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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Eternal Law, Part 1

THE FACULTY OF REASON IS AT ITS WEAKEST when confronted by the Uncaused Cause (which we now capitalize in recognition of His divinity) of the state of affairs that exists and when asking questions about that Uncaused Cause is, what is the essence of the Uncaused Cause. The senses and intellect both are at their stretching point, thin like the skin of a stretched balloon, and yet they can provide us--through analogical reasoning--a little more light on the nature or the essence of this Uncaused Cause.

[I]t is philosophically possible to speculate that [the uncaused cause's] causing of all caused state of affairs, being an uncaused causing which determines between contingent possibilities, is in some respects analogous to the free choices of human persons. . . . [T]he analogy may be justified in as much as human persons, by free acts of thinking, choosing, and using or making, bring into being entities (e.g. arguments, friendships, poems, and constitutions) that simply would not exist but for these not-wholly-determined human acts.
NLNR, 389.

Granted, the analogy, though justified, must needs be imperfect. Yet we experience the freedom of acts in our creation of things virtually brought forth as if from nothing.

Giotto Last Judgment (Detail)

The studied and haunting cadence of the ostinato of the Second Movement of Beethoven's Second Symphony. The budding three-dimensionality of a Giotto fresco. The rose window of Notredame Cathedral which captures the eye with its ebullience of color. The Cantos of Dantesque genius:
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita. . . .

The intellectual synthesis of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae:
Quia Catholicae veritatis doctor non solum provectos debet instruere, sed ad eum pertinet etiam incipientes erudire, secundum illud apostoli I ad Corinth. III, tanquam parvulis in Christo, lac vobis potum dedi, non escam; propositum nostrae intentionis in hoc opere est . . . .

The Magna Carta:
Sciatis nos intuitu Dei et pro salute anime nostre et omnium antecessorum et heredum nostrorum ad honorem Dei et exaltacionem sancte Ecclesie . . . .

These humanly-created acts (whether of art, or poetry, or philosophy, or government) presuppose a prior knowledge, a plan, on the part of its human creator. Every work of art has a ratio ordinis behind its act. The artist knew what he was up to in doing what he did. These works of art did not fall together by sheer happenstance. "We only act freely when we know what the possibilities were, and when we know what we are doing." NLNR, 389. That seems self-evident. That analogy--applied to the Uncaused Cause--is the origin of the Augustinian and Thomistic concept of the eternal law (a concept, it ought to be noted, that was found in germ among the Greeks and in full flower of development in the Stoics, in the neo-Platonists, in Plotinus, and in Cicero).
The . . . Eternal Law is a development of the analogy in this respect: what we do is guided, shaped, directed by the formally (and often chronologically) prior plan we have in mind; if we are trying to get the members of a community themselves to act in the way we have it in mind for them to act, our plan of action can be presented as a law of their actions. So too the ensemble of caused states of affairs which exist in intelligible orders in accordance with physical and other laws of nature (both 'classical' and statistical), with principles of logic and theoretical rationality, with requirements of practical reasonableness for human flourishing, and with the flexible norms of arts and technologies. Thus the theory of Eternal Law proposes that the laws, principles, requirements, and norms of the four orders [physical, logical, moral, and artistico-technical] be regarded as holing for their respective orders precisely because they express aspects, intelligible to us, of the creative intention which guides [the uncaused cause's] causing of the categorically variegated 'community' of all entities and all states of affairs in all orders.

NLNR, 389. By "eternal" is meant that this law is not incomplete, that it cannot be subject to change or changing, and yet neither is it static or unchanging as we understand it. It is a manner of acknowledging that this law "neither develops nor declines," that the uncaused cause is "outside the range of application of the concepts of change and changelessness, and hence of time." NLNR, 390. That such an Eternal Law exists--a necessary corollary to the existence of the Uncaused Cause--is known, but what it is reason cannot say. "Yet every state of affairs , however 'fortuitous' [it may seem to us], requires [the Uncaused Cause's] creative causality if it is to exist. So the speculation on the 'plan' of that causality, i.e. on Eternal Law, suggests that much of that Law is quite unknown to us." NLNR, 390-91.

This ignorance of the "plan" behind the Eternal Law of the Uncaused Cause shields us from ever knowing the mystery of evil. Evil, as Finnis notes, "strictly speaking, is a defect, a lack, the non-existing of what ought (in terms of the norms of the relevant order) to have existed but in fact does not exist." NLNR, 391. The fact that evil is privity of the good, however, does not suggest that evil is not a reality, though in itself it does not exist and never can exist without an attendant good that is host to the privity which is evil. Absolute evil (sheer non-existence, an absolute absence of any good) is an impossibility. In light of our ignorance of the Uncaused Cause's "plan," that is, the Eternal Law, it is impossible to judge or assess the role of evil, for "we could only judge [the Uncaused Cause's] causality to be evil or imperfect or defective if we knew what the norms applicable to creative causality are," which, of course, we don't.
While we can speculate that the norms known to us do reflect the plan 'underlying' creative causality, such an assumption does not warrant an inference that that plan is 'capture' by the norms which we known (or could come to know by any means imaginable to us). The norms in terms of which we judge states of affairs to be evil, in any of the four orders, are not applicable to [the Uncaused Cause] as creator. Thus we have no ground to judge that [the Uncaused Cause's] creative causality is defective. In short . . . we do not know enough of [the Eternal Law] to be able to judge [the Uncaused Cause's] creative performance defective in terms of it.
NLNR, 391.

We can know that Homer nods. So when, in the Iliad, Menelaos kills Pylaimenes [V.576-79], and yet the latter re-appears in the epic poem to witness the death of his son [XIII.643-59], we recognize the poetic evil. Or when Homer describes the tri-partite embassy to Achilles (Phoenix, Odysseus, and Aias) as composed of two members instead of three [Cf. IX.165-93 with IX.182, 192], we comprehend the error. But what we know of Homer we do not know of the Uncaused Cause. We cannot know if and when or whether the Uncaused Cause--whom all call God--has nodded or nods. We would need to know the entire plan of history, of the design of Creation, or the intendment of Providence, and all these are outside our ken and therefore outside the human logos, the human reason, the human word.

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen. "That of which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence."*

*Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, No. 7.

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