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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Eternal Law



Are natural contingent things subject to the eternal law?


It seems that natural contingent things are not subject to the eternal law:


Objection 1:  As was explained above (q. 90, a. 4), promulgation is part of the nature of law.  But promulgation can be made only to rational creatures, to whom a pronouncement can be made.  Therefore only rational creatures are subject to the eternal law.  Therefore, natural contingent things are not subject to it.


Objection 2:  As Ethics 1 says, “Things that obey reason somehow participate in reason.”  But as was explained above (a. 1), the eternal law is the highest conception [or plan].  Therefore, since natural contingent things do not in any way participate in reason but are instead completely non‑rational (penitus irrationabilia), it seems that they are not subject to the eternal law.


Objection 3:  The eternal law is absolutely efficacious.  But defects occur among natural contingent things.  Therefore, they are not subject to the eternal law.


But contrary to this:  Proverbs 8:29 says, “When He set the border around the sea and gave a law to the waters, lest they pass their limits ......”


I respond:  What we say about the eternal law, i.e., the law of God, has differ from what we say about the law of man.  For the law of man reaches only the rational creatures who are subject to man.  The reason for this is that law directs the acts of those who are subject to someone’s governance, and so no one, properly speaking, imposes a law on his own acts.  Now whatever is done by way of using the non‑rational things that are subject to man is done through the act of man himself moving things of this sort; for as was explained above (q. 1, a. 2), these non‑rational creatures do not move themselves (non agunt seipsas) but are instead acted upon by others.  And so man cannot impose a law on non‑rational creatures, no matter how much they are subject to him.  By contrast, he can impose law on the rational beings who are subject to him, because by his command or some other pronouncement he imprints upon their mind a rule that serves as a principle of acting.
Now just as one man imprints, by means of a pronouncement, an interior principle of acting on another man who is subject to him, so God imprints on the whole of nature principles with respect to their proper acts.  It is in this sense that God is said to command the whole of nature, according to Psalm 148:6 (“He has commanded and His command will not pass away”).  And this is also the sense in which all the movements and acts of the whole of nature are subject to the eternal law.
Hence, non‑rational creatures are subject to the eternal law in a way different from rational creatures, viz., insofar as they are moved by divine providence, and not, as with rational creatures, through an understanding of God’s precept.


Reply to objection 1:  The imprinting of an active intrinsic principle plays the same role with respect to natural things that the promulgation of the law plays with respect to men.  For as has been explained, a principle that directs human acts is imprinted on men through the promulgation of law.


Reply to objection 2:  Non‑rational creatures do not participate in or obey human reason, but they do participate in divine reason in the mode of obedience.  For the power of God’s plan extends to more things than does the power of human reason.  And just as the members of the human body are moved at the command of reason and yet do not participate in reason (for they do not have any apprehension related to reason), so also non‑rational creatures are moved by God and yet are not for this reason rational.


Reply to objection 3:  Even though the defects that occur in natural things lie outside the order of particular causes, they do not lie outside the order of universal causes nor, especially, outside the order of the first cause, viz., God, whose providence nothing can undermine.  This was explained in the First Part (ST 1, q. 22, a. 2).  And since, as has been explained (a. 1), the eternal law is the plan of divine providence, it follows that the defects in natural things are subject 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