O God, Who, in creating human nature, didst wonderfully dignify it, and still more wonderfully restore it..
My dear brethren,
What is the Natural Law and what is it for?
There is a law written into the heart of every man which is the measure of his actions. It is a light and a compass by which he may rightly judge his actions. This law is what we call the Natural Law.
God made man in his own image and likeness. St. Augustine says that Adam was in the image of God because he had an intellect and will, and he was in the likeness of God because he was in a state of grace. His nature was thus wonderfully dignified.
The state of grace was then lost with original sin, but the image of God, although damaged, remained. Adam had lost his participation in the supernatural life of God, but his intellect and will remained ordered to God - not supernaturally, but naturally - not necessarily in their actions, but in their finality which was the perfect knowledge and love of God.
Adam also had a law within him - a law which was written into his nature by which he could judge his actions. In his fallen state, he could only manage an imperfect, natural knowledge and love of God. He could not attain that supernatural end for which he was made, but the law within him was like a lighthouse that kept him from the rocks of self-destruction. It couldn't bring him home to his supernatural haven, but it preserved him so that he might be rescued.
And so it is for every son of Adam when conceived in his mother's womb. Every man is in the image of God, is damaged by original sin, is incapable of that for which he was made, but is naturally ordained to God and has the law of God within him to keep him from self-destruction - if he would but heed it.
How do we know it exists?
We know that the Natural Law exists by faith and by common sense [see next article]. We can also see that it is indeed "due" to man - not as a right - but as something that we would expect of a God Who is good and Who has made us for Himself. We can see this when we consider the order that exists in the universe. The reasoning is thus: -
However one may look at the universe - with eyes of a scientist, an artist or a peasant - one cannot fail to discern an exquisite order within and between every being of the universe. Every grain of sand, every organism, plant, animal and man himself is an order of matter seemingly infinite in complexity. The more closely one observes any material object, the more astonishing are the discoveries one makes.
But this order which is observed by the senses, is only one facet of the order that God has created: it is the material order of the universe. Alongside this order is an order that man cannot detect directly with his senses or instruments - it is the spiritual order. The most obvious example of this spiritual order is life itself. We cannot see life or the soul, but we see its effects in the extraordinary orchestra of atoms within every living creature. Life is an example of an order that can also exist free from matter; an order that embraces not only living material creatures but includes the immaterial creatures which we know to be the angels and the demons. We cannot detect them directly with our senses but be can know they exist by their effects.
Now, the spiritual order does not pertain only to essences or beings, it includes their actions too. God has not only created a spiritual order of beings, He has also created a spiritual order of conduct so that the universe as a whole, and all things individually within it, tend to the end for which they were made.
In the plants and animals, this order of conduct is fixed in their respective natures so that plants and animals always act according to their own nature and do what they are supposed to do. You would never, for example, come across a vegan cat or a dog who was depressed because he couldn't fly. But man is different because he has free will. He can choose his actions - whether they conform to his nature or whether they go against. Those actions which conform to his nature are morally good and those that go against his nature are morally bad. Those actions which make him tend to the end for which he was made - the knowledge, love and service of God - are good; those that lead him to self-destruction are bad.
Now because God is good, He has not left fallen man like a ship in the ocean without bearings. He has given man an innate knowledge of the correct order of conduct - the Natural Law - so that he can avoid shipwreck.
Knowledge of the Natural Law
The Natural Law, therefore, being inscribed into a man's nature is knowable to all men who have the faculty of reason at least in its primary principle which is "do good and avoid evil" and in those principles that can be directly derived from this first principle such as the ten commandments. As such, these principles apply to all men, at all times and are entirely immutable.
For more complex circumstances, however, the Natural Law is not necessarily known by all men because it requires a more complex reasoning and, for this reason, Positive Law is necessary to guide man to the end for which he is made. This Positive Law is both Human - such as the just laws of state concerning, for example, inheritance or security etc. - and Divine - when they are revealed by God, such as the teaching of Our Lord on humility in His parables.
A kingdom divided
If a man ignores the Natural Law, as we have said, he is acting in a way that will not lead him to the end that God intends and he risks destruction. When Our Lord says: “Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation”, He was not only referring to the order of fallen angels, He was speaking of the man who ignores His law; for when a man rebels against the Natural Law, he does nothing less than rebel against his own nature. He is divided against himself and will necessarily fail. Ignoring the lighthouse, his boat will founder on the rocks of his unbridled passions.
This is indeed what we are witnessing in our present day. The forces of darkness are working to extinguish the light of that lighthouse in every soul so that few see it anymore. There is now an almost universal rejection of the Natural Law at every level in society. Rebellion is enshrined in the laws of almost every land and the common man has long ceased to listen to its voice. Contraception, promiscuity, divorce, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, pornography, sex education, legalisation of drugs, assisted suicide, euthanasia, transgender ideology and usury represent a comprehensive rejection of God's will for mankind and hence the quasi totality of mankind's rebellion against itself.
Nature more wonderfully restored
But for those for whom the light still burns - those who are still attentive to the lighthouse within - their fallen nature is raised up to a new order of existence by baptism and raised higher still by every subsequent increase in sanctifying grace. It was the Redemption wrought by Jesus Christ, which we commemorated in Holy Week, celebrate now in Eastertide and re-enact every day at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that carries us away from the rocks and towards the safe haven of heaven.
The nature that God did wonderfully dignify in Adam at his creation is more wonderfully restored in us by His re-creation. The inclination that is in us by nature at our birth is elevated to a new order and given effect through His grace at our re-birth. Let us rejoice and give thanks for this.
And when the Lord shall have brought thee into a land that floweth with milk and honey, alleluia; and that the law of the Lord be always in thy mouth, alleluia.(Introit of Easter Monday)
I wish you all every grace of the Risen Christ with all its attendant joy and peace.
In Jesu et Maria,
Rev. Robert Brucciani