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.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Furiae Conscientiae: Compunctio

BUDZISZEWSKI IDENTIFIES FOUR witnesses of the natural law, witnesses which provide the sources for the self-evident foundations of right and wrong: deep conscience, design in general, human design in particular, and natural causes. We have discussed these in our prior postings on the subject.

Perhaps what is Budziszewski's most significant contribution to the topic of natural law is his emphasis or insight on what happens when the deep conscience is disobeyed, when the witness of "that which we cannot not know" is spurned, rejected, squelched, not confronted. What happens when we decollate the voice of conscience, the voice of the one crying in the wilderness? Does it cease to cry?

The world of conscience is intricate, complex, and difficult to negotiate. It is veritably an inner universe: a deep calling on deep, an abyssus abyssyum invocat. (Psalm 42:7) It comprehends an entire kingdom, an inner realm, virtually infinite in expanse, capable of containing, as it were, God's very kingdom. Ecce enim regnum Dei intra vos est: Behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21). It is an inner kingdom, an inner realm with many byways and highways, and with cliffs and mountains.
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there.

(Hopkins, "No Worst There is None")

Conscience plays three basic roles: teacher, judge, and avenger. In its teaching role, conscience plays a cautionary, admonitory, or instructive role. It guides us before we act. It is hortatory and commands: Do good! It is prohibitory and commands: Avoid evil!

In its accusative, indicting, or adjudicative role, conscience accuses us of our acts, and judges these acts as good or evil. It is what allows us a standard in our examen of conscience. It is also the source of what Budziszewski calls the "Five Furies" of conscience, furies that call for remorse, confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification if the moral law has been violated. The five furies of the adjudicative or accusative conscience must be confronted. If confronted, the Furies prompt us to the normal outlet for violating the moral law, the law of conscience: from remorse to confession to atonement to reconciliation to justification. The Furies thus turn from the Erinyes, or "the angry ones," into or the Eumenides, "the gracious ones."

But woe to he who runs from the Furies. It is something done in vain. One cannot outrun the Furies, like some sort of outlaw runs from the sheriff. The furies do what furies do: they hound us, chase us, persecute us, like the Erinyes did Orestes. They are irrepressible enemies of the outlaw of conscience, hounding him like some sort of Inspector Javert hounded Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. It is when one runs away from the furies that conscience enters into its "harrowing" mode as the "avenger, which punishes the soul who does wrong but who refuses to read the indictment." Budziszewski (2003), 140.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1862)

Remorse is the first fury. It is demand for an expression of regret for a wrongful past act done or a good act undone. Remorse may wax or wane. It may wither or increase over time. It may lie quiet and from time to time rouse itself in internal disquiet. An understanding of this fury may be gained by the word's etymology: it comes from Latin re and mordere, literally "to bite back." The past act bites back, whether it be a constant gnawing, a bothersome nip here-and-there, or an acute and vicious clamp-down.
Remorse is memory awake,
Her companies astir,—
A presence of departed acts
At window and at door.

Its past set down before the soul,
And lighted with a match,
Perusal to facilitate
Of its condensed despatch.

Remorse is cureless,—the disease
Not even God can heal;*
For ’t is His institution,—
The complement of hell.
Emily Dickinson, Life XLIII.

So many ways does man concoct to avoid or deal with remorse when not honestly confronted. "[T]he most dreadful way remorse grows is by repetition of the deed, and the bitter fact is that although our efforts to dull the ache by not thinking about it may work after their fashion, they also make repetition more likely." Budziszewski (2003), 141. Another way to handle remorse from one who does not want to face it is diversion or displacement of some sort: by diverting attention into some cause, one diverts focus from one's transgressions into other channels. "Easier to face invented guilt than the thing itself." Budziszewski (2003), 142. One may try to get around remorse by ignoring or adverting from the consequences of one's acts, by letting others suffer the dregs, by "making someone else deal with them." The wrongful act may be re-characterized, described by some euphemism, mislabeled. A sodomite is therefore turned into a gay. Abortion is called family planning. A right to an abortion is called the right to choose. Pregnancy is likened to an illness.

Remorse is frequently avoided by dulling the senses through drugs or alcohol. This coping behavior is, at best, a temporary, cheap and false anodyne to remorse's insistent call. The clamor by the young for drugs and alcohol is nothing other than a sign of our failure to heed to the call for remorse caused by the modern collapse of sexual mores.

*This is a difficult stanza. It can mean God in the sense of "First Cause," that is God who is known by reason. Reason does not tell us of the Redeemer. Knowledge of the Redeemer is vouchsafed to us by Revelation and accepted by Faith. (This is one reason why the natural law must be supplemented by Revelation. Though the natural law condemns, it does not save.) It can mean that it is so much part of our nature, so much a part of reality, that God could not remove remorse without contradicting himself. To "heal" remorse would be to make a wrong right, which God cannot do without self-contradiction.

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