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, June 27, 2011

Mundus Perditus

WILLY NILLY, VOLLE NOLLE, there are moral truths, there is an objective moral realm outside of man, though we infringe it, violate it, trespass it every day. And it exists and persists in existing though man may vainly suppress it, though he may deny it, though he may abjure it, though he may curse it, though he may act against it throughout all his short-spanned days. And though in his rebellion, like a stubborn cow, he may kick against the goads, kick against the pricks, he cannot not know these truths. These truths are--in his heart of hearts, since it is there that they are writ--irrepressible. "They are a universal possession, an emblem of rational mind, an heirloom of the family of man." The law is, in fact, who we are, and in acting against it we act against ourselves. Budziszewski (2003), 19.

This irrepressible reality is the natural law. This natural law is not innate: it is learned, gleaned through experience, heard in the voices of internal witnesses, and ultimately, at its sacrosanct base, self-evident. It consists of "basic moral principles, together with their first few rings of implications." Budziszewski (2003), 19. And in its most basic--in that area J. Budziszewski calls "deep conscience"--not only not unknowable, but perfectly known. These may be difficult to confront, particularly if they have been infringed and we have no means at making amends for their breach, which gives rise to guilt. They are, to be sure, also difficult to apply, and often difficult to live, since they frequently command us to do something against our desires or against our whim, or even--seemingly, but just seemingly--against our freedom. But these characteristics of the natural moral law do not change the fact that all men share the "basic moral principles, together with their first few rings of implications," and that they are one and the same for all of us.

The West's institutional shutters are closed to the natural law.

The voices that shrilly and loudly wail against the natural law do so within the academic, political, and legal institutions they have captured. They have been captured by false theories whose name is Legion: utilitarianism, relativism, libertarianism, liberalism, anarchism, and isms of every stripe and every kind. These falsehoods have insinuated themselves all the way to the Supreme Court, which explains why one of that noble institution's modern Associate Justices could write the moral pablum in a published opinion that we have a (constitutional?!) "right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."*

We are off track. We are a people who walk in darkness:

Can we turn back the clock? Like John Bunyan's pilgrim, can we return to the place where we got off the track and get back onto it again? Can we open the shuttered windows and let in the light of the natural law?

Budziszewski (2003), 23. Maybe. We can hope. It will, however, require tremendous effort. We might recall the words of Virgil:
Facilis descensus Averno;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way.
Virgil, Aeneid, VI.124 ff (Loose translation by Dryden).

We have to regain something that we have lost. We have to re-acquire a teleological concept of nature, a nature with design, with meaning, with purpose. In the words of St. Thomas, we need to rediscover that wonderful notion that the nature of any created thing, including man, is "nothing but a certain kind of art, i.e., the divine art, impressed upon things, by which these things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if the shipbuilder were able to give to timbers that by which they would move themselves to take the form of a ship."**

There's the rub! To believe in nature means we have to believe in a divine art, in a divine shipbuilder, in an authority that is above us. We have to believe that God, and not that man, is the measure of all things. We have to abandon our modern Protagoran spirit, and reacquire a tradition Platonic spirit.*** More, as part of the job of restoration, one will have to recover a dismantled tradition, a hoary one coming from the Stoics into Cicero, and through St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans and through the Church Fathers, into the heart of the Christian proclamation. The tradition, gained during the course of centuries, has been jettisoned over the course of a little more than a century. And to reacquire it takes time. The tradition is essential to recovery of natural law doctrine. Nature is dependent on tradition.

Why? For the simple reason that part of human nature is to have a tradition. It is not in man's nature not to have a tradition. Tradition is a sort of "second nature," one whose assistance is needed "for nature to come into its own; the natural is brought to bear by the habitual." Budziszewski, 25. That tradition, however, has to be consistent, supportive, expressive of the natural moral law. And that is what we have lost. The tradition we have now is anti-natural law. As Budziszewski explains:
Even though elementary principles of the moral law are known by nature, they are elicited, elucidated, and elaborated by tradition. The notion that it could be otherwise expresses not the classical view of natural law, but a modern distortion of the classical view which took hold only in the Enlightenment.
Budziszewski (2003), 24-25.

How, for example, do you recover the tradition of chastity? How--after generations of dissipation, after annual Gay Rights parades, after the influences of NAMBLA, after the ubiquitous pornography protected by 1st Amendment, after contraception, abortion, and divorce are mainstream, after being taught that the only good sex is safe sex, after being enlightened by the likes of Peter Singer that even sex with animals (just not with chickens!) is within the realm of the morally legitimate, after the loss of modesty, after the scandals in the Church, after billions of Onanistic ejaculations (how many even know who Onan was? see Genesis 38:8-10)--do you recover the tradition of chastity? We live in a tradition of massive unchastity. Without the tradition of chastity, you cannot (short of sheer heroic and extraordinary instances) have the virtue of chastity. People cannot even understand chastity, they are deaf to the word, and deaf to its meaning, and dead to its value. They think Chastity is the erstwhile name of Cher's daughter-soon-to-be-"son" called Chaz.

And that brings us to a most insightful perception of Budziszewski. To restore the natural law will mean a condemnation which is too much for us to bear. "Clear vision of the moral is crushing," when it has been disobeyed. The institutionalized disobedience to the natural moral law has left tremendous guilt, and to confront that disobedience leaves us with the specter of a debt too great to pay. How do we pay for the ruined families, the ruined homes, the invaded wombs, the tens of millions slain by abortion that our abandonment of the natural law has wrought? We have not the back to bear such onerous guilt. And nowhere in nature, in reason is there one who can pardon! As the French geneticist Jérôme Lejeune once said: Seul Dieu pardonne vraiment, l'homme pardonne parfois, la nature ne pardonne jamais. "God alone truly pardons, man some times pardons, nature never pardons."

Nature has been violated, and how! But nature cannot forgive. She can only punish. Which means that before we can turn back to the natural law we must recover another tradition, a divine tradition. This is Budziszewski's great prophetic insight:

Apart from an assurance that the debt can somehow be forgiven, such honesty is too much for us. The difficulty is that without a special revelation from the Author of the law, it is impossible to know whether the possibility of forgiveness is real. Therefore we look away; unable to accept the truth about ourselves . . . . We need another tradition, greater than natural law tradition, which settles the matter of forgiveness once and for all; otherwise our highest ethics will be cross-eyed with evasions.

Budziszewski, 26.

In short, we need the Gospel. We need Christ. We need the Church. To be sure, there are other religious traditions, but we should recall that "although natural law was named by the pagans and is in some dim fashion known apart from the Bible, reflection about it has never gone far except within the biblical traditions." Budziszewski, 26. Indeed, not only are the biblical traditions needed, but the biblical traditions of the teaching Church, a teaching found in its magisterial guidance, in the Pope and in the bishops in communion with him. We will not likely return to the natural law unless we repent and believe in the Gospel.

*Justice Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 851 (1992).
**Cf. Budziszewski, 23. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Book II (Lecture 14, on 199 a 34-b 33) (natura nihil est aliud quam ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur ad finem determinatum: sicut si artifex factor navis posset lignis tribuere, quod ex se ipsis moverentur ad navis formam inducendam.)
***Plato tells us that Protagoras said that "man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not" (πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος, τῶν μὲν ὄντων ὡς ἔστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν). Cf.
Theaetetus, 152a; Cratylus, 386a. In his Laws, Plato has the Athenian say: "In our eyes God will be “the measure of all things” in the highest degree—a degree much higher than is any “man” they talk of." Laws, IV.716c (ὁ δὴ θεὸς ἡμῖν πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἂν εἴη μάλιστα, καὶ πολὺ μᾶλλον ἤ πού τις, ὥς φασιν, ἄνθρωπος).
†Quoted by Harold O. J. Brown in "Contraception: A Symposium," First Things 88 (December 1998): 17–29.

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