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Natural Catholic Principles

 

This page presents the principles of natural Catholic thinking as far as we have thought them out and written them down.  Getting these principles thought out and formulated for this page is an ongoing project, so corrections, reorganization, or more detail will appear over time.  The principles explained here at any given time are by no means all the principles one would ever need for making any decision, but hopefully they will be all the principles one would need to understand the articles that appear on this website!

 

1.      The World.  The world was made by an intelligent God, who fashioned all things in His wisdom.

1.1.   It follows from this that every created thing has a nature, and a purpose for which it was made.

1.2.   When a thing lacks something which is part of its nature, this is an evil.

1.2.1.      There is physical evil, such as a broken leg or poor eyesight.  This is when a physical thing lacks something which is part of its nature.

1.2.2.      There is also moral evil, such as theft or adultery.  This is when the action of an intelligent being lacks something which is part of the nature of the action.

1.3.   It also follows from this that one must respect the purpose for which God has made things.

2.      Man’s Place in the World.  Of all physical creatures, only man has a spiritual part, his soul, which gives him the power of reason.  Reason is the ability to understand the natures of things, and to understand how cause relates to effect.

2.1.   Human Dignity.  Closely connected to this fact is the truth that man was made for his own sake, while all other physical creatures were made for the sake of man.

2.1.1.      It follows from this that man can use other physical creatures as means to his own good.

2.1.1.1.            Consequently, man can take the lives of other physical creatures for his own good.

2.1.1.2.            However, man should not wantonly destroy other physical creatures if it does not accomplish anything for his own good.

2.1.2.      It also follows from this that a human being cannot be used as a means to an end.

2.1.2.1.            Consequently, innocent human life cannot be taken for any reason.

2.2.   Human Action.  Because man has reason, he can understand what he is doing and what the consequences are.  His action is a truly human action only when he understands and wills what he is doing.

2.2.1.      Of all physical creatures, only man is held responsible for what he has done.  Only his actions have moral goodness and badness.  (Cf. 1.2.2.)

2.2.1.1.            Obviously, no one is held responsible for his action when he is unable to use his reason and will, e.g., when he is ill, or forced to do it.

2.2.2.      Whether an action is good or bad is decided based on three elements:  a) the action itself; b) the intention in choosing it; c) the circumstances of the action. 

2.2.2.1.            The Principle of Double Effect is based on these three elements.  When an action has two consequences, one good and one bad, one can judge the morality of the action by asking three questions:  a) Is the action itself intrinsically bad? b) Is the bad outcome intended? c) Is the good of the good outcome enough to outweigh the bad of the bad outcome?

2.3.   Human Creativity.  Because man has reason, he is able to devise artificial ways to accomplish what he needs and wants.

2.3.1.      Consequently, making artificial things is natural to man. 

2.3.2.      This artifice is naturally meant to build on nature and improve it, never to replace nature or destroy it.

3.      The Individual.  There is a special way in which man must respect the purpose for which his own powers were made:  when man uses a power to act, the action cannot run contrary to the nature of the power he is using.  However, it is not bad if the action adds something which is neither part of the natural purpose of the power nor against the natural purpose of the power.

3.1.   A man’s body is ordered to his soul, and so his bodily powers and desires must be subject to the powers of his soul, i.e., to his reason and his will.

3.1.1.      The power of eating and drinking exists for the sake of nourishing the body.

3.1.2.      The sexual powers exist for the sake of having children.  The loving union of a man and a woman is also one of the purposes of the sexual powers, but this good is finally for the sake of the conception, upbringing, and education of children.

3.1.3.      The virtue of temperance is the habit of subjecting these various bodily desires to the commands of reason.

3.2.   The emotions, which are also bodily powers of a sort, exist to help one carry out the commands of reason.  Hence the emotions must be subject to reason.

3.2.1.      The virtue of fortitude is the habit of subjecting the emotions of both fear and rash confidence to the commands of reason.

3.3.   The power of reason is for the sake of knowing the truth, and the power of the will is for the sake of loving and doing what is good.

3.3.1.      The virtue of justice is the habit by which the will is firmly resolved to give each his due.

3.3.2.      The virtue of prudence is the habit by which the mind reasons well about what should be done.

3.4.   Due to the first man's disobedience, i.e., the fall, every individual is born with an inclination towards irrational behavior, called “concupiscence”.

4.      Human Societies. 

4.1.   Family.  When a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, this is naturally intended to bring about a life-long, exclusive relationship between them ordered to mutual support and the raising of children.  This does not mean that marriage is ordered simply to having babies:  it is ordered to producing healthy, fully mature adult offspring.

4.1.1.       The Husband.

4.1.2.       The Wife.

4.1.3.       Children.  Since parents are to produce not just babies, but mature offspring, they have the duty of providing for the children wherever the children cannot provide for themselves.

4.1.3.1.            All men have an intellect and a will from the moment they have a human soul.  However, using the intellect to reason requires a certain level of bodily development, especially in the brain.  Hence children below a certain level of development are not able to reason. Parents must reason on behalf of their children until the children are able to reason on their own behalf.

4.1.3.2.            The inability to reason means that children cannot form themselves:

4.1.3.2.1.                   Physically, through proper diet and exercise.  Parents must reason and act on behalf of their children to choose and make available healthy food and opportunities for exercise.

4.1.3.2.2.                  Morally, through examination of conscience.  Parents must insure that, when the child gains the use of his reason, the necessary habits are in place to subordinate his passions to what his reason commands.  (Cf. 3.1.)

4.1.3.2.3.                  Mentally, through study.  Parents must insure that the children learn what they need to know.

4.1.3.2.4.                  Spiritually, through acceptance and practice of true religion.   Parents must accept the faith on the child's behalf until he is capable of accepting it on his own.  Hence the Catholic practice of baptizing infants.

4.2.   The State.

 

[This next section of our Principles Page is not meant to be an outline of everything in the Christian faith, but only of those parts of the faith which most directly affect our actions, insofar as we have understood them and had time to type them down.  A more complete account of the faith can be found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.]

5.      Supernatural Principles.  The natural world is not all that there is:  it is not even half of all that there is.  What makes NC thinking different from simple philosophy is that it also considers truths which are beyond reason’s power to discover, truths which we can only know because God has told us about them.  IMPORTANT: The revelation God has given us over and above what reason can know does not destroy or replace reason, but rather lifts it up and perfects its knowledge.

5.1.   Scripture. God has left his revelation to us in writing, namely in the Bible.  The Bible is God’s own word, by which mean that the words written down by human hands and human minds truly express, not only the thought of the human authors, but also the thought of God who inspired them.

5.2.   Tradition. God’s revelation includes more than what was written down (cf. John 21:25).  These unwritten truths were handed down as traditions, not of men, but from God.  In fact, the Bible only exists because some people decided to write down what had been handed down to them!

5.3.   Magisterium. No book can act as its own interpreter; left to its own, the Bible would soon mean whatever anyone wanted it to mean.  To protect and guide those who believe, God established an interpreter of the Bible and of Tradition who is guaranteed to teach without error.  That interpreter is the teaching authority of His Church, called the “Magisterium”, and it consists of the bishops in union with the Pope.

6.      God the Trinity. God is one God, but three persons.  That is to say, God has only one answer to the question “What are you?”, but He has three answers to the question, “Who are you?”  God is the Father; God is the Son; God is the Holy Spirit.

7.      The World.  God created the world for His glory.  He did not need to create, but He created the world out of love, and the most loving, exalted goal He could give the world was His own glory.

7.1.   Man’s Place in the World. Along with angels, God created man for an eternal happiness far above what mere nature can give, the happiness which consists in seeing God face to face.

7.1.1.      Human Dignity. This gives man a dignity even higher than what nature gives him.  Every human being has the dignity of being called to eternal fellowship with God.

7.1.2.      Human Action.  The true goodness or badness of human action cannot be understood apart from man’s supernatural goal.

7.1.2.1.            Good human action is in accord not only with nature but also with God’s supernaturally revealed commands, and with the promptings of grace (see below).  It leads to eternal happiness in heaven.

7.1.2.2.            Bad human action is called sin.  It offends God not only by going against His natural created order, but also by going against His supernaturally revealed commands, and against the promptings of His grace (see below).  It leads to eternal misery in hell.

7.1.3.      The Fall.  The first man and woman were created in a state of fellowship with God and with the world.  They were supposed to labor at subduing and caring for the world, and pass on their blessings to their children, before eventually receiving the final gift of eternal happiness in heaven.  But first, they had to pass a test, in which they were to obey a simple command from God.  They failed, and disobeyed God, and so they lost fellowship with God and with the world, and lost the ability to give these blessings to their children.  All their children—all of us—were born in a state of alienation from God and enmity with the world.  We are also born with a tendency toward sin called concupiscence (see above, 3.4).  Each of us has made the situation worse by our own repeated sins.

8.      Jesus Christ the Savior!  To save all of us from the sin of the first man and woman, and from our own individual sins, God Himself took on a human nature and became man.  For our sake He was crucified, died, and was buried.  On the third day, He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven.  At the end of time, He will come again to judge everyone who has ever lived.

8.1.   The Mystical Body of Christ.  Although Jesus went up into heaven, nevertheless He left on earth His Church, which He made to be His “mystical” body by sharing with it His own Spirit, His own supernatural principle of life.  He is the head, and the Church is His body.  (Cf. Jesus’ response to Paul in Acts 9:5.)  To nourish the growth of His mystical body, Jesus established seven sacraments:

8.1.1.      Baptism. This is the sacrament by which a man is born into the supernatural life which Jesus gives, and restored to fellowship with God.

8.1.2.      Confirmation.  This is the sacrament by which a man comes to maturity in the supernatural life which Jesus gives.

8.1.3.      Eucharist. This is the body and blood of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine, offered as a sacrifical remembrance of His death on the cross, and given to the members of His mystical body as a source of supernatural nourishment and union with the Savior.

8.1.4.      Penance. This is a sacrament for when we sin, thus wounding our supernatural lives.  Through this sacrament, Jesus forgives us and gives us new grace.

8.1.5.      Annointing of the Sick.  This is the sacrament received by those who are in danger of death.  It either heals the illness, thus preventing death, or prepares the soul of the believer to face death bravely and enter quickly into heaven.

8.1.6.      Holy Orders. This is the sacrament by which a man becomes a priest, that is, someone who acts in the person of Christ to perform the sacraments and preach.

8.1.7.      Marriage. This is the only sacrament which is also a natural reality.  God elevated human marriage to make it a special channel for His grace, and a sign of the unity between Christ and the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:31-32). 

8.1.7.1.            As in natural marriage, the purpose of supernatural marriage is to have children and raise them to be mature, healthy adults.  However, the purpose of supernatural marriage includes baptizing the children and raising them to be holy Christians.

9.      The Individual Believer.  At Baptism, each individual receives the life of grace, which is an enduring, supernatural quality in the very root of the soul.  It makes the individual into a new creature, a supernatural creature.  IMPORTANT:  Grace builds upon nature, but never destroys it!  Our supernatural life perfects our nature and surpasses it, but never violates it.

9.1.   The Obstacles.  Christian life is a continual struggle against evil and for God.  We face three obstacles:

9.1.1.      Ourselves.  While Baptism restores us to fellowship with God, it does not take away all the effects of original sin.  We are left with concupiscence to fight as a kind of proving ground, and it makes our bodily desires unruly.

9.1.2.      The world.  There are many created goods which can become idols: riches, reputation, or any other created thing which lures us away from our true goal.  Because most men have their hearts set on these things, they are inevitably enemies of the Christian faith; the world rejected Christ, and it will reject Christians, too.

9.1.3.      The devil.  Behind the world’s enmity there stands also an intelligent, evil being who has tried to destroy mankind from the beginning.  He and his servants are the enemy of every human soul.

9.2.   Our Resources.  The life of grace which Christ puts in our soul at Baptism flows into all our powers so that, just as we have supernatural life which elevates our natural life, we also have a set of supernatural powers which elevate our natural powers.

9.2.1.      It thus gives us the infused virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence.  These are supernatural virtues over and above the natural virtues of the same name.

9.2.2.      The supernatural virtues which most directly point us toward God and heaven are called the theological virtues:

9.2.2.1.            By faith, we believe whatever God has said, because He said it.

9.2.2.2.            By hope, we trust in God’s promises and turn away from the empty promises of this world.

9.2.2.3.            By charity, we love God above all things as our last end and only happiness, and for His sake we love our neighbor as ourselves.

9.2.3.      Above and beyond the infused virtues, there are the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  While the virtues are supernatural habits which enable us to move ourselves, like supernatural oars for our boat, the gifts of the Holy Spirit make us receptive to the direct guidance of the Spirit, rather like sails for our boat.

9.3.   The Imitation of Christ.  The supernatural life we have in our souls is a share in Jesus’ own Spirit, and it unites us to Him as His mystical body.  So our model for how to live out this supernatural life is Jesus Himself.  We look to Him as the one we want to be like in our daily lives.

10.  The Family.

11.  The Church.




 


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