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 22, 2010

Natural Law's but a Short Step to God

IN OUR LAST POSTING we discussed knowing the natural law. Before we know that law, does it exist? The answer is yes. It exists in things. Behind that, it exists in God.
[B]efore natural law exists in our mind as a proposition it exists in things. . . . [The nature of the things we perceive] we express . . . rationally, and we have the first component of the definition of law: it is a work of the reason. But notice that it is a reason measured by things [whether life, a mother protecting her baby, an untrue word, or a promise, or whatever], which bows before things: that is what we mean when say that those things are right by nature. The natural law exists in nature before it exists in our judgment, and it enjoys the latter existence--that is what natural law means!--by reason of what the nature of things is. . . . It exists ontologically before it exists rationally in our minds; it is embodied in things before it is thought out, thought through, understood, intelligently grasped. Plainly it is because natural law is first embodied in things that we declare such and such an action to be right, and such and such an action to be wrong, under circumstances which may have to be defined with great attention and particularity.
Simon, 137.

This is the predicate discussion to Simon's re-exploration of obligation, as he sees obligation as intimately tied to the notion of rational order in nature. Obligation cannot stop at things, at the non-rational, at the ontological. Obligation, if it exists, would have to be rational, and thus it requires a reason behind the ontological, and ultimately, that requires one who is ordering all things to their end, namely God.

Historically, the natural law was related or linked to a Theistic world view. God was seen as the author of both physical creation and rational creation, the physical nature and the rational or moral nature. God as a rational Creator was the "backing," the "standard," in the words of Simon, the "ultimate guarantee," which gave stability to the laws of nature, and by analogy, to the laws of the moral order. Thus all order resided in the rational, most fundamentally, in the Logos, the Reason or Word of God.

The discovery of natural law is typically found in three stages beginning with the created order. First, the natural law presents itself to our minds as an explanation or proposition for the order we witness and as being part of the "nature" of things, whatever those things might be. The second stage is the recognition that by saying that something exists "by nature," there is implied that, before apprehended by the intellect, the natural law exists in things. The natural law in things precedes our thought about the natural law, or else we would not have found it therein. We draw it out of things, as it were, out of things where we find it (even intangibles such as promises), and where it has been placed by someone else. Thus we are led to the third stage. What is it that is behind nature that leads our mind to discover that law and that is in that nature independent of our minds? We thus are led to the threshold of the discovery of the "author of nature," the "legislator of nature," the "nature" that has the laws that we discovered first with our minds, and later determined to be in these things.
And thus the law which, in the order of discovery, exists first as a proposition in our minds, secondly as a way of being, thirdly and ultimately exists in the divine mind, where it takes on the name of divine [read: eternal] law.
Simon, 139. So the rational, bows to the ontological, and the ontological bows to Reason, that is to say, God. Our reason is therefore not ultimately subservient to things, but to the God behind the things. "To know" comes from the "to be" and the "to act" of things, and all three lead to that being in which "to act," "to know," and "to be" are identical, and this is God whom we are then obliged "to adore." That's where the non serviam of those who reject the natural law ultimately stems from.

Christ the Pantokrator, El Shaddai, the Ruler of All

So it is that we confront what in practice is the real objection against natural law. The natural law implies the existence of God and all the moral responsibilities, the answerability, and in extremis, the final judgment and the possibility of punishment following. We learn that our freedom is not without responsibility, and we are responsible, answerable to another for its use or abuse. It may also demand metanoia, repentance. (The part we often forget is that it also means the opportunity for mercy and grace and reconciliation.)
There are a hundred reasons for opposition to natural law, but this is one of them and at certain times it may be the strongest: obligation in natural law does not hold unless the natural law exists in a state which is actually prior, but which is ultimate in the order of discovery--"this law is an aspect of God."
Simon, 139. In fact, it takes us to the threshold of a proof of God's existence.
The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Quinta via sumitur ex gubernatione rerum. Videmus enim quod aliqua quae cognitione carent, scilicet corpora naturalia, operantur propter finem, quod apparet ex hoc quod semper aut frequentius eodem modo operantur, ut consequantur id quod est optimum; unde patet quod non a casu, sed ex intentione perveniunt ad finem. Ea autem quae non habent cognitionem, non tendunt in finem nisi directa ab aliquo cognoscente et intelligente, sicut sagitta a sagittante. Ergo est aliquid intelligens, a quo omnes res naturales ordinantur ad finem, et hoc dicimus Deum.
S.T., Ia, q. 2 a. 3 co.

There is thus a relationship between obligation and order, between obligation to law and God's Providence:
Here we see about how reasoning about finality in nature and reasoning about obligation ultimately converge. The ways are slightly different, but the logical structure and the end are the same. The facts of order in the universe and the facts of obligation under natural law, i.e., that our reason bows before things, both require rationally a transcendent First Being in whom "to be" and "to act" and "to think" are one and the same.
Simon, 145.

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