A Pythagorean writer once expressed the role of civil authority this way: “The monarch has an irrepressible authority (and is therefore not limited by consent); he is a living law; he is like a god among men.”
How different America is. Our Founders came here for freedom, a freedom that recognized that no human being or group of human beings can ever be “gods among men.” Our republic, instead, was to be governed by the rule of law rather than the rule of men.
Therefore no king or parliament would be able to oppress the rights of others, or delete their right to life. Our forefathers fought a revolution to see to that. It wasn’t simply about “taxation without representation.” It was about freedom, and the understanding that freedom is rooted in God.
The pagan view of government denied any importance to the individual, exalted the power of the state beyond all limits, and therefore was able to endorse things like infanticide. After all, the law came from the mouth of the king. Individuals didn’t matter. If the king decreed it, even infanticide would be all right.
Our Founding Fathers, however, were influenced in their philosophy of government by Scripture and the Judeo-Christian tradition, according to which everyone was a sinner and equally subject to the laws of God. Yes, there would be earthly rulers, but they, too, were subject to God.
Moreover, each person is a child of God. This awareness shaped our Founding Fathers’ concept of government, because it introduced something unheard of among the ancient pagans, namely, that now, each individual has a direct and personal link to the Creator, independent of any earthly power. This awareness of the dignity of the human person then formed the basis for letting each individual have a say in a representative form of government, and for insisting that our rights, starting with Life, come from the Creator, and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men” (Declaration of Independence).
This is what we celebrate at Thanksgiving – not just that we have food, but that we have freedom, rooted in God and the recognition that government cannot tamper with our human rights.
The Church’s liturgy for Thanksgiving Day expresses this beautifully in the Preface, which says, “Father, …you made man to your own image…Once you chose a people and gave them a destiny and, when you brought them out of bondage to freedom, they carried with them the promise that all men would be blessed and all men could be free…It has come to pass in every generation for all men who have believed that Jesus by his death and resurrection gave them a new freedom in his Spirit. It happened to our fathers, who came to this land as if out of the desert into a place of promise and hope. It happens to us still, in our time, as you lead all men through your Church to the blessed vision of peace.”
And indeed, for this we give thanks!
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life