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, November 26, 2009

Brownson on Why the Natural Law Obliges

IN THIS EXCERPT from his "Refutation of Atheism," Orestes Brownson gives a synopsis of the natural moral law and its relationship to the Eternal Law. He distinguishes the motive for obedience to it from the duty to obey it. Ultimately, the natural law derives its obligatoriness from our status as creatures, having God as our creator, and God as our end. Our end, in God's great design in creating us, is the Eternal Law. That is, we are called to have God as our last end. Both the rejection of our creaturehood and rejection of our eschatological destiny will result in the rejection of the natural law, which is nothing other than God's Eternal Law writ in us. Our secular political philosophy ignores both our status as creatures, and our status as children of God with an eternal destiny. The next excerpts from Orestes Brownson will address the relationship of the natural law to God and to the Church that Jesus Christ founded.

"The moral law is the application of the eternal law in the moral government of rational existences, and the eternal law, according to St. Augustine, is the eternal will or reason of God. The moral law necessarily expresses both the reason and the will of God. There are here two questions which must not be confounded, namely, 1, What is the reason of the law? 2, Wherefore is the law obligatory on us as rational existences? The first question asks what is the reason or motive on the part of God in enacting the law, and, though that concerns him and not us, we may answer: Doubtless, it is the same reason he had for creating us, and is to be found in his infinite love and goodness. The second question asks, Why does the law oblige us? that is, why is it law for us: since a law that does not oblige is no law at all.

This last is the real ethical question. The answer is not, It is obligatory becuase what it enjoins is good, holy, and necessary to our perfection or beatitude. That would be a most excellent reason why we should do the things enjoined, but is no answer to the question, why are we bound to do them, and are guilty if we do not? Why is obedience to the law a duty, and disobedience a sin? It is necessary to distinguish with the theologians between the finis operantis and the finis operis, between the work one does, and the motive for which one does it. Every work that tends to realize the theological order is good, but if we do it not from the proper motive, we are not moral or virtuous in doing it. We must have the intention of doing it in obedience to the law or will of the sovereign, who has the right to command us.

What, then, is the ground of the right of God to command us, and of our duty to obey him? The ground of both is in the creative act. God has a complete and absolute right to us, because, having made us from nothing, we are his, wholly his, and not our own. He created us from nothing, and only his creative act stands between us and nothing; he therefore owns us, and therefore we are his, body and soul, and all that we have, can do, or acquire. He is therefore our Sovereign Lord and Proprietor, with supreme and absolute dominion over us, and the absolute right, as absolute owner, to do what he will with us. His right to command is founded on his dominion, and his dominion is founded on his creative act, and we are bound to obey him, whatever he commands, because we are his creature, absolutely his, and in no sense our own."

[From Brownson's Works, "Refutation of Atheism" (H. F. Brownson: Detroit, 1898), Vol. 2, p. 90-91.]

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