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, January 10, 2010

Justice as Suum Cuique: The Devil Knows Latin

The Gate at Buchenwald Concentration Camp

SUUM CUIQUE, the Latin phrase for "to each his own," is a traditionally received short definition, a maxim as it were, of justice. The Institutes of Justinian define the precepts of the law as "honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere,"that is, "to live honestly, not to injure another, and to give each one that which belongs to him." (Inst. 1.1.3) Indeed, the Institutes of Justinian define Justice itself as "constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuens," the "constant and perpetual desire to give to each person his due." Justinian's definition was not novel, but traditional; it had roots in received wisdom, and as such participates in the beauty of the ancients. Cicero is quoted as stating in his Tusculan Disputations (V.22[63]), suum cuique pulchrum est, "to each his own is beautiful." Though Cicero's meaning in his Tusculan Disputations is not that justice is beautiful, but that each person's performance is beautiful to himself, it remains true that justice is beautiful, and he would have been the first to acknowledge it. Cicero does, in fact, use the term suum cuique as a definition of justice in his De Natura Deorum (III.38) [justitia suum cuique distribuit, "justice renders everyone his due"] and in his De Finibus, Bonorum et Malorum (V.67) [iusitian in suo cuique tribuendo, "justice [is] attributing to each his own."], as well as elsewhere. Indeed, one finds justice as suum cuique mentioned by the stoic Seneca (Epistulae morales 81.7) and by Aulus Gellius (Noctes Atticae, xiii.24), who informs us that the elder Cato understood such a formulation as an adequate notion of justice.

Derived mediately perhaps from the Roman jurist Ulpian, the maxim suum cuique was a central feature of pagan Roman justice, as its use by the Roman greats evidences. But like many things Roman, it was probably borrowed from, or at least informed by, the Greeks. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle describes justice as a virtue that assigns to each man his due in conformity with the law, and injustice as claiming that which belongs to others in opposition to the law. Rhetoric 1366b (ἔστι δὲ δικαιοσύνη μὲν ἀρετὴ δι᾽ ἣν τὰ αὑτῶν ἕκαστοι ἔχουσι, καὶ ὡς ὁ νόμος: ἀδικία δὲ δι᾽ ἣν τὰ ἀλλότρια, οὐχ ὡς ὁ νόμος); see also Nicomachean Ethics, 1132b32 ff. Before that, Plato has Socrates in his dialogue refers to the the poet Simonedes of Ceos as rightly describing justice (δικαιοσύνης) rendering to each person his due. Republic 331e ('ὅτι,' ἦ δ᾽ ὅς,' τὸ τὰ ὀφειλόμενα ἑκάστῳ ἀποδιδόναι δίκαιόν ἐστι'); see also Republic 433e-434a. Though it may originally hale from the Greek philosophers, it comes to us principally from Roman law. As Shakespeare has Marcus Andronicus state to Bassianus: "'Suum cuique' is our Roman justice." Titus Andronicus, Act. 1, sc. 1.

From pagan Rome, this natural law principle was adopted by the Christians, and, after being baptized so-to-speak, eventually became part and parcel of the Christian emperor Justinian's legal reforms, the basis of his vision of law and justice, his law's Rechtsprinzip and its Gerechtigkeitsprinzip. It remains a fundamental definition of the Western concept justice, and, indeed, is arguably universal. As the Dutch Philosopher, Andreas Kinneging, put it in his The Geography of Good and Evil: "Through Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and the Corpus Iuris Iustiniani, this Idea of justice [suum cuique tribuere] long remained a standard notion in Western thinking." Andreas Kinneging, The Geography of Good and Evil: Philosophical Investigations (Ineke Hardy, trans.) (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2009), 150.
In German, suum cuique is translated as Jedem das Seine. In his Cantata Nur jedem das Seine! (BWV 163) Johann Sebastian Bach addresses the Gospel story where Jesus is asked by the Pharisees whether a tax to Caesar is legitimate (Matthew 22:15-22). The Pharisees hoped to entrap Jesus with this question: "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Matt. 15:17. Jesus recognized the Pharasitic effort at entrapment, and asked to see the coin used to pay the tax. Whereupon they brought him a denarius, a Roman coin that bore the imprint of Caesar and his image.

Roman Denarius
Jesus asked them whose portrait and whose inscription was on the coin, to which they replied "Caeasar's." The Lord's answer quieted his interrogators, with both the depth of its wisdom and the wisdom of its depth: Reddite ergo quae sun Caesaris Caesari et quae sunt Dei Deo, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. Using this Gospel text as the basis for his Cantata, Bach stresses both the obligation to pay tax to the legitimate authorities (Obrigkeit), and the more important obligation to render to God what is due God, which is nothing other than the obligation to give him our all. The State, Bach reminds us, has not purchase on our hearts; those belong to God alone.

Doch bleibet das Herze dem Höchsten alleine.
But our heart continues to belong to the Almighty alone.

Ultimately, we must give God all that he owns, which is our entirety; there is no moieity title in us, part of which we own, part of which God owns. We are all God's. None is our own. What we have is all gift, for God, as Bach puts to music, is der Geber aller Gaben, the giver of all gifts.

Wir haben, was wir haben,
Allein von deiner Hand.
Du hast uns gegeben
Geist, Seele, Leib und Leben
Und Hab und Gut und Her und Stand!

We have what we have
Only from your hand.
You have given to us
Spirit, soul, body and life
And property and goods and honour and status!

But if God has given all to us, then what have we to give him?

Was sollen wir
Denn dir
Zur Dankbarkeit dafür erlegen,
Da unser ganz Vermögen
Nur dein und gar nicht unser ist?

What should we
Then to you
Pay in gratitude,
Since all our possessions
Belong only to you and are not really ours at all ?

What have we, then, to give to God when all we have is his gift, and those earthly goods that we have, those temporal benefits, are of no use to the infinite God? It is our very selves, our hearts that are the coin by which we render God his due.

Du bist, mein Gott, der Geber aller Gaben;
Das Herze soll allein,
Doch ist noch eins, das dir, Gott, wohlgefällt:
Herr, deine Zinsemünze sein.

You are, my God, the giver of all gifts;
But there is stll one thing, God, that is pleasing to you:
The heart alone shall be,
Lord, the coin to pay the interest we owe to you.

Yet even the coin of our hearts is marred, worn, horribly devalued; indeed devalued to the point of being almost as worthless tender as counterfeit coin.

Ach! aber ach! ist das nicht schlechtes Geld?
Der Satan hat dein Bild daran verletzet,
Die falsche Münz ist abgesetzet.

Ah, but alas! is it not worthless currency?
Satan has damaged your image on it,
the counterfeit coin has been put in circulation.

Though it be a worn coin, as it were with damaged image of its Maker, its value may be re-established by the Lord's cleansing. It is the Lord's numismatic work of the heart, the Lord's smelting, the Lord's re-stamping our heart's worn coin with his image anew.

Laß mein Herz die Münze sein,
Die ich dir, mein Jesu, steure!
Ist sie gleich nicht allzu rein,
Ach, so komm doch und erneure,
Herr, den schönen Glanz bei ihr!
Komm, arbeite, schmelz und präge,
Dass dein Ebenbild bei mir
Ganz erneuert glänzen möge!

Let my heart be the coin
That I pay you!
If it is at first far from pure,
Ah, then come and renew ,
Lord, its fine gleam!
Come, work on it, melt it and stamp it
So that your image in me
Completely renewed may shine forth!

Yet even our donation of our heart's flawed coin to the Lord's exchange for refurbishing is a matter of his Grace, so that there is nothing that is not ultimately God's own gift.

Ich wollte dir,
O Gott, das Herze gerne geben;
Der Will ist zwar bei mir,
Doch Fleisch und Blut will immer widerstreben.
Dieweil die Welt
Das Herz gefangen hält,
So will sie sich den Raub nicht nehmen lassen;
Jedoch ich muss sie hassen,
Wenn ich dich lieben soll.
So mache doch mein Herz mit deiner Gnade voll;
Leer es ganz aus von Welt und allen Lüsten
Und mache mich zu einem rechten Christen.

To you I wanted,
O God, to give my heart willingly;
I do indeed have the will
But flesh and blood are always striving against it.
So long as the world
Keeps my heart prisoner,
It will not allow its loot to be taken away.
I must indeed hate the world.
If I am to love you.
Therefore make my heart full of your grace,
Empty it completely of the world and all its pleasures
And make me a true Christian.

Recognizing our own resistance, our proclivity toward self-possession, our resistance to giving ourselves to God as gift, we pray God overcome these bonds that keep us from a just response.

Nimm mich mir und gib mich dir!
Nimm mich mir und meinem Willen,
Deinen Willen zu erfüllen;
Gib dich mir mit deiner Güte,
Dass mein Herz und mein Gemüte
In dir bleibe für und für,
Nimm mich mir und gib mich dir!
. . .
Führ auch mein Herz und Sinn
Durch deinen Geist dahin,
Dass ich mög alles meiden,
Was mich und dich kann scheiden,
Und ich an deinem Leibe
Ein Gliedmaß ewig bleibe.

Take me from myself and give me to you!
Take me from myself and my will,
To fulfill your will.
Give yourself to me with your goodness
So that my heart and mind
May remain in you for ever.
Take me from myself and give me to you!
Lead both my heart and mind
Through your spirit away from here
So that I may avoid everything
That can separate me and you
And so that in your body
I may remain a member for ever.

We are obliged in justice, under the principle of suum cuique, to give God our all. Any unyielding on our part, any holding back, any pretense at self-possession, any claimed autonomy from the Lord's law is unjust. It is not rendering to God his due. It is a graspingness, a pleonexia, an injustice to hold back from God what is his due.

Nur jedem das Seine!
Only to each his due!.

Under that principle, God is entitled to all.

Nimm mich mir und gib mich dir!
Take me from myself and give me to you!

Johann Sebastian Bach by Haussman

There is great wisdom in the legal maxim that justice is suum cuique. It may be said that suum cuique is part of the Natural Law. However, one must not forget that, as Msgr. Knox once stated, the Devil knows Latin. Likewise, the Devil speaks in the language of the Natural Law , though he plies it so as to deceive. The Devil loves to fool in what we may call Natural Lawspeak. He can cite principles of natural law as handily as he handled Scripture in the temptation of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

So the Devil spoke in times past in justifying slavery, in justifying unjust war, in justifying colonialism, in justifying the law of the more powerful, even, modernly, in justifying the tyranny of the relative. The Devil's appropriation of Natural Lawspeak to deceive is not limited to times past. We hear the devil's accent in the "right to privacy" and the "right to choose" as slogans to support the murder of innocents. We hear the devil's natural law lilt in the claim to the right to homosexual marriage, as if marriage could ontologically even be between two members of the same sex. But the supreme aping of the Natural Law in recent history must be the use of suum cuique, Jedem das Seine, by the Nazi regime in a valley of beech trees. In what can only be characterized as a gross historical irony--Satan's sarcasm and Moloch's mockery--some Nazi bureaucrat chose the definition for justice--Jedem das seine--as the motto to be emblazoned on the gates of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Let us always recall from this dreadful chapter in history that the Devil also quotes, though grossly misapplies, legal maxims and principles of the Natural Law.


  1. Slavery is an institution. The Bible condones it. Divine Revelation does not condemn it, so why are you? Neither did the Early Church condemn it so it is NOT in the Deposit of Faith. Ecumenical councils have defended the institution of slavery.

    You have intimated that slavery is wrong. Beware of "bearing false witness". Slavery is not wrong by either the Natural Law or Divine Revelation.

  2. I'm not convinced that the matter is as black and white as you suggest. I'm not sure the Bible condones slavery, particularly the New Testament does not seem to "condone" slavery, but perhaps tolerate it. There is, I think, no clear condemnation of slavery. There is an implicit inconsistency between the view of the common brotherhood of man and the institution of slavery, a germ that has developed over time. The Romans viewed the institution of slavery as against the natural law, but permitted through the ius gentium or the law of nations. I'd like to see the Ecumenical Council that "defended the institution of slavery." I am not aware of even local synods that defended the institution. The Popes of the 16th century, the Jesuits and Spanish neo-scholastics, all seemed to be against the institution.
    But I am happy to look at your authorities for your statements, and reassess my views.
    Thanks for your comments.