I very much enjoy reading every edition of This Rock. Jim Blackburn’s explanations about the Old Testament laws, and whether Christians are bound by them ("Why We Are Not Bound by Everything in the Old Law," December 2008), were insightful and helpful. There is so much confusion in the larger Christian community about this subject.
One thing which Mr. Blackburn writes concerns me, and it’s a statement I read quite often in Catholic contexts: "It is important to point our here that the obligation to worship is something all people of every place and time can know simply through the use of reason. It is knowledge built into the human conscience as part of what is called the ‘natural law.’" I make no dispute with the ubiquity of natural law. But I have read and heard Catholic apologists say that the Decalogue is written on every man’s heart. Yet, the Catechism does not teach that, nor have I found a single dogmatic statement anywhere that supports this notion.
St. Paul appears to contradict the idea when he writes to the Romans, "Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, ‘You shall not covet’" (Rom 7:7). That Paul tethers his own awareness of coveting to the letter of the law (as opposed to its spirit) strongly suggests that the sin was unknown—and perhaps unknowable—to him naturally.
Mr. Blackburn cites Romans 2:14-15 in support of the premise that God writes the natural law on every man’s heart. However, nothing in the passage demands a universal interpretation. It can just as easily be read as saying, "When [those] Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves" (Rom 2:14). Paul does not say that all Gentiles have the law; he certainly doesn’t state that they have the Decalogue written on their hearts.
I would appreciate clarification: Does the Church dogmatically declare that I must believe, de fide, that the Decalogue—in every respect—is written on the hearts of all men? If so, where?
— Robin W. Vanderwall
Jim Blackburn replies: The Church teaches that the Decalogue is an expression of the natural law. Here are two citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
- [The natural law’s] principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue. (CCC 1955)
- The Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the natural law:[quoting St. Iranaeus] "From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law. Then he was content to remind him of them. This was the Decalogue."(CCC 2070)
This does not mean, however, that the Decalogue "in every respect" is written on the hearts of "all" men.
For example, as pointed out in my article, the Decalogue’s requirement to worship on Saturday contains an element of natural law—to worship—and an element that is not part of the natural law but is disciplinary in nature—on Saturday. The Catechism explains:
The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship as a sign of his universal beneficence to all. Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people. (CCC 2176, emphases added)
Also, not all men possess sufficient use of reason to, nor is there any guarantee that those who do, will, achieve full knowledge of the natural law. The Catechism explains:
In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone:
[Quoting Humani Generis] "Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation. The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful."
This is why man stands in need of being enlightened by God’s revelation, not only about those things that exceed his understanding, but also [quoting Thomas Aquinas] "about those religious and moral truths which of themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error." (CCC 37-38)
A Forgotten Hero Remembered
God bless your magazine and the historian Matthew E. Bunson for bringing to the attention of Catholics the works and deeds of the great Catholic layman and parliamentarian, Ludwig Windthorst ("German Catholics under the Iron Fist," December 2008). Legally blind all of his adult life, this little giant fought successfully the demonic Iron Chancellor of Prussia, who was determined to crush the Catholic Church in Germany.
Windthorst’s name and deeds are almost forgotten now, but with a little more help from German Protestants, he might have deterred Bismarck and his militaristic delusion and might even have saved Germany from its tragic future.
Thank you. Keep up the good work.
— Richard H. Schaefer
Seek Beauty Where It Is Found
Thank God for an article, finally, of the nature of Mr. Schrauzer’s in the December 2008 edition ("Art for Goodness’ Sake"). Finally, someone has deftly and oh-so-accurately addressed the proverbial elephant in the room. Too often the orthodox Catholic is pressured to applaud obviously mediocre works—banal scripts with utterly no subtlety nor realism, amateurish paintings, gaudy sculptures, piously saccharine novels and the like—merely because the "artist" is an orthodox Catholic or solid Christian. On the flip side, masterful works of all sorts created by the "unwashed artists" are piled-on by the staunchly orthodox. Thank you, Mr. Schrauzer, for your wonderful presentation of authentic Catholicism which does in fact seek truth, beauty and goodness wherever it may be found. Bravo!
— S. Smith
Town Council Mutes Pro-Lifers
The title of Ronald J. Rychlak’s article in the December 2008 issue ("Will the Government Tell Christians to Shut Up?") can be answered already with a resounding yes.
My example comes from the July 17, 2008 issue of the Catholic Standard and Times, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
My neighboring township, East Norriton, held meetings throughout 2008 with residents who opposed the building of a hospital by the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (AEHN) on township property. We were told that everyone would be given a chance to voice concerns. People stood up and complained about the loss of open space, increased traffic, potential safety risks, pollution, etc.
But when representatives from the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania expressed their concerns about the possibility that abortions would be performed at the hospital, the article reports:
. . . But the board of supervisors felt differently. Anyone who objected to the hospital because of abortion found their microphone turned off during the Feb. 19 zoning hearing.
Their treatment elicited criticism from residents. "Regardless of the stance, everyone has a right to be heard at a public meeting," said Barry Papiernik of the East Norriton Citizens’ Group, which is not opposing the hospital because of abortion.
When the township supervisors attempted to place firm restrictions over the Saturday meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) threatened a lawsuit stating that "if the meeting is not conducted in accordance with the law, we will bring suit on their behalf (East Norriton residents) under state law to void the proceedings or under federal law for damages and injunctive relief," said staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper in a letter to the supervisors. "We believe that several provisions of Resolution 2410 and several practices reported to us violate either the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act or the United States Constitution."
Residents reported that there were still hostilities July 9 toward those who objected to the hospital because of abortion during the meeting, which officials say has no bearing on zoning or land permits . . . (Catholic Standard and Times, July 17, 2008)
I could not find this speech shut-down reported by the mainstream print, radio, or TV outlets. It may have been, but I doubt it.
— Antonio di Gregorio