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  1. The Hidden Hand: Uncovering Divine Providence in Major Events of the 20th Century
  2. "If you can read this sentence, I can prove God exists"
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Divine Revelation and Papal Teaching. The natural law is independent of any divine revelation. Its first principles are common to all men and are not the exclusive possession of the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, there can be no question that Christian writers have been greatly aided by revelation in their discovery of the natural law and natural rights.

Pronouncing the nullity of the marriage of a lunatic, Chancellor Kent said: "That such a marriage is criminal and void by the Law of Nature, is a point universally conceded. And, by the Law of Nature, I understand those fit and just rules of conduct which the Creator has prescribed to Man, as a dependent and social being; and which are to be ascertained from the deductions of right reason, though they may be more precisely known, and more explicitly declared by Divine Revelation.

It is truly characteristic of her catholicity that the Church has persistently "affirmed the value of what is human and is in conformity with nature," notwithstanding her teaching on original sin. In his address to members of the International Convention of Humanistic Studies , he observed: "She [the Church] does not admit that in the sight of God man is mere corruption and sin.

On the contrary, in the eyes of the Church, original sin did not intimately affect man's aptitudes and strength, and has left essentially intact the natural light of his intelligence and his freedom.

The Hidden Hand: Uncovering Divine Providence in Major Events of the 20th Century

Man endowed with this nature is undoubtedly injured and weakened by the heavy inheritance of a fallen nature, deprived of supernatural and preternatural gifts. He must make an effort to observe the natural law — this with the powerful assistance of the Grace of Christ — so that he can live as the honor of God and his dignity as man require.

The natural law here is the foundation on which the social doctrine of the Church rests. It is precisely her Christian conception of the world which has inspired and sustained the Church in building up this doctrine on such a foundation. When she struggles to win and defend her own freedom, she is actually doing this for the true freedom and for the fundamental rights of man.

In her eyes these essential rights are so inviolable that no argument of State and no pretext of the common good can prevail against them …. It cannot touch theserights for they constitute what is most precious in the common good. Pius XII saw that the chief source of confusion and disorder in the 20th century lay in the deliberate abandonment of the natural law. In his very first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, he asserted: "One leading mistake We may single out, as the fountainhead, deeply hidden, from which the evils of the modern state derive their origin.

Both in private life and in the state itself, and moreover in the mutual relations of race with race, of country with country, the one universal standard of morality is set aside; by which We mean the natural law, now buried away under a mass of destructive criticism and of neglect.

When the Author of the natural law is set aside, there can be no room for the natural law, which, as Pius XII insisted, "reposes, as upon its foundation, on the notion of God, the Almighty Creator and Father of us all, the Supreme and Perfect Law-giver, the wise and just Rewarder of human conduct. Bibliography: j. Louis, Mo. Westminster, Md.

"If you can read this sentence, I can prove God exists"

One distinction that is indispensable for understanding the place of natural law in contemporary theology and philosophy is that between the ontology of natural law, or its existence, and the epistemology of natural law, or the knowledge of principles that may be said to constitute it. It seems from the dissent that takes place in contemporary discussions of natural law that there is more disagreement over the epistemology than there is over the ontology.

Protestant Criticisms. Stumpf suggests such a distinction when he asserts that contemporary Protestant thought is fundamentally critical of natural-law theory, although it does not repudiate the theory completely.


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  • For the Protestant, the disagreement arises from a philosophy that is based on the accessibility of nature to man's rational powers, an accessibility that he is unwilling to admit. For him the "Catholic" natural law is associated with the Thomistic notion of the analogy of being, according to which the natural law is defined in terms of the eternal law that exists in God. The promulgation of this law, as has been explained above, is made in the rational nature of man.

    The application of its principles, whether primary, secondary, or tertiary, to contingent situations is made by the consciences of men in their practical prudential judgments. For many Protestants, this explanation places too much importance on stable natures and rational powers, and not enough upon the ambiguity in every moral situation. Reinhold niebuhr's criticism of what he calls "classical, catholic, and modern natural law concepts" proceeds along these very lines. He insists that these concepts do not allow for the historical character of human existence because they are radicated in a classical rationalism that did not understand history.

    These concepts, for Niebuhr, do not appreciate the uniqueness of the historical situation or the accretions that came into the definition of natural law through history. The general principles are too inflexible, and the definitions of these general principles are too historically conditioned. Niebuhr does not deny an "essential" nature of man, but the profoundest problem for him is the historical elaboration of man's essential human nature, on the one hand, and the historical biases that have insinuated themselves into the definition of that essential human nature, on the other.

    A second criticism, for Niebuhr, is the tendency in the classical theory to make the law of love an addition to the law of obligation, with the result that the one deals with the determinate possibilities and the other the indeterminate possibilities of good. In his view, clear lines between determinate and indeterminate possibilities cannot and should not be drawn.

    Niebuhr illustrates this by saying that justice is an application of the law of love for which the rules are not absolute but relative. All such rules are applications of the law of love and do not have independence apart from it. They would be autonomous only if they were based upon an "essential" social structure, and there is no definition of such an essential structure of community, except the law of love. Stumpf makes this the cardinal point of criticism between the Protestant and Catholic conceptions of natural law. The ground of ethics is love even for the natural man and such love is the fulfillment and completion of the law.

    Love and grace are not dimensions of the supernatural order only, but justice is infused and transfigured by love. The Protestant conception, then, is fundamentally the confrontation of man with the God of judgment and love commanding him, not through the mediation of abstract primary, secondary, and tertiary principles, but subjecting him to the single imperative of an undifferentiated and naturally indefinable love.


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    • No law mediates between man and God — only love — and this love is the natural law for the very reason that love is the law of man's essential human nature, which passes otherwise undefined. The metaphysical structure of reality, and the teleological structure of nature, are each set aside as at best merely provisional and awaiting reformulation in the new law.

      Different Views of Reason. It should be seen at once that all Catholic and many Protestant theologians would admit an essential human nature, but even there the word "essential" demands quotation marks and precise refinements of meaning. Fitch, dean of the Pacific School of Religion, is quoted in a footnote of an article by A. For the Catholic, the stress is on the reason that is Aristotelian, classical, ordered, and universal; for the Protestant, the emphasis is on the reason that is individualistic, inquiring, and experimental.

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      Fitch says that both are needed, and no one will question that conclusion. The combination of the two stresses might be assisted by the suggestive use of the phrase "prismatic analysis" in connection with the formation of the practical prudential judgments of the individual conscience. It can readily be seen how the most general principles of law passing through this individual human prism receive all the colorations, the ambiguities, the obstacles, and the helps from the particular existential historical moment of their passage.

      For the person who leans toward a somewhat complete situationalism, no law passes through the human prism but the law of love; anything else that he might designate as law is not exigent and obligatory, but guiding and tentative, provisional and contingent. The position of the moderate situationalist is one that appreciates both the imperative of obligation and the imperative of love, while giving full validity to all the contingent factors in the ambiguous ethical situation.

      Between the divine transcendence and the ever-changing human situation, J. Bennett places the "middle axioms," which seem to be employed to mediate between more general norms and the unique structural situation.

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      Niebuhr speaks of "enduring structures of meaning and value" that must be assured a valid role in the ethical choice. Will Herberg finds some clarification of these conceptions of the "enduring structures of meaning and value" of Niebuhr and the "middle axioms" of Bennett by citing Edmund burke, who has this to say about natural rights:. These metaphysical rights, entering into common life, like rays of light which pierce into a dense medium, are … refracted from a straight line … [and] undergo such a variety of refractions and reflections that it becomes absurd to speak of them as if they continued in the simplicity of their original direction.

      Philosophical Presuppositions. The fundamental disagreement on natural-law theory, therefore, is rooted in philosophical presuppositions on the nature of law, on the nature of man, on the very meaning of "natural.

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      In fact, many theological disagreements find their ultimate sources of division in philosophical premises. To those inclined to regard metaphysical knowledge as not so respectable a knowledge as that of the empiro-logical sciences, the intelligibility of nature, of man, of law, and of God will be regarded with increasing skepticism. All these obstacles that are profoundly philosophical will make difficult the acceptance even of the existence of natural law at its barest minimum. When, in addition to the difference in philosophical presuppositions, the differences in theology concerning the nature of original sin and its consequences for the nature of man are studied, it can be more clearly seen why natural law for the Catholic has been a dialectical tool.

      It stands to reason that he can employ this tool effectively only if he constantly appreciates these philosophical and theological differences.

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      Catholic Theology. Natural law has understandably been of interest to the Catholic theologian, who has always interested himself in the mutual relation of reason and faith and is convinced that God operates in history through the natures of things and especially through the nature of man. He presumes that man's nature has not been totally deformed by original sin and that his intellect and will are capable of constructing a natural theology and a moral philosophy that are valid and complemented by supernatural theology and a moral theology.

      In light of this judgment, he does not hesitate to study the essential ordering of human nature and to discover certain conformities and deformities with respect to it. Unfortunately, the principal obstacle to the acceptance of natural law in modern times is the mistaken notion that this law belongs to the Catholic Church and no other. Yet it is undeniably true that the Catholic Church has been the most vigorous defender of natural-law theory in areas ranging from property rights to contraception and from the problems of medical ethics to those of nuclear warfare.

      With the gradual lowering of moral standards, however, the Church has given more of her magisterial attention to the claims of nature and justice. The term was constantly mentioned in the allocutions and discourses of Pius XII on the issues of peace and war, on political organizations, and on the obligations of the many professions, especially medicine and law.

      Yet the fact that the Church has been concerned with defending the natural and to relate it to the supernatural does not make the natural itself supernatural.

      The natural law is the basis and foundation for the supernatural code of ethics found in moral theology, whereas the additional evidence for certain forms of ethical conduct derives from biblical sources and from tradition. At times the papal documents refer to elevated human nature, to human nature supernaturalized by grace; where this is done, however, the texts are clear, and such citations do not permit a reader to conclude that the argument from reason has been so substantially undermined that only Catholic faith provides a valid and cogent ground for ethical conduct.

      The interrelation between faith and reason on the precise question of the probative value of evidence from natural law is most certainly ground for debate among Catholic theologians, but no one of them would deny completely all probative value and all cogency to a natural-law argument. This issue has received heightened attention as a result of the discussions of the normative relation of nature and grace ensuing after the publication of Henri de lubac's famous Surnaturel Paris The issue is whether the integrity of the natural order does not require a natural end for man granted that this end is no longer actually the ultimate end, and that in the order of divine providence that this end is further ordered to the beatific finis ultimus.

      De Lubac argued the impossibility of any natural end for man proportioned to human nature itself.