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Law in Christian Life


According to the New Testament, God created man in and for Christ (Eph 1.314; Col 1.1517) to take him up into His Trinitarian life (cf. Jn 17.2024). With his nature, man received (Gn 2.17) his basic structure, norm of activity (ontological natural law: Rom 2.1415). Regenerated into a new creature (Gal 6.15; 2 Cor 5.17), he concretely tends to the beatific vision according to a new norm (ontological supernatural law) that incorporates the natural law. As a redeemed sinner, his march toward the end should be a "paschal ascent" following the Savior through the Cross to the Resurrection (Mt 16.24; Col 2.6; Heb 10.1925). In anticipation of the incarnate "Way," Christ (Jn 14.6), God enlightened man's darkened conscience by a positive (Mosaic) law or economy, the revealed embodiment of a Divine "Way" (cf. Ps 118, 119). (see law, mosaic). Not containing the word, it could not justify by its own works (Gal 2.16; Rom 3.28) or supply inner strength (Gal 3.21; Rom 7.1624). Observed without faith, it turned into a "letter" that kills (2 Cor3.611; 1 Cor 15.56), into a prosecutor unveiling man's sinfulness (μαρτία: Rom 3.20; 7.7) and thus became instrumental to transgression (παράβασις: Rom 4.15; Gal3. 19).

Christ, Man's Living Law. Christ both completes and terminates the economy of the law (Mt 5.17; Rom 10.4; Gal 3.25), for He is the Incarnate "Way" to all truth (Jn 14.6). From within (Jn 14.1524; Rom 8.911; Gal 2.20; 1 Jn 5.1113) Christ through His Spirit moves His members and guides them. By Himself and through His Spirit (Rom 8.24), He is their living law (St. Thomas, In 8 Rom ), supplying the strength to observe it (Gal5.1625). Borne up by love (Rom 5.5; 1 Jn 5.3), the Christian as such does not feel compelled by exterior laws (Jas 1.25); he may not, indeed, transgress these, for he observes them eminently with the liberty and generosity of God's children (Gal 4.57; Rom 8.1417). Qua Christian, man does not sin (Gal 5.16; 1 Jn 3.6, 9; 5.18); even, beyond strict obligation, he is invited to acts of supererogation (e.g., the counsels, cf. 1 Cor 7.7, 2538); he is to tend to perfection (Mt 5.48; 19.21). In case he draws back from love, he is still compelled by the external law, which protects him from falling below a vital minimum of love (cf. 1 Tm 1.9; Gal 5.1623). Jesus has been a "doctor" and law-giver (cf. Mt 57; 11.2930; 23.10); He has given His new commandments (Jn 15.1217; 1 Jn 3.22). After Him, the Apostles too give precepts in their epistles. Christ's law (Gal 6.2; 1 Cor 9.21), however, constitutes man's very liberty in action, because it frees man from the slavery of any other (Gal 5.1, 13, 18; Rom 6.14).

Law of Charity. Basically the Christian law is the law of love (Mt 7.12; Mk 12.2834; Rm 13.810; Gal5.1314; 1 Jn 4). Indeed, it canalizes man's tendency to the End loved as a good (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 1.38), and its driving force and its revealerGod in Christis love (1 Jn 4.8, 16). A real love proves and expresses itself in deeds (cf. Jn 14.15; 1 Jn 5.3): the acts of all the virtues, chiefly of fraternal charity (1 Jn 4.12, 2021), mediate and determine specifically the basic tendency of love-charity in the various fields of moral activity (moral objects) and in the different active powers (subjective aspect, cf. Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 23.8: caritas forma virtutum ). As for its content, the Christian law "fulfills" and elevates the structuresand the commandmentsof the natural law, giving them their concrete, supernatural finality. It sets aside the precepts that are specifically Jewish (cf. Gal 2.1421;4.1011; 6.12), creates a new hierarchy of moral values (Mt 5), and adds the structuresand commandmentsof the "new creation" (Trinitarian, sacramental, ecclesial). It leads directly to the following of Christ (Mt 16.24; 1 Cor 11.1). It is perceived by the reason elevated by faith and is lived in the Christian community (Acts 2.4247;4.3235). In the Christian dispensation, explicit laws (canonical, civil, international) remain necessary; but their "letter" receives its meaning, inspiration, and obligation from the (individual and social) Christian dynamism proper to the members of Christ and springing from Christ Himself.

With the complete, divinized man for immediate criterion and with the God-Man for ultimate criterion, it judges of the morality of human laws according to absolute truth: above Caesar stands God and the Wisdom of His Word (cf. Prv 8.15).

See Also: authority, ecclesiastical; canon law; commandments, ten; freedom, spiritual; kingdom of god; law, divine positive; office, ecclesiastical; society (theology of).

Bibliography: p. blÄser, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 4:825826. g. gilleman, The Primacy of Charity in Moral Theology, tr. w. f. ryan and a. vachon (Westminster, Md. 1959) 253279 and passim. e. hamel, "Loi naturelle et loi du Christ," Sciences Ecclésiastiques 10 (1958) 4976. b. hÄring, The Law of Christ, tr. e. g. kaiser, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1961) 1:227285. s. lyonnet, "Liberté du Chrétien et loi de l'Esprit selon S. Paul," Christus (1954) 627; Les Épîtres de saint Paul aux Galates, aux Romains (BJ 38; 1953), annotations.

[g. a. gilleman]

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