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.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

St. Albert the Great: Lex Naturalis Cum Bottis

WHEN WE SPEAK OF ALBERT THE GREAT we are in the company of the bright lights in heaven, in the circle hosted by St. Thomas Aquinas, the Fourth Sphere of Heaven by the Sun. There we shall find St. Albert the Great, at his former student's right hand, if Dante is to be believed.
Questi che m’è a destra più vicino,
frate e maestro fummi, ed esso Alberto
è di Cologna, e io Thomas d’Aquino.

He who is near me on my right,
My brother friar and master was, and that Albert
Haled from Cologne, and I, Thomas, from Aquino.
Dante, Paradiso, X.97-99.

Illustration of the First Circle of Wisdom in by Giovanni de Paolo
(Albert the Great is to the right of St. Thomas, with a crosier and Dominican habit)

There, accompanying St. Thomas, St. Albert the Great greets Dante and Beatrice. And these two great intellectual lights are joined by such other sages as Siger of Brabant, Boethius, Gratian, Peter Lombard, Dionysius the Areopagite, Orosius, St. Isidore of Seville, the Venerable Bede, Richard of St. Victor, even King Solomon.

From the poetic dalliances of Dante with heaven, let us turn return to earth, and to history. St. Albert the Great (ca. 1200 - 1280) is one of the great figures of the medieval Church. Haling from Lauingen in Swabia, Germany, Albert joined the Dominican order, devoted himself to philosophy and theology, taught St. Thomas Aquinas, was at the forefront of the Aristotelian revolution, became a provincial of the Dominican Order, was appointed bishop of Regensburg, and managed to to write numerous works, so that his opera omnia filled thirty-eight volumes when aggregately published by Borgnet. And as if that was not enough, he was canonized a saint, and then recognized as a Doctor of the Church, the Doctor Universalis.

Son of a family of lesser nobility, a traditionally military family that was in the service of the counts of Bollstadt, Albert was born sometime between 1193 and 1200 in Lauingen, in Swabia. Under the care of his uncle, Albert studied liberal arts at Padua. Against the desires of his family, in 1223, at a young age, he joined the relatively new Order of Preachers founded by St. Dominic. He was sent by his order to the Dominican house in Cologne, there to complete his novitiate and study theology, and where later in 1228, after becoming a lector, he also lectured. He also lectured at Regensburg, Freiburg, Strasburg, and Hildesheim. In 1245 he went to Paris, obtained his master in theology, and there taught the young Thomas d'Aquino. In 1248, his order sent him back to Cologne, accompanied by Thomas d'Aquino and other friars. Between 1254 and 1257, he served as Provincial of the Dominican Order for the Province of Teutonia, and in that capacity oversaw more than thirty-six priories for men, and twenty cloisters of nuns, handling his visitation on foot. He was allowed to resign that office in 1257, and returned to Cologne to study and to teach. In 1260, however, Pope Alexander IV appointed him bishop of Regensburg, and office he accepted unwillingly. Refusing to ride a horse (in conformity with his vows as a Dominican), Bishop Albert earned the sobriquet, episcopus cum bottis, the bishop with walking boots. After devoting himself sedulously to his duties as bishop, Albert asked to resign, a request granted by Alexander IV's successor, Urban IV. In 1263, he was ordered to preach the Crusade, and he did so again on foot, until the end of his commission upon the death of Urban IV. The rest of his life (at least until his memory and intellect failed him when he was an octogenarius et amplius) Albert devoted to studying, writing, and lecturing. (See generally, J. A. Weisheipl, O.P., "The Life and Works of St. Albert the Great," in Albertus Magnus and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays 1980 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980), 13-52).

Albert's intellect was prodigious, and the corpus of his works is concomitantly massive. When the majority of them were collected in 1899 by the editor Borgnet, they amounted to thirty-eight volumes, and cover all sorts of areas, from astrology to zoology.

Albertus Magnus by Fra Angelico

Albert the Great expressly addressed himself to the natural law, most notably in his Summa de bono (which is the third part of his Summa de creaturis), written around 1242. He also addresses the topic at some length in his Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics which was transcribed between 1248 and 1252 (by his student St. Thomas). Finally, he approaches the subject in his Ethica, which was composed later than 1260. Crowe, 120-22. Nevertheless, "De bono contains the most thorough and technically elaborated treatment of natural right and law within the entire Albertinian corpus . . . ." Stanley B. Cunningham, Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great (Washington, D.C., CUA 2008), 207. Albert the Great's contributions to the natural law are many, but the most important are surely his teaching on the natural law (ius naturale) as a habitus, and his teaching on synderesis and conscience and their role in the syllogism of practical reasoning. Another significant contribution is his distinguishing between law (lex) and right (ius). Equally important is Albert the Great's insistence that the natural law was a law of reason, and therefore was not one in which brute animals shared. Included in this view was his unequivocal rejection of the Roman jurist Ulpian's definition of natural law, adopted uncritically by-and-large by the Canon lawyers, the so-called Decretists. In their definition of the natural law, they included, at least in its fringes, the brute animals.

In the next few blog postings, we will review St. Albert the Great's contributions to the natural law. We will in particular focus upon his treatment of the natural law in his early work De bono. We will pay special attention to the Albertine notion of the natural law as habitus, and his teaching on the role of conscience and syllogism of practical reasoning, perhaps St. Albert the Great's greatest contributions in the area of natural law. We will review the Albertinian distinction between right (ius) and law (lex). We will also address the issue that St. Albert had with the definition of the natural law that had been inherited from the Roman jurisconsult Ulpian.

Albertus Magnus, Fresco by Tommaso da Modena

In his Apostolic Letter where he declared St. Albert as patron of the natural sciences, Pius XII described Albert the Great as a "beacon shining in a world engulfed in gloom." In his mutual trust of both reason and faith, and in his eagerness to study the natural and supernatural sciences, St. Albert set an example "even in his own day, when many, puffed up with a hollow science of words, were turning their eyes away from the things of he spirit." Therefore, this great thinker and great believer teaches us moderns "how we should rather mount from the things of earth to the things above." More recently, Pope Benedict XVI echoed the encomium of his predecessor regarding Albert the Great. In a general audience on March 24, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said the following: "St. Albert the Great reminds us that between science and faith there is friendship, and that the men of science can undertake, through their vocation to the study of nature, a genuine and fascinating journey of sanctity." It would be an improvement indeed if those who advanced the science of law, that is our law professors, judges, and lawyers, were to look toward St. Albert the Great, and to the student was no lesser genius, St. Thomas Aquinas, for their guidance on how to think, how to believe, how to live, and how to love.


  1. that the natural law was a law of reason, and therefore was not one in which brute animals shared.

    I can't believe such a dumb statement. The Natural Law is the Laws of Nature--and what guides Nature/Cosmos is the Laws of Nature--The Natural Law. The Origin of the word comes from pulling laws out of "Nature". Animals and plants and the whole material existence are based on Laws.

    It really gets my goat that really these people, and the last twenty posts that you have posted, really have NO idea what the Natural Law is. Reason? Reason based on what? Not one post ever goes to Nature and points to a Law in nature. This is what the Natural Law means at its origins.

    What I guess is flights of fancy. They run with something---without ever knowing its foundation, where it has come from! And so, the Natural Law means now "Equality" --and NO one looks at the barnyard!

    I'm amazed. Brute animals do NOT follow the Natural Law? It just boggles my mind how people talk on the "Natural Law" and spend absolutely NO time in the barnyard!

    Please explain to me dear gentelmen, why on earth---every animal in the barnyard exhibits a Pecking Order---yet Catholic Academics/clergymen in their ivory towers all speaking on of course the "Natural Law", all proclaim Equality and denigrate hierarchy! "All Men are created equal" but certainly not every beetle is created equal, no bovine is created equal, no chicken is created equal---but Man is! The Natural Law doesn't apply to "brute animals" but amazingly, all the brute animals have the Law of the Pecking Order. Amazingly, Angels are in NINE Choirs. Are all Angels created Equal?

    Let me get this straight, Brute Animals have a Pecking Order, Angels have a Pecking Order---but Man, In this Natural Law based on "pure Reason" was all created equal!

    Where does the Natural Law COME FROM? In the first place---if it doesn't come from N-A-T-U-R-E in the first place? How come the "reason" of man---DOES NOT match what is going on in Nature?

    I'd like the answer to all this! I find this all very interesting. How people talk of the "Natural Law"---and then don't even know what is going on in the Real World of Nature, in Reality! How can this come to be that the "reason" touted by Man, and by Catholic Clergy/Academics---does NOT match the Reason found in Nature!

  2. This idea of St. Albert is the complete OPPOSITE of what the Ancients meant by the "Natural Law"! What is happening here is intellectual masturbation (and that is what it is) in the sanitized environment of the Intellectual Sphere of Academia. This is unbelievable!

    The Ancients meant by the Natural Law and they bloody coined the term! and who ought to know what it meant was the Laws of Reason found guiding the Cosmos and Nature! Wow! The wonder and excitement to find laws, based on reason, guiding Nature. That is what is meant by the Natural Law!

    If you want to speak about "Original Intent" in regards to the American Constitution, one puts himself in conflict with the Leftists that speak about a "Living" Constitution. It seems that the term "Natural Law" has also undergone a seismic sea change in that it now refutes and denies its Original Founding essence! Courtesy of the Catholic Church which supposedly upholds the "Natural Law"!

    The Natural Law in its Original meaning meant the Reason found in the Cosmos. How then does it happen that "Reason" of Man is so different, and what is preached and taught on Catholic Campuses worldwide---are different from the Reason in the Cosmos? What the Heck is going on?

    Reason does not apply to Brute animals? Brute animals do not have the faculty of reason---but it is reason that guides and formulates their actions! It is Reason that MADE them in the first place! What natural laws made the cosmos and all things in them? That is the Natural law---And how does the Natural Law of Man now being divorced from the Cosmos occur? How does this happen? We really don't know what we are talking about? That man and his "reason" are divorced from the Cosmos? from Nature?

    What I see is a bunch of Intellectuals running around saying things that have NO basis in Nature or in Reality. And then you have the Church people doing nihilism by redefining words! Redefining words that negate their very meaning of existence and being! Is the Church engaging in Nihilism--for the first things Nihilism does is change the meaning of words!

    What the Heck is going on? That People in the Natural Law field--really don't know what they are talking about!

  3. "Birds of a feather flock together".

    This is said by Socrates in the Jowett's translation of Plato's Republic. This is the Natural Law.

    All animals follow it.

    Even Humans.

    Look, Socrates applies that to humans. Not to only one grade of humans but to all grades of humans. Old congregate with old. Young with young. Males with Males. etc etc. Man congregates that way called Race and Tribe.

    This is the Natural Law that Beast and Man follow!

    Now, lets take the Law of Reason as exhibited in Genesis at the Tower of Babel. Man's Reason, the Catholic Church's definition of the Natural Law, said, "Lets build a tower and congregate".

    God said No.

    Nature said, "Birds of a Feather Flock together".

    Man's Reason, Man's Natural Law rejected all of this.

    Ever sit in a Catholic Church and listen to the sermon from the pulpit and how preacher after preacher, bishop after bishop---deconstructs the Natural Law of "Birds of a Feather flock together" and actually promote cultural Marxism and preach global baloney of cosmopolitianism! Race is evil. Racism is evil. Ever hear that?

    What is Catholic Social Justice teaching but a deconstruction of the REAL Natural Law of "Birds of a Feather Flock Together"? Does the Catholic Church really uphold the Natural Law? And how can St. Albert the Great really say that the Natural Law does NOT apply to Brute Animals.

    All Brute Animals follow the Natural Law of "Birds of a Feather flock together". It seems everywhere one turns these days "Man's Reason" is deconstructing this very element, this Law of Nature!

    I have worked in Nature. I have watched plenty of animal shows and my fair share of Animal Kingdom and National Geographic specials.

    How come Catholic Priests and Bishops who spend NO time in nature pontificate on something they know nothing about. Do Birds of a Feather Flock together?

    Can someone more knowledgeable than I am point out to me what is missing here. Where am I wrong? Does St. Albert know what is going on in the Barnyard? How does he know anything of the Natural Law?

  4. I think your difficulty in St. Albert's ideas regarding the natural law and whether brute animals participate in it comes from confusion in terms.

    It is unfortunate, but it is an accident of history too late to change, that the term "natural law" means different things. A lot of times its meaning must be derived by context.

    In the context of the moral life of man, where free will and reason are operative, the "natural law" is a law of reason, of free will, a moral law in which only man participates.

    The term "natural law" or "law of nature" is also used in the context of purely physical laws, where free will and reason are not operative, but where physical laws or instinct are involved. Obviously, "natural law" in this context is significantly different than "natural law" in the first. In this second context, man and beast and plant and cosmos participate in the natural law.

    St. Albert uses the term natural law in the first way, not in the second.

    I don't think "equality" has been suggested as the heart of the "natural law" (used in the first sense). Rather, "reason" is at the heart of the "natural law" (used in the first sense). While men share equally in human nature (and therefore the natural law (as used in the first sense) applies to all men), reason requires that same things be treated the same, and different things differently. Therefore, if one man is virtuous, or more intelligent, he should not be treated the same as a man who is not virtuous, or less intelligent.

    Men do share some things with animals: procreation most obviously. I think also they share in the notion of what you call barnyard behavior, or "birds of a feather" and "pecking order" behavior. But reason must take command over these tendencies. First, these tendencies may be subject to being corrupt, and may become unreasonable.

    I find it unbelievable that you would suggest that the Catholic church advances "equality" to the detriment of "hierarchy." The natural law recognizes hierarchy, law, order, and the need for leadership and reasonable subjection to law and leader.

    With respect to reason governing the entirety of the cosmos, including man, I see no inconsistency, and I cannot see how you accuse the Catholic thinkers of suggestion that reason does not govern the entirety of creation. The eternal law (which is a law of reason) governs the natural law (in the first sense) and the natural law (in the second sense). God's providence (which is the rule of reason behind eternal law) governs through the natural law (in the first sense) and the natural law (in the second sense).

    I have never heard the Church say that race is evil. As to racism, I understand it to mean the unreasonable attachment to race. I don't know how anyone could advocate an unreasonable attachment to race, e.g., this man is evil solely because of his race, or this man can be imprisoned without due process, solely because of his race. The Church has always supported the reasonable desires for group/cultural/ethnic identity, which is a reasonable aspect of the "birds of a feather" phenomenon you write about.

  5. Thanks for your reply but I am still quite saddened.

    I'm a student of Socrates who practiced Doric Philosophy, an admirer, disciple and emulator of Spartan civilization and a devotee of the god Apollo. Now, if you look up Apollo in a classical dictionary, it says that he is the "god of clarity". Clarity and precision are the hallmarks of Apollo. Truth does not exist without clarity and precision (the Love of Accuracy in Plato's Republic). Yet in the answer you provided, you remark on the confusion.

    You have here St. Albert the Great---that makes up a totally NEW definition for the Natural Law.

    He is the one causing confusion! Is not the basis of Western Thought, Socrates. Does not Socrates ask for clarity and precision, and that "words do not wander". And yet, we know there is confusion in the definition of this term---and we continue the confusion.

    Secondly, I find it disconcerting that the made up definition of St. Albert is given pride of place--being the First definition and its original first meaning is given secondary status, almost dismissed as nothing consequential.

    Here is a Catholic blogger: Quote:
    "At the heart of all Catholic teaching is the natural law–not to be confused with the laws of nature."

    What is happening is that a false dichotomy is being set up and normal everyday Catholics seem to think that the "Laws of Nature" do not concern us! The Greek words for the Natural Law IS "Laws of Nature". It is in the Phaedo, 71e. Socrates in using "Birds of a Feather flock together" is applying the Natural law, the laws of nature, in the Republic, to humans. As you can see, the Catholic blogger would dismiss this now as " is just the Laws of Nature and not the Natural Law".

    What right did St. Albert have to change the definition?

    The word "republic" was redefined by Machiavelli. Machevilli was attempting to implement cultural revolution. Paul A. Rahe in his magnificent three volume study Republics, Ancient and Modern catalogues this change. This is why he puts the adjective "classical" in front of the term "republic" to make clear his speech and to be precise. One doesn't have to "guess" what he is talking about.

    Here in the Natural law, you were using the term "Natural MORAL law" but then you stopped using that term to speak of the new meaning. St. Albert's definition is not the "standard" definition nor is it the classical definition.

    If there is a difference of definitions---there must be an adjective preceding the term to identify it.

    Something has to be done and care must be used. The whole point of Socrates was his definition of words and the ethical and moral baggage that accompanies the use of language and yet I see that the Catholic Church is promoting incoherence and sloppy language in identifying things. This is not what I expect of Catholics. Shouldn't this be fixed? What about this false dichotomy now between the "Laws of Nature" and the "natural Law"? Why does St. Albert create a New definition?

    For all the talk on morality, I see none of this itself in the field of the Natural Law. I see confusion. And I don't like the way the Catholic Church goes about changing such a fundamental aspect of Western culture and dropping and dismissing the ORIGINAL meaning and definition of the term "natural Law".

  6. What is the Logos? What is the definition of it?

    Is not the Greek definition of "logos" reason? And did not the Greeks think that the Logos appeared in the Cosmos?

    There are two terms that I believe the Greeks used to describe the natural law; they used "Law of nature" (Phaedo) and "Logos".

    "Birds of a feather flock together" is a Principle of the Logos in the Cosmos. Is this not true?

    "Pecking Order" is this not a Principle of the Logos in the Cosmos?

    Do the "Laws of Nature" come from the Devil---or from God?

    If you say "The Natural Law" Does that not mean the principles in the cosmos AND the moral law that you talk so much about? Why exclude one or the other in the term?

    I smell something fishy. Things are not right. Things are to be precise, clear and straightforward. If the Catholic Church is so knowledgeable about the Natural law, then please point to where any Catholic mentions "Birds of a Feather flock together" or "Pecking Order" or "Dikaios" or "Golden Mean" or "the combination of different but related parts" or "Rule of One is Best" or "Tripartite Paradigm".

    If the Catholic Church is the "keeper" and "user" of the Natural Law---where is this stuff? What you mean to say is that the Catholic Church is ONLY concerned with a tiny fraction of the Natural Law and not the WHOLE of the Natural Law?

    Something is not right.