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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Different Kinds of Law



Is there such a thing as eternal law?


It seems that there is no such thing as eternal law:


Objection 1:  Every law is imposed on someone.  But there was noone on whom law could have been imposed from eternity, since God alone existed from eternity.  Therefore, there is no such thing as eternal law.


Objection 2:  Promulgation is part of the nature of law.  But there could not have been a promulgation from eternity, since no one existed from eternity to whom the law might have been promulgated.  Therefore, there cannot be any such thing as eternal law.


Objection 3:  Law implies an ordering to an end.  But there is nothing eternal that might be ordered to an end, since the only eternal being is the ultimate end.  Therefore, there is no such thing as eternal law.


But contrary to this:  In De Libero Arbitrio 1 Augustine says, “The law that is called the ‘highest ideal plan’ (summa ratio) cannot but seem unchangeable and eternal to anyone who understands it.”


I respond:  As was explained above (q. 90, a. 4) law is nothing other than a certain dictate (dictamen) of practical reason on the part of a ruler who governs some complete community.  But once we assume, as was established in the First Part (ST 1, q. 22, a. 1), that the world is governed by divine providence, it is obvious that the entire community of the universe is governed by divine reason.  Therefore, the very nature of the governance of things that exists in God as the ruler of the universe has the character of law.  And since, as Proverbs 8:23 puts it, God’s reason does not conceive of anything temporally but instead has an eternal conception, it follows that a law of this kind must be called eternal law.


Reply to objection 1:  Those things that do not exist in themselves exist in God’s presence (apud Deum) insofar as they are foreknown and preordained by Him—this according to Romans 4:17 (“He calls the things that are not in the same way as those that are”).  So, then, the eternal conception of God’s law has the character of an eternal law, since it is ordered by God toward the governance of the things foreknown by Him.


Reply to objection 2:  Promulgation is accomplished by both the spoken word (verbum) and the written word (scriptum), and the eternal law has both sorts of promulgation on the part of God who promulgates it.  For God’s Word is eternal, and the writing in the book of life (see ST 1, q. 24) is eternal.
On the other hand, as far as the creature who hears or reads is concerned, the promulgation cannot be eternal.


Reply to objection 3:  Law implies an ordering to an end in the active sense—viz., in the sense that certain things are ordered toward the end through law.
However, law does not imply an ordering to an end in the passive sense, i.e., in the sense that the law itself is ordered to an end—except, incidentally, in the case of a governor whose end lies outside himself and is such that his law, too, must be ordered to it.  By contrast, the end of divine governance is God Himself, and His law is not distinct from Himself.  Hence, the eternal law is not ordered toward any further end.






I-II, q. 90, The Essence of Law

I-II, q. 91, The Different Kinds of Law

I-II, q. 92, The Effects of Law


Eternal law

I-II, q. 93, Eternal Law

Natural law

I-II, q. 94, The Natural Law

Human law

I-II, q. 95, Human Law

I-II, q. 96, The Force of Human Law

I-II, q. 97, Changes in Human Law

The old law

I-II, q. 98, The Old Law

I-II, q. 99, The Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 100, The Moral Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 101, The Ceremonial Precepts of the Old Law in Themselves

I-II, q. 102, The Causes of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 103, The Duration of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 104, The Judicial Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 105, The Nature of the Judicial Precepts

The new law

I-II, q. 106, The Law of the Gospel, called the New Law, in Itself

I-II, q. 107, The Relation between the Old Law and the New Law

I-II, q. 108, The Contents of the New Law