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.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: The Eternal Law

MARITAIN INSISTS ON THE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE OF THE ETERNAL LAW, as a faithful Thomist would be expected to do. The natural law's "definite meaning" requires the concept of the Eternal Law. For Maritain, the concept of Eternal Law "is not solely theological," i.e, a revealed truth; it is also a "philosophical truth, as well." Maritain, 40. The existence of the Eternal Law, then, is a truth that can be grasped by the use of reason and its ability to come to the conclusion that God exists, that he is the first cause of all being, "activating all beings." Maritain, 40. One thereby can arrive at a notion of philosophical Providence, that is, that the "entire community of the universe is governed by the divine reason." Maritain, 40.

Hence there is in God, as in one who governs the entirety of created beings, this very reality which is the judgment and command of the practical reason applied to the governing of a unified community: in other words, this very reality which we call law. Eternal Law is one with the eternal wisdom of God and the divine essence itself.

Maritain, 40. This is classic Thomistic doctrine: the Eternal Law is the eternal wisdom of God, indeed, it is God himself. It has deep roots in Stoicism and Platonism and the Church Fathers. As the Sachsenspiegel, the Mirror of Saxons, the ancient Germanic law code put it in its old German: Got is selber recht, dar umme is im recht lip,* "God is himself law, therefore law (or justice) is dear to him." The once-barbarian Saxon tribes clearly grasped this fundamental truth as tightly as they had grasped their scramseaxes, though modern barbarians, who no longer hold scramseaxes but instead iPods and iPhones, appear to have let the notion of the eternal law slip from their grasp.

Recourse to the concept of Eternal Law is needful if we are to find a sure foundation of natural law. In the classical view, law is a work of reason, and the natural law is therefore a divine work of reason the source of which must be "Subsistent Reason, the Intelligence which is one with the First Truth itself," that is to say, "the Eternal Law." Maritain, 40. "Hence there is in God, as in one who governs the entirety of created beings, this very reality which is the judgment and command of the practical reason applied to the governing of a unified community: in other words, this very reality which we call law."
--Jacques Maritain
Law, St. Thomas observes, is both in the ruler and the subject that is ruled, and so the Eternal Law is both in God (and is God) and is in us in a manner of speaking, "insofar as [man] participates in the measure and rule existing in the one who rules." Maritain, 41. This participation in the Eternal Law, in men and in a manner of speaking all creation, is called the natural law, and men, like all creation, participate in it "insofar as they derive from it the inclinations through which they then naturally toward their proper operations and ends." Maritain, 41 (quoting S.T. Iª-IIae q. 91 a. 2 co. "Manifestum est quod omnia participant aliqualiter legem aeternam, inquantum scilicet ex impressione eius habent inclinationes in proprios actus et fines.")

Man, however, participates in the Eternal Law in a markedly more dignified way that that part of creation which is not free and which does not have a rational nature.

We should note that, among all creatures, the rational creature is subject to divine providence in a particular way--a "more excellent way," St. Thomas writes--inasmuch as it has a share in providential government, by being provident both for itself and others."

Maritain, 41 (excellentiori quodam modo divinae providentiae subiacet). Accordingly, the rational creature participates in the eternal reason through its rationality, and as a result, even the rational creature has a natural inclination to the actions and ends that are proper to it. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it: Unde et in ipsa participatur ratio aeterna, per quam habet naturalem inclinationem ad debitum actum et finem. (S.T. Iª-IIae q. 91 a. 2 co.) In the rational creature, these inclinations are in accordance with its nature, and are therefore "inclinations of knowledge," or "rational and intellectual inclinations." Maritain, 41. Yet, as part of creation generally, the rational creature also shares the general natural inclinations to which all material creation is subject, a "natural law" so to speak. But the rational creature, by virtue of its rationality, participates in the eternal law is a definitively distinct way; it has its own specific and unique "natural law." The rational creature has a specific concept of natural law wherein "all that is good and all that is evil is only an impression of the divine light in us." Maritain, 42.

At this point, Maritain refers us to article 4 of question 19 of the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologiae:
Wherever a number of causes are subordinate to one another, the effect depends more on the first than on the second cause: since the second cause acts only in virtue of the first. Now it is from the eternal law, which is the Divine Reason, that human reason is the rule of the human will, from which the human derives its goodness. Hence it is written (Psalm 4:6-7): "Many say: Who showeth us good things? The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us": as though to say: "The light of our reason is able to show us good things, and guide our will, in so far as it is the light (i.e. derived from) Thy countenance." It is therefore evident that the goodness of the human will depends on the eternal law much more than on human reason: and when human reason fails we must have recourse to the Eternal Reason.

Respondeo dicendum quod in omnibus causis ordinatis, effectus plus dependet a causa prima quam a causa secunda, quia causa secunda non agit nisi in virtute primae causae. Quod autem ratio humana sit regula voluntatis humanae, ex qua eius bonitas mensuretur, habet ex lege aeterna, quae est ratio divina. Unde in Psalmo IV, dicitur, multi dicunt, quis ostendit nobis bona? Signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, domine, quasi diceret, lumen rationis quod in nobis est, intantum potest nobis ostendere bona, et nostram voluntatem regulare, inquantum est lumen vultus tui, idest a vultu tuo derivatum. Unde manifestum est quod multo magis dependet bonitas voluntatis humanae a lege aeterna, quam a ratione humana, et ubi deficit humana ratio, oportet ad rationem aeternam recurrere.
S.T. Iª-IIae q. 19 a. 4. co.

We see therefore an intimate relationship between the goodness of the human will, which depends upon reason, which in turn depends upon the natural law as its immediate measure, but which depends "all the more on the eternal law, which is the divine reason." Maritain, 42. This series of dependencies makes it clear that "the goodness of the human will depends much more on Eternal Law which is the Divine Reason than on Human Reason [or Natural Law]."* Maritain, 42.

The dependence is total, absolute. The dependence upon the Eternal Law is not merely limited to being some foundational yet distant root, foundation, or guarantee, which allows us to use our reason virtually independent and free of the divine reason. No, more actively, the "divine reason alone is the author of natural law, and natural law emanates from it." Maritain, 42. What this means is that "the divine reason is the only reason to be considered. . . . Indeed, in the case of Natural Law, human reason has no share in the initiative and authority establishing the Law, either in making it exist or in making it known." Maritain, 43.*** Man is not free to use his reason to make the natural law.

For Maritain, this is particularly significant because for him it means that both the content of natural law and the means of knowing that content are determined by God. Human discursive and conceptual reasoning is not the source or means of knowing the natural law. The source or means of knowing the natural law is through inclinations, through connaturality, through that intellectual feltness or intellectual tendentiousness which is built in man and which precedes, in both authority and dignity, man's conceptual and discursive reason.

The formal medium by which we advance in our knowledge of the regulations of Natural Law is not the conceptual work of reason, but rather those inclination to which the practical intellect conforms in judging what is good and what is bad. Through the channel of natural inclinations the divine reason imprints its light upon human reason. This is why the notion of knowledge through inclination is basic to the understanding of Natural Law, for it brushes aside any intervention of human reason as a creative factor in Natural Law.

Maritain, 43.

From this notion of the Eternal Law and the natural law's participation in it, and what it means, Maritain turns to the analogical character of the natural law. That will be the topic of our next post.

*A copy of a manuscript of this document is available at Sachsenspiegel Online. The Mirror of Saxons has been the subject of a previous posting on Lex Christianorum on the Eternal Law. See Lex Aeterna: God is Law.
**The section in brackets was not in the original Leçon 2 - La loi naturelle ou loi non écrite, but was added in a revision published as "Natural Law and Moral Law" in Moral Principles of Action: Man's Ethical Imperative, Ruth Nanda Anshen, ed. (New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1952).
***The first emphasis is in the original. The second emphasis is mine.

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