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Essay Natural Law And Conscience Notes

Theology Notes > Christian Ethics (focus on Medical ethics) Notes

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Natural Law and Conscience Natural Law Which types of law does Aquinas address?
The laws that Aquinas addresses in questions 91 and 95 of the Summa Theologica are four-fold: the eternal, the natural, the human and the divine laws. As Aquinas conceives of it, their inter-relationship stands thus:

1. There exists an eternal law, which is the governance of the divine reason and providence over the universe, and which directs beings toward particular ends.

2. This eternal law is participated in by all beings in the universe, and natural law is humankind's unique participation in this law, in light of reason.

3. There is also a divine law, which supervenes eternal law, and directs humankind toward supernatural ends, the like of which eternal law is insufficient to direct us toward. This law comes from God directly, and it is his supernatural ends towards which divine law guides us.

4. Humankind is acquainted with the first principles of natural law, and uses these principles to inform a more particular system of determination: human law. Human law thus operates in accordance with the overarching principles of natural law - Aquinas suggests that any human 'law' that does not operate in accordance with these principles is a 'perversion', rather than a true law.

How does he define natural law? What is 'natural' and what is 'legal' about it?
Aquinas defines natural law as 'an imprint on us of the Divine light', by which we discern what is good and evil. Having shown in I-II.91.1 that an eternal law exists as the manifestation of God's will in the universe, Aquinas goes on to posit that what we know as 'natural law' is the participation of humankind, as rational creatures, in this eternal law. This 'participation' is the relationship between a law and a being, which can either rule, or be ruled, and since the 'Divine light' or 'Divine reason' rules every being, every being participates in it, manifested as the eternal law. In the 'answer' in I-II.91.2, Aquinas points to Psalms 4.6, 'who showeth us good things? The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us', as a reference to the 'light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good'. The law might be thought of as 'natural' in two ways: first, 'natural law' is the participation of a being in the eternal law, which is the direct manifestation of God's will. Thus natural law is humankind's engagement with God's will for the universe, and is thus 'natural' in that it derives from that being that grants the universe existence, and sustains that existence. We might consider that, second, the participation in the eternal law is 'natural' since it is only by virtue of our faculty of reason, granted by God, that we engage with this law in a way distinct from that of irrational animals. Our engagement with the eternal law is only possible in light of the gift of reason and rationality that is humankind's defining characteristic over the

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