Why we have preferred books of liberal learning to books of law

That lucrative practice of positive law, designed for the dispensation of earthly things, the more useful it is found by the children of this world, so much the less does it aid the children of light in comprehending the mysteries of holy writ and the secret sacraments of the faith, seeing that it disposes us peculiarly to the friendship of the world, by which man, as S.  James testifies, is made the enemy of God.  Law indeed encourages rather than extinguishes the contentions of mankind, which are the result of unbounded greed, by complicated laws, which can be turned either way; though we know that it was created by jurisconsults and pious princes for the purpose of assuaging these contentions.  But in truth, as the same science deals with contraries, and the power of reason can be used to opposite ends, and at the same the human mind is more inclined to evil, it happens with the practisers of this science that they usually devote themselves to promoting contention rather than peace, and instead of quoting laws according to the intent of the legislator, violently strain the language thereof to effect their own purposes.

Wherefore, although the over-mastering love of books has possessed our mind from boyhood, and to rejoice in their delights has been our only pleasure, yet the appetite for the books of the civil law took less hold of our affections, and we have spent but little labor and expense in acquiring volumes of this kind.  For they are useful only as the scorpion in treacle, as Aristotle, the sun of science, has said of logic in his book De Pomo.  We have noticed a certain manifest difference of nature between law and science, in that every science is delighted and desires to open its inward parts and display the very heart of its principles, and to show forth the roots from which it buds and flourishes, and that the emanation of its springs may be seen of all men; for thus from the cognate and harmonious light of the truth of conclusion  to principles, the whole body of science will be full of light, having no part dark.  But laws, on the contrary, since they are only human enactments for the regulation of social life, or the yokes of princes thrown over the necks of their subjects, refuse to be brought to the standard of synteresis, the origin of equity, because they feel that they possess more of arbitrary will than rational judgment.  Wherefore the judgment of the wise for the most part is that the causes of laws are not a fit subject of discussion.  In truth, many laws acquire force by mere custom, not by syllogistic necessity, like the arts: as Aristotle, the Phoebus of the Schools, urges in the second book of the Politics, where he confutes the policy of Hippodamus, which holds out rewards to the inventors of new laws, because to abrogate old laws and establish new ones is to weaken the force of those which exist.  For whatever receives its stability from use alone must necessarily be brought to nought by disuse.

From which it is seen clearly enough, that as laws are neither arts nor sciences, so books of law cannot properly be called books of art or science.  Nor is this faculty which we may call by a special term geologia, or the earthly science, to be properly numbered among the sciences.  Now the books of the liberal arts are so useful to the divine writings, that without their aid the intellect would vainly aspire to understand them.


This is taken from The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury.





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