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Monday, 9 September 2013

The Sin of Presumption in Three Parts: Part One: Natural Law

One of the interesting conversations I have had of late has been with a young person who is concerned with her peers who are not at all pursuing a spiritual life.

Of course, the reasons for the deadening of the sensitivity of the spiritual life are myriad. But, I asked her to think about pre-Christian Rome. We know from history and from the Act of the Apostles, as well as the Epistles, that the apostles went to the Gentiles after the Gospel was refused by the Jewish people.

Those Gentiles were pagans of various sorts. There were the Cynics, the Skeptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics and so on. Some of these believed in gods and some did not. Some believed in an afterlife, and some did not. Some believed in the virtues, and some merely in the pursuit of pleasure.

How is it that so many Gentiles became Christians when today we see a huge growth in neo-paganism, especially Epicureanism, and few converting?

Today, in 2013, some statistics state that in this world, there are 300 million pagans.

These would not include heathens, the term for those who believe in false religions. Remember, there are only two revealed religions, Judaism and Christianity. All the others are man-made.

But, before Christianity, men and women are humans had a sense of good and evil. The natural law philosophy, which underlies much of our Catholic teaching, is that by the fact that each person has a soul, there is embedded in human a moral sense.

I have discussed with many people of late the question of invincible ignorance. I maintain that in this day and age in the West, at least, there is no such thing in modern society as complete moral ignorance  Here is the Catechism on natural moral law. 

1954 Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie:

The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted.5
1955 The "divine and natural" law6 shows man the way to follow so as to practice the good and attain his end. The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life. It hinges upon the desire for God and submission to him, who is the source and judge of all that is good, as well as upon the sense that the other is one's equal. Its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue. This law is called "natural," not in reference to the nature of irrational beings, but because reason which decrees it properly belongs to human nature:

Where then are these rules written, if not in the book of that light we call the truth? In it is written every just law; from it the law passes into the heart of the man who does justice, not that it migrates into it, but that it places its imprint on it, like a seal on a ring that passes onto wax, without leaving the ring.7 The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at the creation.8
1956 The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties:

For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense . . . . To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.9
1957 Application of the natural law varies greatly; it can demand reflection that takes account of various conditions of life according to places, times, and circumstances. Nevertheless, in the diversity of cultures, the natural law remains as a rule that binds men among themselves and imposes on them, beyond the inevitable differences, common principles.
1958 The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history;10 it subsists under the flux of ideas and customs and supports their progress. The rules that express it remain substantially valid. Even when it is rejected in its very principles, it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man. It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies:

Theft is surely punished by your law, O Lord, and by the law that is written in the human heart, the law that iniquity itself does not efface.11
1959 The natural law, the Creator's very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature.
1960 The precepts of natural law are not perceived by everyone clearly and immediately. In the present situation sinful man needs grace and revelation so moral and religious truths may be known "by everyone with facility, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error."12 The natural law provides revealed law and grace with a foundation prepared by God and in accordance with the work of the Spirit.

Now, notice that the wise authors concede that grace and revelation are needed today in the growing darkness of the world.

But, God gives grace to all people. There is no one in this world to whom God has not given grace. His free gift to all for the enlightenment of the intellect, the soul, and the heart is available to all.

So, is the current level of evil owing to the lack of missionaries to help bring people to the fullness of truth? Is the current trend of denying the afterlife and emphazing pleasure deadening will power?

We cannot deny will power. We cannot deny that God loves all and wants all to be saved. We cannot deny that at least in the West, invincible ignorance would be rare.

Which leads me to the question of how people can fall into subhuman behavior and call it normal?

One of the reasons is presumption. In Dante's Inferno, the heretics, which pagans fall under, denying the truth of the Catholic Church, of Christ, are in Circle 6 in Canto 10. Here is one-Epicurus, with a summary from here.


Epicurus was a Greek philosopher (341-270 B.C.E) who espoused the doctrine that pleasure--defined in terms of serenity, the absence of pain and passion--is the highest human good. By identifying the heretics as followers of Epicurus (Inf. 10.13-14), Dante condemns the Epicurean view that the soul--like the body--is mortal.

To be continued...