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.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 17--Law Immutable

THE NATURAL LAW, based upon as it is on truth, on the created nature of man, must needs be universal and universally binding. There is no man who can claim an exemption to the natural moral law.* The universality of the natural law does not detract from the dignity of any individual man. Indeed, the universal law underlies this very dignity in individuality and individuality in dignity, for the moment one acts, under the banner of a false freedom, in departure from it, one has lost the very dignity of living in accord with one's nature (in other words acting with right reason) and in accord with reality (in other words, with what is).

This universal moral law is also immutable: unchanging and unchangeable.

Modern man, of course, likes to point to its knowledge of other times and other cultures and to the diversity of customs and societal mores as evidence that the natural law cannot be immutable. It is doubtful that ancient man was not also aware that his neighboring tribe or neighboring country did things differently, so modern knowledge is not particularly unique from ancient knowledge on this issue except perhaps by in its quantity and sophistication. Modern man is most eager to suppose that what was considered a universal and immutable moral principle in the past ought not to continue to be binding in light of the progress humanity has achieved, in science, medicine, and other technology and technique. He looks at himself in a historically chauvinistic or hubristic sense.

Without question man lives in culture, but he does not only live in culture. He may be said, in some sense, to have the ability to act outside of his culture. He can, and does, frequently criticize the culture within which he lives. History abounds with reformers and revolutionaries.

It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture, but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man which transcends those cultures. This "something" is precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being.

VS, 53.

Of course, the reformer or revolutionary may also get it wrong: it may be that his culture enshrines a reasonable way of living, and the reformer and revolutionary errs. Or it may by that while he sees some errors, he is yet blind to other errors of his culture, to his time and to his place. Yet the principle remains unaffected. Man is more than his culture, and he is able to critique it, criticize it, advocate change with reference to a nature, to a truth outside of it. Man is not absolutely conditioned or defined by the contingent culture in which he lives. That he is able to transcend the contigencies of his culture is evidence that there is something above culture, and that something is his nature, and the law that is therein found.

While man can change his culture, he cannot change his nature, even those dealing with his body.
To call into question the permanent structural elements of man which are connected with his own bodily dimension would not only conflict with common experience, but would render meaningless Jesus' reference to the "beginning", precisely where the social and cultural context of the time had distorted the primordial meaning and the role of certain moral norms (cf. Mt 19:1-9).
VS, 53.

There are some things, some moral realities, "which do not change and are ultimately founded upon Christ, 'who is the same yesterday and today and for ever.'" VS, 53 (referencing Hebrews 13:8). Christ, one might remember, is the fulfillment of the law, the end or culmination of the law, by which is meant, the natural moral law. He is an exemplar of living within the natural moral law, a law which he did not break in any regard, but kept in all its fullness and rigor. Christ is like us in all things but sin, which means he shared our human nature, its moral demands, but never failed or violated those moral demands. Christ was not only God: he was the perfect human. He was the hypostatic union of Eternal Law and Natural Law. "Christ is the 'Beginning,'" the Pope says, "who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbor." VS, 53. He may also have said that Christ is the "End" or "Telos" who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbor. In his humanity, Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of the natural law. In his divinity, Christ is the Eternal Law. Christ shows us the way: indeed He is The Way.

So how is one to distinguish what is contingent from what is immutable and permanent? If the revolutionary, the reformer can sometimes get it wrong, how are we to judge the reformer's message? When circumstances do change, how are we to determine how, in such new circumstances, we are to act morally? Those needs exist. "Certainly," the Pope observes, "there is a need to seek out and discover the most adequate formulation for universal and permanent moral norms in the light of different cultural contexts, a formulation most capable of ceaselessly expression their historical relevance, of making them understood and of authentically interpreting their truth." VS, 53.

Here is where Christ, the witness of his life, the content of his teachings on the moral law, of his power and authority, which he gave to the Church in his command that it teach all nations (Matt. 28:19) hold such value for the entire human species:

This truth of the moral law [haec legis moralis veritas] — like that of the "deposit of faith" [fidei depositi]— unfolds down the centuries: the norms expressing that truth remain valid in their substance, but must be specified and determined "eodem sensu eademque sententia"** [in the same sense and in the same judgment/opinion/meaning] in the light of historical circumstances by the Church's Magisterium, whose decision is preceded and accompanied by the work of interpretation and formulation characteristic of the reason of individual believers and of theological reflection.***

VS, 53.

The encyclical makes clear: Moralis Ecclesiae doctrinae progressus similis est fidei doctrinae. "The development of the Church's moral doctrine is similar to that of the doctrine of the faith." VS, 53,n. 100. It does so under the guide of the Church's teaching voice, a voice given to her by Christ Jesus. He who hears the Church, hears Christ. (cf. Luke 10:16)

Two examples may be given of authentic development of these universal and immutable precepts under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium or teaching office: one of development and one of application of moral principles to new circumstances. The first is the Church's development of the moral teaching regarding chattel slavery which took some time to develop until it was given extraordinary infallible pronunciation by Leo XIII in his encyclical In Plurimis.† The second may be the Church's application of universal and immutable moral principles to issues of biotechnological issues relating to research on embryonic stem cells and other matters relating to bioethics in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instruction Dignitas personae (On Certain Bioethical Questions).

*This, of course, means all men (and their laws and religions) can be judged by it. So the natural law is a particularly useful tool for common discourse and for judgment of the injustice or justice of human laws, and the truth or falsity of the moral doctrines of a religion.
**The phrase, eodem sense eadeqmque sententia [inthe same sense and in the same judgment/opinion/meaning] is taken from St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium Primum, c.23 [PG 50, 668]. These words, of course, refer to the doctrine of the faith, not of morals, but the Pope applies them to the doctrine of morals. Accordingly, the authority the Church has over the teachings of faith, she has over the teachings of morals. Since morals are ultimately based upon the natural moral law, the Church's authority authentically to teach on the natural law, and the gift it has from the Lord Jesus to teach infallibly, means that the Church is the universal teacher of all mankind.
Mater et magistra gentium a Christo Iesu ob eam causam catholica Ecclesia constituta est! "Mother and Teacher of all nations—such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ!" Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 1. In fact, the encyclical itself makes it clear that the Church has an authority over the natural moral law analogous to the authority it has over the deposit of the faith: "The words spoken by John XXIII at the opening of the Second Vatican Council can also be applied to moral doctrine: 'This certain and unchanging teaching (i.e., Christian doctrine in its completeness), to which the faithful owe obedience, needs to be more deeply understood and set forth in a way adapted to the needs of our time. Indeed, this deposit of the faith, the truths contained in our time-honored teaching, is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.' AAS 54 (1962), 792; cf. L'Osservatore Romano, October 12, 1962, p. 2." VS, 53 n. 100.
†This remarkable encyclical is handled by Lex Christianorum in three postings: See Leo XIII's In Plurimis: Natural Law and Slavery, Part 1, Leo XIII's In Plurmis: Natural Law and Slavery, Part 2, and Leo XIII's In Plurimis: Natural Law and Slavery, Part 3.

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