The Easter drama contains within it many passionate themes, not the least how the greatest and most honourable man who ever lived, died the death of a base criminal; and how His life was made forfeit in order for a murderer to be granted life. The purchasing of Barabbas’ freedom was of course the precursor to Christ’s laying down of His life not only for one sinner, but for the sins of all of mankind throughout history, – writes Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania in Church and Life.

Honour is another central theme of the Paschal drama. The honour of Caesar forces Pilate’s hand; and the honour of the Pharisees motivates them to insist on a capital sentence for Christ. In a supreme twist of irony that only Divinity could concoct, the ultimate dishonoring of God, is also the ultimate honour that God bestows over humanity, a victory over death. It is evident that there is in the Easter drama, a clear separation between how the world perceives honour, and how God makes a person or an event worthy of honour, and honourable.

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So let me now play a game of ‘Who am I’? Born in 1926, in 1972 I was made a member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1986, I received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Leeds. I was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, and in the same year received a papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II. During my lifetime I also became an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists; as well as receiving an honorary Green Beret from the Royal Marines. Who am I? When, I died in 2011, I was universally recognized as one of the great modern philanthropists, having raised £40 million throughout the course of my life; but in one of the greatest reversals of reputation in history, very soon after my death, I became one of the most reviled men that the United Kingdom has ever produced. Who is the person I have been describing? Sir James Wilson Vincent “Jimmy” Saville was an enormously popular and recognisable figure in the United Kingdom. Over a period of six decades, Jimmy Saville’s image had been broadcast across the popular media channels of his home nation, and abroad. But few of the millions who adored him knew who he really was, and of those who knew, a vile conspiracy of silence was agreed upon, in order to perpetuate the lie, and protect not only Saville’s ‘honour’, but the ‘honour’ of all the conspirators as well. As Goethe’s adage runs: “All colours agree in the dark.” Such a conspiracy becomes yet more ‘sacred’, when the conspirators are cognisant of each other’s depravity; wherein they know that all the others also know the reality of who each of them truly are, and are feigning also to be. The fundamental question in this criminal game of poker, when each stares at the other, is who blinks first? The lie is perpetuated as long as no one flinches.

Both groups within the conspiracy knew, but kept the secret, and by so doing, sculpted a lie

The Saville case is a prime example of a conspiracy of silence, and the myopic vision used by society when honouring people. How many people knew of Saville’s crimes? Simply put, as many as the number required to provide him with the opportunity to keep abusing his hundreds of victims, over many years. The total number including those who actively assisted Saville, and in addition to these, those who passively assisted this creature by giving him the time and space to do so, by their inaction.  Both groups within the conspiracy knew, but kept the secret, and by so doing, sculpted a lie; a lie big enough to dupe a monarch, a pope, several universities, and an army. Who suffered? Only the most innocent, and the most vulnerable, the most in need of protection from a civilized society. Saville was but the sharpened end of a spear that was helped carried to its victims by others.

Saville’s case of course is neither particular or peculiar to media personalities who misuse their position of authority, fame and influence, in order to satisfy personal lust. The Royal Commission into Child Abuse in Australia (2017), provides far too many horrific examples of institutional conspiracies against children: by government, welfare, and Church run institutions. It would seem where great honour is placed on the shoulders of some, much opportunity is taken to threaten the well-being of those who are doing the ‘honouring’. Honours placed – tend to inadvertently ‘groom’ those who are doing the ‘honouring’. Popular music singers and actors take advantage of their fans, in no less a fashion it would seem, then some clergy who abuse those who come to them for pastoral care. An abuse of the trust that accompanies a relationship based on public honour. Like moths caught up by the light in an otherwise darkened room, so too we are dazzled by the forces of: power, charism and fame – and by so having succumbed, we too readily immolate our consciences by accepting as truth, falsehoods spoken by those we believe are only slightly less than Gods. Being so star-struck, we subsume lies into our innermost natures; the wellspring of our consciences becomes polluted by the carcass we let be thrown in. We invite the likes of Saville into our homes and hospitals – because authorities have ‘honoured’ them to be there. Surely we must keep in mind that if a lie is the progeny of the powerful, then all it takes is for an ‘honoured’ king to daily dream a lie at dusk, in order for it to become truth by the dawn.

Popular music singers and actors take advantage of their fans, in no less a fashion it would seem, then some clergy who abuse those who come to them for pastoral care.

St. Thomas Aquinas in his work, Summa Theologiae, discusses the role that honours play in the life of a person. It is natural for us to be grateful or to be happy when we are given the approbation of our peers, when in full public view we are given affirmation for our life’s work. Conversely, it is of course, quite natural to feel disgruntled or angry if what one has done well, is over-looked, or deliberately ignored by our peers, and superiors. According to St. Thomas, a ‘good’ man may indeed seek out honours, but a better man works for goodness, seeking goodness as its own reward. As such, St. Thomas provides a thought-provoking caveat to his discussion on honour, writing: “As the Philosopher says (ibid), honor is not that reward of virtue, for which the virtuous work: but they receive honor from men by way of reward, as from those who have nothing greater to offer. But virtue’s true reward is happiness itself, for which the virtuous work: whereas if they worked for honor, it would no longer be a virtue, but [the vice of] ambition.” (ST, I-II, 2, 2] Some of the greatest men and women who ever lived, were dishonoured for doing good things, and ridiculed, despite leading exemplary lives; dishonoured by ‘honourable’ people and institutions. Socrates, Thomas More and of course Jesus Christ, are prime examples of individuals murdered by the ‘honorable’ for being good. But as Aquinas quite rightly emphasises, despite being held up at times as objects for derision, good people are good even in their deepest motivations for being good. Public ridicule and public derision, neither add nor subtract from who they are; honour is irrelevant as a motivation for the good man who does good.

Jesus Christ, are prime examples of individuals murdered by the ‘honorable’ for being good.

What are public honours worth? Essentially not much at all, if the institution that bestows them lacks integrity, perception, prudence, and wisdom. We read far too often of sporting heroes, who over the years, perhaps even decades have received accolades and plaudits, only for us to discover later that they have been drug and doping cheats. We read of honourable pillars of business and politics, who later have been exposed as philanderers and abusers of their wives and families. What are public honours worth? In truth, not much ever, for only God is omniscient, and knows the contents of an individual’s heart, and sees the most hidden actions. As such Christ spoke so very wisely when he said, that only God is good. (cf. Mark 10: 18) All of us are sinners – but some indulge their sinful nature, more than others. If needs be, society can only determine according to its wits who to honour – but only God knows the worth of every person who lives and breathes on the face of the earth. Therein lies the challenge for the individuals who comprise a society; to attempt to honour those who authentically live a good and godly life. In the end though, our trust in such restricted perspicacity must be severely shaken when a man such as Saville, is feted, lauded and honoured, for most of his entire adult life, but a man, nay better still the perfection of manhood, such as Christ, is taunted, stripped, dishonoured and hung to die, a villain’s death.

Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, February 2018