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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Precepts of the Old Law



Was it right for the Old Law to have induced the observance

of its precepts by temporal promises and threats?


It seems that it was not right for the Old Law to have induced observance of its precepts by temporal promises and threats:


Objection 1:  The intention behind divine law is that men should submit to God through fear and love; hence, Deuteronomy 10:12 says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but that you fear the Lord your God, and walk in His ways, and love Him?”  But a passionate desire (cupiditas) for temporal things leads one away from God; for in 83 Quaestiones Augustine says, “Passionate desire is poison with respect to charity.”  Therefore, temporal promises and threats seem to be contrary to the lawmaker’s intention—and this makes the law worthy of condemnation, as is clear from the Philosopher in Politics 2.


Objection 2:  Divine law is more excellent than human law.  But we see that among the sciences, a given science is higher to the extent that it proceeds by means of higher middle terms.  Therefore, since human law tries to induce men by temporal threats and promises, it was not right for divine law to proceed in this way; instead, it should have proceeded by means of something loftier.


Objection 3:  What happens indifferently to good men and bad men cannot be the reward for justice or the punishment for sin.  But as Ecclesiastes 9:2 says, “All things equally happen to the just and to the wicked, to the good and to the evil, to the clean and to the unclean, to him that offers victims of sacrifice, and to him that despises sacrifices.”  Therefore, temporal goods or evils are not appropriately used as the rewards or punishments that are attached to the commandments of divine law.


But contrary to this:  Isaiah 1:19‑20 says, “If you are willing and listen to me, you shall eat the good things of the land.  But if you are unwilling and provoke me to anger, the sword shall devour you.”


I respond:  Just as in the speculative sciences men are induced to assent to the conclusions by means of syllogistic middle terms, so too in the case of all laws men are induced to observe the precepts by means of punishments and rewards.  Now we see in the case of the speculative sciences that the middle terms are proposed to the hearer in a way corresponding to his condition.  Hence, in the sciences one must proceed in an orderly fashion so that learning might begin with things that are better known.  So, too, one who wishes to induce a man to observance of the precepts must begin to move him by appealing to things he has an affection for; for instance, children are enticed into doing things by childish treats.
Now it was explained above (q. 98, a. 1‑3) that the Old Law disposed men for the Christ in the way that something imperfect disposes one for something perfect.  Hence, the Old Law was given to a people still imperfect in comparison with the perfection which was to come through the Christ, and so, as is clear from Galatians 3:24, this people was comparable to a child who is under the tutelage of a teacher.  Now man’s perfection consists in his adhering to spiritual things while holding temporal things in contempt, as is clear from what the Apostle says in Philippians 1:13 and 15 (“Forgetting the things that are behind and stretching forth myself to those that are before .....  Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded.”)  And the mark of imperfect men is that they desire temporal things and yet in relation to God, whereas the mark of corrupt men is that they set up temporal goods as their end.  Hence, it was fitting that it should be through temporal things, which imperfect men had an affection for, that the Old Law led men to God.


Reply to objection 1:  The passionate desire by which a man sets up temporal goods as his end is poison with respect to charity.  But the pursuit of temporal goods that a man desires in relation to God is a sort of path that leads the imperfect to love God—this according to Psalm 48:19 (“He will praise You when You are good to him.”)


Reply to objection 2:  Human law induces men by temporal rewards or punishments that are to be delivered by men, whereas divine law induces men by rewards or punishments that are to be given by God.  And it is in this way that divine law proceeds through more lofty middle terms.


Reply to objection 3:  As is clear to one who reflects on the stories in the Old Testament, the general situation of the people under the Law was always prosperous as long as they observed the law, and as soon as they turned away from the precepts of the Law, they fell into many adversities.  But some particular people, even while observing the justice of the Laws, fell into certain adversities, either because (a) they had already become spiritual, so that through this adversity they were drawn even further away from an affection for temporal things and their virtue was proved, or because (b) while fulfilling the exterior works of the Law, they had fixed their hearts wholly on temporal things and had separated their hearts from God—this according to Isaiah 29:13 (“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”).





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