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.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paean To Natural Law

NATURAL LAW IS THE GREAT INTELLECTUAL and practical quest to both justify the law of man and to define its limits by reference to Reason and the Nature of Man. It is the human spirit's refusal to abide by the tyrant’s or libertine’s or skeptic’s answer that law is merely Will or Might or Convenience. It is the human yearning for Justice built upon that human propensity to wonder about Law and its source and end. Only Reason wonders. Will commands, Might forces, Convenience dissimulates. Confronted with his need to live among his fellows in whom he recognizes "Thous" or "Others" of his kind, and the limitations that such need places upon him, man has grasped at, and sought to express in a rational and systematic way, an extra-legal standard upon which the human law can rest and to which it must yield. The answer he will find, if he seeks in good faith, in his heart and conscience, and in the order of the created cosmos, which is God's natural voice to him. At least for the Christian, he finds the answer found therein confirmed and buttressed by Revelation. The Natural Law is positive law’s loyal friend and eternal foe, its mighty champion and its determined nemesis, its easy advocate and its incorruptible judge. It readily yields power and authority to human law, yet demands its obedience.

Natural law is a manifesto that man is not altogether in thrall to the law of the State and the conventions of his society, that “there is something in man that is not altogether in slavery to his society.” (Leo Straus, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 3.) Natural law is a “thing like Athens, the mother of a mode of life, of a manner of living, which shall renew the youth of the world," and a "a thing like Nazareth.” (Chesterton, Napoleon of Notting Hill , 152). Athens does not ask people to wear chlamys, but the soul of Athens “went forth and made men drink hemlock. Nazareth did not ask us to wear turbans, but the soul of Nazareth went forth and made men consent to be crucified.”

Natural Law rejects both fideism and a theocracy, and staunchly defends the essential role of Reason in Law. To Tertullian’s question Quid Athenae Hierosolymis? (What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?) the Natural Law insists, “Everything.” It insists everything because both Athens and Jerusalem were populated by Greek and Jew, and, as St. Paul reminds us, under God, there is neither Jew nor Greek. (Gal. 3:28) Nor is there Jew or Greek under Law, there is only man under Law.

The Natural Law wields the steel of justice and the flesh of equity. The cold of logic and reason, and the warmth of human passion. It lassos the mind and soul and binds it to the flesh; it flagellates the flesh and subjects it to the mind and soul. If frees man’s spirit, and limits the cries of his body, but reminds man’s spirit that the body is his home, nay, more than his home. Though in uneasy partnership, his body is one with his spirit. The Natural Law justifies force and condemns it. It promises freedom, but demands unquestioned obedience. Yet it commands disobedience in the face of human tyranny. It tells us we are citizens of the State, yet forever reminds us that we remain sons of the living God. It tells us that law is convention, yet more than convention. It tells us that the law is divine, yet it is not God. Its fundamental message is that it is true that there is a Law that governs law.

The Natural Law is found in the confused yearnings and speculations of Hesiod, Heraclitus, and the Presocratics; in bud and bloom in the words of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and Sophocles' Antigone. It is found preserved and codified in the philosophy of the Stoics, and then transplanted from Greece to Rome, where it was to become ennobled by the likes of the advocacy of Cicero, and the genius of Gaius. It was found in epistles of St. Paul, and among the early Christians, from whence it wended its way into the mind of the prolific Augustine, from whom it spread around the Western World through the Papacy. It is found, like seed, in the soil of the Barbarian, and in full shoot in the laws of Theodosius and Justinian. In the silent years, the so-called dark ages, it was hiding in the custody of the Benedictine monasteries. It finds renascence in Gratian, and in the law schools of Padua and elsewhere. You may find it at the University of Paris, at which it may have reached its synthetic formulation in St. Thomas. From St. Thomas, it spread throughout Christendom, surviving even the Reformation and Luther's and Calvin's assaults. In Spain: Suarez and Vittoria, are some of its well-known lights. In Scotland: Francis Hutcheson. In Holland: Grotius. In Germany: Pufendorf. In Switzerland: Burlamaqui. In England: the "judicious" Hooker, Blackstone, and Locke. In America: from Locke to Thomas Jefferson and into our Declaration of Independence, and from Blackstone's Commentaries into all the minds and hearts of all the lawyers of the Colonies. The Natural Law is found in the calls for justice to the indigenous peoples of Bartolomé de las Casas, and in very soul of the Abolitionists, the trials at Nuremberg, at the Birmingham Jail with Martin Luther King, and in Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae. And it is not only a Western phenomenon. In the East, it can be recognized in Hinduism's and Buddhism's Dharma. In China, in the distinction between Li and Fa. In ancient Egypt it was personified as Ma'at. Even in Islam, though its voice and development burdened by the strong divine legal positivism of the Qur'an, it also has made its voice heard. In Africa, it may be heard in its concept of Ubuntu. Wherever there is man there is the Natural Law, for the Natural Law is the "Law of One" of Heraclitus, and the "Law of All" of St. Paul.

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