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The Thomist 66 (2002): 275-309 JEAN PORTER ON NATURAL LAW: THOMISTIC NOTES1 LAWRENCE DEWAN, 0.P. Cotlege Dominicain Ottawa, Ontario, Canada lEAN PORTER'S RECENT BOOK Natural and Divine Law aims at making theologians aware of medieval scholastic theological discussions of natural law. The sources she consults include h theologians and canonists, extending over a period including the twelfth and much of the thirteenth century. She sees such discussions as a possible fruitful source for contemporary Christian ethics. As a former student of Etienne Gilson's, I rejoice to see this interest in medieval thought, and in its theological dimension. AB a disciple of St. Thomas, I am sure that acquaintance with the background against which he formulated his views of natural law can help one appreciate the magnitude of his accomplishment. A reader, one would hope, might benefit from such a book by coming to see how what were often confused and confusing presentations in earlier writers eventually become coherent in the works of Thomas. Many years ago, Fr. Thomas Deman used the history of moral discussions by theologians to present Thomas as the founder of moral theology, establishing its order and its place within the unity of sacra doctrina.2 However, Porter's own intentions do not run in that direction. She is interested, rather, in what a knowledge of the nitty-gritty 1 Jean Porter, Natural and Divine Law: Reclaiming the Tradition for Christian Ethics, foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdsmann, 1999). I will cite it simply by page number in my own text. 2 Thomas Deman, O.P., Aux origines de la theologie morale (Montreal: Inst. d'etudes medievales, 1951). 275 276 LAWRENCE DEWAN, O.P. of medieval theological discussion can do to dispel the sort of "neat package" image of natural law that can result from the way it is presented by some modern philosophers, and even in some Church documents. Jacques Maritain used to insist on how much "rationalist recasting" and "the advent of a geometrising reason" had by the eighteenth century ruined the conception of natural law.3 An attempt to reestablish an awareness of the difficulty and variety of natural law discussion is well worth while. My own conviction, arising from my exploration of medieval natural law theory, including the texts of Thomas with their very thoughtful distinctions between levels of natural law precepts (and the possibilities or impossibilities of dispensation, whether by God alone or by human judges), is simply that natural law is not enough. One recalls the first article of the first question of the Summa Theologiae. We need a divine revelation, not only as regards knowledge of those truths that transcend human reason, but even as regards knowledge of those truths necessary for salvation which are within the range of our reason. The truths about God at which reason can arrive are known only by a few, after a long time, and with a mixture of error.4 And this need, Thomas eventually makes dear, also concerns truths about how humans should live their lives. Natural law needs the support of divine authority, at least in the present weakened condition of the human being in this world.5 3 Jacques Maritain, Man and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 8084 . 4 STh I, q. 1, a. 1. 5 Cf. STh X-ll, q. 91, a. 4 (1212a45-b2), the second reason Thomas gives for the need of a divine law: "because owing to the uncertainty of human judgment, especially concerning contingent and particular things, it happens that there are diverse judgments of diverse people concerning human acts, from which (judgments) diverse and contrary laws result. Therefore, in order that man be able without any doubt to know what is to be done and what is to be avoided, it was necessary that in his own acts he be directed by divinely given law, concerning which it is dear that it cannot err.~ On the effects of sin, original and actual, as including the dulling of reason especially regarding matters of action, cf. I-II, q. 85, aa. 1 and 3; also I-II, q. 99, a. 2, ad 2. (In references to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 275-309
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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