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 16, 2010

Life under the Microscope: The Sanctity of Life and Innocence

HUMAN LIFE IS A GOOD INDEPENDENT of whether it it supports other human goods. Life alone, without regard to any other human goods, is good simpliciter. Even naked life, vita nuda, das bloße Leben, disrobed of all the human goods which can grace her sacred frame, is intrinsically good. This is what is meant by the sanctity of life. It follows that as an intrinsic good, life must needs be protected, and that leads to the doctrine of the sanctity of life: In Oderberg's words, the doctrine of the sanctity of life is this:

It is always and everywhere a grave moral wrong intentionally to take the life of an innocent human being.

Oderberg, 147.

Many objectors to this principle of the sanctity of human life find the exclusion of non-innocents from its purview as arbitrary, as reflective of social norm or convention. Why stop there, they ask? Why not, they argue, arbitrarily carve out of the doctrine's protection to allow for euthanasia and abortion? Why should the traditional formulation which (they argue) is arbitrary not be supplanted by a modern formulation equally arbitrary?

The exception to the rule against the taking of human life, which carves out non-innocents, is not, however, arbitrary. Rather, it is itself based upon reason. Human life is a good that is a good for every human being, and so it follows that all human beings enjoy the right to life, and a right to protect and defend it against an unjust aggressor. What then ought we do when an aggressor threatens this fundamental human good? "Some say that unjust aggressors forfeit their right to life. Others say that they waive their right to life by their actions." Oderberg, 149. This same sort of reasoning can justify the use of deadly force against an unjust aggressor in war, or capital punishment for an appropriate offense. There is therefore a "negative justification" related to the term "innocent." But there is also a positive justification or import to the term innocent. There is something more to the term "innocent," and for Oderberg, this "something more" is captured by the words of the Roman jurist Publilius Syrus (floruit 1st century BC):
When innocence trembles, it condemns the judge.

Ubi innocens formidat, damnat iudicem.*
The entire moral enterprise is the pursuit of the good. The innocent--those who live their lives in peaceable, orderly, harmonious ways so as to advance in virtue and serve the common good--are particularly exposed to the wrongdoer, to the vicious. To be good requires the donning of vulnerability, of openness to others, of a yielding of self. And it is this vulnerability that is a natural consequence of being open to the good which requires an extra solicitude, an extra protection, and must be recognized by moral law for the moral law to be consistent with itself. Similarly, those unable to protect themselves for reasons other than being innocent (though they also may be innocent): the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, the less intelligent, the sleeping, the comatose, the drugged. These may be said to be innocents in sensu lato, in a loose sense, or innocents by grace or courtesy, and so fall under the the protection of the moral law in a special sense.

Justice, that excellent virtue, is at morality's heart, and law is its handmaid. Justice and the moral law are to protect the innocent, both those innocent in the strict sense, and those innocent by the proxy of vulnerability as it were. It is for this reason that we experience outrage when injustice is meted out to the innocent or to the vulnerable, especially by those organs whose role is to dispense justice and protect the innocent and vulnerable from those who would take advantage of the innocents' vulnerability. The entire moral enterprise, the entire pursuit of happiness and of the good, is challenged, is threatened by the attack on the vulnerability of innocence. The natural moral law must favor the innocent, those that are vulnerable because they are in pursuit of the good. And the positive law must follow the moral law, for as Oderberg stated earlier in his book Moral Theory, "[t]he fundamental principle governing the relationship of human law (or simply "law") and morality is as follows: it is morality that determines what is and what is not a just law, hence law always follows morality." Oderberg, 62. To suggest that the natural moral law places those who are acting in conformity with it in pari passu with those who are flouting it, would make the natural moral law an enormity. It would make the natural law not moral:
Justice, then, is fundamental to morality, and innocence is fundamental to justice. A system of rules cannot call itself truly moral if it is blind to the equal protection that is rightfully claimed by all human beings who to about their daily lives in ways which, although often radically diverse, have in common the feature that they are lives lived in the legitimate pursuit of the good. Only when a person subverts the good does he merit the condemnation of others; only when his subversion is serious does he merit the interference either by the lawful authorities or by other persons acting in defense of their own well-being; and only when his subversion is the most serious that it can be does he merit the most serious interference. Otherwise, as an innocent person, he has the full force of the moral law on his side.
Oderberg, 151. The Gospel may extraordinarily require us to turn the other cheek when the first has been struck, that is, yield our natural right for the sake of the Kingdom of God. (Luke 6:29) The natural law does not require us to expose the second cheek. But, in the pursuit of good, the natural moral law requires us to have our first cheek exposed, which makes it vulnerable to being struck by the wrongdoer in the first place. The natural law protects the exposed cheek, the cheek of the innocent, and allows blows against it by the wrongdoer to be blocked, parried, compensated for, and punished.

Though the moral law favors and courts the innocent, even the vicious, the moral outlaw, who acts outside the pale of the moral law, and does so seriously, gets the benefit of a law he flouts though he is not its favorite. Even the moral outlaw get the "benefit of clergy" associated with the natural moral law, though the face of the law he sees frowns upon him. He is never relegated to a place where there is no law, for wherever God is there is law, and no man, even the most vicious, can hide from God.
Si ascendero in caelum tu illic es,
Si descendero ad infernum ades.

If I ascend into heaven, thou art there:
If I descend into hell, thou art present.
Psalm 138:8.

*The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, a Roman Slave (D. Lyman, trans.) (Cincinnati: L. E. Barnard & Co., 1856), No. 944 (Publilius Syrus, Sententiae, V.10) [Publilius is often wrongly rendered Publius.] Oderberg quotes from another source and renders Publilius Syrus's maxim thus: "When innocence if frightened, the judge is condemned."

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