Natural Law Not Going Out of Style, Says Commission

Theologians Affirm It’s Still the Base of Ethics

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ROME, JUNE 11, 2009 ( The objective values of natural law continue serving as the base for universal ethics, according to a new document from the International Theological Commission.

The document, “The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law,” was published on the Holy See’s Web page in Italian and French.

L’Osservatore Romano published today a summary of the document in an article by French Dominican Father Serge-Thomas Bonino, a member of the commission.

The commission emphasizes the need for a consensus on objective and universal ethical values, which should be promoted to avoid the ups and downs of public opinion and government manipulation.

“These values can guarantee for human rights, for example, a more solid base than fragile juridical positivism,” Father Bonino explained. “They should be founded on what defines human beings as humans and in how human nature is concretized is each person, regardless of race, culture or religion.”

The document suggests that natural law as the base of ethics continues maintaining its validity, in a culture that elevates the individual to the level of a final reference point who creates his own values and acts outside of objective ethical norms, making use of ideologies that have little concern for human dignity.

The International Theological Commission document thus contributes to the current debate on the search for universal ethics, aiming to combat the growing separation between the ethical order on the one hand, and the economic, social, juridical and political orders on the other.

These latter sectors of human activity try to develop without normative references to a moral good that is objective and universal, the document notes.

It goes on to offer two alternatives, Father Bonino explained: Either globalization advances “more or less regulated in a juridical framework that is purely positivist, incapable of avoiding in the long-term the power and rights of the strongest, or else man involves himself in the process to orient it based on the finality that is properly human.”

Living Law

The experts note in this regard that natural law affirms “persons and human communities are capable, in the light of reason, of recognizing the fundamental orientations of a moral act in conformity with the nature itself of the human subject and of presenting them in a normative way, in the form of precepts or commands.”

“These fundamental precepts — objective and universal — are called to found and inspire together the moral, juridical and political determinations that regulate the life of man and society,” the document proposes.

“To propose natural law in today’s context, one should distance himself from the caricaturist presentations that have made it incomprehensible to many of our contemporaries [and] take advantage of the recent innovate elements of Catholic moral theology,” Father Bonino suggested.

The document recalls that there is already a common ethical patrimony, as witnessed by the numerous convergences among the cultural and religious traditions of the world.

It also opposes a rationalistic vision of natural law, though it defends its rational dimension, and indicates that the “interior call to follow the good as such is the experience on which all morality is founded.”

The final chapter of the document considers the “profound change of perspective in the presentation of natural law” that was offered by Christ.

“In the light of faith, man recognized in Jesus Christ the eternal Logos who presides over creation, and who, in incarnating himself, presents himself to man as the living Law, the criteria of a human life in conformity with natural law,” Father Bonino explained.

“Natural law is not abolished,” he concluded, “but taken to its fulfillment by the new law of love.”

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