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, June 9, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-Necessary and Proper

THE LAW UNDER WHICH MAN'S FLOURISHING is assured--the natural moral law--is both one and many. All the many precepts of the natural moral law flow out of, are informed by, and take their lifeblood from that one single, unalterable principle: good ought to be done and evil avoided. There is no moral precept that is not this principal precept--good ought to be done and evil avoided--under another name and fitted to the circumstances of its application. Everything of any validity in the moral life flows from the self-evident principle: bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum! The self-evident root of all moral action, of every selection of means to an end, "is only an expression of the nature of rational action . . . to act for an end conformable to human nature, to the rational good . . . therein the natural law finds it unity." Bertke, 32. This principle--do good, avoid evil--is "the foundation stone which supports the whole edifice" of human morals.

In applying this most general and ubiquitous of moral principles--do good and avoid evil--we must take account man's position in the cosmos. He is, first of all, a blend of matter, animal, and spirit. He is, second of all, limited to relationships with creatures even in the pursuit of his ultimate good, that is the God who created him. Finally, we must consider the difference between precepts that are necessary (primarily intended) and those that are only proper or fitting (secondarily intended) and which make the necessary or primarily intended precepts easier to fulfill or allow us better to fulfill them.

Man is an admixture of those natures below him. He is being, a creature; he is an animal; he is a rational one. It follows that his nature, and the law therein contained, likewise participates in the admixture. "There will be a threefold division [in the precepts] according to the three inclinations arising from nature, animality, and rationality" which are found in man. Yet every one one of the precepts regardless to which division of nature it may principally refer back to is nevertheless "essentially an ordination of reason." A precept referable to man's being (e.g., self-preservation), or from man's animality (e.g., procreation), participates in reason every bit as much as a precept that is principally or immediately referable to man's rational nature (e.g., truth-telling). Bertke, 33. The rational nature, being preeminent and what defines man uniquely as man, rules over both man's animality and his being. Thus, it is never right to strive for self-preservation unreasonably, or to seek to procreate (or prevent procreation) unreasonably. Though self-preservation and procreation relate to the orders of being and of animality respectively, they remain ordered by reason.

The fact that man cannot achieve his ultimate good (God) directly, but must do so only indirectly through creatures gives rise to some distinctions in the precepts which we may classify as ontological. The value of human acts may be determined ontologically, that is, in reference to what they are. This means that the value of human acts vary depending upon their relationship to their end, their closeness to their end, or the quality in achieving that end. What is worse? To hate broccoli, one's co-worker, one's father? It would seem that in this series we travel from bad to worse solely by reference to the relationship of the act (hatred) to its object: the more dignified the object, the more disvalue given to the same act. There is a similar measure that relates to the quality of the means. From an artistic viewpoint, what is more beautiful? A child's rough sketch of his parents or Rembrandt's portrait of his father? What is more noble? To spend $1,000 gambling in Las Vegas or on the college education of one's son? Analogously, the value of a moral act is similarly affected by its end and the quality of its means or the intention of the actor. That this is so allows us to divide precepts ontologically, that is, in reference to their ends and the quality of the means to that end.

Which Portrait of One's Father is More Beautiful?

Man's ultimate end is God. It follows that from an ontological perspective those acts that have God as their immediate object have greater dignity than those which have God only as their remote object. There is no human act, however, which allows direct access to the vision of God's essence. "Entended," said St. Theresa of Avila, "que si es en la cocina, entre los pucheros anda el Señor ayudándoos en lo interior y exterior." Understand that if one finds oneself in the kitchen, among the pots and pans walks the Lord, helping us in the interior and exterior life.*

Figuratively, man always walks with the Lord among the pots and pans. Just like our knowledge of God is mediated through the created world, so likewise are our moral actions (all of which have God as their ultimate reference) mediated through the created world. "It is in the nature of man that he realize the potentialities within himself by contact with matter: he must deal with creatures," pots and pans, horses and mules, bishops and whores. He must deal with il suo fratello asino, his brother ass, as St. Francis of Assisi called the body. He must deal with creatures even when dealing with God.

Therefore, man must of necessity "arrive at his ultimate perfection," that is God, "only through relations with creatures" (and this includes the self). This means that all our relations with creatures (including self) "contain a necessary, though mediate relation to perfect happiness." Bertke, 34. But while man is forced in statu viae to relate to creatures (including self) in his path to God, he ought to recognize that while God is good simpliciter, God's creatures (including one's self) only have goodness, and that this creaturely having of goodness is only in relation to the creature's participation in the God who simply is goodness.

The fact that the Lord walks among the pots and pans, then allows us to distinguish between primarily intended precepts and secondarily intended precepts, those precepts which bind because they are necessary and those precepts which bind because they proper or fitting with respect to a necessary precept.

Thus the precepts guiding love of self and love of neighbor are necessary in relation to the Summum Bonum, though only mediately necessary. In a word, those precepts are said to be primarily intended which command all those things that are necessary in order that men may attain their ultimate end, whether those things are immediately concerned with God, or are immediately concerned with creatures and only mediately with God.

Those precepts are said to be secondarily intended which prescribe those things that, while not strictly necessary for the required direction of men to their ultimate end, render the attainment of the end better and easier, or are directed to the secondary end of a creature.

Bertke, 35. Thus we have a distinction between precepts that are necessary either because they immediately touch and concern God, or mediately concern God but immediately touch and concern creatures (the principally intended precepts) and those things which are fitting or proper for the fulfillment of the principally intended precepts or direct themselves neither immediately or mediately to God, but immediately or mediately to the end of a creature (the secondarily intended precepts).

Precepts, of course, may be affirmative or positive or they may be prohibitory or negative. And we also find the distinction between primarily intended precepts and secondarily intended precepts in negative precepts. If an action directly impedes the attainment of God the ultimate good either directly its prohibition would be governed by a primarily intended precept. If, however, an act renders the motion to the end simply more difficult or is less in harmony with the end, then we are dealing with a prohibition that would be secondarily intended.

*Santa Teresa de Jesús, Libro de Fundaciones, 5.8.

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