The Doctor and Student (1518)

Christopher St. Germain

Of the law of God

The law of God is a certain law given by revelation to a reasonable creature, shewing him the will of God, willing that creatures reasonable be bound to do a thing, or not to do it, for obtaining of the felicity eternal. And it is said, for the obtaining of the felicity eternal, to exclude the laws shewed by revelation of God for the political rule of the people, and which be called judicials. For a law is not properly called the law of God, because it was showed by revelation of God, but also because it directed a man by the nearest way to the felicity eternal; as been the laws of the Old Testament, that been called morals, and the laws of the evangelists, the which were shewed in much more excellent manner than the law of the Old Testament was: for that was shewed by the mediation of an angel; but the law of the evangelists was shewed by the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ, God and man. And the law of God is always righteous and just, for it is made and given after the will of God. And therefore all acts and deeds of man be called righteous and just, when they be done according to the law of God, and be conformable to it. Also sometime a law made by man, is called the law of God. As when a law taketh his principal ground upon the law of God, and is made for the declaration or conservation of the faith, and to put away heresies, as divers laws canon, and also divers laws made by the common people, sometime do; the which therefore are rather to be called the law of God, than the law of man. Yet nevertheless all the laws canon be not the laws of God: for many of them be made only for the political rule and conservation of the people. Whereupon John Gerson, in the treatise of the spiritual life of the soul, the second lesson, and the third corollary, saith thus All the canons of bishops nor their decrees be not the law of God: for many of them be made only for the political conservation of the people. And if any man will say, Be not all the goods of the church spiritual, for they belong unto the spiritualty, and leading to the spiritualty? We answer, that in the whole political conservation of the people, there be some specially deputed and dedicated to the service of God, the which most specially (as by an excellency) are called spiritual men, as religious men are. And other, though they walk in the way of God, yet nevertheless, because their office is most specially to be occupied about such things as pertain to the commonwealth, and to the good order of the people, they be therefore called secular men or lay men. Nevertheless, the goods of the first may no more be called spiritual than the goods of the other, for they be things more temporal, and keeping the body, as they do in the other. And by like reason, laws made for the political order of the church be called many times spiritual, or the laws of God; nevertheless it is but improperly: and other be called civil, or the laws of man. And, in this point many be oft times deceived, and also deceive other, the which judge the things to be spiritual, the which all men know be things temporal and carnal. These be the words of John Gerson, in the place alleged before. Farthermore, beside the law of reason and the law of man, it was necessary to have the law of God, for four reasons.

The first, Because man is ordained to the end of the eternal felicity, the which exceedeth the proportion and faculty of man’s power. Therefore it was necessary that, beside the law of reason and the law of man, he should be directed to his end by the law of God.

Secondly, Forasmuch as for the uncertainty of man’s judgment, specially of things peculiar and seldom falling, it happeneth oft times to follow divers judgments of divers men, and diversities of laws; therefore, to the intent that a man without any doubt may know what he should do, and what he should not do, it was necessary that he should be directed in all his deeds by a law heavenly, given by God, the which is so apparent that no man may swerve from it, as is the law of God.

Thirdly, Man may only make a law of such things as he may judge upon, and the judgment of man may not be of inward things, but only of outward things; and nevertheless it belongeth to perfection that a man be well ordered in both, that is to say, as well inward as outward. Therefore it was necessary to have the law of God, the which should order a man as well of inward things as of outward things.

The fourth is, Because, as St. Augustine saith in his first book of free arbitrement, the law of man may not punish all offences: for, if all offences should be punished, the commonwealth should be hurt, as is of contracts; for it cannot be avoided, but that as long as contracts be suffered, many offences shall follow thereby, and yet they be suffered for the commonwealth. And therefore that no evil should be unpunished, it was necessary to have the law of God that should leave no evil unpunished.