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.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pursuit of Happiness: Christopher St. Germain and the Declaration of Independence

“ALL OF ITS AUTHORITY RESTS," Jefferson wrote about the Declaration of Independence to his fellow Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, "on harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays or the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc." We have in prior postings looked at the Aristotelian, Ciceronian, Lockean, and Sidneyan doctrines regarding happiness, its pursuit, and the role of happiness in the matter of political institutions, government, and law. Jefferson, however, left his explanation open-ended by suggesting that there were others whose influences may have been considered as formative of the doctrines contained within the Declaration. We shall focus on two likely influences that arise from Jefferson's education as a lawyer.

The first such likely influence is Christopher St. German (or St. Germain) (c. 1460-1540). St. Germain was a 16th century English common law barrister who spent much time writing legal and polemical texts. In 1528, St. Germain published his first book, a dialogue entitled Dialogus de fundamentis legum Anglie et de conscientia, or Dialogue of the Foundations of the Laws of England and Conscience, commonly known as Doctor and Student after the titles of the two characters in the dialogue, a doctor of divinity and a student of the laws of England, a barrister. The text proved to be particularly popular in the education of lawyers, and so it was used well into the 19th century as an introductory test to common law concepts, and was replaced by Blackstone's Commentaries. Jefferson had his copy of St. Germain (like he had his copy of Blackstone). While Jefferson did not particularly regard Blackstone highly, he seemed to have some affinity to St. Germain. As Charles Mullett tells us in his book Fundamental law and the American Revolution, "Jefferson felt the urge to annotate [his copy of St. Germain] thoroughly."*

Title Page (Detail) of St. Germain's Doctor and Student

The introduction of Doctor and Student distinguishes between four laws: eternal law, the natural law or law of reason, the law of God (being the positive law of God contained in revelation) and human law:

“[D]octors treat of four laws, the which (it seems to me) pertain most to this matter. The first is the law eternal. The second is the law of nature of reasonable creatures, the which, as I have heard say, is called by them that be learned in the law of England, the law of reason. The third is the law of God. The fourth is the law of man.
D&S, Intr.

St. Germain believes both in a creator God and a providential God whose guidance may be found in all things and in their relationships and history. And so all creation is governed by law, eternal law:
“[T]he reason of the wisdom of God, moving all things by wisdom made to a good end, obtaineth the name and reason of a law, and that is called the law eternal. And this law eternal is called the first law . . . and all other laws are derived of it.
D&S, I.1. Man participates in the eternal law in a unique way. This unique participation in the eternal law arises from man's reason. Man also has been given the grace of revelation, whence he may know parts of the eternal law by God's own communication of it through the Scriptures. Finally, man participates in the eternal law through human law, for the eternal law is itself from whence the laws of men find their ultimate source and binding authority:

[W]hen the law eternal . . . is known to his creatures reasonable by the light of natural understanding, or by the light of natural reason, that is called the law of reason: and when it is shewed by heavenly revelation . . . then it is called the law of God: and when it is shewed unto him by the order of a prince . . . Then it is called the law of man . . . .

D&S, I.1. St. Germain's view of the natural law is wholly traditional and classical. Here he participates in the Aristotelian/Scholastic tradition. There is no variance between St. Thomas Aquinas and Christopher St. Germain:
The law of nature . . . which is also called the law of reason, pertaineth only to . . . man . . . Which is created to the image of God. And this law ought to be kept as well among Jews and Gentiles, as among christian men, and this law is always good and righteous, stirring and inclining a man to good and abhorring evil. And as to the ordering of the deeds of man, it is preferred before the law of God, and it is written in the heart of every man, teaching him what is to be done, and what is to be fled, and because it is written in the heart, therefore it may not be put away, and ne it is never changeable by no diversity of place, ne time . . . . And all other laws, as well the laws of God as to the acts of men, as other, be grounded thereupon.
D&S, I.2.

One would be hard-pressed to find any difference between St. Thomas Aquinas's understanding of law and its source in God's eternal law and Christopher St. Germain's understanding of law. The natural law is the most foundational law in man, as it is the principal means by which man is told by God how man ought to live. It is what must be used to determine the good and the means toward that good. It is binding across all time, across all men, across all cultures and religions. It is therefore immutable and preeminent. It is written in man's heart, cannot be erased or ignored, and is unchangeable. All laws must conform to the natural law, for if they vary therefrom, then to that extent they are against the will and reason of God, against the very order of the cosmos, and against man's very good. It is obvious that man's individual and common happiness would depend upon compliance with this natural moral law.

*Charles Mullett, Fundamental Law and the American Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1933), 39.

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