Spanish liberals, suicide and God

Wondering on a London bus this morning about suicide bombers (why don’t we just get rid of shoelaces–damn fiddly, prone to blow up in one’s face–and acquire slip-ons?), I chanced on the following passage in Menéndez Pelayo’s Historia de los heterodoxos/History of the heterodox (1880; previous post):

During the tyranny of the Spanish king in Barcelona, they were also frequent suicides among the liberals. In 1828 and 9 there were up to 17, some in horrible circumstances. The relative frequency of this abominable crime, hardly known previously in Spain, is not the least indication of the decline in religious sentiment and the hold that crude materialism was gaining over souls.

I find this rather puzzling. We all know that Samson did not break the sixth commandment because, according to Alonso Fernández de Madrigal (“El Tostado”) in his Libro de las paradojas/Book of Paradoxes (1437):

if a man killed himself on God’s orders he did not sin, rather this was most praiseworthy and one of the great goods conceivable in the whole world, the act being very difficult and man naturally loving himself much. That this was not sin is proved by al men being bound to obey God in all things that he orders, he being omnipotent, so that in this he must be obeyed. And thus say many doctors that Samson killed himself as a result of the spirit of God leading him to it in order to kill the Philistines and thus they excuse him of homicide.

Why isn’t Pelayo prepared to contemplate Barcelona liberals killing themselves on God’s orders, albeit unwittingly?

(PS: here’s a discussion of Samson and suicide bombers.)


  1. Durante la tiranía del conde de España en Barcelona, menudearon también los suicidios entre los liberales. En los años 1828 y 29 hubo hasta diez y siete, algunos con circunstancias horribles. La frecuencia relativa de este abominable crimen, apenas conocido antes en España, no es uno de los menores indicios de la decadencia del sentimiento religioso y del imperio que un grosero materialismo iba ganando en las almas.
  2. si algun onbre por mandamiento de Dios se matasse non pecava, ante meresçia mucho en se matar & era este de los grandes meritos que en todo el mundo podiessen seer por el acto seer difiçile & el onbre amarse a si mucho naturalmente. Que non sea pecado pruevasse ca cada uno de los onbres es obligado a obedesçer a Dios en todas las cosas que le mandare por seer sennor universal & ansi en esto es obligado de le obedesçer. Et ansi dizen muchos doctores que se mato Sanson por spiritu de Dios induziendole a esto por matar a los philistinos & ansi lo escusan del homiçidio.

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