The Natural Law

Natural law (Latin: ius naturale, lex naturalis) is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature, and based on values intrinsic to human nature that can be deduced and applied independently of positive law (the express enacted laws of a state or society). According to natural law theory (called jusnaturalism), all people have inherent rights, conferred not by an act of legislation but by "God, nature, or reason." Natural law theory can also refer to "theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality."

In the Western tradition, it was anticipated by the pre-Socratics, for example in their search for principles that governed the cosmos and human beings. The concept of natural law was documented in ancient Greek philosophy, including Aristotle, and was referred to in ancient Roman philosophy by Cicero. References to it are also to be found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and were later expounded upon in the Middle Ages by Christian philosophers such as Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The School of Salamanca made notable contributions during the Renaissance.

Although the central ideas of natural law had been part of Christian thought since the Roman Empire, the foundation for natural law as a consistent system was laid by Aquinas, as he synthesized ideas from his predecessors and condensed them into his "Lex Naturalis" (lit. 'Natural law') Aquinas argues that because human beings have a reason, and because reason is a spark of the divine (see the image of God), all human lives are sacred and of infinite value compared to any other created object, meaning all humans are fundamentally equal and bestowed with an intrinsic basic set of rights that no human can remove.

Modern natural law theories took shape in the Age of Enlightenment, combining inspiration from Roman law, Christian scholastic philosophy, and contemporary concepts such as social contract theory. It was used in challenging the theory of the divine right of kings, and became an alternative justification for the establishment of a social contract, positive law, and government, and thus legal rights, in the form of classical republicanism. In the early decades of the 21st century, the concept of natural law is closely related to the concept of natural rights. Indeed, many philosophers, jurists and scholars use natural law synonymously with natural rights (Latin: ius naturale), or natural justice, though others distinguish between natural law and natural right.

Because of the intersection between natural law and natural rights, natural law has been claimed or attributed as a key component in the Act of Abjuration (1581) of the Netherlands, the Declaration of Independence (1776) of the United States, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) of France, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) of the United Nations, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (1953) of the Council of Europe.

Droit naturel

Le droit naturel (en latin : jus naturale) est l'ensemble de normes théoriques prenant en considération la nature de l'Homme et sa finalité dans le monde. Le droit naturel a fait l'objet de réflexions philosophiques importantes à partir du xvie siècle.

Le droit naturel est un concept majeur de la philosophie occidentale. Il désigne des normes supposées relatives à la nature de l'Homme et de son rôle dans le monde, sa finalité. Ce droit naturel confère des droits à l'Homme en tant qu'il est Homme, c'est-à-dire une créature distinguée du reste du vivant. De fait, le droit naturel s'oppose au droit positif, car le droit naturel n'a pas besoin d'être inscrit dans le droit écrit pour être en vigueur. Le droit naturel s'oppose au positivisme juridique.

En outre, le droit naturel se distingue des droits naturels : ces derniers se réfèrent à des droits subjectifs, tels que les droits de l'homme. On parle de droits naturels pour ceux-ci parce qu'on présume que ces droits seraient issus de la nature humaine, et qu'ils seraient donc inhérents à chacun, indépendamment de sa position sociale, de son ethnie, de sa nationalité, ou de toute autre considération.

Au sens large, le droit naturel désigne toute recherche objective de normes de droit en fonction des seules caractéristiques propres à l'être humain, indépendamment des conceptions du droit déjà en vigueur dans les sociétés humaines. Juridiquement, le droit naturel est une « règle considérée comme conforme à la nature (de l'homme ou des choses) et à ce titre reconnue comme de droit idéal ».

Le droit naturel étant supposé exister partout même s'il n'est pas effectivement appliqué et sanctionné, il n'est donc pas nécessairement un droit opposable ; étant fondé sur la nature humaine et non sur la réalité sociale dans laquelle vit chaque individu, le droit naturel est réputé universellement valable même dans les lieux et aux époques où il n'existe aucun moyen concret de le faire respecter.

L'expression « droit naturel » est susceptible d'acceptions légèrement différentes :

Les premières formulations du concept de droit naturel viennent de l'école de Salamanque, et ont ensuite été reprises et reformulées par les théoriciens du contrat social (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) à partir de la notion nouvelle pour l'époque d'état de nature. Le droit naturel pour les modernes s’apparente à la puissance de l'individu et complète la définition négative de la liberté, à savoir l'absence de contrainte.

Les théoriciens et les défenseurs de la notion de droit naturel sont appelés « jusnaturalistes », et la doctrine correspondante « jusnaturalisme ».

Courants principaux

Leo Strauss établit une chronologie de l'histoire du droit naturel en deux temps, celui d’un droit naturel classique et celui d’un droit naturel moderne.

Dans le droit naturel classique, il distingue trois courants :

Dans le droit naturel moderne, Leo Strauss voit deux figures importantes : Thomas Hobbes, qu'il voit comme l'un des fondateurs de cette théorie, et qu'il assimile au libéralisme classique, et John Locke. Le droit naturel classique est fondé sur la recherche de la vérité et consiste à dire ce qui est permis, ce qui est juste, dans différentes situations. Le droit naturel moderne est, au contraire, considéré comme déjà connu par la raison. Il est déjà acquis par nature. Ses conclusions se trouvent dans l'individualisme. Les conservateurs libéraux, partisans du droit naturel des anciens, accusent les libéraux classique d'avoir favorisé l’apparition du positivisme juridique


Paul's Epistle to the Romans is generally considered the Scriptural authority for the Christian idea of natural law as something that was endowed in all men, contrasted with an idea of law as something revealed (for example, the law revealed to Moses by God).

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another."

The intellectual historian A. J. Carlyle has commented on this passage, "There can be little doubt that St Paul's words imply some conception analogous to the 'natural law' in Cicero, a law written in men's hearts, recognized by man's reason, a law distinct from the positive law of any State, or from what St Paul recognized as the revealed law of God. It is in this sense that St Paul's words are taken by the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries like St Hilary of Poitiers, St Ambrose, and St Augustine, and there seems no reason to doubt the correctness of their interpretation."

Because of its origins in the Old Testament, early Church Fathers, especially those in the West, saw natural law as part of the natural foundation of Christianity. The most notable among these was Augustine of Hippo, who equated natural law with humanity's prelapsarian state; as such, a life according to unbroken human nature was no longer possible and persons needed instead to seek healing and salvation through the divine law and grace of Jesus Christ. Augustine was also among the earliest to examine the legitimacy of the laws of man, and attempt to define the boundaries of what laws and rights occur naturally based on wisdom and conscience, instead of being arbitrarily imposed by mortals, and if people are obligated to obey laws that are unjust.

The natural law was inherently teleological as well as deontological. For Christians, natural law is how human beings manifest the divine image in their life. This mimicry of God's own life is impossible to accomplish except by means of the power of grace. Thus, whereas deontological systems merely require certain duties to be performed, Christianity explicitly states that no one can, in fact, perform any duties if grace is lacking. For Christians, natural law flows not from divine commands, but from the fact that humanity is made in God's image, humanity is empowered by God's grace. Living the natural law is how humanity displays the gifts of life and grace, the gifts of all that is good.

Consequences are in God's hands, and consequences are generally not within human control, thus in natural law, actions are judged by three things: 

The apparent good or evil consequence resulting from the moral act is not relevant to the act itself. The specific content of the natural law is therefore determined by how each person's acts mirror God's internal life of love. Insofar as one lives the natural law, temporal satisfaction may or may not be attained, but salvation will be attained. The state, in being bound by natural law, is conceived as an institution whose purpose is to assist in bringing its subjects to true happiness. True happiness derives from living in harmony with the mind of God as an image of the living God.

After the Protestant Reformation, some Protestant denominations maintained parts of the Catholic concept of natural law. The English theologian Richard Hooker from the Church of England adapted Thomistic notions of natural law to Anglicanism's five principles: to live, to learn, to reproduce, to worship God, and to live in an ordered society.

Catholic natural law jurisprudence


Catholic counties in the tradition of the early Christian law and in the twelfth century, Gratian equated the natural law with divine law. Albertus Magnus would address the subject a century later, and his pupil, Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica I-II qq. 90–106, restored Natural Law to its independent state, asserting natural law as the rational creature's participation in the eternal law. Yet, since human reason could not fully comprehend the Eternal law, it needed to be supplemented by revealed Divine law. See also Biblical law in Christianity.

Meanwhile, Aquinas taught that all human or positive laws were to be judged by their conformity to the natural law. An unjust law is not a law, in the full sense of the word. It retains merely the 'appearance' of law insofar as it is duly constituted and enforced in the same way a just law is but is itself a 'perversion of the law.' At this point, the natural law was not only used to pass judgment on the moral worth of various laws, but also to determine what those laws meant in the first place. This principle laid the seed for possible societal tension with reference to tyrants.

The Catholic Church holds the view of natural law introduced by Albertus Magnus and elaborated by Thomas Aquinas, particularly in his Summa Theologiae, and often as filtered through the School of Salamanca. This view is also shared by some Protestants and was delineated by Anglican writer C. S. Lewis in his works Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man.

The Catholic Church understands human beings to consist of body and mind, the physical and the non-physical (or soul ), and that the two are inextricably linked. Humans are capable of discerning the difference between good and evil because they have a conscience. There are many manifestations of the good that we can pursue. Some, like procreation, are common to other animals, while others, like the pursuit of truth, are inclinations peculiar to the capacities of human beings.

To know what is right, one must use one's reason and apply it to Thomas Aquinas' precepts. This reason is believed to be embodied, in its most abstract form, in the concept of a primary precept: "Good is to be sought, evil avoided." Aquinas explains that:

However, while the primary and immediate precepts cannot be "blotted out," the secondary precepts can be. Therefore,  a deontological ethical theory they are open to a surprisingly large amount of interpretation and flexibility. Any rule that helps humanity to live up to the primary or subsidiary precepts can be a secondary precept, for example:

The Natural moral law is concerned with both exterior and interior acts, also known as action and motive. Simply doing the right thing is not enough; to be truly moral one's motive must be right as well. For example, helping an old lady across the road (good exterior act) to impress someone (bad interior act) is wrong. However, good intentions don't always lead to good actions. The motive must coincide with the cardinal or theological virtues. Cardinal virtues are acquired through reason applied to nature; they are:

The theological virtues are:

According to Aquinas, to lack any of these virtues is to lack the ability to make a moral choice. For example, consider a person who possesses the virtues of justice, prudence, and fortitude, yet lacks temperance. Due to their lack of self-control and desire for pleasure, despite their good intentions, they will find themself swaying from the moral path.

In the 16th century, the School of Salamanca (Francisco Suárez, Francisco de Vitoria, etc.) further developed a philosophy of natural law, and major interpretations were provided by 20th-century philosophers such as Jacques Maritain.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it in the following way: "The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie: 'The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin.  But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted."

The natural law consists, for the Catholic Church, of one supreme and universal principle from which are derived all our natural moral obligations or duties. Thomas Aquinas resumes the various ideas of Catholic moral thinkers about what this principle is: since good is what primarily falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, the supreme principle of moral action must have the good as its central idea, and therefore the supreme principle is that good is to be done and evil avoided.

New natural law (NNL) or new natural law theory (NNLT) is a school of Catholic thought based on natural law, developed by Germain Grisez and John Finnis in the 1960s 

Divine law is any body of law that is perceived as deriving from a transcendent source, such as the will of God or gods, in contrast to man-made law or to secular law. According to Angelos Chaniotis and Rudolph F. Peters, divine laws are typically perceived as superior to man-made laws, sometimes due to an assumption that their source has resources beyond human knowledge and human reason. Believers in divine laws might accord them greater authority than other laws, for example by assuming that divine law cannot be changed by human authorities.

According to Chaniotis, Divine laws are noted for their apparent inflexibility. The introduction of interpretation into divine law is a controversial issue since believers place a high significance on adhering to the law precisely. Opponents of the application of divine law typically deny that it is purely divine and point out human influences in the law. These opponents characterize such laws as belonging to a particular cultural tradition. Conversely, adherents of divine law are sometimes reluctant to adopt inflexible divine laws to cultural contexts.

Medieval Christianity assumed the existence of three kinds of laws: divine law, natural law, and man-made law. Theologians have substantially debated the scope of natural law, with the Enlightenment encouraging greater use of reason and expanding the scope of natural law and marginalizing divine law in a process of secularization. Since the authority of divine law is rooted in its source, the origins and transmission history of divine law are important.

Conflicts frequently arise between secular understandings of justice or morality and divine law.

Religious law, such as canon law, includes both divine law and additional interpretations, logical extensions, and traditions.

A biblical canon is a set of texts (also called "books") which a particular Jewish or Christian religious community regards as part of the Bible.

The English word canon comes from the Greek κανών kanōn, meaning "rule" or "measuring stick". The use of the word "canon" to refer to a set of religious scriptures was first used by David Ruhnken, in the 18th century.

Various biblical canons have developed through debate and agreement on the part of the religious authorities of their respective faiths and denominations. Some books, such as the Jewish–Christian gospels, have been excluded from various canons altogether, but many disputed books are considered to be biblical apocrypha or deuterocanonical by many, while some denominations may consider them fully canonical. Differences exist between the Hebrew Bible and Christian biblical canons, although the majority of manuscripts are shared in common.

Different religious groups include different books in their biblical canons, in varying orders, and sometimes divide or combine books. The Jewish Tanakh (sometimes called the Hebrew Bible) contains 24 books divided into three parts: the five books of the Torah ("teaching"); the eight books of the Nevi'im ("prophets"); and the eleven books of Ketuvim ("writings"). It is composed mainly in Biblical Hebrew. The Septuagint (in Koine Greek), which closely resembles the Hebrew Bible but includes additional texts, is used as the Christian Greek Old Testament, at least in some liturgical contexts. The first part of Christian Bibles is the Old Testament, which contains, at minimum, the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible but is divided into 39 (Protestant) or 46 (Catholic) books and ordered differently. The second part is the New Testament, containing 27 books: the four canonical gospels, Acts of the Apostles, 21 Epistles or letters and the Book of Revelation. The Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches hold that certain deuterocanonical books and passages are part of the Old Testament canon. The Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian Christian churches may have differences in their lists of accepted books.

Some Christian groups have additional or alternate canonical books which are considered holy scripture but not part of the Bible.

Revd. Eric Michel 2023

Scientific laws or laws of science are statements, based on repeated experiments or observations, that describe or predict a range of natural phenomena. The term law has diverse usage in many cases (approximate, accurate, broad, or narrow) across all fields of natural science (physics, chemistry, astronomy, geoscience, biology). Laws are developed from data and can be further developed through mathematics; in all cases, they are directly or indirectly based on empirical evidence. It is generally understood that they implicitly reflect, though they do not explicitly assert, causal relationships fundamental to reality, and are discovered rather than invented.

Scientific laws summarize the results of experiments or observations, usually within a certain range of application. In general, the accuracy of a law does not change when a new theory of the relevant phenomenon is worked out, but rather the scope of the law's application, since the mathematics or statement representing the law does not change. As with other kinds of scientific knowledge, scientific laws do not express absolute certainty, as mathematical theorems or identities do. A scientific law may be contradicted, restricted, or extended by future observations.

The law can often be formulated as one or several statements or equations so that it can predict the outcome of an experiment. Laws differ from hypotheses and postulates, which are proposed during the scientific process before and during validation by experiment and observation. Hypotheses and postulates are not laws, since they have not been verified to the same degree, although they may lead to the formulation of laws. Laws are narrower in scope than scientific theories, which may entail one or several laws. Science distinguishes a law or theory from facts. Calling a law a fact is ambiguous, an overstatement, or an equivocation. The nature of scientific laws has been much discussed in philosophy, but in essence, scientific laws are simply empirical conclusions reached by the scientific method; they are intended to be neither laden with ontological commitments nor statements of logical absolutes.

Scientific laws are typically conclusions based on repeated scientific experiments and observations over many years and have become accepted universally within the scientific community. A scientific law is "inferred from particular facts, applicable to a defined group or class of phenomena, and expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions are present." The production of a summary description of our environment in the form of such laws is a fundamental aim of science.

Several general properties of scientific laws, particularly when referring to laws in physics, have been identified. Scientific laws are:

The term "scientific law" is traditionally associated with the natural sciences, though the social sciences also contain laws. For example, Zipf's law is a law in the social sciences which is based on mathematical statistics. In these cases, laws may describe general trends or expected behaviours rather than absolutes.

In natural science, impossibility assertions come to be widely accepted as overwhelmingly probable rather than considered proven to the point of being unchallengeable. The basis for this strong acceptance is a combination of extensive evidence of something not occurring, combined with an underlying theory, very successful in making predictions, whose assumptions lead logically to the conclusion that something is impossible. While an impossibility assertion in natural science can never be absolutely proved, it could be refuted by the observation of a single counterexample. Such a counterexample would require that the assumptions underlying the theory that implied the impossibility be re-examined.

Some examples of widely accepted impossibilities in physics are perpetual motion machines, which violate the law of conservation of energy, exceeding the speed of light, which violates the implications of special relativity, the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, which asserts the impossibility of simultaneously knowing both the position and the momentum of a particle, and Bell's theorem: no physical theory of local hidden variables can ever reproduce all of the predictions of quantum mechanics.

God gave us two books, the book of Scriptures and the book of Nature. Both have to be the same because God cannot contradict himself. So what you find in one must be also in the other one.