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 29, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 3--Two Lanterns and the New Moses

AS WE OBSERVED IN OUR LAST POSTING, Jesus has answered the rich young man with a question which he immediately answers. This is the first half of his response and is an oblique reference to the so-called "first tablet" of the Ten Commandments, recognized to be a summary of the requirements of the natural law. It is a prologue which introduces the subject of the good, namely, that all good comes from God, and must, even if implicitly, refer to him.

Jesus continues his answer inasmuch that it is still incomplete. Jesus knows that which his disciple would later write in one of his short epistles: "If any one say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20). Jesus, therefore, answers: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." Matt. 19:17. To seek the good means to do good, and that means to do good in relation not only to God, but also to our fellow man.

In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II meditates on Christ's continuing answer. In a way, John Paul II observes, the rich young man did not have to ask Christ about the good, because he already knows about the good. In other words, Christ's answer is not so much a "revelation," as it is a "confirmation" of what the man already knows. Why is this? Because "God has already given an answer to this question." How? God "did so by creating man and ordering him with wisdom and love to his final end, through the law which is inscribed in his heart (cf. Rom. 2:15), the 'natural law.'" VS, 12 (per legem in ipsius corde inscriptam, 'legem naturae'). But even more than this, the young man is heir to the "gift of the Decalogue," the "'ten words', the commandments of Sinai," and so he knows the answer as a result of his acceptance of the divine revelation through the prophet and lawgiver, Moses.

What the young man does not know is that the law that he has in his heart, and the Mosaic law that he learned from youth, would be written in his heart anew by the one he has just called Good Teacher, the Lord Jesus who would give a New Covenant and a New Law.

But before we can get to that we need to focus on some preliminaries. First, John Paul II has referred to the natural law. What is the natural law? John Paul II refers to St. Thomas Aquinas for a summary definition of the natural law:

[Lex naturalis] nihil aliud est nisi lumen intellectus insitum nobis a Deo, per quod cognoscimus quid agendum et quid vitandum. Hoc lumen et hanc legem dedit Deus homini in creatione.

[Natural law] is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.

VS, 12*

There is perhaps a reason why Pope John Paul II selected this particular quote. It blends in its definition the notion of "light" and "law," and in fact makes them synonymous. The law is light. Hoc lumen is hanc legem. The natural law, then, is not something which darkens our life, limits it, constrains man's liberty. On the contrary, it is seen as the source of light, of splendor, of enlightenment. It is an internal light, and internal lantern, placed there by God as a natural gift, a natural grace, a first grace.

The rich young man carries within his heart, this light, this law, and so it is that he already knows the answer to the question he has asked Jesus. But as we noted above, the young Jew knows this law in another way. As John Paul II explains it:
[God] also [answered the young man's question about the good] in the history of Israel, particularly in the "ten words", the commandments of Sinai, whereby he brought into existence the people of the Covenant (cf. Ex 24) and called them to be his "own possession among all peoples", "a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6), which would radiate his holiness to all peoples (cf. Wis 18:4; Ez 20:41).
VS, 12.

Note here how John Paul II continues his them of equating law and light. The natural law was light, and so is the Mosaic Ten Commandments: these "ten words" "radiate" the very holiness of God, the very rays of light that God placed in man when he created him.

The Lord with Two Lanterns (Amiens Cathedral)
"And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps"
(Zeph. 1:12)

We are therefore not talking about to laws which oppose each other, but about laws whose content is the same, but whose manifestation or communication is different. It is as if we are on a journey through darkness and instead of one lantern, we have two. We see better with two lanterns, though they radiate the same light. The revealed law is therefore not unnecessary. The Lord has gave the Jew two lanterns: the natural law and the law of Moses, particularly the Ten Commandments.

In fact, the revealed law, the "gift of the Decalogue," Decalogi donum, which is at the center of the Lord's covenant with Israel, is a harbinger, a sign which itself a promise of a New Covenant, at the heart of which, of course, is the Lord Jesus himself, the "new Moses." VS, 12. The young Jew is to come face to face with the great miracle of grace building upon nature:

The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart (cf. Jer 31:31-34), replacing the law of sin which had disfigured that heart (cf. Jer 17:1). In those days, "a new heart" would be given, for in it would dwell "a new spirit", the Spirit of God (cf. Ez 36:24-28).

VS, 12. Since the Decalogue is a promise and a sign of the New Covenant, we would expect there to be some analogy between the Old Covenant ushered in by the Ten Words and the New Covenant ushered in by the Word. Not only is there an analogy, there is a reconfirmation of the Ten Words of the Old Covenant as part of the New Covenant, the New Law. The Ten Words are not abrogated, they are enriched and vivified in particular through Christ's teachings on the Sermon on the Mount.

But we get ahead of ourselves. What is important at this stage is Christ's clear teaching that the Ten Commandments survive the era of Grace. "If you wish to enter into life, keep the Commandments." The "new Moses," Jesus, reconfirms the law of the original Moses, and establishes without doubt the unbreakable connection between obedience to God's commandments (that is, the natural law) and eternal life.
Jesus tells the young man: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). In this way, a close connection is made between eternal life and obedience to God's commandments: God's commandments show man the path of life and they lead to it. From the very lips of Jesus, the new Moses, man is once again given the commandments of the Decalogue. Jesus himself definitively confirms them and proposes them to us as the way and condition of salvation.
VS, 12.

Like the Old Covenant, where the Ten Commandments were linked to the promise of the possession of the land of milk and honey, where freedom and righteousness flourished, the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant are linked to a promise. But this promise relates not to an earthly Israel, but a heavenly Israel, the "Kingdom of Heaven," "eternal life," "participation in the very life of God." True, the promise tied to keeping the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant is "attained in its perfection only after death." Yet "in faith it is even now a light of truth, a source of meaning for life, an inchoate share in the full following of Christ." VS, 12.

The natural law, the Ten Commandments: these are lights--one given naturally the other supernaturally through Moses, both confirmed by Christ, and both which enlighten our paths in the darkness--that show us the end for which we are made (which gives meaning to our lives), and tutor us, and prepare us for the "full following of Christ." Following the natural law and the Ten Commandments (which is the same thing) is essential for salvation, for eternal life, because these lights ultimately lead us to the "Light from Light," the "True God from true God," Christ Jesus,the Light of the World, and the Light of Life.
Christe Lux Mundi!
Qui sequitur te,
Habebit lumen vitae,
Lumen vitae.

Christ, Light of the world!
He who follows you
Shall have the light of life,
The light of life.

Christe Lux Mundi! by Taizé

Christ's answer would seem to be sufficient. But Christ's answer to the young man: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" does not seem to satisfy the young man. He asks what may seem an odd question for well-learned Jew: "Which ones?"

That question, and Christ's answer, as reflected upon by John Paul II, will be the subject of our next posting.
*The encyclical quotes Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. Prologus: Opuscula Theologica, II, No. 1129, Ed. Taurinen (1954), 245. It further cites to Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 91, a. 2 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1955.

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