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, July 31, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law: Part 7: Moral Good and Moral Evil

MAN HAS FREE WILL. That means he moves about in a moral world with a moral order, a moral order that the conformity with which is good, the nonconformity with which is evil. In what exactly does the distinction between good and evil consist? Upon what is that distinction founded?

Mercier insists that there is a real, intrinsic distinction between moral good and evil. It is not merely something in the eye of the beholder, something subjective, a taste, an individual, particular matter-of-choice. Whether something is morally good or morally evil is not defined by our choice; it exists regardless of our choice; it pre-exists or is antecedent to our choice; it survives our choice and remains the same consequent to our choice; it is absolutely unaffected by our choice. We have no power over the moral order; it is entirely a "given" to us. In short, our choice is judged by conformity to the moral order which is objective.

We are aware of this objective, real, intrinsic distinction between good and evil in three ways. First, it is felt by our conscience. Second, it is confirmed inductively. Third, it can be established deductively.

There is an internal witness to moral good and evil: our conscience. We may quote here the beautiful words of Cardinal Newman:
My nature feels towards the voice of conscience as towards a person. When I obey it, I feel a satisfaction; when I disobey, a soreness-just like that which I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend.
John Henry Newman, Callista (London 1910), 314-315. Certain things present themselves to our conscience as good and right. Other things present themselves as the opposite: wrong and evil. To take the position that there is not a faculty in us that feels shame, that feels guilt, that judges some things to be good and right and others evil and wrong is, by the common testimony of mankind, untenable.

The fact that we have this internal sense, this internal compass and internal judge, suggests an external, objective moral order which it perceives. The external reality of this order contains the "notes of necessity, universality, and persistence." [229(30)] This external, objective order subjectively sensed by human conscience as one of necessity, universality, and persistence, is the moral order. It presents itself as something over and above-and-beyond the passions and mere self-interest. It is another sort of voice from the urging pleas of our passion, or from the argument of self-interest. It is the echo from another place in the mind's mountains. "An echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear." (Newman) Inductively, the most fitting explanation for this is the existence of a moral order "anterior to every code of merely human origin and independent of all contingent circumstances." [229(30)]
Hence, short of denying the natural capacity of human reason to know the truth, and of thus logically professing skepticism, we must admit that the distinction between moral good and evil is founded on the very nature of things.

The third argument is more distant, less personal, but steely and irrefutable. It is deductive. It hits us in the face, though maybe not in the heart, with the logic of syllogism. Something that hits the face like a cold wind is not less true than something which hits us within, like the subtle softness of a man who yields to love. A man's heart can be full of love, but he will die of exposure, just like a man whose heart is full of hate or bitterness, if he persists to go out without a overcoat in a blizzard. Reason is reason to the heart of gold as to the heart of iron.

"The good or right is by definition that which leads to the end of man's rational nature; conversely, we call wrong whatever is in opposition to the end of human nature."
"Now there must be some objective suitable and others suitable to human nature."
Conclusion"Therefore between moral good and evil there must be a distinction which is founded on the nature of things."

[230(30)] Informed by the voice of conscience and inductive and deductive arguments, we can be assured that there is such a thing as a moral order which is founded upon the very nature of things. It is an antecedent given. There is nothing we can do to change it (we are not gods). And even if we were gods, we could not change it. We cannot change the nature of things, and so it follows we cannot change moral good and moral evil.

Our perception of the reality of the moral order is not the result positive or merely extrinsic influences. Someone didn't posit it, suggest it, will it into existence, even God did not arbitrarily posit it. It is so intrinsic, so fundamental that it cannot be changed, even by God, for the moral order, based as it is on the eternal law, is the expression of God himself. And God, who is Eternal Law, does not change. Deus immutabilis est. "The distinction between goodness and badness of human actions is not explained in its ultimate analysis by any extrinsic or positive influence, whether human or divine." [230(31)] (emphasis added).
Nor is the moral order a result of "traditional preposssessions, social conventions or laws." It is not, as Montaigne maintained, the result of educational prejudice. It is not, as Hobbes and Rousseau maintained, the result of the civil law, which, to them was the foundation of all morality. It is not what Puffendorf or Descartes suggest, the result of God's untrammeled will which decides willy nilly what is good and what is evil. The moral order is not even based upon an "absolutely free decree of God," as William of Ockham or John Calvin maintained. [230(31)] Mercier explains.
The opinion that makes the distinction between good and evil depend on the [absolute, untrammeled] free will of God leads to inadmissible consequences: (a) God might then make blasphemy, perjury, violation of contracts and the like obligatory upon us. (b) Whatever is morally good would be obligatory, and even heroism would be a duty forced upon us. (c) If all moral law owed its origin to a free act of the sovereign will of God, a positive revelation would be necessary for us to discern the difference between good and evil [because all good and evil would be based upon an arbitrary edict of God]. Such conclusions as these condemn the principle from which they logically follow.
[230-31(31)] Mercier thus reasonably rejects the notion of a potentia Dei absoluta, and opts for a potentia Dei ordinata.

Since nature is created by God, and moral right and moral wrong is found in the nature of things, it follows that moral right and moral wrong is something that is God's bailiwick, not ours. But even God is limited by who he is, and he cannot make good evil by decree, for that is equivalent to saying that he can change himself. God, who is goodness itself, cannot make a good thing evil or an evil thing good. His power is not absolute in the sense that he can contradict himself or deny himself. Those who want to wrest from God the power to define good and evil are wannabe deicides, wannabe legicides. But just as one cannot squelch the reality of nature, of an objective wrong and right built upon nature, one cannot kill God.

Depiction of Parable of Dives and Lazarus, Codex Aureus Epternacensis (ca. 1040)

It is true that a man can poison his own heart and the heart of his fellows against God, just like he persuade others to sin against the natural law, and to maintain irrationally that there is no natural law. But to claim to be a deicide or a legicide is the most foolish and vain and quixotic of boasts. It is the feigned blindness of one that can see. It is the feigned sight of one who is blind. To claim to be beyond the moral law, to be a creator of it, an Übermensch, is rank idiocy and hubris. These are the raves and rantings of an unbalanced lunatic, of ungoverned, ungovernable modern man. A man in rebellion against the natural order and in rebellion against God.

Friederich Nietzsche

Hear me Nietzsche if you are able! Why did you kick against the goads? Are you there with Dives? Have you learned the foolishness of your utterly blasphemous boast, "Gott is tot"? You, who claimed to arrogate to yourself not only God's potentia ordinata but claimed even a power he did not have, a potentia absoluta? What has become of you? You remain, your boasts notwithstanding, subject to the power of God. You, like Dives, have heard God's voice, the voice of the very God that you claimed to have killed, call you, Stulte! "You Fool!" How much that in your vituperative madness you wrote would you retract! No, Nietzsche. No, no, no, no! let's away to truth!

The "Mouth of Hell" Where Unrepentant Deniers of God and His Law Live

We shall be content to be Lazarus, to be counted among the anawim and not the Übermenschen whose bodies, despite their boasts, get sick, grow old, and die like ours. We trust our inner sense, and we trust our reason: We believe in God, in created nature, and in the moral order that is therein inscribed. And we shall sing with the Saints, not of our own power, but of the one and only God, the sovereign Lord of nature's might, the Magnae potentiae Deus:

Plasmator hominis, Deus,
qui cuncta solus ordinans,
humum iubes producere
reptantis et ferae genus:
Maker of man, who from from Thy throne dost order all things, God alone; by whose decree the teeming earth to reptile and to beast gave birth:
Qui magna rerum corpora,
dictu iubentis vivida,
ut serviant per ordinem
subdens dedisti homini:
The mighty forms that fill the land, instinct with life at Thy command, are given subdued to humankind
for service in their rank assigned.
Repelle a servis tuis,
quicquid per immunditiam,
aut moribus se suggerit,
aut actibus se interserit.
From all Thy servants drive away whate'er of thought impure to-day hath been with open action blent,
or mingled with the heart's intent
Da gaudiorum praemia,
da gratiarum munera:
dissolve litis vincula,
astringe pacis foedera.
In heaven Thine endless joys bestow, and grant Thy gifts of grace below; from chains of strife our souls release, bind fast the gentle bands of peace.
Praesta, Pater piissime,
Patrique compar Unice,
cum Spiritu Paraclito
regnans per omne saeculum.
Grant this, O Father, ever One with Christ, Thy sole-begotten Son, Whom, with the Spirit we adore,
one God, both now and evermore.

(The hymn above, Plasmator hominis Deus, is one of a series of six hymns attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great each emphasizing one day of the six days of creation. The other hymns are Lucis creator optime, Immensi caeli conditor, Telluris ingens conditor, Caeli Deus sanctissime, and Magnae potentiae Deus.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 6: Free Will

BEFORE CARDINAL MERCIER ADDRESSES THE ISSUE of the natural moral order (which is subordination of the human act to its natural, ultimate end), he must address another issue: the freedom of the will. The very existence of a moral order, as distinguished from a physical order, "rests on the presupposition that there is liberty in the subject." [225(23)] It is immediately apparent that if we have no more say in our behavior than a rock does to the law of gravity, then there is no such thing as a moral order: all order would be determined, and man would not be free. Without freedom, without choice, there is no basis for talking about oughts and ought nots; we would only talk about ises and is nots.

As a minimum condition of freedom or liberty of will, there can be no strict determination or compulsion either externally or internally, at least in the matter of choosing particular goods. We have to have the ability to assent or to dissent from an act in regard to particular goods. "Moral liberty," Mercier continues, "is the faculty of choice between different objects in their relation to the end of rational nature." [225-25(24)] We can attest to this moral freedom, we are conscious of it. Mercier insists, consistent with St. Thomas, that "[t]he universal good exercises an irresistible determining action upon us, since it corresponds adequately with the capacity of our will." (emphasis added) (Similarly, the speculative intellect is ordered to the true, though in particulars it may believe falsehoods under erroneous guise of being true.) Though we are free to chose particular goods, they are always willed under guise of being goods, because our will cannot choose but what appears to us to be our good. The will is necessarily ordered to the good. However in the area of particulars it is not so necessarily determined.
[W]ith particular goods [they are not irresistibly determined]. These may be willed; for they are means towards the attainment of the whole good (summum bonum) and on this account are real goods. They need not be willed, since they are not the good.
[225(25)] An act of free will involves judgment on the part of the intellect, and desire on the part of the will. Though these are spiritual faculties, they are not uninfluenced by the sensitive faculties. Not only can the will take command and act through the sensitive faculties, but, particularly when there is a loss of integrity in man, the sensitive faculties can influence, even overpower, the spiritual faculties of the will and intellect. We know this from experience. There are those who have no real command of their speculative or practical intellects or their will (the mentally deranged, the unconscious). There are others that while not mentally impeded are yet "incapable of resisting solicitations to evil," for example, sociopaths or psychopaths. But these exceptions do not disprove the rule; they are simply exceptions to it.

Ordinarily, "the [antecedent as opposed to consequent] passions or lower emotional states and exterior material agents do not generally do more than weaken moral liberty." [226(27)] "Sometimes their action [of the antecedent passions] is the same direction as that of the will, sometimes in opposition to it." [226(27)] While passions both frustrate or encourage the will in certain directions, we are conscious of the ability to override most of these antecedent passions. It is only infrequently that the antecedent passions are of such compulsion that they rob us of free will. We can almost always exert our will over the passions. Sometimes their current helps us; sometimes their current hinders us; but even if it hinders us, we can still generally paddle upstream:
We may exert [control over the passions] in different ways. Either indirectly, by diverting the soul's activity, through change of thought, through applying the will to other objections, even through exciting other passions. Or direct, by the will directly acting on the passions, to strengthen them or to repress them, at leas to a certain extent. Or yet by a third way, perhaps the most effectual: by conjuring up in the imagination some appropriate object and retaining the sensitive appetite under its influence until the new passion neutralizes what reason would have us combat.
We experience ourselves as the driver of a chariot with some control, some will, over the horses of passion under our reins. Our will is perceived in most instances as being the pilot. The Humean notion that the intellect is but the slave of passions is not our common experience.

Mercier sets forth some general rules regarding the will:
  • No agent, not even God, "can exercise violence in the strict sense of a human will." Violence can be done to our body, but no spirit, not even God, can violate the inner sanctum where free will lies.

  • No external agent, God alone excepted, can have a "necessitating influence" over the more particular determinations of the will.

  • The sensitive appetite influences the will directly and indirectly (by, for example, creating such a disturbance that they affect the intellect, upon which the will relies).

  • Material agents act remotely upon our will because they have to act through our sensitive appetite, which then acts upon our will. External material agents (say, a hamburger) do not act upon the will directly, they must act through our sensitive faculties or appetites (our sense of smell, which makes our mouth water with desire and so solicits the will's consent to eat it).
Mercier concludes with a summary:
We see, then, that between the fully free act--in the carrying out of which man has a clear view of the morality of his conduct and has complete control of his will--and the act entirely lacking responsibility and freedom, there are possible many intermediate states, in which the senses and the reason, the passions and the spiritual faculty of the will, each strive for their share in the determination of our activity.
[228(28)] Most of the time, in the continuum of free will that confronts us in each decision, we are neither white or black but in various shades of gray. That's why judging the internal forum requires extreme delicacy. Indeed, even the best of us have trouble knowing ourselves. To know others is, for a finite being without the ability to witness the inside of another agent except several steps removed, fraught with problems. That is the basis, undoubtedly, of the divine injunction: Nolite iudicare ut non iudicemini. "Judge not lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1). We can judge external, objective wrongs, and we can state the principles of morality, and we can opine on the inner state of a man and have good grounds for doing so (e.g., we can say with the highest of probability, moral certainty in fact, that someone who participated directly in the genocide of the Jews in the Holocaust would not have been blind to the fact that what he was doing was wrong, and if he was, he would have to have been guilty of an antecedent and culpable squelching of his conscience), but any definitive judgment on the heart of man and his subjective guilt before God is simply outside our competency.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 5: Contemplation of God as the Ultimate Good

HOW IS IT THAT MAN ACHIEVES HIS NATURAL END? By what means will that which will make man objectively happy, God, and which constitutes man's ultimate good, communicate to man his subjective happiness? How does man (naturally) know God? How does man achieve his perfection? These are all the same way of asking the same thing. And this is Mercier's next inquiry. His thesis, or proposed answer, is that "Man enters into the possession of his happiness by the act of his intellect." [217(12)] The act of the intellect by which it is accomplished is the contemplation of God, an act of the speculative intellect. The contemplation of God, however, is "the subjective end of human nature." Man's objective end is God himself. Man's subjective end (contemplation) is subordinate to Man's objective end (God). "[C]ontemplation . . . is only a subordinate end--'finis sub fine',* as St. Thomas expresses it." [218(14)] Contemplation of God is the ultimate subjective end under the ultimate end, God himself.

In discussing his thesis, Mercier observes that man has many faculties, physical (the senses) and intellectual (mind and will). Man's supreme end, it would seem evident, would employ the exercise of man's highest faculty. So which is man's highest, most noble faculty? Between the physical faculties and the intellectual faculties, the former are subordinate (or are recognized to ought to be subordinate) to the latter, so man's intellectual faculties are clearly more high, more noble than the physical. Of the two intellectual faculties, mind and will, which, then, is the more noble?
Philosophers are divided on this question. St. Bonaventure attributes happiness to both intellect and will, whilst St. Thomas and Duns Scotus argue for a single faculty--the former for the intellect, the latter for the will. The difference between these three is only one of standpoint. However this may be, we are of the opinion that it is in the exercise of the intellect that the supreme end of human nature is formally realized.
[217-18(12)] So in choosing the intellect as the faculty that participates most intimately in the ultimate good, that is, God, Mercier sides with his philosophical master, St. Thomas. He does not do so arbitrarily. He does so by reasoning. How so? He reasons by eliminating the will as a possible candidate, leaving the intellect as the only possible candidate. He asks: What is it that changes at that instant between the will in a state of tendency (as it seeks its end) and the will in a state of repose (when it has sought its end)? "Clearly some change must have been produced in the disposition of the will with regard to its end." [218(12)] What caused that change?

The change must be caused by the intellect, specifically by the fact that will has been brought into contact with the good "by means of a representation made by the act of the intellect." "Hence," Mercier concludes, "the act by which human nature immediately enters into possession of its supreme end, the act by which the taking possession of the supreme end is actually brought about, is an act of the intellect." [218(12)]

But is it an act of the speculative, or an act of the practical intellect? Cardinal Mercier asserts that it is an act of the speculative, as distinguished from the practical intellect, that must be involved in man's ultimate happiness. Since God is sought for his own sake, is an object of contemplation, while acts of the practical intellect "are considered with a view to the end for which the will pursues and realizes them," it would seem that the speculative intellect is how subjective happiness is achieved. This is Mercier's sixth thesis. It is God as grasped by man's speculative intellect that engenders the love of God (a matter of the will), and so it is by means of activity of the speculative intellect, contemplation, which gives rise to our happiness, and thus "is in reality the supreme perfection of our rational nature." [219(14)] Mercier concludes:
The end of a being is the most perfect act of which its nature is capable. In the case of man this act is the contemplative knowledge of God. This knowledge constitutes the end of man, his natural beatitude.

But the perfection of an act of knowledge, as indeed of any action, involves three things: an object, a subject or principle of action, and the delectation of which the action is the source. With regard to the first, the perfection of of our most perfect act is God: He is then the perfection of the objective end of our nature. With regard to the second, the subjective end of our natures is the exercise of our thought applied to its highest object; that is to say, it is the contemplation of God. Finally, with regard to the third, the complacency which results in the will from the union of our nature with its supreme end also forms part of our end. However, as an action presupposes the object towards which it tends, it is necessary to say that the absolute last end [of man] is God, 'finis ultimus'; and the subjective beatitude and the felicity which it brings are a subordinate end, 'finis sub fine'.
[219(15)] This is all consonant with Aristotle and with Thomas.

Mercier acknowledges that various "difficulties"** arise from his thesis (no thesis of morality is without its difficulties), and he attempts to respond to them.

One of the difficulties to the thesis that God is the supreme end of man is that, as a matter of experience, we are not conscious that "the knowledge and love of God are the motive of all our acts of volition." [219(16)] One would think that if all our ends were subordinate to our supreme end, all of us would be always and at each moment conscious of God as our supreme end, and that any other good would be consciously engaged in as a finis sub fine, a subordinate end. But even the pious do not experience this awareness. We engage in a number of concrete acts that are not directly or consciously engaged in with God as their ultimate end (e.g., sleeping, exercising, smoking a cigar, reading the newspaper). "It is true," Mercier acknowledges, "that man does not always represent his supreme end to himself under the explicit concept of the Divine Being." [219(16)] But this difficulty between what philosophy identifies as man's ultimate end and happiness and man's actual behavior can be explained by the distinction between abstract and undetermined acts and concrete and determined acts, and by the distinction between explicit and actual inspiration and implicit and virtual inspiration. God is our ultimate end under the vantage point of abstract and undetermined thought, not concrete and determined (though he may also be our concrete and determined end in an act, say in attending Mass for the purpose of adoring him). Moreover, though God may not be explicitly and actually sought in each and ever good which we seek, it remains true that any particular or subordinate good which is the object of our desire can be good "only inasmuch as it is related to the perfect good," and it is in this sense that one can say that the "desire of the Sovereign Good inspires, at any rate implicitly and virtually, each of our acts of volition," that seek an honest, albeit subordinate, particular good. Thus, when we smoke our cigar, or sleep, or read the newspaper, so long as that act is a particular, concrete, honest good and not contrary to our ultimate end (e.g., we don't sleep to the neglect of our responsibilities, or smoke excessively), it remains, even if tenuously, connected, and is implicitly and virtually remains subordinate, to our ultimate end. The good in created goods are vestigia Dei, and thus enjoyment in them is implicitly or virtually pointing toward the God who created that good.

This perhaps is the reasoning behind St. Paul's advice to the Corinthians:
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God

Sive ergo manducatis sive bibitis vel aliud quid facitis omnia in gloriam Dei facite.
(1 Cor. 10:31) This Pauline injunction is an acknowledgment that God is our summum bonum, our finis ultimus, and that any other particular, concrete good is subordinate to that supreme good, is a good sought (or which ought to be sought) as a finis sub fine.

Other difficulties present themselves. It is apparent that "[d]uring his earthly life man does not experience that complete development of his being which allays all desire and want and endow the soul with the imperturbable repose of happiness." [220(17)] Even so, there is some participation in happiness in this life. And yet, "Beatitude in the full sense is possible only in a life to come." [220(17)]. So here we confront a significant difficulty. If our ultimate good is not fulfilled in this life, but is only fulfilled in a life after this one, then how can this ultimate good be said to be a natural good? It appears to be a supernatural good. Isn't there a contradiction here?
Our destiny is in point of fact a supernatural one; such a destiny is intrinsically possible, since we know [through revelation] that is actually a reality. May we, then, still speak of a happiness that is purely natural? To be happy is to be in possession of a good which gives full satisfaction to the desires of the will, and if its admitted that human nature is capable, by supernatural aid, of knowing God intuitively, it would seem that a discursive knowledge of God cannot suffice for man's happiness.
[222(22)] In other words, what is the value of a natural end of man (discursive, external contemplation of God) if, based upon revelation, man's end is supernatural (intuitive knowledge of God, the light of glory, the beatific vision)? In light of our supernatural end, can the natural end have any real meaning? In light of the supernatural happiness toward which we are called, does it even make sense to speak of such a thing as natural happiness? Various ways have been posited as a means to solve this difficulty.

One way is to state ex hypothesi that if man was in the condition of pure nature (i.e., if God had not deigned to give man a supernatural end), man would never have conceived of the possibility of the beatific (intuitive) vision of God. So what God has superadded (Grace) does not really impugn nature. Mercier does not accept this argument, as he considers it lacking of "sufficient foundation." [222(22)] As for himself, Mercier appears to build a theory that negotiates between the notion that, in a hypothetical situation of man in a state of "pure nature," man would have had no possibility of being aware of his supernatural end and so would not desire any such thing at all and the notion that man would have had a categorically absolute awareness and desire for this supernatural end and have felt frustrated.

In addressing himself to this problem of man's supernatural end and natural end, Mercier distinguishes. Distinguo. First, reason can "establish with certainty," that the supernatural vision of God "surpasses the natural exigencies and capabilities of every creature." [223(22)] If left to his own devices, man would have been unawares of any inclination, he would have had neither an innate appetite or natural appetite (appetitus innatus seu naturalis) which desired or yearned for the intuitive vision of God. It was through revelation alone (and acceptance of it by faith) that man can convince himself of the "positive possibility of the vision of God and that he has the "essential capacity . . . to bear such an intense felicity." [223(22)] Naturally, such an intuitive vision of God would appear to be outside his reach. So it follows:
It is reasonable to say that the will of man, in the condition of pure nature, is incapable of willing the vision of God with a categorical absolute will (appetitus elicitus efficax).
[223(22)] These two distinctions seem soundly based upon the fundamental divide between created, finite nature, and the infinity of God. It also appears to accept the fundamental difference between nature and a grace.

However, this does not mean that man's unaided nature (pure nature in some sort of hypothetical man yanked from reality) could not have an inkling, perhaps speculative or as a result of conjecture, of "the possibility of obtaining from the divine Omnipotence an intuitive knowledge of the Deity." [223(22)] Therefore, though they may not be an absolute or categorical will or desire for the intuitive vision of God (in pure nature), that does not exclude the presence of a "conditional desire (appetitus elicitus inefficax), a 'velleity',*** a hope . . . ." [223(22)] In a state of pure nature, however, such a thin desire would have been overshadowed, as it were, by the stronger impulse to the higher absolute natural desire to conform his life in accordance with the order of the universe, which reason would have seen as the expression of God's will and the ordination of his Providence. "Hence it follows," Mercier concludes, "that the conception of a natural happiness is in no way a contradiction" to the presence of supernatural happiness based upon revelation.
The happiness of a being consists in the possession of its supreme end. Now doubtless the supernatural end alone is, in the absolute sense of the word, the supreme end of an intelligent nature, in the real order of things in which we find ourselves placed. Yet the natural end, which in a possible order of things might have constituted the complete and exclusive end of man, is also, in a legitimate yet relative sense, a supreme end--that is to say, one not subordinated to a higher end. Thus there is nothing to prevent the attainment of the natural end being called happiness, though in a sense less complete than that of the supernatural end.

The relationship of man's natural end in a state of pure nature (which is a speculative state, since man, a we know from revelation, has never not had a supernatural destiny) to man's natural and supernatural end in the reality in which he finds himself (called to a supernatural destiny) is sort of like the prayers Novus Ordo rite of the Offertory. We start with a calix mixtus, the mixed chalice, where drops of water are put into the chalice full of wine.
Per huius aquæ et vini mysterium
eius efficiamur divinitatis consortes,
qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps.

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
Even though the priest has mixed water in the wine, the Offertory Prayer relating to the wine ignores, as it were, the presence of the water which has become practically homogeneous with the wine:
Benedictus es, Domine, Deus universi,
Quia de tua largitate accepimus vinum, quod tibi offerimus,
Fructum vitis et operis manuum hominum:
Ex quo nobis fiet potus spiritalis.

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink.
Intellectually, speculatively, one can talk about offering the water alone, apart from the wine. But, in fact, one is offering water intrinsically, inseparably, really mixed with wine, so that it has already virtually become wine, the admixture is so unitary, so homogeneous.

Something similar occurs when looking at the "mixed chalice" that is man. He is called both to a natural end and supernatural end. Like the unconsecrated wine in the chalice, the supernatural end is overwhelmingly significant, and yet the relatively less significant natural end is mixed in with it much like the drops of water. One can think of man in a state of pure nature, like one may think of the offered water in the "mixed chalice." But in practice, one will never see the two apart. There are not two offerings, one of water and one of wine. The water has become blended in the wine so as to be one offering of wine. Similarly, in reality, there is no such thing as a man in the state of pure nature, but nature has gotten mixed in with supernature, in a composite where there is no more seam, an admixture where there is no more composition, other than intellectual.

St. Cyprian said:
To the Lord one cannot offer only water, and in like manner wine alone cannot be offered. If someone offers only wine, the blood of Christ is without us. If someone offers only water, it is the people who are without Christ. But when both are mingled, and are joined together with one another by a close union, there is complete a spiritual and heavenly sacrament.

Domini offeri aqua sola non potest, quomodo nec vinum solum potest. Nam, si vinum tantum quis offerat, sanguis Christi incipit esse sine nobis: si vero aqua sit sola, plebs incipit esse sine Christo. Quando autem utrumque miscetur et adunatione confusa sibi invicem copulatur, tunc sacramentum spiritale et coeleste perficitur.
Epis. LXIII, Ad Caecilium de sacramento Dominici calicis, xiii, 4 PL 384.

If someone speaks only of the supernatural end of man, and ignores nature, the supernatural end is without man. If someone speaks only of the natural end of man, without reference to the supernatural end he is called to, he is without Christ, that is, he is condemned to be unfulfilled and unhappy. When both are mingled, the natural and supernatural end, and there is a complete man as he really is, as we find him, called to an intense and marvelous communion with the God who made him, who calls him, and who wants him to live with him in the life hereafter.

We step into the universe of grace, without ever leaving the world of nature.

What must we do to realize this happiness of the contemplation of God? Two things seem required of us according to Mercier: First, we must have "rectitude of will or sinlessness." [220(18)] It would make sense that if we seek the end, we ought to seek the means to the end. How can we say that we are pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, if we are on the road to Seville? The other thing that is required of us is securing the good against loss. The only way for this to happen is that the intellectual knowledge of God does not cease with our death. "[T]he natural desire of existence and happiness cannot be satisfied inf the happiness may be limited or lost . . . its happiness must endure forever." [220-21(18)] There must be a life after life.

Mercier then discusses the issue of whether both body and soul participate in this eternal life, a matter which will not be addressed here, though Mercier's opinion is that the body and soul both, and in particular in their union, appear to be one of the exigencies of human nature and so suggests both must be joined for the fulfillment of eternal life and eternal happiness. [220-221(18)]


*"an end under an end," that is, an end subordinate to or beneath another.
**As we must always remind ourselves, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." John Henry Cardinal Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (London: Longman 1878), 239. This saying was quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its teaching on Faith and its certainty. See CCC § 157.
***"Velleity," a word derived from Latin, velle, will or wish, is used to refer to volition or will in its weakest form. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia defines it a "an indolent or inactive wish or inclination toward a thing, which leads to no energetic effort to obtain it: chiefly a scholastic term." John Locke, in his Essay Human Concerning Understanding (II.xx.6) defines it well enough: velleity is "the term used to signify the lowest degree of desire, and that which is next to none at all, when there is so little uneasiness in the absence of anything that it carries a man no farther than some faint wishes for it." It is a scintilla of a will, a whisp of desire. Someone once said that a dry Martini is prepared by whispering the word "Vermouth" over the Gin. With respect to will, velleity is hardly more than that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 4: Happiness

HAPPINESS IS THE END OF HUMAN NATURE. No created good can make man happy; ergo, the only good that can make man happy is uncreated. That leaves but one thing left that can make man happy: God. Do we take this proposition by faith? We can. Can it also be established by reason? Mercier believes that it can, and he offers two proofs or arguments, one negative and one positive.

The Negative Argument

"The object capable of making us happy must completely satiate all our desires; its possession must be secure and assured; and this object must be attainable by all."
"But in no created good are these conditions verified."
Conclusion"Therefore no created good can be the adequate object of our happiness."

[216(11)] In the table above we have presented the argument in Mercier's words. The major premise is established, since all men have a human nature, from which it follows that happiness should be attainable by all, and that is should fully and finally satisfy that for which nature yearns. Why would some human natures be ultimately satisfied by one thing, some human natures ultimately by another? Then they would not be the same nature; they would be different natures, and one would be a man, and the other not. But the minor premise requires proof.

Mercier's proof of the minor premise is as follows. He distinguishes three kinds of goods, those of the body, those of the soul, and those external to the body and soul. These goods all suffer from a "three-fold deficiency," so that they cannot meet any of the requirements of the major premise for ultimate happiness. They all fail in these characteristics: they don't satiate all desires, their possession is not secure and assured, and they are not attainable by all men. Created goods suffer from the following deficiencies:
  • "they are so incomplete that they have never satisfied anyone";
  • "they are of so short duration and so unstable that no on can possess them without anxiety and fear of losing them"; and
  • "they are so limited that they can be possess only by a small number of people."
[215(11)] Even if we joined all created goods together into one huge batch and put them in a man's storehouse, they would fail ultimately to satisfy the requirements of the major premise. Malaise, ennui, disaffection, would soon set in. The conclusion, then, is reasonably certain: "No created good, then can verify the conditions of man's objective beatitude." [215(11)]. This does not mean, however, that men will subjectively adopt what reason would tell them is the only honest-to-goodness ultimate good, the only summum bonum honestum. What it does say is that if man attempts to ground his ultimate happiness in a created good he is doomed to failure. It also means that any moral philosophy that is grounded on an ultimate good other than God is false, is irrational.

Mercier is not satisfied with a negative proof. He also offers a positive argument for the thesis that only God is man's ultimate happiness.

The Positive Argument

"[A]n object can be the adequate cause of man's happiness only on condition that it realizes the whole perfection of which man is naturally capable."
"[O]nly in God is this condition verified."
Conclusion"The object in which our nature finds its absolute rest is none other than God himself, the uncreated Good."

[217(11)] Mercier's proof of the minor premise, that only God realizes the whole perfection of which man is naturally capable, is as follows. He begins by noting that man's intellectual powers, the powers of his "intellect" and "will," are superior to those of his body, the "organic and sensitive powers." The intellectual powers are unique to man and obviously make him superior to the animals who share with us the lower powers. Between the intellect and the will, the will appears to be subordinate because "the will in its turn comes into action only after the exercise of the intellect, under the attraction of the object which this latter presents to it." [216(11)] Here, now, is the heart of Mercier's proof:

Now the perfection of our intellect demands the most perfect knowledge of the formal object, i.e., the synthetic knowledge of the essences of all material things, through their supreme cause, of their properties and laws, together with the analogical knowledge of the supersensible realities that are connected with them. Or more briefly, the complete development of the mind's activity is the knowledge of the First Cause, the principle of order of the universe.
[217(11)] (emphasis in original). "Here, then, at length we have an object capable of making man happy." [217(11)] This is the First Cause. God.

Depiction of the Aristotelian Cosmos

No one has shown, or can show, that a created good, or a bundle of created goods, can give man bliss. Unless man were the brunt of a bad cosmic joke, one would think that his yearnings would have a purpose, an end, and ultimate satisfaction. Since created things cannot seem ultimately to satisfy those yearnings (they are at best temporary plugs, and any limited satisfaction is nothing but a hint, a clue of the God behind those created goods), it follows man's ultimate good must be that which is (or Who is!) behind the created goods, that First Cause of those goods.

Philosophically, we know him as God, the First Cause.

As Christians we know him as God, the Father.

He is one and the same. Every man's summum bonum. Every man's finis ultimus.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 3: The Summum Bonum and Finis Ultimus

WE ENDED OUR LAST BLOG POSTING with a question: Is there a summum bonum, a good of all goods or a finis ultimus, an end of all ends? Hobbes temerariously (and foolishly) answered no. Hobbes thus entered the house of vice and there prostituted his mind. Cardinal Mercier, in line with the perennial philosophy, answered yes, and thus into the gates of the house of virtue and kept his sanity.

Mercier's acceptance of a final end, of a greatest good, is not irrational. It is not a matter of mere faith (though it certainly does not oppose faith). It is reasonable. "[W]e shall show that man has one natural end and only one; next we shall determine what that end is."

He shows. He determines. This is not a matter of taste, where de gustibus non est disputandum. It is not a matter of what that Hobbesian monster, the American Nietzsche, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called "Can't helps." (For Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of "I hate justice" fame, see The Natural Law's Devil: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.) It is a matter of reason or determination, where there is a right and a wrong answer, where argument inclines us one way, and not another. Oh, sure, we can be fools, but we should recall that "fools die for lack of judgment," qui autem indocti sunt in cordis egestate morientur. Prov. 10:21b.

Mercier handles his discussion as to the existence and identification of the ultimate good and final end in six theses. He also includes some corollaries, and handles some difficulties.

The first thesis: "Man has subjectively and really a last natural end." In other words, a last end is both within us and without us. All acts, Cardinal Mercier observes, are performed with the view of an end. Once that end is achieved, the will is at rest (until, of course, something else is desired as an end).

If A is what is desired, and what is achieved, and there is nothing further wanted, then A is the ultimate end. The thesis is proved.

If A is not what is finally desired, but is a means to something further, say B, then the question is "simply put further back," for we merely have to ask as to B what we would have asked as to A. And so on, for a speculative C, D, E ad infinitum. Or can there be an ad infinitum? Can we go on in a series of ends for infinity?

Mercier answers that it is impossible to have an infinite series of ends. We must come at rest somewhere.
[B]ut it is impossible that there should be no limit to this subordination of ends to a higher end. In a series of ends subordinated to one another [A, B, C, D . . .], so that one does not act as an end except under the influence of another, the suppression of a last end, desirable in itself and capable of evoking the others, involves the abolition of every intermediate tendency and consequently the impossibility of any moral action.
[214(8)] In other words, deny a last, ultimate end (like Hobbes), and the whole pack of cards comes falling down, making moral action impossible. So the conclusion is, from a logical standpoint, certain:
Hence there must exist a supreme end which possesses in itself the power of moving the will through the medium of the subordinated ends.
[214(8)] This accords with St. Thomas's conclusions in his Summa Theologiae (S.T., Ia-IIae, q. 1, a. 4)

There is, Mercier acknowledges, a variety of faculties in man, all of which express themselves differently. Yet we are not a package of faculties as if we are a bundle of cells. All these faculties exist in a "single substantial being," one man, "one nature, one person." These faculties are therefore ordered under this primary principle. "Now, every principle of action tends by its activity towards an end." [215(8)] So every man, that is, every "single substantial being," every "person," every "nature" has an end, and it overrides all the other subordinate ends of our various faculties. "This primary end is the natural end of man, his natural good, the cause (ratio) of all his progress towards perfection." [215(8)]

Man has to have a natural end. The entirety of those substances beneath us, whether animals, plants, stones, have natural ends. Why would man, the most noble of these substances since he is self-directed, not have a natural end? What on heaven or on earth could support the proposition that the entirety of the cosmos has an end except for man? Nothing would explain this discrepancy. It follows that man, like the rest of the individual beings in the entirety of the universe, has an end. With respect to natural ends, we ought not assume the mantle of hubris of exceptionalism. We ought not to fall into the irrational supposition that the entirety of the cosmos operates within the ordering of ends, but that only man operates within chaos, a creature with no nature, no end.
[W]ere we to suppose human nature capable of being without an end, we should have to admit a disorder against which would have to be set the perfect order of the universe, especially the pre-eminent dignity of man, who is the crowning work of nature.

It is, moreover, impossible to suppose that an infinitely wise Being, the Creator of our nature, should have put us in a natural tendency which could never find its fulfillment [for lack of a final or ultimate natural end].

Where do we get any rational support for the suggestion that man is end-less? That man has no ultimate good or final end? There is rational support for that. It is to land ourselves in absurdity.

Hobbes is absurd. It is the absurdity of absurdity to follow Hobbes. Yet moderns do. Is our modern world, to the extent it is built upon Hobbes, built upon absurdity?

Having answered the first thesis, Mercier travels to the next. "Man has only one natural end." [215(9)] Quoting St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae (Ia-IIae, q. 1, ad. 5), Mercier then asks rhetorical questions which make it obvious that man (his nature) can only have one end and not various natural ends.
The last end, St. Thomas tells us, must so fulfill all our desires that outside of it there is nothing left as an object of further desire. Hence it follows that we cannot have two or more last ends. If one good satisfies our desires to the full, how could the will seek anything beyond? And what purpose would a second good or second end serve?
[216(9)] Obviously the answer to both questions is "none." The conclusion is certain: Man has but one natural end.

What is it?

We come to Mercier's third thesis: "The end of human nature, regarded indeterminately and in the abstract, is the happiness of man." [216(10)] This is a very broad thesis. In fact, this is really not a thesis requiring proof; it is a conclusion from the prior theses. The end of man satisfies his natural tendency (his nature) necessarily since that is precisely to which it tends; it is thus its good, entirely and complete, which excludes any form of evil, and fulfills the aspirations of human nature. This is the definition of happiness according to St. Thomas: Beatitudo, cum sit perfectum bonum, omne malum excludit et omne desiderium implet. Happiness is the satisfaction of one's good, without admixture of evil.

Admittedly, this thesis is abstract, not concrete. It is indeterminate, not taking into account the myriad contingencies and situations that confront an individual man. We speak here in broad generalities. We are talking whole cloth, here. We haven't yet begun to make our clothes.

So the ultimate end, the final good of man is happiness? What is it then that gives man happiness?

It is God.* This is Mercier's fourth thesis: "Regarded in the concrete, the objective end is in no created good; it is in God." [216(11)]

Yes. yes. What reason demands, the heart does to. The heart does have reasons of its own, Pascal tells us. The reasons of the heart are the same as those of the mind. Love beckons the entirety of us.
Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
St. Augustine, Confessions, I.1. God is our final good. God is the source of our perfection. God is our happiness. God is our summum bonum, the Good of all our goods. God is our finis ultimus, the End of all ends.

Our nature, that is, the natural law, inclines us to God. So we are restless, unsettled, unfulfilled, imperfect, and unhappy if we look for our final end anywhere else.


*That is why Hobbes rejected a summum bonum, a finis ultimus. He had to, because, as we have explained before, a good above all goods, an end above all ends--which reason demands--reasonably means God. And Hobbes did not want to believe in God. So he had to reject the natural law. He continued to use the words "God" and "nature," as they were too entrenched in the people's habit of thinking and speaking of the time. But to Hobbes these terms did not mean the same thing that they had meant before. He had already cut them off from their foundation. Just like a plant looks green for a time after it is cut, but it eventually withers, dries, and crumbles. Hobbes is frequently referred to as the "founding father" of modern political philosophy. Is modern political philosophy, at least that which relies upon Hobbes, built upon a fundamental mistake? It would seem unquestionably so.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 2: The Question of All Questions

"IN THESE PAGES IS A MESSAGE FROM LOUVAIN." This is how Professor Peter Coffey begins the closing of his Preface to Cardinal Mercier's A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy.
In these pages is . . . a little of the truth that is indestructible. For the time a great seat of learning lies desolate [as a result of World War I]. For the time: its voice will be heard again: rescissa vegetius resurget.*
Being cut down, Vegetius will make it rise again!*

Mercier's Manual handles ethics in Volume II of that work. His treatment of ethics is divided into two parts: general ethics and special ethics. His treatment of general ethics advances a theory of good and evil, and is divided into four chapters, one on the natural end of man, one on free will, one on the moral order, and the final one on conscience. Mercier's discussion of special ethics advances a theory of right and duty, and is divided into three chapters: one dealing with the rights of individuals, another dealing with the family, and the last dealing with the rights of the state.

It is not difficult to grasp the concept that man has a natural end. Everything that we see around us appears to have some aim, however complex or simple; nothing we see that is living really moves about aimlessly. They all seem to display what Aristotle and the Scholastics would call a final cause: id cuius gratia aliquid fit vel est, that on account of which a thing is done or is. It is precisely the inclination to this end that is a thing's nature:
The inherent inclination of a being toward its one end is called its natural tendency or, in one word, its nature. In its primary meaning, nature denotes the substance of a being in so far as it has within it a primary and internal principle of activity. . . . Nature, then, impresses upon the activity of a being a special direction, or tendency, towards a determinate end; this end is also called the good of this being.(212[4])**
Dogs pretty much incline towards being dogs. Cats pretty much incline towards being cats. Stones pretty much incline towards being stones. Stars pretty much act like stars. Even humans, who have a free choice in the matter compared to other beings and so have an added complexity unshared by other parts of creation, incline pretty much toward being humans. That inclination is nature.

Some things ought to be observed. Nature is something that inheres in us; that is, it is an intrinsic, inherent, vitally centrally part of us. To suggest that we not follow our nature whatever the apparent grounds, whether freedom or anything else however noble sounding, is to suggest that we become untrue to the deepest part of what we are. It is a recipe for inauthenticity, for disaster, and ultimately, it goes against our deepest inclinations and yearnings. It is a lie to the truth that is in us. It denies our primary principle of activity. It denies our internal principle of activity.

Nature is not imposed upon us ad extra as if it were some positive, accidental law, something artificially imposed, something extra. Rather nature is something within us; deeply intimate with us; nature is within us: ad intra. It is no less deep in us, and in fact, more deep in us, than it is in brute animals and the rest of creation, because it is in us to some extent passively, but to some extent through self-direction. This inclination is not "violent," that is, it is not an extrinsic or external impulse wrought on us. The inclination is intrinsic or internal to us, in other words, natural to us. The inclination we have is exercised through the power of "self-direction," unlike the inclination in animals or in plants, which is "passively directed." [213(5)] Our natural inclination may therefore be called voluntarily or spontaneously natural, where that of creatures that are not self-directed would be called natural simpliciter.

Man has freedom, therefore, to self-direct, and this gives him the freedom to act in such a manner as to order his will in accordance with his inner tendencies, or to act against them. But the exercise of this freedom is not inconsequential. That freedom, and that choice that goes along with self-direction, has serious consequences attached to it. It is absolutely consequential.
Man alone directs his actions in the full sense of the word, since he alone can freely order his will. He knows the end which is assigned him, he can freely direct himself towards it by suitable means, or, freely but culpably, turn himself from it.
[213(5)] What is this except for saying that we are responsible for our choices, and that there are deserts or punishments associated with them?

Since this inclination, this nature, bespeaks our end, and the end is our good (bonus est quod omnia appetunt, "good is that which all things seek"), and the good is the source of all self-perfection (bonus est perfectivum, "good is perfective"), to violate our nature is to go against our good and our perfection. We therefore injure ourselves, and make ourselves imperfect should we go against nature. It is a form of moral self-mutilation, self-loathing, self-abuse. Indeed, this may be said to be one of the natural punishments attached to going against nature. [244(52)]

Mercier distinguishes two basic kinds of end: proximate or immediate ends, and a last or supreme end.

Proximate or immediate ends are beneath the last or supreme end, and they are distinguished from the last or supreme end in that the latter has no ulterior end, that is, it has no end beyond it that may be referenced, or to which it points. When one gets to the last or supreme end, one is at the road's end, so to speak. A further distinction can be made based upon the end as it exists subjectively in the actor or agent (what the agent considers his end; his intention) and the end as it may exist in reality, objectively, "in the ontological order of natural ends and means." [213(6)]

What is good? In answer to this Mercier divides goods into a three-fold categorization.

The good that the will views as being good in itself, and not good for another reason, is called an absolute good.

If a good, however, tends to yet another object, that is, it is not viewed as a good in itself, but as a good that leads to another good, an ulterior good (whether mediate or ultimate), then that good is considered a relative good, a useful good or bonum utile.

The kind of good that is involved, whether absolute or relative, makes a difference for the will. For an absolute good is, from the will's perspective, its end; whereas a relative good is, from the will's perspective, a means.

In addition to being sought by reason, goods are also sought because of the delight or pleasure, intellectual or physical, they provide the agent who is conscious. So the will may pursue both the good and the pleasure which will accompany that good's attainment. The good, in itself and apart from the pleasure that its attainment may give the agent, is called the objective good. The pleasurable aspect that its possession creates in the agent is the agreeable or delectable good, the bonum delectabile.

There can be competition among goods, and there are times that a good is sought in a disordered manner. Regardless of whether goods are sought as means or ends, or as a means of the delight that is found in them, an object that is pursed by the will which is inclined "under the guidance of right reason," is called the bonum honestum, a moral or just or authentic good, an "honest-to-goodness" good.

Cardinal Mercier then approaches a question which has raised the ire of those who reject an Aristotelian, Thomistic, Scholastic, or Natural Law moral philosophy. That question is whether there is only one end, one fundamental tendency in man, and if so, whether it can be identified.

Is there a summum bonum, a greatest good, a good of all goods? Is there a finis ultimus, an ultimate end, and end of all ends?

We are at the edge of a watershed question: On the one hands stands the perennial philosophy. On the other hand, the moderns, guided by Hobbes and all his darkened minions.

Here is Hobbes' answer to the question:
To which end we are to consider, that the Felicity of this life, consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such Finis ultimus [utmost ayme,] nor Summum Bonum [greatest Good,] as is spoken of in the Books of the old Morall Philosophers.
The question of whether there is an utmost aim, a finis ultimus, or whether there is a greatest good, a summum bonum, is, in fact, the question of whether we intend to live in the shadows and imaginations of relativity or live in objective truth. It is the question of whether there is right and wrong objectively. It is, at root, the question of whether God exists or whether the soul is immortal. It is simply asked in another way.

Kant believed (and here I believe him right), that the possibility of a summum bonum is suggestive of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, and that God's existence and the immortality of the soul are necessary conditions for there to be the possibility of a summum bonum.
The summum bonum, then, practically is only possible on the supposition of the immortality of the soul.

Now a being that is capable of acting on the conception of laws is an intelligence (a rational being), and the causality of such a being according to this conception of laws is his will; therefore the supreme cause of nature, which must be presupposed as a condition of the summum bonum is a being which is the cause of nature by intelligence and will, consequently its author, that is God.
Critique of Practical Reason, II.ii.4, 5 (Thomas Kingsmill Abbott, trans.)

Whether there is a summum bonum, a finis ultimus, is one of the most important questions in moral philosophy. It is a moral great divide.

On which side do we fall?


*I'm having difficulty with this phrase. Vegetius, though uncapitalized, appears a proper name, and seems to be a reference to Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, a Roman author of the 5th century A.D. who is famous for writing a military manual, De re militari (also known as Epitoma rei militaris), but also has a manual on veterinary medicine attributed to him, Digesta artis mulomedicinae. I assume, therefore, that it means that even though an animal is on its deathbed, Vegetius (the author of the book on veterinary medicine) can bring the animal back to health. Therefore, when Christianity is close to death, Mercier's Manual (like Vegetius's in the context of veterinary medicine) will serve to make Christianity rise again.

**Bracketed references are to page, with section number in parentheses.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 1: Introduction

SOME MODERN MORAL THEOLOGIANS, revisionists and proportionalists of dubious inspiration and questionable Evangelical and Ecclesiastical pedigree, deprecate the era of the "manuals" and their method. Too wed are these (they aver, or rather whine) to the inhuman, unfeeling syllogism, too unheedful of personalism, and too attached to physicalism.


But with a "whatever," and a shake of the head and a smirk to their passé status (Oh! It is so tedious to listen to their squeaky pontifications!), we shall ignore these now gray-haired (Curran, McCormick, etc.) or even dead fellows (Fuchs, Häring, Lonergan, etc.), that we have criticized in past postings or we are sure to criticize in future postings, and instead follow the wise advice of C. S. Lewis:
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. . . . Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristics mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
C. S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books," God in the Dock (Eerdmans 1994), 201-02.

Nothing seems better calculated to jar one out of one's contemporary prejudices and modern patterns of thought than reading an old book. (It would be equally fine if we could read books not yet published! What could we but learn then! But, alas, this is something we cannot do. So we must rely on the old.) Old books seem to be a preferred tool of the Holy Spirit and Divine Providence. Read, for example, a Manual on Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S. J., or the Handbook of Moral Theology by Dominic Prümmer, O.P., and you just may be shaken out of your modern complacency, into repentance, and straight into the merciful arms of the Lord. It is like Moses hit you over the head with the tablets of stone!

We ought to remember Christ's words before doling out criticisms of our intellectual elders as if our generation always represents an advance: "Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old." (Matt. 13:52) Why be embarrassed of our old patrimony? Let us rather relish in the good that may be found in the nova, but let us also delight in the good that is found in the vetera. We will spend the next few blog postings in the old, the vetera, and reflect on Cardinal Mercier's teachings on moral theology and the natural law, specifically those contained in Volume 2 of this Cardinal's A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1919). Dusting the covers of this venerable Cardinal's work, we shall see what he may have to teach us. But before doing so, let us spend a little time reviewing the life of this prince of the Church.

Cardinal Mercier by Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942)

On November 21, 1851, a boy was born at the the château du Castegier in Braine-l'Alleud, in French-speaking Belgium, the fifth of seven children borne by Anne-Marie Barbe Croquet and fathered by Paul-Léon Mercier. He was to receive the wonderfully-hyphenated name, Désiré-Félicien-François-Joseph Mercier. At the young age of ten, he entered the minor seminary for the Archdiocese of Mechelen (also known as Malines), and at the age of nineteen was graduated to the Grand Seminary, where he studied until ordained to the priesthood in 1874. In 1877 he obtained his licentiate in theology and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Louvain. He also studied psychology in Paris at the Dr. J. C. Charcot Clinic. Returning to Mechelen, he taught philosophy and was spiritual director of the minor seminary where he had once studied. In 1882, he was appointed to the chair of Thomism and the Catholic University in Louvain. Mercier founded the Higher Institute of Philosophy at Louvain University in 1899, a bulwark and light post of New-Scholasticism and Neo-Thomism. He founded the Neo-Scholastic journal, Revue Néoscholastique in 1894, and remained its editor until 1906. Among his more famous published works may be placed his Les origines de la psychologie contemporaine (The Origins of Contemporary Psychology) (1897).

Pope St. Pius X appointed Mercier Archbishop of Mechelen, which effectively made him Primate of Belgium in 1906. Shortly thereafter, in 1907, he was created Cardinal, and his titular church was St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli).

Archbishop Mercier Protecting Belgium

Historically, he is perhaps most highly regarded by the Belgians for his vigorous defense of his homeland from the invading Germans during World War I, and his strenuous, even heroic efforts to relieve the suffering of his countrymen. He wrote a pastoral letter, scathing against the Germans, but rallying toward the Belgians called Patriotism and Endurance, and ordered it read aloud in all Belgian churches in January 1915.
. . . . God will save Belgium, my Brethren, you cannot doubt it.
Nay rather, He is saving her.
Across the smoke of conflagration, across the stream of blood, have you not glimpses, do you not perceive signs, of His love for us? Is there a patriot among us who does not know that Belgium has grown great? Nay, which of us would have the heart to cancel this last page of our national history? Which of us does not exult in the brightness of the glory of this shattered nation? When in her throes she brings forth heroes, our Mother Country gives her own energy to the blood of those sons of hers. Let us acknowledge that we needed a lesson in patriotism. . . . [W]hen, on the second of August, a mighty foreign power, confident in its own strength and defiant of the faith of treaties, dared to threaten us in our independence, then did all Belgians, without difference of party, or of condition, or of origin, rise up as one man, close-ranged about their own king, and their own government, and cry to the invader: "Thou shalt not go through !"
At once, instantly, we were conscious of our own patriotism. For down within us all is something deeper than personal interests, than personal kinships, than party feeling, and this is the need and the will to devote ourselves to that more general interest which Rome termed the public thing, Res publica. And this profound will within us is patriotism.
. . . .
Patriotism, an internal principle of order and of unity, an organic bond of the members of a nation, was placed by the finest thinkers of Greece and Rome at the head of the natural virtues. Aristotle, the prince of the philosophers of antiquity, held disinterested service of the City - that is, the State - to be the very ideal of human duty. And the religion of Christ makes of patriotism a positive law; there is no perfect Christian who is not also a perfect patriot.
Such bold words were not well-received by the occupying Germans. He was placed under house arrest by the Germans, and was thus a symbol of the Belgian resistance to the unjust occupation of their land.

War Poster in Support of Cardinal Mercier's
Efforts to Obtain Food for the War-Stricken

World War I was a then-unparalleled human tragedy. The loss of human life and the destruction of human patrimony was staggering. No sacrifice seemed to much to appease the god of Total War. Both Mercier's Cathedral and the University of Louvain suffered some destruction. In the Preface of Mercier's Manual we intend to review, written by Professor Peter Coffey (of Maynooth College, Ireland), the Irish Neo-scholastic notes:
Had the world but hearkened to the truths proclaimed by such as [Cardinal Mercier] and embodied in lives like his, had it but held fast to the Christian Philosophy of Life, well--the twentieth century might have dawned without such a baptism of blood. . . .

Surely the shock of a world-catastrophe will be followed by graver and deeper heart-searching about the guiding principles which have been 'civilizing' peoples by ripening the human forces for mutual slaughter and annihilation. The cult of material might and its supplanting of moral right, the gospel of individual self-sufficiency and emancipation from religious restraints, the deification of the State and the extinguishing of the lights of heaven--have these tendencies and achievements heralded human progress, or have they brought on humanity a terrible nemesis? Perhaps the cry of a chastened Europe will be--Back to Christ! Back to the Christian Philosophy of Life! Let us hope so. . . .
Preface, vii, viii. We are still hoping.

Mercier is also noted as an early sponsor of Ecumenism and Christian unity, holding rapproachement with Anglican representatives and theologians at Mechelen to explore the possibility of union which are referred to as the "Malines Conversations." They ultimately led nowhere, ended during the episcopacy of his successor who was less supportive of such initiative, especially after the final decision by Pope Leo XIII, pronounced in his Bull Apostolicae Curae, that the Anglican orders were invalid.

And now, with that introduction, we may turn to the Cardinal's view on moral theology and the natural law, presented à la mode manuel, in the manner of the manualists, to see what we might learn. It might behoove us to pray, with the words of the Cardinal, his popular prayer to the Holy Spirit:
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your Will.

O Esprit-Saint, âme de mon âme, je vous adore, éclairez-moi, guidez-moi, fortifiez-moi, consolez-moi; dites-moi ce que je dois faire, donnez-moi vos ordres; je vous promet de me soumettre à tout ce que vous désirez de moi et d'accepter tout ce que vous permettrez qui m'arrive, faites-moi seulement connaître votre volonté.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Man's Not a Pickle: The Sartrean Argument Against Natural Law

THERE ARE MANY CRITICS OF THE NATURAL LAW THEORY. Alas, they are legion. There are some men, it would seem, that until they meet God in judgment will refuse to believe in Him and in his law. Man, who argues about everything, will argue about the natural law, will argue even whether it exists. Homo sapiens, knowing man, is also homo arguendus, arguing man. Some of these critics of the natural law argue that man cannot be subject to natural law because there is no such thing as human nature. One of these, perhaps one of the most notable, was the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jean-Paul Sartre and his Roving Eye
(The Other Roving Part is Not Shown)

In his book Being and Nothingness (L'Être et le néant) Sartre intended to establish the priority of existence over essence, the fundamental doctrine of his atheistic version of "existentialism." In contrast to traditional metaphysics, where it is virtually axiomatic that essence precedes existence, Sartre iconoclastically reversed the order: existence precedes, is more fundamental, than essence: l'existence précède et commande l'essence. As Douglas Kries sees it in his The Problem of Natural Law (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008), 121:
In classical metaphysics, of course, this statement is non-sensical. With the exception of God, in order for something to exist, it has to exists as a certain kind of thing. One can conceive of an essence without that essence actually existing, but one cannot conceive of something existing without existing as a certain kind of thing. What Sartre mean by his phrase, though, is that what a human being is is not something determined. A human being first exists, or simply finds itself to be existing, and then must construct for itself its own essence. That a human being exists comes first; what a human being become becomes comes second, as the project of that human being.
Sartre divided the entirety of being (être) in the cosmos into two fundamental divisions: "being in-itself" (être-en-soi) and "being for-itself" (être-pour-soi). The former beings, those that are in themselves, are not conscious, are simply things (choses); whereas the latter beings, which include man, are conscious, and cannot be regarded as "things" (L'homme n'est pas une chose; "Man is not a thing.") Since man is not a thing, according to Sartre, one can say that man is a "no-thing," that is nothing, néant. Man, a "being for-itself," is consequently characterized, not by any sort of nature; rather, he is characterized by his "no-thing-ness," his nothingness.
That it is in the name of human freedom to create oneself that denies that there can be such a thing as human essence or human nature. He conceives of a nature as a stable structure that would pre-determine what a thing would be, and such a notion is perhaps appropriate to the "in-itself" being but is quite contrary to the radical self-determinism of the "for-itself" being.
Kries, 122. Only things have natures; man being no-thing has no nature, merely consciousness. This consciousness (existence) is infinitely malleable, radically undetermined, the subject of absolute freedom, unbound by any nature (essence). In fact, the existence determines its essence. A "being for-itself" is capable of defining its own essence, in Sartre's view. He has absolutely self-mastery, is answerable to no one but himself. Being unbound by nature means that, for man, nature has no role in his governance, and is certainly not the source of any binding laws. This was a constant in Sartre's life, so that even in his last published work he battled against any conception of nature and the natural law: "[T]he idea of nature, of human nature, of natural law," Sartre said in his work on the French author Flaubert, The Family Idiot (L'Idiot de la famille: Gustave Flaubert de 1821 à 1857), "is false." (trans. Carol Cosman) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, Vol. 5, p. 29)

The rejection of nature and the concept of natural law was fundamental to the Sartrean ethic. It was, in fact, bad faith to import any concept of nature or the natural law into morality. In Sartre's view, to allow something extrinsic to one's self to govern one's self is to lapse into, or act like, a being in-itself; it is nothing but bad faith (mauvaise foi). Human reality is not what it is, but is what it is not. That is, it was not limited by nature, by any potentiality: it remained to be defined, crafted, by radical choice, by a self-determined future, the "project," and not by anything in the present or the past. Sartre advanced a radical indeterminism based upon raw, untrammeled choice, the only value being "authenticity," in other words, that the choice was one's own. Man is condemned to be free. L'homme est condamné à être libre. He is condemned to be free of any rule, and is sadly trapped by his own will, as he lapses into selfish solipsism, into real nothingness.

Along with the concept of a human nature, Sartre rejected the notion of the author of nature, God.
[I]n his lecture on humanism [Existentialism is a Humanism (L'Existentialisme est un humanisme)], Sartre uses his objection to the notion of human nature as a justification for a denial of God. In many traditional metaphysical explanations [e.g., Plato, Plotinus, Augustine], the natures or types were said to exist originally as archetypes or exemplars in the divine mind, and it was argued that God created individual existing things in accord with these archetypes. The Enlightenment atheists, Sartre pointed out, had denied the existence of God but had kept the notion of form or essence. It is more consistent, however, to deny both. Without God there could be no divine exemplar defining human nature. The traditional doctrine of divine creation threatens the experienced fact of radical human freedom because that doctrine may well have recourse to a doctrine of natures, including human natures. Since the outcome of such a line of reasoning would be the denial of complete self-determination, it is necessary to deny the starting point of the argument. Atheism and human freedom are consequently joined in Sartre's view.
Kries, 122. Of course, the rejection of human nature, and of God, the author of human nature, can lead one to absurdities. And so one can find these sorts of absurdities in Sartre's writings. Among these, Kries points to some comments of Sartre in an essay he wrote on a novel by Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944), where he mocks, as it were, Giraudoux's Aristotelian world of essences and natures and any suggestion that man falls within this world and not outside of it:
Sartre says [in his essay on Giraudoux's last novel, Choix des élues, entitled "Jean Giraudoux et la philosophie d'Aristote. A propos de Choix des élues"] that the work turns out to be an illustration of the world of Aristotle, full of essences and natures, and that man's nature is not fundamentally differentiated from the other natures. Sartre mocks such a view, saying that for Giraudoux, "Man's character does not really differ in any way from the 'essence' of a pickle." Sartre terms this essence of man as an "archetype," but of course archetypes work against the freedom of self-determinism. In the view of Giraudoux and Aristotle [and in the classical Western and Christian world view], says Sartre, "We have not chosen to be what we are; we are 'possessed' by a form and can do nothing about it." A human being is understood as a "finite and definite reality." This Aristotelian finite essence with its prescribed boundaries gives rise to notion of morality that is close to fatalism: "Man realizes his essence spontaneously. For the mineral and the vegetable, obedience is automatic. Man conforms to his archetype of his own free will: he is constantly choosing himself as he is. This, to be sure, is a one-way freedom, for if the form is not realized by him, it will be realized through him and without his aid." Such a freedom, Sartre insists, is not far from "absolute necessity."
Kries, 123-24. In Sartre's view, man is not free by acting in accord with his nature (through his nature), man is only free if he both defines his nature and acts in accord with his chosen nature (by and through a nature he has chosen). "The idea of nature, of human nature, of natural law is false."
--Sartre, The Family Idiot
There is no form in man, he is formless and void. He is no-thing. To strap him into some nature, some form, some archetype not of his own choosing is to shackle him. It is to treat him like a thing, like a pickle.

Sartre: To Believe that Man has a Nature is to Believe Man is a Pickle

In a quote commonly attributed to G. K. Chesterton: "It is often supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing. Alas, it is worse than that. When they stop believing in God, they believe in anything." If not Chesterton, it is certainly Chestertonian. So Sartre fits into the Chestertonian observation, and believed in anything. Here, the man who despised any notion of determinism implied by human nature and the natural law embraced Marxist thought and its historical determinism. He traded one set of chains for another; he traded the chains of the determinism engendered by love, for the chains of determinism of tyranny. He trade God for a General Director. Christ for Stalin. Mary for Simone de Beauvoir. Stupid trade. Bad judgment. That's the sort of decision that can land you in Hell.

Kries finds the link between Sartre's existentialism and his adoption of Marxism in their common rejection of human nature:
Both [Sartre's existentialism and Marxist materialistic philosophy] insist that the significant element of a human being has little or nothing to do with common, universal characteristics, but rather that what is important is the concrete, individual, uniqueness of the person; put differently, both agree that human beings are self-transcending beings as opposed to beings that possess a static nature. If Sartre simply denie that there is such a thing as human nature, Marxism--like Hegelianism before it--argues at least that human nature is infinitely malleable. . . . . [T]his does not imply that Sartrean and Marxist anthropology [sic] are completely reconcilable, for Marx's claim is that the fundamental anthropological fact is that work is the essence of man, or that man is first and foremost homo economicus, whereas the fundamental anthropological fact for the Sartrean is that the essence of man is freedom and choice, or that man is first and foremost homo existentialis. Nevertheless, the two views do find common ground in their emphasis on the historical existent rather than the universal essence, and hence they are both, because of their common questioning of the existence and significance of the idea of human nature, opponents of Aristotle and, by implication, Thomas Aquinas.
Kries, 126. The only other consistency apart from the common Marxist and Sartrean rejection of human nature, perhaps, is that both Sartre and Marx hated God, and in hating God, they also hated man. After all, anyone other than ourselves is a hell for us. L'enfer c'est les autres. Hell, Satre famously said in one of his plays (No Exit), "is other people."

Marx and Sartre, misanthropes both. That is where rejection of human nature and natural law will lead you, to the hatred of both God and man. To reject human nature and the natural law is not nobly to believe that man is not a pickle, it is ignobly to put man in a philosophical and moral pickle.