For several decades many have been confused about the place of natural law in moral theology. In its opening pages Veritatis Splendor laments the rejection of traditional natural law morality by those who dissent from Church teaching, by those who think the demands of freedom supersede the demands of the law. Indeed, even some of those who have been faithful to Church teaching have thought that with the Christocentric focus of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II's personalism, and the proliferation of "rights" language in papal documents, the Church has jettisoned the importance of natural law teaching in its moral theology.
Veritatis Splendor strongly reminds us of the proper place that natural law retains in moral theology. It teaches that personalism, natural law and natural rights are linked by their shared grounding in the dignity and nature of the human person: "inasmuch as the natural law
expresses the dignity of the human person and lays the foundation for his fundamental rights and duties, it is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all mankind."
Thus, natural law, rooted in human nature shared by all mankind, is a guide to morality accessible to the Christian and the non-Christian alike. It is the great natural unifier of mankind; it allows men from different cultures and traditions to arrive at some consensus on morality.
Certainly, nothing can replace the love of Christ as the way to the fullness of the moral life, but commitment to the natural law can ensure salvation for those who have not heard of Christ and his Church. Based around the question of the rich young man to Christ "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life", the encyclical instructs that even before Christ answered the young man, God had already provided an...