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This is the second installment in my new series about the Second Amendment, militias, government, and the natural right of self/defense. After a few more segments I’ll get to the American experience. This column is concerned with more ancient sources. Read on.
My last segment concerned the Natural Law and the provisions therein allowing for armed resistance of force and tyranny. For those not acquainted with Natural Law (American attorneys, etc.), it is the universal law instituted by God for the management of human societies. God’s first draft was extraordinarily simple, as He supposed that people would be capable of easily governing themselves in paradise. The law was codified as: “Don’t eat that fruit.” Unfortunately, the first humans were as dense as their descendants today. They ate the fruit and thus complicated our lives forever.
God later attempted to set out ten simple laws He expected us to obey. True to our fallen, fallible, self-determining ways, we messed those up too. After constantly displaying an inability to adhere to the simple, the ancient Hebrews began to demand of God a “modern” system of government for themselves. They seemed jealous of surrounding Peoples who had, among other things, kings. God, in His omnipotence, offered that they Hebrews didn’t really need or want a king. They begged to differ, instituted a king, and began to suffer immediately.
After the failure of the kings, and the subjugation of the people by more powerful earthly empires, God sent His Son in yet another attempt to clarify His law. Jesus, simultaneously ratifying the existing law and providing an alternative route to salvation, issued another simple commandment. We have not been too quick to pick on that one either. Thus, it appears that people are stuck with their worldly trappings and their constant inability to deal honestly ad logically therewith until the Second Coming. Thus, in our present state, and if we are even capable, we must attempt to relate our world to the eternal principles of the Lord. That is Natural Law. Having ignored and broken the concrete mandates given us, we are left to guess at how such Law applies to our civilizations. Unlike the laws of science, math, and physics, which are difficult but possible to extrapolate and apply, the Laws of society are much less definable. This grasping process has been the work of scholars and theologians for millennia.
The Law as applied to self-preservation has been called the first law of nature. This makes sense as, without resorting to keeping ourselves from harm, most of the other “laws” we can divine seem to matter little.
Previously, I examined several Bible verses which supported the right of self-defense and preservation. I also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the duty (not only the right) to defend oneself and those in one’s charge. This doctrine has existed for thousands of years. We are commanded: “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:4.
King David, definitely not a pacifist, praised God, saying, “Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.” Psalms 144:1. First Samuel 25:13 described an Israelite muster: “And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword.” The Israelites were a militia, not a standing army, note that David and every man was equipped with his sword, not a government issue model. Men were expected to report for duty already armed with their own weapons. That means they had to keep and bear those weapons in order to fulfill their duties to their society. This was also the early American situation, as it should be today.
These weapons were and are necessary to preserve freedom in society. Any sane man will pray that he never need use any measure of force in defense however, he should be ready to do so if necessary. The fifth or sixth Commandment (depending on how counted) clearly sets forth God’s intention to preserve life: “Thous shalt not kill.” It is also translated, “Thou shalt not murder.” Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17.
The second translation is a prohibition on illicit killing, the first is a total ban. In a perfect world it would be natural to follow a total ban on killing others made in God’s image. However, as noted above, we have removed ourselves from perfection, be it temporarily. Thus, given where we are, while we should strive for perfection, we may be limited to keeping from unlawful killings.
In Leviticus, it appears that everything carries the death penalty. Many of these provisions have actually been codified into civil law over the ages. I’m not sure if anyone was ever executed for eating a shrimp. However, Leviticus gave us the basis for many capital crimes still such today. Accordingly, killers (murderers) may be executed in contravention of the Lord’s prohibition on killing. Leviticus 24:16-17. Numbers and Deuteronomy give further qualification as to which killings are crimes versus accidents.
Coupled with those passages I cited last time, these dictates seem to logically indicate that force, including lethal force, may be used to repel unjust criminal activities. The attendant duty upon us is to use the least force necessary to accomplish our defense.
Jesus exercised the ultimate restraint, in this regard, while enduring His treatment at the hands of His native detractors and Pilate. Jesus made clear His purpose: “I came into the world…to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” John 18:38. Demonstrating an eternal human misunderstanding, Pilate replied “What is truth?” His purpose was not to overthrow earthly tyranny, but to provide an eternal alternative. Rather than being an act of non-self-defense, Christ’s actions were the ultimate act of defense of others. This truth may have been lost on one Roman, it was not on all Romans.
American law has been greatly influenced by our colonial past and our origins under the English Constitutional and common law. In turn, English law was dependant on ancient Rome for many of its sources. It must be remembered that the Kingdom of Britain once co-existed with the Eastern Roman Empire. Thus, the legal traditions passed to the Isle of Britannia were those of earlier Roman glory – from the Republic and the earlier Western Empire. From the founding of Rome until the time of Cicero, Roman laws were largely unwritten, even the Constitution. Codification cam much later, under Justinian. The Codex Justianius was issued in 529 A.D., five decades after the fall of the West. The Digesta of ancient law was written soon thereafter. Thus, began our tradition of dual sources of law – statutes and case-law.
I previously cited to the Codex for its express allowance of the use of armed force to deter attack, by private parties and government agents. This dual provision is tremendous as it presupposed that no-one is above the law and that even government force may be repelled when illegitimate. Increasingly in America, the government takes the opposite position – that it is infallible and may not be resisted, even when tyrannical. This is nonsense and may be disregarded as such.
In the next installment I will delve into the English tradition regarding arms and defense. This tradition slowly coalesced into the modern theory of the militia being comprised of armed individual men. Here, I will briefly note some of the long-standing traditions concerning arms in the British Isles before the rise of the common law and the Magna Carta.
“England” has been populated by various peoples probably for about 10,000 years. The earliest peoples there were organized along the lines of families and tribes, each with its own society and rules. It is obvious that most of these people were armed as they were constantly at war with one another and with the occasional outsider. It is clear as mud as to what extent they retained formal doctrines regarding rights, arms, militia duties, etc. “Self” defense often involved the entire tribe and was given to degenerating into all out war. We could assign the Lex Talionis “the law of revenge” or the “law of the jungle” as the chief governing principle of these early Britons.
As the centuries B.C. counted down, civilization and order began to grow in the Isles. Legend has it that King Arthur was able to unite most of the peoples of lower England under his banner. Whether he pulled a sword out of a stone is another matter but it seems that by his time (7th Century B.C.) swords were common among the people, both for use defensively and for militia service.
Thus, when the Romans arrived in 43 B.C., they found a fierce and well armed people, not at all amenable to taming. Four centuries of Roman occupation saw many changes in English life, including the ordering of the militias more along the lines of precise Legionary lines. This, civil and engineering upgrades, and Christianity generally served to the benefit of the people, then and following the Roman’s departure.
Following the Romans, came the Angles, the Saxons, and eventually the Normans, each of whom introduced new character to England. By at least the Twelfth Century England had evolved into a nation-state, not entire undistinguishable from its present form. Then, standing armies were rare and the kings relied upon their subjects to form militias during times of needs. Accordingly, free-men were expected, even ordered to keep arms for their and the common defense. Assize of Arms, Henry II (1181).
King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 which, in Section 61, provided for armed rebellion of sorts (lead by the nobility) in the event the Crown became tyrannical. This process, of course, necessitated the continued institution of armed citizens.
(Magna Carta Memorial, Runnymede, England. Google.)
Next time, I will move forward in history and begin covering more modern English sources concerning the people, their rights, especially concerning arms and defense. This will serve as a prelude to the customs of those English persons who colonized America, carrying the ancient traditions with them.