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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 4--Love of Neighbor in Ten Ways or One

IT IS RATHER SURPRISING that a well-informed Jew should ask which of the commandments he ought to keep to do good to have eternal life. To us it seems obvious that he ought to keep all ten. It is likely, however, that the rich young man was not thinking of the Decalogue (which is considered a summary of the natural law), but perhaps those large number of commandments that would later be called the Taryag Mitzvot (תריג מצוות‎), a list of 613 commandments which the entire Law of Moses covered, and which included basics from believing that God exists to such things such as putting tzitzit (fringes) on the corners and techeilet or blue stripes on their prayer shawls (tallit), or tefillin on the head and arms while praying.* The young man seems to be asking Jesus whether the entirety of the requirements were essential for salvation.

A Jew with fringed tallit and tefillin

If this was what was in the young man's mind when asking the question, then Jesus' answer becomes particularly significant because it indicates an intent on Christ's part to abrogate that part of the Law of Moses that deals with ceremonial, juridical, and customary precepts, leaving only its natural law component.

As we mentioned in our earlier postings, Christ had already directed the young man's attention to God and those commandments implied by his very existence. So Christ elaborates on those parts of the Decalogue--the natural law--that deal with relations among men:

Jesus reminds him of the commandments of the Decalogue regarding one's neighbor: "Jesus said: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself' " (Mt 19:18-19).

VS, 13. Christ's meaning is plain. He cites some of the commandments as a synecdoche, a pars pro toto; that is, Jesus refers to part of the ten commandments, emphasizing those pertaining to the "second tablet" or those dealing with one's neighbor, to refer to the whole of the commandments. As John Paul II puts it:
From the context of the conversation, and especially from a comparison of Matthew's text with the parallel passages in Mark and Luke,** it is clear that Jesus does not intend to list each and every one of the commandments required in order to "enter into life", but rather wishes to draw the young man's attention to the "centrality" of the Decalogue with regard to every other precept, inasmuch as it is the interpretation of what the words "I am the Lord your God" mean for man.
VS, 13.

Christ then summarizes the essence of the "second tablet" of the Ten Commandments by citing to the Golden Rule: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Dilige proximum tuum sicut teipsum.

The Golden Rule, which might be called the golden commandment, is a recognition of the personhood and dignity of man: "In this commandment," John Paul II tells us, "we find a precise expression of the singular dignity of the human person, 'the only creature that God has wanted for its own sake.'" VS, 13 (quoting GS, 24) The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule are norms that presuppose our personhood, for they are efforts to synthesize the good of the person as a soul and body in relation to God, to himself, to his neighbor, and to the world. They thus embody both rights inherent in us as human persons and duties or obligations which we as persons owe to others as persons.

The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods. "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness" are moral rules formulated in terms of prohibitions. These negative precepts express with particular force the ever urgent need to protect human life, the communion of persons in marriage, private property, truthfulness and people's good name.

VS, 13.

The Rich Young Ruler and Jesus
Heinrich Hoffmann ( 1824-1911)

The majority of the commandments are negative: they proscribe conduct and in some cases internal movements (coveting). As such they provide limited, but valuable guidance. The commandments thus are not more than the "basic condition for love of neighbor." They are in a sense the irreducible minimum or starting point of a discipleship with Jesus. If we do not practice them, then we know we do not love our neighbor, for abiding in them is "proof of that love" of neighbor. That is why the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule--that is, the natural law--are "the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom." Keeping the natural law is not the end of our life, they are "its starting point," eius initium. We cannot love unless we keep our commandments, nor can we be free unless we keep the commandments. Keeping the commandments is a sine qua non, an absolute and necessary precondition to our being free and being able to love. Conversely, any violation of the commandments is a step toward slavery, is a blemish on love. Quoting St. Augustine, John Paul emphasizes the necessary, but not sufficient quality of abiding by the negative precepts:

The beginning of freedom is to be free from crimes... such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom . . . .

VS, 13.

In mentioning those commandments specific to the interaction with one's neighbor, Christ is not reducing or minimizing the duty to God, and lest one be tempted to misunderstand Christ's teaching here, John Paul II reminds us of Christ's conversation with the teacher of the Law (Luke 10:25-25-28) The doctor of the Law who asked Christ a similar question to the young man is referred to the summary of the Decalogue reduced to two: love of God and love of neighbor. The duty to God and the duty to neighbor are not to be separated, are not to be opposed, for on this double duty, on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:40). We have earlier mentioned in a prior postingthe epistle of St. John which links love of God and love of neighbor.(Cf. 1 John 4:20) Along these lines also are Christ's teachings about the final judgment and the harsh words and judgment meted out to those who ignored their neighbor's plights. (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). "Their inseparable unity," observes John Paul II, "is attested to by Christ in his words and by his very life: his mission culminates in the Cross of our Redemption (cf. Jn 3:14-15), the sign of his indivisible love for the Father and for humanity (cf. Jn 13:1)." VS, 14. It would be a travesty of Christian teaching to ignore both prongs of our obligations: it is God and neighbor, not God or neighbor.

Of course, Jesus does not share the entirety of his moral teaching with the young man. In particular he has not shared the sublimity of it as contained in in the Sermon on the Mount, what John Paul II calls the "magna charta of Gospel morality," qui disciplinae moralis evangelicae est magna charta. VS, 15.

Nor does Christ fully reveal to the young man who the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled (though not abolished) in him. "Jesus himself is the living "fulfillment" of the Law ," as John Paul II states, "inasmuch as he fulfills its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: he himself becomes a living and personal Law, who invites people to follow him; through the Spirit, he gives the grace to share his own life and love and provides the strength to bear witness to that love in personal choices and actions." VS, 15.
Christ is the center of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfillment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants. Commenting on Paul's statement that "Christ is the end of the law" (Rom 10:4), Saint Ambrose writes: "end not in the sense of a deficiency, but in the sense of the fullness of the Law: a fullness which is achieved in Christ (plenitudo legis in Christo est), since he came not to abolish the Law but to bring it to fulfillment. In the same way that there is an Old Testament, but all truth is in the New Testament, so it is for the Law: what was given through Moses is a figure of the true law. Therefore, the Mosaic Law is an image of the truth"
VS, 15.

Finally, Christ does not reveal the interiority of the moral enterprise, and the preeminence of love as the driving force which urges us, indeed compels us, to go far beyond the commandments to a positive ebullient, rigorous, and sacrificial relationship with one's neighbor. This is the wonder of Christ's moral teaching: the steel of the law is coupled with the flesh and spirit of love and grace in a personal discipleship with Jesus, the one who is a living and personal Law.

None of this is made known to the rich young man. The rich young man is only an interrogator, an inquisitor; he is not yet a disciple initiated into the full measure of Christ's sublime moral teachings which take the concept of law, of commandments, of rules and--without preaching some sort of lawless moral anarchy or anomie--asks us to go beyond the law by engrafting the law of law upon it.

Thus the commandment "You shall not murder" becomes a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbor. The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body . . . .

VS, 15.

No, the entirety of the sublime moral teachings of Christ, Christ keeps in reserve, waiting for an additional invitation from the rich young man, who appears to be at the threshold of discipleship with Jesus. The young man is at a crossroads, a crisis. He stands before Christ, and he will have to decide in freedom whether to follow the "Good Teacher," or whether to decline to do so.

The young man is not quite satisfied with Christ's reference to the commandments, for he has kept the commandments and is still apparently dissatisfied. So he follows Christ's succinct reply with another question: "I have kept all these," he tells Jesus, "what do I still lack?" Matt. 19:20.

By keeping the commandments, the man has prepared his soul to receive the mystery of Christ. He has been tutored in the Law, a tutorship which should naturally lead to an encounter with Christ and an embracing of his message as the desire, the fulfillment to that which the Law is ordered, its end and raison d'être. The young man, it would seem, is a Jewish fruit ready for plucking, ready for the call to discipleship.

And he--like every man,woman, and child--is about to be invited by the Lord Christ himself.
*For a list and explanation of the 613 Mitzvot and a good explanation in English one might refer to
**Matthew lists the negative prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and the positive precept of honoring one's father and mother. In Luke, the list is the same as in Matthew. Mark includes all those of Matthew, but adds a prohibition against defrauding another. Mark and Matthew add the Golden Rule. Luke's version does not have the Golden Rule. Compare Matt. 19:18, Luke 18:20; Mark 10:19.

Veritatis Splendor: Part 3--Two Lanterns and the New Moses

AS WE OBSERVED IN OUR LAST POSTING, Jesus has answered the rich young man with a question which he immediately answers. This is the first half of his response and is an oblique reference to the so-called "first tablet" of the Ten Commandments, recognized to be a summary of the requirements of the natural law. It is a prologue which introduces the subject of the good, namely, that all good comes from God, and must, even if implicitly, refer to him.

Jesus continues his answer inasmuch that it is still incomplete. Jesus knows that which his disciple would later write in one of his short epistles: "If any one say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20). Jesus, therefore, answers: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." Matt. 19:17. To seek the good means to do good, and that means to do good in relation not only to God, but also to our fellow man.

In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II meditates on Christ's continuing answer. In a way, John Paul II observes, the rich young man did not have to ask Christ about the good, because he already knows about the good. In other words, Christ's answer is not so much a "revelation," as it is a "confirmation" of what the man already knows. Why is this? Because "God has already given an answer to this question." How? God "did so by creating man and ordering him with wisdom and love to his final end, through the law which is inscribed in his heart (cf. Rom. 2:15), the 'natural law.'" VS, 12 (per legem in ipsius corde inscriptam, 'legem naturae'). But even more than this, the young man is heir to the "gift of the Decalogue," the "'ten words', the commandments of Sinai," and so he knows the answer as a result of his acceptance of the divine revelation through the prophet and lawgiver, Moses.

What the young man does not know is that the law that he has in his heart, and the Mosaic law that he learned from youth, would be written in his heart anew by the one he has just called Good Teacher, the Lord Jesus who would give a New Covenant and a New Law.

But before we can get to that we need to focus on some preliminaries. First, John Paul II has referred to the natural law. What is the natural law? John Paul II refers to St. Thomas Aquinas for a summary definition of the natural law:

[Lex naturalis] nihil aliud est nisi lumen intellectus insitum nobis a Deo, per quod cognoscimus quid agendum et quid vitandum. Hoc lumen et hanc legem dedit Deus homini in creatione.

[Natural law] is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.

VS, 12*

There is perhaps a reason why Pope John Paul II selected this particular quote. It blends in its definition the notion of "light" and "law," and in fact makes them synonymous. The law is light. Hoc lumen is hanc legem. The natural law, then, is not something which darkens our life, limits it, constrains man's liberty. On the contrary, it is seen as the source of light, of splendor, of enlightenment. It is an internal light, and internal lantern, placed there by God as a natural gift, a natural grace, a first grace.

The rich young man carries within his heart, this light, this law, and so it is that he already knows the answer to the question he has asked Jesus. But as we noted above, the young Jew knows this law in another way. As John Paul II explains it:
[God] also [answered the young man's question about the good] in the history of Israel, particularly in the "ten words", the commandments of Sinai, whereby he brought into existence the people of the Covenant (cf. Ex 24) and called them to be his "own possession among all peoples", "a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6), which would radiate his holiness to all peoples (cf. Wis 18:4; Ez 20:41).
VS, 12.

Note here how John Paul II continues his them of equating law and light. The natural law was light, and so is the Mosaic Ten Commandments: these "ten words" "radiate" the very holiness of God, the very rays of light that God placed in man when he created him.

The Lord with Two Lanterns (Amiens Cathedral)
"And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps"
(Zeph. 1:12)

We are therefore not talking about to laws which oppose each other, but about laws whose content is the same, but whose manifestation or communication is different. It is as if we are on a journey through darkness and instead of one lantern, we have two. We see better with two lanterns, though they radiate the same light. The revealed law is therefore not unnecessary. The Lord has gave the Jew two lanterns: the natural law and the law of Moses, particularly the Ten Commandments.

In fact, the revealed law, the "gift of the Decalogue," Decalogi donum, which is at the center of the Lord's covenant with Israel, is a harbinger, a sign which itself a promise of a New Covenant, at the heart of which, of course, is the Lord Jesus himself, the "new Moses." VS, 12. The young Jew is to come face to face with the great miracle of grace building upon nature:

The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart (cf. Jer 31:31-34), replacing the law of sin which had disfigured that heart (cf. Jer 17:1). In those days, "a new heart" would be given, for in it would dwell "a new spirit", the Spirit of God (cf. Ez 36:24-28).

VS, 12. Since the Decalogue is a promise and a sign of the New Covenant, we would expect there to be some analogy between the Old Covenant ushered in by the Ten Words and the New Covenant ushered in by the Word. Not only is there an analogy, there is a reconfirmation of the Ten Words of the Old Covenant as part of the New Covenant, the New Law. The Ten Words are not abrogated, they are enriched and vivified in particular through Christ's teachings on the Sermon on the Mount.

But we get ahead of ourselves. What is important at this stage is Christ's clear teaching that the Ten Commandments survive the era of Grace. "If you wish to enter into life, keep the Commandments." The "new Moses," Jesus, reconfirms the law of the original Moses, and establishes without doubt the unbreakable connection between obedience to God's commandments (that is, the natural law) and eternal life.
Jesus tells the young man: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). In this way, a close connection is made between eternal life and obedience to God's commandments: God's commandments show man the path of life and they lead to it. From the very lips of Jesus, the new Moses, man is once again given the commandments of the Decalogue. Jesus himself definitively confirms them and proposes them to us as the way and condition of salvation.
VS, 12.

Like the Old Covenant, where the Ten Commandments were linked to the promise of the possession of the land of milk and honey, where freedom and righteousness flourished, the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant are linked to a promise. But this promise relates not to an earthly Israel, but a heavenly Israel, the "Kingdom of Heaven," "eternal life," "participation in the very life of God." True, the promise tied to keeping the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant is "attained in its perfection only after death." Yet "in faith it is even now a light of truth, a source of meaning for life, an inchoate share in the full following of Christ." VS, 12.

The natural law, the Ten Commandments: these are lights--one given naturally the other supernaturally through Moses, both confirmed by Christ, and both which enlighten our paths in the darkness--that show us the end for which we are made (which gives meaning to our lives), and tutor us, and prepare us for the "full following of Christ." Following the natural law and the Ten Commandments (which is the same thing) is essential for salvation, for eternal life, because these lights ultimately lead us to the "Light from Light," the "True God from true God," Christ Jesus,the Light of the World, and the Light of Life.
Christe Lux Mundi!
Qui sequitur te,
Habebit lumen vitae,
Lumen vitae.

Christ, Light of the world!
He who follows you
Shall have the light of life,
The light of life.

Christe Lux Mundi! by Taizé

Christ's answer would seem to be sufficient. But Christ's answer to the young man: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" does not seem to satisfy the young man. He asks what may seem an odd question for well-learned Jew: "Which ones?"

That question, and Christ's answer, as reflected upon by John Paul II, will be the subject of our next posting.
*The encyclical quotes Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. Prologus: Opuscula Theologica, II, No. 1129, Ed. Taurinen (1954), 245. It further cites to Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 91, a. 2 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1955.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 2-Deus, Bonus, Solus, Unus

THE RICH YOUNG MAN asked Jesus what good must he do to obtain eternal life, and Jesus responds to the question with a question, a question which is a challenge, and a question for which he awaits no response, as he answers it for the young man as immediately as he asks it:
Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.

Quid me interrogas de bono? Unus est bonus.
That's the version in Matthew's Gospel (Matt. 19:18); it uses the typical circumlocution of the Jew, and obliquely references God without use of the divine name. As is typical of the evangelist Mark, the Gospel of Mark (like the Gospel of Luke) directed toward the Gentile audience has no such scruple, and the answer to the question is more forthright, direct:
Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus nisis unus Deus.
For completion's sake, we include the dialogue in the Gospel of Luke:
"Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.

Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus nisi solus Deus.
Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19.

The rich young man called Jesus, "Good Teacher," Magister bonus, and Jesus does not question the title of Teacher, but he does question the adjective good. Why does he do this?

According to Pope John Paul II:

Jesus wishes the young man to have a clear idea of why he asked his question. The "Good Teacher" points out to him--and to all of us--that the answer to the question, "What good must I do to have eternal life?" can only be found by turning one's mind and heart to the "One" who is good. . . . Only God can answer the question about what is good, because he is the Good itself.

VS, 9. There is a wonderful equivalency if we blend the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and their reference to God: Deus, bonus, unus, solus. God, good, one, only. These are all synonyms: God, Being, Good, One. To ask what is good ipso facto references God. There is no good but that it comes from God, the font and origin of all that is good and thus our final end.

Icon of the Rich Young Man and Jesus
"Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one good."

It is, in fact, impossible to ask a moral question without reference to God. "To ask about the good, in fact, ultimately means to turn towards God." VS, 9. Likewise, it is impossible to answer a moral question without reference to God. And so the fundamental moral question is ultimately a religious question, the God question. The question of good is all wrapped up with the question of God, because only God is goodness itself, and all other goods have goodness only because they come from God and lead to God, the source of the participated goodness in creatures and creation which--though not God--are vestiges, likenesses, or, in the case of man, images of God.

If only God can answer the question about what is good, then it follows that the answer to the question supersedes ourselves and any human teacher or authority. We cannot ask the moral question as if there is no God. There is no room whatsoever for any etiamsi daremus non esse Deum.* While we can ask the question about what is good without explicit reference to God, that is with only implicit reference, it would seem that, in asking about the good, we cannot expressly leave God out of the question. If we expressly leave God out of the moral question, we are not asking the moral question. We no longer seek what is good. We are not the young man of the Gospel, asking the question what is good of the "Good Teacher." We are someone else, and we have asked someone else, and we have asked something else. An atheist or an agnostic is severely hampered in the moral life, as he has either excluded or bracketed the central core of moral question: God.

Since God alone is good, and he is the source of all good, it follows that God is our end, since he "alone is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity, and perfect happiness." VS, 9.

The answer to the question, what good one ought to do requires, then, a revelation from God, either one in the natural order or, more perfectly, one in the supernatural order. "What man is and what he must do becomes clear as soon as God reveals himself." Quod homo est et facere debet, tum patefit, cum Deus se ipsum revelat. VS, 10.
The moral life presents itself as the response due to the many gratuitous initiatives taken by God out of love for man. It is a response of love, according to the statement made in Deuteronomy about the fundamental commandment: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children" (Dt 6:4-7). Thus the moral life, caught up in the gratuitousness of God's love, is called to reflect his glory. . .
VS, 10. The moral life is then responsive to God's prior acts. We are not the initiators in the moral life: we are the responders to God's invitation, to his wooing, to his love. God loved us first, and it is this fact which elicits our response. We love because God loved us first. 1 John 4:19. Caritas Christi urget nos. 2 Cor. 5:14. The love of Christ compels us. The moral life is a free response to God's gratuitous act of love to us. Everything in the moral life is responsive to God's gratuitous first invitation, first act. We never act first. The moral life is always a response to God's grace, God's first gift.
But if God alone is the Good, no human effort, not even the most rigorous observance of the commandments, succeeds in "fulfilling" the Law, that is, acknowledging the Lord as God and rendering him the worship due to him alone (cf. Mt 4:10). This "fulfilment" can come only from a gift of God: the offer of a share in the divine Goodness revealed and communicated in Jesus, the one whom the rich young man addresses with the words "Good Teacher" (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18). What the young man now perhaps only dimly perceives will in the end be fully revealed by Jesus himself in the invitation: "Come, follow me" (Mt 19:21).
VS, 11.

So when Jesus interrupts the dialogue by responding to the young man's question with a question which he himself answers, he is referring the young man to God, the font of the moral question, and the beginning and the end of all good. It is also a direct reference to the "first tablet" of the Ten Commandments,** the moral response to the God who is good and who has revealed himself. The answer to the moral question--the answer to the question, "What good must I do"--involves, first and foremost, the obligation to give to God the worship that is due him for having loved us first:

The statement that "There is only one who is good" thus brings us back to the "first tablet" of the commandments, which calls us to acknowledge God as the one Lord of all and to worship him alone for his infinite holiness (cf. Ex 20:2-11). The good is belonging to God, obeying him, walking humbly with him in doing justice and in loving kindness (cf.Mic 6:8). Acknowledging the Lord as God is the very core, the heart of the Law, from which the particular precepts flow and towards which they are ordered. In the morality of the commandments the fact that the people of Israel belongs to the Lord is made evident, because God alone is the One who is good. Such is the witness of Sacred Scripture, imbued in every one of its pages with a lively perception of God's absolute holiness: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Is 6:3).

VS, 11.

With this short intermezzo done (which itself is a partial answer to the young man's question), Jesus turns to answer the remainder of the young man's question.

*The reference is, of course to Hugo Grotius famous statement in the prolegomena of his work on the Law of War and Peace. "Et haec quidem quae jam diximus, locum aliquem haberent etiamsi daremus, quod summo scelere dari nequit, non esse Deum, aut non curari abe eo negotia humana." Translated, these famous words are: "And that which we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should dare to concede that which cannot be conceded without utmost wickedness, that there is no God."
**The Ten Commandments or Decalogue is traditionally divided into "two tablets," the first dealing with those commandments which relate to the relationship between man and God, the second tablet dealing with those commandments that relate to the relationship between man and man.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 1-The Call to Transfiguration and the Primordial Question

THE FOURTH AND FIFTH centuries of the Church's history are marked by Christological and Trinitarian controversies. There was a remarkable focus during that time on the mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of divine life in the Trinity. How was it that Jesus was both God and Man? How was it that God was both Three and One? In those lands formerly occupied by the pagan Roman empire and recently converted to Christianity, that was man's preoccupation, and it seems all--from the simple layman and parish priest to the Emperor and the Pope--were involved in those great issues of the day. Man spoke about whether there were two natures, one person in Christ or whether the Son of God was of the same substance as the Father or only a similar substance as the Father.* These often heated, always passionate discussions eventually led to the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Trinity to which we subscribe and to the creeds that--separated by centuries from our Christian predecessors-- we now recite at Mass almost passionlessly.

Modernly, we are engaged in controversies of our own, controversies which raise as much passion, have spilled as much ink, and have caused as much heat as those Christological and Trinitarian controversies in the past. Only the controversies deal with moral issues: What is human freedom? Is there a moral order? What is right and what is wrong? Can right and wrong can be known, and, if so, how? Are some things always wrong to do, i.e., are there moral absolutes or exceptionless norms? These, and like questions, are what occupy us, move us, cause us to enter into heated, often acrimonious disputes. Often, these questions lie behind our political disputes, our disputes about what freedom is, and what laws ought to govern us. Many believe that there are no certain answers to these questions, and so they are tempted, an indeed succumb, to moral despair, which is what moral relativism or moral nihilism is.

In a way, because of the questions that are being asked, the forum has widened. Unlike the Christological and Trinitarian controversies which dealt with faith, the moral controversies of today deal with morals, and any discussion about morals takes us out of the household of faith into the household of humanity. We are no longer discussing things with our Christian brother and sister, we are discussing things with our neighbor, with men of good will, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Agnostic, Atheist, or anything else. What should we believe about the Trinity? is a question that will not phase a Hindu unless he has an interest in conversion. What is right and good? is a question that interests us all. It is a question that each of us is compelled to ask.

It is within this context that we will be addressing in this next series of postings John Paul II's great encyclical Veritatis Splendor, The Splendor of Truth. The encyclical was issued on August 6, 1993, on the Feast of the Transfiguration.

We might begin by observing that there is some significance in the Pope's issuance of this encyclical on that feast. One might recall that in the Transfiguration,** three of the apostles of Jesus (representing all mankind) see Christ transfigured. Christ shows himself resplendent in the light of his Divinity, allowing it to shine through his humanity. Christ allows his divinity to shine past the veil of his humanity, but one must also remember that this shows that his humanity is therefore brought into his divinity. Christ is transfigured between Moses and Elijah, symbols of the Mosaic Law and Prophets, who recognize his preeminence. Christ is, after all, the end, the culmination of, the purpose-for-which of the Law and the Prophets.

Icon depicting the Transfiguration of Christ

Christ's Transfiguration is an invitation to us, an invitation in freedom to our own transfiguration. This transfiguration is made by our conformity to the truth, in particular by our conformity to the moral truth. This transfiguration is, as the encyclical states toward the end, most fully witnessed by the Christian martyrs and Christian saints by "their eloquent and attractive example of a life completely transfigured by the splendor of moral truth." By living their life so transfigured, the saints and martyrs "light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense," like Christ lit up Mount Tabor, act as a "living reproof to those who transgress the law," like Moses the lawgiver to the Jews, and serve as an admonition to "'those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter,'" like Elijah the prophet. VS, 93 (quoting Isaiah 5:20).

Pope John Paul II in effect, issued his encyclical Veritatis Splendor on the Feast of the Transfiguration with the hope that we may be transfigured and know how we may be transfigured, to be transformed. "And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2) The proper use of our freedom is to use it to transfigure our life in the image of Christ, that is by He who lived in the most exemplary way the splendor of moral truth.

At the Transfiguration, God the Father declares: Behold, my Son, my beloved, Listen to him! Cf. Mark 9:7. Ultimately, this is where we are to find our answers: in God, and in his Christ who reveals the splendor of truth in a unique way, being fully man and fully God.
[T]he answer to the question, "What good must I do to have eternal life?" can only be found by turning one's mind and heart to the "One" who is good: "No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:18; cf. Lk 18:19). Only God can answer the question about what is good, because he is the Good itself.
VS, 9.

But the splendor of truth shines in other places. It is, to be sure, found principally in God and in His Christ, but the Church, creation, and even man's internal witness participate in that truth. "The splendor of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator, and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God." VS, Intro.

Christ and his Church, Creation, Man: these are our three sources whence the light of the Lord's face shines upon us. This is where answers may be found.

Christ is the "true light that enlightens everyone," VS, 1 (citing John 1:9), and in Him there is no darkness. "The light of God's face shines in all its beauty on the countenance of Jesus Christ." VS, 2. "Jesus Christ," who is "the 'light of the nations' shines upon the face of his Church," which "offers to everyone the answer which comes from the truth about Jesus Christ and his Gospel." VS, 2.***

Man is not light in and of himself, but is participated light, and is "constantly tempted to turn his gaze away" from light's source, God, and walk in in the darkness of an idolatry which darkens his capacity to know the truth. "But no darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the creator," VS, 1, and so there remains in man "the splendor of the truth which shines forth deep within the human spirit." VS, 2.

But to find answers, we have first to ask questions. And the encyclical directs us to the fundamental moral question by reflecting upon the story of the rich young man in the Gospels.

The Rich Young Ruler asks Christ
What Everyman Must Do

One ought not to think that by directing us to this story the Pope is being parochial. He already stated that the Church's moral office is universal or cosmopolitan. The question that the rich young man asks in the Gospel, is a universal question. It is the everyman question. "It is an essential an unavoidable question for the life of every man." VS, 8. It is the question which is at the foundation of every one of his acts: "What good must I do?" Quid boni faciam? It is, in fact, a religious question because it necessarily involves a turn to God, the source of all good. "To ask about the good, in fact, ultimately means to turn towards God, the fullness of goodness." VS, 9. In the nameless rich young man, "we can recognize every person who, consciously or not, approaches Christ the Redeemer of man and questions him about morality." VS, 7. Asking the question, "what is good?" is impliedly already approaching God and his Christ.

Some things ought to be noted: The word "good" here is in the Latin encyclical is plural, boni. The question does not relate to one act: it includes each and every act of one's life. The question refers to the good of one's life, the good over the entirety, the moral order to which one ought to be conforming, the manner into which one ought to order one's life. In other words, the question asks for a rule, a standard. The question is asking under what law we ought to operate to do good. What is our law? Where is it to be found? How is to be known? The question is thus fundamental: it directs itself to the last end, the final end, the ultimate purpose for all our acts. But more than this, the question of rule, standard, law is more than a question "about rules to be followed," rather, it is a question "about the full meaning of life." VS, 7.

The question "what good should I do?" includes the question, "what is good?" Necessarily, that includes the question: What is evil? It is, then, the simplest question. It is both positive and negative. What good must I do, and what evil must I avoid? It is also the persistent question. It is a question that we ask here-and-now, so that we may asses our past (and acknowledge any guilt) and so that we may act in a consistent way in the future.

Note also that the question is personal: it is not a question of what we must do. That question arises later, after this first question is asked and answered. The first question to be asked is intimately singular. What must I do? The question precedes every act.

This is in fact the aspiration at the heart of every human decision and action, the quiet searching and interior prompting which sets freedom in motion. This question is ultimately an appeal to the absolute Good which attracts us and beckons us; it is the echo of a call from God who is the origin and goal of man's life.

VS, 7.

The other thing that should be noted is that the question presupposes that I am free, and it is in fact my freedom that allows me ask this question. If I was not free, I would have no need to ask this question. Freedom and good are inextricably intertwined. Freedom and evil are not. The rich young man does not ask: What evil must I do? The rich young man does not ask how he may abuse his freedom. He asks how he ought to use his freedom. To unhinge freedom from the question of the good, the true is an abuse of freedom. It is an error to detach "human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth." VS, 4. The rich young man does not detach good from truth.

Further, the rich young man does not ask this question to an institution, to a group. The question does not ask for what is the consensus. The question is not directed to the emperor, to the governor. Nor, however, does he ask this question to himself, though he asks it for himself. The rich young man realizes that though the question is for him, he is not the source of the answer to the question. There would be no need to ask the question, if he was the source of the answer. The source of the answer to the question is outside of him. The question is asked to a person, to a teacher, to a Rabbi, to a Rabbi who, as the Transfiguration showed us, was God, the end of the Law and the Prophets: Listen to him!

Finally, the rich young man realizes the import of his question. "What good must I do," asks the rich young man, "to have eternal life?" The doing of good is inextricably intertwined with eternal life. The fundamental moral question is thus hand in glove with man's yearning for immortality, for lasting, permanent meaning. It is what he must do for his life to have meaning, for anything done that is not good is done in vain. "The young man," like all of us, "senses that there is a connection about the moral good which must be done, and about eternal life." VS, 8.

The question has been asked. How does Christ answer?
*In Greek terms, the theologians argued over whether the Son of God was the same substance (homoousios) or a similar substance (homoiousios) with the Father. Theologically, the difference between the two terms was huge, though facially the only difference was one letter--the letter "i" (in Greek, iota). Hence the expression "iota of a difference."
**The Transfiguration is described in Synoptic Gospels. See Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36.
***The Church, of course, speaks to the Christian faithful, but her ministry in the realm of morals is much broader. Not only is the Church engaged in the ministry of spreading the Gospel, she as an "'expert of humanity' places herself at the service of every individual and of the whole world." VS, 3. The natural moral law is essential for salvation. It is the path upon which, preceded and accompanied by Grace, every man must walk if he is to gain salvation:
The Church knows that the issue of morality is one which deeply touches every person; it involves all people, even those who do not know Christ and his Gospel or God himself. She knows that it is precisely on the path of the moral life that the way of salvation is open to all.
VS, 3. It is, in fact, in the Scriptures and in the Church where we encounter Christ:
In order to make this "encounter" with Christ possible, God willed his Church. Indeed, the Church "wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life."
VS, 7.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Canticum Spei

“AND NOW ALSO THE AXE IS LAID unto the root of the trees." (Matt. 3:10) So preached St. John the Baptist, the precursor to the Christ whose sandal he was unworthy to untie. For the West, the former lands of Christendom or those lands of the New World informed by it, it is, perhaps, a Johannine moment, a time for conversio, for metanoia. The window of opportunity does not seem to be of long duration: the axe is laid at the root of the trees. It is a matter of time before the axe is used, the bole and roots have lost all sap. There does not seem to be much more time before wholesale moral collapse in the West.

Without such a turn, may not, as part of natural consequence, and as part of God's terrible Providence, another doctrine arise and come in to fill the vacuum left by our moral irresponsibility?
For behold, I will raise up the Chaldeans, a bitter and swift nation, marching upon the breadth of the earth, to possess the dwelling places that are not their own. They are dreadful, and terrible: from themselves shall their judgment, and their burden proceed. Their horses are lighter than leopards, and swifter than evening wolves; and their horsemen shall be spread abroad: for their horsemen shall come from afar, they shall fly as an eagle that maketh haste to eat. They shall all come to the prey, their face is like a burning wind: and they shall gather together captives as the sand. And their prince shall triumph over kings, and princes shall be his laughingstock: and he shall laugh at every strong hold, and shall cast up a mount, and shall take it.
Habakkuk 1:6-10. Are we facing another terrible Habkkukian moment with the swell of a confident Islam breathing down the dissipated West's neck, perhaps not with axe in hand, but with an equally dangerous scimitar?

It is no longer a matter of conservative and liberal: we have moved way beyond those categories. Neither these political movements avail us much. Even if--per impossibile--we were able to conserve and hold the moral line where it is, we still confront guilt for horrible violations of the moral law, and the Furies of conscience pursue and pressure us to continue down our horrible path, that slippery slope of moral demise. Europe and America are not exceptions to the laws of morality. God and his nature are not mocked for long. We have to confront the terrible reality: "Without a turning back, there can be only a going forward," which really means a going down. Budziszewski (2003), 213.

We are not condemned to go forward or down into a moral demise, for the future is ours as an exercise of freedom. But we are not free to remove ourselves from the effects or consequences of our free choices, if they are wrong. America is not exceptional in that way.

To predict human future is to deny human nature, for men and women are endowed with the perilous gift of free will. We can turn back the other way. Even so, free will does not mean that anything is possible. I cannot will that I do wrong, yet not be guilty. I cannot will that I shall be guilty, yet not suffer the impulsion to do further wrong. And I cannot will that I shall be unrepentant, yet stay the same.

Budziszewski (2003), 216. That is to say, we are under the natural law willy nilly: whether we will to obey it, or will not to obey it.

It is true. The return will not be easy. It will required consummate courage:
It is a fearsome thing to recover sanity, almost as fearsome as not recovering it. For there are no half-measures in conscience; when the Furies loom behind you, there is no running in place. And so, to avoid traveling in the next dark stretch of the road, there is no alternative but to make peace with the Furies, and travel back on the stretch we have lately come.
Budziszewski (2003), 216.*

Here is the necessary recipe, the unavoidable reality. It is time to reverse recent history, return to our natural law roots where we have erred, and begin history down another, better path.

To set our faces against [imminent] infanticide, we must repent abortion. To desist from viewing pregnancy as an illness, we must abjure viewing fertility as an ailment. To reprove perversion, we must repent lasciviousness. To turn from infidelity, we must forswear divorce and impurity. To withdraw from killing "in the interests of all concerned, " we must rue the vain dream that our interests lie elsewhere than in innocence. To mourn treating the image of God as tissue to be harvested in hope of cures, we must sorry over our sick fancy that there is nothing worse than physical disease. To turn back from the boundary of animal nature, we must repent that we defiled the sanctuary of human nature. To honor the inbuilt purposes of our design, we must honor the Designer who inbuilt them. And to honor the Designer, we must weep that we ever thought to take His place.

Budziszewski (2003), 216.

That seems impossible! How do we turn back the course? The Four Witnesses--deep conscience, the design (ratio ordinis of the cosmos), the design of human nature, the principle of natural consequences--do not inform us of how this may be done.

The strand of the Natural Law and the
strand of the Gospel make one rope

Yet there are two answers, not independent, but dependent. The answers are distinguishable: yet they run intertwined sort of like a the strands of a rope which are blended together into one lay. One strand is based upon reason, the other upon faith.
[A] kind of help, a lesser help has been implanted in the very manner of our making. This too is part of the created order. If once the Turn is made, then just as there is a momentum to evil, so there is a momentum, not to virtue, but to repentance. As there is something in our design like Furies to drive us down, so there is something in our design like Angels to help us up. If it were not so, we could not even be told about it. Yet we can. The indestructibility of our longing for lightness, for purity, for music is like a small star of hope in a darkened sky, and inkling of the Star that rules the day.
Budziszewski (2003), 216. That help is the natural moral law, which, at its most basic, speaks to us from our heart about what is right and what is wrong. We have to be open to the fact that such an objective moral realm exists, and that it may be found through right reason.

The witnesses of the man, the ox, the lion, and the eagle:
Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John

There is, we must not forget, another strand to the rope that shall haul us out of our current trend downward. The "Four Witnesses" of our nature do not speak of it. There are, however, four other witnesses that testify to this other strand, witnesses in the form of a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle:

It is said [through these four witnesses and through thousands, indeed millions of others] that the Designer Himself took the form of His designs, that He came into our night, that he wrought with the powers of darkness; it is said that joy comes in the morning.

Budziszewski (2003), 217. The other help is therefore the Gospel which is proclaimed in Scriptures and through the Church. The words quoted above are J. Budziszewski's words. Another witness many years ago wrote it in words that used to be said at the end of the old Latin Mass:
In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat in principio apud Deum. Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est. In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum: et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebræ eam non comprehenderunt. . . . Erat lux vera, quae illuminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum. In mundo erat, et mundus per ipsum factus est, et mundus eum non cognovit. In propria venit, et sui eum non receperunt. Quotquot autem receperunt eum, dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri, his qui credunt in nomine ejus: qui non ex sanguinibus, neque ex voluntate carnis, neque ex voluntate viri, sed ex Deo nati sunt.

Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis: et vidimus gloriam ejus, quasi unigeniti a Patre plenum gratiae et veritatis. . . . Et de plenitudine ejus nos omnes accepimus, et gratiam pro gratia: quia lex per Moysen data est, gratia et veritas per Jesum Christum facta est.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . . That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
The natural moral law and Christ, the law of the Gospel. These are the strands of the rope that, if we so will, must needs return us to the proper path of our calling.
*We boldly faced it once when as a nation we willed to end slavery or the civil rights gains for African-Americans.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Predicatio Veritatis

“TO THE WEAK I BECAME weak," says St. Paul, "that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all." (1 Cor. 9:22) This approach, superficially similar to accomodationism (mentioned in the prior post), is more subtle. It engages the immoralist (i.e., the one ignorant or adverse to the natural law theory and its objectively-based morality) selectively. It does not grant him those assumptions, desires, views that are incompatible with an understanding of the moral realm as objectively grounded in the nature of things. Rather, it selectively identifies those aspects of the opponent's belief system which allow him some purchase or grasp from which he can begin to draw, to persuade, to change his opponent's mind through argument. These things people know or intuit necessarily. They are those things that, in Budziszewski's words, humans cannot not know. These are what Budziszewski has identified as the "Four Witnesses" that usually provide the points of agreement that will allow us an approach to almost anyone. These are: deep conscience, design in general, human design in particular, and natural causes.* The tactic behind the grand strategy is this: "One begins with what people know or intuit already and one builds on it." Budziszewski (2003), 204. In a sense, this is what real education is: to educe from someone (Latin: educare) the consequences of what he already knows.

It is, of course, a difficult task. If the opponent has a vested interest in a position--if he is blinded by passion, if he is emotionally or financially vested in a position, if he cannot confront the guilt that would come from the admission of wrong, if he is proud and unwilling to admit error, and so forth--no amount of reasonable persuasion may change his course. But there is, short of a miracle of supernatural grace (and the Spirit blows where it will), no other approach to such a man. There is, however, the possibility of natural grace. And reason may, on occasion, bear fruit.

In approaching this area, Budziszewski makes some interesting comments. First, he addresses the classical view that one can show how any morality outside of a natural law theory can be shown either to be based upon false presuppositions or self-evident principles or false conclusions from those presuppositions or self-evident propositions. If the opponent relies on false presuppositions or denies self-evident principles (say he denies the principle of excluded middle or non-contradiction), then the falsehood, incoherency, or ultimate absurdity of that position can be shown. If the presuppositions the opponent holds are true, then presumably the inconsistency or fallacies of logic between those presuppositions and his final conclusions can be shown. The assumption behind this position is, of course, that any moral world view or moral Weltanschaung that is built on something other than the nature of things (i.e., reality) is inconsistent or absurd, and hence readily capable of being shown false.

Reality is like a tub full of floating corks

There are those that believe that such an approach is unavailable to fallen man, that his reason is so darkened that--though the natural law be true--one cannot persuade him, given his darkened reason, his total depravity which affects even most fundamental thought, making practical reason, reason in the area of the fundamental of morals a vain, worthless undertaking. When it comes to presuppositions, reason is simply unavailable as "fallen man is constitutionally incapable of admitting the obvious." Reason only goes so far, these persons believe, and no farther. Reason is unavailable to "challenge these deepest assumptions," the deepest assumptions of man are ultimately unchallengeable by reason.

Budziszewski rejects such a approach. He acknowledges that moral reality presents an endemic, chronic problem for fallen man, but he insists that, deep down, people are bothered by any incoherency (latent or patent) if they have adopted a false understanding of morality.

But Budziszewski also rejects the opposite extreme, what he calls the presuppositional approach. The presuppositional approach (which is an extreme version of the classical approach) perceives the problem of approach as follows:
The idea is that the moment [the immoralist] realizes the conflict among his assumptions, he is in crisis; he must either try to hold onto his worldview, knowing that it is incoherent, or embrace another one which will inevitably have the same problem. When every intellectual refuge has been destroyed, one by one, then finally he may be able to embrace a sane view of morality reality."
Budziszewski (2003), 206. The approach is one where we progressively peel the opponents' false and inconsistent views, like one may peel the layers of an onion, and, at the end of all the peeling, the opponent will have no refuge but to admit moral reality.

But this extreme presuppositional approach is incoherent also in Budziszewski's view, since it presupposes something in man that is not true: that he is a rational being without any impediment whatsoever. Though reason may not be totally corrupt as a result of the fall, it did not come out totally unscathed. It may be, Budziszewski suggests, that a false world view may not necessarily be inconsistent. "[N]othing," he states, "prevents a set of assumptions from being false and yet mutually compatible." Budziszewski (2003), 206. In other words, the puzzle may be wrong, but the pieces may fit together. More insidious may be the further observation by Budziszewski that the fact that one may show absurdity in the fundamental presuppositions of an opponent may have no meaning to the opponent if the opponent believes that reality is absurd. In fact, among moderns, that may be the majority view: "Nothing is more common among postmodern folk than to deny it [the coherency of the world]." There are those among us, along with the flat earthers, who deny--alas--the principle of non-contradiction and the principle that good ought to be done and evil avoided. How do we approach these people, as it seems they are foreclosed to us under the presuppositionalist approach since they reject its presuppositions?**

Budziszewski suggests that even these can be reached through the classical approach. He acknowledges the difficulty using an interesting image:

[R]eality poses a constant problem for fallen man. He wants to acknowledge some of the truth which presses in on him, but taken together it points too strongly to other truth which he resists with all his might. In the end, he must deny so many obvious things that the work is just too much. He is like a man in a bathtub surrounded by dozens of corks, trying to hold them down at once.

Budziszewski (2003), 206-07. The corks cannot be kept all down, and, invariably the corks of reality, held down by some false or incoherent theory will pop up. And all men are--deep down, even if they don't acknowledge it--bothered by such incoherency. Most frequently, the cork that bobs up is the principle of non-contradiction: something cannot both be and not be in the same manner and sense. A cannot be both true, and not true. A and not-A cannot both be true. That's the cork that most frequently bobs up.

In terms of practical tactics, Budziszewski addresses the problem of the "public relations of wrong," namely the immoralists' habitual tactics of "doubling the script," "seducing paraconscience," and "cannibalizing conscience."*** He addresses some countermeasures to such tactics:
  1. Doubling the script is essentially the problem of speaking with a forked tounge: saying one thing in public, another in private. The simple solution here is to "out" the advocate. The abortion advocate may, in public, talk of "rights," but in private speak of the fetus as an unjust aggressor, which, of course is a foolish position. The advocate of homosexual marriage may publicly deny the connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, but this public relations cover may be blown by citing to less-circulated literature where the opposite is maintained. When someone with CAIR insists that Islam means peace, it can be countered by statements that Islam does not mean peace, but submission, and that the Qur'an and ahadith proclaim war against non-Muslims as normative.

  2. Seduction of paraconscience is the taking advantage of those remnants of socially-inculcated virtue and twisting it to the advantage of the immoralist. So, for example, the sense of fairness and equality with which Americans are inculcated or the appreciation of the gains made in the civil rights movements of the 1960s can be seized as an emotional basis for false positions (say, homosexual "marriage" rights). The countermeasure to this tactic is to "woo it [the paraconscience] back." To the notion of false compassion, show true compassion. To the notion of false equality, show what real equality is about.

  3. Cannibalizing the conscience is the tendency for false moralities to seize on one moral truth, at the expense of another, or it may be the seizing of one truth and insidiously falsifying or distorting it: it is a heresy of conscience. The countermeasure for cannibalization of conscience depends upon whether we are dealing with one who is honestly confused or one who is not so honestly confused. "The first desideratum is to recognize when the other player is bluffing, when he [is] not really confused but only playing at confusion." Budziszewski (2003), 212.
  1. If one is dealing with a person who is honestly confused, then generally focusing on the neglected moral principles is sufficient to counter the tactic of cannibalizing the conscience. The sincerely, innocently confused person simply needs "a solution to his problems."

  2. If one is dealing with a person who is not honestly confused, in other words with "one who is deceived [and] does not wish to be undeceived," the tactic must be different. Budziszewski (2003), 211. What the willfully confused person needs is for "someone to call his bluff."
    One needs to see through him, and do it in such a way that even if only briefly, he sees through himself. Just for a moment his smokescreen has been blown away; caught by surprise, he has seen his reflection in the mirror. If he sees it once, there is always a chance that he will see it again. he will not forget the fleeting image. It will get under his skin. Perhaps some day when he is at the lowest ebb, there will be a breakthrough. Yet even if he does not see through himself, the audience may see through him, so even in this case his bluff should be called.
    Budziszewski (2003), 212. When, and in what manner, to call someone's bluff is "an art," one without "fixed procedure," something gained not from books, but from experience.
Under such guidance, we ought to get to work, busy among our fellows to woo them from the immoralist positions which draw men back into the darkness of a moral cave, and bring them out to where there is light. Once in the light, grace may build upon nature, and justice and mercy may then kiss.

*These have been addressed in prior postings. See De Testimonio Quatuor Testibus: Conscientia Profunda (deep conscience), De Testimonio Quatuor Testibus: Consilium Divino (design in general), De Testimonio Quatuor Testibus: Terribiliter Magnificasti Me (human design), and De Testimonio Quatuor Testibus: Consequentia Naturalis (natural consequences).
**Budziszewski observes that it may be that presuppositionalist arguments do work, but that it works accidentally, as it were, on the "flotsam of natural law," on corks other than the principle of non-contradiction that the opponent recognizes as true. There is a role, therefore, for a "moderate pressupositionalism" that works for those who have retained sufficient amount of traditional morality to be approached this way. Budziszewski (2003), 207. "Pursued to the exclusion of other variations, it would be most unwise; but it is sometimes useful in talking with people who are deep behind the brickwork of denial."
***See: Relatio Publici de Nefas Moralis: Descensus Profundus (doubling the script), Relatio Publici de Nefas Moralis: Haeresis et Quasiconscientia (seduction of paraconscience and cannibalizing conscience)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quod non oportet disputare

ADVOCACY OF THE NATURAL MORAL LAW in the field of cultural war must be done with wise strategy and tactics. Budziszewski identifies four common errors that the advocate of natural law frequently steps into in the area of public discourse. He denominates them as follows:
  1. Exclusivism;
  2. Pearl casting;
  3. Conversionism; and
  4. Accomodationism.
Exclusivism is the error of supposing that one's audience is friendly when it is actually hostile, not open, or entirely ignorant of the fundamentals of natural moral law. Exclusivism violates what is frequently held to be the first rule of rhetoric which is to know your audience. It alienates its audience with its resounding nos, and thou shalt nots, and don'ts. Though such approach may work when preaching to the choir, charging up the troops, or building enthusiasm, it is not the sort of tactic that works well for rebuilding. It will not serve to change the culture. More, it has the negative effect of raising the suspicion, the ire, and the motivation of the immoralists. While it rallies the troops, it rallies the opposition, and the battle ends up in stalemate.

Pearl casting is similar to exclusivism, except that there is no intent on the part of those who throw their pearls among swine to reach friendly audiences. It is the use of exclusive language knowing that one's audience is hostile, unfriendly, and unreceptive. The nos, thou shalt nots, and don'ts (as well as the yeses, thou shalts, and dos) are thrown as so many pearls among the swine of the immoralists, and it does them as much good. Usually, the arguments are based upon the authority: say of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul II, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Bible, the Talmud, the Qur'an, or whatever. It is, in fact, a fallacious argument--an argumentum ad verecundiam--where the audience is disdainful of that authority. Though there is nothing wrong with the authority, until the audience accepts that authority it is in vain to resort to it. The error includes within its auspices even resort to the "natural law tradition," as that tradition is generally neither known nor accepted by our audience. Accordingly, resort must be had to the most basic, to those things which Budziszewski identifies as that which we can't not know. We might here invoke the image of St. Paul who, when he spoke to a group of Greeks at the Areopagus, referenced their poets and the pagan altar with the inscription: ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ, To an Unknown God.* Acts 17:22-31. St. Paul started with something the Greeks knew.

St. Paul at the Areopagus by Kennedy A. Paizs

Conversionism recognizes that the audience is hostile, but tries to convert, to proselytize. There is certainly a place for evangelization, for the preaching of the Gospel, and it ought to be done in the manner St. Paul advocated to Timothy: "Preach the word," and do it "in season and out of season." 1 Tim. 4:2. That is one grand strategy. But we must not forget the other grand strategy, for the cultural war requires a pincer strategy, a strategy of double envelopment. One handle is supernatural: the Gospel; but the other handle is natural: Reason. The Gospel itself builds upon nature, and nature must be made more amenable to receipt, and to preservation of the Gospel. The Gospel is seed, and it falls on ground, but the ground must be prepared beforehand. The error of conversionism is that it forgets to prepare the ground. And if the ground is not adequately prepared--if it is rocky, or if the soil is shallow--well . . . the Gospel itself records what its chances to take root and flourish will be. See Mark 4:1-20; Matt. 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15.

Accomodationism is, in a way, the opposite error. It seeks to address behaviors, without change of the mind. Instead of tailoring the message to the audience, it is a capitulation to the audience in the area of erroneous assumptions, desires, opinions, or theories. By accomodationism we end up in the situation of the visitor to Ireland who asked the Irishman seated on the fence for directions to Dublin, and received the response, "I wouldn't start from here." There are some assumptions, desires, opinions, or theories that cannot be conceded, for if, as a tactic, they are conceded, then we will never get to Dublin.

Insofar as not everything which other people seek or think is bad, there is a grain of merit in this approach, but it fails to distinguish between what can be affirmed and what cannot be affirmed. Just as there are some groups with which it can never be right to ally, there are some interests to which it can never be right to appeal, like malice, revenge, or racism.

Budziszewski (2003), 204.

*Paul was referring to the Cretan philosopher Epimenides ("For in him we live and move and have our being") and the Cilician Stoic philospher Aratus ("We are his offspring") Acts 17:28.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Restauratio Legis Naturale

NATURE'S UNRAVELING IS WHAT the modern immoralists seek to attain. Whether it be the use of artificial contraception which severs the natural tie between sex and procreation, or whether it be the normalization of homosexual sex, which itself is sterile, and an ultimately vain, meaningless act. Whether it is the unnatural murder of a child in his or her mother's womb through some invasive procedure, or the unnatural, forced death of the elderly through drugs or through withholding of nutrition and hydration. Whether it be simple cloning to the more grotesque creation of hybrids between animal and man such as "admixed" embryos which force upon us new words such as "cybrids," or "chimeras."** These acts are acts against nature. They seek to declare an independence from, and a control over, nature.

Budziszewski makes an interesting comparison between man's efforts to obtain mastery over nature through technology without regard to any boundaries as a resurgence of black magic. The relationship between technology and magic has, of course, been noted before by, for example, Bernanos. In his Profiles of the Future (1961), Arthur C. Clarke stated what is commonly known as Clarke's "Third Law": "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Human-Dog Hybrid by Patricia Piccinini
The result of goeteia

Their [the immmoralists, those who reject the natural moral law] methods do not require the eye of newt, but they may as well. In essence, they are forms of goeteia,* of the ancient practice whose goal was to acquire power by "breaking" nature, unpatterning its patterns, uncreating creation. . . . There you have the essence of goeteia. There is no nature; there are not givens; reality is what we decide. Black magic. . . . The immoralist movements are not isolated phenomena, but branches of the goetic arts; they are united in their hatred of human design, and, by extension, of its Designer.

Budziszewski (2003), 198-99, 200.

To try to recovery the field will require confrontation with the enemy. We will have to become "cultural activists." In confronting the advocates of immorality as cultural activists, two things ought to be kept in mind. First, it is an imperative that the advocates of traditional morality, that is, the advocates of natural law, recognize the conflict that they face. "Right reason" is still achievable, though it does not come easily to fallen nature.
--J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know
One must know the enemy, and what he is about. As Polybius stated in his Histories (III.81): "For it is mere blind ignorance to believe that there can be anything of more vital importance to a general than the knowledge of his opponent's character and disposition." The immoralists seek to overthrow human nature, its design, and its Designer. Since the immoralists seek to sever the relationship between the way things are, they also are free with matching or paring concepts and words with realities. There is therefore a second requirement: "The second necessity is to abstain from the polluted languages of goetic incantation." Budziszewski (2003), 200. Abortion is not "choice." Sodomy is not "gay." Motherhood is not advanced by "feminism." Cloning or fetal stem cell research is not about "healing," but about playing God. Euthanasia is not "mercy killing," but simple intentional, premeditated murder.

In confronting the advocates of immorality, it is not unlikely that we will give offense, and we should not offend unnecessarily. But in confronting the modern purveyors of black magic, there will be unavoidable offense.
There is no virtue in giving offense, but there is a difference between avoidable and unavoidable offense. To fail to avoid the avoidable kind is the vice of scandal. To try to avoid the unavoidable kind is the vice of complicity in evil.
Budziszewski (2003), 200.

In appraising our enemy, we need also to appraise ourselves. We are not playing on a level playing field. Our enemy has some permanent advantages, and we have ours. Following Budziszewski's analysis, then, we can identify certain advantages (and weaknesses) of the immoralists, and certain advantages (and weaknesses) of the natural law advocate.

Evil's advantages
Evil's disadvantages
Good's advantages
Good's dis-
Evil can rationalize
The evil are open to the possibility of redemption
Their argument is based upon "ultimately inescapable human moral design," i.e., moral reality
Their recognition of the moral evil may drive them to despair
The good can succumb to temptation to do evil

The "deep conscience" in all men, though it may be squelched, witnesses in their favor

Divine aid, His providence, and recourse to His aid through prayer

The theological virtue of hope

There we have it: our advantages, our disadvantages, our enemies' advantages and disadvantages.
*Goeteia (or goetia) comes from the from Greek word γοητεία (goēteia) which means "sorcery."
**These terms are specialized: "admixed" embryos is a generic term, a neologism, used to describe any early-stage embryo combining human and nonhuman genes or tissue. It includes both cybrids and chimeras. A cybrid (a combination of cytoplasmic and hybrid) is an artificial hybrid cell produced by introducing
nuclear material from one organism into a cell (of the same or different species) from which the nucleus has been removed. A chimera, on the other hand, is an organism which is composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells originating in different zygotes.