The Lost History of Natural Law in The Eastern Church
A lecture on natural law by Fr. Michael Butler was offered to me by Walt Garlington. Sure, you think, a Dominican discussing Aquinas – there’s a shocker! Nope. The title is Orthodoxy and Natural Law, and Fr. Butler is an archpriest in the Orthodox Church in America. I offer: this is one of the better presentations on Natural Law I have heard from anyone – Catholic or otherwise.
As you know, I have found little, if any, support from the Orthodox Church for the idea of Natural Law. I offer some of my writing on this here:
I also recently touched on some comments by Jonathan Pageau, comments which continue to confuse me as he seems to be dancing all around natural law without ever saying the words or diving into the ethic. Well, after reviewing this lecture by Fr. Butler, I grow evermore confused about Pageau – and will explain why in good time.
From the introduction:
Eastern Orthodoxy has been ambivalent about natural law. This lecture considers how natural law thinking might work in distinctly Orthodox ways of considering the relationship between faith and reason and examines some implications that might be useful today.
So, on to the lecture. Strap in. It really is good. Please note: where I state that Butler is citing from an earlier source or Church father, I am reasonably sure this is the case. Given I do not have the handout the he offered to the audience, there are times I cannot be certain.
I have been asked to talk this evening on the subject of Orthodoxy and Natural Law. That’s a little bit hard to do…
Making this work even more remarkable.
The Jews tend to think natural law is a Christian thing. Protestants tend to think it is a Catholic thing. Catholics sometimes think it is a medieval thing. In medieval times, some people thought it was a Roman thing. And the Romans thought it was a Stoic thing. And Orthodox, when they think about it at all, think it is a Western thing.
Yes. Man’s rebellious heart wants to run from natural law.
What is natural law? It is the rule of conduct prescribed to us by God and by our constitution as rational creatures.
Then, he cites Thomas, “the Angelic Doctor”:
Natural law is the human being’s participation in the eternal law, which is present to us through the light of natural reason whereby we discern what is good and what is evil. All men know the truth to a certain extent, at least as to the common principles of the natural law, and every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection of our participation of the eternal law which is unchangeable.
The first principle of natural law is that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. All the other principles of natural law are based on this. The general principles of the natural law cannot be blotted out from the human heart: there are some things that you can’t not know.
The serial adulterer may be numb to the fact that what he is doing is wrong, yet he still hides this fact from his spouse.
Many consider the Ten Commandments to be a summary of the natural law. Either stated, implied, or presupposed. I recall a lecture by Hans Hoppe, where he openly stated this reality:
I do not want to appeal with this only [to] libertarians, however, but a potentially universal or “catholic” audience, because the same ideal of social perfection is essentially also the one prescribed by the ten biblical commandments. [For purposes of this lecture, he focuses on the second table.]
Returning to Fr. Butler, he offers how each of the ten commandments presuppose certain things: for example, for there to be adultery, we have to presuppose marriage, and that to abuse this relationship is wrong; or to not bear false witness presupposes just courts. He offers a long list of such relationships / presuppositions: a rational basis for people’s common, moral sense.
But what about the Scriptural basis of natural law?
The main New Testament source of natural law teaching is the passage in the second chapter of Romans.
He then cites, beginning with verse 12. Basically, the law is written on man’s hearts. Early Church fathers understood this passage to mean that for the Jews, the law came from the Torah. For the
Article from LewRockwell