Political purposes

“By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

Jesus was something of an “aggie,” and this is one of his farming metaphors, keyed to conditions in the Palestine of His ministry, but easily understood anywhere else that botany is experienced. On the surface, rather, it is easy to understand; but then it goes deeper. That He meant it to be read “both ways” — as both piety and doctrine — is clinched within the Sermon on the Mount, where He repeats the phrase and now adds that not everyone who saith “Lord” to Him will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only those who have done the will of the Father.

“Thy will be done,” is perhaps the most aggressive phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. “On earth as it is in heaven.” As one of the Scotch genetic persuasion, a people of the thistle, I like sometimes to pronounce it in a Scottish brogue. The Calvinists and Catholics of those Highlands and Islands shared in that Gaelic brogue: the sense that some things need doing; or even that they cannot be put off. They may not have got “which things need doing” always right, however.

In the East, John Chrysostom took the view that the “fruits” were piety. Don’t listen to a man who speaks pretty, but is living an ugly life. In the West, Augustine of Hippo thought the fruits more doctrinal. If what the man prettily speaks is not in accord with Christ’s teaching, it is wrong and pay no attention to him. I have oversimplified both views. Both are right, and there is plenty more meaning, that tends to surface on unexpected occasions, when in my experience both propositions are engaged. The man lives an ugly life; he speaks pretty, but it is not what anyone could reasonably call, “orthodox.”

And contrary to the currently received view, there is seldom any subtlety in it. The man makes the fact he is a blackguard dead obvious to those with eyes and ears. Each failing points to the other, and the first observed perversion hints at many more. I am (or, we are) left with no excuse for being seduced by yet another false prophet.

No names here, since I am actually trying not to be invidious. Not even the names of politicians, who are right out there in the public eye and, as it were, asking for judgement; many come to mind. Gentle reader will anyway have an idea, to what kind of “Pharisees” Christ was referring.

That we should avoid eating thorns and thistles, I take as generally accepted. The knowledge is likely to be recovered, if lost. Grapes and figs taste considerably better, and are easier to swallow and digest. But as the adage was metaphorical, I will further take it that the question of digestion is cast very large. In reflecting upon the charismatic politician and his message one must ask, not him but oneself: How does this sit with me? What do I think of this man who presents himself as some kind of prophet, or guide, demanding my support for his mission? Why should I believe anything he says? Why should I trust this keeper with my freedom?

And perhaps he cannot be stopped; but as I pleaded yesterday, the world is as it is. The trick for a person who takes responsibility, is to reduce himself to an accountable minority of one. (Accountable to Whom? one might ask. Question answered by the cap.) It may be up to one’s enemies to decide what will be done with you, if you are in their way when they get power. But it is also up to God, what will be done with those enemies, in the fullness of time, and beyond it. One hardly wants to get in His way.

We only strive down here; we never achieve anything. For there is nothing we do here that will not be washed away in the same temporal medium. The striving, as we know from Christ, directly if we are listening, is to holiness and salvation before all other things — but this in turn requires an “attitude” to neighbours as well as to Our Lord.

It is conventional, for politicians upon winning elections, to declare that they are “humbled” by the experience. There you see a fruit.

No one who felt genuinely humbled would say this. He might show it, quite subtly perhaps, in how he behaved; it does not and cannot go into words, without becoming boastful. I use this example with something approaching warmth, for I have developed an allergy or aversion — a rash of the sort that comes from passing through brambles — when men in public positions make a show of their “humility.” It is invariably pharisaic; it is a warning that one is dealing with profound arrogance, and a vanity that is out of control. He speaks with crowds, but cannot keep his virtue.

“Democracy” encourages almost every vice — using the word in its broadest modern sense, which includes a certain notion of “freedom” from the restraints of ancient law. It associates the public good with visible public “achievements” — which I will take in the heraldic sense, of full display: crest, torse, mantling, helm, coronet, supporters; motto and badge.

Yet every good thing I have ever seen done in politics, was achieved quietly, and I think invariably by a man or woman who was not seeking credit for the act. This happens. Good things happen, as well as bad. Indeed: it is amazing what can be accomplished, even in politics, by the person who does not seek the credit, but wills the good end for itself. This is genuine humility.

With it goes a frankly mediaeval judgement of what politics are for. They are to accommodate the citizen, in his divine calling, whatever that may be, for the callings are as various as the people. It is, at the minimum, to avoid hindering him, in doing what is right, good, beautiful and salvific.

But that requires some judgement in turn, of what a divine calling might be; and genuine humility in the practice and presence of Our Lord to see it clearly. One must, as my father used to put it, “Go with God,” and as I would add, by the Light that God has given.