Brief and Fundamental Principles

A favorite book of mine is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. In Book 4, Sec. 3 of the book he says, “Let your principles be brief and fundamental.” In  Book 3, he says, “[S]o do thou have principles ready for the understanding of things divine and human, and for doing everything, even the smallest…” I find his advice helpful. It’s good to have “brief and fundamental principles” to guide you through the multitude of decisions you have to make in life. Here are a few “brief and fundamental principles” that have helped me a lot:

1. Small is beautiful. (E. F. Schumacher)

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify! (Henry David Thoreau)

3. Seek not great things for yourself. (Jeremiah 45:5)

4. Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

5. Love to be unknown and esteemed as nothing.  (Thomas a Kempis)

6. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. (1 John 2:15)

7. Be contented. (Heb. 13:5)

8. Be strong and of a good courage (Joshua 1:9)


Theology, Hermeneutics and Capital Punishment

I just discovered an argument in Kaiser and Silva’s An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics in favor of the view that the Old Testament teaching on the death penalty is of permanent relevance:

“If the reason for a questioned practice or command has its basis in the unchanging nature of God, then that practice or command will have permanent relevance for all in all times. For example, Genesis 9:6 commands that all who shed a person’s blood, by deliberately lying in wait for them with premeditation, must suffer capital punishment. The reason given is fixed in the nature and character of God: ‘because God made man in his own image.’ Consequently, as long as men and women are still in the image of God, they continue to have worth, value and esteem in the eyes of God.

“But what about the sanction of capital punishment? Is that punishment necessarily mandated even for our day just because we agree on the abiding nature of the reason given for the prohibition against taking another person’s life? The force of this moral and theological reason cannot be appreciated until we notice how closely the penalty is linked with the abiding theology of the text of Gen. 9:6. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man [presumably, as later specified, by the hands of the state] shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man.’ So valuable is that murdered person’s life that mortals (in this case, the state, to protect society against vigilantes) owe back to God the life of the murderer. This is how the reason for a command or custom helps us to know if both the cultural form and the content are still in vogue.”

– Kaiser and Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics (OMF Literature 1998) p. 185

Interestingly enough, the reason for prohibiting a person from taking away another person’s life is the same reason that justifies the State in taking away the life of a murderer, namely, that human beings are created in the image of God.

More interesting is the fact that just a page back in the very same book Kaiser takes the view that certain penalties (capital punishment included), even if founded on an “unyielding theological principle” are subject to modification, presumably because the application of such penalty to a specific situation is culturally relative: “[T]he principle stood even though the cultural application varied.” I quote the pertinent passage in full:

We may retain the theology of a passage (i.e., the principle) but replace the behavioral expression with some more recent, but equally meaningful, expression. That there are biblical precedents for such replacements can be seen from the way that the so-called civil and ceremonial law of Moses functions as illustrations of the abiding moral law of God. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5 the principle of the sanctity of marriage and human sexuality remained, even though the sanction of stoning to death had been changed for the mother and son guilty of incest to excommunication from the body of believers. Behind the moral law of God (as found, for example, in the Ten Commandments and the law of holiness in Leviticus 18-20) stood God’s holy character. That is what made the theological principle unyielding; the sanctions, or penalties, however, were subject to modification. Thus behind both the Old Testament and the New Testament rule against incest stood on the holy character of God and the sanctity of marriage; the principle stood even though the cultural application varied.” [Italics in the original]

On the one hand, I seem to hear Kaiser as saying that capital punishment is an obligation the state owes to God – an obligation which is presumably of abiding value because it springs from a principle of abiding value, i.e., the fact that human beings are created in the image of God. On the other hand, in certain cases, this obligation of abiding value is subject to modification; for example, most people in our culture would consider it barbaric for the State to put to death (whether by stoning or lethal injection is beside the point) those who are guilty of adultery or incest. Is there a contradiction here, or am I missing something?

In fairness to Kaiser, the circumstances in relation to which Kaiser believes capital punishment may be modified involve human sexuality and the sanctity of marriage, not murder. That might account for the difference. Another factor may be the fact that the principle underlying the application of capital punishment in the OT, in cases of human sexuality and marriage, is the holiness of God, not the creation of man in God’s image. Thus, it is not absolutely necessary that capital punishment be always applied in order to emphasize God’s holy character. Other means will suffice. But in the case of murder (and other crimes analogous in principle to murder), even if we were to allow for certain exceptions, the application of capital punishment, as an obligation owed by the State to God, may be inescapable.


So sorry for having abandoned this blog for almost a couple of months. I simply lost interest in it. I also got sucked into a whirlpool of work, including teaching a summer course in constitutional law and working for a new client (a foreign firm) that really excited me because it presented new challenges and gave me a chance to really stretch my potential as far as law practice is concerned. But things are once again slowing down to a peaceful halt: summer class is over, and I have time to read again. And read I did! I finally finished Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (part 2), Alister Mcgrath's Twilight of Atheism and Van Til's Christian Apologetics. By tomorrow I think I'll be able to finish Justice O'Connor's The Majesty of the Law. Hopefully I'll be able to blog regularly again…

A Worthy Cause

"To hear the voice of God in Holy Scripture oneself, and to help others to hear it, is a worthy cause to which to devote one's resources; to be commissioned to devote them to this cause is a sacred trust, not to be undertaken lightly, not to to be refused irresponsibly, but to be fulfilled thankfully."

— F.F. Bruce, In Retrospect, (Baker, Posthumous Edition) p. 312

Piper on First Things First

“O Father, grant your church to love your glory more than gold – to cease her love affair with comfort and security. Grant that we seek the kingdom first and let other things come as you will. Grant that we move toward need and not toward ease. Grant that the firm finality of our security in Christ free us to risk our homes and health and money on the earth. Help us to see that if we try to guard our wealth, instead of using it to show it’s not our god, then we will waste our lives, however we succeed.”

John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Lighthouse Books, 2005) p. 188

C.S. Lewis on First Things First

Over at First Things I found this great C.S. Lewis quote:

To sacrifice the greater good for the less and then not to get the lesser good after all–that is the surprising folly. . . Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got his pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”

First things first! Do that and you get everything else; don’t, and you lose everything. But C.S. Lewis was merely echoing the Master’s teaching: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

C.S. Lewis Audio

I'm a big fan of C.S. Lewis. The first book I ever read of his was The Screwtape Letters. I was then too young to really understand what it was all about. Later I began collecting all the C.S. Lewis books I could find, including biographies. Recently, I read his sermon "Learning in Wartime" in The Essential C.S. Lewis, which includes the famous quote,

"Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."

Christianity Today has an article entitled "What C.S. Lewis Sounded Like", which includes links to recordings of some C.S. Lewis' talks. Click here if you're interested.

PP 1017 is Partly Constitutional.

In a previous post I predicted that the Supreme Court would probably declare Proclamation No. 1017 constitutional: “On its face the document appears sound and probably will survive a constitutional challenge.” It turned out I was correct – well, almost. In Randolf David, et al. v. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, et al. (G.R. No. 171396) the Supreme Court held:

PP 1017 is CONSTITUTIONAL insofar as it constitutes a call by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the AFP to prevent or suppress lawless violence. However, the provisions of PP 1017 commanding the AFP to enforce laws not related to lawless violence, as well as decrees promulgated by the President, are declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL. In addition, the provision in PP 1017 declaring national emergency under Section 17, Article VII of the Constitution is CONSTITUTIONAL, but such declaration does not authorize the President to take over privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest without prior legislation.

Previously, I wrote, “On my part I don’t read the constitution as requiring the president to proclaim martial law in cases of rebellion and invasion before she can call out the armed forces. The way I see it it’s optional on the part of the President to proclaim martial law in cases of rebellion and invasion. The Constitution simply says that if she thinks it necessary she can call out the armed forces in cases of lawless violence, rebellion and invasion, with or without proclaiming martial law. That’s her choice and she has a constitutional right to it.” That’s not exactly how the Supreme Court ruled but at least it did say that PP 1017 is not a declaration of martial law:

Some of the petitioners vehemently maintain that PP 1017 is actually a declaration of Martial Law.  It is no so.  What defines the character of PP 1017 are its wordings.  It is plain therein that what the President invoked was her calling-out power … Based on the above disquisition, it is clear that PP 1017 is not a declaration of Martial Law. It is merely an exercise of President Arroyo’s calling-out power for the armed forces to assist her in preventing or suppressing lawless violence.

In a TV interview I opined that if there is anything unconstitutional in PP 1017 it will have to be that part that talks about enforcing “obedience to all the laws and to all decrees, orders and regulations promulgated by me [i.e., the President] personally or upon my direction…” I thought this was too vague and could lead to abuse. It turns out my suspicions were more or less right on target. The Supreme Court ruled that –

… the assailed PP 1017 is unconstitutional insofar as it grants President Arroyo the authority to promulgate “decrees”. Legislative power is peculiarly within the province of the Legislature.  Section 1, Article VI categorically states that “[t]he legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.”  To be sure, neither Martial Law nor a state of rebellion nor a state of emergency can justify President Arroyo’s exercise of legislative power by issuing decrees.

Of course, PP 1017 is open to abuse by those who invoke its authority. But the fault then lies with those who seek to implement it in a way not countenanced by the words of the proclamation itself. The Supreme Court held –

Settled is the rule that courts are not at liberty to declare statutes invalid although they may be abused and misabused[135] and may afford an opportunity for abuse in the manner of application.[136]  The validity of a statute or ordinance is to be determined from its general purpose and its efficiency to accomplish the end desired, not from its effects in a particular case.[137]  PP 1017 is merely an invocation of the President’s calling-out power.  Its general purpose is to command the AFP to suppress all forms of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.   It had accomplished the end desired which prompted President Arroyo to issue PP 1021.  But there is nothing in PP 1017 allowing the police, expressly or impliedly, to conduct illegal arrest, search or violate the citizens’ constitutional rights.

I am glad that this one is more or less behind us (although the country will be debating this for weeks until the next issue comes along, and although the decision is technically not yet final). I think the Supreme Court did a fine job balancing the interests of liberty (“without which, law becomes tyranny”) and the interests of law (“without which, liberty becomes license”). I was pleasantly surprised by the discussion in the decision of several political theorists on the power of the President in times of emergency: John Locke, Rousseau, Machiavelli, John Stuart Mill. For that alone it deserves to be printed out even if it means more than 70 pages of bond paper! Although a number of people won’t be happy with this decision, I for one found it very educational. Next week I’ll be lecturing on the powers of the president in my constitutional law class and of course PP 1017 will be the highlight. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion.