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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brownson on Natural Law--The True Source of Human Rights

IN THIS EXCERPT from his "Philosophical Studies on Christianity," Orestes Brownson reminds us how human rights have no real substance without reference to the source of those rights, God. In modern "rights talk," the source of rights appears to have become autonomous from God. And so in the public forum we hear such empty talk such as a "right" to free speech (as if we have a right to spread falsehood or injure or defame others), a "right" to do what we want to our body (as if we are not answerable to God for it), a "right" to homosexual marriage (as if we have a right to morbidly cohabit in sin), a "right" to a divorce (as if we have a right to rend asunder what God has joined), etc., etc. ad nauseam. There are times--amidst this clamor of "rights talk" based upon nothing but air, nay, vacuous thinking or some primeval urge or misdirected lust antithetical to the good--when one wants to scream out in exasperation like Pope Leo XIII did in his Encyclical Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus: "The world has heard enough of the so-called 'rights of man.' Let it hear something of the rights of God." The need to retrofit God into our concept of right, or perhaps retrofit our concept of right under God who is their source, was true in the late 1800s when Brownson flourished, it is even more true now.

"The dominant tendency of our age is to atheism,--to exclude God, and to put humanity or nature in the place of God. It is this tendency which it is now especially necessary to resist and guard against. If, with some of our modern writers, more attached, it would seem, to the letter than imbued with the sense of the great doctors of the church, we assign to nature a proper legislative power and represent it as competent to found rights and impose duties, or contend that man has rights of his own, in the strict sense of the word, we here and now compromise the great truths of religion, and strengthen the atheistical tendency of the age. Never in reality did any of our great theologians teach that nature has a true and proper legislative power, for they all teach that what they call the law of nature is law only inasmuch as it is a transcript of the eternal law. They all teach, after St. Paul, that non est potestas nisi a Deo [there is no power, but that it is from God], that God is the absolute lord and proprietor of the universe, that he is the fountain of all law, or sole legislator, because all dominion belongs to him. Without law, neither right nor duty is conceivable, and without God as absolute and universal legislator, law is an unmeaning term. All legislative power is his, because he is the creator and final cause of all things, by whom and for whom all things exist; and no one can rightfully exercise any legislative authority, but as his delegate or vicar. In strictness, he [God] only has rights, because he only can impose duties. Then what we call human rights, whether rights of government or of subjects, are his rights and our duties, and duties, nay, all the rights which our theologians deduce from the law of nature, are no doubt real rights, and neither individuals nor governments can violate any one of them without wrong, . . . and which, if not recognized, renders the doctrine when applied to man in relationship human government favorable either to despotism or to anarchy; but though real rights, they are divine, not human, and their violation is not merely a crime against the individual, the state, or society, but, in the strict and proper sense of the word, a sin against God. This great truth, which underlies all Catholic teaching on the subject, but which the authorities do not always clearly and distinctly state, because in their time there was little danger of its being misapprehended, needs, it seems to us, to be now distinctly and prominently brought out, and earnestly insisted on as an elementary truth of which our age has nearly lost sight, and as the precise contradictory of its dominant heresy."

[From Brownson's Works, "Philosophical Studies on Christianity" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1900), Vol. 3, p. 159-60.]

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