Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew Greenwell, Esq.

12/2/2011 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Freedom is not boundless. It must be exercised responsibly which means according to rule.

Freedom is not boundless.  It must be exercised responsibly which means according to rule.  Who can advocate an irresponsible freedom?  As Solzhenitsyn pointed out in his famous 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, an "irresponsible freedom," a freedom granted "boundless space," leads society into "the abyss of human decadence."

Highlights

By Andrew Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

12/2/2011 (3 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Andrew Greenwell, Esq., Catholic social teaching, freedom, natural law, conscience,


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The proper exercise of personal freedom must conform to the natural moral law, since "[b]y deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.'" (Compendium, No. 137) (quoting CCC, 1740)

The natural law is therefore behind all of man's economic, social, political, and cultural life, for these are also ordered to man's freedom and to the truth.  As John Paul II vividly taught us in his Encyclical Veritatis splendor, there is an intrinsic connection between freedom and living in the truth. 

Freedom is not boundless.  It must be exercised responsibly which means according to rule.  Who can advocate an irresponsible freedom?  As Solzhenitsyn pointed out in his famous 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, an "irresponsible freedom," a freedom granted "boundless space," leads society into "the abyss of human decadence."

To avoid this fall into the "abyss of human decadence," therefore, we must exercise freedom responsibly.  This means that freedom must conform itself to the judgment of conscience, which is freedom's natural restraint.  Indeed, to place freedom under the judgment of conscience "leads to the acceptance of responsibility for the good accomplished and the evil committed." (Compendium, No. 139)

Conscience is therefore the lode star of freedom, and it keeps society from falling into the "abyss of human decadence," as Solzhenitsyn warned.  But conscience serves a double purpose since it also keeps us out of the abyss of Hell.  "Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, aedificat ad gehennam," the Fourth Lateran Council taught.  That which goes against conscience, leads one to Gehenna, a place where--one might to one's edification recall--both body and soul are destroyed. (Matt. 10:28)

If for both society and soul's sake freedom must be exercised responsibly, and this means in accordance with conscience, then what is to inform the conscience?  Can conscience dispense with conscience?  Surely not.  Is conscience under no law?  Surely not, for to judge means there is some law by which to judge.  And if conscience is necessarily under some law, whose law, man's or God's?

If conscience is to be regarded as nothing more than vox hominis, the voice of man, then man is the measure of all things, and the law that governs conscience is nothing other than "self-law," a declaration of autonomy from external or objective rule.  Conscience would then be nothing but the application of arbitrary rule.  Conscience thought of in this way is, as Newman called it, in his famous Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, "counterfeit."  It is, in fact, rebellion.

Such a notion of conscience cannot support life in common.  "Those who proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them." (Compendium, No. 142) 

Conscience is not the voice of man, it is vox Dei, the voice of God.  And this suggests that God, and not man, is the measure of all things.  There is then a measure or rule outside ourselves, and yet one which is intimately tied to our nature, to which we must conform.  And this outside measure or rule--which finds its source in God and his eternal law and as it applies to man--is known as the natural law.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine called it the internus aeternus, the internal eternal in man.

For this reason, the Compendium states that the "exercise of freedom implies a reference to a natural moral law, of a universal character, that precedes and unites all rights and duties."  The natural law is "nothing other than the light of intellect infused within us by God."  By the natural law we "know what must be done and what must be avoided."  "This light or this law has been given by God to [man in] creation."  The natural law consists in the participation of God's eternal law, "which is identified with God himself," for as the Anglo Saxons beautifully expressed it in their ancient legal code the Sachsenspiegel, Gott is selber recht, God himself is law.

The Compendium then gives a summary of the natural law.  The natural law is called natural "because the reason that promulgates it is proper to human nature."  It "is universal, it extends to all people insofar as it is established by reason."  The natural law, in "its principal precepts," is presented "in the Decalogue," that is, the Ten Commandments, "and indicates the primary and essential norms regulating moral life."  The natural law's "central focus is the act of aspiring and submitting to God, the source and judge of everything that is good."  The natural law's "central focus" also includes the "act of seeing others as equal to oneself."  The natural law "expresses the dignity of the person and laws the foundations of the person's fundamental duties" to both God, to himself, and to man."  (Compendium, No. 140)

The natural law is the law among all people, and it traverses all culture, all convention, all human law.  It is the law under all laws, over all laws, and within all laws.  It is "immutable," constant, even "under the flux of ideas and customs."  Yet this marvelous law is also flexible, and "its application may," where exceptionless or absolute norms are not at issue, "require adaptations to the many different conditions of life according to place, time, and circumstances." (Compendium, No. 141)

It is true that man can reject the natural law, and in the main our society seems to have rejected its guidance. But "[e]ven when it is rejected in its very principles," the Compendium states quoting the Catechism, "it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man. It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies." (Compendium, No. 141)  One author has called this phenomenon the eternal return of the natural law, die ewige Wiederkehr des Naturrechts.

Not only is it true that man can reject the natural law, it is also true that we can simply be ignorant of the natural law.  The voice of the natural law is sufficiently quiet that particular individuals or whole societies fail to hear it. "Be still and know that I am God," says the Psalmist. (Psalm 46:10 [45:11])   The "stillness" rule applies to the natural law: "Be still and know the natural law." 

Most of us are not still enough to hear the natural law.  Most of us listen to other, louder voices: selfish regard, the poisons and conventions of our culture, the stupid, trite, and shallow aphorism of the day, or the rule of expediency.  Additionally, our inner ear is muffled by the ease of torpid conscience, the inconvenience even sacrifice demanded by a life lived by principle, or by an all-too-frequent acedia-spiritual sloth-in moral life.

Since most of us are not still enough, listen to other voices, or have a sort of lint in our heart's inner ear, the natural law's "precepts . . . are not clearly and immediately perceived by everyone."  It is therefore the case that, as a matter of practical necessity in a world that has lapsed after the Fall, religious and moral truths can be known "with facility, with firm certainty, and without the admixture of error" only "with the help of Grace and Revelation."  As Matthew Arnold said in his poem, "Pis Aller:" "Man is blind because of sin, revelation makes him sure; without that, who looks within, looks in vain for all's obscure."

The natural law "lays the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community and for establishing the civil law that draws its consequences of a concrete and contingent nature from the principles of the natural law." (Compendium, No. 142)  Without the natural law, in vain do men build their societies, found their governments, and attempt constitutions devoted to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." (Psalm 127 (126):1)  Build a society without reference to the natural law, build a society of relativism and moral pluralism without reference to God and his law, and you have built not on Mount Zion. Rather, you have built its ersatz, a fake substitute, a tower of Babel. And we all know what happened to that tower.  If we've forgotten, we may turn to the poet John Donne, who in his poem "The Second Anniversary," noted that those who built the tower of Babel entered into a fool's bargain: "And as by changing that whole precious Gold / To such small copper coins, they lost the old."

If we try to build our social life without reference to the natural law, we have traded precious Gold of that law for the small copper coin of relativism, and with the loss of capital and the loss of coin, we have sold ourselves to slavery.  And this Faustian bargain was not even for a mess of pottage, but for such moral enormities and false freedoms such as contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage, and pornography. 

All moral enormities and false freedoms are a very sad birthright our dissolute and morally spendthrift society has left to its children.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law, called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.
 

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.



Comments


More Living Faith

The forgotten plight of Native Americans

Image of

By Tony Magliano

When it comes to the harsh difficulties many Native Americans face every day, the saying "out of sight, out mind" hits home. Many people have only a vague sense of the serious past and present injustices suffered by Native Americans.From the very beginning, starting ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: St. Bonaventure and the Fear of the Lord Watch

Image of You want God's mercy?  Here is St. Bonaventure's advice: avoid sin and develop a healthy fear of the Lord.- Andrew Greenwell

By Andrew M. Greenwell

The Church teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given us as part of sanctifying or habitual grace.  If we are in a state of grace, these gifts are present.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are similar to supernaturally-infused virtues in that they ... continue reading


Mustard Seed Faith and Living as a Christian in the Real World Watch

Image of The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened. (Matt. 13: 31 - 33)

By Deacon Keith Fournier

All the images Jesus uses in these parables concern the spreading of the kingdom or reign of God. They are meant to bring home the new reality that comes when we choose to live our call to discipleship and truly begin to cooperate with grace in our daily lives. ... continue reading


VATICAN HELPS THE HOMELESS, plans to provide free showers, haircuts and shaves near St. Peter's Square Watch

Image of Rome's homeless can receive free haircuts, shaves and showers beginning February 16.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Vatican will begin providing homeless people in Rome a place to not only shower, but to also receive haircuts and shaves starting next month, according to Pope Francis' charity office. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St Peter's Square will open with the ... continue reading


Play with your children, Pope Francis commands fathers Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While some of his comments have provoked controversy, Pope Francis in a private audience this week said something that very few people would argue with. The Pope commanded that all fathers take time to play with their children - and not be so absorbed with work ... continue reading


Archbishop reprimands Catholic lawmaker, says no true Catholic can dissent from church teaching on abortion Watch

Image of Archbishop Cordileone said in a written statement, that

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference on January 22 at the Capitol, was asked twice whether an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy is a human being. Pelosi finally replied that a woman has "the right" to abort her child. Archbishop ... continue reading


Religious persecution uniting Christians worldwide in 'Ecumenism of blood,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today," Pope Francis said as he was speaking to members of a number of Christian Churches. Gathered in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls this past weekend, ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: Jesus is the Heart and the Marvel of the Gospel Watch

Image of Since the incarnation of the Word, the

By Andrew M. Greenwell

If pursued, and pursued rightly (that is, without moral or intellectual prejudice), metaphysics leads us to a threshold, a threshold we might call the limina fidei, the threshold of faith.  Reason takes us to a place where we know God--that He is.  But ... continue reading


Who Are My Mother and Brothers? We are the Family of Jesus Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Through our Baptism, we are invited into the very family of God. When we choose to respond to grace and live in obedience to the will and the Word of God; we enter into an eternal relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually become a part of ... continue reading


St Francis DeSales Challenges Us to Live a Life of True Devotion Watch

Image of Today in our Liturgical calendar in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we remember St Francis DeSales (1567-1610). The Saints are all given as examples to emulate. They are our companions on the journey, men and women like us who responded to God's invitation to become like Jesus. They pray for us because we are joined with them in the eternal communion of love. They also put legs on the Gospel, showing us what holiness looks like.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
1 Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope ... Read More

Psalm, Luke 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75
69 and he has established for us a saving power in ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 4:35-41
35 With the coming of evening that same day, he said ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 31st, 2015 Image

St. John Bosco
January 31: What do dreams have to with prayer? Aren't they just random ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter