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.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Freedom and Law: Pope Leo XIII's Libertas praestantissimum, Part 1

WE HAVE IN EARLIER POSTINGS looked at Pope Leo XIII's encyclicals In plurimis, which addressed the issue of chattel slavery from the perspective of both natural and revealed law, and Diuturnum illud, which dealt with the foundations of civil government. Both of these encyclicals invoke the natural law in a clear, express, and central fashion. In this blog posting we shall review another of these Leonine encyclicals, one which dealt with the issues of liberty and freedom entitled Libertas praestantissimum, frequently translated On Liberty. This encyclical literally drips with the natural law from beginning to end.

Liberty, Pope Leo XIII states, is "the highest of natural endowments," attached to "rational natures," which can be used for both the highest good and the greatest evil. Jesus Christ "restored and exalted the original dignity of nature," brought it gifts of grace and promises of future salvation, and thus "raised it to a nobler state. Human liberty is therefore a matter that belongs to human nature, and as such is governed by the natural moral law. And yet, human liberty has been fundamentally transformed by the advent of the God-Man Jesus:
[T]his great gift of nature has ever been, and always will be, deservingly cherished by the Catholic Church, for to her alone has been committed the charge of handing down to all ages the benefits purchased for us by Jesus Christ.

Hoc tam excellenti naturae bono et merita est et constanter merebitur Ecclesia catholica, propterea quod eius est, parta nobis per lesum Christum beneficia in omnem saeculorum aetatem propagare.
PD, 1.

The liberty with which Pope Leo XIII is concerned about in the encyclical is moral liberty (libertatem moralem) as distinguished from natural liberty (libertatem naturalem). However, natural or human liberty, though distinct and separate from moral liberty, is intrinsically connected to moral liberty. It is the foundational source of moral liberty, and it is ultimately founded upon man's rational nature, which in turn, relies on a spiritual and immortal, and not material and perishable, soul. As Pope Leo XIII puts it:
But, first of all, it will be well to speak briefly of natural liberty; for, though it is distinct and separate from moral liberty, natural freedom is the fountainhead from which liberty of whatsoever kind flows, sua vi suaque sponte. The unanimous consent and judgment of men, which is the trusty voice of nature, recognizes this natural liberty in those only who are endowed with intelligence or reason; and it is by his use of this that man is rightly regarded as responsible for his actions. For, while other animate creatures follow their senses, seeking good and avoiding evil only by instinct, man has reason to guide him in each and every act of his life. Reason sees that whatever things that are held to be good upon earth may exist or may not, and discerning that none of them are of necessity for us, it leaves the will free to choose what it pleases. But man can judge of this contingency, as We say, only because he has a soul that is simple, spiritual, and intellectual - a soul, therefore, which is not produced by matter, and does not depend on matter for its existence; but which is created immediately by God, and, far surpassing the condition of things material, has a life and action of its own so that, knowing the unchangeable and necessary reasons of what is true and good, it sees that no particular kind of good is necessary to us. When, therefore, it is established that man's soul is immortal and endowed with reason and not bound up with things material, the foundation of natural liberty is at once most firmly laid.

Principio tamen iuvat aliquid de libertate naturali breviter dicere, quia quamquam a morali omnino distinguitur, fons tamen atque principium est, unde genus omne libertatis sua vi suaque sponte nascitur. Hanc quidem omnium indicium sensusque communis, quae certissima naturae vox est, in iis solum agnoscit, qui sint intelligence vel rationis compotes, in eaque ipsa caussam inesse apparet, cur auctor eorum, quae ab eo aguntur, verissime habeatur homo. Et recte quidem: nam quando ceteri animantes solis ducuntur sensibus, soloque naturae impulsu anquirunt quae sibi prosint, fugiuntque contraria, homo quidem in singulis vitae factis rationem habet ducem. Ratio autem, quaecumque habentur in terris bona, omnia et singula posse iudicat esse, et aeque posse non esse : et hoc ipso nullum eorum decernens esse necessario sumendum, potestatem optionemque voluntati facit ut eligat, quod lubeat. Sed de contingentia ut appellant, eorum bonorum, quae diximus, ob hanc caussam iudicare homo potest, quod animum habet natura simplicem, spiritualem cogitationisque participem: qui idcirco quod est eiusmodi, non a rebus corporeis ducit originem, neque pendet ex eis in conservatione sui; sed, nulla re intercedente, ingeneratus a Deo, communemque corporum conditionem longo intervallo transgrediens, suum et proprium habet vivendi genus, suum agendi: quo fit ut, immutabilibus ac necessariis veri bonique rationibus iudicio comprehensis, bona ilia singularia nequaquam esse necessaria videat. Itaque cum animos hominum segregatos esse statuitur ab omni concretione mortali eosdemque facultate cogitandi pollere, simul naturalis libertas in fundamento suo firmissime constituitur.
Natural liberty, then, which every man has as a result of his rational and spiritual nature, is the very life and basis of moral liberty. Natural liberty, at least as the Pope understands it, is not founded--cannot be founded--upon a view of man that is materialistic, for it presupposes a spiritual, rational soul. When a materialist, such as a Marxist or a secular humanist, talks about natural liberty, he is talking about something else entirely. It is this rational and spiritual nature that man has which makes man ontologically free, and therefore pulls him out of the determinism or fatalism or which is the concomitant of every materialistic or even extreme dualistic creed. "At no time," Pope Leo XIII declares, "and in no place," has the church "held truce with fatalism," nullo tempore nulloque loco fatalismum passa consistere. LP, 4. Indeed, were the Church even to stand with fatalism, it would be to put man in chains. And the Church, like her Christ, is not on mission to enslave man, but to set him free, authentically free, and not "free" with "freedoms" that are false and are in fact enslaving.

This natural liberty, which all men possess, "is the faculty of choosing means fitted for the end proposed, for he is master of his actions who can choose one thing out of many," facultas eligendi res ad id, quod propositum est, idoneas, quatenus qui facultatem habet unum aliquod eligendi e pluribus, is est factorum suorum dominus. LP, 5. Those things chosen as means toward an end are either good or useful. Though the natural freedom is a "property of the will, or, rather, is identical with the will in so far as it has its action the faculty of choice," it can only be exercised if there be a prior intellectual judgment of the good, since the exercise of the will is "subsequent to a judgment upon the truth of the good presented," and this judgment is "an act of reason, not of the will."
The end, or object, both of the rational will and of its liberty is that good only which is in conformity with reason.

Libertas igitur si in voluntate inest, quae natura sua appetitus est rationi obediens, consequitur ut et ipsa, sicut voluntas, in bono versetur rationi consentaneo.
LP, 5. Reason proposes, and the will disposes.

Yet all is not well in Camelot. In man, both the will and reason are imperfect. Often, the reason proposes something as good that is not in objective reality good: it proposes a seeming good, an evil under the guise of good. The will, which relies on what reason presents to it as good, is also therefore necessarily corrupted by this imperfection in reason. There is therefore a defect, a vitium, in natural human liberty. LP, 6.

At this juncture in his encyclical, Pope Leo XIII addresses a frequent error in the understanding of natural or human liberty. Liberty is not the freedom to choose evil, even evil under the guise of good. Liberty is the freedom to chose authentic good. Otherwise, God--who is supremely good and whose will chooses only real good--could not be said to be wholly free. Yet we know that God is supremely free, though he necessarily, by his very nature, chooses only good. The fact that God necessarily cannot chose evil does not make him any less than absolute free. It follows, therefore, that the ability to choose evil or an apparent or seeming good over an authentic good is not a characteristic of true liberty. In fact, choosing an apparent good, an evil, is the opposite of liberty; it is an enslavement to sin. This is the upshot of St. Thomas Aquinas's teaching on natural liberty: "The possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery." Facultatem peccandi non libertatem esse, sed servitutem. LP, 6. As Pope Leo XIII summarizes St. Augustine's argument against the Pelagians, "if the possibility of deflection from good belonged to the essence or perfection of liberty, then God, Jesus Christ, and the angels and saints, who have not this power, would have no liberty at all, or would have less liberty than man has in his state of pilgrimage and imperfection." LP, 6. The proposition that freedom means the opportunity of doing evil is preposterous. This notion was also grasped by the pagan philosophers, "especially they who held that the wise man alone is free," since they understood by the term "wise man," "the man trained to live in accordance with his nature (secundum naturam), that is, in justice and virtue (honeste et cum virtute)." LP, 6.

The intrinsic debilitated or imperfect condition of human liberty stemming from the imperfection or debility of man's reason and will means that natural human liberty "necessarily stands in need of light and strength to direct its actions to good and to restrain them from evil." LP, 7. What is the first source of "light and strength"? Pope Leo XIII explains:
First of all, there must be law; that is, a fixed rule of teaching what is to be done and what is to be left undone. . . .

Ac primo quidem lex, hoc est agendorum atque omittendorum norma, fuit necessaria . . . .
LP, 7. Law, then, is the first foundation of liberty. Those who would suggest that liberty is the absence of law, or that liberty is release from law, or that liberty only arrives when all law is abrogated are utterly in the dark. They suffer from weakness and debility, their soul shows paleness and sallowness, bearing the decrepitude and loss of sinew and virility of a man who lives in a cave or a well or a prison and has never seen exercise in the light of day, but insistently wallows in his foolish and insipid illusions and dreams, thinking them reality, never daring to escape out into the light of the real. The fool thinks himself free and strong, when he is patently captive and his strength dissipated. There are many sorts of fools. There is the fool who says in his heart there is no God. There is the fool who says in his heart there is no Law.

It is to this Law, this Law which makes us free and repairs the defects in natural human freedom and assures our freedom, the Law which the fool rejects but the wise embrace, to which Pope Leo XIII next turns.



  1. First thing. You speak of "Christianity" ending slavery.

    Eastern Orthodoxy has not condemned slavery. You seem to speak for "all" Christians but it seems that you are putting "words in the mouth" of Eastern Christians. The Greek Orthodox would seriously contest the Roman Catholic platform. You don't speak for Eastern Christians. The Popes since the Schism haven't either. And neither does the Church rule by "diktat".

    Next. Law. The Roman Catholic Church does not know anything about the real original Natural Law called the Laws of Nature. How can you speak on the "Natural Moral Law", when you don't know, or have the Laws of Nature?

    "Do we not observe that dominion has been grated by Nature to everything that is best, to the great advantage of what is weak? For why else does God rule over man, the mind over the body, and reason over lust and anger and the other evil elements of the mind?"…

    "...But we must distinguish different kinds of domination and subjection. For the mind is said to rule over the body, and also over lust; but it rules over the body as a king governs his subjects, or a father his children, whereas it rules over lust as a master rules his slaves, restraining it and breaking its power. So kings, commanders, magistrates, senators and popular assemblies govern citizens as the mind governs the body; but the matster's restraint of his slaves is like the restraint exerciesed by the best part of the mind, reason, over its own evil and weak elements, such as the lustful desires, anger, and the other disquieting emotions."
    Cicero, De re publica, trans. by Clinton Walker Keyes, Loeb Classical Library, LCL 213 (Cicero XVI), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. III. xxv

    "Commanality", the universal does not abrogate the particular. Yet, in these posts, you are showing how the universal is doing just that. Which is a Philosophical, logical error. Aesop is the one that taught the importance of nature. You have to read nature!!!! The Scorpion and the Frog. Did not Socrates read and know Aesop?

    Aristotle said, "All things are either in Authority or in subjection". He did not cook this up. This is IN Nature, in the Cosmos. This is a Law of Nature. The Best have to rule the Weak. Aristotle said, "Those who are ruled by their passions are natural slaves". The Strong, the Best, rule the Weak. Does not the Father rule the Woman? Is this paradigm not evident in the family? One is High and the other Low? Duh? Where is harmony? If harmony is the relation between High and Low, and the Family is an harmony, do you not have the Male rule the Female? Then, shouldn't the Best Men rule over Weak men?

    Nature teaches this. How does the Natural Moral law countermand the Laws of Nature?

  2. Second point.

    I point to the letter of St. Paul to Philemon returning a slave. Where is the condemnation of slavery here? St. Paul is returning a run away slave.

    In the Church canons, no slave could be a priest or deacon in the church unless he had permission from his master.

    What should be paramount in every Christian is the unity of the Church. Christ prayed for that specifically. What these popes are doing is causing disunity! The Church has to decide this together in an ecumenical council.

    The Greek Orthodox will point to (A) Deposit of Faith, (B) Consistency (C) Innovation. Nowhere is slavery condemned by Jesus or by St. Paul; where St. Paul is returning a slave to his master. Understanding the religious milieu of the New Testament is fundamental to understanding what is written there and it is obvious that Galatians hermeneutics is skewered because of it. A lot of religions did not accept slaves. Some others did not accept men and others did not accept women. St. Paul is speaking to this condition----not to equality per nature!

    In a corollary to this is that this is some "noxious pagan" sin. Absolute balderdash!
    In Lev 19.20, when the male is set at liberty, the women slaves, their wives, are NOT set at liberty. Remind you that there are TWO forms of slavery in the Bible, chattel slavery of foreigners and indentured slavery of other Hebrews. So the Old Testament differentiates between foreigners and kinsmen. In Lev. 25.44, it authorizes the Hebrews "to enslave the people roundabout".

    Can it be more clearer than that? And can the Pope abrogate Scripture? The Greek Orthodox will not be a party to this!

    In logic, the Criterian of the Faith and of Truth is Consistency! This is in Socrates elanchus and in St. Vincent Lerins where he said, "What has been believed everywhere, at all times, from the beginning". Slavery as wrong does not fit this! The Greek Orthodox are married to this dictum! Consistency is the halmark of Truth. It is part of the Laws of Nature and hence Logic. The Greeks are not going to go against this!

    Innovation. The Greek Orthodox are committed to Holy Tradition. To say that Slavery is wrong is an innovation! contrary to Holy Tradition.

    Our duty is Christian Unity and this project of the popes is about disunity! Inconsistency! and innovation. The great Act of Christianity is Unity amongst ourselves. Not pandering to the modern liberal world. or to critics.

    I stand four square on Holy Tradition, the Deposit of Faith, the principle of Consistency and Scripture! The Natural Moral Law can not countermand the Laws of Nature, Holy Tradition, the Deposit of Faith, the principle of Consistency and the Scripture!

  3. Liberty is NOT a natural endowment.

    Man is not born Free. Nor is he in a state of nature. Pope Leo writes this:
    Though the natural freedom is a "property of the will, or, rather, is identical with the will in so far as it has its action the faculty of choice," it can only be exercised if there be a prior intellectual judgment of the good, since the exercise of the will is "subsequent to a judgment upon the truth of the good presented," and this judgment is "an act of reason, not of the will."

    In the state of Nature-----Man is under the Laws of Nature. There is no "assent of the will". Either man does what nature says---or Nature kills you!

    I don't know what Churchmen and academics do, but these people are seriously divorced from reality and from nature. I don't have "free will" in nature. Man's will is constrained by the forces of Nature. It snows in winter. I can't plant crops in winter. Therefore, I am forced to plant in Spring and harvest in the Fall and live off those proceeds during the winter.

    Life is War. God cursed the ground. Man has to war with Nature. He has no choice. Either he works hard-----or dies. There is NO choice. He must act.

    The Greeks looked at Freedom, liberty as part and parcel of Self-sufficiency. No man is born self-sufficient. Man can NOT reproduce himself! He is constrained to find a woman and reproduce. Next, Man is not self-sufficient in survival. Only the group provides self-sufficiency. You don't have the "choice" not to fight. And neither does the group have the "choice" to let you go. Survival demands such. So man is NOT born free and there is NO such thing as "Natural liberty". That is absolute balderdash. Somethings are hormonely done. No will about it.