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, September 18, 2011

Duns Scotus: Deus est diligendus! God is to be loved!

DEUS EST DILIGENDUS, God is to be loved, is the first principle of natural morality in the schema of Duns Scotus. The first principle is also revealed in Scripture: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Deut. 6:5; 10:12. But whether natural or revealed is of no moment, for irrespective of the source of morality:

[The first principle of morality, God is to be loved] obligates because it is axiomatic; it is a self-evident consequence of the very meaning of God and love. The principle holds universally--under all possible circumstances, for all rational agents, always.

Wolter, xii. Not only is the self-evident law Deus est diligendus the first principle of morality according to Scotus, it is essentially the only principle of morality in the strict sense. One might say (though this is not in the Scotist vocabulary) that this is the one eternal law. All other moral laws are radically contingent; they arise from the act of creation wherein God ordered his creation to participate in this one dynamic principle in the manner he willed. It is God's will--his decision regarding what relationships ought to exist among his creatures--that further defines the precise manner in which his creatures are to participate in the one law: Deus est diligendus.
Now the interesting point . . . is that among the interrelationships connecting creatures to one another, especially the ones binding man to man, but also man to nature, those that are morally obligatory do not express anything that could not logically or really be otherwise.
Wolter, xiii. According to Scotus, God was free to create the world in whatever manner he wanted subject only to the principle that Deus est diligendus. Creation and its order, just like being, depend radically upon God's will. Morality follows the contingency of creation as "the content of morality participates in the radical contingency of finite reality." This means that morality is likewise radically contingent. The ratio (reason) of creation and the ratio of morality all are bound up in the voluntas Dei (the will of God), and not the ratio of God. Not that the voluntas Dei contradicts the ratio Dei, but that ratio Dei is unlimited in its fecundity, and it is limited only by its decision to act in the manner that the will of God has acted. All creation, and all natural law, is contingent in that, had God willed otherwise, creation and natural law would have been otherwise.

Duns Scotus
(Detail from Painting of St. Albert the Great and Duns Scotus by A. Aspertini)

There is only one slender--though infinitely powerful and invariable--stop to any sort of relativism: the authority of God. While creation and morality may be radically contingent from the perspective of God, once God's will has decided, the morality is binding upon its creation.

The checkrein on moral relativism is Divine Authority. The order of creation reflects a judgment on God's part that certain relationships ought to obtain among finite entities because it is a most suitable and exceedingly fitting way for all things to participate in Divine Love. In the act of creation, therefore, God's decision concerning the harmony of goodness in the universe becomes natural law.

Wolter, xiii. It is as if God were a divine master who decides to paint on the canvas of his creation a painting with the theme Deus est diligendus, and with all the creativity, tools, techniques, and media at his disposal, he paints a particular masterpiece, one among myriads he could have painted. And it is the artisitic will that implements that painting of creation that determines what is good, what is good for the creature (bonum ipsi) and what is good in itself (bonum in se). It is these divinely willed goods that determine the natural law which is ordered to the good. Had God willed the painting another way, good would have been different, and the natural law would have been another, though it still would have expressed in its way the supreme law Deus est diligendus, for this is the one artistic law that is unable to be violated.

For the Scotist, God is not a thinker, a mathematician or logician, God is a lover, and artist, a poet. The vantage point of the Scotist is remarkably different from the vantage point of the Thomist, and yet, are they not seeing the same God and the same natural law in different ways?

The above has to do with the objective aspect of the moral law. We need to look at the subjective aspect. How, once determined by God in the choices made in the act of creation, is the natural law communicated to the rational creature, man? This takes us into the subjective component of Scotist moral thinking. Here, the Scotist settles into a more conventional view: "Scotus is a right reason theorist." Wolter, xiii. Man has been given the means to comprehend and analyze the entire ensemble of components that in the aggregate compose the moral decision: the object of the act, the agent's intent and knowledge, the end of the act, and the circumstances surrounding the act. Wolter, xiii. Taking all these factors into consideration and ordering them by right reason yields the result of what ought to be done and what ought to be avoided.

Duns Scotus takes the concept of the radical contingency of the objective natural law with the concept of right reason as the subjective means for knowing that objective albeit contingent law, and blends them. Some commentators of Scotus have seen these two aspects of his moral thought as irreconcilable. The radical contingency of the natural law and right reason are antinomies. Some have simply ignored Scotus's insistence that right reason can grasp the moral law despite its radical contingency, and have accused Scotus of propagating a version of ethics so voluntaristic and dependent upon an arbitrary will of God that reason cannot know it. But these seem to be misconceptions, as Scotus held not only that the natural law was contingent upon God's will, but that it also could be known through right reason. It is this unique blending which allows Scotus to analyze the so-called second tablet of the Decalogue and address the issue of the precepts relating to murder, theft, adultery, lying, and so forth.

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