Is the eternal law known to
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.
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.