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, October 21, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Charter of Natural Rights

JACQUES MARITAIN PROVIDES us a summary, a charter, as it were, of fundamental natural rights in Section I of Chapter 4 of the book Natural Law: Reflections on Theory and Practice.

Enumerated, they are as follows:
  1. The right to existence and life.
  2. The right to personal freedom or to conduct one's own life as master of oneself and of one's acts, responsible for them before God and the law of the community.***
  3. The right to the pursuit of the perfection of moral and rational human life.
  4. The right to keep one's body whole (i.e., bodily integrity).
  5. The right to private ownership of material goods, which is a safeguard of the liberties of the individual.
  6. The right to marry according to one's choice and to raise a family which will be assured of the liberties due it.****
  7. The right of association.
  8. The respect for human dignity in each individual, whether or not he represents an economic value for society.*
"All these rights," Maritain insists, "are rooted in the vocation of the person," that is, the vocation proper to "a spiritual and free agent," a vocation which is ordered and rooted in "absolute values and to a destiny superior to time." Maritain, 78.

This enumeration of rights bear some similarity to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the rights contained in the American Declaration of Independence. Yet one must be aware of differences in rendition. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man** was rationalistic in origin. The American Declaration of Independence is somewhat more classical and Christian in character, though it to is marked or marred by the "influence of Locke and 'natural religion.'" Maritain, 78. The rationalism of the French version made the natural law "no longer an offspring of creative wisdom, but a revelation of reason unto itself," and thus changed natural law into "a code of absolute and universal justice inscribed in nature and deciphered by reason as an ensemble of geometric theorems or speculative data." Maritain, 78. Law and justice therefore became more like mathematics, geometry, and physics, and less like philosophy, music, or art. In Maritain's view, the blame is not to be placed entirely on the philosophes, but also on the leadership--civil and ecclesiastic--that supported the Ancien Régime, or, more precisely, refused to correct the corruption of Christian principles that had become ossified. The Christian bones of the French ruling bodies had become brittle, their hearts sclerotic, and their ears deaf to the plight of their neighbor. Maritain really believes the controversial proposition that the "consciousness of the rights of the person [in revolutionary France] really has its origin in the conception of man and of natural law established by centuries of Christian philosophy." Maritain, 79. I feel rather guarded about the accuracy of that statement.

*Maritain does not put this in "right" form.
**For an English translation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789, click here. For the text in French, click here.
***Maritain elaborates with respect to religious freedom:
The first of these rights is that of the human person to make its way towards its eternal destiny along the path which its conscience has recognized as the path indicated by God. With respect to God and truth, one has not the right to choose according to his own whim any path whasoever, he must choose the true path, in so far as it is in his power to know it. But with respect to the State, to the temporal community and to the temporal power, he is free to choose his religious path at his own risk, his freedom of conscience is a natural inviolable right.
Maritain, 79.
****Maritain elaborates on the rights of the family:
Here [in the family] the person is no longer considered merely an individual person. It is by virtue of the fact that it is part of a group that special rights are accorded at the same time to it and to the group in question. The rights of the family, the rights of the human person as father or mother of the family, belong to natural law in the strictest sense of the word.
The same must be said of the rights and liberties of spiritual and religious families, which are at the same time the rights and liberties of the person in teh spiritual and religious order. These rights and liberties belong to natural law--not to mention the superior right which the Church invokes by reason of her divine foundation.
Maritain, 80.

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