10. It is true that the expression "natural law" has been the source of a many misunderstandings in actual practice. At times, the term is used to refer to the simple submission and passive resignation to the physical laws of nature, while human beings, justly, seek rather to dominate and orient these fixed and determined laws for their own benefit. At times, it is presented as an objective fact which is imposed from the outside upon one’s personal conscience, independently from the work of the reason and of subjectivity, and so is suspected of introducing an insupportable type of heteronomy to the dignity of the free human person. At other times, in the course of its history, Christian theology has equated natural law positions with anthropological viewpoints that subsequently have shown themselves to have been culturally and historically conditioned. But a deeper understanding of the relations between the moral subject, nature, and God, along with a better appreciation of the historicity that pertains the concrete applications of the natural law, come together to dissipate such misunderstandings. Today it is also important to propose the traditional doctrine of the natural law in terms that better manifest the personal and existential dimensions of the moral life. It is necessary also to insist more significantly the fact that the expression of the requirements of the natural law are inseparable from the effort of the entire human community to overcome selfish and factious tendencies, and to develop a global approach with an “ecology of the values,” without which human life risks the loss of authentic integrity and the appropriate sense of responsibility for the well-being of all.
11. The idea of the natural moral law assumes numerous common elements of the great religious and philosophical wisdom of humanity. So Chapter 1 of this document begins with the recalling of such “convergences.” Without any claim to be exhaustive, it indicates that this great religious and philosophical wisdom is testimony of the existence of a moral patrimony, widely held in common, that forms the basis of every dialogue on moral matters. Even more, they suggest, in one way or another, that this patrimony expresses a universal ethical message immanent in the nature of things which men are in a position to decipher. The document then recalls some essential points of reference of the historical development of the idea of the natural law, and cites some modern theories of morality which are partially at the origin of the contemporary difficulties in accepting such a notion. In Chapter 2 ("The perception of common moral values"), our document describes how, taking leave from the simplest data of moral experience, the human person arrives immediately at some fundamental moral goods, and is able to form as a consequence precepts of the natural law. These do not constitute a complete code of untouchable prescriptions, but provide permanent and normative principles that inspire and are at the service of the concrete moral life of persons. Chapter 3 ("The foundations of the natural law"), passing from the common experience to theory, deepens the philosophical, metaphysical, and religious foundations of the natural law. It aims at answering some contemporary objections, in particular with respect to the role of nature in personal acts, and answering questions regarding the possibility of nature providing a moral rule. Chapter 4 ("The natural law and the State") explains the guiding role of the precepts of the natural law in political life. The doctrine of natural law possesses already coherence and validity on the philosophical plane of reason which is common to all men, but Chapter 5 ("Jesus Christ, completion of the natural law") demonstrates that the natural law gains its fullest sense within salvation history. In fact, Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, is, with his Spirit, the fullness of all law.