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Pope Benedict has asked Germany’s MPs to reflect on whether the moral law has its origin in a Creator, or whether it is an invention of Man.
The Pope, who is on a State Visit to his native country, was given a two-minute standing ovation by parliamentarians following his 20 minute address.
He told Germany’s legislators that while the support of the majority will normally “serve as a sufficient criterion” for “most of the matters that need to be regulated by law”, sometimes it will not guarantee that a given law is just.
He said: “everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws”.
He said that sometimes people will be morally obliged to disobey and resist unjust laws, such as those passed in Nazi Germany and in other totalitarian regimes.
The Pontiff reflected on the fact that following the end of World War II, Germany’s Basic Law was firmly based on the principles of natural law, as was the Declaration on Human Rights.
He said that the natural law tradition extended back to the Ancient Greeks and it was not exclusively Catholic even though that is how it is seen today by many people and this is one reason it is often rejected.
He told MPs that the Church “has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God.”
However, he said that today we doubt the existence of the natural law or that it is our task to discover in nature and through reason the law given to us by God and therefore we have come to believe that the law is our own invention.
However, he reminded MPs that our concept of human rights is ultimately derived from Christianity.
He said: “The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions.”
He told the legislators that to forget this “would be to dismember our culture totally and to rob it of its completeness.”
He stated: “The culture of Europe arose from the encounter between Jerusalem, Athens and Rome – from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks and Roman law. This three-way encounter has shaped the inner identity of Europe. In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, it has established criteria of law: it is these criteria that we are called to defend at this moment in our history.”
Ahead of the Pope’s talk, it had been widely predicted that 100 MPs would boycott it. In the event, only 45 of the 622 parliamentarians did so.