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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Eternal Law



Does every law stem from the eternal law?


It seems that not every law flows from (derivatur) the eternal law:


Objection 1:  As was explained above (q. 91, a. 6), there is a certain law of the stimulant to sin (lex fomitis).  But this law does not flow from God’s law, i.e., the eternal law, since it involves the “prudence of the flesh,” about which the Apostle says in Romans 8:7 that “it is not subject to the law of God.”  Therefore, not every law flows from the eternal law.


Objection 2:  Nothing wicked can proceed from the eternal law, since, as has been explained (a. 2), “the eternal law is that by which it is fitting for all things to be very well ordered.”  But some laws are wicked—this according to Isaiah 10:1 (“Woe to those who make wicked laws”).  Therefore, not every law proceeds (procedit) from the eternal law.


Objection 3:  In De Libero Arbitrio 1 Augustine says, “Law written in order to rule the people correctly permits many things that are avenged through God’s providence.”  But as has been explained (a. 1), the plan (ratio) of divine providence is the eternal law.  Therefore, not even all the upright laws proceed from the eternal law.


But contrary to this:  In Proverbs 8:15 God’s wisdom says, “By me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things.”  But as has been explained (a. 1), the plan of God’s wisdom is the eternal law.   Therefore, all laws proceed from the eternal law.


I respond:  As was explained above (q. 90, a. 1‑2), ‘law’ implies a certain plan that directs acts to their end.  Now in every case involving ordered movers, the power of a secondary mover flows from the power of the first mover, since a secondary mover moves only insofar as it is moved by the first mover.  Hence, we see the same thing in the case of all those who govern as well, viz., that the plan of governance flows from the first governor to the secondary governors.  For instance, the plan of things to be done in a city flows by way of command (per praeceptum) from the king to the lower administrators.  In the case of artifacts, too, the plan for the acts involved in making the artifacts flows from the architect to the lower craftsmen who work by hand.
Therefore, since the eternal law is the plan of governance that exists in the highest governor, all the plans of governance found in the lower governors must flow from the eternal law.  Now these plans of the lower governors consist in all the kinds of law besides eternal law.  Hence, all laws flow from the eternal law to the extent that they participate in right reason.  This is why Augustine says in De Libero Arbitrio 1, “There is nothing just or legitimate in temporal law except what men have drawn from the eternal law.”


Reply to objection 1:  The stimulant to sin (fomes) has the character of law in man to the extent that it is a punishment that follows upon God’s justice, and on this score it clearly flows from the eternal law.  However, as is clear from what was said above (q. 91, a. 6), to the extent that the stimulant inclines one toward sin, it is contrary to God’s law and does not have the character of law.


Reply to objection 2:  Human law has the character of law to the extent that it is in accord with right reason and, so understood, it clearly flows from the eternal law.
However, to the extent that human law departs from reason, it is called ‘unjust law’ (lex iniqua) and has the character not of law but of a certain sort of violence.  Yet to the extent that some likeness to law is preserved in this unjust law because it is ordained by the power of a lawmaker, in this respect it, too, flows from the eternal law.  For as Romans 13:1 says, “All power is from the Lord God.”


Reply to objection 3:  Human law is said to permit certain things not in the sense that it approves of them, but rather in the sense that it is incapable of directing them.  However, there are many things directed by God’s law that cannot be directed by human law, since there are more things subject to a higher cause than to a lower cause.  Hence, the very fact that human law does not intrude into matters that it cannot direct stems from the order of eternal law.  (It would be different if human law were to approve of things that the eternal law condemns.)  Thus, it does not follow from this that human law does not flow from the eternal law; rather, all that follows is that human law does not perfectly measure up to 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