Is the eternal law the highest
conception [or plan] existing in God?
It seems that the eternal law is not
the highest conception [or plan] (ratio summa)
existing in God:
The eternal law is a single law only. But there are many
conceptions (rationes) in God’s mind, since in
83 Quaestiones Augustine says, “God made individual
things by means of conceptions that are proper to each of
them.” Therefore, the eternal law does not seem to be the
same as a conception existing in God’s mind.
As was explained above (q. 90, a. 4), it is part of the
nature of law that it be promulgated by a spoken word.
But as was established in the First Part (ST 1, q.
34, a. 1), ‘Word’ is predicated of a person in God,
whereas ‘conception’ is predicated of the divine essence.
Therefore, the eternal law is not the same as God’s
In De Vera Religione Augustine says, “It is clear
that above our mind there is a law, which is called
truth.” But the law that exists above our mind is the
eternal law. Therefore, the eternal law is truth. But
the nature of truth is not the same as the nature of a
conception. Therefore, the eternal law is not the same as
the highest conception.
But contrary to this:
In De Libero Arbitrio 1 Augustine says, “The
eternal law is the highest conception, which must always
be conformed to.”
Just as a conception (ratio) of the things made
through his craft exists beforehand in a craftsman’s
mind, so too in anyone who governs there must exist
beforehand a conception of the ordering of the things
to be done by those who are subject to the governor’s
rule. And just as the conception of the things
to be made through a craft is called an artistic
conception (ars) or exemplar (exemplar)
of the artifacts, so too the conception had by one who
governs the acts of his subjects takes on the character
of law, given the presence of all the other elements
we described above (q. 90) as belonging to the
nature of law.
Now as was established
in the First Part (ST 1, q. 14, a. 8), it is
through His wisdom that God is the creator of
the totality of things, and He is related to those things
in the way a craftsman is related to his artifacts.
As was likewise established in the First Part (ST 1,
q. 22, a. 2 and q. 103, a. 5), God is also the governor
of all the acts and motions found in each creature.
Hence, just as the divine wisdom’s conception has the
character of an artistic conception or exemplar
because all things are created through it, so too the
divine wisdom’s conception has the character of law
insofar as it moves all things to their appropriate
ends. Accordingly, the eternal law is nothing
other than the divine wisdom’s conception insofar as
it directs all acts and movements.
Reply to objection 1:
Augustine is speaking here about the ideal conceptions
(rationes ideales) that relate to the proper
natures of singular things, and so, as was established
in the First Part (ST 1, q. 15, a. 2),
among these conceptions there is distinction and plurality
corresponding to their diverse relations to the things.
as was explained above (q. 90, a. 2), law directs
acts in relation to the common good. But things
that are diverse in themselves are counted as one insofar
as that they are ordered to something common.
And this is why there is a single eternal law, which
is the conception of this ordering.
Reply to objection 2:
There are two things that can be considered with respect
to any word, viz., (a) the word itself and (b) what
is expressed by the word. For a spoken word is
a certain sound emanating from a man’s mouth, and this
word expresses the things that are signified by human
words. The same holds for a man’s mental word,
which is none other than something which is conceived
by the mind and by which a man mentally expresses the
things he is thinking about.
God, then, the Word, which is the conception of the
Father’s intellect, is predicated of a person, but,
as is clear from Augustine in De Trinitate 15,
this Word expresses each thing that is contained in
the Father’s knowledge—regardless of whether it has
to do with the divine persons, the divine essence, or
even the works of God. And among the other things
expressed by this Word, the eternal law itself is also
expressed by this Word. Nor does it follow from
this that ‘eternal law’ is predicated of a person in
God. However, it is appropriated to the Son because
of consonance between a conception and a word (see ST
1, q. 39, a. 7-8 ).
Reply to objection 3:
God’s intellectual conception is related to things in
a way different from the way in which the human intellect’s
For human understanding is measured by the things,
so that a man’s conception is not true by virtue of
itself, but is instead called ‘true’ by virtue of the
fact that it fits (consonat) the things.
For a belief (opinio) is true or false by virtue
of the fact that the thing is or is not such‑and‑such.
contrast, God’s understanding is the measure of the
things, since, as was explained in the First Part (ST 1,
q. 16, a. 1), each thing is true insofar as it is like
(imitatur) God’s understanding [of it].
And so God’s understanding is true by virtue of itself,
and thus His conception is truth itself.