Pope: 12th-Century Lesson on Natural Law Needed

Warns of "Dictatorship of Relativism"

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A 12th-century scholar has a lesson for today on what makes for fair and equal treatment in law, Benedict XVI says.

The Pope proposed today during the general audience the teaching of John of Salisbury, an English theologian and philosopher who served as bishop of Chartres, France, from 1176 until he died in 1180.

The Holy Father explained how John taught that "there also exists an objective and immutable truth, whose origin is God, accessible to human reason. This truth regards practical and social actions. This is a natural law, from which human laws and political and religious authority should take inspiration, so that they can promote the common good."

John said this law is characterized by "equity," or attributing to each person his rights.

"From here descend precepts that are legitimate for all peoples and which in no case can be abrogated," the Pope said, proposing that this teaching "is still today of great importance."

Growing distant

Benedict XVI contended that today we see the consequences of a lack of respect for natural law, as reason and liberty grow distant.

"In our times, in fact, above all in certain countries, we witness a worrying separation between reason, which has the task of discovering the ethical values linked to the dignity of the human person, and liberty, which has the responsibility of welcoming and promoting these values," he said.

The Pontiff proposed that the wisdom of John of Salisbury could speak to lawmakers of today: "Perhaps John of Salisbury would remind us today that only those laws are equitable that protect the sanctity of human life and reject the legalization of abortion, euthanasia and limitless genetic experimentation, those laws that respect the dignity of matrimony between a man and a woman, that are inspired in a correct secularity of state -- secularity that always includes the protection of religious liberty -- and that pursue subsidiarity and solidarity at the national and international level."

Different tyranny

Without these equitable laws based on human dignity, the Bishop of Rome warned, "what we would call 'the dictatorship of relativism,' ends up taking over -- a relativism that, as I recalled some years ago, 'recognizes nothing as definitive and that has as its measure only the self and its desires.'"

Citing "Caritas in Veritate," the Pope recalled: "Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love.

"This principle is extremely important for society and for development, since neither can be a purely human product; the vocation to development on the part of individuals and peoples is not based simply on human choice, but is an intrinsic part of a plan that is prior to us and constitutes for all of us a duty to be freely accepted."

"This plan that is prior to us, this truth of being, we should seek and welcome, so that justice is born," the Holy Father concluded. "But we can find it and welcome it only with a heart, a will and reason purified in the light of God."

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-27863?l=english