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.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law: Part 9, The Natural Law

"MAN IS SUBJECT TO A NATURAL LAW," Cardinal Mercier states, "that is, an inclination which habitually disposes him to know and will the end of his rational nature and what conduces to it, as well as to discern and reject what is contrary to it." [236(40)] The thesis is supported by three separate arguments. The first argument argues from analogy. The second is founded upon consciousness. The third argument is based upon Providence. We shall treat the three arguments seriatim.

The argument from analogy begins with being, a transcendental which transcends all categories, and which is predicated of all that is. "Every being in this world has within it an inclination towards some end, and its law is to tend towards it." [236(40)] This is something that we learn from observation. What being do we know that has no end, that wanders about aimlessly, arbitrarily, chaotically, without order, without any kind of inner compass? Why should man alone be an exception? There is no answer why man should be an exception. "Man is no exception; he is likewise set towards his end." [236(40)] It follows, then, that we have an inclination which influences our reason and our will, and this "influence exercised by the end upon the higher faculties of man is called the natural law." Man, like all created beings, is under law; his particular law, which governs his will and reason, is called the natural law.

The next argument is based upon consciousness. If man reflects upon himself, if he practices the Delphic suggestion to know himself, he is aware that there is some sort of higher tug, a "higher attraction," that draws him toward the good that his reason recognizes. And all men are aware (which man has not experienced?) that he has breached or yielded to evil by "overcoming [a natural] interior resistance," and, having done so, is filled with the self-reproach of shame or with feelings of guilt or compunction. How many of us have felt regret for the evil word, the hurtful act, the deceit played out on others, the failure to meet the demands of our inner voice: how many of us do not know the Aristotelian and Biblical sense of hamartia? How many of us have not, like an archer, hamartein, missed the mark? He also experiences the satisfaction that comes by its opposite, the practice of virtue. Who does not sense the joy that comes with a kind word, a mendful act, and the leading of another from ignorance to truth?

Finally, one may work downwards as it were from creation. God must have had some end in view in creating the world and its creatures. Being both infinitely wise (and incapable of being deceived as to relation between the creature and its end), infinitely holy (and incapable of choosing an end unfit for the creature), and infinitely able (and therefore able to achieve what he intended), God has given to his created beings "an impulse towards their ends, a principle which directs their activities in conformity with the eternal designs of his Providence."
[I]n a word, He must have implanted in each created agent the natural law. Now this natural law must be in harmony with the constitution of the subject under its sway. The natural law implanted in man's nature, which is rational and free, cannot be, then a fatalistic law; on the contrary, it must consist in an intellectual tendency to form some principles of reason with certainty, and in an impulse which, without forcing or necessarily determining the will, inclines it towards the real good apprehended by the intellect.
[237(40)] The natural law is thus reflected in inclinations in man which show themselves as tendencies in his reason and in impulses of his will.

The natural law is, as it were, a subset of the eternal law. "By the eternal law," Cardinal Mercier states, "is meant the destination, as conceived by Divine Wisdom, of all creatures to their respective ends, and the adaptation of their activities to them." [237(41)] He cites to St. Thomas's short and classic definition: Lex aeterna nihil aliud est quam ratio divinae sapientiae secundum quod est directiva omnium actuum et motionum. "The eternal law is nothing other than the reason of divine wisdom by which all acts and motions of all things are directed." (S.T. Ia-IIae, q. 93, a. 1) The natural law is nothing other than how this eternal law is manifested in a free and rational creature. Hoc lumen et hanc legem dedit Deus homini in creatione. God gave this light and this law to man as part of the act of his creation. There would be no natural law without man. There would be no man without natural law.

At its most basic, the natural law is exceedingly simple; indeed incontestable. He who denies this principle is not worthy of his humanity.
Regarded under its general form the natural law is summed up in this fundamental dictum: 'Bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum'. [One ought to follow and do good, and avoid evil.]
[238(41)] This is article 1, section 1 of the natural law. Everything else follows from it. "It is the function of reason to draw from this first principle both immediate and more or less remote deductions that will serve to guide the will in its conduct through life." [238(41)]

This fundamental principle of natural law--to follow and do good and to avoid evil--places man under a moral obligation, which implies a form of necessity. The necessity, however, is not physical. Rather the necessity is moral. The necessity is not theoretical, but practical. The necessity is not hypothetical, but it is absolute. [238(42)] In other words, if is not in the form of if you want to be good, then do . . . . This injunction is, plain and simple, you ought to be good; therefore you should do . . . .

How is freedom to be reconciled with this necessity? Is man robbed of freedom if he is subjected to moral, practical, and absolute necessity to do good and avoid evil?

In addressing the question of how to reconcile human freedom with the necessity of the moral law, Mercier explores the foundation of moral obligation. From whence does moral obligation proceed? Here, at least since the time of Kant, there appear to be two extreme answers Mercier explains: heteronomy (what Mercier calls "theological morality") and autonomy (what Mercier calls "independent morality" or "autonomy of reason"). In the heteronomical view, the moral law is exclusively imposed from above, as it were, from God as the supreme Legislator of the moral order. The heteronomists dispute as to whether this command is reflective of divine reason, or divine will, or both divine reason and will. Regardless of this, however, the heteronomists all believe the necessity of obeying the moral law is that it is an oracle, as it were, from the divine Legislator. It is imposed from above. This view is required, the heteronomists argue, because of the very nature of God and law. Moreover, it is the only possible way to avoid falling into the realm of "independent morality" or the "autonomy of reason," where man makes his own law.

Mercier rejects this either/or scenario. The moral duty, and the necessity to follow it, is not only a command of the sovereign God, though he does not reject God as the ultimate source of obligation. Mercier, however, rejects the notion of radical autonomy, that man has a law that is apart from God and that the duty he imposes he imposes upon himself. "[T]his necessity between choosing between the theological [heteronomous] morality . . . and autonomous morality is in no way forced upon us." [238(43)] Mercier, following "unreservedly" St. Thomas, believes that the necessity of moral duty arises from a "double foundation--immediately, upon human nature; remotely, upon the intelligence of God who rules all things by His providence." [238-39(43)]

With sure Catholic instincts, Cardinal Mercier consequently rejects false notions of autonomy without rejecting autonomy, and rejects false notions of heteronomy without rejecting heteronomy, and adopts, instead, a view that admits both man's autonomy and the law's heteronomy, in a reconciled view that John Paul II, in his encyclical Veritatis splendor called theonomy or participated theonomy. VS, No. 40-41. Thus, between the error of absolute heteronomy and the error of absolute autonomy, navigate St. Thomas, Cardinal Mercier, and John Paul II through the via media of participated theonomy.

The natural law is participated theonomy. And so Mercier is able to preserve two truths in equal measure:
We can therefore say that human nature is a law unto itself, that it bears within itself the obligation of doing good and avoiding evil, inasmuch as the soul's own tendency towards its complete good puts upon the will, enlightened by the practical judgments of the reason, the moral necessity of willing the good that is upright and, in its final analysis, the supreme good in which its completed good and perfection is realized.
[240(44)] Yet Mercier can also say, virtually in the same breath, that:
If God wills creatures to exist distinct from Himself, it is impossible that He should not perceive by His practical reason the necessary relations of subordination which must exist between these creatures and the essential goodness of the Divine Being. These relations as conceived by the Divine Mind are the 'eternal law'. Such is the ultimate foundation of the distinction between good and evil, and of the natural law and of moral obligation.
[240(45)] So the natural law is both a "law unto itself," and a law "subordinat[e]" to God who is its "ultimate foundation." The natural law is in man and from God, derived, as it were, from the eternal law of God and divinely crafted to fit the rational and free nature of the creature that God made in his image and likeness. It is in the participated theonomy that is at the heart of the natural law where man will find himself both free and good.

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