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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pugna Universalia et Legis Moralis Naturalis Universalis

IN ACCORDANCE WITH TRADITION, both Western and Biblical, Budziszewski identifies the natural moral law with the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Decalogue. Though this particular set of laws was revealed by God to Moses, it has always been seen by the Church as a general (and not exhaustive) Restatement of the Natural Law, and not divine positive law specific to the Jew alone. (There are a few exceptions where there is a mixture of natural law and positive law, e.g., in the particular commandment to worship Yahweh on the Sabbath day, that is, the seventh day of the week: while the worship is demanded by natural law, the specific day is one of positive divine legislation.) Further, there are only ten "commandments," but they suggest many more and imply many more.* More, though Budziszewski does not mention it, the commandments, which are largely in the form of negative precepts, themselves imply certain positive basic values which inform men of what they ought to strive for. For example, the Sixth Commandment forbids adultery, a negative precept which suggests that marriage ought to be nurtured, that one ought to be faithful to one's spouse, and that the institution of the family should be promoted.

Budziszewski acknowledges, as all natural law advocates (who have their hand on the pulse of real life, and real men, and are not ideologues disdainful of the rough-and-tumble of real human life) do, that there are many instances that may be cited where the Ten Commandments are violated, and, in many cases not even acknowledged. But this does not deny their reality. As Budziszewski notes, what is involved here is a conflict of two universals: a universal of law and a universal of disobedience. The latter endemic trait is what explains the deviation between the moral ideal and anthropological data. The universal and endemic disobedience does not impeach the law. If anything, it is evidentiary of the biblical doctrine of the Fall and of our freedom which allows us the ability to do wrong as well as right. We should expect perfect congruence between law and behavior only if man was not free or if man was perfect. Man is obviously free. Man is obviously imperfect. As G. K. Chesterton quipped in his book Orthodoxy, Original Sin or the Fall of Man is the only doctrine which is really scientifically provable. So why shouldn't we expect disobedience of the moral law?

As a restatement of the natural law, the Ten Commandments are (or were) our tradition. It is important to observe that the prohibitions are largely prohibitory, that is, they are negative precepts. They are thus intended to formulate the "floor" of acceptable life, the boundaries beyond which we ought not go. These are, in Budziszewski's words, "inviolable," which is to say they are exceptionless or absolute norms whose violation can never be excused. As a corollary to that, they are "nonsubstitutable," which means they are not to be traded one for the other, so that we cannot justify violating one for the sake of not violating or promoting another. They are normative in and of themselves, and they do not refer to some "Deeper Consideration" for justification.** So we cannot appeal to some "Deeper Consideration" to justify their breach or to find an excuse for their bindingness at all times and in all places.

Ten Commandments being received by Moses (Gilberti)

Being a restatement of the natural moral law, the Ten Commandments can be presented in different forms, and so they have. They may be simplified, such as for example when St. Thomas declared that the foundational principle of the natural law is that that good should be done and pursued and evil avoided, bonum est faciendum et prosequendum et malum vitandum.*** Christ summarized the Ten Commandments by wrapping them up into two general precepts, one at the service of the uncreated Good, and one at the service of the created good: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:36) Another classic formulation, one widely accepted in most cultures and religious traditions, is the Golden Rule,† expressed in the Jewish and Christian scriptures in both negative and positive forms: "See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another." (Tobit 4:16) "Judge of the disposition of thy neighbour by thyself." (Sirach 31:18) "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12)

*For example, the Sixth Commandment forbid adultery, but that presupposes the institution of marriage, its particularity and special status, and further suggests other limitations on sexual conduct (e.g., homosexuality and fornication). Similarly, the Eight Commandment prohibits false witness, but that implies some sort of institution of public justice, and suggests that truth telling is something that ought to carried over from the judicial setting into daily intercourse.
**For example, the principle of utility (greater good) will not justify the violation of any of the precepts. As another example, the principle of love will likewise not justify the precepts. As yet another example, the spread of one's ideology or religion (e.g., Islam) does not justify their breach. There is no "Deeper Consideration" that overcomes their absolute and exceptionless character. A "Deeper Consideration" would allow the application of the abhorrent principle: the end justifies the means.
***Hoc est ergo primum praeceptum legis, bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum, Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, art. 2, c.
†Lex Christianorum has written extensively on the nearly universal Golden Rule in other cultures, religions, and traditions.

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