Natural Law and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church Term Paper

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Natural Law and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church

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The Roman Catholic tradition of ethics, conceived in terms of a "natural law," is based on goods to be sought for all persons. It represents a commitment to an objective moral order, knowable by reasonable reflection on human experience, especially on the goods which constitute human flourishing, and the institutions necessary to secure, protect, and distribute them. Although the specific shape of moral practices and institutions varies culturally, all peoples recognize such goods as life, family, marriage, education, government and religion. Prudence is required to realize these values rightly in the complexity and occasionally conflict of a full human life and in a society of persons. Truth in morality emerges from concrete locations, demanding both the affections and the cognitive powers of discernment to guide us in the achievement of "true good" for ourselves and others. But the fact that both Aristotle and Aquinas assume it possible to speak of moral virtue and of reasonably discerned "practical rectitude" in morality, demonstrates that they applied standards of truth and falsity to practical action despite its inevitable contingency. That they were sometimes wrong in their conclusions, especially about women's natural inferiority, does not disprove their method. Rather, it validates the necessity of a constant reexamination and reformation of particular readings of "human experience," informed by critical interaction with other standpoints, past and present.

Term Paper on Natural Law and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church Assignment

There is a vigorous debate underway in contemporary Roman Catholic ethics about the proper understanding of Natural Law as an ethical concept. In this dissertation, I refer to a classicist conception of the natural law. A classicist view purports to offer access to moral norms which are certain and unchanging. In the area of human sexuality, norms are frequently apprehended by reflecting on the physical structures of the reproductive organs and by contemplating intercourse as a biological activity. Careful consideration is given to the generative faculties that human beings share with other animals. This view of the natural law continues to be influential, particularly in documents concerning human sexuality issued by the Vatican.

The line of argument used to oppose interventions in the reproductive process is less obviously rooted in a concern about embodiment, but, once again, a careful reading of the text highlights the relevance of considerations of embodiment. This second line of reasoning is related to what the Vatican calls "the special nature of the transmission of human life in marriage." In the Vatican's view, since human procreation is the fruit of a "personal and conscious act," it is irreconcilably different from the transmission of life in other animals. It is intentional and purposive and therefore governed by laws. What laws? Laws, says the Vatican, given by God and "inscribed in the very being of man and woman."

As the language here suggests, the appeal is to a natural law conception of human nature, according to which we must understand the telos of human sexual life, marriage, and the family in order to discern the range of acceptable reproductive interventions. Moreover, the appeal is to a particular understanding of this telos, one in which intercourse, love, procreation, marriage, and the family belong together. In the Vatican's view, procreation is properly undertaken in the context of a loving monogamous marriage through an act of sexual intercourse. Here, then, is a second standard by which to assess interventions in the reproductive process. Any type of assisted reproduction that conforms to the procreative norm just articulated, i.e., any procreative attempt that includes sexual intercourse between partners in a loving monogamous marriage, helps facilitate the natural process of procreation and is therefore acceptable. Any intervention that fails to conform to the norm is a departure from the natural law with respect to human sexuality and is therefore morally problematic.

Two points are worth noting at this juncture. First, in rejecting reproductive technology as a violation of natural law, the Vatican is invoking the "inseparability thesis," set out in Humanae Vitae, and which supports Catholic opposition to contraception. Just as the Catholic Church condemns contraception because it separates what is never permitted to be separated by allowing for sex without procreation, so it condemns reproductive technology because it provides for the possibility of procreation without sex. This is important to note because many critics of the inseparability thesis have argued that, by insisting that each and every act of sexual intercourse must be open to procreation, the Vatican itself accepts a sort of "physicalist" understanding of sexuality that is incompatible with the holistic picture of the person as a "unified totality" of body and spirit that grounds the first line of argument against reproductive technology discussed above.

This observation suggests a second one. To say that reproductive technology separates procreation from sex is not equivalent to saying that reproductive technology disembodies procreation. So opposition to reproductive technology is not just opposition to those techniques, like IVF, that actually disembody conception, but opposition to how the body is used and viewed by reproductive technology generally. To be sure, the Vatican objection is not merely reducible to the consequentialist concern that all forms of reproductive technology move us toward the objectionable endpoint of extracorporeal gestation. Nevertheless, whether emphasis is placed upon the bodily and spiritual unity of a person, or upon the importance of keeping sex and procreation together, the Vatican is concerned that reproductive technology leads us to treat our bodies merely as a source of gametes, and that so treating our bodies is the first step to disembodying procreation altogether. We already have extracorporeal conception; can extracorporeal gestation be far behind? Ultimately, then, one important source of Vatican resistance to reproductive technology is that it encourages the disembodiment of procreation.

Roman Catholic Advocacy Of A Family Living Wage Natural Law

From Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum forward, papal teaching on modern industrial society has made the just treatment of wage workers a central moral concern. 3 In line with the natural law approach favored by Catholic moralists; and in contrast to influential individualist and collectivist alternatives; work is interpreted through an anthropology that posits the dignity of each person, realized within three primary social relationships deemed natural to humans: the political, the economic, and the familial.

The political realm contributes to the common good by coordinating and protecting through law the well-being of groups and individuals. The economic sphere serves human flourishing by providing fair access to the goods of creation intended for all. In modern industrialized economies, the majority of persons are dependent for such access on wages attained through their labor. Human dignity is upheld in this setting only if workers are assured that, through honest labor, they can obtain the material conditions necessary for survival and a reasonable degree of security and material well-being. For Leo XIII and his successors, this translates into the worker's right to a "living wage." Important as the political and economic dimensions of social life are, this modern natural law tradition particularly cherishes the family, "the first, essential cell of human society." 4

The family, as an intimate "community of love," "school for a deeper humanity," "nurse and mother" of a holistic attitude toward the nature and dignity of persons in society, and "school of work," is regarded as the primary milieu for personal, interpersonal, and intergenerational growth and sustenance. As a "domestic church," family is an essential locus for spiritual education and formation.

Family contributes to the common good by nurturing the bonds and values necessary if civic and economic life is to subsist and prosper, yet in a real sense the civic and the economic spheres are there for the sake of the family. Family, for instance, functions as a warrant for private ownership in the papal writings.

In Gaudium et spes, marriage and family are described as the foundation of political life, and the well-being of political society is presented as intimately linked to the well-being of the community founded by marriage. Family needs and is obligated to the polis, yet retains an integrity and freedom within its sphere that ought not to be violated by state or economic interference. A priority of family over economy is asserted analogous to the priority of individual over state and labor over capital. Economic justice is therefore understood as necessarily including measures that promote and protect family life. A right to a family living wage; that is, a wage sufficient to assure a basic level of material security for both the adult household head, normally male, and his dependents, normally, wife and children; is implied in Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum and is explicitly articulated in Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno.

The consistent concern in this literature with labor and with workers' rights reflects a traditional emphasis in Christian social thought upon the moral priority of the basic needs of those who are economically vulnerable, over against the protection of the superfluities of the economically advantaged. Set as it has been within a normative vision of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Natural Law and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  (2011, October 13).  Retrieved October 27, 2020, from

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