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, January 23, 2010

Pedro Calderón de la Barca and the Natural Law, Part 5

THE EARTHQUAKE DISPERSED THE PEOPLE who flee in panic, leaving only Gentility, Intellect, and Thought on stage. It may seem that Calderón pulls the earthquake out of sheer air, as if it were a Deus et machina. But the earthquake has historical significance, and it ties in to Intellect's search for God. The earthquake is coupled with a solar eclipse, with darkness, and with the dead spewing forth from graves. Moreover, these natural prodigies all occur at mid-afternoon. All this is a clear reference to Christ's death on a cross. The Synoptic Gospels all attest to these sorts of phenomena occurring at Christ's death. Another reference by Gentility later on in the auto to the Roman emperors Vespasian (r. 69-79 A.D.) and Titus (r. 79-81 A.D.), the emperors who participated in the Jewish Wars and the destruction of the Temple, clearly place the discussion that occurs between Gentility and Intellect between the old dispensation and the new dispensation. Intellect's search for God begins after Christ's Incarnation.

Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion

Gentility, Intellect, and Thought appear at a loss to explain the apparent violation of natural law, in the incipient chaos. What does it portend, Gentility asks repeatedly, that the sky has darkened with a thick veil, that the sun has is in melancholy agony, captured by the bandit of the night, that the stars are errant accomplices of day's theft, that the moon has retraced its steps in light of the sun's misfortune, that the sea groans violently, and that the earth spews out bodies?

¿Cubrirse el Cielo, el Sol oscurecerse,
faltar la luz, la luna ensangrentarse,
los astros irse, el mar embravecerse,
la tierra piedra a piedra quebrantarse,
el fuego helarse, el aire entumecerse,
y todo, en fin, que quiere ser turbarse
tanto que vuelve todo el caos parece?

The heavens covering, the sun obscuring,
Light failing, the moon covered in blood,
The stars departing, the sea angering,
The earth rock by rock breaking up,
The fire freezing, the air thickening,
And all, in fine, disturbed and in disorder
So much so that chaos appears to have returned?

We have crossed from the natural to the supernatural, and so human intellect is not able to comprehend or explain, "el Ingenio humano aún no se halla capaz de saberlo." Dumbfounded, the Intellect can only repeat a similar answer to the six different ways in which Gentility asks the question: that the world is ending or its Creator suffering.

GENTILIDAD: ¿Que todo expira ó su Hacedor padece
sólo me respondes?

GENTILITY: That all is ending or its Creator suffers
is your only response?

Gentility is highly dissatisfied with Intellect's answer. To speak of a Creator is to speak of a first principle, and he who speaks of a first principle also speaks of an immense power, one able to be the origin of everything, and eternally before and after such creation. How, then, Gentility asks, can God who is Creator and has such power, be said to suffer? Does Intellect suggest that God is passible, that is, capable of feeling or suffering?

[Note that the question asked by Gentility is after the Incarnation, after the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus was the Son of God, with a divine nature and a human nature, the second person of the Trinity, that is, God, indeed suffered through his human nature. God, by assuming human nature, has indeed become passible. But since this mystery, being supernatural, is beyond the natural law, neither Gentility nor the Intellect have any knowledge of it, as Faith comes through hearing and hearing by the Word of God. They have yet to encounter St. Paul. Gentility will ultimately find the notion of a passible God foolish. Intellect believes it may exist in mystery, and, as Dionysius, he will find the passible God in the Christian revelation of the Incarnation, a Revelation which allows him to reconcile suffering and God as First Principle and First Cause.

Intellect's expression is Dionysian in origin, though almost certainly legendarily Dionysian. The phrase is a translation of the Latin phrase "Aut Deus naturae patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur," which translates as "either nature is suffering, or the world's fabric is dissolving." According to Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church (Vol. 4, § 137), that phrase is (probably wrongly) attributed to Dionysisus in the old Roman Breviary. He is said to have exclaimed it upon witnessing the solar eclipse that followed Christ's death while in Heliopolis, Egypt. The phrase is also found in the 9th century Greek writer Michael Syngelus (or Syncellus or Syncelli) as "ὁ ἄγνωστος ἐν σαρκὶ πάσχει θεός" or "ἢ τὸθεῖον πάσχει, ἢ τῷ πάσχοντι συμπάσχει."]

Intellect intimates that there may be more to things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Gentility's philosophy:

INGENIO: . . . Y así,
entre tu yerro y mi yerro,
tú creyendo y yo dudando,
a discurrir me resuelvo.


INGENIO: Que aunque implique, uno y otro
puede haber.


INGENIO: Fundamento,
pues tú le estás ignorando
para estar él padeciendo.

INTELLECT: . . . And so,
between your error and my error,
your belief and my doubt,
I resolve to discourse once again.


INTELLECT: That, though it may imply, one thing and another
there may be . . .


Then, that you are ignoring,
That may explain suffering.

It appears that Intellect is close to recognizing "Christ crucified . . . to Gentiles foolishness." (1 Cor. 1:23). Gentility, however, refuses to entertain such foolishness. Intellect refuses to believe in the unknown God. An impasse has been reached. And Thought vacillates until both Gentility and Intellect exclaim in exasperation:

¡Oh, cuál anda entre los dos
vacilando el Pensamiento!

Oh, who goes between us both
vacillating but Thought!

Intellect finally persuades Thought to go with him, in that he offers Thought the promise of a God with eyes, ears, and hands, and one able to suffer, a passible personal God. Intellect believes there must be some reconciliation, some synthesis between these extremes:

Como desvelada la confusión
de mi ingenio
en dos extremos tan grandes
como tu extremo y mi extremo.
En ti imaginando un Dios
de ojos, manos y oídos lleno,

que, como dijiste, sea
causa de causas,
y luego
en mí un Dios imaginado
a la vista de este estruendo,

que sea pasible, he de hacer
de ambas dudas
un compuesto
para asunto de este acto.

el Mundo por cuantas Leyes,

cuantos Ritos, cuantos Fueros

una y otra Religión tienen,
hasta que mi anhelo,
haciendo razón de estado,
la que ahora de dudar tengo,
la causa halle de las causas,
que tenga
(toda oídos siendo, toda ojos, toda manos)
la conveniencia de serlo para padecer.

As if vigilant

The confusion of my Intellect

Between two such large extremes

Like your extreme and my extreme.

In you imagining a God of eyes, hands, and ears full,
Which, as you said, is

The cause of causes, and next

In my imagined God,

In light of this tumult,
Who is passible, I ought to

Make of both doubts a composite

For reason of this act.

Wandering then

The worlds and its myriad laws,

Its myriad rites, and myriad statutes,
One or other religion,
Until my longing,

Based upon the state of state,
That in which I now have doubt

The cause of all causes may have yet
(all ears being, all eyes, all hands)
The ability of being allowing it to suffer.

Gentility suggests that Intellect stay with him to find such a god.

Si intentas hallar tal Dios, ¿dónde, ciego,
le has de hallar si no es en mí,

que en todas partes le tengo?

If you intend To find such a God, where, blind one,
Will you find him if not with me,
Who have the gods of all parts?

Gentility lists seriatim the various pagan gods for Intellect's perusal: Mercury, Jupiter, Ceres, Neptune, Apollo, Juno, Mars, Flora and Venus, Minerva, and Saturn. And Intellect in turn rejects them all. Why? Gentility asks. And he gives his reason:

Porque considero
que quien tiene muchos dioses

no tiene al que yo pretendo,

mayormente cuando en
los que me has nombrado
que a las dos contradicciones
de los dos discursos nuestros
añades otra imposible
de vencer.

Because I consider

That he who has many gods

Does not have the one I seek,
But most of all, when in all

Those gods that you have named

I find that in addition to the
Two contradictions

Raised by our two discussions

You have added another that

Is impossible to overcome.

Gentility wants to know what it is that renders her polytheism, her pagan gods, so unattractive an answer to his search. How? Intellect's responds:

Cómo en lo ignorado
y en lo pasible cubierto

puede algún misterio haber

que por ahora no comprendo.

Pero en lo pecaminoso

no es posible haber misterio
que a la razón natural no repugne,
pues más cierto
es de un Dios
en los delitos
quitarlos que cometerlos.

God's uknowability and
His passibility may be

Covered in some mystery

That for now I do not understand.

But there can be no mystery

In what is sinful

Since that is repugnant to
Natural reason, and it is
Certain that God's being is

To remove sins, rather than commit them.

Intellect then lists the many sins of the pagan Gods, the thefts, the anger, the deceit, the adultery, the jealousy and envy . . . in fine, the viciousness of the pagan gods. This, in itself, is reason for rejecting them and turning elsewhere for an answer. The natural law precludes the notion that God can be sinful, can be the subject of any vice.

This reasoning is enough for Thought; it clinches his loyalty, and he sides thereafter with Intellect. And Gentility departs with an ominous threat that, if these two were the cause of the eclipse and earthquake, she would wreak vengeance through Titus and Vespasian, the Caesars of herImperium.

Gentility departs, and Intellect and Thought ponder their next step. It must be transcendent, a hopeful, confident Intellect suggests. Yet it is Thought who recommends the next step:

Pues en esa confianza
ven, y ya que a tu concepto

desagradan muchos dioses,

pasemos de extremo a extremo,

vamos donde no hay ninguno.

Well in such confidence

Come, and now that your concept

Finds disagreeable many gods,

Let us go from extreme to extreme.

Let us go where there is no god at all.

And so it is that they see Atheism, dressed as an American Indian in animal skins, sleeping on the edge of a crag.

Calderón de la Barca

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