Is there just a single divine law?
It seems that there is just a single
Objection 1: A single king in a
single kingdom has a single law. But the whole human race
is related to God as to a single king—this according to
Psalm 46:8 (“God is king of all the earth”). Therefore,
there is just a single divine law.
Every law is ordered toward the end that the lawmaker
intends in those for whom he makes the law. But what God
intends in all men is one and the same thing—this
according to 1 Timothy 2:4 (“He wills that all men be
saved and come to knowledge of the truth”). Therefore,
there is just a single divine law.
Divine law seems to be closer to eternal law, which is a
single law, than is natural law, to the extent that the
revelation of grace is higher than natural cognition. But
natural law is a single law for all men. Therefore, a
fortiori, so is divine law.
But contrary to this:
In Hebrews 7:12 the Apostle says, “For the priesthood
having been changed, it is necessary for the law to be
changed.” But as is explained in the same place, there
are two kinds of priesthood, the Levitical priesthood and
Christ’s priesthood. Therefore, there are two laws, viz.,
the Old Law and the New Law.
As was explained in the First Part (ST 1, q.
30, a. 3), distinction is a cause of number. Now
there are two ways in which things can be distinct from
one another. First, they are distinct in the sense
of being altogether diverse in species, e.g., a horse
and an ox. Second, they are distinct in the sense
that the one is perfect and the other imperfect within
the same species, e.g., a man and a boy. It is
in this latter sense that the divine law is divided
into the Old Law and the New Law. Hence, in Galatians
3:24‑25, the Apostle compares the status of the
Old Law to the status of a child under the tutelage
of a pedagogue, while he compares the status of the
New Law to a full‑grown man who is no longer under
the tutelage of a pedagogue.
Now perfection and imperfection apply to these laws
with respect to three aspects relevant to law that were
First, as was noted above (q. 90, a. 2), law is ordered
toward the common good as its end. But there are
two kinds of common good. The first is a sensible
and earthly good, and it is to this good that the
Old Law immediately ordered [the people]; hence, in
Exodus 3:8‑17, at the very initiation of the Old
Law, the people are invited into the earthly kingdom
of the Canaanites. The second is an intelligible
and heavenly good, and it is to this good that the
New Law orders [the people]; hence, at the very beginning
of His teaching Christ issued an invitation to the kingdom
of heaven, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven
is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Thus, in Contra
Faustum 4 Augustine says, “Promises of temporal
things were contained in the Old Testament, and this
is why it is called ‘Old’; by contrast, the New Testament
has to do with the promise of eternal life.”
Second, law has to do with directing human acts in accord
with the order of justice. On this score, too,
the New Law outstrips the Old Law by ordering the interior
acts of the soul—this according to Matthew 5:20, “Unless
your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
For this reason it is said that the Old Law restrains
the hand, whereas the New Law restrains the mind.
law has the role of inducing men to the obey the commandments.
The Old Law did this through the fear of punishment,
whereas the New Law does it through the love that is
infused into our hearts through Christ’s grace, which
is conferred under the New Law but was prefigured under
the Old Law. This is why in Contra Adimantum
Manichaei Discipulum Augustine says, “In short,
the difference between the Law and the Gospel is this:
fear and love.”
Reply to objection 1:
Just as the father of a household issues different
commands to children and to adults, so too the one king
God, within His single kingdom, gives one law to men who
are still imperfect and another more perfect law to those
who have already been led by the hand through the prior
law to a greater capacity for divine things.
Reply to objection 2: The
salvation of men was impossible except through Christ—this
according to Acts 4:12 (“There is no other name given to
men, whereby we must be saved”). And so a law that leads
all men perfectly to salvation could not have been given
prior to Christ’s coming. Before that, the people from
whom Christ was to be born had to be given a preparatory
law for receiving Christ, and in this law certain
rudiments of salvific justice were contained.
Reply to objection 3:
The natural law directs man in accord with certain general
precepts which are shared by both perfect and imperfect
men, and this is why there is a single natural law for
everyone. In addition, however, the divine law directs
man in certain particulars with respect to which the
perfect and the imperfect are not similarly positioned.
And this is why, as has already been explained, it was
necessary for there to be two divine laws.