like the law, then they can leave. The fact that every society has such laws would seem to indicate the reasonableness of the law, not the illigitimacy of the law.

Pardon the analogy, Sylvia, but suppose all of us were given the choice of a pudding cup, either chocolate or vanilla. We all choose chocolate. Geoff comes in later and sees that we have pudding. We all offer him to share, but he wants vanilla and not chocolate. Does he have a right to say that we are not being fair, or that none of us should have pudding cups because he doesn't get a vanilla pudding cup?

Geoff said...

It's only unfair if you want to force me to pay for your flavor of choice.

Andy Bodoh said...

I was expecting that.

Suppose all of us were given a menu with various meals that we could purchase. We all choose. Geoff comes in later and sees that we a meal. We all offer him to share half if he pays for half. He wants any of them but he doesn't think he whould have to pay. Does he have a right to say that none of us should have a meal because he doesn't get one for free?

Geoff said...

Why Geoff? "Ownership" is intangible. "Rights" are intangible. "Life" is an abstraction from a state of being. "Human dignity" is intangible. All relationships are intangible.

You don't protect "ownership." You protect the property you own. You don't protect an abstract "right," you protect the ability to do certain things. You protect life, which is part of who you are as an individual: thing you are: alive.

"Intangible" is the contradictory of "tangible". You are saying that we can only primarily protect the tangible. Protect it from what? Matter (the tangible) has no value (of any sort) without spirit (intangible). You should be enough of a free market economist to figure that out.

"Intangible" is often a complement of "tangible," it is not the antithesis. We are composite beings: matter and spirit. An act in itself is an intangible. You can't hold "a beating" in a bucket. But the act of a beating has tangible effects.

The only way you can protect virtue is through intangible truth. The only way you can physically protect virtue is indirectly, through protecting an expression of truth, such as life, liberty or property. None of which is violated by someone not paying taxes.

You cannot force the truth on someone. Nobody can force you to be unvirtuous, so why should you be able to use force against anyone who can't use force to make you non-virtuous? You want to use violence against ideas, not against the effects themselves! Would you knock someone out who was peddling Communist sexual-liberation literature, Andy? Would you kill him, in an attempt to secure a spiritual good? Are we going to go back to stoning adulterers for "disrupting society?" Someone who made a radical, sudden cultural change through non-violence, a totally counter-customary person, put a stop to that kind of idea.

healthily sanguine said...

quumsical...

Andy Bodoh said...

Geoff, if I take your money and use it just as money is suppose to be used, I have not hurt the money. If I take your car and use it just as a car is meant to be used, I have not hurt your car. I may have put wear on your car, but not directly. Use causes secondary wear.

When you use force to protect me from stealing, you have not used force to protect your property (if you have at all it was secondary). What you have done is use force to protect your (intangible) right to the exclusive use and possession of that piece of property. Furthermore, I would like to see what examples you can come up with about protecting your liberties directly through protecting something tangible. You can’t hold your liberties in a bucket (or your free speech for that matter).

You also claim that an act is intangible. An act qua act is intangible, but when an act directs a person’s behavior, the behavior is usually tangible. Are you claiming that murder and stealing are intangible? You claim that a “beating” is intangible. In that case, then all violence (which requires an act) is intangible. Are you trying to prevent something intangible when you are trying to stop a beating?

Once again you are implying that law is to protect truth. If it is, that is only secondary. Law first and foremost is there to require or prohibit (conditionally or absolutely) specific behavior. Behavior is not truth. Behavior is tangible. Behavior is not virture. The law doesn’t require virtue, it requires behavior.

Geoff said...

Geoff, if I take your money and use it just as money is suppose to be used, I have not hurt the money.

My money, insofar as it is my money, is meant to be used at my discretion.

If I take your car and use it just as a car is meant to be used, I have not hurt your car. I may have put wear on your car, but not directly. Use causes secondary wear.

My car is meant to be used by me or those whom I allow to use it. Anyone can drive a car. Only those who I permit may drive my car.

When you use force to protect me from stealing, you have not used force to protect your property (if you have at all it was secondary). What you have done is use force to protect your (intangible) right to the exclusive use and possession of that piece of property.

Furthermore, I would like to see what examples you can come up with about protecting your liberties directly through protecting something tangible. You can’t hold your liberties in a bucket (or your free speech for that matter.)


Freedom is both positive and negative. I can do anything I will to do, physically. Morally, I may not. Physically, you may prevent me from exercising my liberty in a tangible fashion. Morally or physically, you cannot suppress my liberty. You can only suppress a tangible exercise of my liberty.

My speech consists of tangible, measurable sound waves. They happen to be freely expressed, and convey meaning. If you choke me, however, you are violating me as a whole person, and indirectly, impinging upon my freedom to express ideas.

You also claim that an act is intangible. An act qua act is intangible, but when an act directs a person’s behavior, the behavior is usually tangible.

An act does not direct a person's behavior. An act is chosen and directed by the free will of a person. When speaking about the physical realm, an act has physical effects. You cannot control the person's will. You can control the tangible effects of the person's will.

Are you claiming that murder and stealing are intangible? You claim that a “beating” is intangible. In that case, then all violence (which requires an act) is intangible. Are you trying to prevent something intangible when you are trying to stop a beating?

I know the philosophy majors may correct my on this, but I welcome the correction. Here goes: a beating is an action, directed by the will, that has simultaneous tangible effects. The effects of the will's decision are what you are trying to prevent. The act of a beating has already been committed before a fist has even made contact with the body. Jesus made this concept clear when he spoke of adultery.

Once again you are implying that law is to protect truth. If it is, that is only secondary. Law first and foremost is there to require or prohibit (conditionally or absolutely) specific behavior.

Legislation is an action. Actions have ends and means. What is the end of legislation, and what is the means? Ultimately, the end of legislation is virtue. Does this mean that law can, through itself, effect virtue? No. As Dr. W. stated, law exists to protect the life, liberty and property of individuals so that virtue may flourish, not so that virtue must flourish. Actions also have intentions. Unfortunately, many people intend law to directly make people virtuous. They fail to recognize that law is supposed to to indirectly allow people to be virtuous.

Behavior is not truth. Behavior is tangible. Behavior is not virture.

Human behavior is not truth itself, but it should be true, insofar as it should reflect the truth of human nature.

The law doesn’t require virtue, it requires behavior.

For what ultimate purpose does law require behavior? Does the law exist for the mere sake of behavior according to law?

Geoff said...

"Geoff, if I take your money and use it just as money is suppose to be used, I have not hurt the money.

My money, insofar as it is my money, is meant to be used at my discretion. You have taken my money, the tangible fruit of my labor, and thereby have made an assault on my person.

"If I take your car and use it just as a car is meant to be used, I have not hurt your car. I may have put wear on your car, but not directly. Use causes secondary wear."

My car is meant to be used by me or those whom I allow to use it. Anyone can drive a car. Only those who I permit may drive my car.

"When you use force to protect me from stealing, you have not used force to protect your property (if you have at all it was secondary). What you have done is use force to protect your (intangible) right to the exclusive use and possession of that piece of property.

Furthermore, I would like to see what examples you can come up with about protecting your liberties directly through protecting something tangible. You can’t hold your liberties in a bucket (or your free speech for that matter."


Liberty is both positive and negative. I can do anything I will to do, physically. Morally, I may not. Physically, you may prevent me from exercising my liberty in a tangible fashion. Morally, you cannot suppress my freedom. (Doing what I ought to do.) Physically, you cannot suppress my liberty (doing what I will to do) until expressed in a tangible fashion. You can only suppress the tangible effects of my freedom or liberty. No law can take away your right to free speech. It can only prevent your tangible expression thereof.

My speech consists of tangible, measurable sound waves. They happen to be freely expressed, and convey meaning. If you choke me, however, you are violating me as a whole person, and indirectly, impinging upon my freedom to express ideas.

"You also claim that an act is intangible. An act qua act is intangible, but when an act directs a person’s behavior, the behavior is usually tangible."

An act does not direct a person's behavior. An act is chosen and directed by the free will of a person. When speaking about the physical realm, an act has physical effects. You cannot control the act of the will itself. You can only control the tangible effects of the person's will.

"Are you claiming that murder and stealing are intangible? You claim that a “beating” is intangible. In that case, then all violence (which requires an act) is intangible. Are you trying to prevent something intangible when you are trying to stop a beating?"

I know the philosophy majors may correct my on this, (and maybe call me a Humean, I don't know!) but I welcome the correction anyway. Here goes: a beating is an action, directed by the will, that has simultaneous tangible effects. The effects of the will's decision are what you are trying to prevent. The act of a beating has already been committed before a fist has even made contact with the body. Jesus made this concept clear when he spoke of adultery.

Once again you are implying that law is to protect truth. If it is, that is only secondary. Law first and foremost is there to require or prohibit (conditionally or absolutely) specific behavior.

Legislation is an action. Actions have ends and means. What is the end of legislation, and what are the means? Ultimately, the end of legislation is virtue. Does this mean that law can, through itself, effect virtue? No. As Dr. W. stated, law exists to protect the life, liberty and property of individuals so that virtue may flourish, not so that virtue must flourish. Actions also have intentions. Unfortunately, many people intend law to directly make people virtuous. They fail to recognize that law is supposed to to indirectly allow people to be virtuous.

Behavior is not truth. Behavior is tangible. Behavior is not virture.

Human behavior is not truth itself, but it should be true, insofar as it should reflect the truth of human nature.

The law doesn’t require virtue, it requires behavior.

For what ultimate purpose does law require behavior? Certainly not for the mere sake of requiring behavior in accord with law?

Andy Bodoh said...

Frankly, Geoff, I am not following your line of reasoning.

First, the cited passage is not criticizing law. It is criticizing suppression of opinions. Law does not suppress opinions. It suppresses (or requires) behavior.

Second, you say at one point that You cannot use force to protect an intangible except when the truth is protected secondarily, through protecting a physical entity. (In practice, life and liberty would fall under this, as well.) So I can use truth to protect an intangible when truth is protected secondarily? I don't see the rational of this. How does life, liberty, or property fall under this in practice? Does only life, liberty, or property fall under this. I have no idea what you are getting at, except that somehow the cited passage prohibits all law but laws protecting the ill-defined "life, liberty, or property." Are life, liberty and property truths? If so, how are these truths suppressed by law. I have no idea what your argument means.

Third, what relevance does "tangible" and "intangible" have? You through it out there, but in your las post you say, "My money, insofar as it is my money, is meant to be used at my discretion." Now you are talking about an intangible relationship between you and your property. Like I said, when you prevent me from stealing your property you are protecting your intangible right to the exclusive use and possession of your property. If stealing is indeed an attack on your person, then it is an intangible attack. If you say that it is a tangible attack because it has an external manifestation, then how do you distinguish the prohibition of this external manifestation from exactly what I have said that law does--prohibit behavior (the external manifestation of a will-act). If you say that one is an attack on the person but that other laws wouldn't be, then it is your burden to demonstrate that protection of life, liberty, and property incorporates total and absolute protection of the person. But once again that all depends on your definition of life liberty and property.

There is more I could say but I think this will suffice. Frankly Geoff, this line did not start out well and I don't believe that it will go anywhere fast. I could continue arguing and you can continue arguing, we are not discussing our fundamental difference. Unless we do, we have no hope of resolution. In my opinion, we are progressing well enough on the other post.

What I recommend is that we discontinue our dispute on this line. However, I would be very interested to see what others have thought about the points we have made. Does it sound reasonable that we drop the discussion between us at this point on this line and only respond to others who are asking uss to clarify our possition?