Tag Archives: von Hildebrand

Ambitious Generals

We had reason to examine Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, and considered the question of where (and if) the Senate went wrong and why Rome “let slip the dogs of war.” Caesar’s ambition, could it have been controlled or thwarted by gentler means at an early stage? In applying such works of art as this to our lives, especially with regard to spirituality, what ambitious generals threaten our peace and drive us to the civil war which so often divides the tortured and conflicted human soul? Within us there are talents that can be managed for our benefit and the good of others, with the drives for accomplishment, affection, friendship, sex, food, rest, recreation, novelty and others being like generals who wish to marshal our time, resources and attention for their cause. Like the Roman Senate, we have the power of sanction (von Hildebrand: Transformation in Christ), the ability to control these generals so long as we do not allow any of them to become too powerful.

Like the Roman Senate, we often come to know our peril too late, when one or more of our passions has already crossed the Rubicon and our freedom has fallen with us left “to find ourselves dishonourable graves” (Act I Scene 2). Just as the Senate was driven to extreme and undesirable measures toward liberation from a tyrant, so we then must deprive ourselves of pleasures and endure want as means toward liberation from the drives and passions that impinge upon our freedom and make us less than we would wish, and much less than God desires for us. Unlike the Roman Senate, driven to tyrannicide, we have a greater General, one who desires our freedom and liberation, and this is where the similarity to the play ends. For (as St. Paul and Gandhi agree), we do not war against kingdoms but against ourselves and our defects, and we require one like us, and greater than ourselves, for our relief. We fight with Christ, our General, through prayer and fasting, through self denial and meditiation on our eventual fate, when we return to dust. We will outlive our drives and passions, so we are rightly their masters. This is our gift, free will, and we are defended by Christ, who will never take this gift away, but counsels us to protect our freedom by keeping lesser generals in their place, lest they become ambitious and proclaim themselves our rulers.