Thursday, June 05, 2008

Join me now for 'Nonsense on stilts,' or 'Let's slander the Domincans!'

Hail, O Reproof of foolish philosophers! ~Akathist Hymn to the Virgin Mary

In which we examine the following article:

"The Death of Conscience," by Shadia B. Drury.

Article © either its author or the Council for Secular Humanism, quoted under fair use for purposes of review and critique.

It would seem that: "In 1232, Pope Gregory IX established a system of 'legal' investigations to stamp out heresy. The Dominicans (Domini Canes, or Hounds of the Lord) were granted the exclusive 'privilege' of conducting the Inquisition."

Sed contra: The scare quotes around the word "legal" are not an argument. Rather, they are a piece of empty rhetoric. And Pope Gregory actually had the authority to establish the system he so established.

Moreover, to say that the name "Dominicans" (Latin, "Dominicani") literally means "Hounds of the Lord" (Latin, "Domini Canes") is an error. The history of calling the Dominicans the Hounds of the Lord is more complicated. To wit:

St. Dominic founded the Order of Friars Preachers (Latin, "Ordo Fratrum Praedicatorum") or, more simply, the Order of Preachers (Latin "Ordo Praedicatorum"). This is why Dominican religious have the abbreviation "O.P." after their names. The order was and is commonly referred to as the Dominican Order, or simply the Dominicans, after their founder.

Now, St. Dominic was a faithful son of the Church who preached against heresy, converting and returning many souls to the Church. His order took after his example, thus becoming known for their excellent preaching and learning, as well as their orthodoxy and faithfulness to the Church. Since they were faithful to the Church, as a good dog is faithful to its master, a pun was made out of the name they were commonly called, viz. "Dominicani." E.g.: "Dominicani? Domini Canes! Hahahahaha!!"

However the story behind the pun is yet more complicated. For St. Dominic's mother, Blessed Joan, experienced a vision while pregnant with him. In this vision she saw a faithful dog who lit the world afire with a torch in his mouth. From which she realized that her son would be a faithful son of the Church who would set the word afire with his preaching. And so she named him Dominic. From which follows his order being commonly referred to as the Dominicans. From which we get the pun on the Latin for "Hounds of the Lord." So it is difficult to say whether the pun came about due to Blessed Joan's vision, or whether it simply developed from the name, and was thus only founded in the vision because it was from the vision that St. Dominic, and thus his order, was named.

If, however, you do not believe the story of Blessed Joan's vision, then you have no ground for saying that the name of the order is in any way derived from the Latin "Domini Canes" as the article does.

It would seem that: "If you heard a knock on your door in the middle of the night and you opened it to find a Dominican friar, the chief of police, and a few armed guards, then you were doomed."

Sed contra: I suppose this may have happened, somewhere, at some point, maybe. But I once read a medievalist who said that, for most people, the Inquisition coming to town meant a Dominican would preach a sermon against heresy and settle down to hear confessions. Hardly the same as the Gestapo or a Stalinist purge.

It would seem that: "When the Inquisitors arrived in a town, the local people were given a period of time to confess or inform on their neighbors. The informers were assured total anonymity. This presented a golden opportunity for grudge informers, scoundrels, and villains of every stripe.... Witnesses for the defense were prohibited; only witnesses for the prosecution were allowed. You could not have legal representation. You had no right to ask what the charge was and no opportunity to discover the identity of your accusers."

Sed contra: The attempt to judge the Inquisition by the rules of modern liberal jurisprudence is invalid, since modern liberal jurisprudence is not the only way to to have a just trial. It is true that one did not get to know the identity of one's accusers. It is equally true that the testimony of anyone the accused named as an enemy was thrown out, and that it took more than one accusation to bring a person to trial. This could be considered in some ways superior to modern liberal jurisprudence, in which an enemy of the accused could give testimony against them, and whether or not they were lying would have to be determined by the judge or jury based upon the demeanor of the witness and the examination skills of the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

It would seem that: "Hooded Dominicans were prosecutors, judge, and jury."

Sed contra: As opposed to hooded Franciscans or hooded Benedictines? The hood is a standard part of the religious habit of many orders of monks and friars. Mentioning it to make the friars seem like scary, scary men is an empty bit of rhetoric.

Moreover, there is nothing necessarily unjust about these men all being from the same order. Today many prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges have attended the same law schools, worked together at some time or another, are friendly in their off hours &c. This does not necessarily make them unable to do their job without conspiring together.

It would seem that: "If you did not confess at first, you were tortured. If the torture did not make you confess, you were deemed to have the assistance of the Devil—and that was also proof of your guilt."

Sed contra: I am certain that this--i.e. guilty if you confessed, guilty if you didn't--is a malicious falsehood. If it is true I will need more evidence than the word of an obviously hostile opponent. In an Inquisitorial court, the author could have been named as an enemy and her testimony would be thrown out. So I suppose an Inquisitorial court had higher standards of justice than the court of public opinion or the editors of the Council for Secular Humanism's website.

On torture: I am opposed to torture. I reject the current policy of the U.S. government towards water-boarding &c. That said, it seems that for the sake of moral clarity a proper definition of torture is needed.

Now, most people agree that there is a difference between performing the physical action of water-boarding on a willing trainee, who placed himself in the care of the instructors who are going to perform the physical actions on him, and performing the physical action of water-boarding on a prisoner who has done no such thing. It must be kept in mind that the object of an act must be considered from the point of view of the agent. Also keep in mind that certain relationships between people are not simply circumstances, but are part of the object of the act. An example that should be obvious to my fellow Catholics: If a man has sex with his betrothed on the night before the wedding, they have committed an objectively evil act of fornication. If he has sex with his wife the night after the wedding, they have committed an objectively good act of marital love. Yet the only thing that has changed is the relationship that exists between them. Thus at least some relationships affect the objects of human actions.

Now, keeping that in mind, I have defined torture as such: Torture is any act that causes pain to the subject of the action where no relationship exists between the agent and the subject that would guaranty the subject protection from per se harm.

Now, assuming that my definition is adequate, the question before us is this: "Do the physical interrogation techniques applied by the Inquisition count as torture?" I will be honest in saying that I do not know for certain. They might have at some time or for some people and not at other times for other people. I will, however, note that many criminals being held by the secular courts would openly blaspheme and make heretical statements with the hope of being transferred to the Inquisitorial courts. This is because the Inquisition, unlike the secular courts, had a strict limit on the amount of physical interrogation that could be applied at any one time, as well as the number of times it could be applied. Whether or not this meets the criteria of "a relationship that exists between the agent and the subject that guaranties the subject protection from per se harm" is something I will have to think about.

It would seem that: "If you were obstinate, your children could be tortured until they became witnesses against you."

Sed contra: Again, I will need more evidence than the word of an obviously hostile witness with an ax to grind before I believe this.

It would seem that: "In 1252, Pope Innocent IV made torture an official policy of the Catholic Church in his bull, 'Ad extirpanda.'"

Sed contra: This bull also limited its use. And, for reasons stated above, it is possible that the physical interrogation techniques used did not count as torture per se.

It would seem that: "The Inquisitors were allowed to torture boys of fourteen and girls of twelve years of age."

Sed contra: Assuming this is true, one must note the fact that said boys and girls were well on their way to being considered adults at the time, if they weren't considered so already. They had adult responsibilities. They were capable of bearing children and were thus capable of marriage (Cf. Summa theologiae, Suppl., q. 58, a. 5c). The fact that in the modern world people of such ages are so immature as to be considered children does not make it so for all times and all places.

It would seem that: "The Hounds of the Lord were so totally shameless that they saw no reason to conceal their crimes. They were doing the work of God and 'his Holiness.' As a result, 'trials' and burnings were done in broad daylight."

Sed contra: This is just foolish. The scare quotes around the word "trial" are another piece of empty rhetoric. As for having public trials, many trials are public even today. The complaint that executions were public ignores the fact that most all execution were public in those days. And I can think of no reason why public executions should be considered objectively immoral. That they offend modern liberal sensibilities isn't enough.

It would seem that: "Not surprisingly, the Dominicans were reviled by ordinary people whose consciences were not destroyed by the propaganda of the Catholic Church. In 1253, one of the pope’s Inquisitors was torn to pieces by a mob in northern Italy. One year after his death, the victim was canonized as St. Peter of Verona."

Sed contra: St. Peter of Verona was not killed by a mob. He was killed by assassins hired by Cathars who were angered by the effectiveness of his preaching. His assassin later converted to the Catholic faith and became a Dominican himself.

It would seem that: "Thomas Aquinas was fully aware of the hostility of the people toward his fellow Dominicans. When Aquinas arrived in Paris in 1245, the friars could hardly venture out of their monastery for fear of insults and assault. The royal troops of King Louis IX (St. Louis) had to guard the monastery at St. Jacques, where Aquinas was staying."

Sed contra: I can find no information about supposed fear of attacks or the need for King St. Louis IX to provide troops to protect the friars. I have read nothing about this in any of the many biographical studies on St. Thomas that I have read. But assuming it is true, hostility in Paris had little or nothing to do with the Inquisition. The secular masters of Art and Theology at the University of Paris were hostile to both the Dominicans and the Franciscans both because the mendicant orders were new and different and, more importantly, because the members of said orders were simply better at reasoning and argument than the secular masters were. It was a matter of the distrust of the new mixed with professional jealousy. See St. Thomas' defense of the rule of his order and its comparison to other ways of life in Summa theologiae, II-II, qq. 179-89.

It would seem that: "Nevertheless, Aquinas was a vociferous defender of the Inquisition. He thought that it was absolutely necessary and that its activities were morally right. He compared heretics with germs that infect the community of the faithful and threaten their salvation. He quoted St. Paul, saying, 'Know you not that a little leaven corrupts the whole lump?' He did not think that it was enough to kick the heretics out of the Church. He insisted that they must be 'severed from the world by death' (Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 11, A. 3). He quotes Saint Jerome: 'Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die.'"

Sed contra: I do not deny that he said this, I simply deny that it is objectively evil or unjust. Moreover, this quote is pertinent, and yet skipped for some reason:
On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.
I will note two things: first, death was not the punishment for heretics who did not prove themselves to pernicious and unrepentant. Second, the penalty leveled by the Inquisition was not death, but rather excommunication. It was the a "secular tribunal," i.e. the state, that executed the heretic. But read the treatment in Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 11, a. 3 for yourself.

If one wants to argue that this is a distinction without a difference, since the state and the Church were one in the Middle Ages, I can only reply that such a remark can only be made by some one who is almost completely ignorant of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages had plenty of strife between the authority of Church and state over any number of things. See, for example, the Investiture Controversy.

Moreover, the state punished heresy as it punished any other act of minor treason. Major treason was a direct attack on the authority of the state. Minor treason was an indirect attack on the authority of the state, viz. an attack on another authoritative institution, which was considered to encourage lack of respect for any authority whatsoever. For example, killing the head of one's household was an act of minor treason because it was an attack on the authority of the family and the household.

It would seem that: "Aquinas lost sight of the fact that the heretics were innocent people who were good neighbors and law-abiding citizens."

Sed contra: False. Heresy was a minor treason against the commonweal, since it endangered the souls of citizens and the stability of society. Unrepentant, pernicious heretics were and are worse than murderers, since a murderer can only kill what is lesser and passive in man, i.e. his body, which will be restored to him on the day of the resurrection anyway. A heretic kills what is higher and active in man, i.e. his soul, which once lost will never be restored. If lawful authority can justly execute a murderer, it can certainly justly execute a heretic.

It would seem that: "They harmed no one, were pale with fasting, had an intimate knowledge of the Bible, and were often better Christians than the pope."

Sed contra: This is a false picture of the Cathars. They were not modern day hippies or liberals. Even assuming that the truth of the matter falls somewhere in between statements like this and some of the more strident Catholic descriptions, the truth of the matter is that Cathar doctrine, in itself, was a danger to the state, especially their doctrine of cult suicide.

Moreover, the Cathars can in no way be considered "better Christians than the pope." Cathars were dualists, and as such were not only heretics but also apostates and non-Christians. Christianity is, by definition, non-dualist.

It would seem that: "In defending the Inquisition, Aquinas was defending the killing of innocents—with a clear conscience."

Sed contra: Heretics are not innocent, as was demonstrated above. Moreover, the Inquisition was not the body that executed heretics, as was also stated above. This statement is thus incorrect on at least two points.

It would seem that: "Catholic apologists shrug off the Inquisition by saying that every age has its atrocities."

Sed contra: I refuse to shrug it off. I believe that in general the Inquisition was just. That there were particular instances of injustice no more makes the Inquisition illegitimate than particular injustices in the U.S. legal system make it illegitimate.

It would seem that: "Every age does indeed have its atrocities, but no other age was blessed with a philosopher who was morally blind enough to defend its crimes."

Sed contra: Carl Schmitt.

It would seem that: "The moral blindness of Aquinas and his fellow Inquisitors transcends the callousness of the most spectacular secular criminals."

Sed contra: This is so utterly and obviously false that one cannot find the words to respond.

It would seem that: "Unlike Aquinas and his fellow Dominican Inquisitors, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), the leader of the Russian Revolution, retained his moral sensibilities and did not display the same callous disregard for the killing of the innocent. Unlike Aquinas and the Catholic Church, Lenin recognized his actions as crimes; he had to make a conscious effort to harden his heart so he could carry them out.... He had no illusions about the wicked means involved in his project of world transformation. He recognized his crimes for what they were."

Sed contra: Putting aside the fact that St. Thomas' moral sensibilities were not only retained but correct, this is still an unbelievable statement. The idea that one who knowingly does evil is in any way the moral superior of one who does evil unknowingly strikes me as completely repugnant. The latter is mistaken, and so can possibly be argued out of his actions and lead towards virtue. The former has knowingly confirmed himself in vice by his own choices.

It would seem that: "Lenin loved listening to Beethoven’s Appassionata, but he did not allow himself this pleasure too often because the beauty of the music made him feel like patting everyone’s head."

Sed contra: And St. Thomas composed some of the most beautiful Catholic hymns ever when he composed the hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi. How is this at all relevant? Empty rhetoric again.

I am going to skip the next two paragraphs, as they argue that the Dominicans were also worse than the Nazis. I will simply note that the Nazi and Communist regimes, if we add up the people killed in the concentration camps, the people who died in the gulags, the people who were starved to death by engineered famine, the people who disappeared down the memory hole of Communist purges &c., then we have more people killed by secular regimes in the twentieth century than have ever been killed by Christians in the entire 2000 year history of Christianity. Thus to say, "in lethal doses, religion creates ogres that are greater than either Lenin or Himmler," is obviously false.

It would seem that: "Like the Islamic jihadists of our time, the Inquisitors were as self-righteous as they were callous and insensible. This leads me to conclude that in lethal doses, religion creates ogres that are greater than either Lenin or Himmler. It causes irreparable damage to the rational faculty and leads to the total death of conscience and the horrors it implies."

Sed contra: First, since St. Thomas' judgments were correct, as demonstrated above, his rational faculties were obviously working properly. Second, I deny that one can lay blame on the category of religion as a whole for the acts of a particular religion. The actions of jihadis are of an entirely different species than the actions of the Inquisition, most obviously because the latter were, in general, just while the former are not.

It would seem that: "When coupled with the powers of modern technology, the death of conscience is a menace that we cannot afford to ignore in this age of religious revival."

Sed contra: I agree completely with the sentiment that the death of conscience, when coupled with modern technology, is a menace that cannot be ignored. But said menace comes from both jihadis--with there terrorism--and secularist--with their false beliefs in "personal autonomy" that allow and encourage abominations such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, homosexual "marriage" &c.--not religion qua religion.


Tom McDonald said...

Make sure she see this. Here is her email address:

Such ridiculous errors and lies by an alleged academic cannot go unchallenged. I thank you for doing such a good job.

Ron Van Wegen said...

Like fresh air. Thank you. I needed that. I'll be back.

P.S. I hate captchas. Do you really need them?

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Thank you for your deconstruction of Drury's tendentious post.

You may be interested in this thread on James Hannam's Bulletin Board.

Hannam is a medieval scholar with an interest in the rise of science. He confirms your intuition that Aquinas needed protection from other professors who objected to the mendicant orders teaching at Paris, not from the common people.