Studyspark Study Document

Natural Law in Catholic Social Teaching Research Paper

Pages:11 (3338 words)




Document Type:Research Paper



According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are seven main themes of Catholic Social Teaching: 1) Life and Dignity of the Human Person, which highlights the intrinsic value and goodness of life and the fact that the human person was made in the image and likeness of God and therefore should not be abused or desecrated; 2) Call to Family, Community and Participation, which highlights the idea man is a social creature, the family is the building block of society, and men are meant to work for the common good, have children and show charity towards one another; 3) Rights and Responsibilities, which focuses on the duty and rights of the individual in society; 4) Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, which highlights the need for charity for the underserved; 5) Solidarity, which refers to the need for peace, justice, faith and charity to be interwoven into human actions around the world; 6) Care for God’s Creation, which emphasizes the value of taking care of the environment rather than mistreating and abusing the world that God has given to people; and 7) The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, which was especially highlighted by Pope Leo in Rerum novarum and showed that employers should respect and care for laborers and apply Christian principles in the workplace.[footnoteRef:2] These themes of Catholic Social Teaching are rooted in the Church’s teaching on natural. This paper will show how natural law from the time of Aristotle till now has complemented the Church’s moral law and provided a framework for its own social teaching, and it will also show how the Enlightenment Era Social Contract perverted the notion of natural law by viewing it from a liberal and atheistic perspective. [2: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching,”]

The Natural Law

Natural law ethics were articulated by Aristotle in classical Greek philosophy and have been a mainstay of Western philosophy ever since, being discussed by Roman philosophers, early Church Fathers and Scholastics in the Middle Ages. It was not until the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment when modern society began to reject the Old World values where natural law conformed with moral law. Enlightenment philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau abandoned the notion of Original Sin and of fallen human nature and viewed natural law from a liberal perspective in which every human impulse was deemed good regardless of whether form followed function. For Rousseau liberty was what mattered most, and that meant rejection of the order of the medieval Church and of the doctrines of sin and redemption. But Catholic Social Teaching only makes sense within the parameters of sin and redemption, for outside those parameters are only empty worldly solutions based on false hopes, political promises, and short-sighted economic solutions. The Enlightenment philosophers argued that man in his natural state was sufficient unto himself.

Such was Rousseau’s point of view, which is why he argued mostly for liberty. He believed that people should be left to be as they would like to be. He argued that it was the dogmas and institutions that got in the way, that corrupted youth and caused them to misbehave. Oppression, in his eyes, came from people seeking power over others and those people tended to use religion or government to gain that power. He believed that everyone should be free.

By rejecting the Old World concept of Original Sin, the Enlightenment philosophers could make these assumptions about human beings—i.e., that if they were just given the right system of organization they would be able to govern themselves without problem. What they neglected to consider was that human nature is indeed programmed with a default mechanism that causes one to pursue all the known vices—greed, envy, wrath, pride, lust, etc. The Enlightenment was essentially a materialistic philosophy that had a distorted view of human nature and nature itself. It placed far too much emphasis on reason and logic. The Romantic era that would follow would show the extent to which the Enlightenment thinkers had gotten it wrong, as the Romantics would place their focus on feeling and passion and man’s irrational side. This led to a corrupt understanding of the Rights of Man.

The Rights of Man

In the 18th century, the rights of man were not a matter to be taken lightly or even something that one took for granted. As Lynn Hunt points out, one of the big questions over right was the issue of voting—the distinction between political and civil rights: “Political rights guaranteed equal participation; civil rights guaranteed equal treatment before the law in matters concerning marriage, property, and inheritance.”[footnoteRef:3] Nowadays, the assumption is that people should have both civil and political rights and that these are part of their basic human rights—but such was not the notion in France. Certainly it was not the notion in America, where the test run for the French Revolution was conducted via the Declaration of Independence and the War that followed. [3: Lynn Hunt, "Introduction: The Revolutionary Origins of Human Rights." In The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief History with Documents, 2nd Edition, edited by Lynn Hunt, 1-31 (Boston: Bedford, 2016), 1.]

Rousseau had helped to champion the idea of these rights, but he never moved beyond a vague, romantic idea of emancipation and freedom. Liberty was like an 18th century intellectual drug that fueled many a heady debate in many a salon. It was not necessarily something that anyone expected or foresaw needing to be writ down in fine, well-examined terms. Rousseau’s doctrines had helped to inspire the surge in Revolutionary ardor, but had done little in terms of developing a scholastic-like approach to the problem of governance. Those with a more scholastic-like mind, men like Abbe Sieyes, for example, demonstrated a bit more restraint in their approach to the rights of man than did Robespierre, who pushed for total equality and saw it as one…

Some parts of this document are missing

Click here to view full document

…from Leo XIII to John Paul II has both disagreed and agreed with the natural law traditions of both the Old World and the modern era, which reflects a changing in Church teaching as well, particularly after the Second Vatican Council, which sought to reconcile the social teaching of the Church with the modern world. [17: Stephen J. Pope, “Natural Law in Catholic Social Teachings,” 46.] [18: Stephen J. Pope, “Natural Law in Catholic Social Teachings,” 48.]

Leo XIII focused on the welfare of the working class in Rerum novarum and for good reason: the industrialists had taken to exploiting the labor of the working class and working them long hours without providing them with a just wage or with concern for their responsibilities to their families. Thus, Leo XIII addressed this issue at a time when social circumstances were changing because of technological and industrial changes. Leo XIII thus developed a model of how society should work and insisted that Christian principles be applied if workers were going to unionize. Without those principles to guide them, they would quickly devolve into an organization antithetical to the aims of the Church and God and at odds with natural law as traditionally interpreted.

The post-Vatican II popes, however, focused more on the rights of man and the dignity of man from a more modern perspective in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II.[footnoteRef:19] Paul VI for instance watered down and relaxed at least in spirit if not in the letter the Church’s attitudes on procreation, and John Paul II discussed democracy as though it were an officially approved form of government by God Himself, without assessing any of the major pitfalls and problems that a democratic society can bring to light. Too much incorporation of liberal principles, i.e., religious liberty, had clouded the Church’s perspective on natural law and how it should be applied in Catholic social teaching. John XXIII’s Gaudium et spes essentially sought to embrace the modern world, and the Second Vatican Council’s attitudes towards modernism stood in stark contrast to those of the Church in the 19th century under Leo XIII and the early 20th century under St. Pius X, and this led to different foci in terms of social teaching. [19: Stephen J. Pope, “Natural Law in Catholic Social Teachings,” 54.]


In conclusion, natural law guided the Church in its social teaching from the beginning. Aquinas articulated it most fully, but with the Enlightenment Era, natural law was reinterpreted from a liberal perspective and eventually that perspective crept into the Church through Vatican II. That led ultimately to changes in the way the Church’s social teaching was expressed. Leo XIII set the tone for Catholic Social Teaching in the 19th century and it was not a tone that sought to embrace modern times or to be accepted by those with an anti-Christian or anti-Catholic bias. By the time the Vatican II popes came around, however, the social teaching of the…

Sample Source(s) Used


Barton, George Aaron. A critical and exegetical commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes. Vol. 17. Scribner, 1908.

Hunt, Lynn. "Introduction: The Revolutionary Origins of Human Rights." In The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief History with Documents, 2nd Edition, edited by Lynn Hunt, 1-31. Boston: Bedford, 2016 National Assembly. “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 26 August 1789.”

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Accessed November 4, 2019.

Pope, Stephen J. “Natural Law in Catholic Social Teachings.”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching,”

Cite this Document

Join thousands of other students and "spark your studies."

Sign Up for FREE
Related Documents

Studyspark Study Document

Natural Law and the Magisterium

Pages: 15 (5386 words) Sources: 10 Subject: Women's Issues - Sexuality Document: #61520046

Yet official Catholic support for union organizing and for strikes, and for state planning to ensure a decent livelihood for all, has been augmented over the years by a heightened recognition of the need to combat underlying institutional imbalances of power. Though the overarching goal of a peaceful and harmoniously ordered community endures, Catholic sensitivity to the dynamics of power, the reality of sinful systems and structures, and the

Studyspark Study Document

Catholic Church in Spain and the United States

Pages: 70 (19318 words) Sources: 48 Subject: Mythology - Religion Document: #43001444

Catholic church and public policy have remarked that the members of American clergy in general, without even excepting those who do not admit religious liberty, are all in favour of civil freedom; but they do not support any particular political system. They keep aloof from parties, and from public affairs. In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon laws, and upon the details of public opinion; but it

Studyspark Study Document

Catholic Ethics the Catholic Religion

Pages: 4 (1253 words) Subject: Mythology - Religion Document: #82448077

The author then asserts the tenet of natural law that men naturally seek what is good, and that to know the good and not pursue it is to reject God (99, 101-102). Balthasar closes with a comparison of the freedom of an individual and his membership in an aggregate social group -- the only true way to combine the two identities, he says, is in Christ, where the two

Studyspark Study Document

Teaching Profession in Canada and

Pages: 10 (2886 words) Sources: 6 Subject: Sports - Women Document: #51965718

Authority from outside the schools increasingly became that which structured the school systems and there was an increase in the "competitive examination of pupils and teachers alike. Prentice and Theobald states that an analysis conducted by Martin Law of a British school teacher's diary during that was kept during World War II demonstrates how the workload of a woman teacher increased during such as crisis and how the "..extra

Studyspark Study Document

Female Infanticide in China

Pages: 10 (3469 words) Sources: 1+ Subject: Sports - Women Document: #41038811

China: Female Infanticide As soon as the baby girl was born, my mother-in-law kicked it with her toe and said, 'Who wants this?' She wrapped it in a wet towel and left it on the floor. My husband's sister, weak after the delivery, just wept. It died within a few hours." (Arvamudan, 1999) Female infanticide has been present within some societies for centuries. It continues to represent a social justice concern because

Studyspark Study Document

American & God's Dream the

Pages: 9 (2814 words) Sources: 4 Subject: Mythology - Religion Document: #23912517

Marx's interpretation of Twentieth-Century Capitalism, as described by Miller, describes the changes in the American dream. The American dream was initially one linked to the idea of land ownership. Immigrants came from Europe, where land ownership had been a privilege of the wealthy. However, when America was relatively unsettled, almost anyone could theoretically come to America and claim land, and many people did just that. Of course, some of

Join thousands of other students and

"spark your studies".