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The Natural Law Is The New Covenant

John Kelleher

A covenantal development of Natural Law hinges on the question of whether at some point in the history of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, it came to be professed as certain dogma that there exists a 'natural' law and moral order available universally to all men by virtue of autonomous Reason, or whether this idea merely began to be taken for granted as true by moral theologians at some point in theological history, and therefore also began to be taken for granted by the magisterium, but was not definitively professed over against previous teachings.

For it is not the case that the magisterium has always and everywhere professed this conception of 'natural' law. For example, in Veritatis Splendor [12], Pope Saint John Paul II writes:

Saint Augustine asks: "Does love bring about the keeping of the commandments, or does the keeping of the commandments bring about love?" And he answers: "But who can doubt that love comes first? For the one who does not love has no reason for keeping the commandments." [In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 82, 3: CCL 36, 533]

It is difficult to read Augustine here as professing that the impetus to keep the commandments is 'naturally' available to 'natural reason' independent of love; in fact, Saint Augustine says the opposite: it's obvious ("But who can doubt?") that the commandments are not self-proving; absent the prior impetus and direction provided by love, of course (we might even pun and say, "naturally") we are unable to find a reason to keep them.

And in the same passage in Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II writes:

The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart (cf. Jer 31:31-34), replacing the law of sin which had disfigured that heart (cf. Jer 17:1). In those days, "a new heart" would be given, for in it would dwell "a new spirit", the Spirit of God (cf. Ez 36:24-28).

[ Veritatis Splendor, 12 ]

which again is difficult to read as the profession of a time-less, dehistoricized 'natural' law and moral ordo that is universally imposed and has always been available to 'natural reason'. To the contrary, John Paul II states that the Ten Commandments were a gift indeed, but exist as "a promise and sign of the New Covenant;" that the law prior to the New Covenant was to be replaced (which means that any conceivable Natural Law could not be either time-less or universally available in history); and that the New Covenant is both truly new in history and essential, because by means of the New Covenant "the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart."

Indeed, we will point out in this essay that prior to the scholastics, it was not universally, or even typically, held that a search to understand theological truths could operate independently of faith, let alone prior to faith. In other words, many divines agreed with Augustine: "love comes first." And as we have just seen, a recent Pope saw no need to assert the priority and independence of a time-less, dehistoricized 'natural' law over against the New Covenant, either. These facts provide covenantal moral theologies with some hope; but a further difficulty immediately arises.

To observe, as we will shortly, that the 'natural law' posited and explicated by some moral theologies has no coherent basis and in fact depends on a radical contradiction is, for some, the equivalent of saying that wrong is right, right is wrong, all is Relativism, abortion is a virtue, nothing is sacred, nothing is certain. They think, and have been taught to think, that a particular moral theology is not a project of science, but part of the object it studies, immune from radical insufficiencies, because if its accounts were not reliable, that would mean that the moral law itself is in jeopardy.

Nonetheless, if a particular tenet of a particular moral theology is discovered to be ill-founded, that is at least a technical problem, which ought to affect the thinking of scholars. Nor is this necessarily of immediate moment; the theological dispute de auxiliis has festered for four hundred years, and we seem to have gotten along just fine without a satisfactory resolution.

But not every genuine theological difficulty is innocuous in practice. Nor can the problematic of moral theology be reduced to the moral rectitude of moral theologians. The dissolute and the immoral no doubt can strive to poison moral theology, but if there really is a problem with the intellectual foundations of some particular moral theology, that cannot be resolved merely by increasing the honesty and the faithfulness of honest, faithful scholars, nor by their religious obedience. The intellectual work has to be done, and it will be done intellectually, or not at all.

So, doing one's best to get the facts straight on rather technical points in moral theology provides no healing balm; it does not do, and cannot do, what only the Bridegroom with His bride can do. But it is something; that particular quaerens is the worship, mere as it is, which moral theologians qua moral theologians may offer to the Father, through the Son and His bride, in the Holy Spirit.

The Natural Law is the New Covenant, the Eucharistic Event, the Bridegroom and His bride, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, which in itself is substantial human nature; and by their living sacramental work in history, together they continue to 'breathe' the Holy Spirit into the world.

The radical misunderstanding of Natural Law by some moral theologies -- a theological misunderstanding entirely separable from Natural Law's infallible profession by the magisterium -- has its immediate origin in the radical contradiction at the heart of the 'natural' or philosophical analogy of being, a contradiction that was noticed [CT Vol. I, Ch. II, n. 37, p. 278] in the Latin West by the close of the thirteenth century.

The implication for moral theology of the failure of the "natural" analogy of being is that, apart from the Eucharistic Event, there is no 'natural' unity, no 'natural' or philosophical moral ordo to the fallen world. The fallen world considered apart from the continuing work of the risen Christ with His bride in history (that is, considered apart from the sacraments) is the world in which fallenness is normative; and that is not the world of 'intrinsically ordered' moral acts; it is instead, the world of death.

Thus there can be no 'natural' acts, or even any progression of increasingly 'spiritual' 'natural' acts, which enables fallen man to touch the sky, for the sky is beyond our reach by definition:

... the usual "Thomist" analogy of being set up a radically contradictory postulate of a transcendent creator who is "naturally" known to be the metaphysical absolute, for it is immediately evident that of the transcendent absolute precisely nothing is or can be known, as a matter of definition: of the ineffable, nothing is said.

[CT Vol.I, Ch. II, n. 37, p. 278]

Absent any possible 'natural' link of historical being to the ineffable, the entire methodology and mechanism of some moral theologies fails from before the outset. For the 'natural' law written in Man's fallen heart is death. And if there exists no salvific 'natural' ordo, then there exists no basis by which some acts can 'naturally' be judged to be intrinsically dis-ordered.

This world -- human, animal, vegetable, mineral, material, and immaterial -- is fallen; absent the continuing work in time of the living Christ with His bride, absent the sacraments, this world -- all of it -- is fallen into 'flesh', sarx, trapped between "the jungle and the cage":

In sum, we are free in Christ and not otherwise; Christ is in history, to free us, in the One Flesh of the Eucharistic sacrifice and not otherwise. When we deny the authority to offer it in his name, we remove his authority from our world, which can then only return to the ancient dilemma: would we live in a jungle, or in a cage?

[ Keefe, Donald J. In Persona Christi: "Authority in the Church and the Maleness of the Priesthood," Faith 34/5, Sept./Oct. 2002. ]

Within sarx; that is, apart from the New Covenant and the sacraments that sign it in history, there are no 'intrinsically ordered' entities, acts, concepts, etc., on this earth, let alone 'intrinsically ordered' motions of those entities in time, nor will there ever be:

All this rests upon the Catholic faith and its properly Eucharistic worship; there is no other possible basis for Catholic moral existence. Diminish it, deny it, and human history becomes radically corrupt, salvageable only by a total negation of its fallenness. This road has been traveled, disastrously. Why travel it again?


(24) ... the division between eschaton and time, which is the very stuff of pagan wisdom and of the Gnosticism which is its successor, is precisely that which is overcome in the historicity of the pre-existent and eschatological Christ. In the historicist arguments we have examined, that fact is simply undone, as it is undone by every gnosticism. The "solution to this problem" is not the invisible presence of the Spirit, but the visible Eucharistic worship of the Church which by that worship is Church, the Body of Christ, the presence of eschatological redemption which unifies an otherwise chaotic space and time into world and history, making them significant of the Christ in whom they are created and redeemed.

[ Keefe, Donald J. Conclusion, and n. 24 from the original manuscript (in English) of "Hacia una moralidad eucaristica," Pentecostes 34 (julio-septembre, 1973) 5-41; translated and reprinted as "Verso una morale eucaristica," Rivista di Teologia Morale 4 (Oct.-Dec., 1974) 657-696. A shortened version appears as "Toward a Eucharistic Morality," Communio 2 (Summer, 1975). ]

Apart from the Eucharistic worship of the Church, a 'natural' unification of "an otherwise chaotic space and time into world and history" does not exist. Thus the immediate origin of the radical theological misunderstanding of Natural Law is the contradiction that refutes the "natural" analogy of being, but its fundamental origin is the theological misunderstanding of the Lord Jesus that Covenantal Theology observes over and again. He and He alone is the Lord of history; there is no other.

He alone saves and unifies the world in and through His giving of the Spirit, not in the abstract but ever in history, in and through the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice; and He is never apart from His bride, who 'breathes' with Him but not as Him in His works, the sacraments, which continually give the Holy Spirit, give grace. And through this continuing nuptial work that is sheer Gift, raw deathly time is re-created into saving history.

Thus, teleology is not prior to the sacraments; the sacraments are prior to the only meaningful teleology, which is historical and covenantal, and therefore is the sole theological teleology. Without the continuing works in time of the risen Lord with His bride, there is no point to Man, there is no telos 'intrinsic' to Man, there is no 'nature' of Man, there is no 'natural' law written in Man's heart, that does not fizzle out and end in tears. Within sarx (fallenness as normative), the telos of Man is nothingness, and anguish, and the 'natural' law written in Man's heart, is death, and a fortiori death is the true 'natural' law for the entirety of the Good Creation under fallenness, which 'groans' for its Lord and His bride.

Thus it is simply not the case that substantial reality is somehow founded on and built up from Necessity. Necessity is the law of sarx. Necessary 'law' is not in any way the Ground of Being, from which all else is elaboration. For there is no road, royal or otherwise, from the Necessity within which we as fallen are bound, to our covenantal and thus moral freedom.

The basis of our moral freedom is not an initial and therefore more fundamental creation within the law of Necessity, within rules that bind us whether we like it or not -- within that 'natural' law. To employ the "substance-accident" Aristotelian parlance, it is not the case that grace is an 'accident' of 'nature', no matter how many times the Angelic Doctor or anyone else said that or implied it.

This only sounds outrageous within moral theologies that take the "natural" analogy of being seriously. One would have thought that Saint Paul had put paid to the whole enterprise before it began in earnest: since the Fall was simply too grave, too substantial, such that even the Law given by God to the Jews cannot save -- since even the outcome of observing that was death -- then the same follows a fortiori for any 'law' supposedly discoverable by any man whatever, 'philosophical' man or otherwise; but it was not to be.

It too often began to be thought that there simply was no way to conceive of a 'law' whose veracity, morality, and goodness could be (let alone must be) the New Covenant itself, the Eucharistic Event itself, the very Person of the Lord of history with His one-and-only bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice. And it too often began to be taken for granted that the 'natural' law could be, and must be, founded on some dehistoricized, necessary truth.

It had to be the case that the 'natural' law was a dehistoricized, cosmological, impersonal, binding structure. The Lawgiver ordained this law, binding us and all the world within it, and then further agreed to bind Himself within the law that he had ordained. Certainly, within the pagan worldview, the only alternative to that was a chaos or a flat absurdity.

The work that Covenantal Theology has done is thus massive and exceedingly valuable: theology had gradually come to found itself on the New Logic. Thus for a long time, there seemed to be no way for moral theology to take "Jesus is Lord" with systematic seriousness. There just had to be some sort of dehistoricized cosmology prior even to Jesus the Lord Himself, some pre-existing 'natural' law of necessity; lest order, and therefore all morality, disintegrate into relativism, into chaos, into absurdity.

But it is of the essence of covenantal moral theologies to reject a dehistoricized, cosmological conception of Natural Law, and to rather profess that the New Covenant, the Lawgiver with His bride, does not merely 'embody' or 'give' or 'write' the Natural Law, but is the Natural Law.

At our baptism, we begin our mediative, sacramental, enfolding in the death of the Lord, and thus -- we are not using the term loosely or inadvisedly, but literally rather than technically -- God transubstantiates our "stony hearts" [Ez 36:26, and 11:19] into our real, true, living selves.

As fallen we are made nearly entirely of stone; we are -- almost -- not alive, not capable of life, even at the level of our 'hearts', our deepest selves. All that remains of our living hearts is the trahi a Deo, our ineradicable creation in the grace of Christ and therefore our ineradicable desire for Him.

What happened to the remainder of our hearts? Out of envy of God, out of their refusal to live within the Gift of Covenant, out of the first Adam's refusal to be the Head and the first Eve's refusal to be his Glory, the first Adam and and the first Eve freely chose to turn their hearts to stone.

They wished -- they yearned -- to set their hearts against the Lord, and He gave them exactly what they wanted. What happened to Lot's wife [Gen 19:26] was an echo, a subsequent type, of what has -- almost -- already happened to us all as a result of the Fall. The saddest thing in the world is that the Fall is real. Absent the living work of the Christ with His bride in history, the difference between the fate of Lot and the fate of his wife is almost undetectable: after all, just a few years later, Lot also was made subject to death.

For there is nothing in these selves made of sarx that even in theory can provide the preconditions for living hearts; apart from the death of the Lord, our desire for living hearts is unavailing; we still are imprisoned in death, as the saints of the Old Testament showed. Thus, 'transubstantiation' is the proper theological term, even though this word has in the past been reserved for the Holy Eucharist; but there is nothing for it but to use it, for only 'transubstantiation' fits the facts.

Hence we judge that some moral theologies make too much of the cleansing that undoubtedly occurs in our baptism, and far too little of our baptismal immersion into the death of the Lord -- which after all, does the cleansing. For our fallen 'hearts' are as capable, in themselves, of being changed into living hearts, as bread and wine are capable of being changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; which is to say, not at all.

One cannot 'cleanse' a stone and turn it into a living heart; when we are 'cleansed', our stony hearts are removed, and replaced with living hearts. It is no longer intellectually necessary to rely on a 'natural' (fallen) ordo to understand Natural Law, and thus covenantal moral theologies are not driven to give short shrift to the clearly baptismal Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

[ Ez 36:25-27 ]

In baptism, our stony fallen hearts mediatively, but nonetheless infallibly, ex opere operato, are enfolded in the death of the Lord, and thus our stony hearts become transubstantiated into natural hearts. Our deepest selves are sacramentally enfolded in the substantial human nature that is the New Covenant, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, the Bridegroom with His bride who with each other but not as each other 'breathe' out the Holy Spirit in history.

This living nuptial relation, which in itself is substantial human nature, which in itself Images the Most Holy Trinity, is the true Natural Law. Jesus the Lord -- viz., the totus Christus, the Bridegroom with His bride -- mediatively, sacramentally, does not etch some precept or structure onto our stony fallen hearts, nor does He merely 'cleanse' our stony hearts, nor does He impose a necessary structure upon us, but rather, through the work of the Holy Spirit which He gives, He freely re-creates in us a living heart capable of free, moral -- that is, covenantal -- relation and worship within history.

We thus might say that the Natural Law is 'written' as our stony hearts are re-created as living hearts, capable of covenantal relation with the Bridegroom and His bride, with the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice.

Or we might say that the Natural Law is the Song of Songs -- the song of the Bridegroom with His bride: the New Covenant, the Eucharistic Event. In baptism, we are in signo immersed in the death of the Lord, and thus the 'vibration' of the Song of Songs is death to our stony hearts, it shakes our stony hearts to bits, and its music re-creates our now-living hearts.

We extend the musical metaphor a little further. Learned students of classical Western music know that 'harmony' is not a simplistic following of iron rules but is actually the result of separate 'voices', with their own identities, interacting within the overall music. And indeed, it is not the continual 'harmony' of the voices, but rather their temporary antagonisms (dissonances), then resolved, which give classical Western music its 'flow.' Students of music also are aware that 'improvisation' exists, both in the large and the small, within most musical traditions of the world, including but not limited to classical Western music and, of course, jazz.

With that in mind, we can meditate on the idea that while stony hearts cannot "sing to the Lord a new song," [Ps 96:1] our living hearts can. Our own hearts now have both the freedom and the capability, not merely to sing in lockstep unison with the Bridegroom and His bride, but rather also to harmonize with them as separate voices in the strand of their music, and even further, to add our own musical improvisations to the continuing Song of the Bridegroom and His bride in history.

"This is the love that renews us, making us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song." [ St. Augustine. In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus 65, 2: CCL 36, 491 ]

Our stony fallen hearts are now "hearts of flesh." Our hearts now begin to beat, not as His heart or as hers, but with theirs, mediatively, sacramentally; that is, really, but obscurely, in signo.

The Eucharistic Event thus proceeds freely, in history, personally, from the hearts of the Bridegroom and His bride, who 'breathe' out the Spiritus Creator to us. Thence the Holy Spirit 'cleanses' us, washes us in the blood of the Lamb, thus mediatively, in signo but really, removing our stony hearts and re-creating our living hearts, which Adam and Eve had repudiated and all but destroyed in Eden.

This re-created living heart, this true and substantial nature in us, is the baptismal character in virtue of which: continent and celibate males can be ordained to offer the One Sacrifice in persona Christi; a man and a woman can make a covenant with each other that Images the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice; and all of us can fulfill our fundamental munus as men, which is to bless the Lord by completing "what is lacking" in His afflictions.

We pause here to note that, unless we take Paul to mean that the only salvific 'work' done by the Lord Jesus was His afflictions, Paul cannot be taken to mean that only our afflictions can 'complete' the Lord's work. Instead, we take for granted that the covenantal understanding of 'completing' is summarized in the Morning Offering:

O my Jesus, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world....

With living hearts, our whole earthly life may "sing to the Lord a new song," may "bless the Lord," not as the Bridegroom and His bride, but mediatively, sacramentally, with them. As CCC 516 professes about the Lord Himself, so also, we as living hearts may sacramentally, covenantally, multi-personally, historically, in ecclesia "complete" what is lacking in His work, in everything we ourselves do, even our own silences and sufferings:

Christ's whole earthly life - his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking - is Revelation of the Father. [CCC 516, emphasis original]

By this change in our substantial reality that is the baptismal character, we become living hearts, selves capable of covenantal relation, with the Bridegroom and His bride, within ourselves, and with other men.

As we have just implied, a salvific 'natural' or philosophical moral 'law' is not merely a radical contradiction in terms. For the true Natural Law is the law of living hearts, Christ as One Flesh with His bride in the One Sacrifice, which in itself constitutes substantial human nature and Images the Most Holy Trinity. This is the substantial human nature, the Natural Law, that we possess in signo, sacramentally, mediatively, historically, multi-personally, as truth and gift in ecclesia.

By contrast, the 'natural law' of the philosophers is not a law of living hearts; it is time-less rather than historical; it is an imposition of an impersonal and necessary structure rather than a covenantally -- and thus wholly free -- gift between living persons; and it is a-sacramental and a-ecclesial. Thus the 'natural law' of the philosophers is literally inhuman, literally heart-less: it is blind to, if it does not actively deny, the substantial human nature given as the New Covenant.

It bears continual reemphasis that this baptismal and ultimately Eucharistic 'enfolding' in the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice, which gives us living hearts, which gives us our share in substantial human nature, is covenantal and historical, not organic.

We 'join' the substantial human nature which is the New Covenant between the Bridegroom and His bride, yes, but this 'joining' means that our now re-created living hearts freely beat with theirs, not as theirs. We sing with them, not as them. We do not 'become' the New Covenant, nor are we -- ever -- in any immediate relationship with either the Bridegroom or His bride; the immediacy of their nuptiality is reserved to them alone. We are not His bride -- not ever, not any of us.

And since this covenantal relation is free ex nihilo sui et subjecti, on our side as well, our acts and works in history which 'join' with their continuing work in history are also free. They are not dictated by some prior logic or ratio. Covenantal relation is Catholic, not Greek: the omniscience of God is covenantal, no less than his omnipotence:

Only from the Christian revelation, not from Greek metaphysics, do we learn the true, historical meaning of omnipotence, of omniscience, of omnipresence, and all the other attributes which form the vocabulary of the Catholic doctrine of God as God. Only from the Revelation do we learn of the unconditioned freedom of God in history. Omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and the rest are not attributes of the timeless immanence of God remote from history; they are theologically comprehensible only as historical and covenantal. As Karl Rahner has insisted, the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity: there is no immanent Trinity "behind" the revelation of God in Christ, no ideal Godhead that would be obscured by rather than revealed by the historicity of Jesus. God is freely revealed in Christ, whose historical freedom is Personal, "one and the same" with the freedom of the eternal Son, whose Personal freedom, omnipotence, omnipresence and so on are Trinitarian, homo-ousios with the Father.

[CT Vol. II, Appendix, p. 656]

Our free worship of the Most Holy Trinity in our history is therefore not fundamentally a working-out of pre-ordained duties, our playing-out of an already-written script, but is a living gift on our part. We delight God, not merely satisfy Him; accordingly, there is always something of a surprise, even to God, in our daily blessing of Him, in our "prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day;" though we fly to point out that the Lord Jesus takes no delight in our sufferings, any more than He found His own sufferings 'delightful'.

But we are firm that the Son's own obedience to His Father, even unto death, was fully historical; thus the Son's gift, His sacrifice, His giving of the Spirit, His sacrificial joining with His bride, was -- none of it -- bound within Necessity. It was a surprise, as all good gifts are: something wonderful and intelligible and good and beautiful which has no prior possibility.

There is a universal Natural Law freely available to all men: it is the New Covenant. However, this exhausts the possibilities. There is no universal 'natural law' available by means of natural Reason, or by any other means: love comes first.

As we have stated, any possible "natural" analogy of being fails, and with it, any possible salvific 'natural' moral law. Moreover, the search, 'scientific' or otherwise, for a dehistoricized, time-less Precept or 'Nature' or 'human nature' by which to ground the morality of men will inevitably fail.

One cannot begin one's search for 'human nature' 'as if' the historical New Covenant, the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice, the only substantial human nature there is, does not exist, or even 'may not' exist. As Covenantal Theology observes, to begin the theological quaerens with "an sit verum?" is already to invoke another god more godly than, prior to, the Lord of history; it is to repudiate the theological task, fides quaerens intellectum, from before the outset:

Catholic theology must then refuse the cosmological gambit, which would invite a discussion of its faith by posing the question, "An sit verum?" Theology does not seek the truth: possessing the truth in ecclesia by gift, Catholic theology seeks to understand in ecclesia ever more fully the mystery mediated there, a mystery which we cannot comprehend, but from which we may learn forever. To occupy oneself with "But is it true?" is to abdicate the office of theologian, of fides quaerens intellectum.

[ CT II, Epilogue, p. 652 ]

The search for a 'natural' human nature was initially conducted in ignorance; but now such a 'natural' search need not begin in ignorance; for many, the search for a 'natural' human nature now begins with an explicit intellectual denial, or even a personal denial, of the only substantial human nature that exists; thus, even more than before, such a search can only be fruitless.

'Reason' simply is not prior to the Eucharistic Event; and nonetheless asserting the priority of 'Reason' amounts to a rejection from before the outset of Truth Himself speaking truly, whether that rejection be inadvertent or deliberate.

Further, it is fatal to begin one's investigation of 'intrinsically ordered' acts apart from the sole infallibly ordered acts on this earth, the seven sacraments of Holy Catholic Church.

The truth of the prime analogate, the New Covenant, is free; it waits upon no prior possibility; it cannot be contained or comprehended within any 'ratio'. As a result, any sort of Reason that assumes itself to be prior to, or superior to, or the judge of, the New Covenant is false by definition.

Moreover, the presumption that truth is necessary truth is contradicted at every corner by the surprise of grace.

The epistemological freedom of the New Covenant rules out necessary truth as the foundation for moral life. Truth Himself speaking truly does not resolve all intellectual conflicts and hence demand an intellectual obeisance, but rather places Man at the point of decision: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." [ Mt 10:34 ]

In sum, the happy conceit that there is an underlying 'natural' moral unity to men, 'naturally' available to 'natural' Reason, which can thus underpin a universal 'natural' moral law, is a delusion. The world needs Christ, not as the frosting on the cake, but in its bones. There is no 'underlying' 'natural' unity of fallen men -- moral, intellectual, or otherwise. A 'natural law' apart from the sacraments is not discoverable by 'natural' Reason, or in any other way, because it does not exist; to pursue the lineaments of this 'natural' law is to chase a chimera; as Augustine knew, even the commandments are not self-proving: love comes first.

Of course this means that a Catholic appeal to the Children of This World is ineradicably confessional, not 'natural' (meaning, grounded in something apart from the sacraments). Our solidarity with those not enfolded within the sacraments of the Catholic Church (and concomitantly, the solidarity of the Children of This World with each other) is slim indeed; this is both utterly sad, and utterly true: the Fall guarantees it.

We can offer to the whole world the true universal Natural Law, which in its very being is the substantial human nature by which alone we are unified and free. But substantial human being is not imposed on any man; we can only offer it, even as God Himself can only offer it, for it is a share in His own trinitarian life, which is therefore covenantal, which is therefore sheer Gift.

There is one true Natural Law to which we can make appeal, and neither the Children of This World nor we ourselves are bound whether we like it or not to that true Natural Law, the New Covenant, the Eucharistic Event.

Our solidarity in the first Adam is wholly negative; our fallen positive solidarity is a mere remnant of our true selves, the trahi a Deo in each man, the ineradicable longing for and delight in the grace of Christ within which we are all created.

The Gift offered us is no less than, and also is more, than what was freely offered to Adam and Eve. Thus the true Natural Law can only be freely offered, it cannot be imposed, and it can always be freely refused, by us, no less than by the Children of This World.

So a covenantal re-founding -- 'baptism' would not be inapt -- of natural law theory must begin at the beginning; viz., not with what is 'intrinsically' disordered, but rather with a rediscovery of that which is intrinsically ordered. For we cannot judge what is 'disordered' apart from the New Covenant, the foundational intrinsically ordered Event in the fallen world.

Thus covenantal moral theologies have to do at least initially with the motions of bodies in time that are infallibly, and thus 'intrinsically', ordered and moral; that is, with the seven sacraments, the explicit continuing work of the totus Christus in history.

The unity of these particular motions of bodies in time is ex opere operato, not imposed 'from the outside', but solely because Jesus is Lord, Who in His very Self binds history with the primordial and the eschatological.

He Himself, with His bride, working in our 'now', binds the sacraments, these particular motions of bodies in time, with both the primordial and the eschatological. Apart from the death of the Lord, the sacraments too are no more or less than any other physical commixtio or conjunctio. We say this out loud, to be clear: but the sacraments are not apart from the death of the Lord. And that changes everything about them.

We have said, more than once, that there is nothing 'before', 'beyond', God's love: God's love, and His faithfulness to His love, does not wait upon some prior cause; He is His own guarantee.

But this by definition makes God's love 'irrational'. It cannot be deduced from or controlled by some 'ratio' prior to God, by some state or law or recipe or concept or person more 'godly' than He. Covenantal moral theologies simply try to take this seriously: God's love is both true, and it is not "necessary" in any sense: it is not forced by anything whatever, nor is it deducible from any 'logic' whatever.

But this most holy of counter-examples simply blows up the postulate that whatever is not necessary, must be a chaos; or that whatever is not deducible, must be a relativism; or that whatever is not true of necessity, must be either absurd, or false.

It is indeed remarkable that systematic theology for at least the last 800 years has (to put it gently) taken no systematic notice of, or (to put it bluntly) ignored, even repudiated, this most trustworthy truth: the world "is not the product of any necessity whatever." [CCC 295] And it is beyond curious that theology would imagine that this most trustworthy truth must nevertheless still be made present to the mind (by Whom?) as the product of Necessity, or it would 'of necessity' be false, or simply absurd.

God's love is freely true. We will never be forced, by iron 'logic' or by any other power, to acknowledge God's love as true, yet it is not only true, but the truest of true.

As Covenantal Theology emphasizes over and again, ex nihilo has an intellectual, an epistemological, dimension: it not only means 'out of nothing', but also 'out of no prior possibility.' God's love is freely true; in the same way, it will ever be 'freely false' to reject the very existence of His love.

We are not in any way saying that the truth of God's love, and the truth and reality of the sacraments, is doubtful. Nor are we in any way saying that their truth is inaccessible to the human mind.

No. We do not say this. But be warned: we are saying that these truths are free, not only in the will but also and even more importantly, in the mind as well.

Our minds are not defective if the grace of the sacraments ever appears as an intellectual surprise to us. For there is no god 'behind' God, by which we can time-lessly measure His truth.

The truth and reality of the sacraments and the living surprise of God's love are truths that are not imposed on the mind. These truths are utterly free; that is, they are possessed in ecclesia and gifted to the mind ex nihilo sui et subjecti; they are free not only on God's side, but also on our own. They are truths free for the taking in this life, but these truths live utterly apart both from Necessity, logical or otherwise, and from relativism, chaotic or otherwise.

For faith is "the condition of possibility of the constructive work of reason;" Augustine's crede ut intellegas (believe, in order to understand) once was, and still is to be, taken at the letter:

For the Augustinian pre-scholastic tradition, faith was the prius of understanding: Anselm of Bec, later Archbishop of Canterbury, the first of the great Scholastics, spoke for all the Augustinian past when he described theology as fides quaerens intellectum. For that tradition, faith is the condition of possibility of the constructive work of reason: Augustine's crede ut intellegas had been axiomatic for the pre-Carolingian theology, and it would not have occurred to a pre-scholastic theologian to rationalize a conciliar teaching in the sense of submitting its truth to the test of an autonomous logic of sic et non as later did Abelard. The illusory identification of intellectum with an account in terms of "necessary reasons" begins with Anselm, and is still with us.

[ CT II Ch. VI, p. 503 ]

To reiterate, the foundation of covenantal moral theologies is not teleology; far rather, teleology flows from the Covenant. The substantial human nature that is 'intrinsic' to Man, the true Natural Law written in Man's heart, is the New Covenant, present ever within history as a free gift, which may be freely refused, and there is no other: we freely live within that Gift, or we freely die.

As sheer infallible gift, the sacraments cause what they signify; the signification is the cause. The signification is not a magic, some sort of alignment of forces existing 'behind' or 'beyond' the signs; the signs in themselves cause what they signify, they give grace, they give the Holy Spirit, because they are the continuing works of the risen Christ with His bride, the Holy Catholic Church. The sacraments are no more a magic than any other work of Jesus:

"We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

[ Jn 9:4-7 ]

The ground of Catholic sacramental realism is the inexhaustible surprise and generosity of the New Covenant itself; we are no more baffled by ex opere operato than by our Lord's spit giving sight. The sacraments are the continuation of His infallibly saving work; He remains the light of the world and continues His work in the world now and forever with His bride, and that's that.

The sacraments are thus 'intrinsically ordered' in the covenantal sense: they are free, multi-personal, historical, covenantal, ecclesial; and they are so "irrationally;" that is, they do not wait upon any prior time-less cosmological dehistoricized Necessity, but instead they are infallibly, 'intrinsically' ordered and moral ex opere operato, in their free 'irrational' signing itself, which gives the Holy Spirit, which gives grace.

We pause to emphasize the radical distinction between the 'intrinsically' of the bulk of the moral theological tradition in the last thousand years, and the 'intrinsically' of covenantal moral theologies.

We say it plainly, unequivocally: apart from the sacraments, the Philosopher -- philosophy itself -- is flat unable to examine the substantial, the 'intrinsic' nature of things, or their real telos, and thus is flat unable to identify an 'intrinsic' 'natural' moral ordo. Sarx, fallenness as normative, is not the substantial nature of things; any quaerens which begins there will be unavailing.

For love comes first, and we believe in order to understand. The New Covenant is the intrinsic natural moral ordo. The New Covenant is, and freely gives, the true nature of things ex nihilo sui et subjecti. We freely live within that Gift, or we freely die without it.

Apart from the continuing work of the totus Christus in time, we find no salvific 'natural' moral ordo, and thus inevitably we face "an impossible choice between an intolerable deductivism and an equally intolerable relativism, the one destructive of freedom and the other, of truth." [ "Toward a Eucharistic Morality", ibid. ]

We warn again: unless covenantal moral theologies found Natural Law methodologically, systematically, on the New Covenant itself, their efforts will inevitably be inadequate; in the end they will not be faith seeking understanding, but rather amount to a mere rationalization of some kind of 'wisdom' that in the end is apart from the sacraments, because not dependent on them systematically, as a matter of method.

The sheer number of such rationalizations may not be countable. Among them we include making 'natural' law and hence the 'nature' of Man dependent on 'science' -- whether that be philosophical or theological science, or the 'natural' science of our or any day. We repeat: this will always be unavailing; founding the 'science' of Man and of 'natural' law on fallenness as normative is founding it on sand.

We also of course include rationalizations of conventional wisdom in our tally. It is only a secret to the naive how readily 'conventional wisdom' can be manufactured by the 'wise' and powerful, or by the dissolute; and 'conventional' Catholic moral wisdom was never, and will never be, moral merely because it is or was conventional. And to the extent that the 'old morality' was grounded in anything at all other than the New Covenant, it was indeed merely a rationalization of conventional wisdom, not Catholic moral theology.

Without context, the previous sentence is too harsh because imprecise; it amounts to historicism, not history. An explicit founding of moral theology on the 'natural' or philosophic law in no way gainsays the implicit truth that much of 'conventional' moral wisdom had its real basis in the practical lives of believers, "possessing the truth in ecclesia by gift," [ CT II, Epilogue, p. 652 ] and informed and bolstered by the preaching of the saints and the blood of martyrs.

If moral theological rationalizations of that 'conventional wisdom' got the cart before the horse -- the rationalization made logically or 'metaphysically' prior to (rather than a support to) the simple unadorned Catholic lived belief -- then that methodological error can rightly be criticized; but not the moral lives of the saints, named and unnamed, whose living hearts helped to bring grace to the world.

To repeat, any examination of the 'intrinsic nature' of things that is not strictly built up from Catholic sacramental realism is inadequate from before the outset. The postulate that there is some other -- any other -- intellectual starting point for an adequate investigation of 'intrinsic nature' is simply false.

However, it is not false deductively; to commit a neologism, the postulate that there is some other intellectual starting point for an adequate investigation of 'intrinsic nature' is, and will ever be, "freely false." This does not mean that it is false if we wish it; covenantal moral theologies repudiate the deficient conundrum that appears to force the intolerable choice between deductivism and relativism.

The Fall was real; thus the sacraments are not some nicety layered on top of a fundamentally sound universe; they are utterly crucial to the substantive restoration in time of the Good Creation, and they always will be. The death of the Lord is no small thing: it changes everything. By freely accepting death on a Cross, the Lord Jesus established the New Covenant with His bride, and their ongoing covenantal activity in time continuously gives the Holy Spirit; this, and this alone, makes a moral universe again possible.

It is here that covenantal moral theologies dismiss and refute all charges of 'relativism.' For it is not 'relativism' to stake everything on the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice; one might rather say that it is equivocation, at best, to stake everything on something far, far less Catholic -- such as Necessity, or on any 'metaphysics' that takes fallenness as normative.

We conclude with very brief discussions of particularity, debt, and merit.


Certain motions of bodies in time -- but not others -- are infallibly the work of the living Christ with His bride. They are ex opere operato infallibly moral and graced (=='intrinsically ordered'). There is no 'relativism' about that truth; yet this truth is ex nihilo, dependent on no prior 'logic' or power; this is basic covenantal theology.

The specificity of the sacraments are thus also part of the "scandal of particularity:" these particular bodies, these particular motions in time, are infallibly moral, infallibly give the Holy Spirit, infallibly give grace; others may not, or even, do not.

Covenantal moral theologies thus have no problem with the morality of very particular 'mere acts', either as 'mere', or as particular; for the foundational intrinsically ordered acts on this earth are very particular 'mere' acts; that is, they are the sacraments: the free continuing historical work of the Bridegroom and His bride, that give the Holy Spirit, that give grace.

The sacraments transcend Necessity simply and only because the Lord Jesus transcends it. The sacraments just are His direct and continuing works within history with His bride.

We pause here to meditate momentarily on the real 'particularity' of the foundational sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, the signing of the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice. We do this for two reasons. The first is that there exists an exquisite and groundbreaking discussion of this matter in Vol. 2, Chapter V of Covenantal Theology, and it is almost never inapropos to cite this passage and to dwell on it.

And the second reason is that this passage provides profound hints about how covenantal moral theologies might and must approach particularity in the moral life (even if we don't have much of a clue how to do this at the moment):

The matter-form analysis of the Eucharistic sign, as Thomas employs it, places all sacramental efficacy in the words of consecration; if we take seriously the meaning of form and matter in the Thomist act-potency analysis, it is clear that only by the "form" of the sacramental sign (sacramentum tantum), viz., by the words of consecration, do the bread or the wine signify and cause what they signify. That the bread and wine, as signs, are indispensable to this efficacy must be conceded--and in fact this is insisted upon over and again by St. Thomas, for if the bread or the wine is corrupt, or substituted for by invalid matter, there is no sacrament--but he provides no act-potency explanation for their indispensability. If the words of consecration are truly the formal content of the sacramental sign, the matter upon which they bear cannot but be formally insignificant; as material causes, they can do no more than individuate the sign in space and time, for which purpose any material whatever would suffice.

Further, this matter-form analysis of the Eucharistic sign places the full significance of the Eucharist, i.e., the whole of the sacramental sign, and therefore its full efficacy, in the moment in which the words of consecration are spoken. Once again, it is evident that the words of consecration are indispensable and that they are effective of the res et sacramentum, but that taken in such isolation they exhaust the formal significance, the sign quality, and thus the efficacy of the sacrament cannot be conceded, as is clear from the Bread of Life discourse of Jn 6. Again, Thomas knows this: he distinguishes between the sacramentum tantum and the res et sacramentum of the Eucharist in numerous places, and assigns distinct causality to each. Further, his argument that the words "Take ye and eat" (or "Drink ye all of this") of the institution formula are not an element of the "form" risks isolating the Canon from the Offertory and the Communion of the Mass. It is true enough that the Communion and Offertory are not consecratory, but they are not on that account any less integral to the Eucharistic celebration, and therefore to the efficacious sign-character of the sacrament itself, whose efficacy is more than consecration, as the Mass is more than Canon. Thomas is of course well aware of this, but his form-matter analysis does not account for it; only when he uses the classic Augustinian language does the dimension of the Eucharist that is its historicity find room in his thought.

Consequently, and with all respect to a work of genius, this theology of the Eucharist is profoundly defective in that it effectively bars the sign-function of the bread and the wine by which, within the Event of Eucharistic Sacrifice, they are the sacramentum tantum. The species (appearances) of the bread and wine, understood as metaphysical accidents, are efficacious only as intrinsic causes, for this is their sole reality within the intrinsic analysis of historical reality that is the Thomist metaphysics: their causality is only effective by their being transcendental relations to the substance which is the term of their relation.

Absent that term, that subject of inherence, they can exercise no causality within this metaphysical framework, while to depart from that framework is to depart from systematic theological explanation. For this reason if for no other the account of transubstantiation which the SUMMA THEOLOGIAE provides must be rejected. St. Thomas has left intact the static or nonhistorical character of the transcendental relations which he has borrowed from Aristotelianism, and even in his hands this cosmological analysis has failed when applied to the historical Event which is the Eucharistic worship of the Church. There is implied no departure from the Thomist project in seeking to find in the historical transformation of the Aristotelian cosmology a remedy for this failed theology. We have seen that it is by providing for the free contingency, i.e. the historicity, of created substance by the invention of the esse-essence analysis that Thomas instituted his conversion of Aristotelian cosmology to a metaphysics of a free creation, and thus of history. Therefore the first step toward the conversion of cosmology to a Christian metaphysics was taken by St. Thomas himself, without which no Thomism would exist and no progress in it would be possible. To refuse to proceed further is to hesitate where St. Thomas did not, whose great respect for "the Philosopher" did not prevent his undertaking a theological--and therefore a historical--systematic project. If we are to continue what Thomas began, we must recognize that he left unfinished the conversion of the Aristotelian cosmology which constitutes his metaphysics. This is patent in his Eucharistic theology, which hesitates between the historical ordo of the triadic Augustinian synthesis and the static cosmology of the form-matter analytic, and thus hesitates also between their corresponding notions of substance and of transubstantiation.

Therefore, in order to remain within the Thomist theological project, we must abandon the Aristotelian cosmological notion of substance as the a priori of metaphysics generally, and specifically of the metaphysics of the Eucharist, in order to replace it with that historical notion which is drawn from the Eucharistic liturgical tradition: the One Flesh of the historical-liturgical representation of the uniquely sufficient Sacrifice of Christ. In this representation, the order of elements (viz., their concrete free interrelation) is historical rather than structural, as de Lubac and others have been at pains to stress, and the unity of that order is at once the unity of the order of being, the order of metaphysics, and the order of history. A general failure to understand that, e.g., the Eucharistic symbols of Sacrifice and of food (which, following H. Lietzmann and others, have often been read as conflicting Pauline and Johannine emphases) are to be associated as events rather than as competing conceptualizations of the mystery, is reflected in most of the present and past theologies of the Eucharist.

In despite of such theological dead ends, an examination of actual liturgical practice shows that the historical unity of the Eucharistic worship integrates the Incarnation, from Mary's "Fiat" to the death of Christ on the Cross, and his Resurrection, respectively as anamnesis and as the eschatological banquet, in the complex density of a single order of a historically effective symbol, in which the death of Christ on the Cross is sacramentally (therefore really, actually, in the actuality of a historical Event) represented as the unsurpassable fulfillment of the Paschal promises and the Messianic prophecies of the Old Covenant, as the uniquely pure Sacrifice of the unblemished Paschal Lamb that alone establishes the New Covenant, and at the same time as the eschatological consummation of the Old Covenant and the New, represented and made present as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation, by which we have Communion with the last Adam, sent by the Father, obedient unto death, raised by the Spirit, who as his Spirit is now poured out upon the Church, his Bride.

[ CT II, Ch. 5, pp. 422-424 ]

In the essay in this series regarding the Holy Spirit, we unpack the meaning of the last sentence above in a related but different way. After first noting that discussion of the Holy Spirit within Covenantal Theology is sparse, we also observe a passage in Vol. III (note that the above passage is contained in Vol. II, written some twenty years earlier) that is much more explicit about the radically historical presence of the Holy Spirit. In our essay, we then proceed to develop the idea of a fully historical and fully obedient Holy Spirit Who is 'breathed' out in the sacraments in history by the Son with His bride, the Catholic Church.

Before concluding the present discussion of the particularity of the seven sacraments of Most Holy Catholic Church, we again insist that there is nothing 'behind' or 'beyond' their free efficacy; they are efficacious ex nihilo, from no prior necessity whatever, nor for that matter, from any later or even eschatological necessity whatever, either: for Jesus is Lord; He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.

Therefore, teleological and proportionalist moral theories cannot even arise within any covenantal moral theology worth the name. The sacraments are intrinsically ordered, intrinsically moral, 'mere acts'. The morality and goodness of these very particular motions of bodies in time depends on nothing 'before' or 'beyond' them, whether in time or outside of it, for they are the infallible acts of the Lord of History with His one and only bride. The sacraments of the Catholic Church by their very existence are the continuing living refutation of the "teleological and proportionalist theories" condemned by Veritatis Splendor [79].

Debt and Merit

But because we freely live within a sheer and utter Gift, or we freely die without it, a covenantal Natural Law expunges entirely any notion of debt from the primary relationship between God and Man. We are not 'indebted' to God in any way. As a consequence of the fundamental Giftedness of the New Covenant, covenantal moral theologies assert that Man owes God nothing, not ever, not even worship.

The freedom of the New Covenant is free ex nihilo sui et subjecti. We cannot require or demand God's love any more than we could have required or demanded our creation within that love. Similarly, the Gift of God's love is a Gift: it binds us in no way whatever. God's love for us creates no concomitant obligation or debt in us.

Our love of God is as utterly free as His love for us; the Virgin's fiat was not an expression of her 'obligation' but of her freedom before her Lord; this is elementary covenantal moral theology. The language of debt, of 'rights' and 'obligations', forms no part of the fundamental language of any conceivable covenantal Natural Law, not least because it forms no part of the fundamental language spoken between the Bridegroom and His bride.

That is not to say that the language of 'debt' and 'rights' and 'obligations' has no heuristic value for covenantal moral theologies; it is only to say that these terms, this language-universe, is -- as we have just shown -- not entirely compatible with covenantal relation, with how God actually and truly loves us -- 'not entirely compatible', at least as those terms have come to be used within some moral theologies.

The ways in which 'debt' is related to 'trespass' is related to 'sin' is related to 'faithlessness' is a topic far beyond the scope of this essay. We can say with certainty that for covenantal moral theologies, indebtedness can be at best a secondary category, not a primary one. And we wonder in passing at the distinctly different translations of 2 Chron 28:22 in the KJV and the RSV:

In the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord. (KJV)

In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord. (RSV)

Within both the popular and the scholarly Catholic realm there has been sufficient informal and formal discussion of merit as the counterpoise to debt to necessitate the following warning. It may also be that insofar as the moral theological tradition grounds itself in the language of 'debt', it must be in the same amount radically confused about 'merit', though this confusion is always and everywhere corrected by the Church's liturgical tradition, which is ever clear that 'merit', whatever the amount, is unavailing for salvation.

This is where we conclude the discussion of these matters, for now.

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