Natural Law Is a Universal Guide...

My readers, here is an important text of the English-language address pope Benedict XVI gave in Vatican City, May 4, 2009 to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on topic: "Catholic social doctrine and human rights". This text is in my judgment important for any further development and research in Christian Ethics.

"Human rights became the reference point of a shared universal ethos - at least at the level of aspiration - for most of humankind. These rights have been ratified by almost every State in the world. The Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, as well as my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, forcefully referred to the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion as being at the centre of those rights that spring from human nature itself.

Strictly speaking, these human rights are not truths of faith, even though they are discoverable - and indeed come to full light - in the message of Christ who "reveals man to man himself" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). They receive further confirmation from faith. Yet it stands to reason that, living and acting in the physical world as spiritual beings, men and women ascertain the pervading presence of a logos which enables them to distinguish not only between true and false, but also good and evil, better and worse, and justice and injustice. This ability to discern - this radical agency - renders every person capable of grasping the "natural law", which is nothing other than a participation in the eternal law: "unde...lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura" (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II, 91, 2). The natural law is a universal guide recognizable to everyone, on the basis of which all people can reciprocally understand and love each other. Human rights, therefore, are ultimately rooted in a participation of God, who has created each human person with intelligence and freedom. If this solid ethical and political basis is ignored, human rights remain fragile since they are deprived of their sound foundation.

The Church's action in promoting human rights is therefore supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will, independently of any religious affiliation they may have. Nevertheless, as I have observed in my Encyclicals, on the one hand, human reason must undergo constant purification by faith, insofar as it is always in danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by disordered passions and sin; and, on the other hand, insofar as human rights need to be re-appropriated by every generation and by each individual, and insofar as human freedom - which proceeds by a succession of free choices - is always fragile, the human person needs the unconditional hope and love that can only be found in God and that lead to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 18, and Spe Salvi, 24).

This perspective draws attention to some of the most critical social problems of recent decades, such as the growing awareness - which has in part arisen with globalisation and the present economic crisis - of a flagrant contrast between the equal attribution of rights and the unequal access to the means of attaining those rights. For Christians who regularly ask God to "give us this day our daily bread", it is a shameful tragedy that one-fifth of humanity still goes hungry. Assuring an adequate food supply, like the protection of vital resources such as water and energy, requires all international leaders to collaborate in showing a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the natural law and promoting solidarity and subsidiarity with the weakest regions and peoples of the planet as the most effective strategy for eliminating social inequalities between countries and societies and for increasing global security."

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