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.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Seeds of Eternal Law in Aristotle

WE CAN DETECT SEEDS OF THE ETERNAL LAW and seminal notions that the natural law is nothing other than the participation by man in the eternal law in Aristotle. Aristotle did not advance a dualistic view of the world, a world divided into an immanent realm--where natural laws applied and empiricism reigned--and a transcendent world totally incommunicado with the immanent realm--where such natural law did not apply. That which for Aristotle is right or just by nature (φύσει δίκαιον = physei dikaion),* is not to be opposed to that which is divinely appointed, but rather runs hand-in-glove with it. The link between nature and God may be found in the Aristotelian view of man's nature, a nature which desires to know, and the source of both man's nature and that knowledge which is its end. We find these thoughts in the course some "intense passages" in Book XII of Aristotle's work Metaphysics.


Against his opponents, one may recall, Aristotle opposed himself, believing with Anaxagoras and Hermotimus of Clazomenae that there was a mind (nous) in nature (physei), and that this very mind, identified with God (ho Theos) himself, is what was at the root of all natural order.** This very Nous-that-is-ho-Theos orders man's nature to be such that man desires to know, designedly directs man's intellectual paths toward knowledge, ultimately to the knowledge of the highest good in nature which Aristotle identifies with the Nous-that-is-ho Theos.*** In his own thinking, man participates in this very Nous-that-is-ho-Theos.† This Nous-that-is-ho-Theos is the creator of nature as a whole, including that nature of man who thirsts to know, and is in fact the knower behind the knowing in man, and is the ultimate knowledge that knowing man seeks to know. This Nous-that-is-ho-Theos is in full possession of happiness, but man shares in that full and plenary happiness which is in the Nous-that-is-ho-Theos through contemplation (theoria). It is through contemplation that man grasps by his understanding, or perhaps better, he actualizes within himself, the very happiness that is in the Nous-that-is-ho-Theos even though it be intermittently.†† As Finnis summarizes Aristotle's teaching on this issue:

In these intense passages [in Book XII of the Metaphysics], the subject of Aristotle's attention, nous, is intended by him to be taken as something in a sense shared between God and man, in that human understanding participates in the divine nous which is its source, its attracting mover, and its object, while the divine nous participates in the human nous which it moves, illuminates, and satisfies. And all this is Aristotle's unfolding of what, he says, everybody desires by nature.

NLNR, 395. If this wonderful interaction is part of the life of the mind in its quest for speculative or theoretical knowledge, it follows that this wonderful interaction is part of the life of man in his quest for practical knowledge. And so what is the case for the true is also the case for the good.

*See Nicomachean Ethics, I, 3: 1094b11-16 (where Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of political justice (πολιτικὸν δίκαιον), that which is conventional (νομικόν) and that which is natural (φυσικόν)); NLNR, 394.
Metaphysics, I, 3 984b15-17; NLNR, 394.
***Metaphysics, I, 1:980a21: "All men desire knowledge by nature" (πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει); XII, 7:1072b19, 26-30: "Now thinking in itself is concerned with that which is in itself best, and thinking in the highest sense with that which is in the highest sense best . . . . Moreover, life belongs to God. For the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and the essential actuality of God is life most good and eternal. We hold, then, that God is a living being, eternal, most good; and therefore life and a continuous eternal existence belong to God; for that is what God is." (ἡ δὲ νόησις ἡ καθ᾽ αὑτὴν τοῦ καθ᾽ αὑτὸ ἀρίστου, καὶ ἡ μάλιστα τοῦ μάλιστα . . . . καὶ ζωὴ δέ γε ὑπάρχει: ἡ γὰρ νοῦ ἐνέργεια ζωή, ἐκεῖνος δὲ ἡ ἐνέργεια: ἐνέργεια δὲ ἡ καθ᾽ αὑτὴν ἐκείνου ζωὴ ἀρίστη καὶ ἀΐδιος. φαμὲν δὴ τὸν θεὸν εἶναι ζῷον ἀΐδιον ἄριστον, ὥστε ζωὴ καὶ αἰὼν συνεχὴς καὶ ἀΐδιος ὑπάρχει τῷ θεῷ: τοῦτο γὰρ ὁ θεός.)

†XII, 7 10:1072b20: "And thought thinks itself through participation in the object of thought; for it becomes an object of thought by the act of apprehension and thinking, so that thought and the object of thought are the same, because that which is receptive of the object of thought, i.e. essence, is thought." (αὑτὸν δὲ νοεῖ ὁ νοῦς κατὰ μετάληψιν τοῦ νοητοῦ: νοητὸς γὰρ γίγνεται θιγγάνων καὶ νοῶν, ὥστε ταὐτὸν νοῦς καὶ νοητόν.)
††XII, 7:1072b23-24. "Hence it is actuality rather than potentiality that is held to be the divine possession of rational thought, and its active contemplation is that which is most pleasant and best." (τὸ γὰρ δεκτικὸν τοῦ νοητοῦ καὶ τῆς οὐσίας νοῦς, ἐνεργεῖ δὲ ἔχων, ὥστ᾽ ἐκείνου μᾶλλον τοῦτο ὃ δοκεῖ ὁ νοῦς θεῖον ἔχειν, καὶ ἡ θεωρία τὸ ἥδιστον καὶ ἄριστον.) 1072b24-26: "If, then, the happiness which God always enjoys is as great as that which we enjoy sometimes, it is marvelous; and if it is greater, this is still more marvelous. Nevertheless it is so." (εἰ οὖν οὕτως εὖ ἔχει, ὡς ἡμεῖς ποτέ, ὁ θεὸς ἀεί, θαυμαστόν: εἰ δὲ μᾶλλον, ἔτι θαυμασιώτερον. ἔχει δὲ ὧδε.).

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