The priest shutting the gates of the holy temple to the prince himself for a deed he could do on account of his power. This was never seen before in human history. We have here an institution that not only explicitely claimed that all power is not arbitrary but subject to the higher divine law; but it also acted out upon this claim with authority. In this sense, the legalization of Christianity by the Edict of Milan in 313 brought the ancient recognition already expressed by Antigone back to the core of political power, and pushed it further. It is clear that the vast power that the emperors had acquired under the Dominate could not remain unaffected by this new authority. But what is perhaps more surprising and significant is that huaman laws, too, were transformed to agree with this divine authority. Ambrose forced the emperor to sign a law that forbade him to enact the death penalty before a 30 day-period had elapsed and the judgment had been brought again for reconsideration, “for your [the emperor] resentment will then be calmed and you can justly decide the issue.”
All legal judgments, including the death penalty, were not to be made arbitrarily, but after sound consideration. Where Antigone only checked the king’s decisions, Ambrose could go a step further and transfer the divine law onto law codes. Human laws were, too, to reflect the immutable divine decrees. In this sense, Christianity went further than the ancient concept. Modern notions of democracy and human rights are the direct (but in several ways ungrateful) bearers of this active tradition. Here, too, we see why and how the modern and post-modern wish (like Nazism before) for a world without limits, of an all-powerful scientism and unlimited economic power can only lead us into the opposite of the idea of civilization and humanity: namely tyranny and despotism. Unless we prefer to be ruled by arbitrary conditions, be they economic or other, it is necessary for us to return to this concept that nothing in human affairs can possibly be unlimited.