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, June 8, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-God and Law

IF OUR ULTIMATE END IS GOD, and not any created thing, and our end therefore ordained to God, how is it that we attain that ultimate end? There is an ordination of ends, but there is also an ordination of means. The ordination of means, like the ordination of our final end, is also one that is based upon our nature. The means to our ultimate end requires acts consonant with our nature, that is, acts that are reasonable. "Man's nature is rational and only through rational action will he obtain his end." Bertke, 28. It is our rational ordination to God as our last end that is the basis of all moral law: indeed all law.

Here we must distinguish between or ordination in general, and our choice in the concrete or particular:

The human person is free not to act; but when he does act, of necessity he must end to an ultimate end. The ultimate end must be the total good of the person as proposed by the intellect. Hence underlying every human action is the desire for complete happiness. Everything willed is ordained to this ultimate end.

Bertke, 29. We are, willy nilly, ordained necessarily to God. And yet, in our selection of means, things are not so necessary. We are free in the selection of means, and the upshot of this is that we have both the boon and burden of freedom:
Only in the possession of uncreated being, the essence of God, will satisfaction for the will and perfect happiness be found. But here tragedy enters. Man does not always seek the true perfection of his being. He can seek the ultimate in things which, of their nature are particular, by deliberately turning aside from the true ontological end of his nature.
Bertke, 29.

The tragedy, though real enough in all our lives (Exi a me, quia homo peccator sum, Domine!) is meant to be avoided. And this is where the precepts come in. The precepts guide us to prevent us from tragically choosing, mistaking a lesser good for the ultimate good, or choosing a lesser good in a way that distracts us, or places us in opposition with, our own ultimate good. The precepts are not, in this sense prohibitions that restrict us, but are, in fact, affirmative guides which promote our freedom, our happiness, our flourishing. "Man must tend to an ultimate end; the precepts prescribe that he take the necessary means to his true ultimate end." Bertke, 30.

There is accordingly a direct nexus between the precepts and our ultimate end, as the precepts are intended to inform our acts so as to ordinate them toward our ultimate end. So we find in that "transcendental relation" between precept and ultimate end the "proximate source of the natural law's obligation." Bertke, 30. The ultimate basis (as distinguished from the proximate basis) of the natural law is the Eternal Law. The natural moral law is therefore a "secondary and true cause of moral obligation," albeit it "only a cause in virtue of the Eternal Law." The natural moral law "has the same relation of dependence on the Eternal Law as all secondary causes have upon their first cause." Bertke, 30-31.

Because natural law is the proximate source of obligation (and not the ultimate source of obligation), we can have an awareness of its demands even if we do not have a complete awareness of God's existence or of our supernatural destiny. Although living in conformity with the natural moral law would naturally allow itself to knowing of God by natural reason, the knowledge of God is something that is not necessary to the intellectual feltness arising from the moral compulsion of the natural law. Bertke explains:

Though the basis of obligation is to be ultimately found in the Eternal Law, it is not to be supposed that the perception of the idea of obligation depends upon a knowledge of the Supreme Being. St. Thomas holds that the basic precept "do good" is self-evident to all men while God's existence is not self-evident quoad nos [from our vantage point]. And since this self-evident precept implies obligation, it follows that the concept of obligation may be perceived prior to, or even without, a knowledge of God's existence. In practice, all that is required for the notion of obligation is the general and confused knowledge of human nature and its end together with its essential relations (though not necessarily all of them). Nor is knowledge of a perfect sanction or punishment required; everything necessary is contained in the perception that an action leads to, or is useful for, attainment of the end of human nature and that its contrary, being out of harmony with such an end, leads to unhappiness.

Bertke, 30. But this must be understood as a minimalistic analysis. For in practice, the knowledge of the God behind the natural moral law, and belief in God and in his sanction for violation of the natural moral law is a necessity. (Just like in practice Christ and His Church, in particular the merciful office of the Ecclesia docens is needful.) The natural moral law is, as it were, hamstrung without a knowledge of God and the Eternal Law in which that natural law participates. The natural law is not autonomous, but theonomous. Accordingly, the following propositions are condemned by Pope St. Pius IX:
Humana ratio, nullo prorsus Dei respectu habito, unicus est veri et falsi, boni et mali arbiter, sibi ipsi est lex et naturalibus suis viribus ad hominum ac populorum bonum curandum sufficit.

Human reason, without any regard to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, of good and evil; it is its own law to itself, and suffices by its natural force to secure the welfare of men and of nations.

Morum leges divina haud egent sanctione, minimeque opus est ut humanae leges ad naturae jus confirmentur aut obligandi vim a Deo accipiant.

Moral laws do not stand in need of the divine sanction, and there is no necessity that human laws should be conformable to the law of nature, and receive their sanction from God.*
The natural moral law, it ought to go without saying, does not provide man an independent realm of action whereby he can act ostracized from God, apart from God, or act as if God did not exist. Though the inclinations and the faculties and the propositions (at least some) of this natural law can be known self-evidently, and the knowledge of God is not self-evident, one ought not to posit a vision of natural moral law that is atheistic, even in theory. One ought not to go down that path that the Dutch jurist dared mention: etiamsi daremus non esse Deum. One does not live life shorn of propositional reason, shorn of Grace, ignorant of all revelation, acting life out limited to self-evident principles and ignoring conclusions that are based upon them. It would be as foolish as a man stripping down to his underwear when he is aware that he is taking a trip to the North Pole.

*Syllabus Errorum (Syllabus of Errors), Prosp. 3, 56.

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