“Natural Law – sources and significance for the present“

Herbert Pribyl: Legal Conscience

uk. Since 2007 Professor DDr Herbert Pribyl is full Professor and Chairman of the Institute for Ethics and Social Sciences at the Higher School of Philosophy-Theology Benedict XVI in Heiligenkreuz. He studied Catholic theology, religious education studies, philosophy, political science, history and law in Vienna and Rome, and is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg. In his contribution “Das Naturrecht als Quelle der katholischen Soziallehre heute“ (Natural Law as a Source of Catholic Social Teaching Today) the author draws attention to the growing interest in Natural Law, which has especially been enhanced by the work of Pope Benedict XVI. Pribyl refers to the social encyclical “Caritas in veritate“, where it is shown that there is a “universal moral law“, providing “a sound basis for all cultural, religious, and political dialogue“ under the conditions of today’s “multi-faceted pluralism“. (p. 18) The author addresses various foundations and contexts of Natural Law: “The human being recognises Natural Law from experience in combination with his legal conscience. Of crucial importance for the imparting process is the family, in which a child experiences the first legal relationships, legal obligations and personal rights. […] Every human being can grasp this Natural Law qua right of human beings or as a human right, even without any explicit knowledge of God.“ (p. 23)

Karl Heinz Peschke: Against injustice

 Emeritus professor and priest Karl Heinz Peschke is well-known throughout the world for his moral theological work and contributions and especially for his publication “Christian Ethics“, which has been translated into many languages. He lectured in many countries of the world. In his contribution “Das letzte Ziel als orientierende Norm für das Natur­recht” (The last aim as orientating norm for the Natural Law), he pays tribute to the people who fought against injustice, against inhuman laws in “totalitarian systems“, even to “the sacrifice of their lives“. “They were acting on the basis of a higher law, the law of naturally inherent human dignity, which is Natural Law“. (p. 72) Peschke also points out that “in ethics and moral theology the concept of Natural Law in its full comprehensive sense signifies that moral order which is founded on human nature“. (p. 72)

Josef Spindelböck: The family as the place to experience moral requirements

Dr Josef Spindelböck is a theologian, priest, and professor for moral theology at the Philosophical-Theological University St. Pölten. In his contribution he addresses the important theme of “The Family in the Natural Law Theory of Johannes Messner“. Resorting to the fundamental question of Greek philosophy “What is man?“ he stresses the importance of human dignity that today is being threatened and disregarded in many respects: “The ‘natura humana’ as the essence of man is, as it were, the constant that makes us all belong to one human family and unites individual human beings in equal dignity. This dignity belongs to every human being, simply by being human, and it exists regardless of whether the concrete human being can realise specific capabilities or is prevented from doing so, either temporarily or permanently, by illness or disability.“ (p. 88) It is precisely the family, where “the personal and social nature” of the human person can develop to the full. Drawing on Messner’s “Kulturethik“ (Cultural Ethics) Spindelböck formulates an educational theory that is more and more lacking today: “Thus the human family, founded upon marriage between a man and a woman, proves to be the primal place of learning and experience for man in his personalisation und socialisation. From the beginning the child depends on the loving acceptance by other human beings (normally and ideally, in the first place by the parents) in order to be able to flourish and unfold. In the family, children learn to grasp essential moral requirements – as a way to their own self-realisation, to be sure, but not in a selfish manner, but as a gift of self, motivated by love – that is, precisely in relation with other human beings, both inside and outside their own family.“ (pp. 90.)

Marie Raphaela Hölscher: Natural Law as a restraint on the exercise of power

Dr Marie Raphaela Hölscher worked for charitable institutions and as a religion teacher in Vienna. In her contribution “Das Naturrecht bei Joseph Ratzinger/Benedikt XVI.“ (Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI on Natural Law) she reminds us of the fact that, “governing in the constitutional state is not simply the exercise of power, but the safeguarding of the rights of every individual and the well-being of all people [……].“ “In a secular and pluralistic society“ Natural Law makes it possible to agree on fundamental ethical legal principles“. (p. 106) Already as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith it was a matter of crucial importance to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to make a contribution to a universal Natural Law ethics, respected by all cultures regardless of their professed religion. The author draws attention to Ratzinger’s publication “A Turning Point for Europe?“ and his article “The Significance of Religious and Ethical Values in a Pluralistic Society“ (first published in German in 1991), in which he strongly objects to contemporary relativist positions, relying on the concepts of the true and the good. According to Ratzinger, those concepts are deliberately excluded by the media and by politics, and Natural Law is “rejected because it reeks of metaphysics. And this makes it possible to maintain a consistent relativism“. (p. 102)

Wolfgang Waldstein: Natural Law as foundation of European legal development and democracy

From 1965 to 1992 Wolfgang Waldstein taught as Full Professor of Roman Law and Legal Philosophy at Salzburg University, and later at the Pontifical Lateran University. Since 1999 he is a member of the “consiglio direttivo“ of that academy. He writes about the Natural Law tradition, which has shaped the European legal development as a whole for more than 2000 years: “Out of this tradition in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Europe emerged the so-called “Natural Law codes“, the General State Law for the Prussian States of 1794, the French Civil Code of 1804 and the Austrian General Civil Code of 1811. The Austrian General Civil Code still remains partly in force to this day, especially in the parts concerning Natural Law. Natural Law is, therefore, a reality in European legal development, which no theory can eliminate. The European legal culture is unintelligible without this Natural Law reality“ (p. 121) Professor Waldstein also presents some of the key messages in Papal encyclicals such as „Caritas in veritate“ by Benedict XVI, and points out that “justice and the common good“ are necessary Natural Law „standards of orientation“ for the development of society on its way towards globalisation. (p. 125) Waldstein warns against the danger of legal disintegration and against the current misuse of the valuable commodity of democracy. He refers to Pope Benedict XVI, who speaks of a “tyrant state, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenceless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest, which is really nothing but the interest of one part.“ (p. 137)

Rudolf Weiler: A tribute to Herbert Schambeck

In his contribution “Charismen im Dienst der evangelisierenden Gemeinschaft“ (Charisms in the Service of the Evangelising Community) Professor Emeritus DDr Rudolf Weiler pays tribute to Professor Herbert Schambeck, who published his book “Kirche, Politik und Recht“ (Church, Politics and Law) in 2013. In this volume one can read numerous papers Schambeck wrote after becoming an emeritus professor in 2002, which are highly topical. For Herbert Schambeck, as for Johannes Messner, good relations between church and state are at the heart of a democratic body politic. Also acknowledged are his political and ethical activities and “his lived Christian convictions“, which have also led to “good relations with the Holy See in Rome“. (p. 238) Herbert Schambeck has been a member of the Pontifical Academy since 1994.
The book contains further contributions, the reading of which is also highly recommendable. This substantive volume inspires us to reflect anew on the essential issues of our living together and makes it clear that Natural Law “is written into our hearts“.