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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 14--Lex Altiora, Lex Spiritus

HUMAN REASON HAS THE FORCE OF LAW, but the human reason that has the force of law is not reason independent of Reason; nor is the human law that is derived from human reason independent of Divine or Eternal Law. Human reason and human law are subordinate to the Wisdom of God and the Eternal Law, and this is known by the bindingness of reason, the self-evident and felt need of doing things that accord with reason. There is a "higher reason" and a "higher law" to which human reason and human law must make reference for the latter to have any binding force. If human reason and human law did not have a "higher reason," an altiorum rationem, or "higher law," an altiora lex, behind them, they could not bind man at all, for how can man bind himself? If man is an absolute king, an absolute prince, then surely, as the old legal Ulpian saw went, princeps legibus solutus est, a prince is not bound by his own laws, and it is only quod principi placuit legis habet vigorem, what pleases a prince that has the force of law.* And if man the prince is not bound by reason, he is essentially unbound, and reason and the law being laid flat . . . well then law is nothing other than might, and the world is Hobbesian, ugly, nasty, brutish, and short.

But any theory of natural law informed by the Christian revelation insists that human life is not ugly, nasty, brutish, and short, but that human life, despite its brevity, participates in a Life Who is Beautiful, Personal, with a Providential Love behind it that is long, very long. Vita breve, lex longa.

For reason to bind man as if it had the force of law, it follows that there is a divine legislator: "[T]his prescription of human reason could not have the force of law," Leo XIII said in his encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum, "unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject."** VS, 44. The felt need we have to be reasonable is, in fact, warrant of reason's divine pedigree. This felt need to be reasonable "could not exist in man, if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions." Id. Nothing would require man to act in accord with reason, unless it be something above man, to wit, God.

This, of course, is what gives reason and the natural law their dignity, for, right reason is directly though subordinately linked to Eternal Reason, that is, God, and the natural law is directly though subordinately linked to the Eternal Law, that is, God. This teaching, found in germ in St. Paul's letter to the Roman, in the fullness of development in St. Thomas Aquinas, promulgated as the ordinary doctrine of the Church in the magisterium of Leo XIII, is once again confirmed by that successor of Peter, John Paul II.*** The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on the natural law is, in our mind, the infallible ordinary teaching of the Church, which is to say it is as things really are between God and man.

Reason does more than merely inform us as to the best means to achieve the good and avoid evil (though it does that). The reason of which John Paul II speaks--practical reason--is able to help us distinguish, to recognize (but not determine or define!) good and evil itself. "Man is able to recognized good and evil thanks to that discernment of good from evil which he himself carries out by his reason . . . ." VS, 44.

But there is an ellipsis . . . "by his reason, in particular by his reason enlightened by Divine Revelation and by faith . . . " VS, 44. The joint endeavor between reason and faith which is the heart of the human moral enterprise as we know it is perhaps most classically seen in the handing down of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. This is an instance where the same law that we would know by nature, that is, reason, is known to us by God's revelation of it and our acceptance of that revelation by our faith. The Jew who accepted the Ten Commandments from the hand of the prophet/legislator Moses as revealed through his faith was not abandoning the natural law of God that was revealed himself through his reason.

God in fact urged that reason, enlightened by faith, continue in an ennobled role. Reason could be used to compare the Mosaic law that they had been given through Revelation with the behavior of their neighboring tribes who, though they had the natural law in their hearts as did the Jew, did not have the benefit of revelation: God asks them rhetorically in the fourth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy: "What great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?" Deut. 4:7-8. How are the Jews to answer this question unless they abide by the gift of reason. Reason will inform them that the divine law, and their knowledge of the natural law as it is informed by it, is superior to those of their neighbors.

Moreover, reason is also enjoined upon the Jew by the same God who revealed the Law: the Jew is told to delight in the Law of the Lord, to meditate upon that Law both day and night. Cf. Ps. 1:1-2. The Law of the Lord enlightens the eyes of reason. Cf. Ps. 19 (18):8-9. What tool other than reason is man to use to develop, to apply, to meditate on the Law of the Lord?

The Ten Commandments revealed by God to Israel through Moses are, of course, accepted by the Church as part of her revelational patrimony, though these are understood within God's revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ:

The Church gratefully accepts and lovingly preserves the entire deposit of Revelation, treating it with religious respect and fulfilling her mission of authentically interpreting God's law in the light of the Gospel. In addition, the Church receives the gift of the New Law, which is the "fulfillment" of God's law in Jesus Christ and in his Spirit.

VS, 45. Christ's teaching along with his gift of the Paraclete, the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, remarkably confirms the Mosaic law, but equally remarkably interiorizes or internalizes, so that more than mere external conformity is demanded, but an interior transformation of the entire man, who is radically changed and called not to be merely obedient to law, but to be the law by internalizing it by Grace, by allowing the Holy Spirit to be entirely operative so that God, in a manner, obeys His own law through us:
This is an "interior" law (cf. Jer 31:31-33), "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3); a law of perfection and of freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17); "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2). Saint Thomas writes that this law "can be called law in two ways. First, the law of the spirit is the Holy Spirit... who, dwelling in the soul, not only teaches what it is necessary to do by enlightening the intellect on the things to be done, but also inclines the affections to act with uprightness . . . Second, the law of the spirit can be called the proper effect of the Holy Spirit, and thus faith working through love (cf. Gal 5:6), which teaches inwardly about the things to be done . . . and inclines the affections to act."
VS, 45.†

The internalization of the Mosaic Law, of the natural law, its perfection in us, is at the heart of the message of Christ's revelation, of his gift of the Holy Spirit. The law, then is more than words writ on stone: it is the word of God in our heart, fleshly, one of blood and bone, that is eminently human and fitted to us. It is at the same time not merely human, as it is also divine, spiritual: a law which is a person: the Holy Spirit. A law of the Spirit, a Lex Spiritus.

The Christian moral enterprise, then, is one netted from many strands, all of which come together in a supportive, complementary way to provide man his means to know the good and distinguish it from evil, and, once the good known, to know the right means to achieve that good and avoid that evil. In short, to contemplate and enter into that mystery of Good itself, the generous God, the uncreated self-subsisting Good, who creates all good, and draws it back into himself:

Even if moral-theological reflection usually distinguishes between the positive or revealed law of God and the natural law, and, within the economy of salvation, between the "old" and the "new" law, it must not be forgotten that these and other useful distinctions always refer to that law whose author is the one and the same God and which is always meant for man. The different ways in which God, acting in history, cares for the world and for mankind are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they support each other and intersect. They have their origin and goal in the eternal, wise and loving counsel whereby God predestines men and women "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). God's plan poses no threat to man's genuine freedom; on the contrary, the acceptance of God's plan is the only way to affirm that freedom.

VS, 45.

*These are statements by the pagan Roman jurist Ulpian, and are found in Justinian's Digest (Dig. 1.3.31 and 1.4.1, respectively).
**Pope John Paul II quotes from Leo XIII's
Libertas Praestantissimum (June 20,1888): Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, VIII, Romae 1889. This encyclical was the subject of some postings in Lex Christianorum, To see these series of posts click here.
***"The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality." VS, 44. In our view, this re-confirmation of the link between the natural moral law and the Eternal Law in Veritatis splendor is what implicitly rejects the so-called "New Natural Law" or "Integration" theories posited by the likes of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Robert George. These scholars' work is excellent, their efforts noble and valuable, and their fidelity to the Church unquestionable. But ultimately we feel they concede too much to the Enlightenment project and come close to rejecting the link between the natural law and the Eternal Law. They seem to diminish the link between natural law and the natural knowledge of God as Creator, as First Cause. They also seem at time highly diffident on the issue of Revelation. They are valuable not as an expression of the fullness of the doctrine of natural moral law, but as a philosophical means to reach those who, because of their presuppositions in modern philosophy post-Descartes, post-Locke, post-Hume, and post-Kant would not otherwise listen to the classical exposition of the natural law. In other words, if one wants to understand the natural moral law in its fullness look toward Veritatis splendor and the Augustinian/Thomistic foundation it presents. If one wants to go to the natural law through the back door, sort of perhaps as a limping step-child (or what we called a "cousin german" in our review of John Finnis' opus magnus Natural Law and Natural Rights), look to Grisez, Finnis, and George.
†Quoting from St. Thomas, In Epistulam ad Romanos, c. VIII, lect. 1.

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