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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Precepts of the Old Law



Does the Old Law contain ceremonial precepts in addition to the moral precepts?


It seems that the Old Law does not contain ceremonial precepts in addition to the moral precepts:


Objection 1:  Every law that is given to men directs human acts.  But as was explained above (q. 1, a. 3), human acts are called moral acts.  Therefore, it seems that the Old Law given to men should have contained only moral precepts.


Objection 2:  Precepts called ‘ceremonial’ seem to pertain to divine worship.  But divine worship is an act of one of the virtues, viz., the virtue of religion, which, as Tully says in Rhetorica, “offers worship and ceremony to the divine nature.”  Therefore, since, as has been explained (a. 2), the moral precepts are concerned with the acts of the virtues, it seems that the ceremonial precepts should not be distinguished from the moral precepts.


Objection 3:  The precepts that seem to be ceremonial are those which signify something in a figurative way.  But as Augustine says in De Doctrina Christiana 2, “Among men it is words that have attained preeminence in signifying.”  Therefore, there was no need for the Law to contain ceremonial precepts concerned with certain figurative actions.


But contrary to this:  Deuteronomy 4:13‑14 says, “Ten words He wrote in two tables of stone, and  He commanded me at that time that I should teach you the ceremonies and judgments which you shall do.”  But the ten percepts of the Law are moral precepts.  Therefore, besides the moral precepts there are also distinct ceremonial precepts.


I respond:  As has been explained (a. 2), divine law is instituted mainly to order men toward God, whereas human law is instituted mainly to order men toward one another.
So human laws have concerned themselves with divine worship only in relation to the common good of men, and for this reason they have also concocted many things about divine matters insofar as this seemed expedient to them for the shaping of human morals; this is clear in the rites of the Gentiles.
By contrast, divine law ordered men toward one another insofar as this was consonant with their being ordered toward God—which is what divine law was mainly concerned with.  Now man is ordered toward God not only through interior mental acts, i.e., acts of faith, hope, and love, but also through the exterior acts by which man professes his submission (servitudo) to God.  And these acts are said to pertain to the worship of God.
According to some, this worship is called ‘ceremony’ (caeremonia) from the munia, i.e., gifts, of Ceres (Caeres), who was called the goddess of fruits, because they first offered oblations to God from their fruits.  Alternatively, as Valerius Maximus claims, the name ‘ceremony’ was introduced to signify divine worship among the Latins because of a certain town near Rome called ‘Caere’; for when Rome was captured by the Gauls, the sacred artifacts of the Romans were taken there and reverently preserved.  So, then, the precepts in the Law that are concerned with the worship of God are specifically called ceremonial precepts.


Reply to objection 1:  Human acts also extend to divine worship, and so the Old Law given to men contains precepts concerning these acts as well.


Reply to objection 2:  As was explained above (q. 91, a. 3), the precepts of the law of nature are general and stand in need of specification.  Now they are specified both by human law and by divine law.  And just as the specifications that are made by human law are themselves said to belong not to the law of nature but to positive law instead, so too the specifications of the precepts of the law of nature that are made by divine law are distinguished from the moral precepts that belong to the law of nature.
Therefore, since worshipping God is an act of virtue, it has to do with a moral precept; however, the specification of this precept—viz., that God be worshiped with such‑and‑such sacrifices and such‑and‑such gifts—belongs to the ceremonial precepts.  And it is in this way that the ceremonial precepts are distinguished from the moral precepts.


Reply to objection 3:  In De Caelesti Hierarchia, chap. 1 Dionysius says that divine realities cannot be made manifest to men except under certain sensible likenesses.  But these likenesses move the soul more when they are not only expressed in words but also offered to the senses.  And so divine realities are handed down in Scripture not only through likenesses expressed in words, but also through likenesses of things that are proposed to sight—and this is what the ceremonial precepts are about.





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