Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION XCIII.: OF THE ETERNAL LAW. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION XCIII.: OF THE ETERNAL LAW. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF THE ETERNAL LAW.
Article I.—Is the Eternal Law the Sovereign Plan existing in the mind of God?1
R. As with every artificer there pre-exists the plan of the things that are set up by art, so in every governor there must pre-exist a plan of the order of the things that are to be done by those who are subject to his government. And as the plan of things to be done by art is called a pattern or exemplar, so the plan of him who governs subjects has the character of a law, if the other conditions are observed, which we have said to be essential to a law. Now God by His wisdom is the Creator of all things, and stands to them as the artificer to the products of his art. He is also the governor and controller of all the acts and movements that are found in any creature. And as the plan of divine wisdom has the character of an exemplar, pattern, or idea, inasmuch as by it all things are created, so the plan of divine wisdom moving all things to their due end has the character of a law. And thus the Eternal Law is nothing else than the plan of divine wisdom, as director of all acts and movements.
Article II.—Is the Eternal Law known to all?
R. A thing may be known either in itself, or in its effects, wherein some likeness of the thing itself is found: as one not seeing the sun in its substance knows it in its refulgence. Thus then the Eternal Law none can know as it is in itself, except God alone, and the Blessed who see God in His essence: but every rational creature knows the law in some reflection or refulgence of it, greater or less. For every knowledge of truth is some sort of refulgence and participation of the Eternal Law, which is the unchangeable truth. Now all men do know the truth to a certain extent, at least to the extent of the common principles of the natural law. For the rest, some men partake more and some less, in the knowledge of truth; and thus they also know the Eternal Law more or less.
Article III.—Is every law derived from the Eternal Law?
R. The plan of what is to be done in the State is derived from the King, by his precept issued to inferior administrators. Also in things of art the plan of what has to be done by art is derived from the architect or designer to the inferior artificers and handicraftsmen. Since therefore the Eternal Law is the plan of government in the mind of the Supreme Governor, all the plans of government in the minds of inferior governors must be derived from the Eternal Law. But these plans of inferior governors are all other laws besides the Eternal. Therefore all laws, exactly to the extent to which they partake of right reason, are derived from the Eternal Law.
§ 2. A human law bears the character of law so far as it is in conformity with right reason; and in that point of view it is manifestly derived from the Eternal Law. But inasmuch as any human law recedes from reason, it is called a wicked law; and to that extent it bears not the character of law, but rather of an act of violence. And yet in so far as something of the likeness of law is retained even in this wicked law, on account of the order of power in him who made the law, in this respect it is still derived from the Eternal Law: for all power is of the Lord God, as is said.1
§ 3. Augustine says: “The law which is written for the guidance of a people, rightly permits many things which are punished by Divine Providence.” Human law is said to permit some things, not as approving of them, but as being unable to rectify them. Many things are set straight by divine law, which cannot be set straight by human law: for more comes under the action of a higher cause than under that of a lower. Hence this very abstinence of human law from meddling with what it cannot rectify, springs from the order of the Eternal Law. It would be otherwise if the human law approved of what the Eternal Law reprobates. Hence we have not got the conclusion that human law is not derived from the Eternal Law, but only that it cannot perfectly come up to it.
Article IV.—Are things necessary and eternal subject to the Eternal Law?
R. The Eternal Law is the system of divine government. Whatever things, therefore, are subject to divine government, are subject also to the Eternal Law: but as for what is not subject to divine government, neither is it subject to the Eternal Law. For those things are subject to human government which can be done by men: but what appertains to the nature of man is not subject to human government, as that man should have a soul, or a hand, or feet. Thus then all that is in the things created by God, be it contingent or be it necessary, is subject to the Eternal Law: but what belongs to the Divine Nature or Essence is not subject to the Eternal Law, but is really the Eternal Law itself.
Article V.—Are natural contingent things subject to the Eternal Law?1
R. We must speak in one way of the law of man, and in another way of the Eternal Law, which is the law of God. For the law of man does not extend except to rational creatures subject to man. The reason is, because law has the direction of acts which are proper to the subjects of some government: hence, strictly speaking, none imposes a law upon his own acts. Now whatever is done touching the use of irrational things subject to man, is done by the act of man himself moving such things. And therefore man cannot impose a law upon irrational things, however much they be subject to him:1 but on rational beings subject to him he can impose a law, inasmuch as by his precept or proclamation he impresses on their minds a rule, which is a principle of action. Now as man by his proclamation impresses an inward principle of action upon the man that is subject to him, so God impresses upon all nature principles of proper action; and therefore in this way God is said to give His precept to all nature, according to the saying of the Psalmist: “He hath set a precept, and it shall not pass away.”2 And this reasoning shows how all the movements and actions of all nature are subject to the Eternal Law. Hence in some way irrational creatures are subject to the Eternal Law, as being set in motion by Divine Providence; but not by any understanding of the divine precept, as rational creatures are.
§ 2. Irrational creatures are not partakers in human reason, nor do they obey it: but they are partakers in divine reason in the way of obedience: for the power of divine reason extends to more objects than the power of human reason. And as the members of the human body move at the command of reason, and yet are not partakers of reason, so are irrational creatures moved by God, and yet are not on that account rational.
Article VI.—Are all things human subject to the Eternal Law?
R. There are two ways in which a being is subject to the Eternal Law. The one is a participation of it by way of knowledge; the other by way of an interior motive principle; and it is in this second way that irrational creatures are subject to the Eternal Law. But because the rational creature, along with what it has in common with all creatures, has also something proper to itself inasmuch as it is rational, it is therefore subject to the Eternal Law in both ways: because on the one hand it has some notion of the Eternal Law; and on the other hand there is in every rational creature some natural inclination to a line of conduct in harmony with the Eternal Law: for “we are born to have virtues,” as is said in the Ethics [of Aristotle]. But both ways are imperfect and more or less destroyed in the wicked; in whom the natural inclination to virtue is corrupted by vicious habits, and again, the natural knowledge of good in them is darkened by passions and habits of sin. But in the good both ways are found in greater perfection: because in them, over and above the natural knowledge of good, there is superadded the knowledge that comes of faith and wisdom; and over and above the natural inclination to good, there is superadded in them the inward motive of grace and virtue. Thus then the good are perfectly subject to the Eternal Law, as ever acting according to it: while the wicked are subject to the Eternal Law but imperfectly as to their actions, seeing that their knowledge of good is imperfect, and imperfect their inclination to it. But what is wanting on the side of action is made up on the side of suffering, in that they suffer what the Eternal Law dictates concerning them to that exact extent to which they fail to do what is in accordance with that law.
§ 2. The wisdom of the flesh cannot be subject to the law of God1 so far as action goes, because it inclines to actions contrary to the divine law: still it is subject to the law of God for the matter of suffering, because it deserves to suffer punishment according to the law of divine justice. Nevertheless in no man is the wisdom of the flesh so predominant as to spoil the whole good of his nature; and therefore there remains in man some inclination to comply with the enactments of the Eternal Law.
[1 ]Understand the plan of government, not of creation. (Trl.)
[1 ]Romans xiii. 1.
[1 ]That is contingent, which is but might not have been. Contingent is opposed to necessary. (Trl.)
[1 ]“Man in his operation can only apply or withdraw natural bodies; nature, internally, performs the rest.” Bacon, Novum Organon, Aphorism 4. Cf. Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 129—132. (Trl.)
[2 ]Psalm cxlviii. 6.
[1 ]Romans viii. 7.