Its Content and its Source
by: P. Alois Schubert, S.V.D.
Bust of Cicero
What Sources Inform St. Augustine's Teaching on the Eternal Law?
1. Cicero's Concept of Order, Law, and the Eternal Law.
a) What does Cicero Understand by Order?
In the second book of de natura deorum, Cicero praises the beauty of the earth and the body of the heavens. He praises the purposeful arrangement of all things. He holds up before him the inner ties and assemblage of all things in world. He applies here the word "order" in the sense of the inner purpose of things and the relationship of things to each other. He vaunts the utility and purpose of both the rational and irrational creatures.(3) He wonders at the orderly and constant movement of the stars.(4) Cicero uses here the word order in the sense of the inner arrangement of things. Additionally, Cicero understands by order the inner basic hanging together of things (Ursachenzusammenhang der Dinge). He identifies Fate, the Greek heimarmene, with order. He says, "I call fortune that which the Greeks called heimarmene, that is, the order and arrangement of all causes, in that one cause is joined to another cause, as one thing is linked to another. This is the truth, that comes to us from eternity."(5) Sometimes they (the Stoics) call it the divine Wisdom, Necessity, but in any event they understand it as a firm and unchanging existence, as the eternal world order could be nothing other than based upon such a firm foundation.(6) Here stands the word order in the sense of the right natural order (gesetzlichen Naturordnung). Later, Cicero reasons from that drive towards order and measure to the foundational drive of men. With respect to that, Cicero also writes that it shows itself not as weak of rational nature, but that this the unity of rational creation shows what order, what fittingness is, what proper measure in the acts and speech above all will be. The rational nature holds within itself a higher measure of beauty, in harmonious measure and order in that nothing is thought or acts without need.(7) Here, Cicero uses the word order in an ethical sense.
In Chapter 40 of the same work, Cicero develops the concept of order in the sense of the Stoics. He speaks there of the order in actions, and in the care an attention fitting of certain stages. The order in actions the Greeks called eutaxia, the Romans modestia, moderation. Both concepts give the notion of the observance of right order; as also the Stoics declared that the order was the harmonious gathering together of things in fitting and appropriate placements. The appropriate placement of acts is in accordance with their explanation and in reference to Greek thought called eukairia.(8) Our acts should also be measured by order, when they act in accordance with the right time and the right place. "Our acts must be determined by this order. Just as in an elaborate speech we speak in a measured way, so should our lives be lived in proper order and with a measure of unity."(9)
By the term order Cicero therefore understands the inner organization of things, the orderly course of the stars, the most basic hanging together of things, the divine Wisdom. Order is measure, beauty, harmonious measure in thought and in act. Order is harmony in the part to the whole. Order is the performance of acts at their proper time and proper place.
b. What does Cicero Understand by Law?
Cicero links the word law to legere. To pick one instance: "The word law lies therein: as the most fundamental meaning of the reading and choosing to do what is just."(10) "When nature supplies the reason, writes Cicero, then does it supply right reason, therefore also the law, which right reason would command or forbid. But when law, so also is it just."(11) Cicero identifies law with the commands and prohibitions of reason. Only those rules (Verodnungen) are laws (Gesteze) that are built upon reason and right or justice (Recht). Rules that are based upon human reason alone are law in an improper sense. They derive that name more in an accidental sense, rather than on objective grounds. Law in the strongest sense is only the eternal law, the divine Reason.(12)
c. What does Cicero Understand by Eternal Law?
Cicero understands eternal law as nothing other than that which is right, as derived from the reason of the gods, which commands the good and prohibits evil.(13) "This law is neither thought up in the minds of men, nor fixed by the customs of men. It is something eternal, that by which, through wise commands and prohibitions, the world is governed. This first and last law are the commands and the prohibitions of the Divine Mind. From this law is every other law predicated, which the gods have given to the human race."(14) Even when under the rule of Lucius Tarquinus there was no written law in Rome that prohibited prohibited rape, nevertheless did Sextus Tarquinus still act against the eternal law when he forced himself upon Lucretia, in that there was from the very inquiry into the nature of things, a reasonable incentive to do good, and a disincentive from doing evil, that does not first become law only when written, but that it is law as soon as it is comes into being, comes into being in the minds of the gods. Therein is the true and preeminent law of right reason of the highest Jupiter."(15) "This law is the measure of justice and injustice, impressed by the oldest and most basic foundations that underlie nature, from which the laws of men are found to be right, which punish the sinner and defend and protect the good."(16) By that ancient and foundation of all things of nature, Cicero means the divinity. Further on, Cicero identifies like Chrysippus the eternal law with Jupiter. He writes: "The power of the constant and eternal law, which is at the same time the guide of life and the teacher of he dutiful, is Jupiter. Namely, that law is called the necessity of fate, the eternal truth of all things that are to be."(17) This law, which is the highest reason, is impressed upon the nature of men. It informs men what they ought to do and forbids the contrary.(18) Most beautifully Cicero speaks over the eternal law in the third book of his De re publica. Laelius says there:(19) "Therefore the law of God must be undertaken, which may direct us to this path; that sacred, that heavenly law, which Marcus Tullius [Cicero], in his third book respecting the Republic [Rep., iii. cap. 22, 16.] has described almost with a divine voice; whose words have subjoined, that I might not speak at greater length: 'The true law is right reason, that is equivalent with nature, and which encompasses all men. It is unchanging and eternal, and guides us to our duty by its commands and deflects us from our wrongdoing by its prohibitions. Its commands and prohibitions never fail to prevail with the good but they have no power to influence the wicked. It is not right to legislate against this law, and it is not allowed to limit its application. It is impossible for it to be repealed. Nor can the Roman people or the Senate exempt us from this law. We do not need another to clarify or set forth this law."
"Neither is there one law in Rome and another in Athens, one law at one time, and another in the future; rather, there is one unchanging and eternal law that governs all peoples at all times, and there is, at the same time, one single ruler and commander, namely God, that God who is the creator of the law, and is its proclaimer and enforcer. Whoever does not obey him, is fleeing from himself, and denies his own nature, and in so doing, he will suffer the greatest of all punishments, even though he may have thought to have evaded all other penalties."
Cicero calls the eternal law something divine. He defines it as the Mind of God that commands and forbids. He pictures it as the highest reason of Jupiter, as a holy and heavenly law. He calls it the highest Wisdom, eternal Truth of all created things. God himself is the lawgiver and founder, the judge and arbiter of this law.
We might compare now the concept of order, law and eternal law in Augustine with the similar concept of Cicero, and this is done in the following comparison:
|1. Augustine defines order as dispositio parium dispariumque sua cuique loca tribuens. S. 3, Anm. 2.||1. Cicero defines order as compositio rerum aptis et accomodatis locis. S.23, Anm. 8|
|2. Augustine names order as the foundational principle of things. Ordo est, per quem aguntur omnia. S. 3, Anm. 1||2. Cicero recognizes a rational order in the movement of the stars. S. 22, Anm. 14.|
|3. Augustine calls the measure of order beautiful. Nihil enim est ordinatum quod non sit pulchrum. S. 3, Anm. 3 Ordinata covenientia pulchar iudicetur. S. 4, Anm. 5.||3. Cicero adopts the concept of the beautiful as synonymous with the harmony of the parts. Convenientia partium. S. 32, Anm. 15.|
|4. Augustine speaks about an foundational order of causes = ordo causarum. S.7, Anm. 8||4. Cicero speaks of a rule relating to causes = series causarum. S. 22, Anm. 5|
|5. Augustine understands also under order the observation of the moral law. S. 4, Anm. 8||5. Cicero accentuates the fact that only a rational way has meaning under the ordering and observation of the moral law. S.22, Anm. 7|
|6. Augustine links the concept of law with legere. S. 4, Anm. 12||6. Cicero has the same derivation. He links the lex as well as the lex aterna and temporalis. S. 23, Anm. 12|
|7. Augustine defines the lex aeterna as ratio divina vel voluntas Dei ordinem naturalem conservari iubens et perturbari vetans. S. 5, Anm. 19||Cicero indicates the lex aeterna as ratio summi Iovis, as ratio a numine doerum tracta imperans honesta et prohibens contraria. S. 24, Anm. 13.|
|8. Augustine calls the eternal law: (a) summa ratio. S. 5, Anm. 14; (b) divina voluntas. S. 5, Anm. 17; ratio divina, S. 5, Anm. 19.||Cicero highlights the eternal law in the same way: (a) summa ratio. S. 25, Anm. 18, (b) divina providentia. S. 27, Anm. 11, (c) mens divina, S. 23, Anm. 12|
The identical or similar termini [terms], the same or similar thoughts between Augustine and Cicero show the reliance of the former to the latter.
(2) Augustinus et Cicero PL. 46, col. 165 sub titulo Cicero. Augustin knew based upon these cites to Cicero these writings.
(3) Cic., De nat. deorum lib. 2, c. 36-51.
(4) Cic., De nat. deorum lib. 2, c. 38, § 97 and c. 40, § 101. Quis enim hunc hominem dixerit, qui cum tam certos coeli motus, tam ratos astrorum ordines tamque inter se omnia connexa et apta viderit, neget in his ullam inesse rationem? . . . Cum admirabilitate maxima igneae formae cursus ordinatos definiunt.
(5) Cic., De divinatione lib. 1, c. 57, § 127. Fatum id appello, quod Graeci Heimarmenen, id est ordinem seriemque causarum cum causae causa nexa rem ex se gignat. Ea est ex omni aeternitate fluens veritas.
(6) Cic., Academicorum posteriorum lib. 1, c. 7, § 29. Quam prudentiam divinam interdum necessitatem appellant, quia nihil aliter possit atque ab ea constitutum sit evenire, quasi fatalem et immutabilem continuationem ordinis sempiterni.
(7) Cic., De of., I, c. 4, § 14. Nec vero illa prva vis naturae est rationisque quod unum hoc animal sentit, quid sit ordo, quid sit quod deceat in factis dictisque quo modus . . . natura rationque multo magis pulchritudinem, constantiam, ordinem in consiliis factisque servandum putat.
(8) Cic., De off., lib. 1, c. 40, § 142-44. Illa est Eutaxia, in qua intelligitur ordinis conservatio . . . Eandem nos modestiam appellamus . . . Nam et ordinem definiunt Stoici compositionem rerum aptis et accommodatis locis, locum autem actionis opportunitatem temporis esse dicunt.
(9) Cic., De off. lib. 1, c. 40, § 144. Talis est igitur ordo adhibendums actionum, ut, quem in oratione constanti, sic in vita omnia sint apta inter se et convenientia.
(10) Cic., De leg. lib. 2, c. 5 § 11. Ut perspicuum esse possit in ipso nomine legis interpretando inesse vim et sententiam iusti legendi.
(11) Cic., De leg. lib. 2, c. 12. Quibus enim ratio a natura data est, iisdem etiam recta ratio data est, ergo et lex, quae est recta ratio in iubendo et vetando, si lex ius quoque et omnimbus ratio ius igitur datum est omnibus.
(12) Cic., De leg. lib. 1, c. 5, § 11. Quae leges autem ad tempus descriptae sunt populis, favore magis quam re legum nomen tenent . . . divina mens summa lex est.
(13) Cic., Phillippica XI, c. 12, n. 18. Est enim lex nihil aliud, nis recta ratio et a numine deorum tracta ratio, imperans honest et prohibens contraria.
(14) Cic., De leg. lib. 2, c. 4, § 8. Hanc igitur video sapientissimorum fuisse sententiam, legem neque hominis ingeniis excogitatam nec scitum aliquod esse populorum, sed aeternum quidquam, quod universum mundum regeret imperandi prohibendique sapientia. Ita principem legem illam et ultimam mentem esse dicebant omnia ratione aut iubentis aut vetantis dei, ex quo illa lex, quam di humano generi dedrunt, recte est laudata.
(15) Cic., De leg. lib. 2, c. 4, § 10. Nec, si regnante L. Tarquino nulla erat Romae lex scripta de stupris, incirco non contra illam legem sempiternam Sex. Tarquinius, vim Lucretiae attulit. Erat enim ratio perfecta a natura rerum et ad recte faciendum impellens et a delicto avocans, quae non cum denique incipit lex esse, quum scripta est, sed tum, quum orta est, orta est autem simul cum mente divina. Quam ob rem lex vera atque princeps apta ad iubendum ete a vetandum ratio est recta summi Jovis.
(16) Cic., De leg. lib. 2, c. 5, § 13. Ergo est lex iustorum iniustorumque distinctio ad illam antiquissimam et rerum omnium principem expressa naturam, ad quam leges hominum diriguntur, quae supplicio improbos afficiunt, defendunt ac tuentur bonos.
(17) Cic., De nat. deorum lib. 1, c. 15, § 40. Idemque (Chrysippus) ait etiam leges perpetuae et aeternae vim, quae quasi dux vitae et magistra officiorum sit, Jovem esse dicit esse, eandemque fatalem necessitatem appellat, semptiternam rerum futurarum veritatem.
(18) Cic., De leg. lib. 1, c. 6, § 18. Lex est ratio summa, insita in natura, quae iubet ea quae facienda sunt, prohibetque contraria.
(19) Cic. De rep. lib. 3, c. 22. Suscipienda igitus dei lex est, quam M. Tullius in libro de republica tertio paene divina voce depinxit, cuisu ergo, ne plura dicerem, verba subieci: est quidem vera lex; recta ratio, naturae congruens, diffusa in omnes, constans, sempiterna, quae vocet ad officium iubendo, vetando a fraude deterreat, quae tamen neque probos frustra iubet fas est, neque derogari ex hac aliquid licet necque tota abrogari potest nec vero aut per senatum aut per populum solvi hace lege possumus, neque est quaerendus explanator aut interpres eius alius; ne erit alia lex Romae, alia Athenis, alia nunc, alia posthac, sed omnes gentes et omni temporer una lex et sempiterna et immutabilis continebit, unusque erit communis quasi magister et imperator omnium deus, ille legis huius inventor, deceptator, lator, cui qui non parebit ipse se fugiet ac naturam hominis aspernatus, hoc ipso luet maximas poenas, etiam cetera supplicia, quae putantur, effugerit. (Lactantius Inst. div., lib. 7; cf. Aug., De civ. Dei 22, 6.) [E.N. The initial quote is from Lactantius, and is combined with Cicero's own words]