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, February 25, 2010

The Golden Mouth of Natural Law: St. John Chrysostom on the Natural Law, Homily XII on Statues

THE GOLDEN-MOUTHED, Ό ΧΡΥΣΟΣΤΟΜΟΣ, is how St. John of Antioch, the 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, (c. 347-9 thru 405 A.D.) has come to be known.  Much touted for his eloquence in preaching even during his lifetime, St. John Chrysostom is also a witness to the early Church's preaching of the natural moral law.  Born in Antioch from the marriage of Secundus, an army officer, and his wife Anthusa, John was educated by the famous lawyer Libanius in preparation for a career in law.  However, perhaps as a result of the influence of bishop Meletius, John, soon after his baptism, decided to abandon law in favor of a monastic, and then later a priestly, calling, ultimately being called to the Archbishopric of Constantinople.  The historian Sozomen relates that the pagan Libanius rued the loss of his student John to the Christians, as he viewed him, as a result of his prodigious talent, as the a natural successor as leader of the law school : "If only the Christians had not stolen him from us."  Ch. Hist. viii.2.   Perhaps best known for his utter disregard of persons based upon their social standing, his disciplined rejection of the blandishment of the Imperial court and its compromises, and his unwavering denouncing of sins in those in high places--to some, tactless,  to others, fearless--St. John Chrysostom seemed to follow in the footsteps of his namesake, St. John the Baptist.  While his denunciations of the powerful did not lead to the loss of his head, the forcefulness of his declamations did lead twice to his banishment from his see,  largely as a result of the activities of his enemy, the vain Empress Eudoxia: "Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John's head in a charger," Chrysostom stated if Socrates Scholasticus is to be believed (Chapter XVIII).  As a result of his last banishment, he was unable to return to his see, and died in Commana in Pontus.

Icon of St. John Chrysostom

Fittingly, St. John Chrysostom's teachings on the natural law are principally found in his homilies, Homily XII and XIII of his Homilies on  the Statutes, and in his Homilies on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans.  The Homilies on Statues were delivered during Lenten season of 387 before an Antiochian audience. They were delivered during the course of the civil unrest in Antioch in which the local population, upset with excessive taxes, rose in rebellion against the Emperor Theodosius.  Among other acts of violence, the inhabitants destroyed the statues of the emperor and his family and drug them through the streets, thus giving rise to the name that surrounds this series of Lenten homilies.  Angered by the rebellion, the Emperor Theodosius  threatened severe sanctions against the population, but his anger was mollified by Bishop Flavian, who obtained a pardon from the emperor for those participating in the uprisings. (One may recall that this temperamental emperor was the same Theodosius whose massacre of the Thessalonians led to his being rebuked by the great St. Ambrose in 390.) These homilies will be the topic of the next various blog entries.  In this blog posting we will discuss Homily XII On Statues.  In the next, Homily XIII On Statues will be reviewed.  In the last blog entry on Chrysostom, we will review Homily V and VI of Chrysostom's Homilies on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and then summarize his teachings.

In the course of his Homily XII on Statues, Chrysostom insists in the existence of a natural theology and a natural morality.  God is known through his creation; his works afford us a mode of knowing him.  Not only do we learn of God through his works, but we also learn of his intent with regard to his works, especially man.  There are, as it were, to "points," reasons, suppositions, literally hypotheses that may be learned through the study of nature, one empirical, and one ideal, but for not that less real.  True, an exhaustive empircal knowledge of man, even of his body alone, of "the sinews, the veins, and the arteries, and the molding of every other part," would take a significant amount of study and a significant amount of time. XII.8.   "Not even a whole year would suffice for such a disquisition." XII.8  And even then, our knowledge would only be relatively exact, that is, exact up to a point, up to what is possible for us.  Science, then, can only yield knowledge so far.  Real exactness is not possible to us because there are reasons that simply escape us, that are "ineffable, which God who made them knows," but which simply are beyond our ken. XII.8.  There is, however, another "point," reason, or supposition (hypothesis, ὑπόθεσις) behind creation beyond the mere physical aspects of it that allows us insight into God and his existence, specifically a "point," reason, hypothesis or supposition that is "demonstrative of God's providence." XII.9. St. John here intimates on the existence of the eternal law to be learned from the way things are, insofar as it may be embedded or incribed, as it were, in the very nature of man, in his conscience, and in the fact that man, even without any revealed law, lives nevertheless by law, a law that he enforces through punishments that are meted out through organs of enforcement such as courts. 
What then is this second point [secunda hypothesis, δευτέρα ὑπόθεσις]  [of the creation of man]? It is, that when God formed man, he implanted within him from the beginning a natural law [Ab initio Deus hominem formans, legem ipsi naturalem indidit, Ἐξ ἀρχῆς πλάττων ὁ Θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον, νόμον αὐτῷ φυσικὸν ἐγκατέθηκε]. And what then was this natural law [lex naturalis, νόμος φυσικός]? He gave utterance to conscience within us [conscientiam nobis expressit, Τὸ συνειδὸς ἡμῖν διήρθρωσε]; and made the knowledge of good things, and of those which are the contrary, to be self-taught [et per se discibilem,* αὐτοδίδακτον]. For we have no need to learn that fornication is an evil thing, and that chastity is a good thing, but we know this from the first.
XII.9 [PG, 49, 131]. Chrysostom finds the doctrine that there is a natural law (lex naturalis, νόμος φυσικός) expressed or evidenced in human conscience implied in the scriptural recounting of God, the divine lawgiver's Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill," as described in Exodus 20:13. When God issued this command, Chrysostom notes, he gave no reason for it. For Chrysostom, the failure of God to announce a reason in promulgating that law should not be construed to mean the law is arbitrary, or a matter of will. Indeed, the exact opposite is the inference, that being that the reason behind the law was already known by the light of the natural law, so the divine utterance of the rule did nothing but confirm the reason already uttered in the human conscience of the Jew who heard the command.
And that you may learn that we know this from the first, the Lawgiver [legislator leges, ὁ νομοθέτης νόμους], when He afterwards gave laws, and said, “You shall not kill,” Exodus 20:13 did not add, “since murder is an evil thing,” but simply said, “You shall not kill;” for He merely prohibited the sin, without teaching. How was it then when He said, “You shall not kill,” that He did not add, “because murder is a wicked thing.” The reason was, that conscience had taught this beforehand; and He speaks thus, as to those who know and understand the point.
The Lord's act in the context of revealing the divine command not to kill should be contrasted with his acts when revealing other commandments that may not be part of the natural law, and so may be unknown by the dictates of human conscience were they not revealed.  In such contexts, Chrysostom observes, God not only issues the prohibition, but he also gives a reason why.  "He not only prohibits, but adds the reason."  XII.9  As an instance of this, Chrysostom cites the Lord's commandment regarding the Sabbath day.
When, for instance, He gave commandment respecting the Sabbath; “On the seventh day you shall do no work;” He subjoined also the reason for this cessation. What was this? “Because on the seventh day God rested from all His works which He had begun to make.” Exodus 20:10 And again; “Because thou were a servant in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 21:18.  For what purpose then I ask did He add a reason respecting the Sabbath, but did no such thing in regard to murder? Because this commandment was not one of the leading ones. It was not one of those which were accurately defined of our conscience, but a kind of partial and temporary one; and for this reason it was abolished afterwards. But those which are necessary and uphold our life, are the following; “You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal.” On this account then He adds no reason in this case, nor enters into any instruction on the matter, but is content with the bare prohibition.
XII.9.  For John Chrysostom, then, the divine positive law, which may be subject to change or abrogation by God, may be distinguished from the natural law, which is absolute and unchanging.  The distinction may be learned by the manner in which the two species of laws are revealed in Scripture.  In promulgating divine positive laws that confirm the natural law, that is, that are consonant with the law of reason, the purpose of the law need not be given.  A bare prohibition is evidence that a natural law principle is involved.

The doctrine of natural law is also reflected in the account of Adam's original sin, Chrysostom continues.  Though "there were neither letters, nor law, nor Moses" [neque enim erant litterae, non lex, non Moses, Οὐδὲ γὰρ γράμματα ἦν, οὐ νόμος, οὐ Μωσῆς] at the time that Adam disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, yet did he know that he had disobeyed God and sinned, and "after the sin straightaway hid himself."  Whence this sense of shame in Adam when there was no prior law?  The law that Adam had violated was "self-taught," autodictated, in the sense that it was promulgated within the very nature of man.  For this reason, God interrogates Adam, educing, as it were, in Adam's very confession the recognition that he violated an internally-derived, and internally-existing norm.  The norms are there to be discovered; they have already been received or promulgated in the nature of man as created by God.  "Therefore," Chrysostom concludes, God "carried on the discourse in the form of interrogation, leaving the man himself to come to the confession."  XII.10.  The recognition of the norm and its violation could not have been so educed by the divine interrogator without it previously being part of man's inner nature by God's design.

The natural law is not only the source of learning when one sins, but it is also the source of learning what is virtuous or good.  In this regard, Chrysostom directs his congregation to reflect on the story of Cain and Abel.  On what basis did the sons of Adam offer their first fruits?  The desire to offer sacrifice to God is part of man's nature.  "For we would show not from his sin only, but also from his virtue, that man was capable of knowing both these things." XII.10
Wherefore that man knew sin to be an evil thing, Adam manifested; and that he knew that virtue was a good thing, Abel again made evident. For without having learned it from any one, without having heard any law promulgated respecting the first fruits, but having been taught from within, and from his conscience, he presented that sacrifice. On this account I do not carry the argument down to a later period; but I bring it to bear upon the time of these earlier men, when there were as yet no letters, as yet no law, nor as yet prophets and judges; but Adam only existed with his children; in order that you may learn, that the knowledge of good and evil had been previously implanted in their natures. For from whence did Abel learn that to offer sacrifice was a good thing; that it was good to honour God, and in all things to give thanks?
Detail of Icon of St. John Chrysostom

XII.10. Thus, the natural law, which predates the Mosaic dispensation, is binding upon all men.  Chrysostom here anticipates a question of his hearers. If the natural law is what drove Abel to offer his first fruits, why did it fail Cain? Why did Cain fail in his offering to God? How could the natural law exist if Cain murdered his brother? In response, Chrysostom insists that in Cain's failure to offer proper sacrifice, and, in particular, in his design against the life of his brother, Abel, we see a knowledge of a law and that it has been violated.  The existence of a natural law is made manifest in Abel's very desire to conceal the decision to act against that law.
And from thence again the knowledge of conscience is apparent. For when, envying him who had been honored, he [Cain] deliberated upon murder, he conceals his crafty determination. And what says he; “Come, let us go forth into the field.” The outward guise was one thing, the pretence of love; the thought another, the purpose of fratricide. But if he had not known the design to be a wicked one, why did he conceal it? And again, after the murder had been perpetrated, being asked of God, “Where is Abel your brother?” he answers, “I know not; am I my brother's keeper?” Wherefore does he deny the crime? Is it not evidently because he exceedingly condemns himself. For as his father had hid himself, so also this man denies his guilt, and after his conviction, again says, “My crime is too great to obtain pardon.”
XII.11.  The natural law is revealed in the very act of denying wrong--in rationalization.  The natural law is revealed in the very act of deceit and shame.

Chrysostom insists that the same reasoning that allows us to detect God in his works through a natural theology built upon reason, also allows us to know right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice.  There is therefore a natural morality similarly predicated upon reason. This natural law binds the Gentiles, and, by implication, all men. He refers his auditors to St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, where the apostle confronted those that denied the existence of a natural law. What did his opponents say? "They say, that there is no self-evident law seated in our consciences; and that God has not implanted this in our nature." [Non est in nobis per se lex in conscientia posita, nec eam naturae Deus inscruit, Οὐκ ἔστιν ἡμῖν αὐτοδίδακτος νόμος ἐν τῷ συνειδότι, φησὶ, κείμενος, οὐδὲ τῇ φύσει τοῦτο ἐγκατέθηκεν ὁ Θεός. PG, 49.133]  What is Chrysostom's Pauline retort to those that espouse such views?  If that were true, there would be no law.  The existence of human law, of punishment, and of organs for the law's enforcement is evidence of a natural law.  There is an analogia legis, a species of the analogia entis, which allows us to reason from the existence of human positive law to the existence of a natural law, even an eternal law.
[W]hence is it, I ask, that legislators have written those laws which are among them concerning marriages, concerning murders, concerning wills, concerning trusts, concerning abstinence from encroachments on one another, and a thousand other things. For the men now living may perchance have learned them from their elders; and they from those who were before them, and these again from those beyond? But from whom did those learn who were the originators and first enactors of laws among them? Is it not evident that it was from conscience? For they cannot say, that they held communication with Moses; or that they heard the prophets. How could it be so when they were Gentiles? But it is evident that from the very law which God placed in man when He formed him from the beginning, laws were laid down, and arts discovered, and all other things. For the arts too were thus established, their originators having come to the knowledge of them in a self-taught manner.
XII.12. The very existence of laws among men, punishments attached to their violation, and the vehicles for their enforcement, that is, the courts of justice, then, presuppose the natural law, for without the natural law, there would be no basis for the positive law or its enforcement. XII.13. Like causality which finds itself without rational foundation unless there be a First Cause, like being which implies a self-existing Being if there be being at all, law would find itself without basis unless there was a First Lawgiver and a First Law.  There would be no human law and human lawgiver without a First Law and First Lawgiver.  The existence of human law, then, evidences the existence of God as lawgiver and the eternal law as the fundamental law writ in man as the natural law.

Chrysostom continues: Paul's opponents questioned the ability of God to judge the Gentiles when the Mosaic law had not been revealed to them. Paul's opponents asked:
“How will God judge mankind who lived before Moses? He did not send a lawgiver; He did not introduce a law; He commissioned no prophet, nor apostle, nor evangelist; how then can He call these to account?”
XII.13. Paul insisted in response to these his adversaries that the Gentiles "possessed a self taught law," and that through this "self taught law," "they knew clearly what they ought to do." XII.13. "Hear how he [St. Paul] speaks," Chrysostom exclaims:
“For when the Gentiles who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts.” Romans 2:14-15 But how without letters? “Their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” Romans 2:16 And again; “As many as have sinned without law, shall perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.” Romans 2:12 What means, “They shall perish without law?” The law not accusing them, but their thoughts, and their conscience; for if they had not a law of conscience, it were not necessary that they should perish through having done amiss. For how should it be so if they sinned without a law? But when he says, “without a law,” he does not assert that they had no law, but that they had no written law, though they had the law of nature. [Sed cum sine lege dicit, non dicit non habuisse legem, sed non habuisse legem scriptam, natuarae vero legem habuisse, Ἀλλ' ἀνόμως ὅταν εἴπῃ, οὐ τοῦτο λέγει, ὅτι οὐκ εἶχον νόμον, ἀλλ' ὅτι οὐκ εἶχον νόμον γραπτὸν, τὸν δὲ τῆς φύσεως νόμον εἶχον.] And again; “But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” Romans 2:10
XII.13.  In Chrysostom's view, Paul is referring to the Gentile of "the early times, before the coming of Christ."  This Gentile is not an idolater, but one who still worships the one God, exhibiting wisdom and piety through this self-taught natural law, even though he is without benefit of the Mosaic law and the Jewish rites and customs. This is the same Gentile referred to by St. Paul when he states:   Wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.” Romans 2:9.  With respect to this Gentile:
If, then, he had not heard the law, nor conversed with the Jews, how could there be wrath, indignation and tribulation against him for working evil? The reason is, that he possessed a conscience inwardly admonishing him, and teaching him, and instructing him in all things. Whence is this manifest? From the way in which he punished others when they did amiss; from the way in which he laid down laws; from the way in which he set up the tribunals of justice.
Again, Chrysostom insists that the existence of human law--which presumes right and wrong, punishment, and organs of enforcement (all of which are found among the Gentiles)--is clear evidence of a natural law.

The existence of the natural law is not only implied by the activities of the righteous Gentile, but also in the Gentile living in wickedness.  How did those Gentiles who lived in wickedness warrant punishment?
From whence? Why, from the way in which they judged others who sinned. For if you deem not murder to be a wicked thing, when you have gotten a murderer at your bar, you should not punish him. So if you deem it not an evil thing to commit adultery, when the adulterer has fallen into your hands, release him from punishment! But if you record laws, and prescribe punishments, and art a severe judge of the sins of others; what defense can you make, in matters wherein you yourself do amiss, by saying that you are ignorant what things ought to be done? For suppose that thou and another person have alike been guilty of adultery. On what account do you punish him, and deem yourself worthy of forgiveness? Since if you did not know adultery to be wickedness, it were not right to punish it in another. But if you punish, and think to escape the punishment yourself, how is it agreeable to reason that the same offenses should not pay the same penalty?
XII.14. In the same manner that man judges his fellow and punishes him through the law and its structures, so does God judge men, who will judge them in accordance with their works.
Since, therefore, He renders to every man according to his works; for this reason He both implanted within us a natural law, and afterwards gave us a written one, in order that He might demand an account of sins, and that He might crown those who act rightly. Let us then order our conduct with the utmost care, and as those who have soon to encounter a fearful tribunal; knowing that we shall enjoy no pardon, if after a natural as well as written law, and so much teaching and continual admonition, we neglect our own salvation.

Quoniam igitus cuique secundum opera reddit, et legem propterea nobis naturalem indidit, et scriptam postmodum dedit, ut poenas exigat peccatorum, et recte agentes coronet: multo itaque studium tanquam ad tredmendum conventuri iudicium, actiones nostras dispensemus scientes quod nullam assequemur veniam, si post naturalem et scriptam legem et doctrinam tantam et admonitionem assiduam sautem nostram negligamus.

Ἐπεὶ οὖν ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα ἀποδίδωσι, καὶ νόμον διὰ τοῦτο φυσικὸν ἡμῖν ἐνέθηκε, καὶ γραπτὸν ὕστερον ἔδωκεν, ἵνα εὐθύνας ἀπαιτήσῃ τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων, καὶ ἵνα κατορθοῦντας στεφανώσῃ· μετὰ πολλῆς οὖν τῆς σπουδῆς, καὶ ὥσπερ εἰς δικαστήριον ἀπαντήσεσθαι μέλλοντες φοβερὸν, τὰ καθ' ἑαυτοὺς οἰκονομήσωμεν, εἰδό τες ὡς μηδεμιᾶς ἀπολαύσομεν συγγνώμης, εἰ μετὰ φυσικὸν καὶ γραπτὸν νόμον, καὶ διδασκαλίαν τοσαύτην, καὶ συνεχῆ παραίνεσιν, τῆς ἡμετέρας ἀμελήσαιμεν σωτηρίας.
XII.15 [PG, 49, 134-35]. With this, Chrysostom completes his discussion on the natural law, and begins to address other issues.  We shall see that he will return to this topic in his next day's homily.  We will review homily XIII and its discussion of the natural law in our next blog entry.

Mosaic of St. John Chrysostom in the Hagia Sophia

*The Latin version in Migne does not translate αὐτοδίδακτον. Some versions translated the Greek into per se discibilem.

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