Men are always disagreeing with one another. While many unthinking pacifists would like to abolish this, disagreement in itself is not necessarily an evil, for through reason, men may come to resolve the discord in a way more satisfactory, with more understanding for all involved parties. Yet because men are not always reasonable, laws are established, so that there might be adherence to right action even when comprehension is utterly lacking.
Unfortunately, while the need for law is, with rare exception, universally recognized, the basis for and the purpose of law–not to mention the particulars in which it is manifested–are themselves a topic of not infrequent social discord. Those commonly called progressive view law as a fluctuating, mutable establishment of the will of the people (sometimes but far from always the majority of the people), while those called conservative perceive it as the particular embodiment of the natural law.
The appeal to natural law has been the backbone of conservative social and political defense for centuries; and yet the advocation of perversions permeates Western society more thoroughly every year. Upright and moral men of the early third millennium simply shake their heads in disappointment and disgust as federal judges rule in favor of homosexual “marriage” while the federal legislature slides stultifying, stupefying egalitarian employment quotas into financial regulation bills. How has it come to this–not merely that the people can blindly elect an illegitimate government–illegitimate by reason of its unreason–but that any government could be so unreasonable? How is it that arguments for natural law have not been trumped, or thwarted, or discarded, and yet they are seemingly disregarded nonetheless?
It is easy, and in one sense correct, to say that progressives (to use the term for convenience’s sake) invariably wear blinders and see only what they would like to see; that no matter how often the truth is put before them, they avert their eyes; quite true, in fact. Yet at the same time, to hold those with whom one disagrees as fully culpable for the disagreement in any situation is a sure way to perpetuate adherence to falsehood; it is to despair of the efficacy of the good and the true, to despair of every man’s innate desire for God.
So it is that the question, “what is the natural law?” begs re-examination. Progressives are decreasingly dismayed by the use of the term natural law, in part because of its overuse, but more devastatingly because of the lack of significance in its use. Prayers are used repetitiously, and yet, understood, investigated, inquired into, they become ever more meaningful; each repetition becomes a reinvigoration. That all too often conservative argumentation for the preservation of some objective, universal truth should not bear the same pattern is absurd.
To get at the true root of the problem, it must be traced from its fruits. Why is the concept of the natural law perceived as decreasingly opprobrious to progressives? On a superficial level of semantics, a law derived from or based upon nature will, in the eyes of the progressive, atheistic materialist, be one that is derived from the strictly physical components of beings; having a wholly distinct immaterial and objective reality to which it corresponds requires a leap that most are not willing to make and that, from a standpoint of strict reason, they cannot be faulted for not making. The natural law, according to the principles they accept, therefore perdures and binds only insofar as nature itself perdures and gives grounds for binding–something which, by all appearances, it does not do. Strictly material being is always, as Heraclitus noted, becoming something else; the material being of every being is perpetually inchoate.
Alternatively, one may interpret the natural law in an entirely contrary manner, one which bears great resemblance to Manichaeism. This interpretation perceives the natural law as existing outside of nature, or as something almost superadded to it externally by which it is limited and governed; as that which exist incorporeally, be it in the mind of God or something unknown. It requires therefore not merely a leap from the material to the immaterial, but a conception of the person as always at least somewhat–intellectually–independent of corporeality. Moral order becomes a merely mental concept, superimposed on physical behavior.
In either interpretation, however efficacious they may have been at one time or another, there is an inconsistency with the lived human life of the 21st century. In the former sense, the natural law is as fixed as material being itself; meaning that whatever can be moved may be moved, the natural law no less malleable than a blade of grass. In the incorporeal interpretation, natural law appears as an arbitrary power attempting to enforce conformity in the actions of particular beings. Consequently, nature itself seems to be in revolt against the natural law, as when animals act homosexually, or people feel perverse urges; in the materialistic-derivative interpretation, nature endorses perversion. To the eyes of the average progressive, then, natural law is then either based upon a principle which is itself rightly rejected (a principle of purely negative and metaphysically incoherent, Manichean morality) or an endorsement of material manipulation.
These two common ostensibly contrary but equally impotent interpretations have only served the progressive agenda. The strictly materialist interpretation (that being what it devolves into for someone metaphysically disinclined) of a derivative natural law undermines not only the conception of rights, but all positive laws based thereon. That which is immoral is only immoral because it is as it is–and if it may be made other than as it is, it might no longer be immoral. If promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, gluttony, and sloth are sinful they must seem sinful to the materialist only because of their diversion of the course of physical nature; if science, technology, and human ingenuity can enable their enaction without diverting nature’s physical course, then they must seem no longer immoral.
The semi-Manichean interpretation does even greater harm; for whereas the materialist interpretation defines morality through ability, through that which can be done and that which can be averted, the semi-Manichean defines morality through the will. If the intellect is treated as a separate, incorporeal faculty of man and yet he does not encounter with it God, or the ideas of God, or anything physically insubstantial but the ideas of his own and the ideas of other men–if material being is merely a disorganized, chaotic mess of accidental composition–then what is morality, what is law, what is nature but the successful exertion of the will to power?
To be continued.
Liberty, nature’s most exalted gift, the endowment of intellectual and rational beings only, confers on man the dignity of abiding “in the hand of his counsel,” of having power over his own actions. But the manner in which this dignity is exercised is of the greatest moment, inasmuch as on the use made of liberty the highest good and the greatest evil alike depend. Man, indeed, is free to obey his reason, to seek moral good, and to strive unswervingly after his last end. Yet he is free also to turn aside to all other things, and, in pursuing the empty semblance of good, to disturb rightful order and to fall headlong into the destruction which he has voluntarily chosen.
The Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, after restoring and exalting the original dignity of nature, vouchsafed special assistance to the will of man. By the gifts of His grace here, and the promise of heavenly bliss hereafter, He raised it to a nobler state. In like manner this great gift of nature has ever been, and always will be, deservingly cherished by the Catholic Church; for to her alone has been committed the charge of handing down to all ages the benefits purchased for us by Jesus Christ. Yet there are many who imagine that the Church is hostile to human liberty. With a false and absurd notion as to what liberty is, they either pervert the very idea of freedom, or they extend it at their pleasure to many things in respect of which man cannot rightly be regarded as free.
On other occasions, and especially in Our Encyclical Letter Immortale Dei, while treating of the so-called modern liberties, we distinguished between their good and evil elements. We have shown that whatsoever is good in those liberties is as ancient as truth itself, and that the Church has always most willingly approved and practised that good. But whatsoever has been added as new is, to tell the plain truth, of a vitiated nature, the fruit of the disorders of the age and of an insatiate longing after novelties. Seeing, however, that many cling so obstinately to their own opinion in this matter as to imagine these modern liberties, cankered as they are, to be the greatest glory of our age and the very basis of civil life, without which no perfect government can be conceived, We feel it a pressing duty, for the sake of the common good, to treat separately of this subject.
It is with moral liberty, whether in individuals or in communities that We proceed at once to deal. But, first of all, it will be well to speak briefly of natural liberty: for, though distinct and separate from moral liberty, natural freedom is the fountain-head from which liberty of whatsoever kind flows, by its own force and of its own accord. The unanimous consent and judgement of men, which is the trusty voice of nature, recognizes this natural liberty in those only who are endowed with intelligence or reason; and by his use of this, man is rightly regarded as responsible for his actions. For, while other animate creatures follow their senses, seeking good and avoiding evil only by instinct, man has his reason to guide him in each and every act of his life. Reason sees that whatever things are held to be good upon earth, may exist or may not. Discerning that none of them are of necessity for us, it leaves the will free to choose what it pleases. But man can judge of this contingency, as we say, only because he has a soul that is simple, spiritual, and intellectual–a soul, therefore, which is not produced by matter, and does not depend on matter for its existence; but which is created immediately by God. Far surpassing the condition of things material, it has a life and action of its own, so that, knowing the unchangeable and necessary reasons of what is true and good, it sees that no particular kind of good is necessary to us. When, therefore, it is established that man’s soul is immortal and endowed with reason and not bound up with things material, the foundation of natural liberty is at once most firmly laid.
[From Libertas Humana promulgated 20 June 1888 by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII]
*As an aside, the final paragraph could be interpreted in a way that seems out of keeping with the Thomistic-Aristotelian tradition. Consequently, as a caveat, it should be kept in mind that particular material things are unnecessary, but, barring Divine Intervention of an incomprehensible sort, material reality itself is necessary for man–hence man being created as a being that is unified in body and spirit, their division being an unnatural consequence of original sin.
Heresies have often arisen and still arise because of this, that disgruntled minds will quarrel, or disloyal trouble-makers will not keep the unity. But these things the Lord allows and endures, leaving man’s freedom unimpaired, so that when our minds and hearts are tested by the touchstone of truth, the unswerving faith of those who are approved may appear in the clearest light. This is foretold by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle when he says: There must also be heresies, that those approved may be manifest among you. Thus are the faithful proved, thus the faithless discovered; thus too even before the day of judgment, already here below, the souls of the just and unjust are distinguished, and the wheat is separated from the chaff. This explains why certain people, backed by their hot-headed associates, seize authority for themselves without any divine sanction, making themselves into prelates regardless of the rules of appointment, and, having no one to confer the episcopate upon them, assume the title of Bishop on their own authority. In the Psalms the Holy Spirit describes these men as sitting in the chair of pestilence; they are pests and plagues to the faith, snake-tongued deceivers, skilled corruptors of the truth, spewing deadly venom from their poisonous fangs; whose speech spreads like a canker; whose preaching injects a fatal virus in the hearts and breasts of all.
[From The Unity of the Catholic Church by St. Cyprian]
God is not only his essence, as shown above, but also his existence. This can be shown in many ways. First, whatever is in something that is other than its essence must be caused either by the principles of the essences, as in the case of proper accidents following from the species (as the ability to laugh follows from being human and is caused by the essential principles of the species); or by something external (as heat is caused in water by fire). Accordingly, if the very existence of a thing were other than tis essence, then it would be necessary for its existence to be caused either by something external or by its own essential principles. But it is impossible for existence to be caused solely by the essential principles of a thing, because no thing suffices as the cause of its own being if its existence is caused. It therefore follows that anything whose existence is other than its essence must be caused to exist by something else. This cannot be said of God, however, since we call God the first efficient cause. It is therefore impossible in God that existence be other than essence.
Second, existence is what makes every form or nature actual, for neither goodness nor humanity is signified in actuality except inasmuch as we signify that it exists. Accordingly, it follows that existence itself is related to an essence that is distinct from it as actuality is related to potentiality. So since there is no potentiality in God, as shown above, it follows that in God essence is not other than existence. Thus God’s essence is God’s existence.
Third, just as that which has fire but is not itself fire is on fire through participation, so too that which has existence but is not itself existence is a being through participation. But God is his essence, as shown above. Thus if God were not identical with his existence, God would be a being through participation rather than essentially. This would mean that God is not the first being, which is absurd to say. Accordingly God is his existence and not only his essence.
[From Summa Theologiae, Question III, Article 4, in The Treatise on the Divine Nature, by St. Thomas Aquinas]
To know what that was upon which the Crusading host came when they at last saw Antioch, a man must himself have seen the strange small relic of what Antioch once was, standing now today upon its river bank: that little shrivelled present town, the huge precipitous mountainside towering above it, miles and miles of fortified wall with curtain and tower climbing up and down the mountain slopes, crossing the profound gorge and encircling like a vast arm all that now wasteland whereon the mighty city once stood.
It is more than a mile from the banks of the Orontes southward and upward to the crest which the topmost of the wall still follows; it is two miles at least from the western extremity of those defenses downstream, to the eastern extremity, along the Aleppo road. All that great space had been filled for a thousand years with clamor and life. Antioch had been the third city of the Eastern world; it had been crowded with every kind of movement, officialdom, and wealth, a mass of temples and palaces, with colonnades that stretch from end to end. Today it is something larger than a village but not much larger, with not one stone of its antique grandeur remaining to stand against the sky as such things stand in profusion throughout the ruins of antiquity elsewhere, from Mesopotamia to the Channel, from the Sahara to the Rhine.
Of that ancient splendor, how much remained for the Crusaders to see? How much could the Crusading myriads see as their still prodigious column wound down the road from the Orontes crossing towards the walls, with the wide, very large shallow lake upon their right and the dark mountain with its line of towers frowning above them, much as Cader Idris frowns over its abrupt southern steep. What they saw as they approached was certainly something very much more than remains for us today after so many centuries of Mongol barbarism and general Mohammedan neglect.
[From The Crusades by Hilaire Belloc]
The Hilaritatem for June was supposed to be written this week… but alas, the gin ran out a bit sooner than anticipated… so it will have to wait.
If one visits Benedictine College, in Atchison, KS, one will notice a curious admixture of architectural styles. The original St. Benedict’s College was founded in 1858; expansions and additions to the school have come through the past 152 years and have endured—some for the better, many for the worse—the various ideologies which moved men to build in such or another way. The original buildings have a beauty characteristic of the 19th century American style; far from ostentatious, they nonetheless convey something significant, through their arches, their brickwork, their solidity. Contrariwise, several of the academic and residence halls, built from roughly 1950-1975, are hideously bland. The aesthetic is structured purposefully towards a denial of purpose in aesthesis—in other words, they are structured so as not to impress, but deliberately to fail to impress; they are so devoid of artistry that they are, admittedly, quite flexibly functional. One could use the buildings for a great many purposes. It is or ought not to be any surprise that they were designed by Marxists—and it is or ought not to be any surprise that being flexibly functional for a greater number of purposes than any of the other more beautiful buildings, they are vastly inferior in supporting any of them. The ideal Marxist building can be anything—but to do so, it must divest itself of the possibility of truly being one thing at any time. As such, students looking to study would not meet in the common room of a stark, cold building, but rather move to one of the much nicer, more aesthetically pleasing; they would not pray in the Abbey church (itself a hideous structure) were the monks using the adjoining parish church—a beautiful but sadly underused place of spiritual elevation and significance. (Happily, the College is today emphasizing the aesthetics of its better buildings and shunning the regrettably unavoidable facilitative structures).
If someone were candidly asked, “What is a wall?” they would likely respond that it is part of a structure that helps hold up the roof, keep some things in, and others out. This is true; this is the function of the wall. But it is the function of the wall at its most basic, its most base level of being-a-wall. It can be a better wall; why else do people paint, use wallpaper, place pictures, paintings, tapestries, crucifixes, and images of the Blessed Mother upon the wall? They could just as well be placed on shelves, bookcases, countertops; they could be put on ceilings or strewn about a floor. It is not merely for the fact that most of these placements would result in gross inconvenience that things are placed on the wall; it is also due to the fact that one wants to beautify the wall, because the wall is not just the wall—it is the wall as a part of the room, of the house or church or whatever structure to which it belongs, and as such, its function is more than its mere function. There is a certain fittingness for every thing in every context into which it is placed. Some, in revolting against the one-thing-at-a-time monomania of Marxist, and its necessitated insubstantiality, would see in this ability of a thing by its accoutrements and by its context to be more than its mere functionality a pluralization of the thing’s being; it is both a wall and a place for art; it is both a church in which one may worship and a testimony to beautiful art and architecture; it is both a true statement and one beautifully put. This sort of plurality of function pervades American culture—with the obvious danger that it is in danger of, going the opposite direction, ending in the same place as the Marxist ideal—but fails to accurately characterize the more fundamental being of the more fundamental things. The wall, in holding a copy of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” is not a wall and an art-space; it is a beautified wall. The church is not both conducive to worship and aesthetically well-posed, but a beautiful place to worship. The statement is not separately true and beautiful, but its truth is conveyed through beauty, and its beauty permeates the truth it expresses.
If a wall is not beautiful and a supporting, protective part of a structure, but a beautiful wall, if a church is not a place of worship and beautiful but a beautiful place of worship, if a beautifully stated truth is not separately true and beautiful but beautifully true and truthfully beautiful, then what can be said of man as regards his functionality?
The function of man, in the eyes of the Church, is most lucidly stated in the Baltimore Catechism: to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him in the next. The goal is the same for all men; but though all men have the same goal, it is a phenomenological truth that every man is different, from different situations, different experiences, and is therefore in need of different means to bring him to God. This subjectively determined but objectively oriented means—in other words, suited to the individual but only insofar as it will bring him to sanctification—is what has long been called man’s vocation. Typically, vocations are broadly categorized: marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life. Yet the fact is that, despite these broad categorizations, each calling (for “vocation” is from the Latin vocare, “to call”) is particular to each individual; one married man’s marriage is not the same as others, for his wife is different, and his children are different, and incalculable, innumerable aspects of his life are unique to him, each providing him, according to Divine Providence, with that which he needs in order to find salvation. Likewise, a priest may be a diocesan priest, a mendicant, he may belong to a personal prelature, he may be in the Roman Rite or the Melkite, the Byzantine or the Ukranian Catholic. He may have a didactic talent, or a pastoral talent, or an evangelical talent; he may be the next great theologian or the next great Francis of Assisi—but he will never be St. Francis no more than he will be St. Thomas Aquinas, for he is himself, unique in his participation in the Being of God.
Would it not make sense, then, that for some men, the vocation could be within the categories of both marriage and priesthood, or marriage and religious life? Could there not be some blending of the priesthood and the single life?
Suppose a man wanted to travel from Chicago to Atlanta. He might do so by land, in a car, or by air, in a plane. Either way, he arrives at the same location; what he cannot do is travel by both land and air simultaneously, for the equipment required for each is different—never mind the principle of non-contradiction. If he wants to travel by both, he must switch back and forth, changing equipment each time (were he in a plane that can drive or a car that can fly, he would nonetheless switch the active equipment; tires for wings and vice versa). At no point in time is he simultaneously fulfilling both modes of transport, and thus at every point in time, if he is fulfilling one, he is leaving the other unfulfilled. At times, no doubt, this sort of travel is necessary, under circumstances that mandate abdication of one mode for the sake of the other at whatever time; to drive the car or fly the plane, to guide the small flock or to shepherd the larger.
It is, however, undeniable that this duality of roles is an unnatural division. Every man is responsible for others on the path to the Kingdom of Heaven; but for how many others, in how many ways, can one man help shoulder the burden? In less than perfect circumstances, he may adequately fulfill multiple such roles; but less perfectly than in more perfect circumstances; when one must fulfill multiple functions, being a limited being, of limited time, with limited abilities, the fulfillment of such more often than not becomes perfunctory. The less-than-perfect circumstance induces the would-be-perfect man to be merely adequate, merely functional; he may hold up the structure, but he does not hold it up beautifully. Should not then, in more perfect circumstances, man seek to do that which is more perfect? No man may reach God in this life or by his own means, certainly; all he may do is make the attempt to lessen his own imperfection, to draw as near to God as possible. A man’s spiritual life is indivisible from the rest of it; one’s work, one’s particular vocation, one’s socialization, all of it is of a unity; it is all part of his vocation, it is all to be ordained to the attainment of salvation, not as aggregate parts, but as a single organism. The fulfillment of function, the response to vocation, is not a juxtaposition of disparate parts, but a living response, one breath at a time, diffusing life into one bloodstream.
In the early Church, marriage and Holy Orders were both conferred, regularly, upon one man. Over time, as the East and West become distinguished from one another in liturgy and tradition, something happened in the West that did not in the East; something, always held in particular esteem for the priesthood, underwent greater scrutiny, study, and consideration: the practice of celibacy. In the first centuries of the Church’s existence on earth, celibacy was seen as admirable principally because of the examples of Christ and St. Paul, but was seen as a merely optional though encouraged discipline of those having received Holy Orders. The distinction between priest and lay was not so clear; how could it be? The priesthood introduced by Christ was totally unlike any other to have existed in human history; for whereas pre-Christian priests mediated between man and the gods through words and supplication, through offering and ritual, the Christian priest mediates between man and God by bringing God Himself to man and thereby sanctifying and elevating man himself. Though the profundity of this action, this vocation, was never lost upon the Apostles and their immediate successors, its place and its practice within the world could not fully be grasped so quickly; what is more, the world itself could not comprehend, was not ready—just as it was not ready to accept the Immaculate Conception as dogma until 1854. This slow progression, be it in dogmatic definitions or the strengthened reinforcement of long-standing disciplines, is the natural, organic development which has characterized the Western Church for over seventeen-hundred years. The fittingness of celibacy to the priesthood has been realized, recognized, articulated and understood; the wall has been built higher, and it has been built beautifully. Celibacy is not a mere adornment, external and removable; it is gold set into the very stone.
Marriage of the ordained and ordination of the marriage can, most certainly, be permitted, in extraordinary circumstances; but the Church is not historically, theologically, canonically recidivist; for She has, in the understanding of Her members, grown in wisdom and maturity, and cannot return to a state of infancy.
“Priests have a duty which, in a certain way, is higher than that of the most pure spirits ‘who stand before the Lord.’ Is it not right, then, that he live an all but angelic life? A priest is one who should be totally dedicated to the things of the Lord. Is it not right, then, that he be entirely detached from the things of the world, and have his conversation in Heaven? A priest’s charge is to be solicitous for the eternal salvation of souls, continuing in their regard the work of the Redeemer.” – Pope Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdoti, 45.