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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 4--Beyond Legalism

THE RICH YOUNG MAN knows in his heart of hearts that merely keeping the commandments, even every jot and tittle of them, does not lead to the fullness of life, to salvation, and cannot merit eternal life. This is apparent or he would not have asked the question, "what do I still lack?" He tells the Lord that he has kept the natural law, the Decalogue. And Jesus, who knows all hearts, does not dispute the man. Jesus does not challenge or correct the rich young man like he did the Samaritan woman at the well, who had not kept the commandments, inasmuch as she had many husbands and was then living with one that was not her husband. He accepts the man's confession that he has abided by those commandments. The commandments came easily enough for this virtuous young man, well-trained in the traditions of the Torah. But the man is seeped in the Law's legalism, and yet seems to want to break out into a deeper life:

Conscious of the young man's yearning for something greater, which would transcend a legalistic interpretation of the commandments, the Good Teacher invites him to enter upon the path of perfection: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
VS, 16 (quoting Matt. 19:21)

To understand what Jesus intended to tell the young man (and what he intends thereby to tell us), we have to come off Mount Horeb where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses to the Kurun Hattin or "Horns of Hattin" where Christ traditionally is said to have given his Sermon on the Mount. It is in Christ's Sermon on the Mount, and in particular his Beatitudes, that one finds the heart of Christ's teachings. The Beatitudes approach morality from a manner entirely different from, though not in any way contrary to, the Commandments.
The Beatitudes are not specifically concerned with certain particular rules of behavior. Rather, they speak of basic attitudes and dispositions in life and therefore they do not coincide exactly with the commandments. On the other hand, there is no separation or opposition between the Beatitudes and the commandments: both refer to the good, to eternal life.
VS, 16.

Succinctly, the Sermon on the Mount ties together three things: the Beatitudes, the Commandments, and Grace. The glue that binds these three strands of the moral life together is the person of Jesus. As John Paul II explains this relationship:

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the proclamation of the Beatitudes, but also refers to the commandments (cf. Mt 5:20-48). At the same time, the Sermon on the Mount demonstrates the openness of the commandments and their orientation towards the horizon of the perfection proper to the Beatitudes. These latter are above all promises, from which there also indirectly flow normative indications for the moral life. In their originality and profundity they are a sort of self- portrait of Christ, and for this very reason are invitations to discipleship and to communion of life with Christ.

VS, 16.

The Beatitudes

To keep the commandments, to open oneself to the demands of the Beatitudes, and to follow the Lord Jesus is beyond the natural ability of men. No man can know, and no man can respond to, such a moral calling unless the Lord call him.
Jesus' conversation with the young man helps us to grasp the conditions for the moral growth of man, who has been called to perfection: the young man, having observed all the commandments, shows that he is incapable of taking the next step by himself alone. To do so requires mature human freedom ("If you wish to be perfect") and God's gift of grace ("Come, follow me").
VS, 17.

Perfection requires more than mere obedience to the commandments, to the natural law. "Perfection," according to Christ's teaching, "demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called." Christ, who gave himself up to all men on the cross, is therefore an incarnation as it were of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a "sort of self-portrait of Christ," which is to say they are set forth the portrait of what we are meant to be. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 2:5).

In establishing the commandments as the foundation of the response to perfection in freedom, our Lord is clearly linking freedom to divine law. "These words of Jesus," John Paul II points out, "reveal the particular dynamic of freedom's growth towards maturity, and at the same time they bear witness to the fundamental relationship between freedom and divine law." VS, 17. "Human freedom and God's law," the Pope continues, "are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other." VS, 17.

It is an error of huge proportion to pit freedom and law against each other. More than an error, it is a lie. There is no freedom outside of divine law. Abiding by the divine law is the sure and only path to freedom, though it is not the freedom itself. The Christian is not "liberated" from the law, as if the law were shackles that held him down, repressed him, enslaved him and kept him from being free. The Christian is called to be free, but he is not freed from the precepts of the commandments, for the commandments are consistent with freedom. The freedom to which the Christian is called is the freedom to love, and love of neighbor requires the keeping of the commandments. This is because abiding by the commandments is nothing less than loving one's neighbor as oneself.

Those who live "by the flesh" experience God's law as a burden, and indeed as a denial or at least a restriction of their own freedom. On the other hand, those who are impelled by love and "walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:16), and who desire to serve others, find in God's Law the fundamental and necessary way in which to practice love as something freely chosen and freely lived out. Indeed, they feel an interior urge — a genuine "necessity" and no longer a form of coercion — not to stop at the minimum demands of the Law, but to live them in their "fullness". This is a still uncertain and fragile journey as long as we are on earth, but it is one made possible by grace, which enables us to possess the full freedom of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:21) and thus to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as "sons in the Son".

VS, 18.

Christ's injunction to the rich young man: "Come follow me" has a rich meaning. But fundamentally it is a call to discipleship, to being a follower of Christ. This is perhaps the most fundamental commandment of the New Covenant, the sequela Christi, the following of Christ. The demand to "go, sell your possessions and give money to the poor," and the promise that "you will have treasure in heaven," the Pope insists, "are meant for everyone." "[T]he invitation which follows, 'Come,follow me,' is the new specific form of the commandment of love of God." VS, 18. It is, in fact, an invitation to that special sort of love which resides only in God and which God asks us to participate in: caritas, charity. "Both the commandments and Jesus' invitation to the rich young man stand at the service of a single and indivisible charity, which spontaneously tends towards that perfection whose measure is God alone . . . ." VS, 18.

All of this obviously goes way beyond the natural moral law and takes us into the realm of grace and the supernatural, but the natural moral law is at the same time an ingredient to the rule of life that comes from very simple invitation by Christ to all of us to follow him, and our "yes" to that invitation.

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