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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Universal Ethic-Theoretical Foundations 2-Nature, Persons, and Freedom

3.2. Nature, persons, and freedom

64. The notion of nature is especially complex, and is not completely unambiguous. In philosophy, Greek thought regarding physis plays a certain role. In it, nature refers to the principle of specific ontological identity of a subject, i.e., the essence by which it is defined together with its intelligible and stable characteristics. Such essence is given the name nature, above all when it is proposed as the internal principle of movement which orients the subject toward its realization. The notion of nature does not make reference to a static fact, but signifies the dynamic real principle of the development of the subject and of its specific activity. The notion of nature was developed initially with the thought of material and sensible reality, but it is not limited to such a “physical” ambit, and it applies analogically to spiritual reality.

65. The idea according to which beings possess a nature is imposed upon the spirit when it wants to give a reason of the immanent finality of beings and of the regularity which is perceived in their mode of acting and of reacting.(65) Considering beings as natures means recognizing their proper consistency and affirming that they are centers of relative autonomy in the order of being and acting, and not simple illusions or temporary constructions of consciousness. But these "natures" are not ontological unities closed within themselves and simply juxtaposed one against the other. They act upon each other, maintaining between themselves complex causal relationships. In the spiritual order, persons weave together in intersubjective relationships. Natures form therefore a net and, in the final analysis, an order, that is to say, a unified series which refers to a principle.(66)

66. With Christianity, the physis of the ancients was re-thought and integrated in a grander and more profound vision of reality. On the one hand, the God of the Christian revelation is not a simple component of the universe, an element of the great All of nature. To the contrary, He is the transcendent and free Creator of the universe. In fact, the finite universe cannot be founded upon itself, but it points towards the mystery of an infinite God, who through love has created it ex nihilo [out of nothing] and remains free to intervene in the course of nature any time that he wills. On the other hand, the transcendent mystery of God is reflected in the mystery of the human person as an image of God. The human person has the capacity of consciousness and of love; he is given freedom, is capable of entering into communion with others, and is called by God to a destiny which transcends the finality of physical nature. The human person completes himself in a free and gratuitous relationship of love with God who realizes himself in history.

67. With its insistence on freedom as a condition of the response of man to the initiative of the love of God, Christianity has contributed in a decisive manner to the place given to the notion of the person in philosophical discourse, so as to give it a decisive influence in ethical doctrine. In addition, the theological exploration of the Christian mystery has led to a very significant deepening of the philosophical subject of the person. First, the notion of a person serves to designate the distinctions of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the infinite mystery of the one divine nature. Second, the person is the point where--with the respect to the distinction and the distance between the two natures, divine and human--the ontological unity of the Man-God, Jesus Christ, is established. In Christian theological tradition, the person presents two complementary aspects. On the one hand, according to the definition of Boethius take up by scholastic theology, the person is an “individual substance (existence) of rational nature."(67) This refers to the unity of an ontological subject which, being of spiritual nature, enjoys a dignity and an autonomy which manifests itself in a consciousness of himself, and in the oneness of a ontological subject that, being of spiritual nature, enjoys of a dignity and of an autonomy that is shown in the conscience of himself and in the free mastery of his own acts. On the other hand, the person manifests himself in his capacity of entering into relationships: the person exercises his acts within the intersubjective order of community and of love.

68. The person is not opposed to nature. To the contrary, nature and person are two notions which complement each other. From one perspective, every human person is a unique realization of human nature understood in a metaphysical sense. Form another perspective, the human person--in the free choices with which he answers in the concrete of his "here and now" to his unique and transcendent vocation--assumes the orientations provided by his nature. In fact, nature places the conditions on the exercise of freedom, and indicates an orientation with respect to the choices that the person ought to accomplish. Reflecting upon the intelligibility of his nature, the person thus there discovers the ways of his own realization.

(65) The theory of evolution, which tends to reduce the species to a precarious and provisional balance in the flow of what is to come, does it not replace perhaps radically this concept of nature? In fact, whatever may be its value on the level of empirical biological description, the notion of species responds to a permanent requirement of philosophical explanation of the living. Only recourse to a formal specification, irreducible to a sum of the material properties, is able to provide reasons of the intelligibility of the internal functioning of a living organism considered as one totally coherent.

(66) The theological doctrine of original sin highlights strongly the real unity of human nature. Human nature cannot be reduced to a simple abstraction of a sum of real individuals. Rather, human nature is indicated as a totality which embraces all men who share in the one same destiny. The simple fact of being born (you are born) puts us in lasting relations of solidarity with all other men.

(67) Boethius, Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius, c. 3 [PL 64, col. 1344]: “Persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia.” Cf. St. Bonaventure, Commentaria in librum I Sentantiarum, d. 25, a. 1, q. 2; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 29, a. 1.

(68) Benedict XVI, Encyclical
Spe salvi, n. 5.

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