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.

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.

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