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.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 12: The Moral Order Needs God

THE MORAL ORDER IS CHARACTERIZED by immutability and universality. Any order that is neither immutable or universal is an order other than moral: it is man-made, conventional or positive.

In terms of immutability, the law, so long as the matter is the same, can be expected to be the same. The precepts of the moral law do not change, as they are set in the nature of things. The moral law is not like the injunctions of Allah in the Qur'an, which are subject to being abrogated by the seeming whims of divinity or the desires of his prophet. There is no notion of naskh (نسخ) or abrogation in natural law.
[T]he application of the moral law is general, independent of the circumstances of time and place, and in this sense is eternal and common to all; it binds every man in possession of his natural reason no matter what time he may live or where he may dwell.
[250(57)] Thus, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Atheist . . . all are bound by the one, unchanging moral law, and all are answerable to God for its breach. The moral law is thus exceptionless, but in saying this, one must also be wary not to identify the moral law itself with human expressions of it or human formulae. Thus, weakness in our expression or our formulas may require exceptions, adaption, or modification when confronting particular cases or new situations. But this is not a change in law, but a change in our description or grasp of it.

The moral law is recognizable, knowable, universally, by all men who have come to the age of reason, that is when he "has it in his power to reflect and is capable of perceiving the subordination his actions should have in regard to their moral end, and the time at which he has become a moral agent." [250(57)] No man can be ignorant of the first principles of the moral law, or even of the immediate conclusions of those first principles, though invincible ignorance is possible for more remote conclusions. Therefore, all men know that they ought to pursue good and shun evil, and that, for example, the intentional killing of an innocent human being is intrinsically wrong. There can be no ignorance of such fundamental principle and immediate conclusion. It is possible, however, to envision situations where someone may be invincibly ignorant of more remote conclusions that require additional knowledge or which are complicated by circumstances. Thus, a person may be invincibly ignorant that the use of contraceptives that are also abortifacients are, under the natural law, morally wrong (in addition to their contraceptive nature) because they involve the intentional taking of innocent life. (See generally Dr. Bogomir M. Kuhar, Infant Homicides Through Contraceptives (Bardstown, Ky: Eternal Life 2003) (5th ed.) They may be entirely unaware of the chemical nature of the drug they are taking and the abortifacient nature of it.

Can there be a morality independent of God? Mercier rejects the notion. Too bound up with God is the moral imperative, so that it is both erroneous and impracticable to posit a morality that is independent of God. Indeed, not only is God, who is knowable by reason, both the fundament and ultimate end of the natural moral order, revelation, and the graces of the Church, are aids that, under the present condition of the human race, are necessary.

An independent morality may include deistic or rationalistic views, or, more radically, atheistic ones. The deistic and rationalistic views, while not wholly rejecting God from the scope of the moral order, seek to establish a moral theory that does not include, and is independent of, all positive (i.e., revealed) religion:
Catholic doctrine merely sums up accurately the lessons taught by experience when it proclaims the universal and constant inferiority both in knowledge and practice of the moral law among those peoples who are without the supernatural aid of revelation and grace. The doctrine of the relative necessity of Revelation--which finds its application equally in the moral as in the purely speculative order--is briefly summed up in the following extract from the [1st] Council of the Vatican: 'To this divine Revelation it is indeed to be attributed that those things which, in matters divine, are not of themselves beyond reason can be known, even if the present condition of the human race, by all men, without difficulty, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.'
[256(66)] (See, in this regard, The Need for Revelation: "Pis-Aller" by Matthew Arnold.)

The atheist moral program is even more objectionable. It is in vain to build moral theories without God. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam. (Ps. 126:1) "Now a moral system without God is as erroneous as it is impracticable." [256(66)] Mercier gives three reasons for the intrinsic failure of the atheistic moral program. First, without God there is no basis for any moral imperative. Here, the Dostoevskian wisdom within the Brothers Karamazov bears its full weight as encapsulated by the words: Если Бога нет, то всё дозволено. If God did not exist, all things would be permitted.
Take away, as the ultimate term of our volitions, an absolute, that is to say, an end which subsists of itself, and all our aspirations towards good and all our deliberate volitions cease to have any final object. We cannot conceive the absolute obligation to will what is morally good--in other words, duty--unless there be, beyond all contingent goods that I may or may not will, a good which is not contingent, which is an end in itself, namely God.
[256-57(66)] Thus atheism is as much a moral, as it is an intellectual, disease.

Moreover, natural theology shows, by reason, that an ontological order exists which demands the existence of a First Cause, of God. Moreover, the ontological order as it relates to morality, and upon which the entirety of the moral order depends, requires that there be a God who loves himself with necessary love, "so that only in view of Himself can He love those beings who are capable of sharing, though in a way far different from Himself, His infinite Perfection or His infinite Goodness." [257(66)] Without God that is love, and without God sharing that love with all men, it is impossible to envision a moral order. Put succinctly, God is both the justificatory source as well as the end (goal) of the moral order.

Finally, recourse to God is required to provide the assurance that observance of the moral law is supported by sanction. "For how is the observance of the moral law to be sufficiently guaranteed if man has no certitude that a just and powerful God will sooner or later establish an eternal harmony between virtue and happiness on the one hand, and between vice and misery on the other?" [257(66)] Without God as the great equalizer, the Eternal Judge, one despairs of the moral project, and one will lapse into morality as expediency. Invariably, morality will temporize.

Cardinal Mercier also criticizes secularist models of morality. These are identified by the suppression of God and his replacement with some other substitute or absolute. He divides those into three general groups. The first involves a sort of implied social contract, or social debt. The second posits a sociological origin of duty. The third group appears to tout progress of man's nature, self-realization or self-development. All these suffer from endemic faults and are doomed to failure. [257-58(67)]

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