Negative precepts play an important role in moral formation. They remind us that we are limited, dependent and sinful beings, made to lovingly obey an absolute Being who created us and governs us according to his most wise designs. The humble recognition of this reality forestalls any negative reaction when a religious authority or superior sets, in the name of God, rules to be followed, which is only natural for anyone who understands this truth, and feels the need to be guided to avoid falling into error. To close our eyes to this law of the human condition is to view our existence in an erroneous manner: “Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 407).
‘No!’ – This simple word that is so simply accepted by the humble, is hard for the proud to swallow, even if it be said for a just cause. In our days, the idea has been intently promoted and is now widely accepted, that happiness is made impossible by exacting norms of morality, such as those upheld by the Church. In fact, just recently, such directives were labeled as “a form of stoicism” and a “catalogue of sins and faults”, among other pejorative epithets that evidence a terrible lack of consonance with Catholic teaching on human behavior.
Nonetheless, Pope John Paul II was very clear in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, no. 13: “‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness’ are moral rules formulated in terms of prohibitions. These negative precepts express with particular force the ever urgent need to protect human life, the communion of persons in marriage, private property, truthfulness and people’s good name. The commandments thus represent the basic condition for love of neighbor; at the same time they are the proof of that love. They are the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom, its starting-point.”
In this matter, what is most important is understanding that the immutable teachings of the Church do not amount to “certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options”. In reality, they are much more; they are laws based on Jesus’ teachings: “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jn 8:34), and on the profound understanding of the necessity of grace to save man from his own miseries.
So if seeking the “fragrance of the Gospel” is coming into style, then nothing could be more timely than to recall what its perfume consists of: without a doubt, the fulfillment of the Law, whether positive or negative, out of love, as Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches in his magnificent commentary on the Ten Commandments: “The divine commandments are twofold: Some are affirmative, and charity fulfils these, because the fulfillment of the law of commandments is love, by which the commandments are observed. Other commandments are prohibitive; charity also fulfils these, because it does not act perversely, as the Apostle says (cf. 1Cor 13)”. Here’s more…