“You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” ~ 2 Cor 3: 3
Christ has delivered us from the slavery of the law through his life, death, and resurrection, having completed the law of the Old Testament by transcending the old law with the Evangelical Law. This New Law can only be understood with the proper illumination in regards to its relationship between human natural inclinations and the Ten Commandments. God, our creator promulgated the eternal law in the most perfect of designs that encompasses all of the natural laws, primary precepts and moral law.
Through His great wisdom and design maturing in a moral life would be completely possible for us through natural means, where using human reasoning we can discover the universal truths and norms found within the primary precepts of divine law. “Nature provides a purposive design discoverable by one who would make the effort to contemplate, receive, or ‘listen’ to” the Old law. (Torraco, Listening to Nature, August 1993) The natural law and the primary precepts are a means to help civilize ourselves from working in denying and failing to follow the natural inclinations of every human heart. “Even in most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person.” (VS, 102)
These natural inclinations of the heart are the good desires of self-preservation, procreation and the raising of children, and to know the truth of God and live in society. All goods unto themselves these inclinations are totally identical with the primary precepts in the Decalogue that safeguard and contain the natural law within them. “Only God, the Supreme Good, constitutes the unshakable foundation and essential condition of morality, and thus of the commandments, particularly those negative commandments which always and in every case prohibit behavior and actions incompatible with the personal dignity of every man.” (VS, 99) In God’s great merciful and omnipotent understanding of human nature to thwart natural inclinations through original sin, he gave us the Old Law to control our disordered passions that threaten our physical, mental, and spiritual lives. Through His loving gift our Lord impresses upon us our duties to Him and each other by instructing us on what to do and what not to do, so we would know without a doubt the effect of sin in ourselves.
Bar, we must guard from looking at the Ten Commandments as just a list of rules to follow. By living these primary precepts like children, we are nurtured to grow into the New Law that Christ gave us, for when we understand the true beauty of the Old Law and recognize we need more we are able to say “in the depths of my soul I delight in your law and know that your commands are good, just and holy.” (A' Kempis 1989)
For St. Paul explained, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3: 23 – 27) He is referring to the New Evangelical law that doesn’t bind us but sets us free.
The evangelical law is a law of love, grace, and freedom because we are freed from being a slave to the law because the evangelical law completes us in utmost maturity where we are prepared to receive our heritance in Christ. The more we work in union with the divine law we move beyond just being friends of God by being transformed into the actual daughters and sons of the Most High. (Denzi 1922 - 1939)
The divine law works within the hearts of individuals, who freely stop and listen to the divine inclinations that work in union with the natural human inclinations for a specific good. Jesus Christ completes this new law, bringing its fullness in order to help us to mature to the Ultimate Good and share in the interior Trinitarian life of God. For the evangelical law give us the divine tools to follow a way of perfection with utmost Christian maturity in all things moral and spiritual in life.
Therefore, comes the most imperative task at hand, to explain why it is vital for us to think aright in order for our personal maturity and the responsibility of civilization to be actualized. Let’s first look to the role of proper moral reasoning to help in the individual maturing of an adult person. God created man in his own image for us to live in utmost freedom in harmony with each other, ourselves, creation and him. Failure to think aright in moral reasoning opens the individual to make decisions that are physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually dangerous to their full development into a free human being living in the full truth of their dignity.
“The person who acts of his own accord following a natural instinct that has been perfected by virtue can be said to act with full freedom.” (Pinckaers, 186) The freedom and charity that is infused into us by the evangelical law furnishes us with what we require to freely choose the inclinations of our heart, for they are trinified in Christ. St. Augustine once said, “Do what you want.” He was not stating a hedonistic view point of morality, but was explaining how the Christian who has been perfected in the Evangelical Law is free to follow their heart, for their heart is inclined not just to follow natural law, but divine law. This natural instinct that St. Thomas explains in his Summa Theologica, does not just talk about a natural way of live, but an instinct that is supernatural through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Why then again is this so important for us to renew our aright thinking not just as individuals but as a culture, at this particular time and place in our civilization’s history? The sudden tyrannical growth of the “culture of death” within all aspects of public life only intensifies the battle for our very humanity, which is in danger of being completely denied and suppressed. A relativistic society renounces all sound moral reasoning and thereby makes it impossible to find true meaning for human life. This view point is void of all veracity and rational thought. If we are human beings living in this world we are participating in the eternal law even if we deny that it exists, like all relativists do.
The argument in our secular society that tries to say that morality is a private matter is void in truth. “Civilization depends on the civilized imposing their standards on the uncivilized. ... If you can’t accept that, you are against civilization.” (Canavan 1989) God’s truth and divine law does not run in contradiction against the true development and maturing of human civilization. To deny our true humanity and the true meaning of human life is to reduce ourselves back to barbarianism. Repudiating moral reasoning in the public sphere is to open our civilization to a schizophrenic personality that threatens our very culture at its core being. Basically it will spiral civilization into to pure chaos which will destroy itself from within and deny the unalienable rights of all humanity, thereby opening the door to pure tyranny.
The best illustration of this reality is to look at the most controversial battle taking place between the culture of life and the culture of death – abortion. We can first gaze upon the interior reality of the abortionist and the role he plays in attacking the humanity in all of us. Through the vary nature of his trade, he redefines what morality is. “His goal becomes to graft the goals of public health onto his techniques for establishing a new culture with individual autonomy as its major premise and which can be efficiently hedonist with minimal adverse consequences. Under this system, techniques and those who wield them become the measure of the new 'morality'—really the old immorality.” (Marshall and Donovan Winter 1992) Abortion denies the humanity of the smallest and weakest among us.
The whole “culture of death” that frequently puts those is most risk in mortal peril, spoils the development of a society overall. “The assumption that abortion and euthanasia are human rights … is seen … as a contradiction which amounts to a denial of the human dignity and freedom which the law is supposed to protect. A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying. A materialistic view of the human person will concede little value and dignity to either. What is then claimed as a victory for human rights is really the sanctioning of a freedom sundered from truth.” (John Paul II 25 May 2000) Moral reasoning is necessary to protect civilization from a cruel reality that will destroy humanity from within itself.
These collective pressures from the “culture of death” threaten human life and attack the innate dignity of all humanity. “At the root of such a culture is the "mother" of all its contradictions: on the one hand, the strong tendency to deny the concrete reality of human nature, and the other, the desire to destroy it (thereby admitting its existence), specifically by ripping apart the intimate unity between body and soul.” (Torraco, Campaign Update Winter 1994) These types of inconsistencies attest to the irrationality of amoral thought that defends the materialistic view of the human person.
Not only does this twisted view of the dignity of the human person damage civilization, it also grievously harms the individual in their ability to mature into a human person at a moral and spiritual level. The premise for the defense of abortion and other anti-life legislation is often argued by proclaiming a right to privacy. First off, it is irrational to argue for the right to privacy over another human beings right to life, which obliviously super cedes the prior. By proclaiming a right to privacy, the humanity of the individual is destroyed and their own rights and dignity are violated. “This privacy rests on the assumption that human freedom is freedom from being in relation to others because the very presence of others compromises my freedom and my selfhood… To be free, the other who calls me into relation and responsibility must be annihilated.” (Miller November 1991)
Humanity only fully develops and matures with the sincere gift of self for the other. In other words, “no man is an island.” We were created to be in relationship and in “agape” with each other and with God in the Trinitarian life of the Holy Trinity. To fail to live this way, is to fail to live in our actuality of our humanity.
Through Christ and the Evangelical Law we are called to live “better angels of our nature." Though the path to renewing moral theology to the “right” notion may seem daunting and like a loosing battle. We can take courage in the fact that Christ will overcome all. Ethics without the divine law is actually leads to moral and spiritual death, because a person and a culture can only attain true humanity and civilization with divine help. For to be anything less then how God created us to be is to frustrate our very development as adults grounded in authentic morality and leading a fruitful and blessed spiritual life. For the only way to be our best is to be our best, which requires the free movement and grace of the Holy Spirit within the heart of individuals and the corporate soul of a society. “…The salvation of our race was accomplished by the mystery of the Cross, and since the Church, dispenser of that salvation after the triumph of Christ, was founded upon earth and instituted, Providence established a new order for a new people.” (Leo XIII September 22, 1891)
We have a great hope to renew our morality as a civilization and a people with the renewal of moral theology. Though “the natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law falls short of the eternal law.” (Aquinas 1989, Q96, 2) St. Thomas was explaining that we all participate in the eternal law though we always fall short. We can find great hope in the knowledge that God realizes the true difficulty we have in living in our true humanity.
God through Christ has given us the tools necessary to develop morally and spiritually in evangelical truth and freedom. As St. Thomas explained latter in his Treatise of the Law, “There are two ways in which a thing may be instilled into man. First, through being part of his nature, and thus the natural law is instilled into man. Secondly, a thing is instilled into man by being, as it were, added on to his nature by a gift of grace. In this way the New Law is instilled into man, not only by indicating to him what he should do, but also by helping him to accomplish it.” (Aquinas 1989, Q166, 1) Through the evangelical law, which is the Holy Spirit, we have the ultimate guild to help us navigate the difficult waters of our present culture with truth and freedom by cooperating with the divine law that has transfigured our hearts into Christ.
A' Kempis, Thomas, trans. by William C. Creasy. The Imitation of Christ. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, Inc., 1989.
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—. "Veritatis Splendor." Encyclical, August 15, 1993.
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Marshall, Robert G., and Charles A. Donovan. "Will Birth Control Prevent Abortion?" Human Life Review (Ignatius Press) 18, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 41-49.
Miller, Monica Migliorino. "Severed Ties: How Abortion Dissolves Feminine Authority." Crisis 9, no. 10 (November 1991): 21-26.
Pinckaers, Servais. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.
Torraco, Stephen F. "Listening to Nature: The Significance of Leon Kass of Catholic Moral Theology." Linarce Quarterly, August 1993.
Torraco, Stephen F. "The Better Angels of Our Nature." The Catholic Campaign for America, Winter 1994: 3.
Copyright March 2009 by Janelle Wingert