Scholasticism


stitching_the_standard_leightonI was re-reading the De Regno the other day and pondering an odd remark St Thomas makes when describing the various social forms that develop in the course of man’s search for the perfect community (that society which possesses within itself all the necessary means for the attainment of its end). St Thomas deals, as one might expect, with the family, the city, the province (what we might call the ‘country’) and ultimately with Christendom or the Church. However, between the family and the city, in the space moderns would likely call ‘civil society’, he places the vicus.

Now since man must live in a group, because he is not sufficient unto himself to procure the necessities of life were he to remain solitary, it follows that a society will be the more perfect the more it is sufficient unto itself to procure the necessities of life. There is, to some extent, sufficiency for life in one family of one household, namely, insofar as pertains to the natural acts of nourishment and the begetting of offspring and other things of this kind. Self-sufficiency exists, furthermore, in one street with regard to those things which belong to the trade of one guild. In a city, which is the perfect community, it exists with regard to all the necessities of life. Still more self-sufficiency is found in a province because of the need of fighting together and of mutual help against enemies. Hence the man ruling a perfect community, i.e. a city or a province, is antonomastically called the king. The ruler of a household is called father, not king, although he bears a certain resemblance to the king, for which reason kings are sometimes called the fathers of their peoples.

Vicus is here translated ‘street’ as is reasonable given the context although ‘quarter’ might give the sense a little better. He clearly means the district of a city where the members of one guild ply their trade. How could such an area be supposed to have any kind of self sufficiency? One can hardly live off shoes or ironmongery. I think St Thomas must suppose that one guild represents the group responsible for providing one particular element necessary for the temporal live of the city and being thus indispensable is always in a position to trade for the rest. One could, with relative ease, divide up human life into the relevant sectors:

Area of Temporal Life Example of Traditional Guild
Information Scriveners
Energy Chandlers
Water Plumbers
Food Mercers
Furniture Carpenters
Clothing Taylors
Tools Smiths
Buildings Masons
Transportation Farriers
Weapons Fletchers
Learning University (Faculty of Arts)
Health University (Faculty of Medicine)
Organisation University (Faculty of Law)
Salvation University (Faculty of Divinity)

This would seem (with one obvious exception) to divide human life into the necessary areas in all societies in the wayfaring state. Of course, the mediaeval guilds were more diversified than the examples I give in the second column because they were diversified by the natures of their crafts as well as by their ends. However, by St Thomas’s logic, the vicus would be diversified only by the end (for this is what gives it its quasi self-sufficiency). I would suggest that in a society conformed to the tenets of Thomistic social doctrine society ought to be organised in this way. Indeed in England (the Regnum Thomisticum) and then Britain until the nineteenth century it was so organised. The Corporations of each Borough and City (the Masters of all the Guilds) ran the Towns and elected their representatives to Parliaments and the Masters of Oxford, Cambridge and the Scottish Universities governed those Universities and elected their Members of Parliament. The University seats and business vote remained features of British public law up to the nineteen sixties. Earlier still the guilds (at least) provided the non-charitable welfare and insurance functions now usurped by the state and financial institutions. The charitable welfare functions were, of course, provided by the hierarchy and the monastic orders.

What is the obvious exception? It is the manor. In fact, another meaning of the word vicus is village, manor, hamlet or suburban settlement. The knight or lord of the manor is to the urban vicus what the master is in a guild or university. Just as membership of the  University is divided into scholar, bachelor and master and membership of the Guild into apprentice, journeyman and master so membership of the order of chivalry is divided into page, squire and knight. The knight emerged in the chaos which followed the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century. The knight was a local hard-man who controlled an autarchic minimum of agricultural territory farmed by others for whom he provided security and lower governmental functions. His control of this territory was legitimised by military service offered to the ruler of a larger area responsible for higher governmental functions. The guilds and universities found themselves in a similar relationship with the King or Emperor. As Chivalry emerged in the socio-economic-military sense so Chivalry as a code of behaviour and spirituality emerged as the Gospel, the Monastic Orders and the Hierarchy interacted with and elevated this natural phenomenon. Knighthood as such was quite independent of the aristocratic system and was meritocratic. One could even be fined (distraint of knighthood) for failing to be knighted when in possession of the relevant feudal territory. To this day the feudal system in Britain is quite independent of the honours system. Although almost immediately the aristocracy tried to assimilate knighthood reducing it to the lower rung on the table of honours they never truly succeeded. Emperors, Kings and Princes have always fallen over themselves to draw attention to their status as knights rarely do they allude to the fact that they happen to also be a count or a baron.

This other form of vicus also found expression in the Regnum Thomisticum. The Writ of summons to the Model Parliament of 1295 expressly requires that “without delay you cause two knights, of the more discreet and more capable of labour, to be elected from the aforesaid county… and that you have them come to us on the day and at the place aforesaid ; so that the said knights shall then and there have full and sufficient authority on behalf of themselves and the community of the county aforesaid.” In a way therefore the vicus is the basic unit of society in Thomas’s vision, and in fact in Mediaeval England, for the next highest unit is already (in some degree) perfect. The vicus that is the manor or guild (or university) provides something indispensable to society as a whole and thus cannot be eradicated without eradicating the perfection of that society. Its disappearance from the constitutional landscape is a sign that slavery has crept again from out its unquiet grave and slithered its rotting fingers once more around the neck of western man.

 

stcatherine

“Among those who blamed the extraordinary life of Catharine, the most remarkable was Father Lazarini, of the Order of Friar Minors, who was then professing Philosophy with eclat, in his convent of Sienna. Not content with openly attacking the reputation of the Blessed, he resolved to come and see her, so as to find in her words and actions, materials for condemning her further: on the eve of [the Feast of] St, Catharine [of Alexandria] Virgin and Martyr he repaired to her house at the hour of Vespers. He had requested me to accompany him and I [Friar Bartholomew of Sienna] had consented to it, because I believed that he would repent of his conduct towards her. We entered her pious cell; Lazarini seated himself on a chest, and Catharine on the floor at his feet; I remained standing. After a few moments of silence, Friar Lazarini began to speak : ‘I have heard’ said he ‘many speaking of your sanctity, and of the understanding God has given you of the Holy Scriptures, and I have been eager to visit you hoping to hear something edifying and consoling to my soul.’ — Catharine replied: ‘And I, rejoice at your arrival, because I think that the Lord sent you to allow me an opportunity of profiting by that learning, with which you daily instruct your numerous disciples. I hoped that charity would induce you to comfort my poor soul, and I entreat you to do so through love of Our Lord.’ The conversation continued some time in this tone, and as the night was approaching Friar Lazarini finished by saying: ‘I see that it is late, and that I must retire, but I will return at a more suitable hour’. He arose to depart; Catharine knelt, crossed her arms, and asked his blessing When she had received it, she commended herself to his prayers, and Friar Lazarini, more through politeness than from devotion, asked her also to pray for him which she cheerfully promised to do. He went away, thinking that Catharine might be a good person, but that she was far from meriting her great reputation.

The night following, on rising to study the lesson that he was to explain to his pupils the next day, Friar Lazarini began to shed tears involuntarily. The more he wiped them, the more copiously they flowed, and he could not discover the cause In the morning, they came to call him at the hour of Class; but it was impossible for him to speak to his pupils: he wept without intermission. Returning to his cell, he continued weeping, and was indignant towards himself. ‘What ails me,’ said he; ‘what do I want: is my mother dead suddenly, or has my brother fallen on the battle-field; what can this mean?’ The entire day passed in this state, and when evening came on, he slept a few moments, being overcome with fatigue and wearisomeness; but he soon awoke, and his tears began to flow afresh, without his being able to restrain them. He therefore reflected whether he might not have committed some grave fault, and invoked the divine Mercy to recall it to him: whilst he was examining his conscience, he heard an interior voice that exclaimed to him: ‘Do you forget so quickly that yesterday, you judged my faithful servant Catharine in a spirit of pride, and requested her to pray for you through politeness?’

As soon as Friar Lazarini had received this advertisement and discerned his fault, his tears subsided and his heart became inflamed with a desire of again conversing with Catharine. At the first glimmering of day, he hastened to knock at the door of her cell. The Blessed, who was aware of what her Spouse had done, opened the door to Friar Lazarini, who prostrated himself at her feet, Catharine also prostrated, and implored him to rise, after which they had a lengthy interview, and the Religious conjured her to condescend to direct him in the way of salvation. Catharine, overcome by his instances answered him: ‘The way of salvation for you is, to despise the vanities of the world and its smiles, to become humble, poor, and destitute in imitation of Jesus Christ and your holy Father, Saint Francis.’ At these words the Religious saw that Catharine read his soul; he shed tears profusely and promised to do whatever she might command him. He accomplished his promise, distributed his money, and useless furniture, and even his books. He merely reserved a few notes, which were necessary aids to him when preaching, and became truly poor, and a veritable follower of our Blessed Redeemer.”

– ‘Deposition of Friar Bartholomew of Sienna’ in Bl. Raymond of Capua, Life of Saint Catharine of Sienna (Philadelphia, 1860), 354-356.

The Triumph of the Cross (1497)

BOOK III, CHAPTER IX.: THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN IS NEITHER UNREASONABLE NOR INCREDIBLE.

In order the better to understand both what has been said, and what still remains to be said, we must touch on the subject of that original sin, whereby the whole human race has been defiled. We have already shown, that God, in His own good time, created the world, placing over it, as the head of all things, man, endowed with an intellectual, immortal and most noble soul; and that to this soul was fitted an immortal body, obedient in all things and proportioned to the soul, which, as form, governs its matter, the body. But, since intellectual knowledge depends upon the senses, and senses cannot have any being save in a body composed of fleshly elements warring against reason, the only body that befits the soul is the human body.

Nevertheless, we believe, with good reason, that Divine Providence, which never fails His creatures, mercifully delivered man at his creation, from corruption, and from that repugnance to reason inherent in the flesh; and that He so proportioned the matter of the body to its form, the soul, that the inferior powers were subject to reason. Hence, we say that man was, at his creation, endowed with original justice, i.e., with impassibility, and subjection of body to soul, and of the sensitive part of his nature to reason. We further hold that this original justice would, had not Adam deliberately disobeyed God, have descended to all his posterity. But it is most reasonable, that, if man wilfully chose to turn aside from God, he should be deprived of original justice, of the natural subjection of his senses to reason, and of the immortality of his body. This was the just punishment of his sin. This deprivation of original justice, inflicted on Adam, and transmitted by him to the whole human race, is what we mean by original sin.

We see in man such evident proofs of the truth of this doctrine, that it appeals strongly to our reason. The Providence of God rewards good deeds, and punishes evil ones. When we see a penalty inflicted, we know that some fault has preceded it. Now, we behold the human body subject to many sufferings—to cold and heat, to hunger and thirst, to sickness and to death. We see, moreover, that the intellectual soul is weak in reason and in will; that it is harassed by the flesh; and, that, by reason of these infirmities, man falls, daily, into many errors. These sufferings are the sign of some antecedent fault. But, although the deficiencies of man seem proper to his nature, God could have supplied them all, had not man, by his own fault, placed an obstacle in the way. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to say, that the defects in human nature, are the outcome of the sin of our first parent, the representative of our whole race.

The sin of Adam was at the same time both personal and common to all nature. It was personal, in so far as it deprived Adam of original justice. It was common, in so far as the deprivation extended to all his posterity. From the point of view of the will of the human race, this privation does not imply sin; but from the point of view of the malice of Adam, this subtraction of original justice is the direct consequence of his sin. And, as he is our head and we are his members, he has implicated us in his guilt. The actual taking of a thing unjustly with the hand is thieving, and is called sin: yet the sin is not in the hand, but in the malice of him that moves the hand to steal. In like manner our privation of original justice would not be accounted unto us for sin, nor should we be born in sin, had we not been, by our first parent, implicated in his sin. His malice has affected all the members of his body, and therefore we, who are his members, are all born in original sin. But if Adam had never been endowed with original justice, and consequently had never lost it, we, had we been born with the irregularity now existent in our nature, should not have been born in sin. Ours would have been a purely natural state. For, where there is no malice in the will, there cannot be sin. It is, therefore, the malice of our first parent which causes the privation of original justice, transmitted by him to the human race, to be accounted as original sin.

There is nothing unjust in the fact that all men have to suffer the penalty due to one. Man had no natural right to original justice, in the sense in which he has a right to the use of his limbs. Justice was a free gift of God; and the giver has power to choose the time, and manner, of his gift. If God gave to Adam original justice, with the understanding that if he did not sin, both he and all his posterity should keep this gift; but that if he did sin, both he and his descendants should be deprived of their privilege, what ground have we for complaint? Human nature, in its entirety, was included in Adam. Since, then, original justice is, in no sense, our due, we could not murmur had Adam never been graced with it. How therefore can we complain that, in consequence of Adam’s violation of the conditions imposed upon him by God, our nature has been deprived of this privilege? Original sin does not, as is often thought, mean simply a wound inflicted on human nature, which has injured it by depriving it of some good proper to it. It means, rather, the deprivation of that state of original justice, to which human nature has no claim. It is as unreasonable to murmur at being born in our purely natural state, as it would be to complain that we were not sanctified in the womb, or were not created in the enjoyment of happiness.

Man cannot attain to beatitude without the gift of supernatural grace. Therefore, he who dies in original sin is deprived of eternal life; but he is not, therefore and thereby, subjected to any sorrow or suffering. Not being proportioned to beatitude, he is incapable of enjoying it. He does not, however, suffer from the loss; because God rectifies his will, conforming it to His own, and taking from it the desire of that which is impossible to it. A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor. Neither does such a soul suffer any sensible pain. On the contrary, it is endowed with all perfection proper to human nature—such as the knowledge of all natural things, and even the contemplation, by means of creatures, of such as are Divine. It enjoys all the happiness which human nature can enjoy. Furthermore, God confers upon these souls certain supernatural gifts—such as immortality, and impassibility of body—so that they are not subject to human infirmity; nor will they ever suffer sensible pain. And, although we believe that the abode of these souls is Limbo, the place of their habitation signifies but little. My private opinion, (subject to any future pronouncement of the Holy Roman Church), is, that after the resurrection, they will dwell on the purified and glorified earth. My reason for thus thinking is, that if the place of habitation be proportioned to the inhabitant, souls informing immortal and impassible bodies, and enjoying all the happiness natural to man, ought not to be deprived of the light of the sun and of other natural advantages and delights, in which they could have no share were they detained in a subterranean Limbo. We may go further, and say, that such a deprivation would not only be a diminution of happiness, but a sensible pain. Original sin, however, although it involves, as its consequence, the loss of the Beatific Vision, does not imply the endurance of sensible pain.

Thus, we see, that God, in His dealings with souls that pass from life in original sin, manifests, in a peculiar manner, His justice and His wisdom. We see also that the Christian teaching concerning original sin is neither incredible nor unreasonable.

Yesterday I re-read Bl. John Henry Newman’s brutal analysis of Protestants as non-believers. Today it was rather startling to be reminded that so many of them do not even believe in God. I remember once reading a Protestant writer’s analysis of whether Mormons are Christian. I was stunned to read him approach the question through the doctrine of justification. “Do Mormons truly trust in Jesus for their salvation?”. He never even raised the fact that they do not even believe in God! He never considered that, as atheists, Mormons cannot possibly believe in God Incarnate and thus whatever it is to which they attach the name ‘Jesus’ it will not save them from their sins. Listening to Craig’s words above I cannot help but wonder how common this kind of paganism is among the children of the Reformation. See: Feser’s (extremely courteous) response and Hart’s slightly more aggressive (he calls Craig a ‘mono-polytheist’) Greek Orthodox analysis of Craig’s position.

May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable,
most incomprehensible and ineffable Name of God
be forever praised, blessed, loved, adored
and glorified in Heaven, on earth,
and under the earth,
by all the creatures of God,
and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Amen.

Westminster

 

Now the wretch [Tyndale] raileth by name upon that holy doctor Saint Thomas, a man of that learning that the great excellent wits and the most cunning men that the Church of Christ hath had since his days, hath esteemed and called him the very flower of theology, and a man of that true perfect faith and Christian living thereto, that God hath himself testified his holiness by many a great miracle, and made him honoured here in his Church in earth as he hath exalted him to great glory in heaven.

– St Thomas More

The English Speaking World is different. It is superior to the rest of the world. The English Speaking world has liberty under the rule of law. It has what was called in ancient times Isonomia: equality under the law, equality in making the law. It perfected isonomia, it saved it and preserved it. Taxation is lower, the state is limited, the law is obeyed. It is prosperous, it is independent, it is composed of victorious and free peoples.  Why is this?

The English Speaking World is different because of one man: St Gregory the Great. St Gregory summoned the English from paganism to the faith of the Church of Rome. Loyalty to Christian Rome created and defined England. By his words ‘non Angli sed Angeli’ St Gregory ensured that the tribes his mission would save would define themselves as one nation and call themselves the English. It was not unknown for an Anglo-Saxon king to end his reign by abdicating and going on pilgrimage to Rome. Alfred the Great the first King of the English would be personally anointed and invested as Consul by the Pope himself. England drank deep of Latin Christian culture and drank it pure and from the source. It took its theory of law from Isidore of Seville untouched by the absolutism of Justinian’s Code. When the rediscovered Law of Justinian flooded the west in the twelfth century, England stood firm beside the laws it had made for itself founded upon the republicanism of the Latin Christian West. Finally, on 20th January 1265, Simon de Montfort, the son of the great commander of the Albigensian Crusade, summoned to Westminster a Parliament of Lords Temporal and Spiritual, of the Commons of Shire and Borough after the model of the Dominican Constitutions. The genius of St Dominic, who resolved the weaknesses of ancient republicanism, was poured into the public law of England.

Two hundred years later when Sir John Fortescue, the Lord Chief Justice, came to defend the Laws of England (which now embodied the traditions of Greece, Rome and Israel) against those of France corrupted by decadent Byzantine law he turned to the greatest doctor of the Dominican Order. It is upon the doctrine of St Thomas that the Dominican constitution of England was defended. The mixed monarchy, trial by Jury, the prohibition of torture, the dependence of the Monarch on Parliament for subsidy and statute, all is here. Rightly did Luther (though he said it with scorn) call the English monarch ‘Rex Thomisticus’. The liberties of the English Speaking Peoples have nothing to do with Protestantism. Non Angli sed Angeli, the English constitution breathes the pure doctrine of the Angelic Doctor.

Protestantism has rather corrupted and unbalanced our constitution concentrating all executive and legislative power in the same part of that constitution. As Charles I said (faithfully reflecting the doctrine of St Thomas),

There being three kindes of Government amongst men, Absolute Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy, and all these having their particular conveniencies and inconveniencies. The experience and wisdom of your Ancestors hath so moulded this out of a mixture of these, as to give to this Kingdom (as far as human prudence can provide) the conveniencies of all three, without the inconveniencies of any one, as long as the Balance hangs even between the three Estates, and they run jointly on in their proper Chanell (begetting Verdure and Fertilitie in the Meadows on both sides) and the overflowing of either on either side raise no deluge or Inundation.The ill of absolute Monarchy is Tyrannie, the ill of Aristocracy is Faction and Division, the ills of Democracy are Tumults, Violence and Licentiousnesse. The good of Monarchy is the uniting a Nation under one Head to resist Invasion from abroad, and Insurrection at home.The good of Aristocracie is the Conjuncion of Counsell in the ablest Persons of a State for the publike benefit.The good of Democracy is Liberty, and the Courage and Industrie which Libertie begets.

The United States of America, which has preserved this balance, has won for itself the global power that fell to Britain in the eighteenth century precisely because the USA’s interpretation of the Dominican model of government has ended up more faithful to the original than that which now prevails in England. This not because the USA is not a monarchy and Britain is, but because the USA is a monarchy and Britain is not. Those who think otherwise are as Belloc pointed out “making the common error of thinking in words instead of ideas” they foolishly “contrast America as a ‘republic’ with England as ‘monarchy,’ whereas, of course, the Government of the United States is essentially monarchic and the Government of England is essentially republican and aristocratic.”

For centuries protestants have perpetrated the fraud of ascribing the English constitutional tradition to their religion when the opposite is the case. The Leviathan of the absolute state is the protestant invention, the Dominium Politicum et Regale of freedom and the rule of law is the supreme achievement of English Catholicism. The proof is there for all to read in the writings of the great fifteenth century English Thomist Sir John Fortescue. There should be no English speaking Catholic who does not possess a copy of this book:

Fortescue

Do you regret that your education was not conducted according to strict scholastic principles? Be consoled by the wisdom of Dr Johnson:

On Tuesday, July 26th, I found Mr Johnson alone. We talked of the education of children; and I asked him what he thought was best to teach them first. JOHNSON: ‘Sir, it is no matter what you teach them first, any more than what leg you shall put into your breeches first. Sir, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the mean time, your breach is bare. Sir, while you are considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt them both (from ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’, chapter VI).