Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Universal Ethic-Convergences 8-The Magisterium of the Church and Natural Law

1.6. The Magisterium of the Church and the natural law

34. Because the distinction between the natural order and the supernatural order was not clearly distinguished prior to the 13th century, the natural law generally was assimilated into Christian morality. Thus the decretals of Gratian, which furnish the canonical foundation of the 12th century, begin with the affirmation: "The natural law is that which is contained in the Law and in the Gospel." It identifies, then, the content of the natural law with the golden rule, and specifies that the divine law corresponds to the natural law.(38) The Fathers of the Church therefore referred back to the natural law and to the Sacred Scriptures as the foundations upon which to base Christian moral behavior, but the magisterium of the Church, during its early period, had little reason to intervene in any disputes over the content of the moral law.

When the magisterium of the Church was compelled not only to address particular moral disputes, but also to justify its actual position before a secularized world, it relied more explicitly upon the notion of the natural law. In the 19th century, especially under the pontificate of Leo XIII, recourse to the natural law may be found in the acts of the magisterium. Its explicit expression is found in the encyclical Libertas praestantissimum (1888). Leo XIII refers to the natural law to identify the source of the civil authority and to fix its limits. The encyclical recalls with vigor that it is necessary to obey God rather that men when the civil authority commands and recognizes something that opposes the divine law or the natural law. But it also turns to the natural law to protect private property against Socialism, or to defend the right of the workers to obtain through their work all that is necessary for the maintenance of their life. Along these same lines, John XXIII referred to the natural law as the basis for the righs and the duties of man (encyclical Pacem in terris [1963]). With Pius XI (encyclical Casti conubii [1930]) and Paul VI (encyclical Humanae vitae [1968]), the natural law is relied upon as the decisive criterion in matters relating to conjugal morality. Certainly, the natural law is made directly accessible to human reason, and is common to both the believer and the nonbeliever. The Church does not have exclusive possession of the natural law, but, since Revelation assumes the requirements of the natural law, the magisterium of the Church constitutes itself to be its guarantor and the interpreter.(39) The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) and the encyclical Veritatis splendor (1993) assign a decisive place to the natural law in the exposition of Christian morality.(40)

35. Today, the Catholic Church invokes the natural law in four main contexts. First, before the cultural flood that limits rationality to the positive sciences and abandons to relativism the moral life, the Church insists on the natural capacity of men to select with reason "the ethical message contained in being,"(41) and to recognize the large threads of fundamental norms of just actions in conformity with their nature and their dignity. The natural law thus answers to the requirement that the rights of man be founded on reason,(42) and renders possible an intercultural and interfaith conversation in a position of favoring universal peace and of avoiding the "breakdown of civilization." Second, before a relative individualism--which maintains that every individual is the source of his own values and that the society is the result of a pure contract contracted between individuals which itself chooses its norms—it recalls the principle that the fundamental norms that regulate social and political life do not have the character of convention, but have a character both natural and objective. In particular, the democratic form of government is intrinsically bound to fixed ethical values. These find their source in the requirements of the natural law, and therefore do not depend on the fluctuations of the consent of an arithmetical majority. Third, before an aggressive laicism which desires to exclude believers from the public debate, the Church the notes that the intervention of Christians in public life based upon arguments that rely upon the natural law (defense of the rights of the oppressed, justice in international relations, defense of life, and of the family, religious liberty, and liberty of education . . . ), are not rights of a confessional nature, but derive of the concern which all citizens ought to have for the common good of society. Fourth, confronting the threats of the abuse of the power as well as totalitarianism, which legal positivism hides and certain ideologies transmit, the Church remembers that civil laws do not bind in conscience if they are in contradiction with the natural law. The Church asks for the recognition of conscientious objection, as also the duty of disobedience in the name of obedience to a higher law.(43) Reference to the natural law not only does not result in conformity, but guarantees personal freedom and defends those marginalized and oppressed by the social structure and carved out of the common good.

(38) Gratian, Concordantia discordantium canonum, pars I, dist. 1 [PL 187, col. 29]: “Humanum genus duobus regitur, naturali videlicet iure et moribus. Ius naturale est quod in lege et Evangelio continetur, quo quisque iubetur alii facere quod sibi vult fieri, et prohibetur alii inferre quod sibi nolit fieri. [...] Omnes leges aut divinae sunt aut humanae. Divinae natura, humanae moribus constant, ideoque hae discrepant, quoniam aliae aliis gentibus placent.”

(39) Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Humanae vitae, n. 4, in AAS 60 (1968) 483.

(40) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1954-1960; John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, nn. 40-53.

(41) Benedict XVI, Speech of February 12 2007 to the International Congress on the Natural Moral Law Organized by the Lateran Pontifical University, in AAS 99 (2007) 243.

(42) Cf. Id., Speech of April 18, 2008 before the General Assembly of the United Nations: "They [human rights] are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.”

(43) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, nn. 73-74.

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