THOMAS AQUINAS: ON LAW AND THE MORAL LIFE
In this essay, I discuss Thomas Aquinas’s theory of the various kinds of law. I want to communicate as directly and personally as I can Aquinas’s views on how each one of these laws (eternal, natural, human, and divine) helps us achieve our earthly and eternal happiness, which relies upon these laws in so far as they help us find as much truth as possible regarding the reality of God and the proper end of human persons.
Aquinas believed that human beings are to find their satisfaction and gratification in God. God, through grace in various ways and forms, helps humankind to find such fulfillment. Thomas Aquinas’ theology is summed up as “extitus-redutis”: we receive everything from God and return everything back to God. Thus, our knowledge of law and our knowledge of truth depend on our relation to or understanding of the Divine ideas. If we are to live our lives to their fullest, we need to understand what it is that makes us human persons created by a Creator who made this world good. I argue that only if each law is understood as a way toward that fullness of individual’s human capabilities will the laws’ full meaning be reasonably clear and important to all persons. In other words, each law is a way that teaches us what it means to be human and to live out our capabilities and potential as living persons, because Aquinas believed that life is a gift divinely bestowed on us, and we should live it to its fullest (Aquinas 1947: II-II, Q. 64 a.5).
To this end, first, I elucidate Thomas Aquinas’s theory of personhood and how living persons mirror the image of God at least in two ways: by their free choice and in their need for relationality. Second, I connect the idea of personhood with the essence of the law which aims at fostering good persons. Third, I discuss Thomas’ view on how laws shape the moral life of the individual. Thus, I continue with an explanation for how Thomas Aquinas sees a connection between personhood and the laws, and he insists that these four laws (eternal, natural, human, divine) help us maintain our communion with God. In short, laws shape the moral life of the agent (i.e. the human being) and preserve the core of humanity. They act as guards for our personhood. I will try to show how laws relate to a person’s individual and communal responsibilities that require her to act in accordance with reason.
For Thomas Aquinas, the characteristic that distinguishes the human species from all other is their personhood. What does it mean to be a person and to live among other persons in a society? Do any of the laws help us understand that? Margaret A. Farley, an ethicist and Aquinas scholar, explains that what differentiates the human species from other species are two distinct features of their personhood, which are “to know and to be known and to love and to be loved.” (Farley 2002: 37). She continues the explanation by observing that humans are living persons and as such they ought to be treated as “ends in themselves.”1 Aquinas believed that one way persons mirror the image of God is in their capacity for free choice. Because God Himself has free choice (Aquinas 1947: I-I Q.19 a.10), and humans are created in the image of God, then humans have the capacity for free choice. Therefore, the capacity for free choice is the distinctive feature of personhood, and thus Aquinas writes, “Free choice expresses human dignity.” (Aquinas 1947: I, Q. 59 a.3). Then, by similar analogy, the gap between the truths found in the mind of God and the truth found in the human mind could be bridged and articulated in a human language. According to Aquinas’s epistemology, we can see ourselves as able to know things related to God and our relationship to others through human language. In language, we also express our reasoning behind our free choices.
Our ability to choose freely is a part of the definition of persons as “ends in themselves.” But what does it mean to treat persons and one self as “ends in themselves” and to do that through the use and understanding of various laws. Farley explains that when we treat people as ends in themselves, we have two distinct features of persons in mind. The first distinct feature of a person is her capacity for free choice and self-determination. “She [i.e. the person] is an end in herself because she has a capacity for free choice, for self-determination such that it would violate who she is to incorporate her totally as a means into the agenda of another.” (Farley 2002: 37). Hence, law seeks to preserve one’s free choice and independent perseverance of personal happiness and self-actualization.
The second distinct feature of a person is “relationality.” (Farley 2002: 37). This second distinguishing feature of a person is the ability to aspire toward fulfillment in relationships with other humans and with God: it is the capacity to love and be loved. Consequently, she explains as follows:
We are who we are not only because we can to some degree make ourselves to be so by our freedom but because we are transcendent of ourselves through our capacity to know and to love. The relational aspect of persons is not finally extrinsic but intrinsic, the radical possibility of coming into relation, into union, with all that can be known and loved- including the possibility of union with other persons and with God, knowing and being known, loving and being loved. We are each a whole world in ourselves yet always beyond ourselves, “ends” because our center is at once beyond us and within us. We realize these capacities in concrete relationship formed in time and space (Farley 2002: 37).
Thus, law recognizes our need for relationality by ensuring that we have a way to form sacred unions with others and provide us with the means to do that in time and in space (e.g. marriage and freedom of religious expression).
What free choice and relationality imply is that the core functional features of our personhood demand the nurture and the actualization of internal convictions to external practices and relationships in time and space. It demands respect for persons and for their free choices, but this also demands a standard for measuring which choices are good free choices. We must experience and know what is it that makes us distinct and gives us the “natural drive” to establish a relationship between our individual, social, and economic well-being and the various laws that provide guidance toward the good life. Specifically, Thomas Aquinas sees a close relationship between laws and the individual’s moral life, because various laws discuss things that matter to persons’ lives and to their ability to make good free choices. Laws enable persons in a given society to reach a general moral consensus. In this sense, morality is not an eccentric idea, but it is a basic characteristic of humanity. It is not something foreign to us; it is built into our consciousness and human nature.
Yet, the reality of our world abounds with people who fail to see themselves in such a way and are unconscious of their intrinsic worth and dignity. They do things that harm others, harm themselves, and bring disorder and mismanagement of the common good. According to Thomas Aquinas, laws serve as a corrective or preventive of the harmful impulses which some persons might have as a result of bad free choices. He explains how various laws preserve the distinct features of our personhood by minimizing the mistreatment and abuse of persons. Laws are God’s instructions to us as to how to live in ways that achieve earthly happiness and treatment of humans as dignified beings those whose worth is equal to that of other human beings. And even if Aquinas argues that laws would do that for us, he knows that each person is different and unique in herself. Thus, he provides basic advice and instruction for humanity, but Aquinas entrusts to each, in her own time and through her own space, the responsibility of determining those actions that are constitutive of achieving humans’ earthly ends and eternal happiness.
The essence of the law, as Thomas describes it in Summa Theologica (ST) I-II Q.90-103 is “something pertaining to reason. Law is a rule and measure of acts, whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting; it binds one to act [or not to act].” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.90 a.1). The law is a rule or a measure that binds a human being to act in favor of what is good and honorable or restricts her from acting in dangerous and dishonorable ways both for herself and for the common good. Good human acts, according to any kind of law, should be in compliance with reason. Reason, like justice, resides in the rational appetite. The rational appetite is in the more excellent part of the soul (i.e. the will), and as such, reason should guarantee good actions and good free choices of the will.
Aquinas refers to rational knowledge in two ways: the speculative intellect and the practical intellect. The difference between these two lies in the ends they seek to accomplish and not in the intellect itself. Speculative intellect or reason seeks consideration of the truth, and the practical intellect seeks to know what to do in order to acquire certain objectives related to that which is true as existing in the mind of God. The two intellects explain humanity’s relation to the world around them and provide ways through which we know the Divine ideas for our human happiness. Reasonable and just acts, then, are meant to be virtuous and rational if they are done knowingly, have proper knowledge (i.e. voluntary) (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.6 a. 1), are freely chosen (i.e. by choice and for a due end) (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.6 a. 1) and immovable (done with constancy and perpetuity) (Aquinas 1947: II-II, Q.58 a.1). Reasonable (i.e. intellectual) acts make a human being virtuous. In turn, “virtue denotes a certain perfection of power.” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.55 a.1). Virtue is the perfection of habits and actions that have a certain quality of excellence in order to bring the good life, which consists of good deeds (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.57 a.5).
Virtue2, Aquinas explains, is twofold: acquired and infused (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.92 a.1). Acquired virtues are those virtues that we form by practice3 or empirical observations. That is to say, if we know that participating in the virtue of honesty requires practicing intentionally telling of the truth at all time, then we need act in this virtuous way. Or, if we practice generosity and unconditional giving for the common good, through the various social arrangements that allow us to do that, we gradually participate in the virtue of charity. Therefore, each law can make a human being virtuous by “habituating them to good works.” In other words, laws can help one acquire virtues, so that the common good of the State4 and thus our common morality can flourish.
Infused virtues are those virtues that God bestows upon us and Aquinas calls them theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. These are the virtues that direct us to God. Infused virtues, Aquinas writes, “direct us sufficiently to our supernatural end in an inchoate way, that is, in so far as it is to God himself.” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.63 a.3). Laws also provide for infused virtue to express itself. Although laws can never make us believe, hope, or love God or express spiritual needs, laws can provide for free religious exercise. In this way, each human being can search for the ultimate meaning of life in her one way. Laws, thus, are channels through which we preserve our human dignity, basic human rights and reasonable good free choices.
Through this insistence that the essence of law is something pertaining to “reason,”5 Aquinas suggests that for a human being the demand for morality worked out through the use of laws aiming at good and honorable acts and right intentions is not merely juridical, but exists in some first reason, which Aquinas calls God (Aquinas 1947: I Q.9 a.1). This demand stems from the axis of a person’s being; it stems from the very essence of her personhood which mirrors this first reason, God. Thus, the essence of the law is “engraved upon the very heart of a human being,” and as such it is often unwritten. There is no gap between this unwritten law and the ideal of justice, because Divine justice and Divine reason possess their own rule and they are the authors of the ideal justice. Reason is the principle of the Spiritual world (Aquinas 1947: I, Q.103 a. 1), and because of it, we know in our hearts that whatever harms one person also harms another of the same kind. In our hearts, we know that whatever advances our good advances the good of another person. We know what is good, right and honorable, and if people acted upon such knowledge, we would not need the written laws.
To put it differently, through reason we all know that to live in peaceful coexistence and security in a pluralistic society, we need laws that restrict acts of evil, vice, murder and senseless fits of rage. We want protection from acts that threaten our basic personhood, and the promotion of those acts that dignify our liberty and freedom. We want to know that our children are welcomed into the world with open hands and hope. We want to know that they will not be killed by a freed murderer on their way back from school. We want to know that they are protected from drugs and high school massacres. We want to know that our businesses, universities, and social institutions are built by fair contracts that will not disappoint us and cause a crisis of trust. We want to know that our leaders live up to their promises with public accountability and transparency for their actions. We want to know that our parents will not walk out and even if they do, laws will require them to provide for us at least financially. We want to know that laws protect our basic human rights: rights for freedom of speech, opinion, expression, assembly, demonstrations and free elections. We want to know that laws will give us health care, and will assure us that our older years will be filled with equal value and dignity, even if our younger years were not.
By insisting that the essence of the law is built within our own nature, Aquinas maintains that the essence of law consists in following reason and doing reasonable things that lead humanity to their proper earthly and eternal end, namely their bodily, spiritual and communal happiness. In short, the essence of law is directed to the common good and to the building of virtuous citizens. Because reason is a principle of good human acts, then all good human acts are the result of reason. Reason directs the human being to the knowledge of what is “good” and what it means to be human. Just laws, therefore, are concerned with the order of universal happiness for all people, the distribution of resources, and basic notion of the “good.” More precisely, laws are concerned with happiness and body politics, because reason serves the general welfare of humanity and its social ordering.
Because the essence of the law is to follow reason, to live virtuous lives, and to provide for the flourishing of the common good, the law’s primary function is to make a human being good: that is to say, virtuous. God uses the law to instruct humanity on how to achieve this virtuous character by acting in accordance with Divine justice and in harmony with the Divine and Eternal laws of God. In perfect justice, a person acts in a harmonious relationship with all laws. She becomes the law to herself as long as she shares the direction of the One (i.e. Divine Justice) who rules her. In other words, the laws provide a human being means for achieving a moral life- i.e. a life in which the individual becomes a person who acts rightly and justly in all her affairs, and thus acts justly in all her relationships with other persons and eventually with God.
Thomas Aquinas takes this general conception of the law and parses it into four distinct types. These four types are: eternal law, natural law, human law and divine law. Eternal law is that law which is unchangeable and perpetual. He writes that “the Eternal law is the type of Divine government.” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.93 a.4). This law describes the reality as it exists from God’s point of view. The Eternal law expresses of the ideas found in the Divine mind. This is the law which governs the universe. Its essence is the very substance of all other laws. It is possible to say that whatever is subject to divine governance is subject to Eternal law. Eternal law governs the nature of humanity. It constructs the nature of humanity’s ontological categories, because human nature is not subject to human government, even if human conduct is.
Through the effects of Eternal law, we understand its content. Eternal law is the direction of Divine wisdom for the freely chosen motions and acts of every created being (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q. 93 a.1). Eternal law is the law which emanates from the One who governs a perfect community or the “whole community” as created by God. Eternal law orders things actively, so they can attain their proper end. The proper end, from the standpoint of the eternal law, is to establish the rule of the divine government. The divine government, however, is nothing else than God Himself. Therefore, Aquinas writes, “the Eternal law is not ordained to another end [except God Himself].” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.91 a.2). Consequently, Eternal law shapes the standard for all creatures. It regulates human spirit. The natural inclinations of all creatures and their proper acts are subjected to Eternal law. Eternal law has primacy over any other law and, as a result of it every subject is submitted to divine governance. Therefore, eternal law provides a way for God to govern upon the earth, thus supplying for all humanity the divine power needed to achieve perfect and true happiness in all their acts and affairs. In short, eternal law is the source of all other laws.
Eternal law is communicated to us through the natural law. That is to say, what exists in the supernatural, or how the supernatural is ordered is given to us by the natural law causing in us glimpses of the perfect community of God. Eternal law is the law of God’s existence. It is the fundamental principle of the invisible world and through it God causes things into existence. In it God is at the center. God’s decisions and acts are of fundamental importance for the created world. But connecting Eternal law with God’s own existence and the Divine mind, Aquinas insists that Eternal law is unchangeable, just as God is unchangeable. As related to our personhood, Eternal law creates the greatest epistemological difficulties for living persons who seek to know the truths about God and the possibility of knowing God through such a law.
For those who doubt God’s existence, or who adopt a view of God radically different than most religions do, or who hold believe in God with less intensity; or for those who do not want to know God, or be known by God, the glimpses of Eternal law are given through the Natural law. Natural law is the use of practical reason in an attempt to avoid any form of evil. Natural law seeks the good and through it one does the good. Natural law is inborn. Some would call it human “conscience.” Through Natural law, we are able to know, to learn more and inquire about the world around us, to teach our children what is good for them, or to understand that we are different from other species. Natural law is our genuine knowledge of the world around us. Natural law is also the ability to know in different ways. Natural law helps us exercise our intellectual potential even if it takes time, school and dedication for high achievements in intellectually challenging fields. Aquinas is convinced that in Natural law the truth is the same for all. The general principals are known to all, but in terms of practical reason, the difference in details that we encounter in figuring out the contingent matters regarding the good differ from person to person, because our structural or natural inclinations toward the good differ.
Natural law is the expression of the structural tendencies, or natural inclinations, inherent in and proper to human nature by which the human nature is measured and ruled. The structural tendencies of Natural law are twofold. First, it seeks to preserve humanity’s natural goodness, which is sometimes degraded by evil dispositions of nature, passions and evil habits, or what Aquinas calls “sin.” This disposition of nature prevents human to know, or to be aware of what is the natural or the good thing to do.
Second, it preserves the species, especially human species. Natural law, then, has the tendency to empower a human being to exercise her God-given reason in service of its preservation and moral integrity. Basically, natural knowledge tells us that it is good to procreate, to enjoy life, and to care for one’s personal and emotional needs. The natural law is what enables us to use our senses, to imagine, to think and to reason in “truly human ways” cultivated by adequate education, especially literacy in math, science, and the humanities.
Natural law is not a formal set of prescriptions governing human conduct. Rather, it provides the ground for the morally good life. It is not just a human habit. It is the law appointed by reason in all of us (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.94 a.1). Because each human being is unique and peculiar in her emotional and intellectual make-up, Aquinas thinks that she must decide which actions are conductive to her perfection and participation in incarnate Spirit according to her capacity to know and will the good. Each person needs to decide for herself out of her relation to God, her own bodily health, integrity, and ability to live with and relate to others. That is to say, each person has different abilities to grasp or hold the knowledge of the good life. Each person matures at a different pace and has different talents, skills, mental attitudes and values that sharpen her awareness of why it is important to be good, and to seek such goodness in one’s life. In short, each person comprehends “goodness” in ways that are unique for their personhood, culture, and stage of development. Because of such personal differences, the Natural law seeks not to impose the values of one upon the other, but to foster virtue in all people. In other words, in each person the actualization of the good is proportionate to her knowledge of the good and to her free choice for pursuing and developing a sense of the good. Humanity and morality, however, are humanity’s common denominator.
Natural law is the imprint on our nature of the Divine light and through it human beings participate in Eternal and Divine law even if they are unconscious of it (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.91 a.2). This law insists that that a human being has the “natural inclination to know the truth about God and to live in a society; and in this respect whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law.” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.94 a.2). In this way, any act of reasoning is based on principles that are known naturally. In other words, acts of reasoning are available to human beings through their given abilities to reason and intellectually achieve the desired outcome for a particular situation. Thus, to “Natural law belongs everything to which a man is inclined according to his nature” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.94 a.2) and to the natural law belongs humanity’s desire for the good life.
Natural law has a normative edge to it. The norm is that good is to be done in every human act. Each human act must be a good human act. In Natural law, being a living person who is distinct from other species is equal to choosing to perform a good act. It is in this way that the ontological good emerges in a human being as moral good in as much as it is willed and reasonably pursued and freely chosen. The good, therefore, is to be in all circumstances. Without the development of this natural potential, a human being could not participate in the very life of Spirit, because incarnate Spirit requires a participation in Divine life, which is goodness itself.
Aquinas relies upon Natural law for the building of moral life. The moral life, in Thomas’ view, requires more than the pursuit of external goods, or commodities, although these are essential for achieving any form of happiness whether in relation to our earthly end, or to our eternal end. Moral life encompasses the overall perfection of the moral agent. Because of that, Natural law is used as a standard for measuring even the motives and desires of the moral agent. The focus, then, is not only on the right actions alone; the focus is also on the motives and intentions of such actions. A right action could be done out of wrong intentions or motives, and thus serve sinful purposes. To avoid such outcomes, the moral agent must exhibit not only right acts and habits, but also superior skills for discerning, judging and performing moral and right deeds. In short, the moral agent must be virtuous and a person who is good and complete in all of her thoughts, actions, deeds, and responsibilities. Through Natural law, then, progress in moral virtue occurs. Natural law brings equilibrium to reasonable and intelligent ends that have been done through the intentional use of the speculative and the practical intellect, thus bringing meaning and integrity to both the acts of reasoning and to the actual performance of such acts. In this way, infused and acquired virtues are both entirely consistent with reason and the moral law.
Natural law also concerns emotional wholeness. Emotions are part of who we are as living persons.6 Persons have the human organs and abilities to express emotions. Human persons have physical bodies. Their bodies are not disconnected from their intellect and reason. In fact, every expression of reason is done through our human bodies and that is why laws are connected with bodily politics as well. Emotions, however, are not something that we usually legislate by a law, but they are defined characteristics of our personhood. In this way, Natural law supports forms of human nurturing and association that are crucial for developing a person’s emotional wholeness.
Natural law helps us express grief at the absence of a loved one, helps us experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger, but one dose not make laws that concern the passions, because passions reside in the other part of the soul. They are not objective guides for justice. But emotional wholeness and passions are essential for our growth and personhood. Care and concern for others must be nurtured and taught so that we are able to experience worthy living, but we cannot make a law that requires one to love the other. Yet without Natural law, we cannot love and be loved, know and be known. Therefore, Natural law is what God has given us and guides us into morally fulfilling lives. Natural law is the introduction and the basis of human law. Human law is what brings light and adequate knowledge for some people regarding human affairs. The reason we need knowledge through the human law for human affairs is because in some humans “natural knowledge is darkened by passions and habits of sin.” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.93 a.6).
Human law: In Aquinas’ view, Human law is the use of reason regarding practical and public matters. Human law is analogous to “civil law” in that it governs public issues and civil affairs. By definition, Human law should promote the common good. Human law derives from the natural law, because it is based on reason, which draws its rules from the natural law. This law seeks to administer the just thing, which in to say the right thing, in human affairs. To this end, Human law provide the necessary training for humanity to achieve virtue by requiring humanity to do and to act according to rules framed after the natural law. Thus, Aquinas writes, “every human law has just so much of the nature of law as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it departs from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of laws.” (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.95 a.2). In other words, human laws that we write are a formal framing of rules for some of our natural drives. Human laws bind the wicked and preserve the innocent, so that human beings, some of them wicked others good, can live in peace and security. Human laws are the binding contracts for peaceful existence and mutual respect among living persons and their structure is derived from reason and rational presuppositions that would lead to the rationally and freely chosen acts according to our concept of the good.
There are three primary issues regarding human law. First, there is the nature of human law. Human law, in general, has coercive power. Humanity has the natural aptitude for virtue and it is possible that wise human beings frame laws that would guide others to achieve moral virtues, but often with coercive power the subject is ruled by the one who holds the power to create the law (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.95 a.1). Human laws are framed and written. They help the individual realized her wrong actions, but they has a coercive force as well. They bind the person in morality by force. In contrast to Natural law, human law has a punitive function.
Second, Human law has moral force because it is able to produce good and right acts, even if the execution of such acts sometimes demands the restriction and punishment of another. In other words, the human law has the power of a moral force to make individuals responsible for their character and their conduct, precisely because it holds them accountable for what they have done against another individual, and thus against reason.
Third, though Human law periodically changes, lawmakers strive to give it longevity and consistence. Consistent human laws provide the framework for just human acts. Such consistency is in accordance with Natural law and often human law is derived from natural law in two ways: 1) as a conclusion from a more general principle of the Natural law, or 2) as some determination of Natural law. In other words, Human law is the written letter of the natural law, but it is concerned only with acts of justice, for the human law nurtures virtuous life only as it concerns social justice and thus it binds us to legal duty (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.99 a.5). Therefore, it is right to say that human laws serve justice and thus provide a basic moral consensus for the society in which persons live. Legal and moral duties both imply the notion of justice, or of the right thing to do, and that is why they help the individual grow morally, thus forming a trusting relationship and faithful interactions with other persons. It follows then that human laws provide grounds for keeping our human dignity, and Aquinas calls legal knowledge “a spiritual gift.” (Aquinas 1947: II-II, Q.167 a.1).
The Human Law has two distinct features that are common for all kinds of civil communities. First, human law prohibits murder and the unjust taking of another life. This follows from natural law that insists that no evil should be done to anyone. Murder is a direct offense against the very image of God, and it causes disorder and instability in the society where human beings live together. Moreover, murder is not in compliance with reason, or intellectual strength, which are ways in which we mirror God’s image and likeness. Murder is a crime both according to Natural law and according to Divine law. To hinder people from committing such a crime, we need human laws.
Second, human law demands that no harm be done to another, and whenever possible good should be done. Harm is something unnatural, because no one naturally wants to be harmed. Harm has many forms. For example, intellectual harm is to prevent one’s own intellectual development and flourishing, or to prevent another’s intellectual development or flourishing. Emotional harm involves verbal abuse to another person or the torments of oneself through a severe sense of guilt. Physiological harm involves deception, fraud and manipulation of another human being, or the denial of one’s own good through irrational motives. Bodily harm involves physical violence or sexual abuse of another, or a poor use of one’s own body. Personal harm involves disrespect for one’s free choice and self-determination, or for another’s free choice. Political harm involves tyrannical and unjust government. Against such harms, human law must safeguard every community. Therefore, human law is the moral fiber that helps us form good habits. Human law sees that we do no harm to others or to ourselves, but that we do “good” in relation to oneself and to another.
Divine Law: Divine law is promulgated (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.98 a.3) in a special way and requires Divine language. Aquinas divides it into two: the old and the new (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.98-108). The old law, for example, is the Ten Commandments of God, and the new law is amplified in the life and teachings of Jesus. The old law focuses on punishment and fear and the new law focuses on love. Divine law is necessarily because it guides humanity according to Divine reason and toward a mature understanding and illumination of humanity’s ultimate end: her eternal happiness. To participate and accomplish such an end, humanity needs divine guidance and empowerment, because humanity lacks the capacity to do that in their own way. Divine instruction, therefore, does three things, in order to achieve such an end. First, divine law helps a human being to know how to order her affairs so that she achieves her final end: a final end in which God is her ultimate happiness and eternal bliss.7 Humanity’s final end is eternal happiness. Eternal happiness has another dimension, however. To participate in that dimension while on earth, humanity needs instruction for its acts and human affairs. Divine law provides this direction and allows a human being to share more fully in eternal law, which is often led by the Spirit (Aquinas 1947: I-II, Q.91 a.4).
Second, Divine law also guides against any evil deed that might hinder the flourishing of the human being. Any form of evil, whether in personal and bodily manners or in communal affairs which hinders a human being to establish habits and characters pertaining to the virtuous life must be avoided. To do that, Divine law is required. In this way, Divine law removes doubt and insures certainty in particular moral matters related to humanity’s earthly end, which is the flourishing of the body, mind and the soul in relation to human community. Thus, Divine law prevents the expansion of evil and keeps the soul pure and uncorrupted by sin.
Third, Divine law secures the reciprocal relationship that must exist between the internal and external acts. Divine law alone can help a human being harmonize her spiritual needs and her bodily actions. In other words, faith without works is dead, and works without faith amounts for nothing.8 Justification in the sight of God requires that faith and deeds exist together. True faith and thus true virtue requires that words and actions go together. If there is a divide between words and actions, and good and effective words are substituted in a place of transformative behavior, true faith cannot exist. Virtues ought to be embodied in living persons. They must be acted out in concrete human actions, and in this way, they lead the individual to know God and to be known by God.
Any internal acts pertaining to the soul, such as faith or patience must live themselves out in concrete ethical behavior. In other words, even if God infuses the soul with good moral things, they must be realized by acts that help the individual follow the Divine laws. The Divine law, then, includes the whole of morality and not one action here and another good deed there. The Divine law becomes like ethical mandates that seek to bring wholeness to all aspects of existence, and in this way, we may say that the Divine law is considered perfect. Therefore, Divine law is the expression of Divine freedom. Divine law is not identical to the human law, or to different rules or regulation, but emphases the ethical and moral applications of all other laws. It is Divine law that moves a human being to internal disposition and understanding that motivates her to choose freely acts of faith and virtue.
Divine law presents one whole law: just as morality is one whole. This means that one cannot claim to be moral just because at one moment in time, one acts moral even though one has acted immorally elsewhere. Morality must overwhelm the human person so that it influences all of her personhood. But it seems difficult to live such a life, especially if you have to struggle with the knowledge of God’s will or the things that are planned by Divine Wisdom. I have argued that it is the basic ground of our personhood and it is the thing that gives us the greatest happiness in life. To experience and live in a more humane and honest way, we must obey just laws, not because they restrict our freedom, liberty, or individuality, but because they enhance it. Laws provide us with knowledge about the eternal and divine laws, and thus help us perfect our human knowledge and conceptual system of the good.
In conclusion, I have tried to show that each law is directed toward humanity’s spiritual, bodily and communal happiness and fulfillment. Laws are God’s means for leading us into the actualization of the good proportionate to our desire for participating in the Spirit, because according to Aquinas, the life of a human being is twofold: one exterior, lived in our sensible and bodily nature, and another spiritual, lived in the mind (Aquinas 1947: II-II, Q.23 a.1). Laws help us form habits that serve for the development of our moral life, happiness and the spiritual life of the mind. Laws help us know what we can about God, and how God can know us. Laws secure our very personhood. They are like sanctuaries for our human dignity. Because of them, we know how to live well throughout our lives and how to create social structures and institutions that help us grow morally and advance our general welfare. Through the eternal, natural, human and divine laws, we know about our spiritual needs and goals, and realize the opportunity to participate in incarnate Spirit. Laws are an expression of what the Divine reason provides for humans in order to live our human freedom more fully. In this way, personal and human freedom is not restricted or sacrificed, but is made richer, satisfying and happier. Through laws relationship with a personal God can exist in time and space. The ability to perceive this concrete reality with God and with other living persons is the gift of laws.
1. Immanuel Kant made this claim a long time after Aquinas, but the truth of the claim is present in Aquinas’ writings. See Kant (1964). [îáðàòíî]
2. Aquinas also has the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude (Aquinas 1947: I-II Q.61 a.2) of which prudence is the chief principle and the superior virtue for all other virtues. [îáðàòíî]
3. Alasdair MacIntyre defines practice as follows: “By a ‘practice’ I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, which is the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended” in MacIntyre (1984: 187). [îáðàòíî]
4. Aquinas was convinced that each State prospers only if its citizens live virtuous lives and obey the laws of those who govern them given the fact that those who govern must themselves be virtuous. The State also prospers because the citizens know that they have a duty to live and act in a particular way, that is to say, live in accordance with just laws. In short, each law aims at producing good citizens, thus, helping their spiritual, moral, and intellectual development reach its apex. [îáðàòíî]
5. In Aquinas’ writings the term “reason” is properly understood only if it is related to the universal human inclination of a worthy desire to live the good life, and not its Enlightenment definitions. Reason is related to beatitude, which consists of the highest perfection of cognitive and normative character (Aquinas 1947: I-I Q.62 a.1). [îáðàòíî]
6. Aquinas writes, “a man has a faculty for laughing” (Aquinas 1947: I, Q. 44 a.1), and “the faculty for laughing characterizes man” (Aquinas 1947: I, Q. 3 a.4). [îáðàòíî]
7. Aquinas writes, “Complete happiness consists in comprehending the highest spiritual value, namely, God” (Aquinas 1947: I Q.64 a.2). [îáðàòíî]
8. The Book of James 2: 14-18 in Harper (1993). [îáðàòíî]
Aquinas 1947: Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologia. Edition of the Dominican Fathers. New York: Benziger Bros., 1947.
D’Entreves 1970: D’Entreves, A. P. Natural Law: An Introduction To Legal Philosophy. 2nd Hutchinson University Library Series in Philosophy. Ed. S. Korner. London: Hutchinson, 1970.
Farley 2002: Farley, Margaret A. Compassionate Respect: A Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics and Other Questions. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2002.
Finnis 1980: Finnis, John. Natural Law and Natural Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Harper 1993: Harper Collins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.
Kant 1964: Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue. Translated by James Ellington. New York: The Library of Liberal Arts, 1964.
MacIntyre 1984: MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.
Preller 1967: Preller, Victor S. Divine Science and the Science of God: A Reformation of Thomas Aquinas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.
© Galina Draganova