Continuing with an examination of QUOTATIONS FROM THE FATHERS ON “NATURAL LAW” & “LAW OF NATURE, as compiled by Fr. Michael Butler, an archpriest in the Orthodox Church in America. Part One can be found here; Part Two, here. This will be the final installment.
Missing the Mark, As Determined by Our Nature
Dealing with an intemperate husband…
St Justin the Philosopher and Martyr (d. c. 165), Second Apology 2: "For [the wife], considering it wicked to live any longer as a wife with a husband who sought in every way means of indulging in pleasure contrary to the law of nature, and in violation of what is right, wished to be divorced from him."
The violation is based on our nature, not a written code.
St John Chrysostom (d. 407), Homilies on Romans, Homily 12 (on Rom 7.12): Therefore if these things are said about the natural law, we are found to be without the natural law. And if this be true, we are more senseless than the creatures which are without reason.
There is a profound point here: man, unlike the other creatures, has reason. Yet it is this same reason that can lead man to “reason” his way to violations of the natural law – something not possible for other creatures.
Genesis 2: 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The knowledge of good and evil without the knowledge of God. This is modern man’s understanding of reason, giving us all sorts of “justifications” for violating the natural law. This, as we see all around us, has led us to death, as we have truly become something other than human.
Clement of Alexandria (d. 215), Stromateis 2.13: Passions, then, are a perturbation of the soul contrary to nature, in disobedience to reason.
It is reason conformed by God to natural law. In this we find liberty. Reason without God leaves us slaves to our passions.
The Difference of Natural Laws vs. Commandments
St John Chrysostom (d. 407), Homilies on Romans, Homily 12 (on Rom 7.12): …it does not appear that he has anywhere called the law of nature a commandment.
St John Chrysostom (d. 407), Homilies concerning the Statues, 12.9: When he speaks to us of another commandment, not known to us by the dictate of conscience, he not only prohibits but also adds the reason.
God has given commandments outside of the natural law. But for these, he explains Himself.
For what purpose then, I ask, did he add a reason respecting the Sabbath but did no such thing in regard to murder?
Regarding the Sabbath, the reason given was for rest, as God did on the seventh day. But for murder?
How was it then when he said, “You shall not kill,” that he did not add, “because murder is a wicked thing?” The reason was that conscience had already taught this beforehand. He speaks thus, as if to those who know and understand the point.
God had no need to give a reason. We already knew this, as it was in our nature to know it. No commandment or explanation was necessary.
A Written Law Contrary to Our Nature is Not to be Observed
Origen (d. 254), Against Celsus 5.37: As there are, then, generally two laws presented to us, the one being the law of nature, of which God would be the legislator, and the other being the written law of cities, it is a proper thing, when the written law is not opposed to that of God, for the citizens not to abandon it under pretext of foreign customs…
An important concept is introduced, one which I believe is later expanded upon by Aquinas. The natural law is universal; the application, in some instances and within bounds, can be determined by local custom. If a local application does not violate the overarching natural law, it is still good written law.
…but when the law of nature, that is, the law of God, commands what is opposed to the written law, observe whether reason will not tell us to bid a long farewell to the written code, and to the desire of its legislators, and to give ourselves up to the legislator God, and to choose a life agreeable to His word, although in doing so it may be necessary to encounter dangers, and countless labors, and even death and dishonor.
Remaining true to the natural law – the law of nature given to us by God – will sometimes come with cost, even to death.
Just some other interesting tidbits….
Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, and Aquinas’s First Way
Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235), Against Beron and Helix, Fragment 1: For the infinite cannot in any manner or by any account be susceptible of movement, inasmuch as it has nothing towards which and nothing around which it shall be moved. For in the case of that which is in its nature infinite, and so incapable of being moved, movement would be conversion.
It Wasn’t Only St Augustine
St Chromatius of Aquileia (d. 407), Tractate on Matthew 59.5: So we recognize that in the person of this king is signified the Son of God, who held the whole human race guilty in the infinite debt of sin, since through the original sin we were all debtors of sin and death.
Why Do So Many Christian Churches Struggle with This?
Romans 1: 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
In case the Apostle Paul isn’t clear enough…
Ambrosiaster (d. late 3rd c.), Commentary on Paul’s Epistles: For what is it to change the use of nature into a use which is contrary to nature, if not to take away the former and adopt the latter, so that the same part of the body should be used by each of the sexes in a way for which it was not intended? Therefore, if this is the part of the body which they think it is, how could they have changed the natural use of it if they had not had this use given to them by nature? This is why he said earlier that they had been handed over to uncleanness, even though he did not explain in detail what he meant by that.
The Apostle Paul didn’t think it needed explaining.
St John Chrysostom (d. 407), Homilies on Romans, Homily 4 (On Rom 1:26-27): And in a like way with those, these he also puts out of all means of defending themselves by charging them not only that they had the means of gratification, and left that which they had, and went after another, but that having dishonored that which was natural, they ran after that which was contrary to nature. But that which is contrary to nature hath in it an irksomeness and displeasingness, so that they could not fairly allege even pleasure. For genuine pleasure is that which is according to nature. But when God hath left one, then all things are turned upside down.
We can understand “our nature” only when viewed through the lens of properly understanding our purpose and the purpose of every part of our being.
It isn’t really that difficult.