IN A STRIKING PHRASE, The Mirror of the Saxons, a collection of customary laws compiled by Eike von Repgow (1180-1235), states "God is himself law, and therefore law is dear to him." (quoted in Harold J. Berman, Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000), 292.) Modernly, we are accustomed to hearing that God is Justice, and God is Mercy, and God is Love. Our ear is attuned to those truths, and they seem, though they never ought to be, almost commonplace. But the phrase "God himself is Law" is jarring to the modern ear. It seems jarring from both a religious and a secular perspective. That it is jarring is a sign of two things. First, it is probably reflective of a modern religious disdain for "Law" based upon misunderstanding of both both "Law" and "Grace" in the divine economy of salvation; it betrays, unfortunately, a fundamental misunderstanding, largely inherited from Protestant theology, between the aera sub lege and the aera sub gratia, the dispensation before Christ and after Christ. (In fact, Law and Grace, like Nature and Grace, or Reason and Faith, do not contradict each other. The natural law was in force before Christ and after Christ.) Second, and more pertinent to this blog which is dedicated to the Natural Law, the jarring is a sign of how far our political and legal institutions have strayed from their traditional moorings in the Natural Law.
As secularism has marched incessantly forward, like a Juggernaut destroying all the inherited cultural capital, both Christian and Graeco-Roman, in its path the world has become, in Max Weber's phrase, progressively "disenchanted." As a result, our civil, political, and legal institutions have become increasingly emancipated from God to such a degree that we act as practical atheists.
For example, as we understand it today, the notion of the Rule of Law is purposefully crafted to exclude mention of God, and so is a notion merely procedural, purely secular. While, as a legal principle, it may have significant value, it nevertheless suffers from obvious limitations. When push comes to shove, it offers but a superficial bulwark against tyranny. (As an example of its limited value, the Rule of Law cannot be used to criticise Roe v. Wade;indeed, the Rule of Law arguably demands its continued enforcement.) Many commentators have noted the same problem with the modern notion of "Human Rights."
Disassociating God from Law, like disassociating God from Ethics, has caused our scholars to run into intellectual cul-de-sacs. Scholars have a hard time answering why there ought to be a "Rule of Law," and why there is such a thing as "Human Rights," and why these ought to have a universal value.
God and the Eternal Law are ostracized from our public and even private schools, even those with an originally religious foundation. Mention that "God himself is Law" to any among the professorate at Harvard (of Puritan foundation) or Yale (Congregationalist) law schools, and you will likely draw a blank, quizzical, or perhaps disdainful look. That would not have been true at their founding. This frequently leads to an impossible quandary, the effects of which are a cacophony of ethical discussion without hope of resolution or common ground, absurdities advanced as serious thought, or just plain nihilism and despair. (See, e.g., Law's Quandary by Stephen D. Smith, and After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre.)
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, when men don't believe in an Eternal Law, the result is not that they believe in no law, but that they will believe in every kind of law (including no law).
With that introduction, our next posts will address the issue of what the Eternal Law is, and how it may be known.
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