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, March 13, 2010

St. Justin Martyr: The Natural Law in Dialogue with Trypho

OUTSIDE OF ST. PAUL HIMSELF, ST. JUSTIN MARTYR (100-165 A.D.) may be one of the earliest Christian witnesses of the Church's doctrine on the natural law. Our Justin Martyr, Flavius Iustinus, was born (as he puts it in his Apology) the "son of Priscos, grandson of Baccheios, of Flavia Neapolis, in Palestinian Syria," and died in Rome, a victim by flogging and beheading of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius's persecution of the Christians. Born a pagan, educated in the pagan schools in philosophy, Justin Martyr converted to Christianity in his early thirties. He was moved to Christianity, he says, by the insufficiency of philosophy, Christianity's moral beauty and truth, and the courage of its martyrs. It was this Faith that satisfied his yearning heart and desire for truth, and to which he devoted the remaining thirty five years of his life. Of his works, perhaps his most important were his First Apology (addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, his sons, and the Roman Senate), his Second Apology (written when Marcus Aurelius was Emperor), his Discourse to the Greeks, and his Dialogue with Trypho. His works evidence the influence of Platonic and Stoic philosophy, and are deeply centered around the notion of the Logos. It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that they are, as it were, an appendix to, or an extended commentary on, the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John. In the Dialogue with Trypho, a work which documents his dispute with the learned Jewish scholar Trypho--perhaps merely a fictitious character, a "straw man," or perhaps the historical, anti-Christian Rabbi Tarphon--St. Justin Martyr tries to show that Christianity is the new law for mankind.

Modern Icon of St. Justin in neo-Byzantine Style

In the Dialogue with Trypho, St. Justin Martyr responds to a question of Trypho: "Tell me, then, shall those who lived according to the law given by Moses, live in the same manner with Jacob, Enoch, and Noah, in the resurrection of the dead, or not?" During the course of his answer, St. Justin Martyr points to the essential kernel of the Mosaic Law--that which "is naturally good, and pious, and righteous"--as what has bound all men commonly, including those before the law, such as Noah, Enoch, and Jacob, as well as those "who have known this Christ, who was before the morning star and the moon, and submitted to become incarnate." It is the fulfillment of "that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good," which makes men--across the board--pleasing to God. This is a clear reference to a universal natural law embedded within the Mosaic Law and within man himself, a law that was known to mankind before the Mosaic Law, which constituted its heart, and which continued in validity and bound all men, including those who followed Christ. Christians are not released from doing that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good.
For what in the law of Moses is naturally good, and pious, and righteous (ἐν τῷ Μωυσέως νόμῳ τὰ φύσει καλὰ καὶ εὐσεβῆ καὶ δίκαια), and has been prescribed to be done by those who obey it; and what was appointed to be performed by reason of the hardness of the people’s hearts (σκληροκαρδίαν δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ) was similarly recorded, and done also by those who were under the law (οἱ ὑπὸ τὸν νόμον). Since those who did that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good are pleasing to God (ἐπεὶ οἳ τὰ καθόλου καὶ φύσει καὶ αἰώνια καλὰ ἐποίουν εὐάρεστοί εἰσι τῷ θεῷ), they shall be saved through this Christ in the resurrection equally with those righteous men who were before them, namely Noah, and Enoch, and Jacob, and whoever else there be, along with those who have known this Christ, Son of God, who was before the morning star and the moon, and submitted to become incarnate, and be born of this virgin of the family of David, in order that, by this dispensation, the serpent that sinned from the beginning, and the angels like him, may be destroyed, and that death may be contemned, and for ever quit, at the second coming of the Christ Himself, those who believe in Him and live acceptably,—and be no more: when some are sent to be punished unceasingly into judgment and condemnation of fire; but others shall exist in freedom from suffering, from corruption, and from grief, and in immortality.
Dial. Tryph., xlv. Earlier in his dialogue with Trypho, St. Justin had spoken of this universally-binding natural law, a law, indeed, which was incarnate in a person, Christ. It may be said that just as St. Justin taught that the Logos, or Word, of God had become flesh, so, too, did the law become flesh in Christ. "[A]n eternal and final law," "has been given to us," St. Justin tells his Jewish interlocutor, "namely, Christ." Dial. Tryph.xi
"There will be no other God, O Trypho, nor was there from eternity any other existing” (I thus addressed him), "but He who made and disposed all this universe. Nor do we think that there is one God for us, another for you, but that He alone is God who led your fathers out from Egypt with a strong hand and a high arm. Nor have we trusted in any other (for there is no other), but in Him in whom you also have trusted, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. But we do not trust through Moses or through the law (οὐ διὰ Μωυσέως οὐδὲ διὰ τοῦ νόμου); for then we would do the same as yourselves. But now (for I have read that there shall be a final law, and a covenant, the chiefest of all, which it is now incumbent on all men to observe (τελευταῖος νόμος καὶ διαθήκη κυριωτάτη πασῶν, ἣν νῦν δέον φυλάσσειν πάντας ἀνθρώπους), as many as are seeking after the inheritance of God. For the law promulgated on Horeb is now old (ὁ γὰρ ἐν Χωρὴβ παλαιὸς ἤδη νόμος καὶ ὑμῶν μόνων), and belongs to yourselves alone; but this is for all universally (ὁ δὲ πάντων ἁπλῶς· νόμος). Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it (νόμος δὲ κατὰ νόμου τεθεὶς τὸν πρὸ αὐτοῦ ἔπαυσε), and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one (καὶ διαθήκη μετέπειτα γενομένη τὴν προτέραν ὁμοίως ἔστησεν); and an eternal and final law—namely, Christ—has been given to us (αἰώνιός τε ἡμῖν νόμος καὶ τελευταῖος ὁ Χριστὸς ἐδόθη), and the covenant is trustworthy (ἡ διαθήκη πιστή), after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance (μεθ' ἣν οὐ νόμος, οὐ πρόσταγμα, οὐκ ἐντολή). Have you not read this which Isaiah says: 'Hearken unto Me, hearken unto Me, my people; and, ye kings, give ear unto Me: for a law shall go forth from Me, and My judgment shall be for a light to the nations. My righteousness approaches swiftly, and My salvation shall go forth, and nations shall trust in Mine arm?' (Isa. 51: 4, 5) And by Jeremiah, concerning this same new covenant, He thus speaks: 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.' (Jer. 31: 31, 32) If, therefore, God proclaimed a new covenant which was to be instituted, and this for a light of the nations, we see and are persuaded that men approach God, leaving their idols and other unrighteousness, through the name of Him who was crucified, Jesus Christ, and abide by their confession even unto death, and maintain piety. Moreover, by the works and by the attendant miracles, it is possible for all to understand that He is the new law, and the new covenant, and the expectation (ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καινὸς νόμος καὶ ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη καὶ ἡ προσδοκία) of those who out of every people wait for the good things of God. For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham (who in uncircumcision was approved of and blessed by God on account of his faith, and called the father of many nations), are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ . . .
Dial. Tryph., xi.

Icon of St. Justin Holding Martyr's Crown and Wearing Philosopher's Robe

In short, one finds in St. Justin Martyr the concept of a law within the Mosaic law that defines what is essentially good and right. That law preceded the Mosaic law, and was the instrument of righteousness for all men who were not subject to the Mosaic law, either because of history (Moses had not yet come) or because of their condition (they were Gentile, and not Jew), or because the Logos had become enfleshed, abrogated the Mosaic law in its ceremonial particularities and universalized the natural law heart of the Mosaic law. As Erwin Goodenough summarizes it: "Though God undoubtedly gave the law, justification throughout Jewish history has been a matter of moral integrity and purity of heart, not a matter of legal observance" of the Mosaic law. Erwin Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (BiblioLife 2009), 89. That essential kernel of "moral integrity and purity of heart" is what Christ universalized in his Golden Rule, in his teachings on the Beatitudes, and his other moral teachings. This is the natural law, that law "which is universally, naturally, and eternally good," and which Christ personified, as foretold by the Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The natural moral law--ever ancient, ever new--is a "law placed against law," a law that abrogated the Mosaic law, and indeed, was also before, and even within, that Mosaic law. It is an eternal law (αἰώνιός νόμος), and a final law (τελευταῖος νόμος ). Thus, this one stream of law existed before, parallel to, and within the stream of Mosaic law, and flowed with ever greater current and ebullience in the one natural moral law now universally binding all men, the end of which, the fulfillment of which, the epitome of which, the personification of which, is Christ. There is no other law that will ever be given, "no law, no commandment, no ordinance," but this one, "namely Christ." Dial. Tryph., xi.

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