Some Catholic moralists and ethicists have come up with an idea, in direct opposition to the teaching of the Church, that people in the world have moved so far away from The Golden Rule, written on their hearts, called natural law, that no one can expect people to react morally anymore. Wrong!

Some thoughts to contradict this idea.

  1. To be human is to be rational. To be sub-human is to be irrational and live entirely on the level of the sensual, the passions. All humans by definition can reason.
  2. The soul is informed by the intellect even though one lacks proper catechesis through natural virtues, not only supernatural virtues. All people have access to natural goodness.
  3. God Himself judged harshly those who went against natural law in the Old Testament, before the great revelation of Christ, the Incarnate One. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not merely because those inhabitants did not listen to Revelation , that is, the Ten Commandments but because as men and women, they had natural law as part of their very beings. God did not excuse them for “ignorance” of the Jewish Law.
  4. Cultures of all kinds have had the same rules for basic morality. Even the pagans understood that homosexual relations were not perfect or the basis of their societies. Some things were tolerated despite the fact that men and women knew these things were immoral.
  5. Some cultures get power from Satan, who deceives people by giving them power through his evil, such as the Aztecs. But, even those people had access to the law deep within, but refused to listen to conscience because evil gave them power. Nations, cultures, like individuals, make bad choices.
  6. To deny that natural law exists is to deny that men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. The fact that we keep the image (free will, eternal life), but lose the likeness (grace) does not deny the presence of natural law.
  7. To deny natural law is to deny God as a Good Creature, making humans to be happy and peaceful in a created order. God created order in the universe and natural law is part of that order, which is good. To deny natural law is to deny that God made humans good from the very beginning.
  8. Those who state that natural law is hidden because of cultural norms which are now pagan forget that it is humans who created this pagan atmosphere, not God. The entire turning away of natural law is possible for a culture, an entire civilization, but this turning away is by choice, otherwise one is denying free will and the essence of what it is to be human.
  9. Which brings me to a great heresy in these days, the denial of free will. If we have free will, it is a normative consequence to believe that God gave us means to figure out what is good and what is evil.
  10. Natural law is reiterated in the Ten Commandments. Again, people choose to go against these, not out of ignorance, but out of sheer rebellion.

Two of the heresies which are growing in modern society are the denial of natural law and the denial of free will.

Let me start with the first problematic belief, which takes the shape of people denying responsibility for actions because “they do not know” something is wrong.

The Catholic Encyclopedia is a good starting place for the understanding of natural law. The entire idea hinges on the fact that human being were created in the image and likeness of God.

Such philosophies are relativism, subjectivism and determinism deny the fact that we are all created to be with God in heaven, that we have this goal from the very fact that we are human beings, and that our intelligence and free will guide our actions and thoughts.

In other words, anything which is against human nature, as created by God, is against natural law. Human nature is the discriminating norm for natural law.

According to St. Thomas, the natural law is “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” (I-II.94). The eternal law is God’s wisdom, inasmuch as it is the directive norm of all movement and action. When God willed to give existence to creatures, He willed to ordain and direct them to an end. In the case of inanimate things, this Divine direction is provided for in the nature which God has given to each; in them determinism reigns. 

Like all the rest of creation, man is destined by God to an end, and receives from Him a direction towards this end.This ordination is of a character in harmony with his free intelligent nature. In virtue of his intelligence and free will, man is master of his conduct. Unlike the things of the mere material world he can vary his action, act, or abstain from action, as he pleases. Yet he is not a lawless being in an ordered universe. In the very constitution of his nature, he too has a law laid down for him, reflecting that ordination and direction of all things, which is the eternal law. The rule, then, which God has prescribed for our conduct, is found in our nature itself. Those actions which conform with its tendencies, lead to our destined end, and are thereby constituted right and morally good; those at variance with our nature are wrong and immoral.

To be human is to have knowledge of natural law. God ordered the universe and, specifically, human nature, to reflect Himself. The Divine nature informs human nature, and the Divine authority gives all all an innate obligation to follow natural law.

The discriminating norm is, as we have just seen, human nature itself, objectively considered. It is, so to speak, the book in which is written the text of the law, and the classification ofhuman actions into good and bad. Strictly speaking, our nature is the proximate discriminating norm or standard. The remote and ultimate norm, of which it is the partial reflection and application, is the Divine nature itself, the ultimate groundwork of the created order. The binding or obligatory norm is the Divine authority, imposing upon the rational creature the obligation of living in conformity with his nature, and thus with the universal order established by the CreatorContrary to the Kantian theory that we must not acknowledge any other lawgiver than conscience, the truth is that reason as conscience is only immediate moral authority which we are called upon to obey, and conscience itself owes its authority to the fact that it is the mouthpiece of the Divine will and imperium. The manifesting norm (norma denuntians), which determines the moral quality of actions tried by the discriminating norm, is reason. Through this faculty we perceive what is the moral constitution of our nature, what kind of action it calls for, and whether a particular action possesses this requisite character.

The ability to reason is the faculty given to us by God, separating us from all other creatures, gives us the clarity as to what is moral, what action follows this knowledge of morality in a specific situation, and whether an action is moral.

This ability is in us by the very fact that we are human, and not because we are in sanctifying grace although sanctifying grace can inform natural law and lead to an understanding of other laws.

And, here comes an area of confusion for moderns: there are primary and secondary binding precepts.

To the first class belong those which must, under all circumstances, be observed if the essential moral order is to be maintained. The secondary precepts are those whose observance contributes to the public and private good and is required for the perfection of moral development, but is not so absolutely necessary to the rationality of conduct that it may not be lawfully omitted under some special conditions. 

In addition, natural law is universal, to all people of all times.

Natural law is immutable; as long as humans exist, natural law exists.

And, here is the answer to those modern lawyers of all kinds who deny natural law. There is a new class both of civil and canon lawyers who have erroneously moved away from natural law philosophy.

The question arises: How far can man be ignorant of the natural law, which, as St. Paul says, is written in the human heart (Romans 2:14)? The general teaching of theologians is that the supreme and primary principles are necessarily known to every one having the actual use of reason. These principles are really reducible to the primary principle which is expressed by St. Thomas in the form: “Do good and avoid evil”. Wherever we find man we find him with a moral code, which is founded on the first principle that good is to be done and evil avoided. When we pass from the universal to more particular conclusions, the case is different. Some follow immediately from the primary, and are so self-evident that they are reached without any complex course of reasoning. Such are, for example: “Do not commit adultery”; “Honour your parents”. No person whose reason and moral nature is ever so little developed can remain in ignorance of such precepts except through his own fault. Another class of conclusions comprises those which are reached only by a more or less complex course of reasoning. These may remain unknown to, or be misinterpreted even by persons whose intellectual development is considerable. 

Without Revelation, natural law is much harder to discern. Therefore, humans have a duty to pursue Revelation and supernatural law. See  Vatican Council, Sess. III, cap. ii CE

to summarize:

If modern theologians and philosophers deny we can know natural law, naturally, they are..

  1. denying God
  2. denying we humans are different than animals
  3. denying the soul
  4. denying natural religion
  5. denying natural knowledge of God
  6. denying conscience
  7. denying free will
  8. denying the rational capacity of humans; in other words, denying reason
  9. denying Revelation, which is the restatement clearly of the natural law

to be continued…