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, December 27, 2009

Girolamo Zanchi on the Natural Law, Part 1

THE THEOLOGIAN GIROLAMO ZANCHI (1516-90) dedicates a substantial portion of his treatment on law to the natural law. At the outset of his treatment on the natural law, Zanchi discusses the meaning of the term natural law, distinguishing the term natural law as used by various authorities, including Justinian, Canon and Civil lawyers, St. Paul, and St. Thomas. In reviewing these various definitions of natural law, Zanchi aims at limiting his use of the natural law to matters pertaining only to human beings, that is matters relating to man's intellect and spiritual soul, thus excluding from within the scope of that part of human life that man shares with the brute creation. "[C]ontrary to Aquinas, Zanchi wants to limit the use of the term natural law to that which pertains to human beings, thereby excluding its extension to the animal kingdom or to things that lack intellect (such as physical regularities in nature)." Grabill, 137.

Justinian's Digest and Institutions defines natural law broadly to include the brute creation in addition to man: "Natural law is what nature teaches to all animals." (323; quoting Digest, and Institutions, 1.2). This includes aspects of human life that would seem beyond the mere intellectual life unique to man. Thus mating, reproduction, and the rearing of young would be part of the natural law under Justinian's broad definitions.

As used by Canon lawyers and theologians, however, the term natural law is restricted to human nature. Quoting Gratian's Decretum, Zanchi defines this concept of law as "law common to all nations and that is obeyed everywhere by natural instinct and not by any statute." (324, quoting Decretum, 1.7). This broad concept of the "law of nations" (ius gentium) includes matters of moral behavior, namely, the notion of God, the duty of worshipping him, and matters relating to piety, such as obedience to one's parents or country, as well as matters of self-defense. This concept found within the ius gentium is what theologians and canon lawyers have called natural law.

St. Paul, on the other hand, puts forth a notion of natural law that pertains to individual human affairs alone, outside of the context of the ius gentium. When St. Paul speaks about the natural law, he refers to it being "written on the hearts" of men, clearly precluding thereby any reference to animals, since this "law" (which is nothing other than Scripture or divine law) cannot be said to be written in the hearts of brute animals. Based upon the Pauline concept, St. Isidore defines natural law as "that which is common for all people." (324) However, Zanchi also notes that St. Paul's notion of natural law also comprehends a more narrow view, in that in 1 Corinthians 11, he refers to the Greek custom that men should have their hair short, while women should have it long, as something taught by "nature itself." Though St. Paul characterizes it thus, it is clear that this natural law was a custom specific to the Greek, and not common to all peoples.

Finally, St. Thomas limits the term nature in "natural law" to human nature, although there is and overlap with animals, since man, in addition to his unique rational nature, shares with the brute animals a certain similarity. St. Thomas's teaching appears consonant with St. Paul's teaching as St. Thomas "in fact, teaches that whatever we find commonly inside the human heart belongs to a part of natural law." (324)

Zanchi distinguishes three levels to the natural law: (i) negatively, the impulse of self-defense or self-protection; (ii) affirmatively, the impulse toward propagation, which includes the procreation and education of children in common with the animals, and includes such matters as marriage, reproduction, and the rearing of children; and (iii) an intellectual or spiritual level, one preeminently human, which recognizes man's inclination to God, to religious worship, to "do good to those with whom they live," and the tendency towards justice, honesty, and life in common. In this last level, St. Thomas included the life of virtue and every virtuous act. "All that is contained in the law and the Gospels; that is, the lifestyle described there, particularly that people should treat their neighbors as they [themselves] want to be treated, belong to the natural law." For this reason, St. Thomas concludes that "all evil and sin is unnatural," that is contrary to the natural law. (325, quoting S.T., IaIIae, art. 94, ad. 3). The natural law thus encompasses the "Golden Rule" that was so central to Jesus' moral teachings.

Unfortunately, it is here that Zanchi betrays his Calvinistic vein. It is manifest that Zanchi has adopted Calvin's pessimistic assessment of mankind, so that man's reason, his nature, since Adam's fall is essentially totally depraved. In its purity, the natural law can only be found before the Fall and after the Fall only by a sort of special grace. In fallen man, there is, in practice, no natural law.

Now, before there was sin in the world, natural law had been perfectly instilled in human beings. Divine will and the precepts for doing some things and avoiding others had been co-created with Adam when the image of God was breathed into him. Thus, before sin, this spark of reason had been perfectly placed inside human beings. After the Fall, however, natural law was almost entirely blotted out as was any law that looks to God and the worship of him or to our neighbours and the just and fair relationship with them. The entire image of God that stands firm in justice and holiness was lost. People became completely blind in their minds, totally depraved in their hearts, and altogether corrupted, especially in those things that human beings share with animals, plants, and other substances. In particular, human beings warped this instinctual natural law: Every living thing knows that it is right and good to protect itself, but that in order to do so, people now rush to any injustice or violence.


Of the three levels that Zanchi identified, the first two are "extremely corrupt," and the third level "almost entirely destroyed after the Fall." So corrupt is man's post-lapsarian nature that should we "ever see a sliver of this aspect of natural law again in a human being," it must be because "it was written in that person's soul a second time in its entirety by God himself." In other words, without re-inscription, Fallen man has no real aspect of natural law left.

After this discussion, Zanchi elaborates various definitions of the natural law before concluding with a definition of his own. The various definitions that Zanchi puts forth are:

Natural law . . . is a common principle; and therefore, a distinct rule put into the hearts and minds of human beings by God himself, warning them what they should do and what they should avoid. [Zanchi states that in this definition, the term "common" is defined as "human beings' shared knowledge, judgment, and perception by which all people without distinction pondering their actions in their hearts either condemn or absolve themselves. This perception also comes from God when he speaks or inscribes his judgments in the hearts and minds of human beings."]

. . .
Natural law is a light--that underlying spark of reason by which we discern right from wrong.

. . .
Natural law is the shared opinion to which all people together agree and to which God inscribed onto each person's heart in order to establish the most beneficial customs.
Dissatisfied with these definitions, Zanchi proffers one of his own, one that he categorizes as "lengthy but full and complete." It is, in fact, the entirety of this eighth Thesis:

Natural law is the will of God, and, consequently, the divine rule and principle for knowing what to do and what not to do. It is, namely, the knowledge of what is good or bad, fair or unfair, upright or shameful, that was inscribed upon the hearts of all people by God himself also after the Fall. For this reason, we are universally taught what activities should be pursued and what should be avoided; that is, to do one thing and to avoid another, and we know that we are obligated and pushed to act for the glory of God, our own good, and the welfare of our neighbor both in private and in public. In addition, we know that if we do what should be be avoided or avoid what we should do, we are condemned; but if we do the opposite, we are defended and absolved.

Ostensibly relying on St. Paul's teaching in his epistle to the Romans (specifically, Romans 2:14-15), Zanchi seeks to distance himself from St. Thomas's view that the natural law arises in man despite his fallen state. Contrary to this, Zanchi suggests that the natural law is no longer to be found in man's fallen state, except by the grace of God who has "inscribed it anew in the minds and hearts of human beings after the fall." Grabill, 138-39 (quoting Zanchi). For Zanchi, then, as Grabill summarizes it:

'Natural law' is not so called, then, because it was passed down to us from Adam naturally--for by nature human beings are now blind and depraved--but rather because God has "reinscribed" general, natural principles of worship, goodness, fairness, and honesty into humanity at large. For Zanchi, natural law cannot be identified with either a 'relic of the original image of God' or some 'essential part of human nature' but with the knowledge of morality that has been 'restored by God because of his goodness and grafted anew in our hearts.'
Grabill, at 139.

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