Welcome to the 2nd episode of Sacred and Vernacular a program of the YouTube Channel the Westphalian Republic: my name is xenia williams and today we’re going to talk about Natural Law, Piety and the Law.
So today we are going to talk a little bit about Law in the context of Piety. And I was just thinking about it, a lot actually, because of the hearings of Amy Coney Barrett; the recent rulings of Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts, and of course the rulings of the Feminists Liberals Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayer. I’m not ignoring Samuel A. Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, or Steven Breyer, I’m just thinking about what branch of philosophy they ALL hold to, in respects to their understanding and application of the tenets of Natural Law and how it relates to Constitutional Law. I think many evangelicals, and traditional Roman Catholics, not the elite evangelicals nor the elite Roman Catholics so much, but the everyday working man evangelical and Catholic, those who think about Natural Law, may have a more basic, understanding of Natural Law, based on their understanding of sermons of their priests and pastors, based on their private reading of their Holy Scriptures. All of which informs their piety. And which informs what they expect in Judicial and Legislative outcomes as they relate to the Constitution of the United States.
But I wanted to talk about how the legislative body and the judicial courts, and the executive branch have been leaning secular for many, many years, and the people of the United States are going to have an opportunity this election cycle to hedge that tendency.
So I did some research on this. First I wanted to learn what Natural Law was, then I wanted to think about it in terms of how it “evolved” in Western thought to become Natural Law Theory, that is, something that could be scientifically falsified or empirically tested and falsified. If Natural Law derives from the Divine, how can it be falsified. But that is another question. So I read four papers on Natural Law, One by Fr. Stanley Haraksa, another by James Bernard Murphy, another by two authours, Mesembe Ha Edet and Samuel Temitope Segun; and a proponent of Personal Rational Ethics, Peter Ross. Also there was this random paper on the internet that explained the difference between Natural Law of Morality, Natural Law Theory of Positive Law, and Legal Positivism of which I suspect Personal Rational Ethics is a subspecies of. So let’s get into it.
What is Natural Law. Well it depends on who you ask, and when they developed it. Edet-Segun, gives a great synopsis of Natural Law history, so we wil start with him. He rightly explains that Natural Law Theory is thought of to be derived from God, but, can be discovered by reason. The faculty of reason is central to Natural Law Theory, which is a western concept born from the scholastic era, and cites as philosophers Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas, who is incidentally considered a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Edet-Segun then goes on to say that during the Renaissance was when Natural Law began to acquire a human-centric value becoming more and more dependent on the faculty of reason to discern morality, right and wrong, legal and illegal. I would say that the neo-Platonic movement in the Catholic Church aided and abetted this, and this was financed as well by the great proponents of humanistic derived values, the Medici Family.
Then in 1789, Natural Law, Edet-Segun says, took on a revolutionary aspect, and was more influenced by such philosophers as Hobbes and Jean Jacques Rosseau, who he calls the social contract philosophers. Then Natural Law started to emphasize the rights of people as being naturally intrinsic to them by nature and as such what they brought to civic society. The state’s role was to protect those rights. Now there is this concept of Negative and Positive Liberty, but although this is an aspect of certain principles that inform the discourse on ideas such ae equality, liberty and justice; the fount for all of this had it’s beginning for Western Culture, I would argue, in terms of its religious or rather Spiritual aspect in the Justinian Code of the Eastern Roman Empire. And it is really important to understand that the turn from the Pagan Rome to Christian Rome has its most complete diffusion in the Eastern Empire with a full acceptance by the people on every aspect of society so that it was recognized even by Western Rome until 1453 as a Christian State, a Christian Empire, a rival Christian State, but nonetheless this was what the Eastern Roman Empire was known as throughout the world after St. Constantine’s Edict of Milan and the Decrees of St. Theodosius I and II. Again, I just mention this for reference. St. Constantine was the first Christian Emperor. Armenia was the first Christian State, this happened in the Eastern Region of the Roman Empire, and it remain fundamentally and doctrinally Christian (ie, Orthodox) even after its Fall in 1453. There were no changes to its doctrines no new discoveries on doctrine, just a Holistic defense of the Traditions, Scriptures and Dogma of the Church as clarified in the 7 Ecumenical Councils, as issues came to the fore that needed addressing: such as the Arian Heresy.
Now let’s return our attention to Edet-Segun because he gives a great synopsis of Natural Law as it is understood by Traditionalists of the Catholic Church, as it was perhaps understood by St. Augustine, and as it was understood by Thomas Aquinas:
So I will enumerate what is Natural Law Theory: (Count)
- Natural law theory promotes the idea that there are two laws, one resting solely on human authority
(positive law) and the other claiming divine or natural origin (Natural Law).
(2) Natural law is supreme over man-made (positive) law and the latter for it to be valid or authentic
must conform to Natural Law.
(3) Natural law, as a law of reason, is self-evident and is known naturally with the development of
(4) The obligation of the Natural Law comes from within, as part of man’s very nature as a rational
(5) Natural law is the foundation of truth and justice.
(6) The purpose of Natural Law is the common good of all mankind.
(7) Natural Law is immutable, valid for all times, in all societies, and is applicable to all men without
(8) A proposition is valid as law, not simply for the reason that it has satisfied some formal conditions,
but by virtue of some element of morality.
(9) Unjust and immoral laws are always in conflict with Natural Law and thus they are absolutely null
(10) Natural Law is an apriori law, which is known apriori. Apriori just references the ability to think and reason without empirical evidence like the way one would think and reason about mathematical principles.
So that is the Western Roman Empire understanding of Natural Law, its main developer being the Dominican Friar Thomas Aquinas, who developed the concept as a Theory most fully for his time in the 14th c.
Now I think would be a good time to contrast an Orthodox understanding of Natural Law with the Western Roman Catholic: And I’m just going to read verbatim what Fr Stanley Harakas saids because he says it quite well in few words what would take me many words to paraphrase.
Fr. Stanley writes: Quote:
St. John Chrysostom comments that sub quote”we were given two
teachers from the beginning, nature and the conscience,
theirs being an impartial voice which teaches human beings
in silence.sub unquote” Harakas goes on to say: [It is a given that Natural law is generally accepted in the Eastern Orthodox Church]. It
is also true that [it has] neither been explored with
any but passing attention, nor has it found expression in
much orderly exposition within the Eastern Orthodox Christian
theological literature. It has been customary to distinguish between the natural,
or unwritten moral law, on the one hand, and the positive , or
written moral law, on the other. The natural, or unwritten,
moral law is perceived to be a panhuman, inborn perception of
certain types of behavior which ought not to occur. It is
held that these perceptions are fundamentally unconditioned
by the specifics of varying cultures. In the classic expres
sions of natural law theory (Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas of
Aquinas), the natural moral law is perceived to be rational,
independent of positive laws and customs, universal and un
changing. In the context of the distinctions made,
[Western natural moral law] is not limited to the special revelation acknow
ledged by Orthodox Christianity, as found in Scripture and in
Thus, Cyril of Alexandria refers to sub quote “three laws, the nat
ural, and the Mosaic, and the evangelical,sub unquote”2 and the Holy Father Theodoretos,
in his commentary on Psalm 18:1, writes: subquote”There are three
kinds of DIVINE law…the first is without letters, given to
human beings through creation and nature…the other…
through Moses in writing…and the third…the law of grace.”sub unquote
In patristic thought these are closely tied together.
The natural moral law, the Old Testament moral law, and the
ethical teaching of the New Testament are not sharply di
vided, but rather, point to different dimensions of the same
reality. St. Máximos the Confessor perhaps overstates the
truth somewhat when he refers to two laws, sub quote “the natural and
the written, neither of which has more or less than the
other.”sub unquote3 But the point is made.
Thus, the Eastern Orthodox Church accepts and teaches
the reality of a natural moral law which is found in human
beings, through which the fundamental rules and laws of human
moral and social life are acknowledged. This law has its
source in the will of God, who created humanity in His own
image and after His own likeness, and which may be discerned
through experience and reason.’* St. John Chrysostom describes
the Church’s teaching in his usual direct fashion:
sub quote In creating man at the beginning, God
placed within him a natural law. And
what is this natural law? He structured
our conscience and made it so that our
knowledge of good acts and those which
are not so are self-learned.sub unquote UnQuote End of Father Stanley’s Quote.
Now I just want to mention that there is another aspect this, the concept of the Nous. Which is that faculty of mankind, created with him and imparted to him, which facilitates revelatory aspects of the Communion of God with Man, and by which, God directs man’s ability to use his reason in a way that is consistent with God’s will. I only mention this, but it is a major difference between how the Orthodox and the Catholics understand the operation of reason…The west seems to think that self learned means unaided by the Divine via the Holy Spirit, while the East seems to understand per the writings of Gregory Palamas in the 14th century, that it is through the Holy Spirit that the reason can apprehend what is according to God’s Will, in other words, what is right and what is wrong. And I suspect that reason aids in the ability to know why one would choose for the good, according to God’s purpose for Mankind.
Western Natural Theory thinks of jurisprudence and law as different and potentially contradictory aspects of the moral code and the legal code.I think that is how it operates although I suspect its development in the West was meant to be complementary. Jurisprudence gives the why of a law and the rationale for its application. But when you have different philosophical sources of an understanding of what even morality actually is, and how the law code relates to morality as it is understood, you can end up with 9 Justices with 9 different ideas of what the morality is, and this can be different from what the population thinks it is, or should be, and this will affect their application of the law and how it is received. The Justices have to convince each other through their unique philosophical lens to come to some type of a common understanding of the Constitution and whether the law conforms to it, not necessarily whether the law conforms to the will of God. So that is the dilemmna we as citizens of the United States finds ourselves in And it speaks to the drift of the very meaning of Morality, various ideas about its source, and its relation to Constitutional Law as different segments of the society perceives it. . More on This In Piety and the Law Part II. Thank you for listening, and don’t forget to subscribe, like, and comment, and May We Be Granted Grace. Amen.