Cory Ruda St.

Thomas Aquinas on Natural Law Laws have been in practice from the first semblance of civilization marred the face of our planet Earth. It seems necessary to all but very few, and such has held an important place is hypothetical discussion. How should it be controlled, and created? What should it include? Who should have a say in what exactly it is? Government parties were and are being created with every regime to analyze and set in place laws. Theologists discuss whether religion should have a place in law, and if so, to what extent it should be referred to. Entire sets of laws have been created because of religion alone, such as any location held by the Church before the Age of Enlightenment, and Sharia law in Muslim nations. Some systems have taken a more religiously unfounded set of laws. One set of laws, originally not founded on religion but pulled into more of a religious context, found itself as a basis for American ideals, and as a platform for the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. This is the theory of Natural law. One of its prime supporters is the man known as St. Thomas Aquinas. Through Aquinas work and explanations in his writing, Summa Theologiae, or Theological Compendium, in the late thirteenth century, Natural Law theory once more took center stage, and expanding into Christian thinking. Aquinas natural law, evolved as it is, set the basis for natural law of all times. Natural law, as many other things, is said to begin with its father. For natural law, that father is Aristotle. Interestingly enough, the phrase “natural law” (or nomos tēs physeōs) was never understood to be stated by Aristotle, so it could be understood that he is but a forefather of natural law theory, if not its father. (Corbett) Unlike Aquinas natural law theory, Aristotle’s natural law, or natural rights, separated the idea of natural from the idea of law. He does this in his separation of natural and legal justice. He starts out by the idea that people that rights that are

given to them simply by their existence in the world, not just through legal matters. This is based on what Aristotle calls “natural right.” He then asserts that laws make it so that humans be treated with as these natural rights demand. (Kraut) In his Rhetorica, Aristotle states, “Universal law is the law of Nature. For there really is…a natural justice and injustice that is binding on all men, even on those who have no association or covenant with each other.” Kainz 6) This is the basis for Natural Law Theory. Aristotle’s idea of natural rights, however, veers away from natural law theory that Aquinas seems to hold. These natural rights do not suggest that people may act as they please as long as no one is harmed in doing so. For example, in a hypothetical city that Aristotle conceives, it would be mandatory that educated citizens vote, and that all children attend schools. (Kraut) However, in the simple idea that all have a series of rights that may not be interfered with, that they are born with, and that political law set by man should be based around these natural rights, it is clear that Aristotle is one of if not the first to conceive of natural law theory. The next evolution of natural law theory occurs with the Stoics, and a man by the name of Marcus Tullius Cicero. The Stoics developed natural law theory, and coined the term, to include the idea of an eternal or divine law which gave order to the universe, as well as to the humans who follow under this law. It, however, didn’t bother with the idea of if it was a natural or divine source. There is an eternal law, they claimed, and the way in which we pitiful humans follow it is what they knew as natural law. To follow this law was virtuous, they believed, which made man relatively “good.” (Carlyle 8-9) Cicero took this idea and first inserted the name “God” into the origin of natural law theory. By doing this, he set himself as a main influence on Aquinas understanding of natural law theory. Cicero’s natural law theory was also the first to assert itself into a utilitarian ideal by stating the

idea that natural law theory required of people to assist in the overall good for the most amount of people, a staple of utilitarian thinking. Utilitarianism asserts the necessity for the “safety of citizens, preservation of states, and the tranquility and happiness of human life.” (Carlyle 9) He gave natural law theory a clear and distinct purpose with this. From here, Christian writers latched on to the theory, and really inserted it into both religion, and society. Aquinas, being Aquinas, bases his natural law theory on The Great Divine, God. Thus, his law is eternal, as it stems from a being who is, in essence, eternal. Aquinas defines law as, in the greater idea of justifying eternal law, a dictate of reason from the ruler for the community he rules. (Aquinas) Thus, by God himself being eternal, and through God’s omniscience, if at any point God were to set down a series of laws, they would have to be eternal. This is followed, naturally, by, “Is there a natural law within His creations?” He answers this by stating that a law can be both in the ruler’s conscience, as well as within that which he is governing. (Aquinas) Since God created us and is all powerful in every way, is it not possible that He could have imprinted within us these natural, divine laws? This, of course, seems an obvious answer to Aquinas. Thus, man is imprinted with natural laws which give him a sense of purpose and end from his very creation. This does not mean, however, that we are without the ability to ignore and break these laws. Quite to the contrary, do we not treat others with disdain at times? It is because we are what we are, human, that we are able to break the natural laws engraved in us by our Holy Creator. By being human, we are free-willed by definition. We do not enjoy or accept the fact that we are born with rules and a set end. We have to find out, often through pain and suffering, that natural law is our correct path. It is said by Aquinas, however, that we will return to our correct path because natural law allows it through reason. Once we find the correct path, we are given what it is that we most desire. We will find eternal happiness because we have found the

correct path in our lives. This finding of our correct path through reason and cognition is what is truly meant as natural law. It is our participation in God’s eternal law. To explain, Aquinas grants that there are four types of law. There are eternal, natural, human, and Divine. The first is eternal law. Aquinas states, “Moreover [God] governs all the acts and movements that are to be found in each single creature… Accordingly the eternal law is nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.” (Aquinas Q 93, A 1) Thus, eternal law is God’s giant storybook entailing the actions and consequences of all that we know and do. In relation to eternal law is natural law. Our following of natural law is how we relate to eternal law. Divine law is law which is only accessible through the revealing of God’s word, such as the Bible. Human law is, of course, law which we as humans create and attempt to impose on others. Aquinas states that, while humans have a certain aptitude towards good and virtue through natural law, we at times need a helping hand to continue in that goodness towards the eternal law God has set before us. Just as we need clothes and food, man needs law to help himself and others towards the most important finding of virtue and good. Aquinas says specifically, “Therefore in order that man might have peace and virtue, it was necessary for laws to be framed: for, as the Philosopher (Aristotle, of course, the forefather of natural law) says, "as man is the most noble of animals if he be perfect in virtue, so is he the lowest of all, if he be severed from law and righteousness"; because man can use his reason to devise means of satisfying his lusts and evil passions, which other animals are unable to do.” (Aquinas Q 95 A 1) Human law, to Aquinas, should be based on natural law and kept strictly in its image. Without the image of natural law in sight, human law will fall to the dark will of corrupt man. If so, human law must be cast aside. Any human law, to Aquinas, that is not just or pure is not at all a law and must be

ignored as evil. (Aquinas Q 97 A 2) What exactly does natural law entail? To hail back to Cicero’s utilitarian tenant of natural law, Aquinas states, “Good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided.” (Aquinas Q 90, A 3) In this is natural law openly exposed. If it is good, follow that path. If it is evil, stay away from it. The second tenant of Aquinas natural law is that we preserve ourselves and our lives. (Aquinas Q 94 A 2) Thus, the most contemptible thing man could do is commit suicide. Not only would this be a corruption of the first tenet, causing considerable unhappiness and evil, but it is the destruction of God’s ultimate gift to us: our lives. If to act good is the general overview of Aquinas' natural law, than how exactly should we go about reaching that end? Is anything good and virtuous acceptable under natural law? Aquinas would argue here that one would have to question whether or not the virtue is being considered in its pure, hypothetical form, or in its state of being performed. If it is the act being performed that is considered, than all virtuous acts are deemed good by natural law theory. Aquinas cites that since all things in nature are inclined to produce according to it's form. “Thus fire is inclined to give heat.” (Aquinas Q 94 A 3) According to Aquinas and natural law, man is predisposed to virtue by reason. Consequently, virtuous acts performed are good, and prescribed by natural law. However, if spoken of as the abstract form of act, not all virtuous acts would be accepted through natural law since their nature may not be absolutely pure.(Aquinas Q 94 A 3) It is in a manner to say that in this discussion, motive is all the answer. One of the final discussions held by Aquinas in the natural law section of his Summa Theologica is if natural law is the same for all, or if it varies between certain individuals. The objections given are that, because not all men follow the word of God, or more specifically, the good book of the Bible, not all men would follow the same understanding of natural law as

others. The second objection is that there is no universally just thing so pure that it is unchanging to every man. Lastly, because every man is different according to his nature, “some to the desire of pleasures, others to the desire of honors, and other men to other things,” (Aquinas Q 94 A 4) and because natural law is suited to human nature ( as stated in Aquinas Q 94 A 1-3 as well as Q 90) natural law can not be equal and unchanged between individuals. In response, Aquinas explains that it is true that “all men are inclined to act according to reason.” (Aquinas Q 94 A 4) Reason is one pure entity, to no doubt. It is in itself a singular form. The problem is, however, that, when used by multitudes, common reason can come under defects by the simple reason that everyone reasons differently. Since each individual reasons differently, and each individual is set by nature to have different likes and dislikes, bias and otherwise, different outcomes will be produces. Thus, natural law is the same for all. It is the problems inherit with the individual that changes the outcome. Thus is natural law as explained by Aquinas. Natural law, as stated previously, would continue to evolve through the year, becoming more and more advanced as time passed. However, it would still stay true to its origins with the Philosopher, the Stoics, and the Christians.

Bibliography Richard Kraut "Are there natural rights in Aristotle?". Review of Metaphysics, The. 11 Dec, 2010.

http: // Corbett, Ross J. "Aristotle and Natural Law Theory authored by Ross J. Corbett." All AcademicResearch. All Academic Inc., 2008. Web. 09 Dec 2010. < 7/0/9/pages267091/p267091-1.php>. Kainz, Howard P. Natural Law: An Introduction and Re-Examination. 1st. Peru, Il.: Open court Publishing Company, 2004. 6. Print. A.J. Carlyle, A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1903). Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica. English translation by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, in three volumes (New York: Benziger Bros. 1947)

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