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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Deus Revelatus--Peccavimus

GOD, IN PARTICULAR THAT KNOWLEDGE OF GOD that is compelled by human reason is part and parcel of the natural moral law. But our knowledge of God is not limited to that obtained by reason. Christians and Jews* believe that the God whose existence as First Cause, that is Creator and Provider, has revealed himself in Scripture. Christians further believe that this First Cause, our Creator and Provider who revealed himself as Yahweh (יהוה‎), has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, the God become flesh. Budziszewski gives three reasons why the Revelation of God in Christ lends itself to a greater insight of the natural moral law, to the point where accepting the Christian dispensation is a necessity to grasping the fullness of the natural law. In particular, the Christian revelation provides three aids, as it were, that facilitate human comprehension, acceptance, or understanding of the natural law: (i) forgiveness, (ii) Providence, and (iii) the notion of man as imago Dei--that man is made in the image of God. We shall address the first of these in this posting.

There is a fundamental reason--nay, necessity--to consider accepting the revelation of God in Christ, and this relates to the need for forgiveness.

[M]an has two clues to the meaning of the universe. One is the knowledge of a law that he did not make but is obligated to keep; the other is the knowledge that he does not and cannot keep it. . . . . [A] clear vision of the moral law reveals a debt which exceeds anything we can pay. Apart from an assurance that the debt can be forgiven--something available only in biblical revelation because it transcends what reason can fin out on its own--no human being dares to face the law straight one.

Budziszewski (2003), 66. Budziszewski attributes this insight to C. S. Lewis, but the message is as old as St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The Gentile, who has the law written in his heart, knows also that he has violated it in numerous particulars, and has thus incurred guilt to to the Author of that law. It is this--the knowledge of God's law and the knowledge that one has violated it--that seems to make sacrifice--the offering of food, of objects, or the lives of animals or even people to God as an act of propitiation or an act of worship--so ubiquitous in the religion of man. It is as if this truth can't but help express itself, if not through revealed channels, then through unconscious and implicit ones. Man gets it: he is a sinner in need of redemption.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again . . . .
John Donne, "Holy Sonnets-XIV"

The ubiquitous need to offer sacrifice seems to be the unconscious expression of what St. Paul uttered expressly:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25a.

Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

Without the knowledge that we may be forgiven, man's guilt is expressed in countless ways: repression, projection, rationalization, brutality and so forth. As Budziszewski notes, man is hard wired to know the law: it is a law that he cannot not know. He is hard wired to know that he has violated it, and that he lives in guilt to the Divine Legislator, whether that Divine Legislator is acknowledged or not, whether his mercy is pled, or his justice feared.

It may seem that the possibility of forgiveness matters only on the assumption that there is, in fact, a God--that without the lawgiver, there would be no law, and therefore nothing to be forgiven. The actual state of affairs is more dreadful, for the Furies of conscience do not wait upon our assumptions. One who acknowledges the Furies but denies the God who appointed them--who supposes that there can be a law without a lawgiver--must suppose that forgiveness is both necessary and impossible. That which is not personal cannot forgive; morality "by itself" has a heart of rock. And so although grace would be unthinkable [via Reason], the ache for it would keen on, like a cry in a deserted street.
Budziszewski (2003), 67 A cry in a deserted street, or a cry in the wilderness. And this cry is heard in the wilderness of Palestine, and in the wilderness of the hollow modern world, where men who claim no longer to believe in God, or sin, or sacrifice, still say:
Consequently, I rejoice having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be to heavy upon us . . . .
T. S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday"

*I leave to one side Muslims on the grounds that the revelation of Allah in the Qur'an and Muhammad's life, as traditionally interpreted, is deeply problematic. In fact, in addition to being anti-Christ and anti-natural-law, Islamic doctrine suffers from an intrinsic moral duality and moral chauvinism which is against the Golden Rule, the second Table of the Ten Commandments, and the second of the two great commandments, to love one's neighbor as one's self (which is not limited to those of the household of Faith).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Utrum Deus sit Necessarium?

CHRISTIANS CALL GOD THE ONE THING necessary, the Unum Necessarium. He is Being itself. He is Good itself. All being and good outside of God participate in him and rely upon him for any of their being and its goodness. God--the God who has progressively revealed himself in Scriptures and, in the fullness time and in the fullness of means, in the Man-God Christ--is the first reality in any Christian's life.

Outside of the Christian or Jewish revelation, however, is this God necessary? In other words, is God--the acknowledgment of his existence, his role as Creator, his authority over us, and his right to our worship--part and parcel of the natural moral law? From the time of the Enlightenment to the modern age, there has been a persistent effort to banish God as if he were a dispensable adjunct to the natural moral law. We can proceed tamquam non esse Deum, as if God did not exist, als ob es Gott nicht gäbe, we are told. But can we have a moral philosophy in the Vaihingerian sense, a Philosophie der Naturgesetz Als Ob, a philosophy of the natural law as if God did not exist?

Can we dispense with the First Table of the Decalogue, the first three commandments that deal with man's relationship with God? Traditionally, the necessary relationship between God and morality has been recognized, and so we have the classic formulation of it in Dostoevsky, who wrote that if God does not exist, then all things are permissible: Если Бога нет, то всё дозволено. Moreover, traditionally disbelief in God was seen as both an intellectual and a moral fault. Such a thing as an atheist or agnostic ethic would not have been countenanced a logically or morally sound. Practical and historical experience ought to forewarn us that dispensing with the First Table of the Decalogue means dispensing with all or part of the Second Table. The horrors of Facism, Nazism, Communism, or Islam would be inconceivable had duties to God not been squelched by these ideologies.

"Atheoi"--Those without God--Ephesians 2:12

The question of God's role in the moral life of man can be viewed from two vantage points depending upon whether one looks at him from the light of Reason alone, or with the advantage of Faith. To a certain extent, such divisions are artificial, particularly for anyone who already believes, because Reason and Faith are complementary, mutually supportive, intercommunicating, and not separate, independent, and self-sufficient compartmentalized means to God. That is why, for example, in St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure or Duns Scotus, or in any orthodox Catholic theologian or philosopher, we find Faith and Reason hand in glove working toward an understanding of reality. Fides quaerens intellectum et intellectus quaerens fidem. As D'Entreves points out in his book on the Natural Law, "Surely the progress of the mind is twofold, and the intellectus quaerens fidem has its counterpart in the fides quaerens intellectum."*

It would seem that God is necessary in any theory of natural moral law if for no other reason to preserve human nature. The question is who has authority, claim, or jurisdiction over human nature. If the answer is God, then man is not free to change human nature. On the other hand, if human nature is a terra nullius, a land with no Governor, then man may lay stake to it. Accordingly, if the answer is not God, then man, it would seem, is free to change human nature, which means that man is free to change morality, and indeed is free even to abolish himself. The opposite then suggests itself essential: that God must be part of the natural moral law or there is no natural moral law. "A godless natural law would revere the laws of human nature only insofar as we continued to be human. Denying that our humanity is a creation, it would have no reason to preserve this humanity, and no objection to its abolition." Budziszewski (2003), 56-57. In light of our modern knowledge of the genome and our technological prowess over the genetic and procreative process, we have the means to enter worlds with designed human or pseudo-human castes, where there may be men, as well as supermen and untermenschen, Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, or perhaps a place where there will be no men at all. Why, after all, should a caste of supermen tolerate a caste of men? Under what kind of morality would the superman live by if the choice had already been made that man had no need to abide by any limit?

The reason that removing God from the natural law leads to man occupying the territory of nature is that such a law without God has no oughtness associated with it. At best it has what Budziszewski calls an "oughtless prudence," one that has a "rather thin" obligatory claim, and one that invariably would lead to a sort of consequentialism or utilitarianism, where any norm suggested by our nature would be transgressable if the benefits outweighed the costs. Gone would be all exceptionless norms. Budziszewski (2003), 58.

The reason for the lack of oughtness if there is no nature's God behind nature, is that, if God's creative or providential care has no relationship to our nature, then our nature would have no design, plan, or purpose behind it. It becomes meaningless, something which "just is," which is ultimately to say that our nature is something arbitrary, something that "just happened." Something arbitrary, something that "just happened," however, would have no reasonable claim over us. Why pay any respect to something which, had things "just been different" would have been different? One throw of the dice is as good as the other, whether it is snake eyes or box cars or anything in between. Human nature would be the result of a meaningless game of craps. Indeed, it would have less meaning than a game of craps, for there must be rules (and a rulegiver, for without a rulegiver, the rules themselves have no meaning) to the game of craps for snake eyes to have any meaning.

Finally, if God exists, then to take him out of the moral equation leads ineluctably to moral blindness. The Apostle John says that if we say we love God, but do not love our brother, we are liars. (1 John 4:20). The converse would propose itself as true: that if we say we love our brother, but do not love God we are also liars, and perhaps even fools if the Psalmist is to be believed. (Ps. 14:1). If God does exist, and his role denied in the moral life, the argument is that invariably one will be morally stultified. Budziszewski calls this a "moral metastasis." A lie in one area easily begins to infect other areas.

In the main, man desires to know. This is an Aristotelian basic: "All men by nature desire to know," πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. Metaphysics 980a21. "Men in general desire the good," ζητοῦσι δ᾽ ὅλως . . . τἀγαθὸν πάντες. Politics 1269a4. But there is also an opposite tendency to which unfortunately man is heir: the capacity to self-deceive, to want to remain ignorant, to seek peace--the life of ease, to maintain the status quo, to retain advantage--than truth. It is difficult to face the truth. Imagine, for example, the possibility for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to be honest with the falsity of Islam and the truth of Christianity. If the least scintilla of doubt arose in his head, would he not try to squelch it? What sort of advantage to him would Christianity's truth and Islam's falsity gain him? No, most unfortunately suffer from the scruples of Henry Bourbon, who, to become Henry IV, facilely accepted Catholicism and dropped his Huguenot faith for reasons--not of truth, or at least not of truth alone--but of expediency: Paris vaut bien une messe, "Paris is well worth a mass." Even about little things, we tend to lie to ourselves. Hence it is that psychologists have identified all kinds of "defense mechanisms"--dissociation, intellectualization, rationalization, regression, repression, etc.--which are nothing other than means repressive of truth. The same resistance to truth that one would expect in King Abdullah and the same facility of compromise we see in Henry IV one might expect in all men, even though their kingdoms lost or kingdoms gained are substantially more humble. This includes the Atheist's or the Agnostic's "kingdoms" whatever realms they may encompass.

But the moment that men lie about one thing, it touches another. Truth is thus intertwined. In Budziszewski's words:
[T]he universe is so tightly constructed that in order to cover up one lie, we must usually tell another. This applies with just as much force to the lies we tell ourselves as to the lies we tell to other people. . . . This tendency is strongest precisely in the case of the greatest self-deception, pretending not to know that God is real, because there are so many things one must not think of in order to not think of the reality of God. . . . But it is extraordinarily difficult--I think impossible--for such self-deception not to slop over at some point into what he admits about the moral law.
Budziszewski (2003), 65.

*Alessander Passerin D'Entreves, Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2009), 166.

Pugna Universalia et Legis Moralis Naturalis Universalis

IN ACCORDANCE WITH TRADITION, both Western and Biblical, Budziszewski identifies the natural moral law with the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Decalogue. Though this particular set of laws was revealed by God to Moses, it has always been seen by the Church as a general (and not exhaustive) Restatement of the Natural Law, and not divine positive law specific to the Jew alone. (There are a few exceptions where there is a mixture of natural law and positive law, e.g., in the particular commandment to worship Yahweh on the Sabbath day, that is, the seventh day of the week: while the worship is demanded by natural law, the specific day is one of positive divine legislation.) Further, there are only ten "commandments," but they suggest many more and imply many more.* More, though Budziszewski does not mention it, the commandments, which are largely in the form of negative precepts, themselves imply certain positive basic values which inform men of what they ought to strive for. For example, the Sixth Commandment forbids adultery, a negative precept which suggests that marriage ought to be nurtured, that one ought to be faithful to one's spouse, and that the institution of the family should be promoted.

Budziszewski acknowledges, as all natural law advocates (who have their hand on the pulse of real life, and real men, and are not ideologues disdainful of the rough-and-tumble of real human life) do, that there are many instances that may be cited where the Ten Commandments are violated, and, in many cases not even acknowledged. But this does not deny their reality. As Budziszewski notes, what is involved here is a conflict of two universals: a universal of law and a universal of disobedience. The latter endemic trait is what explains the deviation between the moral ideal and anthropological data. The universal and endemic disobedience does not impeach the law. If anything, it is evidentiary of the biblical doctrine of the Fall and of our freedom which allows us the ability to do wrong as well as right. We should expect perfect congruence between law and behavior only if man was not free or if man was perfect. Man is obviously free. Man is obviously imperfect. As G. K. Chesterton quipped in his book Orthodoxy, Original Sin or the Fall of Man is the only doctrine which is really scientifically provable. So why shouldn't we expect disobedience of the moral law?

As a restatement of the natural law, the Ten Commandments are (or were) our tradition. It is important to observe that the prohibitions are largely prohibitory, that is, they are negative precepts. They are thus intended to formulate the "floor" of acceptable life, the boundaries beyond which we ought not go. These are, in Budziszewski's words, "inviolable," which is to say they are exceptionless or absolute norms whose violation can never be excused. As a corollary to that, they are "nonsubstitutable," which means they are not to be traded one for the other, so that we cannot justify violating one for the sake of not violating or promoting another. They are normative in and of themselves, and they do not refer to some "Deeper Consideration" for justification.** So we cannot appeal to some "Deeper Consideration" to justify their breach or to find an excuse for their bindingness at all times and in all places.

Ten Commandments being received by Moses (Gilberti)

Being a restatement of the natural moral law, the Ten Commandments can be presented in different forms, and so they have. They may be simplified, such as for example when St. Thomas declared that the foundational principle of the natural law is that that good should be done and pursued and evil avoided, bonum est faciendum et prosequendum et malum vitandum.*** Christ summarized the Ten Commandments by wrapping them up into two general precepts, one at the service of the uncreated Good, and one at the service of the created good: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:36) Another classic formulation, one widely accepted in most cultures and religious traditions, is the Golden Rule,† expressed in the Jewish and Christian scriptures in both negative and positive forms: "See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another." (Tobit 4:16) "Judge of the disposition of thy neighbour by thyself." (Sirach 31:18) "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12)

*For example, the Sixth Commandment forbid adultery, but that presupposes the institution of marriage, its particularity and special status, and further suggests other limitations on sexual conduct (e.g., homosexuality and fornication). Similarly, the Eight Commandment prohibits false witness, but that implies some sort of institution of public justice, and suggests that truth telling is something that ought to carried over from the judicial setting into daily intercourse.
**For example, the principle of utility (greater good) will not justify the violation of any of the precepts. As another example, the principle of love will likewise not justify the precepts. As yet another example, the spread of one's ideology or religion (e.g., Islam) does not justify their breach. There is no "Deeper Consideration" that overcomes their absolute and exceptionless character. A "Deeper Consideration" would allow the application of the abhorrent principle: the end justifies the means.
***Hoc est ergo primum praeceptum legis, bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum, Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, art. 2, c.
†Lex Christianorum has written extensively on the nearly universal Golden Rule in other cultures, religions, and traditions.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mundus Perditus

WILLY NILLY, VOLLE NOLLE, there are moral truths, there is an objective moral realm outside of man, though we infringe it, violate it, trespass it every day. And it exists and persists in existing though man may vainly suppress it, though he may deny it, though he may abjure it, though he may curse it, though he may act against it throughout all his short-spanned days. And though in his rebellion, like a stubborn cow, he may kick against the goads, kick against the pricks, he cannot not know these truths. These truths are--in his heart of hearts, since it is there that they are writ--irrepressible. "They are a universal possession, an emblem of rational mind, an heirloom of the family of man." The law is, in fact, who we are, and in acting against it we act against ourselves. Budziszewski (2003), 19.

This irrepressible reality is the natural law. This natural law is not innate: it is learned, gleaned through experience, heard in the voices of internal witnesses, and ultimately, at its sacrosanct base, self-evident. It consists of "basic moral principles, together with their first few rings of implications." Budziszewski (2003), 19. And in its most basic--in that area J. Budziszewski calls "deep conscience"--not only not unknowable, but perfectly known. These may be difficult to confront, particularly if they have been infringed and we have no means at making amends for their breach, which gives rise to guilt. They are, to be sure, also difficult to apply, and often difficult to live, since they frequently command us to do something against our desires or against our whim, or even--seemingly, but just seemingly--against our freedom. But these characteristics of the natural moral law do not change the fact that all men share the "basic moral principles, together with their first few rings of implications," and that they are one and the same for all of us.

The West's institutional shutters are closed to the natural law.

The voices that shrilly and loudly wail against the natural law do so within the academic, political, and legal institutions they have captured. They have been captured by false theories whose name is Legion: utilitarianism, relativism, libertarianism, liberalism, anarchism, and isms of every stripe and every kind. These falsehoods have insinuated themselves all the way to the Supreme Court, which explains why one of that noble institution's modern Associate Justices could write the moral pablum in a published opinion that we have a (constitutional?!) "right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."*

We are off track. We are a people who walk in darkness:

Can we turn back the clock? Like John Bunyan's pilgrim, can we return to the place where we got off the track and get back onto it again? Can we open the shuttered windows and let in the light of the natural law?

Budziszewski (2003), 23. Maybe. We can hope. It will, however, require tremendous effort. We might recall the words of Virgil:
Facilis descensus Averno;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way.
Virgil, Aeneid, VI.124 ff (Loose translation by Dryden).

We have to regain something that we have lost. We have to re-acquire a teleological concept of nature, a nature with design, with meaning, with purpose. In the words of St. Thomas, we need to rediscover that wonderful notion that the nature of any created thing, including man, is "nothing but a certain kind of art, i.e., the divine art, impressed upon things, by which these things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if the shipbuilder were able to give to timbers that by which they would move themselves to take the form of a ship."**

There's the rub! To believe in nature means we have to believe in a divine art, in a divine shipbuilder, in an authority that is above us. We have to believe that God, and not that man, is the measure of all things. We have to abandon our modern Protagoran spirit, and reacquire a tradition Platonic spirit.*** More, as part of the job of restoration, one will have to recover a dismantled tradition, a hoary one coming from the Stoics into Cicero, and through St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans and through the Church Fathers, into the heart of the Christian proclamation. The tradition, gained during the course of centuries, has been jettisoned over the course of a little more than a century. And to reacquire it takes time. The tradition is essential to recovery of natural law doctrine. Nature is dependent on tradition.

Why? For the simple reason that part of human nature is to have a tradition. It is not in man's nature not to have a tradition. Tradition is a sort of "second nature," one whose assistance is needed "for nature to come into its own; the natural is brought to bear by the habitual." Budziszewski, 25. That tradition, however, has to be consistent, supportive, expressive of the natural moral law. And that is what we have lost. The tradition we have now is anti-natural law. As Budziszewski explains:
Even though elementary principles of the moral law are known by nature, they are elicited, elucidated, and elaborated by tradition. The notion that it could be otherwise expresses not the classical view of natural law, but a modern distortion of the classical view which took hold only in the Enlightenment.
Budziszewski (2003), 24-25.

How, for example, do you recover the tradition of chastity? How--after generations of dissipation, after annual Gay Rights parades, after the influences of NAMBLA, after the ubiquitous pornography protected by 1st Amendment, after contraception, abortion, and divorce are mainstream, after being taught that the only good sex is safe sex, after being enlightened by the likes of Peter Singer that even sex with animals (just not with chickens!) is within the realm of the morally legitimate, after the loss of modesty, after the scandals in the Church, after billions of Onanistic ejaculations (how many even know who Onan was? see Genesis 38:8-10)--do you recover the tradition of chastity? We live in a tradition of massive unchastity. Without the tradition of chastity, you cannot (short of sheer heroic and extraordinary instances) have the virtue of chastity. People cannot even understand chastity, they are deaf to the word, and deaf to its meaning, and dead to its value. They think Chastity is the erstwhile name of Cher's daughter-soon-to-be-"son" called Chaz.

And that brings us to a most insightful perception of Budziszewski. To restore the natural law will mean a condemnation which is too much for us to bear. "Clear vision of the moral is crushing," when it has been disobeyed. The institutionalized disobedience to the natural moral law has left tremendous guilt, and to confront that disobedience leaves us with the specter of a debt too great to pay. How do we pay for the ruined families, the ruined homes, the invaded wombs, the tens of millions slain by abortion that our abandonment of the natural law has wrought? We have not the back to bear such onerous guilt. And nowhere in nature, in reason is there one who can pardon! As the French geneticist Jérôme Lejeune once said: Seul Dieu pardonne vraiment, l'homme pardonne parfois, la nature ne pardonne jamais. "God alone truly pardons, man some times pardons, nature never pardons."

Nature has been violated, and how! But nature cannot forgive. She can only punish. Which means that before we can turn back to the natural law we must recover another tradition, a divine tradition. This is Budziszewski's great prophetic insight:

Apart from an assurance that the debt can somehow be forgiven, such honesty is too much for us. The difficulty is that without a special revelation from the Author of the law, it is impossible to know whether the possibility of forgiveness is real. Therefore we look away; unable to accept the truth about ourselves . . . . We need another tradition, greater than natural law tradition, which settles the matter of forgiveness once and for all; otherwise our highest ethics will be cross-eyed with evasions.

Budziszewski, 26.

In short, we need the Gospel. We need Christ. We need the Church. To be sure, there are other religious traditions, but we should recall that "although natural law was named by the pagans and is in some dim fashion known apart from the Bible, reflection about it has never gone far except within the biblical traditions." Budziszewski, 26. Indeed, not only are the biblical traditions needed, but the biblical traditions of the teaching Church, a teaching found in its magisterial guidance, in the Pope and in the bishops in communion with him. We will not likely return to the natural law unless we repent and believe in the Gospel.

*Justice Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 851 (1992).
**Cf. Budziszewski, 23. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Book II (Lecture 14, on 199 a 34-b 33) (natura nihil est aliud quam ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur ad finem determinatum: sicut si artifex factor navis posset lignis tribuere, quod ex se ipsis moverentur ad navis formam inducendam.)
***Plato tells us that Protagoras said that "man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not" (πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος, τῶν μὲν ὄντων ὡς ἔστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν). Cf.
Theaetetus, 152a; Cratylus, 386a. In his Laws, Plato has the Athenian say: "In our eyes God will be “the measure of all things” in the highest degree—a degree much higher than is any “man” they talk of." Laws, IV.716c (ὁ δὴ θεὸς ἡμῖν πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἂν εἴη μάλιστα, καὶ πολὺ μᾶλλον ἤ πού τις, ὥς φασιν, ἄνθρωπος).
†Quoted by Harold O. J. Brown in "Contraception: A Symposium," First Things 88 (December 1998): 17–29.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aliquid Quod Non Possumus Non Scire

“DISBELIEF IN COMMON MORAL GROUND is becoming a pillar of middle class prejudice," says J. Budziszewski,* and, unfortunately, he may be right. The only exceptions appear to be fundamentalist Christians, practicing Catholics (those of the non-Cafeteria variety), and Muslims. Unfortunately, first group and the last group do not have well-developed notions of natural law theory, and rely largely if not entirely on notions of divine positive law, one relying on the Bible, the other relying on the Qur'an. It is not that the entirety of morals has been put on the table: most people, for example, would think it wrong to rob a convenient store, or murder their spouse, or cheat on their spouse. But moral relativity has had its effect. And consensus, has disappeared at the edges--at very important edges--of shared common moral realm. Moral consensus in the area of sex has collapsed. Premarital sex--what used to be called fornication--is essentially considered normative and, so long as "safe" and consensual, morally acceptable. Artificial contraception is rampant, and those who suggest that it is violative of the natural moral law to use artificial contraception are viewed as moral troglodytes. Homosexuality is considered a human right, and, progressively, homosexual "marriage" (a chimerical monster if there ever was one) is considered a common and moral good. We find a similar collapse of moral consensus on life issue: abortion seems to be institutionalized and is a moral blight which we seem unable to shed, and euthanasia is commonly regarded as acceptable. Family life is in shambles. Our public discourse, public fora, and communications media are replete with what, only two generations ago, would have been considered unmentionable. We live in a time of moral Babel and a moral sophistry. The tyranny of the relative is upon us: any mention of an objective moral code will earn one ridicule, scorn, or pariahship.** Presently, the only immorality seems to be the claim that there is such a thing as morality.

There is a moral compass within us that shows true North

But the denial of an objective morality is not the same thing as being in denial about an objective morality. If the objection to an objective morality presupposes an objective morality (even if it involves re-crafting it into a the objective moral rule that there is no such thing as an objective morality), then the objector has not given us reasons to disbelieve in an objective morality; rather, by his very objection he has given us grounds to believe that (deep inside) he knows that there is such a thing as objective morality. The very intolerance to advocates of objective morality by these moral relativists--their insistence (even though contradictory) that the only universal, objective rule of morality is that morality is relative--accuses them. Deep inside, they know they are wrong. They are sinning against their own light, against what Budziszewski calls their "deep conscience." And the contents of this "deep conscience" is something which we can't not know, aliquid quod non possumus non scire.

And the relativist's sinning against his own "deep conscience" shows. The natural law is irrepressible. "Like crabgrass growing through the cracks and crannies of concrete slabs, the awareness of the moral law [in deep conscience] breaks even through the crust of our denials." Budzizewski, 10. If repressed, the deep conscience kicks. This quality Budziszewski calls its "harrowing" quality. The deep conscience is a furious "avenger," an avenger with five furies: remorse, confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification. Sinning against the "deep conscience," the natural moral law, then screams for a Savior, for one thing man should know is that he cannot save himself. He has sinned against a law not of his own making, and he must ask mercy from He who promulgated that law.

We shall spend the next several blog postings going over J. Budziszewski's insights in his book What We Can't Not Know.
*J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know (Dallas: Spence Publishing 2003), 5 (herein Budziszewski (2003)).
**But if you advocate bestiality, and decry that prohibitions against it are nothing other than medieval relics, as did Princeton University's "ethicist" Peter Singer, you remain an academic of good standing. See (if you have the intestinal fortitude to read the perverted musings of a morally unmoored mind) Peter Singer, "Heavy Petting," Nerve (2001). On the other hand, as Budziszewski notes: "The . . . claim [that commonly-held and universal moral truths exist] has become outrageous--in the original sense of provoking outrage. People become angry when one asserts the moral law." Budziszewski (2003), 9-10.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Excursus on Romans: Exegesis on 2:14, Part 2

IN PART ONE OF THIS SERIES, we reviewed the Greek text in Romans 2:14 and concluded that there is no way to determine the difference between a adjectival dativus actoris and an adverbial dativus modi or dativus instrumenti. A dativus actoris relates to a "who"? A dativus modi relates to an "in what manner"? A dativus instrumenti relates to a "by what means"? Whatever kind of dativus the word physei is, it cannot be learned from the form of the noun: they all are the same.

Since we don't have commas to help us in Greek, we look at the syntax. What about syntax? Is the fact that the word φύσει located after the phrase ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα mean that it does not refer to ἔθνη (gentiles who do not have the law)? Since φύσει precedes the phrase τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν (those who do the law) does that mean that it refers to that phrase that follows?

St. Paul Writing an Epistle

The argument supporting the majority interpretation seems to have the upper hand when syntax is considered. The argument is that if Paul or any writer of Greek had intended to say that the Gentiles by nature lacked something, namely the law, the term "by nature" (physei) would not have been placed at the end of the phrase he was modifying, but would have been placed before the noun it was modifying, such a construction being the more natural construction. What seems quite clear is that physei is never used in any instance in the New Testament in a manner where it modified a noun (i.e., as a dativus auctoris or in an adjectival sense) and was placed post-positively, that is after the noun. There is, however, no instance where the term physei was used pre-positively when it was used adverbially in the sense of a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti. In fact, there is no instance in the New Testament where the term physei was used as a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti, i.e., adverbially at all. So the argument by syntax is not absolutely conclusive, but it leans heavily in support of the traditional understanding.***

St. Paul uses the term physei three other times in his epistles: Galatians 2:15, 4:8, and Ephesians 2:3. Do these provide any instruction as to St. Paul's usage of the dative noun physei?

ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί

We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles

Ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν οὐκ εἰδότες θεὸν ἐδουλεύσατε τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσιν θεοὶς

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods

ἐν οἷς καὶ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἀνεστράφημεν ποτε ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν ποιοῦντες τὰ θελήματα τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν, καὶ ἤμεθα τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποί

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest

In each of these instances, physei is used as a dativus auctoris, since in each instance it is clear that the term "by nature" refers to a noun, and not a verb (Jews, Gods, children of wrath). It is adjectival, not adverbial. Now, what is apparent is that, when used in this sense, St. Paul places the dativus auctoris before the modified noun, between a definitive article and the noun (and so also before the noun), and between a noun and its genitive modifier. In no instance does St. Paul place the dativus acutoris post positive, after the noun it modifies. This would suggest that Paul is not using the term physei as a dativus auctoris in Romans 2:14, as, if he followed his habit in these other verses, one would anticipate the term physei to be before the noun it modifies, so that St. Paul would have said placed φύσει either before the word Gentile (ἔθνη) or somewhere before ἔχοντα. He would not have placed a dativus auctoris, a dative used adjectively, post-positively.

Since in none of these other instances is physei used in a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti (i.e., in an adverbial sense modifying a verb), we cannot use these instances to help inform us as to whether St. Paul would have placed a dativus modi or instrumenti pre-positively, that is, before the verb he was intending to modify.

While we are at it, we might as well review the only other instance of the use of physei in the New Testament, namely in the Epistle of James (3:7):
πᾶσα γὰρ φύσις θηρίων τε καὶ πετεινῶν, ἑρπετῶν τε καὶ ἐναλίων δαμάζεται καὶ δεδάμασται τῇ φύσει τῇ ἀνθρωπίνῃ

For every nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of the rest, is tamed, and hath been tamed, by the nature of man (Douay Rheims)

St. James uses a dativus auctoris pre-positively, not post-positively. Following St. Paul's practice, St. James place the term physei when used as a dativus auctoris before the noun it was modifying, and never after that noun.

So it seems that those who want to read St. Paul's words and construe them to mean something along these lines--"For when the Gentiles who have no law by nature do the things of the law, these having no law, are a law unto themselves"--have no warrant.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Excursus on Romans: Exegesis on 2:14, Part 1

THERE IS SOME CONTROVERSY regarding St. Paul's teaching of the natural law in his epistle to the Romans, specifically involving Romans 2:14. The controversy revolves around which of two general ways that verse should be interpreted. Specifically, the controversy involves the term "by nature" (φύσει), and whether it refers to the things that Gentiles do (that are in conformity with the Mosaic law) or to the Gentiles (who do not have the Mosaic law) themselves. Another way of looking at the problem is whether the term "by nature" (φύσει) is used adverbially (modifying a verb) or adjectivally (modifying a noun). More technically, the word φύσει is a noun in the dative case. But that noun is not used in its nounal sense, that is, as a dativus, an indirect object of any verb. Rather the question is whether it is being used as a dativus instrumenti or dativus modi, a dative of instrument or a dative of manner which refers to the action of "doing the things of the law," or whether it is used as a dativus auctoris, a dative of agent that refers to the "Gentiles."*

The traditional way of looking at the matter, and certainly the majority view, is one that views the verse as saying that the Gentiles by nature do the things of the law (which implies the existence of a natural law which the Gentiles follow). The majority view is found summarized in Bertke:

In the Greek text φύσει ([by] nature) belongs grammatically to ποιῶσιν [doing]. In other words, the Gentiles do by nature the things of the law. Had Paul wanted the word φύσει to modify the phrase "who have not the law" [τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα] thus excluding the concept of a natural law, then perforce φύσει would have had to be placed either before the article τὰ or between τὰ and ἔχοντα. In the actual construction φύσει can only belong to ποιῶσιν. The identity of the Gentiles in the passage is clearly determined by the appositional phrases used in the description. The phrases τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα [which have not the law] and οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες [these not having the law] in verse 14 can mean only that Paul is speaking of pagans in the strict sense of the word, i.e., people with, at best only primitive revelation.**

The second way, out of the mainstream, is to construe the verse as referring to Gentiles who by nature have not the law (which does not imply a natural law). Those who interpret the verse in the latter sense, are perhaps impelled to do so in an untoward and mistaken zeal to make everything sub gratia (under grace), and nothing sub lege (under law).

St. Paul by El Greco

The Greek text, along with various English variants, followed by the Latin Vulgate, is provided below:
ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν, οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος.

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. [King James]

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves. [New American Standard]

For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves. [Douay Rheims]

For when Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves. [English Revised Version]

Cum enim gentes quae legem non habent naturaliter quae legis sunt faciunt eiusmodi legem non habentes ipsi sibi sunt lex. [Vulgate]
Manifestly, the most common translations follow the notion that the term φύσει (by nature) is being used adverbially, not adjectivally, or as a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti and not a dativus acutoris.

The transliteration and direct translation of the Greek may is as follows:

ὅταν γὰρ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν, οὗτοι νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες ἑαυτοῖς εἰσιν νόμος.

hotan gar ethnē ta mē nomon echonta physei ta tou nomou poiōsin, houtoi nomon mē echontes eautois eisin nomos.

When for (the?) gentiles the not law having by nature the [things] of law they do, these the law not having to themselves are law.***

The problem, of course, is lack of punctuation in the Greek text. The lack of punctuation can add vagaries to the text, and, without the added benefit of punctuation, the relationships between the words can result in ambiguity, as it does in this case. The word by nature (φύσει) straddles the two possible phrases it can modify. It either modifies the phrase before it--ἔθνη τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα--or it modifies the phrase that comes after it--τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν. Punctuation, had it been part of the Greek text, would have helped clarify whether the term "by nature" modified what comes before it or what comes after it. Since there is no comma, we have to imply one. We have to ask ourselves where the implied comma should go in the text: "Gentiles who do not have the law by nature do what the law requires." Does it come before or after the phrase "by nature"? Does the verse read: "Gentiles, who do not have the law by nature, do what the law requires"? Or rather does the verse read: "Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires"? This is another way of asking whether the term φύσει is a dativus auctoris or a dativus modi or dativus instrumentali.

Without punctuation, we have to have recourse elsewhere. For help, we have to resort to syntax, grammar, vocabulary, customary usages, context, etc.

The question, one would hope, would be resolved by grammar. Is there any way to tell whether the word φύσει, a noun in dative form, is being used as a dativus auctoris, a dative with reference to the actor, adjectivally? Or is it rather being used as a dativus modi or dativus instrumenti, a dative with reference to an action, i.e., adverbially? Unfortunately, grammar does not yield an absolute answer. There is no way to distinguish between dativus auctoris and dativus modi or dativus instrumenti, at least that I have found.

*See Systematische Grammatik der griechischen Sprache Syntax - Kasuslehre, Dativ.
Rev. Stanley Bertke, The Possibility of Invincible Ignorance of the Natural Law (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1941), 3-4 (Quirmbach, Joseph, Die Lehre des Hl. Paulus von der naturlichen Gotteserkenntnis und dem naturlichen Sittengestz, in Strassburger Theologische Studien, Band VII, Heft 4, 1906, p. 67.) Bertke also cites to M. J. Lagrange, O.P., Épître aux Romains, Paris: J. Gabalda et Fils, 1914, p. 49 ("Paul ne s'inquiète pas ici principe des action, mais de leur norm exterieure. La nature, c'est-a-dire la lumière de la raison naturelle, à défaut de la Lois, a dit aux gentil ce qu'ils devaient faire et éviter.") [My translation: Paul does not concern himself with the principle of action here, but with its external standard. Nature, that is to say the light of natural reason, in the absence of the Law, informed the Gentiles that which they had to do and [that which they had to] avoid.]
***See Table below:
when: conjunction.
for: conjunction, postpositive.
(the) Gentiles: noun, neuter gender, nominative case, plural. The definitive article is implied.
the: definitive article (neuter, plural), referring to ἔχοντα which refers to the gentiles.
not: negative particle, negates, the phrase "τὰ . . . . νόμον ἔχοντα."
law: noun, singular, masculine gender, accusative case.
(they) who have/hold/possess: verb, present, active, participle, used in a nounal form of the verb, ἔχω (I have, hold possess).
(by) nature: noun (φύσις), dative case, singular, female gender.
the:(see above)
(of) the: definite article in genitive, singular, masculine case, refers to the noun law, νόμου.
(of) law: noun, masculine gender, genitive case, singular.
do: verb, present, active, subjunctive mood, third person plural form of ποιέω, I make or do.
these: noun, plural, masculine, in dative case.
law: noun, accusative case, singular, masculine.
not: see above.
(they) have: verb, present, active, participle, used as noun in nominative case, plural, masculine.
(to) themselves: 3rd person plural reflexive pronoun, female gender and dative case.
(they) are: verb, present, active, indicative, third person plural form of εἰμί, (I) am.
law: nominative case.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

الشرع لا العقل: Shari'a Not Reason: Allah Wants Us Stupid

IN THE CLASSIC BOOK OF DOCTRINE called the ʻUmdat al-Sālik wa-ʻUddat al-Nāsik (عمدة السالك وعدة الناسك), frequently referred to as the Reliance of the Traveller, by the Islamic medieval scholar Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 769 A.H./1368 A.D.), we find a classic presentation* of the Islamic way of thinking which puts an unfortunate wedge between revealed religion and reason, to the point that reasoning is simply given a subordinate, slavish role. For Hume, reason was but the slave of passions. For the classical Muslim, reason is but the slave of the law alleged to have been revealed by Allah through Muhammad, the shari'a. There is no question for a Muslim, such as there is for a Catholic, for faith and reason, for morals and reason. For a Muslim, it is shari'a, not reason. Reason can be used to analogize or apply the shari'a, but it cannot in any way ever claim to be its equal, and cannot be invoked to criticize shari'a. It cannot even be used as a source of determination of good and evil. For a Muslim, reason is always post-revelation, post-shari'ia. Reason and the revealed law (shari'a) are unequal partners.

Fiqh al-Imam Ash-Shafi'i

Since practical reason is banished from the moral equation in Islam, it means that natural law does not exist in Islam. You will never be able to argue to a traditional Muslim that the shari'a is unreasonable. The proposition is preposterous to the Muslim. And though their shari'a is preposterous and preposterously brutal in many particulars to anyone who uses his or her God-given reason, the traditional Muslim cannot be approached with the argument. He has blinded himself, and that is a great tragedy inherent in Islam. The invention of Muhammad, that is, the idol Allah and his alleged law, has blinded the Muslims to the use of reason.

This Allah and his self-proclaimed spokesman Muhammad were distrustful of human reason. We may view the distrust of human reason in two ways. First, distrust of reason is something inhumane, something against authentic humanism. But this distrust is also irreligious; is is something against authentic religion. Indeed, distrust of human reason may be categorized as demonic. Why would God, through the gift of revelation, compel us to act in a manner that was against the gift of reason? Surely, what God gives with one hand in nature, he does not take away with the other in supernature? The notion posits a schizophrenia in God which only the devil or stupidity could advocate.

Lest we be accused of misconstruing Islam in general or Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri in particular, we might simply quote the text as translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller.
a1.2 The question arises, Is it possible for the mind alone, unaided by Allah's messengers and revealed scriptures, to knowing rulings, such that someone not reached by a prophet's invitation would be able through his own reason to know Allah's rule concerning his actions? Or is this impossible?

a1.3 The position of the Ash'aris, the followers of Abul Hasan Ash'ari, is that the mind is unable to know the rule of Allah about the acts of those morally responsible except by means of His messengers and inspired books.**

For minds are in obvious disagreement about acts. Some minds find certain acts good, others find them bad. Moreover, one person can be of two minds about one and the same action. Caprice often wins out over the intellect, and considering something good or bad comes to be based on mere whim. So it cannot be said that an act which the mind deems good is therefore good in the eyes of Allah, its performance called for and its doer rewarded by Allah; or that whatever the mind feels to be bad is thus bad in the eyes of Allah, its nonperformance called for and its doer punished by Allah.

a1.4 The basic premise of this school of thought is that the good of the acts of those morally responsible is what the Lawgiver (syn. Allah or His messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace)) has indicated is good by permitting it or asking it be done. And the bad is what the Lawgiver has indicated is bad by asking it not be done. The good is not what reason considers good, nor the bad what reason considers bad. The measure of good and bad, according to this school of thought, is the Sacred Law, not reason (الشرع لا العقل).***
Now, the orthodox Christian is not an advocate of rationalism, a hater of Faith or Revelation. Nor is the orthodox Christian an advocate of fideism, a hater of Reason. The orthodox Christian seeks to navigate the waters of life avoiding the Charybdis of fideism and irrationalism and the Scylla of rationalism and infidelity. The orthodox Christian believes that reason, for all its weaknesses in man, is a gift of God, and a sure one, especially if guided by the Teaching Church, and confirmed by Revelation.

The notion that God demands unreasonable worship, a submission to unreasonable laws, to laws against the natural moral law, is simply untenable, and it is that aspect of Islam which results in a fundamental irrationality of Allah's worshipers. It is also that quality which makes Islam fundamentally inhuman and tyrannical. Islam is not submission to God, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, or Jesus. Islam, by its rejection of Reason, is a form of rebellion against God, and so it may be more accurate to say that it is a submission to the Devil, the great Shaytan (شيطان‎) or Iblis (إبليس) they rail against.

I beseech the Muslims to consider the words of St. Paul: "I beseech you therefore, brethren," says St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, "by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service," τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν, rationabile obsequium vestrum. Indeed, I beseech them in their own tongue:

فاطلب اليكم ايها الاخوة برأفة الله ان تقدموا اجسادكم ذبيحة حية مقدسة مرضية عند الله عبادتكم العقلية.

Free yourself from your slavery to unreason. Follow the natural law, which is your tutor to the true God and to his Christ. Oh Muslim brother! Law is not found between the sheaves of the Qur'an, nor in the pages of the Sunnah, nor in the life of Muhammad, nor in the fatwas of your Imams. No, law is found first in reason: God's Reason first, and man's reason next, and God's Reason, that is his Law, speaks to us through our reason, our conscience, that is, through the natural moral law. As George MacDonald† put it:

The mind of man is the product of live Law;
it thinks by law, it dwells in the midst of law,
it gathers from law its growth; with law, therefore,
can it alone work to any result.

That "live Law" is the natural law based upon reason and found in conscience, not the dead law mouthed by an alleged prophet from a god, nay, not even a god, a sad idol of his vain and unreasonable and often self-serving imaginings.
*By "classic" we ought to be more precise. The text is a classic in Shafi'i jurisprudence. The Shafi'i (شافعي‎) school of law (or madhab, مذهب‎), is one of four main schools of Islamic law or schools of fiqh (فقه‎) in Sunni Islam. The other schools or madahib are the Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali. The Shafi'i school is the second largest school of the Sunni branch of Islam, governing approximately 29% of Muslims. According to Wikipedia (s.v. Shafi'i): "It is also recognized as the official school of thought by the governments of Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. In addition, the government of Indonesia uses this madhab for the Indonesian compilation of sharia law. It is the dominant school of thought of Palestinian Territories, United Arab Emirates, Chechnya, Kurdistan (East Turkey, North west Iran, North Iraq, Northern Syria), Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Maldives, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia."
**This, of course, means that we cannot know right or wrong through any natural moral law.
***This is clearly a divine positivism. Something is good because God wills it, God does not will it because it is good. That is why when the Qur'an encourages lying or dissimulation, Qur'an 3:28, or encourages the killing of apostates from Islam, e.g., Qur'an 4:89, or encourages jihad against non-believers, e.g., Qur'an 9:36, or unreasonably discriminates against women, e.g., Qur'an 2:282 (woman is worth half a man) or Qur'an 4:11 (males inherit twice that of females), or allows for sex with women slaves captured at war, e.g., Qur'an 4:24, etc. these things are considered good. They are good because Allah decreed them; Allah did not decree them because they are good (indeed, under the natural moral law, they clearly are not good).
†George MacDonald, The Heart of George MacDonald: A One-Volume Collection of His Most Important Works (Rolland Hein, ed.) (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers,1994), 424.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

There Ain't No Such Thing as Philosophical-Only Sin

DURING THE GREAT DEBATE between the casuistic Jesuit theologians (who were prone to laxity) and the Jansenists (who were prone to rigorism), a concept known as philosophical sin (peccatum philosophicum) developed. The theory was that for an act to be formally sinful (as distinguished from materially, or objectively sinful), there had to be advertence to the act as sinful and knowledge that the act was a violation of a precept of God. If both components did not exist, then the sin was not theological (peccatum theologicum), but was only philosophical (peccatum philosophicum). Whereas theological sin was a sin against both God and reason, philosophical sin was an offense only against reason, since the actor (be he an atheist, or simply ignorant that an act, say use of artificial contraception, was against the law of God). One had to had knowledge of God as legislator to be guilty of theological sin. Some, however, rejected this distinction as artificial, and, like the Spanish Cistercian Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (1606-1682), whom St. Alphonsus Liguori called the "Prince of the Laxists," found a middle road, arguing that while a person may not have knowledge of an act being against God as legislator, he would have knowledge, even if implicit, of the offense against God as creator.*

The notion of distinguishing between philosophical and theological sin appears to have been first proposed by a Jesuit named Dereux (who was president of a Jesuit college in Dijon, France) and defended by Etienne Bougot. According to this concept (the Dijon thesis):

Peccatum Philosophicum, or moral sin, is a human act incompatible with rational nature and right reason. Peccatum Theologicum, or moral sin, is free transgression of divine law. The Philosophicum, however grave, in a man who is ignorant of God, or who in the act does not think of God, is a grave sin, but is not an offence to God, nor a moral sin sundering friendship with God, nor worthy of eternal punishments.
Lea, 331.

Pope Alexander VIII
All sin is an offense against both God and Reason

In the Decree Sanctissimus of August 24, 1690, the Dijon thesis was condemned by Pope Alexander VIII, but it was not condemned as fully heretical, but rather as scandalous, rash, offensive to pious ears, and erroneous. Lea, 333. Thus stood condemned the following proposition:
Peccatum philosophicum seu morale est actus humanus disconvniens naturae rationalis et rectae ration; theologicum vero et morale est transgressio libera divinae legis. Philosophicum, quamvis grave, in illo, qui Deum vel ignorat vel de Deo actu non cogitat, est grave peccatum, sed non est offensa Dei, neque peccatum mortale dissolvens amicitiam Dei, neque aeterna poena dignum.

Philosophical or moral sin is a human act not in agreement with rational nature and right reason, theological and mortal sin is a free transgression of the Divine law. However grievous it may be, philosophical sin in one who is either ignorant of God or does not actually think of God, is indeed a grievous sin, but not an offense to God, nor a mortal sin dissolving friendship with God, nor worthy of eternal punishment.

It seems that the opposite then must be maintained, namely that sin can be offensive to God even if the sinner fails to know or does not consider God. So the Jesuit Viva argued that it is morally impossible that there is in any given man the ignorance of God and of the natural law so as to justify the notion of peccatum philosophicum, so that all violations of the natural law are ipso facto, even if implicitly, peccata theologica.** All sin is an offense against both God and reason.
*Caramuelis Theologia Fundamentalis, Fund. XII. See Henry C. Lea, "Philosophical Sin" International Journal of Ethics (1895), 331 (herein Lea).
**Viva, Comment. in Prop. alteram Alexandri VIII, nn. 1, 12 (cited in Lea, 335). In his La Providence de Dieu, Cardinal Billot argued that since there is no philosophical sin, then if one is ignorant of God or does not advert to God one has no theological sin. But this is a "faulty interpretation" of the Alexandrine condemnation of the Dijon thesis. It is not that ignorance that an act is against the law of God
qua God excuses from theological sin; rather, it is that any immoral act is necessarily theological, i.e., an offense against God, whether one is ignorant that an act is against the law of God or not. "If the interpretation is applied to one adversative it must hold for the other since both are included." Bertke, 884-86 & n. 10.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-The Modern Rude

INVINCIBLE IGNORANCE OF THE NATURAL LAW must be admitted; however, there must also be care in how far one extends this principle. Can one say, for example, that men can be invincibly ignorant of the foundational precept of the natural law--that one ought to do good and avoid evil? Or that men may be invincibly ignorant of some of the first principles? Can there be a man who is invincibly ignorant of the principle that one ought not to take the life of an innocent man? What about the more remote conclusions or determinations? Can there be men who are invincibly ignorant of the natural moral law that would prohibit the procurement of a direct abortion under all circumstances as a necessary corollary to the principle that one ought not intentionally to take the innocent life of another human being? When in this intellectual movement between the general and the particular, between theory and practice, between the abstract and the contingent does the possibility of invincible ignorance of the natural law (and hence excuse from formal sin) begin to exist?

The common answer, now part of Catholic tradition, is that first principles--that which is ensconced in the seat of conscience or the Thomistic synderesis--cannot be the subject of invincible ignorance. "This conclusion has come down intact [from the Scholastic theologians such as Sts. Thomas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus, etc.] through Suarez and the post-reformation theologians and is now unanimous." Bertke, 65-66. Excepted from this view are those who do not have the normal use of practical reason--infants, the insane, and so forth. What is meant by conscience or synderesis in this context is the "constant disposition [i.e., a habitus] of the intellect by which it immediately sees first principles . . . in the practical order," and this includes the self-evident principles and the intellectual feltness that the fundamental inclinations in all men are inclinations to the good.

Knowledge is lost when one steps down from the universal to apply the law to particular instances, i.e., in the exercise of practical reason in the prudential decisions required by man in the various contingent situations in which he may find himself. Here, not only is there internal static which may frustrate the proper application of the general principle to the particular situation (disordered will, inherited predispositions to certain sins), there may be external static as well (evil customs, bad moral formation, habitual participation in sin which deadens sensitivity to violation of principle).*

Though not invincibly ignorant of first principles, men may be invincibly ignorant of some of the direct (or proximate) conclusions derived from the self-evident first principles. However, we may say that the majority of men will not be invincibly ignorant of such direct conclusions such as the prohibitions against murder, adultery, or stealing for example. There are however a minority of men (extraordinary cases) that may be invincibly ignorance of one or another of these fundamental precepts, and this because of evil traditions or customs, education, or depraved habits.

Whether this ignorance will be invincible or not depends on the individual person. But when we consider the overpowering weight of long tradition and custom justifying an action which may be objectively contrary to the law and yet the object of a strong lower appetite, inculpable ignorance may be possible. In such circumstances it is only with great difficulty that the conviction of the surrounding culture could be discarded; that is, more diligence would have to be exercised than required for ordinary invincible ignorance. Theologians generally admit the possibility of invincible ignorance in the case of rudes or the uncultured. The term rudes may very well be applied to the finished products of some modern education where all values are relative and the moral order is considered a collection of taboos and customs.
Bertke, 71.

It follows that if men may in extraordinary situations (which may still be quite common) be ignorant of proximate conclusions, that they will be a greater tendency toward invincible ignorance in the area of more remote conclusions. Even Saints--whose good will and formation cannot be gainsaid--may find themselves in situation where there is uncertainty, and yet where one would seem to have got it wrong. Bertke gives the example of the difference of opinion between St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure on what a judge ought to do if, under the admissible evidence in a judicial forum, a defendant is judicially guilty, but he is known by the judge as a result of matters outside the forum to be innocent. Ought the judge condemn the defendant as part of his sworn obligation to follow the positive law and procedures or not? St. Thomas would hold the judge bound in justice to condemn. St. Bonaventure finds this conclusion impossible to maintain as consonant with justice. Bertke, 73.
*In distinguishing between an incontinent man and an intemperate man, Bertke notes that the "constancy of action attained by the intemperate man through habit," is different from that "unsteadiness of the incontinent" who has not lost the force of "universal moral principle." In the intemperate man (of which there are many) "the habit of sin is so ingrained that the subject finds a certain equilibrium in sin." Bertke, 69. This is a horrible, yet unquestionable reality: that many of our fellows operate in this moral limbo, this "equilibrium in sin." Yet even in the intemperate, invincible ignorance of the fundamental principles cannot be said to exist. "True, obscured by habits of sin, the universal moral principles do not affect the immediate question of action. However, speculatively, when no action is involved the intemperate man will still admit the first principles." Bertke, 69. This is evidence that they are not wholly inoperative and the subject of invincible ignorance. The ignorance lies in the particular domain (he is blind as to his own intemperance), but not in the universal domain.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-How is it We are Hoodwinked

IGNORANCE LEADS TO ERROR, and so we tend to conflate the two concepts. Ignorance, which is the lack of knowledge in a person who is capable of having such knowledge, causes error in the practical intellect. The error in the practical intellect is, when it all comes down to it, an error where an apparent good instead of an authentic or true good is sought. The apparent good must have some good inhering in it, or else it would not be able to disguise itself as an apparent good. If it can even be conceived, something that would be a total evil would never be sought, because it could never deceive anyone as an apparent good, having no goodness with which it could drape itself to make itself becoming to a person who is blinded by an error in practical intellect caused by ignorance. Evil always woos under the guise of being good and true. Omne malum fundatur in aliquo bono, et omne falsum in aliquo vero. (Iª q. 17 a. 4 ad 2) Every evil is founded in some good, and every falsity in some truth.

How is it that the intellect can be so deceived? One would think that the intellect would not embrace something as something when it is in fact something that is nothing. Since evil is nothing other than privity or absence of some good, how is it that the intellect accepts the privity or absence of good as its opposite, as good? One would think that the intellect could detect the black as black, and the white as white.

Seeing Evil as Good

The error in judgment comes from the fact that we do not apprehend the object in its fulness with our intellect. Knowledge is not intuitive, grasped at once. In the realistic philosophical system of St. Thomas Aquinas, the intellect actualizes in itself in a manner of speaking the object that it comprehends (its essence), and it does this, not intuitively, but through means of the senses. The error comes through this sometimes imperfect means of transmission, a means which can further be manipulated by a disordered will. The object in the mind is therefore not adequate to the reality outside oneself, and this is, by definition, something that is neither true or good.

The proper object of knowledge in the present state of union between soul and body is the sensible thing which can only become a part of the knowing subject through the avenue of the senses. Those avenues are often by-paths which lead to error as they grasp only outer qualities which may be shared by diverse but apparently similar thing. it must be carefully observed, however, that the senses are not the cause, but the occasion of intellectual error. . . . [T]he intellect's dependence upon sense knowledge is a fertile ground for error . . . . [since] associations and combinations may be effected [in the mind] which have no corresponding realities, and this disproportion may be enhanced because the work of the internal senses may be, in part, subconscious and not subject to the directed control of reason.

Bertke, 60-61.

As suggested above, the human will plays its part masking evil as good or falsity as true. The will can cause the human to assent to something where the intellect's grasp of the object is incomplete or inadequate. The will plays this commanding part in assent in two instances: in faith or belief and in error. In faith, the will commands the intellect to assent to a truth (though the senses do not inform the intellect of it) because of the authority of the one revealing that truth. In error, the will commands the intellect to assent to a truth (though the senses do not inform the intellect of it) because of an improper desire.
Since the intellect never will never assent unless solicited by at least some semblance of the truth, the good desired by the will must be, under some aspect, a true good. This is especially the case when the will solicits the intellect in a practical judgment under the influence of a sensible good, the possession of which is here and now contrary to the natural law.
Bertke, 62.

In summary, then, error in the practical judgment is the result of errors in translation between the real world and our minds which may be caused either (i) by problems or difficulties associated with the translation of reality outside us to the reality inside us through our senses, or (ii) a disordered will which meddles with the process because it is enthralled or wooed by some disordered desire.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong, Development of an Idea, St. Thomas

StTHOMAS AQUINAS'S VIEW ON IGNORANCE OF THE LAW seems to depart from the rigorism of his teacher, St. Albert the Great, and pattern itself more after the Franciscan savant St. Bonaventure. There are, it is true, statements in some of the works outside of the Summa Theologiae that could be invoked to support an argument that St. Thomas held a strict view along the lines of William of Auxerre and the early Franciscan school. Ignorantia iuris peccata est--ignorance of the law is sin--St. Thomas says in his De veritate.* Ignorantia iuris ad negligentiam reputatur--Ignorance of the law may be chalked up to negligence on the part of the actor--St. Thomas says in his De malo.**

But when St. Thomas treats the subject extensively, we see that his view is more nuanced, and takes into consideration instances where ignorance of the law--ignorantia iuris--may be excused, and thus may not lead to an actor being held accountable as having incurred fault or sin.

St. Thomas Aquinas (The Angelic Doctor)
Wearing a Four-Horned Doctoral Biretta

St. Thomas handles the issue of ignorance and sin in his Summa Theologiae (IaIIae, q. 76, questions. 1-4). He begins his analysis by distinguishing between the sort of ignorance which excuses from that which does not, and his focus is on the effect that the ignorance has on causing the voluntariness of the act, so that if the actor commits an act that--in the absence of the ignorance--he would not have done, then the ignorance is the cause of the act, and the actor is not guilty for the sin. If, however, the ignorance is "concomitant with the sin," that is, if the actor would engage in the act whether or not ignorant so that the ignorance really has no role in the voluntariness of the act, then ignorance will not excuse. There is a difference between a man acting "in ignorance," (peccat ignorans) and a man acting "from ignorance" or "because of ignorance" (propter ignorantiam).***

For St. Thomas, ignorance is a privation of knowledge, not mere nescience. Nescience is the absence of knowledge and implies no ability to know that knowledge. So, for example, a dog is nescient of any religious duty to God, and yet there is no fault involved in that since the brute animal has no capacity to know God. Ignorance on the other hand is privation of knowledge, that is lack of knowledge of those things which one has the natural ability to know. Accordingly, since man has a natural ability to know God as First Cause by the use of reason and his perception of the world and its intrinsic order and the need for an explanatory original and ending cause, the lack or privation of such knowledge is not mere nescience, it is ignorance.

Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called "invincible," because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know.

Manifestum est autem quod quicumque negligit habere vel facere id quod tenetur habere vel facere, peccat peccato omissionis. Unde propter negligentiam, ignorantia eorum quae aliquis scire tenetur, est peccatum. Non autem imputatur homini ad negligentiam, si nesciat ea quae scire non potest. Unde horum ignorantia invincibilis dicitur, quia scilicet studio superari non potest. Et propter hoc talis ignorantia, cum non sit voluntaria, eo quod non est in potestate nostra eam repellere, non est peccatum. Ex quo patet quod nulla ignorantia invincibilis est peccatum, ignorantia autem vincibilis est peccatum, si sit eorum quae aliquis scire tenetur; non autem si sit eorum quae quis scire non tenetur.

S.T., IaIIae q. 76 a. 2 co.

Ignorance may excuse, in whole or in part, the guilt involved in an act, depending upon whether the voluntariness of that act is diminished or altogether erased b that ignorance.
Since every sin is voluntary, ignorance can diminish sin, in so far as it diminishes its voluntariness; and if it does not render it less voluntary, it nowise alleviates the sin. Now it is evident that the ignorance which excuses from sin altogether (through making it altogether involuntary) does not diminish a sin, but does away with it altogether. On the other hand, ignorance which is not the cause of the sin being committed, but is concomitant with it, neither diminishes nor increases the sin.

Ignorance may in some cases reduce or altogether eliminate the voluntary nature of an act, and without an act being voluntary, fault cannot be placed upon the actor. If the ignorance is voluntary, as, for example, when the ignorance is affected, cultivated, or purposefully or recklessly maintained (ignorantia affectata), then one can be held morally accountable for that ignorance. One cannot avoid sin by remaining in ignorance, when that ignorance is maintained purposefully. There is no ostrich-head-in-the-sand defense to sin.† This is particularly true when one is under a duty to know, but one is neglectful in complying or meeting that duty. In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas explains:

Therefore sin cannot be alleviated by any ignorance, but only by such as is a cause of the sin being committed, and yet does not excuse from the sin altogether. Now it happens sometimes that such like ignorance is directly and essentially voluntary, as when a man is purposely ignorant that he may sin more freely, and ignorance of this kind seems rather to make the act more voluntary and more sinful, since it is through the will's intention to sin that he is willing to bear the hurt of ignorance, for the sake of freedom in sinning. Sometimes, however, the ignorance which is the cause of a sin being committed, is not directly voluntary, but indirectly or accidentally, as when a man is unwilling to work hard at his studies, the result being that he is ignorant, or as when a man willfully drinks too much wine, the result being that he becomes drunk and indiscreet, and this ignorance diminishes voluntariness and consequently alleviates the sin. For when a thing is not known to be a sin, the will cannot be said to consent to the sin directly, but only accidentally; wherefore, in that case there is less contempt, and therefore less sin.

S.T. IaIIae, q. 76, art. 4, c.

Clearly, St. Thomas believed that ignorance, and its effect on voluntariness, comprehended both ignorance of fact and of law. In his De malo, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas uses ignorance of the law--in this instance ignorance of the law that fornication is sinful--as an example of ignorance that may excuse the voluntary nature of the act:
Thus, voluntary action is impossible in relation to the thing of which the subjected is ignorant. Wherefore, if in the same act something is known and something is not known, it can be voluntary only in relation to the thing known. However, it will always be involuntary in relation to the thing which is not known. As, for example, when a person does not know fornication is a sin. The person in such a state indeed commits fornication voluntarily, but he does not voluntarily commit a sin.

[P]raecedit enim ex necessitate actus intellectus actum voluntatis, quia bonum intellectum est voluntatis obiectum; et ideo sublata cognitione intellectus per ignorantiam, aufertur voluntatis actus; et sic tollitur voluntarium quantum ad id quod est ignoratum. Unde si in eodem actu aliquid sit ignoratum et aliquid scitum, potest esse voluntarium quantum ad id quod est scitum: semper tamen est involuntarium quantum ad id quod est ignoratum; sive ignoretur deformitas actus (puta cum aliquis nescit fornicationem esse peccatum, voluntarie quidem facit fornicationem, sed non voluntarie facit peccatum)

De malo, q. 3 a. 8 co. (Bertke's English translation).

Patently, St. Thomas Aquinas avoids a rigoristic view of the law, and his view, like that of St. Bonaventure, has become the common teaching of the Church. There are instances where ignorance, even ignorance of the natural moral law, can excuse the voluntariness of the act and therefore the blame imputable on the actor for that law's unknowing violation. It should go without saying that the act, though it may not be imputable as a sin upon the actor (because it lacks the voluntariness requisite to sin), it still is an objectively disordered act against the will of God and the law itself. Ignorance does not make the act good, it simply absolves the actor of any moral guilt for its unknowing and unknowable breach. Accordingly, someone may not be guilty of formal sin, and yet he may be involved in what would be called materially a sin.

*De ver., 17, 4, ad 5um.
**De malo, q. 3, a. 8.
***S.T. IaIIae, q. 76, art. 1, c.
†E.g., S.T., III, q. 47, art. 4, ad. 3. (ignorantia affectata non excusat a culpa)

†The following proposition was condemned by Pope Alexander VIII (Dec. 7, 1690): Tametsi detur ignorantia invincibilis iuris naturae, haec in statu naturae lapsae operantem ex ipsa non excusat a peccato formali. Given the invincible ignorance of the law of nature, this [invincible ignorance] operating in the state of fallen nature does not excuse formally from sin. The reverse is implied by the condemnation; namely, that in a state of fallen nature, there may be invincible ignorance of the natural law, and, if so, it may excuse from formal (though not material) sin.