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St. Hilary continues to meditate upon the seat of pestilence:

But although they bring to the discharge of their duties a religious intention, as is shewn by their merciful and upright demeanour, still they cannot escape a certain contagious infection arising from the business in which their life is spent. For the conduct of civil cases does not suffer them to be true to the holy principles of the Church’s law, even though they wish it. And without abandoning their pious purpose they are compelled, against their will, by the necessary conditions of the seat they have won, to use, at one time invective, at another, insult, at another, punishment; and their very position makes them authors as well as victims of the necessity which constrains them, their system being as it were impregnated with the infection. Hence this title, the seat of pestilence, by which the Prophet describes their seat, because by its infection it poisons the very will of the religiously minded.

One of the more enlightening books that I was required to read in seminary was Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs. Written as a dialogue (which actually makes an otherwise very dry philosophical treatise very readable), she meditates upon the moral foundations of commerce and politics. Of interest here are a few of the moral foundations of politics:

  • Take vengeance
  • Deceive for the sake of the task
  • Be exclusive

The first comes into play when crime is committed. A worldly sense of justice demands that some kind of vengeance or retribution be leveled against those who commit crime — even answering murder with murder (think about what America recently did to Osama Bin Laden).

The second refers to the necessary secrecy and deception involved in national defense. Federal politicians are required to lie about military operations in order to protect the lives of soldiers defending the nation. If a politician were completely honest about troop movements in times of war, for example, it could cost the lives of hundreds or thousands of soldiers and civilians. Indeed, that politician could properly be tried as a traitor.

The last refers to the need in national and civic defense to discriminate against entire segments of the population for the good of the many. It would not only endanger the life of a police officer, fire fighter or soldier if that person were physically disabled (even with something as simple as asthma), but it would endanger everyone around them in a life threatening situation where that disability comes into play.

In other words, the seat of Pilate — the seat of worldly power — requires that people who occupy that seat engage in activities and choices that by the standard of Christian morality are sinful. The seat of Pilate places people in situations where it is impossible not to sin — rather, they are forced to make decisions about the degree of sin that will cause the least amount of damage.

This is why, as St. Hilary points out, the Prophet calls this a seat of pestilence — it infects those who sit in it with sin. Or, as the familiar axiom goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.