Tracing the three threads of development in ideas of natural law worldwide. In the West, it starts with the Stoic secularism of Cicero. Augustine's theocracy replaces it, spreading to the Middle East and back, via Averroes to Aquinas. Neoplatonism disappears, perhaps merging into the Christian church as divine awe for paternally guided afterlife. But no ideas of afterlife merge into the East or Far East. Instead Buddhist ideas spread Eastwards and transform, with their ultimate realization by Tsongkhapa; but in the Far East, later Han Lo eschews Buddhism, and Taoist ideas merge into Neoconfucianism.
This topic is the third in a six-part series on natural law called All People are Created Equal.
The first topic, "The Origins of Natural Law," traced natural law back to Hesiod in the 8th Century BCE. Hesiod recorded the Legend of the Golden Age, describing justice and humility are necessary to return to an original idyllic state. The legend even reached the Huang'Lao in China. In the 4th Century BCE, Socrates conceived an Ideal Social Contract as a way for rational beings to establish harmonious existence. Shortly thereafter, Aristotle recognized that corruption of ideals is ienvitable, concluding that democracy is the least-worse of evils. The first topic also described how Gautama developed Vedanta thought in the East; and how Lao'Tzu and Confucius developed the ideas of Guan-Zhong in the Far East.
This topic starts in the 1st century BCE, when Cicero rationalized natural law from the necessary conditions of existence, to restore the original idyllic state of the Golden era. In the 6th century, Justinian incorporated Cicero's ideas into the first attempt at Legal Codification. But a movement back to religious instead of secular authority had already started. In the 4th Century, Augustine had declared natural law was in defiance of the Laws of God. In the ensuing Dark Ages, Justinian's law was destroyed, and only discovered again 1,900 years later. In the Far East, Neoconfucianism dominated, preserving the idea of a secular Chinese empire; ut in the West, for about 900 years, philosophy was replaced by a widespread Theocracy, even spreading into the Middle East via Muhammad in the 7th century. In the 12th century, the Islamic Moor Averroes identified inconsistencies in theological doctrines which made it difficult to define how legal cases could be resolved. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas attempted to resolve the issue. Conflating Hesiod's Golden Age with Eden, Aquinas proposed that divine law could promulgate into common law via scientific understanding; but due to human failings, common law is prone to unintentional error, therefore differing from our intuitive sense of right and wrong. In the East, TsongKhapa conceived the ultimate theocracy in Tibet. It's postulated how Neoplatonists may have consolidated ideas of paternal divine supremacy into the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
There are three definitions of natural law:
The ambiguity of the term 'natural law' has thus caused much confusion. In political systems with a social contract, I only use natural law in the third way.
After one understands how Rome transformed Homer's horrific tragedy into an adulation of war, it may be of no surprise that Rome also based its laws on Greece too. At ca. 450 BCE, it is said Rome sent ambassadors to Athens in order to gather the 12 Tables, with hundreds of specific procedures specified by the 'Father of democracy,' Solon. Nonetheless, however cynical one becomes of Rome's rapist attitudes to social usury and military conquest, its history is also studded with miraculous and genuinely good people, one of whom was Cicero (106-46 BCE). In fact, as an indication of Cicero's significance in history, the rediscovery of this letters in the 13th Century is considered the cause of the end of the Dark Ages.
That Jefferson was familiar with the work of Cicero, there is no doubt:
Altho' Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practiced in the business of the world, and honest. He could not be the dupe of mere style, of which he was himself the first master in the world.
To John Adams, Thomas Jefferson (Monticello, July 5, 1814)
John Adams also admired Cicero deeply:
Cicero had the most Capacity and the most constant as well as the wisest and most persevering Attachment to the Republick. Almost fifty years ago I read Middleton's Life of this Man, with great pleasure and Some Advantage. Since that time I have been more conversant in his Writings as well as in the other Writers and general History of that Period. Within a month past I have read Middleton's Life of him again, and with more pleasure because with more Understanding than before. I Seem to read the History of all ages and Nations in every Page, and especially the History of our own Country for forty years past. Change the Names and every Anecdote will be applicable to Us.
The Adams Papers, "To Benjamin Rush" (Massachusetts, December 4, 1805)
At the age of 62, while Cicero was trying to stop revolutionary forces from taking control of the Roman Republic, he wrote De Oficiis, which discusses the concepts of Jus Gentium (the "universal laws of nature") in comparison and opposition to mos maiorum (laws arising from ancestral custom). In modern terms, we would name Jus Gentium as Natural Law, and Mos Maiorum as legislative law.
For, if we are so disposed that each, to gain some personal profit, will defraud or injure his neighbor, then those bonds of human society, which are most in accord with Nature's laws, must of necessity be broken. Suppose, by way of comparison, that each one of our bodily members should conceive this idea and imagine that it could be strong and well if it should draw off to itself the health and strength of its neighboring member, the whole body would necessarily be enfeebled and die; so, if each one of us should seize upon the property of his neighbors and take from each whatever he could appropriate to his own use, the bonds of human society must inevitably be annihilated. For, without any conflict with Nature's laws, it is granted that everybody may prefer to secure for himself rather than for his neighbor what is essential for the conduct of life; but Nature's laws do forbid us to increase our means, wealth, and resources by despoiling others.
De Officiis, 3:5:22, Marcus Tullius Cicero (Rome, 44 BCE)
While Cicero did not state any social contract or natural rights, he defined natural law as understood by reason, and undeniable in both secular and religious senses:
But this principle is established not by Nature's laws alone (that is, by the common rules of equity), but also by the statutes of particular communities, in accordance with which in individual states the public interests are maintained. In all these it is with one accord ordained that no man shall be allowed for the sake of his own advantage to injure his neighbor. For it is to this that the laws have regard; this is their intent, that the bonds of union between citizens should not be impaired; and any attempt to destroy these bonds is repressed by the penalty of death, exile, imprisonment, or fine. Again, this principle follows much more effectually directly from the Reason which is in Nature, which is the law of gods and men.
De Officiis, 3:5:23, Marcus Tullius Cicero (Rome, 44 BCE)
Cicero observes that the greatly virtuous may transcend common interpretations of law, but that Rome nevertheless should honor the local customs and rules of a society (as long as they did not contravene the Jus Gentium):
But no rules need to be given about what is done in accordance with the established customs and conventions of a community; for these are in themselves rules; and no one ought to make the mistake of supposing that, because Socrates or Aristippus did or said something contrary to the manners and established customs of their city, he has a right to do the same; it was only by reason of their great and superhuman virtues that those famous men acquired this special privilege. But the Cynics' whole system of philosophy must be rejected, for it is inimical to moral sensibility, and without moral sensibility nothing can be upright, nothing morally good. It is, furthermore, our duty to honour and reverence those whose lives are conspicuous for conduct in keeping with their high moral standards, and who, as true patriots, have rendered or are now rendering efficient service to their country, just as much as if they were invested with some civil or military authority; it is our duty also to show proper respect to old age, to yield precedence to magistrates, to make a distinction between a fellow-citizen and a foreigner, and, in the case of the foreigner himself, to discriminate according to whether he has come in an official or a private capacity. In a word, not to go into details, it is our duty to respect, defend, and maintain the common bonds of union and fellowship subsisting between all the members of the human race.>
De Officiis, 3:5:63, Marcus Tullius Cicero (Rome, 44 BCE)
Later, a jurist known only as Gaius defined the Jus Gentium in very concise terms:
Every people that is governed by statutes and customs observes partly its own peculiar law and partly the common law of all mankind. That law which a people established for itself is peculiar to it and is called civil law, as being the special law of states, while the law that natural reason establishes among all mankind is followed by all peoples alike, and is called Jus Gentium, as being the law observed by all mankind. Thus the Roman people observes partly its own peculiar law and partly the common law of all mankind.
- The Commentaries of Gaius and Rules of Ulpian (Rome, 161-185)
In defining his value system, Cicero wrote De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum ("On the ends of good and evil"). Here Cicero explains the philosophical views of Hedonism, Epicureanism, Platonism, and Stoicism:
- Hedonism is living only for physical pleasure. Cicero starts with the idea that pleasure, in the form of the absence of pain, is regarded as the only goal.
- Epicureanism argues that the satiation of pleasure diminishes it, and therefore the ideal life is a simple one, seeking pleasure only rarely. As such, Epicureanism defines values such as humility, absence of greed, and manual for self-reliance. Money has no value. In the modern era, Thoreau is considered one of the best examples of epicurean ideal, in "Walden; or, Life in the Woods" (Boston, 1854). But he argues pleasure alone cannot result in the highest good. Epicureanism, in Cicero's opinion, is simply another form of hedonism.
- In Cicero's view of Platonism, both during and after a person's life, the Gods rewarded or punished human beings according to their conduct in life. The Gods also provide human beings with the gift of reason. Since humans have this in common with the gods, but animals share our love of pleasure, Cicero argued, as Socrates had, that the best, most virtuous, and most divine life was one lived according to reason, not according to the search for pleasure. This did not mean that humans had to shun pleasure, only that it must be enjoyed in the right way. For example, it was fine to enjoy sex, but not with another man's wife. It was fine to enjoy wine, but not to the point of shameful drunkenness.
- Stoicism, by contrast with Epicureanism, considers how to improve the character by making commitments to individual virtue and social stability, ahead of their desires for fame, wealth, and power. Money does have value only insofar as it serves these ends. Like Platonism, it considers there to be reason for virtuous life, although the virtue itself results in sufficient pleasure that the Gods do not need to enforce it in any way. Human beings are all meant to follow natural law, which arises from reason. The natural law is also the source of all properly made human laws and communities. Because human beings share reason and the natural law, humanity as a whole can be thought of as a kind of community, and because each of us is part of a group of human beings with shared human laws, each of us is also part of a political community. Therefore we have duties to each of these communities. Cicero considers it a necessary obligation under natural law to take part in politics (so far as is possible) in order to discharge those duties. Thus the Stoic enters politics not for public approval, wealth, or power (which are meaningless) but in order to improve the communities of which they are a part. If politics is painful, as it would often prove to be for Cicero, that's not important. What matters is that the virtuous life requires it.
As to Stoicism being part of natural law, Cicero does not believe any further explanation is necessary:
It is sufficient proof that Nature shrinks from destruction. (Nature abhors a vacuum.)
De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, 5:31, Marcus Tullius Cicero (Rome, 45 BCE)
Unfortunately, while Platonics are rare, there remain many who follow the hedonistic and Epicurean lifestyles, and there is nothing in the derivation of Stoic idealism that can refute their view without falling back on Aristotelian fate. Stoicism does not seek to invoke fate, but rather that a virtuous life is a reward in itself, and therefore, the values behind Cicero's Stoicism have become increasingly rare.
However, in 534 AD, the Corpus Juris Civilis of Emperor Justinian synthesized existing legal documents in a single unified work, including that of Gaius. In the process, he redefined the division between universal law and local custom into seven parts, instead of two:
Those who apply themselves to the study of law should know, in the first place, from whence the science is derived. The law obtains its name from justice; for (as Celsus elegantly says), law is the art of knowing what is good and just. Anyone may properly call us the priests of this art, for we cultivate justice and profess to know what is good and equitable, dividing right from wrong, and distinguishing what is lawful from what is unlawful; desiring to make men good through fear of punishment, but also by the encouragement of reward; aiming (if I am not mistaken) at a true, and not a pretended philosophy.
Of this subject there are two divisions, public and private law. Public law is that which has reference to the administration of the Roman government; private law is that which concerns the interests of individuals; for there are some things which are useful to the public, and others which are of benefit to private persons. Public law has reference to sacred ceremonies, and to the duties of priests and magistrates. Private law is threefold in its nature, for it is derived either from natural precepts, from those of nations, or from those of the Civil Law.
Natural law is that which nature teaches to all animals, for this law is not peculiar to the human race, but affects all creatures which deduce their origin from the sea or the land, and it is also common to birds. From it proceeds the union of male and female which we designate as marriage; hence also arises the procreation of children and the bringing up of the same; for we see that all animals, and even wild beasts, appear to be acquainted with this law. The Law of Nations is that used by the human race, and it is easy to understand that it differs from natural law, for the reason that the latter is common to all animals, while the former only concerns men in their relations to one another.
- Corpus Juris Civilis, Justinian Imperator I (Constantinople, 534)
Within Justinian's natural law, people are born free, but have no rights deriving from that:
Those are freedmen, or made free, who have been manumitted from legal slavery. Manumission is the giving of freedom; for while a man is in slavery he is subject to the power once known as 'manus'; and from that power he is set free by manumission. All this originated in the law of nations; for by natural law all men were born free—slavery, and by consequence manumission, being unknown. But afterwards slavery came in by the law of nations; and was followed by the boon of manumission; so that though we are all known by the common name of 'man,' three classes of men came into existence with the law of nations, namely men free born, slaves, and thirdly freedmen who had ceased to be slaves.
- Corpus Juris Civilis, Justinian Imperator I (Constantinople, 534)
With regards to possession, Justinian defined a wide range of public property due to natural law:
Now let us proceed to the law of Things. Of these, some admit of private ownership, while others, it is held, cannot belong to individuals: for some things are by natural law common to all, some are public, some belong to a society or corporation, and some belong to no one. But most things belong to individuals, being acquired by various titles, as will appear from what follows. Thus, the following things are by natural law common to all—the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the seashore. No one therefore is forbidden access to the seashore, provided he abstains from injury to houses, monuments, and buildings generally; for these are not, like the sea itself, subject to the law of nations.
- Corpus Juris Civilis, Justinian Imperator I (Constantinople, 534)
The following list of public property includes: rivers, harbors, fishing, and wildfowl; riverbanks for mooring boats; vacation cottages on the seashore; theaters, racecourses, temples, churches, graveyards, and the walls and gates of a city. But once a fish or wildfowl is caught, it becomes private properly. There follows extensive qualifications (starting with bees, geese, and pigeons, as they are farmed), rules of transactions as transfers or property, inheritance, adoption, as parts of natural law.
The point of the division between natural law and the Law on Nations is best illustrated with the escape of wild bears:
OF PAUPERIES, OR DAMAGE DONE BY QUADRUPEDS. A noxal action was granted by the statute of the Twelve Tables in cases of mischief done through wantonness, passion, or ferocity, by irrational animals; it being by an enactment of that statute provided, that if the owner of such an animal is ready to surrender it as compensation for the damage, he shall thereby be released from all liability. Examples of the application of this enactment may be found in kicking by a horse, or goring by a bull, known to be given that way; but the action does not lie unless in causing the damage the animal is acting contrary to its natural disposition; if its nature be to be savage, this remedy is not available. Thus, if a bear runs away from its owner, and causes damage, the quondam owner cannot be sued, for immediately with its escape his ownership ceased to exist. The term pauperies, or 'mischief,' is used to denote damage done without there being any wrong in the doer of it, for an unreasoning animal cannot be said to have done a wrong. Thus far as to the noxal action. It is, however, to be observed that the Edict of the aedile forbids dogs, boars, bears, or lions to be kept near where there is a public road, and directs that if any injury be caused to a free man through disobedience of this provision, the owner of the beast shall be condemned to pay such sum as to the judge shall seem fair and equitable...
- Corpus Juris Civilis, Justinian Imperator I (Constantinople, 534)
Justinian's collation was the first to set forth completely the multiple levels and interpretations of law as an abstraction from that which constitutes law as specific rules, which also included the concept of natural law. Many of the ideas remain now, for example, the land between the low-tide and high-tide marks remain public property in England. However, with the subsequent decline of intellectual pursuits in the Dark Ages, the divisions were not pursued in any structured or rational manner, and with the collapse of the Roman Empire, much of it was lost for almost 1500 years. Thus Cicero's original idea remained prominent.
In fact, the significance of Cicero's invention cannot be understated. It remained the basis of law in most nations for thousands of years, and persisted until the 16th century. The reason for the persistence is that his method of thought permitted the conquered provinces to maintain their own systems of law within the constraints of Jus Gentium. Whether the local people had established ideas of law or not, Rome did not intervene with local customs for government, unless they did not resolve an issue of pertinent conflict, in which case it was referred to the governors of each province.
As noted in the New Testament, the governors were on the whole reluctant to enforce Jus Gentium unless absolutely necessary, and they were extremely sensitive to the boundaries of their rule also; but if necessary to repress rebellion, they would not hesitate to impose widespread death (Herod's massacre of all first-born children, on hearing of that a King of the Jews had been born that would rebel against him; and the handing of Jesus from Pontius Pilate to Herod, as he was born under Herod's jurisdiction).
While the theory of Jus Gentium honored private property, it did not extend to entitlements of slaves, who were regarded as property themselves of various levels. This paradoxical situation caused many variations in interpretation over the next 400 years, and emerged again when Europe started enslaving overseas populations again.
But more importantly, Jus Gentium established a Hierarchy of Courts which still exists to this day. In Roman times, the courts of nations were subservient to the higher court of the Holy Roman Empire. The pope, as the highest representative of God on earth, acted as an international arbiter, imposing sanctions (excommunication) even on entire nations if they did not uphold Jus Gentium.
To each his sufferings: all are men,|
Condemn'd alike to groan—
The tender for another's pain,
Th' unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.
- de on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
Some say the single greatest tragedy in the history of civilization was the burning of the library of Alexandria, immortalized by Shakespeare, who like many others blamed Julius Caesar for its purposeful immolation while affecting an escape from his pursuers:
“How DARE you and the rest of your barbarians set fire to my library?
Play conqueror all you want, Mighty Caesar! Rape,
murder, pillage thousands, even millions of human beings!
But neither you nor any other barbarian has the right to destroy one human thought!”
- Anthony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare (London, 1623)
Regardless the actual reason, the knowledge lost in fire (or a series of fires) in that library did set back the progress of civilization, recovery from which took hundreds of years, and even thousands of years in some cases. Yet even compared to losing the knowledge in the library of Alexandria, the choice of those particular texts which were included in the New Testament has probably had far worse consequences. The history of their choice is long and in many cases uncertain, until the church Synod finalized the list of Athanasius(Alexandria, 367) for Jerome's Vulgate (Rome, 382). For the sake of one particular exclusion, the texts of the Gnostics, the title Ignorance is Bliss was chosen (the maxim itself was written much later in a poem by a man waiting to hear of his acceptance into college, an experience with which some may well commiserate).
If one asks most people what the opposite of Gnosticism is, they would probably reply agnosticism. However, that dichotomy is not jointly exhaustive, because Gnosticism refers to beliefs arising from a set of books about Christ not included in the New Testament. People who study them are called Gnostics, because such individuals believe in religious knowledge and experience for its own sake. According to most Christians, Gnostics are heretical, because they do not accept the necessary truth of the Nicene creed (Nicaea, 325) or any of its derivatives as blessed by Christian ecclesiastical authority.
this is not to say the Synod's action was unreasonable, but rather, merely unwise in how is was executed. At that time, there were literally hundreds of texts about Christian teachings which were all possible candidates for inclusion. In the interest of proving their repentance to God, some had even written on the virtues of self flagellation and self mutilation (including one of the Church Fathers, Origin, who castrated himself in penance). And many different doctrines had appeared in separate parts of the world that did not agree with each other, so the Church chose to follow, basically, the doctrines of St. Paul. And nothing about that, in itself is unreasonable.
The lack of wisdom arose in declaring all other texts heretical, after which, it has been learned, a book-burning rampage destroyed far more than was lost in the library of Alexandria. They destroyed not only Christian texts, but also texts of other religions, and even texts that were of no religious basis at all, simply because they were not written by Christians.
On the one hand, one could claim this undue vilification of the Synod's wisdom, as some undetermined amount of the destruction was not intentional. Many Christian's merely believed that the texts they were destroying were of no real value, and so recycled them into book bindings, or stuffed parchment into walls as insulation (parchment was made from calfskin, sheepskin, or goatskin, so it worked quite well as insulation). For this reason also, fragments of the many lost texts, not regarded important at the time, have been recovered.
But one still cannot deny the Synod's responsibility, because in its zeal to ensure salvation, the early church also denied the usefulness of such knowledge altogether, eventually precipitating the long and arduous Dark Ages. The cavalier attitude to the loss of knowledge was, in their minds, completely justified. Knowledge of the arcane could lead to doubts, heretical beliefs, and sin.
It is thus most definitively true that the real opposite of Gnosticism is ignorance. And ignorance is bliss. In fact, most remain blissfully ignorant of Gnosticism, even though 27 of its primary texts have been recovered and are now available online. Over the others, if you will pardon me for doing so, I here draw a shroud over them myself, because some of them are truly disgusting in their adulation of self mutilation, etc.
If one asks why the Nicene council was so unwise, then it could not be attributed to their own beliefs, because they were acting under the strict control of the Emperor Constantine I the Great (272-337). Constantine was a controversial figure, but on the topic of natural law, he is most certainly the one responsible for eradicating the work of Cicero. He held little regard for reason or intellectual sophistication of any manner. He arrived in a split empire, and his first act was to unify it again by military conquest. His victory arch in Rome has survived, and remains a testament to the situation into which he was thrust. To build it, the stone masons cannibalized other arches, statues, and friezes, rather than making new ones, completing it in three years. Some say it was because the arts were already in such decline, there was no other way to make it. The inscription is also testament to his self conception, which before his conversion to Christianity, was as 'god of the Sun.'
To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs
- Victory Arch of Constantine (Rome, 315)
Constantine ordered the Nicene Council to create a creed based on the Trinity in 325. While Christians may be forgiven for honoring this move, historians do point out that he also massacred Christians who did not agree with the creed, including Aryans. He followed this in 326 by murdering his own son and wife, and eradicating as much evidence he could that they even lived. So while one hears much of the greatness of the Nicene creed in modern churches, those who wrote it certainly were not doing so of free will.
By the time Constantine had conquered his way to rule the Empire in both body and spirit, Rome was not only lacking in artisans to build him a better palace. A series of emperors more interested in self glorification than responsible rule had left the older parts of the city in a state of continual collapse, with inadequate water and sanitation. So Constantine, rather than improving Rome, decided to build an entirely new capital, for the professed reason that it was a better location geographically. He built the entire city in six years (330-336), with much the same disregard for long-term civilian needs.
As a consequence of Constantine's massacres and theological redirection, the next generation of Rome found itself with about 8 million Christians without a clear doctrine. Most of the religious texts were contrary to the Nicene creed, had been declared heretical, and were undergoing the same widespread destruction as the non-Nicene Christians had already suffered. Therefore, a new group of Church Fathers appeared on the scene who did their best to save the remaining Christians souls: Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome of Stridonium, and Gregory the Great. Jerome continued the work of the Nicene council by eliminating heretical texts, to create a single holy book. While Ambrose was concerned with ideas of divine grace, his main work was to thwart Arians in overthrowing the Nicene creed. Gregory was concerned with Liturgy, and laid much the foundation of Christian ritual that still persists in both the Catholic and Eastern orthodox churches; and Augustine designed the new theology based on the Nicene council's decisions, including ideas of justice. The four are largely responsible for the church as it existed for at least 900 years, and therefore Augustus' ideas on natural law are pertinent here. Augustine rather hated Cicero with a passion. From an academic point of view, we may be glad of his complaints of Cicero's De Republica and De Civilis, as the texts, survived intact, as being pertinent to Augustine's. Other writings of Cicero were simply destroyed as irrelevant, because Augustine did not criticize them, and there really was not another thinker for several hundred years of the Christian tradition who was really capable of responding to classical secularism.
Petrarch(1304-1374) rediscovered half of Cicero's letters, 34 in number, entirely by chance (Rome, 1345). So astonished was he at their beauty, he named the era prior to that finding the Dark Ages, and the time after their discovery is called the Age of Enlightenment(Mommsen, 1942).
Augustine contradicted Cicero's lex gentium in 1314, as part of his work De Civitate Dei (City of God). The book presents human history as a conflict the doomed Earthly City and the victorious City of God. People in the latter forgo earthly pleasure and dedicate themselves to the eternal truths revealed by the Christian faith. The Earthly City, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world (including Cicero).
A 1475 'City of God' illustrated manuscript, top, shows the animals and mankind rising from the earth, and the City of God (bottom) with happy people inside, while the devil carries off a lost soul. Made by Maître Francois for Jacques Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, before his beheading by Louis XI
As premise to his objections to Cicero's secular natural law, Augustine indicates that supreme good is not found in body, but in soul:
As it is the supreme good, not of a tree, or of a beast, or of a god, but of man that philosophy is in quest of, he thinks that, first of all, we must define man. He is of opinion that there are two parts in human nature, body and soul, and makes no doubt that of these two the soul is the better and by far the more worthy part.
-City of God, 19:3, Augustine (Hippo, 413)
Then Augustine denies that the motivations for acquiring property are not the basis of natural law. To Cicero, such desires are natural; but to Augustine, they lead to insanity and deranged reason too, and therefore are not to be trusted. The Stoics such as Cicero, Augustine states, allow a man to give up his own life, either in suicide due to physical malformity, or sickness, or to die in valiant war as a soldier, and all such acts are admired as Stoic values; but how can such people really be happy if they choose to give up life?
And eagerness, or desire of action, if this is the right meaning to put upon the Greek ὁρμη, is also reckoned among the primary advantages of nature; and yet is it not this which produces those pitiable movements of the insane, and those actions which we shudder to see, when sense is deceived and reason deranged?...I am at a loss to understand how the Stoic philosophers can presume to say that these are no ills, though at the same time they allow the wise man to commit suicide and pass out of this life if they become so grievous that he cannot or ought not to endure them. But such is the stupid pride of these men who fancy that the supreme good can be found in this life, and that they can become happy by their own resources, that their wise man, or at least the man whom they fancifully depict as such, is always happy, even though he become blind, deaf, dumb, mutilated, racked with pains, or suffer any conceivable calamity such as may compel him to make away with himself; and they are not ashamed to call the life that is beset with these evils happy. O happy life, which seeks the aid of death to end it? If it is happy, let the wise man remain in it; but if these ills drive him out of it, in what sense is it happy? Or how can they say that these are not evils which conquer the virtue of fortitude, and force it not only to yield, but so to rave that it in one breath calls life happy and recommends it to be given up? For who is so blind as not to see that if it were happy it would not be fled from?
-City of God, 19:4, Augustine (Hippo, 413)
Augustine then forms his own conclusion, that the worldly desires we experience are not important (nor our sense of duty and obligation, by extension), but rather our anxiety to please God, in order that we gain eternal life. Compared to any suffering on earth, the eternal happiness in the afterlife is far greater, and therefore all our efforts should be directed in that manner.
For in this abode of weakness, and in these wicked days, this state of anxiety has also its use, stimulating us to seek with keener longing for that security where peace is complete and unassailable. There we shall enjoy the gifts of nature, that is to say, all that God the Creator of all natures has bestowed upon ours—gifts not only good, but eternal—not only of the spirit, healed now by wisdom, but also of the body renewed by the resurrection.
-City of God, 19:10, Augustine (Hippo, 413)
When Augustine turns his attention to judicial courts, he merely remarks on the lamentable practice of torture to extract the truth from those who might nonetheless be innocent. He observes that torture is pointless, because the innocent man will confess to escape it; and he expresses compassion for the judge on whom society has imposed such futile horror. It is here quite clear that the pointlessness of torture, as a method of interrogation, has been known for at least 1800 years.
Melancholy and lamentable judgments they are, since the judges are men who cannot discern the consciences of those at their bar, and are therefore frequently compelled to put innocent witnesses to the torture to ascertain the truth regarding the crimes of other men. What shall I say of torture applied to the accused himself? He is tortured to discover whether he is guilty, so that, though innocent, he suffers most undoubted punishment for crime that is still doubtful, not because it is proved that he committed it, but because it is not ascertained that he did not commit it. Thus the ignorance of the judge frequently involves an innocent person in suffering. And what is still more unendurable— a thing, indeed, to be bewailed, and, if that were possible, watered with fountains of tears— is this, that when the judge puts the accused to the question, that he may not unwittingly put an innocent man to death, the result of this lamentable ignorance is that this very person, whom he tortured that he might not condemn him if innocent, is condemned to death both tortured and innocent. For if he has chosen, in obedience to the philosophical instructions to the wise man, to quit this life rather than endure any longer such tortures, he declares that he has committed the crime which in fact he has not committed...These numerous and important evils [the judge] does not consider sins; for the wise judge does these things, not with any intention of doing harm, but because his ignorance compels him, and because human society claims him as a judge. But though we therefore acquit the judge of malice, we must none the less condemn human life as miserable.
-City of God, 19:6, Augustine (Hippo, 413)
As to the guide of that which law should be, or what justice might be, or what authority the government should have, or what rights the individual might have, Augustine really has no concern at all. To him, all those affairs are simply irrelevant compared to the importance of salvation and eternal life.
And so Augustine rather set the stage for the chaotic world that we now call the Dark Ages. While in the West, for the next 900 years, feudal kingdoms sparred unter the divine theocracy of the Holy Roman Empire, in the Far East and Middle East, far more dramatic changes were to occur.
While the post-Cidero West underwent dramatic and certain changes in political ideas, seven Chinese dynasties passed by without any clear direction. The sophistications of the Huang'Lao in the 2nd Century BC (built on the ideas of Guan'Zhong, Confucius, and Lao'Tzu) dissipated in the third dynasty. For the next 800 years after, six short-lived Chinese dynasties passed by, while Buddhist doctrines from the Mahayana school merged into Taoism and Confucianism without any clear direction. Emperors mixed and matched political ideals from the different schools in no coherent manner, and each of their rules were short lived. In the Ninth Imperial Dynasty, Han Yu (768-824) very much changed the scenario.
Han Yu's beautiful prose, based on the Han Dynasty's concise yet heavenly style, remains admired as akin to Shakespeare. But Han Yu also deeply objected to the mixing of different Taoist and Buddhist principles into Confucianism, because he believed only Confucianism could link the private, moral life of the individual with the public welfare of the state.
Your servant begs leave to say that Buddhism is no more than a cult of the barbarian peoples, which spread to China in the time of the Latter Han. It did not exist here in ancient times...Now Buddha was a man of the barbarians who did not speak the language of China and wore clothes of a different fashion. His sayings did not concern the ways of our ancient kings, nor did his manner of dress conform to their laws. He understood neither the duties that bind sovereign and subject nor the affections of father and son. Even if the suppression of Buddhism should be as yet impossible, your servant hardly thought that Your Majesty would encourage it and, on the contrary, cause it to spread. Yet now your servant hears that Your Majesty has ordered the community of monks to go to Fengxiang to greet the bone of Buddha, that Your Majesty will ascend a tower to watch as it is brought into the palace, and that the various temples have been commanded to welcome and worship it in turn. Though your servant is abundantly ignorant, he understands that Your Majesty is not so misled by Buddhism as to honor it thus in hopes of receiving some blessing or reward, but only that, the year being one of plenty and the people joyful, Your Majesty would accord with the hearts of the multitude in setting forth f or the officials and citizens of the capital some curious show and toy for their amusement...But the common people are ignorant and dull, easily misled and hard to enlighten, and should they see their emperor do these things they might say that Your Majesty was serving Buddhism with a true heart. “The Son of Heaven is a Great Sage,” they would cry, “and yet he reverences and believes with all his heart! How should we, the common people, then begrudge our bodies and our lives?” Then would they set about singing their heads and scorching their fingers, binding together in groups of ten and a hundred, doffing their common clothes and scattering their money, from morning to evening urging each other on lest one be slow, until old and young alike had abandoned their occupations to follow [Buddhism]...Then will our old ways be corrupted, our customs violated, and the tale will spread to make us the mockery of the world. This is no trifling matter!
- Memorandum on the Bone of the Buddha, Han Yu (presented to Emperor Xianzong, 819)
Han Yu's objections caused a complete cultural schism. Even the empire itself slit apart into separate Buddhist and Confucianist kingdoms.
The Buddhist kingdom did not have the ruthless character to Confucianism or Taoism, and fell to invasion by the Mongols. But in the Confucian portion, the empire asserted itself again.
Cheng Yi (1033-1107) was a scholar who rose through the ranks to become expositor-in-waiting to the 11-year-old Emperor Zhezong, in 1086. In 1097, his enemies were able to ban his teachings, confiscate his properties, and banish him. He was pardoned three years later. In 1103, he was blacklisted and his work banned a second time. Again, he was pardoned three years later, but only lived another year. While enduring the ups and downs of politics, Cheng Yi worked with his brother (1988) on ending the cultural division between Confucian and Taoist schools by reintegrating them into new doctrine, creating a stable and long-lasting philosophy called Neoconfucianism.Cheng Yi asserted that that law, li is the unified transcendental and heavenly principle of rational propriety that provides is the origin and morality of human nature. li manifests as the vital force of wisdom (qi) in response to duality (yin-yang), which is cultivated by living with composure while seeking to extend knowledge. Then in different situations, the different aspects of li are manifest in human nature: humanity, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness.
Zhu Xi (1130–1200) was a prolific scholar who expanded on Cheng Yi's ideas. Zhu Xi differed from Cheng Yi in holding that the vital force of wisdom, qi, is equal to li, rather than derived from it. That made Zhu Xi one of the brilliant people ever, for two reasons. First, the idea of yin-yang (dualism) is the conflict addressed by Taoism. In both Cheng Yi's and Zhu Xi's systems, it is secondary to Confucian ideas of li (law) and qi (vital force), so he successfully placed Taoism under both systems. Second, scholars have argued for a thousand years now about whether Cheng Yi or Zhu Xi was right. Is qi equal or secondary to li? Now they are all now arguing about Confucian ideas. When first learning the principles of Neoconfucianism, everyone argues that first. While people are arguing about Neoconfucian ideas, they are not arguing about something else. So Zhu Xi ended the debates about other possibilities by locking everyone up in his own. Moreover, while people are arguing about the nature of law and force, they are talking about ideas that improve them as people.
It transpires, I was not alone in that conclusion. In 1313~1905, knowledge of Zhu Xi's ideas was required for civil service examinations. For example, they learn Xhu Xi's ideas about natural law: that everyone is born with equal and wondrous capacities, but to limits in the physical world as to what we have and can do, are not able to realize them. Therefore, someone who is intelligent and wise should rule them, to help them rediscover their own natural talents, which they lost as part of becoming an adult:
When Heaven gives birth to the people, it gives each one, without exception, a nature of humaneness, rightness, ritual decorum, and wisdom. They could not, however, be equal in their physical endowments, and thus they do not all have the capacity to know what that nature consists in or how to preserve it whole. Once someone appears among them who is most intelligent and wise, and able fully to develop his nature, Heaven is sure to commission him as ruler and teacher of the myriad peoples, so that, being governed and instructed, they may be able to recover their original nature.
- Preface to the Great Learning, Zhu Xi (Youqi, China. 1200)
Xhu Xi also teaches of the original nature being genuinely good, but due to human failings, evil appears. Contrary to Western teaching, Neoconfucianism regards desire as opposed to the original nature. Instead we should seek the principle of heaven.
Original nature is an all-pervading perfection not contrasted with evil. This is true of what Heaven has endowed in the self. But when it operates in human beings, there is differentiation of good and evil. When humans act in accord with it, there is goodness. When humans act out of accord with it, there is evil. How can it be said that the good is not the original nature? It is in its operation in human beings that the distinction between good and evil arises, but conduct in accord with the original nature is due to the original nature... We fall into evil only when our actions are not in accord with the original nature...In my opinion, what is called human desire is the exact opposite of the Principle of Heaven [Nature]...in its original state the Principle of Heaven is free from human desire. It is from the deviation in the operation of the Principle of Heaven that human desire arises.
- Philosophy of Human Nature, Zhu Xi (China, c.1170)
Thus, in general, although not continuously but frequently enough, the Huang-Lao concept of heavenly law has remained in place for 2,100 years, Westerners tend to react with severe objection as it being undemocratic, and without respect of the liberty of the subjects. Nonetheless, it remains the fact that this particular version of natural law, leading to imperial enforcement of the highest standards of morality, has been more enduring than any other political system in the world, lasting even though the cultural revolution of Chairman Mao.
Muḥammad(Arabic: محمد; c.570-632) was born into the impoverished communities of Arabia, which at the time of his birth, still enjoyed (or suffered, depending on your point of view) a simple and nomadic tribal life. At adolescence, a popular rite of manhood was to sneak into a neighboring tribe's domain and steal a goat. This was officially frowned upon, but as the tribes all had bored children, the livestock interchange resulting from such theft evened out, and so was largely ignored. Also, due to its nomadic origins, where people move to find pastures for better grazing of herds, the Arabs really never had much of a notion of property ownership, that has so much dominated Western civilization.
But by the sixth century, increasing population density had started to create significant cities. Muhammad's ideas offered a better system than the tribal ways while appealing to cultural identity. Muhammed's innovation was to derive a new religion from the Jewish patriarch Abraham (Islam: Ibrāhīm), via his first son with Hagar (Islam: Hājar). According to the Old Testament(Genesis, 16:1-21), Hagar was an Egyptian servant to Abraham's wife, Sarah. Sarai had been barren for a long time, so she offered Hagar to Abraham "to wife". Hagar became pregnant, feeling jealousy and spite to Sarah. Sarah harshly punished Hagar for it, with Abraham's permission. Hagar fled, but an angel appeared and ordered her back, saying her son would be "a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him." She did as she was told, giving birth to Ishmael. Later, Sarah finally gave birth to a son, Isaac. When the teenage Ishmael mocked Isaac, Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and her son away. Reluctantly, Abraham sent them into the wilderness. Hagar eventually married in Egypt. It is thus said, Muhammad is a descendent of Abraham via Hagar, and therefore a 'divine messenger'granted authority by his blood.
Augustine referred to Hagar as symbolizing an "earthly city", or sinful condition of humanity:
In the earthly city (symbolised by Hagar)...we find two things, its own obvious presence and the symbolic presence of the heavenly city. New citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin.
-City of God, 15:2.Augustine (Hippo, 413)
Islamic traditions have other myths and interpretations for Hājar. Due to religious zeal on both sides, how much Muhammed actually knew of Augustine is difficult to say. But from the perspective of disregarding material existence in favor of divine reward, there is much similarity in their teachings.
In conventional Islamic beliefs, there is no natural law in Islam. The conventional Islamic argument is as follows:
- All is the will of God (the first premise of most Islamic propositions).
- If natural law instructs that a deed is right, but in the eyes of God it is wrong, then natural law must be wrong.
- Therefore there is no natural law. There is only the law of God.
So in conventional Islam, there is no social contract and no natural rights. The prophet Muhammad stated the law of God, and his words are the divinely inspired source of all law.
With regards to fate, the Arab culture generally considers God too distant to intervene, except in judgment of the afterlife. Instead, there is simply good and bad luck, and it is up to our own cleverness to make the best we can of the luck that happens in our favor. This attitude was popularized during the 'Islamic golden age' (8th-13th centuries) as a set of fables called the 'One Thousand and One Nights,' known as 'Arabian Nights' in the West.
Based on this idea of maximizing one's luck, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048) therefore restated natural law as 'survival of the fittest.' But he also argued that the antagonism between human beings can only be overcome through divine Sharia law, conveyed to us from the ineffable by prophets, which we have no means to understand through reason. This became the largest school in Sunni theology, via the Ashari school.
Avicenna of Bukhara (980-1037) merged Neoplatonist ideas with Islamic ideas. But Algazel of Persia (1058-1111) eradicated the merge with and created the mainstream orthodox view of Islam as separate and uniquely inspired.
The moors in Spain again tried to merge Western philosophical ideas with Islamic ideas, particularly Averroes (1126—1198), who synthesized Platonic and Aristotelian ideas. Averroes writes that the human mind can know of the unlawfulness of killing and stealing, and thus of the five maqasid or higher intents of the Islamic sharia or to protect religion, life, property, offspring, and reason.
Problem Fourth: Divine Justice and Injustice. The Asharites...think that God is just or unjust within the limits of religious actions. So when a man's action is just with regard to religion, he also is just; and whatever religion calls it to be unjust, He is unjust. They say that whatever has not been imposed as a divinely ordained duty upon men, does not come within the four walls of religion. He is neither just or unjust, but all His actions about such things are just. They have laid down that there is nothing in itself which may be called just or unjust. But to say that there is nothing which may in itself be called good or bad is simply intolerable. Justice is known as good, and injustice as bad...But all this is quite contrary to our hadith and reason.
As to hadith God has described himself as just, and denied injustice to himself. He says "God has borne witness that there is no God but He; and the angels and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same, who execute righteousness" [Qur'an 3.16]; and "Your God is not unjust towards His servants;" and again, "Verily, God will not deal unjustly with men in any respect; but men deal unjustly with their own souls" [Qur'an 41.46]. It may be asked, What is your opinion about misleading the people, whether it is just or unjust, for God has mentioned in many a verse of the Qur'an, "That He leads as well as misleads the people?" [Qur'an 10.45]. He says, "God causes to err whom He pleases, and directs whom He pleases" [Qur'an 14.4]; and, "If we had pleased, we had certainly given every soul its direction" [Qur'an 32.11]. We would say that these verses cannot be taken esoterically, for there are many verses which apparently contradict them -- the verses in which God denies injustice to himself. For instance, He says, "He likes not ingratitude (Kufr) in His servant" [Qur'an 39.9]. So it is clear that as He does not like ingratitude even from them, He certainly cannot cause them to err. As to the statement of the Asharites that God sometimes does things which He does not like, and orders others which He does not want, God forbid us from holding such a view about him, for it is pure infidelity. That God has not misled the people and has not caused them to err will be clear to you from the following verses: "Wherefore be you orthodox and set your face towards true religion, the institution of God, to which He has created man kindly disposed" [Qur'an 30.29]; and, "when your Lord drew forth their posterity from the lions of the sons of Adam" [Qur'an 7.171]. A hadith of the Prophet says "Every child is born according to the divine constitution."
These being contradictions in this problem we should try to reconcile them so that they may agree with reason. The verse, "Verily, God will cause to err whom He pleases, and will direct whom He pleases" [Qur'an 14.4] refers to the prearranged divine will, with which all things have been endowed. They have been created erring, that is, prepared to go astray by their very nature, and led to it by inner and outer causes. The meaning of the verse, "If We had pleased, We have given unto every soul its direction" [Qur'an 35.9], is that He thought of not creating people ready to err, by their nature, or by the outer causes, or by both, though He could have done so. But as the dispositions of men are different the words may mislead the one and direct the other. For these are the verses which speak of misleading the people. For instance, "He will thereby mislead many, and will direct many thereby: but He will not mislead any thereby except the transgressors" [Qur'an 2.24]; and, "We have appointed the vision which We showed you" [Qur'an 17.62], and also the tree cursed in the Qur'an, and the verses about the number of angels of hell. "Thus does God cause to err whom He pleases and He directs whom He pleases" [Qur'an 74.34].
- On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, Averroës (Morocco, Spain. c.1190)
Islamic scholars claim that al-Bīrūnī and Averroes both and influenced Aquinas. In particular, they claim the the concept of natural law entered the mainstream of Western culture through the commentaries on Aristotle by Averroes. Unfortunately, the Moors gradually declined in power, and after King Philip III expelled the last ones from Spain in 1609, many details of their culture were lost.
The Maturidi school, the second largest school of Sunni theology, appears to posit the existence of a form of natural law. Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Uzbekistan, 853–944) stated that the human mind could know of the existence of God and the major forms of 'good' and 'evil' without the help of revelation. Al-Maturidi gives the example of stealing, which is known to be evil by reason alone due to man's working hard for his property. Killing, fornication, and drinking alcohol were all 'evils' the human mind could know of according to al-Maturidi.
The concept of Istislah in Islamic law superficially appears to be natural law. However, whereas natural law deems good what is self-evidently good, according as it tends towards the fulfilment of the person, istislah calls good whatever is connected to one of five "basic goods". Al-Ghazali (Iraq and Syria, 1058–1111) abstracted these "basic goods" from the legal precepts in the Qur'an and Sunnah as religion, life, reason, lineage and property (some add also honor).
Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (Syria, 1292–1350) also posited that humans can discern between 'great sins' and good deeds without divine guidance. Major sins, such as alcohol and murder, can be understood as wrong by process of reason.
However, in Sunni theology, the Maturidi school remains smaller and less powerful than the Ash'aris school. The Ash'aris state that the unaided human mind is unable to determine if something is good or evil, lawful or unlawful, moral or immoral, without the direct aid of divine revelation. So although there are some who argue for an ability to understand law, rather than simply submit to it, it still remains a minority in Islam altogether.
Since that time, most Islamic culture still places little value in property ownership. In the lands around Israel, the Arab tribes never even created land deeds, and so when Israel started building settlements onto their grazing land, had no legal recourse to defend their land that Western cultures could recognize. This lack of concern for material wealth has continued somewhat to the current day. For example, when Westerners learned of the elaborate palaces of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it was frequently claimed that he was extorting wealth to the detriment of his population. In turn, the Arabs find Western infatuation with material possessions difficult to understand, and most would far rather live in peace than put in war in order to force them to have rights that they don't really care about that much.
Recently there has been much political discourse in understanding how Islam thinks. What God gives he takes away. We are but a brief speck of light. From dust to dust we travel, sparkling a brief time, during which we simply make the most of what we have--hoping the bombs fall somewhere else, over which the majority have no control. Of course, there are a few military manics who can easily exploit the general ignorance. And the ignorance persists much as it was a thousand years ago, there being no reason to seek more, when all is in the hands of a distant and detached but all-powerful God. And that is how most Islam thinks. It is really not that complicated.
While Socrates concept of secular natural law did not change for 1900 years, the ideas of religious natural law from Aristotle went through profound evolution. No one disputes that Aquinas' ideas derive from Aristotle's—although some claim Aristotle's are not religious, not knowing the Aristotle's traditionalist views described above. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) is known as providing the best statement of the Christian version of divine law, in a gargantuan yet persistently pertinent work of thought known as the Summa (which he extended to the day of his death in 1274). According to Aquinas, the eternal law of God, manifest to us as natural law, is interpreted by us as human law. The eternal law is the Divine Reason which governs the universe, in which rational beings have understanding and participate.
"Wherefore as the type of the Divine Wisdom, inasmuch as by It all things are created, has the character of art, exemplar or idea; so the type of Divine Wisdom, as moving all things to their due end, bears the character of law. Accordingly the eternal law is nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements...so then no one can know the eternal law, as it is in itself, except the blessed who see God in His Essence. But every rational creature knows it in its reflection, greater or less. For every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection and participation of the eternal law, which is the unchangeable truth, as Augustine says (De Vera Relig. xxxi). Now all men know the truth to a certain extent, at least as to the common principles of the natural law: and as to the others, they partake of the knowledge of truth, some more, some less; and in this respect are more or less cognizant of the eternal law.
- Summa Theologica, III.4,90-96(excerpts). Thomas Aquinas (Venice, 1274).
Divine law is dictated via revelation, whereas human law is dictated by reason alone, so human law can contain errors, and is not all-powerful; if human law contravenes divine law, people are under no compulsion to obey it:
To the natural law belongs those things to which a man is inclined naturally: and among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason. Now the process of reason is from the common to the proper, as stated in Phys. i. The speculative reason, however, is differently situated in this matter, from the practical reason. For, since the speculative reason is busied chiefly with the necessary things, which cannot be otherwise than they are, its proper conclusions, like the universal principles, contain the truth without fail. The practical reason, on the other hand, is busied with contingent matters, about which human actions are concerned: and consequently, although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects.....
...Every law is directed to the common weal of men, and derives the force and nature of law accordingly. Hence the jurist says [Pandect. Justin. lib. i, ff., tit. 3, De Leg. et Senat.]: "By no reason of law, or favor of equity, is it allowable for us to interpret harshly, and render burdensome, those useful measures which have been enacted for the welfare of man." Now it happens often that the observance of some point of law conduces to the common weal in the majority of instances, and yet, in some cases, is very hurtful. Since then the lawgiver cannot have in view every single case, he shapes the law according to what happens most frequently, by directing his attention to the common good. Wherefore if a case arise wherein the observance of that law would be hurtful to the general welfare, it should not be observed. For instance, suppose that in a besieged city it be an established law that the gates of the city are to be kept closed, this is good for public welfare as a general rule: but, it were to happen that the enemy are in pursuit of certain citizens, who are defenders of the city, it would be a great loss to the city, if the gates were not opened to them: and so in that case the gates ought to be opened, contrary to the letter of the law, in order to maintain the common weal, which the lawgiver had in view.
- Summa Theologica, III.4,90-96(excerpts). Thomas Aquinas (Venice, 1274).
Thus Aquinas himself did not defend civil disobedience per se, as Aristotle defended the actions of Antigone. Instead, he simply points to imperfections in human reason in being able to state the proper action in all cases.
In his new conception of codification and promulgation, Aquinas recognized how transferring laws from the ideal to the practical was thus prone to error from the outset. Over many centuries following, there was much debate about how to ensure the best codification. The excellence in the system of constitutional amendment, in the United States, is testament to the thoroughness of much prior careful consideration on the topic. In fact, the process of checks and balances in defining the codification and promulgation from natural into human law has been found the single most critical aspect of a government's success. The United States itself therefore defines this method very carefully as part of its Constitution, which is mostly a well-defined tripartite separation of powers, based on a beautiful collation of successful ideas created by Montesquieu, in "Spirit of the Law" 1748).
Now wherever there are movers ordained to one another, the power of the second mover must needs be derived from the power of the first mover; since the second mover does not move except in so far as it is moved by the first. Wherefore we observe the same in all those who govern, so that the plan of government is derived by secondary governors from the governor in chief; thus the plan of what is to be done in a state flows from the king's command to his inferior administrators: and again in things of art the plan of whatever is to be done by art flows from the chief craftsman to the under-crafts-men, who work with their hands. Since then the eternal law is the plan of government in the Chief Governor, all the plans of government in the inferior governors must be derived from the eternal law. But these plans of inferior governors are all other laws besides the eternal law. Therefore all laws, in so far as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law.
- Summa Theologica, III.4,90-96(excerpts). Thomas Aquinas (Venice, 1274).
The theological derivation of authority for Aquinas' natural law, being based on revelation, simply draws directly from biblical passages, as the bible is regarded as the revealed Word of God. Here I provide a simple set of four passages to explain the conception, first from Genesis:
And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
- Genesis 1:18, King James version
That is, by granting dominion, God gave humankind the ability to define its own law, within which we are liken to stewards rather than masters. The 'every living thing' extends to other people too, has been a matter of debate: in Augustine's time, the answer was no (City of God, 19:15), but by the time of Aquinas, the interpretation was that we also have dominion over each other.
A second part of this divine law also forbids us to abuse or squander the privileges of authority, even if the world is not in our favor:
And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them...
Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
- Luke 12:42-46, King James version
Thus the ancient idea of Hellenic fate persisted. On the other hand, while political systems remained a debated issue in ancient Greece, the Christian system of divine law is almost savagely capitalist, as defined here ('talents' were gold coins worth about a thousand dollars in modern currency):
For the Kingdom of Heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to every man according to his several ability, and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them another five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained another two. But he that had received one went and dug in the earth and hid his lord’s money.
After a long time the lord of those servants came and reckoned with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought the other five talents, saying, ‘Lord, thou delivered unto me five talents. Behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.’ His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, thou delivered unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.’ His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’
Then he that had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew thee, that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth. Lo, there thou hast what is thine.’ His lord answered and said unto him, ‘Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed. Thou ought therefore to have placed my money with the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with interest. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents.
- Matthew 14:25-28, King James version
The divine law of Aquinas was further different from its Hellenic predecessor in that it also calls for laborious and proactive, but limited, mercy. For example, we are compared to fig trees in a vineyard, and the steward of the vineyard asks for a chance to save a sickened tree:
A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
- Luke 13:7-9, King James version
Aiding the sick and failing was an important cornerstone in the later formulation of Locke's benign contract, wherein such acts for the greater good are considered necessary parts of natural law.
Overall, Aquinas concept of Natural Justice remains to this day the intuitively held idea. Yet somehow, the component of mercy is missing in most current intuitions, which instead only consider our opinion of right and wrong as more important than defined law. Nonetheless, in most cases, people believe that their idea of law is better than the law itself, even if they cannot state why. All that is normally stated is a repetition of intuitive belief without any consideration of where the authority of judgment derives. Also, the concept of divine inspiration is no longer fashionable, to say the least, so this intuitive perspective immediately runs into problems of paradoxical experience, unless it recognizes theological authority.
Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) establishing the single most stable and unbroken system of rule in all world history. His name literally means "a man from Onion Valley,' which is a simple demonstration of his Buddhist humility. At age 7, he joined a Tibetan monastery as an apprentice. At 24, he was ordained as a monk, then became an abbot. His first principal work, The Golden Garland of Eloquence, followed the Yogācāra tradition of their being two planes of existence, the apparent physical domain, and a more absolute domain of emptiness. From this, his later work The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment established eight domains of intermediate and ultimate existence, which are learned by understanding one's teachers.
At the time of his birth, Tibet was suffering the same problems as China had a thousand years before: there were many different competing interpretations. But his doctrine of humility before the greater teachers was successful in establishing his own theories over others, and within five generations, it had become the single version of Tibetan Buddhism that we know today. At that time, it declared the lineage of Dalai Lamas as those who were Tibet's natural rulers, which already descended in direct form to the first, Gendün Druppa (Tibetan: དགེ་འདུན་གྲུབ་པ།, 1391–1474), and indirectly, even earlier.
Tsongkhapa's teachings provided a new way of passing authority from one generation to the next called Phowa (Tibetan: འཕོ་བ་). It may be described as "the practice of conscious dying", "transference of consciousness at the time of death", "mindstream transference", or “enlightenment without meditation.” Most famously, this method is described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which in Tibetan is actually called Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State. It describes a series of trials after physical death which tempt the mind to reincarnate in various lower states. The adept Buddhist, with correct training, can pass through these temptations and reach a plane of existence where the mind can select to transcend physical form, instead of being reincarnated.
However, some spirits who through their lives have reach a higher plane of existence look back in compassion at those who are trapped in the lower planes and choose to reincarnate again as human beings. These spirits are called the Bodhisattva, and though a Dalai Lama is too humble to name himself as one, his life has already been set on this path by a prior reincarnation, to which end, he continues the order into which he was born.
The doctrine creates a singular problem for the living people when a Dalai Lama dies, because the plane of existence on which his mind transfers to another is beyond that of physical memory. Thus some way of identifying his reincarnation is required. It is said all reincarnations of the Gendün Druppa have been found the same way. Other highly respected monks of senior authority, who are also Bodhisattvas, visit newborns whom are possible reincarnations and present them with an array of toys. Some are new toys, and some are those belonging to his prior reincarnations. If the infant chooses to play with his old toys, he is recognized as the reincarnation. If the infant instead chooses one of the new toys, which are naturally more bright and shiny, then the infant fails the test.
Since the fifth Dalai Lama, they have by tradition lived on top of the Palace of Potala. The palace itself is kept for ritual devotions and administration, and the Dalai Lamas makes a tent on some part of its roof for his daily life. After their physical deaths, the tent is replaced with a temple, resulting in the Potala continuously enlarging.
The current Dalai Lama is now the 14th in succession chosen by this method. Now 625 years after Gendün Druppa was the first in line, that is the single longest lineage of authority now in existence, making Tibetan Buddhism not only the ultimate theocracy, but also the world's most enduring government.
Needless to say, this long history has not been without problems, the most recent being that China invaded Tibet in 1951. While the Tibetans tried to put up a fight, their hearts were really not in it, and due to their longstanding dislike of warfare in general, possessed only a scattering of antiquated weaponry, so within short order, they surrendered. Under the influx of Chinese party members, the local people found themselves severely oppressed, and after a series of incidents where the people demanded that the Dalai Lama refuse to accept Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama sought asylum in India. The Indian government granted him a large area of land on the edge of the Himalayas, in as province called Himachal Pradesh. There he established a new monastery called Dharamsala, which even now still receives more refugees from Tibet every year. Under the Dalai Lama's continued rule there, the area has prospered and built itself a new version of Potala in Lhasa.
I first met the 14th Dalai Lama in 1981, when he was visiting Oxford University. Since then I occasionally write him, from which I have the strange and unusual honor of being the first to ask him whether he would choose to reincarnate. I suggested, that with all he has done already, he of all people deserves to ascend, and people all over the world continue to demand that he renew conflict with the Chinese. If he did not reincarnate, would he in fact cause less problems to other people? If he did choose to reincarnate, I worried that maybe the Chinese would exploit the situation.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama did not reply for some months, but then stated his people still looked to him for guidance, and so announced his intent to reincarnate and continue his legacy. As expected, the Chinese have since announced that they would choose his next reincarnation themselves, which the Tibetan Buddhists find ridiculous, as it shows no understanding of their method of reincarnation via religious training, nor of respect for Bodhisattvas. But the actual problem remains that China will still select someone, whatever the Tibetan Buddhists say. This means there will be, at least for some time, two Dalai Lamas after the 14th enters transmission. This year, the 14th Dalai Lama announced a plan to circumvent the Chinese meddling. But as yet, it is unknown what exactly it will be.
To which I would add my original statement as to how Buddhism succeeds as a political system. In places where there is no room for population growth, or where people have to live with constraints that prevent increased prosperity, it has flourished. So it is possible that Buddhist ideas will reassert themselves in the future. As to the theological justifications for such a rule as the Dalai Lamas have demonstrated, it is well beyond that which I could address in the context of political philosophy, and well beyond the capacities of most systems of metaphysics, which rather break down in totality, if the method of spiritual transmission defined by Tibetan Buddhists does work as they describe.
During the long incubation of the Dark Ages, the Holy Roman Empire persisted as a theocracy, sometimes conducting holy wars, often arbitrating between nations, and always ready to impose the equivalent of international trade sanctions (excommunication) if sovereigns abused their subjects, or if they did not acknowledge Christ as greater than themselves. With the rapid spread of the printed word, the Dark Ages had truly ended. Literacy rose from ~10%, in 1450 to ~50% in 1550, and there actually were books to read. Had the church really suppressed knowledge, and if so, why did it survive?
The last of the followers of Plato, Proclus (ca. 412-485 AD) may have been an unintentional influence on how the Dark Ages. He taught that the ancient mystics were actually able to manipulate and control the populace, using myths with the intent to close within themselves the secret truths of reality. This was at the time the Christians were first defining the creed as it still survives to this day. According to Proclus:
"To know the Gods is to identify in souls those feelings which cause human events, in a manner which is incomprehensible to others and therefore manifests as supernatural power. Those simpler souls who simply witness or engage in sacred ceremonies, customs, and holidays are only amazed by Gods, and are possessed by divine awe upon hearing their stories. The more complex souls adapt the common susceptibility to sacred symbols, and as if on the plateaus of the Gods themselves, find an exuberance of spirit totally imperceptible to lesser beings."
- Fragments, Proclus (Athens, 420 BCE)
Part of this awe is created by the synthesis of polytheism and monotheism, which Proclus also advocated in advanced form, derived from the Christian neoplatonist, Plotinus. Plotinus' Enneads (270) defined three metaphysical hypostases:
- The One: ineffable and transcendent.
- Intellect: In the one there are many. This is the realm of being, including all ideas of form.
- Soul: containing the seminal reasons, the lower soul is immanent in the physical world, but transcends the physical through the higher soul's contemplation of the intellect.
Proclus' addition to Plotinus was to enable the 'vulgar' soul, untrained in intellect, to access the ineffable One through awe, and to define a complex hierarchy of multiple Gods, all of which are still part of the One, but which can also be perceived by the soul as separate. This appears to be the philosophical derivation of the idea of Trinity.
Such an interpretation of religion's affect on human life does not preclude an individual's belief in any particular God or spiritual force, and does not deny its validity, but rather separates the people into strata, some of whom believe in Gods out of non-comprehending awe alone, and others who not only perceive the divine forces but also work within them. While the metaphysical conception may not be have been absolutely correct, and even may be challenged by other approaches which deny their coherence, the amount of its influence on the course of civilization nonetheless validates its importance empirically.
If it is true that Proclus' writing was an inspiration of the early church formation, it would explain much of the Dark Ages. One superb illustration indicating merit to the notion is the development of the Rood screen. The 'Ecclesia' or 'marketplace' was the Greek origin of the modern church design: stalls on each side of an alley down the center, with an altar at a T-junction at the far end. At first, the Christian community was strongly socialistic, and there was no division imposed between the clergy and congregation. But during the Dark Ages, the people were unable to know the divine as well as the clergy. Slowly the ecclesiastics evolved to represent perfect form in society. Churches became taller and grander, representing the perfect home. Now surviving in austere stone, they were originally painted in candy-cane colors, filled with colored light from stained-glass windows. To separate the clergy from the masses, a rood screen was built, with curtains or wooden dividers, so the populace could not see the movement of divine order on the other side. Often there were carvings facing the congregation of saints in agony or rapture, whereas those facing the clergy, never seen by the common people, were humorous grotesques. The rood screens, mostly destroyed during the reformation, only survive in a few places. Here is one in Paris, with spiral staircases ascended as to heaven. The pulpit protrudes from the perfection—or cave—on the far side of the screen into the common people, kept pure by their poverty and innocence. The pulpit provided the one place where the authoritative Word of those knowing how to read could be heard by others. Is it only irony that the stone womb around the altar, lit by colored lights and candles, so closely resembled Plato's Cave, which was his model of how we view reality: only as shadows in the darkness, projected there by some light, perhaps divine, beyond our normal comprehension?
For about then centuries, the commoners were in Proclus' awe of the Divine. They admired and feared the church as Guardian of the Light of Knowledge. Around the altar, hidden by Rood screens and curtains, the church kept knowledge, and its quarrels, deep within its physical rendition of Plato's cave.
Just as the Declaration of Independence contains a dual system of natural law, the Christian church defined a dual system combining the apparently opposed ideas of monotheism and polytheism, integrated in the same way as by Neoplatonics, such as Proclus. Core in the church doctrine was monotheism: the One Word, the One God, the One Faith. But by stating the One was also Three ~ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ~ The Christian church is also polytheistic. The Christian Trinity permits multiple, complete, mutually exclusive explanations of reality which coexist without paradox.
During that long incubatory period of the Dark Ages, the ascendant aspect of the Trinity was God the Father. If Christianity were like many other religions and held that its Gods exist only in complete divine separation from humanity, then the invention of the printing press and the widespread ability to read would have ended Christianity. That bible, rolling off printing presses across Europe, was read by the populace everywhere, destroying the supremacist oppression of knowledge by the Church.
The Christian Church founders had certainly anticipated, if not the breadth and extent, the very nature of the Dark Ages, believing it the best way for civilization to be, because in poverty and innocence. it was felt people could gain salvation more easily. Had it also anticipated the Reformation? Because the theology was designed with three aspects of God in one, the church doctrine transformed instead of declined. Instead of the Father as ascendant, the Son became ascendant. As all people learned all the details of Christ's life, the emphasis of the church simply augmented paternal guidance of an ignorant flock in awe, still maintained by the Catholics, with Protestantism and personal salvation. Moreover, the third element ~ The transcendentalism of the Holy Spirit with its divine supernatural gifts ~ permits personal direct access to salvation through the doctrine of the Covenant: that blood must be shed for transgression of Divine Law. But Christ, by being the incarnate flesh of God, was able to bypass the need for further sacrifice by the intentional destruction of God's Own Flesh for each and every person to call their own, merely through sincere request for forgiveness in prayer. While other religions have taught forgiveness (even the ancient Egyptians and the Vikings), no other theology has cultivated that potent combination of personal salvation with both paternal justice and transcendental power, perhaps accounting for the theology's success and endurance.
It may be of no coincidence that the integration of monotheism and polytheism within one religion is a simplification of Proclus' philosophy. Inside the sanctuaries, the church had been able to keep alive the skills of reading and writing. Meanwhile outside, a feudal system kept the ignorant from the sins of avarice and gluttony, and sloth. Whatever the spiritual justification, there was no further evolution of ideas of natural law and rights to liberty that we now enjoy in the United States, while the great unwashed masses were kept safe in the sanctuary womb of the Platonic cave, where that which is known of real substance can only be seen, in half darkness, as shadows on a wall.
This series, All People are Created Equal, contains four further topics:
- Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica (Venice, 1274). Translated by The Fathers of the English Dominican Province . Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/.
- Augustine. City of God (400 AD) Trans. Marcus Dods [Christian Literature Publishing Co., Buffalo, NY. 1887]. Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1201.htm.
- Averroes, On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy (Morocco, Spain. c.1190). Retrieved from http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ir/.
- Cicero. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (Rome, 45 BCE). Trans. H. Rackham [Cambridge, 1914]. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/definibusbonoru02cicegoog/definibusbonoru02cicegoog_djvu.txt.
- Cicero. De Oficiis (Rome, 44 BCE). Trans. Walter Miller [London, 1913]. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/deofficiiswithen00ciceuoft.
- Dao fa, 1.1-1.2. Huángdì Sìjīng(Yellow Emperor's Four Classics) (<160 BCE). Trans. Henry Lu [Victoria, Canada. 1971]. Retrieved from http://blackhistoryfactorfiction.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/yellow-emperors-internal-medicine.pdf.
- Gaius. The Commentaries of Gaius and Rules of Ulpian (Rome, 161-185). Trans. J.T.Abdy and Bryan Walker [Cambridge, 1870]. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/commentariesgai00walkgoog.
- Justinian. Code of Justinian (Constantinople, 534). Trans. Samuel Scott [Cincinnati, USA. 1932]. Retrieved from http://droitromain.upmf-grenoble.fr/Anglica/codjust_Scott.htm.
- Mommsen, Theodore E. "Petrarch's Conception of the Dark Ages," Speculum (Chicago, 1942). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2856364 doi:1.
- Plotinus. The Six Enneads (c.270). Trans. Stephen MacKenna and B.S.Page [Ireland. 1917-1930]. Retrieved from http://sacred-texts.com/cla/plotenn/index.htm.
- Proclus. Fragments (Athens, c.420).
- Xi, Zhu (also known has Chu Hsi). Philosophy of Human Nature (Youqi, China. 1200). Trans. Percy Bruce [London, 1922]. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/thephilosophyofh00chuhuoft/thephilosophyofh00chuhuoft_djvu.txt.
- Xi, Zhu (also known has Chu Hsi). Preface to the Great Learning (Youqi, China. 1200). Trans. Robert Eno [Indiana, 2016]. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/thephilosophyofh00chuhuoft/thephilosophyofh00chuhuoft_djvu.txt.
- Yi, Cheng. Collected Works of the Two Chengs (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1988).
- Yu, Han. Memorandum on the Bone of the Buddha (Xianzong, China. 819). Trans. B.W. Van Norden [New York, 2006]. Retrieved from http://faculty.vassar.edu/brvannor/Phil210/HanYu/Memorandum%20on%20a%20Bone.pdf.
- Zhong, Guan. Guanzi, "Nei-yeh" (c.700 BCE) trans. Harold Roth . Retrieved from http://taoism.about.com/od/scriptures/a/Nei-yeh.htm.