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