Thursday, November 30, 2006


An essential quality in politics is integrity. Integrity is a consistency between the desires of one’s heart, thoughts, words, and deeds in the pursuit of the truth. Gerald Wegemer claims that Thomas More was the first to use the word integrity in the English Language. He also claims that he always practiced this virtue. He did so in revolutionary times, and he refused to take an oath recognizing the divorce and remarriage of the King of England.

A similar situation, as have been seeing, faced the citizens of France, and perhaps us as well though in more subtle ways, during the French Revolution.

As we saw yesterday, the Civil Constitution required the Bishops and priests of France to take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. All but four of the Bishops of France refused to take the oath. One Bishop, De Lomenie, took the oath in a way that he thought could please both sides. He would allow the new political regime to control the areas it desired and still keep alive the distribution of the sacraments. In essence, he said that he could take the oath, assenting to all of the political matters while in his heart making a mental reservation in all matters that touched on Church dogma.

Pius VI wrote a letter directly to De Lomenie, because he did not want silence to be percieved as assenting to this dangerous doctrine. He reminded De Lomenie that dissembling showed a lack of human integrity. Integrity is a consistency between the desires of one’s heart, thoughts, words, and deeds in the pursuit of the truth. When someone takes an oath in matters of the faith, there is special reason for complete consistency in these matters. Taking the oath the way that De Lomenie suggested with respect to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy would be a lack of integrity. Dissembling, throughout history, is a doctrine used by revolutionaries and subversives to spread confusion in society as to their true motives. It would only bring harm to those who did not dissemble and the dissemblers themselves over time.


Blogger MonkeyPML said...

It seems you've fleshed out a fuller answer to my question about where the line between being wise as a serpent and actually being the serpent might lie.

I gather from your posts that to live in the truth is to live freely, but not easily. All too often today, we equate freedom with cowardice, with spinelessness, with a prostitution of one's integrity. But, that is not freedom. Freedom is to be free from these vices that enslave us. Freedom is to be free from the 4th grade tendency that we all have to want to be the popular kid and not rock the boat (yes, I wonder if politicians are really nothing more than 4th graders running amock in our Nation's Capitol...)

So, can one be a politician in modern America and live in the truth? It seems our nation votes for cowards who are merely for sale (Indeed, our Capitol is a red light district of sorts). Nobility is an unknown word among our politicians. Honor is something that they smirk at cynically. So, perhaps one cannot be a truth-liver and a politician today.

But, that doesn't mean one should not try. If one is willing to accept the martyrdom of one's reputation, if one is willing to show the world what courage is while being willing to take more than a few hits, then maybe one can do it - for a time anyway.

Or, if one just happens to be fabulously rich such that one would not need to depend on lobby groups for campaign funding... then maybe one can "wisely" and truthfully navigate his way through the machine...

As a final random thought, I am wondering now if the real reason we are so fascinated by Thomas More is that he is such a curiosity to our modern experience, like some quaint 19th century trinket we've found in our attic...

11:46 AM  
Blogger Tortoise(notHare) said...

I am unaware that great wealth has greatly increased the "truthyness" of our politicians. Why even the official 911-telephone facts of the utterly rich Former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller's death-by-heart-attack-amid-adultery were slightly altered to make it seem he had not "died with his boots on."
Character is character. Perhaps the most wealthy man in American political life (ok, wealth by marriage, and that by inheritance from the wealthy first husband's family fortune) will smile his toothy grin as he recounts his days as an altar boy...but, of course, he dare not walk forward to receive Holy Communion in public any more.
That's just one example of many, far too many. Oddly enough the most important politician (God forgive me for calling him that but it is intended in the context of this discussion) was a young man, orphaned at 20, who was a common laborer, forced to work in a chemical plant by the Nazis and once left for dead by the side of the road when one of their trucks hit him, who studied in secret under the guns of the Nazis and then the Soviets, who fully completed all work for his first PhD in Philosophy in Rome but did not receive it because he lacked the money needed to bind his thesis, who was impoverished his entire life even though he was raised up to the office of our Holy Father. No, having the personal money to avoid PACs is no guarantee toward doing right.
Robert Bolt with historical accuracy as to St. Thomas More's position has put words in his mouth with the power and pith of art: "When a man takes an oath...he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water...and if he opens his fingers -- he needn't hope to find himself again." I believe that sums it up well. [It is worth noting that in a most practical way More was way ahead of his profession. He called for the unification of the Courts of Law and the Courts of Equity so that the Remedies of both would be fully available to the same Judge. In some parts of the US that was not done until 400 years after his martyrdom.]

1:29 PM  

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