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.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Connaturality and Knowledge

KNOWLEDGE IS MORE THAN CONCEPTS AND LOGIC. In Maritain's Thomistic theory of natural law, there is a kind of knowledge that may be gained by means other than through discursive process or logical application of concepts. The existence of such other knowledge, of course, causes problem to some, like Kant and his disciples, who maintain that all thought is based upon "pure" reason. By ignoring this other source of knowledge, what Maritain (following St. Thomas) calls "knowledge through connaturality," the Kantians leave a great part, perhaps the more important part, out of the equation in their analysis of speculative and practical knowledge, and of judgment. In guarding their neat little boundaries, in arbitrarily ruling this knowledge outside the pale of human knowledge, they leave out a whole universe of knowledge from their ken.

There are several aspects of "knowledge by connaturality" that should be understood:
  • First, it is a form of intellectual knowledge, and so has as much dignity as knowledge based upon rational concepts and demonstration, that is, connatural knowledge is equally as valid as discursive knowledge; though connatural knowledge is obscure, and though it is not rational in the sense of based upon intellectual concepts and demonstration, it is not irrational.
  • But knowledge by connaturality is more than intellectual knowledge. It is a form of intellectual knowledge not acting alone, but aided by"affective inclinations and dispositions of the will." Maritain, 15. Thus, it includes the whole man, not just a small intellectual sliver of him.
  • Knowledge by connaturality works through inclinations, through a sort of embodiment or habitual tendencies (in moral contexts, virtues, but knowledge by connaturality is valid in other contexts, say, mysticism, poetry, etc.). It suggests a congeniality, a union, a connaturality with that concept. It informs us by means of "inner bents and propensities or our own being." Maritain, 15. It is more that the mere experience or pragmatism of William James. It is more than Bergsonian intuition. It is felt, it is learned, it is given.
  • Knowledge by connaturality plays an important part, perhaps the more significant part, in our human existence. It is the more common form by which we fashion judgments in many contexts, moral, speculative, poetic, mystical.
  • It helps us realize the analogical overlap behind various kinds of knowledge, that is knowledge as conceptual and logico-discursive, and knowledge, by connaturality.
Knowledge by connaturality is used day to day, "especially in that knowing of the singular which comes about in everyday life and in our relationship person to person." Maritain, 16. Indeed, one wonders if humans could function without having a sort of connatural knowledge with respect to day to day affairs. If one had to use syllogistic, discursive reasoning at every turn, confronting every situation, things would slow down to a snail's pace. Most decisions day to day are made by a snap reaction, a sort of immediate apprehension of the situation and applied judgment, in short, as a result of knowledge by connaturality. No man, after he has learned to drive, thinks discursively on his way to work that he must stop his car at a red light. If he has been driving for any length of time, he knows by connaturality, by a sort of acquired reflexivity, that he should stop at red, and his body responds by inclination without forming concepts and thinking discursively. What happens in the most mundane of affairs can also happen in more important affairs. To help us understand knowledge by connaturality, Maritain looks at this kind of knowledge within four contexts: mysticism, poetry, morality, and metaphysics.

Though this sort of notion, or something similar to this notion, has had "a long history in human thought," awareness of knowledge by connaturality appears to have been the fruit, at least in the West, of efforts to understand the mystical experience of contemplatives. Maritain, 14, 16-17. The knowledge of God gained by mystics is not derived through concepts, through logic and discourse, through human effort. But it is knowledge seized, as it were, by faith and by the union caused by love. This sort of knowledge is ultimately brought about by a loving response to God's inspiration and grace, a God that inhabits, as it were, that very human soul. The theologians grasped that they were dealing with a different sort of knowledge here:

They observed that obviously a fruitive experience of the deity cannot be provided by our concepts or ideas which, as true as they may be, make us know divine things at a distance, and through the analogy of creatures. Consequently, such supra-conceptual knowledge can come about only through connaturality, through the connaturality that love of charity, which is a participation in God's very love, produces between man and God.

Maritain, 16. This form of knowledge was perceived as objective, equally as objective as, though perhaps even of greater dignity than, conceptual knowledge. It was, in fact, the only adequate knowledge of God, since conceptual knowledge of God was impossible. If our concept of God comprehended God, then it would not be God, for God was greater than our intellect, and certainly greater than our concepts. What our intellect comprehended could therefore not be God (si comprehenderis non est Deus). Thus the mystical experience engendered by love was transformed into a form of objective knowledge, amor transit in conditionem objecti per connaturalitatem. This form of knowledge replaced, or increased our understanding of, that sort of knowledge which is properly conceptual, where the intellect grasps the thing known, that is, knowledge as adequatio rei et intellectus. The latter form of knowledge being, with respect to God, inadequate, in any event, since, at the "summit of our knowledge," we can only "know God as unknown," tanquam ignotus cognoscitur. Maritain, 17. So in assessing the contemplative experience, the theologians distinguished an appreciation of two forms of knowledge: conceptual and connatural.

In Maritain's view, there is also an analogous natural mystical experience that man, outside of the Christian revelation, also partakes in. As examples, Maritain cites Plotinus or the Indian mystics. One may also cite Plato or Muslim or Buddhist mystics as examples of this naturally-based mysticism. By definition, this sort of experience would not be grace-based; nevertheless, it is authentically human and consists of a sort of forced, disciplined introspection along with self-emptying that leads one to a supra-conceptual, connatural understanding of Being. It may be better to let Maritain speak:
The reality to be experience [in this sort of connatural form of knowledge] is the very Existence, the very Esse of the Self in its pure metaphysical actuality--Atman--and as proceeding from the One Self . . . .
Maritain, 18. This form of knowledge, of course, is subject to being misunderstood, misinterpreted, guided by forces, spirits that can work to our destruction. Naturally, such sort of human knowledge, like all human knowledge, remains subject to the guidance of the Magisterium of the Church.

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