Natural Law is Indispensable a Scholarly Essay by Fr. Alphonse de Valk, CSB

2008 Winter Spring - A peer-reviewed article from the Issue of the Academic Journal "Fedelitas" of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

Alphonse de Valk,
Fr Alphonse de Valk was a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil (D. 4/16/20). He was the editor of the Toronto-based monthly Catholic Insight 
Canadian society, like other Western societies, is now deeply divided over ideological issues. Legislators, magistrates and semi-legal Human Rights Commissions are bumping traditional law in favour of individual rights – or what passes for “rights.” Community or group interests are short-changed in favour of total autonomy and freedom for John and Jane. 
The future 
How long can this go on? Not for very long, says Pope John Paul II in his 1993 encyclical, The splendour of Truth.1Splendour is concerned with the great questions of freedom and authority, conscience and truth, and how these are to be reconciled. 
Talking about morality in terms of principle rather than practice doesn’t make for popular reading. In fact, Splendour of Truth does make demands of the intellect. Yet Canadians better get on reading it. It is the only challenge to a deteriorating situation in the country and the Western world. 
183 pages in the handy, pocket-sized Canadian edition of éditions Paulines, 250 boulevard St-François Nord, Sherbrooke, QC., J1E 2B9, $2.95 plus tax 
Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Winter-Spring 2008 
Splendour looks to the future and the future doesn’t look bright. 
There is truth 
The encyclical argues that truth can be known by human reason, though not by human reason alone. The latter must also seek to understand God, who is most fully manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. Only then will reason understand that moral behaviour must be subject to objective moral standards. Such standards make for compassion and protect the freedom of all. 
At this stage Splendour refers to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) whose main philosophical analysis of the structure of law may be found in his treatise of law (Summa Theologicae, I-II, Questions 90-97). 
Splendour’s Chapter One concludes that the moral prescriptions which God imparted in the Old Covenant and which were perfected under the New Covenant “must be faithfully kept and continually put into practice.” This applies to the various different cultures throughout the course of history (S. 25; p.41). 
Moral Acts 
Chapter Two, by far the longest of the three chapters, is devoted to explaining the main principles which must govern moral behaviour. Hence its two main topics are “freedom and law” and “conscience and truth.” These, Splendour says, are usually seen as opposites, namely freedom against law, and conscience independent of truth. 
Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Winter-Spring 2008 
The encyclical rejects this as a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of life and the purpose of creation. Why? 
Creation is the work of an all-good Creator. When we separate the human being and human (moral) acts from God, we no longer understand what is good and what is evil. God alone determines what is good and evil. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen 2:17). Without Him we fall back on our weak and shifting selves, driven by our passions, hopelessly confused. 
Second definition 
The nature of man’s being leads to a second definition of natural law (always understood as natural moral law, not nature’s law of the jungle where might is right). 
The key to God’s creation is the human person.
Thus the natural law is innate; it is rational; and its focus is the dignity and integrity of the human person. 
This natural law then has a direct bearing, for example, on modern scientific and medical-ethical questions. Because of the principle that the human “person” can never be separated from the human body, natural law extends its “protection” to the human body and therefore, opposes all actions which treat the human being merely as a mass of protoplasm to be experimented upon at will (S 48-49). 
The above-mentioned principles lead to certain conclusions. Among them are: 
Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Winter-Spring 2008 
 that the natural law is universal and immutable. As noted, this presupposes the acceptance of truth. As one commentator put it, when Pontius Pilate asked the question (with respect to Jesus): What is truth?, he meant it as a discussion-stopper. Pilate, like many moderns today, did not believe there was such a thing as truth. Splendour, however, raises the existence of truth as a discussion–starter. 
Unless we start examining the case of natural law we’ll find ourselves in a quagmire of dissolving values. Members of the now defunct Canadian federal Law Reform Commission believed that morality “evolves,” and they shaped legislation accordingly. But the Pope and the Church think otherwise. 
           that the positive precepts, ordering us to perform certain actions (e.g., worship God) are universally binding; they are “unchanging” (S 52, p. 81); 
           that the negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. “They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance” (Ibid, p. 82). The Pope makes it clear that this teaching must be handed down to future generations if the “crisis of truth” is not to deepen and worsen. 

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