Can we do without natural law?
The unity of the human race, human rights, and the person’s dignity are not based on votes that other votes could cancel but on the objectivity of the natural law that God calls us to seek. Can we do without natural law?
Little used, often misunderstood, the expression “natural law” is not part of our everyday vocabulary. But the unity of the human race, the dignity of the human person, and universal ethics more than ever required by globalization cannot be founded without reference to this natural law, transcending cultures, eras, and religions. The expression “natural law,” let us admit, is not without ambiguity. Our scientific and technical mentality spontaneously evokes laws such as the law of gravitation or evolution. That is to say, physical and biological laws give us access to a specific intelligence of the material world. But it is clear that these natural laws, or rather these laws of nature, are not laws in the moral sense of the term, which alone interests us here.
“In search of a universal ethics.”
Recently, in 2009, the International Theological Commission (a Roman body of theologians from different countries) produced an essential document on natural law. It is symptomatic that the expression “natural law” does not appear in the title (“In search of a universal ethics”), And only in the subtitle (“New look at natural law”). By this formula, “universal ethics,” we better understand the stakes of the natural law, and we avoid confusing it with the laws of nature. For example, are human rights so necessary in Western democracies concerning all
The law of the City, expression of the humanity of man
The history of the concept of “natural law” begins in the ancient Greek world. The law of the City is the founding norm of civilization. It allows man to go beyond animality to live in rationally organized societies. The gnomons is the law of the City. This law is exceptionally prestigious because it contains human beings’ social, public, and political life. Thanks to nomos, man is truly man. Let us remember, in fact, the definition that Aristotle (384-322 BC) gives of man: zoon “political animal” ( Politics I, 2). Now there is no polis without gnomons, no City without law. Conversely, a lawless being, an anonymous, would be reduced to an infra-human state.
What is natural law?
Antigone’s dilemma: written law and unwritten law
Does this mean that politics would absorb the whole human being? That the horizon of the City would in some way limit all the dynamism and questions of man? Are there not cases where a moral obligation would come into conflict with the will of the human legislator, a choice deposited in the written laws of the City? The Greek tragedy schematizes this, the intrigues of which often revolve around the conflict of duties. Thus, the Antigone by Sophocles (
The Stoics: “A true law, consistent with nature, constant, eternal.”
Plato (428-348 av. J.-C.) and Aristotle (384-322 av. J.-C.) will take again the idea of ?? the two laws, a law written by the men and an unwritten law conforming to the nature, superior to the first. But it is the Stoics who will reflect the most on natural law, which is closely linked to a reason. According to this philosophical school, happiness passes through the agreement between nature and reason. What reason? That which is present both in the world of nature ( physics in Greek) and in the soul of man.
The Old Testament mainly refers to the law of Moses.
In the Old Testament, the law also has immense prestige since it is about the law of Moses, the contract of the Covenant that God made with Israel. If Israel keeps this law, then God will be faithful to the Covenant, and Israel will own their land with all the blessings that God has promised them. Otherwise, the Covenant will be broken, and Israel, rejected by God, will experience the ordeal of exile, which will happen in particular in 587 BC. AD with exile in Babylon.
As with the Stoics, the law is a mediation allowing a man to know and implement the divine will. But there are two crucial differences. On the one hand, the God of Israel is not the logos of the Greeks, inherent in the natural world (pantheism). He is the Creator God of all things, infinitely above his creation and beside whom the gods of the pagans vanish like mist. On the other hand, the law was not given to all humanity, but the Hebrew people only, as a sign of God’s favourite love for Israel. These two differences explain why the Old Testament does not speak explicitly of natural law.
For Saint Paul, the law of conscience
Saint Paul will make a clear allusion to natural law in the Epistle to the Romans. His goal is then to level the status of Jews and pagans before God to show that Jesus Christ is the saviour of all men, not only of the pagans who do not have the law of Moses but also of the Jews. Paul first affirms the possibility of a natural knowledge of God, apart from the Revelation made to Israel: “What one can know of God is for them (the pagans) manifest: God indeed has manifested it to them. . What he has invisible since the creation of the world is revealed to the intelligence through his works, Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Christian conception of natural law
Natural law in the wake of Saint Paul and the Stoic philosophers
The Church’s Fathers will recourse to natural law in the wake of Saint Paul and the Stoic philosophers. It will be up to Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) to develop a truly Christian conception. We find it in his great work, the Summa of Theology: “Among all beings, the reasonable creature is subject to Divine Providence in a more excellent way by the fact that it participates in this Providence, being it – the same Providence for her and others. […] 91, a. 2, ad Corp.)
Is it our interest to rebel against natural law?
The stroke of genius of Saint Thomas is to have understood that, by natural law, a man actively participates in divine Providence. Thomas approaches the Stoics when he says that this law is known to man thanks to his reason. But he departs from it just as much by asserting that natural law is not identified purely and simply with eternal law. It is a participation in it, based on that man is created in God’s image with his freedom. By observing the natural law, “man, therefore, does not consent only to Providence, which is the divine ordering of nature and history.
Conscience, the place where God speaks to man
Natural expression law much. But, in a significant passage of the Constitution, Radium et Specs (n. 16) marks its metaphysical stakes. Metaphysics, because the natural law is not only intended to help us organize life in society. Nor is it a supreme and universal constituent law. By its sometimes crucifying demands, it opens man to something greater than himself, to his highest good, that is to say, God. “In the depths of his conscience, a man discovers the presence of a law which he has not given himself but which he is bound to obey. […] It is a law inscribed by God in the heart of man; his dignity is to follow him, and it is she who will judge him. Conscience is man’s most secret centre, the sanctuary where he is alone with God and where his voice is heard. ”
Actively discovering its created nature.
While emphasizing human freedom, St. Thomas certainly does not imagine that man would be the Creator of natural law, that he could give it all the content he likes as long as it is free. The Thomistic conception of natural law is not the creation of the values ?? of a Jean-Paul Sartre! For if man actively and freely discovers his nature,
A historical and immutable natural law
The patriarchs of the Old Testament, who practiced polygamy and slavery, knew something about natural law.
A concept revealed
Shouldn’t the Church do without the concept of natural law since it is so little audible by our contemporaries? It seems not, for at least three reasons.
Are we sure to act when we follow our conscience?
But even at this implicit stage, this knowledge is enough for all men to give meaning to the word “God.
New evidence for the existence of God, an event book
The body, sign of salvation his encyclical Humana vita
Humane vitae: the story of a misunderstood encyclical
This protest revealed that modern conceptions of morality, notably inspired by Kantianism, deeply permeated our mentalities. For us Christians, the body is the place of salvation. Tertullian, a Father of the Church, said: Cairo cardio (“The flesh is the hinge of salvation”). It is from the body that we understand what God is doing to save us.