I see that you’ve written about the International Theological Commission’s statement on natural law.  Why do you think the statement received so little attention and popularity in English-speaking countries?


Some reasons, I think, are internal to the document.  I’ve offered some gentle criticisms here.  A second reason is that the English-speaking countries are mostly Protestant, and although Luther and Calvin believed in natural law, many of their followers have been deeply suspicious of the idea, viewing it as a pagan invention, wrongly baptized by Thomas Aquinas, incompatible with recognition of the Fall.

Fortunately, I think this situation is finally changing.  Strong interest in natural law is reawakening among traditional Lutherans, Calvinists, and Evangelicals:  See for example Robert C. Baker, ed., Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal,Stephen J. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, David Van Drunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, and  Jesse Covington, Bryan T. McGraw, and Micah Watson, eds., Natural Law in Evangelical Political Thought.  I might also mention stirrings of interest among Eastern Christians like Fr. Michael Butler, who spoke at last week’s Acton University conference in Grand Rapids, Jews like Rabbi David Novak, author of Natural Law in Judaism, and here and there a few Muslims.

But I think that other reasons for the poor reception of the document have to do with natural law itself.  Although it is a gracious gift of God, it is good news only to those who desire to live according to virtue, and even then it may not be good news without the grace which enables us to obey it.  St. Paul speaks of that knowledge which is a fragrance from life to life for those who are being rescued, but the aroma of death to death among those who are perishing.  How much more is natural law without that fragrance, because morality alone has a heart of rock.

So in one way the natural law is one of the praeambula fidei, the “preambles” to faith, as the Church has traditionally held, but in another way faith may be one of the praeambula amicitiae cum natura, the “preambles” to renewed friendship with our own created nature.