Many educated Catholics know that the Church bases her moral teaching on Natural Law, but few educated after the 60’s know what that means. It all begins with Romans 1:18-21:
“The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse…”
In a Nutshell
- Despite our fallen nature, man can by his intelligence can determine right from wrong (though many fail to do so). This is very important in that while moral principles are revealed in scripture, they have a natural basis which allows for a common language for dialogue between believers and non believers. In other words, morality is reasonable and not only a matter of faith. Thus, unlike the Protestants, Catholics can discuss morality without pointing the non-believe to scripture which would be unconvincing.
- Moral teaching is discernable from the way we are physically made. That is, it is grounded in biology and common sense (which is less and less common these days, to be sure). Again, this is common ground with non-believers.
- A sense of moral good and evil, that is conscience, is written in the hearts of men and therefore imposes moral obligations.
Example of Natural Law Reasoning: The Eyeball
If we looked at an eyeball and did not know what it was for but could learn everything about its biology, we could pretty well figure it out. It is nearly spherical and moves around in its socket. It has a clear opening which seems to grow and shrink in response to light. It has a light sensitive inner lining connected to nerves which go to the brain, etc. etc. This thing clearly has something to do with receiving light and it seems aimable–it has something to do with gathering light, and converting it into signals, perhaps it is for vision or something closely related.
The structure of the eye tells us what it is for. The eye is not the proper tool for catching a baseball, which I have learned personally. That is the hand whose structure is apparently designed for grasping things.
The obvious point here is that physical structure indicates purpose or “telos.”
Application to Human Sexuality
Simply put, the male body is sexually made for the female body. Sperm are by their design oriented toward the egg the way that the eye is oriented toward light. Same-sex sex and any sex other than vaginal intercourse cannot fulfill the purpose “written” into our physical form.
Natural Law language v. Scriptural language
Ever notice how the evangelicals will throw around the word “abomination” when discussing homosexuality? This comes from Leviticus. The retort is always about the New Testament rendering moot dietary laws and therefore all of Leviticus. Fine, whatever. For Catholics, this is not the point at all. The Catholic opposition to homosexuality is not based on Old Testament ritual laws, but on Natural Law and Christ’s statements about marriage in the Gospels: one man and one woman–Only!
In place of “abomination” one finds in Catholic teaching the term “disorder.” This is meant literally. That is, there is a proper ordering of human sexuality which is oriented toward procreation and the unitive dimension of marriage. Same-sex sex and other kinds of sexual activity are outside that proper order, thus “disordered.” While such acts are sinful, this sinfulness does not carry with it the same weightiness as the connotations of “abomination.” That is, in Catholic thought, same-sex sexual activity is similar in its disorderedness to oral sex or masturbation. However, while homosexuality in itself is not sinful, homosexual acts and even homosexual attractions are always themselves disordered in their orientation toward the same sex.
1. Catholics employ a system based on reason for her moral teaching which is in line with the revelation in the scripture but which does not rely on scriptural proof-texting.
2. Catholics do not use the term abomination in regard to homosexuals.
3. Homosexual acts and homosexual orientation are both disordered, but only the acts are sinful.
4. Natural Law reasoning is a basis for discussing moral principals which does not require Christian faith and therefore is accessible to the non-believer in a way a purely scriptural reasoning is not.
5. The Natural Law corresponds by reason to the inner conscience of man and “rings true” regardless of age, sex, language, culture. It is timeless and universal as it is written in the minds, hearts and even the bodies of men and women.