The Common Good: a shared life of worship and contemplation
Last week I began to enter into more detail on the subject of the common good as ‘living well together’ where ‘living well’ is defined by the Ten Commandments. After reviewing the ‘second table’, the seven commandments relating to love of neighbor I concluded:
“Living well together, living the truly ‘good life’, following the teaching of the Ten Commandments, means living a life of virtue, the joint cultivation of virtue, each one in accordance with his station in life, in service of the human good. So, we might say the first level of the common good is a shared life of virtue.
Still, hidden within that shared life of virtue is the common good of truth, which even more than virtue points us to God and the first table.”
The recognition of the human good as something true, not just true for you or for me, or for ancient times or for modern times, or for Russians or for Americans, but for everyone, everywhere, simply because they are human beings implies the recognition that human nature has a definite reality, which fits within an intelligible order of the whole universe. All of that finally points to God as the Creator of that order; it points to God as an intelligent being who makes his will for man known, in a first and fundamental way, simply in the way he has created us and the world in which he has placed us.
That leads us to St. Thomas Aquinas definition of ‘natural law’ as “the way the rational creature participates in the eternal law.” (ST IaIIae q.91 a.2) The eternal law is nothing other than plan of divine providence by which God governs the whole universe. (cf. ST IaIIae q.91 a.1) Subrational creation is governed by the eternal law in a purely passive manner. Animals neither obey nor disobey God. Rocks neither obey nor disobey God. They do not know they law by which they are governed. Men are capable, by the light of their mind, and even more by the light of divine revelation, of reading the ‘law’ that God has written in the nature of things and freely and voluntarily obeying that law, or disobeying. By sharing in the eternal law, through the natural law, he shares in God’s governance of himself, he is both ruled and ruling.
The principles of natural law are, in theory, accessible to human reason but, in point of fact, are readily obscured by human sin, especially by the blindness of particular cultures. That is true in a special way of the present time that has become divorced from the natural law and has also succeeded in institutionalizing the violation of all of the Ten Commandments.
So God’s revelation not only is necessary to make known to us the mystery of the Holy Trinity and our supernatural destiny to be attained through Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, crucified and risen, but even to make known to us the basic principles of the natural law. (cf. ST Ia q.1 a.1; IaIIae, q.100 a.1) Even the commandments of the first table, which bear on our relation to God, belong in some way to the natural law, though it is specified by divine revelation. Natural law, we can say, commands that God be worshipped. The commandments begin to specify that worship.
The 1st commandment (I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods before me) commands the worship of the one true God, creator of heaven and earth, and forbids worship of any creature. At the same time, the commandment sets this worship in the context of a covenant, through which he saves the people. In the Old Testament he is the God who led the people out of slavery in Egypt; in the New Testament, he leads us out of the slavery of sin and death through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. (cf. Ex 20:1)
The 2nd commandment (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain) protects the good of the knowledge of God, which is manifest by his name. At the same time it commands that we be always mindful of his presence and reality, since using his name in vain always implies a forgetfulness or denial of his presence and reality. The 2nd commandment teaches us the importance of the truth about God, while showing us that this truth is not abstract, but personal. God exists and he knows our inmost thoughts and desires.
The 3rd commandment (Keep holy the Sabbath – or in the Church keep holy the Lord’s Day) prescribes a determinate time to remember the work of God in creation and salvation, to give him thanks, and to worship him. It teaches us the primacy of contemplation, directing the mind and heart towards God above all. By extension, the 3rd commandment also requires the setting aside of places, temples, dedicated to the worship of God.
The commandments of the first table, then, show us that the common good, ‘living well together’, is achieved most of all when we turn together towards the supreme source of our being, our goodness, and our unity, the God who created us and redeems us, our first principle and supreme goal, in knowledge, worship, thanksgiving, and contemplation.
Without turning together towards God, the common good, even the shared life of virtue, falls apart. “Without the Creator the creature vanishes.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 36)