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 17, 2009

Lex Vera: Sancte Cicero Ora Pro Nobis?

There are 3,706 citations or quotations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Of these, all but one are citations to or quotations from Christian sources—to Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Conciliar Documents, Papal Encyclicals, the Liturgy, the wisdom of the Saints. There is only one citation or quotation in the entire Catechism to a Pagan author. That quotation is found in § 1956 of the Catholic Catechism, where the Catechism treats of the Natural Law. The Catechims states:
For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense . . . . To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.

Not unremarkably, the Church’s teaching is announced via a quotation. What is remarkable is that the Catholic Church, in the Catechism, selected this particular quotation. The quotation is taken from the writings of the Roman Statesman and Lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero (ca. 106-43 BC). Specifically, to Book III, section 33 of his Republic. See Cicero, On the Commonwealth and On the Laws (James E. G. Zetzel, ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 71.

It is fitting that the Church relies on a pagan to announce to the faithful that there is a Natural Law. And so the Church should, for the point is that the Natural Law, being based upon Reason, is available and accessible to all human persons universally. Because we are brothers, under one God, we have but one Law. Unless operating under ignorance, or bias, or blinded by convention, the virtuous pagan will see it, as will all men and women of good will, and so virtuous pagans, men and women of good will, and Christians can work together for just and equitable laws in the City of Man.

The great Catholic humanist Erasmus, it has been written, exclaimed upon reading Cicero's De Senectute, "Vix me contineo, quin exclamen: Sancte Cicero, ora pro nobis." (Translation: "I can hardly refrain from crying out, Holy Cicero, pray for us.") Though perhaps we would not go so far as Erasmus in treating Cicero as a saint, we surely can recognize in words of Cicero, especially those selected by the Church in its Catechism, a reflection of the the Eternal Law that God has placed in the heart and consciences of men and women. Cicero had learned his doctrine from the Stoics.

Perhaps St. Paul knew of the words of Cicero when he wrote his epistle to the Romans: "For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus." Romans 2:14-16.

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