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 4, 2010

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: The Natural Law in Adversus Haereses, Part II

FOR ST. IRENAEUS, THE CREATION OF ADAM, INDEED ALL MANKIND, WAS NOTHING but divine munificence. "In the beginning . . . did God form Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but that He might have [someone] upon whom to confer His benefits." iv.14[1] All God's relationship with man, therefore, even the demand for obedience and service, must be seen as an effort of God's beneficence, his merciful giving. God's giving is needless; that is, God has no intrinsic need or lack that he assuages or meets by creating us, forming us, and demanding our obedience. He is self-sufficient, and so His act of creation is entirely for creation's benefit. It is creation, it is man, that is entirely in need of God.

This lack of need on the part of God is also true with respect to the divine law and the natural law. "For as much as God is in want of nothing, so much does man stand in need of fellowship with God." iv.14[1] And this is the purpose of God's law, to assure fellowship with God, and to govern us and lead us to our good and final end. God has no need of our obedience to his law; rather, it is we who are in need to be obedient to it.

Stained Glass Window Depicting St. Irenaeus

After man had fallen, in his divine plan of salvation, God called patriarchs, then prophets, then Moses, who led the Jews out of Egypt and into the desert up until the threshold of the promised land, where from a life of nomads they entered into a settled life, with all its accouterments, including a complex Temple cult and priesthood. In each of these phases, God acting through his agents, the patriarchs and prophets, promulgated law "adapted and applicable to every class." Thus, when they roamed the desert, God "promulgated a law very suitable [to their condition]." iv.14[2] When the settled in Israel, he promulgated "legal monitions, and all the other service of the law," that included such things as the election of Levites, and the prescriptions associated with the tabernacle, and with sacrifice. iv.14[3] "They (the Jews) had therefore a law, a course of discipline, and a prophecy of future things." iv.15[1] This law was manifestly positive, in that it was legislated or posited by God outside of, in addition to, or in confirmation of a law that was with man from the very beginning of his formation. This law was therefore circumstantial, that is, defined by, and conditional upon, circumstances.

The divine laws that God gave to the Jews were not only well-suited to their circumstances, but they were pedagogical. They were supplementary or complimentary to the natural law that prohibited the worship of idols:
He instructed the people who were prone to turn to idols, instructing them by repeated appeals to persevere and to serve God, calling them to the things of primary importance by means of those which were secondary: that is, to things that are real, by means of those that are typical; and by things temporal, to eternal; and by the carnal to the spiritual; and by the earthly, to the heavenly . . . .
iv.14[3] Departing his attention from these myriad positive laws, St. Irenaeus turns his attention to the central keystone of the Jewish law, the Decalogue. The Decalogue was given by God to the Jew, but it merely confirmed the "natural precepts, which from the beginning He had implanted in mankind." iv.15[1] The Ten Commandments, then, are nothing but, and demanded nothing more from the Jew than, the natural law, which "if any one does not observe, he has no salvation." iv.15[1] As we shall see, St. Ireneaus shall return to the Decalogue in greater depth in his analysis of the Mosaic law and the natural law in the context of salvation history.

Some of the Mosaic laws, St. Irenaeus acknowledges, were concessional, and "were enacted for [the Jews] by Moses, on account of their hardness [of heart]," one instance being divorce. There are instances even in the Apostolic writings of concessions to "human infirmity." iv.15[2] The concessions, however, are in some manner collateral. Such concessions were never made to the Decalogue. The Decalogue, whose principal purpose was to confirm the "natural precepts, which from the beginning [God] had implanted in mankind," was also intended to steer the Jews away from idolatry. The Decalogue was given to the Jew to obey, so that in the Jew's obedience, he should be restrained, and in such restraint, "not revert to idolatry, nor apostatize from God, but learn to love Him with the whole heart." iv.15[2] Manifestly, if the purpose of the Decalogue was to prevent the Jew from falling into idolatry, there could be no concessions made with regard to it.

Icon of St. Irenaeus with Miter, Crozier, and Pallium

St. Irenaeus views the Decalogue as being markedly distinct from the myriad circumstantial, pedagogical, and concessional laws of the Jew. The Decalogue is also substantially different from those laws of God that are assignatory or typical, such as circumcision initiated by Abraham and the legal and judicial requirements associated with the Sabbath under the Mosaic law. The latter have symbolic, assignatory, or typical value, they point to, are signs of, or are types of a deeper underlying reality. They are thus secondary, not primary. Circumcision and the Sabbath are both "signs." iv.15[1]. Thus Abraham, Lot, Noah, Enoch were all saved without either circumcision or the Sabbath. iv.15[2].
All the rest of the multitude of those righteous men who lived before Abraham and of those patriarchs who preceded Moses, were justified independently of [circumcision and Sabbath observations] and without the law of Moses.
iv.16[2] Then St. Irenaeus pulls out, as it were, the Decalogue from the circumstantial, pedagogical, concessional, and assignatory or typical laws contained in the Old Testament. He finds that the Decalogue is distinct, not only in degree, but in kind. The Decalogue is not only essential, it is confirmatory or declaratory of a law already written in the hearts and souls of all men.
Those righteous men that predeceased Moses, indeed Abraham, had the Decalogue written in their very nature: But the righteous fathers [before Moses, before Abraham] had the meaning of the Decalogue written in their hearts and souls, that is, they loved the God who made them, and did no injury to their neighbor. There was therefore no occasion that they should be cautioned by prohibitory mandates, because they had the righteousness of the law in themselves.
iv.16[3] The Decalogue was an effort by God to feed the souls of the Jew, who had forgotten these natural precepts, not unlike the giving to them of manna. The Decalogue, like the natural precepts written in man's nature, enjoined the same things. But for the manner of their promulgation, they cover the same ground:
[I]t enjoined love to God, and taught just dealing towards our neighbor, that we should neither be unjust nor unworthy of God, who prepares man for his friendship through the medium of the Decalogue, and likewise for agreement with his neighbor,--matters which did certainly profit man himself; God, however, standing in no need of anything from man.
iv.16[3] The Decalogue, which was binding without exception among the Jew, retains every bit as much its validity among the Christians operating under the new covenant. Indeed, the Decalogue's pale has been extended, increased by Christ's exhortation to internalize them.
Preparing man for this life, the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving by means of his advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation.
iv16[3] The Decalogue, a law confirmatory or declaratory of the natural law in the hearts and souls of men, has been thus continued in the new covenant. This is not so with the "laws of bondage" that were "promulgated to the people by Moses," specific to the Jew, of circumstantial, pedagogical, concessional, or assignatory or typical value, and not of universal application. These "laws of bondage" were replaced by the "new covenant of liberty." iv.16[5]
But He has increased and widened those laws which are natural, and noble, and common to all, granting to men largely and without grudging, by means of adoption, to know God the Father, and to love Him with the whole heart, and to follow His word unswervingly, while they abstain not only from evil deeds, but even from the desire after them.
iv.16[5] The covenant of liberty ought not to be viewed as a release from law into licentiousness. No. Rather, the covenant of liberty ought to be viewed as a covenant that elicits from us the even greater response of obedient love and loving obedience to the Lord. It, in fact, imposes a greater responsibility of us than mere external obedience to laws, and thus is a test whether he will not only fear and serve, but believe and love the Lord. There is not the least suggestion in St. Irenaeus that the Law of Grace, which affords us re-entry into the supernatural life of the "likeness of God" or similitudo Dei, and the Natural Law, which governs the life of the image of God, the imago Dei, are inconsistent. Christ was not a moral anarchist who released us from all law. Nay, as St. Irenaeus puts it beautifully in a fragment from one of his lost works that has come down to us: Jesus Christ, who was "born of a virgin, and suffered on the cross," and who was "raised also fom the dead, and taken up to heaven," that self-same is also the "Founder of the universe," the "Maker of man," "with Moses . . . Legislator," "the Man among men," and the "Law in the laws." [Frag. LIV]. Christ, "the Law in the laws," is our Law.

Icon of St. Irenaeus in Posture of Blessing

No comments:

Post a Comment