Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Overview of St. Thomas Aquinas's Theory of Law

BEFORE DELVING INTO ST. THOMAS'S teaching on the Eternal Law, we ought to give a brief overview of his teaching. In St. Thomas's view, all law comes from God, and finds in Him the source of its reason, the source of its bindingness, and the justification for the punishment of its infraction. Even human law, so long as it is just, participates in the Eternal and Natural Law, and for that reason it is generally binding on the conscience.

The Eternal Law is the most fundamental law, and it governs the entirety of Creation--all the Cosmos and its inhabitants, including spiritual creatures (such as angels), man, brute animals, sensate creation (vegetable kingdom), and insensate creation. There is no created thing that acts outside of its auspices. For those creatures with reason and free will, even in their disobedience they remain subject to it. The Eternal Law is God's ratio ordinis or divine plan for all creation, and is what governs His Providence.

With respect to man, the Eternal Law is communicated through the Natural Law, which is an "interior" law based upon Reason, and which is the fundamental way the Eternal Law is communicated to man outside of Revelation. St. Thomas calls the Natural Law the everlasting covenant (foedus sempiternum). Cf. Isaiah 24:5.

In His Revelation to Israel, and then His Revelation in Christ, God also has promulgated positive laws, and these laws, which conform to the Eternal Law, are denominated Divine Law. Included in the scope of Divine Law are the Old Testament or Mosaic Laws, which include moral laws, ceremonial laws, and judicial laws. Christians believe the latter two kinds of law were abrogated in the New Testament by Christ, though the moral laws (in particular, the Ten Commandments) continue to have viability. Though the Ten Commandments are positive Divine decrees or laws, they are also to be found in the Natural Law, where they are promulgated, not through Revelation, but in man's nature, that is, Reason. The Law of the Gospel or the New Covenant, based upon Love, is also Divine Law. The Law of the Gospel, which is a Law of Grace, includes such matters as the institution of the Sacraments. It also demands an interiorization of the Law, and provides the Grace for its fulfillment.

Under the Natural Law, humans, who by their nature have to live in common, have the authority to make law of their own. This kind of law is referred to as human law or positive law. It includes the positive law (both civil and criminal) of the State, and the Canon or ecclesiastical law of the Church. A human law, however, may not contradict Divine or Natural Law, or it cuts itself off from the source of its binding nature, and so, strictly speaking, is as if it was no law at all. ST IaIIae Q.93, art.3, ad. 3. Under some circumstances, it may be disobeyed; indeed, in some rare cases, it must be disobeyed. In the latter situation we are like the Apostles and, "We must obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29.

Below is a simplified and graphic depiction of St. Thomas's understanding of the various relationships between the different classifications of law.

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