Abelard and Religious Laws

images-3            In his dialogue with a defender of Mosaic Law, the philosopher denies the spiritual merits of the Mosaic Law (ML). The philosopher maintains that the ML is neither necessary nor sufficient for bringing spiritual rewards. He argues that it is not necessary, since the Natural Law (NL) offers what is required for bringing the spiritual rewards. To the philosopher, the spiritual rewards granted by God for one’s good and correct intentions rather than the external aspects of deeds. The Law, to him, is concerned with external aspects of the deeds; therefore, insufficient for spiritual rewards. On the other hand, the defender of ML finds the philosopher’s anti-law claims problematic; he claims that ML entails the Natural Law and can bring spiritual rewards if they are conducted with a good intention. I argue that the philosopher makes a stronger case for the non-necessity and insufficiency of ML for bringing of spiritual rewards. First, however, I sketch the structures of the philosopher’s arguments about superfluousness of ML for bringing spiritual rewards.

The philosopher’s argument for non-necessity of ML can be formulated as follows:

  1. If ML were necessary for bringing spiritual rewards, then it would be primary and universal.
  2. ML is not primary.
    1. Temporally, it is not prior to NL.
    2. Metaphysically, it is not prior to NL.
  3. ML is not universal.
    1. NL is universal and is prior to ML.
  4. Therefore, ML is not necessary.

The conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, so it is a valid argument. To the philosopher, it is false to believe that spiritual rewards are contingent on ML. Perhaps, because spiritual rewards were possible prior to ML. If spiritual rewards were possible before ML, it implies that ML is neither primary (temporally or metaphysically)

nor universal. Furthermore, the Jew also admits that ML only became obligatory after its creation, not for everyone, but only for Jews. Therefore, it is convincing to believe that ML is neither primary nor universal.

The philosopher’s argument for the temporal primacy of the NL is that the simpler is prior to the more complex things, since complex things are composite of simple things. Therefore, the existence of more complex things is dependence the existence of simpler thing both temporally and metaphysically. Indeed, the NL is simpler than any religion. It existed prior to any religion including ML; therefore, NL is prior to ML, and the latter is dependent on the former.

After the philosopher has argued for non-necessity of ML, he argues for the insufficiency of ML. His argument can be formulated as follows:

  1. A good intention and being right about a deed is what makes an action meritorious. (Ethics 106-109; DPJ 133)
  2. Exterior deeds are not sufficient for spiritual rewards.
  3. ML is mostly concerned with external deeds.
  4. Therefore, ML is insufficient for bringing spiritual rewards.

After establishing the insufficiency of ML, the Philosopher maintains that only love of God suffices to bring spiritual rewards.

The Jew admits that ML is incomplete even based on his own religious believes. It was incomplete because after ML, new sets of religious laws were created for the Jewish community. However, the Jew tries to make a case for possibility of ML bringing spiritual rewards. He maintains that reason neither can affirm nor deny the divine origin of the Law. Hence, obeying ML is a matter of prudence, since many wise authorities have believed that obeying ML is more prudent than ignoring it. Furthermore, despite the philosopher’s anti-law contention, the Jew maintains that ML includes NL and offers spiritual rewards. The Jew also correctly states that obeying ML can be out of love of God rather than seeking earthly rewards, since there is nothing in sincere obedience to ML that makes it incompatible with love of God in the heart.

The Jew puts forwards several arguments against the philosopher’s claims that ML is neither necessary nor sufficient: 1) ML offers more spiritual rewards than NL 2) obeying ML is compatible with the love of God. Do these two arguments undermine the philosopher’s argument about non-necessary and insufficiency of ML? I do not think it does. First, the philosopher may respond that what the Jew claims that ML offers more spiritual rewards is only another type of earthly rewards. For instance, circumcision and purification rituals and their subsequent spiritual rewards that the Jew mentions, such as preserving the unity of religious community in the case of purification rituals and also his emphasis on the symbolic meaning of circumcision that signifies a break with early attachments, can be affirmed by NL independent from ML. Therefore, it seems that the philosopher make a stronger case for 1) Religious laws are neither necessary nor sufficient, 2) All one needs for salvation is love of God, and 3) Love of God can be affirmed by NL independently from ML is more convincing than appealing to religious laws which are neither universal nor fundamental.

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