Friday, October 05, 2007

Natural Law is the True Guarantee Offered to Every Person so He can Live Free and be Respected in His Dignity

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address to the International Theological Commission
October 5, 2007

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the central content of the doctrine on natural law, stressing that it "indicates the primary and essential norms which regulate moral life. Its pivot is the aspiration towards God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of every good, as well as our sense of other persons as equal to ourselves." In its principal precepts, natural law is expressed in the Decalogue. This law is called natural not in relation to irrational beings, but because the reason that promulgates it is part of human nature. (n. 1955).

This doctrine allows us to reach two essential objectives. On the one hand, we understand that the ethical content of Christian faith does not constitute an externally dictated imposition on the conscience of man, but it has its basis in human nature itself. On the other hand, starting with natural law which is itself accessible to every rational creature, we have a basis for entering into dialog with all men of good will, and more generally, with civilian and secular society.

But precisely because of the influence of ideological and cultural factors, civilian and secular society today is in a situation of disorientation and confusion -- it has lost the original evidence of the foundations for the human being and his ethical behavior, and the doctrine of natural moral law is opposed by concepts which are a direct negation of it. All this has enormous and serious consequences for the civilian and social order.

Among not a few thinkers today, it is the positivist concept of right which prevails. According to them, humanity, or society, or even, the majority of citizens, is the ultimate source of civil law. Therefore, the problem they pose is not the quest for good, but for power, or rather of a balance of power.

At the root of this tendency is ethical relativism, which some see as one of the principal conditions of democracy, because relativism would guarantee tolerance and reciprocal personal respect. But if that were so, then the majority at any given time would become the ultimate source of right. History shows with great clarity that the majority can be wrong.

True rationality is not guaranteed by the consensus of a great number of persons, but only by the transparency of human reason to Creative Reason, and a common attentiveness to this source of our own rationality. When the fundamental demands of human dignity, of the family as an institution, of equity in the social order, that is, the fundamental rights of man, when these are in play, then no law made by man can subvert the norms inscribed by the Creator himself in the hearts of man. Otherwise, society itself would be struck dramatically in what constitutes its irrenunciable base.

Thus, natural law becomes the true guarantee offered to every person so he can live free and respected in his dignity, protected from every ideological manipulation and from every whim and abuse by stronger persons. No one can exempt himself from this claim. If, through a tragic blackout of collective consciousness, skepticism and relativism should end up nullifying the fundamental principles of natural moral law, then that very democratic order itself would be mortally wounded in its foundations.

Against this blacking out, which is a crisis of human civilization even before it is one of Christianity, it is necessary to mobilize the conscience of all men of good will, laymen and even religious persons belonging to all of mankind's various religions, so that together, and proactively, they may commit themselves to creating -- in our culture, and in political and civilian society -- the conditions necessary for a full awareness of the inalienable value of natural moral law.

Indeed, the advancement of individuals and society along the way of authentic progress in conformity with right reason -- which is participation in God's eternal Reason -- depends on respect for natural moral law.

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