Holloway on… Conscience and the Natural Law Part II
Holloway on… Conscience and the Natural Law
We must now leave a basic understanding of the root of conscience from those powers of intellect and will which integrate the very substance of angel or of man. We leave any suggestion of the law of conscience as “Thou shalt not”, to concentrate upon the relationship of the law of right and wrong to the communion of grace we have with the living God. It is to be observed that the most basic of the “Laws of Nature” promulgated by Moses did not rest upon a bond of negativity. They all descend from “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy mind, and with all thy strength” . . . to which Jesus added “and thy neighbour as thyself for God’s sake”, proclaiming that on “these twain there does depend the whole of the Law, and the prophets as well” (Matt. 22:40).
The Natural Law is too often regarded as a dry discussion of a natural power to recognise a code of right and wrong, and to be obliged by it. So the discussion moves concerning our power to know that physical pleasures, riches, spiritual and intellectual gifts etc., are not the most important and final purposes of life. It is applied especially to the argument concerning whether reason and conscience can judge that it is sinful to frustrate the endpurpose of the sexual act, whether apart from sin, mankind would inevitably know that divorce was wrong, fornication was wrong, and so forth. These things do fall under the competence of the Natural Law, and our answer would have to be the perennial answer of the great theologians and the magisterium of the Church.
God’s Law and God’s Life
Natural Law has another and more delightful aspect. It is the positive law of life and being, by which we integrate the powers of our soul, power to know and power to love, into beauty and integrity of being. Thus we reach up to God, the fulfilment of our pilgrim journey. The judgement which is conscience is not an abstract power, nor do we exist in a static condition. We are not created finished, ready-made; we are infants in spirit as well as in the flesh. The milk of God is our breast-feed; in continuity the Body of Christ is given our daily Bread. We live within Him, and He lives in us. Grace builds upon nature to exceed its bounds, but not to change nature. We were once the wild vine - now we are engrafted on the root which is Christ. To be co-sharers of the divine nature exceeds all dues of nature, but by very nature we are made to the image of God’s nature. The law of life and being, who is God, is given for us as the Way, Truth, and Life-law of our created nature. A baby cries for milk at birth. So we cry to God for our “natural milk without guile”. We are seekers, not only from birth, but from the animation of our parental seed.
What we call the “Divine Law” is the continuation in God’s nourishing of those powers which constitute our souls as spiritual. The Divine Law comes with the touch of God giving grace to grow in the likeness, the goodness, and the joy of Our Father who is in heaven . . . With good reason St. Paul following the usage of the Old Testament, calls the disciples of Christ “the saints”. Our vocation is one, and common: “Be you holy, for I am Holy, says the Lord” (Lev. 19: 1-4). The animal lives entirely within the law and the material order of good which is around it. In this it lives and moves and has its being. As children, our bodies lived by mother’s milk, and the bread which was the sweat of our father’s brow: in this we live, and move and have our being.
As persons, as body and soul, as living communions of matter and spirit, the energy who is God is immanent within us and is the principle of our immortal life. The touch of the Divine prompts in us life and being. We grow in stature of being; we call it “the state of grace”. God is our Father, so we ask him for bread as we were taught to do. He gives us the Bread come down from heaven, the Bread of life. In God’s own self, we live and move and have our being. Note the parallelisms in the use of this phrase. They follow what St. Thomas calls the analogy, or intrinsic degrees of being. They are all participations, far or near, of the Divine Law, the Law of the Good, by which everything created is constituted in wisdom, and seeks its good in due proportion of wisdom.
Conscience not Autonomous
There is then no autonomy for the intellect of man against the wisdom that measures the intellect of God. There is no autonomy for man as a law unto himself, against the Divine Law through which we are made. There is no autonomy for human “conscience” against the truth revealed by God in Jesus Christ. The perceptions of our intellect and the judgements of our will are directly related to the wisdom of God and the good of our nature and our persons revealed by God in Himself in Jesus Christ. If conscience were autonomous - I must obey my conscience - we would be our own end and selfsufficiency.
The quotation from St. Augustine earlier given applies exactly here. The Divine Law is not alien to the honest law of our own being and perception. We are made for truth, and in the embracing of the truth as wisdom, we find our good and our joy. The effect of Divine Law is to clarify and develop that “Law of life and being”, of integrity in our person, which we discover, if we are honest, at the root of our being. The demand for autonomy, “I will make up my own mind”, despite God revealing his and our law of life and being, is the very arrogance at the heart of the description of the first sin and the occasion of the fall of mankind. Ignorance may excuse, passion may paralyse, but arrogance is the sin of Satan, and in its most final rebellion, the sin against the Holy Spirit of God.
No exceptions to Divine Law
It is out of order towards the end of this article to embark upon the sexual controversies and agonies of this age. The subject is vaster than vast. The foundation must first be laid: our hope has been to clarify a little the Law of Nature, and the Divine Law of grace which builds on nature, as more than Thou shalt not. Its root is Thou shalt, the seeking for the wisdom, truth, and good which integrates us into the life of God. Thus we become “co-sharers of the divine nature”. One reference only in current discussion: there can be no exceptions in the internal forum of conscience and confession, nor in the external forum of theological opinion, to any precept of Natural or Divine Law. Epikeia does not apply here. This concept, which is Greek for clemency or indulgence, covers only cases which “the lawgiver would not have wished to include under his statute”. It does not apply to Divine Law. The Old Testament concession of divorce, given by Moses, was a derogation from the truth of man’s being, occasioned by the coarseness of sin. Christ said so, and revoked the concession. In the New Covenant in Christ, there is no derogation tolerated from the truth which defined human nature “in the beginning”.
This writer has been reproved by some traditionalist theologians in the past for saying that perhaps an exception can be made not from the law, but from the right to the natural use of marriage where a man refuses his duty in responsible parenthood and will not cooperate in any form of natural birth-control. Where such a man threatens a woman with the break up of the family if there is another child, imposing intolerable fear and grief, may she not equate him with a rapist and use barrier methods of contraception? She could not use pills, since these, and the various injections, seem to be abortifacients. I have said that I would think she can, and have given such advice. If those who do so are not right about this, it is the duty of the Holy See, which is well aware of the opinion and the query of lawfulness behind it, to give answer if we are wrong. It is impossible nowadays to say “consult reliable authors”, who are such?
In matter so perplexed we need, if in error, the grace of Peter to help us teach the mind of Christ. There are no excuses directly from Divine and Natural Law, nor can there be appeal to “conflicting ends or purposes” within such law. God did not make us divided against our nature. There may be a case for denying to an aggressor against the justice and charity of Christian love the results of a moral aggression. There will never be a right to murder the life once conceived in the womb.
Divinity of Christ
The Magisterium of the Church, her solemn teaching, is the extension on earth of the Divinity of Christ and one authority with it. She declares the conscience of Christ, and there is no human autonomy of conscience against the conscience revealed in Christ, whether as Son of God or Son of Man. There is no real Divinity in Christ unless there is continuance through history of the word of The Word. Without this there is no validity in “He that hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16).
The structures of Catholic Christianity, whether from Rome or from Eastern Orthodoxy, require such an identification. The rebellion four hundred years ago against the authority and inerrancy of Pope and Councils was in fact a rebellion against the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, immanent within the life of the Church, by which the Spirit leads us into “all truth, receiving of the things that are mine, and revealing them to you” (John 16:12-16). The essential role of the Spirit was replaced by the role of the “Book”. Now that the critics have demolished the authority of the Book, such Christianity is found to be stripped of living Divinity and any final authority. Cardinal Newman put it so perfectly in the Difficulties of Anglicans. Without divine authority there is no way the Church can withstand the independent, self-assertive, and arrogant mind of man for “there is a constant rising of the human mind against the authority of the Church, and that in proportion as each individual is removed from perfection”. Newman has a profound grasp of the consequences of Original Sin as a lesion of nature and placed the heart of concupiscence where it should be located, in the pride of life and the willfulness of human opinion. The work of Redemption cannot continue on earth, unless within the Church, whether for discipleship or for crucifixion by men, there still teaches the certain word of the Eternal Word.
We can conclude with a more delightful aspect of the Divine Law. Remember how it ascends through the orders of being, according to their degree of creation. This Natural Law in matter below man, and in life below man, is the Law by which their very being is structured, and seeks its good and true, its times and seasons from that Natural Law which other being, i.e., the environment around, ministers to them. This same Law of wisdom and good, ministering the knowledge of good to be sought, evil to be avoided, is recognised by very nature through the powers of our spiritual soul. It proceeds further, recognising the intrinsic dignity of human function, the relationship between pleasure and ministry in all the powers, physical and spiritual of life. This recognition by judgement, by “conscience” perceives also the order of justice and charity between man and man. There is no cry that rises more often or more spontaneously from a playground of young children at play than “Not fair! Not fair!” The positive revelation of God underlines and clarifies the jurisdiction of this Law of life and being. Jesus Christ is its final word, for the Law in Him is synonymous with Divine love and perfection, and as Son of Man, King of all creation, He is the fount of its promulgation. The Church of Christ, the People of God, declares this word of the Word till the end of time. To guarantee its truth and inerrancy through the apostles, till the end of time, is the personal work and particular ministry in creation of the Holy Spirit of God. We insist on the positive aspect of such “Law”, it is the conformation of our being to the Being of God - the communion in joy, love, and humble obedience of our minds and hearts to God, through Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son (i.e., Prince) of Man.
There is yet a higher manifestation of this Law of life, the working of wisdom, good,and truth, which transcends the boundaries of “must”, however saintly, and enters the communion with Christ of the soul in the order of “I could”. This is the order in which we recognise the good of God according to perfection, sheer free will, without question of sin. In this degree of the “law” of God we join ourselves to Jesus Christ as friends, brothers and sisters and respond to the good that I could do, the love I could show, the brotherly or sisterly mercy I have within my power. This highest and most delightful order of the Divine Law, the Law which teaches “Be you holy for I, the Lord your God, am Holy”, may call us to give our whole lives and all our powers to the ministry to our brothers and sisters in the priesthood, for instance, or in the Religious Life.
This recognition of what I could do transcends the good that I must do but remains within the decree of the Eternal Law. Remember how it was promulgated? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole soul, with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. And, the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour, as thou dost love thyself’. We love ourselves the most and truly, as we grow in the knowledge of God, the love of God, and the conformation of our whole person to the wisdom and will of God. This brings inner happiness, but also, clarity and insight of soul. As we deepen, we see how we could love our brothers and sisters in this same love of God, which is our joy. This synderesis, this habitual recognition of the order of God’s good and God’s will, going far beyond the order of the necessary, prompts us to many a work, a relationship, a humility, and a bestowal of time, energy, and money on the spiritual growth in beauty and health of soul of our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The Way of Perfection
This, the way of perfection, follows directly the path of Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and who while He did not have to, and had no constraint upon Him, gave his life as a redemption for many - for brothers and sisters, the grateful and the ungrateful. In the gift of the Eucharist and the Cross, Jesus Christ reveals to us the apex of the Divine Law. This was and is the total love of the Father, and the total love “eis to telos (unto the uttermost)”, (John 13:1) of the “men Thou gavest Me”. It is also the climax of the judgement concerning good and evil which is “conscience”: all that I must; and all whatsoever that I can. We conclude with the Psalmist (Ps 119(118) vv 145 et seq.):
I call with my whole heart; answer me, Lord.
I will keep thy statutes.
I call to Thee; O save me
that I may heed thy instruction.
“Hear me, as thy love is unchanging,
and give me life O Lord, by thy decree.
My persecutors in their malice are close behind me.
They are far from thy law.
Yes thou art near me Lord,
and all thy commandments are true.
I have long known from thy Law
that Thou hast given it eternal foundations”.
On Natural Law, and the Divine Law: Summa: 1.2 arts 90-96 inc. also Summa: 1.2. art 19. Contra Gentiles. bk. 1.3. 140 et seq.
Conscience: many references but see Summa: 1.2. art 58, & 2.2. art 45. De Veritate: q. 16. arts 1-4 inc. De Veritate: q17. 1,3,4.
Synderesis: The habit of mind by which the personality is inclined by love of God to recognise the law of God in practical life: Summa: 1. 79. art 12.
Divine & Eternal Law I St. Augustine, De Trinitate: Lib. 12. secs 12 & 13. De Libero Arbit. Lib. 2. cap. 10 Contra
Faustum: lib 22. cap 16 & 27. De Peccat. merit et remiss: cap 9. Contra Julianum: cap 3. De natura et de gratia: cap 50-57. De Genesi ad Litteram: Lib. 10. cap. 18-20 inc.
Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique: Article on Conscience is abstract and limited in scope. Article on Natural Law, Divine Law, and Positive Law is excellent. Aquinas goes best to the root of conscience as - love of the law of God, because it reflects the personality of God and t he fulfilment of Man in God.
Add modern authors according to taste!
This is the concluding part of the Editorial for the January/February 1991 issue of FAITH magazine.