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, June 24, 2011

Excursus on Romans: Exegesis on 2:14, Part 1

THERE IS SOME CONTROVERSY regarding St. Paul's teaching of the natural law in his epistle to the Romans, specifically involving Romans 2:14. The controversy revolves around which of two general ways that verse should be interpreted. Specifically, the controversy involves the term "by nature" (φύσει), and whether it refers to the things that Gentiles do (that are in conformity with the Mosaic law) or to the Gentiles (who do not have the Mosaic law) themselves. Another way of looking at the problem is whether the term "by nature" (φύσει) is used adverbially (modifying a verb) or adjectivally (modifying a noun). More technically, the word φύσει is a noun in the dative case. But that noun is not used in its nounal sense, that is, as a dativus, an indirect object of any verb. Rather the question is whether it is being used as a dativus instrumenti or dativus modi, a dative of instrument or a dative of manner which refers to the action of "doing the things of the law," or whether it is used as a dativus auctoris, a dative of agent that refers to the "Gentiles."*

The traditional way of looking at the matter, and certainly the majority view, is one that views the verse as saying that the Gentiles by nature do the things of the law (which implies the existence of a natural law which the Gentiles follow). The majority view is found summarized in Bertke:

In the Greek text φύσει ([by] nature) belongs grammatically to ποιῶσιν [doing]. In other words, the Gentiles do by nature the things of the law. Had Paul wanted the word φύσει to modify the phrase "who have not the law" [τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα] thus excluding the concept of a natural law, then perforce φύσει would have had to be placed either before the article τὰ or between τὰ and ἔχοντα. In the actual construction φύσει can only belong to ποιῶσιν. The identity of the Gentiles in the passage is clearly determined by the appositional phrases used in the description. The phrases τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα [which have not the law] and οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες [these not having the law] in verse 14 can mean only that Paul is speaking of pagans in the strict sense of the word, i.e., people with, at best only primitive revelation.**

The second way, out of the mainstream, is to construe the verse as referring to Gentiles who by nature have not the law (which does not imply a natural law). Those who interpret the verse in the latter sense, are perhaps impelled to do so in an untoward and mistaken zeal to make everything sub gratia (under grace), and nothing sub lege (under law).

St. Paul by El Greco

The Greek text, along with various English variants, followed by the Latin Vulgate, is provided below:
ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν, οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος.

For when the Gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law these having not the law are a law unto themselves. [King James]

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves. [New American Standard]

For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves. [Douay Rheims]

For when Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves. [English Revised Version]

Cum enim gentes quae legem non habent naturaliter quae legis sunt faciunt eiusmodi legem non habentes ipsi sibi sunt lex. [Vulgate]
Manifestly, the most common translations follow the notion that the term φύσει (by nature) is being used adverbially, not adjectivally, or as a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti and not a dativus acutoris.

The transliteration and direct translation of the Greek may is as follows:

ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν, οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος.

hotan gar ethnē ta mē nomon echonta physei ta tou nomou poiōsin, houtoi nomon mē echontes eautois eisin nomos.

When for (the?) gentiles the not law having by nature the [things] of law they do, these the law not having to themselves are law.***

The problem, of course, is lack of punctuation in the Greek text. The lack of punctuation can add vagaries to the text, and, without the added benefit of punctuation, the relationships between the words can result in ambiguity, as it does in this case. The word by nature (φύσει) straddles the two possible phrases it can modify. It either modifies the phrase before it--ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα--or it modifies the phrase that comes after it--τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν. Punctuation, had it been part of the Greek text, would have helped clarify whether the term "by nature" modified what comes before it or what comes after it. Since there is no comma, we have to imply one. We have to ask ourselves where the implied comma should go in the text: "Gentiles who do not have the law by nature do what the law requires." Does it come before or after the phrase "by nature"? Does the verse read: "Gentiles, who do not have the law by nature, do what the law requires"? Or rather does the verse read: "Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires"? This is another way of asking whether the term φύσει is a dativus auctoris or a dativus modi or dativus instrumentali.

Without punctuation, we have to have recourse elsewhere. For help, we have to resort to syntax, grammar, vocabulary, customary usages, context, etc.

The question, one would hope, would be resolved by grammar. Is there any way to tell whether the word φύσει, a noun in dative form, is being used as a dativus auctoris, a dative with reference to the actor, adjectivally? Or is it rather being used as a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti, a dative with reference to an action, i.e., adverbially? Unfortunately, grammar does not yield an absolute answer. There is no way to distinguish between dativus auctoris and dativus modi or dativus instrumenti, at least that I have found.

*See Systematische Grammatik der griechischen Sprache Syntax - Kasuslehre, Dativ.
Rev. Stanley Bertke, The Possibility of Invincible Ignorance of the Natural Law (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1941), 3-4 (Quirmbach, Joseph, Die Lehre des Hl. Paulus von der naturlichen Gotteserkenntnis und dem naturlichen Sittengestz, in Strassburger Theologische Studien, Band VII, Heft 4, 1906, p. 67.) Bertke also cites to M. J. Lagrange, O.P., Épître aux Romains, Paris: J. Gabalda et Fils, 1914, p. 49 ("Paul ne s'inquiète pas ici principe des action, mais de leur norm exterieure. La nature, c'est-a-dire la lumière de la raison naturelle, à défaut de la Lois, a dit aux gentil ce qu'ils devaient faire et éviter.") [My translation: Paul does not concern himself with the principle of action here, but with its external standard. Nature, that is to say the light of natural reason, in the absence of the Law, informed the Gentiles that which they had to do and [that which they had to] avoid.]
***See Table below:
when: conjunction.
for: conjunction, postpositive.
(the) Gentiles: noun, neuter gender, nominative case, plural. The definitive article is implied.
the: definitive article (neuter, plural), referring to ἔχοντα which refers to the gentiles.
not: negative particle, negates, the phrase "τὰ . . . . νόμον ἔχοντα."
law: noun, singular, masculine gender, accusative case.
(they) who have/hold/possess: verb, present, active, participle, used in a nounal form of the verb, ἔχω (I have, hold possess).
(by) nature: noun (φύσις), dative case, singular, female gender.
the:(see above)
(of) the: definite article in genitive, singular, masculine case, refers to the noun law, νόμου.
(of) law: noun, masculine gender, genitive case, singular.
do: verb, present, active, subjunctive mood, third person plural form of ποιέω, I make or do.
these: noun, plural, masculine, in dative case.
law: noun, accusative case, singular, masculine.
not: see above.
(they) have: verb, present, active, participle, used as noun in nominative case, plural, masculine.
(to) themselves: 3rd person plural reflexive pronoun, female gender and dative case.
(they) are: verb, present, active, indicative, third person plural form of εἰμί, (I) am.
law: nominative case.

No comments:

Post a Comment