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.

Friday, March 26, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo: Eternal Law Everywhere, Part 2

CONTINUING OUR STUDY OF THE ETERNAL LAW in St. Augustine's works, we shall now turn to his De libero arbitrio (On the Freedom of the Will or On Free Will). In his De libero arbitrio, his study on the existence of evil written in the context of a dialogue between Augustine and Evodius, St. Augustine describes the eternal law as the highest or supreme reason (summa ratio). It is the law under which the cosmos operates, and under which mankind is to operate if he is to find happiness. It is a law that is beyond us, and which we have no right to judge. It is a law that we will not see it if we focus on created goods, and not try to look beyond them.

During the course of this dialogue, St. Augustine gives a forthright definition of the eternal law:
Then let me briefly explain, as much as I can, the notion of the eternal law that is impressed on us: it is the law according to which it is just that all things be perfectly ordered.

Ut igitur breviter aeternae legis notionem, quae impressa nobis est, quantum valeo verbis explicem, ea est qua iustum est ut omnia sint ordinatissima.
De lib. arb., I.6.15. This eternal law demands that we turn away from things temporal, or perhaps, look through them or beyond them to the God who made them, and fixate upon the divine and eternal to which they speak.
So the eternal law demands that we shift our love from temporal things and aim it toward what is eternal.

Iubet igitur aeterna lex avertere amorem a temporalibus, et eum mundatum convertere ad aeterna.
De lib. arb., I.15.32. When reason, mind, or spirit control the irrational impulses of the soul, a human being is ruled by the very thing that ought to rule him, namely, according to the law that is eternal. De lib. arb., I.8. This suggests that we will not see the eternal law if we act outside the pale of the eternal, if we do not allow ourselves to be governed by reason, by mind, by spirit, and instead and are focused on temporal reality alone, subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of the passions, something St. Augustine stressed with such personal experience in his Confessions.

St. Augustine Ordained Bishop

In this work, St. Augustine famously distinguishes between temporal law and eternal law, and equally significantly, calls the eternal law summa ratio or supreme reason. He also links the eternal law with the temporal, making the latter subordinate and participatory of the eternal law, setting the stage for the concept of the natural moral law and its role in governing human legislation:
Can that law which is called the supreme reason (summa ratio), always to be obeyed, by which the bad merit misery, the good happiness, in reference to which temporal law is rightly enacted, rightly altered (recte fertur recteque mutatur)--can that law appear to an intelligent being as otherwise than immutable and eternal? Can it sometimes be unjust that the evil should be unhappy, the good happy, or that a moderate and responsible people should create its own magistracies, or that an evil and dissolute people should lack this power? . . . At the same time I would have you see that in temporal law there is nothing just and right that men do not derive for themselves from this eternal law (nihil esse iustum atque legitimum quod non ex hac aeterna sibi homines derivaverint). (Crowe, 64, trans.)

Illa lex quae summa ratio nominatur cui semper obtemperandum est et per quam mali miseram, boni beatam vitam merentur, per quam denique illa, quam temporalem vocandam diximus, recte fertur recteque mutatur, potestne cuipiam intellegenti nonincommutabilis aeternaque videri? An potest aliquando iniustum esse, ut mali miseri, boni autem beati sint? aut ut modestus et gravis populus ipse sibi magistratus creet, dissolutus vero et nequam ista licentia careat? . . . . Simul etiam te uidere arbitror in illa temporali nihil esse iustum atque legitimum quod non ex hac aeterna sibi homines derivaverint.
De lib. arb., Like the excerpt we quoted in the last blog entry from Contra Faustum, this part of St. Augustine's dialogue was also popular with theologians, particularly those who discussed the doctrine of the natural law. For example, Crowe notes that St. Thomas Aquinas cited or referred to this parituclar passage five times in his articles in the Summa Theologia he devoted to the topic of the eternal law. Crowe, 64 n. 48.

St. Augustine in his Study by Carpaccio

It is implicit from St. Augustine's treatment of the eternal law in that part quoted above that the eternal law had a role in the administration of the affairs of men. Temporal law--that is the law of men--must conform to it. It is only in reference to the eternal law that human law or temporal law is rightly enacted or rightly altered, recte fertur recteque mutatur. Nothing is just in the affairs of men, unless it derives from the eternal law, nihil esse iustum atque legitimum quod non ex hac aeterna sibi homines derivaverint. Indeed, St. Augustine's De libero arbitrio is the source of what is probably the most celebrated concept or phrase, and the most commonly criticized by legal positivists who bristle at the thought that moral law, or the eternal law, or any other kind of higher law, ought to have anything to do with the affairs of men, or at least in the study of law. It is the source commonly given for the pithy principle: Lex iniusta non est lex, an unjust law is not law. The actual words of St. Augustine are not in fact precisely that, but put forth essentially the same principle: Nam mihi lex esse non videtur, quae iusta non fuerit. "So a law that is not just does not appear to me to seem a law." De lib. arb.1.15.11. St. Thomas Aquinas also quotes this part of De libero arbitrio during the course of his so-called "Treatise on Law," that is, that portion of the Summma Theologica that is devoted to the study of the eternal law, divine law, natural law, and human law.

The eternal law is directly concerned with human happiness: Hoc enim aeterna lex illa . . . incommutabili stabilitate firmavit, ut in voluntate meritum sit; in beatitate autem et miseria praemium atque supplicium. Itaque cum dicimus voluntate homines esse miseros, non ideo dicimus, quod miseri esse velint, sed quod in ea voluntate sunt, quam etiam eis invitis miseria sequatur necesse est. Quare non repugnant superiori rationi, quod volunt omnes beati esse, nec possunt; non enim volunt omnes recte vivere, cui uni voluntati vita beata debetur: nis quid habe adversus haec dicere. De lib. arb., I.6.16. It is an incommutable, stable, and firm law by which the human will that conforms to it is rewarded, either with happiness, if it is followed, or with misery, if one departs from it. To avoid misery, it is necessary to follow the principles of this law. The eternal law is not repugnant to higher reason, and it desires all men's happiness, though it cannot compel it. It will not conform itself to man, but man must conform himself to it.

Therefore, true liberty is not available outside the truth of the eternal law, nor is happiness available to he who does not adhere to it: Deinde libertas, quae quidem nulla vera est, nisi beatorum, et legi aeternae adhaerentium. De lib. arb., I.15.32.

It follows that the eternal law is a judge that may not be judged; it may not be criticized. It is an enormity to suggest that man should judge the law of God. Man may, in a manner, know the eternal law, but only if purified from inordinate loves that distract him or blind him to God and his law. So does St. Augustine state in his De vera religione:
Deus summa ista lex est secundum qua ratio judicat, sed quam judicare non licet. Nec iam illud ambigendum est, incommutabilem naturam, quae supra rationem animam sit, Deum esse; et ibi esse primam vitam et primam essentiam, ubi est prima sapientia. Nam haec est illa incommutabilis veritas, quae lex omnium artium recte dicitur et ars omnipotentis artificis. Itaque cum se anima sentiat nec corporum speciem motumque iudicare secundum seipsam, simul oportet agnoscat praestare suam naturam ei naturae de qua iudicat; praestare autem sibi eam naturam, secundum quam iudicat, et de qua iudicare nullo modo potest. . . . Aeternam igitur legem mundis animas fas est cognoscere, judicare non fas est.
De vera relig.,
c. 30.56-30.57, 58. The eternal law is the divine reason itself, and it is the judge of the true and the good; accordingly, the creation is not in a position to judge it. The eternal law is the prior principle of all life, every created essence, all wisdom. It has the same incommutability as truth. Both truth and the eternal law are firm and unchangeable. The eternal law is the law of all arts, and the art of the omnipotent artist, God himself. Inasmuch as it informs all created nature, nature must conform to it, and nature is not in any position to judge it. And although man may not know it in all its intricacies, he can apprehend that it exists, and he can know that it is the height of hubris to presume to judge it, judicare non fas est.

Detail of Fresco of St. Augustine

In is clear from a review of St. Augustine's Confessions, and from a look at various of St. Augustine's other works: his Contra Faustum, De ordine, De libero arbitrio, and De vera religione, that the concept of the eternal law was a fundamental one in St. Augustine's thought. It is one of the veins of his Weltanschaung, one of whose central features was the notion of God's providential rule over all of his cosmos, with a specific solicitude towards man. As a rational creature with an eternal soul, man had the dignity of voluntarily participating in the plan of God, the eternal law, and in so doing he would find himself acting in accord with the will of God, with truth, with reason. By refusing to allow his unruly passions the leading role in his life, but by instead subjecting them to the higher faculties of reason and of spirit, by looking beyond the mere temporal to the eternal, even the internus aeternus, the eternal internal in himself, by his willing submission to the summation of all reason, the summa ratio, of the eternal law, man would find happiness, beatitude, his place in the cosmos. Ultimately, as St. Augustine makes clear, post-lapsarian man cannot do this alone, but must rely on the grace of God that is given in Christ and through the sacramental life of the Church. The new law of the Gospel is what allows him to re-conform himself to the law of all ages, the law of truth, the universal law which itself Divine Wisdom.

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