The Doctor and Student (1518)

Christopher St. Germain

Of the law of reason, the which by doctors is called the law of nature of reasonable creatures

First it is to be understood, that the law of nature may be considered in two manners, that is to say, generally and specially. When it is considered generally, then it is referred to all creatures, as well reasonable as unreasonable: for all unreasonable creatures live under a certain rule to them given by nature, necessary to them for the conservation of their being. But of this law it is not our intent to treat at this time. The law of nature specially considered, which is also called the law of reason, pertaineth only to creatures reasonable, that is, man, which is created to the image of God.

And this law ought to be kept as well among Jews and Gentiles, as among christian men: and this law is alway good and righteous, stirring and inclining a man to good, and abhorring evil. And as to the ordering of the deeds of man, it is preferred before the law of God, and it is written in the heart of every man, teaching him what is to be done, and what is to be fled; and because it is written in the heart, therefore it may not be put away, ne it is never changeable by no diversity of place, ne time: and therefore against this law, prescription, statute nor custom may not prevail: and if any be brought in against it, they be not prescriptions, statutes nor customs, but things void and against justice. And all other laws, as well the laws of God as to the acts of men, as other, be grounded thereupon.

Stud. Sith the law of reason is written in the heart of every man, as thou hast said before, teaching him what is to be done, and what is to be fled, and the which thou sayest may never be put out, of the heart, what needeth it then to have any other law brought in to order the acts and deeds of the people?

Doct. Though the law of reason may not be changed, nor wholly put away; nevertheless, before the law written, it was greatly lett and blinded by evil customs, and by many sins of the people, beside our original sin; insomuch that it might hardly be discerned what was righteous, and what was unrighteous, and what was good, and what evil. Wherefore it was necessary, for the good order of the people, to have many things added to the law of reason, as well by the church as by secular princes, according to the manners of the country and of the people where such additions should be exercised. And this law of reason differeth from the law of God in two manners. For the law of God is given by the revelation of God; and this law is given by a natural light of understanding. And also the law of God ordereth a man of itself, by a nigh way, to the felicity that ever shall endure; and the law of reason ordereth a man to the felicity of this life.

Stud. But what be the things that the law of reason teaches to be done, and what to be fled? I pray thee shew me.

Doct. The law of reason teacheth, that good is to be loved, and evil is to be fled: also that thou shalt do to another, that thou wouldest another should do unto thee; and that we may do nothing against truth; and that a man must live peacefully with others; that justice is to be done to, every man; and also that wrong is not to be done to any man; and that also a trespasser is worthy to be punished; and such other. Of the which follow divers other secondary commandments, the which be as necessary conclusions derived of the first. As of that commandment, that good is to be beloved; it followeth, that a man should love his benefactor: for a benefactor, in that he is a benefactor, includeth in him a reason of goodness, for else he ought not to be called a benefactor; that is to say, a good doer, but an evil doer: and so in that he is a benefactor, he is to be beloved in all times and in all places. And this law also suffereth many things to be done as that it is lawful to put away force with force; and that it is lawful for every man to defend himself and his goods against an unlawful power. And this law runneth with every man’s law, and also with the law of God, as to the deeds of man, and must be always kept and observed, and shall always declare what ought to, follow upon the general rules of the law of man, and shall restrain them if they be any thing contrary unto it.

And here it is to be understood, that after some men, the law whereby all things were in common, was never of the law of reason, but only in the time of extreme necessity. For they say, that the law of reason may not be changed; but they say, it is evident, that the law whereby all things should be in common, is changed: wherefore they conclude, that was never the law of reason.