VATICAN CITY – Respect for human dignity and for human rights is an obligatory result of a natural moral law that everyone is capable of knowing and following, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“When natural law and the responsibility it implies are denied, the path toward ethical relativism opens dramatically, both on an individual level as well as on a political level,” leading to the threat of totalitarianism, the pope said Jun 16 at his weekly general audience.

The key to natural law, he said, is recognising the dignity of each person and every human life.

Continuing a series of audience talks about important Church figures from the Middle Ages, Pope Benedict spoke about St. Thomas Aquinas and his teaching on the relationship between faith and reason and on the relationship between grace and natural law.

In his theology, St. Thomas Aquinas taught that “faith consolidates, integrates and enlightens the patrimony of truth acquired by human reason”, and reason helps theology explain faith, he said.

St. Thomas wrote that despite sin, human nature is not “completely corrupt”, and the gift of God’s grace, communicated through Christ, “heals, strengthens and helps nature pursue the desire innate in the heart of every man and every woman for happiness”, he said.

Grace helps Christians reach the heights of moral perfection, but reason is also essential because that is the faculty needed to discern how best to apply the virtues and the moral teaching of the Church, the pope said.

Human reason alone can recognise the requirements of natural moral law – “that which is good to do and that which is best to avoid in order to pursue the happiness that everyone seeks and which also requires taking responsibility for others, the search for the common good”, he said.

While grace helps people approach perfection, “according to St. Thomas, all people – believers and non-believers – are called to recognise the requirements of human nature expressed in natural law and to be inspired by it” when formulating their laws, Pope Benedict said.

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is posted online at: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100616_en.html.

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