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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"The Hidden Law"

"The Hidden Law" by W. H. Auden

The Hidden Law does not deny
Our laws of probability,
But takes the atom and the star
And human beings as they are,
And answers nothing when we lie.

It is the only reason why
No government can codify,
And verbal definitions mar
The Hidden Law.

Its utter patience will not try
To stop us if we want to die;
If we escape it in a car,
If we forget It in a bar,
These are the ways we're punished by
The Hidden Law.

The “Hidden Law” was published in The Double Man, a book of poems written by W. H. Auden and published in 1941. See W. H. Auden, The Double Man (New York: Random House 1941). The Double Man is also known under its English title New Year Letter. The poems included in The Double Man or New Year Letter document Auden’s return to the Anglican faith of his childhood after his lengthy flirtation with Communist and other leftist thought.

The Double Man includes the poem “New Year Letter,” which is accompanied by a series of idiosyncratic and often cryptic “Notes,” and it is these that contain this poem. Though published (untitled) as a note to the lengthy poem “The New Year Letter” in The Double Man, “The Hidden Law,” also appeared under the title "Aera sub Lege" in 1945. See Collected Poems (New York: Vintage International, 1991) (Edward Mendelson, ed.), 905.

The title "Aera sub Lege" (trans. = “The Era under Law”) would suggest that Auden intended to contrast the Aera sub Lege (the time before the Christian dispensation) with the Aera sub Gratia (the Christian dispensation). In choosing to publish the poem under this title, perhaps Auden intended to show how Grace may be found in Law, like Law may be found in Grace, sort of following the Augustinian concept relating to the Scriptures: Novum in vetere latet, vetus in novo patet. (The New [Testament] is hidden in the Old [Testament], the Old [Testament] is made manifest in the New [Testament]). So, then Grace is hidden in the Law, and the Law is made manifest in Grace.

Prior to writing “The Hidden Law,” Auden had written his poems “Law Like Love” and the “New Year Letter,” where he also struggles with the notion of Law and Freedom and their relationship to God. In this poem, however, Auden adopts the Isaiahan or Pascalian image of the mysterious, hidden God—the Deus absconditus of Isaiah and Pascal—and applies it to the mystery he perceived in his encounter with Law. For Auden, Law participates in the very life of the divine mystery and so shares in this mystery. Law is a Lex abscondita, a hidden Law.

Auden’s message is Augustinian and apophatic: Si comprehenderis non est Lex. In a sense, perhaps, Law, like God, may be known only through a negative jurisprudence, an apophatic jurisprudence. Auden, however, does not reject the notion of a positive or cataphatic jurisprudence based on analogy. This analogia Legis or analogia Iuris , as one may call it, is handled in his earlier poem “Law Like Love,” where Auden concludes that the best analogy for understanding Law is Love. In “The Hidden Law,” however, Auden stresses that for whatever we may think it is, Law remains, in a very real sense, hidden from us.

The notes in The Double Man that precede this poem when originally published may be found in The Double Man, 112-13.

762. The Lex Abscondita
Natural law is not to be confused with human political law. The latter is a generalized will imposed by force upon particular wills. If it is broken it does not cease to be the law. Human law rests upon Force and Belief, i.e., belief in this rightness.
In Natural law, on the other hand, there can be no opposition between the will of the whole and the separate wills of the parts. It is simply what happens in the field under consideration if there is no interference from outside. Our knowledge of Natural Law is derived from an observation of particulars. If we find a single exception, it means that our formulation of Natural Law has been incorrect.
There is therefore no Natural Philosophy, only a Natural Way. The way rests upon Faith and Doubt: Faith that Natural Law exists and that we can have knowledge of it; Doubt that our knowledge can ever be perfect or unmixed with error.
Our grounds for Faith: the unhappiness of Man
Our grounds for doubt: the same.
(Definition. I believe X=I believe the proposition X to be true.
I have faith in X=The existence of X is, for me, an absolute presupposition.
I doubt X=I admit the possibility that, at some future unspecified date, and for reasons also unspecified, I may come
either to believe the proposition X to be false
or to find that, for me, the presupposition that
X exists in longer absolute but relative.)
[Here the poem “The Hidden Law” followed]

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