What is natural is not taught

Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Natural Law, Scholarly, St Maximus the Confessor | 0 comments

Maximus Confessor, natural lawI am currently about two-thirds of the way through translating St Maximus the Confessor’s Disputation with Pyrrhus. In working through the text, I have come across a couple of passages in which the Confessor refers to natural law. I don’t want to go into an analysis of the passages now, but simply to note them here for those who might be interested.

In the first passage, St Maximus is about to run through several proofs to establish his point that human beings are volitional by nature, that is, we have a will naturally. This in response to his Monothelite opponents. He says up front, at the very beginning of his arguments:

What is natural is not taught. Not only those who have studied nature rationally and who have surpassed the many, but also the common sense of the multitude, have said so. Now, if what is natural is not taught, and we have a will without being taught it—for who teaches someone to will?—then humans are volitional by nature. [Pyrr 61 (PG 91.304B-C)]
Ἀδίδακτα εἶναι τὰ φυσικὰ οὐ μόνον οἱ λόγῳ τὴν φύσιν διασκεψάμενοι, καὶ τῶν πολλῶν διαφέροντες ἔφασαν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἡ τῶν χυδαιοτέρων συνήθεια. Εἰ δὲ τὰ φυσικὰ ἀδίδακτα, ἄδίδακτον δὲ ἔχομεν τὸ θέλειν· οὐδεὶς γάρ ποτε θέλειν διδάσκεται· ἄρα φύσει θελητικὸς ὁ ἄνθρωπος.


So the Confessor supports the idea that natural law is innate in us.

In the second passage, St Maximus not only affirms that virtue is natural to us, but speaks directly of the four cardinal virtues. He and Pyrrhus are conversing:

PYR. So the virtues are natural?

MAX. Yes, they are natural.

PYR. If they are natural, why do they not exist equally in everyone who has the same nature?

MAX. They do exist equally in everyone who has the same nature.

PYR. Then why is there such a great inequality among us?

MAX. Because we do not all equally put into action what is natural to us. For if everyone did what is natural, as we were created to do, then there would appear in all not only one nature, but also one virtue, not susceptible to more or less.

PYR. If what is natural in us does not proceed from askesis but from creation, and virtue is natural, why do we acquire virtues through toil and askesis, seeing that they are natural?

MAX. Askesis and the toils that go with it were devised by the lovers of virtue for the sole purpose of purging the deception blended into the soul through the senses, not to introduce virtues from the outside as something new, for they are in us by creation, as was said. Therefore, as soon as deception has been thoroughly dispersed, immediately the soul exhibits the brilliance of its natural virtue. For the one who is not a fool is wise, the one who is not cowardly or rash is courageous, the one who is not licentious is temperate, and the one who is not unjust is just. In accordance with nature, reason is prudence, judgment is justice, the irascible is courage, and the concupiscible is temperance. So, when we take away what is contrary to nature, that which is according to nature—and that alone—is wont to appear, just as when rust is removed, the natural gleam and brilliance of iron appears. [Pyrr 88-95 (PG 91.309B-312A)]

ΠΥΡ. Τί οὖν; Φυσικαί εἰσιν αἱ ἀρεταί;

ΜΑΞ. Ναὶ, φυσικαί.

ΠΥΡ. Καὶ εἰ φυσικαὶ, διὰ τί μὴ ἐπίσης πᾶσιν ἐνυπάρχουσι τοῖς ὁμοφυέσι;

ΜΑΞ. Πᾶσι τοῖς ὁμοφύεσιν ἐπίσης ἐνυπάρχουσι.

ΠΥΡ. Καὶ πόθεν ἐν ἡμῖν τοσαύτη ἀνισότης;

ΜΑΞ. Ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ἐπίσης ἐνεργεῖν τὰ τῆς φύσεως. Ὡς εἴπερ πάντες ἴσως, ἐφ’ ᾧ καὶ γεγόναμεν, ἐνηργοῦμεν τὰ φυσικὰ, μία ἄρα ἐδείκνυτο ἐν πᾶσιν, ὥσπερ ἡ φύσις οὕτω καὶ ἀρετὴ, τὸ μᾶλλον καὶ ἧττον οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένη.

ΠΥΡ. Εἰ οὐκ ἐξ ἀσκήσεως ἡμῖν τὰ φυσικὰ πρόειαν, ἀλλ’ ἐκ δημιουργίας, ἡ δὲ ἀρετὴ φυσικὴ, πῶς πόνῳ καὶ ἀσκήσει τὰς ἀρετὰς, φυσικὰς οὔσας, κτώμεθα;

ΜΑΞ. Ἡ ἄσκησις καὶ οἱ ταύτῃ ἑπόμενοι πόνοι, πρὸς τὸ μόνον διαχωρίσαι τὴν ἐμφυρεῖσαν δι’ αἰσθήσεως ἀπάτην τῇ ψυχῇ ἐπενοήθησαν τοῖς φιλαρέτοις· οὐ πρὸς τὸ ἔξωθεν προσφάτως ἐπεισαγαγεῖν τὰς ἀρετάς⋅ ἔγκεινται γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐκ δημιουργίας ὡς εἴρηται· ὅθεν καὶ ἅμα τελείως διακριθῇ ἡ ἀπάτη, ἅμα καὶ τῆς κατὰ φύσιν ἀρετῆς λαμπρότητα ἐνδείκνυται ἡ ψυχή. Ὁ γὰρ μὴ ἄφρων, φρόνιμος· καὶ ὁ μὴ δειλὸς ἢ θρασὺς, ἀνδρεῖος· καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀκόλαστος,  σώφρων· καὶ ὁ μὴ ἄδικος, δίκαιος. Κατὰ φύσιν δὲ ὁ λόγος, φρόνησίς ἐστι· καὶ τὸ κριτικὸν, δικαιοσύνη, καὶ ὁ θυμὸς, ἀνδρεία· καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία σωφροσύνη. Ἄρα τῇ ἀφαιρέσει τῶν παρὰ φύσιν, τὰ κατὰ φύσιν καὶ μόνα διαφαίνεσθαι εἴωθεν· ὥσπερ καὶ τῇ τοῦ ἰοῦ ἀποβολῇ, ἡ τοῦ σιδήρου κατὰ φύσιν αὐγὴ καὶ λαμπρότης.

 So virtue is natural to us and virtuous attitudes and actions are part of the natural law. (On this point, compare Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia-IIae, Q. 94, art. 3, sed contra.)

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