Wednesday 20 May 2020

Do We Take Our Passports?

Good morning! It is a beautiful day, promising to remain fair and to become warm. There are no snails menacing my lettuce and radishes, and my repotted courgette has survived the night. So far so good.

This morning I applied myself to Chapter 7 of Fr. Crean's and Dr. Fimister's Integralism. It is entitled "Law," and although some of is great fun, some of it is heavy going. Here is the sentence upon which I almost foundered:

"Government being natural rather than conventional, the temporal polity is a juridical person in natural law with same sort of obligations towards God and towards His revealed will as the individual man" (page 140).

I think perhaps a definite article has been left out and perhaps a preposition, too. Meanwhile, I think this juridical person must be a king or queen, but I am not entirely sure. What I am sure about is that this sentence is in a paragraph about the Common Law and that the authors like Common Law better than Civilian Law. More on that anon.

Natural Law

The entertainments of this chapter include definitions of natural law, divine positive law and human positive law. Divine law and natural law take precedence over human positive law, and so pharmacists must not sell pessaries and registrars must not record same-sex so-called marriages. The entertainments also include Fimister & Crean siding firmly with Feser & Bessette on the death penalty, whose book they endorse in the footnotes. Provocatively, they quote CCC 2267 (1997) in the footnotes  without including the recent Argentine embroidery.


Another interesting argument is that even if you disobey a law that is unjust, you should still accept the punishment. This point is made on page 132, and footnote 40 leads one to St. Thomas apparently agreeing with it. The possible illustration that came to mind was that a young American man in 1968 who objected to the law compelling him to be drafted to fight an unjust war against the North Vietnamese should have gone to prison rather than chosen to flee to Canada. I may be wrong about that, though. A more personal example is that a pro-lifer who refuses to budge from in front of an abortion business when told to disperse by police should, if charged and found guilty of an offence, accept the punishment without a murmur instead of running away. Again, I may be wrong. As you can see, I am rather dubious about unjust laws having any rights over innocent people.

(I will add, however, that being jailed for pro-life witness is considered an honour amongst pro-life witnesses, whereas running away is not. A segment of a video of a pro-life demonstration in which two of our comrades can be seen sedately walking away while police dragged others along the pavement never failed to rouse mirth amongst the Metropolitan Toronto Students for Life who watched it.)


There is a section on custom, for which I wish there were more examples than that of how the understanding of a British Prime Minister came about. I was alarmed to see that custom, including a majority of people simply disobeying a law which is not enforced, has the force of law. The Code of Canon Law says that "legitimately observed customs obtain the force of law after thirty continuous years." This seem to means that we are stuck with altar girls, communion-in-the-hand, and the various novelties that crop up in the celebration of the Novus Ordo of the Latin Catholic Mass.

Change to the Law

Here the authors seem to agree with the dictum of Hilary White that "Change is Bad."


Equity is when you may set aside temporarily positive human law for something all sensible people will see is a greater good. The authors' example is breaking traffic regulations to take a dying man to hospital. The  Canadian pro-lifer example is often entering, uninvited, your neighbour's property to rescue a drowning child from his swimming pool. (That this is the Canadian pro-lifer example underscores to me the Canadian and American horror of trespassing, one not shared by the Scots. Scots seem to trespass in every conceivable outside space, often using their incontinent dogs as an excuse. I am surprised more of them are not shot when they travel to the USA on holiday.* "Get off my land" is engraved upon my own heart and doubtlessly on any number of American gravestones.)

Common Law versus Civilian Code

This section is hard to understand, but it gets darkest before dawn, for at the bottom of the tricky page 140, the authors feign sorrow for the existence of the Civilian Legal System, while clearly loving it, for it affords them the opportunity to point out the superiority of Anglo-Saxons to the French.

In short, Common Law recognises God as the author of law, and Civilian Law thinks that the state is God.  "The subject of the Common Law has liberties empowering him to do everything that has not been positively forbidden by reason or statute. The temporal power constituted by natural law is limited by natural or divine law," say Fimister & Crean.

In contrast, "the subject of the Civilian Code...has 'rights': a list of things he is allowed to do by the 'State'. For everything else he must ask permission," Crean & Fimister observe.

The example the authors use brought great joy to my heart because it explains why, when we holiday in Italy, our Italian hotel or landlord has to register us with the police, and where it is we have to take along photo ID on a walk. In short, the police countries governed by the Civilian Code get to know all about the people in them, whereas in countries governed by Common Law, the police have to have a very good excuse even to ask you your name.

So to answer the title of this post, we don't have to take passports when we walk about the United Kingdom, but we DO when we walk around Poland, Italy, and France. Drivers' licences probably work those who have them, but we don't. Take it away, Vera!

*Update: That was tongue-in-cheek but, unfortunately, this does happen.


    Disobedience is not a custom. Altar girls and Communion in the hand are not customs, but indults (official permissions which can be taken away). They began as disobedience.
    Customs are more benign, such as knocking with the processional crucifix on the Church door on Palm Sunday, or ringing the bells at a certain time.
    One needs to make important distinctions.

    1. Well, the authors say disobedience by many to a law that is not enforced is custom. Their example is the British TV license fee. "Again, if the majority of people owning television sets ceased to pay for a licence, then even if the first people so to act would apparently do wrong, yet if the courts those not to prosecute, then custom would have achieved a change in the law" (page 134). I don't know if this can be applied to canon law, though.

    2. For whatever it is worth to you...I confirmed it with a priest (traditionalist) before I wrote the comment above regarding altar girls and Communion in the hand not being “customs” in the Catholic sense of the word.

  2. I suspect that you do not know / understand the USA very well. Some Canadian prejudices are showing. (Not attempting to be insulting; merely stating an observation. In truth, your writings and values are, in general, much appreciated.)

  3. I concede that I may have "Get off my land" carved more deeply in my heart that the average American. I would be surprised, though, to discover that the average American would be as cavalier as a Scot about traipsing over other people's private property. "Understanding the USA" is an interesting concept. My guess is that Canadians-in-general understand the USA better than, for example, the British-in-general, as Canadians are more likely to go there, and more often, and to read American newspapers and magazines and to watch American news.

  4. Watching American news, reading American newspapers, and 2-week vacations to the US are not the same as living it. (Also, American media has a leftist agenda. The stereotypes one gets from that are ridiculous. I live in Europe now due to personal reasons and see how Europeans constantly misunderstand the US based upon what they read in the NY Times, etc.)
    I had some bad Canadian experiences during my travels there, but I am not Canadian and thus try to refrain from spreading my negative impressions. (My comment was not merely directed at the “Get off my land” characterization, but also at a few others that you have made in the past. Again, I am not trying to be argumentative...I just have had my full of anti-American stereotypes in Europe, and it was disappointing to me to see you at times indulge in them.)