Judith Hahn (Bochum, Bonn): The End of Natural Law? Recent Questions concerning a modern foundation of Canon Law


The thesis that naturalistic arguments do not serve well as validity grounds of law in modern pluralistic societies is widely represented by legal philosophers and jurists. Yet, natural law is still vivid in discourse about the foundation of Canon Law. As Canon Law legally organizes the Catholic Church as a community of believers who share a common faith, the idea of a mutual understanding of what nature is and which legal consequences can be derived from it is present in canonical legal theory. Nonetheless, also in canonistic debates, questions arise about the capacity of natural law to convincingly found the law of a modern Church. These doubts can be traced back to two reasons: First, it has to be noted that natural arguments affect the Church’s engagement in society’s dialogues and weaken its role as a voice in political discourse, insofar as many naturally grounded positions that are convincing to the Church’s teaching authority do not obtain a majority in society. Secondly, they create a conflict with the believers, who, as members of pluralistic society, increasingly refrain from unquestioningly accepting the magisterium’s findings about the nature of a matter as binding. Consequently, the faithful more and more tend to disobey ecclesial legislation. These reservations against the nature argument raise the question if other validity grounds could serve as a foundational alternative to Canon Law: Could for example culture fill the gap of nature as a foundation of Canon Law or help compensate some of the weaknesses of the nature approach? This has to be discussed by taking a closer look at the potential and limitations of a culture approach to canonist legal theory.

Curriculum Vitae

Judith Hahn studied Catholic theology at Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt/Main as well as at Heythrop College in London. Subsequently, she took up studies in Canon Law at the Department of Roman Catholic Theology of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, where she received her doctorate degree in 2008. She worked as a researcher at the Department of Theology of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt and at the Institute of Canon Law of the Universtity of Münster. Since 2010, Judith Hahn is Junior Professor for Canon Law at the Department of Catholic Theology of the University of Bochum. Since October 2015, she is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humnities “Law as Culture”.