ADDRESS OF HIS
HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON
NATURAL MORAL LAW
Monday, 12 February 2007
Venerable Brothers in the
Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with particular pleasure
that I welcome you at the beginning of the Congress' work in which you will be
engaged in the following days on a theme of considerable importance for the
present historical moment, namely, the natural moral law.
I thank Bishop Rino Fisichella,
Rector Magnificent of the Pontifical Lateran University, for the sentiments
expressed in the address with which he has introduced this meeting.
There is no doubt that we are
living in a moment of extraordinary development in the human capacity to
decipher the rules and structures of matter, and in the consequent dominion of
man over nature.
We all see the great advantages
of this progress and we see more and more clearly the threat of destruction of
nature by what we do.
There is another less visible
danger, but no less disturbing: the method that permits us to know ever
more deeply the rational structures of matter makes us ever less capable of
perceiving the source of this rationality, creative Reason. The capacity to see
the laws of material being makes us incapable of seeing the ethical message
contained in being, a message that tradition calls lex naturalis, natural moral
This word for many today is
almost incomprehensible due to a concept of nature that is no longer
metaphysical, but only empirical. The fact that nature, being itself, is no
longer a transparent moral message creates a sense of disorientation that
renders the choices of daily life precarious and uncertain.
Naturally, the disorientation
strikes the younger generations in a particular way, who must in this context
find the fundamental choices for their life.
It is precisely in the light of
this contestation that all the urgency of the necessity to reflect upon the
theme of natural law and to rediscover its truth common to all men appears. The
said law, to which the Apostle Paul refers (cf. Rom 2: 14-15), is written on the
heart of man and is consequently, even today, accessible.
This law has as its first and
general principle, "to do good and to avoid evil". This is a truth which by its
very evidence immediately imposes itself on everyone. From it flows the other
more particular principles that regulate ethical justice on the rights and
duties of everyone.
So does the principle of respect
for human life from its conception to its natural end, because this good of life
is not man's property but the free gift of God. Besides this is the duty to seek
the truth as the necessary presupposition of every authentic personal
Another fundamental application
of the subject is freedom. Yet taking into account the fact that human freedom
is always a freedom shared with others, it is clear that the harmony of freedom
can be found only in what is common to all: the truth of the human being,
the fundamental message of being itself, exactly the lex naturalis.
And how can we not mention, on
one hand, the demand of justice that manifests itself in giving unicuique suum
and, on the other, the expectation of solidarity that nourishes in everyone,
especially if they are poor, the hope of the help of the more fortunate?
In these values are expressed
unbreakable and contingent norms that do not depend on the will of the
legislator and not even on the consensus that the State can and must give. They
are, in fact, norms that precede any human law: as such, they are not subject to
modification by anyone.
The natural law, together with
fundamental rights, is the source from which ethical imperatives also flow,
which it is only right to honour.
In today's ethics and philosophy
of Law, petitions of juridical positivism are widespread. As a result,
legislation often becomes only a compromise between different interests:
seeking to transform private interests or wishes into law that conflict with the
duties deriving from social responsibility.
In this situation it is opportune
to recall that every juridical methodology, be it on the local or international
level, ultimately draws its legitimacy from its rooting in the natural law, in
the ethical message inscribed in the actual human being.
Natural law is, definitively, the
only valid bulwark against the arbitrary power or the deception of ideological
manipulation. The knowledge of this law inscribed on the heart of man increases
with the progress of the moral conscience.
The first duty for all, and
particularly for those with public responsibility, must therefore be to promote
the maturation of the moral conscience. This is the fundamental progress without
which all other progress proves non-authentic.
The law inscribed in our nature
is the true guarantee offered to everyone in order to be able to live in freedom
and to be respected in their own dignity.
What has been said up to this
point has very concrete applications if one refers to the family, that is, to
"the intimate partnership of life and the love which constitutes the married
state... established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws"
(Gaudium et Spes, n. 48).
Concerning this, the Second
Vatican Council has opportunely recalled that the institution of marriage has
been "confirmed by the divine law", and therefore "this sacred bond... for the
good of the partner, of the children and of society no longer depends on human
decision alone" (ibid.).
Therefore, no law made by man can
override the norm written by the Creator without society becoming dramatically
wounded in what constitutes its basic foundation. To forget this would mean to
weaken the family, penalizing the children and rendering the future of society
Lastly, I feel the duty to affirm
yet again that not all that is scientifically possible is also ethically licit.
Technology, when it reduces the
human being to an object of experimentation, results in abandoning the weak
subject to the arbitration of the stronger. To blindly entrust oneself to
technology as the only guarantee of progress, without offering at the same time
an ethical code that penetrates its roots in that same reality under study and
development, would be equal to doing violence to human nature with devastating
consequences for all.
The contribution of scientists is
of primary importance. Together with the progress of our capacity to dominate
nature, scientists must also contribute to help understand the depth of our
responsibility for man and for nature entrusted to him.
On this basis it is possible to
develop a fruitful dialogue between believers and non-believers; between
theologians, philosophers, jurists and scientists, which can offer to
legislation as well precious material for personal and social life.
Therefore, I hope these days of
study will bring not only a greater sensitivity of the learned with regard to
the natural moral law, but will also serve to create conditions so that this
theme may reach an ever fuller awareness of the inalienable value that the lex
naturalis possesses for a real and coherent progress of private life and the
With this wish, I assure you of
my remembrance in prayer for you and for your academic commitment to research
and reflection, while I impart to all with affection the Apostolic Blessing.
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