Selected Questions on Law and Justice
Thomas Aquinas (~1225-1274)
Of the Law of the Gospel, Called the New Law, Considered in Itself
Whether the New Law is a written law?
Objection 1. It would seem that the New Law is a written law. For the New Law is just the same as the Gospel. But the Gospel is set forth in writing, according to Jn. 20:31: “But these are written that you may believe.” Therefore the New Law is a written law.
Objection 2. Further, the law that is instilled in the heart is the natural law, according to Rm. 2:14,15: “(The Gentiles) do by nature those things that are of the law . . . who have [Vulg.: ‘show’] the work of the law written in their hearts.” If therefore the law of the Gospel were instilled in our hearts, it would not be distinct from the law of nature.
Objection 3. Further, the law of the Gospel is proper to those who are in the state of the New Testament. But the law that is instilled in the heart is common to those who are in the New Testament and to those who are in the Old Testament: for it is written (Wis. 7:27) that Divine Wisdom “through nations conveyeth herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets.” Therefore the New Law is not instilled in our hearts.
On the contrary, The New Law is the law of the New Testament. But the law of the New Testament is instilled in our hearts. For the Apostle, quoting the authority of Jeremias 31:31,33: “Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord; and I will perfect unto the house of Israel, and unto the house of Judah, a new testament,” says, explaining what this statement is (Heb. 8:8,10): “For this is the testament which I will make to the house of Israel . . . by giving [Vulg.: ‘I will give’] My laws into their mind, and in their heart will I write them.” Therefore the New Law is instilled in our hearts.
I answer that, “Each thing appears to be that which preponderates in it,” as the Philosopher states (Ethic. ix, 8). Now that which is preponderant in the law of the New Testament, and whereon all its efficacy is based, is the grace of the Holy Ghost, which is given through faith in Christ. Consequently the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ. This is manifestly stated by the Apostle who says (Rm. 3:27): “Where is . . . thy boasting? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith”: for he calls the grace itself of faith “a law.” And still more clearly it is written (Rm. 8:2): “The law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath delivered me from the law of sin and of death.” Hence Augustine says (De Spir. et Lit. xxiv) that “as the law of deeds was written on tables of stone, so is the law of faith inscribed on the hearts of the faithful”: and elsewhere, in the same book (xxi): “What else are the Divine laws written by God Himself on our hearts, but the very presence of His Holy Spirit?”
Nevertheless the New Law contains certain things that dispose us to receive the grace of the Holy Ghost, and pertaining to the use of that grace: such things are of secondary importance, so to speak, in the New Law; and the faithful need to be instructed concerning them, both by word and writing, both as to what they should believe and as to what they should do. Consequently we must say that the New Law is in the first place a law that is inscribed on our hearts, but that secondarily it is a written law.
Reply to Objection 1. The Gospel writings contain only such things as pertain to the grace of the Holy Ghost, either by disposing us thereto, or by directing us to the use thereof. Thus with regard to the intellect, the Gospel contains certain matters pertaining to the manifestation of Christ’s Godhead or humanity, which dispose us by means of faith through which we receive the grace of the Holy Ghost: and with regard to the affections, it contains matters touching the contempt of the world, whereby man is rendered fit to receive the grace of the Holy Ghost: for “the world,” i.e. worldly men, “cannot receive” the Holy Ghost (Jn. 14:17). As to the use of spiritual grace, this consists in works of virtue to which the writings of the New Testament exhort men in divers ways.
Reply to Objection 2. There are two ways in which a thing may be instilled into man. First, through being part of his nature, and thus the natural law is instilled into man. Secondly, a thing is instilled into man by being, as it were, added on to his nature by a gift of grace. In this way the New Law is instilled into man, not only by indicating to him what he should do, but also by helping him to accomplish it.
Reply to Objection 3. No man ever had the grace of the Holy Ghost except through faith in Christ either explicit or implicit: and by faith in Christ man belongs to the New Testament. Consequently whoever had the law of grace instilled into them belonged to the New Testament.
Whether the New Law justifies?
Objection 1. It would seem that the New Law does not justify. For no man is justified unless he obeys God’s law, according to Heb. 5:9: “He,” i.e. Christ, “became to all that obey Him the cause of eternal salvation.” But the Gospel does not always cause men to believe in it: for it is written (Rm. 10:16): “All do not obey the Gospel.” Therefore the New Law does not justify.
Objection 2. Further, the Apostle proves in his epistle to the Romans that the Old Law did not justify, because transgression increased at its advent: for it is stated (Rm. 4:15): “The Law worketh wrath: for where there is no law, neither is there transgression.” But much more did the New Law increase transgression: since he who sins after the giving of the New Law deserves greater punishment, according to Heb. 10:28,29: “A man making void the Law of Moses dieth without any mercy under two or three witnesses. How much more, do you think, he deserveth worse punishments, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God,” etc.? Therefore the New Law, like the Old Law, does not justify.
Objection 3. Further, justification is an effect proper to God, according to Rm. 8:33: “God that justifieth.” But the Old Law was from God just as the New Law. Therefore the New Law does not justify any more than the Old Law.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (Rm. 1:16): “I am not ashamed of the Gospel: for it is in the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” But there is no salvation but to those who are justified. Therefore the Law of the Gospel justifies.
I answer that, As stated above (1), there is a twofold element in the Law of the Gospel. There is the chief element, viz. the grace of the Holy Ghost bestowed inwardly. And as to this, the New Law justifies. Hence Augustine says (De Spir. et Lit. xvii): “There,” i.e. in the Old Testament, “the Law was set forth in an outward fashion, that the ungodly might be afraid”; “here,” i.e. in the New Testament, “it is given in an inward manner, that they may be justified.” The other element of the Evangelical Law is secondary: namely, the teachings of faith, and those commandments which direct human affections and human actions. And as to this, the New Law does not justify. Hence the Apostle says (2 Cor. 3:6) “The letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth”: and Augustine explains this (De Spir. et Lit. xiv, xvii) by saying that the letter denotes any writing external to man, even that of the moral precepts such as are contained in the Gospel. Wherefore the letter, even of the Gospel would kill, unless there were the inward presence of the healing grace of faith.
Reply to Objection 1. This argument holds true of the New Law, not as to its principal, but as to its secondary element: i.e. as to the dogmas and precepts outwardly put before man either in words or in writing.
Reply to Objection 2. Although the grace of the New Testament helps man to avoid sin, yet it does not so confirm man in good that he cannot sin: for this belongs to the state of glory. Hence if a man sin after receiving the grace of the New Testament, he deserves greater punishment, as being ungrateful for greater benefits, and as not using the help given to him. And this is why the New Law is not said to “work wrath”: because as far as it is concerned it gives man sufficient help to avoid sin.
Reply to Objection 3. The same God gave both the New and the Old Law, but in different ways. For He gave the Old Law written on tables of stone: whereas He gave the New Law written “in the fleshly tables of the heart,” as the Apostle expresses it (2 Cor. 3:3). Wherefore, as Augustine says (De Spir. et Lit. xviii), “the Apostle calls this letter which is written outside man, a ministration of death and a ministration of condemnation: whereas he calls the other letter, i.e. the Law of the New Testament, the ministration of the spirit and the ministration of justice: because through the gift of the Spirit we work justice, and are delivered from the condemnation due to transgression.”
Whether the New Law should have been given from the beginning of the world?
Objection 1. It would seem that the New Law should have been given from the beginning of the world. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rm. 2:11). But “all” men “have sinned and do need the glory of God” (Rm. 3:23). Therefore the Law of the Gospel should have been given from the beginning of the world, in order that it might bring succor to all.
Objection 2. Further, as men dwell in various places, so do they live in various times. But God, “Who will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4), commanded the Gospel to be preached in all places, as may be seen in the last chapters of Matthew and Mark. Therefore the Law of the Gospel should have been at hand for all times, so as to be given from the beginning of the world.
Objection 3. Further, man needs to save his soul, which is for all eternity, more than to save his body, which is a temporal matter. But God provided man from the beginning of the world with things that are necessary for the health of his body, by subjecting to his power whatever was created for the sake of man (Gn. 1:26-29). Therefore the New Law also, which is very necessary for the health of the soul, should have been given to man from the beginning of the world.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (1 Cor. 15:46): “That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural.” But the New Law is highly spiritual. Therefore it was not fitting for it to be given from the beginning of the world.
I answer that, Three reasons may be assigned why it was not fitting for the New Law to be given from the beginning of the world. The first is because the New Law, as stated above (1), consists chiefly in the grace of the Holy Ghost: which it behoved not to be given abundantly until sin, which is an obstacle to grace, had been cast out of man through the accomplishment of his redemption by Christ: wherefore it is written (Jn. 7:39): “As yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This reason the Apostle states clearly (Rm. 8:2, seqq.) where, after speaking of “the Law of the Spirit of life,” he adds: “God sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, of sin* hath condemned sin in the flesh, that the justification of the Law might be fulfilled in us.” [St. Thomas, quoting perhaps from memory, omits the “et” (and), after “sinful flesh.” The text quoted should read thus: “in the likeness of sinful flesh, and a sin offering (peri hamartias), hath,” etc.]
A second reason may be taken from the perfection of the New Law. Because a thing is not brought to perfection at once from the outset, but through an orderly succession of time; thus one is at first a boy, and then a man. And this reason is stated by the Apostle (Gal. 3:24,25): “The Law was our pedagogue in Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after the faith is come, we are no longer under a pedagogue.”
The third reason is found in the fact that the New Law is the law of grace: wherefore it behoved man first of all to be left to himself under the state of the Old Law, so that through falling into sin, he might realize his weakness, and acknowledge his need of grace. This reason is set down by the Apostle (Rm. 5:20): “The Law entered in, that sin might abound: and when sin abounded grace did more abound.”
Reply to Objection 1. Mankind on account of the sin of our first parents deserved to be deprived of the aid of grace: and so “from whom it is withheld it is justly withheld, and to whom it is given, it is mercifully given,” as Augustine states. Consequently it does not follow that there is respect of persons with God, from the fact that He did not offer the Law of grace to all from the beginning of the world, which Law was to be published in due course of time, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 2. The state of mankind does not vary according to diversity of place, but according to succession of time. Hence the New Law avails for all places, but not for all times: although at all times there have been some persons belonging to the New Testament, as stated above (1, ad 3).
Reply to Objection 3. Things pertaining to the health of the body are of service to man as regards his nature, which sin does not destroy: whereas things pertaining to the health of the soul are ordained to grace, which is forfeit through sin. Consequently the comparison will not hold.
Whether the New Law will last till the end of the world?
Objection 1. It would seem that the New Law will not last until the end of the world. Because, as the Apostle says (1 Cor. 13:10), “when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.” But the New Law is “in part,” since the Apostle says (1 Cor. 13:9): “We know in part and we prophesy in part.” Therefore the New Law is to be done away, and will be succeeded by a more perfect state.
Objection 2. Further, Our Lord (Jn. 16:13) promised His disciples the knowledge of all truth when the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, should come. But the Church knows not yet all truth in the state of the New Testament. Therefore we must look forward to another state, wherein all truth will be revealed by the Holy Ghost.
Objection 3. Further, just as the Father is distinct from the Son and the Son from the Father, so is the Holy Ghost distinct from the Father and the Son. But there was a state corresponding with the Person of the Father, viz. the state of the Old Law, wherein men were intent on begetting children: and likewise there is a state corresponding to the Person of the Son: viz. the state of the New Law, wherein the clergy who are intent on wisdom (which is appropriated to the Son) hold a prominent place. Therefore there will be a third state corresponding to the Holy Ghost, wherein spiritual men will hold the first place.
Objection 4. Further, Our Lord said (Mt. 24:14): “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world . . . and then shall the consummation come.” But the Gospel of Christ is already preached throughout the whole world: and yet the consummation has not yet come. Therefore the Gospel of Christ is not the Gospel of the kingdom, but another Gospel, that of the Holy Ghost, is to come yet, like unto another Law.
On the contrary, Our Lord said (Mt. 24:34): “I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all (these) things be done”: which passage Chrysostom (Hom. lxxvii) explains as referring to “the generation of those that believe in Christ.” Therefore the state of those who believe in Christ will last until the consummation of the world.
I answer that, The state of the world may change in two ways. In one way, according to a change of law: and thus no other state will succeed this state of the New Law. Because the state of the New Law succeeded the state of the Old Law, as a more perfect law a less perfect one. Now no state of the present life can be more perfect that the state of the New Law: since nothing can approach nearer to the last end than that which is the immediate cause of our being brought to the last end. But the New Law does this: wherefore the Apostle says (Heb. 10:19-22): “Having therefore, brethren, a confidence in the entering into the Holies by the blood of Christ, a new . . . way which He hath dedicated for us . . . let us draw near.” Therefore no state of the present life can be more perfect than that of the New Law, since the nearer a thing is to the last end the more perfect it is.
In another way the state of mankind may change according as man stands in relation to one and the same law more or less perfectly. And thus the state of the Old Law underwent frequent changes, since at times the laws were very well kept, and at other times were altogether unheeded. Thus, too, the state of the New Law is subject to change with regard to various places, times, and persons, according as the grace of the Holy Ghost dwells in man more or less perfectly. Nevertheless we are not to look forward to a state wherein man is to possess the grace of the Holy Ghost more perfectly than he has possessed it hitherto, especially the apostles who “received the firstfruits of the Spirit, i.e. sooner and more abundantly than others,” as a gloss expounds on Rm. 8:23.
Reply to Objection 1. As Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. v), there is a threefold state of mankind; the first was under the Old Law; the second is that of the New Law; the third will take place not in this life, but in heaven. But as the first state is figurative and imperfect in comparison with the state of the Gospel; so is the present state figurative and imperfect in comparison with the heavenly state, with the advent of which the present state will be done away as expressed in that very passage (1 Cor. 13:12): “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.”
Reply to Objection 2. As Augustine says (Contra Faust. xix, 31), Montanus and Priscilla pretended that Our Lord’s promise to give the Holy Ghost was fulfilled, not in the apostles, but in themselves. In like manner the Manicheans maintained that it was fulfilled in Manes whom they held to be the Paraclete. Hence none of the above received the Acts of the Apostles, where it is clearly shown that the aforesaid promise was fulfilled in the apostles: just as Our Lord promised them a second time (Acts 1:5): “You shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence”: which we read as having been fulfilled in Acts 2. However, these foolish notions are refuted by the statement (Jn. 7:39) that “as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified”; from which we gather that the Holy Ghost was given as soon as Christ was glorified in His Resurrection and Ascension. Moreover, this puts out of court the senseless idea that the Holy Ghost is to be expected to come at some other time.
Now the Holy Ghost taught the apostles all truth in respect of matters necessary for salvation; those things, to wit, that we are bound to believe and to do. But He did not teach them about all future events: for this did not regard them according to Acts 1:7: “It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in His own power.”
Reply to Objection 3. The Old Law corresponded not only to the Father, but also to the Son: because Christ was foreshadowed in the Old Law. Hence Our Lord said (Jn. 5:46): “If you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also; for he wrote of Me.” In like manner the New Law corresponds not only to Christ, but also to the Holy Ghost; according to Rm. 8:2: “The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” etc. Hence we are not to look forward to another law corresponding to the Holy Ghost.
Reply to Objection 4. Since Christ said at the very outset of the preaching of the Gospel: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17), it is most absurd to say that the Gospel of Christ is not the Gospel of the kingdom. But the preaching of the Gospel of Christ may be understood in two ways. First, as denoting the spreading abroad of the knowledge of Christ: and thus the Gospel was preached throughout the world even at the time of the apostles, as Chrysostom states (Hom. lxxv in Matth.). And in this sense the words that follow–“and then shall the consummation come,” refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which He was speaking literally. Secondly, the preaching of the Gospel may be understood as extending throughout the world and producing its full effect, so that, to wit, the Church would be founded in every nation. And in these sense, as Augustine writes to Hesychius (Epist. cxcix), the Gospel is not preached to the whole world yet, but, when it is, the consummation of the world will come.