Hugo Chavez, the populist leader and practical dictator of Venezuela who recently succumbed to death by cancer, is joining the ranks of the ersatz incorruptibles. He will receive the dubious honor of what the Huffington Post rather inartfully called the "'controversial embalmed corpses of leaders' club." It may be better to say that Chavez has received the dubious honor of being inducted into the "ape of the saints club." He is one of a long line of dictators that is a member of the simia sanctorum.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - There is a certain posthumous neurosis that tyrants or their followers seem to display, particularly those of a materialist, statist bent. During their lives, tyrants have defied God and deified themselves. Since God gives us freedom which we can abuse, we can defy him so long as we live. And naturally this includes the tyrant.
But none of us--even the tyrant--can defy death and judgment. "It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment." (Hebrews 9:27) This is an absolute law. It is the great equalizer. In death and judgment all of us stand equal before God.
Frequently, the tyrant goes beyond trying to defy God in this life. He even tries to defy death. Both defiances are equally in vain.
"I'm not dead, God is dead," the tyrant posthumously wants to say, though everyone that is grounded in reality knows that the opposite is the case: the tyrant is dead, and God lives.
The tyrant seeks to avoid the truth of Ash Wednesday: "Remember man, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return." (Gen. 3:19)
In a display of sheer vanity, in a desperate gamble to have embalming technology overcome reality, the modern tyrant--like the Pharaoh of old--seeks to hold himself out as exempt from the natural laws of corruption.
In short, modern tyrants frequently succumb to a desperate act of self-deification, self-canonization, self-justification, and self-incorruptibility.
While doing everything he can to preserve the body--"Yo no quiero morir, pro favor, no me dejen morir," "I don't want to die, please don't let me die," were reputedly Chavez's last words--the tyrant has forgotten he cannot do anything to preserve the soul. The soul is something he should have taken care of before his death.
The devil, they say, is the ape of God, simia Dei. One might say that the tyrant's effort to make himself incorrupt is an aping of sanctity. "You will not let your holy one undergo corruption," say the Scriptures (Acts 13:35; Psalm 16:10). The tyrant says: "I will not allow myself to undergo corruption."
We all know of saints who are incorruptible, such as St. Bernadette of Lourdes, St. John Vianney, and a host of others. While God, for his reasons, has made their bodies incorruptible by some miracle or prodigy, the tyrant, for his reasons, seeks to pretend himself incorruptible by trick.
The tyrant, through artificial means, seeks to ape the incorruptible, to ape the saint. In seeking to become incorruptible, the tyrant is a simia sancti, an ape of a saint.
Despite the superficial similarity of a preserved body between an incorruptible saint and an embalmed tyrant, there is a difference as vast as an infinite chasm, as vast as the great divorce between Hell and Heaven, between the soul of the tyrant and the soul of the saint.
All this is a predicate to the news that Hugo Chavez, the tyrannous leader of Venezuela who recently succumbed to death by cancer, is joining the ranks of the ersatz incorruptibles. He will receive the dubious honor of what the Huffington Post rather clumsily and infelicitously called the "'controversial embalmed corpses of leaders' club."
I would say that Chavez has received the dubious honor of being inducted into the "ape of the saints club." He is one of the elite group of dictators--those men for whom their God was power, and who view themselves as secular messiahs--that are members of the simia sanctorum club.
Other exclusive members of the simia sanctorum club include such notables as the former Soviet Union's Vladimir Lenin, China's Mao Tse Tung, the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, Czechoslovakia's Communist leader Gottwald, Argentina's Eva Perón, and North Korea's Kim I-sung and Kim Jong Il.
To get a better look at some of the members of the "ape of the saints" club, look here.
To get a better look at some of the saints that are really incorruptibles, look here.
In my view, this "ape of the saints" club is a club to avoid at any costs. Rather than the simia sanctorum club, we ought to strive to join the club of the communion of saints, the communio sanctorum.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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