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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo: Eternal Law Everywhere, Part 1

ST. AUGUSTINE INVOKES THE CONCEPT of the lex aeterna in many of his writings outside his justly famous Confession. In view of the massive corpus of St. Augustine's work, our effort to gather together and discuss some of them cannot represent itself to be exhaustive. Although we may not be able to see each Augustinian lex aeterna tree in the Augustinian lex aeterna forest, at least we can see a sufficient number of Augustinian lex aeterna trees so as to recognize the species. In this blog entry, we will focus on the most commonly cited texts that are referred to, outside the Confessions, where St. Augustine mentions the eternal law. We will introduce these texts with a background of what was the basis for St. Augustine's concept of the eternal law. In one sense, St. Augustine's notion of the eternal law is Platonically-derived, or at least it may be said to have similarities to Platonic and Stoic philosophical notions. As Crowe puts it, "St. Augustine thinks of [the eternal law] in terms of his teaching on the ideas in the mind of God, the archetypal Platonic forms that he saw, not in a world apart [as did Plato and his followers] but in the Divine Intellect, as the 'enduring and unchanging forms of everything that comes to be or could come to be.'" Crowe, 64. That is not, however, to suggest that St. Augustine did not fundamentally believe that the concept of the eternal law was contained in the revealed word of God. St. Augustine understood the concept of the eternal law as being part of and parcel, indeed, one of the basic parts and parcels, of the Christian world view as it was revealed in nature (through reason) and revelation (through faith).

St. Augustine believed he found the source for the eternal law in, and ties the notion of the eternal or universal law to, the concept of the Divine Wisdom in Scripture. The two are succinctly equated in his De Diversis Questionibus Octoginta Tribus (On Eighty-Three Diverse Questions), in Question No. 79, where he discusses the acts of Pharaoh's magicians relative to the Mosaic miracles: Est enim lex universatatis divina sapientia. De div. quest., 79. "For the universal law is divine wisdom." What this did was join (with proper modification) the Heraclitean/Stoic/Platonic/Plotinian/Ciceronian notions of eternal order and law with the Judaeo-Christian (especially Johannine) notions of a transcendent, personal God as revealed in the Old Testament, and most notably, in the New Testament, in Christ. Crowe, 62 (citing A. Schubert passim and Truyol y Serra, 80-88.).

St. Augustine of Hippo

For St. Augustine, all creation--that is all existence, all life--was both ruled and preserved by a providential God, and this implied law, the eternal law. The "laws of the most high God preserve and govern," summi Dei legibus contineri et gubernari. De div. quest., 46.

The notion of the law in God's providential rule is even more clearly stated in St. Augustine's treatment of the questions arising from the Hebrew taking of the Egyptian gold and silver in Question No. 53, where the eternal law, as it relates to rational creation, is equated with the natural law.
From this ineffable and sublime arrangement of affairs, then, which is accomplished by divine providence, a natural law [naturalis lex] is, so to speak, inscribed upon the rational soul, so that in the very living out of this life and in their earthly activities people might hold to the tenor of such dispensations." (Boniface Ramsey, tran.).

Hac igitur ineffabili atque sublimi rerum administratione, quae fit per divinam providentiam, quasi transcripta est naturalis lex in animam rationalem, ut in ipsa vitae huius conversatione moribusque terrenis homines talium distributionum imagines servent.
De div. quest., 53(2). Thus, God's providence extends not only to the brute creation, but all life, including that creation that has reason and free will. The eternal or universal law is that law which governs the entirety of the cosmos in accordance with the wisdom of a personal God, one who is concerned with such details as the falling of a sparrow, or the hairs on one's head. In reference to rational creation, it is equivalent to the natural law. St. Augustine was convinced that "in particular, divine providence has care for the actions of men. Those who deny this, desert God and bear their own ruin about them." Crowe, 63. Crowe cites for this proposition excerpts from St. Augustine's discussions of Psalm 109 and of Psalm 145. They may be quoted in full at this point:
deserent Deum . . . quia non creedunt Deum curare quid agant.

. . . hanc habent perniciem cogitationibus suae in seipsis ut dicant Deum res humanas non curare.

God deserts . . . those which do not believe God to take care of all that which he has created

Those have pernicious thoughts in themselves who say that God does not take care of the human race.
Enarr. in Ps. 109, 145. With the awareness that St. Augustine understands the eternal law (which he equates with Divine Wisdom or the universal law, and in rational creation with the natural law) as the providential rule of God over his creation, we can turn now to the Augustinian references in his other works.

St. Augustine of Hippo at his Desk

We will begin by reviewing St. Augustine's polemic against the Manichean sect written against Faustus, one of its leaders, his Contra Faustum Manichaeum. We will then look at some of the references to the eternal law in St. Augustine's philosophical work, De ordine (On Order). Following that, we will look at the mention of the eternal law in St. Augustine's work on the issue of free choice and free will, De libero arbitrio. Other works wherein the eternal law is mentioned include De vera religione (On True Religion) and St. Augustine's Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. The final work that we will look at is St. Augustine's discussion of the eternal law in St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei (On the City of God).

The notion of the eternal law is clearly and expressly mentioned in St. Augustine's work that arose from his dispute with the Manicheean sect, specifically in his Contra Faustum Manichaeum. In Book 22 of that polemic against Faustus, the Manichean bishop, St. Augustine famously defines the eternal law, and sin as the violation of it.
Sin, then, is any kind of deed, or word, or desire whatsoever against the eternal law. And the eternal law is the divine reason or will of God, which requires the preservation of natural order, and forbids the breach of it.

Ergo peccatum est, factum vel dictum vel concupitum aliquid contra aeternam legem. Lex vero aeterna est, ratio divina vel voluntas Dei, ordinem naturalem conservari iubens, perturbari vetans.
Contra Faust.22.27. This was a celebrated text, and was frequently cited almost from the moment it was published by St. Augustine. It is found peppered throughout the works of the Scholastic theologians in the middle ages, both as a definition of sin, and as a definition of the eternal law. Sin has cosmic proportions, in that it violates not just some positive commandment of God, though it clearly may do that as well. More fundamentally, sin is an injection of disorder into the universe of creation. It is a violation of the law of the cosmos, an assault against its integrity, and a violation of God's plan for it. Man's dignity is therefore not only found in the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God, that he bears that internus aeternus. Man's dignity, or perhaps his great responsibility, is equally seen in the fact that his behavior, even the slightest, is of cosmic proportion. By violating the eternal law, sin disturbs the harmony of the cosmos. It also violates both the will of God and the divine reason of God implicit in the eternal law, since the eternal law is ratio divina vel voluntas Dei, the divine reason or will of God.

Stained Glass Window Depicting St. Augustine of Hippo

We also see mention of the eternal law in St. Augustine's De ordine, one of St. Augustine's first works following his conversion. This work presents a sweeping view of the relationship between order in the real world external to man, and the world within him. It seeks to explain the meaning of evil in the world, one of the philosophical and theological problems St. Augustine struggled with as he moved from Manicheeism to Catholic Christianity. He refers to an unchanging, fixed, and unshaken law, the very law of God, which is, in a manner of speaking, transcribed into the souls of the wise. We are urged to discover this law of God, which is found within our very souls, our internus aeternus, and there to discover how to live virtuous lives that conform to the good, and are rightly ordered and harmonized with the divine plan. Failure to do so may result in reproof for our own good, as we kick against the goads of the eternal law.
This discipline is the very law of God, which, while remaining always fixed and unshaken with him, is transcribed in a manner of speaking into the very souls of the wise, in order that they may know that they may live better and more excellently depending upon on their contemplating this law more perfectly in their minds, living it more diligently in their lives.

Haec autem disciplina ipsa Dei lex est quae apud eum fixa et inconcussa semper manens, in sapientes animas quasi transcribitur, ut tanto se sciant vivere melius tantoque sublimius, quanto et perfectius eam contemplantur intellegendo, et vivendo custodiunt diligentius.
De ordine, 2.8.25.

In his book on devoted to the topic of free will and the existence of evil, De libero arbitrio (On Free Choice of the Will), written as a dialogue between him and Evodius, St. Augustine describes the eternal law as the ultimate source of rationality that orders the cosmos as a whole. The eternal law's reach is further: it commands the behavior of the individual man, and it is the measure, the moderator, between men, and thus the ultimate foundation of human law. We will handle St. Augustine's treatment of the eternal law in his De libero arbitrio as well as some other works in our next blog posting.

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