Communio: Fall 2008
Does anyone else here subscribe to Communio?

I ask after reading a fantastic article in the Fall 2008 edition by Tracey Rowlands concerning Natural Law theory and would love to have someone I could mutually enthuse about it with!
(05-14-2009, 01:00 PM)Supercertari Wrote: Does anyone else here subscribe to Communio?

I ask after reading a fantastic article in the Fall 2008 edition by Tracey Rowlands concerning Natural Law theory and would love to have someone I could mutually enthuse about it with!

Rowlands' article is sitting on my desk waiting to be read (it's free on Communio's website, by the way), so I'm willing to join in the fun when I've read it!

This is my first post on this forum, so hello to anyone who's reading!

I've read it now...

It’s an excellent article. For those interested I’d recommend reading it in tandem with the review essay “Thomist Resurgence” by William Portier in the same issue. A quick summary as a taster:

Rowland’s article is framed around the inevitable failure of the project (associated especially with Jacques Maritain) to present natural law, divorced from its theological roots, as a lingua franca for dialogue with atheists. She discusses the demolition job that philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre performed on this notion and leading on from this, she shows the ways in which recent theologians and philosophers have restored the Trinitarian foundation to the understanding of natural law, and she discusses some of the various directions (including the nuptial mysticism of the title) in which these ideas are proceeding.

Illustrating these recent trends, Rowland features Matthew Levering’s recent book “Biblical Natural Law” quite heavily, extracting his four biblical principles that formulate the relationship between Christian ethics, biblical revelation and natural law:

• Scripture presents certain goods as constitutive of true human flourishing.
• Scripture does not countenance an absolute disjunction between divine positive law and natural law.
• In the Bible, law is Theocentric (as opposed to anthropocentric).
• The grace of the Holy Spirit fulfils the precepts of the law (as opposed to negating them).

Levering’s conclusion from these is that “the question cannot be whether Christian ethics must import an extrinsic system of natural law” but rather that “Christian moral theology requires a philosophically sophisticated natural law doctrine in order to do justice to the teachings of divine revelation”. Rowland observes that this now sits very well with the classical Thomist notion that the natural law is a participation of the rational creature in the eternal law as well as with Balthsarian “theo-drama”.

This discussion leads into a consideration of Servais Pinckaer’s ideas in moral theology and his message that fulfilling the commandments is not a matter of fulfilling an obligation but of observing them through love. Rowland’s discussion at this point might be expanded by connecting with a discussion in Portier’s article: it is not that we should obey the teaching of the Church simply because the Church has authority over us, but rather that the Church is the authoritative teacher of the truth and it is part of the natural law that we must seek the truth in love. For example, we must obey the teaching of humanae vitae not simply because the Church tells us to, but because the Church can authoritatively identify that the teaching of humanae vitae is the way reality truly is.

Again, this leads quite naturally into a discussion of the rediscovery of the virtue of prudence. Rowland weaves together the ideas of Sokolowski, MacIntyre, Pieper and Balthasar and their attacks on Kant’s disastrous replacement of virtue and character by choice and autonomy.

A consideration of the mode of participation of the natural law in the eternal law leads on to a discussion of the natural inclinations and their attraction to the good. Again, Rowland points out the historical parting of the ways between Aquinas and the age of Ockham and Scotus and she discusses the different approaches of Pinckaers, Rhonheimer and McAleer in modern times, the latter with the explicit connection to John-Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”.

Finally, Rowland’s conclusion applauds the recent project to rediscover the Trinitarian basis of natural law and to hasten the abandonment of the failed idea of attempting to engage “neo-pagan elites” with a neutered form of natural law. It will be more fruitful to engage with the Catholic faithful (and with others of good will) with a reinvigorated natural law. She leaves open to speculation how best to engage with the liberal tradition in future.


Excellent Gregory!

I've long been a fan of von Balthasar and saw in Rowland's writings an echo of his comments in The Theology of Karl Barth:

" should not lead to false irenicism, to overhasty compromises, but to a relentlessly earnest theological testing of one's own confessional beliefs.
...everyone wants to encounter the other rather than be willing to be met."

Natural Law theory does need to be rescued from the realm of trying to find a common ground with the secular world so that it can be better appreciated by Catholics themselves as depending not on some Lockean abstraction but on God as Creator. In the effort to remove God from Natural Law to make it palatable for the god-less we've pulled it away from Catholic people and, I believe, driven many Catholics further into a sola scriptura attitude towards morality. In the absence of particular answers to particular questions in Scripture moral uncertainty prevails. Where Church teaching is concerned without an appreciation of the divine roots of natural law the Church's teaching is presented as, and believed to be, just some old guys controlling people's lives and conscience.
Isn't this kind of thing banned here?  :)

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