Posted by: Joel Britton | January 24, 2009

Aquinas and Law Part 1: Eternal Law

Since I share much the same love for Aquinas as those over at Mere Orthodoxy, this post will start a series on the good doctor’s view of law. I’ll start with the theology under girding this concept, elucidate the fourfold division of law, and finally draw some conclusions on topics such as the relation between Church and State.

In his Summa, Aquinas explores a fascinating implication of the doctrine of creation. Since God made everything that exists, He has an idea for how each being should operate. By putting these ideas into actuality, God has made a wisde variety of beings that have specific purposes. Carbon atoms should form bonds with other atoms, particles should have certain attraction to other particles, bees should pollinate flowers, angels should experience truth in a certain matter, and so on. This set of ideas in the mind of God concerning the ideal operations of created beings is known as Eternal Law. It is an eternal and unchanging model for how all created things should best function. Everything follows these laws in a manner appropriate to their created nature. Inanimate objects such as planets and molecules follow deterministically. They are subject to laws such as gravity, and do not deviate from their courses. Humans and angels are also governed by laws directing behavior and motives. As they are intelligent beings, God’s government allows them to follow His Eternal Law by their own choice.

If Aquinas is right, this Eternal Law is the key to discovering who we are and how we were meant to live. When we make judgments concerning the goodness — or lack thereof — of anything, we presumably intend to communicate something true. Insofar as our thought corresponds to the Eternal Law, it is correct. Obviously, this is a rather controversial point of view.

Also, this Eternal Law allows for the founding and pursuit of the scientific method as a means to truth. If material things can be expected to operate in a certain way, experimentation becomes a valid and useful means to discover truth. Within an orderly universe such as Aquinas posits, this investigation is possible.

Next in the series: Natural Law, or Eternal Law applied to mankind.

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