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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

2/12/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Contrary, then, to the good citizen of Heraclitus, the Christian must often be found to fight against the law instead of on its behalf, if the law is unjust.  This is so, even if the unjust law is approved by a majority in a legitimate democratic process.  In such cases, Christians will be regarded "unreliable citizens from a democratic point of view," as John Paul II described it in his encyclical Centesimus Annus. They refuse to play by the democratic playbook, when the democratic playbook leads to bad laws.


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

2/12/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: politics, unjust law, catholic social doctrine, Heraclitus, Andrew M. Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Emphasizing the importance of law for the common good of the life of the Greek polis or city-state, the philosopher Heraclitus observed that the people should fight on behalf of the law as they would for their city wall.  (Fr. 44) 

This, of course, assumes the law actually advances or defends the common good.  What happens when the law itself is in breach of the common good?

According to the teaching of the Church--a teaching based upon the natural moral law--certain of our Nation's laws or of certain of this Nation's several states directly attack the common good. 

Examples of these laws include laws that protect artificial contraception or abortion as a civil right and even advance these intrinsic evils with public funds.  Some of our states, such as Oregon and Washington, allow for euthanasia or at least assisted suicide.  Other laws that fall into this category are those relating to same sex "marriage," such as we find in the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Maine, and Maryland. 

When laws such as these are passed and enforced, it places the Catholic citizen in a quandary.  In a manner of speaking, it is as if the law itself ostracizes him or her from the common life of the city.  When the law against the natural moral law protects vicious acts, rather than promoting virtuous acts, the Catholic citizen as well as other men and women of good will may find himself or herself outside the city gate, outside the city walls.

When confronting such intrinsically unjust laws, the Catholic citizen has no choice but to take up the cross and engage in political battle with his fellow citizens.  Jesus' injunction that anyone who does not take his cross and follow him is unworthy of him does not apply only to our private life, but it also includes our public persona.  (Matt. 10:38) 

There is no such thing as compartmentalization in the Catholic Christian life.  Catholics are not called to be quasi-disciples, but rather are called to be disciples in every part of their lives.  On matters that relate to intrinsic evils and the common good, there is no such thing as "I'm personally opposed to, but . . . ." 

To adopt that "I'm personally opposed to, but . . ." meme is an act of cowardice, a capitulation to secular liberal moral relativity.  It is equivalent to publicly saying about Jesus: "I do not know the man."  (Matt. 26:72)  It is a gallicantu politics, unworthy of the baptized.

To be sure, when Catholics challenge their fellow citizens regarding unjust laws, their response is not always pretty or pleasant.  The intolerance of the self-proclaimed "tolerant" liberal is notorious.  And the liberal intolerance seems to be increasing.

Catholics can therefore expect to suffer for their political witness.  Not only do they suffer under unjust laws, but they suffer from the fact that often the least of their brothers--the unborn, the elderly and the infirm--are being unjustly killed.  They also suffer from the verbal assaults of their intolerant secular liberal fellow citizens which come in all forms: political ostracization, public ridicule, unjust epithets, and legal burdens calculated to restrict our religious freedom.

I suppose the suffering from being outside the law ought not to be unexpected.  The Epistle to the Hebrews notes that Jesus--the Innocent One unjustly condemned to suffer and die a common criminal's death--suffered outside the city walls.  "Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood."  (Heb. 13:12)

As his disciples, we must not let Jesus suffer alone.  "Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore," continues the Epistle to the Hebrews. (Heb. 13:13)

Contrary, then, to the good citizen of Heraclitus, the Christian must often be found to fight against the law instead of on its behalf, if the law is unjust.  This is so, even if the unjust law is approved by a majority in a legitimate democratic process.  In such cases, Christians will be regarded "unreliable citizens from a democratic point of view," as John Paul II described it in his encyclical Centesimus Annus. They refuse to play by the democratic playbook, when the democratic playbook leads to bad laws.

Why will Catholics act in an anti-Heraclitean way and fight against the unjust law, even if passed by a majority of their fellow citizens?  Why are Catholics considered "unreliable citizens from a democratic point of view"?  Why are we sure to suffer the reproach of our fellow citizens as the laws become unjust?

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews answers that question also: "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come."  (Heb. 13:14)


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


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