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Natural Law And Conscience (Aquinas) Notes

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

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Aquinas - Summa Theologica The Summa Theologica was written 1265-1274, and is composed of three major parts, each of which deals with a major subsection of Christian theology:

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First Part: God's existence and nature; the creation of the world; angels; the nature of man.

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Second Part:

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* First Part of the Second Part (I-II): general principles of morality (including a theory of law).
* Second Part of the Second Part (II-II): morality in particular, including individual virtues and vices. Third Part: the person and work of Christ; the sacraments; the end of the world.

The third part was left unfinished by Aquinas. Quaestio 91 (I-II) - 'Of the various kinds of law' Six points of inquiry: (1) Whether there is an eternal law?
(2) Whether there is a natural law?
(3) Whether there is a human law?
(4) Whether there is a Divine law?
(5) Whether there is one Divine law, or several?
(6) Whether there is a law of sin?
(1) Whether there is an eternal law Objections: (A)

1. A law is a law if it is imposed upon someone.

2. There is nobody in eternity save God.

3. A law cannot be imposed upon God.

4. Therefore no law can be imposed in eternity.

5. Thus there is no eternal law. (B)

1. A law is only a law if it is promulgated (announced or decreed).

2. There is no-one from who a law can be promulgated in eternity.

3. Thus promulgation did not come from eternity.

4. Thus there is no eternal law.

But - in (A) God is in eternity. In (B) No-one in eternity can promulgate laws. So God cannot promulgate laws. Would Aquinas agree with this?
(C)

1. A law is promulgated toward a particular end.

2. Nothing that aims toward an end is eternal, since 'the last end alone is eternal'.

3. Thus there is no eternal law.

'the last end alone is eternal' - presumably the point Aquinas is endeavouring to make is that things set toward particular ends cannot be eternal, since the fact that they have been set toward an end necessitates there being some point prior to their being on that path, at which that path was determined. 'On the contrary': (A) Augustine argues 'that law which is the Supreme reason cannot be understood to be otherwise than

unchangeable and eternal'. Supreme reason - God's reason is absolute, complete, unchangeable and eternal, and essentially thus comprises a law. Aquinas: (A) A law is simply a dictate of reason promulgated by a ruler of a community. The universe can be thought of as a 'community' under the rule of 'Divine Providence'. This conception of the universe gives the governance of the 'Divine Reason' over the universe the appearance of law. Since God is not bound by or subject to time (Prov. 8.23 'I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was' (KJV)), this kind of law (the Divine Reason) must be eternal. 'Divine Reason' - Aquinas is suggesting that the manifestation of God's will in the universe bears all the hallmarks of 'laws' as we know them, and that this is enough to consider them laws. Is it enough?
Everything in the universe happens according to and by grace of God's will, so if we are to consider the two examples as both 'laws', this suggests our earthly conception of laws includes it being impossible to contravene these laws. Aquinas is equating necessity with law (or obligation, or incentive?). Replies: (Objection A) Those things that have yet to come into being 'exist' in some sense in eternity with God, since he has pre-ordained them and foreknows them (Rom. 4.17 'who... calleth those things which be not as thought they were' (KJV)). Thus 'someone' exists in eternity for a law to be imposed upon, thus Divine law (is Aquinas using Divine Reason and Law interchangeably here?) bears the character of a law, since it is ordained by God (a ruler) to govern things known to him, and exists in eternity, and thus is an eternal law. (Objection B) Promulgation occurs through writing or speech, and Aquinas points to instance of both in the case of the Divine: 'the Divine Word, and the writing of the Book of Life'. Both the Word and the writing are eternal. (Objection C) Aquinas clarifies that a law implies order toward a particular end actively, in directing certain subsequent events, in accordance with the law, toward that end, but not passively, in the sense being essentially ordained toward a particular end. In fact, it is the giver of the law who is directed toward an extrinsic or anterior end, but in the case of Divine law, Aquinas argues, the end toward which the law is directed is only God himself, and the Divine law is inseparable from God. Thus, Divine law is not directed toward an end other than itself.

2) Whether there is a natural law Objections (A) Unclear.. there is no natural law in us because we are governed sufficiently by the eternal law - 'that by which it is right that all things should be most orderly' - and nature 'does not abound in superfluities'. Thus there need be no further, natural law. Not clear that this is definitely what Aquinas is saying. (B)

1. Laws direct man, in his actions, toward an end.

2. Directing man's actions is not nature's role, since man is not an 'irrational' animal (man is governed by his own volition).

3. Thus no law is natural to man. (C)

1. The more a being is free, the less he is under the rule of a law.

2. Man is freer than the animals, on account of free will.

3. Animals are not subject to natural law.

4. Thus man is not subject to natural law.

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