The Natural Law and Religious Liberty

The extent to which, if at all, the Natural Law — i.e., the natural moral law — logically entails (requires or implies) religious liberty, and how so, will provide a decisive test of our proper and adequate understanding of Natural Law: this long and articulate, but sometimes equivocal, tradition of moral thought. My proposed criterion of discernment — i.e., the purported natural right (ius naturale) to religious liberty in light of the Natural Law — will also illuminate our proper understanding of both tolerance and the truth — Toleranz und die Wahrheit — and of the first cardinal virtue: the virtue of prudence, that perfection of practical wisdom and judgment which properly guides all moral action from “knowledge of reality” to the “realization of the good.” Virtuous prudence, as distinct from cowardice, sloth (acedia) or cunning (astutia), is “right reason” applied to human moral actions (recta ratio agibilium).

What, for example, is the proper relationship between tolerance and the truth? When does tolerance become a lax permissiveness or provocative weakness which conduces to indifferentism and vapid nonchalance? And when does purported tolerance actually become a provocative and subversive complicity, even a complicity with relativism, a moral relativism sometimes concealed as “pluralism”? To what extent is the Enlightenment interpretation of Natural Law itself generally and intrinsically a distortion and truncation of a more spacious and adequate tradition of understanding the natural moral law, wherein the fundamental Christian concept of “natural” always meant “by virtue of the Creation”? Hence, the latter understanding was bound to an essentially sacred and Christian conception of the world, in sharp contrast to the impersonal, deistic “absentee landlord” notion of god, as the “Deus Extramundanus.”

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