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NOTE G.: MEDIEVAL AND MODERN TREATMENT OF THE LAW OF NATURE: BRACTON: FRENCH PUBLICISTS. - Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Ancient Law, its connection with the early history of society and its relation to modern ideas 
Ancient Law, its connection with the early history of society and its relation to modern ideas, with an introduction and notes by Sir Frederick Pollock. 4th American from the 10th London edition (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1906).
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MEDIEVAL AND MODERN TREATMENT OF THE LAW OF NATURE: BRACTON: FRENCH PUBLICISTS.
Much that has been written about the law of nature in modern times is, as Maine says, extremely confused. This may be due to several causes, but one cause which would alone be sufficient is the neglect of the scholastic tradition, amounting to practical oblivion, which followed on the Reformation controversies. Hooker was the latest English writer who possessed the tradition, and accordingly stated a consistent and intelligible doctrine. What the canonists and schoolmen added to the classical Roman theory was the identification of the law of nature with the law of God revealed in human reason: in this way they reconciled the temporal authority of the Corpus Iuris and the moral authority of the philosophers (for Aristotle and Cicero, though heathens, had become almost sacred by orthodox commendations) with the spiritual authority of the Church. The natural revelation through reason and the supernatural revelation committed to the Church are equally divine, and cannot contradict one another; and the law of nature is no less paramount to any positive rule or custom of human origin than express revelation itself. The risk of this doctrine being turned against the Church or the Pope was, no doubt, serious, as later events proved; but it had to be taken. Hence the scholastic theory of the law of nature, though attempts were made to use it for the most opposite purposes, was on the whole rationalist and progressive. Indeed, it had several points of affinity with the utilitarian doctrine of our own times, although the founders of that school, who may be said to have neglected history on principle, were unaware of the fact. Natural justice had been identified by Epicurus with an agreement among men for their common advantage to abstain from harming one another (see Bryce, “Studies,” ii. 127). In the fourteenth century we actually find communis utilitas a current term with William of Ockham and others, and it is used to denote a criterion for ascertaining what the law of nature prescribes; and this was only the development of a tendency already visible in St. Thomas Aquinas. Maine perceived the analogy, and suggested that it might not be too fanciful to call natural law the ancient counterpart of Benthamism (p. 76).
Beyond the fundamental principles of natural justice, we may deduce by natural reason various rules which may or might be convenient in the absence of competent jurisdiction, but, as they are in matter of convenience and not of absolute right, may be modified by the law of the land. Rules of this kind were said to be secondary; and the so-called “state of nature” is, from the point of view of the schoolmen, merely human society conceived as governed by the “secondary law of nature” in default of positive ordinance, or any human society so far as it is actually found in that condition. Thus during a great part of the Middle Ages most of what we know as the law of contract was left to the law of nature, which was supposed to be the ultimate authority for the custom of merchants. Nothing can more strongly illustrate the confusion which resulted from neglecting this distinction than the modern belief that natural law as a whole depends on the “state of nature,” or assumes it to be better than civilisation. The scholastic habit of mind was alien from ours in many ways; but at any rate the schoolmen took some pains to know what they were talking about.
Hooker’s statement of the first principles, as understood down to the sixteenth century, is quite accurate, and perhaps the most profitable for English readers. The law of nature is a law of reason. Its rules “are investigable by Reason, without the help of Revelation supernatural and divine . . . the knowledge of them is general, the world hath always been acquainted with them. . . . It is not agreed upon by one, or two, or few, but by all. Which we may not so understand, as if every particular man in the whole world did know and confess whatsoever the law of reason doth contain; but this law is such that being proposed no man can reject it as unreasonable and unjust. Again, there is nothing in it but any man (having natural perfection of wit and ripeness of judgment) may by labour and travail find out.” But the law of nature does not include all binding laws: “we restrain it to those only duties, which all men by force of natural wit either do or might understand to be such duties as concern all men” (“Eccl. Pol.” I. viii. 10). A strange contrast to Hooker’s clear apprehension and intelligent use of the medieval tradition is presented by the loose talk about the law of nature and the law of reason (apparently supposed to be different things) in Sir Henry Finch’s “Discourse of Law,” published in 1613. Before the middle of the eighteenth century the conception of “the aboriginal reign of nature” had gained a footing, and the confusion was complete. No less a man than Montesquieu thought natural law could be defined merely as the rules that would have been appropriate for men living before the formation of civil society (“Esprit des Lois,” I. ii.). The vitality of the old doctrine had in truth passed into the new science built on its foundations by Grotius and his successors; and such ornamental references to the law of nature as occur in Blackstone and other English writers of his time are echoes of contemporary or recent Continental publicists whose real subject-matter was the law of nations in its modern sense. In later Continental and especially German usage natural law is taken, by a considerable but legitimate extension, to denote all speculative construction in jurisprudence and politics as contrasted with the purely historical or comparative study of institutions; in the terms most familiar to English readers, it covers the whole ground of general jurisprudence and the theory of legislation. Herbert Spencer’s volume on Justice and the essays of the Fabian Society would alike be classed as books of Naturrecht. Writers of the historical school who consider the law of nature obsolete include British utilitarian doctrine in their condemnation as a matter of course, as being a mere branch of it.
There are some incidental statements of Maine’s in this connexion which need comment. What is said about the unquestioning respect paid in the Middle Ages to written texts is undoubtedly true, and is indeed rather understated. Reverence for any plausible show of authority was not confined to theology or law, and it was not necessary that the text quoted should purport to have any obligatory force, or that the sense in which it was quoted should be the natural one. Aristotle was nearly as good authority as the Bible, though not quite; Cicero was only second to Aristotle; and the Corpus Iuris was “written reason” even in jurisdictions where it was not binding. But in default of the Vulgate or the Philosopher, learned writers were glad enough to quote Virgil or Ovid or Lucan, though without any intention of putting them on a level with Scripture. Maine’s particular illustration from “the plagiarisms of Bracton” is unfortunate. I do not know on what book or man having a pretended knowledge of Bracton he relied; certainly there were very few men living forty-five years ago who had studied Bracton to such purpose as to be qualified to inform him, and certainly he had not then made any critical examination of his own; but the solution of the historical enigma which Maine, with great reason, found in Bracton’s alleged wholesale borrowing from Roman law is simply that the fact is not so. Not one-thirtieth of Bracton’s matter, instead of a third as affirmed by Maine’s unknown authority, is taken from the Corpus Iuris (Maitland, “Bracton and Azo,” Selden Soc. 1895, p. xiv, which see on the whole matter). Bracton used Roman law, chiefly through Azo’s famous gloss, partly as a systematic framework and partly as a store of written reason to fill up gaps in English learning. He had no thought of putting it off on his countrymen as “pure English law,” any more than a lawyer at Paris would have sought to put it off as pure Parisian custom; there is no concealment of its origin. When actual English custom was contrary to Roman law, Henry of Bratton (for such, it is now known, was his real name) did not hesitate to deny the Roman propositions.
Maine’s remarks on the enthusiasm of French lawyers for natural law (p. 80 sqq.) seem rather to ignore its general reception by Continental publicists; though the centralisation of the French monarchy no doubt made it easier for them to have something like uniform official doctrine. The enfranchising ordinance of Louis Hutin cited at p. 90, which asserts that all men ought to be free by natural law, repeats an earlier one issued by Philip the Fair in 1311 (“Journ. Soc. Comp. Legisl.,” 1900, pp. 426-7). It is not very clear that the framers of this ordinance were thinking of the Roman maxim, “omnes homines natura aequales sunt” (or rather “quod ad ius naturale attinet omnes homines aequales sunt”: Ulpian in D. de div. reg. 50, 17, 32); for the general tone is decidedly more religious than secular, and the Church had always favoured manumission as a pious work. If they had wanted to vouch the authority of the Digest that slavery was not recognised by the law of nature, they might easily have made the reference more pointed. That Ulpian did not mean to preach an ethical or political creed of equality is, as Maine says, plain enough; his assertion is that slavery (like other inequalities of condition) is justified only by positive law. At the same time no medieval publicist who desired to use the passage for his own purposes would have troubled himself about the author’s original intention.