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, April 6, 2010

St. Albert the Great: The Natural Law and Practical Reasoning

ST. ALBERT'S NOTION OF NATURAL LAW AS HABITUS must be understood and coupled with his notion of synderesis and practical reasoning. The principles of natural right (ius naturale) which are a habitus are part and parcel of practical reason. "More specifically," Cunningham states, the principles of natural right "inhere in an active power of reason called by some 'naturale iudicatorium,' by the Greeks 'synderesis.'" Cunningham, 489 (citing De bono V, 1, 1).

Though St. Albert does not expand on the notion of synderesis in his De bono, he did so in an earlier work entitled De homine, and in a fragment entitled Quaestio de synderesi which has been attributed to him. Cunningham, 491; Cunningham (2006), 222. In his De homine, St. Albert describes synderesis as "a special power (vis) of the soul in which are inscribed the universal principles of natural right." Cunningham, 489 (citing De homine, qu. 71, art. 1). In his Quaestio de synderesi, St. Albert states that "synderesis is a certain kind of motive power in possession of the universal principles of natural right [quaedam potentia motiva per habitum universalium ius], having something of knowledge and something of appetition, but situated more on the side of knowledge." Following St. Jerome, he also calls it the "light" and the "spark of conscience." Cunningham (2006), 222. These informing principles of natural right embedded in that active power of synderesis "serve as formal determinations directing and assisting the practical intellect of man in his operations." Cunningham, 491. St. Albert then takes the notions of first principles (such as the principle of non-contradiction or excluded middle) and their role in speculative or theoretical reasoning, and analogizes them so as to apply them to practical or moral reasoning.
Just as in the theoretical intellect there are certain innately implanted first principles aiding man in the area of speculative truth, so too in the practical order of human moral acts there are certain universal directive principles through which the practical intellect is aided in its discrimination between moral good and evil, principles moreover which are not acquired by man, but which are simply the content of natural law inscribed upon the human mind. The subject or substratum of these is synderesis.
Cunningham, 489.

Albertus Magnus, Fresco by Tommaso da Modena

Though St. Albert uses the terms potentia and vis (power and force) to describe synderesis, it would be wrong to understand him as proposing a new faculty or power distinct from, and separate of, either the will or the intellect. Synderesis in fact, is "simply the practical intellect itself considered as endowed with the univeral principles of natural right, and thereby innately habituated to an abstract understanding of human goodness." Cunningham (2006), 223 (citing Lottin, PEM, vol. 2, 342). Using the habitus of the ius naturale which inheres in the subject or substratum of synderesis as the first principles of practical reason, St. Albert is able to further refine moral decision-making and the role that the natural law (ius naturale), synderesis, and conscience play. Cunningham, 489.

In clarifying the role the ius naturale, synderesis, and conscience play in moral decision-making, St. Albert makes yet another innovation, "perhaps, his most striking innovation in these questions." Crowe, 133. In a sense, there is a watershed in the doctrine of conscience, pre-Albertinian and post-Albertinian. Prior to St. Albert's innovation, most theologians had identified conscience with the natural law, with synderesis, with free will, or with some sort of habitus, whether innate, acquired, or a combination of both. And there may have been a sort of feeling out for some better concept of conscience during St. Albert's time. But Albert's great innovation was to clear the brush in this area, and he did so by separating synderesis from conscience and the ius naturale, and identifying conscience as an act of reason. Crowe, 134.
Dicimus quod conscientia conclusio est rationis practicae ex duobus praemissis, quorum maior synderesis et minor rationis. . . . . Maior autem istius syllogismi est synderesis, cuius est inclinare in bonum per universales rationes boni. Minor vero est rationis cuius est conferre particulare ad universale. Conclusio autem est conscientiae.
Summa de creaturis, II. q. 72, a. 1 (quoted in Crowe, 134 n. 75). In short, the Albertian contribution was to render moral thinking clearly rational:
The practical syllogism uses a major premiss, provided by synderesis, and a minor premise, the work of reason (which brings the particular under the general rule laid down in the major premiss); and conscience draws the conclusion.
Crowe, 134 (citing Summa de creaturis, II, q. 72, a. 1). So, for example, the synderesis would yield the major premise: I should not kill an innocent, as it is an evil; reason supplies the minor premise: abortion is the killing of an innocent child; conscience draws the conclusion: abortion is evil an prohibited by the natural law.

Albertus Magnus by Fra Angelico

Crowe explains the significance of Albert's teaching on conscience:
The idea of synderesis as the habitual knowledge of first moral principles, providing the major premiss of the practical syllogism in which the actual drawing of the conclusion was the work of conscience, was an extremely important one. As has already been suggested, it went a good deal beyond the function Aristotle saw in the practical syllogism. In fact the practical syllogism, as Albert saw it, will play a vital part in the great natural law synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas . . . .
Crowe, 134-35. It is this notion of ius naturale, synderesis, conscience, and practical reason that led St. Albert to reject the Ulpian notion that brute animals participate in natural law. "More than any thinker before him, . . . Albert has attempted to delineate the close union between right and reason." Cunningham, 491. Because the entirety of the moral reasoning in man was rational, the natural law, which was at the heart of that reasoning, was likewise to be found only in rational agents. We shall address the issue of St. Albert's rejection of the Decretists and their continued reliance on Ulpian's definition of the natural law in our next blog entry.


  1. I am beginning to understand now, with these posts about St. Albert the Great's teaching on HIS research into the natural law, how there has come to be a major revision in the Natural law. What is happening is that St. Albert is removing the classical meaning and definition and remaking the Natural Law which is now divorced and even hostile to its original meaning.

    I have done a lot of research and investigation on the term "republic". I know what and how the modern meaning of "republic" is 180 degrees different from its original meaning. How does a very important term, such as "republic", through the passage of time, mean its complete opposite? The modern definition of "republic" leads to deceivement. Scripture has it, "Beware that thou be NOT deceived". The First Sin was "Deceivement". The Devil Deceives.

    I am very very leary now. Jesus, the Logos, is not about Deceivement, but about Light. We are the sons of Light.

    In this regard, St. Albert is engaging in deconstructionism when he attacks the Roman Lawyer Ulpian's definition of the Natural Law (though Ulpian's definition is not complete nor thoroughly right).

    The Definition of the Natural Law is "What does Nature teach". Xenophon, "The Earth willingly teaches righteousness". Insects exhibit righteousness, so do animals.

    What is happening is that the animal and material world OBEY the dictum of righteousness--but man is not. He can disobey the dictates of the Divine Law and the Natural Law. Do not animals follow and obey the dictate of righteousness?

    See, the Natural Order is a teacher. The idea that Nature is a Teacher for Men. This is the plan of God, that Nature is a Scripture. Nature teaches. This is what is meant by the Natural Law and this is what Ulpian is pointing out! We learn what is righteous by looking at the Animal kingdom. The whole of the Natural Order is a teacher.

    In his rejection of Ulpian, St. Albert shows his total ignorance of the point, value and knowledge of the real, original Natural Law. Otherwise, he wouldn't have dismissed Ulpian's definition.

    What I see going on is the total rejection of the original meaning, understanding, and modus operandi of the Natural Law by academics within the Natural Law field of Catholicism. (Don't worry, the Eastern Orthodox don't have a scintalla worth of reference of knowledge of the Natural Law and it doesn't concern them at all. It never figures in on their teaching. Not one Greek I have ever met knows anything about the "natural law" and what I have been met with is a hatred toward classical antiquity.)

    What I see in the Natural Law field under the tutelage of Catholicism is that the Natural Law is being completely divorced from reality, from the Natural Order, from its raison d' etre. The world is here to TEACH US. I have come to the sneaky suspicion that Roman Catholic academics Hate the Natural Order and the Cosmos!

    If you reject Ulpian, you reject the Natural Order, you reject the whole reason of the Natural Law in the first place. The rules, principles, and laws in the Cosmos are meant there to TEACH US things! Did not St. John say that there is not enough books to hold all the teachings of Christ?

    Nature Holds the rest of the teachings of Christ! Christ is the Logos! Brute Animals OBEY the Logos. To reject the transcendent nature of being of the Animal Kingdom is a great travesty. Animals have much to teach us!
    The whole purpose of the natural law is to teach us principles from nature, from the cosmos. Nature is the First Scripture!

  2. In Defense of Ulpians definition.

    Here is Ulpian's definition: 'The law of nature is that which nature teaches all animals. For that law is not proper to the human race, but it is common to all animals which are on the earth and in the sea, and to the birds also.'

    When Socrates says in Plato's Republic "Birds of a feather flock together", he is in a sense using Ulpian's definition.

    For example, the American and French Revolutions all taught that Heirarchy is bad. Rousseau said, "and that man is free but everywhere in chains, equal but everywhere affronted by distinctions of caste." They practiced the so-called Natural Law which they got from the Stoics that said, "All men are created equal".

    What is Righteousness? but the caste system?

    But if you look at the Natural Order, If you worked on a diary farm---that is not the case.

    The Founding Fathers of America, totally rejected the Old Order! The Old Order of Aristocracy and Royalty.

    Ever work on a diary farm? Cream rises to the top does it not? Is that not a principle of the natural law? If you look at all the animals in the herd families, does not the best and strongest stallion mate? Does not the best and strongest lion mate? Does not the best and strongest elephant mate?

    In the principle of macrocosm/microcosm, the same thing happens in human society, the Best, the Aristi, rise to the top!!!!! What does Nature teach. Yet, the true real natural law does not validate the American and French Revolutions! Ulpian is Right and St. Albert is wrong in dismissing Ulpian's definition!

    When someone comes up and preaches multiculturalism and diversity and teaches that I can not segregate, Does not the Natural Law tell me the truth, teach me the truth that "Birds of a feather flock together"? Do I follow international socialists, or what the Natural Law teaches me in the birds of the field and barnyard? Where is your precious Free Will and Reason?

    Great damage is being done! Many people have been killed--because what? St. Albert dismisses Ulpian and the Catholic Church follows in that course?

    Aristocracy and Royalty in human society is the fruit of "Cream rises to the top". Each and every time that is true. To deconstruct that is evil. Morally wrong. American society suffers due to the lack of a true and titled Aristocracy. Society does not exist nor work without a caste system. Cream rises to the top because the Vulgar class can NOT rule itself. God makes sure that doesn't happen because all democracies fail. Again, the dictum of righteousness, where is it? Ulpian's definition is what can be used to defend the Old Order!

    The dismissal and rejection of Ulpian's definition has permantently scarred the natural law and to see this rejection shows the complete ignorance and true knowledge of the Natural law. We are animals who live in the Natural Order.

    What the heck is going on? When progressives are madly deconstructing the Old Order and placing a Novus Ordo, I thought the Catholic Church stood up to defend the Old Order? If it drops and dismisses Ulpian, where can the defense come from? Something is not right somewhere.

  3. The Natural Law can not be divorced from the Natural Order!

    If you remove the Laws of Nature from the Natural Law, you have completely discombulated the Natural Order and the Old Order!

    How does anybody understand the Natural Order without the Natural Law? And if the Old Order is based on the Natural Order, how can any of this be defended and used without the Laws of Nature being understood and seen. What the ding dong is going on?

    If you dismiss the Laws of Nature, Do you really know what is going on in Reality? Do you know Reality? Are humans connected to Reality?

    This is what is wrong with Ideology! Ideology is what man wants it to be. Ideology does not work in Reality. Are we in touch with Reality? Do we know what is going on in the REAL WORLD?

    The Natural Law is there to tie us to the REAL WORLD. As Plutarch said, "We are NOT in the world to give the laws, but in order to obey the commands of the gods". Part of these commands is the Natural Law that undergirds the Natural Order! How can you divorce the Natural Law from the Natural Order? Ulpians definition is this: The connection of the Natural Law to the Natural Order! This is the classical original meaning. Nature is there to teach us. The failure of man is not getting with the program. Nature is the program. Man better be getting with the Program of the Logos!

    The American and French Revolutions and all their children, the Weimar Repulic, the Soviet Republic, the Italian Republic of Mussolini, the Volkich Republic of the Fuehrer, are complete failures. The Kyklos always operates.