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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ambrose: Letter to Irenaeus: Law Flowing from a Natural Fountain

WE NEED TO THANK A CERTAIN IRENAEUS, a correspondent of St. Ambrose, for having asked St. Ambrose to elaborate on the teachings of St. Paul, and we ought to thank St. Ambrose for having answered. The question that this certain Irenaeus appears to have posed to the holy bishop was what the purpose of the Mosaic law was since St. Paul finds the law injurious: "For the law worketh wrath . . . ." Rom. 4:15a. Lex enim iram operatur. "For where there is no law, neither is there transgression." Rom. 4:15b. Ubi enim non est lex nec praevericatio. "Now the law entered in, that sin might abound . . . ." Rom. 5:20. Lex autem subintravit ut abundaret delictum. If the law brings in wrath and transgression, where there was none before, then what good purpose serves the law? That is the question of St. Ambrose's correspondent.

St. Ambrose by Pierre Subleyras

"It is certain," St. Ambrose begins, "that the Law, which was given by Moses, was not necessary." Certum est non fuissem Legem necessariam quae per Moysen data est. Why was the Mosaic law not necessary? It was not necessary because it was superfluous in the sense that there was already existing a law, a natural law. The Mosaic law was then a re-promulgation, in another form, of that natural law that existed in men's hearts. Had men kept the natural law, there would have been no need for the Mosaic revelation.
For had men been able to keep the natural law, which our God and Maker implanted in the breast of each, there would have been no need of the Law, which, written on tables of stone, tended rather to entangle and fetter the infirmity of human nature, than to set at large and liberate it. Now that there is a natural Law written in our hearts the Apostle also teaches us, when he writes, that for the most part the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, and, though they have not read the Law, have yet the works of the Law written in their hearts [Rom. 2:14] [N.B. Walford, trans., here and elsewhere].

Nam si naturalem legem, quam Deus creator infudit singulorum pectoribus, homines servare potuissent, non fuerat opus ea lege quae, in tabulis scripta lapideis, implicavit atque innodavit magis humani generis infirmitatem, quam elaqueavit atque absolvit. Esse autem legem naturalem in cordibus nostris etiam Apostolus docet, qui scripsit quia plerumque et gentes naturaliter ea, quae Legis sunt, faciunt; et cum Legem non legerint, opus tamen Legis scriptum habent in cordibus suis.
Epist. ad Ir., 73, 2 (PL 16:1251) "This law," St. Ambrose continues,
therefore is not written but innate; not acquired by reading, but flowing as from a natural fountain, it springs up in each breast, and men's minds drink it in. This Law we ought to have kept even from fear of a future judgment, a witness whereof we have in our conscience, which shews itself in those silent thoughts we have towards God, and whereby either our sin is reproved or our innocence justified. And thus that which has ever been manifest to the Lord, will be clearly revealed in the day of judgment, when those secrets of the heart, which were thought to be concealed, will be called into account. Now the discovery of these things, these secrets, I mean, would do no harm, if the natural Law still remained in the human breast; for it is holy, free from craft or guile, the companion of justice, free from iniquity.

Ea igitur lex non scribitur, sed innascitur: nec aliqua percipitur lectione, sed profluo quodam naturae fonte in singulis exprimitur, et humanis ingeniis hauritur. Quam debuimus vel futuri judicii metu servare, cujus testis conscientia nostra tacitis cogitationibus apud Deum ipsa se prodit, quibus vel redarguitur improbitas, vel defenditur innocentia. Itaque cum semper pateat Domino, tum maxime in die judicii manifestabitur; quando occulta cordis in examen venient, quae putabantur latere. Quorum tamen proditio, occultorum scilicet, nequaquam noceret, si lex naturalis inesset pectoribus humanis; est enim sancta, sine versutia, sine fraude, consors justitiae, expers iniquitatis.
Epist. ad Ir., 73, 3 St. Ambrose continues:
Adam broke this Law, seeking to assume to himself that which he had not received, that thus he might become as it were his own maker and creator, and arrogate to himself divine honour. Thus by his disobedience he incurred guilt, and through arrogance fell into transgression. Had he not thus violated his allegiance, (sin non supisset imperium) but been obedient to the commands of heaven, he would have preserved to his posterity the prerogative of nature and the innocence which he possessed at his birth. Wherefore as by disobedience the authority of the Law of Nature was corrupted and blotted out [smeared, struck out?] (corrupta atque interlita est), the written law was found necessary; in order that man, having lost all, might at least regain a part; attaining by instruction to the knowledge of that which he had received at his birth, but had subsequently lost (ut vel partem haberet, qui universum amiserat: et cui perierat quod nascendo assumpserat, discendo saltem cognosceret et custodiret). Moreover, since the cause of his fall was pride, and pride arose from the dignity of innocence, it was needful that some law should be passed which should subdue and subject him to God. [cf. Rom. 7:8] For without the Law he was ignorant of sin, and thus his guilt was less because he knew it not. (Nam sine Lege peccatum nesciebatur, et minor erat culpa, ubi erat culpae ignorantia.) Wherefore also the Lord says, If I had not come and spoken to them they had not had sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. [cf. John 15:22]
Epist. ad Ir., 73, 5. The natural law was therefore part of man's original makeup, it was part of his historical "infancy" or infantiam, before there was any crime, avarice, ambition, guile, rage, or insolence. This was before man claimed things for his own, before he preferred himself to others, before he wished or knew how to avenge himself, before he even knew the meaning of insolence. Epist. ad Ir., 73, 4. This natural law is what the Church Fathers would refer to as "primary natural law." One might also characterize it as "original natural law," since it was with man from his origins. And it exists no more in its pure state. After man's fall in Adam, the natural law remained, but corrupted (corrupta) and smeared (interlita). The natural law after the Fall of man, this post-lapsarian natural law is what the Church Fathers would call the "secondary natural law." In his The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, Heinrich Rommen explains:
The Fathers also took over the Stoic distinction of a primary and a secondary natural law, which they interpreted in a theological sense. They regarded the former as applying to the state of unimpaired nature or innocence, while they assigned the latter, with the coercive authority of the law, with bondage and slavery, to the theological condition of fallen nature. Nature, somehow wounded indeed but not destroyed, is therefore still able fully to recognize the first principles of morality and law. But the conclusions from the first principles, which were also plainly intelligible in the state of unimpaired nature, are now attainable only by means of deductive reasoning, since the practical reason is also weakened. Accordingly law takes on a harsh, compulsory character, and the state bears a sword.
The nomenclature is not altogether felicitous, because there is no real difference between the content of the natural law before and after the fall. That is, the content of the "primary natural law" and the "secondary natural law" are the same. What is different is the mode or facility by which the voice of the natural law is fathomed, its voice obeyed, and, after the fall of man's integrity which introduced sin into the world, its violation recognized and rectified. The natural law in man's post-lapsarian wounded heart limped, and so it needed the crutch of a written law., and, in fact, required the sacrifice of Christ and the mercy and grace it supplied men. It needed the crutch of a written law as a stop-gap measure, as a cure for man's rebellion, to take away excuse, to expose guilt where it otherwise might remain secret, to provide knowledge where there was ignorance, to stanch the the wounded conscience, to help the practical reason arrive at the good, and ultimately, to point to the need for Christ and his grace.

St. Ambrose by Claude Vignon

The Mosaic law was therefore "not only given to the Jews but also called the Gentiles," (non solum Judaeis data est, sed etiam gentes vocavit), and not only the beckoned Gentiles who responded and converted to Judaism, but those who neglected to do so, those "who after being called [were] found wanting, for the Law also bound those whom she called" (neque vero exceptus videri potest, qui vocatus defuit; Lex enim quos vocavit et alligavit). Epist. ad Ir., 73, 6. Thus, the Mosaic law was promulgated for all mankind, Jew and Gentile.

But the Mosaic law is not necessary. Non fuit necessaria lex per Moysen. The Mosaic law, "would not have been needed could we have kept the natural law," si illam legem naturalem servare potuissemus. Epist. ad Ir., 73, 9. The Mosaic law "was not needed," and "succeeded in the place of the natural law." But had the natural law "maintained its place, the written law would never have entered in."
But the natural law being excluded by transgression and almost blotted out of the human breast, pride reigned, and disobedience spread itself; and then this Law succeeded, that by its written precepts it might cite us before it, and every mouth be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.
Epist. ad Ir., 73, 10. Though superfluous in one way since it was a restatement of the natural law, the Mosaic law was necessary in a factual sense because man's ability to know it, follow it, and recognize his failure of it was hampered by the loss of the integrity in his nature following the fall. So that resolving "sin by sin," ut peccatum peccato solveret, the law operated through a sort of casual chain: transgression led to the law, which meant subjection, subjection led to humility, humility to obedience. Epist. ad Ir., 73, 6-10. And so in a manner of speaking, transgression was, as we might say borrowing from the Easter liturgy, a happy fault, a felix culpa, because it ultimately led to obedience. Nay, more, the transgression actually led to grace, and St. Ambrose closes his letter to Irenaeus by focusing on this wonder. The same causal chain that Ambrose related led to that advent of grace, the Incarnation of the Son of God. The transgression brought the law, and the law ultimately brought obedience par excellence, that is, it brought the obedience of Christ and thereby our redemption. St. Ambrose closes his letter to Irenaeus thus:
But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all men that sin which none could escape, and blotted out the handwriting against us by the shedding of His own Blood. This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the Law, but grace abounded by Jesus; for after that the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Wherefore let no man glory in works, for by his works no man shall be justified, for he that is just hath a free gift, for he is justified by the Bath. It is faith then which delivers by the blood of Christ, for Blessed is the man to whom sin is remitted, and, pardon granted.
Epist. ad Ir., 73, 11.

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