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.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Reasonable Myth and Revelation, Part 2

CONTINUING FROM OUR LAST POST that left off with the Platonic reason-based "myth" of the puppeteer and the puppet, we now post our last posting on John Finnis and his work Natural Law and Natural Rights.

Perhaps, reason speculates as does Plato through the Athenian character in his dialogue Laws, man is like a puppet played on by strings of pain/fear and pleasure/hope with a golden chord that ought to govern, a golden chord of reason. Is there perhaps there is a God behind it all?
What I assert is this,—that a man ought to be in serious earnest about serious things (σπουδαῖον σπουδάζειν), and not about trifles; and that the object really worthy of all serious and blessed effort is God (φύσει δὲ εἶναι θεὸν μὲν πάσης μακαρίου σπουδῆς ἄξιον), while man is contrived, as we said above, to be a plaything of God (θεοῦ τι παίγνιον), and the best part of him is really just that; and thus I say that every man and woman ought to pass through life in accordance with this character, playing at the noblest of pastimes, being otherwise minded than they now are. . . . .

Now they imagine that serious work (τὰς σπουδὰς) should be done for the sake of play (τῶν παιδιῶν γίγνεσθαι); for they think that it is for the sake of peace that the serious work of war needs to be well conducted. But as a matter of fact we, it would seem, do not find in war, either as existing or likely to exist, either real play (παιδιὰ) or education (παιδεία) worthy of the name, which is what we assert to be in our eyes the most serious thing.

It is the life of peace that everyone should live as much and as well as he can. What then is the right way? We should live out our lives playing at certain pastimes—sacrificing, singing and dancing—so as to be able to win Heaven's favor and to repel our foes and vanquish them in fight. . . . .

It behooves our nurslings also to be of this same mind, and to believe that what we have said is sufficient, and that the heavenly powers will suggest to them all else that concerns sacrifice and the dance,— in honor of what gods and at what seasons respectively they are to play and win their favor, and thus mold their lives according to the shape of their nature (τῆς φύσεως), inasmuch as they are puppets for the most part (θαύματα ὄντες τὸ πολύ), yet share occasionally in truth.

You have a very mean opinion, Stranger, of the human race.

Marvel not, Megillus, but forgive me. For when I spoke thus, I had my mind set on God (πρὸς γὰρ τὸν θεὸν ἀπιδὼν καὶ παθὼν), and was feeling the emotion to which I gave utterance. . . .
Laws, VII, 803c-804b.

Man is not a puppet of the gods

Man as a plaything of the gods, as a marionette fingered by a divine puppeteer, is, of course, a pagan sentiment. There is a certain offensiveness in the image which bothered Megillus, and ought to bother us. There is, no doubt, a great divide between the pagan view of man as a puppet and Christian vision of man: man as a "fellow player in the divine drama of history and eternity, who might be redeemed for friendship with God by God become man." NLNR, 409.

And yet Plato is on to something. His basic insight is that obligation and the moral life may be more than mere something we feel or sense as inherent or self-evident. It may be, reason strains to believe, that there is a point behind it, a reason behind the self-evidency, a raison d'être of the moral thing. And in a manner of speaking, it may be thought of speculated to be, as a play, a drama, a cosmic game:

That point [of moral obligation] is the game of co-operating with God. Being play, this co-operation has no point beyond itself, unless we wish to say that God is such a further 'point'. By analogy with human friendship, we may be able to say that, but only in a special restricted sense. For if we simply said that we act for the sake of God, we would suggest that God somehow needs us, needs creation, the success of creation, the achieving of the creative purpose. But [the Uncaused Cause, God] lacks nothing. And has God revealed as needing or lacking anything? So if we ask why God creates, no answer is available other than the one implicitly given by Plato: play--a free but patterned expression of life and activity, meaningful but with no further point. Hence, even one who goes beyond Plato to accept that man is called to a friendship of devotion to God will grant that such friendship takes the form of sharing, in a limited way, in the divine play.

NLNR, 409.

The point of moral obligation then, may not be viewed as the means to acquire self-perfection (virtue), nor the means to fulfill a naked "categorical imperative," nor simply something that self-evidently is: it may be--reason hopes--it is--faith seizes--that moral obligation has a greater point. Reasons says that it may be that fulfillment of the moral obligations, of the natural moral law, of the obligations inherent in our nature and revealed or disclosed or discovered through our reason, is "what is needed to participate in the game of God."
Is it chance
or dance moves
the world?

Is the world
blind and dumb
or bloom, festal?
A vain jest,
or holy feast?

Eugene Warren, "Christographia XIV," Christographia 1-32 (St. Louis: Cauldron Press, 1977)

Reason asks whether we might want to dance, and faith answers yes. In faith, then we dance, jest, play, in the "holy puppet show," the "holy drama," the "holy feast" or perhaps better, the "holy liturgy" or public service that is life in in the service of God. And in playing, dancing, singing, and sacrificing along with the Divine player, we are engaged in life most seriously, most realistically. The game is the game. For the game--that for which our very being hunts for--is God, ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν, in ipso enim vivimus et movemur et sumus, for in him we live, and move, and have our being.* (Acts 17:28)

*We might post a caveat for any would-be fanatics using the final words of Finnis in his work Natural Law and Natural Rights. Accepting by faith the fact that a personal God is the absolute end of all things, including moral obligation, does not allow us to neglect the fact that He is also the source of all other human basic values, and so does not allow us to scrap the latter basic values (life, knowledge, play, aesthetic appreciation, society or friendship, practical reasonableness) in pursuit of God. The existence of God and his status as last end or finis ultimus, does not "entitle us to say that religion is a more basic value than any of the other basic human values, so that 'for the sake of religion' one might rightly choose directly against any of those other values or ignore any of the other requirements of practical reasonableness. There is nothing to justify treating God as an objective to be attained by the skillful disposition of concrete means. (The fanatic acts as if God were such an objective). . . . [t]he human person's way of realizing the proposed friendship with God builds on all the requirements of practical reasonableness in the pursuit of, and the respect for, all the basic forms of human God." NLNR, 410. Our radical Muslims brothers (or any religious fanatic or zealot of whatever brand or ilk or confession) err grievously if they think that the basic human values are preempted by submission to God. Any proper, authentic submission to God (and any true prophet or true God) would oblige us to keep, to respect, to venerate the basic human values post submission even more since not only would those obligations be self-evident and an inclination of our nature placed there by that creator God, they would be the very fundamental law, the Shari'a behind any real shari'a, of the God to whom we submit or whom we claim to love.

No comments:

Post a Comment