An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Natural Law

Universal moral law that is given by God and knowable by human reason. It has been understood in terms of ethics that can be derived from reflection on ordinary human experience and contrasted with law that is divinely revealed. These universal standards provide norms of right conduct that may serve as the basis for moral choices in particular situations and the statutes of civil law. Our ability to discern the natural law may be diminished by sin. St. Paul states that although the Gentiles do not have the Mosaic law, they “show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness” when they “do instinctively what the law requires” (Rom 2:14-15). Thomas Aquinas holds in the Summa Theologica that the rational creature “has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end,” and that natural law is the rational creature's participation in the eternal law by which the divine providence governs creation. Natural law may be understood as a rule of action that is implicit in the very nature of things. The specific content of the universal moral laws and their application has been subject to disagreement. However, natural law principles have been used as a basis for contemporary legislation in several countries. See Enlightenment, The.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.