Have you ever looked at a great work of art and considered what you share in common with the artist? Or maybe, what you share in common with the engineer of the Egyptian pyramids? Well, you too have an intellect, a will, and possibly the capability of drawing straight lines. Either way, there are fundamental aspects of any human being that are shared by all men and women, whether or not they are Christian. The same nature that accomplished such marvelous feats of human ingenuity exists in you. In recognizing the remarkable abilities of our human nature which God has given us, we should be spurred on to understand its proper role and develop its capacities.
In common parlance, “doing what is natural” has the connotation of succumbing to our basest emotions. Natural instincts are seen as synonymous with what man shares with the animals, a return to a more primitive state. When we speak of human nature, it tends to be little more than an attempt to identify a lowest common denominator. However, this conception hardly does justice to what is truly natural. Our nature longs for excellence and is in fact capable of quite high accomplishments. The nature that we are born with is not something that is fully realized at birth. It takes a lifetime of developing ourselves morally, intellectually, and physically to understand what we are really capable of.
While we are fallen creatures wounded by sin, we are still capable of some natural accomplishments. St. Thomas Aquinas mentions developing cities and cultivating vineyards as examples of these. Knowing the great gift of our human capacities should make us feel a sense of gratitude to Him who has endowed us with our humanity. It can also lead us to a recognition of and desire for the divine help needed to perfect our potential.
While many in our age may reduce what being “natural” means to something base, this does not detract from the reality. The great virtues and achievements of humans, rather than our basest endeavors, help us understand what a gift our human nature really is. Thus, we can confidently go out and try to better ourselves and others knowing that we are just doing what is natural.
Image: Claude Monet, Le Boulevard des Capucines