Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Wither Justice

 From the Gospel according to Luke:

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom."

 He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise"

Not how I intended to return but an article in today's Pillar finally gave me the push.

The above passage of scripture is worth a thought for a few moments. If we truly believe that Christ was the Son of God and voluntarily gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins, you have to come to the conclusion that Christ--in foreseeing his crucifixion--chose to die on the cross. In other words, while He was on the Cross, Christ could have come down from it an any time if he chose, the implication being that He was in full command of His divine powers.

So when the penitent thief said his piece why didn't Christ let him down off the Cross? The guy clearly had expressed repentance of his acts and acknowledged the justice of his punishment. Why wasn't Christ "merciful"to him? It's an interesting thing to ponder since Christ could have miraculously lowered him from the Cross, healed his wounds and sent him on his way. After all, isn't that what Mercy's about?

And yet He didn't.

He let the good thief die next to him.

Now,  I can't explain Christ's motivations for his course of action but I can observe the following facts:

1) Christ retained the power to do pretty much anything he liked while on the Cross.

2) The criminal was repentant and by his own admission was punished justly.

3) Christ assured him a place in paradise.

4) Christ did not in any way avert or mitigate his punishment even though he had the power to do so.

What we see here is that at a bare minimum Christ did not interfere in the Roman judicial process even though the thief was repentant. Now, I wouldn't draw a broad principle from this instance but it does give you something to think about.

I turn now to C.S. Lewis, who in writing about repentance wrote:

If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian.....
Notice what both Lewis and the Good thief are asserting is the rightness of justice in their act of repentance.  It's one of the reasons why people, when they are truly sorry for something, try to make it right.  There is a sense that the natural order needs to be restored at least in some way.

That's why today's Pillar article was profoundly disturbing.

As he is recovering from bronchitis, Pope Francis did not read his prepared speech, but instead handed it over to be read afterwards. 

“Those who work at the Holy See and the Vatican City State certainly do so faithfully and honestly,” the Pope's speech read, “but the lure of corruption is so dangerous that we must be extremely vigilant.”

“I know you dedicate much time to this,” the Pope added, stressing the need to balance “absolute transparency in every action” with “merciful discretion”, since scandals “serve more to fill the pages of the newspapers than to correct behaviour in depth.”[ED]

“in addition to this,” the Pope concluded, “I invite you to help those responsible for the administration of the Holy See's assets to create safeguards that can prevent, ‘upstream’, the insidiousness of corruption from materializing.”

As one of the commentators in the Pillar stated:

I'm struggling to find a generous, positive reading of this directive.

Replace "financial corruption" with "sexual abuse" and then try arguing that this is defensible.


What has happened in the broader Catholic Catholic culture has been the erosion in the value of other virtues such as prudence and justice and the elevation of Mercy to supreme virtue. For Francis, and for many senior clerics, what matters is the conversion of the sinner. No matter what the consequences are for their victim or the institution. In real life with this approach is that you lose a hundred to save one, and even that is not guaranteed. Furthermore, forgiveness without repentance --despite being theologically dodgy--is just a license to sin.

Now I understand that media sensationalism is par for the course when it comes to reporting Church affairs but it was also media sensationalism that bought to light the years of sexual abuse that wasn't being dealt with. The line between merciful discretion and cover-up is one that can be mis-stepped, misused and misinterpreted quite easily. Some institutions need to be inherently transparent due to the nature of their mission. Opacity has not helped the Catholic Church.

Part of the reason I have not been writing as much over the past few years is that I've been trying to understand what has led to the current situation. And I'm of the opinion that Christian faith is seriously compromised by a malignant form of pseudo-Augustinianism that masquerades as orthodoxy and has gained ascendancy. Much like in Arian days, the senior clergy seem to have become infected by this heresy and it is the laity despite all their faults that are more legitimately orthodox.