Without a natural order on which to build, the religious order has no solid foundation on which to teach charity, enrich culture, or refine civilization. Without the cardinal virtues in place, the theological virtues will not follow.
“The fundamental heresy of our day is perhaps the denial of the natural order, of the very foundations of culture,” writes Father Francis Bethel, O.S.B., in John Senior and the Restoration of Realism. Without a natural order, the supernatural order lacks incarnate reality, and civilization loses its moral sense. Indeed, all the popular ideologies of the twenty-first century originate in the rejection of the self-evident, God-given natural order that speaks in the visible structure of reality and in the created world. For human beings, the natural order begins in the life of the family that brings children into the world and continues the human species. All of nature—plant, animal, and human life—is founded upon the first principle of fruitfulness and multiplication. All natural life comes into the world through the gift of fertility and reproduction. Yet governments of the world preoccupied with environment, quality of life, and population control resist the natural order by advocating contraception, abortion, and sterilization. “The Death of West” that Patrick Buchanan alludes to in his book by that title proceeds from failing to be fruitful and multiply.
The natural order reflected in the family rests upon the institution of marriage and the stability and fidelity that holy matrimony instills into the lives of children. Because Mother Nature orders human life through the union of man and woman, fatherhood and motherhood provide for the needs of offspring in the balanced, complementary way that fathers and mothers love, teach, and care for children. The young need mothers to nurture, civilize, and love them with the utmost sensitivity and attention and fathers to provide for them, dedicate themselves to the common good of the whole family, and discipline them with justice and mercy. Children need both love and discipline, mercy and justice—models of both gentleness and strength. Yet the ideologies of the day attack the undeniable truth of maleness and femaleness, redefine the universal meaning of marriage, and reinvent the traditional family in permitting the adoption of children by same-sex unions. The fatherless family, the single-parent family, and the notion of family as “a plurality of forms” (the language of the United Nations) all subvert the normative meaning of family inscribed in the natural order.
The natural order of marriage—the pillar of the family—requires fidelity to vows and loyalty in the course of a lifetime. It is in the interests of children, the common good of a society, and the happiness of all men and women to defend, uphold, and teach the indissolubility of marriage as the cultural norm rather than promote the ideology of “no-fault divorce” in which a married person for any reason or any whim can end a marriage without any resistance or discouragement from the law of the land or teachings of the church. Neither divorce nor cohabitation belongs to the natural order that bonds married couples and families into lifelong relationships of mutual helpfulness and mutual enjoyment. Divorce imposes untold burdens and confusion upon children who desire the constant presence of both parents in their lives and feel a special affection for both of them. The mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the young suffers from the trauma of divorce that alienates them from the world and deprives them of all the love they need.
The natural order acknowledges the unchangeable meaning of maleness and femaleness determined at birth. No one can change his God-given nature that is intrinsic to each person as man or woman. Terms like transgender and bi-sexual do not correspond to anything in the real world as they attempt to deconstruct the fixed, determined meaning of the human body and all the attributes and sensibilities that distinguish man from woman. When Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth plotted to kill the king and presumed to separate her nature from her body and renounced her womanhood, she lacked all self-knowledge about the truth of femininity. She proclaims her fierce manliness with these defiant words:
Unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose…
Though she insists that murder and violence will not affect her female nature and maternal instinct, invoking the demonic spirits, “Come to my woman’s breasts/ And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,” Lady Macbeth cannot change the fact of her womanhood. After the murder of the king she and Macbeth plotted, Lady Macbeth suffers all the guilt and horror of violating her conscience and nature. Haunted and disturbed, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks in the middle of the night and obsessively washes her hands: “Out, damned spot, out I say!” Terrified, her female sense of cleanliness speaks and declares the truth of her femininity that she defied: “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this hand.” As the ancients declared, “Nature will out,” and no amount of indoctrination can reverse the natural order that modern ideology proclaims does not exist. Lady Macbeth’s brazen boastfulness amounted to an empty lie.
The natural order also presupposes the natural law, the self-evident moral laws about right and wrong known to human reason and inscribed in the conscience. They exist in all times, places, and cultures as universal truths that reflect the eternal law of God. As the heroine of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone proclaims, justice is not determined by political power (“might is right”) but by higher divine laws, “the unwritten unalterable laws/ Of God and heaven…. / They are not of yesterday or today, but everlasting.” St. Paul also alludes to the natural law when he claims that the Gentiles, who do not have the Mosaic Law, “do by nature what the law requires…. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts while their conscience also bears witness…(Romans 2: 14-15). The natural law also finds expression in the cardinal (natural) virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance known to human reason, and the cardinal virtues establish the foundation of the moral life that the theological (supernatural) virtues of faith, hope, and charity perfect—just as grace builds upon nature. Prudence must know what is true before justice acts to do what is right. Fortitude must overcome fear to achieve the good, and temperance must moderate the passion of courage to prevent rashness. An understanding of human and divine love presupposes a knowledge of the cardinal virtues.
The heresy of the modern world rejects the classical heritage of natural law and the Christian tradition of divine law as it invents new rights like the right to an abortion, the right of physician-assisted suicide, and the right to same-sex marriage. The moral relativism and political correctness that dominate liberal political thought and modern ideology subvert every sense of universal norms and transcendent truths that apply to all people in all times and in all places. For ideologues, classical moral laws do not apply to a pluralistic, diverse society, and Christian doctrines about the sanctity of life, the holiness of marriage, the evil of contraception, and the immorality of divorce, contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are merely subjective, religious opinions that have no role in the public forum. Supreme Court decisions and the agendas of political parties conform to contemporary mores rather than timeless principles of justice rooted in tradition and religion.
Without a natural order on which to build, the religious order has no solid foundation on which to teach charity, enrich culture, or refine civilization. Without the cardinal virtues in place, the theological virtues will not follow. Without the cardinal virtue of justice and the natural law, unjust laws and trendy ideas will dictate the meaning of right and wrong. Without the role of religion in culture, the state will fail to create domestic tranquility or a civil society. Without the sanctity of the home, no social welfare programs will ever create the great society. Without the esteem and honor due to the sanctity of marriage, no society will provide life’s greatest sources of happiness to the future generations. All social, political, and economic problems arise from the attack upon the natural order. If a farmer ignores the laws of Mother Nature, he cannot expect an abundant harvest. If a society defies the natural order, it too never prospers or flourishes, suffering depopulation, broken families, child abuse, the deconstruction of marriage, and men and women without self-knowledge or moral certainty. Without a self-evident, God-given natural order as a norm and ideal, every imaginable form of disorder, anarchy, and lawlessness follows in the name of “choice” or “rights”: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” as the witches say in Macbeth. Without the natural order, it soon follows that unnatural is natural, evil is good, and good is evil.
Republished with gracious permission from The Truth and Charity Forum (December 2016). First published here February, 2017.
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