The first thing that ought to strike a reader who turns to the Questions on the New Law is that they are so brief. Thomas devotes four times as many articles to the Old Law as the New (a ratio of 46:12). While many of the articles on the Old Law bristle with Scriptural quotations and their contested interpretations, articles on the New undertake disputative exegesis of details only once, when defending the Gospel as a sufficient guide to interior acts (1-2.108.3). Reasons for Thomas's brevity are not far to seek. One of them lies in the structural relations between the two halves of the moral Part of the
27 Summa theol. 1-2.101.12. Note an important difference between the Leonine and Piana editions here. The Leonine omits the most interesting sentence: "If then 'justification' is understood as the execution of justice, then the moral precepts [of the old law] justified so far as they contained what is in itself just (secundum se iustum); but those sacraments of the old law did not confer grace as do the sacraments of the new law, which are said to justify on account of this." For the teaching that the sacraments of the Old Law did not confer grace "by themselves, that is by their own power (per seipsa, idest propria virtute)," but only as "professions (protestationes)" of the faith of Israel, see Summa theol. 3.62.6.
Summa. The detailed working out of Christian living is undertaken, not in the discussion of Gospel as moral law, but in the treatment of the virtues. A similar balance can be found in the theological works before Thomas.28 The careful reader of the Summa will never forget that the general moral considerations of the first half are given their specificity and their full sense only in the more detailed analyses of the second.
A more important reason for Thomas's brevity is to be found in the very character of the New Law. It is not primarily written. The "whole power (tota virtus)" of the Gospel's law consists of "the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given by faith in Christ. The new law is principally the grace of the Holy Spirit that is given by Christ to the faithful" (1-2.106.1). The precepts and counsels written down in the New Testament are dispositions to the reception of grace and guides to its right use. Without grace, the words of the Christian revelation are only another set of inefficacious regulations. The "ordinances for human feeling and human acts" contained in the "documents of faith" have no power as such to justify. The letter of the Gospel would also kill, unless faith healed inwardly (1-2.106.2).
Thomas is not here espousing some rude anti-nomianism. He knows, of course, that Christ's moral teaching has content. Some of the content is clarification of the Old Law; some, intensification of it; some, addition to it by way of counsel (1-2.107.2). Still the central "content" of the New Law remains a gift of grace, which grace issues in exterior acts by a kind of impulse (ex instinctu). If the Gospel prescribes actions, it does so either as suggesting dispositions to grace or as predicting consequences that will flow from it (1-2.108.1). Thomas reads most evangelical precepts as referring to what he calls the usus gratiae, the application or appropriation of grace by the human agent.
In this way, the New Law not only completes the natural, but restores its inward character. Neither the natural law nor the Gospel are primarily written. They are inward sharing of a direction towards the human end. In our present condition, the natural law participates in the human teleology darkly, uncertainly, inarticulately. The New Law, which is the grace given by Christ, participates in the teleology luminously and hopefully, but still inarticulately. Neither natural law nor New Law resides in a set of propositions. If precepts of natural law are written down, it must be as a means of helping someone understand what she truly desires and how she may begin to attain it. If the Gospel law is written down, it must be to help believers
28 So in the Summa "of Alexander" the articles on the Old Law outweigh those on the New in the same ratio of 4:1, but the discussion of the New Law leads immediately into the discussion of grace and virtues. See "Alexander of Hales" Summa theol. 3.2.3, 3.2.4, and 3.3.
towards a fuller appropriation of the grace that will move them to act as they should.
I can say the same point historically. In the narrative of divine pedagogy, written law serves as a way of attaining unwritten law. Human beings end in unwritten law, in fully appropriated inward principles of action. That is one implication of the image from John Damascene with which Thomas opens the moral part of the Summa: the human creature is the image of God as "the principle of his [or her] own acts" (1-2 prologue). Having forfeited dominion over ourselves in sin, we must regain it by the instrumentality of written laws - human law and, especially, divine law. God reveals written law only in order to bring us to its unwritten origin and end.
Where now is the analogy of law from which this section of the Summa began? Thomas had concluded, famously, that law is "nothing other than an ordinance of reason for the common good promulgated by the one who has care of the community" (1-2.90.4). Sixteen Questions later, the most important law, the New Law, is described as an unwritten impulse to action which is "promulgated" by grace. The analogy's starting point in human experience has been inverted. The essence of law is expressed in the definition, but only when all of its terms have been reversed. Law is an "ordinance of reason," that is, an ordering from reason and for reason. It is for the "common good," that is, written into the nature of the creature by God, who has an artisan's care of all. Human laws are laws weakly and derivatively, by distant imitation of the eternal law expressed as creation and justification.
Inverting the definition of law brings into final prominence the relation of moral teaching to art. A human law is something made, the promulgated product of practical reasoning. Thomas compares it explicitly with the product of an art (1-2.90.1 ad 2). When the analogy of art is reversed, legislation and promulgation change. The eternal Law is promulgated by the Word, Who is the divine art. Eternal law's consequences for human actions are dimly participated by natural law, rendered somewhat clearer in various human laws, articulated comprehensively in the Old Law, and made attainable at last in the New. The divine art expresses itself as a providential pedagogy enacted in history. Still the revelation of divine law is also a making that constitutes the object of the theologian's study. Theology is the science of revelation, but especially of Scripture, the "sacred page." When Thomas writes of law in the Summa, then, he takes on multiple relations to various arts. He describes the natural law as a dim participation made possible by the divine art in creating. He explains and appropriates the human art of jurisprudence. He narrates and so rehearses the art of divine pedagogy in the history of Israel. He studies and very imperfectly imitates the Scriptural record of that pedagogy.29 Whatever the role of science in the moral part of the Summa, the text is the description, explanation, narration, and imitation of a hierarchy of arts.
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