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On the Christian & His Relation to the Law

Christians have long since wrestled with the significance of the Old Law, of the Jews, and the New Law and, moreover, how to these Laws apply to the political realm, if at all. St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Locke are but a few who have tried to answer these questions. Each one argues that the Old Law is no longer needed to be obeyed by the Christian because the Christian has a new, surpassing Law, that is the New Law. The New Law being the Law given by Christ Himself which is, in short, loving God and loving neighbor.

St. Augustine in his work City of God tries to explain how the Christian, a member of the Heavenly City or rather the City of God, is to interact with the City of Man, or rather the temporal and physical world particularly in light of the Old and New Law. Augustine explains the Christian\’s relationship with the Old and New Law by the typification of “Abraham\’s two sons-Ishmael, the son of Agar the Handmaid, being born according to the flesh, while Isaac was born of the freewoman Sarah, according to the promise” (City of God 6). Augustine is identifying the Old Law with Agar who had a son born from Abraham out of disobedience to God, and with Sarah who had a child with Abraham who was born according to the promise given to them by God. A few thousand years later, another son of promise would be born and he would give his people a new law to live by which is, “the love of God and the love of our neighbor” (City of God 6).

Here, Augustine makes a clever insight, “…in these precepts a man finds three things he has to love-God, himself, and his neighbor-and that he who loves God loves himself thereby, it follows that he must endeavor to get his neighbor to love God, since he is ordered to love his neighbor as himself.” (City of God 6). In this, Augustine’s political implications begin with that, “in the first place, injure no one, and, in the second, do good to everyone he can reach.” (City of God 6). And the Christian does good to everyone around him because he has a duty to others because they love mercy (City of God 7). The political implications to this are that the Christian is to order his house according to God and when, and if, he is to serve in a temporal office of any kind he should do so out of love.  

St. Thomas Aquinas in his work Summa Theologica also addresses the Christian’s relationship to the Old Law and the New Law. Aquinas writes, The priesthood being translated, it is necessary that a translation also be made of the law.” (Hebrews 7:12) But the priesthood is twofold, as stated in the same passage, the Levitical priesthood, and the priesthood of Christ. Therefore the Divine law is twofold, namely the Old Law and the New Law” (Summa Theologica 8). Here Aquinas affirms that there is an Old and New Law and that the New Law exceeds the Old in that it, “controls the mind” rather than just “restrains that hand” as the Old Law did. Aquinas continues in his argument by saying that the law is necessary in order that man may live rightly in a community, “first is that he behave well to the head of the community; the other is that he behave well to those who are his fellows and partners in the community” (Summa Theologica 12). Thus, Aquinas is arguing that the law is necessary for society and the foundation of law is the Old and New Law and that the New Law is needed for man to act rightly if he is to lead the community.    

Martin Luther in his work Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed states that, according to Paul, the Old Law was given for the sake of the lawless (1 Timothy 1:9) that “[the lawless] may through the law be restrained outwardly from evil deeds” (Temporal Authority 5). This means that the City of Man, or as Luther puts it the Kingdom of Man, needs the law to restrain them from evil deeds and injustice. Luther writes that the Christian, being that he is apart of the Kingdom of God they have no need for the earthly law, “[for] where there is nothing but the unadulterated doing of right and bearing of wrong, there is no need for any suit…law, or sword.” (Temporal Authority 4). Thus because the temporal sword has no use for the Christian because it isn’t needed. If the Kingdom of man did not have the law to restrain them then there would be nothing to “maintain an outward peace” (Temporal Authority 5).

John Locke in his work A Letter Concerning Tolerance also writes on the Old and New Law. Locke makes the distinction that there are three types of law within the Old Law of the Israelites which are moral, judicial and ceremonial laws that are. Locke states that these three laws can only be applied to Israel, the people of Moses. And Moses, being the lawgiver to the people of Israel. Locke makes the main distinction between the Old Law of the Jewish commonwealth is that it was an absolute theocracy, thus the civil laws and the political order were all legislated by God Himself (A Letter Concerning Tolerance 18).

But under the Gospel, or the Christian commonwealth there is no such rule of law. There are, instead, those peoples and tribes that have repented and believed in the name of God’s only begotten son. And this son has given no new rule of law or government. Thus, according to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Locke all argue there is value in the Old and New Law but that the New Law surpasses the Old because it is not limited to a Theocracy but only to Christians and the Christians live and rule out of love of God and man.   


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