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, November 30, 2010

Conformity to Good is True: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

THE SENSE THAT EMOTIONS OUGHT TO CORRESPOND TO REALITY, that the subjective world of an individual man should appropriately conform to the objective world around him, was, until fairly recently, regarded as a commonplace. Even such free-thinking neurotics such as Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) recognized the link, an umbilical cord as it were, between the objective and subjective worlds, and understood that human sensibilities were like an Aeolian lyre, which could be tuned through "internal adjustment" so that it could "accomodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them." Abolition, 16-17.[1]

C. S. Lewis also reaches back to the English poet Thomas Traherne (ca. 1636 - 1674), to the latter's Centuries of Meditations, for a literary anecdotal evidence that such congruence between objective world and subjective response was the foundation of virtue. "Can you be righteous," Traherene asks rhetorically--which itself is evidence of how common the belief was--"unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem?" Abolition, 15-16.[2]

The concept that is assumed and shared by both Shelley and Traherne has both Christian and Pagan roots, which is evidence of its fundamental humanness. It is shared by Saint Augustine, who, in his magnum opus De Civitate Dei (On the City of God), calls virtue ordo amoris, which is to say "the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it." Abolition, 16.[3] It is at the heart of the Greek notion of paideia (παιδεία), of education, when Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics states "that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought." Abolition, 16.[4]

Inculcating a proper correspondence between internal emotional states or affections and the objective order, especially among the youth, is central to the educational enterprise as traditionally understood. Through this sort of teaching, youth are trained to be predisposed to liking and not liking things in proportion to the objective fact of whether they are good or not good. The young man or woman then has a well-ordered predisposition to like what is good and dislike what is bad as a result of being taught the proper correspondence between objective world and a proper moral subjective response to it when he comes to the age of reason, "the age of reflective thought." If, instead of being properly ordered through proper training, this correspondence between objective order and affection is corrupted during youth's formative stage, it may be that the need for emotion to correspond justly to the objective world "will never be visible at all," and the young man or woman as he or she reaches adulthood will be unable to make progress in the science of Ethics. The moral world, the natural law, will be virtually foreclosed to him, or at least veiled from him, in whole or in part.

The Tao (道)

The wisdom of this insight is the inheritance of mankind. It is, for example, found in Plato, who in his Republic speaks specifically of the need to train the youth to appreciate the correspondence between the objective world and the subjective world of emotion, of passion, of affection.[5] It is, moreover, shared by the Hindu notion of Ṛta (ऋतं), which means something that is properly joined, a correspondence between a person and the truth, the real order, the pattern of the cosmos. As Lewis defines it, Ṛta is "that great ritual or patten of nature and supernature which is revealed alike in the cosmic order, the moral virtues, and the ceremonial of the temple. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence to reality." Abolition, 17. The same concept is comprehended by the notion of the Tao (道). What is the Tao or Dao?

It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in the imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.

Abolition, 18. The notion of law as a correspondence to truth is also found among the revelation of the Jew. As an example of this, Lewis reaches into the Psalms, specifically Psalm 119(118):151, where the Law, God's commandments, his mitzvot (מִצְוֹתֶ), are venerated as truth, emeth (אֱמֶת).
You are near, O LORD, And all Your commandments are truth.

ἐγγὺς εἶ σύ κύριε καὶ πᾶσαι αἱ ἐντολαί σου ἀλήθεια

קָרֹוב אַתָּה יְהוָה וְכָל־מִצְוֹתֶיךָ אֱמֶת׃

Prope es tu Domine et omnia mandata tua veritas.
The Hebrew word used in the Psalm, אֱמֶת, or emeth--translated by the Septuagint as ἀλήθεια and by the Vulgate as veritas--means firmness, faithfulness, in short, truth. The Hebrew word connotes less a correspondence theory of truth, which is the connotation of the Hindu satya (सत्या), but instead emphasizes a reliability, firmness, trustworthiness, and permanence of truth. But the essential principle is the same, and and whether viewed as a correspondence or as firmness, the fundamental principle is shared among all great religions and philosophies of all time.
This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as "the Tao". . . . It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. . . .
Abolition, 18.

Lewis's Tao is, in short, the concept that we have been advocating in this blog. It is the notion of the Eternal Law, and of man's particular participation in that Eternal Law, the Natural Law.

[1] Lewis quotes Shelley's In Defence of Poetry, Part I, ¶2, §§ 7, 8. The entire quote is:
§7 Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre; which move it, by their motion, to ever-changing melody. §8 But there is a principle within the human being and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. §9 It is as if the lyre could accomodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accomodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. §10 A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away, so the child seeks by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. §11 In relation to the objects which delight a child, these expressions are, what Poetry is to higher objects. §12 The savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar manner; and language and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation, become the image of the combined effect of those objects and of his apprehension of them. §13 Man in society, with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expressions, and language, gesture and the imitative arts become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and the harmony. §14 The social sympathies, or those laws from which as from its elements society results, begin to develope themselves from the moment that two human beings co-exist; the future is contained within the present as the plant within the seed; and equality, diversity, unity, contrast, mutual dependance become the principles alone capable of affording the motives according to which the will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social; and constitute pleasure in sensation, virtue in sentiment, beauty in art, truth in reasoning, and love in the intercourse of kind. §15 Hence men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects and the impressions represented by them, all expression being subject to the laws of that from which it proceeds. §16 But let us dismiss those more general considerations which might involve an enquiry into the principles of society itself, and restrict our view to the manner in which the imagination is expressed upon its forms.

[2] Lewis quotes, in part, from Traherene's Centuries of Meditations, i.12. The entire section is as follows:
Can you be Holy without accomplishing the end for which you are created? Can you be Divine unless you be Holy? Can you accomplish the end for which you were created, unless you be Righteous? Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy. The end for which you were created, is that by prizing all that God hath done, you may enjoy yourself and Him in Blessedness.

[3] Lewis cites principally to De Civ. Dei, xv.22, but also to ix.5, and xi.28. Excerpts to the first citation is provided in the original Latin and in English (Marcus Dods, trans.) translation:
. . . . quemadmodum iustitia deserta et aurum amatur ab avaris, nullo peccato auri, sed hominis. Ita se habet omnis creatura. Cum enim bona sit, et bene amari potest et male: bene scilicet ordine custodito, male ordine perturbato. Quod in laude quadam cerei breviter versibus dixi: "Haec tua sunt, bona sunt, quia tu bonus ista creasti. Nihil nostrum est in eis, nisi quod peccamus amantes ordine neglecto pro te, quod conditur abs te." [Cf. Ant. lat.; cf. anche Laus Cerei (PL 46, 817)] Creator autem si veraciter ametur, hoc est si ipse, non aliud pro illo quod non est ipse, ametur, male amari non potest. Nam et amor ipse ordinate amandus est, quo bene amatur quod amandum est, ut sit in nobis virtus qua vivitur bene. Unde mihi videtur, quod definitio brevis et vera virtutis ordo est amoris; propter quod in sancto Cantico canticorum cantat sponsa Christi, civitas Dei: Ordinate in me caritatem. [Cant 2, 4.]

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: "These are Yours, they are good, because You are good who created them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of You love that which You have made."

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, "Order love within me." Song of Songs 2:4

[4]Lewis quotes Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1104b. The reference in the Greek and in English translation (H. Rackham, trans.) is provided below:
περὶ ἡδονὰς γὰρ καὶ λύπας ἐστὶν ἡ ἠθικὴ ἀρετή: διὰ μὲν γὰρ τὴν ἡδονὴν τὰ φαῦλα πράττομεν, διὰ δὲ τὴν λύπην τῶν καλῶν ἀπεχόμεθα. διὸ δεῖ ἦχθαί πως εὐθὺς ἐκ νέων, ὡς ὁ Πλάτων φησίν, ὥστε χαίρειν τε καὶ λυπεῖσθαι οἷς δεῖ: ἡ γὰρ ὀρθὴ παιδεία αὕτη ἐστίν.

In fact pleasures and pains are the things with which moral virtue is concerned. For pleasure causes us to do base actions and pain cause us to abstain from doing noble actions. Hence the importance, as Plato points out, of having been definitely trained from childhood to like and dislike the proper things; this is what good education means.

[5] Lewis refers to Plato's Laws (653), and quotes rather loosely from Plato's Republic (401d-402a) which refers to the education of youth in music:
"In the Republic, the well-nurtured you is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her."
Abolition, 16-17. The principle with respect to education in music in the Republic is extended to education generally in the Laws. The heart of the Platonic text referred to by Lewis is the following:
γίγνοιτο καλός τε κἀγαθός, τὰ δ᾽ αἰσχρὰ ψέγοι τ᾽ ἂν ὀρθῶς καὶ μισοῖ ἔτι νέος ὤν, πρὶν λόγον δυνατὸς εἶναι λαβεῖν, ἐλθόντος δὲ τοῦ λόγου ἀσπάζοιτ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸν γνωρίζων δι᾽ οἰκειότητα μάλιστα ὁ οὕτω τραφείς.

The ugly he would rightly disapprove of and hate while still young and yet unable to apprehend the reason, but when reason came the man thus nurtured would be the first to give her welcome, for by this affinity he would know her.

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