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, October 20, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: On the Limits of the State

CAESAR IS NOT DIVINE, nor is his modern analogue, the Leviathan State, Hobbes's "mortal God." That is why the State is the servant, and not the master, of the natural law, which is just one part of the "universe of truths--of science, of wisdom and of poetry--towards which intelligence tends by itself." Maritain, 75. "The power of the State of of social interest cannot impose itself upon this universe." Maritain, 75. Its power is meant only to "oppose, within the social body, the propagation of errors which might threaten the fundamental ethics of common life and the principles on which it is founded." Maritain, 75. The State has absolutely no competence in the matter of truth, speculative or moral. The diktats of its soulless, heartless, unintelligent, bureaucratic apparatchiki do not extend to the splendor of truth or to matters of the heart.

The secret of the heart and the free act as such, the universe of moral laws, the right of conscience to hearken unto God, and to make its way to Him--all these things, in the natural as in the supernatural order, cannot be tampered with by the State nor fall into its clutches.

Maritain, 76.

Get your hands out of the truth, State! Get your hands out of my heart!

Maritain, like any advocate of the natural law, is not by any means an anarchist. "Doubtless," he states, "law binds in conscience." Maritain, 75. But--and this is a big "but" which the Leviathan state with delusions of grandeur and pretensions toward divinity loathes to hear--but "this is because it is law only if just and promulgated by legitimate authority, not because the majority or the State can become the standard of conscience." Maritain, 76.

State! Government! Legislators! You are morality's servant!

At the service of morality, the State thus "has a moral and not merely material function." A hands-off, liberal State that recognizes no moral master is as loathsome as a State that pretends to be morality's master. The law itself has a pedagogical, "educational function and tends to develop moral virtues." The State may punish if, I follow a blind conscience "and commit an act in itself criminal or unlawful." Maritain, 76. The State, however, has no authority "to make me reform the judgment of my conscience." That is outside of its competence. It cannot plead ignorance.
The State knows this well. And that is why, whenever it goes beyond its natural limits, in the name of some totalitarian pretension, and inters into the sanctuary of conscience, it strives to violate this sanctuary by monstrous means of psychological poisoning, organized lies and terror.
Maritain, 76.

Moreover, the State cannot thrust itself into matters of "personal destiny." Every person has the right to make his own decision regarding these things. Accordingly, the State has no competence, no right to interfere in the "question of choosing one's work, of marrying the man or woman of one's choice or of pursuing a religious vocation."*

The State has the right to defend itself, and therefore, in cases of "extreme peril and for the safety of the community," the state can requisition its citizens' services and demand even that the citizens risk their lives in a just war. It can also "deprive criminals of certain of their rights (or rather sanction the fact that they themselves forfeited them)." But these self-protective rights are easily transgressed, and the State "becomes iniquitous and tyrannical if it claims to base the functioning of civil life on forced labour, or if it tries to violate the rights of the family order to become master of men's souls." Maritain, 77.

The institution of the family is under God, but the institution of the family is above the State.

For just as man is constituted a person, made for God and for a life superior to time, before being constituted a part of the political community, so too man is constituted a part of family society before being constituted a part of political society. The end for which the family exists is to produce and bring up human persons and prepare them to fulfill their total destiny.

Maritain, 77. This does not mean that the State has no role in family life, but its role is decidedly subservient, corroborative.
And if the State too has an educative function, if education is not outside its sphere, this function is to help the family fulfill its mission, and to complement this mission, not to efface in the child his vocation as a human person and replace it by that of a living tool and material for the State.
Maritain, 77.

*It goes without saying that the State can interfere and prohibit same-sex marriages, since these moral enormities run afoul of natural moral law and, regardless of what the positive law or anyone's misguided conscience says, are nothing less than criminal associations from a moral point of view. Nothing the positive law can do can wash these unions of their foulness. A sodomite is a sodomite is a sodomite. The law cannot "out out" the "damn spot" by denominating these relationships as civil unions or marriage or anything else. It cannot prevent them from crying to heaven with a vengeance (cf. Gen. 18:20; 19:13), however concerted the effort may be to muffle their cries and cover their shame with the heavy robes of positive law. Putting a velvet dress on a corpse doesn't keep it from rotting and smelling rotten.

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