Thursday, February 17, 2011

Natural Law and Conscience

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Preamble:  Those who disobey the just dictates of their conscience are in fact disobeying the voice of the Creator and Supreme Lawgiver, who has inscribed the Natural Law on their hearts.  By so disobeying, they are asking to have grace and light withdrawn from them, and will consequently fall into all manner of errors.  Read on to see what this Natural Law consists of, that you may not make yourself so unfortunate.

2nd Thessalonians 2:10: "And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying"

In this article we will talk about conscience, its origin, constitution and purpose, as well as its action and its effects on individual souls.  We will also discuss the manner in which a soul may purify his conscience, that is be able to hear and obey it with greater clarity, and warn against those actions which cause us to become deaf to our conscience.

It is worth noting that only rational creatures with the use of free will have a conscience (i.e. the ability to reason and choose between good and evil).

There are some people who are stuck in an instinct driven state of infant-like awareness, due to some defect in the brain or adverse influence from the environment.  These have no use of reason and free will, but rather merely react to stimuli with no rational thought process.  Such persons, as infants, do not have any culpability before God, since they cannot choose sin, nor can they merit since they cannot choose virtue.  The only hope for such persons to be saved from original sin, death and hell (as with infants) is to receive Holy Baptism, the laver of regeneration (St. Thomas, Summa, Tertia Pars, Q. 68, Art. 12), and nothing beyond this is required.  Thus, St. Augustine might well have been speaking of these also, when he said of infants (De Verb. Apost., xiv, xviii): "He believes by another, who has sinned by another." 

But our discussion focuses on those who have attained sufficient use of reason and free will to be bound by Divine and Natural Law.  Such persons must not only receive Baptism, but they must do so with a rightly disposed will and intent, meaning that they must be sorry for their mortal sins and resolved never again to commit them.

But above all they must KNOW which of their actions have been mortal sin.  Enter the Natural Law and conscience:

Natural Law and Conscience

God is the Creator of all things, the Creator of nature.  He created all things with a set purpose, doing nothing frivolously or uselessly.  Even unbelievers have such expressions as "everything has a purpose".  In fact, centuries before the first coming of Christ, Aristotle said: "Nature does nothing uselessly".

Aristotle had another phrase: "The Law is reason free from passion."  It is a very good phrase, in that it succinctly exemplifies the truth of the natural law, which is quite simply: Do the good and avoid the evil.  Nothing could be more reasonable than this.  It is only when we are resolved to uses the goods of this world according to the end for which they were created by God that we act in accordance with the natural law, or in other words, that we act according to right reason, free from passion, that is, without consenting to the irrational stirrings of the appetite, which causes us to desire something inordinately or to desire to use goods beyond the purpose they were created for.

That is where conscience comes in.  Conscience is there to let us know which actions are in accordance with nature and with right reason and which contravene the created order of things, or simply: which actions are good and which are evil.

There are many fundamental basics of morality that are universally recognized in every culture and in every society, which is a testament to the existence not only of a conscience, but of a universally calibrated conscience (we quote Aristotle to show that the conclusions of the natural law are indeed capable of fruition in men's minds by natural reason alone, without the aid of Christian theology).  Even the native of a faraway land who has never heard the Gospel has a conscience, which tells him right from wrong.

What is sin?

Whenever we act against our conscience, against that little voice that accuses us of wrong when we contemplate a certain action, we sin.

Sin does not involve evil things, because God created all things.  That means that all things are good.  Sin involves evil actions.  God does not force us to act, but rather allows us the moral freedom to choose good or evil and is ready to reward or punish us according to our choice.

When we disobey our conscience, we are essentially telling it to shut up and that we don't want to hear it.  This is how people blind themselves spiritually and how they begin to think that evil is good and good is evil.  Don't do it!

Without created goods, we could not sin.  The intellect of man is a created good.  It is not evil of itself, but it can be directed away from God, who is all good.  This turning away from good is the very definition of evil.  Any time we use any created good in a way contrary to its purpose in God's design, we sin.  (The purpose of the intellect is to know God and of the will is to love Him).

But this natural law was disobeyed continuously by men from the beginning.   Men pushed God further and further away, with very few remaining faithful.  Those few who remained loyal to God were to be His messengers to declare against sin and call men to repentance, penance and forgiveness.

God was not content to let the natural law remain as the sole standard by which men must base their actions.  He deigned to give something more, something tangible and articulable, something that could break through the layers of apathy, sloth and selfishness that our sins had erected to block out the voice of conscience.

God gave Moses the law.  The Ten Commandments, which are really nothing more than a reiteration of the natural law, with the addition of some tenets of Divine positive law.

The Ten Commandments may be categorized as Natural Law or as Divine positive law.  The first category contains those elements of right reason and morality that follow from the nature  and purpose of things as they were created.  The second were added to these by God in order to humble us, and to give us an opportunity to practice obedience, to make up for the disobedience of our first parents.

It is natural to man to live in civil society; and where there is civil society, there must be authority and order.

Aristotle: "Man is by nature a political animal."; "He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god."

The Divine nature itself, the ultimate model from which the created order receives its attributes (though not in anywhere near the same degree of perfection and sublimity), is the binding or obligatory norm of the natural law, imposing upon the rational creature the obligation of living in conformity with his nature, and thus with the universal order established by the Creator, including the order of a civil society (though not all who propose themselves as governors of society act in accordance with this order; please read Be Subject to Higher Powers, Render to Caesar).

The following list enumerates the commandments, and briefly demonstrates that it is a part of the natural law, written on the hearts of all men, in that it constitutes right reason, according either to the nature of the created goods it protects, or to the supreme dignity of God and the honour due to Him as Creator and Lord.

Of The Ten Commandments,
those which pertain to Natural Law

I.  I am the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.

By our nature, we are limited beings.  We know with certainty that we did not create the world or ourselves.  It is illogical and unreasonable to hold that the world itself is God, or that there could be a plurality of gods.  The order of the universe indicates a great and powerful wisdom directing all things to their end ("nature does nothing uselessly"). Reason itself tells us that there must be an unseen, all powerful Sovereign Creator.

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council, Canons on Revelation, #1, ex cathedra: "If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema"

II. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. 

Aristotle: "If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God's self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal."

Even if we do not have an innate knowledge of God's name or His will, we know from natural reason that He is good, as an evil god would not grant any of the many joys and beauties that we experience even in this life.  As such, it is contrary to the very law of nature to curse the Creator or to make light of His work, in which we live and which we are, or His clemency, so patiently exercised upon us in many ways.  In short, it is contrary to speak evil about Good.

As a result of the natural ability we have to know that God is good, it follows that He intends His creatures to be good as well.

IV. Honour thy Father and thy Mother.

Our parents bring us into the world, they raise us, teach us, cloth us, nourish us and shelter us.  It would be unreasonable, then to dishonour them.  To do our parents proper honour, we must acknowledge the debt we owe them for all the above benefits and work as far as we are able to repay them, although such a debt could never truly be paid.

V. Thou shalt not kill.

The unjust taking of another person's life (this is the killing that is prohibited) is wrong.  We all know it is wrong.  If a man has done nothing wrong, just walking up to him and killing him is a sin.  I know it.  You know it.  The criminal who goes around doing it late at night knows it too.  If he didn't, then why does he do it under the cover of darkness, or rapidly flee thereafter?

Can we prove it reasonably?  Of course we can!  It is wrong to kill a just person because he is loved by his family, depended upon by them and because he has the very same rights as a man that you and I have.   If it is wrong for someone to steal from us, or to murder us, then it is equally wrong to do it unto others.

The natural law, which is written on the heart of every man, undeniably forbids murder.

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VI. Thou shalt not commit adultery. 
IX: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.

Adultery; lewd discourse; innuendo; immodesty in dress; "wandering eyes"; a contraceptive mentality; all these mortal sins destroy the home, shaking the foundation of family life, and lead to all manner of other sins.  These sins of the flesh are clearly and undeniably responsible for many evils, including  the fall of states, the corruption of the family and the undermining of a right and sound morality among the nations.

VII. Thou shalt not steal. 
X: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods. 

Envy and greed lead nowhere good, but to spite, stealing and unjust killing for personal gain.

Charging interest is in fact a form of stealing, and is utterly contrary to nature, and will have GRAVE consequences for each nation in which it is permitted or tolerated.

Aristotle: "Money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural."

VIII: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. 

St. Augustine on Lying: "Truth is that which sets free from all error, and Falsehood that which entangles in all error"; "Wherefore, either we must not believe good men, or we must believe those whom we think obliged sometimes to tell a lie, or we must not believe that good men sometimes tell lies: of these three the first is pernicious, the second foolish; it remains therefore that good men should never tell lies."

The Third Commandment, a precept of Divine positive Law

III. Remember to keep holy the LORD's Day. 

This law cannot be a part of the natural law, because it is not by natural reason, but by Divine Revelation that this law was given (through Moses), though it is certainly no less important than the precepts of the Natural Law.

"Ignorance" no excuse for sins against conscience

St. Paul, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, wrote to the Romans, touching upon  Natural law and conscience.

Romans 2:9-16: "Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek.  But glory, and honour, and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.  For there is no respect of persons with God.  For whosoever have sinned without the law, shall perish without the law; and whosoever have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.  For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.  For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves:  Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing, or also defending one another, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel."

He makes it very clear that "whosoever have sinned without the law," that is the law of the Old Covenant (The Ten Commandments and the subsequent human legislation of the Israelites), "shall perish without the law".

When St. Paul says perish, he means just that.  Sinners who continually disobey their consciences to the point where they can no longer hear it (people he describes as having a "seared conscience" - 1st St. Timothy 4:2) will, upon death, be cast into the pit of punishment that God has prepared for those who, during life, continually refused to do the good and avoid the evil.

Those, on the other hand, who have yet to hear the Gospel, but who, like Cornelius, obey the precepts of the Natural Law, will be drawn into the Faith by God, "[b]ecause God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments" (Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore), "For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood" (Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadam).

Romans 6:23: " For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord."

St. John 3:5, 11:26: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, [...] And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever."

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