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, July 29, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 5: Contemplation of God as the Ultimate Good

HOW IS IT THAT MAN ACHIEVES HIS NATURAL END? By what means will that which will make man objectively happy, God, and which constitutes man's ultimate good, communicate to man his subjective happiness? How does man (naturally) know God? How does man achieve his perfection? These are all the same way of asking the same thing. And this is Mercier's next inquiry. His thesis, or proposed answer, is that "Man enters into the possession of his happiness by the act of his intellect." [217(12)] The act of the intellect by which it is accomplished is the contemplation of God, an act of the speculative intellect. The contemplation of God, however, is "the subjective end of human nature." Man's objective end is God himself. Man's subjective end (contemplation) is subordinate to Man's objective end (God). "[C]ontemplation . . . is only a subordinate end--'finis sub fine',* as St. Thomas expresses it." [218(14)] Contemplation of God is the ultimate subjective end under the ultimate end, God himself.

In discussing his thesis, Mercier observes that man has many faculties, physical (the senses) and intellectual (mind and will). Man's supreme end, it would seem evident, would employ the exercise of man's highest faculty. So which is man's highest, most noble faculty? Between the physical faculties and the intellectual faculties, the former are subordinate (or are recognized to ought to be subordinate) to the latter, so man's intellectual faculties are clearly more high, more noble than the physical. Of the two intellectual faculties, mind and will, which, then, is the more noble?
Philosophers are divided on this question. St. Bonaventure attributes happiness to both intellect and will, whilst St. Thomas and Duns Scotus argue for a single faculty--the former for the intellect, the latter for the will. The difference between these three is only one of standpoint. However this may be, we are of the opinion that it is in the exercise of the intellect that the supreme end of human nature is formally realized.
[217-18(12)] So in choosing the intellect as the faculty that participates most intimately in the ultimate good, that is, God, Mercier sides with his philosophical master, St. Thomas. He does not do so arbitrarily. He does so by reasoning. How so? He reasons by eliminating the will as a possible candidate, leaving the intellect as the only possible candidate. He asks: What is it that changes at that instant between the will in a state of tendency (as it seeks its end) and the will in a state of repose (when it has sought its end)? "Clearly some change must have been produced in the disposition of the will with regard to its end." [218(12)] What caused that change?

The change must be caused by the intellect, specifically by the fact that will has been brought into contact with the good "by means of a representation made by the act of the intellect." "Hence," Mercier concludes, "the act by which human nature immediately enters into possession of its supreme end, the act by which the taking possession of the supreme end is actually brought about, is an act of the intellect." [218(12)]

But is it an act of the speculative, or an act of the practical intellect? Cardinal Mercier asserts that it is an act of the speculative, as distinguished from the practical intellect, that must be involved in man's ultimate happiness. Since God is sought for his own sake, is an object of contemplation, while acts of the practical intellect "are considered with a view to the end for which the will pursues and realizes them," it would seem that the speculative intellect is how subjective happiness is achieved. This is Mercier's sixth thesis. It is God as grasped by man's speculative intellect that engenders the love of God (a matter of the will), and so it is by means of activity of the speculative intellect, contemplation, which gives rise to our happiness, and thus "is in reality the supreme perfection of our rational nature." [219(14)] Mercier concludes:
The end of a being is the most perfect act of which its nature is capable. In the case of man this act is the contemplative knowledge of God. This knowledge constitutes the end of man, his natural beatitude.

But the perfection of an act of knowledge, as indeed of any action, involves three things: an object, a subject or principle of action, and the delectation of which the action is the source. With regard to the first, the perfection of of our most perfect act is God: He is then the perfection of the objective end of our nature. With regard to the second, the subjective end of our natures is the exercise of our thought applied to its highest object; that is to say, it is the contemplation of God. Finally, with regard to the third, the complacency which results in the will from the union of our nature with its supreme end also forms part of our end. However, as an action presupposes the object towards which it tends, it is necessary to say that the absolute last end [of man] is God, 'finis ultimus'; and the subjective beatitude and the felicity which it brings are a subordinate end, 'finis sub fine'.
[219(15)] This is all consonant with Aristotle and with Thomas.

Mercier acknowledges that various "difficulties"** arise from his thesis (no thesis of morality is without its difficulties), and he attempts to respond to them.

One of the difficulties to the thesis that God is the supreme end of man is that, as a matter of experience, we are not conscious that "the knowledge and love of God are the motive of all our acts of volition." [219(16)] One would think that if all our ends were subordinate to our supreme end, all of us would be always and at each moment conscious of God as our supreme end, and that any other good would be consciously engaged in as a finis sub fine, a subordinate end. But even the pious do not experience this awareness. We engage in a number of concrete acts that are not directly or consciously engaged in with God as their ultimate end (e.g., sleeping, exercising, smoking a cigar, reading the newspaper). "It is true," Mercier acknowledges, "that man does not always represent his supreme end to himself under the explicit concept of the Divine Being." [219(16)] But this difficulty between what philosophy identifies as man's ultimate end and happiness and man's actual behavior can be explained by the distinction between abstract and undetermined acts and concrete and determined acts, and by the distinction between explicit and actual inspiration and implicit and virtual inspiration. God is our ultimate end under the vantage point of abstract and undetermined thought, not concrete and determined (though he may also be our concrete and determined end in an act, say in attending Mass for the purpose of adoring him). Moreover, though God may not be explicitly and actually sought in each and ever good which we seek, it remains true that any particular or subordinate good which is the object of our desire can be good "only inasmuch as it is related to the perfect good," and it is in this sense that one can say that the "desire of the Sovereign Good inspires, at any rate implicitly and virtually, each of our acts of volition," that seek an honest, albeit subordinate, particular good. Thus, when we smoke our cigar, or sleep, or read the newspaper, so long as that act is a particular, concrete, honest good and not contrary to our ultimate end (e.g., we don't sleep to the neglect of our responsibilities, or smoke excessively), it remains, even if tenuously, connected, and is implicitly and virtually remains subordinate, to our ultimate end. The good in created goods are vestigia Dei, and thus enjoyment in them is implicitly or virtually pointing toward the God who created that good.

This perhaps is the reasoning behind St. Paul's advice to the Corinthians:
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God

Sive ergo manducatis sive bibitis vel aliud quid facitis omnia in gloriam Dei facite.
(1 Cor. 10:31) This Pauline injunction is an acknowledgment that God is our summum bonum, our finis ultimus, and that any other particular, concrete good is subordinate to that supreme good, is a good sought (or which ought to be sought) as a finis sub fine.

Other difficulties present themselves. It is apparent that "[d]uring his earthly life man does not experience that complete development of his being which allays all desire and want and endow the soul with the imperturbable repose of happiness." [220(17)] Even so, there is some participation in happiness in this life. And yet, "Beatitude in the full sense is possible only in a life to come." [220(17)]. So here we confront a significant difficulty. If our ultimate good is not fulfilled in this life, but is only fulfilled in a life after this one, then how can this ultimate good be said to be a natural good? It appears to be a supernatural good. Isn't there a contradiction here?
Our destiny is in point of fact a supernatural one; such a destiny is intrinsically possible, since we know [through revelation] that is actually a reality. May we, then, still speak of a happiness that is purely natural? To be happy is to be in possession of a good which gives full satisfaction to the desires of the will, and if its admitted that human nature is capable, by supernatural aid, of knowing God intuitively, it would seem that a discursive knowledge of God cannot suffice for man's happiness.
[222(22)] In other words, what is the value of a natural end of man (discursive, external contemplation of God) if, based upon revelation, man's end is supernatural (intuitive knowledge of God, the light of glory, the beatific vision)? In light of our supernatural end, can the natural end have any real meaning? In light of the supernatural happiness toward which we are called, does it even make sense to speak of such a thing as natural happiness? Various ways have been posited as a means to solve this difficulty.

One way is to state ex hypothesi that if man was in the condition of pure nature (i.e., if God had not deigned to give man a supernatural end), man would never have conceived of the possibility of the beatific (intuitive) vision of God. So what God has superadded (Grace) does not really impugn nature. Mercier does not accept this argument, as he considers it lacking of "sufficient foundation." [222(22)] As for himself, Mercier appears to build a theory that negotiates between the notion that, in a hypothetical situation of man in a state of "pure nature," man would have had no possibility of being aware of his supernatural end and so would not desire any such thing at all and the notion that man would have had a categorically absolute awareness and desire for this supernatural end and have felt frustrated.

In addressing himself to this problem of man's supernatural end and natural end, Mercier distinguishes. Distinguo. First, reason can "establish with certainty," that the supernatural vision of God "surpasses the natural exigencies and capabilities of every creature." [223(22)] If left to his own devices, man would have been unawares of any inclination, he would have had neither an innate appetite or natural appetite (appetitus innatus seu naturalis) which desired or yearned for the intuitive vision of God. It was through revelation alone (and acceptance of it by faith) that man can convince himself of the "positive possibility of the vision of God and that he has the "essential capacity . . . to bear such an intense felicity." [223(22)] Naturally, such an intuitive vision of God would appear to be outside his reach. So it follows:
It is reasonable to say that the will of man, in the condition of pure nature, is incapable of willing the vision of God with a categorical absolute will (appetitus elicitus efficax).
[223(22)] These two distinctions seem soundly based upon the fundamental divide between created, finite nature, and the infinity of God. It also appears to accept the fundamental difference between nature and a grace.

However, this does not mean that man's unaided nature (pure nature in some sort of hypothetical man yanked from reality) could not have an inkling, perhaps speculative or as a result of conjecture, of "the possibility of obtaining from the divine Omnipotence an intuitive knowledge of the Deity." [223(22)] Therefore, though they may not be an absolute or categorical will or desire for the intuitive vision of God (in pure nature), that does not exclude the presence of a "conditional desire (appetitus elicitus inefficax), a 'velleity',*** a hope . . . ." [223(22)] In a state of pure nature, however, such a thin desire would have been overshadowed, as it were, by the stronger impulse to the higher absolute natural desire to conform his life in accordance with the order of the universe, which reason would have seen as the expression of God's will and the ordination of his Providence. "Hence it follows," Mercier concludes, "that the conception of a natural happiness is in no way a contradiction" to the presence of supernatural happiness based upon revelation.
The happiness of a being consists in the possession of its supreme end. Now doubtless the supernatural end alone is, in the absolute sense of the word, the supreme end of an intelligent nature, in the real order of things in which we find ourselves placed. Yet the natural end, which in a possible order of things might have constituted the complete and exclusive end of man, is also, in a legitimate yet relative sense, a supreme end--that is to say, one not subordinated to a higher end. Thus there is nothing to prevent the attainment of the natural end being called happiness, though in a sense less complete than that of the supernatural end.

The relationship of man's natural end in a state of pure nature (which is a speculative state, since man, a we know from revelation, has never not had a supernatural destiny) to man's natural and supernatural end in the reality in which he finds himself (called to a supernatural destiny) is sort of like the prayers Novus Ordo rite of the Offertory. We start with a calix mixtus, the mixed chalice, where drops of water are put into the chalice full of wine.
Per huius aquæ et vini mysterium
eius efficiamur divinitatis consortes,
qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps.

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
Even though the priest has mixed water in the wine, the Offertory Prayer relating to the wine ignores, as it were, the presence of the water which has become practically homogeneous with the wine:
Benedictus es, Domine, Deus universi,
Quia de tua largitate accepimus vinum, quod tibi offerimus,
Fructum vitis et operis manuum hominum:
Ex quo nobis fiet potus spiritalis.

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink.
Intellectually, speculatively, one can talk about offering the water alone, apart from the wine. But, in fact, one is offering water intrinsically, inseparably, really mixed with wine, so that it has already virtually become wine, the admixture is so unitary, so homogeneous.

Something similar occurs when looking at the "mixed chalice" that is man. He is called both to a natural end and supernatural end. Like the unconsecrated wine in the chalice, the supernatural end is overwhelmingly significant, and yet the relatively less significant natural end is mixed in with it much like the drops of water. One can think of man in a state of pure nature, like one may think of the offered water in the "mixed chalice." But in practice, one will never see the two apart. There are not two offerings, one of water and one of wine. The water has become blended in the wine so as to be one offering of wine. Similarly, in reality, there is no such thing as a man in the state of pure nature, but nature has gotten mixed in with supernature, in a composite where there is no more seam, an admixture where there is no more composition, other than intellectual.

St. Cyprian said:
To the Lord one cannot offer only water, and in like manner wine alone cannot be offered. If someone offers only wine, the blood of Christ is without us. If someone offers only water, it is the people who are without Christ. But when both are mingled, and are joined together with one another by a close union, there is complete a spiritual and heavenly sacrament.

Domini offeri aqua sola non potest, quomodo nec vinum solum potest. Nam, si vinum tantum quis offerat, sanguis Christi incipit esse sine nobis: si vero aqua sit sola, plebs incipit esse sine Christo. Quando autem utrumque miscetur et adunatione confusa sibi invicem copulatur, tunc sacramentum spiritale et coeleste perficitur.
Epis. LXIII, Ad Caecilium de sacramento Dominici calicis, xiii, 4 PL 384.

If someone speaks only of the supernatural end of man, and ignores nature, the supernatural end is without man. If someone speaks only of the natural end of man, without reference to the supernatural end he is called to, he is without Christ, that is, he is condemned to be unfulfilled and unhappy. When both are mingled, the natural and supernatural end, and there is a complete man as he really is, as we find him, called to an intense and marvelous communion with the God who made him, who calls him, and who wants him to live with him in the life hereafter.

We step into the universe of grace, without ever leaving the world of nature.

What must we do to realize this happiness of the contemplation of God? Two things seem required of us according to Mercier: First, we must have "rectitude of will or sinlessness." [220(18)] It would make sense that if we seek the end, we ought to seek the means to the end. How can we say that we are pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, if we are on the road to Seville? The other thing that is required of us is securing the good against loss. The only way for this to happen is that the intellectual knowledge of God does not cease with our death. "[T]he natural desire of existence and happiness cannot be satisfied inf the happiness may be limited or lost . . . its happiness must endure forever." [220-21(18)] There must be a life after life.

Mercier then discusses the issue of whether both body and soul participate in this eternal life, a matter which will not be addressed here, though Mercier's opinion is that the body and soul both, and in particular in their union, appear to be one of the exigencies of human nature and so suggests both must be joined for the fulfillment of eternal life and eternal happiness. [220-221(18)]


*"an end under an end," that is, an end subordinate to or beneath another.
**As we must always remind ourselves, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." John Henry Cardinal Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (London: Longman 1878), 239. This saying was quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its teaching on Faith and its certainty. See CCC § 157.
***"Velleity," a word derived from Latin, velle, will or wish, is used to refer to volition or will in its weakest form. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia defines it a "an indolent or inactive wish or inclination toward a thing, which leads to no energetic effort to obtain it: chiefly a scholastic term." John Locke, in his Essay Human Concerning Understanding (II.xx.6) defines it well enough: velleity is "the term used to signify the lowest degree of desire, and that which is next to none at all, when there is so little uneasiness in the absence of anything that it carries a man no farther than some faint wishes for it." It is a scintilla of a will, a whisp of desire. Someone once said that a dry Martini is prepared by whispering the word "Vermouth" over the Gin. With respect to will, velleity is hardly more than that.

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