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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Deus Revelatus--Peccavimus

GOD, IN PARTICULAR THAT KNOWLEDGE OF GOD that is compelled by human reason is part and parcel of the natural moral law. But our knowledge of God is not limited to that obtained by reason. Christians and Jews* believe that the God whose existence as First Cause, that is Creator and Provider, has revealed himself in Scripture. Christians further believe that this First Cause, our Creator and Provider who revealed himself as Yahweh (יהוה‎), has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, the God become flesh. Budziszewski gives three reasons why the Revelation of God in Christ lends itself to a greater insight of the natural moral law, to the point where accepting the Christian dispensation is a necessity to grasping the fullness of the natural law. In particular, the Christian revelation provides three aids, as it were, that facilitate human comprehension, acceptance, or understanding of the natural law: (i) forgiveness, (ii) Providence, and (iii) the notion of man as imago Dei--that man is made in the image of God. We shall address the first of these in this posting.

There is a fundamental reason--nay, necessity--to consider accepting the revelation of God in Christ, and this relates to the need for forgiveness.

[M]an has two clues to the meaning of the universe. One is the knowledge of a law that he did not make but is obligated to keep; the other is the knowledge that he does not and cannot keep it. . . . . [A] clear vision of the moral law reveals a debt which exceeds anything we can pay. Apart from an assurance that the debt can be forgiven--something available only in biblical revelation because it transcends what reason can fin out on its own--no human being dares to face the law straight one.

Budziszewski (2003), 66. Budziszewski attributes this insight to C. S. Lewis, but the message is as old as St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The Gentile, who has the law written in his heart, knows also that he has violated it in numerous particulars, and has thus incurred guilt to to the Author of that law. It is this--the knowledge of God's law and the knowledge that one has violated it--that seems to make sacrifice--the offering of food, of objects, or the lives of animals or even people to God as an act of propitiation or an act of worship--so ubiquitous in the religion of man. It is as if this truth can't but help express itself, if not through revealed channels, then through unconscious and implicit ones. Man gets it: he is a sinner in need of redemption.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again . . . .
John Donne, "Holy Sonnets-XIV"

The ubiquitous need to offer sacrifice seems to be the unconscious expression of what St. Paul uttered expressly:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25a.

Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

Without the knowledge that we may be forgiven, man's guilt is expressed in countless ways: repression, projection, rationalization, brutality and so forth. As Budziszewski notes, man is hard wired to know the law: it is a law that he cannot not know. He is hard wired to know that he has violated it, and that he lives in guilt to the Divine Legislator, whether that Divine Legislator is acknowledged or not, whether his mercy is pled, or his justice feared.

It may seem that the possibility of forgiveness matters only on the assumption that there is, in fact, a God--that without the lawgiver, there would be no law, and therefore nothing to be forgiven. The actual state of affairs is more dreadful, for the Furies of conscience do not wait upon our assumptions. One who acknowledges the Furies but denies the God who appointed them--who supposes that there can be a law without a lawgiver--must suppose that forgiveness is both necessary and impossible. That which is not personal cannot forgive; morality "by itself" has a heart of rock. And so although grace would be unthinkable [via Reason], the ache for it would keen on, like a cry in a deserted street.
Budziszewski (2003), 67 A cry in a deserted street, or a cry in the wilderness. And this cry is heard in the wilderness of Palestine, and in the wilderness of the hollow modern world, where men who claim no longer to believe in God, or sin, or sacrifice, still say:
Consequently, I rejoice having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be to heavy upon us . . . .
T. S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday"

*I leave to one side Muslims on the grounds that the revelation of Allah in the Qur'an and Muhammad's life, as traditionally interpreted, is deeply problematic. In fact, in addition to being anti-Christ and anti-natural-law, Islamic doctrine suffers from an intrinsic moral duality and moral chauvinism which is against the Golden Rule, the second Table of the Ten Commandments, and the second of the two great commandments, to love one's neighbor as one's self (which is not limited to those of the household of Faith).

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