Friday, 1 June 2012
WHAT IS GOD'S LAW FOR MAN? By REV. J. C. HOUPERT, S.J. part 1
After fixing for us our journey's end, God also draws us along the road towards it. He teaches us by His Law and He helps us by giving light to our mind and. strength to our will. We shall deal now with the divine Law, which may be called the rule of life or the exemplary cause of our moral conduct. We have to consider-
1. its nature and elements—and 2. its effects. The Moral Law in Itself. In physics and other sciences they speak of "the laws of nature," namely; the uniform way in which all irrational beings necessarily act. These laws are the expression of God's will concerning these creatures. But when applied to beings intelligent and free, laws are general commands issued by the legitimate ruler defining the conduct of the ruled for the common good. These are called moral laws, whereas physical laws are of a lower order. (a) In Irrational Nature things proceed under the action and reaction of forces which reside in the things themselves, and work automatically and necessarily; given the cause and conditions necessary for work, the cause will surely act and the effect will follow. So a natural physical law is really a statement of facts which are found from experience to happen in a fixed, regular manner and under fixed conditions, the stability and regularity of their occurrence being due to the regular, permanent and necessary bent of natural forces, e.g., a heavy body, if dropped, falls to the ground; all chemical combinations take place under fixed conditions of temperature and pressure. (b) In Rational Beings there is free will, and for this will there can be no law in the sense of physical law, stating a physically necessary. sequence of facts, since the human will is free from any predetermination in its elections about finite goods. All there can be is a rule stating what is expected from a free but responsible agent : a rule of conduct, directing his actions, so that they may seek the true and the good, which are the objects of the specific human faculties, that is, a rule directing human acts. Thus rational and irrational beings are equally subject to the law of their nature, but in different ways : we fulfil the law by self-determination; the laws are imposed on Our intellect but only proposed to our free will; it is a moral law of our nature. All other beings in the world fulfil the law by a necessity within them which they cannot resist; it is the physical law of their nature. One of the consequences is that only man may fail to attain his natural end, the rest of the universe cannot. But the relations of origin and subjection with regard to God are the same in man as in the universe. The Creator's will bears down irresistibly on all irrational nature, and no less so, although otherwise, on all rational beings by the sanctions of which we speak later. There exists a Natural Law commanding us to keep the order of things and forbidding us to disturb it. The Maker of the world is also the great Lawgiver of the world. He governs equally the course of Heaven, the pit of Hell, and the visible universe which is under our observation. That universe is an organised whole, resplendent with order. That order betokens a law, a pre-conceived plan; and that general plan is called God's Eternal Law. It finds its origin in God's, wisdom; it is accepted by His will and it extends to all creatures and all their activities. Now that part of the Eternal Law which applies to free agents is called the Natural Law, the Moral Law, the Law of Nature par excellence.
PROOFS--(a) Since God is infinitely, righteous, He cannot but impose on men the obligation to do good and avoid evil, and He must also have this obligation sufficiently made known to men. (b) Without that law, Nature would be defective with regard to the highest and most representative being, man. But this is inadmissible because nature never fails in what is necessary. (c) The Natural Law is based on nature, the order of which must be preserved and must not be disturbed. But the Author of Nature and of its order is the First Cause, which, being Infinite Wisdom, cannot approve of the disturbance of the order it has established, nor approve moral evil. Therefore, the binding force of Moral Law comes from the Author of Nature, the Supreme Lawgiver.
Some illustrations:—It is in the very nature of things that (1) Parents must bring up their children, children must respect and love their parents; man must reverence, praise and serve God. (2) Inferiors must obey their superiors; moral good must be preferred to physical or material good; moral evil must be avoided even at the cost of physical evil. (3) A free agent must follow reason; therefore, he must not extinguish his reason, e.g., by drink or passion. Therefore drunkenness is bad. The object of mind is truth, and that of the will, good; therefore, these must be the objects also of those faculties of men which subserve his mind and will. The power of speech is one of them; therefore, speech must be, by nature ordered to truth; therefore, it is bad, immoral to lie. (4) The powers of generation are given for the purpose of giving life to children, who must be brought up as men. Therefore, any use of these powers and the organs connected with them outside lawful marriage is against the intention of nature and therefore morally bad.—Pleasure accompanies the performance of natural functions to which it is a help. Therefore, pleasure is only a means, not an end. Therefore, mere pleasure seeking is bad, because it turns a means to an end. (5) Man has got a right to life, to the means of life for himself and his dependents, to bodily and to personal integrity, to freedom, etc. Therefore, no person can take away an innocent man's life, wound him, starve him, rob him of his own or slander him. Positive Laws.—The Natural Law is universal, i.e., for all men, and immutable. The essence of things cannot change; nor can God or man make good what is intrinsically evil. However, the dictates of that Law can be made more definite and extensive by positive laws, as experience shows. In fact, the course of action imposed by the Natural Law is either (1) clear at once, e.g., theft is evil, (2) clear only on reflection, e.g., the law of monogamy, or (3) insufficiently clear, and then we need further direction for the good of civil society, to save quarrels or to determine rights. This direction is given by positive laws, namely, ordinances of reason that emanate from the free will of the lawgiver and are added to the Natural Law. That lawgiver may be God Himself or men in authority, since all true authority comes from God. When the positive laws of God—about belief and practice—go beyond the Natural Law, we cannot know them without divine revelation. On their part, civil authorities can make laws only in dependence on God Whom they represent. It follows that transgressors of civil laws indirectly transgress the Natural Law which enjoins obedience to all legitimate authority. Effects of the Natural Law. All genuine laws create obligations and impose sanctions. So also the Natural Law bids us do certain things and avoid other things, e.g., honour your parents, don't steal. That obligation is either fulfilled or transgressed. Hence we shall see—1. the obligations of the law—2. its sanction and 3. its fulfilment or transgression. The Obligation of the Natural Law. Notice first a dual basis for all our conduct. 1. Our last end being God's glory, and our highest good being the possession of God, our reason tells us it is good for us to plan and act on principle so as to reach our end. This is the "reasonable service" that we owe to God. It is also but common sense to employ the means necessary for the end we have in view. This we may call the fundamental obligation. 2. But the same becomes explicit and unavoidable by the Will of the Lawgiver. The moral law transforms reasonable good into bounden Duty and changes mere evil into sin. It lays down what we must do (or avoid) under pain of sin. Secondly the remote purpose of the law is to make men better, but the immediate end or direct effect is to bind them to a 'certain line of action. The binding force of the Natural Law consists in, the moral necessity which God the Lawgiver causes in men, His subjects, to make them do or omit certain acts. Obligation is a moral necessity in the subject, not a physical one, since he can resist it; yet it is absolute or unconditional, because the law is the expression of the holy and immutable will of the Creator; it is also universal in the sense that it applies to all human beings and to all their free actions, which it either commands, forbids or allows.
PROOFS : 1. No law is a perfect law unless it binds the person subject to it to its fulfilment. Now the Natural Law, as part of God's Eternal Law, is perfect. Therefore, it cannot lack that attribute of paramount importance which is "obligation," or binding force. 2. From analogy—Every lawgiver wants something done or not done, for the well-being of his subjects, and he makes a rule directing his subjects to do or not to do that particular thing. He takes' means to influence their will, to get them to obey his law. He may call on their nobler feelings, on their good sense, on love and hope. But in ease these motives are not sufficient, he may use the motive of fear, he may threaten punishment—the penalty of the law—to get them to conform to his will. 3. The natural law commands or forbids certain actions because they are good or bad in themselves or by their very nature. This nature is based on the Divine Essence. Therefore, the will of God cannot but enforce the obligation of the Natural Law. Extent of the obligation.—To create duties in the subject is the natural effect of every law. All genuine laws bind in conscience, that is, to transgress them is evil; but they may bind us in different ways : the Natural Law and some civil laws bind by way of an absolute imperative : "Do this., avoid that." Other civil laws bind by way of a disjunctive, "Do this or else submit to the penalty"; they are merely penal laws, e.g., the law prohibiting speed exceeding 30 miles an hour—alternative a fine. There is no moral evil or moral turpitude in speed exceeding 30 miles. No prudent legislator would attach a severe penalty to what was not already wrong. Note also further that (a) Certain things are commanded because they are good, whereas others are good because they are commanded. (b) Again, certain things are forbidden because they are intrinsically bad and can never be good or be made good, e.g., blasphemy. Other things are bad because they are forbidden, e.g., to eat meat on Friday. (c) Similarly, some things, in themselves indifferent, are good because commanded, e.g., to pay a certain tax, to observe the legal forms of contracts; or become bad, when forbidden by a positive law.
Objections Answered—1. "Public opinion, ancient custom and civil law dictate our code of morals." Answer. 1. This is sheer despotism, the glorification of man and the vilification of the Supreme Lawgiver. No civil law, custom or opinion can change the nature of what is intrinsically good or evil. No parliament can sanction divorce, polygamy, birth prevention, false worship or unjust confiscation of goods. All human laws are binding only in so far as they agree with the laws of God. 2. "Obey the law solely, because it is the law. Actions to be moral must be determined only from within, by the agent himself," such is the principle of moral autonomy proclaimed by Kant. Heteronomy or determination of one’s action by another is in this view against man's dignity and, therefore, intrinsically wrong. But such ethics are one-sided, contrary to human nature and devoid of a rational foundation. The most sacred duties of man, those of his religious life, have no room in Kant’s system, According to him, the notions of goodness,: duty, obligation, are, merely subjective, depending on each man's psychology—a variable quantity. Again, obedience to the law is not the ultimate good and we are not told by Kant from whence this supremacy of the law is derived. Again the categorical imperative of "Duty for Duty's sake,"—the absolute right intuitively apprehended, to which action ought to conform without regard either to an end in view or to its consequences—may look a lofty norm of conduct as propounded by Kant, yet it is only Ethics stiffened into legalism; in which law is not embraced as the pattern of the proper perfection of things, 'but is imagined as an "arbitrary essence" dictated to and imposed on things and always remaining external to them'. After all, to do good "for a reward" is only a picturesque way of saying "for a reason or result or purpose." To act without hope of reward may sound grand, yet it only means to work for no purpose, that is, unreasonably. We rightly conclude that the obligation imposed on man is not of his own making, nor the work of any mere man, but must come from the Will of the Creator. By violating it, man offends God Himself, the author of the natural moral order and becomes amenable to His Justice. Truly God Himself is the guardian and protector of that order and cannot allow the contempt of it to go unpunished. Hence, again to divorce morality from religion or all reference to God is to rob it of its sanctity and inviolability, its Obligation and its transcendence of all earthly consideration.