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, March 31, 2010

Peter Abelard and the Natural Law, Introduction

HAVING REVIEWED ST. ANSELM OF LAON AND THE SCHOOL OF LAON and their contribution to the natural law, it would seem reasonable to look at Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and his contributions to the natural law. The natural law was a central feature of Peter Abelard's project to give due emphasis to reason at a time when perhaps reason was not getting its fair share, and so the alliance between faith and reason was being strained. "The idea of law, especially natural law, was central to this project" of Peter Abelard in trying to "give a rationally coherent, ethically centered explanation of the main elements of Christian belief." Marenbon (2007), 271. To begin with, Abelard was convinced that Christian belief was reasonable (which is not, of itself a controversial position), and thus had been anticipated by the best of pagan philosophical reasoning. As part of this vision, Abelard included the practical reason, and thus moral reasoning. Abelard "needed natural law to give a foundation to his ethical theory, which, without it, would have collapsed into unsustainable subjectivism." Marenbon (2007), 271. The controversial aspects raised by Abelard's teaching and innovations were largely the result of improper emphasis and balance on his part, an endemic imprudence and brashness, an injudicious use of language, and his remarkable talent, vastly surpassing his unquestionable intellectual talents, of arousing controversy and attracting enemies.

Bas-Relief of Abelard

Born in the hamlet of Pallet in Brittany, Peter (or Pierre) Abelard was the son of Berengar, the village lord, and his wife, Lucia. You would not have known it from the quiet in the village, but the world was engulfed in the so-called "problem of the universals," and there was an acrimonious debate among the scholars, as the Realist school was on the descendant, and the Nominalist school was on the ascendant. Both of Abelard's parents were of apparently pious disposition, as, after their children reached adulthood, they entered the religious life.

In any event, Peter was the eldest of the children. Groomed for a military career so as to follow in his father's office, he opted instead to devote himself to learning, and had a remarkable aptitude for it, equaled only by his ability to land himself in controversy. Exposed early to the teachings of the monk Roscelin "the Nominalist," the first of that time, Otto of Freisingen states in his chronicles, to institute the "sentiam vocum," primus nostris temporibus sentiam vocum instituit. Mon. Germ. Histor., Script. XX, 376. (The sententiam vocum was one of the anti-Realist's solutions to the problem of the universals, and the precise relationship between genera and species that was bandied about during this debate. What were genera? What were species? Were they a thing (res), or where they mere intellectual constructs, "voices" (voces), as it were? Did only individual humans have real existence, and "humanity" not? Was "humanity" a res, a real thing (hence "Realism") or merely a vox flatus, merely a concept or name (nomen) (hence "Nominalism")? Whether Roscelin was the progenitor of the sententiam vocum or not, it is indisputable that he was a budding anti-Realist, though certainly he did not advance der reine Nominalismus Occams, the pure nominalism, that William of Occam (ca. 1288-ca. 1348) was to advance. But this is not the time or place to discuss Roscelin.) The "problem of universals" aside for the time being, Roscelin headed a school at Locmenach, near Vannes. After spending some time there, Abelard left to study at the Cathedral School in Paris to study dialectic under the Realist William of Champeaux (ca. 1070-1121), the erstwhile pupil of St. Anselm of Laon, the inspiration for the School of St. Victor, and the future bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne. (In marked contrast to Roscelin, William of Champeux was an Über-Realist and anti-Nominalist. In the matter of universals, Abelard was to adopt a mean position between Roscelin and William of Champeaux, but whether that teaching could be characterized as a moderate Realism or a moderate Nominalism is hard to tell.) For a time, Abelard tried to found a rival school, at Paris, then at Melun and later at Corbeil, but he eventually returned to Paris to study rhetoric under William of Champeaux. For a period of time he went to Laon to study Scriptural studies or exegesis under St. Anselm of Laon; however, he soon found himself embroiled in controversy, and was forced to leave the School of Laon. Eventually, after William of Champeaux retired to the monastery of St. Victor for a time, Abelard managed to get a position at the Cathedral School in Paris, where he was nominated canon, and taught both dialectic and rhetoric for a decade between 1108 and 1118, a time, he admits in his Historia Calamitatum, was filled with vanity and pride, not unmixed with imprudence and mortal sin.

Bas-Relief of Héloïse

It was here where he met, and fell in love, and had an improper and highly irregular dalliance with the bright, young Héloïse, niece of canon Fulbert, whom he was supposed to tutor, but instead seduced and impregnated with a child, his son, who would eventually be born and given the name Astrolabius (meaning "Astrolabe," a scientific instrument for measuring the position of stars), a name perhaps rivaled only by Frank Zappa naming his daughter Moon Unit. They were secretly married, but that did not stop canon Fulbert from exercising self-help to stop the relationship. He had Abelard forcibly castrated, and with that operation Abelard became an unwilling eunuch for the kingdom of Heaven. Both the scandal and the mutilation caused by the castration effectively ended Abelard's career at the Cathedral School in Paris. Héloïse retired to Argenteuil where she donned the nun's habit.
No, fly me, fly me, far as pole from pole;
Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll!

Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me,

Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee.
(Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard").

Detail of Abelard and Héloïse by Vignaud

Abelard found refuge in the Abbey of St. Denis, where he took the Benedictine habit, a habit which did not fit him well. He soon found himself at odds with the monks there and was relegated to a priory or cella, a sort of branch of the monastery. He soon shortly found himself embroiled again in controversy, this time because of his quarrels with followers of the School of Laon, who accused him of unorthodox, Sabellian opinions regarding the Trinity. He was summoned to appear before a council at Soissons which was presided over by Kuno, Bishop of Praneste, who acted also as papal legate. Although he was not condemned by the Council, he was ordered to recite the Athanasian Creed, and to burn his book on the Trinity. As a result of the activities of his Abbot, Adam, he was also sentenced to imprisonment in the Abbey of St. Médard. He fled to Troyes where he founded an oratory, named after the Paraclete. After Abbot Adam's death, his successor, Suger, absolved Abelard from his predecessor's censure, and Abelard resumed the life of a Benedictine monk. In 1125, he was elected Abbot of the Abbey of St. Gildas de Rhuys on the coast of Brittany. Héloïse took over the Oratory of the Paraclete at Troyes and became Abbess of that institution. Communication between Abelard and Héloïse continued throughout their life, and that infelicitous love affair, as well as Abelard's struggles against authority, has made Abelard the darling of all Romantics and Rebels, from the medieval Roman of the Rose authored by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun to the Romantic-styled paintings of Abelard and Héloïse by the Frenchman Jean Vignaud (1775-1826) and the Englishman Edmund Blair Leighton (1853-1922). It is telling that the remains of Abelard and Héloïse escaped the cultural iconoclasm of the French Revolution. In fact, they seemed to have been honored by the spirit of the Jacobin in that in 1817, these citizens of the ancien régime were given a place of honor at the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris.
They were effectively revered as romantic saints, mythologized as forerunners of modernity, at odds with the ecclesiastical and monastic structures of their day. They became celebrated more for rejecting the traditions of the past than for any particular intellectual achievement.
Constant J. Mews, Abelard and Heloise (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 4.

Abelard and His Student Héloïse by Edmund Blair Leighton

Abelard's tenure as Abbot of St. Gildas was not particularly felicitous. Faced with recalcitrant monks, who viewed him as overly strict, he found himself constantly battling their efforts to be rid of him. Ultimately, around 1136 he returned to Paris where he resumed his career as a teacher, and where he taught, among many others, John of Salisbury.

A Decidedly Byronic Abelard
(Whether before or after castration is difficult to tell)


Once again, Abelard's teachings on the Trinity were called into question. This time, however, his adversary was the redoubtable and influential St. Bernard. Ultimately, the dispute resulted in a council at Sens in 1141, which condemned a number of propositions that were contained in his writings. Abelard appealed to Rome. The sentence of the council of Sens was confirmed by Innocent II. However, here the Venerable Peter of Cluny stepped in (beati pacifici!), and, as a result of his efforts, obtained a mitigation of the sentence against Abelard, reconciled Abelard and St. Bernard, and offered Abelard respite at Cluny. Eventually, Abelard became a member of that monastic community, and taught at that monastery's school. He died in 1142 at Chalôn-sur-Saône, and was buried at the oratory he founded in Troyes. We may perhaps hope that in his death he finally found the peace he mentioned in his hymn O quanta qualia sunt illa Sabbata:
That heavenly city is truly Jerusalem,
Whose peace is forever, whose pleasure's supreme,
Where desire never goes beyond its object
And reward is not despised as short of its goal.

Vere Ierusalem est illa civitas
Cuius pax iugis est, sum iucunditas
Ubi no praevenit rem desiderium
Nec desiderio minus est praemium.
(English translation from James J. Wilhelm, ed., Lyrics of the Middle Ages (1990))

Abelard's opera may be divided into philosophical works and theological works. His philosophical works include the Dialectica, a treatise on logic, the Scito Teipsum or Ethica, a treatise on moral philosophy, and glosses on Porphyry, Boëtius, and the Categories of Aristotle. His theological works include the famous Sic et Non (Yes and No), the condemned Tractatus de Unitate et Trinitate Divina (Treatise on the Divine Unity and Trinity), an updated and enlarged version of that same treatise under the title Theologia Christiana, the Dialogus inter Philosophum, Judaeum, et Christianum, the famous Sententia Petri Abaelardi (Sentences of Peter Abelard) also known as the Epitomi Theologiae Christianae. There are a scattering of exegetical works, hymns, and sequences also attributed to Abelard. In addition, Abelard wrote an autobiographical work entitled Historia calamitarum (History of my Misfortunes), and is famous for his correspondence to Héloïse.

Abelard and Héloïse from a Manuscript of the Roman de la Rose

Ironically, in the area of the natural law, Abelard predicated his thinking on the ideas of the School of Laon, which he otherwise excoriated. Specifically, he adopted its view, which was consistent with received teaching from the Church Fathers, that the old law, the vetus lex, and the new law, lex nova, were distinct. The Bible presented the situation of Abel (as well as others) that lived virtuous lives before the law of Moses, indeed, before Abraham was given the rite of circumcision. How was this to be explained other than by a better understanding of law? The notion of the natural law seemed the ideal vehicle for understanding how this could be. The ultimate justification was found in St. Paul's invocation of this "law of the heart" in Romans 2:14-15. Thus, the natural law was the sort of constant in all law, including both the Mosaic law and the law of the Gospel, and accordingly also governed the Patriarchs who came before the revelation of the old law to Moses at Mount Horeb. "Abelard adopted his basic structure of thinking about law from the School of Laon." Marenbon (2007), 272. However, given the Laudinensian scholars' emphasis on the Scriptures, they did not focus on the pagan evidences of the natural law. "The writers of the School of Laon had not been at all concerned with Greek antiquity in their discussion of natural law." Marenbon (2007), 272. That is, the Laudiensian school did not analyze the natural law from the vantage point of reason. Though he was criticized for it by his contemporaries, Abelard departed from the theologians of the School of Laon by emphasizing the philosophical overlap between the Scriptural notion of the natural law and the philosophical notions. The Abelardian emphasis allowed the natural law to be viewed as something suprahistorical, in that, wrested from the scriptural history, "natural law [was] no longer restricted to a particular chronological period," nor, for that matter, to a particular people. Marenbon (2007), 272. This shift in emphasis by Abelard resulted in a greater appreciation for the natural law in guiding all men and all cultures in all history. In the next series of blog entries, we shall review some of the more important Abelardian works that discuss his concept of the natural law. We will first look at his Collationes (Comparisons or Dialogue between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian), a work celebrated for the clear distinction between natural law and positive law, perhaps the first, most clear distinction of the kind in legal thought. Following that, we will look at his Scito Teipsum (Know Yourself), a work sometimes entitled Ethica (Ethics). Abelard's moral teachings, which influence his view of law, are significant for their emphasis on intention of the actor in analyzing the morality of acts, or at least the actor's culpability. We shall also review Abelard's unusual take on the Golden Rule in reviewing his Problemata Heloissae, as well as his Commentary on Romans. In discussing all these matters, we will rely very heavily on the excellent guidance of John Marenbon, whose many works on Peter Abelard are superlative.

Monday, March 29, 2010

St. Anselm of Laon: Natural Law as Locus Spatiosus, a "Large Place"

ST. ANSELM OF LAON'S DOCTRINE OF THE NATURAL LAW is found in both allegorical interpretations of Scripture such as those found in his glosses on scripture, and in the more systematic doctrinal treatments in his Sententiae. In terms of the natural law, St. Anselm's glosses that relate to the natural law begin, as might be expected, with the Pauline foundation in Romans 2:14-15. Then, guided by the doctrines of Sts. Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine and other Church Fathers, including the brilliant, if misfitted theologian Origen, he arrives at a sort of synthetic view of the natural law. All of what Anselm of Laon synthesized was found in germ or even in maturing bloom in the writings of the Church Fathers. "Ambrose, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine had all discussed Paul's remark [in Romans 2:14-15], and their discussions were systematized in the School of Laon." John Marenbon, "The Rise of Scholastic Philosophy," in A History of the Philosophy of Law from the Ancient Greeks to the Scholastics (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), 272.

According to John Marenbon, Anselm of Laon distinguished three periods of sacred history subsequent to the Fall, each which could be distinguished by its own law. There was the period between the Fall and the Mosaic dispensation, "the period of the natural law," the lex naturalis. There was the period of the Mosaic dispensation, the period of the "old law," the vetus lex, a law whose heart was the Ten Commandments, which confirmed and repeated the natural law, and also contained the "figural commandments" that included its various ritual, dietary, and religious ceremonies. Finally, there was the period of the "new law, preached by Christ." Marenbon (2007), 272. The evangelical law, the law of the Gospel, was built upon the natural law, both the natural law as imparted to the Gentiles, and the natural law as confirmed by the Mosaic law, for per hanc ergo legem Christi patuit ingressus legi evangelicae. Enarr. in Matt. (162 PL 1233-34).

An example of St. Anselm's allegorical interpretation of Scripture is his Commentary on Matthew, the Enarrationes in Matthaeum, as contained in Volume 162 of Migne's Patrologia Latina, in particular St. Anselm's interpretation of Christ's Sermon on the Mount as it is related in Chapters 5 through 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, his gloss on the Parable of the Talents, and his description of Isaac as the son of Abraham in the first chapter of Matthew. Linking these three glosses together provides us with a view of St. Anselm's (or at least his school's, since St. Anselm may not be its author) general understanding of the doctrine of the natural law as it influence his gloss on the Scriptures.

Four Figures, Cathedral of Laon

In commenting on that part of the Gospels where Jesus, seeing the multitudes, went up into a mountain, and preached his Sermon on the Mount (thereby promulgated the law of the New Testament which was to be the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law), St. Anselm distinguishes between the two laws by looking at the different manners in which they were promulgated to mankind. This gloss is upon the words, "And opening his mouth," et aperiens os suum. (Matt. 5:2). The giving of the Evangelical law by Christ, which began by the opening of his mouth, differs substantially from the way the Mosaic law was revealed. The Mosaic law, St. Anselm observes, was given in terror and in smoke, in a whirlwind, with the people huddled in fear as they surrounded the mountains [Ex. 19:16-18]. But in the giving of New Law of Christ, there was nothing like this; rather, all was done in peace, and the law was taught to the crowds, not with a spirit of fear, but in a spirit of love. Alia lex data est in terrore, quia fumus et turbae et procellae fuerunt circa montem. In datione Novi Testamenti nihil horum, sed totum in tranquillitate fuit factum, ut doceret hanc legem non timere, sed amore complendam esse. Moreover, the Mosaic law was written in stone, the evangelical law given by Christ was written in the heart: Alia lex scripta est in lapidus, ista in cordibus. 126 PL 1283. So both in manner of promulgation, and in the manner of publication, the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ differ. There is, however, a shared corpus of law between the Mosaic law and the Christian law, and that corpus is the natural law. St. Anselm addresses the issue of the Mosaic law to the Gentiles in his gloss of Matthew 25:24, specifically, in the context of Christ's parable regarding the talents.

St. Anselm discusses law in the context of Christ's parable regarding the talents, and the comments of the servant who buried his one talent, and who comes to his master with the excuse: "Lord, I know that you are a hard man," Domine scio quia homo durus es. In his Commentary, St. Anselm interprets these words as follows. The servant may be seen as speaking allegorically of the precepts of the Mosaic law in that they were hard and confining, dura et arcta. "Thou reapest where thou hast not sown," metis ubi non seminasti. From the vantage point of the servant, the master's hardness is also observed in that the master reaps where he did not sow, meaning in this case, outside of the written law. The Gentiles are the field where the master reaps where he has not sown the written law, in quibus tu non seminasti legem scriptam, and these last were without the (written) law, sine lege fuerunt, and even so the master reaped among them. That is the master harvested them with the pruning hook of justice, and condemned those who have done wrong, even those which lacked the seeds of the written law.
Dicit ergo servus nequam: Domine, scio quia homo durus es, etc. Id est, dura et arcta praecepta habes, et in hoc noto duritiam tuam, quod tu metis ubi non seminasti. Gentiles sunt, in quibus tu non seminasti legem scriptam, imo sine lege fuerunt, et tamen metis eos, id est falce judicii praecidis eos, et damnas, quia male operantur, quamvis semine scriptae legis careant.
126 PL 1461. St. Anselm continues his gloss on the Matthean text, specifically, "and gatherest where thou hast not strewed," et congregas ubi non sparsisti. This refers to the Gentiles, where the master did not sow the written law. To gather together: that is said of them to whom the master did not strew by public proclamation of the written law; the power to congregate may be interpreted as the power of the master to gather fruit into the storehouse of heaven. For the master saves these persons to which the written law was not announced, such as Job, through the natural law. And in comparison with those who obey the natural law, the master will damn those who neglect the written law. "And being afraid," et timens. For that reason, explains St. Anselm, the Lord gathers those who, having in fear have been tested, walk in the higher life seeking salvation, and indeed, do not follow the other (lower) life. "I went," et ipse abii, those who go by free will, "and hid thy talent," et abscondi talentum tuum, that is, did not proclaim the master, having been given knowledge of him, but hid, "in the earth," in terra, that is, pass their time in a carnal life, and as those who have held the master's talent, without increase or decrease. "Behold here thou hast that which is thine," Ecce habes quod tuum est.
Et congregas, ubi non sparsisti. Quia quosdam gentilium, ubi non sparsisti scriptam legem, congregas; scilicet de illis, in quibus nihil praedicationis seminasti, vis tibi congregare fructum in horreo coelesti. Quosdam enim salvas per legem naturalem, sicut Job, quibus lex scripta non fuit nuntiata, et eorum comparatione, qui naturalem legem servant, damnas eos, qui negligunt scriptam; et ideo ego timens aggredi gradum altioris vitae, ne scilicet alterius salutem quaerens, periclitarer. Et ipse abii, per liberum arbitrium, et abscondi talentum tuum, id est, non praedicavi quod te donante intellexi, sed abscondi in terra, id est, in carnali vita degens, et sicut habui, sic tenui talentum tuum, non augens vel minuens. Ecce habes quod tuum est.
126 PL 1461. All these allegorical interpretations follow St. Anselm's allegorical gloss on a portion of Matthew 1:2, "Abraham begot Isaac," a simple Scriptural phrase which yields a tremendous gloss in introduction to the Gospel. Christ, St. Anselm states, is prefigured in Abraham. Just as Abraham had two children, one from a maidservant, and the other from his wife, one by nature, the other by promise or covenant, so Christ has generated two peoples, the Jews, which are signified by Ismael, who was born of Hagar, and the Gentiles, which are signified by Isaac who was born of Sarah. Those of the old law, the lex vetus, are represented by Ismael, hoc est de veteri lege. Ismael, moreover, is to be understood as the Jews who heard the law, but were not doers of the law. Hagar, Ismael's mother, also is typical. Hagar is alienated, which is to be interpreted that the old law was carnal and alienated from God. The other son of Abraham, Isaac by name and born of Sarah, is to be interpreted as the Gentiles, that is, those of the New Testament. Isaac (the name of which, according to the Scripture, means "laughter") may be interpreted as the conversion of the Gentiles, St. Anselm states, since the coming around of the Gentiles gave all the faithful and all the angels great joy. And Sarah's precedence over Hagar is to be interpreted as the new law which law is to take precedence among all men, Sara princeps interpretatur, quia nova lex inter omnes leges principatum tenet. 126 PL 1232.

St. Anselm has a similar gloss on Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, Abraham's son. Rebecca appears to be a type of the Church. Rebecca, St. Anselm reminds us, did not only give to Abraham's servant something to drink (see Gen. 24:11-20), but also provided water to the servants' camels, which signifies that the Church gathers together all people and offers all to drink by her public declaration, wherefore Paul states that both the wise and the foolish are indebted (Romans Chapter 1). Laban, Rebecca's brother, who invites the one called the blessed servant of the Lord into his house, signifies anyone who lives in the flesh, yet who announces the virtues of the holy doctors, and honors them, and through them Isaac, who signifies those who go to Christ. The "large place," the locus spatiosus, that Rebecca had for Abraham's servant to lodge (Gen. 24:25) is the natural law, which existed before Christ came. It is a large place, for it is intended to hold all men called to be redeemed. For through that law Christ opened up a pathway to the law of the Gospel, per hanc ergo legem Christi patuit ingressus legi evangelicae. 162 PL 1233-34.

Nave, Cathedral of Laon

In the Systematic Sentences attributed to him,* St. Anselm addresses the issue of in what mode and time mankind was repaired or regenerated by God. It is a given that man is unable to repair the rift between himself and God that occurred after the Fall. The breach was overcome by law: first, the natural law, then the Mosaic law, and finally, the law of the Gospel. In all events, however, God, however, supplied the means of salvation Christ, working through the natural law as the foundation. Before the coming of Christ, faith was implicit in the natural law and in sacrifice, even as it was in the Mosaic law, both its natural law components and its figurative (ritual, dietary, etc.) law. After Christ's coming, faith is no longer implicit, but explicit. Yet the foundation of Christ's salvific plan remains the natural law.

"The means was the Law, at first the natural law, after it, it having been put to sleep as it were, the written law of Moses. At the time of grace, the spirit writing it [the natural law] in the heart, that is, faith operating out of love." Modus vero fuit lex, prius naturalis; postea vero, ea sopita, lex per Moysen scripta; tempore autem gratie spiritus scribens in corde, id est, fides operans ex dilictione."

"The natural law is this: what you do not want done to you, do not do to another." Lex naturalis hec est: quod tibi no vis fieri, alii ne feceris.

"In whatever manner a person protects and preserves unstained the image of his creator, and pays the penalty that the law mandates be paid, in this way he restores free will to himself." Quam qui custodiret, penitus legis mandata compleret, et creatoris sui imaginem in se incorruptam conservaret, sicque liberum arbitrium in se restauret.

"The law of the commandments is: you shall not commit adultery, nor shall you desire your neighbor's goods, et cetera. He who faithful observes the natural law, will not do these things, constantly in my judgment, for he will not want done to himself."
Lex mandatorum ets: non adulterabis, nec concupisces rem proximi tui, et cetera. Quod legem naturalem fideliter observantem non facturm, constanter iudico; hec enim sibi fieri non vult.

"Therefore, through the natural law and sacrifice, which man from the beginning offered of himself to fulfill the will of God, man was able to conserve the image of God in him, and to avoid eternal punishment without impediment." Per naturalem igitur legem et sacrificia, que sibi a primo homine etiam fieri voluit deus, imago dei in homine potuit conservari, et eterna pena sine impedimento vitari.

"The natural law therefore is divided into three parts, that God that is known be obediently and in all things followed, and next, that one should show as much mercy to one's neighbor as God faithfully showers upon him, and whatever one has, it should be relinquished to the hope of the good of a future life." Lex autem naturalis in tres partes dividitur, ut deus agnitus obedienter in omnibus diligatur, et ut proximo misericordia propter deum fideliter impendatur, et exemplum bone vite posteris, quantum in ipsis est, relinquatur.

"Accordingly the faithful which were under the natural law and by the oblation of sacrifice and faith in the coming of Christ, and certain only in the virtue of faith, accepted the remission of sins. Of which, as [the venerable] Bede testifies to, there are also certain souls, that is, children, who have died before the age of discretion, commended by the creator, who are to be absolved from the first chains of punishment, and will be saved." Hii ergo fideles, qui erant, sub hac naturali lege per sacrifiorum oblationes et fidem venturi Christi, vel certe sola fidei virtute, remissionem peccatorum acceperunt. Quibus, et Beda testatur, quas suorumque animas, id est, puerorum, qui ante annos discretionis moribantur, creatori commendantes, a primi reatus vinculis absolvere curabant.

For St. Anselm of Laon, therefore, the natural law before the coming of Christ and the Mosaic law were salvific in an anticipatory, contingent way, as they anticipated the coming of Christ and faith in Christ was contained in those laws implicite, that is, implicitly. These two laws enabled their followers to live good and virtuous lives, though they had to await the sacrificial death of Christ, the harrowing of "Hell" (the so-called "limbo of the Fathers," or limbus patrum), and the opening of the gates of Heaven, before eternal life was opened to them. Following the Christian dispensation, baptism was the remedy for original sin. Faith is to be had expressly in Christ in the new dispensation. During the time of the Patriarchs, it was the offering of gifts and sacrifices to God, and the implicit faith in Christ therein contained, that save the Patriarch. In the time of the Mosaic dispensation until Christ's coming, it was circumcision, and the implicit faith in Christ therein contained that saved the disciple of Moses. Marenbon (2007), 272.

One might summarize St. Anselm of Laon's teaching on the natural law as the big room, the locus spatiosus, the big tent, in which all men are invited. It is the law which remains a pathway for the law of the Gospel, per hanc ergo legem Christi patuit ingressus legi evangelicae. The natural law is the Golden Rule. It is not a law of terror, or of fear, but of love and of peace. It is not an external law imposed upon us by on high; rather, it is an intimate, internal law, one of spirit, written upon our very heart. Understood in the light of Christ, the natural law, like Sarah over Hagar, takes precedence over all other laws. It requires us to love God, love our neighbor, and remember our last end and eternal destiny.

But for all his work, St. Anselm of Laon was sort of a Biblical St. John the Baptist. He had to decrease so that his successors could increase. As Southern put it:
Master Anselm may reasonably be held to be the master of all later medieval students of the biblical text, though his own personal contribution gradually sank out of sight under the weight of the elaborations of more learned successors. He was the inconspicuous fountain head of the mighty river of the biblical contribution to scholastic thought--the Donaueschingen [source of the Danube] no less into which his successors cast their offerings.
. . . .
This was the fate of Master Anselm: having captured the central ground of scholastic learning because is method and its results met with a widespread demand, he was buried under the elaborations of pupils and pupils' pupils.
Southern, 48, 35.

But this would not have bothered St. Anselm, we trust. One would hope that St. Anselm would have been the first to know the rule: sic transit gloria mundi.


*The Latin quotations from Anselm of Laon's Systematic Sentences are taken from F. P. Bliemetzrieder, Systematische Sentenzen (1919). The text can be found on http://www.archive.org/details/anselmsvonlaonsy01anse.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

St. Anselm of Laon: Glossing the Natural Law

HOWBEIT THAT AFTER ADAM'S FALL there were men that were considered virtuous and pleasing to God before the advent of the Mosaic law? How is it that those who flourished between Adam's fall and the revelation of Mosaic law, for example Abel, suffering as they were from original sin, can be said to have lived virtuous or morally good lives, lives consonant with the will of God? Could these men, without either the Law or Faith in Christ, be saved? This was one of the several questions that preoccupied the Dean and Chancellor of the Cathedral at Laon, St. Anselm of Laon [Anselmus Laudinensis], who flourished in the early 12th century. We do not know the date of his birth, but we know that he died in 1117. His brother, Ralph, also an exegete and theologian, took over headship of the School of Laon for at least another decade.

St. Anselm of Laon was the headmaster of the famous school of theology and Scriptural exegesis, the Cathedral School of Laon, a school which Crowe states "dominated the theology of the early twelfth century," one that was "particularly preoccupied with the natural law." Crowe, 80. Modernly, the School of Laon is hardly known. So perhaps R. W. Southern's comments are true with both respect to Laon and to St. Anselm and the School of Laon: "Laon was a city with a great past, an uncertain present, and an insignificant future." R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe (Malden: Blackwell, 2001), II, 29.

St. Anselm's chief work is his Glossa interlinearis or Glossa interlineans, a commentary on the entire Vulgate; how much of it is actually his and not also his schools' work is hard to evince, though scholars have tried. The Glossa interlinearis was regarded as one of the two chief exegetical works of the medieval church, its only competitor being the Glossa ordinaria of Walafrid of Strabo. These two glosses on the words of the Latin Vulgate were celebrated in their day. Their names come from the fact that by the 12th century, Bibles were published with one gloss on the text (attributed to St. Anselm) interlineated above the words of the Biblical text which it explained, while the other (Strabo's, the older and more "ordinary") was marginalized beside the Biblical text it sought to elaborate. Thus we find published Bibles with the titles as follows: Biblia latina una cum glossa ordinaria Walafridi Strabonis et interlineari Anselmi Laudunensis, "Latin Bible With the Ordinary Gloss of Walafridi of Strabo and the Interlineated of Anselm of Laon." Eventually, the practice was extended to add the Postilla of Nicholas of Lyra and the Additiones of Paulus Burgensis at the foot of the published Scriptures. Essentially, these bibles were "study" bibles avant la lettre.

The Rebdorf Psalter: Book of Psalms with Gloss by Anselm of Laon
From the Schøyen Collection

In his Encyclical on Biblical Studies, Pope Leo XIII mentioned both St. Anselm of Laon and Walafrid of Strabo in discussing the state of Biblical studies from the time of the Church Fathers up until the time of the Scholastic theologians:
From this period down to the eleventh century, although Biblical studies did not flourish with the same vigor and the same fruitfulness as before, yet they did flourish, and principally by the instrumentality of the clergy. It was their care and solicitude that selected the best and most useful things that the ancients had left, arranged them in order, and published them with additions of their own - as did S. Isidore of Seville, Venerable Bede, and Alcuin, among the most prominent; it was they who illustrated the sacred pages with "glosses" or short commentaries, as we see in Walafrid Strabo and St. Anselm of Laon.
Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, No. 7. It is likely that the Glossa interlinearis is not entirely the product of St. Anselm himself, but an amalgamation containing some of his work and the work of others synthesized by his Cathedral School.

St. Anselm's opinions (known as sententiae) during his morning lectures, and re-discussed during the evening sessions or collatio or declatio, were recorded by his students or perhaps by amanuenses, and these were later gathered together in florilegium collections, often with little systematicization. Sabø, at 248; Southern, 36 ff., 45. Like the Glossa interlinearis, in such florilegium collections it is often difficult to discern which sententiae are St. Anselm's, and which are wrongly attributed to him.

Systematic Sentences attributed to St. Anselm of Laon

Not much is known about St. Anselm of Laon. And there is a split in camps as to how he ought to be considered. On the one hand, Gilbert, Abbot of Novigento, in his preface of his Bartholomew, bishop of Laon, characterizes St. Anselm of Laon as one of the two clear lights of his age among all the stars, the sun of the age, as compared to the other, lesser light on the left, being his brother, Ralph, also a biblical scholar and theologian. The Church, it may be noted, has canonized St. Anselm of Laon as a Saint, who is thus raised to her altars. In Book III of that life, Gilbert characterizes St. Anselm is the man of all France, whose liberal disciplinary and tranquil moral teachings enlightened the entire Latin-speaking world. On the other hand, poor St. Anselm is stained by the acerbic pen of the master wit and enfant terrible, Peter Abelard. In his Historia Calamitatum, Peter Abelard describes St. Anselm thus:
And so I enrolled under this old man [senem] whose great name rested on long practice rather than on ability or learning. If one doubt about some point consulted him, he left him in grater doubt. He was a wonder in the minds of his listeners, but a nobody in the estimate of his questioners. He had a remarkable command of language, but it was despicable with respect to meaning and devoid of sense [sed sensum contemptibilem et ratione vacuum]. While he kindled a fire, he filled his room with smoke but did not light it up. His tree appeared heavy with foliage to those viewing it from afar, but to those who came near and looked closely, it was found fruitless. And so when I went to this tree to gather fruit therefrom, I found that it was the fig tree which Our Lord cursed, or like the old oak to which Lucan likened Pompey saying:

"There he stood, the mere shadow

Of a great name, like an oak
Towering in a fruitful field."

Realizing this, I did not delay long in the idleness of his shadow. I went to his lectures more and more irregularly, and for this the distinguished among his students were offended with me as despising a man of such renown. . . . [T]hat old man arrogantly forbade me to continue in the place where he was teaching the work of interpretation which I had entered upon . . . .
J. T. Muckle, The Story of Abelard's Adversities (translation of Historia calamitatum) (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieaval Studies, 1964), 21-22, 24.

Abelard and his Student Heloise Surprised
by Master Fulbert by Jean Vignaud

Without doubt, Abelard's writing was tendentious. In assessing Peter Abelard's vituperation, and the objectiveness of its critique of St. Anselm, one may recall that the insufferable Abelard was thrown out of the Cathedral School of Laon by no one less than St. Anselm. In defense of St. Anselm, we do not have his side of the story. And Abelard, like Rousseau many years after him, seemed to have suffered from narcissistic, unstable, impatient, almost misanthropic personality, and was burdened with a history of considerable moral failures though unquestionably gifted with a brilliant mind. Modern scholars seem to weigh in with Abelard, but this is probably largely a matter also of tendentiousness.

Were St. Anselm and his followers the most significant impetus in the revival of theology experience in the twelfth century, the inventors of the influential systematic collection of sentences, and the progenitors of the scholastic method and miracle? Or were they rather as Peter Abelard saw them, "essentially reactionary, concerned with the reiteration, and not with the critical analysis, of biblical and patristic authority." Marcia L. Colish, Studies in Scholasticism (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 7. Or were they, as Professor Colish suggests, something in between? Perhaps more soberly, the School of Laon was "far from stagnant, if far from systematic or architectonic in its view of theology." Colish, 11. In any event, it is true that the thought process and methodology of St. Anselm of Laon and his school, though they may have contributed to the rise of the Scholastic method, were "largely non-philosophical, biblical, and patristic" in outlook. Colish, 9-10.


Vulgate with Glosses

St. Anselm of Laon insisted on reconciling both biblical and patristic authority, so that the Church Fathers could be understood by means of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures by means of the Church Fathers. For all that, he does not disdain his contemporaries, the moderni magistri, and so, in his analyses, we see him reference St. Ivo of Chartres, William of Champeaux, and even his brother Ralph. Magnæ Sabø, ed., Hebrew Bible Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), I/2, 248. , at 248-49. In their effort to incorporate the notion of natural law into their system of Scriptural interpretation, St. Anselm of Laon and his school developed a "characteristically theological" concept of the natural law, Crowe, 80, one that found its roots in Scripture and tradition, and not reason. The natural law, however, though revealed as existing in Scripture remained a rule of reason. Crowe's synopsis is as follows:
The natural law, the law of behaviour for humanity, is anterior to the Mosaic law (which became necessary precisely because men had neglected the law of their nature); it is the fruit of the ratio naturalis which can know God and discern the basic maxims, such as the prohibition of homicide and, in a general formula, the Golden Rule of not doing to others what you would not have done to yourself.
Crowe, 80. In our next blog entry, we shall look at the allegorical interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew in the Ennarationes in Evangelium Matthaei (162 PL 1227-1500). Though Migne assigns its authorship to St. Anselm of Laon, most scholars believe such attribution incorrect. We will also look at the Systematic Sentences of St. Anselm of Laon, though St. Anselm's authorship of these again has been questioned. Whether written by St. Anselm or not, these two texts will at least impart the flavor of the form that the School of Laon's teaching on the natural law had at the cusp of the transformation of Europe's staid, monastic and unitinerant past, where the Benedictine ruled. In St. Anselm of Laon and the School of Laon we are at the threshold of Europe's intellectual future: the universities, where scholasticism and the itinerant orders, in particular the Dominicans and Franciscans, flourished. It was as if the Western mind, disciplined by the rule of the monastery and the safety of its cloisters and fellow monks, was about to be let out freely to walk about the land with his Scriptures and his Glossa in hand, encountering in a great adventure, in the rough and tumble of academic disputation, the pagan Aristotle, the Jew Maimonedes, and the Muslim Ibn Sina. Eventually, the intellectual turmoil caused by the joinder of these various streams would be channelled and synthesized by the intellectual giant St. Thomas Aquinas. This would include the doctrine of the natural law. But we are still a long ways away from that.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo on the Natural Law: Impression of the Eternal Law

SAINT AUGUSTINE'S REFERENCES TO THE NATURAL LAW in haec verba, in so many words, are not as frequent as his references to the eternal law. In large part, this is because in many instances where he refers to the eternal law, especially in his Confessions, he is referring to the eternal law as it is made manifest in men, which is synonymous with the natural law. As St. Thomas made clear generations later, relying significantly on St. Augustine's prior thought, the natural law "is nothing else than the rational creature's participation in the eternal law," lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura. S.T. I-IIae, q. 91, art. 2. The natural law is the eternal law from the perspective of the rational creature.

One of those significant references to the natural law that we have had the opportunity to see in the context of the references to the eternal law, comes from St. Augustine's work entitled On Eighty Three Diverse Questions or De Diversis Questionibus Octoginta Tribus:


From this ineffable and sublime arrangement of affairs, then, which is accomplished by divine providence, a natural law [naturalis lex] is, so to speak, inscribed upon the rational soul, so that in the very living out of this life and in their earthly activities people might hold to the tenor of such dispensations." (Boniface Ramsey, tran.).

Hac igitur ineffabili atque sublimi rerum administratione, quae fit per divinam providentiam, quasi transcripta est naturalis lex in animam rationalem, ut in ipsa vitae huius conversatione moribusque terrenis homines talium distributionum imagines servent.

De div. quest., 53(2). Part of the providential arrangement of God, that is, part of the eternal law, that governs the entire cosmos is that man's rational nature should be inscribed with this natural law. The eternal law is within us, though its transcendent promulgator God is without us, and yet though the transcendent source of this law is without us, he remains intimately bound within us. This is the mystery of the internus aeternus that was the theme of our view of St. Augustine's Confessions. To view the eternal law or the natural law as some law imposed upon us from the outside by some tyrannous God is an absolute caricature of that law. The natural law is as much ourselves as we are, and in violating it, we are violating our fundamental nature, we are violating who we are, what we are made for, and who we are to be. Though in doing so we commit great injustice to God and to his beneficence and providence, and this aspect of sin should not be downplayed, it remains nevertheless equally important to stress that the natural law is the law that is intimately part of our being, so that it acting against it, we are betraying ourselves. We are like Judas, betraying our very nature, our internus aeternus, by following inordinately some created good or some passionate impulse for thirty pieces of silver. In trading with the natural law, by sloughing off our internus aeternus, we are like Jacob's son Esau, who exchanges his birthright for a mess of pottage.


St. Augustine Ordained Bishop

The natural law, in so many words, again makes its appearance in St. Augustine's Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount:

For who but God has written the law of nature (naturale legem) in the hearts of men? that law concerning which the apostle says: "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing them witness and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another, in the day when the Lord shall judge the secrets of men." [Rom. 2:14-16] And therefore, as in the case of every rational soul, which thinks and reasons, even though blinded by passion, we attribute whatever in its reasoning is true, not to itself but to the very light of truth by which, however faintly, it is according to its capacity illuminated, so as to perceive some measure of truth by its reasoning . . .

Quis enim scripsit in cordibus hominum naturalem legem nisi Deus? De qua lege Apostolus dicit: Cum enim gentes, quae legem non habent, naturaliter quae legis sunt faciunt, hi legem non habentes ipsi sibi sunt lex; qui ostendunt opus legis scriptum in cordibus suis, contestante conscientia illorum et inter se invicem cogitationum accusantium aut etiam excusantium, in die qua iudicabit Deus occulta hominum. Quapropter si omnis anima rationalis etiam cupiditate caecata tamen cum cogitat et ratiocinatur, quidquid in ea ratiocinatione verum est non ei tribuendum est sed ipsi lumini veritatis, a quo vel tenuiter pro sui capacitate illustratur, ut verum aliquid in ratiocinando sentiat . . . .

De Serm. Dom. in Mont., 2.9.32. The linkage between the eternal law and the natural law is made quite explicit in St. Augustine's De libero arbitrio:
Therefore, let me explain briefly, as well as I can put it in words, the notion of that eternal law which is impressed upon our nature: 'It is that law in virtue of which it is just that all things exist in perfect order.'

Ut igitur breviter aeternae legis notionem, quae impressa nobis est, quantum valeo verbis explicem, ea est qua iustum est ut omnia sint ordinatissima . . .
De lib. arb., I.6.15.



St. Augustine in his Study by Carpaccio

During the course of that dialogue with Evodius, St. Augustine speaks about the quality of reason that exists in man, and how it distinguishes him from the beasts. Man shares life with vegetative and animal life (nutrition, growth, reproduction, health), and he shares the knowledge that he lives (e.g., senses, movement, even self consciousness). Man has somethings that he does not share with the brutes, such as the ability to laugh or to joke, i.e., risibility. "Anyone with a true discernment of human nature will say that this is a human quality, though of a lower order." De lib. arb., 1.1.18. Man also shows other unique qualities, the desire for glory and lust for power (he mentions love of praise, but had St. Augustine a dog, one wonders how he could have included this as specific to humans. What dog does not seek the praise of his master!). But these latter can make man unhappy if not subjected to reason. It is therefore reason that seems to be the compass of order in man:
Whatever sets man above the beast, whether we call it 'mind' [mens] or 'spirit' [spiritus] or, more correctly, both since we find both terms in Scriptures, if this rules over and commands the other parts that make up man, then man's life is in perfect order [tunc esse hominem ordinatissimum]. . . . We are to think of a man well-ordered, therefore, when his reason rules over these movements of the soul, for we must not speak of right order, of or order at all, when the more perfect is made subject to the less perfect. . . . It follows, therefore, that when reason, [ratio] or mind [mens], or spirit [spiritus], rules over the irrational movements of the soul, then that is in control in man which ought to be, by virtue of the law which we found to be eternal.

Illud est quod volo dicere: hoc quidquid est, quo pecoribus homo praeponitur, sive mens, sive spiritus, sive utrumque rectius appellatur (nam utrumque in divinis Libris invenimus), si dominetur atque imperet caeteris quibuscumque homo constat, tunc esse hominem ordinatissimum. . . . Hisce igitur motibus animae cum ratio dominatur, ordinatus homo dicendus est. Non enim ordo rectus, aut ordo appellandus est omnino, ubi deterioribus meliora subiciuntur . . . . Ratio ista ergo, vel mens, vel spiritus cum irrationales animi motus regit, id scilicet dominatur in homine, cui dominatio lege debetur ea quam aeternam esse comperimus.
De lib. arb., 1.8.18.


Detail of Fresco of St. Augustine


The notion of the natural law is also vividly recalled and given a splendid image by St. Augustine in his work on the Trinity, De Trinitate. In Book IV, St. Augustine speaks of the inner testimony in the soul of man the sinner that witnesses of God's existence, and that witnesses of the law of God that should govern his behavior. There is a sense in man, as if he has lost something, a state of blessedness and friendship with God, that he now no longer has. (This should not be perverted into thinking that St. Augustine believe in re-incarnation or the pre-existence of souls.) Rather, there is a witness in fallen man's nature of his prior state. The wound in him attests to his prior sense of wholeness.
For hence it is that even the ungodly think of eternity, and rightly blame and rightly praise many things in the morals of men. And by what rules do they thus judge, except by those wherein they see how men ought to live, even though they themselves do not so live? And where do they see these rules? For they do not see them in their own [moral] nature; since no doubt these things are to be seen by the mind, and their minds are confessedly changeable, but these rules are seen as unchangeable by him who can see them at all; nor yet in the character of their own mind, since these rules are rules of righteousness, and their minds are confessedly unrighteous. Where indeed are these rules written, wherein even the unrighteous recognizes what is righteous, wherein he discerns that he ought to have what he himself has not? Where, then, are they written, unless in the book of that Light which is called Truth? Whence every righteous law is copied and transferred (not by migrating to it, but by being as it were impressed upon it) to the heart of the man that works righteousness; as the impression from a ring passes into the wax, yet does not leave the ring.

. . . . unde omnis lex iusta describitur, et in cor hominis qui operatur iustitiam, non migrando, sed tamquam imprimendo transfertur; sicut imago ex anulo et in ceram transit, et anulum non relinquit.
De Trin., 14.15.21. The natural law, therefore, is independent of a man's mind, even of a man's moral state or nature. This law has a source outside of man, namely, his Creator. Any law that righteous or just, omnis lex iusta describitur, is copied and transferred, not by migration, but by impression, non migrando, sed tamquam imprimendo transfertur, just like an image that is impressed unto wax by the signet ring of a King, sicut imago ex anulo et in ceram transit, et anulum non relinquit. So the eternal law never departs from God's eternity, and yet is transferred, as a ring transfers its image to wax, upon the heart of every man who works justly, that is, does good. The natural law is thus an image of the eternal law writ in the heart of man, impressed there by the Lord who made him. Just as man is made in God's image and likeness, and so participates in a manner in being, though God's being is never imparted, so likewise does man participate in the natural law, though the eternal law is not quite imparted as a possession of man. We do not become Gods and do not become autonomous legislators, but we bear the image of God and the image of the Divine Legislator. We are always radically and substantially different from the God in whose life we share, and from the eternal law with which we are impressed. We are not autonomous, but as John Paul II might put it, we remain theonomous.

As was common amongst the Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine links the natural law with the Golden Rule. "[T]his theme of popular ethical teaching found in the New Testament, was popular with the Fathers." Crowe, 66. St. Augustine was no exception. One sees the reference of the natural law in St. Augustine's 25th Sermon on Psalm 118:
No one injures another without at the same time hoping the same will not be done to himself, and in this respect he transgresses the law of nature; the very fact that he does not want to suffer the fate he inflicts on someone else means that he cannot plead ignorance of the natural law. Was this natural law not present in the people of Israel? Certainly it was, for they too were human. They could no more have been without the natural law than they could have been alien to the human condition itself.

Nullus enim est qui faciat alteri iniuriam, nisi qui fieri nolit sibi: et in hoc transgreditur naturae legem, quam non sinitur ignorare, dum id quod facit non vult pati. Numquid autem lex ista naturalis non erat in populo Israel? Erat plane, quoniam et ipsi homines erant: sine lege autem naturali essent, si praeter naturam humani generis esse potuissent. Multo magis ergo praevaricatores facti sunt lege divina, qua naturalis illa sive instaurata, sive aucta, sive firmata est.
Enarr. Psal., 118, 25.4.

Perhaps the best synthesis of St. Augustine's notion of the natural law may be taken from his correspondence. In Letter 157 (Crowe mistakenly cites Letter 158), a letter that he writes to a correspondent named Hilary, St. Augustine outlines his view on the natural law, seeing it in Pauline and Jeremian fashion as written in man's heart, as incorporating the Golden rule, and as supplemented by the positive legislation of the Mosaic law. The letter itself would warrant expansive treatment in itself, but here we shall only provide an exemplary quote:
Hence, since there is also a law in the reason of a human being who already uses free choice, a law naturally written in his heart, by which he is warned that he should not do anything to anyone else that he himself does not want to suffer, all are transgressors according to this law, even those who have not received the law given through Moses.

Proinde quoniam lex est etiam in ratione hominis qui iam utitur arbitrio libertatis, naturaliter in corde conscripta, qua suggeritur ne aliquid faciat quisque alteri quod pati ipse non vult; secundum hanc legem praevaricatores sunt omnes, etiam qui legem per Moysen datam non acceperunt.
Epist., 157.

Here shall end our patchwork treatment of St. Augustine and his doctrine of the eternal law and natural law. An obvious lacuna in this treatment is the absence of St. Augustine's great work De civitate Dei, On the City of God. However, to do it any sort of justice, that work requires a focus all of its own. Before we take part, however, it might be à propos to provide a synopsis or summary of all these teaching, one from the mind of Étienne Gilson as found in his The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine:

The Catholic Philosopher and Historian
of Philosophy Étienne Gilson
There is a law in God which, in Him, is simply God Himself, and to this law everything which is not God is subject. We call it the eternal law. Its content is a prescription of the divine reason or God's will ordering the preservation of the natural order and forbidding its disturbance. This immutable law illumines our conscience as the divine light enlightens our understanding. What the first principles of knowledge, seen in the eternal ideas, are to our reason in the order of knowledge, the first principles of morality are to our conscience in the order of action. There is therefore a kind of law in us also, consisting of the imperative commands of conscience; its rules are so many primary certitudes. We call it the natural law. It derives its certitude from the fact that it is simply a kind of transcript in our souls of the eternal law subsisting immutably in God. Consequently, all the detailed commands of our moral conscience, all the changing acts of legislation governing peoples spring from one and the same law. It is constantly being adapted to meet various changing needs. But in itself it never changes. Everything lawful in the individual and in the city is derived from it. It is truly the law of laws.

The fundamental demand the eternal law imposes on the universe in general and upon man in particular is that everything be perfectly ordered (ut ominia sint ordinatissima). Now in all places and at all times order should have the lower subject to the higher. There is no doubt that, generally speaking, everything created by God is good. From rational creatures to the lowliest of bodies, there is nothing man cannot use lawfully. His difficulty consists in distinguishing between things, all of which are good, but not equally good: he has to weight them, estimate their proper value, subordinate external goods to the body, the body to the soul of man, and then, within the soul, make the senses subject to reason and reason to God.
Étienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine (Vintage 1967), 130-31 (footnotes omitted).


All english quotations from De libero arbitrio (The Free Choice of the Will) are from the translation of Robert P. Russell, O.S.A. in the text St. Augustine, The Teacher, The Free Choice of the Will, Grace and Free Will (CUA 1968); english quotations from Exposition 25 of Psalm 118 are from Maria Boulding, trans., Exposition of the Psalms 99-120 (New York City Press, 2003). English translation of Letter 157 is taken from Roland Teske, S.J., trans., Letters 156-210 (New York City Press, 2004). All latin quotations are taken from the excellent website on St. Augustine's works: http://www.augustinus.it/latino/.

Friday, March 26, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo: Eternal Law Everywhere, Part 2

CONTINUING OUR STUDY OF THE ETERNAL LAW in St. Augustine's works, we shall now turn to his De libero arbitrio (On the Freedom of the Will or On Free Will). In his De libero arbitrio, his study on the existence of evil written in the context of a dialogue between Augustine and Evodius, St. Augustine describes the eternal law as the highest or supreme reason (summa ratio). It is the law under which the cosmos operates, and under which mankind is to operate if he is to find happiness. It is a law that is beyond us, and which we have no right to judge. It is a law that we will not see it if we focus on created goods, and not try to look beyond them.

During the course of this dialogue, St. Augustine gives a forthright definition of the eternal law:
Then let me briefly explain, as much as I can, the notion of the eternal law that is impressed on us: it is the law according to which it is just that all things be perfectly ordered.

Ut igitur breviter aeternae legis notionem, quae impressa nobis est, quantum valeo verbis explicem, ea est qua iustum est ut omnia sint ordinatissima.
De lib. arb., I.6.15. This eternal law demands that we turn away from things temporal, or perhaps, look through them or beyond them to the God who made them, and fixate upon the divine and eternal to which they speak.
So the eternal law demands that we shift our love from temporal things and aim it toward what is eternal.

Iubet igitur aeterna lex avertere amorem a temporalibus, et eum mundatum convertere ad aeterna.
De lib. arb., I.15.32. When reason, mind, or spirit control the irrational impulses of the soul, a human being is ruled by the very thing that ought to rule him, namely, according to the law that is eternal. De lib. arb., I.8. This suggests that we will not see the eternal law if we act outside the pale of the eternal, if we do not allow ourselves to be governed by reason, by mind, by spirit, and instead and are focused on temporal reality alone, subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of the passions, something St. Augustine stressed with such personal experience in his Confessions.

St. Augustine Ordained Bishop

In this work, St. Augustine famously distinguishes between temporal law and eternal law, and equally significantly, calls the eternal law summa ratio or supreme reason. He also links the eternal law with the temporal, making the latter subordinate and participatory of the eternal law, setting the stage for the concept of the natural moral law and its role in governing human legislation:
Can that law which is called the supreme reason (summa ratio), always to be obeyed, by which the bad merit misery, the good happiness, in reference to which temporal law is rightly enacted, rightly altered (recte fertur recteque mutatur)--can that law appear to an intelligent being as otherwise than immutable and eternal? Can it sometimes be unjust that the evil should be unhappy, the good happy, or that a moderate and responsible people should create its own magistracies, or that an evil and dissolute people should lack this power? . . . At the same time I would have you see that in temporal law there is nothing just and right that men do not derive for themselves from this eternal law (nihil esse iustum atque legitimum quod non ex hac aeterna sibi homines derivaverint). (Crowe, 64, trans.)

Illa lex quae summa ratio nominatur cui semper obtemperandum est et per quam mali miseram, boni beatam vitam merentur, per quam denique illa, quam temporalem vocandam diximus, recte fertur recteque mutatur, potestne cuipiam intellegenti nonincommutabilis aeternaque videri? An potest aliquando iniustum esse, ut mali miseri, boni autem beati sint? aut ut modestus et gravis populus ipse sibi magistratus creet, dissolutus vero et nequam ista licentia careat? . . . . Simul etiam te uidere arbitror in illa temporali nihil esse iustum atque legitimum quod non ex hac aeterna sibi homines derivaverint.
De lib. arb., 1.6.15.49-50. Like the excerpt we quoted in the last blog entry from Contra Faustum, this part of St. Augustine's dialogue was also popular with theologians, particularly those who discussed the doctrine of the natural law. For example, Crowe notes that St. Thomas Aquinas cited or referred to this parituclar passage five times in his articles in the Summa Theologia he devoted to the topic of the eternal law. Crowe, 64 n. 48.


St. Augustine in his Study by Carpaccio

It is implicit from St. Augustine's treatment of the eternal law in that part quoted above that the eternal law had a role in the administration of the affairs of men. Temporal law--that is the law of men--must conform to it. It is only in reference to the eternal law that human law or temporal law is rightly enacted or rightly altered, recte fertur recteque mutatur. Nothing is just in the affairs of men, unless it derives from the eternal law, nihil esse iustum atque legitimum quod non ex hac aeterna sibi homines derivaverint. Indeed, St. Augustine's De libero arbitrio is the source of what is probably the most celebrated concept or phrase, and the most commonly criticized by legal positivists who bristle at the thought that moral law, or the eternal law, or any other kind of higher law, ought to have anything to do with the affairs of men, or at least in the study of law. It is the source commonly given for the pithy principle: Lex iniusta non est lex, an unjust law is not law. The actual words of St. Augustine are not in fact precisely that, but put forth essentially the same principle: Nam mihi lex esse non videtur, quae iusta non fuerit. "So a law that is not just does not appear to me to seem a law." De lib. arb.1.15.11. St. Thomas Aquinas also quotes this part of De libero arbitrio during the course of his so-called "Treatise on Law," that is, that portion of the Summma Theologica that is devoted to the study of the eternal law, divine law, natural law, and human law.

The eternal law is directly concerned with human happiness: Hoc enim aeterna lex illa . . . incommutabili stabilitate firmavit, ut in voluntate meritum sit; in beatitate autem et miseria praemium atque supplicium. Itaque cum dicimus voluntate homines esse miseros, non ideo dicimus, quod miseri esse velint, sed quod in ea voluntate sunt, quam etiam eis invitis miseria sequatur necesse est. Quare non repugnant superiori rationi, quod volunt omnes beati esse, nec possunt; non enim volunt omnes recte vivere, cui uni voluntati vita beata debetur: nis quid habe adversus haec dicere. De lib. arb., I.6.16. It is an incommutable, stable, and firm law by which the human will that conforms to it is rewarded, either with happiness, if it is followed, or with misery, if one departs from it. To avoid misery, it is necessary to follow the principles of this law. The eternal law is not repugnant to higher reason, and it desires all men's happiness, though it cannot compel it. It will not conform itself to man, but man must conform himself to it.

Therefore, true liberty is not available outside the truth of the eternal law, nor is happiness available to he who does not adhere to it: Deinde libertas, quae quidem nulla vera est, nisi beatorum, et legi aeternae adhaerentium. De lib. arb., I.15.32.

It follows that the eternal law is a judge that may not be judged; it may not be criticized. It is an enormity to suggest that man should judge the law of God. Man may, in a manner, know the eternal law, but only if purified from inordinate loves that distract him or blind him to God and his law. So does St. Augustine state in his De vera religione:
Deus summa ista lex est secundum qua ratio judicat, sed quam judicare non licet. Nec iam illud ambigendum est, incommutabilem naturam, quae supra rationem animam sit, Deum esse; et ibi esse primam vitam et primam essentiam, ubi est prima sapientia. Nam haec est illa incommutabilis veritas, quae lex omnium artium recte dicitur et ars omnipotentis artificis. Itaque cum se anima sentiat nec corporum speciem motumque iudicare secundum seipsam, simul oportet agnoscat praestare suam naturam ei naturae de qua iudicat; praestare autem sibi eam naturam, secundum quam iudicat, et de qua iudicare nullo modo potest. . . . Aeternam igitur legem mundis animas fas est cognoscere, judicare non fas est.
De vera relig.,
c. 30.56-30.57, 58. The eternal law is the divine reason itself, and it is the judge of the true and the good; accordingly, the creation is not in a position to judge it. The eternal law is the prior principle of all life, every created essence, all wisdom. It has the same incommutability as truth. Both truth and the eternal law are firm and unchangeable. The eternal law is the law of all arts, and the art of the omnipotent artist, God himself. Inasmuch as it informs all created nature, nature must conform to it, and nature is not in any position to judge it. And although man may not know it in all its intricacies, he can apprehend that it exists, and he can know that it is the height of hubris to presume to judge it, judicare non fas est.


Detail of Fresco of St. Augustine

In is clear from a review of St. Augustine's Confessions, and from a look at various of St. Augustine's other works: his Contra Faustum, De ordine, De libero arbitrio, and De vera religione, that the concept of the eternal law was a fundamental one in St. Augustine's thought. It is one of the veins of his Weltanschaung, one of whose central features was the notion of God's providential rule over all of his cosmos, with a specific solicitude towards man. As a rational creature with an eternal soul, man had the dignity of voluntarily participating in the plan of God, the eternal law, and in so doing he would find himself acting in accord with the will of God, with truth, with reason. By refusing to allow his unruly passions the leading role in his life, but by instead subjecting them to the higher faculties of reason and of spirit, by looking beyond the mere temporal to the eternal, even the internus aeternus, the eternal internal in himself, by his willing submission to the summation of all reason, the summa ratio, of the eternal law, man would find happiness, beatitude, his place in the cosmos. Ultimately, as St. Augustine makes clear, post-lapsarian man cannot do this alone, but must rely on the grace of God that is given in Christ and through the sacramental life of the Church. The new law of the Gospel is what allows him to re-conform himself to the law of all ages, the law of truth, the universal law which itself Divine Wisdom.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo: Eternal Law Everywhere, Part 1

ST. AUGUSTINE INVOKES THE CONCEPT of the lex aeterna in many of his writings outside his justly famous Confession. In view of the massive corpus of St. Augustine's work, our effort to gather together and discuss some of them cannot represent itself to be exhaustive. Although we may not be able to see each Augustinian lex aeterna tree in the Augustinian lex aeterna forest, at least we can see a sufficient number of Augustinian lex aeterna trees so as to recognize the species. In this blog entry, we will focus on the most commonly cited texts that are referred to, outside the Confessions, where St. Augustine mentions the eternal law. We will introduce these texts with a background of what was the basis for St. Augustine's concept of the eternal law. In one sense, St. Augustine's notion of the eternal law is Platonically-derived, or at least it may be said to have similarities to Platonic and Stoic philosophical notions. As Crowe puts it, "St. Augustine thinks of [the eternal law] in terms of his teaching on the ideas in the mind of God, the archetypal Platonic forms that he saw, not in a world apart [as did Plato and his followers] but in the Divine Intellect, as the 'enduring and unchanging forms of everything that comes to be or could come to be.'" Crowe, 64. That is not, however, to suggest that St. Augustine did not fundamentally believe that the concept of the eternal law was contained in the revealed word of God. St. Augustine understood the concept of the eternal law as being part of and parcel, indeed, one of the basic parts and parcels, of the Christian world view as it was revealed in nature (through reason) and revelation (through faith).

St. Augustine believed he found the source for the eternal law in, and ties the notion of the eternal or universal law to, the concept of the Divine Wisdom in Scripture. The two are succinctly equated in his De Diversis Questionibus Octoginta Tribus (On Eighty-Three Diverse Questions), in Question No. 79, where he discusses the acts of Pharaoh's magicians relative to the Mosaic miracles: Est enim lex universatatis divina sapientia. De div. quest., 79. "For the universal law is divine wisdom." What this did was join (with proper modification) the Heraclitean/Stoic/Platonic/Plotinian/Ciceronian notions of eternal order and law with the Judaeo-Christian (especially Johannine) notions of a transcendent, personal God as revealed in the Old Testament, and most notably, in the New Testament, in Christ. Crowe, 62 (citing A. Schubert passim and Truyol y Serra, 80-88.).


St. Augustine of Hippo

For St. Augustine, all creation--that is all existence, all life--was both ruled and preserved by a providential God, and this implied law, the eternal law. The "laws of the most high God preserve and govern," summi Dei legibus contineri et gubernari. De div. quest., 46.

The notion of the law in God's providential rule is even more clearly stated in St. Augustine's treatment of the questions arising from the Hebrew taking of the Egyptian gold and silver in Question No. 53, where the eternal law, as it relates to rational creation, is equated with the natural law.
From this ineffable and sublime arrangement of affairs, then, which is accomplished by divine providence, a natural law [naturalis lex] is, so to speak, inscribed upon the rational soul, so that in the very living out of this life and in their earthly activities people might hold to the tenor of such dispensations." (Boniface Ramsey, tran.).

Hac igitur ineffabili atque sublimi rerum administratione, quae fit per divinam providentiam, quasi transcripta est naturalis lex in animam rationalem, ut in ipsa vitae huius conversatione moribusque terrenis homines talium distributionum imagines servent.
De div. quest., 53(2). Thus, God's providence extends not only to the brute creation, but all life, including that creation that has reason and free will. The eternal or universal law is that law which governs the entirety of the cosmos in accordance with the wisdom of a personal God, one who is concerned with such details as the falling of a sparrow, or the hairs on one's head. In reference to rational creation, it is equivalent to the natural law. St. Augustine was convinced that "in particular, divine providence has care for the actions of men. Those who deny this, desert God and bear their own ruin about them." Crowe, 63. Crowe cites for this proposition excerpts from St. Augustine's discussions of Psalm 109 and of Psalm 145. They may be quoted in full at this point:
deserent Deum . . . quia non creedunt Deum curare quid agant.

. . . hanc habent perniciem cogitationibus suae in seipsis ut dicant Deum res humanas non curare.


God deserts . . . those which do not believe God to take care of all that which he has created

Those have pernicious thoughts in themselves who say that God does not take care of the human race.
Enarr. in Ps. 109, 145. With the awareness that St. Augustine understands the eternal law (which he equates with Divine Wisdom or the universal law, and in rational creation with the natural law) as the providential rule of God over his creation, we can turn now to the Augustinian references in his other works.

St. Augustine of Hippo at his Desk

We will begin by reviewing St. Augustine's polemic against the Manichean sect written against Faustus, one of its leaders, his Contra Faustum Manichaeum. We will then look at some of the references to the eternal law in St. Augustine's philosophical work, De ordine (On Order). Following that, we will look at the mention of the eternal law in St. Augustine's work on the issue of free choice and free will, De libero arbitrio. Other works wherein the eternal law is mentioned include De vera religione (On True Religion) and St. Augustine's Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. The final work that we will look at is St. Augustine's discussion of the eternal law in St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei (On the City of God).

The notion of the eternal law is clearly and expressly mentioned in St. Augustine's work that arose from his dispute with the Manicheean sect, specifically in his Contra Faustum Manichaeum. In Book 22 of that polemic against Faustus, the Manichean bishop, St. Augustine famously defines the eternal law, and sin as the violation of it.
Sin, then, is any kind of deed, or word, or desire whatsoever against the eternal law. And the eternal law is the divine reason or will of God, which requires the preservation of natural order, and forbids the breach of it.

Ergo peccatum est, factum vel dictum vel concupitum aliquid contra aeternam legem. Lex vero aeterna est, ratio divina vel voluntas Dei, ordinem naturalem conservari iubens, perturbari vetans.
Contra Faust.22.27. This was a celebrated text, and was frequently cited almost from the moment it was published by St. Augustine. It is found peppered throughout the works of the Scholastic theologians in the middle ages, both as a definition of sin, and as a definition of the eternal law. Sin has cosmic proportions, in that it violates not just some positive commandment of God, though it clearly may do that as well. More fundamentally, sin is an injection of disorder into the universe of creation. It is a violation of the law of the cosmos, an assault against its integrity, and a violation of God's plan for it. Man's dignity is therefore not only found in the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God, that he bears that internus aeternus. Man's dignity, or perhaps his great responsibility, is equally seen in the fact that his behavior, even the slightest, is of cosmic proportion. By violating the eternal law, sin disturbs the harmony of the cosmos. It also violates both the will of God and the divine reason of God implicit in the eternal law, since the eternal law is ratio divina vel voluntas Dei, the divine reason or will of God.

Stained Glass Window Depicting St. Augustine of Hippo

We also see mention of the eternal law in St. Augustine's De ordine, one of St. Augustine's first works following his conversion. This work presents a sweeping view of the relationship between order in the real world external to man, and the world within him. It seeks to explain the meaning of evil in the world, one of the philosophical and theological problems St. Augustine struggled with as he moved from Manicheeism to Catholic Christianity. He refers to an unchanging, fixed, and unshaken law, the very law of God, which is, in a manner of speaking, transcribed into the souls of the wise. We are urged to discover this law of God, which is found within our very souls, our internus aeternus, and there to discover how to live virtuous lives that conform to the good, and are rightly ordered and harmonized with the divine plan. Failure to do so may result in reproof for our own good, as we kick against the goads of the eternal law.
This discipline is the very law of God, which, while remaining always fixed and unshaken with him, is transcribed in a manner of speaking into the very souls of the wise, in order that they may know that they may live better and more excellently depending upon on their contemplating this law more perfectly in their minds, living it more diligently in their lives.

Haec autem disciplina ipsa Dei lex est quae apud eum fixa et inconcussa semper manens, in sapientes animas quasi transcribitur, ut tanto se sciant vivere melius tantoque sublimius, quanto et perfectius eam contemplantur intellegendo, et vivendo custodiunt diligentius.
De ordine, 2.8.25.

In his book on devoted to the topic of free will and the existence of evil, De libero arbitrio (On Free Choice of the Will), written as a dialogue between him and Evodius, St. Augustine describes the eternal law as the ultimate source of rationality that orders the cosmos as a whole. The eternal law's reach is further: it commands the behavior of the individual man, and it is the measure, the moderator, between men, and thus the ultimate foundation of human law. We will handle St. Augustine's treatment of the eternal law in his De libero arbitrio as well as some other works in our next blog posting.