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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Eternal Law, Part 2

REASON CAN ESTABLISH THE EXISTENCE OF GOD as Uncaused Cause with certainty. Chance alone is unable to explain the reality of the state of affairs as we know it. In his Natural Law and Natural Rights, John Finnis, however, ascribes a lower level of certainty in the use of analogy from the existence of an Uncaused Cause to the existence of there being an Eternal Law. In his view, the argument of analogy from our experience that an act of choice is always preceded by a prior intention and plan so as to infer an Eternal Law in the Uncaused Cause is "cannot . . . be rigorously established by philosophical argumentation." NLNR, 392. Reason, Finnis appears to believe, cannot establish that the Uncaused Cause is personal and therefore governed by a ratio ordinis in its (his) creation and governance of the cosmos, and yet it certainly can suggest, hypothesize, posit, speculate the existence of such a reality. "Verification," that is, confirmation of the truth that there is a personal God and an Eternal Law, and "clarification of the meaning of the concepts employed" in such an Eternal Law, will have to come from somewhere other than the tentative suggestions of reason. However, reason's suggestion that the Uncaused Cause may be personal raises the question as to whether there may not be some sort of communication or self-revelation by the Uncaused Cause. Can the divine Nous* or intelligence communicate with the human nous or intelligence?

But here we depart from the realm of Reason into the realm of fact, of experience, of history, where Faith will govern. Reason has established certainly that there is an Uncaused Cause, and has, moreover, suggested that such an Uncaused Cause may be both personal and, in its (his) creation of the state of affairs as we find them, have a ratio ordinis, a plan, an ordinance of reason which we call the Eternal Law. So in the area of God and of Law there is an overlap of Reason and Faith. What the former suggests as possible, the latter confirms as real.

It must never be overlooked that, for nearly two millennia, the theories of natural law have been expounded by men who, with few exceptions, believed that the uncaused cause has in fact revealed itself to be all that the foregoing analogue model of creative causality hypothesized, to be indeed supremely personal, and to be a lawgiver whose law for man should be obeyed out of gratitude, hope, fear, and/or love. . . . But it must also not be overlooked that the originators of natural law theorizing, who did not suppose [or know] that God had revealed himself by any such act of informative communication , believed none the less that through philosophical meditation one can gain access to the transcendent source of being, goodness, and knowledge.

NLNR, 392. In the latter category, of course, we would put perhaps Heraclitus, but certainly Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, including Cicero. These representatives of human thought, though not graced with revelation, nevertheless argued against the relativists, the skeptics, the positivists of their day (the Sophists, the Cynics). They had, as it were, a natural faith in reason. They were convinced, based upon the resources of reason alone (the only resources they had since the Gospel had not been preached, and faith comes through hearing), that an objective moral order was both intelligible and discoverable. They were confident in reason; at the "foundation of such teachings [of practical reasonableness, ethics, or natural right] is their faith in the power and objectivity of reason, intelligence, nous." NLNR, 392. But even here, where reason was given great weight and revelation was unknown, there was a notion that human reason participated in the eternal reason or mind of God. The human nous was never apart from the divine Nous, but participated in the divine Nous. Here, reason did not oppose itself to Reason, but worked within Reason, as it were.
[T]here is much reason to believe that their confidence in human nous is itself founded upon their belief that the activity of human understanding, at its most intense, is a kind of sharing in the activity of the divine nous.

NLNR, 392-93.** The overlap and fit between reason's project in Plato and Aristotle and the schools they founded and faith's project in both the Mosaic and Christian revelation and the Church was so amicable and complementary that many were convinced that perhaps there had been some sort of communication between the Jewish prophet and the Greek philosopher. Thus in St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei we have the tentative hypothesis that perhaps Plato had some communication or access to the prophetic traditions of Israel:

Certain partakers with us in the grace of Christ, wonder when they hear and read that Plato had conceptions concerning God, in which they recognize considerable agreement with the truth of our religion. . . . Then, as to Plato's saying that the philosopher is a lover of God, nothing shines forth more conspicuously in those sacred writings. But the most striking thing in this connection, and that which most of all inclines me almost to assent to the opinion that Plato was not ignorant of those writings, is the answer which was given to the question elicited from the holy Moses when the words of God were conveyed to him by the angel; for, when he asked what was the name of that God who was commanding him to go and deliver the Hebrew people out of Egypt, this answer was given: "I am who am; and you shall say to the children of Israel, He who is sent me unto you;" Exodus 3:14 as though compared with Him that truly is, because He is unchangeable, those things which have been created mutable are not—a truth which Plato zealously held, and most diligently commended. And I know not whether this sentiment is anywhere to be found in the books of those who were before Plato, unless in that book where it is said, "I am who am; and you shall say to the children of Israel, who is sent me unto you."

St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, VIII, c. 11.***

The interconnectedness between reason's project and faith's project ought not to be dismissed. The fact that philosophy and theology, reason and faith, more or less traveled parallel paths until joined in Judaeo/Hellenistic and Christian/Hellenistic philosophical/theological blends (e.g., Philo the Jew or Justin Martyr) ought not to suggest that they should not be joined. Nor should the fact that reason and faith and their separate contributions can be distinguished one from each other imply that they ought to be separately pursued. What God has so felicitously joined, let no man put asunder. Faith and reason must be used jointly and severally, not each severally, else we land in some sort of "muddle."
[T]he distinctions later drawn by Christian theologians between natural law and divine law, and between natural reason and revelation, have given some encouragement to the supposition that 'natural la' or 'natural reason(ableness)' signify properties of a purely immanent world ('nature') or an intelligence which has no knowledge of, or concern for, the existence of any transcendent ('supernatural') uncaused cause. But this supposition is mere muddle and is not, and was not intended to be, entailed by the aforementioned distinctions.
NLNR, 394.

Finnis, of course, is referring here to those natural law theories that were advanced at the time of the Enlightenment and beyond. We must not confuse those theories of natural law and natural right which were based upon the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius's tentative suggestion that a moral law could be built upon the temerarious suggestion that we ought to think as if God did not exist.† The Deistic and later even agnostic and atheistic presuppositions entertained by some Enlightenment natural law thinkers ought not to deter us from the project as originally conceived. In our question for a reason-based morality, that is in our search for the natural moral law, reason does not require us to disclaim the existence of a personal God, a personal Eternal Law, or a personal Providence.
*Nous, of course, meaning intelligence or intellect, mind, reason, thought, etc. is a transliteration of the Greek word νοῦς.
**Finnis cites to Plato,
Republic, VI, 508a-509b; VII, 514a-518e and Aristotle, Metaphysics, XII, 7:1072b13-25 and Nicomachean Ethics, X, 7:1177b26-1178a1.
***"Mirantur autem quidam nobis in Christi gratia sociati, cum audiunt vel legunt Platonem de Deo ista sensisse, quae multum congruere veritati nostrae religionis agnoscunt. . . . Deinde quod Plato dicit amatorem Dei esse philosophum, nihil sic illis sacris Litteris flagrat 38; et maxime illud (quod et me plurimum adducit, ut paene assentiar Platonem illorum librorum expertem non fuisse), quod, cum ad sanctum Moysen ita verba Dei per angelum perferantur, ut quaerenti quod sit nomen eius, qui eum pergere praecipiebat ad populum Hebraeum ex Aegypto liberandum, respondeatur: Ego sum qui sum, et dices filiis Israel: qui est, misit me ad vos 39, tamquam in eius comparatione, qui vere est quia incommutabilis est, ea quae mutabilia facta sunt non sint, vehementer hoc Plato tenuit et diligentissime commendavit 40. Et nescio utrum hoc uspiam reperiatur in libris eorum, qui ante Platonem fuerunt, nisi ubi dictum est: Ego sum qui sum, et dices eis: qui est, misit me ad vos."
†The suggestion of Hugo Grotius that natural law would persist even if one dared to suggest that there was not a God (etiamsi daremus . . . non esse deum) has been treated in the prior posting Natural Law: Ecstasis and Telos.

No comments:

Post a Comment