The Christian in the World

  • Robert Bireley
Part of the European History in Perspective book series (EUROHIP)


An Academic Speech: Are Contemporary Politicians to be Considered among the Number of Christians? — so read the title of an oration by the English Catholic theologian Thomas Stapleton, which was published posthumously in Munich in 1608. It pointed to an old issue that seemed to engross and even torture leading figures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries after Machiavelli brought it to the surface anew in 1513. He contended in the Prince that

there is such a difference between how men live and how they ought to live that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his destruction rather than his preservation, because any man who under all conditions insists on making it his business to be good will surely be destroyed among so many who are not good. Hence a prince, in order to hold his position, must acquire the power to be not good, and understand when to use it and when not to use it, in accord with necessity.1

In other words, a ruler or man of politics could not adhere consistently to moral principles, at least as understood in a traditional Christian sense, and be successful, that is, maintain and increase the power of his state.


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  1. 2.
    Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, trans. and ed. John K. Ryan (New York: Doubleday Image Books, 1989), pp. 34, 41, 43–4, 193.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters, Pensées, Scientific Treatises (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), p. 29. Translator of the Provincial Letters is Thomas M’Crie.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Pensées, no. 253, ibid., p. 220. Translator is W. F. Trotter.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Ibid., no. 277, p. 222.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Cited in Jerome J. Langford, Galileo, Science, and the Church, 3rd edn (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992), p. 89.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert Bireley, SJ 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Bireley
    • 1
  1. 1.Loyola University ChicagoUSA

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