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, May 24, 2009

Exigency Toward Order

WITHIN HIMSELF, MAN FINDS a desire, an internal exigency, to discover Order in the cosmos. The desire is born of a primordial wonder, wonder at both the sheer ebullience of the created world about him, and how amidst the sheer variety and discordance, there appears withal to be a fundamental order, a harmony. Engaged thus with the world about him and the mystery it bespeaks, man asks whether there is meaning to all this, whether the natural world about him has a purpose, an end, in Greek, a telos. Like God, whose image he is, man looks about and sees that it is good, though he also is aware that this good bears within it an admixture of bad.

Of all creatures, Man has a unique and uncanny ability to peer within himself. He is not only able to admire the stars above him, but a law, an order within himself that hints also of good and bad. He finds within himself an internal world, a hidden cosmos as deep and as expansive as the universe above him. He finds within himself desires that want fulfillment; he finds in himself the ability to plan, to reason, to fulfill those desires; he finds within his inner landscape dark places, as well as light places, dark valleys and resplendant peaks in the crags of his mind.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

(G. M. Hopkins, "No Worst, There is None. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief.")

There is a law written down in there, in what the Scriptures call his "heart." He also discovers, like St. Paul did, that he often does the things he does not wish to do, or things he feels he ought not do. Though he perceives the good, he fails in doing it, and he feels guilt. He violates the rules of his heart. Does all this bespeak a reason for being here, a goal in life, a purpose, and end?

But there is more. Man also observes about him fellow creatures such as himself, and is able to recognize that these, though they are distinct from him, are yet in great part the same as he, they share in his nature. And he must learn to live with them, preferably in peace. They present both a threat to his existence, and a boon to it.

Man also knows also that he must die, but he also knows that he yearns to live forever. He had nothing to do with his coming into this world, and into his consciousness of it; he accepts it as a given, ultimately a gift, though he may be unsure about its source. This man may or may not be a Christian, but it makes no difference, because he is a man, and these observations and these questions are universal, and cross all boundaries of history, culture, and religion.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, man wonders whether there is a "Deep Magic" behind it all.

What should he think? How should he act? Where is he to learn whether there is an Order, a Law behind it all? Upon what path shall he tread, and whom should he follow, in answering these questions? In his The Mystery of Being, the philosopher Gabriel Marcel puts forth what appears to be a sound road map to use in answering our question to find the Order:

On this point it is of prime importance to rejoin the path marked out by the highest philosophic thought since Socrates and Plato on the one hand, and the highest religious preaching on the other; we have the right, and even the obligation, without falling to a rash syncretism, to keep in mind the implications of certain reevealing points of agreement between the higher religions.

(Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being: Volume II: Faith and Reality (South Bend: St. Augustine's Press, 2001), 90.)

Given this roadmap, we shall turn to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. He combines within himself the "highest philosophic thought" and the "highest religious preaching." And he strove to "keep in mind the implications of certain revealing points of agreement between the higher religions," relying on Aristotle, on the Jewish Maimonides, and on the Muslim Averroes (ibn Rushd). In the next series of posts, therefore, we will look at St. Thomas's teaching of the Order. In his synopsis of the Order, the "Deep Magic" underlying it all, St. Thomas distinguishes between the Eternal Law, the Divine Law, the Natural Law, and Human Law. We will address them in that order.

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