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, January 19, 2011

Magisterial Invocation of Natural Law: Alexander VIII

THE SPIRIT BLOWS WHERE IT WILLS, and not as mankind wills. It is not easy to see where it is blowing, although sometimes, one's view in hindsight, is better than one' view in foresight. The spirit appears to have been blowing in the area of a blossoming of the doctrine of natural law in 19th and 20th centuries. Before that development, there were seeds planted. There was the Scriptural warrant for natural law in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and there was a well-developed body of natural law that Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic philosophers had fashioned which was easily incorporated into the Church's life with only minor modifications. Though the notion ran deep in the writings of the Fathers, it only surfaced in the official organs of the Church, its bishops in synod or in council, and in the teaching of the Pope, bishop of Rome and pontiff of the universal church occasionally, in blips. We have seen three such blips arising in the acts of the Synod of Arles (ca. 475), the letter Cum sicut accepimus of Pius II (1459), and the acts of the Holy Office under the pontificate of Innocent XI (1679).

In this blog posting, we will review one last of these small eruptions in the Magisterium of the Church that invoke the natural law before the fruitful pontificate of Pio nono, Pius IX, who was Pope between 1846-1878, the longest-lasting pontificate in the history of the Church (outside of St. Peter's pontificate.)

Alexander VIII

Alexander VIII had cause to address the natural law in regard to the Church's battle against moral rigorism or tutiorism spurred by the Jansenist heresy. Rigorism or tutiorism is a moral theory that provides that, in an area where teaching as to whether a moral law covers a situation is not certain, and there is a conflict in between two opinions on that law, one interpretation construing the law as prohibiting something and the other construing the law in favor of liberty, then the opinion which would support the prohibition should take precedence over the interpretation of the law that would allow liberty, even if that latter interpretation is more probable or very probable relative to the stricter interpretation. The opinion favoring liberty would have to be certain before it could be adopted against an opinion that favored restriction. A certain John Baptist Sinnichius (1603-1666-), an Irish professor of Louvain, defended Rigorist moral doctrines. Rigorism received its death blow from Alexander VIII who, through a decree of his Holy Office, condemned the Rigorist doctrines as espoused by Sinnichius. One of the positions taken by Sinnichius which was condemned referred to the natural law [iuris naturae]:
Although there is such a thing as invincible ignorance of the law of nature [iuris naturae], this, in the state of fallen nature, does not excuse from formal sin anyone acting out of ignorance.

Tametsi detur ignorantia invincibilis iuris naturae, haec in statu naturae lapsae operantem ex ipsa non excusat a peccato formali.
D. 1292(2); DS 2302(2).

It was the invocation of the natural law in the Synod of Arles, and in the pontificates of Pius II, Innocent XI, and Alexander VIII which led Josef Fuchs to conclude "The use of natural perspectives," in such treatments of moral questions, is "quite evident," and this "either from the actual use of the term 'natural law or because an alternative was chose which expressed antithesis to the 'divine or ecclesiastical' positive law." Fuchs, 4.

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