Normally we try — we really do — not to get too deep into those deep philosophical questions. Last Thursday’s piece on the natural law, “Let’s Be Reasonable,” was about as deep as we think we can get away with . . . once in a while.
What happens, however, when somebody asks a good question about a deep posting that, to answer, you have to get even deeper? And you’re up against a deadline to get the next posting up on schedule?
|No need to resist these Temptations, My Girl.|
Ok, but . . . is the “natural law” natural? Or is it supernatural? And I don’t mean merely in the sense that every natural thing rests in God dependently, I mean, is the natural law supernatural in being a direct action of God to impress His law on the human heart?
This is an excellent point. This is the sort of thing that used to be covered in Philosophy 101 classes, but things have gotten a little away from philosophical basics as Academia has turned into an extremely expensive job training program for people who won’t find jobs anyway because computers are doing all our work and (increasingly) our thinking for us.
So much for the commercial. Now for the message, so put on your hip waders. It gets really, really deep from here on.
|Well . . . not what we meant by "supernatural". . . .|
Every human being therefore has an “analogously complete” capacity by her or her own nature itself to acquire and develop the natural virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and — above all — justice just because he or she is human. We say “analogously complete” instead of “identical” because human beings are analogs of each other, not clones, and every human being is as human, and is human in the same way, as all other humans.
This is the first principle of reason expressed as “the principle of identity”: that which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true. Interestingly, people who base the natural law on faith instead of reason always seem to end up thinking that “ungodly” people — those who disagree with the godly — are not quite as fully human, or human at all, in comparison with the godly, i.e., the ones making the determination of godliness. As Msgr. Ronald Knox explained in Enthusiasm (1950), to the enthusiast, the ungodly have no rights. The godly may do whatever they like to the ungodly and it becomes right because the godly have great faith.
|"Nature" is what we are. "Supernature" is an add-on.|
This capacity defines us as human, and that is why the natural rights of life, liberty, and private property are “inalienable.” You cannot deny the means of acquiring and developing natural virtue — the exercise of natural rights — without denying the essential humanity of whoever is denied the legitimate exercise of rights. (Criminals are a separate issue, and we won’t get into that, at least today.)
It necessarily follows, then, that every child, woman, and man who is, was, or ever will be has the full spectrum of natural rights. This is because each and every human being by definition has the “same” natural (by nature) capacity to acquire and develop natural virtue, and must be permitted to do so. This in turn means that each and every human being must be permitted the legitimate exercise of the natural rights of life, liberty, and private property.
|The exercise of rights results in acquiring and developing virtue.|
“Socially determined” primarily means that the exercise of any right, regardless how absolute, is limited by the demand that others not be harmed, by specific circumstances, and the demands of the common good. Many people get this confused, either assuming that because rights are held absolutely, they are also exercised absolutely (individualism), or that because rights are exercised in limited fashion they are also held in limited fashion (collectivism). No — natural rights are held absolutely, but exercised in a limited way.
Returning to our main point, it is therefore correct to say that the natural law that gives the general norms of human behavior are a gift of God only in the sense that existence itself — human nature — is a gift of God. The natural law is part of the package deal of being a human being in the first place.
Now for the fun part. The case is otherwise with the supernatural law.
At first, things sound the same. Every human being has the analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity that fulfill and complete — but do not replace — the natural virtues.
This gives us the first difference between the natural law, and the supernatural law. We become more fully human beings by the acquisition and development of the natural virtues, but we become more fully children of God by the acquisition and development of the supernatural virtues.
The questions we’re now ready to answer, however, was, “Is the natural law supernatural in being a direct action of God to impress His law on the human heart?”
Quick answer: No.
|Not what we meant, but at least it's pretty.|
· God builds the capacity to acquire and develop natural virtue into every human being as part of human nature.
· God infuses — or impresses, if you will — the capacity to acquire and develop supernatural virtue into every human being as something in addition to — above — human nature.
That is why the natural virtues are called natural, and the supernatural — “above nature” — are super-natural. We have the capacity for the natural virtues just because we’re human, but we have the capacity for the supernatural virtues because God is love and wants not slaves, but children.
That is also why it is profoundly wrong to try and enforce your personal opinion of God’s supernatural law on others. That is based on faith and translates into lex voluntas: “law is will.” Enforcing God’s law is up to God, not human beings. You cannot legislate acts of faith, hope, or charity, regardless of the strength of your faith.
|"Old things, but in a new way."|
Human beings being “political animals,” we act in accordance with our own nature (the natural law) to organize into a social order to carry out the business of living and acquiring and developing virtue. There must be human laws, of course, but that does not mean that everybody and his brother can enforce them.
No, enforcing even human law is the job of duly constituted authority, sanctioned by the State to keep order. Only in extreme circumstances are we morally permitted to take the law into our own hands, and even then we must be prepared at times to suffer the consequences for the sake of maintaining the common good inviolate.
Even bad laws need to be obeyed if they do not force us personally to do wrong.
Is that, however, the end of the matter? By no means. When bad laws exist, we are under a moral obligation to organize with others and carry out acts of social justice to replace the bad laws with good laws, not simply shrug our shoulders and accept evil because we feel helpless individually.
But that’s a subject for another day.