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'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for May 2015
Universal:
That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbours who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.
Evangelization: That Mary's intercession may help Christians in secularized cultures be ready to proclaim Jesus.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Living Faith

The Church Needs to Be Baptized Afresh in the Holy Spirit Watch

Image of Do I still believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available for ordinary Christians? You bet I do! I believe that Pentecost still happens. I KNOW it still happens. We can ALL know it still happens because we can experience its effects in our own lives. We should not be afraid of the Holy Spirit! In fact, we should regularly seek to be filled with more and more of the Spirit.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

We need to pray for a New Pentecost for the Church in this hour! We need more of the Holy Spirit for the New Evangelization of the Church - so that a renewed Church can engage in the missionary task of the Third Christian Millennium. We need to be baptized afresh ... continue reading


Brotherhood of the Belt: Struggle, Trouble and Failure in the Christian Life Watch

Image of The Martyrdom of Peter

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Peter's wrong choices were not the end of the story of Gods plan for his life. Peter's denial crippled Peter emotionally and spiritually. He lost his way. That was until he encountered the Risen Christ. There, in that encounter, he allowed the belt of ... continue reading


Top 5 Roman Catholic colleges in the United States Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What constitutes being the best university is oftentimes subjective and usually in adherence to one's beliefs and practices. Choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions many people are making. Some opt for those that offer the best training in the fields of ... continue reading


Don't take your children 'hostage,' Pope tells separated couples Watch

Image of Christian communities, Pope Francis says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In discussing the role of parents educating their children, Pope Francis in his General Audience, advised separated couples to "never, never, never take the children hostage!" LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Pope spoke on the role of parents in the ... continue reading


A Baltimorean's reflections on the Baltimore riots

Image of

By Tony Magliano

"The God of peace is never glorified by human violence," wrote the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Whether it's on an individual, city, national, or international level, violence always dishonors God, and makes bad situations worse. The recent Baltimore City riots ... continue reading


8 encouraging Bible verses to lift you up Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Sometimes getting up in the morning can be the hardest thing you'll do all day. When life's worries press down on you and take your soul hostage, the most important thing you can do for yourself is turn to God. He will always be there for you, through the good times ... continue reading


Pope Francis tells bishops to act more like pastors - and not 'pilots' Watch

Image of The meeting between bishops will last until May 21. At that time, bishops will discuss how their faithful have received Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and look at ways to implement its teaching.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Addressing bishops in Italy, Pope Francis told them to act more like pastors than "pilots" telling the faithful what to do. The pontiff said that bishops need "Ecclesial sensitivity." They should remain bold in denouncing cultural trends that offend human ... continue reading


Five-year-old boy brings people to tears with heartfelt act of kindness Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

During his meal at a Waffle House restaurant, 5-year-old Josiah Duncan's attention wandered to the man outside the establishment. The man, dirty and holding a plastic bag, became the center of the young boy's curiosity and concern. After learning from her mother that ... continue reading


Amazing 'Bulletproof' cross under construction in middle of Christian-hostile Pakistan Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Everything changed for a Pakistani businessman, trying to build one of the world's tallest and first "bulletproof" cross, after God appeared in his dreams. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - Parvez Henry Gill, a real estate businessman, claimed  God gave ... continue reading


Future priests endure 'preaching boot camp' to learn how to spice up sermons Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has been clear, priests should be able to touch the hearts of their audience whenever they preach. To remedy the lack of heart-and-soul-felt sermons, one seminary in Detroit decided to hire professional actors to teach soon-to-be priests how to give ... 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, Acts 28:16-20, 30-31
16 On our arrival in Rome Paul was allowed to stay in ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 11:4, 5, 7
4 Yahweh in his holy temple! Yahweh, his throne is in ... Read More

Gospel, John 21:20-25
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 23rd, 2015 Image

St. John Baptist Rossi
May 23: This holy priest was born in 1698 at the village of Voltaggio in ... 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