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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Eternal Law



Is the eternal law known to everyone?


It seems that the eternal law is not known to everyone:


Objection 1:  As the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 2:11, “So the things also that are of God, no man knows, but the Spirit of God.”  But the eternal law is a certain conception existing in God’s mind.  Therefore, it is not known to anyone except God alone.


Objection 2:  In De Libero Arbitrio Augustine says, “The eternal law is that by which it is fitting for all things to be very well ordered.”  But not everyone knows the way in which all things are very well ordered.  Therefore, not everyone knows the eternal law.


Objection 3:  In De Vera Religione Augustine says, “The eternal law is something upon which men cannot pass judgment.”  But as Ethics 1 says, “Each one judges best the things that he knows.”  Therefore, the eternal law is not known to us.


But contrary to this:  In De Libero Arbitrio Augustine says, “Knowledge of the eternal law has been imprinted upon us.”


I respond:  There are two ways in which a thing can be known.  First, it can be known in itself.  Second, it can be known in its effect, wherein some likeness of the thing is found—in the way that someone who does not see the sun in its substance knows it in what radiates from it (in irradiatione).
So, then, no one except the blessed in heaven, who see God through His essence, can know the eternal law as it is in itself.  However, every rational creature knows the eternal law with respect to more or less of what radiates from it.  For any cognition of the truth is a sort of radiation from and participation in the eternal law, which is unchangeable truth, as Augustine says in De Vera Religione.  But everyone knows the truth in some sense, at least with respect to the common principles of the natural law.  As for other matters, some participate more and some participate less in the cognition of the truth and, accordingly, they know more or less of the eternal law.


Reply to objection 1:  The “things that are of God” cannot be known be known by us in themselves, but they are nonetheless made manifest to us in their effects—this according to Romans 1:20 (“The invisible things of God ..... are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made.”)


Reply to objection 2:  Even if everyone knew the eternal law to the limit of his capacity in the way explained above, no one would be able to comprehend it, since it cannot be made totally manifest through its effects.  And so one who knows the eternal law in the way explained above need not know the entire order by which all things are very well ordered.


Reply to objection 3:  There are two possible ways to understand what it is to pass judgment upon something.
In the first way, the cognitive power makes a judgment about its own proper object—this in accord with Job 12:11 (“Does not the ear judge words, and the palate of him who eats, the taste?”).  And it is about this mode of judgment that the Philosopher says, “Each one judges best the things he knows,” viz., by judging whether what is proposed to him is true.
In the second way, through a certain kind of practical judgment someone higher judges, with respect to something lower, whether or not it ought to be such‑and‑such.  This is the sense in which no one can pass judgment upon the eternal law.





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