Lesson 6: The Old Law 2

The Old Law was a necessary stage in the progressive education of Israel by God in the ways of God. This stage remedied for the defect of ignorance in the intellect in the human race, which was one of the two principle punishments for the Original Sin. The other was malice in the will.

Human Law is directed to one end and Divine Law to another. Human Law is directed to peace in temporal affairs. This law accomplishes this by forbidding certain acts harmful to the peace of the state in external affairs. Divine Law is meant to guide man to eternal happiness through both interior and exterior acts. Human Law restrains the hand. Divine Law restrains both the heart and the hand. The Divine Law is medicine for the wound of the Original Sin. The Old Law is an incomplete and limited remedy because it can only heal certain symptoms of the disease, but cannot arrive at the root cause in itself. The Old Law does this by removing sin and so its purpose is to remove obstacles in both interior and exterior acts to accepting the coming of the Holy Spirit through the Messiah. The Old Law therefore has as its purpose union with God in heaven by means of the reception of grace here. The problem is that the Old Law does not in itself confer grace. It was good and perfect for its time, but not in relation to the final consummation of the world.

The Old Law was imperfect. "For the law made nothing perfect" (Hebrews 7:19). It could only remove obstacles but could not bring man to his end because the law did not in itself confer grace. In this sense, the Old Law kills. It was not the efficient cause of death and sin because it is good. It is only the occasional cause. The Latin way of putting this is that the Old Law did not cause death efficialiter, but occasionaliter. One can live the fullness of even the Old Law only by grace. One might keep the letter of the commandments but not their spirit without the Holy Spirit conferring grace. Man after the giving of the Law was more guilty of sin because he knew how all the sins were connected with God the Creator. He could not plead ignorance. Also, forbidden fruits are the more attractive. Man understood very well why all the sins against the Natural Law were forbidden.

The yoke of the Law could only be borne with grace, a grace that it did not in itself give. What is first in intention is last in execution. Christ was first in the intention of God. The purpose of this creation was the glorification of God in Christ. One could be justified under the dispensation of the Old Law and receive grace by prayerful faith in the coming of Christ as the future Messiah. "The Spirit who gives a law which none can obey without grace is also the Spirit who grants the grace of observing it by first inspiring a prayer of petition to this effect" (St. Augustine quoted by the Council of Trent in DS 1536 and DS 3718). One could receive grace under the dispensation of the Original Sin. The one who has faith receives grace but not the character of conformity with Christ. So if he sins, he reverts to the Original Sin.

In Hebrews 11, St. Paul enumerates all the people in the Old Testament who were justified by faith. "And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. . . . And all these well attested by faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11: 6 and 39-40).

Those who had cooperated with God under the dispensation of the Old Law should have immediately recognized Christ when he came, as this is the one they were preparing for. The Lord says that the fact that they did not accept him is because they were not true Israelites. In fact, they will be judged more harshly than the pagans will.

Both the Ceremonial and Juridical precepts were oriented to fulfillment in Christ. The Ceremonial precepts of the cult are all fulfilled in Christ's passion. Simeon expresses the fulfillment by Christ of both the Natural and the Old Law when he sees the Child who comes to meet the Temple and begin the completion of the cult. He says, "Now, Lord, you can let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. For my eyes have seen your salvation. A light [the means of knowledge in philosophy] of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory [the shekenah which covered Mt. Sinai and filled the Temple during the sacrifices] of your people Israel" (Luke 2: 29-32). The veil of the Temple is torn in two at the hour of Christ's sacrifice to show that Jesus completes the cult. The Juridical precepts of the Old Law are brought to completion because Jesus shows us what our relationship with our neighbor is to be like.

The sacraments of the Old Law did not confer grace, but they did look forward to the future Messiah. Luther taught that the sacraments of the New Law of Christ and the sacraments of the Old Law caused grace in exactly the same way, i.e. by faith. Catholics believe that the sacraments of the New Law in themselves cause grace. The sacraments of the Old Law only cause grace by being means to express the faith of the recipient.

According to Christian tradition, the Law is holy, spiritual, and good, yet still imperfect. Like a tutor it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a "law of concupiscence" in the human heart. However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides a teaching, which endures forever, like the Word of God. (CCC n. 1963)

The Old Law is a preparation for the Gospel. "The Law is a pedagogy and a prophecy of things to come." It prophesies and presages the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ: it provides the New Testament with images, "types," and symbols for expressing the life according to the Spirit. Finally, the Law is completed by the teaching of the sapiential books and prophets which set its course toward the New Covenant and the Kingdom of heaven.

There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law. Conversely, there exist carnal men under the New Covenant, still distanced from the perfection of the New Law: the fear of punishment and certain temporal promises have been necessary, even under the New Covenant, to incite them to virtuous works. In any case, even though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom "God's charity has been poured into our hearts." (CCC n. 1964)

Assignment Two

Write a three page paper on the subject: Evaluate the content of the Old Law as a necessary preparation to receive grace.


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