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, March 29, 2010

St. Anselm of Laon: Natural Law as Locus Spatiosus, a "Large Place"

ST. ANSELM OF LAON'S DOCTRINE OF THE NATURAL LAW is found in both allegorical interpretations of Scripture such as those found in his glosses on scripture, and in the more systematic doctrinal treatments in his Sententiae. In terms of the natural law, St. Anselm's glosses that relate to the natural law begin, as might be expected, with the Pauline foundation in Romans 2:14-15. Then, guided by the doctrines of Sts. Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine and other Church Fathers, including the brilliant, if misfitted theologian Origen, he arrives at a sort of synthetic view of the natural law. All of what Anselm of Laon synthesized was found in germ or even in maturing bloom in the writings of the Church Fathers. "Ambrose, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine had all discussed Paul's remark [in Romans 2:14-15], and their discussions were systematized in the School of Laon." John Marenbon, "The Rise of Scholastic Philosophy," in A History of the Philosophy of Law from the Ancient Greeks to the Scholastics (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), 272.

According to John Marenbon, Anselm of Laon distinguished three periods of sacred history subsequent to the Fall, each which could be distinguished by its own law. There was the period between the Fall and the Mosaic dispensation, "the period of the natural law," the lex naturalis. There was the period of the Mosaic dispensation, the period of the "old law," the vetus lex, a law whose heart was the Ten Commandments, which confirmed and repeated the natural law, and also contained the "figural commandments" that included its various ritual, dietary, and religious ceremonies. Finally, there was the period of the "new law, preached by Christ." Marenbon (2007), 272. The evangelical law, the law of the Gospel, was built upon the natural law, both the natural law as imparted to the Gentiles, and the natural law as confirmed by the Mosaic law, for per hanc ergo legem Christi patuit ingressus legi evangelicae. Enarr. in Matt. (162 PL 1233-34).

An example of St. Anselm's allegorical interpretation of Scripture is his Commentary on Matthew, the Enarrationes in Matthaeum, as contained in Volume 162 of Migne's Patrologia Latina, in particular St. Anselm's interpretation of Christ's Sermon on the Mount as it is related in Chapters 5 through 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, his gloss on the Parable of the Talents, and his description of Isaac as the son of Abraham in the first chapter of Matthew. Linking these three glosses together provides us with a view of St. Anselm's (or at least his school's, since St. Anselm may not be its author) general understanding of the doctrine of the natural law as it influence his gloss on the Scriptures.

Four Figures, Cathedral of Laon

In commenting on that part of the Gospels where Jesus, seeing the multitudes, went up into a mountain, and preached his Sermon on the Mount (thereby promulgated the law of the New Testament which was to be the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law), St. Anselm distinguishes between the two laws by looking at the different manners in which they were promulgated to mankind. This gloss is upon the words, "And opening his mouth," et aperiens os suum. (Matt. 5:2). The giving of the Evangelical law by Christ, which began by the opening of his mouth, differs substantially from the way the Mosaic law was revealed. The Mosaic law, St. Anselm observes, was given in terror and in smoke, in a whirlwind, with the people huddled in fear as they surrounded the mountains [Ex. 19:16-18]. But in the giving of New Law of Christ, there was nothing like this; rather, all was done in peace, and the law was taught to the crowds, not with a spirit of fear, but in a spirit of love. Alia lex data est in terrore, quia fumus et turbae et procellae fuerunt circa montem. In datione Novi Testamenti nihil horum, sed totum in tranquillitate fuit factum, ut doceret hanc legem non timere, sed amore complendam esse. Moreover, the Mosaic law was written in stone, the evangelical law given by Christ was written in the heart: Alia lex scripta est in lapidus, ista in cordibus. 126 PL 1283. So both in manner of promulgation, and in the manner of publication, the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ differ. There is, however, a shared corpus of law between the Mosaic law and the Christian law, and that corpus is the natural law. St. Anselm addresses the issue of the Mosaic law to the Gentiles in his gloss of Matthew 25:24, specifically, in the context of Christ's parable regarding the talents.

St. Anselm discusses law in the context of Christ's parable regarding the talents, and the comments of the servant who buried his one talent, and who comes to his master with the excuse: "Lord, I know that you are a hard man," Domine scio quia homo durus es. In his Commentary, St. Anselm interprets these words as follows. The servant may be seen as speaking allegorically of the precepts of the Mosaic law in that they were hard and confining, dura et arcta. "Thou reapest where thou hast not sown," metis ubi non seminasti. From the vantage point of the servant, the master's hardness is also observed in that the master reaps where he did not sow, meaning in this case, outside of the written law. The Gentiles are the field where the master reaps where he has not sown the written law, in quibus tu non seminasti legem scriptam, and these last were without the (written) law, sine lege fuerunt, and even so the master reaped among them. That is the master harvested them with the pruning hook of justice, and condemned those who have done wrong, even those which lacked the seeds of the written law.
Dicit ergo servus nequam: Domine, scio quia homo durus es, etc. Id est, dura et arcta praecepta habes, et in hoc noto duritiam tuam, quod tu metis ubi non seminasti. Gentiles sunt, in quibus tu non seminasti legem scriptam, imo sine lege fuerunt, et tamen metis eos, id est falce judicii praecidis eos, et damnas, quia male operantur, quamvis semine scriptae legis careant.
126 PL 1461. St. Anselm continues his gloss on the Matthean text, specifically, "and gatherest where thou hast not strewed," et congregas ubi non sparsisti. This refers to the Gentiles, where the master did not sow the written law. To gather together: that is said of them to whom the master did not strew by public proclamation of the written law; the power to congregate may be interpreted as the power of the master to gather fruit into the storehouse of heaven. For the master saves these persons to which the written law was not announced, such as Job, through the natural law. And in comparison with those who obey the natural law, the master will damn those who neglect the written law. "And being afraid," et timens. For that reason, explains St. Anselm, the Lord gathers those who, having in fear have been tested, walk in the higher life seeking salvation, and indeed, do not follow the other (lower) life. "I went," et ipse abii, those who go by free will, "and hid thy talent," et abscondi talentum tuum, that is, did not proclaim the master, having been given knowledge of him, but hid, "in the earth," in terra, that is, pass their time in a carnal life, and as those who have held the master's talent, without increase or decrease. "Behold here thou hast that which is thine," Ecce habes quod tuum est.
Et congregas, ubi non sparsisti. Quia quosdam gentilium, ubi non sparsisti scriptam legem, congregas; scilicet de illis, in quibus nihil praedicationis seminasti, vis tibi congregare fructum in horreo coelesti. Quosdam enim salvas per legem naturalem, sicut Job, quibus lex scripta non fuit nuntiata, et eorum comparatione, qui naturalem legem servant, damnas eos, qui negligunt scriptam; et ideo ego timens aggredi gradum altioris vitae, ne scilicet alterius salutem quaerens, periclitarer. Et ipse abii, per liberum arbitrium, et abscondi talentum tuum, id est, non praedicavi quod te donante intellexi, sed abscondi in terra, id est, in carnali vita degens, et sicut habui, sic tenui talentum tuum, non augens vel minuens. Ecce habes quod tuum est.
126 PL 1461. All these allegorical interpretations follow St. Anselm's allegorical gloss on a portion of Matthew 1:2, "Abraham begot Isaac," a simple Scriptural phrase which yields a tremendous gloss in introduction to the Gospel. Christ, St. Anselm states, is prefigured in Abraham. Just as Abraham had two children, one from a maidservant, and the other from his wife, one by nature, the other by promise or covenant, so Christ has generated two peoples, the Jews, which are signified by Ismael, who was born of Hagar, and the Gentiles, which are signified by Isaac who was born of Sarah. Those of the old law, the lex vetus, are represented by Ismael, hoc est de veteri lege. Ismael, moreover, is to be understood as the Jews who heard the law, but were not doers of the law. Hagar, Ismael's mother, also is typical. Hagar is alienated, which is to be interpreted that the old law was carnal and alienated from God. The other son of Abraham, Isaac by name and born of Sarah, is to be interpreted as the Gentiles, that is, those of the New Testament. Isaac (the name of which, according to the Scripture, means "laughter") may be interpreted as the conversion of the Gentiles, St. Anselm states, since the coming around of the Gentiles gave all the faithful and all the angels great joy. And Sarah's precedence over Hagar is to be interpreted as the new law which law is to take precedence among all men, Sara princeps interpretatur, quia nova lex inter omnes leges principatum tenet. 126 PL 1232.

St. Anselm has a similar gloss on Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, Abraham's son. Rebecca appears to be a type of the Church. Rebecca, St. Anselm reminds us, did not only give to Abraham's servant something to drink (see Gen. 24:11-20), but also provided water to the servants' camels, which signifies that the Church gathers together all people and offers all to drink by her public declaration, wherefore Paul states that both the wise and the foolish are indebted (Romans Chapter 1). Laban, Rebecca's brother, who invites the one called the blessed servant of the Lord into his house, signifies anyone who lives in the flesh, yet who announces the virtues of the holy doctors, and honors them, and through them Isaac, who signifies those who go to Christ. The "large place," the locus spatiosus, that Rebecca had for Abraham's servant to lodge (Gen. 24:25) is the natural law, which existed before Christ came. It is a large place, for it is intended to hold all men called to be redeemed. For through that law Christ opened up a pathway to the law of the Gospel, per hanc ergo legem Christi patuit ingressus legi evangelicae. 162 PL 1233-34.

Nave, Cathedral of Laon

In the Systematic Sentences attributed to him,* St. Anselm addresses the issue of in what mode and time mankind was repaired or regenerated by God. It is a given that man is unable to repair the rift between himself and God that occurred after the Fall. The breach was overcome by law: first, the natural law, then the Mosaic law, and finally, the law of the Gospel. In all events, however, God, however, supplied the means of salvation Christ, working through the natural law as the foundation. Before the coming of Christ, faith was implicit in the natural law and in sacrifice, even as it was in the Mosaic law, both its natural law components and its figurative (ritual, dietary, etc.) law. After Christ's coming, faith is no longer implicit, but explicit. Yet the foundation of Christ's salvific plan remains the natural law.

"The means was the Law, at first the natural law, after it, it having been put to sleep as it were, the written law of Moses. At the time of grace, the spirit writing it [the natural law] in the heart, that is, faith operating out of love." Modus vero fuit lex, prius naturalis; postea vero, ea sopita, lex per Moysen scripta; tempore autem gratie spiritus scribens in corde, id est, fides operans ex dilictione."

"The natural law is this: what you do not want done to you, do not do to another." Lex naturalis hec est: quod tibi no vis fieri, alii ne feceris.

"In whatever manner a person protects and preserves unstained the image of his creator, and pays the penalty that the law mandates be paid, in this way he restores free will to himself." Quam qui custodiret, penitus legis mandata compleret, et creatoris sui imaginem in se incorruptam conservaret, sicque liberum arbitrium in se restauret.

"The law of the commandments is: you shall not commit adultery, nor shall you desire your neighbor's goods, et cetera. He who faithful observes the natural law, will not do these things, constantly in my judgment, for he will not want done to himself."
Lex mandatorum ets: non adulterabis, nec concupisces rem proximi tui, et cetera. Quod legem naturalem fideliter observantem non facturm, constanter iudico; hec enim sibi fieri non vult.

"Therefore, through the natural law and sacrifice, which man from the beginning offered of himself to fulfill the will of God, man was able to conserve the image of God in him, and to avoid eternal punishment without impediment." Per naturalem igitur legem et sacrificia, que sibi a primo homine etiam fieri voluit deus, imago dei in homine potuit conservari, et eterna pena sine impedimento vitari.

"The natural law therefore is divided into three parts, that God that is known be obediently and in all things followed, and next, that one should show as much mercy to one's neighbor as God faithfully showers upon him, and whatever one has, it should be relinquished to the hope of the good of a future life." Lex autem naturalis in tres partes dividitur, ut deus agnitus obedienter in omnibus diligatur, et ut proximo misericordia propter deum fideliter impendatur, et exemplum bone vite posteris, quantum in ipsis est, relinquatur.

"Accordingly the faithful which were under the natural law and by the oblation of sacrifice and faith in the coming of Christ, and certain only in the virtue of faith, accepted the remission of sins. Of which, as [the venerable] Bede testifies to, there are also certain souls, that is, children, who have died before the age of discretion, commended by the creator, who are to be absolved from the first chains of punishment, and will be saved." Hii ergo fideles, qui erant, sub hac naturali lege per sacrifiorum oblationes et fidem venturi Christi, vel certe sola fidei virtute, remissionem peccatorum acceperunt. Quibus, et Beda testatur, quas suorumque animas, id est, puerorum, qui ante annos discretionis moribantur, creatori commendantes, a primi reatus vinculis absolvere curabant.

For St. Anselm of Laon, therefore, the natural law before the coming of Christ and the Mosaic law were salvific in an anticipatory, contingent way, as they anticipated the coming of Christ and faith in Christ was contained in those laws implicite, that is, implicitly. These two laws enabled their followers to live good and virtuous lives, though they had to await the sacrificial death of Christ, the harrowing of "Hell" (the so-called "limbo of the Fathers," or limbus patrum), and the opening of the gates of Heaven, before eternal life was opened to them. Following the Christian dispensation, baptism was the remedy for original sin. Faith is to be had expressly in Christ in the new dispensation. During the time of the Patriarchs, it was the offering of gifts and sacrifices to God, and the implicit faith in Christ therein contained, that save the Patriarch. In the time of the Mosaic dispensation until Christ's coming, it was circumcision, and the implicit faith in Christ therein contained that saved the disciple of Moses. Marenbon (2007), 272.

One might summarize St. Anselm of Laon's teaching on the natural law as the big room, the locus spatiosus, the big tent, in which all men are invited. It is the law which remains a pathway for the law of the Gospel, per hanc ergo legem Christi patuit ingressus legi evangelicae. The natural law is the Golden Rule. It is not a law of terror, or of fear, but of love and of peace. It is not an external law imposed upon us by on high; rather, it is an intimate, internal law, one of spirit, written upon our very heart. Understood in the light of Christ, the natural law, like Sarah over Hagar, takes precedence over all other laws. It requires us to love God, love our neighbor, and remember our last end and eternal destiny.

But for all his work, St. Anselm of Laon was sort of a Biblical St. John the Baptist. He had to decrease so that his successors could increase. As Southern put it:
Master Anselm may reasonably be held to be the master of all later medieval students of the biblical text, though his own personal contribution gradually sank out of sight under the weight of the elaborations of more learned successors. He was the inconspicuous fountain head of the mighty river of the biblical contribution to scholastic thought--the Donaueschingen [source of the Danube] no less into which his successors cast their offerings.
. . . .
This was the fate of Master Anselm: having captured the central ground of scholastic learning because is method and its results met with a widespread demand, he was buried under the elaborations of pupils and pupils' pupils.
Southern, 48, 35.

But this would not have bothered St. Anselm, we trust. One would hope that St. Anselm would have been the first to know the rule: sic transit gloria mundi.

*The Latin quotations from Anselm of Laon's Systematic Sentences are taken from F. P. Bliemetzrieder, Systematische Sentenzen (1919). The text can be found on

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