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, August 6, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 10-Libertas et Lex

LIBERTAS ET LEX, freedom and law, not libertas sive lex, freedom or law. It is a great modern error to place freedom and law in opposition. In a nutshell, placing human freedom and law based on an objective moral order in opposition is to set ourselves as fashioners of right, as sole judges of good and evil. It is, at heart and quite ironically, not a very modern way of thinking. It may be said to be the oldest, wrongest theory in the book.

Literally. So it is that John Paul II takes to a brief reflection of the second chapter of Genesis: "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden," God tells man, "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat." Freedom is engaged with restriction, with law; liberty is coupled with obligation; there is a boundary to freedom beyond which one is no longer free. Also tied to law is a sanction: if man violates the law, if he eats of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, "you shall die." VS, 35; Gen.2:16-17. Along with this death, of course, is the death of authentic freedom.

What is the message of this "imagery" of the Book of Genesis which speaks to us in its specific genre so rich with symbolism and theological underpinnings?

With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat "of every tree of the garden". But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.

VS, 35. It is rank falsehood to suppose that authentic freedom and authentic law are in opposition. To hold freedom and moral law in opposition (or to collapse moral law into freedom) is "[C]ertain moral theologians have introduced a sharp distinction, contrary to Catholic doctrine, between an ethical order, which would be human in origin and of value for this world alone, and an order of salvation, for which only certain intentions and interior attitudes regarding God and neighbor would be significant. . . . No one can fail to see that such an interpretation of the autonomy of human reason involves positions incompatible with Catholic teaching."
--John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 37.
nothing less than giving man the power to determine good and evil, which is a false freedom because it is a freedom from truth, and not a freedom in truth. God's law is not reductive of human freedom, but it is the necessary precondition of human freedom. Without God, man is not free. Outside of God, man is not free. If human freedom were able to make truth without reference to God, then such freedom "would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom." VS, 35. The result of this is that through freedom man lays claim to "a moral autonomy which would actually amount to absolute sovereignty." VS, 35. It is not freedom, but rebellion; a foolish rebellion, moreover, which leads into slavery. This notion of moral sovereignty is, it goes without saying, also deeply repugnant to Christ's teaching.

John Paul II spent the first part of the encyclical insisting that freedom ought not to be thought as separate or opposed to truth. In this part of the encyclical he opposes himself to a related tendency, and that is the tendency of separating morality from religion or faith. In this related error, one opposes man's "innerwordly" behavior (intent, interior attitudes, subjective states) and his external behavior so that the two sort of travel in separate, uncommunicative planes or dimensions. But John Paul insists strongly that there can be no separation between faith and morality, just like there can be no separation between freedom and truth.

John Paul II
Do not divide the "ethical order" from the "order of salvation"

It is opposed to Catholic doctrine, the Pope says, to entertain the belief that there is an "ethical order, which would be human in origin and of value for this world alone," and another order, and "order of salvation, for which only certain intentions and interior attitudes regarding God and neighbor would be significant." VS, 37.

The separation of morality, a matter relegated to reason alone, from salvation, a matter involving faith alone, is condemned by the Pope as outside the authentic Christian tradition. We have become accustomed to separate and compartmentalize reason from faith, so that each have their own separate chambers, their own separate spheres. Such a notion stems, at least in some of its manifestations, from Luther's false distinction between faith and works. Since for Luther salvation was a matter of faith alone, and works were not pertinent to salvation, the internal disposition of faith was emphasized in his doctrine as preeminent over the external acts of man. As a consequence, morality was minimized and made irrelevant to the matter of salvation. Pecca fortiter, sed fortius fide! Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still! Luther scandalously wrote. Such a man who has said this (Luther) has separated the moral life from the religious life. There is tendency, then, as a result of this line of thinking, to divide the moral world, which is secular, from the world of faith, religious. Morality thus became separate and apart from the religious life, and individual moral acts became less important and a man's "fundamental option" became important, and absolute or exceptionless norms are rejected in the name of "proportionalism," which was a sort of pseudo-consequentialism or pseudo-utilitarianism.

The moral theologian Livio Melina explains how the separation of morality from religion introduced by Luther's novel and erroneous teachings of sola fide and sola gratia crept into the theories of Catholic theologians and threatened the traditional Catholic view of the intimate relationship between faith and morals, between faith and works. Though Melina's analysis is somewhat technical, it encapsulates the error the Pope is referring to, and traces, further, its originating source and its shows what consequences result from adopting this line of thinking.

The separation of faith from morals stems, in Melina's view, from Luther's erroneous theories of justification, which separated faith from works, and made works irrelevant to the issue of salvation.*

Thus, on the level of this secularized morality, it may be necessary and even obligatory, according to Luther, to perform actions against the divine law. Hence these would be only a lesser evil to be entrusted to the divine mercy. In a historical situation marked by sin, the divine law has an elencthicus value in that it refutes the claim that one is just through one's own works. In this sense, the law is absolute but impracticable for sinful man. It also has a secondary value, civilis or politicus, in that it promotes harmonious social intercourse, but then it no longer obligates in an absolute way. The passage from the perspective of personal morality to that of social utility brings with it concurrently a transformation from the prudence of a genetrix virtutum (mother of virtues) stamp to that of the gubernatrix artium (the principle of government by technical calculation). . . . Therefore, in the Lutheran perspective, morality, disjoined from its connection with salvation and from a rootedness in faith, finds two roads open to it: on the one side, it becomes social utilitarianism, on the other philanthropic altruism. . . .
This sort of thinking had crept into the thought of Catholic theologians (such as Joseph Fuchs), who differentiated between a this-worldly ethic (Weltethos) and an order of salvation (Heilsethos). Livio Melina explains the issue and why it is important that the Pope address it. Although the quote is lengthy, it merits being included in full:
The separation of morality from the salvation context therefore represents an important [negative] factor in the development of modern ethics. It has also had repercussions with regard to Catholic moral theology. In fact, the acceptance of the rational autonomy of morality, and consequently of the proportionalist method, was brought about through a theological distinction, in my opinion one strongly inspired by the Lutheran concept described above. This involves a differentiation, of which mention is made in Veritatis splendor at no. 37, between a this-world ethical order (Weltethos) and and "order of salvation" (Heilsethos).**

The order of salvation is linked to the moral goodness of the person and his "transcendental" attitude toward the Good as such. It is in this interior and formal sphere of intention, of his acceptance or not of God and of his brothers, that the eternal destiny and the salvation of man is played out. And this is also the sphere in which moral absolutes may be advanced that are valid without exception, but that may be referred precisely only to general attitudes. At this level a fundamental freedom is operative, one that has reference to the free choice of the subject as a whole and is therefore athematic: the level, in a word, that it is usual to call "fundamental options."

The order of this-worldly ethical action, which moves on a horizontal plane, is linked instead to the area of the rightness of concrete actions. It is found in proportion that actions promote a better state of affairs in this world, and hence it depends on a rational calculation of the advantages and disadvantages deriving from the action. On this level of action, taken in its exteriority, the calculating reason is completely autonomous in establishing particular norms for actions that will have only general and indicative value and which are always to be further evaluated in concrete circumstances. On the level of the "category" of actions, it would not therefore present ethical norms that are "specifically Christian." An error in this area would not have consequences in the order of salvation but only negative consequences on the exterior plane.

There derives from this a cascade of ecclesiological consequences of the greatest seriousness: if the moral area that concerns salvation is the transcendental one of the goodness of the person and not that of the rightness of the acts, then Sacred Scripture has nothing "revealed" to tell us about this-worldly activity but only exhortations about general attitudes. These have only a "paranetic," exhortative, and not instructive character. Consequently also, tradition and the magisterium could not claim any specific authority concerning concrete norms for acting, a task that would belong exclusively to autonomous reason. Salvation would, in fact, be decided in a fundamental transcendental option and not in the concrete choices involved in particular actions.***
The "order of salvation" operates in one plane, the "order of ethics" in another: "good" is separate from "right," and never the twain shall meet. There are no absolute, exceptionless norms in the "order of ethics," where the issues of "right" and "wrong" are governed by autonomous reason. Religion deals only with generalities, and it is a mistake to suggest that Scripture, or the teachings of the Church, or, for that matter, God, ought to be involved with concrete life in the "order of ethics," where man is essentially autonomous. What is important, in terms of salvation, is one's general attitudes, one's "fundamental option," whether one is "good" or "bad," and not whether one is "right" or "wrong" in the area of ethics, and so long as that generally remains open to God and to neighbor, one need not concern oneself with some sort of "legalistic" and "slavish" obedience to individual commandments.

Obviously, this separation of faith and morals is repugnant to the Church's traditional teaching which are based upon those of Jesus, especially as reflected in the Gospel story of the interaction between the rich young ruler and Jesus. This artificial separation between the "ethical order" and the "order of salvation" has the following effect:

This has then led to an actual denial that there exists, in Divine Revelation, a specific and determined moral content, universally valid and permanent. The word of God would be limited to proposing an exhortation, a generic paraenesis, which the autonomous reason alone would then have the task of completing with normative directives which are truly "objective", that is, adapted to the concrete historical situation. Naturally, an autonomy conceived in this way also involves the denial of a specific doctrinal competence on the part of the Church and her Magisterium with regard to particular moral norms which deal with the so-called "human good". Such norms would not be part of the proper content of Revelation, and would not in themselves be relevant for salvation.

No one can fail to see that such an interpretation of the autonomy of human reason involves positions incompatible with Catholic teaching.

VS, 37.

Here, then, is the reason the Pope has issued the encyclical: to address the modern tendencies, particularly among some modern Catholic theologians, which separate freedom from truth, and the order of ethics (morality) from the order of salvation (faith), and rend man into life in two incommunicative orders:
In such a context it is absolutely necessary to clarify, in the light of the word of God and the living Tradition of the Church, the fundamental notions of human freedom and of the moral law, as well as their profound and intimate relationship. Only thus will it be possible to respond to the rightful claims of human reason in a way which accepts the valid elements present in certain currents of contemporary moral theology without compromising the Church's heritage of moral teaching with ideas derived from an erroneous concept of autonomy.

The Pope insists, like Jesus did to the rich young man, that freedom cannot be severed from moral truth, that moral truth is accessible to man, that the moral is an objective, normative order. He insists, further, that the order of ethics, of concrete action in the here-and-now, is not something foreign to or separate from revealed teaching. Faith (and moral theology) and ethics (and reason) are not two separate worlds, but are inextricably intertwined, like body and soul.

Freedom, truth, reason, faith. The Pope would have them all. The Pope will not give short shrift to any, will not oppose one to the other, or will not separate one from the other. They are all conjoined, and what God has joined no man ought to put asunder.

*The Lutheran view of separating works from salvation, of course, and the erroneous moral theories advanced by certain Catholic theologians that rely on it, are directly opposed to Christ's teaching to the rich young man. That is why John Paul II spent such a significant time meditating on the interaction between Jesus and the young Jew.
**As an example, Melina cites to Joseph Fuchs, "Moral Truths--Truths of Salvation?, chap. 4 of his
Christian Ethics in a Secular Arena (Bernard Hoose and Brian McNeil, trans.) (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1984), 48-69.
**Livio Melina,
Sharing in Christ's Virtues (William May, trans.) (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 94-96.

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