Natural Law, Language, and the Family

NicaeaI won’t be dissecting the Instrumentum Laboris for the October synod with the same thoroughness we’ve treated other documents here. But I do plan to drop in a post every few days on aspects that strike me, especially on liturgy and prayer.

Numbered sections 20 through 30 make up a chapter entitled, “The Gospel of the Family and the Natural Law.” I will leave it to others to elaborate more fruitfully and persuasively on natural law. But the concluding section of this chapter caught my attention:

30. The language traditionally used in explaining the term “natural law” should be improved so that the values of the Gospel can be communicated to people today in a more intelligible manner.

One problem I see is the same challenge that often hobbled Pope Benedict XVI. When he spoke in theological terms, he was attempting to communicate the Tradition accurately. But the language used was more suitable for the seminary than for daily life. That kind of language lends itself to misunderstanding. A communicator must take responsibility for this. What’s the point of having a highly-developed theology if one cannot communicate it effectively? Even conservative Catholics must realize the Church has quite a poor track record in this regard. I find it silly to blame the media. What, are Fox and the Times, and the local gossip rag suddenly responsible for communicating the Gospel? How lazy can we get?

In particular, the vast majority of responses and an even greater part of the observations request that more emphasis be placed on the role of the Word of God as a privileged instrument in the conception of married life and the family, and recommend greater reference to the Bible, its language and narratives. In this regard, respondents propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the “order in creation,” which could permit a re-reading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world (cf. the idea of the law written in the human heart in Rm 1:19-21; 2:14-15).

This makes great sense to me. Scripture is read more often than ever in Catholic history. We don’t need to be afraid that our written tradition once advocated that aristocrats, royals, and patriarchs take more than one wife, as needed, to assure a proper inheritance. We can explain that away, right?

And seriously, do we not have the tradition in the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Letters to draw upon to present the modern Christian notion of family?

Here’s the first mention of liturgy:

Moreover, this proposal insists on using language which is accessible to all, such as the language of symbols utilized during the liturgy. The recommendation was also made to engage young people directly in these matters.

I don’t know that the liturgy is the very best place these days for clarity of language. And symbols are sometimes ill-used. That said, I’d say there’s more hope for communicating through liturgical and Scriptural aspects than through a theological discussion. That said, I hope we don’t find a glut of preaching on family. I think small groups and personal mentoring are the best hope. And to use material that engages young people: can’t argue against that.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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