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, December 3, 2009

The Need for Revelation: "Pis-Aller" by Matthew Arnold

IN HIS POEM "PIS ALLER,"* the poet Matthew Arnold writes about the practical need we have for the natural law to be revealed in the divine positive law. Though in theory the natural law is available to all men, regardless of culture and time and place, most men have impediments--individual, cultural, religious, or intellectual--that may frustrate the ability to discern the natural law. Though Arnold would surely have disclaimed it, this practical difficulty also explains the need for the Magisterium, that is, the teaching Church or ecclesia docens, in teaching all men of the existence and the content of the natural law. It is part of the Church's competency to teach about the natural law, and to do so infallibly through God's own promise.

Man is blind because of sin,
Revelation makes him sure;
Without that, who looks within,
Looks in vain, for all's obscure.

Nay, look closer into man!
Tell me, can you find indeed
Nothing sure, no moral plan
Clear prescribed, without your creed?

No, I nothing can perceive!
Without that, all's dark for men.
That, or nothing, I believe.--
For God's sake, believe it then!

This is in accordance with St. Thomas Aquinas's teaching on the natural moral law and the practical need for revelation. In his Summa Theologiae (IaIIae, q. 91, art. 4), St. Thomas states:

Besides the natural and the human law it was necessary for the directing of human conduct to have a Divine law. And this for four reasons, . . . [the second being] because, on account of the uncertainty of human judgment, especially on contingent and particular matters, different people form different judgments on human acts; whence also different and contrary laws result. In order, therefore, that man may know without any doubt what he ought to do and what he ought to avoid, it was necessary for man to be directed in his proper acts by a law given by God, for it is certain that such a law cannot err. [Ut ergo homo absque omni dubitatione scire possit quid ei sit agendum et quid vitandum, necessarium fuit ut in actibus propriis dirigeretur per legem divinitus datam, de qua constat quod non potest errare.]

Matthew Arnold

*"pis aller" is a French word meaning worse (pis) and to go (aller). It means the final recourse or expedient, the last resort, last device, a dernier ressort, or stop gap measure.

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