Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Natural Law and the Kerygma

Natural law, I would argue, is an important, and much neglected, element of the kerygmatic ministry of the Church. To come back around to Fr George's essay—and the Orthodox resistance to natural law—I think one valuable contribution Orthodox theology might make to natural law theory is helping to deepen the evangelical character of the natural law tradition. Such a work is, after all, certainly compatible with the example of St Paul who offers us an archetypal expression of the kerygmatic or evangelical function of natural law in the opening chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome (1.18-32).

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (vv. 18-23)

The Apostle offers us a biblical sound basis upon which to offer a natural law theory that is anthropologically sound, evangelically relevant and compatible with the patristic understanding of natural contemplation (theoria).

Let me conclude by offering a pastoral, intra-Orthodox, observation. I cannot help but wonder if many of the scandals that have plagued the Orthodox Church in recent years are not the consequence of our theoretical, and more importantly, practical/pastoral, rejection of a Pauline theory of natural law. The Apostle is rather clear that a refusal to be obedient to God as He manifests Himself in the created order brings with it just the kind of division we see in many quarters of the Orthodox Church.

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (vv. 24-32)

If every element of what Paul describes is not seen in our recent scandals, there is enough of a "family" resemblance to make me wonder if we have not failed in at least this one area of our pastoral obligation to "rightly discern" the Word of Truth.

As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory