Natural Law: A Paleo-Reformed Defense

The good folks at Credenda Agenda have published an article I’ve written on natural law.

It is sort of a companion piece with my earlier two-kingdoms essay (and that’s where you can see the law/gospel relationship in more detail), but this topic can certainly stand on its own.

This entry was posted in natural law by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

4 thoughts on “Natural Law: A Paleo-Reformed Defense

  1. Steven,

    I liked your article. One important concern: St. Thomas actually identifies four kinds of law rather than three. We must be careful not to attribute to him the great mistake made by Luther and Calvin in confounding the divine and eternal laws. For Aquinas, the divine law is God’s two-fold historical revelation to humanity (the Old and New Laws). By contrast, the eternal law is described as follows:

    ”Just as in every artificer there pre-exists a type of the things that are made by his art, so too in every governor there must pre-exist the type of the order of those things that are to be done by those who are subject to his government. And just as the type of the things yet to be made by an art is called the art or exemplar of the products of that art, so too the type in him who governs the acts of his subjects, bears the character of a law, provided the other conditions be present which we have mentioned above (Question [90]). Now God, by His wisdom, is the Creator of all things in relation to which He stands as the artificer to the products of his art, as stated in the FP, Question [14], Article [8]. Moreover He governs all the acts and movements that are to be found in each single creature, as was also stated in the FP, Question [103], Article [5]. Wherefore as the type of the Divine Wisdom, inasmuch as by It all things are created, has the character of art, exemplar or idea; so the type of Divine Wisdom, as moving all things to their due end, bears the character of law. Accordingly the eternal law is nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.” (Question 93 Article 1 Summa Theologica)

    As you can see, St. Thomas’ view of the eternal law carries theological, metaphysical and epistemological consequences of the greatest importance, the latter being especially crucial with regard to the modern attacks on the natural law.

    I would invite you to explore in depth Aquinas’ concept of the eternal law and its relation to the other kinds of law as a most fruitful and worthwhile endeavor.


  2. Hi Michael,

    I actually used the qualifier “general” to describe the three types, because the later use of “divine law” is itself a more specific issue rather than the general categories of orderings and principles. This seems to be the flow of the Summa as well.

    I did goof by using “divine” rather than “eternal,” and so that’s a good catch. It was caused by the particular concerns of the modern debate (whether “nature” is working apart from God). Hooker has similar extra distinctions. For my purposes though, I was seeking to show how “natural law” relates to “God’s law” (in all of its capacities).

    Calvin and Luther wouldn’t be uncomfortable with the distinction when it comes to intellectual or political issues, except insofar as it might be used to import “new law” into man’s justification before God. Their objection to that would not be stemming from a metaphysical paradigm or lack of categories though, but rather their exegesis of the Apostle Paul.

  3. Steven, if you are going to take a shot at 2k advocates, you might actually describe the position accurately rather than cast aspersions for implications you read there. VanDrunen and I do not advocate “secularism.” And I do not claim that religion is a universe unto itself. Would you like to be called theonomic?

  4. Hi Darryl,

    Merry Christmas! Even as we have a spirited disagreement, I hope that the holidays are finding you well.

    I thought you had called me theonomic in the past (comments here, and you certainly called me a Federal Visionist here, and probably also here). I did give you the benefit of promoting your “own form of secularism,” thus acknowledging some original spin. Do you not claim that term for yourself? (as in A Secular Faith)

    If you don’t disagree that religion informs natural law and impacts the way in which it will be applied in a society, then I suppose that you and I are both transformationalists of some sort. But I thought we didn’t agree.

    And of course, I am a 2k advocate myself. It is only that I’m attempting to articulate the original form the doctrine rather than its modern revision. If the surgery is painful, I will attempt to provide more anesthesia in the future, but it is nonetheless a necessary procedure.

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