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Class 26

The second error lies in equating the natural law with the ethnological study of cultures. This was the error of the 17th century Grossius. The study of sociology and anthropology shows that there are a variety of moral practices. The natural law doesn’t search for what is socially acceptable in some cultures.[41]

The error of the proposition of pure nature

The next error lies in the hypothetical proposition of a pure nature. God revealed himself as a loving God, so in faith, we approach God receiving the truths he has presented to us, corresponding to the hunger in our nature. The human nature is capable of perceiving grace. Man was created with a natural desire for God and this cannot be satiated by anything in our nature. We want to know God, the reason and the end of our existence. This hunger may appear in the critical moments of life. The natural law doesn’t therefore tell us what man could have been were there no grace. We’re not trying to question how man would be without grace. The natural law also doesn’t tell us about our nature before original sin. Original sin took away original justice, the tying of the faculties to God. The faculties are intrinsically good, though there’s a disorder in. The natural law describes our existential situation now. Grace finds in human nature an appropriate ground. Grace is therefore not a deformation of our nature. The person with infused virtues is more natural; he’s not wearing a mask. It follows that the natural law is not directed uniquely to this-worldly ends. The natural law teaches us not only how to be a good citizen in this world, but perceives in human nature an openness to God, even though the precepts of the natural law are drawn from rational reflection on the inclinations of our nature and not on theology. The natural law doesn’t show us how to live a life of grace, but it does show us how to aspire to grace.

Human nature has not been totally corrupted by original sin. Human nature is still good, even though we often painfully perceive the disorder of our nature. The natural law is an elucidation of our natural inclinations. The fact that the inclinations are disordered doesn’t mean that these inclinations are unknowable. The natural law, as also the order of grace, do not require that something be imposed on the nature to put a break on the wild impulses of nature, as in a puritan society. For the natural law, nature is not an enemy, as a wild savage needing to be controlled. A negative vision of human nature leads to the conclusion that nature cannot be a teacher for us. We have the adage that God always forgives, people sometimes, and nature never. There are natural inclinations which are a source of orientation for our behavior. Despite the ruin of original sin, our natural still maintains its orientation and can offer guidance. Veritatis Splendor rejects the opinions of several theologians who fail to see the importance of looking at nature. We can finally arrive with difficult and prone to error at conclusions giving us an orientation to life. If we say we cannot, we say that nature is blind and fails to offer guidance. The correct discernment of the teaching of nature is difficult, and this is supported by the light of revelation which helps us. Nevertheless, nature can teach us.

Lex and Ius

The terms "lex" and "ius" are almost interchangeable in the Summa, though Saint Thomas uses lex for natural law and "ius" for natural right. There is a distinction between law and right. German, French, and English make it; Polish doesn’t. The natural law notes the neat arrangement of things flowing from God; the natural ius denotes a natural right because of the human nature we possess; they are a consequence of the rational law God has created. Because we are human we have natural rights. Unborn children, too, have natural rights, as do the mentally handicapped, even though they do not know the natural law. The unborn have the right to inherit property in some countries, but they do not have the right to live. Those deprived of the use of reason still have natural rights. If the mentally handicapped act against the natural law, they sin materially if not formally. They carry wounded effects, if they aren’t necessarily culpable. Acts of sexuality contrary to the natural law psychologically wounds every person.

Saint Thomas’ understanding of the natural law

These were introductory remarks to clarify what we don’t mean by the natural law. Since the natural law is unwritten, the question is posed how we know it. Where is it? Is the natural law a habitus? Strictly speaking, Saint Thomas says it is not a habitus, but the precepts of the natural law are always contained by the reason, just like the content of faith is always contained by the virtue of faith. The natural law is stored in the mind by a habitus, by a stable disposition to recognize it. This habitus is an entitative habit, which after reflection becomes an operative habit. The natural law differs from synderesis, which expresses only the first principles; the natural law also covers practical conclusions. It also differs from the conscience, which is subjective in applying general laws to concrete situations. The natural law is a general norm constructed by the law, as if co-creates, the statements of the natural law. The statements of the natural law are deduced by the human reason, and the practical reason is ordered to action which calls into existence the statements of the natural law. The natural law as a law is not innate, though we are born with the inclinations which direct us to human goods, from which the law is deduced. We are also born with the practical reason and the capacity to issue judgments. It needs to be developed. God created the human reason with the ability to think and to pass judgment on action. If the judgments are correctly and truly made, they form the natural law. So we co-create the natural law. We do not create it in an arbitrary way, but are determined by the objectivity of reality. The practical reason perceives the order in creation. This is why it is unwritten. We can undertake this reflection and write it down. There is a certain clarity in the natural law which generations of good thought can arrive at.

Saint Thomas writes in I-II,94,2 asks whether the natural law contains one or many precepts. Here the basic tenets of the natural law are presented. The first statement in the article is that there is a parallel between the fundamental precepts of the practical reason and the fundamental axioms of science in the speculative reason. The fundamental axioms are unprovable. The whole is greater than the part. You cannot argue with someone who denies this. A triangle has three sides. Two things equal to a third thing are equal to another. It is not possible to affirm and deny the same thing at the same time. These axioms are the foundation of all reason and are undemonstrable. They are based on an insight that things are real, and all knowledge is based on it. To be real enters human apprehending as such, to be good enters the practical reason in the same way. Everything we purposively do, we do it for an end, which we perceive as good.

The first principle of practical reason is based on the meaning of good, what all things seek after. Good is that to which all our faculties strive. The first principle of the natural law is that good is to be pursued and evil to be avoided. We have this in our practical reason. But what is the good to be pursued? What do we understand by good? That which is good for us is what we have a natural inclination for. We must look to the fundamental instincts of human nature. Our investigation must be metaphysical and not statistical. We look into the basic values to which our being is inclined. When our reason perceives that something is good, it is concluded that this should be pursued and its opposite avoided.

Saint Thomas says in each being there is a tendency that tends toward the conservation of being. Being is something which is good. Since we are, we perceive that it is good to be. So all beings strive to conserve their existence, whether consciously or not. Rocks just are. Being in itself is good for stones. The conservation of a being is good. The natural law teaches us that the conservation of our being is good and that we should avoid everything that fights against life. Everything that supports life is a good and everything that destroys life is against the natural law.

There is also a tendency in us common with animals. Whatever nature teaches all animals it also teaches humans. In animality, there is procreation and the education of offspring. The natural law includes matters concerning the coupling of males and females, procreation, and education.

There is a tendency specific in us to humans. This tendency includes the inclination to know truth (the most fundamental truth of which is God), and to live in society. The natural law concerns all matters that deal with the cognition of truth and of the social life with others. It follows that the natural law is opposed to all things that deny the authentic search for truth and destroy the social relationships with others. Polygamy and responsibility is more in accord with natural law than successive polygamy (remarriages) and irresponsibility (caring for wives). Taking into account our rational faculties, our reason and our will, it can grow more in a monogamous marriage. The drive for the conservation of being is fundamental. The education of offspring belongs fundamentally to parents. The state’s involvement must be in accord with the wishes of the parents. It violates a natural right if the parents’ will is violated.

The precepts of the natural law has one fundamental root. The more distant the conclusions from the principle, the more difficult to prove them convincingly. The more casuistic cases we get into, the more difficult will it be to show the dependence. All the drives of our human nature and responsiveness all come under the natural law as long as they come under reason. The natural law is an achievement of the practical reason concerning that which is to be done and that which is to be avoided. The clear perception of the principles of the natural law requires individual and communal maturity. This is why the Church reserves for itself the right to interpret the natural law. The revealed law has a helpful assistance. It is possible to know the natural law philosophically, but this comes with admixture of error and with difficulty. Paul VI in Humanae Vitae said that contraception could be drawn from the principles of the natural law, though this is a conclusion that is difficult to prove only rationally.

The goods to which we have a natural inclination do not need any proof. When we have the experience of life, we know these goods spontaneously. We can submit them to rational reflection. We know that life, that human sexuality are goods. We know we have an inclination to live in community with others, to strive for truth and justice. These fundamental judgments of our reason condition our choices and actions. The natural law doesn’t despise the body. God loves matter, which He created. The body and the soul together form a whole. Within the openness to the supernatural, the body becomes a window looking to God. Grace helps us perceive the disorder.

The precepts of the natural law lead to virtues, but they do lead to concrete virtuous acts. We need our conscience which applies the insight of the natural law to the concrete situation. What might be a virtue for someone unmarried would not be so for a married person with responsibilities. The natural law, since it reflects human nature, is universal. All people accept the rectitude of the first principles of the natural law, to pursue good and to avoid evil. But the conclusion from these principles are not self-evident. This is so because the light of our intellect is darkened by inordinate passions. Caesar noted that the ancient Germans didn’t perceive robbery wicked. Saint Thomas says that social conditions can make people blind. This is caused by the disorder flowing from original sin.

In point 53, Veritatis Splendor asks whether the natural law is immutable. Human nature transcends human culture. In itself the natural law is immutable, but something may be added to the natural law by God and by the human law if this is useful. Nothing can be subtracted from the natural law, but the reading of natural law remains. The right to the possession of property is in the natural law, but society may take away the gun of a man who might murder. The principles are indestructible, but the conclusions may reinterpreted.

Discussing natural law, Saint Thomas raises an objection that the law of grace is more powerful than the law of nature. But grace is wiped out by sin. Saint Thomas responds that even though grace is more powerful than nature, nature is more essential to man, and that is why it perdures. We have wounded our nature by sin, but not wiped it out. The sinner close to grace is open to his insights.

The dignity of reason and the natural law in morality

The inclusion of a reflection of the natural law in the prima secundae is a testimony to the power of the human mind. Whenever we discuss the elements of moral theology, we’ve focused on reason. The reason which is enlightened by the Holy Spirit and helped by virtues, is still open to the arguments of the natural law. Reason is capable of perceiving nature and the natural law. Saint Thomas never denies the value of human nature, the human mind, and the natural law. The reason has its dignity which is not even denied by sin. Saint Thomas would not agree with the thesis of Barth who believed that human nature is completely ruined by sin. Barth held that goodness was a work of grace. Human behavior could only be good when we capitulate our own efforts. This seems to be Biblical, but denies the role of nature. Such a perspective would be to live too supernatural a life, almost to the complete ignorance of nature. That is why the natural law has a place in our life. Our orientation towards God passes through the mediation of human goods which are perceived. Our responsiveness to God doesn’t happen on a cloud. The spiritual life is a pilgrimage through the values of this world. Grace is primary, but grace is rooted in nature.

Bonhofer regretted the lack of a natural law reflection in Protestant thought. He said that concept of the natural law was brought into disrepute in Protestant ethics and has been catastrophic. There is a serious lack in Protestant thought in understanding the events of typical natural life. The Protestants have left many people without answers in important human problems. If there are no meaningful distinctions to be made within fallen human nature, there comes an arbitrariness. The only antithesis to what is natural was the word of God and not what is unnatural. This meant a complete destruction of the natural life.

For a true life of grace, we need the support of that which is natural. Grace is not just an external garment imposed on a corrupt nature. If we deny nature, we seem to think we’re already in heaven and an unjust justification to us.

The Human Law

Saint Thomas presents in the moral synthesis of the Summa a reflection on human law, a theological appraisal of the dignity and the function of human law. This aloofness from the concrete historical determinations of human law grants to his treatise a permanent validity. The human laws of states have changed enormously since the times of Saint Thomas. The role these laws have in our lives hasn’t changed. Saint Thomas says that the state is built on principles taken from human nature. It is natural for us to live in society. The state itself is not built on sin — rejecting St. Augustine’s thought that the use of force is a result of original sin. Saint Thomas says that states are natural for us, independent of our sinfulness. Ants and Bees have no original sin, though there are inequalities in the society. The inequalities are from nature, and even if there were not sin, there would still be a need for a structure and traffic regulations. The state is built on nature, not on theft or the punishment of sin or on a social contract. Saint Thomas has no romantic dream of a return to a golden age when people lived in absolute justice. The state is essential to human nature. The authority that rulers have derives from God, who is the primary cause. Saint Thomas doesn’t get involved in the discussions of secondary causes. They may be monarchs, elected, generals, etc. The first cause is God, as Jesus told Pilate. If the rulers are not evil, we must accept their authority. Those who have authority should know they have it from God, and that they’re responsible to it before God. We ought to respect presidents even though we don’t like them or their policies. A leader deserves a special dignity.

Human law has a narrower extent that the natural or divine law. Human law deals only with the social organization of society, focused most on justice. The state shouldn’t teach us faith or hope. The state doesn’t have the means to lead people to sanctity; the Church does, the sacraments and the word of God. Human law has a specific autonomy from divine law. This is something fundamentalists of different religions confuse. The politician or legislator has a different function from the theologian. The basic distinction is of ars and scientia. The theologian has theological science when reflecting about moral values. The politician may not know the science of theology, but he should have the political art of statesmanship, getting people to collaborate. Someone may be a good politician in that he knows how to resolve problems on the political level, though he may not perceive the fundamental values involved in moral life. The Communists didn’t have the two levels, treating every decision as an instantiation of Marxist-Leninism. Saint Thomas says that the politician makes his decision on a different level than the theologian. We can have a good politician who can resolve problems who might not be prayerful. You vote for a competent president.

The human law is not just a logical conclusion drawn from the principles of the natural law. Human law has its own justification. A political error may be technical, or it may be moral. It is not sufficient to be able to draw correct conclusions from moral principles to be a good legislator. You need good sources of information, political prudence, etc. In politics, we’re not just dealing with the choice between good and evil. We need to determine whether we should build the airport on the eastern or the western side of the city. The decision depends on many elements. Saint Thomas says that virtuous men are the best of animals, and when vicious, the worst animals. An evil man can do more harm than a ferocious lion. For this reason, the power of the state is necessary. The child is brought up by the educative influence of the parents. The adult, if he’s evil, must be constrained from evil and led to virtue by force. The Church has more powerful means to lead someone to virtue, and the state doesn’t have these means. The laws of the state are only truly laws if they are derived from the natural law. If the human law includes the input of the natural law, it is a true law. If the human law is contrary to the natural law, it is not a true law and is tyranny.

The importance of the belief in the objective moral order for good human law

Saint Thomas’s assumed thesis is that there is an objective moral order that is the foundation for the peace and happiness of the national and international order. This isn’t a figment of the imagination. This conviction is not Christian. Cicero and Aristotle believed in it as well. The pagan philosophers saw that there is an objective moral order which the state must accept. This is denied today. Until quite recently, most Judaeo-Christian societies believed that above the human law there was the law of God. The Magna Carta (1215) required the invalidation of laws if they were contrary to common law and reason.

From the beginning of the 18th century, this began to change. The American Founding Fathers believed that the civil laws were subject to the natural law. But Locke was an empiricist, thinking that natures were unknowable, and his ethics had no solid foundation. The notion of the natural law served as a defense against the tyranny of the British crown, but not against the tyranny of the American Congress. Despite the metaphysical weaknesses of Locke, the Founding Fathers believed in God’s law. As long as this conviction prevailed, the American Constitution had stability. Without this conviction, the guarantees of the constitution are meaningless. The American Constitution didn’t specify who was to be the moral arbiter above the state if there is a doubt. If there were a general conviction among the American Protestants, this gave stability to the state. In the Catholic countries, it was clear that the Church was the arbiter. The Americans wanted to give religious stability to the country without the Church. As long as American society had the recognition of religious values, things were fine. Abortion was made illegal in the 19th century in accord with public opinion. For a state to be dependent on the natural law, the state must confirm that there is a moral order above the state and the human laws, and that clarity in fundamental moral questions is knowable. If a substantial number of the leaders in a country cede infallibility to the state, it will lead to the conviction generally in society.

European political philosophy has been going through similar changes. Hans Kelson, the author of the Austrian constitution, rejected philosophical absolutism, that there is an absolute reality outside our cognition. There is no such thing as laws of nature or justice. This terms are irrational, as his positivism said. Politics only finds solutions to conflicts of interest, but there is no justice itself. If we agree that a law is to be enacted in such and such a way, then the law is valid. This was pure positivism applied to law. The criterion was the means of promulgation. The constitution of Germany after World War I declared the constitution to be supreme. The Supreme Court said the legislature was bound only by its own acts. With Hitler’s rise to power through a democratic procedure, a change was introduced in accord with the constitutional procedures. It was declared that any declaration of the Fuhrer couldn’t be questioned by a judge, as long as they were in the form of a decree. Hitler became supreme. A young German soldier was shot by another soldier. The mother sued. Hitler had issued a decree by which anyone could shoot a traitor. So the officer cited the law. The German officer was tried under international natural law. If a state recedes from the natural law, there is no ultimate thing to prevent any decision. The NY supreme court, citing Kelson, said the fetus was a person but had no rights.

In the times of Saint Thomas, the states dealt with foreign policy and the economy. The states’ roles are now much larger, to education, health care. To do this, the states must have clarity on moral issues. The Church has clarity on these issues, but the state must know them too. It is not possible to run a hospital without knowing the difference between murder and medical care. It is not possible to run a school not knowing the difference between education and deformation. It is not possible to give sex-ed without knowing the difference between healthy use and perversion. The states, if they don’t know the difference, should get out. Who is to decide on such issues as genetic engineering, abortion, incest, prayers in the schools and the army. If those in the legislatures don’t know, they throw it to the courts, who are positivists, looking to the previously enacted statutes. The legislatures often throw the vote to public opinion. The final responsibility is often thrown on the media. Are there more ignorant people or wise people in a democracy. If the Church is heard in a society, it gives a stability to the society and the state. If the Church doesn’t speak out, there is no defense. In 1968, Cardinal Keenan wrote that the Church couldn’t argue against abortion because they were divided on contraception. The Cardinal felt responsible, because the Church couldn’t give a loud voice on the issue.

Saint Thomas’s insight still stands: the law of the state to be a true law must have a relation to the natural law. If the state is agnostic, then the state cannot fulfill its function. If the laws of the state are just, if they’re in accord with the natural law, they’re obligatory on the conscience, because they are tied to God. When are human laws just and in accord with the natural law. He looks at the end, the author, and the form of the law (how the law is distributed). Laws are just if their finality is in accord with the common good. They are just if they do not exceed the authority of the legislature. The laws are just if they impose burdens in a just manner. We can ask today whether legislators have exceeded their authority in imposing their ideological positions on society. Do we want states to be responsible for the education of children, without the rights of the parents being respected?


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