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.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Brownson on Total Depravity

THESE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS we have reviewed some of the Protestant Reformers' views on the natural law. Much of the Protestant Reformers' theology was marred by their theological doctrine of the "total depravity" of man. This doctrine led them to distrust practical reason's ability to determine and to will the good. Trying to preserve the role of Grace and avoid the shoals of Pelagianism, the Reformers failed to negotiate the mean, and ended up stuck in the maelstrom of "total depravity." Because the Reformers taught that man after the fall was entirely damaged, there was no "image of God," no natural revelation, no trace of good, or plan of any end in nature that reason could rely on to find an intrinsic law. Unlike the fairy tale, there was not even straw of God's image in man which man could spin into the gold of law. Law was absent in post-lapsarian nature; natural man was disorder and chaos, outside the pale of any natural grace; there was no good in him; man's nature was viscous sand, and had no firm rock. Such a arenic, sand-like, pessimistic conception of man was not a foundation upon which a natural law ethic can be built.

In his article "Romanism in America," Orestes Brownson displays good Catholic distrust of such dismal and dreary theories of man. He outlines a precise and accurate anthropology of man, an anthropology which must be held in order to build a natural law theory that will withstand the onslaught of storms.
We always view with great distrust all theories which are founded on the supposed intrinsic corruption of the human soul. Nothing that exists is intrinsically evil. Protestants, when they do not deny the fall, are sure to exaggerate its effects on human nature. Man's nature has become disordered, his understanding darkened, and his will attenuated, by the loss of original justice, but it remains intrinsically good, physically what it was when it first came from the hands of the Creator. It is not totally depraved, it is not wholly corrupt; for if it were, it could not be redeemed and saved. Man's intellect is still adapted to truth, and cannot think without thinking truth on some side; his will still craves good, and cannot operate on some side willing good. It is in the power of no man to think unmixed falsehood, or to will unmixed evil for the sake of evil. All thought is displayed on a substratum of truth, all will upon a substratum of good. In all error there is a truth misapprehended, misrepresented, misapplied, or abused. Here is the side of truth in your modern eclectic and humanitarian schools. All these exaggerated views of the depravity of human nature should be avoided. The fathers did not find gentile philosophy all false and all evil. They studied it, and recommended its study, as containing much that is both true and good. Protestants even are to be judged with moderation and impartiality. It would be as false as illiberal to say that they have no truth. Not all their thoughts are false, not all their judgments are erroneous, not all their volitions are evil. They are men, men as richly endowed by nature as other men,--are not unfrequently able men, highly cultivated and learned men, as were many of the ancient gentiles. Not even in them has human nature lost all its dignity, or been short of all its glory. We should be able to recognize and vindicate, if need be, the dignity and nobility of human nature in the heretical as well as in the orthodox. We render no service to religion by decrying human nature. We are not to destroy nature, as attempted by Calvinists and Jansenists, to make way for grace. Grace comes to its aid, strengthens it, and lifts it into a higher sphere. It is what nature wants, what it cries out for, and without which it cannot attain to its supernatural destiny, its supernatural beatitude. That is what Tertullian meant when he pronounced the human heart "naturally Christian."

[From Brownson's Works, "Romanism in American" (Detroit: Thorndike House, 1884), Vol. 7, pp. 524-25.]

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