Natural Law, Naturally Known

For this week’s “Melanchthon Monday,” a short passage on the law of nature, and our natural knowledge of it, that I have translated from the secunda aetas, or “second period,” of the Loci communes. I think it is fair to say that it still surprises a lot of people to find this sort of thing in the Lutheran Reformers, but is there–even, one might say, “ubiquitously.”

The law of nature is knowledge of the divine law imparted to man’s nature. And there is nothing in all of reality that is better and more beautiful, nor is there any more present vestige of God that the fact that God has impressed this likeness and image of his own wisdom on human minds. I have said, moreover, that it is “knowledge imparted to nature,” which you should understand as follows: Just as a light has been imparted to our eyes by God, so some conceptions have been implanted in human minds, or a light by which they recognize and judge certain things on their own. Philosophers call this light the knowledge of principles; they call it κοινὰς ἐννοίας [koinas ennoias, “common conceptions”] or προλήψεις [prolēpseis, “preconceptions”]. As just as they themselves teach concerning the speculative principles that men recognize and embrace them as most certain, so should one judge concerning the practical principles, that is, concerning the law of nature.

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