Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bonaventure, Bernard, and the Last Man on Earth

St Bonaventure attributes his position on the portions of the natural law which can be suspended, which I alluded to yesterday, to St Bernard. Here's what he says in IV Dist. XXXVIII Art. II Q. III:

Item, Bernardus dicit: quaedam sunt praecepta moralia primae tabulae ordinantia ad Deum; quaedam secundae ordinantia ad proximum; quaedam superaddita, ut canonicae sanctiones et Patrum instituta. In primis non potest despensare nec homo nec Deus; in secundis non homo, sed Deus; in tertiis et homo et Deus. Ratio autem huius est, quia praecepta primae tabulae immediate ordinant ad Deum.

"Bernard says that there are some moral precepts which belong to the first tablet [of the Ten Commandments], ordered to God; some which belong to the second [tablet of the Ten Commandments], ordered to one's neighbor; and some superadded precepts, such as the sanctions of canon law or [monastic and religious rules] instituted by the holy fathers. The first [set] neither man nor God can dispense from; the second man cannot, but God can; the third both man and God can. The reason for this is that the precepts of the first tablet are immediately ordered to God."

The relevant passage is in St Bernard's De praeceptio et dispensatione [c. 2-3], where he says pretty much what St Bonaventure says. Those precepts pertaining to charity, that is, to the good of our relationship to God, are necessary and inviolable. But:

Necessarium deinde, quod inviolabile nominavi, illud intelligo, quod non ab homine traditum, sed divinitus promulgatum, nisi a Deo qui tradidit, mutari omnino non patitur, ut, exempli causa: NON OCCIDES, NON MOECHABERIS, NON FURTUM FACIES, et reliqua illius tabulae legisscita, quae, etsi nullam prorsus humanam dispensationem admittunt, nec cuiquam hominum ex his aliquid aliquo modo solvere aut licuit, aut licebit, Deus tamen horum quod voluit, quando voluit solvit, sive cum ab Hebraeis Aegyptios spoliari, sive quando rophetam cum muliere fornicaria misceri praecepit.

And so forth. This is just what Bonaventure said, and it should be clear that this position is not therefore the first bad fruits of Scotism, nominalism, or some imaginary hybrid of the two.

Moving on: in the same question St Bonaventure asks the hilarious question: say there's only three people left alive on the Earth: myself, one woman, and the pope, and say I've taken a vow of perpetual continence. Can the pope dispense me from my vow for the sake of the conservation of the species?

No! For one thing, this would never happen. For another, even if the case would arise, there would be no way to know that the species could be preserved by breaking my vow. If I did the deed with the woman it very well might be that no children result anyway. So I would certainly break my vow for the uncertain possibility of some good not under my control.


Brandon said...

St. Thomas says very much the same thing, and refers to precisely this passage in St. Bernard (De Malo 3.1 ad 17).

Brandon said...

Whoops; pressed 'publish' before I should have.

Aquinas, of course, thinks that the room for dispensation is in one sense very small: God does not dispense from natural law as such but simply releases people from the conditions under which the natural law applies. It's been a long time since I covered in Dumont's Scotus class, but I think it's with the mechanics of dispensation as such, not with the facts of dispensation, that the Thomists really disagree with Scotus. But it's clear enough that just about any scholastic has to accept some kind of dispensation, and under very similar circumstances; the only real room for disagreement, I would take it, is in what account one gives of these dispensations. I find it exasperating myself when people criticize Scotus for things that pretty much every scholastic accepted, even if not under precisely the same account.

Lee Faber said...

Dumont's Scotus class? I too have taken this.

Michael Sullivan said...

Yeah, that's something. Doesn't that make us, like, academic first cousins?

Anyway, I knew that St Thomas said things along the same lines, but I didn't know or didn't remember that he cited the same Bernard passage - thanks for that. As you say, it goes to show that "voluntarism" is not really the issue, nor is nominalism, despite all the commenters at Vox Nova.

I find it exasperating myself when people criticize Scotus for things that pretty much every scholastic accepted, even if not under precisely the same account.

You and me (and Faber) both.

Brandon said...

I took Dumont while he was at Toronto; I took most of the medieval classes offered, when I could fit them in. I was still adjusting to grad school, and so I actually don't remember most of the class, but I think I did a (lackluster) paper on intension and remission of charity in Aquinas and Scotus.

I'm pretty sure there's also a passage in the commentary on the Sentences where Aquinas discusses the matter, but I don't have any English translation to check and don't have the time at present to surf the Latin, which is usually slow going for me.

o/p said...

Is this gentleman the professor y'all are speaking of?

Stephen D. Dumont, Professor and Chairperson

If so -- and maybe I'm reading this wrong -- but based on the latter part of the 2nd par:

My longer term project is on the medieval theory of the will, particularly on the reception of Anselm of Canterbury’s doctrine of the ‘two affections of will,’ which Scotus took up and developed in an important way as part of his voluntarism.

does this mean Scotus had devoted himself to the idea of voluntarism in some way?

Michael Sullivan said...


sorry for the late response. If you see this, yes, that's the same professor Dumont, and yes, Scotus can be called a "voluntarist" in the sense that he thinks that in certain ways the will has priority over the intellect. However, if all you know about "voluntarism" is that it's a dirty word that destroys goodness and rationality, then you should probably ditch it and look into theories of the will more closely for themselves. A huge proportion of mediaeval theologians were "voluntarist" in some way or other, but these days most people put very little effort into learning what the differences between them were or whether they should all be tarred with the same brush.