The modern era sets nature and freedom at odds

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The alleged conflict between freedom and law is forcefully brought up once again today with regard to the natural law, and particularly with regard to nature. Debates about nature and freedom have always marked the history of moral reflection; they grew especially heated at the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, as can be seen from the teaching of the Council of Trent.85 Our own age is marked, though in a different sense, by a similar tension. The penchant for empirical observation, the procedures of scientific objectification, technological progress and certain forms of liberalism have led to these two terms being set in opposition, as if a dialectic, if not an absolute conflict, between freedom and nature were characteristic of the structure of human history. At other periods, it seemed that “nature” subjected man totally to its own dynamics and even its own unbreakable laws. Today too, the situation of the world of the senses within space and time, physio-chemical constants, bodily processes, psychological impulses and forms of social conditioning seem to many people the only really decisive factors of human reality. In this context even moral facts, despite their specificity, are frequently treated as if they were statistically verifiable data, patterns of behaviour which can be subject to observation or explained exclusively in categories of psychosocial processes. As a result, some ethicists, professionally engaged in the study of human realities and behaviour, can be tempted to take as the standard for their discipline and even for its operative norms the results of a statistical study of concrete human behaviour patterns and the opinions about morality encountered in the majority of people.

Other moralists, however, in their concern to stress the importance of values, remain sensitive to the dignity of freedom, but they frequently conceive of freedom as somehow in opposition to or in conflict with material and biological nature, over which it must progressively assert itself. Here various approaches are at one in overlooking the created dimension of nature and in misunderstanding its integrity. For some, “nature” becomes reduced to raw material for human activity and for its power: thus nature needs to be profoundly transformed, and indeed overcome by freedom, inasmuch as it represents a limitation and denial of freedom. For others, it is in the untrammelled advancement of man’s power, or of his freedom, that economic, cultural, social and even moral values are established: nature would thus come to mean everything found in man and the world apart from freedom. In such an understanding, nature would include in the first place the human body, its make-up and its processes: against this physical datum would be opposed whatever is “constructed”, in other words “culture”, seen as the product and result of freedom. Human nature, understood in this way, could be reduced to and treated as a readily available biological or social material. This ultimately means making freedom selfdefining and a phenomenon creative of itself and its values. Indeed, when all is said and done man would not even have a nature; he would be his own personal life-project. Man would be nothing more than his own freedom!

85 Cf. Sess. IV, Decree on Justification Cum Hoc Tempore, Chap. 1: H. Denzinger-A Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, 1521.

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The Old and New Laws are mutually rooted in God’s plan for mankind

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The Church gratefully accepts and lovingly preserves the entire deposit of Revelation, treating it with religious respect and fulfilling her mission of authentically interpreting God’s law in the light of the Gospel. In addition, the Church receives the gift of the New Law, which is the “fulfilment” of God’s law in Jesus Christ and in his Spirit. This is an “interior” law (cf. Jer 31:31-33), “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3); a law of perfection and of freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17); “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Saint Thomas writes that this law “can be called law in two ways. First, the law of the spirit is the Holy Spirit . . . who, dwelling in the soul, not only teaches what it is necessary to do by enlightening the intellect on the things to be done, but also inclines the affections to act with uprightness . . . Second, the law of the spirit can be called the proper effect of the Holy Spirit, and thus faith working through love (cf. Gal 5:6), which teaches inwardly about the things to be done . . . and inclines the affections to act”.84

Even if moral-theological reflection usually distinguishes between the positive or revealed law of God and the natural law, and, within the economy of salvation, between the “old” and the “new” law, it must not be forgotten that these and other useful distinctions always refer to that law whose author is the one and the same God and which is always meant for man. The different ways in which God, acting in history, cares for the world and for mankind are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they support each other and intersect. They have their origin and goal in the eternal, wise and loving counsel whereby God predestines men and women “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). God’s plan poses no threat to man’s genuine freedom; on the contrary, the acceptance of God’s plan is the only way to affirm that freedom.

84 In Epistulam ad Romanos, c. VIII, lect. 1.

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St. Thomas Apostle, home of Sunday EF Vespers, to offer Missa Cantata for Corpus Christi

A Sung Mass will be offered for the Feast of Corpus Christi at 7:00 am this Thursday morning, May 26, at Washington’s St. Thomas Apostle Church. While Corpus Christi is not a holy day of obligation in the United States, it is still observed on its traditional date in the Extraordinary Form.

SPN Mass


Every Sunday at 4:00 pm, the office of Vespers is celebrated at St. Thomas Apostle by the Oratorian Community of St. Philip Neri according to the 1961 Roman Breviary. The service, sung entirely in Gregorian chant, is one of the few weekly public celebrations of the traditional Office on the Eastern Seaboard. Everyone interested in participating is encouraged to assist in the preparation of the music beginning at 3:30 pm. After Vespers, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed briefly for adoration and Benediction.

St. Thomas Apostle Church is located at 2665 Woodley Road in Woodley Park, one block up from the Woodley Road Metrorail and Metrobus stops at Connecticut Avenue.

We are called upon to venerate and apply God’s law

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality. Thus my Venerable Predecessor Leo XIII emphasized the essential subordination of reason and human law to the Wisdom of God and to his law. After stating that “the natural law is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin”, Leo XIII appealed to the “higher reason” of the divine Lawgiver: “But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject”. Indeed, the force of law consists in its authority to impose duties, to confer rights and to sanction certain behaviour: “Now all of this, clearly, could not exist in man if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions”. And he concluded: “It follows that the natural law is itself the eternal law, implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them towards their right action and end; it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe”.83

Man is able to recognize good and evil thanks to that discernment of good from evil which he himself carries out by his reason, in particular by his reason enlightened by Divine Revelation and by faith, through the law which God gave to the Chosen People, beginning with the commandments on Sinai. Israel was called to accept and to live out God’s law as a particular gift and sign of its election and of the divine Covenant, and also as a pledge of God’s blessing. Thus Moses could address the children of Israel and ask them: “What great nation is that that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” (Dt 4:7-8). In the Psalms we encounter the sentiments of praise, gratitude and veneration which the Chosen People is called to show towards God’s law, together with an exhortation to know it, ponder it and translate it into life. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:1-2). “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps 18(19):8-9).

83 Encyclical Letter Libertas Præstantissimum (June 20,1888): Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, VIII, Romæ 1889, 219.

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Fr. Lew to offer Dominican Rite Trinity Mass at Silver Spring

A Low Mass in the Traditional Dominican Rite will be offered Sunday, May 22, at the Traditional Latin Mass Congregation of Silver Spring, Maryland. The celebrant of the Mass of the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity will be Reverend Father Lawrence Lew op of the Dominican Friars of England and Scotland.

Holy Mass will begin at 8:00 am. Confessions will be heard from 7:30 to 7:55 am. All are invited to share coffee and doughnuts after Mass in the downstairs community room of the rectory.

Silver Spring TLM Congregation meets at the Historic Church of St. John the Evangelist, 9700 Rosensteel Avenue, Forest Glen.

Natural law is our participation in Eternal Reason

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The Second Vatican Council points out that the “supreme rule of life is the divine law itself, the eternal, objective and universal law by which God out of his wisdom and love arranges, directs and governs the whole world and the paths of the human community. God has enabled man to share in this divine law, and hence man is able under the gentle guidance of God’s providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth”.78

The Council refers back to the classic teaching on God’s eternal law. Saint Augustine defines this as “the reason or the will of God, who commands us to respect the natural order and forbids us to disturb it”.79 Saint Thomas identifies it with “the type of the divine wisdom as moving all things to their due end”.80 And God’s wisdom is providence, a love which cares. God himself loves and cares, in the most literal and basic sense, for all creation (cf. Wis 7:22; 8:11). But God provides for man differently from the way in which he provides for beings which are not persons. He cares for man not “from without”, through the laws of physical nature, but “from within”, through reason, which, by its natural knowledge of God’s eternal law, is consequently able to show man the right direction to take in his free actions.81 In this way God calls man to participate in his own providence, since he desires to guide the world — not only the world of nature but also the world of human persons — through man himself, through man’s reasonable and responsible care. The natural law enters here as the human expression of God’s eternal law. Saint Thomas writes: “Among all others, the rational creature is subject to divine providence in the most excellent way, insofar as it partakes of a share of providence, being provident both for itself and for others. Thus it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end. This participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called natural law”.82

78 Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanæ, 3.
79 Contra Faustum, Bk 22, Chap. 27: Patrologiæ Cursus completus, Series Latina 42, 418.
80 Summa Theologiæ, I-II, q. 93, a. 1.
81 Cf. ibid., I-II, q. 90, a.4, ad 1um.
82 Ibid., I-II, q. 91, a.2.

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We discern right from wrong in the light of reason

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity. This is clearly stated by the Council: “Human dignity requires man to act through conscious and free choice, as motivated and prompted personally from within, and not through blind internal impulse or merely external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when he frees himself from all subservience to his feelings, and in a free choice of the good, pursues his own end by effectively and assiduously marshalling the appropriate means”.75

In his journey towards God, the One who “alone is good”, man must freely do good and avoid evil. But in order to accomplish this he must be able to distinguish good from evil. And this takes place above all thanks to the light of natural reason, the reflection in man of the splendour of God’s countenance. Thus Saint Thomas, commenting on a verse of Psalm 4, writes: “After saying: Offer right sacrifices (Ps 4:5), as if some had then asked him what right works were, the Psalmist adds: There are many who say: Who will make us see good? And in reply to the question he says: The light of your face, Lord, is signed upon us, thereby implying that the light of natural reason whereby we discern good from evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else but an imprint on us of the divine light”.76 It also becomes clear why this law is called the natural law: it receives this name not because it refers to the nature of irrational beings but because the reason which promulgates it is proper to human nature.77

75 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 17.
76 Summa Theologiæ, I-II, q. 91, a. 2.
77 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1955.

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Woodbridge St. Elizabeth Ann Seton sets Friday evening TLM

The Traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) for Ember Friday in the Octave of Pentecost will be celebrated at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Woodbridge, Virginia, on Friday, May 20, at 7:00 pm. This Mass is being added to our seven-day schedule.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church is located at 12805 Valleywood Drive in Lake Ridge. Ample free parking is available.

Obedience to God’s law is participation in His wisdom and providence

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

Man’s genuine moral autonomy in no way means the rejection but rather the acceptance of the moral law, of God’s command: “The Lord God gave this command to the man . . .” (Gen 2:16). Human freedom and God’s law meet and are called to intersect, in the sense of man’s free obedience to God and of God’s completely gratuitous benevolence towards man. Hence obedience to God is not, as some would believe, a heteronomy, as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, extraneous to man and intolerant of his freedom. If in fact a heteronomy of morality were to mean a denial of man’s self-determination or the imposition of norms unrelated to his good, this would be in contradiction to the Revelation of the Covenant and of the redemptive Incarnation. Such a heteronomy would be nothing but a form of alienation, contrary to divine wisdom and to the dignity of the human person.

Others speak, and rightly so, of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man’s free obedience to God’s law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God’s wisdom and providence. By forbidding man to “eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, God makes it clear that man does not originally possess such “knowledge” as something properly his own, but only participates in it by the light of natural reason and of Divine Revelation, which manifest to him the requirements and the promptings of eternal wisdom. Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation. Consequently one must acknowledge in the freedom of the human person the image and the nearness of God, who is present in all (cf. Eph 4:6). But one must likewise acknowledge the majesty of the God of the universe and revere the holiness of the law of God, who is infinitely transcendent: Deus semper maior.74

74 Cf. Saint Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmum LXII, 16: Corpus Christianorum, Latin series 39, 804.

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