Lesson 4: The Nature and Types of Law

The States of Nature are distinguished according to the relation to grace. Man in the state of Original Sin finds himself in a condition of alienation from God, self, the world and other men because he is without grace. This is expressed in the two principal punishments for the Original Sin: ignorance and malice. God did not allow the human race to fall into the Original Sin merely to punish man. Instead, he immediately promised the Redeemer. Before enumerating the punishments for the Original Sin, God says to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15). This is called the Protoevangelium (primordial gospel) and is considered to be the first announcement of the Gospel. The meaning of this announcement is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 410-412.

The rest of the Scripture and all time viewed from the point of view of God is occupied with preparing man to receive the promised Messiah who is foretold in shadow in the Protoevangelium. This is the progressive preparation for the human race lost in sin to receive back grace. For many centuries, men wandered in both ignorance and malice. God began to prepare a people from which the Messiah would come. The actual foundation of this people occurred on Mount Sinai when God chose to remedy for the punishment of ignorance by giving Israel the light of the Law (Torah). In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas calls the Law one of the two external aids given by God to the human race to induce man to a good interior formation of his soul.

St. Thomas puts his discussion of the Law in the context of Law in general. He uses the paradigm of the civil law. He defines Law as "an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community" (CCC n.1796). There are four basic types of law all based on the analogy of human law. There is first the source of all law, "All law finds its first and ultimate truth in the eternal law" (CCC n.1951)

The Eternal Law refers to the ideas in God's mind, which are the source and models for all the things in creation. Included in these models of types are not only substances, but accidents and all of Providence as well. These models are the bases for all the actions which things perform including man.

All the rest of the material beings in the universe participate in the Eternal Law, but without knowledge or will and so they do this just by realizing the kind of activities which God has placed in their natures. Man on the other hand is given the glory of participating in the divine plan for the world and in realizing his nature by his free choices. This means he must be able to know what the Eternal Law is by his own intelligence. When man understands what his nature is and how his given acts realize his nature or preclude this, he is said to know the Natural Law. "The natural law states the first and essential precepts which govern the moral life" (CCC n.1955). The Natural Law then resides in human reason and is expressed in those principles, which guide the free acts of man. Natural law has nothing in common with the laws of nature, which may be developed or discussed in Physics and Biology. These reflect God governing the world of matter. Natural Law is present in the human mind to guide human free choices. This does not mean that the Natural Law has nothing to do with biology. Because of the union of the soul and body in man, many biological acts are intimately involved in the perfection of the soul and it is under that rubric that Natural Law relates to them. "This law is called 'natural' not in reference to the nature of irrational beings, but because reason which decrees it properly belongs to human nature" (CCC n. 1955).

The specific area of human life which deals with those human acts performed in the earthly community demands a third kind of law. This law is the law which is made by men. It must be based on the Natural Law. There is no ordinance of reason if someone should make a human command, which does not conform to the plan of God for the world. Any law which contradicts the Natural Law is not a law and does not bind to obedience. This third kind of law is known as Human Law and is divided into civil and ecclesiastical law.

Because man is called to an end by nature which he cannot attain by nature, but only by grace, Human Law is insufficient to guide and direct man to his ultimate end. Also, man does not have a clear picture of the Natural law because of the darkness in his intellect due to the fall. Therefore, God gave the fourth kind of law as a divine aid to arrive at the Vision of God as his supernatural end and also as a remedy for the ignorance which human beings experience even about their own natural good after the Original Sin. Since God has also promised the Messiah as the direct and final cure for the wound of the Original Sin, this law is directly related to the community from which the Messiah will come. This is the Divine Positive Law which is contained in the Old and the New Law written in the Old and New Testaments. "There are different expressions of the moral law, all of them interrelated: eternal law -- the source, in God, of all law; natural law; revealed law, comprising the Old Law and the New Law; or Law of the Gospel; finally, civil and ecclesiastical laws" (CCC n. 1952).

All of these expressions of law are absolutely necessary for a complete picture of how reason forms human conduct. The one, which this class will take up as the most important for the relationship of nature to grace, is the Divine Positive Law. This law is one of the two great pillars on which the whole history of salvation rests. The other pillar is grace. One cannot understand grace unless one understands both parts of the Divine Positive Law: The Old Law and the New Law.


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