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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Brother's Keeper: The Natural Law of Society

“AM I MY BROTHER'S KEEPER?" is how the fratricide Cain impudently responded to God's question about the whereabouts of his brother Abel, whose blood he shed, but the cries of which he could not hear, though God heard well enough. Gen. 4:9. That self-justification was founded upon a lie, for Cain knew full well where his brother was and what he had done to him. And yet he perjured himself when he answered to the Lord of Life and testified against the witness of his conscience that he did not know the whereabouts of his brother. He murdered his conscience when he murdered his brother; now followed it up with a lie to himself when he lied to the Lord of Truth. With his own hand he unwittingly dealt himself a double wound, proving the Platonic verity that it is worse to commit injustice than to suffer it, though it is bad enough, intolerable in fact, to have to suffer it. And consequent to his murder, and to his lie, was a judgment, a judgment that led him to a life of alienation, a life of unrequited labor and the loss of ease, a life of fear that he was marked for death. By acting against the brotherhood of man via the lifting of his hand against his brother, Cain was ushered into a Hobbesian world, where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," Leviathan, I.13, and where relationships with others are based upon the "fear of death, and wounds," coupled with a hedonistic panting, a "desire of ease, and sensual delight." Leviathan, I.11. This is a world far doubly removed from Paradise, one proximate to Hell. It is a world where one man's hand is always against another's, where man's hand is not extended in help, and where the hand of Providence and the Eternal Law are bracketed, where they are words of an old order, a defunct regime, now there is no more vox Dei, and all is vox populi. The only hand is the invisible hand trumped up by Adam Smith, an invisible, fictitious, unfeeling hand built upon the frivolous theory that a man's selfish vice and vicious selfishness redounds to the benefit of the common good.

"Cain and Abel" by Marc Chagall

The modern world suffers from the malaise of bad thinking: bad political thinking, bad economic thinking, bad thinking about sex, marriage, and family, and bad thinking about the purpose of human life and of man's nature. The classical political liberalism of John Locke, institutionalized in our Declaration of Independence; the classical economic liberalism of Adam Smith, and the laissez faire of the French Physiocrats upon which our economic system is built; the rugged individualism of supposed self-made men, who had not time for their poor, laggard brothers, the poor who would always be with them; the idolization of the dog-eat-dog competitiveness, a social adaption of the pseudo-science of Darwinian's survival-of-the-fittest dogma, Herbert Spencer's "Social Statics," where nature and society had no end, no law, but competition of species, resulting in an ethos that was red in tooth and claw. Moral relativism which stems from man's supposed autonomy, a price given to him not by God but by an untravelled man with a stoop, a man wakened up by Hume, with little imagination, less piety, but prodigious brains named Immanuel "God-is-with-Us" Kant, has now crept in to the mix. And this, and sloppy thinking, has led us to a world of nothing but incessant rights talk, a world which, in the words of those seagulls of the movie Finding Nemo, is nothing but a world of "mine, mine, mine," a world where natural law, reciprocal duties, and objective moral truth are viewed as words and concepts that are passé at best, and intolerable and dangerous evils, at worst. Ideas Have Consequences is the title of a famous book by Richard M. Weaver, but for him all ideas were arbitrary, the products of raw choice, without any basis in an objective world, without any tied to what is. We are products of the Great Stereopticon--truth being a commodity, not something tied to what is.

And then we have the backlash to this state of affairs: responses to the social ills brought in by this new thinking, whose prescription was and is worse than the disease: socialism, which denies private property and proposes a nanny-state; communism which to socialism added an admixture of philosophy of dialectical materialism, of atheism, of class warfare, of violence, yielding a socialistic witch's brew. And then there is Fascism, Nazism, Nationalism . . . ism after ism after tiresome ism. And we, like sheep, have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way, his own ism. And meanwhile, despite all isms, the divide between the haves and have-nots grows, and because of the isms, the bodies of victims become fuel and fodder, and they stack up as if funeral pyres, sacrifices to Moloch or Leviathan, to the point where desensitized survivors simply shrug their shoulders--the number of common graves becomes common, the modern world having become one vast charnel house, with rooms that differ only in decor: Gulag, Kozentrationslager, the Killing Fields, Čelebići, Kwan-li-so, Laogai. Even the mother's womb--where not rendered sterile by man's hand or by the modern magic of his pharmaceuticals--has been invaded, the thrust of flesh and orgy of lust is followed with the thrust of steel and an orgy of death, and all this under cover of right. But here the victim is not even given the limited dignity of a common grave. He--(to assuage consciences) called a nameless, sexless lying epithet: POC, "product of conception," though he has both sex and unique genetic makeup and deserves a name--is disposed of as if he were so much medical detritus. And yet, his blood, like slain Abel's, cries out to heaven in a chorus of hundreds of millions to the God who sees all. But it is a God that is largely unacknowledged by those that live and do the killing, for we have made way for the atheists de facto and de jure, and God is no longer a social reality, no longer the governor of men and the source of right. The world of man is bereft of God: we live in a world without charm, a demystified world, a world where wonder is gone, where nothing is sacred: Weber's disenchantment of the world, die Entzauberung der Welt is fully wended.

What of those of us who still carry in our hearts an affirmative response to the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" What of those who look at modernity and its ills and ask themselves, "Is there not a better way?" Where are they to go?

The Church offers an answer to the disenchanted who seek enchantment. The Church's answer is a blend of honest observation of the way things are--the natural law--and the light of the Gospel--the message of the Lord of Life and Truth, who came and set up his human tent among us, who fulfilled the law and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. The answer, like the problems it addresses, is manifold. The answer is called the Church's social doctrine. Since the 1800s, beginning with Leo XIII's Rerum novarum, though deep-rooted in her doctrinal patrimony, the Church has been developing this teaching, drawing it out of what is discoverable in nature and in Revelation. And it has placed that teaching at the disposal to Christ's faithful, and to all men and women of good will. For the message of the Church's social doctrine are not for Christian ears only. The message of the Church's social doctrine is universal: it is meant for all men and women of good will. "[I]t places the human person and society in relationship with the light of the Gospel," and yet, it is offered "to the faithful and to all people of good will, as food for human and spiritual growth, for individuals and communities alike."* It is predicated, founded on "moral values, founded on the natural law written on every human conscience," and "every human conscience is hence obliged to recognize and respect this law." It is the Church's evangelical response, it is "her voice," perhaps one crying in the wilderness, "concerning the 'new things' (res novae) typical of the modern age," but a voice that "belongs to her to invite all people to do all they can to bring about an authentic civilization ever more towards integral human development in solidarity." The Compendium is a summary of this doctrine, one that is "presented in such a way as to be useful not only from within (ab intra), that is among Catholics, but also from outside (ab extra)," indeed, one issued to all men and women of good will, those who seek and share "a common motivation for the integral development of every person and the whole person."

For as long as it takes, we shall focus in these next blog postings on the Church's social doctrine, drawing principally, but not entirely, from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

*These and other quotes are taken from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano's introduction to the Compendium addressed to the then-President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino. The text of the Compendium is available on-line. See Compendium.

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