Rorate Caeli

"The Law of the Land is the Law of the Land" -- Except When It Actually Isn't and Couldn't Possibly Be

The Hireling
Spreading like wildfire through all the media is the "conciliatory" and "moderate" language of Cardinal Wuerl, as reported in a July 5 article:

“The law of the land is the law of the land,” says Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl. “We certainly follow what the law says. That doesn’t mean we change the word of God. That doesn’t mean we change the scriptures, or the church’s millennia-long tradition of what marriage is.” [link]

In one sense, this is hardly surprising; we have seen the same Cardinal take a soft line towards pro-abortion politicians who abuse the Most Blessed Sacrament by receiving It despite their notorious, persistent public dissent from immutable teaching on faith and morals. At the same time, however, it should shock us profoundly, as one more instance of a shepherd abandoning the crystal-clear teaching of the Church. The greatest witness to this teaching is, of course, the Angelic Doctor, who writes:

"Human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence.” (Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad 2)

“Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law.” (Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 95, a. 2)

Both of these passages are quoted verbatim by St. John Paul II in n. 72 of the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae. But the same doctrine is found equally clearly in St. Augustine and other Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Indeed, we find Martin Luther King, Jr., in his justly famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," citing both Augustine and Aquinas on precisely this point. How shameful it is when the shepherds of the Catholic Church cannot compare with the theological acumen of a Baptist pastor!

The doctrine that an unjust law (or judicial determination, or executive action, for that matter) is no law at all but rather a corruption of law, an act of violence, an insult to God, and a crime against all citizens, is taught most clearly by Pope Leo XIII, the greatest exponent of Catholic social teaching:

But, if the laws of the State are manifestly at variance with the divine law, containing enactments hurtful to the Church, or conveying injunctions adverse to the duties imposed by religion, or if they violate in the person of the supreme Pontiff the authority of Jesus Christ, then, truly, to resist becomes a positive duty, to obey, a crime; a crime, moreover, combined with misdemeanor against the State itself, inasmuch as every offense leveled against religion is also a sin against the State. Here anew it becomes evident how unjust is the reproach of sedition; for the obedience due to rulers and legislators is not refused, but there is a deviation from their will in those precepts only which they have no power to enjoin. Commands that are issued adversely to the honor due to God, and hence are beyond the scope of justice, must be looked upon as anything rather than laws. (Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Sapientiae Christianae, n. 10)

The one only reason which men have for not obeying is when anything is demanded of them which is openly repugnant to the natural or the divine law, for it is equally unlawful to command to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, therefore, it should happen to anyone to be compelled to prefer one or the other, viz., to disregard either the commands of God or those of rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ, who commands us to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and must reply courageously after the example of the Apostles: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” And yet there is no reason why those who so behave themselves should be accused of refusing obedience; for, if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null. (Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Diuturnum Illud, n. 15)

Fortunately, the sound reasoning and the Spirit of Truth that led St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and Leo XIII is by no means absent from the Church today. In a homily preached on July 5 at the Fota conference in Ireland, Cardinal Burke spoke these absolutely clear words:

Yet almost two hundred years later [after the Declaration of Independence], in 1973, the highest tribunal of the nation took away the right to life from the innocent and defenseless unborn, and on this past June 26th, in defiance of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the same Supreme Court redefined the nature of marriage and its fruit, the family, the first cell of the life of society. The deadly confusion and error which such decisions represent for the United States of America, and similar confusion and error in other nations, demand from the Church a clear, courageous and tireless witness to the word of Christ, to the truth written upon every human heart, the truth upon which the happiness of the individual and the common good absolutely depend. The Church cannot stand by silent or idle, while a people is destroying itself by lawlessness, even if the lawlessness be clothed in the garment of the highest judicial authority. [link to full text]

We think that the contrast speaks for itself. Who will you follow: the Wuerl-Cupich axis, or the Augustine-Aquinas-Leo-John Paul II-Burke alliance? Not a difficult decision. What will be difficult is to behold and live with and suffer under the consequences of a divided hierarchy, a diluted witness, a squandered opportunity, and a mounting persecution. The enemy of human nature will only laugh at compromises as he energetically pursues the corruption of the shepherds, the confusion of the flock, and the damnation of sinners. Let us hold fast to the immutable Faith, let us by the grace of God remain firm come what may, and let us never stop praying for our clergy as they face unimaginable temptations and trials.