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.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Theologia Corporis-1-Ab Initio

TO ENGAGE US INTO CONVERSATION WITH CHRIST is what John Paul II asks us to do in approaching matters of marriage and family life. In sort of an Ignatian mediation, we are asked to imagine ourselves among the crowd in Judea. We have seen this God-Man heal persons of various ills, and he fascinates us. A small group of Pharisees approach Christ with questions of marriage, and, more specifically, its dissolution--divorce, but in a spirit of challenge, rather than as disciples open to his teaching. "Is it lawful," they ask him, "for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?" Matt. 19:3.

In response, Christ refers them to fundamentals, from the beginning, ab initio. Christ refers them to Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures. He refers them to the creation of man. He refers them to the creation of woman. He refers them to the first marriage. Ab initio. Christ does not refer to the Law of Moses to answer a question about the Law of Moses, of which the Pharisees are the greatest representatives. He does not refer his questioners to any divinely promulgated law, but to the First Law, the Law of Nature, the Law that inheres in the created order and reflects in a primordial manner, the Eternal Law, the law in the mind of God. His teaching is thus to all men, for all times, and not only to the Jews in Judea in the 1st century A.D. Were we to ask the Lord, "the laws of the State allow for divorce . . . ," or "Science has given us birth control . . . ," or "Advocates of human rights claim that two persons of the same sex may marry . . . " In arriving at answers, Christ would say, "Turn ab initio." Go back to the beginning, to the Natural Law in created nature.

To John Paul II, Christ's invocation of the beginning, his focus on the ab initio, is fundamental; it is the operative and normative basis for the entirety of Christ's teaching, and so John Paul II seeks to "try to penetrate into the 'beginning'" to which Christ appealed. [1.5, 133]

There are two narratives regarding creation in Genesis (Gen. 1:1-2:4, the so-called Priestly or Elohist version because it uses the word Elohim to refer to God; and Gen. 2:5-25, the so-called Yahwist version, because it uses the word Yahweh to refer to God). In his answer, Christ refers to them both. [As an aside, Christ's reference to both versions of the creation story may be something that biblical scholars of the critical school may keep in mind when they try to pit one version of scripture to another, as if putting truth against truth, seeking to separate and divide, instead of accepting both as God's word and finding the truth in a fruitful synthesis or harmony of truths.]

What does Christ teach by referencing the Elohist creation story? It is a reference to the objective order. He wishes to teach us that Man is in the world, part of created nature; yet he is also above the world, made in the image of God. He shares in the brute creation (that which is "separated" "called" "put" from chaos), and in the living creation (that which is "created" or "blessed"). [2.3 & n.1, 135] Yet when it comes to man, there is, as it were, a divine pause. "[T]he Creator seems to halt before calling [man] to existence, as if he entered back into himself to make a decision, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.' (Gen. 1:27)." [2.3, 135] Christ's reference to the ab initio in Genesis is therefore a reference to the rich ensemble that is man, who, at the instruction of the Lord, must answer questions about his end and the good by reference to cosmology, but also to theology; he must refer both to the natural and to the supernatural; he must refer to the physical and the metaphysical; he must refer to body and the soul; to the contingent here, and to the absolute beyond. He must also recall that he is both man, and woman.

Christ's invocation of the Yahwist creation narrative, on the other hand, is more a reference to the subjective order, the areas of psychology, of conscience. "One could say that Genesis 2 presents the creation of man especially in the aspect of subjectivity." [3.1, 138-39] But it is not as if the objective order is opposed to the subjective order. "When we compare the two accounts [of creation], we reach the conviction that this subjectivity corresponds to the objective reality of man created in the 'image of God.'" [3.1, 139]

In referring back to the Yahwist creation narrative, Christ also places us within the context of man's own history, specifically, the creation of man and woman, and the narrative of the Fall. It is significant that the "beginning" to which Christ refers, the ab initio, is the reality of man before the fall. In answering the question the Pharisees posed to him regarding divorce, Christ refers to man in the state of paradise. There is sufficiently left of this order for us to be able to refer to it even now. Theologians distinguish the state of man before the fall, in his state of original innocence, his status naturae integrae, from his state after the fall, in his state of sinfulness, his status naturae lapsae. [3.3, 141] The following is key:
When Christ, appealing to the 'beginning,' directs the attention of his interlocutors to the words written in Genesis 2:24, he orders them in some sense to pass beyond the boundary that runs, in the Yahwist text of Genesis, between man's first and second situation. He . . . appeals to the words of the first divine order, expressly linked in this text with man's state of original innocence. This means that this order has not lost its force, although man has lost his primeval innocence. Christ's answer is decisive and clear. For this reason, we must draw the normative conclusions from it, which have an essential significance not only for ethics, but above all for the theology of man and the theology of the body . . . .
[3.4, 141-42]

One may note, that on this insight of John Paul II alone, the entirety of Calvin's (and to a slightly lesser extent Luther's) notion of man's "total depravity" is blown to smithereens and shown to be manifestly unscriptural. Similarly, the Lutheran theologian Karl Barth's vehement, even vituperative rejection of natural theology and natural law is found wanting. If you want better to follow Christ, throw away your copy of Christian Institutes Presbyterians, and your Church Dogmatics Lutherans! Instead, follow Christ's lead and
First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
By her just standard, which is still the same:
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchang'd, and universal light,
Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart,
At once the source, and end, and test of art.
Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744), An Essay on Criticism, Part 1.

This includes the art of being human, which is what morality and the theology of the body is all about.


  1. You quote: “Christ does not refer to the Law of Moses to answer a question about the Law of Moses, of which the Pharisees are the greatest representatives. “

    What did Ribi Yehoshua teach about the Torah?
    If you want to follow the first century Jew Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah) from Nazareth: A logical analysis of the historical documents, including the earliest MSS, and archaeology shows what he taught and how to follow him.

    Learn more here:

  2. Thanks,

    I once posited elsewhere, in Summa form, "Is it lawful to suppress authentic Liturgy Music?", raising it to a discernment of Divine Law. The challenge then, in a world of many different cultural "tastes", how does one discern what is authentic and what is not?

    Alexander Pope answers:

    "Life, force, and beauty, must to all impart,
    At once the source, and end, and test of art."

    Pope John Paul II on the body, also hints at the ear, how we physically respond to God's calling, firstly through beautiful Liturgies. This leads to an Ontological revelation: we are indeed capable of discerning what is authentic Liturgy Music and what is not, and it is not merely based on "taste" or "tolerance" (as in the case when subjected to volunteer-led choirs). It also has to be divinely beautiful, which means special gifts manifest in a music minister's full time devotion and rare genius, not a casual "volunteer" ministry. In the Beginning, it was precisely that way. We have to go back to Nehemiah 12 to convince ourselves, this is The Law.

    I will use this elsewhere...