Monday, December 20, 2010

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 2, The Teaching of the Law

In a previous post back in October of this year, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 1, we covered the reason why Law and Gospel must both be preached and yet kept sharply distinguished. We did so, however, without actually articulating either the Law or the Gospel, but promised to adduce these teachings from Scripture in a future post. We begin to do so with today’s post, covering the Scripture’s teaching of the Law. Later this week, we will adduce Scripture’s teaching of the Gospel.

General Revelation reveals God’s Law
    Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory (Is. 6:3b).

    O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches (Ps. 104:24).

    For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead (Ro. 1:20).

    The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork (Ps. 19:1).

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God (Ps. 14:1a; 53:1a).

    For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness... (Ro. 2:14-15).

    Of these two parts the adversaries select the Law, because human reason naturally understands, in some way, the Law (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind); [the natural law agrees with the law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments] and by the Law they seek the remission of sins and justification (AP:IV:7).

    For even our first parents before the Fall [before the Law was given] did not live without the Law, who had the Law of God written on their hearts, because they were created in the image of God (Ge. 1:26; 2:16-17; 3:3) (FC:EP:VI:2)
The Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions are clear: God’s Creation gives undeniable evidence of His existence, His glory, His power, and His moral law, and God has written His law on the hearts of all mankind. Observation bears this out, as well. Over the course of history, pagan societies which operate according to the cycles of nature have drawn these very conclusions: deity exists, it is powerful, it has issued laws which must be followed. They have also noticed the effects of sin: disease, death, decay, enmity, strife, calamity. In fear of such consequences, pagan societies have nearly all concluded that the deity must be appeased, through pious exercises and sacrifices of various kinds, as a way of avoiding temporal hardship.

But recognizing God in His created order, and deriving moral and civil law from that order which appeals to His authority as the one establishing it, has not been limited to primitive agrarian or hunter-gatherer societies, or societies otherwise without the benefit of Special Revelation. The Church had long recognized various categories and sources of God’s Law, Aquinas finally articulating four such categories: eternal law, natural law, human law, and divine law. Dr. Thomas Johnson1 (Professor of Apologetics, Martin Bucer Seminary, Bonn, DE) summarizes these categories from Aquinas’ Treatise on Law:
    Aquinas’ scheme of four types of law systematized ideas developed over the preceding centuries of discussion in Christian ethics. ...[T]he eternal law is that law which exists eternally in God’s reason. “Since the Divine Reason’s conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal according to Pr. 8:23, therefore it is this kind of law which must be called eternal.”

    ...The natural law, according to Aquinas, is the “participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” The natural law is how God reveals His will in creation. ...The precepts of the natural law in the human mind are the self-evident, indemonstrable first principles of practical reason that instruct us to seek the good and avoid evil. While some propositions about the natural law may only be self-evident to the wise, all people use the natural law when, by practical reason, they identify goods to pursue and evils to avoid. And while sin can blot out the natural law in particular cases, yet the knowledge of the general principles of the natural law cannot be totally blotted out by sin; all people know the difference between good and evil and know that they should pursue the good and avoid evil.

    The human law is framed by human lawgivers and given to the community for the common good of the state. [It] is intended to promote peace and virtue, while protecting the innocent from the wicked.

    ...The divine law is the special revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments. Aquinas found four major reasons why it is necessary to have a divine law in addition to the natural law and the human law. First, the divine law is oriented to man’s eternal happiness in a way that the natural and human laws are not. Second, because the human and natural laws use fallible human judgments, God also gave a law that allows us to know some things without doubt. Third, the divine law judges hidden, interior motivation in a way that human law cannot. Fourth, human law cannot forbid all evil without also hurting the common good; it is left to the divine law to forbid all evil.

    A crucial element in Aquinas’ theory of law is that the human law is to be derived from and evaluated primarily by the natural law, not primarily by the divine law. This means that matters in the legal-political sphere of life are to be evaluated primarily by those principles of justice which God built into human reason, not by revelation in Scripture or in Christ.
This is this view of God’s law – especially the recognition of natural law and its relationship to God’s eternal law and to temporal human, or civil, law – which was understood and accepted by the Reformers (both Lutheran and Reformed), and which was carried forward by them as the West transformed under Protestant influence. It was relatively short-lived, however. Beginning early in the 17th Century, perhaps in response to the bloody and extended political conflicts in Europe which emerged from religious differences within Christianity, a dualism seemed to develop within various legal and political circles, and among some Protestants, which separated the Law of Nature from the Law of God (Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf), the former constituting a “universal” law and religion to which all could ascribe in the civil realm (Lord Herbert of Cherbury)2. This, no doubt, influenced dramatic changes in the idea of natural law occurring a century later.

General Revelation, Natural Law, and Deity – without Specific Religion
Though acknowledging natural law, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists did so primarily as an enemy of the Church, in an attempt to sweep away any need for, or recognition of, Special Revelation and the divine law it contains. Enlightenment “Natural Theology” represented the notion that all there is to be known of God can be determined from a study of nature. A recognition of God and His law in the created order, while rejecting specific knowledge of Him or of His will from Special Revelation, is the foundation of modernistic deism. Following from this foundation, very sophisticated and intellectually honest attempts to systematize nature produced clear evidence of design and of a nameless “Intelligent Designer” that was admitted with little question.

Yet, the discoveries of science did not yield a tranquility and peaceful harmony as, perhaps, some may have thought that neutering revealed religion, by depriving it of Special Revelation and of a voice in society on that basis, would achieve. Instead, the same observations of the primitives manifested themselves: natural systems are inherently corrupt, they deteriorate and decay; cells, like animals, attack and devour one another; there is struggle, exploitation, and miserable death at every level of nature; over time, entropy is the dominant reality of the universe. Escaping the moral consequences of such observations, it seems, by the end of the 19th Century, even the deity was eliminated from natural law (some of the final blows being struck by the philosophical contributions of Immanuel Kant), making “natural law” entirely anthropocentric3.

By this time also, under the force of modernist natural theology emanating from the Enlightenment, Christianity had been subordinated by Western Society, becoming merely a cultural element, a situation to which Karl Barth and others responded by entirely rejecting natural law as a valid category of God’s law4. This is why the “religious right” in America today is criticized for obsession with enacting “Biblical legislation.” Being in many ways the theological descendants of Karl Barth, they have little, if any, recognition of natural law, and insist on nearly exclusive use of divine law regardless of whether the Ecclesiastical or Political estates are involved. These ideals of pop-Christianity are set against those of modern and post-modern Western Society, which has in the past century rejected any notion that law has a transcendent source, whether naturally or divinely derived, in favor of amoral and arbitrary legal-positivism, and more recently, post-modern deconstructionism5.

General Revelation does not fully reveal God’s Law
General Revelation has long been recognized as sufficient to suggest the existence, power and glory of a Deity, to prompt man’s recognition of its transcendence and authority, and to derive from the testimony of Creation’s order a moral law for the ordering of society. The Scriptures and the Confessions clearly extol this witness of Creation, and testify to the law of God that is written on the hearts of men, such that, even apart from the Scriptures, mankind is without excuse (Ro. 1:18-21). Moreover, observation of natural and pagan societies bear out the testimony of Scripture in this regard: on the basis of God’s witness to Himself within His created order, man has every reason for a healthy fear of God and a recognition of his need to either appease God’s wrath or to purchase His protection. But such fear and recognition is a basis for works-righteousness, only. The law revealed in General Revelation, alone, is not sufficient to reveal to mankind his truly helpless state before God, to reveal to mankind the true depth of his depravity, nor to reveal the truly fearsome wrath of God toward sin and toward those who commit sin. When we say “Law and Gospel,” it is not General Revelation or Natural Law to which we refer. It is God’s Divine Law, revealed to us only in the Holy Scriptures, which He has personally, through His prophets, given to humanity.

The Law in Special Revelation

The Scriptures reveal to mankind the true reality of his condition before God. When God created the world, He created it “good,” or “fit for its designed purpose” (Ge. 1:4,10,12,18,21,25). On the sixth day, when God created man in His image, holy and righteous (Ge. 1:26-27), He designated man as the crown of His Creation (Co. 3:10; Ep. 4:24), as “very good” – or exceedingly fit and in harmony with His purposes (Ge. 1:31) – and gave him dominion over it (Ge. 1:28-30), whereupon, He rested from, or ceased, His creative effort (Ge. 2:1-3). The Laws of Nature established, Creation proceeded to function as God designed it. There was no sin, thus, there was neither death nor corruption. Man, together with all of Creation, enjoyed a harmonious relationship with God.

Man’s Fall and its Consequences
At the instigation of the Devil, however, Adam transgressed the Law of God (Ge. 3:1-13), falling into sin (1 Jn. 3:4). As a result, corruption entered Creation (Ge. 6:11-12) and became part of Adam’s nature, poisoning his relationship with God. Harmony turned into dissonance: Adam sought to evade God, hiding from Him as He approached (Ge. 3:8). Peace between God and Adam became conflict: Creation along with Adam and his descendants were cursed by God, and He ejected the first humans from Eden (Ge. 3:14-19,23-24). Adam’s nature thus corrupted by sin, his fallen state has propagated to his descendants (Ge. 1:28; 5:3; 6:12b; 46:26), infecting all of mankind (Ps. 14:1-3; Ro. 3:10-19); all of Creation groans under the weight of sin (Ro. 8:22). No longer unblemished as Adam was before the Fall, mankind is now corrupt in the eyes of God. He is sinful both in the nature he has inherited from Adam through his parents (Original Sin) (Ep. 2:3b, Ro. 5:12, Ps 51:5) and in his works (Actual Sin) – that is, in his thoughts (Ge. 6:5; Mt. 15:19; He. 9:14), words (Ro. 3:13-14), and actions (Mk. 7:21-23; Jn. 3:19; Ro. 8:13) – by what he does (sins of commission) and by what he fails to do (Ja. 4:17) (sins of omission).

As a result of the Fall, mankind is sinful in his nature, he has neither sinlessness nor holiness – he is sinful from the time of his conception (Ps. 51:5), his mind dwells only upon evil and regards God’s truth as foolishness (Ge. 6:5; 1 Co. 2:14), he is by nature the enemy of God (Ro. 8:7), and by his works he can in nowise merit favor with Him (Ep. 2:1,3; Ro. 3:10-18). As an enemy of God, he is in a perpetual state of open rebellion against God. Being contrary to his fallen nature, it is impossible for man to perform the works required of him under God’s Law, and consistent with his fallen nature, he actively struggles against it. The Law is thus a curse (Ga. 3:10); it binds those who are under it to obedience while at the same time stimulating their rebellion (Ro. 7:7).

God hates sin. God hates sinners. Sinners deserve God’s punishment.
Because God and His Law are perfect (De. 32:4; Ps. 18:30; Ps. 19:7a), it is necessary for man to possess the same perfect righteousness as God before there can be any fellowship with Him (Mt. 5:48). To know God, is to obey His Law (1 Jn. 1:3). To love God, is to obey His Law (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 1:4-5). Transgression of God’s Law is sin (1 Jn. 3:4) – it is the opposite of knowing and loving God, it is active rebellion against God. Naturally, therefore, God hates sin, and will purge His Creation of everything corrupted by it (2 Pe. 3:10). God also hates sinners (Ps. 5:5; Ps. 11:5; Le. 20:23; Pr. 6:16-19; Ho. 9:15), and on account of their rebellion, has set Himself against them. Therefore, being perfectly Just, God demands that man’s sin be punished (Co. 3:25), and the Just punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God (Ro. 6:23a) in the torments of Hell.

The Natural Man seeks to appease God on his own terms
At this point, naturally agreeing that the Creator God is powerful, righteous, and angry with sin, the reasonable man, according to his natural recognition of Natural Law, rightly reasons that God’s wrath must be appeased if he is to avoid eternal punishment. There must be atonement for the wrongs committed by man, and a change in man by which God no longer sees him as sinful. Yet also, the reasonable man sees that providing sufficient payment for sin and living righteously will be a challenge. The former will require his life. Perhaps dedicating and giving his life to God, as a sacrificial act before it is demanded of him by God, will suffice? In the latter case, righteous living is opposed to his very nature as man. Yet, perhaps the truly determined and zealous man can overcome himself, gain victory over sin in his life, and live the rest of his life only for God? Surely, God would be proud of such devotion, regard such a one as meritworthy, and reward him with temporal and eternal blessing! In such ways, man resorts to his natural inclinations as he struggles to find his own way to appease God – testing the good he thinks he does against the reward he thinks he has received as a result of it. He does so because he has not yet heard God’s Divine Law in the full force of its fearsome terror.

We are all by nature the children of wrath
    But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. 64:6-7)

    As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Ro. 3:10-20)

    But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Co. 2:14)

    For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. ...I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (Ro. 7:14-21)

    But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Is. 59:2)
As long as sin inheres in man’s flesh, it is impossible for him to render the righteous works necessary for meritorious standing before God. The Bible says that man is incapable of mustering the intellectual assent (1 Co. 2:14; Ro. 3:11) or force of will (Jn. 1:13), much less the outward deeds (Ro. 3:20), that would rise to any level of merit before God. Man cannot call upon God, move himself toward God, or take hold of Him (Is. 64:7). Those works man considers good are, before God, spoiled by the evil within him (Ro. 7:21). Before Him, all of man’s righteousness is as filthy rags (Is. 64:6). All attempts of mankind to glorify God on the basis of his prayers, worship, acts of service or other works he considers good or meritworthy, are hopelessly infected with sin; thus, God will not grant merit to and accept man’s works, whether they be good thoughts, fine words or pious acts of worship or dedicated service – it is offensive to Him, He turns his face from it, and He rejects it (Is. 59:2).

Mankind, in his natural state, is spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Co. 2:10-15; Ep. 2:1-10); and this spiritual death putrifies his flesh, the stench from which is intolerable in the nostrils of God. Each person, like all of Creation, is in a state of decay, and from the time of his birth marches steadily toward eternal death6. These are the true wages of sin: eternal death and eternal separation from God in a place He has prepared for the devil and all his angels – Hell. There is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Nothing. In our nature we reject all the things of God (Ro. 3:10-18, Ro. 8:7-8), and are in open rebellion against Him. All of our works are only evil before God, and in the face of His Divine Law, we are impelled toward even greater rebellion. On account of our sin, we are separated from God, He has hidden His face from us, and He will not hear us. It is impossible for us to achieve meritorious standing in the eyes of God. We are helpless before God Who has prepared His throne for judgment, and will judge the world according to righteousness (Ps. 9:8-9). We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgment; we deserve His eternal wrath and punishment. If we are to escape it, we need to be saved from it. We need a Saviour to do this for us. Without a Saviour, we are doomed.

The Use of God’s Divine Law in the Church – its Ecclesiastical, or Second Use
This is the Church’s use of the Law – unattenuated by the Gospel or by human reason. Equally applicable to all of humanity, its purpose is not to drive us to obedience, but to work contrition and to drive us to a Saviour. In this way, the Second use of the Law prepares the way for the Gospel7.

  1. Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 15-18.
  2. Ibid. pg. 28.
  3. Montgomery, J. (2002). Christ our Advocate: Studies in Polemical Theology, Jurisprudence, and Canon Law. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 20.
  4. Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pp. 19-23.
  5. Montgomery, J. (2002). Christ our Advocate: Studies in Polemical Theology, Jurisprudence, and Canon Law. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 32.
  6. Eternal Death: Physical death while in a state of Spiritual death.
  7. Which the reader, who is, no doubt, depressed at this point, can expect is forthcoming, about mid-week this week.


Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Alas! Dear Reader,

Business responsibilities are interfering with my ability to publish Part Three as promised. My apologies to those eagerly awaiting the teaching of the Gospel! Lord willing, it will be published Christmas morning.

Douglas Lindee

Frank Sonnek said...

wow. It would have been so very much more powerful to present all this from the Lutheran Confessions rather than second hand from the more recent lutheran church fathers.

I am curious why that approach was not taken.

This site I understand is meant to lovingly reunite us Lutherans as Lutherans. The direct path to this would seem to be through our beloved confessions.

I propose that the Lutheran Confessions pretend to be nothing other than a demonstration of how to apply the clarity of romans 8 law and gospel to each doctrine taught in each article of the confessions.

In the process we could learn how to distinguish the Lutheran 3rd use from the calvinistic 3rd use that most lutherans seem to have adopted for instance.and

we could learn what law and gospel has to say about the Holy Liturgy rather than merely grappling with it as being or not being adiaphoron but rather as being law and gospel in worship.

and we could re-learn that the old lutherans taught that the doctrine of the two kingdoms is NOT about the civil estate vs the churchly estate because that is law/law it is about vocation and vocation. rather two kingdoms and its two kinds of righeousness is the practical application of law and gospel in our daily lives and vocations where we are taught that liturgy, the administration of word and sacraments and everything we can see and do in our bodies that is about churchly things is pure law. law . law. even the preaching of law and gospel we are taught pertain only this life for example and there will be no need for law or gospel or even faith in the heavenly kingdom which both here now and is world without end.

Shouldn´t this site be an object lesson in how to exercise the godly theological mortification of binding ourselves to the Lutheran Confessions in a real and organic and not merely historical way?

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...


I'm sorry to have disappointed you. The approach taken follows from "Part One" back in October, which started with the testimony of the Reformers and the Confessions, and promised to adduce the teachings of the Law and of the Gospel from Scripture, relative to Justification, at a later time. As a result, this single treatment does not cover all aspects of the Law -- so your criticism in that regard is understood and well taken.

You raise the issue of Right- -v- Left-hand Kingdoms, and I suspect that may follow from my discussion of the Natural Law. My purpose in doing so was to show that an evangelical use of Divine Law, or application of its Second Use, faces in the Natural Law both friend and foe, and to show their relationship while also distinguishing them. Given that Natural Law is almost never discussed, and so very few people have any understanding or appreciation of it, I decided to give it a more extended treatment, to show what has happened to it since the Reformation and how it has come to be essentially disregarded today. If I follow you correctly (and I have read some of your comments on this issue elsewhere), I'm not in disagreement with your point regarding the vocational application of Law in the various earthly Estates. The emphasis I hoped to introduce, however, precedes application, and strives for a balanced recognition of the various categories of Law as they were understood at the time of the Reformation.

As for "binding ourselves to the Lutheran Confessions in a real and organic, and not merely historical way," I concur. But we cannot be bound in any "real and organic" way apart from an also "historical way." A confession is both positive and negative. It binds those who are party to it in unity. The seat of that unity is not the words of a common confession, but the respective conscience of each individual which compels him to utter those words aloud and join with others under them. Our unity is thus not political, but drives deep into each person's identity as a human: we confess together what we are each convinced, as a matter of conscience, is true and inviolable. We are bound to it not in words, but by conscience. On the other hand, a confession also necessarily separates those party to it from what violates their conscience. This, if for no other, is the reason a historical perspective is required. As much as we may strive for clarity in what binds us in unity strictly from positive statements of Scripture, we cannot have clarity regarding what we delineate ourselves from without understanding assualts on Scripture teaching as they come to us from outside of it. Beginning with the Creeds, this is why Confessions have become, and remain, necessary. In making and holding any confession, an understanding of the error one stands against is necessary -- and there is no understanding of such things apart from an historical understanding. We have no Confession if we have no clear idea what we delineate ourselves from by issuing it. This is because confessions are not necessary to assert the truth. They are only necessary to assert and maintain the truth in the face of error. To even have a confession, we must understand the error; and to understand the error, to understand what we face today, we must understand history.

Anyway, "Part Three" of this discussion, The Message of the Gospel, is still forthcoming. No, it won't cover every nuance of the Gospel, but may carry the reader into some areas not frequently covered as it is popularly presented these days. If we don't cover it all in a single post, keep in mind that we will keep returning to the Scriptural and Confessional teachings of Law & Gospel, the efficacy of the Means of Grace, and the centrality of Christ, and show that these, as you point out, have definite and necessary consequences on Lutheran practice -- not as a matter of Law, but for the sake of the Gospel.

Douglas Lindee

Frank Sonnek said...

dear douglas lindee,

your response to me was exceedingly gracious and respectful. it beat my response to your post as to tone hands down.

I have to confess that your post really really bothers me and i cant put my finger exactly on it. I need to sit down and reread and parse what you wrote carefully.

I was struck by your comment that lutherans accepted the natural law theories proposed by the scholastics. i think this is probably really really profoundly wrong. but then maybe my problem is that I am not understanding aquinas well enough dear brother. but this one point seems terribly wrong.

again you are very gracious and I dont want to go into what I am finding troubling about your post online. i would not feel right or charitable to do so, and maybe I am in over my head. could we have a discussion off line?

sincerely, frank william

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...


Let me expand on that section a bit more, and hopefully that will clarify things a bit. If not, or, heaven forbid, if it should make matters worse in your opinion, then by all means, we can engage more fully in an email exchange.

When I stated that the Lutheran formulation of Natural Law was "essentially" the same as the Roman, I meant just that: "essentially" -- though definitely not identically -- within the limits of what was described (in summary) in that quote from Johnson. But there is a difference. The impact of the difference is in its application to "Human Law" and it's relationship to "Divine Law" (as those terms are used/defined above, in the post). Since the entire post has nothing to do with human action, or motivating or guiding human works, but with God's condemnation of man in his fallen state and rejection man's works, I was focusing on Natural Law as the revelation of God in nature and it's testimony concerning man's status before God. Used in this sense, I thought quoting Johnson's summary of Aquinas was sufficient, along with qualifying the Lutheran formulation as "essentially" the same.

But if we are required to discuss the Natural Law in terms of it's relationship to the Divine Law, and of its use in guiding individuals and governing societies, then definitely, more explanation is required -- explanation which goes far beyond the purpose of the post, of course. We'll start with the similarities. First, it should be understood that neither Aquinas, nor the Romans preceding him who struggled to formulate categories of law, thought at any point that Natural Law was not divinely ordained, or that it was not from God. Aquinas was not merely parroting Aristotle when he issued his formulations -- he was relying just as much on prior legal scholarship, which attempted to harmonize a new reality of "secular" and "sacred" polities following the Gregorian Reforms. Chief among those he relied on was John of Salisbury – the man who gave us the "Divine Right of Kings," as a way to maintain God's dominion over the State as well as the Church, along with the State under the Church. That the Natural Law was given by God was not disputed by Luther and the German Reformers, either. Further, that the Natural Law reveals "good" to be pursued and "evil" to be avoided was equally undisputed. That the Divine Law was the domain of the Church, was not disputed by Luther and the German Reformers. That Human Law was informed chiefly by Natural Law was not disputed by Luther personally nor the Reformers, either. In fact, Luther is on voluminous record extolling Natural Law, and the wisdom of human reason that is to be found even outside the text of Scripture, in the application of reason to matters of law and politics.

Continued in next comment...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Continued from previous comment...

So what are the differences? With regard to Natural Law, the Lutherans taught that it was elemental to the conscience of the individual – the same conscience I referred to above in my previous comment. Rome, on the other hand, taught that Natural Law and reason are faculties of the human distinctly separate from his conscience. This has profound implications on the idea Natural Law regarding its impact on political and social action. The conscience of the unregenerate is clouded by sin, consumed with self, and at war with God and with God's law, thus his interpretation of Natural Law is perverse. On the other hand, the quickened soul of the believer, the man of "redeemed conscience," is no longer at war with God, but reconciled with Him, and having the benefit of Divine Law, sees with far more penetrating clarity what the testimony of the Natural Law is: for the Natural Law and the Divine agree. Melanchthon further "sanctified" Natural Law, by incorporating it into his pedagogical use of Divine Law. This is where the notion that the "Ten Commandments" are the "Natural Law" comes from. As sanctification is given expression in man's Vocation, Divine and Natural Law meet in the everyday activities of the Christian, as he lives and acts according to conscience. No, the Divine Law is not suspended when a Christian takes his seat with the town council, the county board, the legislature, or the jurists bench, any more than it is when he is at his place of business or at home or at church; no, neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions require that the Christian develop schizophrenia and suspend significant portions of his self-identity – his identity in Christ, no less! – the moment he begins to act in political capacity. These popular notions are nonsense.

But there are also differences between the Roman and Lutheran conception of the contexts in which Natural Law would be applied, and in its relation to "Human Law" (more frequently called "positive law") as a result. For centuries prior to the Gregorian Reforms, there was one normalizing authority (the Church) and one law (the Divine) which was not systematized but diffused throughout the life of the Church and merged with society. There was, of course, some local law based on tribal traditions, as well, but this was largely unsystematized as well. The point is, there was no concept of sovereign law-making power, as there was, with few exceptions, really nothing against which to declare sovereignty. This was not a result of the iron fist of the Roman Church, it was just the social, political and religious reality. The Roman Empire having been ravaged for centuries by invasions from the northern barbarians, and variously from the east and south by the Tartars, Slavs, Mongols and Arabs, the civilization of Rome was laid waste. Pretty much after the Sixth Century A.D., the Church was essentially the only institution that remained, and for all intents and purposes, it remained the sole curator of religion, education, science, medicine, and culture in the West. Through the influence of the Church, however, civilization returned, such that by the Eleventh Century, a sufficiently concerned (some would say maniacal) Pope Gregory VII, created a distinction between sacred and secular by declaring supreme authority over the clergy and the various human governments under the influence of the Church, under the clergy. The "State" (which was a word that had to be invented to describe the new institution) was outside the Church, it was "secular" (another term that had to be invented to describe the separation of these institutions), having its own distinct mission while yet being subject to the Church. In this way, the Church made of itself a sovereign law-making power, with respect to the state, which was also imbued with its own domain of independent legal authority.

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Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

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In the first place, two kingdoms were thus established as a reality, a fact which was later exploited by Machiavelli. In the second place, a need for separate systems of law, though related under God's Law, can be seen. A total separation of the "secular" functions of the State from the sacred functions of the Church, which coincided with the Roman separation of the human faculty for reason from man's conscience, required that affairs of government and the maintenance of peace and justice, proceed under the power of the State and at its direction. That people were governed meant that their activities were directed. By the time of the Reformation, this resulted in the idea that order in society was solely dependent upon the power of the state. Machiavelli's Prince taught that, rather than peace and justice, the accumulation and maintenance of power was the prime consideration in directing society, while peace and justice served the state and its position of power. Divine Law was thus emptied of application to the creation of positive law in the State – those considerations were outside and above it.

This is not the case in the Lutheran conception, neither of the Two Kingdoms, nor of the earthly estates. The Kingdom of Grace (of "of the Right"), is the the One True Church, the Una Sancta, the Invisible Church – not the earthly institutions of church. The Kingdom of Power (or of the left) is not merely government, but the entirety of God's created order. Within the Kingdom of the Left are the earthly estates, or domains of human action: the visible Church, the State, and the Family. Further, while political power and the maintenance of order are necessary, peace and justice are primary, and the state's power serves these ends, not the other way around. From the Reformation forward, these teachings elevated individuals and local economies, and their impact in society, while the purpose of the state turned to the task of ensuring equity, not necessarily to direct their activity. And so, under Lutheran influence, ethics became a primary consideration in the creation of positive law.

But there is one more critical aspect of the relationship of Natural Law to the Divine in the creation of "Human Law": Vocation. While visible Church and the State perform separate functions in the Kingdom of the Left, they are joined by the institution of Family, which operates within and moves between them both, as each individual, living according to his conscience, carries out God's calling in his respective Vocations, where, as Melanchthon emphasized, Natural Law meets the Divine as one carries out his conscience in sanctified living. In a society dominated by Christians, the State responds with positive law to human action that is rooted in the transcendent, that is rooted in the convictions of the "redeemed conscience" of the regenerate. At the same time, the agents of the State themselves, whose Vocations include the responsibility to consider ethics and legislate equity, do so from the standpoint of quickened conscience of their own. They rely on Natural Law, principally, but by virtue of their own reconciliation with God under His Divine Law and the Gospel of Christ, peer into the Natural Law with penetrating clarity, and understand ethics from the standpoint of Christ's perfect morality. Natural Law and Divine Law meet in the State and in Society through Vocation.

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Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

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Anyway, I could go on. But this has already gotten far too long. If you, or anyone who happens to be reading this, finds these topics interesting, I highly, highly, recommend Harold J. Berman's works, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition and Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition. The foregoing was drawn in large part from these works, along with Berman's single volume, Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion. I could also recommend Brian Tierney's The Idea of Natural Rights, The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300, and Religion, Law, and the Growth of Constitutional Thought, 1150-1650, but I personally much prefer Berman for his writing style and the scope of treatment. But I'll warn the reader, what he'll learn, if he is not already aware of it, is that the West, in its political and legal institutions (to say nothing of the institutions of education, science and medicine), draws its existence and living breath from the teachings of Western Christianity. There is no disputing this: in its character and function, the West is distinctly Christian – and at some points, one could even say it is even distinctly Lutheran – and to this day, the label "Christendom" to identify Western Civilization is, in my opinion, more than apt.

Douglas Lindee

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