LORD ACTON

By Christopher Zoukis

I recently had occasion to watch the movie Absolute Power, starring Clint Eastwood.  The imaginative and provocative title of the flick was borrowed from one of the most famous aphorisms ever written:  “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  An aphorism, of course, is ‘a short, concise statement of a principle; a maxim.’  The term comes from the Greek aphorismos, which referred to a definition or a short pithy statement.

The aphorism under discussion – “absolute power” – was composed by Baron John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, who was born in 1834 and died in 1902.  Lord Action was an erudite historian, and a bit of a rabble-rouser, for he was the leader of a liberal Roman Catholic minority that refused to accept the doctrine of papal infallibility.  The concept of papal infallibility for those who don’t know asserts that the Pope, as the supreme pontiff, is protected from the human capacity for error, when speaking about faith and morals.  This protection is provided by God Himself.  In other words, when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, he is non posse peccare, infallible.  The doctrine, sanctioned and published by the Vatican Council in July, 1870, is not a trifling matter.  The Holy Office firmly believes the doctrine to be true.  Anyone who disagrees is branded with the identifying mark of heresy. 

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