Printer Friendly

[185v] On the law through which comes knowledge of sin.

To acquire a true and complete knowledge of the different types of sin it is of the utmost importance that my discussion of God's law be precise. The apostle [Paul], in fact, writes in Romans, "For through the law comes knowledge of sin." (1) For this reason, in a discussion about the law of God, contained and revealed to us as an outline in the Ten Commandments, I should say a few words about law itself, its classifications, and its functions.

Thesis 1
 For all good laws, there are two chief functions: Teaching human
 beings what should be done or what should be avoided and prodding
 and obligating them to do what should be done and to avoid what
 should be avoided.


I said that there are "two chief functions." Law does, in fact, have other uses--rewarding, punishing, et cetera.

This is all self-apparent, but it is also illustrated by the Hebrew and Italian words for "law." Hebrew torah, in fact, means "teaching," an especially appropriate term [186r] for the law of God that teaches what truly good, fair, and just things ought to be done and what truly evil things ought to be avoided.

Italians, however, call law aligando or "a binding obligation," according to the opinion of some that human beings are bound by laws to do some things and to avoid others. They even require that their princes be obligated to these laws, and they argue that all societies are bound and restrained by established laws. Some even want the word law to be translated for the word bonds (2) with which the Lord says in Hosea 11, that he drew his people. Psalm 2, which reads: "Let us burst their bonds asunder and let us cast their cords from us," is also understood with reference to divine law to which the wicked do not wish to be bound or yoked. (3) If law, then, can rightly be called aligando, this interpretation points to its most important function. Law separates those things that are truly good, right, and just from those that are evil, shameful, and unjust, and teaches that we should do the one but avoid the other.

Therefore, there are these two chief and essential functions for any good law: teaching what should be done or what should be avoided, and commanding and obligating that these things are done or avoided. This is, in fact, almost essential to the concept of law itself. Every teaching makes something known to us, but it does not necessarily obligate anyone to do anything.

Thesis 2
 The most important things that the law teaches and commands,
 however, are that all should get what they deserve and serve whom
 they should serve, both God and human beings.


This is, indeed, good, honest, just, and all that fairness demands. Justinian's Digest defines justice, the basis of all laws, saying: "Justice is the constant and consistent desire to give fairly to all what they deserve." (4) God's law simply requires in its first and second tablet that we render to God what is owed to him alone and that we do not refuse to our neighbors what they deserve. Christ teaches this too. When he was asked what is or is not permitted by God's law about taxation, he responded: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's." (5) In other words, he says to give to people what they deserve. This is the greatest of all laws. For this reason, the Greeks call law, the "customary allotment" (6) because it commands that whatever should be is returned to all people and because it defines for all people the roles and duties that apply to them. Some obligate princes to their subjects; and others obligate subjects to their prince; some subject parents to their children, and others subject children to their parents. This is the basis of all good laws--I mean, that what is good, just, and fair must be shown to each person. However, any action that rejects or contradicts this idea is sin.

Thesis 3
 The goal of all good laws is first and foremost the glory of God,
 then the good of one's neighbor, privately and, most important,
 publicly.


This is, in fact, without a doubt, the opinion held by all religious and truly wise teachers and gains its strength from the foundation of law itself. If the basis for law is, in fact, fairness; namely, that all people get what they deserve, then nothing is more fair than that God receives all honor and glory in the highest and that our neighbors receive what benefits their health and happiness of mind and body. Logically, then, it would follow that the goal of every good and just law is the glory of God and the good of human beings, both in public, then in private. The apostle Paul remarked about this primary goal: "Whatever you do," (but we should do what the natural law and God himself have commanded) "do everything for the glory of God." (7) This exhortation depends on a universal premise that everything we should and can do must be done for the glory of God. In addition, Christ said about all good works, "Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven." (8)

About the second goal, law itself speaks when it includes the promises of the present and future life to those who obey them. This benefit is part of obedience to the law. Also, when it commands first and foremost that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it teaches that whatever we do to our neighbor we ought to do in such a way that we benefit our neighbors and advance their well-being. If that is not possible, we should at least be concerned with the common good of the church and the human race. Magistrates, who take measures that the laws are observed, were set in place for this reason. Why? "So that," as the Apostle says in 1 Timothy, "we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity," (9) and again in Romans 13, "for it is God's servant for your good." (10) Now we know the underlying function, the foundation, [187v] and goal of all good laws.

Thesis 4
 In the past, all good laws flowed out from a good and omnipotent
 God as its primary origin and source.


"All laws have flowed down from the eternal law of God." (11) (Cicero concludes the same thing in his On the Laws.)

1. What, then, is a good law? The revealed will of God, which teaches and commands what should be done and what should be avoided.

2. We know that not just anyone can enact laws. Princes and magistrates do. From where, then, do magistrates receive this authority? From God. (12) Therefore, whoever opposes this authority, opposes the arrangement of God. When God gives the sword to them, he also imparts authority, the knowledge, and the wisdom for enacting laws.

3. Now, in any typology the first item is the model for all those things that come after it. If human laws are simply the will of human beings established by reason and common sense, then the will of God is the source of all laws.

4. Also, if wisdom and all good things are lights from the Father above, then all good laws also come from him.

5. So, James rightly reads, "There is one lawgiver ... who is able to save and to destroy." (13) All other lawgivers derive from this one; thus, every law has its origin in God.

6. In fact, whose responsibility is it to manage all things for the common good? Does it not belong to the fount of every blessing, the ruler of all? I did mention the fact that the goal of law is God's glory and the welfare of each person, the welfare of the church, and the entire human race.

7. Finally, if you admit that the earth is governed by Divine Providence, then you must agree that the just laws, by which every kingdom, province, home, and community is governed, come necessarily from God. Augustine and later, Aquinas, concluded that at first an eternal law dwelt in God who is the most perfect embodiment of reason, and by this reason, God rules the world and thus is the reason for all things that happen. Then, they argue, this reason was imparted to human beings and by it we rule our own activities, and from it flow out our laws. (14)

Thesis 5
 The law is the divine and eternal revelation of God's will, through
 which he teaches what he wishes human beings to do and avoid, and
 by which he warns that it be done or avoided for his own glory and
 for the good of the human race both in private and most of all in
 public.


Law was established as the eternal will and rule for what must be done or avoided for God's glory and for the good of each individual privately and of the entire human race, that God has customarily revealed in various ways to people so that these things might be taught; namely, what people should and should not do and to what virtues they should be obligated and pushed.

Thesis 6
 In the past, God did not reveal his will at all times in the same
 way or to all people, and he does not do so today. Instead, he
 reveals to some people in their own particular fashion and to
 others in different ways. To some, he reveals his will without
 words; to others through words--some spoken, some written.


God has revealed his will to early human beings in a different way from the way in which he revealed it to their descendents, to his church, and to other human beings. He shall, however, inscribe his will on the hearts of all people in his own way, but he does not usually publish it by himself verbally at all times and among all people. To his church, at first, he made it known verbally himself as he did to Adam and the patriarchs; at other times he did so through others, whether angels, miracles, or through ordinary persons, as through Adam to his children or through the preaching of the prophets and apostles. Later he spoke in books and writings through Moses, the prophets, and the apostles. In fact, it was never his habit to speak to nations himself but only through outsiders or those within these nations who have been divinely inspired. Often, he stirs up scholars and teachers for this purpose as he did through the laws of Solon, Lycurgus, Romulus, and Numa, or through missionaries such as Jonah to the Ninevites, other prophets to other nations, and the apostles to the entire world.

Consider carefully the differences between people to whom God's will was revealed and the methods that God likes to use in revealing these things. [188r] The primary classification of law arises with it; that is, into the laws of nature, nations, and God, in other words, into natural law, human laws, and divine laws.

Thesis 7
 Even if, in fact, all just laws come from God, and have been
 established by the eternal reason of his will and even if in this
 respect, they are all divine, still because of the variety of
 people and of methods by which they have been revealed and spread,
 they occur in three types: natural law, human laws, and divine
 laws.


In Gratian's Decretum, (15) all laws are classified as either divine or human. My classification is better because it takes into account all peoples and every method by which the laws are transmitted. Natural law applies to all people. In fact, it is inscribed on every heart by God himself almost from birth. Divine laws look specifically to the church within which God has entrusted his Word. Human laws apply to the remaining peoples who derived their own ordinances from natural law for their own reasons. God's church also observes natural law alongside God's law and even human laws, at least, those that God wants it to follow, since God sometimes orders, sometimes allows, us not to obey our magistrates' wicked laws and customs.
 Now we must examine each type of law to determine what it is
 exactly and to what extent we are subject to it; that is, how much
 we sin if we do not obey it. First, I will examine natural law.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Acton Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion

Title:

Comment:



 

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:On the Law in General
Author:Zanchi, D. Hieronymus
Publication:Journal of Markets & Morality
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
Words:2116
Previous Article:Introduction.
Next Article:On natural law.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters