We are meditating on the historical event that occurred on January 6, the day of epiphany or showing/manifestation in the Christian tradition. Indeed that day there was a great showing—of a shadow of America—on January 6, the naked manifestation of an unleashed patriarchy that invaded and desecrated the Capitol, the national symbol of American democracy.
Aquinas says that envy plays a big role in the work of a tyrant who is suspicious of any dignity that others may possess that will prejudice his own iniquitous domination. (Notice the role that domination plays in Aquinas’s analysis—a naming of what lies at the heart of patriarchy.)
Aquinas offers this stunning observation: A tyrant is more fearful of good persons than of bad persons, for he dreads their strange virtue.Virtue, to a tyrant, is something strange, something foreign. They don’t know anything about virtues—about telling the truth or treating others with respect, etc., for their whole world is one of self and ego and power—getting it and securing it and not lettingit go. Control and domination, are the gods of tyrants. Not goodness, becoming good or serving the common good. Power is their good and their god. Virtue that serves a greater good is “strange.”
Tyrants are bullies who envy good people. Eckhart says that a “good person praises good people”–but it is the opposite with tyrants. Often content surrounding themselves with bad people, they are afraid of good people. They are perplexed by virtuous people (at Arlington cemetery, Trump remarked that he did not understand why people would sacrifice their life for the country).
Aquinas says that evil persons are incapable of magnanimity. A “great soul,” one serves others and can forgive others, is foreign to a tyrant bent on his own power as a singular goal in life.
Compassion, like justice, is beyond a tyrant. Thus the fact that Trump cheered on the violence of January 6 and was unbothered by what resulted in the murders of seven people and brought trauma to hundreds of law makers and his vice president, makes sense in the context of what a tyrant is about. All can be sacrificed for one goal, the tyrant’s advancement.
A tyrant fears the courage (and virtue) of others. Fearful lest they grow strong and so stout of heart as no longer to brook his wicked despotism, but resolve in companionship to enjoy the fruits of peace, a tyrant is constrained to destroy good people’s confidence in one another, lest they band together to throw off his yoke. Therefore he sows discord among them, and encourages dissensions and litigation. Peace is not part of a tyrant’s agenda.
A tyrant “sows discords” and tries to create a divide and conquer scenario. Too much unity or community is seen as a threat to one-man rule. Aquinas explains why tyrants don’t want to make peace but turmoil. They do this by destroying trust which is so foundational to community.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 417f.
Do you agree that “strange virtue” can confuse and put off those with evil agendas? How do we best resist the “sowing of discord” among us?
Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him. He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French). He gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way.
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake