Can the natural law be wiped out of
a man’s heart?
It seems that the natural law can
be wiped out of a man’s heart (possit aboleri a corde
Objection 1: The Gloss
on Romans 2:14 (“When the Gentiles, who do not have
the Law, etc.”) says, “The law of justice, which sin
had erased, is written in the inner man who is made
new through grace.” But the law of justice is
the same as the law of nature. Therefore, the
law of nature can be erased (potest deleri).
The law of grace is more efficacious than the law of
nature. But the law of grace is erased through sin.
Therefore, a fortiori, the law of nature can be
What is established by the law is proposed as being just.
But there are many things established by men contrary to
the law of nature. Therefore, the law of nature can be
wiped out of the hearts of men.
But contrary to this:
In Confessiones 2 Augustine says, “Your law, was
written in the hearts of men, and no sort of wickedness
erases it.” But the law written in the hearts of men is
the natural law. Therefore, the natural law cannot be
As was explained above (a. 4-5), the natural law contains
in the first place certain very general precepts that
are known to everyone, but it also contains certain
secondary, and more particular, precepts that are like
conclusions lying in the neighborhood of the principles.
Thus, as far as the universal principles are concerned,
the natural law cannot in any way be erased entirely
from the hearts of men. However, it is erased
with respect to particular actions insofar as reason
is impeded from applying a universal principle to a
particular action because of sense desire or some other
passion, as was explained above (q. 77, a. 2).
as far as the other, i.e., secondary, precepts are concerned,
the natural law can be erased from the hearts of men,
either (a) because of bad arguments, in the same way
that errors occur in speculative matters with respect
to necessary conclusions, or (b) because of depraved
customs and corrupt habits—in the way that, as the Apostle
points out in Romans 1:24ff., theft or even vices contrary
to nature are not thought of as sins by some people.
Reply to objection 1:
Sin erases the law of nature in particular cases, but not
in general, except perhaps with respect to the secondary
precepts of the law of nature in the way that has been
Reply to objection 2:
Even if grace is more efficacious than nature, nature is
nonetheless more essential to
man and thus more permanent.
Reply to objection 3:
This argument has to do with the secondary precepts of the
law of nature. Some lawmakers have made certain statutes,
which are wicked, contrary to these precepts.