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Historically, many notions of rights were authoritarian and hierarchical, with different people granted different rights, and some having more rights than others. For instance, the right of a father to respect from his son did not indicate a right for the son to receive a return from that respect; and the divine right of kings, which permitted absolute power over subjects, did not leave a lot of room for many rights for the subjects themselves.
In contrast, modern conceptions of rights often emphasize liberty and equality as among the most important aspects of rights, for example in the American Revolutionand the French Revolution.
The divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm. It implies that only God can judge an unjust king and that any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act. It is often expressed in the phrase "by the Grace of God", attached to the titles of a reigning monarch.
“Law is an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community” (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 90, 4; CCC 1976). Law is primarily a reasonable plan of action, “a certain rule and measure of acts whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting” (S.t., 1–2, q. 90, aa. 1, 3; S.c.g., 3, 114).
Eternal Law is the Divine Wisdom of God which oversees the common good and governs everything. Eternal law is God’s plan to lead all creation towards God’s eternal salvific plan to be holy and blameless before Him through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4–5). God, as “Being-itself”, is able to promulgate such a law as God the Creator’s reason is also perfect wisdom. Everything in nature reflects the Eternal Law in their own natures (S.T. I-IIae, 91, 2). Things act according to their nature, so they derive their proper ends (final cause) according to the law written into their nature.
Divine Law is the historical laws of Scripture given to us through God’s self-revelation. Divine law is divided into the Old Law and the New Law, which correspond to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (q91, a5). The Old Law, revealed by God to Moses, “is the first stage of revealed Law. Its moral prescriptions are summed up in the Ten Commandments” (CCC 1962). It has an extrinsic focus — motivated by fear — and promises earthly rewards (such as social peace). It expresses immediate conclusions of the natural moral law.
The New Law perfects the Old Law. The New Law, through the teachings of Jesus — commands internal conduct — and reaches us by divine love — promising love and heavenly reward. The New Law “is the Holy Spirit given through faith in Christ, which heals and is expressed through love.”It gives interior strength to achieve what it teaches. It is also a written law found in Christ’s teachings (in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, etc.) and in the moral catechesis of the apostles, summed up in the commandment of love.
Natural Law is “the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” (ST I-II, Q. 91, A. 2.). “The highest norm of human life is the divine law — eternal, objective, and universal — whereby God governs us according to His wisdom and love. God makes Man a sharer in His law so Man can recognize the unchanging truth” (DH 3). The natural law “hinges upon the desire for God and submission to Him, as well as upon the sense that the other is one’s equal” (CCC 1955).
It is “natural” as it consists of Reason given to us by the “higher reason” of the divine Lawgiver. They are natural as they are objective principles which originate in human nature (GS 16; DH 14). The natural law is universal because it encompasses every person, of every epoch (cf. CCC 1956): “it is immutable and permanent throughout history; the rules that express it remain substantially valid” (CCC 1958).
Every man is bound to live by his rational nature, guided by reason. The natural law expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties (CCC 1956, 1978). The first principle of the natural law is “good is to be done and pursued, and evil avoided” (q94, a2, p. 47; CCC 1954). All other precepts of natural law rest upon this. The Church, through its Magisterium, is the authentic interpreter of the natural law (cf. CCC 2036). Since mankind is subject to sin, grace and Revelation are necessary for moral truths to be known “by everyone with facility, with certainty and no error.”
Human Law is the interpretation of natural law in different contexts (ST II.I.95–97). Natural law is a foundation for moral and civil law. Government laws are dictates of practical reason from the precepts of Natural Law.
Law is not about individual morality. Individual vices should be legislated against when they threaten harm to others. Rulers of the State should take the general moral precepts of nature and specify them into State laws, e.g., the repugnance of murder is legislated into punishments.
Hierarchy of Law
For Aquinas, human laws are derived from natural law which is a participation in the eternal law. Therefore, eternal law is at the top, followed by natural law, and then human law. Divine law is the revealed law of God to man, while natural law is the imprint of eternal law on the hearts of men.
Aquinas identified four categories of law: (1) eternal law, which is coextensive with the divine mind and with the overall purpose and plan of God; (2) natural law, which addresses mankind's proper participation in eternal law but is discovered by reason without the assistance of revelation and promulgation; (3) divine positive law, also a part of the eternal law, which pertains to the sacraments and ordinances necessary to the attainment of mankind's supernatural end made known by revelation; and (4) man-made positive law, which regulates the affairs of mankind not specifically addressed by God's law (e.g., laws that regulate such things as corporations, stocks, bonds, wills, and trusts) or which mandate the natural law with the power of the state.
LDS sources affirm laws roughly corresponding to each of these four types. Unlike traditional Jewish and Christian theologies, which place God outside of, and antecedent to, nature, however, LDS theology places God within nature.
"Divine" laws are instituted by God to govern his creations and kingdoms and to prescribe behavior for his offspring. Such law, in the terms of Acquinas's categories, would be divine positive law (i.e., law existing by virtue of being posited or enacted by God). Some Latter-day Saints believe that "eternal" law is self-existent, unauthored law, which God himself honors and administers as a condition of his perfection and Godhood. It should be noted that the adjectives "divine" and "eternal" do not have fixed usages in writing (see Time and Eternity).
Latter-day scriptures and other sources do not explicitly state that eternal law exists independently or coeternally with God. This characteristic of eternal law is sometimes inferred, however, from two concepts that do have support in scripture and other LDS sources:
1. God is governed (bound) by law. Latter-day scriptures state that "God would cease to be God" if he were to allow mercy to destroy justice, or justice to overpower mercy, or the plan of redemption to be fulfilled on unjust conditions (Alma 42:13). Scriptures further state that "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say" (D&C 82:10), implying that God by nature and definition—not by any external coercion—is righteous and trustworthy. Some Church writers have said that "[God] himself governs and is governed by law" (MD, p. 432) and that "the Lord works in accordance with natural law" (DS 2:27). They likewise speak of "higher laws" that account for providence and miracles.
2. Intelligence and truth were not created; they are coeternal with God. "Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence" (D&C 93:29-30). Joseph Smith expanded upon this teaching in his king follett discourse, stating that "we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos…. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element…had no beginning, and can have no end…. The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is coeternal with God himself" (TPJS, pp. 350-53). If truth and intelligence were not created by God and are coeternal with him, it may be that they are ordered by and function according to eternal laws or principles that are self-existent. This may be implied in Joseph Smith's phrase "laws of eternal and self-existent principles" (TPJS, p. 181).
Consistent with the eternal laws, God fashions and decrees laws that operate in the worlds he creates and that set standards of behavior that must be observed in order to obtain the blessing promised upon obedience to that law. Joseph Smith taught that "[God] was the first Author of law, or the principle of it, to mankind" (TPJS, p. 56).
Latter-day scriptures emphasize the pervasive nature of divine law: "[God] hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons" (D&C 88:42). "This is the Light of Christ…which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne" (D&C 88:7, 12-13).
These same sources suggest, however, that divine law operates within the domain to which it inherently pertains or is assigned by God and, therefore, has limits or bounds: "All kingdoms have a law given; and there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions" (D&C 88:36-38).
The above references apparently pertain to descriptive law—that is, the divine law that operates directly upon or through physical and biological orders (see Nature, Law of).
Other laws of God are prescriptive. They address the free will of man, setting forth standards and rules of behavior necessary for salvation and for social harmony. Latter-day Saints embrace such prescriptive commands of God as found in the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Latter-day revelation also confirms that blessings and salvation come through compliance with divine laws: "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:20-21). "And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a Terrestrial Kingdom, or that of a Telestial Kingdom" (D&C 88:21).
Of these prescriptive laws or commandments of God, LDS teachings tend to emphasize the following characteristics: (1) the extent of the divine laws revealed to mankind may vary from dispensation to dispensation, according to the needs and conditions of mankind as God decrees; (2) they are given through and interpreted by his prophets; (3) they are relatively concise, but "gentle" or benevolent, given to promote the happiness he has designed for his children (TPJS, pp. 256-57); and (4) they are efficacious for mankind as God's harmony with eternal law was, and is, efficacious for him, and will bring to pass the exaltation of his righteous children.