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, March 12, 2011

The Thomist Monster, The Fourth Way to God, and The Fount of Duty

THERE IS AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP between the Fourth of the Quinque viae, the “Five Ways” to show with certainty the existence of God, which St. Thomas outlines in Article 3 of the Second Question of the First Part of the Summa Theologiae. The via quarta, which seeks to establish the existence of God from degrees of perfection, gives rise, at least in the formulation given it by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964) in his book Dieu. Son Existence et Sa Nature,* to duty. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, was called the sacred monster of Thomism by R. Peddicord in his biography of Garrigou-Lagrange,** hence the source of the title of this posting.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Thomism's "Sacred Monster"

The via quarta may be directly quoted:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

Quarta via sumitur ex gradibus qui in rebus inveniuntur. Invenitur enim in rebus aliquid magis et minus bonum, et verum, et nobile, et sic de aliis huiusmodi. Sed magis et minus dicuntur de diversis secundum quod appropinquant diversimode ad aliquid quod maxime est, sicut magis calidum est, quod magis appropinquat maxime calido. Est igitur aliquid quod est verissimum, et optimum, et nobilissimum, et per consequens maxime ens, nam quae sunt maxime vera, sunt maxime entia, ut dicitur II Metaphys. Quod autem dicitur maxime tale in aliquo genere, est causa omnium quae sunt illius generis, sicut ignis, qui est maxime calidus, est causa omnium calidorum, ut in eodem libro dicitur. Ergo est aliquid quod omnibus entibus est causa esse, et bonitatis, et cuiuslibet perfectionis, et hoc dicimus Deum.

S.T. Ia, q. 3, a. 2. The via quarta, also known as the henological argument,*** is the most Platonist of all the proofs, and it seeks to argue “from the degrees of perfection in the beings around us to the existence of a being in which perfections meet in the highest degree.” Nichols, 55. As Aidan Nichols, O.P., explains:
The proof from the degrees of being is a proof by reference to the hierachized realization of the ‘transcendentals’, those features of reality which characterize in different respects things of all actual kinds, thus: being, unity, truth, goodness, beauty, and so on.
Nichols, 56.

The argument’s basic reasoning is that there are concepts, namely the transcendentals—being, unity, truth, goodness—which are predicable of all things. These concepts, qua concepts imply no imperfection. The transcendentals imply no imperfection, and yet they exist in those beings that we perceive in various ways and in different degrees. That is they manifest themselves in objects imperfectly. The being of a rock is different from the being of a tree, and both are different from the being of man. Yet being is shared in a manner by rock, tree, and man. The transcendental is an analogical concept, and so no contingent being we observe contains the transcendental in a perfect degree, but rather only imperfectly. It follows that the transcendental must have its cause in a higher being, a being which does not contain, but rather is the very perfection itself. Therefore, there is a Being who is Being Itself, Goodness Itself, Truth Itself, Unity Itself, Beauty Itself.

The reason this proof is Platonic is because it rests on the notion of participation. The notion of participation arises from Plato’s Republic where the observation is made that is the same characteristic is found in two beings, then this characteristic arises in them, not as a result of each being having this characteristic in and of itself, but as a result of both beings’ participation in this characteristic which is found outside of them. The notion of participation is also found in the dialogues Philebus and Phaedo wherein the doctrine is found that if a “characteristic the concept of which implies no imperfection is found in a being in some imperfect—which may simply mean limited state, then that being does not possess that characteristic by way of itself but receives it from another that does possess it by way of itself.” Nichols, 56.

In his book Dieu. Son Existence et Sa Nature,*** Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange covers the via quarta in a traditional enough manner, but he is “highly original” in the manner in which he “uncovers applications” in the via quarta which “expand its scope.” Aidan, 57. Aidan uncovers three such expansions or applications, and labels them application Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.
  • Application α : the primal being is primal intelligence and primally intelligible, and therefore the foundation of all truth.
  • Application β: the primal being is primarily desirable, and therefore the foundation of all happiness.
  • Application γ: the primal being is the primal good, not only as primarily desirable, but also as the primary foundation of all duty.
It is the third application, application γ, which we wish to focus on in this posting. It is significant because the foundation of duty is directly related to the foundation of law, more precisely, the natural law which is a participation in the eternal law. Aidan Nichols summarizes Garrigou-Lagrange’s teaching:

The normal perfection of man qua man, remarks Garrigou, is the intrinsic rational good for man, known since Cicero as the bonum honestum. Like Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas in his treatise on law in the Summa theologiae finds a means of ascent from here to God through the proposal that the natural law, which furnishes in concrete terms the bonum honestum to perfect the natural man, is in reality nothing less than a sharing in the eternal law which is god’s own Wisdom and Word.**** In this perspective, God the primal good must be willed as that which not only demands our love but also founds our duty.

Nichols, 59. The reasoning of Garrigou-Lagrange is forthwright:
  • If the bonum honestum, the intrinsic rational good for man, must be willed regardless of the issues of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, of difficult or expediency, of advantage or disadvantage, and
  • If, the being that is capable of willing the bonum honestum, that is, the human being, “must will” the bonum honestum “on pain of losing its raison d’être, and
  • If “our conscience promulgates this duty and then approves or condemns [our action or omissions] for we are not able to will or to suppress remorse,” and
  • If, “the right of the good to be loved and practiced dominates our moral activity and that of [all] societies actual and possible,”
  • Then . . . (and here is the great conclusion) there necessarily must be “that which founds these absolute rights of the good,” and that being is God.
Nichols, 59 (quoting Garrigou-Lagrange, Dieu. Son Existence et Sa Nature, 311).

It is the “absolute rights of the good,” the droits absolus du bien, which are the source of our moral duties to the good. The rights of the good, and therefore attendant duties, may be found, in a contingent way, in the beings about us. But the good, and therefore the duty, is merely relative and contingent. The right of the good and the duty that imposes itself upon us, that is the source of law, must needs be found somewhere in its perfection. Nothing outside of God can be the source of absolute rights of the good, which is the source of our duty. God is the source of the “absolute rights of the good,” and by that very fact God is the source of all our duties, the source of all law.

Another way of putting this insight might be to recognize that all that is is, in some manner, “under law,” and to that extent there is law in them: they participate in law. There is no object that we know of that is fully and entirely “law-less,” including man. But the law in which these beings participate is not in any of these beings in its perfection. It follows that the law’s source cannot be in these conditional creatures, including man, though man participates in law in a particularly dignified way since he participates in it by free will, and yet under a duty to do so. Man, moreover, can be a legislator, a dignity in which no other animal participates. Law therefore, must be found outside of the things that are, outside even man himself, and it is found in perfection in that being that is Law itself, that is, God, the Eternal Law.
*Richard Peddicord, O.P., The Sacred Monster of Thomism. An Introduction to the Life and Legacy of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (South Bend, In.: St. Augustine's Press, 2005).
**Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Dieu. Son Existence et Sa Nature. Solution Thomiste des Antinomies Agnostiques, (Paris: 1950), translated into English as God: His Existence and His Nature: A Thomistic Solution of Certain Agnostic Antinomies (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1934). The reference to Nichols is to Aidan Nichols, O.P., Reason with Piety: Garrigou-Lagrange in the Service of Catholic Thought (Naples, Fla.: Sapientia Press, 2008).
***henological comes from the Greek to hen (the One) and logos (reason); hence, it is an argument from the partial perfection, that is, the degrees of being, unity, truth, goodness, and beauty, in the many, to the absolute Perfection, that Unity, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, in the One.
****Nichols cites to S.T. IaIIae, q. 91, a.2, and q. 93, a. 1.

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