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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Brownson on Natural Law: The Obligation to Believe?

IN THIS CONTROVERSIAL excerpt, Orestes Brownson insists that assent to the Gospel is required by both divine law and the natural law. This is because it is not unreasonable to believe in the Gospel, but is reasonable. From a purely human faith standpoint, then, there is an obligation to believe in God, and, for those who have heard the Gospel, a duty to believe in Jesus Christ and his Church, which duty, to be fulfilled, ultimately relies upon a gift of God, that is, grace. For the act of faith, though reasonable, is ultimately a supernatural act, beyond our natural capacity and intelligibility, and the act therefore requires accompanying supernatural grace.

"We also admit, and contend, that 'faith is the gift of God,' not merely because it is belief in truth which God has graciously revealed . . . but because no man can believe, even now that the truth is revealed, without the aid of divine grace, that is to say, without grace supernaturally bestowed. Faith is a virtue which has merit; but no virtue is possible without the aid of divine grace has merit; that is, merit in relation to eternal life. The grace of faith is absolutely essential to the eliciting of the act of faith.

But this considers faith in as much as it is divine faith, a gift of God, and lying wholly in the supernatural order, not as simply human faith, in which it depends on extrinsic evidence or testimony, and the obligation of a man under the simple law of nature to believe,--the only sense in which, in this discussion, we consider it. Unbelief, in those to whom the Gospel has been preached, is a sin not only against the revealed law, but also against the natural law, which it could not be, if the Gospel did not come accompanied with sufficient evidence to warrant belief in every reasonable man."

[From Brownson's Works, "The Church Against No-Church" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1900), Vol. 3, p. 369.]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Brownson on the End of Law

IN THIS EXCERPT from his critique of a reviewer Mercersburg Review, Orestes Brownson, addresses the relationship between God as our final cause or end, and the concept of law. All law, like all power, finds its source in God, and is never independent of him. The political philosophy behind modern secularism, which disdains this fact, is deeply flawed.

"The reviewer* sins against this undeniable truth, when he censures us for allowing man no autonomy, no right, collectively or individually, to be governed only by his own will, no voice in constituting the law to which he is to be subject. Nothing can be worse than this, for it supposes the law is created, and in part at least by man himself. But this cannot be. The law is not created at all; it is eternal, and, as a rule, has its seat, not in the creative will of God as such, not precisely in God regarded as first cause, but in God as final cause, that is, in God as the sovereign good, and is promulgated and enforced by God as supreme ruler, because he always rules as he creates, in accordance with and for himself as the sovereign good. The law is not only eternal, but immutable, and God himself cannot change it; for he cannot change his own immutable nature which is it. To suppose God creates it, is to suppose that he creates himself; to suppose that man creates it, is to suppose that man creates God; and to assert man's autonomy, or right to be governed only by his own will, is to deny that he is under law, or bound at all to seek God as the sovereign good. Does the reviewer maintain that we are not morally bound to seek God as our ultimate end? Does he deny all morality, and assert that man is free to live as he lists? Is he an Antinomian? We cannot believe it. Then God is himself man's law, and then man is morally bound to will what God wills, that is, to love what God loves, that is to say, God himself, as supreme good, and has no right to will or to love as his ultimate end anything else. How, then, pretend that man is his own legislator, his own lawgiver? As well might you say, man is his own maker, that man is God, nay, that man is God's maker. No laws that are not transcripts of the divine law, the eternal and immutable law, which is God himself, have any of the essential characteristics of law."

[The reviewer is the author of a piece in the Mercesburg Review who criticized Brownson's observations about Protestantism in various publications.]

[From Brownson's Works, "The Mercersburg Theology" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1900), Vol. 3, p. 74.]

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.]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Natural Law is not Bigotry

Ken Cuccinelli

George Weigel's editorial, "The Natural Law = Bigotry" Please," is worth reading. The editorial is written in response to the histrionic attack in a Washington Post editorial against Ken Cuccinelli, elected attorney of Virginia by a 15% margin of victory. The Washington Post called the Catholic Cuccinelli "extremist" and moved by "bigotry" for having the audacity of stating in public what would have been a commonplace less than a generation ago, that is, that homosexual behavior is contrary to the natural law, and, what is worse, temerariously suggesting that the natural law may be a useful guiding in determining public policy. For the anonymous author of the Post editorial, the term "natural law" is nothing but a "retrofit [of] the old language of racism, bias, and intolerance in a new context."

Bohunk. All of it. To oust natural law from the public square is to condemn Plato and Aristotle, Cicero, all the Roman and medieval jurists, Thomas Jefferson, Supreme Court Justices Marshall and Wilson, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and every single pope from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. It is to commit to the ashbin such documents as the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. It condemns the Catholics St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, Francisco de Victoria, and the Protestants William Blackstone, Hugo Grotius, Emmerich de Vattel, and dozen of other jurists in one fell swoop. It is to deprecate the United Nations declarations on human rights. Nay, it is to throw out of the public square as persona non grata all men of good will, regardless of color, creed, or culture. The natural moral law is universal, and not particular or confessional.

In a word, absurd. Read Weigel.

George Weigel

Brownson on the Natural Law--God as Final Cause is Lawgiver

IN THIS EXCERPT from his "A Letter to Protestants," Orestes Brownson stresses how it is Man's end, in God's design, toward which the natural law ultimately points. All law is founded on reason, and the reason for the law is its end. The end of the natural law is God. It is with focus on God as our last end, or final cause, that we consider him in the role of Lawgiver. It is with focus on God as our first cause, or the source of our beginning, that we consider him in his role as Creator. The Law, in other words, has no other purpose than to aim us towards God, which is our ultimate good. That is why there is ultimately no contradiction between Law, Justice, Mercy, and Love. All these have their end and fulfillment in God who is absolute Law, Justice, Mercy, and Love.

"God is the final as he is the first cause of all existences. He is our origin and end, the cause that created us, and the cause for which we are created, as you have seen in the fact that we are his and not our own, and are morally bound to render unto him the tribute of our whole being. The good of every creatures is the end for which it exists, and if we could conceive a creature existing for no end, such a creature would and could have no good. Hence God is our supreme good, because he is the supreme good in itself, and because he is our ultimate end. Our true good lies then in the possession of God, and we tend to it as we tend to him, that is, render ourselves unto him, or give him the worship that is his due, as has already been established.

The final cause is legislative, and the law every existence must be subject to is imposed by the end for which it exists. God as the first cause is our Creator; as final cause he is our Lawgiver. The law he imposes must be obeyed as the indispensable condition of attaining to our end, and without obedience to it there is and can be in the nature of things no good for us, since it is the law imposed by eternal justice, and the sovereign good; for God as the final cause of all existences is the sovereign good, and as sovereign Legislator is eternal justice."

[From Brownson's Works, "A Letter to Protestants" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1902), Vol. 5, p. 328.]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Brownson on Why the Natural Law Obliges

IN THIS EXCERPT from his "Refutation of Atheism," Orestes Brownson gives a synopsis of the natural moral law and its relationship to the Eternal Law. He distinguishes the motive for obedience to it from the duty to obey it. Ultimately, the natural law derives its obligatoriness from our status as creatures, having God as our creator, and God as our end. Our end, in God's great design in creating us, is the Eternal Law. That is, we are called to have God as our last end. Both the rejection of our creaturehood and rejection of our eschatological destiny will result in the rejection of the natural law, which is nothing other than God's Eternal Law writ in us. Our secular political philosophy ignores both our status as creatures, and our status as children of God with an eternal destiny. The next excerpts from Orestes Brownson will address the relationship of the natural law to God and to the Church that Jesus Christ founded.

"The moral law is the application of the eternal law in the moral government of rational existences, and the eternal law, according to St. Augustine, is the eternal will or reason of God. The moral law necessarily expresses both the reason and the will of God. There are here two questions which must not be confounded, namely, 1, What is the reason of the law? 2, Wherefore is the law obligatory on us as rational existences? The first question asks what is the reason or motive on the part of God in enacting the law, and, though that concerns him and not us, we may answer: Doubtless, it is the same reason he had for creating us, and is to be found in his infinite love and goodness. The second question asks, Why does the law oblige us? that is, why is it law for us: since a law that does not oblige is no law at all.

This last is the real ethical question. The answer is not, It is obligatory becuase what it enjoins is good, holy, and necessary to our perfection or beatitude. That would be a most excellent reason why we should do the things enjoined, but is no answer to the question, why are we bound to do them, and are guilty if we do not? Why is obedience to the law a duty, and disobedience a sin? It is necessary to distinguish with the theologians between the finis operantis and the finis operis, between the work one does, and the motive for which one does it. Every work that tends to realize the theological order is good, but if we do it not from the proper motive, we are not moral or virtuous in doing it. We must have the intention of doing it in obedience to the law or will of the sovereign, who has the right to command us.

What, then, is the ground of the right of God to command us, and of our duty to obey him? The ground of both is in the creative act. God has a complete and absolute right to us, because, having made us from nothing, we are his, wholly his, and not our own. He created us from nothing, and only his creative act stands between us and nothing; he therefore owns us, and therefore we are his, body and soul, and all that we have, can do, or acquire. He is therefore our Sovereign Lord and Proprietor, with supreme and absolute dominion over us, and the absolute right, as absolute owner, to do what he will with us. His right to command is founded on his dominion, and his dominion is founded on his creative act, and we are bound to obey him, whatever he commands, because we are his creature, absolutely his, and in no sense our own."

[From Brownson's Works, "Refutation of Atheism" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1898), Vol. 2, p. 90-91.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Brownson on the Natural Law-The Law as Ligament

IN THIS SHORT PARAGRAPH, Brownson rejects those who would deny a telos or teleology in the natural law, which is nothing other than the expression of the Eternal Law with respect to man, and thus whose final cause is God. He also rejects the Kantian notion of autonomy, and establishes morality by linking it to our submission and obedience to God as our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our end.

"Man before God as final cause has no more autonomy than he has before God as first cause, that is to say, none at all. He has before God, then, no rights, no independence, but is bound to absolute submission to his law. The law is the copula, the ligament that binds man to his final end, or supreme good, and is in the second cosmic cycle what the creative act is the first; that is, the law in the order of palingenesis* is what the creative act is in the order of genesis. As there is no physical cosmos save mediante the law of God, so is there no moral cosmos save mediante the law of God. As all physical existence is from God as first cause, mediante creation, so all moral existence is from God as final cause, mediante obedience to his law. Without seeking God as final cause, as his law commands, there is no proper morality, any more than there is or can be holy living, or supernatural sanctity."

[From Brownson's Works, "Vincenzo Gioberti" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1898), Vol. 2, p. 127-28.]

*The term palingenesis or rather palingenesia is derived from Greek "palin" (which means again) and genesis (birth, becoming). Thus it may be translated by the term rebirth, regeneration, or even restoration. Conceptually, the term was used by the Stoics whose doctrine taught that the universe or cosmos was constantly being re-created by the Demiurge. The term was used by the Jewish philosopher Philo to refer to Noah and his progeny as the group that would renovate or give rebirth to humanity. The term is used by Plutarch, as it was by the Pythagoreans, to refer to metempsychosis or rebirth of souls in new bodies (as part of his belief in re-incarnation).

The term is used by Jesus in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew: "And Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration (παλιγγενεσία), when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:28 Douay Rheims). It is also used in Titus 3:5 to refer to the rebirth of a Christian in Christ. As used in the New Testament, the term does not bear any of its Pythagorean connotations of re-incarnation or metempsychosis.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Response to Griffiths' "The Nature of Desire"

I thought I would post my comments to Paul J. Griffiths' "The Nature of Desire," found in the December 2009 Issue of First Things. You may see Griffiths' article at Griffiths is the Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School. There seems to be something wrong with Griffiths' article, and my best articulation of the problem, prepared in a short period of time, is given below.

In his "The Nature of Desire," Paul Griffiths’ vision of man is unfortunately more Humean than Catholic. He is perceptive enough to anticipate a virulent Thomistic—indeed Catholic—opposition to it. Whatever his view of man and morality, it seems well-outside the confines of the Catholic moral tradition; in fact, in many ways it seems antithetical and incompatible with it. Indeed, Griffiths seems to recognize and relish in that very fact. Though he suggests his vision to be more true than the received theories of natural law that govern Catholic moral teaching, he does not advance persuasive arguments for that assessment.

Griffiths’ argument starts from a very narrow and Humean view that man post lapsus, that is, after the Fall, is nothing but a bundle of desires. For Griffiths, man is impulse only, and he possesses no nature to distinguish him from the brute (except perhaps, after the Fall, the dubious ability to have infinite desires). In defining man as a bundle of desires only, Griffiths appears wholly to neglect the role of reason as the defining distinction between man and brute (tellingly, the word reason is not used once in his article as a source of binding norms). In Griffiths' view, man is not homo sapiens, but homo desiderius. Focusing then entirely on human desire as the only possible basis for the natural moral law, and rejecting reason’s role without mention why reason plays no part, Griffiths finds postlapsarian human desire to be “deranged,” infinitely “protean,” total “chaos,” and bereft of the least whiff of God’s prior antelapsarian ordering. This infinitely “plastic” desire no longer betrays a clue to a divine order, and therefore retains no value in informing us of what is right and good. Human nature is for Griffiths is what it was for Calvin (though the latter included reason in his definition of nature): hopelessly depraved. Desire, which for Griffiths is the sum and substance of man, accordingly yields no clue to God’s law, and is no accurate source to determine our good, or, for that matter, of our telos or end. It is unable to give us a definition of what is natural to man. It is too ambivalent a source to allow us to define human nature, i.e., what is natural to us, or what accords with our good. “The nature of human desire," Griffiths concludes, "is that no particular desire is natural.”

Thus among the cacophony of the chorale of myriad desires, Griffiths despairs on ever finding the key to harmony, that is, he cannot find the natural law in man’s nature. There is no basso continuo, no steady constant, no deep melody in man. For Griffiths there is no essence, no nature from which we may glean a natural moral law, since our essence is “glassy,” insubstantial, invisible, and undiscoverable. And so, finally, Griffiths proclaims that a “full appreciation of human nature—a sort of meta naturalism—properly denies the natural.”

With such a narrow and emasculated view of nature, Griffiths rightly concludes, then, that any natural moral law predicated upon man’s subjective desires is bound to fail. While Griffiths acknowledges that these chaotic desires in man are subject to being configured (by social convention, self-imposed strictures, or even divinely-given strictures), these strictures—conventional or self-imposed or even willed by God—are equally unavailing in determining the good because they cannot be ranked. “[W]e are not in fact more open to any particular configuration of desire than to another,” Griffith concludes. These configurations appear to be extrinsic, accidental molds placed upon our plastic desires, and so morality is an act not unlike a baker shaping his muffins.

What is worse, there are no means by which these various efforts to fence in and mold the otherwise infinite plastic desires may be objectively judged, or at least Griffiths despairs of finding such means. So the moral difference between a necrophiliac and a celibate priest is the difference between speaking English or speaking Japanese, between preferring oysters to roasted cat.

For a Christian, Griffiths concedes, the molder or the source of the configuration is Christ, and Christians are called to configure their desires so as to “turn us from death and fit us for life,” whatever that means. But this self-imposed law is fideistic, subjective, and proper to Christians alone. It is decidedly not universal. Though Griffiths suggests that “theoretically” there is a “hierarchy of goodness” that may allow us to rank these “configurations,” Griffiths never offers any suggestion as to how this may be done. In fact, he appears resigned to the practical impossibility in ranking these configurations. He confesses that all configurations—presumably also the Christian’s configuration—are “to some extent, damaged, blood-and-violence threaded, idolatrous, lured by lack and absence.” He further cautions that the theoretical ordering of configurations is not “easily” obtained, and “never without qualification and ambiguity.” So what is already theoretically well-nigh unattaniable is a fortiori practically impossible. The way I interpret Griffiths' comments, there is no way to distinguish the configuration chosen by Judas from the configuration chosen by St. John of the Cross. Presumably even God has problems judging configurations, and so (unrepentant!) rapists and torturers may be found in Paradise with repentant saints.

Ultimately—because human desire is so amorphous, and because the configurations so subjective and fraught with ambiguity—there is no overriding, universal moral concept, no natural law that governs all men, and by which all men shall be judged. So Christians ought not to talk about a fundamental law, an objective natural law binding on all men, but rather ought to use Griffiths' horribly clumsy term to refer to their own particular subjectively-preferred configuration, a "to-be-cultivated-in-response-to-divine-gift law."

Superficially, the prolix suggestion for a new term for the "natural moral law" is risibly clumsy. But, more seriously, Griffiths' theory of "to-be-cultivated-in-response-to-divine-gift law" not only ill-suits the English language, it ill-suits a Catholic theologian.