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, December 12, 2009

A Little Bit of Plato in St. Thomas

THERE ARE INDISPUTABLE PLATONIC precursors to St. Thomas Aquinas's definition of law. As previously related in this blog, St. Thomas defines law as "nothing other than a certain dictate of reason (rationis ordinatio) for the common good, made by him who has the care of the community and promulgated." ST. IaIIae, Q.90, art.4. "There are no elements," in this definition, "which were not insisted upon by Plato." [Huntington Cairns, Legal Philosophy from Plato to Hegel (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1956), 173.] Thus, we may find it useful to link St. Thomas's concepts to their Platonic analogues:

Law is ultimately based upon a theological foundation:

"To whom," says the Athenian to Clinias, "do you ascribe the authorship of your legal arrangements, Strangers? To a god or to some man?" "To a god, Stranger, most rightfully to a god." 624A. The laws "form a task especially for God." 835C.

Law is a form of reason:

Reason's ordering is given the name of law, Laws 714A. The admirable law bears a name akin to reason (nomos = nous). Laws, 957C. See also Laws, 890D.

Law must be made for the common good:

"The law is not concerned with the special happiness of any class in the state, but is trying to produce this condition in the city as a whole, harmonizing and adapting the citizens to one another by persuasion and compulsion, and requiring them to impart to one another any benefit." Rep., 519E

Law must be made by one in authority, that is in care of the community:

See, e.g., Rep., 520D et seq. (In discussing the appropriate authorities to govern the state, the discussion implies that the laws will be passed by those in charge of the community.)

Law must be promulgated:

Here, implicitly, the fact that laws tend to virtuous of the citizens implies that they have knowledge of them. "Every legislator who is worth his salt will most assuredly legislate always with a single eye to the highest goodness and to that alone." Laws, 630C. "Do you now, in turn, keep a watch on my present lawmaking, as you follow it, in case I should enact any law either not tending to virtue at all, or tending only to a part of it. For I lay it down as an axiom that no law is rightly enacted which does not aim always, like an archer, at that object . . ." Laws, 705E. (It is clear that the concept of promulgation is only implicit, as Cairns suggests, Plato "did not develop the idea of promulgation qua promulgation; rather, he took it so much for granted, even to the extent of arranging that the laws should be written in persuasive and readable form, that the idea that there might be secret laws did not occur to him." Cairns, 174, n. 21.)

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