Is there such a thing as eternal
It seems that there is no such thing as
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
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
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
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.
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