Natural Law (or “natural moral law“) is one of the most important, and one of the most widely misunderstood, elements of the Catholic understanding of what human beings are and how their relationships to God and other people work. Where some people think of themselves as a sort of goo full of wishes, turned into a waffle by a grid of commands from God and parents and teachers and governments, Catholics understand that the question “What am I?” has an answer–and that the answer to that question is something we can learn, if we are willing to ask it in good faith and to be open to the wisdom of generations of humans. In fact, Catholics have long maintained that some of the most useful answers came from pagans, and that one of the main reasons God has given us “divine law” like the Ten Commandments is to make sure we do not ignore the lessons of natural law.
Perhaps the most memorable example of the way the natural law is the foundation within each person for our acceptance of the divine law is found in Ephesians 5, where St. Paul appeals to husbands to love their wives, “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” When we understand ourselves as creatures of God, we learn how to take care of ourselves–and how to enter into friendship with God and with our fellow human creatures, who are made in God’s image just like we are.
Of course, we do not listen to what we learn, in many cases. We sin–we separate ourselves from God by freely doing wrong when we know better. We attempt to defend ourselves from blame, so we make up false rules and encourage others to agree with us that “it’s not really all that bad.” Each of us, and each human society, becomes corrupted.
Of course, it makes no sense for any living creature to try to live, even briefly, cut off from God the Creator. (And it is unwise to become obsessed with explaining sin, rather than understanding God’s remedies for sin.)
Yet we do, not once but habitually, sin; we sin in ways that suggest we cannot, by any individual or social effort, completely avoid sin or repair the damage we do. This reality is called “original sin,” and Christians know it exists because it is the reason the Son of God, God Himself in Jesus Christ, had to actually become a man and die in order to free us from sin and make us fit for friendship with God again. We enter into this Christ-repaired life by Baptism, and by the Sacramental life we receive the grace to live up to the natural law and to accept the instructions of the divine law. In so doing, we come to participate in Christ’s saving work for every person we meet.
- Christian meaning of freedom
- Did Jesus have to suffer and die?
- God’s Law
- Jesus, the Way, Truth, and Life
- Light of conscience
- Made in His image
- Mystery of Evil
- Natural Law
- Original Sin
- Sanctity of human life
- Seven Deadly Sins
This issue is important, because from our acceptance of the Creator’s plan and purpose for us–our submission to the natural law–come not only our understanding of the problems Christ was sent to remedy, but also our understanding of the right way through our relationships with God and other people.