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, August 2, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 6--The Law of Grace

THE RICH YOUNG MAN HAD THE opportunity of a lifetime: a personal invitation from Christ to follow him into the perfection of eternal life. It is one of the great tragedies of the Gospel that Christ's invitation was too much for the "bourgeois" Jew. Christ's demand appeared too onerous, too burdensome for the rich young man, and the poignancy of the youth turning his back on Christ's offer is poignant; horribly tragic; it is a deep symbol of the human incapacity to follow Jesus if left to its own devices. Unaided, man cannot follow the Lord. Such a call exceeds his natural capacities. The rich young ruler, who turns his back on the Lord Christ in sorrow, is surprised by the demand of discipleship. But even Christ's disciples, those who are following Christ, who have given up all to follow him, are clearly shaken by what they have just witnessed:

Not only the rich man but the disciples themselves are taken aback by Jesus' call to discipleship, the demands of which transcend human aspirations and abilities: "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?'" (Mt 19:25). But the Master refers them to God's power: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Mt 19:26).

VS, 22. Christ's invitation overwhelms human nature. To follow Christ requires supernatural grace:
To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for man by his own strength alone. He becomes capable of this love only by virtue of a gift received. As the Lord Jesus receives the love of his Father, so he in turn freely communicates that love to his disciples: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love" (Jn 15:9). Christ's gift is his Spirit, whose first "fruit" (cf. Gal 5:22) is charity: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).
VS, 22.

The invitation to follow Christ is not an invitation to neglect or turn one's back on the commandments as if it were an invitation to antinomianism, lawlessness, moral anarchy. The suggestion that Christ, who fulfilled the natural moral law and all its precepts perfectly, would invite men to moral lawlessness is absurd. Rather, the invitation to follow Christ is an invitation to a way of fulfilling, to a supereminent degree, the love of God and neighbor which underlies those commandments. Pope John Paul II here invokes the words of St. Augustine:*
Does love bring about the keeping of the commandments, or does the keeping of the commandments bring about love? But who can doubt that love comes first? For the one who does not love has no reason for keeping the commandment.

Dilectio facit praecepta servari, an praecepta servata faciunt dilectionem? Sed quis ambigat quod dilectio praecedit? Unde enim praecepta servet non habet, qui non diligit.

The commandments that were revealed to Moses, and the equivalent precepts that are part of the natural law that the Gentiles know in their hearts, "The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled."
--St. Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 19, 34.
are a sort of standard that beat down upon man. One thinks here of the vivid scene in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, where the character Faithful attempts to run uphill away from the sins of Adam and is overtaken by Moses, who strikes him three times with the tablets of the Decalogue, leaving Faithful almost dead. The event is expressed in the dialogue between Faithful and Christian:
Faithful. But, good brother, hear me out: so soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow; for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so? He said, because of my secret inclining to Adam the first; and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward, so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So when I came to myself again, I cried him mercy; but he said, "I know not how to show mercy, "and with that knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bade him forbear.

Christian. Who was that that bade him forbear?

Faithful. I did not know him at first; but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and in his side; then I concluded that He was our Lord. So I went up the hill.

Christian. That man that overtook you was Moses; he spares none, neither knows he how to show mercy to those that transgress his law.

Christ intervening to prevent Moses from killing Faithful

The law's role, as St. Paul teaches in his epistle to the Romans, is a tutor that leads us to Christ; the law of Moses cannot alone save, and its role is principally pedagogic. It teaches us of what is the good, and it teaches us that we are unable to comply with the commandments in their fullness.

[T]he pedagogic function of the Law . . . [enables] sinful man to take stock of his own powerlessness and [strips] him of the presumption of his self-sufficiency, [and] leads him to ask for and to receive "life in the Spirit". Only in this new life is it possible to carry out God's commandments. Indeed, it is through faith in Christ that we have been made righteous (cf. Rom 3:28): the "righteousness" which the Law demands, but is unable to give, is found by every believer to be revealed and granted by the Lord Jesus.

VS, 23. It is apparent that the truth that the Puritan Bunyan tried to express in his allegory of the Christian life Pilgrim's Progress, is the same truth that John Paul II expresses in this part of Veritatis Splendor. This truth is expressed in an absolutely delightful and succinct way by the redoubtable Catholic doctor of grace St. Augustine:**
The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled.

Lex ergo data est, ut gratia quaereretur, gratia data est, ut lex impleretur.
There is a difference, then, between the commandments--the Ten Commandments, which is to say the natural law--and the command of Christ to come and follow him. The Ten Commandments are, to some degree, within the grasp of man. He can find them in his heart, in his conscience, and he can, through reason even if by difficulty become aware of them. They are natural laws, based upon reason, and do not rely upon faith. Man of course can abide by them in part, externally (as the rich young ruler apparently did). And for that reason, the natural law can be the subject of legislation. The natural law, summarized in the Ten Commandments of Moses and in the Golden Rule, are binding upon all men, and no man's rights are infringed if human legislation reasonably enforces the natural moral law, or reasonably punishes its infraction.

Though there is no man who has kept all Ten Commandments in all their purity and expanse, that is, the entirety of the natural law, in each and ever instance of his life, the commandments can be thought of as obligatory precepts. Obedience to them can be coerced for the sake of the common good.

Christ's invitation to follow him, however, must not be thought of as a precept built upon reason (though it certainly is not an invitation that is irrational or unreasonable). Nor is it an invitation whose acceptance can be compelled. This is because Christ's invitation to us to follow him is not, except to the extent we are generally obliged by the natural law to worship God as he may reveal himself to us, a matter of the natural law. Rather, it is an invitation into an entirely different order: the order of Grace, the order of the Spirit, all of which takes us outside the realm of nature into the realm of the supernatural, into eternal life. This following of Christ is what distinguishes the ethics of a Christian (who is obliged to view the natural law as preceptive) and the ethics of a Jew or a righteous Pagan or even the Atheist (who likewise are obliged to view the natural law as preceptive):
Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept, because what they demand is beyond man's abilities. They are possible only as the result of a gift of God who heals, restores and transforms the human heart by his grace: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1:17). The promise of eternal life is thus linked to the gift of grace, and the gift of the Spirit which we have received is even now the "guarantee of our inheritance" (Eph 1:14).
VS, 23.

The commandment to follow Christ is one founded upon an absolute free response to the gratuitous invitation by Christ to enter into a life where the Spirit of love is chief. So chief is love, that the same St. Augustine who wrote about obedience to the commandments--and so in no wise could be characterized as advocating lawlessness--could say in his inimitable way: Love God and do anything you will. Dilige et quod vis fac.***

*St. Augustine, In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 82, 3: CCL 36, 533.
**St. Augustine,
De Spiritu et Littera, 19, 34: CSEL 60,187.
***In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos, Tractatus VII, 8: "Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt [dilige et quod vis fac]: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good."

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