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, June 29, 2010

The Disfigured Face: The Unholy Trinity: John Locke

THE LOSS OF ONTOLOGICALLY-BASED MORALITY began when Western man walked the intellectual trail from the woods of Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition to the moral desert of increasing autonomy, and thence to relativism and skepticism and moral anarchy. In his walk from the perennial ethic to modern autonomy and relativism, man the pilgrim, homo viator, traveling through history shed himself, as it were, of his traditional moral accoutrements. On the way to wherever apparent self-mastery and self-definition would lead him, a goal as pointless and as elusive as the search for the legendary Prester John, Western man cast off his scrip, his hat, his cloak, his staff, and ultimately even his faith, and in so doing, lost likewise his nature. This was the path from ontological ethics to deontological ethics: from ὄν to δέον, from being to duty,* at first duty to reason, and then duty, even enslavement, to the overweening State.

Sant'Iago (St. James) Dressed as a Pilgrim

Luis Cortest explores this process of the increasing rejection of the ontological and eudaemonistic ethics of Aristotle and St. Thomas in his fourth chapter of his book The Disfigured Face. Though there are many who are answerable to humanity and, even more importantly to God,** for their ideas of increasing infidelity and rejection of the natural law, Cortest focuses on three: John Locke (1632-1704), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). (He could have chosen many others, including Hobbes, Hume, Rousseau, etc.) By focusing on these three, Cortest spans the 17th through the early 19th century. These are the chosen unholy trinity of "the Modern way," whose quality is supposedly autonomy, but is actually thralldom to human convention, to sin, and to the State.

Locke, Kant, and Hegel: Luis Cortest's Unholy Trinity of "The Modern Way"

The 17th century is where one must look for the genesis of the modern notion of positive human rights. The unity of Christendom had been rent by the Protestant rebellion, and the powers of tyrant kings and tyrant princes went unchecked by the submissive state-sponsored churches, and increasing secularism grew as it were cancer. The Wars of Religion had exhausted men, pitting German against German, and Frenchman against Frenchman, European against European. And all of Europe, its hands in stained vermilion in fraternal blood, struggled with finding some sort of modus vivendi which was nothing other than practical compromise to a situation spawned by rebellion against God and His Church. Those practical compromises and accommodations were eventually apotheosized to the preeminent moral value of toleration. The preeminence given to toleration as a means to deal with religious dissent, and the temporizing accommodation to idiosyncrasies of belief that came with religious and moral anarchy, naturally led to despair that objective truth in religion or philosophy was impossible to attain. "Holiness before Peace," was the young John Henry Newman's motto adopted from Thomas Scott of Aston Sandford when liberalism was already infecting the schismatic Protestant ecclesial communions and established churches, a liberalism Newman, when created Cardinal, described thus in his so-called "Biglietto Speech" of 1879:***
Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. . . . . Hitherto the civil Power has been Christian. Even in countries separated from the Church, as in my own, the dictum was in force, when I was young [E.N. Newman was born in 1801], that: "Christianity was the law of the land." Now, everywhere that goodly framework of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone, or is going everywhere; and, by the end of the century, unless the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten.
The end of the century came and went, and the Almighty does not appear to have interfered, probably because the West has refused to repent, and so must confront the punishment, some natural, some surely supernatural, for its disobedience. What the newly-created Cardinal Newman described as Liberalism was the doctrine of John Locke, the first of the unholy Trinity selected by Cortest. A man with opposing sentiments to Blessed John Henry Newman in every way, John Locke's motto may be said to have been, in opposition to Newman's, "Peace (or Tolerance) before Holiness."
When religion is understood as a purely personal matter, it becomes extremely difficult to tolerate religious groups that defend a doctrine of absolute truth in matters of faith and morals. Locke's goal for society was the peaceful coexistence of citizens. For Locke, it was more important that each person in society follow his or her own conscience than for anyone to defend a doctrine of absolute truth.
Cortest, 53. John Locke's weakness of Faith was physically mimicked in the weakness in his lungs (he was chronically asthmatic). Locke worked with limited lung capacity as well as limited Faith capacity. Locke's doctrine on tolerance was born from the brain of a man who rejected the Trinitarian faith, lapsing into an unorthodox Socinianism that denied the pre-existence of Christ and his atoning death on the Cross. Locke was a proto-Unitarian, only nominally Christian. He certainly had no traditional notion of the Church, as he seems to have had an ecclesial theory predicated upon social contract: "A church," Locke said, "seems to me to be a free society of men, joining together of their own accord for the public worship of God in such a manner as they believe will be acceptable to the Deity for the salvation of their souls." Cortest, 50 (quoting from Locke's Letter on Tolerance). What? Faith a contract among men? This betrays no notion of a Faith or a Church founded by an Incarnate God. Cortest's conclusion is a massive understatement:
Obviously, Locke was not a defender of traditional church teaching; he was, rather, one who had embraced a new way of understanding religious matters.
Cortest, 50. Locke seems to have been skeptical of the human mind to grasp ultimate truth, and of God to reveal himself to man. And to make way for his increasing rejection of the Faith, he demanded increasing tolerance from secular and religious authority for this false religious freedom. He wanted his rebellion to become right. The spirit that motivated him may be gleaned from his hatred of the Roman Catholic Church. Locke was intolerant with the notion of an objectively true Faith. Though these things are hard to tell with moral certainty (the last shall be first, the first shall be last), one thinks maybe the Devil had John Locke in his employ and it may have landed him in Hell. He, along with Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, and (less frequently) Friedrich Schleiermacher), is honored with the title the "Father of Liberalism," which is already a condemnation. Locke made the honor roll of error when his name was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books. In fine, he is a Doctor of Beelzebub's Church, the Doctor Liberalismus. (This is not to say that all of Locke's ideas are ipso facto suspect, but he must be handled with caution, sort of like a Petri dish infected with dangerous bacteria.)

John Locke

Locke not only advocated a religious freedom, he also advocated the radical separation of Church and State.
The church itself is absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth and civil affairs. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable. He mixes heaven and earth together, things most remote and opposite, who confuses these two societies, which in their origin, their end, and their whole substance are utterly and completely different.
Cortest, 50-51 (quoting Locke's Letter on Toleration). The church "absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth?" The boundaries on both side are fixed and immovable? Where are these boundaries? And by whom are they set? By man or by God? By the State or the Church? The State and Church "remote and opposite?" The Church's role is to bring men to God. Is Locke suggesting the commonwealth's role is the opposite, that is, to bring men to the Devil? Clearly not. But perhaps unclearly yes.

Cortest compares Locke's novel doctrine with the Quanta cura, the Encyclical of Pope Pius IX of 1864, and comes to the conclusion:
Obviously, Pius IX did not believe for an instant that the Church should remain separate from and have no voice in civil society. One the contrary, he believed that the Church has the responsibility to make civil society more humane and just. Locke's doctrine of the complete separation of church and sate is absolutely incompatible with Roman Catholicism.
Cortest, 52.

Locke thus opened the way to modern secularism. "Locke may well not have been a secularist, but his principle of the total separation of the spiritual from the temporal prepared the way for modern secularism." Cortest, 53.

What the empiricist Locke wanted was the Church shoved in a corner where it should become irrelevant. His toleration is suspect; indeed it is a guise, a feigning, a cover for his skepticism and relativism. Why do we know this? Because Locke was intolerant of any Church that claimed special status. He was intolerant of anyone who believed in objective truth. With respect to the Catholic Church:
These, therefore, and the like, who attribute to the faithful, religious, and orthodox, that is, in plain terms, to themselves, any peculiar privilege or power above other mortals, in civil concernments; or who, upon pretence of religion, do challenge any matter of authority over such as are not associated with them in the ecclesiastical communion; I say these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate; as neither those that will not own, and teach, the duty of tolerating all men in matters of mere religion.
So much for the tolerant Locke. No Catholic was wanted in tolerant Locke's tolerant England. No more Merrie Old England. No, to be part of the way things were going to be, you had to drop the notion that God came down from heaven in the form of a man, and founded a Church upon the Rock of Peter. You had to give up the notion that Peter had been given the authority, the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and could bind things both in heaven and on earth. You had to give up the notion that there was a natural law that was ontologically-based and that the Church claimed the right, by divine bestowing, to declare infallibly truths of Faith and truths on Morals. Being Catholic was the new crime. So it was that in Locke's "tolerant" Dour New England, the Catholics were legally and socially discriminated against until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. No, Locke was not tolerant. He was simply an old-fashioned, unreasonable, closed-minded, and intolerant anti-Catholic.

What is perhaps the most characteristically modern aspect of Locke's thinking, is his "emphasis on the personal." Cortest, 53. This hyper-individualism simply does not fit with traditional moral thinking.
From the time of Plato, ethics as the science of the good was never a doctrine of individual choice. Traditionally, ethics formed part of an ontological whole; it is only in modern thought that morality and being become autonomous.
Cortest, 53. In support of his view, Cortest quotes Louis Dupré, whose work on the passage of traditional society to modernity has been mentioned in an earlier posting on this blog: (See Louis Dupré on Metanoia.) "As a science of the good, ethics had always been more than a concern about human perfection," Dupré observes.
Almost from the beginning it had occupied the center of an all-inclusive ontology. But when modern thought reduced the good to personal or social perfection, independently of and occasionally in position to the whole, it deprive it of ontological depth and marginalized morality with respect to the totality of Being. Few modern thinkers avoided the pitfall of severing the person as creative principle from the rest of nature.
Cortest, 53 (quoting Dupré's Passage to Modernity, p. 143). So Locke, though perhaps not the first to put a dent in the armor of ontological ethics, certainly did his part to weaken the temper of that armor's steel. Cortest argues that the separation of the individual from the community is the upshot of Locke's thought. Locke rejected any sort of ontological foundation for moral activity. While he talks of nature and natural law, he did not understand "nature" in the manner of his forefathers.
Locke's doctrine of human rights is non-ontological; by the time he was writing his most important works (in the late seventeenth century) the older understanding of the relationship between nature and morality had started to disappear. When Locke speaks of "nature," that term no longer has the same meaning as it had for thinkers one hundred hears before, who were still operating within an Aristotelian-teleological context.
Cortest, 54.

Noah's Covenant: Stained Glass, 13th Century, Chartres Cathedral

Locke's emphasis of individual freedom at the expense of an objective notion of justice and at the expense of an ontologically-based morality was problematic. If personal caprice is more important than some sort of universal order that is based upon being or that which exists, then where is the objectivity to be found if at all? Is there such a thing as an objective order? What is it that is supposed to guide the State, to guide positive law? Where is any effective restraint on the State?

Like some sort of clumsy white knight, Kant comes in to the rescue, but instead of repairing the breach in the dike of ontological morality, he made the hole wider, and changed to focus of ethics from being to duty, a duty based upon a pure reason completely distilled from anything else that may be characterized as being part of man. And now the whole world's flooded with Kantian deontological ethics, and the ontologically-based natural law finds itself largely in the confines of the Ark, that is to say, the Roman Catholic Church, waiting the end of the rains and the recession of the world's waters. God promised he would not destroy the earth with waters he sent from the heavens (Gen. 9:11), but he did not promise that he would save us from the floods that we made for ourselves. At least not without repentance. Where the new Mount Ararat is to be found, where the Christian may once again stand on terra firma and rely on government that is not against him, is anybody's guess.

We will save Kant for our next posting.


*ὄν [on]= being in Greek, δέον [deon]= duty in Greek.
**We are bound by the natural moral law to assure that our thoughts conform to objective truth, and that our conscience and actions conform to the good. This obligation we owe to our neighbor and to God. The moral freedom we enjoy is ordered to truth and the good. There is moral fault in spreading falsehood among our brothers, a worse fault that knowingly spreading some sort of infectious disease.
biglietto is the name given to the formal correspondence that one has been created Cardinal by the Roman pontiff.

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