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The Telos of the City of Man: The Effects of Sin on Natural Law

December 15, 2008

 

Tower of Babel

Now there was need for man to receive a precept about loving God and his neighbor, because in thus respect the natural law had become obscured on account of sin:  but not about the duty of loving oneself, because in this respect the natural law retained its vigor: or again, because love of oneself is contained in the love of God and of one’s neighbor:  since the true self-love consists in directing oneself to God. (ST I-II, Q. 100, a. 5.)

This is important since many think that Thomas considered the faculty of reason to be unaffected by original sin. Further, we must remember that the natural law does not consist of innate propositional knowledge per se but is a reflection of creation working in a certain order.  Animals seek to fulfill their own natural inclinations toward the ends for which they were created.  Humans seek to order the passions in accord with reason for the purpose of achieving happiness.  Complete natural law must be Christian; not because faith takes the place of natural knowledge, but because the natural man will never order his passions toward the true telos, which is God himself, without divine guidance.  Of course no one’s nature will be perfected until that final end has been fulfilled, and so not even a Christian will function according to a complete natural law.  That is why we need divine revelation.  

But, does this leave us saying that the natural man’s use of practical reason is the same as that of the Christian? Yes and no.  The two may look identical.  We both live in the City of Man, acquiring the virtues that pertain to that city, and we both make mistakes – horrible ones at that.  However, there is also the “no” part of the answer.  If Thomas believed there was a need for man to receive a precept for loving God and loving one’s neighbor and that this precept did not contradict natural liberty but somewhat restored it (not w/out his grace of course)  then it seems that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity function in some way to restore the natural law.  Thomas says that when Adam lost his original justice he also lost the ability to easily order his passions by the use of natural law – reason directing the will to the right end.  

Should we say that the supernatural virtues only count for the City of God and therefore do not perfect man’s behavior in the City of Man?  I definitely think we should avoid the idea that just because a society is Christian or that by Christianizing culture in its various forms it will be better than the city of the noble pagans.  Should we force the bluebirds to sing Gospel? or paint crosses on all the rocks and trees? Nature does not need our help to be Christian.  This is exactly my point.  Nature is perfected by grace, the natural law by the supernatural virtues. Ransom raised Mr. Bultitude (a bear) up to a higher level of being – he didn’t just paint a cross on his chest (I’m referring to That Hideous Strength).  A twisted nature needs grace both to heal and perfect. The City of Man will become the City of God from the inside out.  If the natural law within a person becomes more perfect by being directed to God, the true end of all things, then I believe it should be our hope that this participation in the New Jerusalem will produce supernatural effects within our earthly city.  The whole universe is being sharpened and brought to a point.  The telos for the City of God ends with the vision of his essence.  The telos for the City of Man and the “natural law” that governs it ends in nothingness. When Merlin asked Ransom if they could not, as a last resort, look to the noble heathen for help against that hideous strength Ransom shook his head, “You do not understand,” he said:  

The poison was brewed in the West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now.  However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds:  men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven.  You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light.  The shadow of the dark wing is over all Tellus. (C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p. 290)

We should recognize the lineaments of man’s first abode that still remain in the City of Man but we should also be aware of its end and the goal of the reason of its citizen. 

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