Natural Law

The Decretum Gratiani or Concordia discordantium canonum (in some manuscripts Concordantia discordantium canonum) is a collection of Canon law compiled and written in the 12th century as a legal textbook by the jurist known as Gratian. It forms the first part of the collection of six legal texts, which together became known as the Corpus Juris Canonici. It retained legal force in the Roman Catholic Church until Pentecost 1918, when a revised Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici) promulgated by Pope Benedict XV on 27 May 1917 obtained the Force of Law.

Decretum Gratiani on natural law…
“The Human race is governed by two things, namely, the natural law and customs. The natural law is that which is contained in the law and in the gospel, whereby each one is commanded to do to another what he wishes to be done to himself and is forbidden to inflict on another what he does not wish to be done to himself.”


In the Twelfth Century, Gratian equated the natural law with divine law. A century later, St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae I-II qq. 90-106, restored Natural Law to its independent state, asserting natural law as the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law. Yet, since human reason could not fully comprehend the Eternal law, it needed to be supplemented by revealed Divine law. Meanwhile, Aquinas taught that all human or positive laws were to be judged by their conformity to the natural law. An unjust law is not a law, in the full sense of the word. It retains merely the ‘appearance’ of law insofar as it is duly constituted and enforced in the same way a just law is, but is itself a ‘perversion of law.’
At this point, the natural law was not only used to pass judgment on the moral worth of various laws, but also to determine what the law said in the first place. This principle laid the seed for possible societal tension with reference to tyrants. (wikipedia)

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, medieval aspects and occasions;

“Although Henry was primarily concened to increase the royal power , the way in which he did so extended the rule of law in a fundamental sense, replacing feuds, self help and local custom by a more stable, centralized, equitable and just system of courts and officials than had ever existed before.Becket in turn represented more than the manoeuvrings of ecclesiastical power,however much these preoccupied him.Embedded within the self-assertion of episcopal and papal power was the claim that human law is the shadow cast by divine law, that the institutions of law embody the virtue of justice.Becket represents the appeal to an absolute standard that lies beyond all secular and particular codifications”

Joseph Ratzinger, the same year he became Pope, wrote in ‘The Dialectics of Secularization’ on the ‘blunting of natural law’…

“The idea of the natural law presupposed a concept of nature in which nature and reason overlap, since nature itself is rational. With the victory of the theory of evolution, this veiw of nature has capsized: nowadays, we think that nature as such is not rational, even if there is rational behaviour in nature. This is the diagnosis that is presented to us, and there seems few voices today that are raised to contradict it”

However he more recently has veared away from the modernist philosophy above in his address at Clementine Hall in 2007…

There is no doubt that we are living in a moment of extraordinary development in the human capacity to decipher the rules and structures of matter, and in the consequent dominion of man over nature.
We all see the great advantages of this progress and we see more and more clearly the threat of destruction of nature by what we do.
There is another less visible danger, but no less disturbing:  the method that permits us to know ever more deeply the rational structures of matter makes us ever less capable of perceiving the source of this rationality, creative Reason. The capacity to see the laws of material being makes us incapable of seeing the ethical message contained in being, a message that tradition calls lex naturalis, natural moral law.

Pope Pius IX (13 May 1792 – 7 February 1878), in his encyclical “On Promotion of False Doctrines (Quanto Conficiamur Moerore)” 

We all know that those who suffer from invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law which have been written by God in the hearts of all men, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful life, can, by the power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life. For God, who knows completely the minds and souls, the thoughts and habits of all men, will not permit, in accord with His infinite goodness and mercy, anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to suffer eternal punishment

‘Gaudium et Spes’ (Joy and Hope, one of the four Apostolic Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 7 December 1965)
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

Romans 2:14/15 (Douay-Rheims)
“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

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