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 16, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 15--Corpus Humanum et Lex Naturalis

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NATURE AND FREEDOM, and the relationship between the nature of man and law, is an area which today is the center of heated argumentation: one might even say it is a sort of war on two fronts. The sides of an intense debate may roughly be categorized as: (i) advocates of an extreme form of scientific empiricism who unduly "narrow" human nature to scientific facts, and then, based upon these narrow scientific bases, advance an extreme scientific determinism, and (ii) advocates carrying a banner of an excessive human liberalism. At the center is the much beleaguered traditional, classical morality, which finds itself under siege, if not outright hostilities, with its implacable foes.

At the heart of the debate is the very notion of "nature," in particular human nature. The empiricist sees "nature" in solely empirical terms, limiting himself to "the world of the senses within space and time." The empiricist narrows his field of vision of human nature to dimensions that can be measured by instruments, by observation, by statistics. For the scientific empiricist, human nature, then, is nothing other than an amalgam of biological, psychological, cultural processes. By limiting man's nature to such empirically-verifiable measures an ethicist succumbs to the temptation to take these measures and the principle criterion of what is moral. At the extreme edge, some of these empiricists may even suggest that man cannot free himself from these unbreakable biological, psychological, and social laws, and thus is not free at all, but circumscribed by his own materialism. These view nature in a sort of mono-dimensional view: a one-dimensional man whose entire existence can be relegated to physical and biological processes.

In reaction, perhaps, to this excessive empiricism comes liberalism, which views human nature as something separate and distinct from human freedom and morality. Nature is viewed as something that is amoral, and not the source of any normative moral value. The liberal overlooks the "created dimension of nature," and therefore fails to grasp its "integrity," the message that is contained within it. Nature for these moralists is something over which man exercises power, including his moral power. It is not something which may be the source of moral norms or value. Nature is seen as a restriction to be overcome by man, and the source of man's morality is not nature, but is something constructed by man from his freedom which progressively must be exercised over and against nature which limits him. Others define man's nature as freedom, thus confusing the two categories resulting in making freedom "selfdefining and a phenomenon creative of itself and its values." In this latter instance, man ultimately does not even have a nature: it is essentially "his own personal life-project," man and his nature being "nothing more than his own freedom." VS, 46.

Either camp--scientific empiricism or moral liberalism--has misunderstood the notion of human nature. This misunderstanding is, in fact, displayed in the very objections the liberals commonly hurl against the traditional conception of natural law. Confused by their own principles, by their own limited understanding of nature as something empirical and divorced from creation, they accuse the traditional doctrine of natural law as being nothing other than forms of physicalism or naturalism, where physical or biological laws are simplistically extended to become moral laws.

Man is body and soul.

Such a view has even entered into the minds of "certain theologians," who accuse the Church's magisterial teachings as suffering from antiquated physicalism or naturalism, one which limits man's freedom, and fails to account for "both man's character as a rational and free being," and fails also to take into account "the cultural conditioning of all moral norms." These theologians would give to man the power to "freely determine the meaning of his behavior," so that, at best, "natural inclinations" would give rise only to a "general orientation towards correct behavior," but they in no way could "determine the moral assessment of individual human acts." For the liberal theologian, man, it would seem, is in the final analysis unmoored from his nature: that is a necessary implication of his freedom.

It is in the context of these notions that the Pope feels the need to "consider carefully the correct relationship existing between freedom and human nature," with a particular focus on "the place of the human body in questions of natural law." VS, 48.

The essential point of John Paul's view is that the human body is a significant aspect of man, and is an essential component of man's entire reality--who he is and what he is--and therefore is something that has within it moral meaning, a moral message. It is false, even in the name of freedom, to treat the human body as something without moral meaning.

A freedom which claims to be absolute ends up treating the human body as a raw datum, devoid of any meaning and moral values until freedom has shaped it in accordance with its design. Consequently, human nature and the body appear as presuppositions or preambles, materially necessary for freedom to make its choice, yet extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act. Their functions would not be able to constitute reference points for moral decisions, because the finalities of these inclinations would be merely "physical" goods, called by some "pre-moral". To refer to them, in order to find in them rational indications with regard to the order of morality, would be to expose oneself to the accusation of physicalism or biologism. In this way of thinking, the tension between freedom and a nature conceived of in a reductive way is resolved by a division within man himself.

VS, 48. The Pope's assessment of such a theory is abrupt: "This moral theory does not correspond to the truth about man and his freedom." VS, 48. It is false to suggest that the human body does not inform man's freedom, and therefore has no intrinsic meaning in informing us who man is, and how his freedom ought to be exercised. The essential error stems from a misunderstanding of the human person.
It contradicts the Church's teachings on the unity of the human person, whose rational soul is per se et essentialiter the form of his body.* The spiritual and immortal soul is the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole — corpore et anima unus — as a person.**
VS, 48. In a sense, these modern theologians suffer from a sort of Gnostic deprecation of the body, a Manichean or Catharist tendency of viewing matter as evil, an evil that must be overcome in the name of freedom. They suffer further from the philosophical error that one may ascribe to Plato and Descartes, where the body is merely a sort of repository for the soul, and the only noble thing in man is his reasonable soul which is incarcerated or which pilots through the means of the human body, as if reason were a pilot separate from the ship.

This deprecatory view of the human body is philosophically false and unchristian, and fails to consider the dignity to be accorded the human body in God's natural and supernatural plan. It ignores, for example, the reality that "reason and free will are linked with all the bodily an sense faculties," and so misunderstands man in his nature. Moreover, it forgets that the "body . . . has been promised the resurrection," and therefore shares in man's "glory," in his redemption and salvation. Man is not saved from or apart from his body, but in his body.

There is therefore not one morality for the body and another for man's soul: morality for man involves the entire person of man, which necessarily involves man, body and soul:

The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts. The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator. It is in the light of the dignity of the human person — a dignity which must be affirmed for its own sake — that reason grasps the specific moral value of certain goods towards which the person is naturally inclined. And since the human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure, the primordial moral requirement of loving and respecting the person as an end and never as a mere means also implies, by its very nature, respect for certain fundamental goods, without which one would fall into relativism and arbitrariness.

VS, 48. That is the philosophical error behind a false opposition of body and soul. There is also a theological error behind this notion, a theological error relating to human anthropology and moral theology:
A doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a "spiritual" and purely formal freedom. . . . In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.
VS, 49.

The philosophical and theological errors, therefore, separate the personhood of man, which necessarily is composed of a union of body and soul. The traditional doctrine of the natural law does not suffer from these philosophical or theological errors. Quite the contrary, it is insistent that man must be treated as a person in his entirety, as a person in the unity of soul and body:

At this point the true meaning of the natural law can be understood: it refers to man's proper and primordial nature, the "nature of the human person", which is the person himself in the unity of soul and body, in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end. "The natural moral law expresses and lays down the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on the biological level; rather it must be defined as the rational order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make use of his own body."

VS, 50.***

The inclinations of the entire person--both spiritual inclinations and biological inclinations--must be considered in any doctrine of natural law. It is an error to predicate morality solely on biological inclinations, just as it is an error to predicate morality solely on rational or spiritual inclinations.
Only in reference to the human person in his "unified totality", that is, as "a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit," can the specifically human meaning of the body be grasped. Indeed, natural inclinations take on moral relevance only insofar as they refer to the human person and his authentic fulfillment, a fulfillment which for that matter can take place always and only in human nature. By rejecting all manipulations of corporeity which alter its human meaning, the Church serves man and shows him the path of true love, the only path on which he can find the true God.
VS, 50.†

*For the principle that the soul is itself (per se) and essentially (essentialiter) the form of man's body, the Pope cites to the Ecumenical Council of Vienne, Constitution Fidei Catholicae: DS, 902 and the Fifth Lateran Ecumenical Council, Bull Apostolici Regiminis: DS, 1440. The first source reads as follows:
(De anima ut forma corporis.)
Porro doctrinam omnem seu positionem temere asserentem, aut vertentem in dubium, quod substantia animae rationalis seu intellectivae vere ac per se humani corporis non sit forma, velut erroneam ac veritati catholicae inimicam fidei, praedicto sacro approbante Concilio reprobamus: definientes, ut cunctis nota sit fidei sincerae veritas ac praecludatur universis erroribus aditus, ne subintrent, quod quisquis deinceps asserere, defendere seu tenere pertinaciter praesumpserit, quod anima rationalis seu intellectiva non sit forma corporis humani per se et essentialiter, tamquam haereticus sit censendus.

[The soul as a form of the body]. Furthermore, with the approval of the above mentioned sacred council we reprove as erroneous and inimical to the Catholic faith every doctrine or position rashly asserting or turning to doubt that the substance of the rational or intellective soul truly and in itself is not a form of the human body, defining, so that the truth of sincere faith may be known to all, and the approach to all errors may be cut off, lest they steal in upon us, that whoever shall obstinately presume in turn to assert, define, or hold that the rational or intellective soul is not the form of the human body in itself and essentially must be regarded as a heretic.

The second source reads as follows:
Cum ... zizaniae seminator ... nonnullos perniciosissimos errores, a fidelibus semper explosos, in agro Domini superseminare et augere sit ausus, de natura praesertim animae rationalis, quod videlicet mortalis sit, aut unica in cunctis hominibus, et nonnulli temere philosophantes, secundum saltem philosophiam verum id esse asseverent : contra huiusmodi pestem opportuna remedia adhibere cupientes, hoc sacro approbante Concilio damnamus et reprobamus omnes asserentes animam intellectivam mortalem esse, aut unicam in cunctis hominibus, et haec in dubium vertentes, cum illa non solum vere per se et essentialiter humani corporis forma exsistat, sicut in canone felicis recordationis Clementis papae V praedecessoris Nostri in (generali) Viennensi Concilio edito continetur, verum et immortalis, et pro corporum quibus infunditur multitudine singulariter multiplicabilis, et multiplicata, et multiplicanda sit . . .

Since in our days (and we painfully bring this up) the sower of cockle, ancient enemy of the human race, has dared to disseminate and advance in the field of the Lord a number of pernicious errors, always rejected by the faithful, especially concerning the nature of the rational soul, namely, that it is mortal, or one in all men, and some rashly philosophizing affirmed that this is true at least according to philosophy, in our desire to offer suitable remedies against a plague of this kind, with the approval of this holy Council, we condemn and reject all who assert that the intellectual soul is mortal, or is one in all men, and those who cast doubt on these truths, since it [the soul] is not only truly in itself and essentially the form of the human body, as was defined in the canon of Pope Clement V our predecessor of happy memory published in the (general) Council of Vienne, but it is also multiple according to the multitude of bodies into which it is infused, multiplied, and to be multiplied. . . . And since truth never contradicts truth, we declare every assertion contrary to the truth of illumined faith to be altogether false; and, that it may not be permitted to dogmatize otherwise, we strictly forbid it, and we decree that all who adhere to errors of this kind are to be shunned and to be punished as detestable and abominable infidels who disseminate most damnable heresies and who weaken the Catholic faith.

**For the principle that the body and soul are united as one in man's personhood (
corpore et anima unus), the encyclical cites to Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 14.
***For the first quote, the encylical quotes Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51. For the second, the encyclical cites to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation
Donum Vitae (February 22, 1987), Introduction, 3: AAS 80 (1988), 74, and refers, further to Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968),10: AAS 60 (1968), 487-488.
†The quotation is from Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio (November 22,1981),11: AAS 74 (1982), 92.

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