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 4--Love of Neighbor in Ten Ways or One

IT IS RATHER SURPRISING that a well-informed Jew should ask which of the commandments he ought to keep to do good to have eternal life. To us it seems obvious that he ought to keep all ten. It is likely, however, that the rich young man was not thinking of the Decalogue (which is considered a summary of the natural law), but perhaps those large number of commandments that would later be called the Taryag Mitzvot (תריג מצוות‎), a list of 613 commandments which the entire Law of Moses covered, and which included basics from believing that God exists to such things such as putting tzitzit (fringes) on the corners and techeilet or blue stripes on their prayer shawls (tallit), or tefillin on the head and arms while praying.* The young man seems to be asking Jesus whether the entirety of the requirements were essential for salvation.

A Jew with fringed tallit and tefillin

If this was what was in the young man's mind when asking the question, then Jesus' answer becomes particularly significant because it indicates an intent on Christ's part to abrogate that part of the Law of Moses that deals with ceremonial, juridical, and customary precepts, leaving only its natural law component.

As we mentioned in our earlier postings, Christ had already directed the young man's attention to God and those commandments implied by his very existence. So Christ elaborates on those parts of the Decalogue--the natural law--that deal with relations among men:

Jesus reminds him of the commandments of the Decalogue regarding one's neighbor: "Jesus said: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself' " (Mt 19:18-19).

VS, 13. Christ's meaning is plain. He cites some of the commandments as a synecdoche, a pars pro toto; that is, Jesus refers to part of the ten commandments, emphasizing those pertaining to the "second tablet" or those dealing with one's neighbor, to refer to the whole of the commandments. As John Paul II puts it:
From the context of the conversation, and especially from a comparison of Matthew's text with the parallel passages in Mark and Luke,** it is clear that Jesus does not intend to list each and every one of the commandments required in order to "enter into life", but rather wishes to draw the young man's attention to the "centrality" of the Decalogue with regard to every other precept, inasmuch as it is the interpretation of what the words "I am the Lord your God" mean for man.
VS, 13.

Christ then summarizes the essence of the "second tablet" of the Ten Commandments by citing to the Golden Rule: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Dilige proximum tuum sicut teipsum.

The Golden Rule, which might be called the golden commandment, is a recognition of the personhood and dignity of man: "In this commandment," John Paul II tells us, "we find a precise expression of the singular dignity of the human person, 'the only creature that God has wanted for its own sake.'" VS, 13 (quoting GS, 24) The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule are norms that presuppose our personhood, for they are efforts to synthesize the good of the person as a soul and body in relation to God, to himself, to his neighbor, and to the world. They thus embody both rights inherent in us as human persons and duties or obligations which we as persons owe to others as persons.

The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods. "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness" are moral rules formulated in terms of prohibitions. These negative precepts express with particular force the ever urgent need to protect human life, the communion of persons in marriage, private property, truthfulness and people's good name.

VS, 13.

The Rich Young Ruler and Jesus
Heinrich Hoffmann ( 1824-1911)

The majority of the commandments are negative: they proscribe conduct and in some cases internal movements (coveting). As such they provide limited, but valuable guidance. The commandments thus are not more than the "basic condition for love of neighbor." They are in a sense the irreducible minimum or starting point of a discipleship with Jesus. If we do not practice them, then we know we do not love our neighbor, for abiding in them is "proof of that love" of neighbor. That is why the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule--that is, the natural law--are "the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom." Keeping the natural law is not the end of our life, they are "its starting point," eius initium. We cannot love unless we keep our commandments, nor can we be free unless we keep the commandments. Keeping the commandments is a sine qua non, an absolute and necessary precondition to our being free and being able to love. Conversely, any violation of the commandments is a step toward slavery, is a blemish on love. Quoting St. Augustine, John Paul emphasizes the necessary, but not sufficient quality of abiding by the negative precepts:

The beginning of freedom is to be free from crimes... such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom . . . .

VS, 13.

In mentioning those commandments specific to the interaction with one's neighbor, Christ is not reducing or minimizing the duty to God, and lest one be tempted to misunderstand Christ's teaching here, John Paul II reminds us of Christ's conversation with the teacher of the Law (Luke 10:25-25-28) The doctor of the Law who asked Christ a similar question to the young man is referred to the summary of the Decalogue reduced to two: love of God and love of neighbor. The duty to God and the duty to neighbor are not to be separated, are not to be opposed, for on this double duty, on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:40). We have earlier mentioned in a prior postingthe epistle of St. John which links love of God and love of neighbor.(Cf. 1 John 4:20) Along these lines also are Christ's teachings about the final judgment and the harsh words and judgment meted out to those who ignored their neighbor's plights. (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). "Their inseparable unity," observes John Paul II, "is attested to by Christ in his words and by his very life: his mission culminates in the Cross of our Redemption (cf. Jn 3:14-15), the sign of his indivisible love for the Father and for humanity (cf. Jn 13:1)." VS, 14. It would be a travesty of Christian teaching to ignore both prongs of our obligations: it is God and neighbor, not God or neighbor.

Of course, Jesus does not share the entirety of his moral teaching with the young man. In particular he has not shared the sublimity of it as contained in in the Sermon on the Mount, what John Paul II calls the "magna charta of Gospel morality," qui disciplinae moralis evangelicae est magna charta. VS, 15.

Nor does Christ fully reveal to the young man who the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled (though not abolished) in him. "Jesus himself is the living "fulfillment" of the Law ," as John Paul II states, "inasmuch as he fulfills its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: he himself becomes a living and personal Law, who invites people to follow him; through the Spirit, he gives the grace to share his own life and love and provides the strength to bear witness to that love in personal choices and actions." VS, 15.
Christ is the center of the economy of salvation, the recapitulation of the Old and New Testaments, of the promises of the Law and of their fulfillment in the Gospel; he is the living and eternal link between the Old and the New Covenants. Commenting on Paul's statement that "Christ is the end of the law" (Rom 10:4), Saint Ambrose writes: "end not in the sense of a deficiency, but in the sense of the fullness of the Law: a fullness which is achieved in Christ (plenitudo legis in Christo est), since he came not to abolish the Law but to bring it to fulfillment. In the same way that there is an Old Testament, but all truth is in the New Testament, so it is for the Law: what was given through Moses is a figure of the true law. Therefore, the Mosaic Law is an image of the truth"
VS, 15.

Finally, Christ does not reveal the interiority of the moral enterprise, and the preeminence of love as the driving force which urges us, indeed compels us, to go far beyond the commandments to a positive ebullient, rigorous, and sacrificial relationship with one's neighbor. This is the wonder of Christ's moral teaching: the steel of the law is coupled with the flesh and spirit of love and grace in a personal discipleship with Jesus, the one who is a living and personal Law.

None of this is made known to the rich young man. The rich young man is only an interrogator, an inquisitor; he is not yet a disciple initiated into the full measure of Christ's sublime moral teachings which take the concept of law, of commandments, of rules and--without preaching some sort of lawless moral anarchy or anomie--asks us to go beyond the law by engrafting the law of law upon it.

Thus the commandment "You shall not murder" becomes a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbor. The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body . . . .

VS, 15.

No, the entirety of the sublime moral teachings of Christ, Christ keeps in reserve, waiting for an additional invitation from the rich young man, who appears to be at the threshold of discipleship with Jesus. The young man is at a crossroads, a crisis. He stands before Christ, and he will have to decide in freedom whether to follow the "Good Teacher," or whether to decline to do so.

The young man is not quite satisfied with Christ's reference to the commandments, for he has kept the commandments and is still apparently dissatisfied. So he follows Christ's succinct reply with another question: "I have kept all these," he tells Jesus, "what do I still lack?" Matt. 19:20.

By keeping the commandments, the man has prepared his soul to receive the mystery of Christ. He has been tutored in the Law, a tutorship which should naturally lead to an encounter with Christ and an embracing of his message as the desire, the fulfillment to that which the Law is ordered, its end and raison d'être. The young man, it would seem, is a Jewish fruit ready for plucking, ready for the call to discipleship.

And he--like every man,woman, and child--is about to be invited by the Lord Christ himself.
*For a list and explanation of the 613 Mitzvot and a good explanation in English one might refer to
**Matthew lists the negative prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and the positive precept of honoring one's father and mother. In Luke, the list is the same as in Matthew. Mark includes all those of Matthew, but adds a prohibition against defrauding another. Mark and Matthew add the Golden Rule. Luke's version does not have the Golden Rule. Compare Matt. 19:18, Luke 18:20; Mark 10:19.

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