Some thoughts from Saint Thomas Aquinas on politics.

I have to admit that I was quite surprised by the vitriol I heard when President Trump was acquitted by the Senate. After all, was there anyone who really believed that some other result was even possible?

And it came from all sides. Loyal Democrats were angry at what they perceived as obvious high crimes and misdemeanors. Loyal Republicans were angry that there was impeachment at all. People were angry at the media. People were sharing brutal tweets, memes, Facebook posts and more.

Why so much anger? While there has always been political disagreement, it has not felt in my lifetime that people have been so mad at each other.

Then there was the debacle that was the Iowa caucus. And while there was plenty to blame Iowa Democrats about, not the least of which is why a confusing caucus system in a mostly white state has such importance in the first place, there were Republicans calling in to jam phone lines to make it impossible to report results.

And it is not just in the United States. All across the globe there seems to be anger at the way things are. How did things go so wrong?

If I were to offer a suggestion about how we have arrived at this point, it would be this. We are here because we expect that politics will save us. But for people of faith, it can never be the case that politics can save us. We have a savior. And our savior is Jesus.

I cannot help but wonder if the decline in religious practice has us looking for another “church.”  We belong to tribes. We are either in this tribe, or that tribe, and the stakes for staying in one tribe are high. Agree totally with your tribe, or get out.

The great promise of the Internet was that it would create a level playing field where everyone could have an equal voice. Safe to say, that has not been the case. Rather than bring us together, the Internet has brought us apart. Rather than creating belonging, the Internet seems to have brought division.

I will say that the solution to this seems to be to seek out the purpose of politics in the first place. Maybe a brief cursory look at Saint Thomas Aquinas can help us to see the deep purpose of politics.

Now, to be clear, Saint Thomas Aquinas did not have a lot to say about politics, and much of what he did say was steeped in the works of Aristotle. But he did provide to significant contributions to the purpose of politics.

To understand this, we need to understand and accept that things exist for a reason. People exist for a reason. For humans, our reason to exist is the beatific vision. We are made for beatitude with God. The goal of our creation is to be in relationship with God forever.

This is an important point because of the second observation. When it comes to political discourse, then, we have to ask whether this political view or another leads us closer to fulfilling this end or purpose or not.

Now Aquinas would admit that not every aspect of politics is of absolute importance. Because we need to govern the living in community, we certainly need rules. We need to take positions and form opinions on a variety of topics. But, we also need to recognize that there are decisions of this nature that really do not matter one way or another.

It is also critical that we understand that it is possible to believe in God and become holy in any environment, in any political system, in any country or place. God is more powerful than even the most oppressive government, and because of what God can do, hope is possible in even the most desperate of situations.

Is it the case that Aquinas is suggesting, then, that politics do not matter at all, and that we should seek peace and harmony with each other at all cost? No. Of course not. Society, and the politics some as we seek to figure out how to live is made for a purpose as well.  What is that? Namely, the political realm at its best should make it possible for us to live out fully our relationship in God in a way that helps each of us get those natural things we deserve.

This is not limited to individuals, but is the goal for all. In making laws, there is a type of covenant that binds both government and citizens to do what each can to serve common good of all people.

Such an understanding brings us, I think, to a very direct question: do we trust in politics or our political systems, or do we trust in God, seeking to discern God’s call so that we can experience beatitude (the vision of God) both in this life and the next.

The difference is powerful, and to some degree I think it is why things are playing out the way that they are. If our hope is placed only on this world, and our trust is only in ourselves to both do the good and to convince others to do the same, we are doomed to failure.

But if our focus in on God, on our call from him to live with him forever, and a call that is dependent upon our ability to answer yes by serving our brothers and sisters, then we can thrive, even if we do not get our own way politically.

So then, both in civil affairs and in spiritual ones, we are placed into communities. The spiritual community, the Church, provides for us divine revelation, the direct speaking by God to his people. The goal of the spiritual community is eternal life.

But, the civil community has a role as well. It should so order temporal affairs in such a way as to make us ready for this eternal life. In writing about the other community, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy articulates the special role of the Church, or the spiritual community:

The function of this other community is to transmit the divine promise or offer of eternal life, and to help people help each other, through their own individual free choices, to become ready for that life.

So as we see in the quote above, how we choose to be and act in this life has a direct impact on the next. There are certain actions that help us to be more ready for the next life. What would happen if we followed this understanding more fully?

I think we reflect more on our own beliefs, and listen more to the beliefs of others. In think we would be able to talk without insulting each other and would strive to help people to see the importance of their overall goal, end, or purpose.  It seems in such a system, the common good would be paramount, and each would be provided all they need to thrive.

And so it is important for each one of us to recognize the clarion call from Matthew 25, to care for every person as they are Jesus. This prepares us for our eternal home, a dwelling place in heaven, made for us from the beginning of time.

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