Pope's Council Speaks on Natural Law

I apologize in advance for the probable ‘headiness’ of this post… it might be worth reading though, if you have a minute.

Just last Friday, the Holy Father’s hand-picked International Theological Commission concluded one of its annual sessions – the primary topic: ‘natural moral law.’ While this is a huge topic, I’ll try my luck at explaining it in some concise way. It has long been the tradition of the Catholic intellectual discipline that a ‘law’ of human moral behavior exists within the heart of the human person as an interior, essentially human guide to goodness; this idea was developed in the works of scholars such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and continues to be an underpinning premise for the Church’s declarations on moral theology.

The basic idea of ‘natural moral law,’ as I briefly wrote above, is that morality can and should rightly be determined from a human vantage point. In other words, man possesses the capabilities within his very soul to determine the moral value of an act, given that he is rightly informed of the truths surrounding it. For this reason, natural moral law is not simply subjectivism – ‘whatever I think is what is right’ – but is rather a profoundly insightful view of the integrity of the human person; it accentuates man’s ability to reason correctly, even so far as to make complex moral decisions based on the light of informed reason alone. Certainly, an understanding that God created man out of love, and that He designed man in such a beautiful way greatly enhances one’s understanding of ‘natural moral law’ – it isn’t simply a fluke of nature, but rather an intentional dignity bestowed on the human person by a loving Father who desires us to be truly happy.

In keeping with this view, the Commission’s responsibility was to continue shedding light on such an important and relevant topic. Below is an excerpt from the Holy Father’s address to the Commission on Friday, expressing his thanks for their significant work. [N.B. Pardon my novice translation from the Italian text.]:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes well the central meaning of the doctrine of natural law, noting that it ‘indicates the primary norm and essentials which regulate the moral life. It has as its focus the aspiration toward and submission to God, source and judge of all good, and furthermore the sense of “other” as equal to that of “self.” In its fundamental precepts, it is laid out in the Decalogue [Ten Commandments]. This law is called “natural” not in regard to the nature of irrational beings [i.e. animals, with which it has nothing to do], but because the reason that it promotes is proper to the nature of humanity.’ With this doctrine, two essential finalities are reached: on one hand, it is understood that the ethical meaning of Christian faith does not constitute a dictated imposition from outside man’s conscience, but rather a norm that has its foundation in the same human nature; on the other hand, beginning from the standpoint of natural law, which is accessible to every rational creature, it serves as the base for entering into dialogue with all people of good will and, more generally, with civil and secular society.”