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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 11--Neither Autonomy Nor Heteronomy, but Participated Theonomy

FREEDOM IS A GIFT from God, one that allows us to participate in God's own freedom, which is part of God's own personhood. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et spes puts it, "'genuine freedom . . . is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image' in man." VS, 38 (quoting GS, 17). "God left man in the power of his own counsel," says the Book of Sirach (15:14), and these words and others like it in Scripture "indicate the wonderful depth of sharing in God's dominion to which man has been called." And this dominion is not only over things and other animals, but "in a certain sense over man himself." VS, 38. We have a certain kingship over ourselves. And just as a king is obliged to use his power over his realm for the common good of his realm and not for his self-aggrandizement, so likewise are there limits to our freedom, and these limits are not arbitrary or imposed from the outside, they are fundamental to the very purpose, the very nature of that freedom. Since freedom is something that makes us alike to God, it follows that freedom is something that ought to be used to makes us like to God:

[M]an himself has been entrusted to his own care and responsibility. God left man "in the power of his own counsel" (Sir 15:14), that he might seek his Creator and freely attain perfection. Attaining such perfection means personally building up that perfection in himself. Indeed, just as man in exercising his dominion over the world shapes it in accordance with his own intelligence and will, so too in performing morally good acts, man strengthens, develops and consolidates within himself his likeness to God.

VS, 39. So man has a certain autonomy:* it is part and parcel, a necessary concomitant, of this gift of freedom. And yet, this autonomy is not absolute, as if severed from the gift of freedom and from the Giver of freedom, the Creator. A notion of freedom that disassociates itself from God "produces particularly baneful effects, for '[w]ithout its Creator the creature simply disappears . . . . If God is ignored the creature itself is impoverished.'" VS, 39 (quoting GS, 17). Man wounds himself, he is guilty of self-mutilation, if he misuses the gift of freedom.

Freedom must be used within the constraints of reason, in particular practical reason, which is that part of reason in man which "discover[s] and appl[ies] the moral law." This freedom is part of the moral life to which man is called because "the moral life calls for that creativity and originality typical of the person, the source and cause of his own deliberate acts." VS, 40. Reason discovers these laws: it does not make them. The reason for this is that "reason draws its own truth and authority," not from reason, but "from the eternal law, which is none other than the divine wisdom itself." Freedom is a gift, and participates in God's eternal personhood. Reason is a gift, and it participates in God's eternal reason. Man might justly claim absolute autonomy in the use of his freedom and the use of his reason if these were faculties he gave to himself. But it is manifest, indisputable, self-evident that freedom and reason are not things that man has given to himself. They are part of his nature, the nature that is a gift of God, the Creator. There is, in short, a "rightful autonomy," a "genuine moral autonomy," and a wrongful or spurious autonomy. VS, 40.

Jesus weeps at man's disobedience, at man's
exercise of absolute autonomy independent of Him.

Autonomy is a quality in man that is found at the "heart of the moral life," of being a person, and is, in fact, a sine qua non of that moral life and personal dignity. God is front and center of the moral project before man because it is a shared enterprise, one might say.
The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him: at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is a properly human law. Indeed, as we have seen, the 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".* The rightful autonomy of the practical reason means that man possesses in himself his own law, received from the Creator.
VS, 40.

It is an error most fundamental to separate man's freedom from God, to suggest that the autonomy that comes with our freedom and reason creates values and moral norms independent of God: "Were this autonomy to imply a denial of the participation of the practical reason in the wisdom of the divine Creator and Lawgiver, or were it to suggest a freedom which creates moral norms, on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies and cultures, this sort of alleged autonomy would contradict the Church's teaching on the truth about man." VS, 40. Such a freedom and use of reason would, in fact, not be true freedom and reason. It spells death to freedom and reason. This sort of absolute autonomy must be rejected as baneful.

There is an opposite error that must be avoided. And this is the notion that man has no freedom, no reason, and that the moral law that is imposed upon him is heteronomous.***

Human freedom and God's law meet and are called to intersect, in the sense of man's free obedience to God and of God's completely gratuitous benevolence towards man. Hence obedience to God is not, as some would believe, a heteronomy, as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, extraneous to man and intolerant of his freedom. If in fact a heteronomy of morality were to mean a denial of man's self-determination or the imposition of norms unrelated to his good, this would be in contradiction to the Revelation of the Covenant and of the redemptive Incarnation. Such a heteronomy would be nothing but a form of alienation, contrary to divine wisdom and to the dignity of the human person.

VS, 41.

So if neither absolute autonomy nor heteronomy are proper, how should we view the proper exercise of man's limited autonomy? The proper way is to view man's autonomy as theonomous, or one of participated theonomy.†
Others speak, and rightly so, of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man's free obedience to God's law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God's wisdom and providence. By forbidding man to "eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", God makes it clear that man does not originally possess such "knowledge" as something properly his own, but only participates in it by the light of natural reason and of Divine Revelation, which manifest to him the requirements and the promptings of eternal wisdom. Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation. Consequently one must acknowledge in the freedom of the human person the image and the nearness of God, who is present in all (cf. Eph 4:6). But one must likewise acknowledge the majesty of the God of the universe and revere the holiness of the law of God, who is infinitely transcendent: Deus semper maior.
VS, 41.††

*The word autonomy, of course, is a word with Greek roots. It comes to us from the Greek word αὐτόνομος (autonomos), which is a compound word of αὐτο (auto) = "self" and νόμος (nomos) = "law", and so literally means "one who gives himself his own law"). In one way many does give himself his own law (he discovers it, applies it, rules himself under it), but in another way, that law is under a greater law and the dominion of God from which that very autonomy comes.
**Quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas,
In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. Prologus: Opuscula Theologica, II, No. 1129, Ed. Taurinen. (1954), 245.
***Heteronomy, like autonomy, is a word with Greek roots, a compound word formed from ἕτερος (heteros) which means "other" or "different" and νόμος (nomos) = "law", and so literally means a law that comes from outside oneself, is foreign to one's nature.
†Theonomy is formed from the Greek word for God, θεός (theos), and law, νόμος (nomos), and so literally means "God's law."
††The text [Deus semper maior, "God is always greater"] refers to Saint Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmum LXII, 16: CCL 39, 804 (Parvuli sumus: ergo protegat nos Deus sub umbraculo alarum suarum. Quid cum maiores facti fuerimus? Bonum est nobis ut et tunc protegat nos, ut sub illo maiore semper nos pulli simus. Semper enim ille maior est, quantumcumque creverimus). Translated: "We are little: therefore, God protects us under the shadow of His wings. What means have we to become greater? It is good for us, then, that He protect us, so that under his greatness we are like chicks [to the hen]. For He is always the greater, however much we have grown." In our autonomy, we are, as it were, under the shadow of God's wings. In exercising autonnomy is if it were independent from God, we are to God as chicks are to a hen, a hen who wishes to gather her chicks under her wings, but whose chicks are unwilling. Cf. Matt. 22:37; Luke 13:34. This absolute autonomy is what makes God weep, like Christ did over the city of Jerusalem.

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