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, July 28, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 2-Deus, Bonus, Solus, Unus

THE RICH YOUNG MAN asked Jesus what good must he do to obtain eternal life, and Jesus responds to the question with a question, a question which is a challenge, and a question for which he awaits no response, as he answers it for the young man as immediately as he asks it:
Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.

Quid me interrogas de bono? Unus est bonus.
That's the version in Matthew's Gospel (Matt. 19:18); it uses the typical circumlocution of the Jew, and obliquely references God without use of the divine name. As is typical of the evangelist Mark, the Gospel of Mark (like the Gospel of Luke) directed toward the Gentile audience has no such scruple, and the answer to the question is more forthright, direct:
Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus nisis unus Deus.
For completion's sake, we include the dialogue in the Gospel of Luke:
"Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.

Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus nisi solus Deus.
Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19.

The rich young man called Jesus, "Good Teacher," Magister bonus, and Jesus does not question the title of Teacher, but he does question the adjective good. Why does he do this?

According to Pope John Paul II:

Jesus wishes the young man to have a clear idea of why he asked his question. The "Good Teacher" points out to him--and to all of us--that the answer to the question, "What good must I do to have eternal life?" can only be found by turning one's mind and heart to the "One" who is good. . . . Only God can answer the question about what is good, because he is the Good itself.

VS, 9. There is a wonderful equivalency if we blend the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and their reference to God: Deus, bonus, unus, solus. God, good, one, only. These are all synonyms: God, Being, Good, One. To ask what is good ipso facto references God. There is no good but that it comes from God, the font and origin of all that is good and thus our final end.

Icon of the Rich Young Man and Jesus
"Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one good."

It is, in fact, impossible to ask a moral question without reference to God. "To ask about the good, in fact, ultimately means to turn towards God." VS, 9. Likewise, it is impossible to answer a moral question without reference to God. And so the fundamental moral question is ultimately a religious question, the God question. The question of good is all wrapped up with the question of God, because only God is goodness itself, and all other goods have goodness only because they come from God and lead to God, the source of the participated goodness in creatures and creation which--though not God--are vestiges, likenesses, or, in the case of man, images of God.

If only God can answer the question about what is good, then it follows that the answer to the question supersedes ourselves and any human teacher or authority. We cannot ask the moral question as if there is no God. There is no room whatsoever for any etiamsi daremus non esse Deum.* While we can ask the question about what is good without explicit reference to God, that is with only implicit reference, it would seem that, in asking about the good, we cannot expressly leave God out of the question. If we expressly leave God out of the moral question, we are not asking the moral question. We no longer seek what is good. We are not the young man of the Gospel, asking the question what is good of the "Good Teacher." We are someone else, and we have asked someone else, and we have asked something else. An atheist or an agnostic is severely hampered in the moral life, as he has either excluded or bracketed the central core of moral question: God.

Since God alone is good, and he is the source of all good, it follows that God is our end, since he "alone is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity, and perfect happiness." VS, 9.

The answer to the question, what good one ought to do requires, then, a revelation from God, either one in the natural order or, more perfectly, one in the supernatural order. "What man is and what he must do becomes clear as soon as God reveals himself." Quod homo est et facere debet, tum patefit, cum Deus se ipsum revelat. VS, 10.
The moral life presents itself as the response due to the many gratuitous initiatives taken by God out of love for man. It is a response of love, according to the statement made in Deuteronomy about the fundamental commandment: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children" (Dt 6:4-7). Thus the moral life, caught up in the gratuitousness of God's love, is called to reflect his glory. . .
VS, 10. The moral life is then responsive to God's prior acts. We are not the initiators in the moral life: we are the responders to God's invitation, to his wooing, to his love. God loved us first, and it is this fact which elicits our response. We love because God loved us first. 1 John 4:19. Caritas Christi urget nos. 2 Cor. 5:14. The love of Christ compels us. The moral life is a free response to God's gratuitous act of love to us. Everything in the moral life is responsive to God's gratuitous first invitation, first act. We never act first. The moral life is always a response to God's grace, God's first gift.
But if God alone is the Good, no human effort, not even the most rigorous observance of the commandments, succeeds in "fulfilling" the Law, that is, acknowledging the Lord as God and rendering him the worship due to him alone (cf. Mt 4:10). This "fulfilment" can come only from a gift of God: the offer of a share in the divine Goodness revealed and communicated in Jesus, the one whom the rich young man addresses with the words "Good Teacher" (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18). What the young man now perhaps only dimly perceives will in the end be fully revealed by Jesus himself in the invitation: "Come, follow me" (Mt 19:21).
VS, 11.

So when Jesus interrupts the dialogue by responding to the young man's question with a question which he himself answers, he is referring the young man to God, the font of the moral question, and the beginning and the end of all good. It is also a direct reference to the "first tablet" of the Ten Commandments,** the moral response to the God who is good and who has revealed himself. The answer to the moral question--the answer to the question, "What good must I do"--involves, first and foremost, the obligation to give to God the worship that is due him for having loved us first:

The statement that "There is only one who is good" thus brings us back to the "first tablet" of the commandments, which calls us to acknowledge God as the one Lord of all and to worship him alone for his infinite holiness (cf. Ex 20:2-11). The good is belonging to God, obeying him, walking humbly with him in doing justice and in loving kindness (cf.Mic 6:8). Acknowledging the Lord as God is the very core, the heart of the Law, from which the particular precepts flow and towards which they are ordered. In the morality of the commandments the fact that the people of Israel belongs to the Lord is made evident, because God alone is the One who is good. Such is the witness of Sacred Scripture, imbued in every one of its pages with a lively perception of God's absolute holiness: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Is 6:3).

VS, 11.

With this short intermezzo done (which itself is a partial answer to the young man's question), Jesus turns to answer the remainder of the young man's question.

*The reference is, of course to Hugo Grotius famous statement in the prolegomena of his work on the Law of War and Peace. "Et haec quidem quae jam diximus, locum aliquem haberent etiamsi daremus, quod summo scelere dari nequit, non esse Deum, aut non curari abe eo negotia humana." Translated, these famous words are: "And that which we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should dare to concede that which cannot be conceded without utmost wickedness, that there is no God."
**The Ten Commandments or Decalogue is traditionally divided into "two tablets," the first dealing with those commandments which relate to the relationship between man and God, the second tablet dealing with those commandments that relate to the relationship between man and man.

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