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, December 13, 2010

Natural Law in Cicero's De legibus, Part 3

CICERO ADDRESSES THE PERMANENT ARGUMENT against the existence of the natural law. It seems to follow the natural law as if it were its shadow, or its ape. If the natural law is so natural, then why do not all cultures and peoples follow it?

But the variety of opinions and the discord of humans disturb us; and because we do not have the same problems with our senses, we consider them to be certain by nature, but we say that because moral qualities seem different to different people and not even the same person always sees them the same way, they must be false.

De leg., I.47.

Senses, however, inform the mind in a manner that cannot be easily corrupted. On the other hand, reason and its ability to comprehend or grasp the natural law can. It is "distorted habits," "false opinions," "weak minds," "mental errors," our proneness to be "ensnared by pleasure" or "enticed to bad conduct" by a seeming good that do so. De leg.,I.31-32.
All sorts of traps are directed against our minds, either by those whom I just listed [a parent, a nurse, a teacher, a poet, or the stage], who take them when they are tender and inexperienced and corrupt and bend them as they wish, or by that which lurks entwined deep in all our senses, namely pleasure, which imitates the good but is the mother of all evils. Those who are corrupted by her blandishments do not perceive sufficiently well what things are good by nature, because these things lack the sweet itch of pleasure.
De leg., I.47.


Cast these aberrations aside which can easily be explained, and it is apparent that men share in a nature. Without these impediments, "no one would be so like himself as all people would be like all others," sui nemo ipse tam similis esset quam omnes sunt omnium. De leg., I.29. One can define a human in a manner that encompasses all men, which itself proves that the dissimilarities are accidental, not substantive. That one distinguishing feature is reason, ratio, "the one thing by which we stand above the beasts," ratio, qua una praestamus belvis. De leg.,I.30. There are, in addition, other similarities: all men learn through their senses, abstract reality that way, and form concepts or ideas which are identical, albeit expressed in different languages. Even in their perversity, men show likeness. But if in perversity they show likeness, so also in their notions of the good:

What nation is there that does not cherish affability, generosity, a grateful mind and one that remembers good deeds? What nation does not scorn and hate people who are proud, or evildoers, or cruel, or ungrateful?

Quae autem natio non comitatem, non benignitatem, non gratum animum et beneficii memorem diligit? Quae superbos, quae maleficos, quae crudeles, quae ingratos non aspernatur, non odit?

De leg., I.32. "There is no person of any nation who cannot reach virtue with the aid of a guide." Nec est quisquam gentis ullius, qui ducem naturam nactus ad uirtutem peruenire non possit. De leg., I.30.

That guide is justice, "the sparks given by nature," tamquam igniculi . . . natura dati. "And I want it to be understood in this whole discussion that the justice of which I speak is natural." Atque hoc [ius] in omni hac disputatione sic intellegi volo, quom dicam naturam esse. De leg.,I.33.
But if human judgment corresponded to what is true by nature and men though nothing human alien to them (to use the poet's [Terence] phrase), then justice would be cultivated by all.

Quodsi, quo modo suntt natura, sic iudicio homines 'humani, ut ait poeta, nihil a se alienum putarent', coleretur ius aeque ab omnibus.
De leg.,I.33. The chain between nature and justice cannot be gainsaid: from nature to reason; from reason to right reason; from right reason to law; from law to justice. This chain exists in every man and in all men. Justice is therefore based upon nature.

The fact that justice is natural means that it binds all men, and all men equally. Accordingly, the virtuous man in any society will be just, and he will offer justice to his fellow, so that "he loves himself no more than the other," non in illo sese plus quam alterum diligat. De leg., I.34. Friendship and benevolence is the more natural state than hatred and selfishness. The "selfish gene" of Richard Dawkins is a corruption; by nature, man, by nature reasonable, is made to be just according to Cicero.

These are the foundational principles of all law. Cicero sits on the shoulders of giants before him,* and he gratefully recognizes his dependence upon them. He is in good company, and seeks to conserve or to preserve the patrimony of natural justice. But he excoriates and lambastes those who--like the Epicureans with their utilitarian calculus or those of the new Academy where skepticism and relativism reins supreme--teach and live in a manner that vitiates the natural law:

Those, however, who indulge themselves and are enslaved to their bodies, who judge everything that is to be sought or avoided in life by pleasures and pains--even if what they say is true (and there is no need for arguments about it here), we tell them to talk in their gardens, and we ask them to stand away for a little while from all bonds of civic society, of which they know nothing and have never wanted to know anything. . . .

De leg., I.39.


*"All these people, whether they have stayed in the Old Academy with Speusippus, Xenocrates, and Polemo, or have followed Aristotle and Theophrastus, who agree with them in substance but use a slightly different type of argument, or those who, like Zeno, have changed the terminology without changing the substance, or even have followed the difficult and demanding system of Aristo, . . . all these people agree with what I have said." De leg., I.38.

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