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8/19/2005

JUST WAR PART 5: UNDER THE INFLUENCE (NATURAL LAW)

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
JUST WAR PART 1: THE TIMES OF AUGUSTINE
JUST WAR PART 2: THE THEORY OF AUGUSTINE
JUST WAR PART 3: AQUINAS BUILDS
JUST WAR PART 4: UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Crusades)

Aquinas wasn't just under the influence, to some degree, of Catholic crusaders though. He was also blazing a new trail for Catholic theologians by allowing the writings of Aristotle and other non-theologians/philosophers to color his thinking on God. Specifically, Aquinas was among the first to say out loud that he believed a theology (a belief about God) could be arrived at and supported by natural law alone with no backing from scripture or Church tradition.

Natural law, dumbed down so that I can better understand it, is the common sense or practical considerations behind what's "right" and "wrong." It's the "it makes sense" part within us all. People with no understanding of God, who've never read the bible, can know not to steal, for instance. Their reasons for respecting the property rights of others are governed by natural law or instinct. That law causes them not to steal on the grounds that they A) don't want their property taken away in a reprisal or don't want to be harmed if they get caught stealing and/or B) think that stealing would hurt the common good, the society and therefore possibly hurt them. So with no influence from the bible human beings, because we all follow natural law within us to some degree, may still ACT "right" if "right" works best for us and our society.

Aquinas admitted to forming his additions to Augustine's Just War doctrine based not upon scripture (Divine law) primarily, but upon this built-in need to be practical and preserve society and self (natural law). He believed this natural law in us all was inherently good because God put it there. So what works, what is arrived at by observing natural, is divine law, is what God calls "right". This was the beginning of a new era of practical or natural law theology within Christendom which is still alive today.

What beliefs do we hold that have their basis in natural law more than biblical revelation? I have plenty. When, if ever, is that a bad thing? Why?

Got thoughts? Post a comment below or discuss on my message-board.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

man, i am having trouble wrapping my mind around anything that a do or dont do simply out of a respect for a natural law. everything to me always somehow leads back to the law established by God. sure i can see how steeling might be an obvious choice but then i have the 10 commandments (cant remember which one that steeling one is) and the golden rule staring me in the face.

lately as i have been praying about pacifism i have found myself at a dilema. i want to be a pacifist but i just dont think i can completely. i know this sounds like a cop-out but i just dont know how to do or reconcile both. i was reading this short thing by mother teresa which really spoke to me. so simple and to the point.
"let us not use bombs and guns to overcome the world. Let us use love and compassion. Peace begins with a smile. Smile five times a day at someone you dont really want to smile at at all. Do it for peace. Let us radiate the peace of God and so light His light and extinguish in the world and in the hearts of all men all hatred and love for power. Smile at on another. It is not easy. Sometimes I find it hard to smile at my Sister, but then I pray.
God Loves the world through you and through me. Are we that love and that compassion? Christ came to be his Father's compassion. God is loving the world through you and through me and through all those who are His love and compassion in the world."

Pretty simple stuff but it kinda hit me hard and helpful today.

Sethro

8/19/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

It's unclear to me. What "two" things are you having a hard time reconciling?

Also, I bet there's plenty we all do that has it's basis in part in natural law. Take downloading. You say you don't steal because it violates Exodus 20:15 (Don't steal). But do you make exceptions for that law of God like for music that is overpriced or ministry tools you think should be free anyway? That would be a form of natural law at work. Is deciding some of God's law doesn't apply because it does not benefit society or yourself letting the natural law in us all rule over God's law?

-sg

8/19/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah so. i see what your getting at (maybee). nope, thats still pretty much stealing, (the music analogy) like killin' is still killin' hmmmm. i could be totally off but are you saying, that an example of God's law would be: love one another, don't kill, the turn the other cheek, whereas natural law would be dont kill unless your about to get killed, or turn the other cheek unless unless he means to slap your cheek AND your neighbors? but... i can see how someone would CALL that natural law but isnt natural law just a made up term to justify doing something....ahhh!, head spinning...must return later....to....that.....one

oh sorry, didnt answer that first question. first of all reconciling is probably the wrong word, more like...i guess for me, and i could have the wrong concept of pacifism, "deciding" which shows the greater love, standing by and watching the helpless die when peaceful means have failed, or intervening by force when peaceful means have failed. well, that didnt come of right either, i guess what i am trying to say is that i realize that something in myself says that killing a man, no matter what or who your defending is wrong and against God's law, i know there are places people will throw that "eye for an eye" old testament buisness at me, but come on, can one person actually say that Jesus would kill an intruder, or a stone a prostitute, and if anyone had the right to do those things i guess he did. however, i also could not immagine him NOT interveining when the innocent are being taken advantage of or killed, i mean, he kinda stormed the temple with a whip and drove out the jerks selling doves at a marked up rate. he also said that it is better for a man to drop himself in a lake with a stone around his neck than harm one of these. i guess thats my dilema.


seth

8/20/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

That IS a dilemma. So, how do you go about figuring it out?

8/20/2005  
Blogger FancyPants said...

Well, I confess that I am not familiar with the writings of Aquinas, but oh how I wish I was. Along with many others...

I am, however, familiar with some of C.S. Lewis, who must have been familiar with Aquinas's work, because he, too, addresses the Law of Nature in Mere Christianity. He calls it the Law of Human Nature. And he defines it, yes, pretty much the same way you did. Iti is the inherent thing in humans that reveals right and wrong to us. He also uses the phrases "standard of behavior" and "Law of Rule of Fair Play" and "Law of Morality" and lasty "Law About Right and Wrong." Lewis states that the reason we call it the Law of Nature is because one would not really need to be taught this law, like the law of gravity. But it is different than the law of gravity, because it is the only law of nature that we as humans can disobey.

Here's where I think differently than you, Shaun. If indeed I read your thoughts correctly. You are proposing that we as humans often choose this natural law over Biblical, or Divine Law. In order to choose what is best in our own standard.

I propose that the Law of Human Nature, or natural law, is in fact Divine Law itself, because it is there because God created us and this world. That is the very reason the standard is there. If I make a choice to download music without paying for it, what I have done is disobeyed the natural law becuase I have stolen. If I believe that what I have done is not wrong, then I have created my OWN system of morality, which is against the Law of Human Nature AND the law in the Bible.

What I am saying, is that I think natural law does not conflict with Biblical law ever, because both are divine. And speaking boldly, I wonder if Aquinas also meant this as well.

8/20/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I agree with fancypants. I like how C.S. Lewis defines natural law and it is, for the most part, the way Aquinas understood it as well. And yes that law is born in us. But we are also born sinful. We are born selfish. Doing good to us is doing what pleases others, pleases our self, protects ourselves or those we care about etc. My daughter is 4 and she lies to protect herself from getting into trouble. That is quite natural for her. But to call that instinct to lie the work of God, or God's law is a perversion.

So while I agree that God puts the natural law in us and it is His law. I'm not sure it's all that clear to us what is Divinely planted natural law and what is just selfish self-protection. Aquinas makes no distinction between the two. He and Aristotle seem to confuse sinful nature (selfishness) and natural law (instinct away from seflishness) and give us no way of telling the two apart. CS. Lewis would differ from Aquinas I think in that he would warn that natural law is not "what works" but what is the will of God, in accordance with scripture.

But those are words in Lewis' mouth.

Aquinas, basically, leaves the door open for religious people to declare new revelation from God as circumstances and feelings change. This is a move away from the authority of scripture and the existence of knowable absolutes.

Lastly, I think I made this clear, but I want to make sure. Just because we do something naturally from birth, unlearned, doesn't mean that something is from God or pleasing to God. Would you agree with that?

Would anyone smarter than me like to tell me if I'm getting Aquinas' view of natural law correct? I'd appreciate it.

I do agree with you fancy pants. Natural law as CSS Lewis means it is a good thing. Just don't think CS. Lewis and Aquinas would define it the same way.

SG

8/20/2005  
Blogger FancyPants said...

Right, I agree. "We are also born sinful. We are born selfish." I agree with this 100%. And your daughter who is four, when she lies to protect herself, I would say that is the sinful nature of man disobeying God. To clarify, I would not call that instinct to lie the work of God, because yes, to say that would definitely be a perversion. In fact, just writing that phrase makes my skin crawl because lieing is not part of who God is. (We could even argue that God CANNOT even lie, but another blog, right?) (And furthermore, I'm not sure I would call natural law instinct.)

When your daughter, or when I myself, lie, I am working under the law of sin, which is in me, but from which I am no longer a slave... (It almost seems as if the law of sin comes closer to instinct, doesn't it?)

I understand the "Law of Human Nature" to be a law of sorts that is in this world, all around. Like the law of gravity. It's not necessarily "in" me, but all around, so that I must react according to it. It's why someone might say, "hey that's not fair" or "you aren't treating my right." Because there's some standard somehow as to where "fair" came from, or where "right" came from.

When your daughter lies, yes, she doing what is natural according to her sinful nature. But I bet even at four, when she's lying, she knows it's wrong to lie. Do you think so? And that would be testimony to the fact that there is a natural law of morality in this world, but also a sinful law that we as sinners have in us.

So yes, it seems there are two things at work here, and how interesting that Aquinas would confuse the two. I guess I'm gonna have to read the sucker's writings. And so I really can't say anything more about his writing due to my ignorance.

And right, just because we do something naturally from birth DOES NOT mean it is pleasing to God. Couldn't agree more. Lord help me if I did not agree with that.

8/20/2005  
Blogger Kathryn said...

i think that 'natural law' shows up when people say "I'm a good person, I don't evade my taxes, I don't fool around on my spouse, I work hard, I love my family. . ." I think that they know how important goodness is, rightness, justice, all the good stuff. Of course God put those into us, cuz we're made in his image.

Unfortunately I don't think for a lot of people this will lead them to God. I think that they think this 'goodness' comes from themselves and that they don't need God because they got it goin' on. Humanism? I think that natural law could fool us because there's the sin nature in us that we must contend with.

8/20/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

So would natural law then be affected by majority rule? Is my idea of "fair" affected by what those around me call "fair"?

SG

8/20/2005  
Blogger FancyPants said...

Huh...good question. Well, keeping in line with the daughter illustration....

OK, you felt wronged by your daughter because she was untruthful. And she probably at the time, knew she was wronging you, or knows that it's just plain the wrong thing to do. So would a father from Indonesia also feel wronged if his four year old daughter lied to him? And would that four year old daughter know she was doing something wrong because it was untruthful?

Also, I wonder, if it is a law, then wouldn't it be constant, and not be allowed to change? But it is simply there?

8/20/2005  
Blogger Kathryn said...

hmmmm. . . good question.

humans seem often to be affected by other humans' behaviour, for the bad or for the good.

blind leading the blind
monkey see, monkey do
keeping up with the Joneses
imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
copy cat
bad influence

mentoring
accountability partnering
looking up to someone
role modeling


as far as my idea of fair being what others would call fair -- yes, often. . . it depends on the idea. .

8/21/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wonder if natural law and law of human nature and our quest to define them outside of the law of God is an attempt to give perfect definition to something flawed. natural law or the law of human nature were never meant to be different or outside of the Law of God. As a matter of fact i guess we were never really meant for anything other than the true natural law of God. in that way i would agree with Lewis that natural law is not what works but what is the will of God. whatever cognition that we have of that natural law of God, in the Lewis sense, is forever flawed, and we are left with our "perception" and faint glimpses of the law that is the will of God and at one time our very nature. this "perception" because it is ours and a product of self assertion, is what we are calling natural law. so in that every man is his own judge, that "perception" is totally relative. therefore even though we still have been made in the image of God and still have glimpses of his character at times, like alot of people thinking that stealing is wrong, i could tomorrow refuse to obey the scriptures and convince myself that it is not. we know that society at its worst can be a pretty gruesome and unfair beast. it didnt take long to convince a nation that the Jews were lower than rats or Black people were less than human. this is because we have set ourselves up as God and recreate his law in our own image and call it natural law. the law of God that is perfect is still there, but we were left with a perception of that law rather than ever even needing to know that it was there. so i guess with that being said i guess that without God's help to clear up those lines of right and wrong i agree with: "I'm not sure it's all that clear to us what is Divinely planted natural law and what is just selfish self-protection." any ability to see beyond this discrepancy, at whatever level, is only by the Grace of God.


seth

8/21/2005  

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