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.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Providentia Dei

THE ROLE OF GOD AS CREATOR AND SUSTAINER of the cosmos is an important facet of the classical theory of natural law. The Enlightenment gave rise to Deistic interpretations of the natural law, and the notion of a God unconcerned with the day-to-day workings of the cosmos and the life of man injected into the traditional theory something that was inconsistent with it. Without a notion of a providential God, a God active in the day-to-day running of the world, a God who sees each sparrow fall, it is difficult to accept the notion of absolute, exceptionless norms. For sometimes, if we act outside God's perspective, it appears that we do good, and see evil happen. How can we watch the heavens fall while we do justice? Like Caiaphas, we lapse into expediency, and say that it is better for one man to perish (though it be unjustly) than have a whole people perish. Like Truman, we would rather kill a few hundred thousand innocent civilians in Nagasaki and Hiroshima to save the lives of millions of our own. Like Machiavelli, we will insist that the Prince has to lie, to cheat, to steal because the common good and good rule requires it. Like Muhammad, we think we have to kill the unbelievers and the apostates to achieve the submission of the world to Allah. Without a God who orders all things and whose Providential plan is one based upon reason and justice, one is tempted to create exceptions for exceptionless norms when confronting difficult cases or when tempted to achieve great good. Abandoning the notion of a Providential God and his infinite and expansive vision thrusts us into the field of limited vision: a human vision which cannot predict the future, nor encompass the width and breadth of all consequences that arise from the disobedience to an otherwise exceptionless or absolute norm. These difficult cases--without the support or buttress of the belief in a Providential God--bring despair, a loss of hope, and a temptation to carve excuses to exceptionless norms and so cause us to fall down a slippery slope into a moral slough of despond, a slough of a morality based on accepting the notion that evil may be done so that good may come. In this world, alas

sometimes justice requires allowing bad things to happen to other people. If we forbid hanging innocent men, the mob may break out in a riot. If we forbid targeting noncombatants for bombing, the war may be prolonged. If we forbid giving perjured testimony, the murder may go unpunished. Surely it isn't right, we reason [falsely without the notion of Providence], that there are riots, longer wars, and murderers free in the streets. Let us do evil for the sake of good. It doesn't seem just to do justice.

Budziszewski (2003), 67.

Without the notion of Providence, we become utilitarians, consequentialists, and all ethics becomes a matter of expediency. And when morals becomes a matter of expediency, it is no longer morals. Indeed, in this warped sense of reality, where God's Providence is rejected, to insist on moral scruples is to be selfish. One is expected to sacrifice one's conscience for the greater good.

The Triumph of Divine Providence by Pietro da Cortona (1633-39)

This was brought to me with great force during law school some years ago. At issue was St. Thomas More, and his refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy, whereby Henry VIII sought to make himself head of the Church. St. Thomas More's act of conscience led to his death and the poverty of his family My law professor refused to acknowledge the moral absolute of Thomas More's conscience. Selfish he was, she pontificated with more assurance than any Pope, inasmuch as he should have abandoned his religious scruples for the greater good of his wife and his family. St. Thomas More should have done evil, so that good may come. My law school professor had no trust in Providence. She was a secular humanist, and she had accepted the impossible burden that man was responsible for saving himself, for curing all injustices, for every single consequence of his act, intended or unintended, foreseen or unforeseen.
And if there is no God, why not? The motto "Do the right thing and let God take care of the consequences" makes sense only on the assurance that He will take care of the consequences. Without that assurance, doing the right thing means taking care of the consequences--or trying to. And so unless there is providence, the urge to do good irresistibly consorts with evil. Unless God is just, our justice becomes unhinged.
Budziszewski (2003), 70. Without belief in a Providential God, we cannot accept the notion that God can bring good out of evil, and so we assume the obligation to prevent all evil or promote all good, even if it requires us doing a little evil. Classic examples of virtue become obscene, and so we cringe at hearing the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, or St. Theresa of Avila, or Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
I would not make a decision to set about committing a venial sin, even for the whole of creation . . . . (Spiritual Exercises, 2nd Week, 165/66) [que por todo lo criado ni porque la vida me quitasen, no sea en deliberar de hacer un peccado venial]

Follow the advice [to please God and follow his law] until you find that you have such a fixed determination not to offend the Lord that you would rather lose a thousand lives, and be persecuted by the whole world, than commit one mortal sin. (Way of Perfection, Chapter 41) [Tened esta cuenta y aviso -que importa mucho- que no os descuidéis hasta que os veáis con tan gran determinación de no ofender al Señor, que perderíais mil vidas antes que hacer un pecado mortal]

The Church holds it better for sun and moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in the most extreme agony . . . than that one soul . . . should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth or should steal one poor farthing without excuse. (Apologia pro vita sua)

Our justice becomes unhinged; indeed, it becomes injustice. Our morality becomes unhinged, and we become immoral. We start allowing contraception, divorce and remarriage, killing babies, killing the old and infirm and comatose, lying, killing innocent civilians with atom bombs or suicide bombs, putting Jews and others into gas ovens, and cutting off the heads of those we think are kuffar, unbelievers.

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