An interesting article on law and justice, particularly as it applies to the Catholic Church


Moses receiving the Ten Commandments

The Catholic understanding of law that dominated the Western world for approximately a millennium and a half differs radically from the concept of law that emerged around the time of the Enlightenment. In fact the Catholic understanding, albeit a less precise articulation of it, traces its origins to the pre-Christian ancient world.[1]

God created not only the visible, tangible universe but also created law. The eternal law which is the rational plan of God for the universe is the first created law. As one medieval commentator expressed it, “God is himself law and therefore law is dear to Him.”[2] God did not create an unruly cosmos but one permeated with this eternal law which directs all of creation to its appointed end.

The summit of visible creation is Man. He is graced with a nature that reflects the Divine Nature itself. Man is thus called to participate in the eternal law and thus participate in God’s governance of creation. Not only does God entrust Man with the task of naming visible creatures, he is called to participate in the formation and promulgation of the laws by which Man himself will be ruled and guided to his due end. Just as a name brings greater specificity to an entity, so too Man’s participation in law will involve the task of particularizing the precepts of the eternal law.

Through his intellect, the point of contact with the eternal law, Man has the ability to come to know the most general legal principles, the precepts of Natural Law. These precepts command and forbid actions which conform to and obstruct, respectively, the attainment of Man’s natural and supernatural ends. Yet, these precepts are framed in general and universal terms. As a result of the Fall, Man’s participation in this process is afflicted by the wounds of sin and thus God promulgated an additional law, the divine law, to aid Man in his acquisition of knowledge of the primary precepts of law.

The Decalogue is the prime example of the divine law which did not alter the moral status of the operations specified in its ten precepts but which merely provided revealed knowledge of these precepts. Thus revelation and reason together provide Man with a means of knowing the fundamental precepts of the law which rules the universe.

Yet, the precepts of natural and divine law remain general in their formulation. They require further specification to be useful in guiding particular human action. It is to this task that Man has received a Divine call to participate. Ecclesiastical and secular authorities are commissioned by God to determine more particular principles and precepts of the divine and natural law to guide with greater specificity human action.

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Father John Trigilio: Civil law is not the supreme law.

The pope is the head of an independent and sovereign nation as well as head of the Roman Catholic Church. As the ruler of the Vatican City, he is subject to no other national laws anymore than the President of the United States would be subject to laws outside America. Even if there were no Vatican City or former Papal States, the pope is supreme head of the Church and his spiritual authority to teach and his supreme authority to govern the Church all over the world has no equal and no superior, save God Himself.

Democracies and republics work well for the common good and are much, much better than socialist, fascist or communist forms of government. Yet the world has seen both good and bad examples of monarchy throughout history, so we cannot infallibly say democratic republics are the only moral way to govern. If democracy was the perfect form, Jesus would have founded His Church with such a structure. He chose, rather, a hierarchical system, with the pope as head and the bishops to assist him. That is why we cannot fall into the trap of thinking all democratic-republic governments are impeccable. Slavery, segregation and abortion all took place within a democratic republic. In comparison, our current form of government works well and better than the alternatives.

Read more at Matt C. Abbott’s Column