You may have noticed that I’m quoting Adam Piggott a lot more than William Briggs. Our good statistician is not doing much Thomist blogging as he is having far too much fun going through the election results in the USA. Adam is my kind of Catholic. A serious one. Unlike the current person who thinks he is the Bishop of Rome.
For the record, I am hard core sedevacantist Catholic. Most certainly not protestant.
Aquinas is the master on Natural Theology. Unlike Briggs, I don’t have access to a good electronic copy of the Summa. But this blog post gives a quick summary.
God designed natural law so that humans participate in God’s eternal law. As rational creatures we can determine and seek that which is good and avoid that which is evil.
According to Thomas Aquinas, the first precept of natural law is “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” Every subsequent moral precept is based on this “first precept of natural law.” (By the way, you should memorize the underlined quote and never forget it. It is very useful and it will strengthen your understanding of natural law).
The #1 mistake people make about natural law is that they assume that natural law is secular and non-religious. Not true according to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Saint Thomas teaches that the virtue of religion, sacrifice, holidays, and even a natural priesthood pertains to the natural law. Moreover, avoiding idols and worshipping the Creator are derived precepts of the natural law.
Natural law is common to all the nations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist, animist…natural law applies to you. This means that the testimony of natural law leads one to have a true religion. Thomas Aquinas would say that natural law in the heart of man would argue against idolatry, polytheism, atheism, etc. Hence, the idolatry of, say, Hinduism is banned under natural law.
Natural law is insufficient for human beatitude and salvation. Thomas Aquinas is really clear about this. He teaches that natural law is not enough. A human person can never erase natural law from his heart, but he can mitigate its force in his life. And even if a human person followed natural law perfectly, he would not attain to Heaven, because sanctifying grace is needed to enter the Beatific Vision (vision of God). So then, God gave “Divine Law” in the form of the Old Testament but perfectly in the New Testament. The New Law of the New Testament is really the Holy Spirit who communicates mercy, grace, and love to our souls and body. Hence, the human person after Adam and Eve needs Divine Law to perfect what natural law cannot do.
I have an aversion to five easy points. It is the equivelant of saying Calvinism is TULIP. Simplifications are not the text.
Truth has many children, and all good systematic theological work should stick to the truth of the gospel. Aquinas and Calvin would agree that without the enabling of the spirit of God theology stops being a means of salvation. They would agree that natural theology has a religious component, for nature reflects its creator. So, having said all this, Given I am not a Papist, Let us turn from the better craftsman to a querulous ex canon lawyer writing what he thought was a basic book of plain Christianity in Geneva.
21. It is unnecessary to dwell at length on the end that should be aimed at in considering the works of God. The subject has been in a great measure explained elsewhere, and in so far as required by our present work, may now be disposed of in a few words. Undoubtedly were one to attempt to speak in due terms of the inestimable wisdom, power, justice, and goodness of God, in the formation of the world, no grace or splendour of diction could equal the greatness of the subject. Still there can be no doubt that the Lord would have us constantly occupied with such holy meditation, in order that, while we contemplate the immense treasures of wisdom and goodness exhibited in the creatures as in so many mirrors, we may not only run our eye over them with a hasty, and, as it were, evanescent glance, but dwell long upon them, seriously and faithfully turn them in our minds, and every now and then bring them to recollection. But as the present work is of a didactic nature, we cannot fittingly enter on topics which require lengthened discourse. Therefore, in order to be compendious, let the reader understand that he has a genuine apprehension of the character of God as the Creator of the world; first, if he attends to the general rule, never thoughtlessly or obliviously to overlook the glorious perfections which God displays in his creatures; and, secondly, if he makes a self application of what he sees, so as to fix it deeply on his heart. The former is exemplified when we consider how great the Architect must be who framed and ordered the multitude of the starry host so admirably, that it is impossible to imagine a more glorious sight, so stationing some, and fixing them to particular spots that they cannot move; giving a freer course to others yet setting limits to their wanderings; so tempering the movement of the whole as to measure out day and night, months, years, and seasons, and at the same time so regulating the inequality of days as to prevent every thing like confusion. The former course is, moreover, exemplified when we attend to his power in sustaining the vast mass, and guiding the swift revolutions of the heavenly bodies, &c. These few examples sufficiently explain what is meant by recognising the divine perfections in the creation of the world. Were we to attempt to go over the whole subject we should never come to a conclusion, there being as many miracles of divine power, as many striking evidences of wisdom and goodness, as there are classes of objects, nay, as there are individual objects, great or small, throughout the universe.
22. The other course which has a closer relation to faith remains to be considered–viz. that while we observe how God has destined all things for our good and salvation, we at the same time feel his power and grace, both in ourselves and in the great blessings which he has bestowed upon us; thence stirring up ourselves to confidence in him, to invocation, praise, and love. Moreover, as I lately observed, the Lord himself, by the very order of creation, has demonstrated that he created all things for the sake of man. Nor is it unimportant to observe, that he divided the formation of the world into six days, though it had been in no respect more difficult to complete the whole work, in all its parts, in one moment than by a gradual progression. But he was pleased to display his providence and paternal care towards us in this, that before he formed man, he provided whatever he foresaw would be useful and salutary to him. How ungrateful, then, were it to doubt whether we are cared for by this most excellent Parent, who we see cared for us even before we were born! How impious were it to tremble in distrust, lest we should one day be abandoned in our necessity by that kindness which, antecedent to our existence, displayed itself in a complete supply of all good things! Moreover, Moses tells us that everything which the world contains is liberally placed at our disposal. This God certainly did not that he might delude us with an empty form of donation. Nothing, therefore, which concerns our safety will ever be wanting. To conclude, in one word; as often as we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us remember that the distribution of all the things which he created are in his hand and power, but that we are his sons, whom he has undertaken to nourish and bring up in allegiance to him, that we may expect the substance of all good from him alone, and have full hope that he will never suffer us to be in want of things necessary to salvation, so as to leave us dependent on some other source; that in everything we desire we may address our prayers to him, and, in every benefit we receive, acknowledge his hand, and give him thanks; that thus allured by his great goodness and beneficence, we may study with our whole heart to love and serve him.
Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 14 John Calvin 1538
This is the end of this chapter. You are allowed to enjoy nature. In doing this, praise God. The material matters, for it reflects the design of he who made matter. The scientific endeavour predates the reformation, and the foundations of accepting the world go back to the Church Fathers. Bacon’s discussion of the experimental method is a footnote to this theological underpinning: the study of nature is worthy, for it reflects the nature of God.
For theology is the Queen of Sciences.