We also possess natural virtues toward which there is an attraction of soul not from the teaching of men, but from nature itself. Thus, no lesson teaches us to hate disease, but we have of ourselves an aversion to suffering; so, too, a certain untaught rejection of evil exists in our soul. Every evil is a sickness of soul, but virtue offers the cause of its health. Some have indeed rightly defined health as the good order of natural functions. If one uses this definition also in referring to a good condition in the soul, he will not err. Therefore, the soul, without being taught, strives for what is proper to it and conformable to its nature. For this reason self-control is praised by all, justice is approved, courage is admired, and prudence is greatly desired. These virtues are more proper to the soul than health is to the body. Children, love your parents (Eph 6.1). Parents, ‘do not provoke your children to anger (Eph 6.4).’ Does not nature itself say these things? Paul recommends nothing new but he binds more tightly the bonds of nature. If the lioness loves her offspring and the wolf fights for her whelps, what can man say when he disregards the command and debases his nature, or when a son dishonors the old age of his father, or a father through a second marriage neglects the children of his first marriage?
Among irrational animals the love of the offspring and of the parents for each other is extraordinary because God, who created them, compensated for the deficiency of reason by the superiority of their senses. Really, how is it that among countless sheep a lamb, leaping out from the fold, knows the appearance and voice of its mother, hurries toward her, and seeks its own source of milk? Even if it finds the maternal udder dry, it is satisfied with it, running past many that are heavy with milk. And how does the mother know her own among the countless lambs? They have one voice, the same appearance, a like odor among all, as much as reaches our sense of smell, but, nevertheless, they have a certain sense impression that is keener than our perception, through which the recognition of its own offspring is possible for each animal. The puppy does not yet have teeth, and nevertheless, he de- fends himself with his mouth against anyone that teases him. The calf has not yet horns, but he knows where nature has implanted his weapons. These facts support the evidence that the instincts of all -animals are untaught, that nothing is without order or moderation in all that exists, but that all things bear traces of the wisdom of the Creator, showing in themselves that they were created prepared to assure their own preservation.
The dog is without reason but, nevertheless, he has senseSt. Basil the Great, The Hexaemeron, Homily 9, Chapter 3-4
reactions equivalent to reason, In fact, the dog appears to have been taught by nature what the wise of the world, who occupy themselves during life with much study, have solved with difficulty, I mean the complexities of inference. In tracking down a wild beast, if he finds the tracks separated in many directions, he traverses the paths leading each way and all but utters the syllogistic statement through his actions: ‘Either the wild beast went this way’ he says, ‘or this, or in that direction; but, since it is neither here nor there, it remains that he set out in that direction’. Thus, by the elimination of the false he finds the true way. What more do those do who settle down solemnly to their theories, draw lines in the dust, and then reject two of the three premises, finding the true way in the one that is left?
Does not the gratitude of the dog put to shame any man who is ungrateful to his benefactors? In fact, many dogs are said to have died beside their masters, murdered in a lonely place. In the case of recent murder some dogs have actually become guides for those seeking the murderer and have caused the evildoer to be brought to justice. What can they say who not only fail to love the Lord who created and nourishes them, but even treat as friends men who use offensive language against God, share the same table with them, and even at the
meal itself permit blasphemies against Him who provides for them.
If the young lamb can identify its mother in a crowd or if the dog is willing to die by his master rather than leave, so much more we should be attentive to the voice of God and follow Him. This state of virtue is natural to us just as the animals God created naturally go to their mothers or take care of their kin. Even if it seems the most unnatural thing out there today, the pursuit of God is truly natural to our being, it is our being as it is intended to be.
A lovely post which I really enjoyed (we have a family dog!). Thank you for sharing. Best wishes, Michael