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.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Benedict XVI on John of Salibury's Teachings on Natural Law

IN HIS GENERAL AUDIENCE on December 16, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI had the occasion of discussing John of Salisbury. During the audience made some salutary comments on the natural law. The English version on the Vatican's web page is truncated, so I have translated the fuller, Spanish version.

Pope Benedict XVI
My dear brothers and sisters:

Today we are going to discuss the figure of John of Salibury, a man who belonged the Cathedral Chapter of Chartres in France, one of most important medieval philosophical and theological schools. Like the theologians of whom I have spoken in the last weeks, he also helps us to understand how the faith, in harmony with the right aspirations of the reason, impels thought towards revealed truth, in which is found the man's true good.

John was born in England, in Salisbury, between 1100 and 1120. Reading his works, and especially his rich correspondence, we can learn about the most important events of is life. During twelve years, from 1136 to 1148, he dedicated himself to study, attending the most qualified schools of the time, at which he audited the lessons of famous teachers. He later went to Paris and to Chartres, and it is these places that most marked his formation, and at which he experienced a great cultural growth, one engendered by an interest over speculative problems and the appreciation of Literature. As often happened in that time, the most brilliant students were retained by prelates and sovereigns to help collaborate in their rule. This also happened to John of Salisbury, who was introduced by a great friend his, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, to Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury--the preeminent see of England, at which he was welcomed into its clergy.

During eleven years, between 1150 to 1161, John was secretary and chaplain of the elderly archbishop. With untiring fervor, while he continued dedicating himself to his studies, he carried out intense diplomatic activity, traveling on ten occasions to Italy, with the specific objective to attending to the relations of the Kingdom and the Church of England with the Roman Pontiff. Additionally, in those years the Pope was Adrian IV, an Englishman who maintained intimate friendship with John of Salisbury. In the years following Pope Adrian's death in 1159, a situation arose that created serious tension between the Church and the English Kingdom. King Henry II tried to establish his authority over the internal life of the Church, limiting its freedom. The King's taking of this position provoked the reactions of John of Salisbury, and above all the brave resistance of Theobald's successor to the episcopal chair of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket who, for that reason, was exiled to France. John of Salisbury accompanied the exiled Thomas and remained at his service, always working toward reconciliation. In 1170, by which time both John and St. Thomas Becket had returned to England, the latter was attacked and assassinated within his cathedral. Becket died a martyr and the public immediately venerated him as one. John remained at hand, faithfully serving also the successor of St. Thomas, until he was chosen bishop of Chartres, at which position he remained from 1176 to 1180, the year of his death.

Of the works of John of Salisbury, I want to focus on two that are considered his masterpieces, elegantly designated by their Greek titles of Metalogicon (In defense of logic) and the Polycraticus (the man of Government). In the first work he--with the fine irony that characterizes many cultured men--rejects the position of those who advanced a restrictive conception of culture, considering it like empty eloquence, useless words. In distinction, John praises culture, the authentic philosophy, that is to say, the encounter between forceful thought and communication, the effective use of words. He writes: “In fact, in the same way that eloquence that is not illumined by reason is not only temerarious, but also blind, therefore wisdom that does not use the words not only is weak, but also in a certain sense infertile perhaps, because although wisdom without words can benefit one when relating with his own conscience, it rarely and only little benefits society” (Metalogicon 1, 1: PL 199, 327). A very true teaching. Today, that which John calls “eloquence”, that is to say, the possibility of communicating with instruments more and more elaborate and diverse, has multiplied itself enormously. So much more urgent, however, does the necessity continue of communicating messages equipped with “wisdom”, that is to say, inspired by the truth, goodness, and beauty. This is a great responsibility, one which affects in a special way those persons who work in the multiform and complex ambit of culture, communication, and in the mass media. And this is a space in which the Gospel can be announced with missionary vigor.

In the Metalogicon, John confronts the problems of logic, in his time object of great interest, and considers a fundamental question : What can human reason know? To what extent does it correspond with the aspiration that there is in all men, that is to say, to the search for truth? John of Salisbury assumes a balanced position, based upon the teachings contained in treatises of Aristotle and Cicero. According to him, human reason ordinarily achieves knowledge that is not unquestionable, but only probable and debatable. Human knowledge--this is his conclusion--is imperfect because it is subject to finiteness, to the limit of the man. Nevertheless, knowledge grows and is perfected thanks to experience, to the elaboration of right and coherent reason, and is able to establish relations between concepts and reality, as a result of discussion, of confrontation; and so knowledge becomes richer generation upon generation. Only in God there is a perfect science, which is communicated to man, at least partially, by means of Revelation accepted by faith, by which the science of faith, theology, unfolds the potentialities of reason and, in humility, makes progress in the knowledge of the mysteries of God.

The believer and the theologian, who deepen the treasure of the faith, also open themselves to a practical knowledge that guides daily action in the moral law and the exercise of virtue. John of Salisbury writes: “The mercy of God has granted his law to us which establishes what things are useful for us to know, and indicates how much it is allowed us to know of God and how much it is just for us to investigate . . . . In fact, in this law is made explicit and manifest the will of God, in order that each of us knows what it is necessary for us to do.” (Metalogicon, 4, 41: PL 199, 944-945).

According to John of Salisbury, an objective and immutable truth also exists, whose origin is God, accessible to human reason and which concerns practical and social action. There is a natural law (derecho natural), by which human laws and political and religious authorities must be inspired, so that they can promote the common good. This natural law (ley natural) is characterized by a property that John calls “equity”, that is to say, the giving of each person his due. From this law are derived rules that are legitimate for all peoples, and that in no case can be abolished. This is the central thesis of the Polycraticus, the treatise of philosophy and political theology, in which John of Salisbury reflects on the conditions that make just and permissible the action of those in government.

While other matters addressed in this work are tied to the historical circumstances in which it was composed, the subject of the relation between natural law and the positive-juridical order, mediated through the principle of equity, continues to be of great importance. In our time, especially in some countries, we perceive a worrisome separation between reason (which has the task of discovering the ethical values united with the dignity of the human person) and freedom (which has the responsibility of welcoming them and promoting them). Perhaps John of Salisbury would remind us today that the only laws that are in agreement with the concept of equity are those that promote the sacredness of human life and reject the licitness of the abortion, euthanasia, and irresponsible genetic experimentation; are those that respect the dignity of marriage between a man and a woman; are those inspired by a correct notion of the secular State--a secularism that always entails safeguards of religious freedom, and which promotes subsidiarity and solidarity at national and international levels. Anything to the contrary would result in ushering in what John of Salisbury defines as “tyranny of the prince” or, as we would say, “the dictatorship of relativism”: a relativism that, as I mentioned some years ago, “does not recognize anything as definitive and which proposes as its last rule only the self and its own desire.” (Homily in the misa “pro eligendo Roman Pontiff”: Roman L'Osservatore, edition in Spanish language, 22 of April of 2005, P. 3).

In my more recent encyclical, Caritas in veritate, directing myself to men of good will who work so that the social and political action never moves away of the objective truth on man and his dignity, I wrote: “The truth, and the love that it awakens, cannot be produced, but can only be welcomed. Its last source is not, nor can be, man, but God, that is, He Who is Truth and Love. This principle is very important for society and its development, inasmuch as neither truth nor love can be only human products; the very vocation to the development of people and nations is not based on a simple human deliberation, but is enrolled in a plan that precedes us, and which for all of us it is a duty to freely welcome." (No. 52). This plan which precedes us--this truth of being--we must search for and welcome, so that justice may be born; but we can find it and only welcome it with a heart, a will, a reason purified in the light of God.

Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket

1 comment:

  1. Friends, I draw your attention here:

    "This natural law (ley natural) is characterized by a property that John calls “equity”, that is to say, the giving of each person his due. From this law are derived rules that are legitimate for all peoples, and that in no case can be abolished."

    Some needs are more explicitly spelled out in Scripture than others. For instance, Nehemiah 12 on Sons of Asaph (Liturgy Music ministers, at that time ordained with vestments and oils), states of the tithes, to provide for the levites, singers (Sons fo Asaph) and gatekeepers EACH ACCORDING TO HIS NEEDS...or else suffer God's Wrath and people's abandonment of the worship tent.

    This is one of those natural laws which cannot be abolished by man, or by mere local culture or custom. Every Diocese is subject to this law. So why isn't it even discussed and practiced in HR departments, staff rosters, and parish finance committees?

    This requires discernment of the Talents, which means, when interviewing music ministers, don't subject them to a dictum of what your parish wants, and then order him or her to play up to the people's tastes (or in most cases, absence of taste).

    Instead, ask not what the artist can do for you, but what you can do for the artist. That is indeed the Law, because God is the first Artist, and indeed, He looks out for his own.