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, May 3, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: St. Thomas and Eternal Law

FINNIS'S PENULTIMATE CHAPTER in his Natural Law and Natural Rights purports to "provide summary elucidation of that famous phrase" of St. Thomas in his Summa Theologiae, which defined the natural law as the participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura, the participation by the rational creature in the eternal law. (S.T. IaIIae, q. 91, art. 2, c.)

Perhaps the operative word in St. Thomas's conceptual formula is the term "participation" or (in Latin) participatio. The term participatio is a Latin word that incorporates several Greek concepts used by Plato and Aristotle, namely (and especially) methexis (μέθεξις), but also metalepsis (μετάληψις).* But Aquinas did not particularly focused on the Platonic or Aristotelian usage when he uses the term participatio. For Aquinas (according to Finnis), "the word participatio focally signifies two conjoined concepts, causality and similarity (or imitation)." NLNR, 399. The causal sense and similarity are related since the Thomistic notion of participation means that the quality of one entity or state of affairs was caused by a similar quality which some other entity or state of affairs has or includes (relative to the first entity or state of affairs) in a more central, intrinsic, and perhaps independent way. NLNR, 399.

St. Thomas Aquinas

The notion of participation is, as we have seen, particularly important to Aristotle's notion of nous.* It does not take much reflection to come to the conclusion that human rational thought seems to exceed its material "substratum," that mind is something that seems to be beyond and above the brain. "The power of human understanding far exceeds (or rather is incommensurable with) what we would expect to be the intrinsic capacity of the brain-material, however complex . . . ." NLNR, 399. In regard to mind, Aristotle could easily conceive as a postulate or speculative possibility "an intelligence that would far exceed human intelligence," one that was not as encumbered as ours is with the material accouterments and their weight--images, figures, symbols, concepts, abstractions, loss of memory, slowness in learning, etc. To the extent our mind seems to exceed the capacity of our material brains, the Greeks and St. Thomas postulated a "'separate intellect' which has the power of understanding without imperfection, and which causes in us our individual intelligences--somewhat as a source of light activates in us our power of sight." NLNR, 400. Our mind (nous) therefore participated (metalepsis) in the divine Nous. St. Thomas--with the benefit of Revelation--identified that divine Nous as God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Moses, of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas concludes, therefore, that "it is from God that the human mind shares in [participat] intellectual light: as Psalm 4 verse 7 puts it, 'The light of they countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us.'"** NLNR, 400. This is the Christianized version of the Aristotelian insight.

The same Psalm that St. Thomas used to tie human nous or intellect to the divine Nous or intellect is referred to by St. Thomas in the area of law and the participation of the natural law in the eternal law. For the light of the Lord's countenance shines on man not only in the speculative intellect, but also in the practical intellect. So the Lord's intellect shines on man in the areas of truth as well as the area of good. Man participates in the Lord's light in both mind and law. Therefore a human being's grasp of the natural law, and his participation thereby in the Eternal Law, is nothing miraculous or supernatural; rather, "there is noting extraordinary about man's grasp of the natural law" and participation in the Eternal Law, as this grasp is something that is within man's ordinary, natural abilities. NLNR, 400. Though ordinary in this sense, however, it is a reflection of man's dignity, a dignity which is shown in his ability to reason, and this reason that gives man his dignity relative to the animals includes both the speculative and the practical intellect, leading him to the true and to the good.

Although the entirety of the creation participates in the Eternal Law, man's participation through reason is the basis of his nobility. The brute creation participate in the Eternal Law aliqualiter, "somehow," in only a metaphorical way since they do not participate knowingly and freely, but by a sort of instinctual compulsion.
Human beings . . . provide for themselves (and for others); so we can say that man is not only subject to God's providence, but is actually a participant (particeps) in it. In brief, animals (and the rest of 'lower creation') are not subject to natural [moral] law. And their nature is not a basis for inference about the principles of human reasonableness.
NLNR, 401.

St. Thomas specifies that the eternal reason is participated in us "through our 'natural inclination to the due [debitum] act and due end.'" NLNR, 401.† This natural inclination includes, most significantly, the inclination to act reasonably, that is secundum rationem, according to reason.†† However, it also incorporates the inclination we have towards our last end, our finnis ultimus, which, in our natural faculties, is a desire for happiness which results when we obtain an understanding of something, in this particular instance the causes of all causes, God. In its fullness, however, as a result of unmerited gift, the participation in the finis ultimus goes beyond nature, as God has conditionally promised man a supernatural beatitude arising from participation by grace in God's very own life. (It is conditioned because it requires man to exercise his freedom: it requires him to exercise his freedom in embracing, even if only implicitly, Christ and His Church.) But this perfection of nature by grace is beyond the competency of the natural law, though without the natural law that nature could never be perfected by that grace.

In St. Thomas's view, human participation in the divine practical reason is what allows us to grasp the basic forms of good and therefore allows us to grasps the basic precept and principles of natural law.

[T]he data for this act of understanding include the desires and inclinations which we experience, but like all understanding, this act of understanding goes beyond the data as experience, to concepts accessible or available not to experience but only to understanding. . . . [this] 'light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is bad (which is hat natural law concerns), is simply the impress in us of the divine light.'"

NLNR, 402 (quoting S. T. IaIIae, 91, art. 2, c.)

This participation through the natural law in the eternal law is not however something supernatural or mystical. It incorporates only the ideas of causality and similarity in that causality, and the divine role is simply unfelt as something extraordinary. NLNR, 402. In short, this participation is something directly related to the Uncaused Cause, a "theorem in the general explanation of all states of affairs by reference, ultimately, to creative uncaused causality." NLNR, 402.

St. Thomas, therefore, shares with both Plato and Aristotle a sort of bottom-up notion of God in the moral life of man:
The account of the source of natural law [in St. Thomas] focuses first on the experienced dynamisms of our nature, and then on intelligible principles which outline the aspects of human flourishing, the basic values grasped by human understanding. A few pages later Aquinas formulates one of the fundamental theoretical principles of his account of the content of natural law: 'all those things to which man has a natural inclination, one's reason naturally understands as good (and thus "to be pursued") and their contraries as bad (as as "to be avoided").
NLNR, 403.

The clear "parallelism, this fit, this convenientia of felt inclinations with valuable aspects of human well-being" can only be there for one reason and one reason alone: a creative and providential God, who through his act of creation and his providential governance, is intimately concerned with our well-being.
*Metalepsis is a term meaning participation, and it is used to express the reality in Platonic philosophy of divine/human participation. Methexis also meaning participation is used to describe the manner in which something's "form" participates in matter so as to make a thing (and things like it) what it is (what they are).
**See Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Seeds of Eternal Law in Aristotle.
***S. T. I, q. 79, art. 4, c. (Unde ab ipso anima humana lumen intellectuale participat, secundum illud Psalmi IV, signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, domine.)
S.T. IaIIae, q. 91, art. 2, c. "[I]t is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends. Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law. Hence the Psalmist after saying (Psalm 4:6): "Offer up the sacrifice of justice," as though someone asked what the works of justice are, adds: "Many say, Who showeth us good things?" in answer to which question he says: "The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us": thus implying that
the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light [N.B. this is a reference to Psalm 4:7]. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law. (manifestum est quod omnia participant aliqualiter legem aeternam, inquantum scilicet ex impressione eius habent inclinationes in proprios actus et fines. Inter cetera autem rationalis creatura excellentiori quodam modo divinae providentiae subiacet, inquantum et ipsa fit providentiae particeps, sibi ipsi et aliis providens. Unde et in ipsa participatur ratio aeterna, per quam habet naturalem inclinationem ad debitum actum et finem. Et talis participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura lex naturalis dicitur. Unde cum Psalmista dixisset, sacrificate sacrificium iustitiae, quasi quibusdam quaerentibus quae sunt iustitiae opera, subiungit, multi dicunt, quis ostendit nobis bona? Cui quaestioni respondens, dicit, signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, domine, quasi lumen rationis naturalis, quo discernimus quid sit bonum et malum, quod pertinet ad naturalem legem, nihil aliud sit quam impressio divini luminis in nobis. Unde patet quod lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura.)
†S. T. IaIIae, q. 93, art. 1 c. (ita ratio divinae sapientiae moventis omnia ad debitum finem, obtinet rationem legis); q. 93, art. 5, c., art. 6, c.
††S. T. IaIIae, q. 94, art. 3, c.

1 comment:

  1. WLindsayWheelerMay 3, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    You've got so much on your website, it takes a long time to load, freezes IE for a minute and then when scrolling, it is fragmented and stutters. I've tried this on two computers with the same result.

    Onto the definition of the natural law. The term 'natural law' is a romanization of the Greek 'Laws of nature'. So no, natural law is not "participation in the eternal law" but originally the Laws found in nature. This 'natural law' is because Latin puts in an adjective before the noun. The Romans were not philosophers but were taught this by the Greeks where they went to school. In their Latinization of the a Greek concept, the "laws of nature" went to 'natural law'. The Laws of nature is the Logos in nature. We "participate" when we Know and follow and respect the Logos in nature. (and in Divine Revelation). St. Albert the Great, teacher of St. Aquinas, screwed up the Laws of Nature, the Natural law.