Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Eternal Law: Creation, the Wicked, and God

The relationship between the Eternal Law and creation, on the one hand, and God, on the other, is addressed by St. Thomas in Article 4 of Question 93 of the Summa Theologica. Since the Eternal Law is the "type" or ratio of the Divine governance, it follows that whatever is subject to Divine governance is subject to the Eternal Law. What of God? Is God subject to the Eternal Law? What about the evil who disobey the Eternal Law? Are they subject to the Eternal Law who refuse to abide by it? In responding to these questions, St. Thomas insists in God’s absolute freedom. He comes to the conclusions that God—Father, Son, and (by implication) the Holy Spirit—are not subject to the Eternal Law, but in fact may be said to be the Eternal Law. All other creatures, including Christ’s human nature, are subject to the Eternal Law. Even the wicked are willy nilly subject to the Eternal Law.

In handling these issues, St. Thomas bases himself on an analogy predicated upon human government. Thomas observes that those things that man does, and over which he has control, are subject to human law. But matters that relate to his intrinsic nature--for example that he should have soul, or hands, or feet--are not subject to human law. It is apparent that no ruler could decree a change in the fundamental nature of man. Though a law may be fashioned that will force a man to board a plane, no law will ever give man natural wings. While a man may be sentenced to death by hanging under human law, there is no ukase that can effect that man shall no longer have a body. There are some things that are simply outside of the scope of man’s legislative competence.

By analogical reasoning, then, Aquinas concludes that the Eternal Law governs all things created by God whether "contingent or necessary." This means that not only man, who by God's design is a creature that is to be governed by reason, but all creation operates under the Eternal Law. This includes the irrational creatures--stars, planets, rocks, trees, and animals--though they participate in the Eternal Law in a manner less noble than man (since they do not enjoy the reason or freedom that man does). ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.5, resp.

In this regard, St. Thomas observes, human laws operate in a manner differently than the Eternal Law. Human law only extends to humans, and cannot be said to operate or bind irrational creation. Even though the irrational creature is subject to man’s control and dominion, human law requires a subject upon which the law may be imprinted and which recognizes a rule of action. Though a ruler is able to issue laws that bind his subjects in this manner, he is unable to do so for the irrational creation that may be found in his domain. Irrational creation cannot be controlled by man by law, though it be controlled by him through technology. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.5, resp.

This limitation in man’s law, is not to be found with God. As Creator, God imprints upon all of his creation the principles of their proper action, and so all of creation is subject to Eternal Law. The Divine Reason and Will are substantially different than man’s reason and will, and so God is able to extend His Eternal Law across the whole of creation and imprint itself among both rational and irrational creation alike. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.5, ad.1, 2. “And thus all actions and movements of the whole of nature are subject to eternal law.” IaIIae, Q.93, art.5, resp. Though there is no part of the created world that can claim independence from God’s Eternal Law, the manner in which the that Law applies to rational creatures is distinct from the way it applies to irrational creation:
[I]rrational creatures are subject to the eternal law, through being moved by Divine providence; but not as rational creatures are, through understanding of the Divine commandment.
IaIIae, Q.93, art.5, resp.

Since man has a dual nature—participating in the rational world, but sharing animal functions with brute animals—he participates in the Eternal Law in two ways. The first way of participation is through understanding, that is through his knowledge of the Eternal Law. As we explained in prior posts, this knowledge would be obtained through Revelation or through the application of his reason to the expression of God’s law found in the created order. The second way that man participates in the Eternal Law is through a natural inclination toward that which would be consonant with the Eternal Law. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art. 6, resp. Man's sensitity to the Eternal Law (particularly as it finds promulgation in him through the Natural Law) is thus both one of Reason and one of inclination. It is not a Law of pure Reason, such as one advanced by René Descartes or Immanuel Kant. Nor is it a Law of pure Instict or Impulse, such as may have been advanced by David Hume. The Eternal Law manifests itself in man in the fullness of his created nature, that is as a being that is soul and body incarnate.

Even the wicked cannot escape from being subject to God’s law, though they disobey it. In the wicked, the knowledge of the Eternal Law can be darkened by bad habits and disordered passion, and the natural inclination towards the Law can be vitiated by vice. These can exercise such an influence over the mind and natural inclinations that they can be virtually destroyed. On the other hand, both knowledge and inclination can be developed by the good through knowledge of faith and wisdom, the development of virtuous habits, and, above all, God's Grace. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art. 6, resp. There will be varying degrees of subjection to the Eternal Law, the good being more nearly subject to the Eternal Law compared to the wicked, who are subject to the Eternal Law in an imperfect manner, and whose subjection shows itself more along the lines of suffering punishment or an interior disorder or lack of harmony, perhaps to show itself in neurotic behaviors. The wicked can never claim absolute emancipation from the Eternal Law, for to do so he would effectively have to destroy his entire nature; accordingly, even in the most evil, there will always remain some inclination toward the Eternal Law of God. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.6, ad. 2. Indeed, even the damned, in their unhappy state, are under the Eternal Law. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.6, ad. 3. "If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there." Si ascendero in caelum tu illic es, se descendero ad infernum ades. (Ps. 138:8) What to the good is a comfort (God's abiding presence and rule), to the wicked must seem oppressive.

The Christian remains under the Eternal Law of God, though in a manner of speaking he may be said to be out from under the Law, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians. See Gal. 5:18. According to St. Thomas, what St. Paul meant in writing so to the Galatians is that the Christian will not obey the Law because of fear, and he will not view it as a burden or imposition on his will or a loss of his freedom; rather, the Christian will ideally fulfill the law in willing joy, encouraged by the love of God in his heart, and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art. 6, ad. 1. In this manner, he may be said to be released from the Eternal Law because he lives the life of God. In fact, to the extent the Christian does the work of the Holy Spirit, he may be said to have acted outside the Eternal Law, because the Holy Spirit, being God, is not subject to the Eternal Law of God. Hence: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Cor. 3:17. The liberty of the Christian is not one from theonomianism to antinomianism; it is one from theonomianism supernomianism. It is not leaving the Law to a state of lawlessness; it is leaving the Law to be above it.

Though all creation—rational and irrational—is subject to the Eternal Law, it is different with God. Just as man cannot legislate regarding his own nature, so things that pertain to God's Nature, such as God's Will and His Essence, are not subject to the Eternal Law. And indeed, this follows from the fact that God is the Eternal Law itself. ST IaIIae, Q. 93, art.4, resp. Thus, St. Thomas rejects the notion that God's Will is subject to Eternal Law. "[S]ince God's will is His very Essence, it is subject neither to the Divine government, nor to the eternal law, but is the same thing as the eternal law." ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.4, ad.1.

St. Thomas also addresses the relationship between the promulgation of the Eternal Law by God the Father and the Divine Word, that is, God the Son. Since God the Son shares in God’s nature, it follows that He is not subject to the Eternal Law, but is the same thing as the Eternal Law. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.2, ad. 1, 2. St. Thomas argues that since the Word expresses all things that are in the Father's knowledge, "the eternal law itself is expressed" by the Word of God, not, however as a "Personal name in God," but by appropriation to the Son because the relationship (convenientiam) between "type and word," the ratio and verbum. ST IaIIae, Q.93, art.2, ad.2; see also Q. 93, art.4, ad.2. Jesus, who is the Word of God Incarnate, would not be subject to Eternal Law in his divinity, but in his humanity, he would be "subject to the Father by reason of His human nature," and therefore would be governed by the Eternal Law. ST, IaIIae, Q. 93, art.4, ad.2. Because the Word of God expresses the Eternal Law, it may justly be said that Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, expresses for us the Eternal Law in His divinity, and, in His humanity, He expresses for us complete fidelity to the Eternal Law. In Christ we have both the Eternal Law and obedience to the Eternal Law made manifest for us.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit, sharing as He does in God's Nature, is not subject to the Eternal Law. ST, IaIIae, Q.93, art.6, ad.1.

In his book An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature (1652), Nathanael Culverwell calls the Eternal Law "the spring and original of all Lawes ... that fountain of Law, out of which you may see the Law of Nature bubbling and flowing forth to the sons of men." (Culverwell, 35). This English divine is on good ground, for he relied upon the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica for his guidance: "For as Aquinas does very well tell us, the Law of Nature is nothing but participatio Legis aeternae in Rationali creatura, the copying out of the eternal Law, and the imprinting of it upon the breast of a Rational being, that eternal Law was in a manner incarnated in the Law of Nature." Culverwell, 35.

The Natural Law is an expression, a particularization, a "copying out" of the Eternal Law in the rational creature that is man. Because of this intimate relationship, it follows that, now that we have focused on the Eternal Law, the Lex Aeterna, we may approach the Natural Law as it has been summarized by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.

An Orphic Hymn to Justice

THE piercing eye of Justice bright, I sing,
Plac'd by the throne of heav'n's almighty king,
Perceiving thence, with vision unconfin'd,
The life and conduct of the human kind
To thee, revenge and punishment belong,
Chastising ev'ry deed, unjust and wrong;
Whose pow'r alone, dissimilars can join,
And from th' equality of truth combine:
For all the ill, persuasion can inspire,
When urging bad designs, with counsel dire,
'Tis thine alone to punish; with the race
Of lawless passions, and incentives base;
For thou art ever to the good inclin'd,
And hostile to the men of evil mind.
Come, all-propitious, and thy suppliant hear,
When Fate's predestin'd, final hour draws near.

Divae Iustitiae

Iustitiae obtestor pulcrae omnituentis ocellum,
Ad Iovi' Dictatori' sedet quae illustre tribunal,
Coelitus endotuens mores mortalium homonum,
Atque ultrix plectens humana nefantia facta,
Ex aequo veri coniungens disparile omne.
Nam quaecunque viris sententia pessima suasit,
Consiliis diris infanda volentibus quaeque
Sola iugum imponens iniustis iura ministris,
Iniustorum hostis, Sanatum mitis amica,
Verum adsis semper fausto Dea numine iusta,
Vitaï ut veniat finis, quam Morta profata est.

Above from Gottfried Hermann's Orphica (1805).

Above from The Book fo Orphic Hymns (1827).


Derived from the word dikē, the term dikaiosynē (δικαιοσύνη) is a conceptual or abstraction of the root dikē. It means conformity with a standard of justice, usually law, and so it was used to refer to Solon's laws. Along with phronēsis (prudence), sōphrosynē (temperance), andreia (fortitude), dikaiosynē was considered one of the four cardinal virtues. It was used by the Greek translators of the Old Testament to translate the Hebrew sedaqa or sedeq, and was appropriated by the Evangelists and St. Paul when they speak of justification or righteousness in reference to both God and men (e.g., Romans 3:22, 10:3, 14:7; 2 Cor. 5:21). It appears to have a rich, ambiguous meaning, including such senses as adherence to law, integrity, and participation in the divine economy of salvation. It appears more than 90 times in the New Testament. For the Christian, then, it has therefore gained great theological significance.

The figure of Dikaiosynē shown above holding scales appears on the cupola of a chapel at the necropolis of al-Bagawat in the Kharga Oasis in Egypt. The necropolis is considered to be one of the earliest and best-preserved Christian cemeteries. Personified as a woman, Dikaiosynē is painted amidst typical biblical figures such as Adam, Even, Abraham, Isaac, Daniel, Jacob, Noath, Mary, and St. Paul. Also depicted are Eirēnē and Euchē, personifications of peace and prayer, respectively. This depiction of Justice or Dikaiosynē may be the first extant in a Christian setting. (See D. Curtis & J. Resnik, Images of Justice, 96 YALE L.J. 1727 n. 8 (1987) (citing A. Katnzenellenbogen, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Mediaeval Art 28 (1939)).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Natural Law as Briyth 'Owlam, ברית עולם

Isaiah 24:5 reads: "And the earth is infected by the inhabitants thereof: because they have transgressed the laws, they have changed the ordinance, they have broken the everlasting covenant." Et terra interfecta est ab habitatoribus suis quia transgressi sunt leges mutaverunt ius dissipaverunt foedus sempiternum. The Hebrew reads:

וְהָאָרֶץ חָנְפָה תַּחַת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ כִּי־עָבְרוּ תֹורֹת חָלְפוּ חֹק הֵפֵרוּ בְּרִית עֹולָם

Isaiah therefore speaks of how the earth or the nations (ארץ, 'erets) are infected, morally soiled, infected, and corrupt (חנף, chaneph). This corruption or chaneph is the end result, the natural culmination, of the violation of--literally the "crossing over" (אבר, 'abar) of--the boundaries set by the law (תּוֹרָה, towrah), the ordinances (חק, choq), and the eternal covenant, the briyth 'owlam (ברית, briyth; עולם, 'owlam).

According to St. Thomas, the foedus sempiternum, the briyth 'owlam, the everlasting covenant referenced in Isaiah is the natural law or ius naturale. This everlasting covenant is the foundation underlying the Mosaic Law and its ordinances, and it is the covenant that God has made with all mankind. As St. Thomas states in his Summa Theologica, the Natural Law is the Eternal Law communicated to man. (see John Finnis, Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 309 n. 68, referencing Rom. 1, 8 ad. v. 26[149] 1 Cor. 11.3 ad. v. 13 [619]).

St. Thomas mentions this in his commentary on St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, and his epistles to the Corinthians, specifically, in his discussion of Rom. 1:8, and 1 Cor. 11:3.

In his Commentary on Romans 1:8, St. Thomas, quotes Isaiah 24:5, "They have transgressed the laws, broken the everlasting covenant," and he identifies the "everlasting covenant" with the Natural Law (ius naturale).

In his Commentary on Corinthians, St. Thomas comments on 1 Cor. 11:3: "'Does not nature itself teach you?' By 'nature' he [St. Paul] means the 'natural inclination in women to take care of their hair, which is a natural covering, but not in men. This inclination is shown to be natural, because it is found in the majority. But it is taught by nature, because it is a work of God; just as in a picture one is instructed about the skill of the artist. Therefore, Isaiah (24:5) says against certain people: 'They have transgressed the law, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant,' i.e., the natural law."

The commentaries (translated) are available by clicking here:
St. Thomas on Romans
St. Thomas on Corinthians

Friday, May 29, 2009

Reflections on Thompson's "Laus Legis"

IN HIS POEM "LAUS LEGIS," "Praise to Law," Francis Thompson, the poet of the "Hound of Heaven" fame, praises the Eternal Law in its manifestation in the irrational world, in other words, outside of its manifestation in man, either in Divine Law, or in the Natural Law. The poem is structured in the form a dialogue between two voices, the voice of the Law, Vox Legis, and the voice of an inquirer, the Vox Quaerentis.

Thompson's subject matter is the Law that issued forth from the mind of God eternally upon his command "Fiat lux!" "Let there be Light!" (Gen. 1:3) From the unordered chaos, the "growl" and "frowning terror" of a freshly "unleashed Creation" that beckoned "discord," the Eternal Law brought forth order, an order, a ratio or logos, which provided a "rampart round security," within which life could then flourish. This Eternal Law is what gives order to chaos, and without the Eternal Law, the created world and its order would dissolve back into chaos. The Eternal Law exercises its authority over disorder, like a dog's master may "stamp" the ground and cause his "warden-hound of Paradise" to "cower." So disorder cowers beneath the greater authority of the Eternal Law, whose voice commands impersonal fate.

From the ordered world--chaos being held at bay--the Eternal Law follows God's directives: Fiat firmamentum! and Congregentur aquae! and separates the water from the waters, and the land from the waters below. (Gen. 1:6, 9.) So the land comes forth from the lower waters, as if it were the back of a giant, scaly sea serpent, a "Leviathan earth," coming out of the sea. Here come the mountains! The "woody fells," the "Aetnean spiracle"s." All is ordered with the law of "adamantean gossamer," a Law of suave gossamer spirit yet able easy to mold adamantine rock.

Earth and Sea are named, and the command issues from God for grass, plants, and fruitful trees both to be, and from thence to issue forth their prolix fruit and abundant grain. And who to bring forth the "rainbow-rain" required cool the "flame-grassed sod," so that the "paradisal grain" would bear fruit and issue seed? Among the "mailed birds of God," as Dante called the angels (e.g., the l'uccel divino of Canto 2 or the l'uccel di Dio of Canto 4 of the Purgatorio), the Eternal Law cast the first seed "'mid the clangour, clangour, clangour" of the "tinkling justle" of their seraphic silver wings.

The Eternal Law is also "Captain of the stars," those "stellar hordes" that shine in the sable field, the dark sky, the "champain of the night." The Eternal Law, too, orders their intricate form in constellations, those "wheeling ranks intrinsicate," that will forever grace the nights until earth's rotted end.

The Eternal Law is also the enchanter of the skies and their strange electrical potency. It is the unblinking Law with the "moveless gaze" who orders lightning to issue from the dark and "caverned clouds," whose command cause "levins" to "stroke and pause" or "twitch the sting from their hot jaws."

The Eternal Law is what fixes the course of the moon, and manages the regularity of its phases; the same Law who steers the sun from its morning glow, to the "vibrant rays" of noon, to its crepuscular "red" of dusk. And from its sinking, foundering in the West, restores it to the East for the next days' rising, as if the sun embarked on some celestial boat beyond our sight, unmoored from the morning star, and captained with "silver oars" for the new day's dawning.

The Eternal Law brings forth the lily's bloom, and from its hidden shroud in the earth, the "sepulchral mold," brings forth the leafy "green garment," the white-limbed shoot, and the fragrant flower symbol of a Saint's purity, or a Christian death hopeful of the raising of the dead, that day when the "lids o' their golden tombs" will "burst" open.

It is the Eternal Law that one hears behind the "pipings" "so diverse," "who steers the throngs of note on note," of our feathered friends. Can we really fathom the hidden maestro behind the scream of the eagle and hawk, the chant of falcons, the caw of the crow, the fink of the finch, the chatter of the jay, the pipe and warble of the nightingale, the whistle of the blackbird, the boom of the bittern, the chuckle of the linnet, hoot of the owl, the wail of the loon, the coo of the dove, the honk of the goose, the quack of the duck, the cackle of the hen, the twitter of swallows, and the chirp of the sparrow? What marvelous Law is that!

But the Eternal Law is also behind the griefs, the sorrows, that always follow the coat tails of the ephemeral "joyance" in hac lacrimarum valle. Through it, through it--alas--do sorrows come, but sorrow's refining, through God's Eternal Law, also brings forth love. And so the world goes under the Eternal Law's providential guidance on and on and on and on: from joy to grief, and from grief to love. For it is the mystery of this world that "sadness sitteth . . . a portress at the gate of hearts." This is the mystery that Gerard Manley Hopkins's Margaret would experience, and she grew wiser:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
And so deep is this mystery, this "Deep Magic," that even God become Man, had to bow to the Eternal Law, and had to suffer and die. What, after all, is Jesus on the Cross, and what, after all, is Mary's sword of sorrow, her gladius doloris, but the raw, bloody exhibition of the Eternal Law's mystery that joy is short, that grief is long, but that love is longer still?

And when the end of the world arrives, "upon the peal of doom" come from the bells of the Word's belfry, the Eternal Law's restraint, its "pinion" on chaos will be released, the firmaments will collapse in fire, and the whole universe will go "rocking down to night." There shall be no more Providence, at least as we now know it, and the "fates may gorge to their content." The continents, "redly riven, and bleeding fire," shall "drift asunder" and collide in a last pangaea. And the sky, which by then will have tired of witnessing the constant sins of Man against the good God, will droop, turn sick, and like a sickly bird, "moult its stars" as if they were feathers. With the world, time shall end, and the eternal present reign. And then Eternal Law will cry:

By me what sprung, by me shall die:
Back to God's stretched hand I fly,
To perch there for eternity.

And our souls, and those of our loved ones, and those of all who have shunned evil and done good, we hope, shall be with God, and we shall be able to go beyond the Eternal Law, and see God as He is, and live in the Light of Glory, ensconced in the divine rhythm of the Trinitarian Life of God Himself.


"Laus Legis"

Laus Legis
by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Vox Quaerentis
When the great floodgates God first sundered
Of Himself on desolation,
And round reverberate Heaven there thundered
The growl of an unleashed Creation,
What voice could cry to discord: ‘Be
Thou rampart round security?’

Vox Legis
I bade the frowning terror be
Citadelled o’er security
Yea, at my stamp she cowers, and lies
The warden-hound of Paradise.

Vox Quaerentis
Leviathan earth, with back upstood from
Chaos, shook its woody fells;
Belching a conflagrant flood from
Its Aetnean spiracles;
And where then was there found a hand
That could draw it to the land?

Vox Legis
I, with the finger of my hand,
Plucked it to the heaven-strand;
And with a twist I bound it there
Of adamantean gossamer.

Vox Quaerentis
Whose the hand that strews the manna
For the mailèd birds of God,
When congregating pennons fan a
Flicker from the flame-grassed sod,
With tinkling justle, and the clangours
Intersweeping of sweet angers?

Vox Legis
I cast the paradisal grain
In a sudden rainbow-rain;
’Mid the clangour, clangour, clangour,
Of their wings in argent anger.

Vox Quaerentis
Threating occidential rampires
When the stellar hordes alight,
Kindling their innumerous camp-fires
On the champain of the night;
What tactic ranks their rangèd wars?
Who is Captain of the stars?

Vox Legis
My nod their linked battalia wait,
Their wheeling ranks intrinsicate;
Until this rotten earth become
An apple ’twixt the jaws of doom.

Vox Quaerentis
Who hath seen the broods of lightnings
Seething in their caverned cloud,
And endured their dreadful brightenings
With lids unblenched, with front unbowed?
Whose countenance the strong thunders mutes,
When they tear Heaven up by the roots?

Vox Legis
With moveless gaze enchant I these,
And interspheral harmonies;
I bide the levins’ stroke and pause,
Or twitch the sting from their hot jaws.

Vox Quaerentis
When Eve’s blown vestures half uncover
The lucence of her moonèd breast;
And a red vortex gurges over
The foundered sun in the tossed West,
Who to the heavens’ high-seas restores
And sets it round with silver oars?

Vox Legis
I bid its banks of vibrant rays
Beat to bright froth heaven’s water-ways
Unmooring from Phosphorian shores
The long flash of those silver oars.

Vox Quaerentis
When the lady lily, slipping
Her green garment, stands up slight,
With her white limbs newly dripping
From the laving of the light;
What hand can gird her safely pure,
From her funeral mold renew her?

Vox Legis
I engird her safely pure,
From sepulchral mold renew her;
Till the dead stars that night enwombs
Burst the lids o’ their golden tombs.

Vox Quaerentis
Who hath piped to every bird
Pipings of so diverse noise?
Given each its little unknown word?
Perfumed with tone its diverse voice?
Who steers the throngs of note on note
That shake its multitudinous throat?

Vox Legis
I teach their passionate souls, small, strong
To break and curdle into song;
Allay or perturbate all notes
That swarm within their populous throats.

Vox Quaerentis
Who graved grief’s face, a signet-ring for
God’s own signet-hand to wear?
Made smooth joy a mirroring for
Grief to see her own self fair?
The fount of tears so near to rise,
Their spray perturbs the calm-mered eyes?

Vox Legis
Through me, through me, doth joyance prove
The way to grief, and grief to love;
Yea, sadness sitteth, by my arts,
A portress at the gate of hearts.

Vox Quaerentis
Who is he of dread dominion,
That, upon the peal of doom,
Weighs two firmaments of pinion,
Constellate of burning plume?
Under his foot off-pushing into flight,
The universe goes rocking down to night.

Vox Legis
That is I, oh, that is I!
By me what sprung, by me shall die:
Back to God’s stretched hand I fly,
To perch there for eternity.
The fates may gorge to their content,
To implacable desire,
On the shapes that drift asunder
Down the inundating thunder,—
Carrion hulks of continent,
Redly riven, and bleeding fire:
But I shadow with supernal
Wings of sway the fields eternal,
There my great empery feels not jars,
Though the sick heaven shall moult its stars.

Notes: Aetnean spiracles = from orifices from Mt. Aetna; rampires = ramparts; intrinsicate = intricate; levins = lightning flashes; gurges = surges; Phosphorian = fm Phorphorus, the morning star.

Orphic Hymn to Themis


ILLUSTRIOUS Themis, of celestial birth,
Thee I invoke, young blossom of the earth;
Beauteous-eyed virgin; first from thee alone,
Prophetic oracles to men were known,
Giv'n from the deep recesses of the fane
In sacred Pytho, where renown'd you reign;
From thee, Apollo's oracles arose,
And from thy pow'r his inspiration flows.
Honour'd by all, of form divinely bright,
Majestic virgin, wand'ring in the night:
Mankind from thee first learnt initial rites,
And Bacchus' nightly choirs thy soul delights;
For holy honours to disclose is thine,
With all the culture of the pow'rs divine.
Be present, Goddess, to my pray'r inclin'd,
And bless the mystic rites with fav'ring mind.

Divae Iuritis

Coeligena huc Iuritis ades patrima virago,
Muustea progenies telluris, Caesia dia,
Vaticinas quae prima aperis mortalibus fortes
Delporum Diis pro cortina oracula fatans
Puticulis ubi Puteolis regina cluebas,
Et Februo fandi donasti pectus habere
Augusta speciosa verendaque notctuvolga.
Priam etenim ritus hominum genus edocuisti
Nocturnis sacris Brumum fanatica ovando
Ex te enim castusque Deum cultusque verendi.
Huc adsis, huc Diva faventi numine blanda
Ad divina tui veneranda silentia sacri.

According to the Greek poet Hesiod, Themis was a daughter of Uranus and Ge, and was married to Zeus, by whom she became the mother of the Horae, Eunomia, Dice (Astraea), Eirene, and the Moerae. (Theog. 135, 901, ff.) Themis is personified in the Homeric hymns as the order of things, whether established by law, custom, or equity. In Homer's Odyssey, she is portrayed as regnant among the assemblies of men (e.g., Odyssey. ii. 68). Additionally, in Homer's Illiad, she convenes, pursuant to Zeus's command, the assembly of the gods. (Illiad. xx. 4.) Themis is a citizen of Olympus, and has a good relationship with Hera. (Illiad, xv. 87.) She is often shown holding a pair of scales. Themis is the source of our popular depiction of Lady Justice.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

DIKH-An Orphic Hymn to Equity

O Blessed Equity, mankind's delight,
Th' eternal friend of conduct just and right:
Abundant, venerable, honor'd maid,
To judgments pure, dispensing constant aid,
A stable conscience, and an upright mind;
For men unjust, by thee are undermin'd,
Whose souls perverse thy bondage ne'er desire,
But more untam'd decline thy scourges dire:
Harmonious, friendly power, averse to strife,
In peace rejoicing, and a stable life;
Lovely, loquacious, of a gentle mind,
Hating excess, to equal deeds inclin'd:
Wisdom, and virtue of whate'er degree,
Receive their proper bound alone in thee.
Hear, Goddess Equity, the deeds destroy
Of evil men, which human life annoy;
That all may yield to thee of mortal birth,
Whether supported by the fruits of earth,
Or in her kindly fertile bosom found,
or in the depths of Marine Jove profound.

("To Equity," Orphic Hymn LXII, Thomas Taylor, trans., The Hymns of Orpheus (London: 1792); see


O bona cura hominum locuples iustissima virgo,
Semper amans homines aequalia iura colentes,
O Veneranda, beata Dia, o Iuritis honora
Puris iudiciis dispensans optima iura,
Nec mentem labefacta, etenim cunctos labefactas
Qui tua non subiere boni iuga, sed magis ipsa
Indomiti horrifico declinant ubere flagri,
Concors omnibus aequa, venusta, dicacula, amica,
Munia pacis amans, certae cupidissima vitae
Nam plus deteriusque odisti, et diligis aequum,
In te habet virtus, in te sapientia finem,
Adsis Dia hominum frangens audacia facta,
Ut semper iustam aequa serant vestigia vitam
Omnium, qui terrae vescuntur munere opimo,
Atque animantum alium quaeque educat omniparenti
Alma sinu tellus, et quae maris aequoreus Dis.

From: Gottfried Hermann Orphica (1805).

From: The Book of Orphic Hymns (1827).

Dikē (Δίκη), also known as was Astraea. was the Greek goddess that personified justice or equity. According to the poet Hesiod, Dikē was the daughter of Zeus and Themis, and the sister of Eunomia ("good law" or "good order") and Eirene ("peace"). Hesiod, Theog. 901. She was one of the second-generation Horae, watcher of men's deeds, and advocate before Zeus whenever there was a violation of justice on earth. Hesiod, Work and Days, 239 ff. Before Zeus she lamented the violation of justice especially by judges who accepted bribes. Id. Not only was Dikē an advocate before Zeus, but she also had a role in piercing consciences with the sword of Aesa, and, in connection with the Erinyes, in meting out divine punishment. She did not punish only, but she also distributed out just deserts for acts of justice and virtue. These roles are particularly elaborated in the Greek tragedians such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The Orphic Hymns and Pindar in his Thirteenth Olympian Ode, praise her.

From Themis sprung, Eunomia pure,
Safe Justice [Dikē,] and congenial Peace [Eirene],
Basis of states; whose counsels sure
With wealth and wisdom bless the word
world's increase.

Pindar, Olympian Ode XIII, in Nathan Haskell Dole, The Breviary Treasures (Boston 1903), 95.

While her mother Themis was charged with divine justice, Dikē was in charge of human justice. Her enemy was Adikia (Ἀδικία), the goddess of injustice. Pausanias, the Greek historian and traveler who flourished in the second century A.D., in his description fo the Chest of Kypselos, describes a variety of scenes, among them he observes: "A beautiful woman punishing an ugly one, throttling her with one hand and beating her with a stick with the other, is Justice [Dikē] doing this to Injustice [Adikia]. Pausanias, Guide to Greece (Peter Levi, trans.) (London: Penguin, 1971), Vol. II, 5.18.2, p. 251)

Dikē's daughter through virgin birth was Hesychia (Ἡσυχία), that is, serenity or peace.

Dikē's was blended with her mother Themis to arrive at the the Roman counterpart, Iustitia.

Lex Aeterna: τὸ γνωστὸν του νόμου

IN OUR EARLIER POSTINGS, we had discussed how the Eternal Law, like God, is empirically hidden from us. It is not detectable by any our five senses, and so knowledge of its existence must be obtained in a way other than relying purely on the senses. Knowledge of the existence of the Eternal Law and what it encompasses be gained in two ways. First, these may be accepted by Faith as a result of having been revealed by God. Secondly, they may be gleaned, as the Pagans managed, by extrapolating what is learned from the visible creation. "No theistic and teleological system of philosophy that acknowledges an intelligent supreme Being can omit the concept of a supreme and eternal law." (Hans Meyer, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas quoted in Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998), 158 n. 7. ) The Greek and Roman philosophers with theistic and teleological systems of philosophies therefore managed to grasp the truth of the Eternal Law. It follows that, to the extent our political philosophies and philosophies of law or jurisprudences omit mention of the existence of a supreme and eternal law, they are neither theistic nor teleogical, i.e., they are practically atheistic and have no meaning or end. The political philosophy or jurisprudence that does not recognize a notion of an Eternal Law is therefore untrue, or at least seriously limited and defective, if for no other reason than because it does not recognize that man and his nature has any meaningful end or purpose (what is called entelechy).

(photo from of Violet Oakley's Divine Law, see

Whether accepted by Revelation or gained through Reason, our notions of the Eternal Law are dark and limited, and, when based on Reason alone without Revelation's aid, prone to error as a result of vice, poor education, cultural inheritances, or simple weakness of mind. Even the most naturally virtuous, dispassionate, honest, and sincere seeker, the Aristotelian σπουδαῖος (spoudaios = a very diligent, earnest, zealous and naturally good person), is wooing and is wooed by an unfathomable Mystery, an Other. And if the Eternal Law is in fact God, as St. Thomas teaches, it follows that, with our finite minds, even the best and brightest of us can never comprehend it on this earth. Si comprehenderis non est Lex Aeterna. If you understand it, it is not the Eternal Law. You simply will never get the arms of your mind about it.

Though the Eternal Law is one respect hidden, and therefore cannot be wholly known, it does not follow that it is entirely hidden. The existence of the Eternal Law and what it comprehends can be known in part. Likewise, it does it follow that we cannot know what it is not. By reasoning from created things, we are able to grasp heavenly realities. The law we know is part of God's creation. Nathanael Culverwell (whom we mentioned in our prior posting) explains:

Now as God himself shews somewhat of his face in the glasse [i.e, mirror] of creatures, so the beauty of this [Eternal] Law gives some representations of it self in those pure derivations of inferiour Lawes that stream from it. And as we ascend to the first and supreme being, by steps of second causes; so we may climb up to a sight of this eternal Law, by those fruitful branches of secondary Lawes, which seem to have their root in earth, when as indeed it is in heaven; and that I may vary a little that of the Apostle to the Romanes, The invisible Law of God long before the creation of the world, is now clearly seen being understood by those Lawes which do appear, so that τὸ γνωστὸν του νόμου [the knowledge of the law] is manifested in them, God having shown it to them.

Culverwell, 36 (citing Rom. 1:20).

In Culverwell's words, God is mirrored in his creatures, including the human law we are familiar with, so we may "climb up" from our knowledge of human legislators and human laws to gain a "sight" of the Eternal Law. We must not think that the human lawgiver and human laws are rooted in the earth only, as the human lawgiver and and the institution of human law in fact owe their existence to the Eternal Law or God. Knowledge of the existence of the Eternal Law and its content--what Culverwell rather ungainfully calls τὸγ νωστὸν του νόμου (to gnoston tou nomou)--may thus be gained by extrapolating from the lawgiver and the law that we do know through a process called the analogy of being (analogia entis).

This principle is well described by St. Bonaventure:

All created things of this sensible world lead the soul of the contemplative and wise man toward the eternal God, and this because He is the first, most powerful, wise, and best principle, the eternal origin, light, and fullness, the efficient, exemplary, and ordering art of which they are the shadows, resonances, and pictures. They are vestiges, likenesses, and images divinely given to us as first premises to lead the mind to God. They are exemplars to be used by minds still rude and sensory, so that through such sensible signs, which they see, they may be transferred to the intelligible which they do not see, as through signs to the thing signified.

Omnes creaturae istius sensibilis mundi animum contemplantis et sapientis ducunt in Deum aeternum, pro eo quod illius primi principii potentissimi, sapientissimi et optimi, illius aeternae originis, lucis et plenitudinis, illius, inquam, artis efficientis, exemplantis et ordinantis sunt umbrae, resonantiae et picturae, vestigia, simulacra et spectacula nobis ad contuendum Deum proposita et signa divinitus data; quae, inquam, sunt exemplaria vel potius exemplata, proposita mentibus adhuc rudibus et sensibilibus, ut per sensibilia, quae vident, transferantur ad intelligibilia, quae non vident, tanquam per signa ad signata.

St. Bonaventure, Itinerarium mentis ad Deum (The Mind's Road to God), 2.11.

Applied to the Eternal Law, the principle works as follows. God is the Creator of the cosmos, a world which He brought forth from nothing (ex nihilo) as if a divine artisan, and so God must share some quality with the artisan that we do see. God also is the Ruler of that world, though He rules it in a manner that we do not physically see. But, in ruling the universe, He must share in the qualities of the earthly ruler that we do see, though He does so eminently. Lastly, the Eternal Law we do not see, though we see its effects; but it must share some analogy with the natural moral law we do have some knowledge of, or the human law which we clearly see.

The principle is well-handled by Timothy McDermott in his Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1989), who is his paraphrase/translation of St. Thomas has the following:

No one but God and those blessed with the vision of God can know the eternal law in itself. But all knowledge of truth is a light radiating from the eternal law, and everyone knows some truth, if only the general principles of the law that we have in us by nature. Those who know more than others know the eternal law better. We can know the hidden things of God by looking at the things that he has made, but no one fully comprehends the eternal law because its effects do not fully reveal it.

(p. 284)

It is from this basis that St. Thomas begins his philosophical analysis of the Eternal Law. St. Thomas handles his discussion of the Eternal Law in Question 93 of the second part of the first part (Prima Secundae) of his Summa Theologica by analogizing what he knows about an earthly artisan and an earthly ruler. St. Thomas observes that an artisan must have an archetype or plan (in Latin, a ratio) of the things he intends to make prior to making them. Similarly, a ruler must have an archetype or ordering idea, a blueprint (ratio ordinis) that guides him in governing those subject to him. That ordering idea (ratio ordinis), which is based upon reason, has the nature of law if it is aimed at the common good, and promulgated by the one who has care of the community. ST IaIIae, Q. 93, art.1, resp. Since God is both Creator and Governor of the world--which includes non-rational and rational creatures--it follows that the idea or archetype of the created world that is found in the Divine Wisdom (ratio divinae sapientiae) has the character of law (obtinet rationem legis). The Eternal Law is nothing else but the plan or archetype of the Divine Wisdom--the ratio or the logos--that is made manifest in His creation. Id.

In his work The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, Etienne Gilson summarizes Aquinas's teaching regarding the Eternal Law thus:

The first and vastest of all [communities] is the Universe. The entirety of beings created by God and maintained in existence by His will, can be considered as an immense society of which we are citizens; and not only we, but also all animals and things. There is not a single creature, animate or inanimate, which does not act in conformity with certain rules and in view of certain ends. Animals and things follow these rules and tend towards these ends without knowing them; man, on the contrary, is conscious of them and his moral justice consists in accepting them voluntarily. All laws of nature, all the laws of morality and of society must therefore be considered as so many particular instances of one and the same law, viz., the divine law. But the law by which God wills the universe to be governed is necessarily eternal as God is Himself; eternal law is, therefore, the name given to this first law, which is the source of all other laws.

(Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Dorset Press) (Edward Bullough, trans.), 327.)

Our next post will address the issue of whether God is bound by or subject to the Eternal Law, and the relationship between the divine Will and the divine Reason.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Overview of St. Thomas Aquinas's Theory of Law

BEFORE DELVING INTO ST. THOMAS'S teaching on the Eternal Law, we ought to give a brief overview of his teaching. In St. Thomas's view, all law comes from God, and finds in Him the source of its reason, the source of its bindingness, and the justification for the punishment of its infraction. Even human law, so long as it is just, participates in the Eternal and Natural Law, and for that reason it is generally binding on the conscience.

The Eternal Law is the most fundamental law, and it governs the entirety of Creation--all the Cosmos and its inhabitants, including spiritual creatures (such as angels), man, brute animals, sensate creation (vegetable kingdom), and insensate creation. There is no created thing that acts outside of its auspices. For those creatures with reason and free will, even in their disobedience they remain subject to it. The Eternal Law is God's ratio ordinis or divine plan for all creation, and is what governs His Providence.

With respect to man, the Eternal Law is communicated through the Natural Law, which is an "interior" law based upon Reason, and which is the fundamental way the Eternal Law is communicated to man outside of Revelation. St. Thomas calls the Natural Law the everlasting covenant (foedus sempiternum). Cf. Isaiah 24:5.

In His Revelation to Israel, and then His Revelation in Christ, God also has promulgated positive laws, and these laws, which conform to the Eternal Law, are denominated Divine Law. Included in the scope of Divine Law are the Old Testament or Mosaic Laws, which include moral laws, ceremonial laws, and judicial laws. Christians believe the latter two kinds of law were abrogated in the New Testament by Christ, though the moral laws (in particular, the Ten Commandments) continue to have viability. Though the Ten Commandments are positive Divine decrees or laws, they are also to be found in the Natural Law, where they are promulgated, not through Revelation, but in man's nature, that is, Reason. The Law of the Gospel or the New Covenant, based upon Love, is also Divine Law. The Law of the Gospel, which is a Law of Grace, includes such matters as the institution of the Sacraments. It also demands an interiorization of the Law, and provides the Grace for its fulfillment.

Under the Natural Law, humans, who by their nature have to live in common, have the authority to make law of their own. This kind of law is referred to as human law or positive law. It includes the positive law (both civil and criminal) of the State, and the Canon or ecclesiastical law of the Church. A human law, however, may not contradict Divine or Natural Law, or it cuts itself off from the source of its binding nature, and so, strictly speaking, is as if it was no law at all. ST IaIIae Q.93, art.3, ad. 3. Under some circumstances, it may be disobeyed; indeed, in some rare cases, it must be disobeyed. In the latter situation we are like the Apostles and, "We must obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29.

Below is a simplified and graphic depiction of St. Thomas's understanding of the various relationships between the different classifications of law.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lex Aeterna: In Church, Scripture, and the Pagan

WHEN HE STATED in his compilation of the Saxon laws that "God is himself law" (see prior post), Eike von Repgow was referring to the notion of Eternal Law. The Eternal Law is the belief that God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, has a master plan or ratio that is found in His Creation and is enforced in His Providence. The existence of the Eternal Law is part of that assurance that there is a Reason behind God's Creation and its continued sustaining through His Providence. This plan or ratio goes beyond the material world. It includes the rational creation, and in particular mankind, for whom God has great solicitude. This solicitude, this love that God has for mankind, extends itself, in what has been called the "scandal of particularity," to reach each man and every woman, even every sparrow's fall. It is the firm hope that human life, my and my loved ones' lives, my neighbor's life, even my enemy's life, by God's design, has a purpose or end. Life is not, as Macbeth would have it,

. . . but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon a stage,
And then is heard no more

It is not, a

. . . tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing
(Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, sc. v.)

Embracing the reality of the Eternal Law encompasses a rejection of metaphysical pessimism. The doctrine insists that there is a purpose, plan, archetype, or design under which Creation and Providence are governed. This is what is called the Eternal Law.

We must start with this notion of the Eternal Law to understand the classical and traditional doctrine of the Natural Law, in both its Graeco-Roman and Christian roots. The notion of an Eternal Law is a truth that modernly has been disbelieved, discarded, and forgotten, and it must be relearned. In his book Creative Fidelity, the Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel speaks of the duty of the believer to become aware of the non-believer that is within him. This is also true with respect to our life in common. We have a duty to try to recognize where our society disbelieves, and where it ambles without guidance in the sloughs of practical atheism. Both individually and as a civil society, we are to have the same attitude as the man in the Gospels: Credo, Domine; adjuva incredulitatem meam! "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). This should be our approach, our earnest prayer, in engaging with the doctrine of Eternal Law. For many--to accept it in its full implications--it will require a conversion of the mind and the heart.

In Article 1 to Question 91 of the first part of the second part (Prima Secundae Partis) of his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether there is an Eternal Law, a question he answers affirmatively. In answering the question he has posed, St. Thomas refers back to his definition of law as a "dictate of practical reason emanating from the ruler who governs a perfect community." ST IaIIae Q. 91, art.1, resp.; see also ST IaIIae Q. 90, art.4, resp. If God's existence and role as Creator and divine Provider are granted (and Thomas had treated those matters in a prior part of his Summa), St. Thomas observes that it follows, "the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason." This governance by God "has the nature of a law," and since God's Reason is eternal, it is evident that this law must likewise be eternal. ST IaIIae Q. 91, art.1, resp. (As an aside, it may be observed that the Declaration of Independence, invokes a "firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence," which implicitly invokes the notion of an Eternal Law. So it is we that ought to look incredulously at the professorate of our law schools mentioned in our earlier post.)

In trying to understand the Eternal Law, however, man suffers from an intrinsic limitation. We have no direct knowledge of the Eternal Law. It is not seen in written form like a human statute; it is not announced in the public square; it is not obviously enforced by a league of visible policemen and judges. There are no angels handing out tickets or pursuing indictments. But this is not a cause for despair, nor, as the skeptics would have it, a matter for ridicule (one thinks of Jeremy Bentham in this regard). For the believer, it is a truth revealed in Scripture and propounded by the Teaching Church that there is an Eternal Law. It is a truth that is graspable through reason, though through a glass darkly. Therefore, it is a belief that may be found among the best of the pagans. It is a belief which may be shared with men and women of good will.

In Dignitatis Humanae (No. 3), for example, the Second Vatican Council points out that the

supreme rule of life is the divine law itself, the eternal, objective and universal law by which God out of his wisdom and love arranges, directs and governs the whole world and the paths of the human community. God has enabled man to share in this divine law, and hence man is able under the gentle guidance of God's providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth.

The Church's teaching rests soundly upon Scripture and Tradition, in particular, St. Augustine's and St. Thomas's classic teaching of the Eternal Law.

In his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II quoted this specific part of Dignitatis Humanae, and then commented (Nos. 43-44):

The Council refers back to the classic teaching on God's eternal law. Saint Augustine defines this as "the reason or the will of God, who commands us to respect the natural order and forbids us to disturb it." Saint Thomas identifies it with "the type of the divine wisdom as moving all things to their due end." And God's wisdom is providence, a love which cares. God himself loves and cares, in the most literal and basic sense, for all creation (cf. Wis 7:22; 8:11). But God provides for man differently from the way in which he provides for beings which are not persons. He cares for man not "from without," through the laws of physical nature, but "from within," through reason, which, by its natural knowledge of God's eternal law, is consequently able to show man the right direction to take in his free actions. In this way God calls man to participate in his own providence, since he desires to guide the world--not only the world of nature but also the world of human persons--through man himself, through man's reasonable and responsible care. The natural law enters here as the human expression of God's eternal law. Saint Thomas writes: "Among all others, the rational creature is subject to divine providence in the most excellent way, insofar as it partakes of a share of providence, being provident both for itself and for others. Thus it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end. This participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called natural law."

The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality. Thus my Venerable Predecessor Leo XIII emphasized the essential subordination of reason and human law to the Wisdom of God and to his law. After stating that "the natural law is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin," Leo XIII appealed to the "higher reason" of the divine Lawgiver: "But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject." Indeed, the force of law consists in its authority to impose duties, to confer rights and to sanction certain behaviour: "Now all of this, clearly, could not exist in man if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions." And he concluded: "It follows that the natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end, it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe."

(Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, Nos. 43-44 (citations omitted) (The encylical quoted by John Paul II is Leo XIII's Libertas Praestantissimum of June 20, 1888)).

The Scriptural references to the Eternal Law are legion. It is usually referred to under the personification of Divine Wisdom. Suffice us to point out Proverbs 8:15-16, and Proverbs 8:23-36.

By me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things,
By me princes rule, and the mighty decree justice
I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made.
The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out:
The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth:
He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of
the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law
and compass he enclosed the depths:
When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:
When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits:
When he balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times;
Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men.
Now therefore, ye children, hear me: Blessed are they that keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not.
Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my
gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors.
He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord:
But he that shall sin against me, shall hurt his own soul.
All that hate me love death.

The existence of an Eternal Law is not only a religious or revealed truth. There is a basis in reason for believing in the Eternal Law, and consequently one can find an understanding of the Eternal Law in the leading lights of Greece and Rome, such as the philosopher Plato or the Roman statesman Cicero. For example, in writing his book on the Natural Law, the English Protestant divine Nathanael Culverwell (1619-1651), generally associated with the Cambridge Platonists, relied on the Jesuit Francisco Suárez and the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. But he also accessed the writings of the pagans Plato and Cicero to show how even the pagans had a notion of a Law above all law, a law that governed the cosmos, and that was the archetype or model, of what human laws should be. Aggregating references to Plato's dialogues, including Cratylus and Laws, and Plotinus's Enneads , Culverwell summarizes:

This the Platonists would call ἰδέαντωννόμων [the ideal of laws], and would willingly heap such honourable titles as these upon it, ὁνόμοςἀρχηγὸς, πρωτουργὸς, αὐτοδίκαιος, αὐτόκαλος, αὐτοάγαθος, ὁὄντωςνόμος, ὁνόμοςσπερματικός [the archetypal law, primary, intrinsically just, beautiful and good, the essential law, the seminal law]. And the greatest happinesse the other Lawes can arrive unto, is this, that they be Νόμοιδουλεύοντες, καὶὑπηρετουντες, ministring and subservient Lawes; waiting upon this their Royal Law. Σκιαὶνόμων; Or as they would choose to stile them, Νομοειδεις, some shadows & appearances of this bright and glorious Law, or at the best, they would be esteemed by them but Νόμοιἔκγονοι, the noble off-spring and progeny of Lawes; blessing this womb that bare them, and this breast that gave them suck.

Culverwell also draws from Cicero's book De Legibus II.4.8 to show that this notion was carried over and adopted by the Romans. As he freely translated it:

Wise men did ever look upon a Law, not as on a spark struck from human intellectuals, not blown up or kindled with popular breath, but they thought it an eternal light shining from God himself irradiating, guiding, and ruling the whole Universe; most sweetly and powerfully discovering what wayes were to be chosen, and what to be refused. And the minde of God himself is the centre of Lawes, from which they were drawn, and into which they must return.

(NathanielCulverwell, An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature (Robert A. Greene and Hugh MacCallum, eds.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), 36-37.)

The notion of the Eternal Law is thus part of our cultural and religious heritage. In our next post, we will address in a little greater detail St. Thomas Aquinas's teachings about the Eternal Law, a teaching which the Church has adopted as her own.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lex Aeterna: God is Law

IN A STRIKING PHRASE, The Mirror of the Saxons, a collection of customary laws compiled by Eike von Repgow (1180-1235), states "God is himself law, and therefore law is dear to him." (quoted in Harold J. Berman, Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000), 292.) Modernly, we are accustomed to hearing that God is Justice, and God is Mercy, and God is Love. Our ear is attuned to those truths, and they seem, though they never ought to be, almost commonplace. But the phrase "God himself is Law" is jarring to the modern ear. It seems jarring from both a religious and a secular perspective. That it is jarring is a sign of two things. First, it is probably reflective of a modern religious disdain for "Law" based upon misunderstanding of both both "Law" and "Grace" in the divine economy of salvation; it betrays, unfortunately, a fundamental misunderstanding, largely inherited from Protestant theology, between the aera sub lege and the aera sub gratia, the dispensation before Christ and after Christ. (In fact, Law and Grace, like Nature and Grace, or Reason and Faith, do not contradict each other. The natural law was in force before Christ and after Christ.) Second, and more pertinent to this blog which is dedicated to the Natural Law, the jarring is a sign of how far our political and legal institutions have strayed from their traditional moorings in the Natural Law.

As secularism has marched incessantly forward, like a Juggernaut destroying all the inherited cultural capital, both Christian and Graeco-Roman, in its path the world has become, in Max Weber's phrase, progressively "disenchanted." As a result, our civil, political, and legal institutions have become increasingly emancipated from God to such a degree that we act as practical atheists.

For example, as we understand it today, the notion of the Rule of Law is purposefully crafted to exclude mention of God, and so is a notion merely procedural, purely secular. While, as a legal principle, it may have significant value, it nevertheless suffers from obvious limitations. When push comes to shove, it offers but a superficial bulwark against tyranny. (As an example of its limited value, the Rule of Law cannot be used to criticise Roe v. Wade;indeed, the Rule of Law arguably demands its continued enforcement.) Many commentators have noted the same problem with the modern notion of "Human Rights."

Disassociating God from Law, like disassociating God from Ethics, has caused our scholars to run into intellectual cul-de-sacs. Scholars have a hard time answering why there ought to be a "Rule of Law," and why there is such a thing as "Human Rights," and why these ought to have a universal value.

God and the Eternal Law are ostracized from our public and even private schools, even those with an originally religious foundation. Mention that "God himself is Law" to any among the professorate at Harvard (of Puritan foundation) or Yale (Congregationalist) law schools, and you will likely draw a blank, quizzical, or perhaps disdainful look. That would not have been true at their founding. This frequently leads to an impossible quandary, the effects of which are a cacophony of ethical discussion without hope of resolution or common ground, absurdities advanced as serious thought, or just plain nihilism and despair. (See, e.g., Law's Quandary by Stephen D. Smith, and After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre.)

To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, when men don't believe in an Eternal Law, the result is not that they believe in no law, but that they will believe in every kind of law (including no law).

With that introduction, our next posts will address the issue of what the Eternal Law is, and how it may be known.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Exigency Toward Order

WITHIN HIMSELF, MAN FINDS a desire, an internal exigency, to discover Order in the cosmos. The desire is born of a primordial wonder, wonder at both the sheer ebullience of the created world about him, and how amidst the sheer variety and discordance, there appears withal to be a fundamental order, a harmony. Engaged thus with the world about him and the mystery it bespeaks, man asks whether there is meaning to all this, whether the natural world about him has a purpose, an end, in Greek, a telos. Like God, whose image he is, man looks about and sees that it is good, though he also is aware that this good bears within it an admixture of bad.

Of all creatures, Man has a unique and uncanny ability to peer within himself. He is not only able to admire the stars above him, but a law, an order within himself that hints also of good and bad. He finds within himself an internal world, a hidden cosmos as deep and as expansive as the universe above him. He finds within himself desires that want fulfillment; he finds in himself the ability to plan, to reason, to fulfill those desires; he finds within his inner landscape dark places, as well as light places, dark valleys and resplendant peaks in the crags of his mind.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

(G. M. Hopkins, "No Worst, There is None. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief.")

There is a law written down in there, in what the Scriptures call his "heart." He also discovers, like St. Paul did, that he often does the things he does not wish to do, or things he feels he ought not do. Though he perceives the good, he fails in doing it, and he feels guilt. He violates the rules of his heart. Does all this bespeak a reason for being here, a goal in life, a purpose, and end?

But there is more. Man also observes about him fellow creatures such as himself, and is able to recognize that these, though they are distinct from him, are yet in great part the same as he, they share in his nature. And he must learn to live with them, preferably in peace. They present both a threat to his existence, and a boon to it.

Man also knows also that he must die, but he also knows that he yearns to live forever. He had nothing to do with his coming into this world, and into his consciousness of it; he accepts it as a given, ultimately a gift, though he may be unsure about its source. This man may or may not be a Christian, but it makes no difference, because he is a man, and these observations and these questions are universal, and cross all boundaries of history, culture, and religion.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, man wonders whether there is a "Deep Magic" behind it all.

What should he think? How should he act? Where is he to learn whether there is an Order, a Law behind it all? Upon what path shall he tread, and whom should he follow, in answering these questions? In his The Mystery of Being, the philosopher Gabriel Marcel puts forth what appears to be a sound road map to use in answering our question to find the Order:

On this point it is of prime importance to rejoin the path marked out by the highest philosophic thought since Socrates and Plato on the one hand, and the highest religious preaching on the other; we have the right, and even the obligation, without falling to a rash syncretism, to keep in mind the implications of certain reevealing points of agreement between the higher religions.

(Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being: Volume II: Faith and Reality (South Bend: St. Augustine's Press, 2001), 90.)

Given this roadmap, we shall turn to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. He combines within himself the "highest philosophic thought" and the "highest religious preaching." And he strove to "keep in mind the implications of certain revealing points of agreement between the higher religions," relying on Aristotle, on the Jewish Maimonides, and on the Muslim Averroes (ibn Rushd). In the next series of posts, therefore, we will look at St. Thomas's teaching of the Order. In his synopsis of the Order, the "Deep Magic" underlying it all, St. Thomas distinguishes between the Eternal Law, the Divine Law, the Natural Law, and Human Law. We will address them in that order.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ouranios Nomos-An Orphic Hymn to Law

THE ORPHIC HYMNS, which may have been composed as early as the 3rd cent. B.C., are 87 short religious poems, essentially prayers or invocations, addressed to various Greek-based deities, and probably used in Orphic worship. They show the influence of ancient Greek religious and mythical beliefs and practices, and are clearly pagan in inspiration. They enjoyed a resurgence in the early Renaissance. For example, Marsilio Ficino of Florence (1433-99), tutor to Lorenzo de’ Medici and a leading Neoplatonic philosopher of that day, was credited with reviving the singing of these ancient songs by means of the Orphic lyre. Ficino's friend and fellow humanist Pico della Mirandola wrote encomia regarding the magic quality of these poems and music. In addition to songs of praise to the multiple gods in the Greek pantheon, there are four poems of praise to deities directly related to justice and law. Though there is no english equivalent for the Greek concepts of Nomos, Dike, Dikaiosyne, and Themis, one can approximate these as a Law (Nomos), Equity (Dike), Justice (Dikaiosyne), and Custom (Themis). The hymns document that felt notion that law and justice bear some relationship to divinity. This relationship is so vivid that, to the polytheist, these components are personified as gods that may be invoked, appeased, and worshiped. The important message that remains for us today is that Law and Justice are more than just human words or human concepts based on mere will and power, but they have a transcendent or mysterious character which ultimately means they reference God, and bear some analogy to and reliance upon Him. The English translation is from Thomas Taylor, the Latin text and Greek lower-case text come from Gottfried Hermann's Orphica.

TO LAW (Nomos)

THE holy king of Gods and men I call,
Celestial Law, the righteous seal of all;
The seal which stamps whate'er the earth contains,
Nature's firm basis, and the liquid plains:
Stable, and starry, of harmonious frame,
Preserving laws eternally the same:
Thy all-composing pow'r in heaven appears,
Connects its frame, and props the starry spheres;
And shakes weak Envy with tremendous sound,
Toss'd by thy arm in giddy whirls around.
'Tis thine, the life of mortals to defend,
And crown existence with a blessed end;
For thy command and alone, of all that lives
Order and rule to ev'ry dwelling gives:
Ever observant of the upright mind,
And of just actions the companion kind;
Foe to the lawless, with avenging ire,
Their steps involving in destruction dire.
Come, bless, abundant pow'r, whom all revere,
By all desir'd, with favr'ing mind draw near;
Give me thro' life, on thee to fix my fight,
And ne'er forsake the equal paths of right.

("To Law," Orphic Hymn LXIII, Thomas Taylor, trans., The Hymns of Orpheus (London: 1792); see


Coeligenum atque hominum genium te Diva voco Lex
Coelestem astrificem, rerum commune sigillum,
Terrai aequorei salis, naturaeque statumen.
Concors et constans servans bene legibus aptum,
Quis tu is componens coeli immortalia iura
Et quatis sublestam invidiam vortiginis ritu,
Qui bona das vitae mortalibus munia obire.
Sola etenim moderare animantum cuncta guberna,
Consiliis cernens observantissima rectis
Casca experta comes, iustis innoxia semper
Iniustosque labefaciens ingentibus noxis.
Sed veneranda opulentifer omnium amoena voluptas,
Fac to nos memores aspirans nomen amicum.

Gottfried Hermann Orphica (1805) 589.

From: The Book of Orphic Hymns (1827)

The Heart's Law

The Scriptural locus classicus generally referenced to support the proposition that the existence of a universal Natural Law is, in addition to a philosophical truth, also a revealed truth is St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, in particular Romans 2:15. The Jews may have the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. All men (i.e., the "Greeks"), however, have the Ten Commandments written in their hearts. As St. Paul proclaims in Romans 2:15a, all men and women without distinction have, "the law are written in their hearts," the "legis scriptum in cordibus suis," "τοῦ νόμου γραπτὸν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν," the فَهُمْ يُظْهِرُونَ جَوْهَرَ الشَّرِيعَةِ مَكْتُوباً فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ (fahum iuthhruna jawhala as-shari'ai maktuban fi qulubihim), "dass Gottes Gesetz in ihre Herzen geschrieben," "la ley de Dios escrita en su corazón," "la loi écrite dans leurs coeurs," "la legge è scritta nei loro cuori," . . . . .

St. Irenaeus states: "From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law. Then he was content to remind him of them. This was the Decalogue." St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4, 15, 1.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Natural Law in Birmingham Jail

ON APRIL 16, 1963, MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., authored his famous letter from his cell in the Birmingham City Jail. He was confined there after being arrested for planning a non-violent protest against racial segregation by the City of Birmingham, Alabama, and its downtown retailers. King was arrested by the Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Connor, for parading without a permit, and spent 11 days in jail. The letter was in response to a statement ("A Call for Unity") made by white Alabama clergymen who advised that the civil rights movement should focus on the use of judicial means to correct injustices, and not street demonstrations. The letter, based upon traditional notions of Natural Law, includes such unforgettable lines such as: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everyhwere." In the letter, Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes St. Augustine of Hippo's Dialogue On the Free Choice of the Will (De Libero Arbitrio, Book 1, section 5 ( Nam lex mihi esse non videtur, quae iusta non fuerit. ("For a law that is unjust does not seem to me to be a law at all"). Dr. King also makes reference to St. Thomas Aquinas and his teaching on the Natural Law, which is a direct reference to the so-called "Treatise on Law," that is, Questions 90-97 of the Prima Secundae (Part I-II) of his Summa Theologica.

. . . .

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

. . . .

For a copy of the "Call to Unity," to which Dr. King replied, click here.

For a copy of the full text of Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, click here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paean To Natural Law

NATURAL LAW IS THE GREAT INTELLECTUAL and practical quest to both justify the law of man and to define its limits by reference to Reason and the Nature of Man. It is the human spirit's refusal to abide by the tyrant’s or libertine’s or skeptic’s answer that law is merely Will or Might or Convenience. It is the human yearning for Justice built upon that human propensity to wonder about Law and its source and end. Only Reason wonders. Will commands, Might forces, Convenience dissimulates. Confronted with his need to live among his fellows in whom he recognizes "Thous" or "Others" of his kind, and the limitations that such need places upon him, man has grasped at, and sought to express in a rational and systematic way, an extra-legal standard upon which the human law can rest and to which it must yield. The answer he will find, if he seeks in good faith, in his heart and conscience, and in the order of the created cosmos, which is God's natural voice to him. At least for the Christian, he finds the answer found therein confirmed and buttressed by Revelation. The Natural Law is positive law’s loyal friend and eternal foe, its mighty champion and its determined nemesis, its easy advocate and its incorruptible judge. It readily yields power and authority to human law, yet demands its obedience.

Natural law is a manifesto that man is not altogether in thrall to the law of the State and the conventions of his society, that “there is something in man that is not altogether in slavery to his society.” (Leo Straus, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 3.) Natural law is a “thing like Athens, the mother of a mode of life, of a manner of living, which shall renew the youth of the world," and a "a thing like Nazareth.” (Chesterton, Napoleon of Notting Hill , 152). Athens does not ask people to wear chlamys, but the soul of Athens “went forth and made men drink hemlock. Nazareth did not ask us to wear turbans, but the soul of Nazareth went forth and made men consent to be crucified.”

Natural Law rejects both fideism and a theocracy, and staunchly defends the essential role of Reason in Law. To Tertullian’s question Quid Athenae Hierosolymis? (What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?) the Natural Law insists, “Everything.” It insists everything because both Athens and Jerusalem were populated by Greek and Jew, and, as St. Paul reminds us, under God, there is neither Jew nor Greek. (Gal. 3:28) Nor is there Jew or Greek under Law, there is only man under Law.

The Natural Law wields the steel of justice and the flesh of equity. The cold of logic and reason, and the warmth of human passion. It lassos the mind and soul and binds it to the flesh; it flagellates the flesh and subjects it to the mind and soul. If frees man’s spirit, and limits the cries of his body, but reminds man’s spirit that the body is his home, nay, more than his home. Though in uneasy partnership, his body is one with his spirit. The Natural Law justifies force and condemns it. It promises freedom, but demands unquestioned obedience. Yet it commands disobedience in the face of human tyranny. It tells us we are citizens of the State, yet forever reminds us that we remain sons of the living God. It tells us that law is convention, yet more than convention. It tells us that the law is divine, yet it is not God. Its fundamental message is that it is true that there is a Law that governs law.

The Natural Law is found in the confused yearnings and speculations of Hesiod, Heraclitus, and the Presocratics; in bud and bloom in the words of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and Sophocles' Antigone. It is found preserved and codified in the philosophy of the Stoics, and then transplanted from Greece to Rome, where it was to become ennobled by the likes of the advocacy of Cicero, and the genius of Gaius. It was found in epistles of St. Paul, and among the early Christians, from whence it wended its way into the mind of the prolific Augustine, from whom it spread around the Western World through the Papacy. It is found, like seed, in the soil of the Barbarian, and in full shoot in the laws of Theodosius and Justinian. In the silent years, the so-called dark ages, it was hiding in the custody of the Benedictine monasteries. It finds renascence in Gratian, and in the law schools of Padua and elsewhere. You may find it at the University of Paris, at which it may have reached its synthetic formulation in St. Thomas. From St. Thomas, it spread throughout Christendom, surviving even the Reformation and Luther's and Calvin's assaults. In Spain: Suarez and Vittoria, are some of its well-known lights. In Scotland: Francis Hutcheson. In Holland: Grotius. In Germany: Pufendorf. In Switzerland: Burlamaqui. In England: the "judicious" Hooker, Blackstone, and Locke. In America: from Locke to Thomas Jefferson and into our Declaration of Independence, and from Blackstone's Commentaries into all the minds and hearts of all the lawyers of the Colonies. The Natural Law is found in the calls for justice to the indigenous peoples of Bartolomé de las Casas, and in very soul of the Abolitionists, the trials at Nuremberg, at the Birmingham Jail with Martin Luther King, and in Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae. And it is not only a Western phenomenon. In the East, it can be recognized in Hinduism's and Buddhism's Dharma. In China, in the distinction between Li and Fa. In ancient Egypt it was personified as Ma'at. Even in Islam, though its voice and development burdened by the strong divine legal positivism of the Qur'an, it also has made its voice heard. In Africa, it may be heard in its concept of Ubuntu. Wherever there is man there is the Natural Law, for the Natural Law is the "Law of One" of Heraclitus, and the "Law of All" of St. Paul.