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.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 10: The Moral Virtues

FROM LAW TO VIRTUE THE ROAD IS SHORT. The two are inextricably mixed. "The habitual qualities that result from the observance of the moral law are called moral virtues." [240(46)] The law leads to virtue, and virtue to good. Simply put, a virtue is "an habitual disposition, either received from God (infused virtue) or acquired by the individual (acquired virtue), which is added to the natural powers of the rational soul and makes the normal exercise of its activity easier." [24-41(40)] Moral virtues perfect or polish the will, as distinguished from intellectual virtues, which perfect or polish the intellect. Mercier adopts the classical division of the moral virtues into four "hinges," four "fundamental or cardinal virtues." And these are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

The Four Moral Virtues by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)
From Left to Right: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance

The practical reason is used by man to distinguish between what is morally good and what is morally evil, between the affirmative commands and the negative prohibitions of the natural law. It is through a judgment of the practical reason that an act's conformity with any determined end, including the last end, is determined. From the subjective point of view, our practical judgment is what we use to tell us the goodness or badness of moral acts. Cardinal Mercier rejects those theories of morality that would place moral decisions in some sort of irrational faculty, some sort of instinctual or affective power separate and apart from the cognitive part of man (i.e., moral sense or organic morality theories).

The practical reason has its first principle just like the speculative reason has its first principle. With respect to the speculative reason, the first principle is the principle of non-contradiction: a thing cannot both be and not be in the same way. With respect to the practical reason the first principle is that good must be done, and evil avoided. This principle is self-evident, foundational. [242-43(50)] (quoting S.T. Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 2).

Since the moral law, the natural law, is really law, it follows that it requires a sanction. A sanction, considered objectively, is "all the rewards and punishments attached to the performance or to the violation of it [a law]." Considered formally, the sanction is "the promulgation of this system of rewards and punishments reserved for those who observe or transgress the law." [244(51)] The natural law therefore should have both punishments and rewards and these should be promulgated. Mercier considers the objective and formal need for sanction, and he suggests that the moral law has sanction. Though the sanction of the moral law is seen in this life, it is not always sufficient, and so he argues that the moral law requires some sort of eternal reward or punishment.

During the present life, there is a sanction, albeit insufficient in all respects. Mercier distinguishes four kinds of sanction that are temporal: a natural sanction, an interior sanction, a legal sanction, and a public or social sanction.

Natural Sanction The natural consequences of our action, including health, comfort, success, etc. which generally follow the exercise of moral virtues and the weakness, disease, suffering that follow from vice.
Interior Sanction The internal sense arising from conscience, which includes joy of being good, and the shame, guilt arising from doing wrong.
Legal SanctionThe system of rewards and penalties from human law that supplements or supports the natural law
Public or Social Sanction The praise, esteem, discredit, glory, infamy, etc. that others attach to our external actions.

Though the natural law has sanctions attached to it in this life, Mercier acknowledges that these are insufficient for three reasons. To be sufficient, sanction would have to be universal, proportionate, and efficacious. In other words, the sanction must leave no good act or actor unrewarded and no bad act or actor unpunished (universal); it must be precisely tailored to the individual merit and demerit of the act or actor (proportionate); it must be consistently applied so as to maintain the moral order (efficacious). Manifestly, this does not occur in this life. We all know that men that have escaped punishment, and men that have obtained reward far beyond their just deserts. It is a constant plaint of the virtuous:
These things also I saw in the days of my vanity: A just man perisheth in his justice, and a wicked man liveth a long time in his wickedness.

Haec quoque vidi in diebus vanitatis meae iustus perit in iustitia sua et impius multo vivit tempore in malitia sua.

There is also another vanity, which is done upon the earth. There are just men to whom evils happen, as though they had done the works of the wicked: and there are wicked men, who are as secure, as though they had the deeds of the just: but this also I judge most vain.

Est et alia vanitas quae fit super terram sunt iusti quibus multa proveniunt quasi opera egerint impiorum et sunt impii qui ita securi sunt quasi iustorum facta habeant sed et hoc vanissimum iudico.
(Eccl. 7:16; 8:14). We may also simply peruse the Book of Job.

Job by William Blake

"A sanction, then, to be adequate, must be found elsewhere, in a future life." [245(52)] So it would seem to be required by reason alone that there must be some sort of eternal settling of accounts, though clearly reason can only speculate beyond that much:
After a time of trial, the length of which we do not know, the virtuous will be eternally rewarded in a future life, and the wicked will be deprived for ever of their happiness." . . . . With regard to [this] proposition, philosophy can establish two points: (i) the idea of eternal punishment is not contrary to reason; God can inflict on man for certain grave or mortal delinquencies a supreme eternal damnation. (ii) if we consider the exigencies of the providential order of the universe, God must give a sanction to the moral law by inflicting on the guilty a supreme eternal punishment. If, therefore, He can and must punish grave transgressions with an eternal chastisement, it is a logical conclusion that the guilty will in fact be for ever unhappy.
[245(53)] (Mercier also provides support or proof of this by arguments from reason, or at least showing that it is not contrary to reason, which will not be summarized here simply for lack of space. See [245-47(53-54)])

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