Augustine and Aquinas Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Letter From a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., and St. Thomas Aquinas' views on law. Specifically it will discuss the structure of law according to Aquinas. Aquinas divided law into four specific types, but both men agree there are just and unjust laws. Both men talk about the types of laws and whether they are just or unjust, and both have distinct philosophies about when to follow laws and when to ignore them.

Aquinas believed there were four basic types of law (1) eternal law, (2) natural law, (3) human law, and (4) Divine law. Each type of law carried certain characteristics and responsibilities, and each could be interpreted differently. His concept of eternal law is caught up in Divine law and argues that because of Divine Reason, a law can indeed be eternal. That natural law is a result of Divine law, and it is purely rational and natural for humans to undergo natural law. He writes, "It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law" (Aquinas). He also believed that man, being reasonable, created certain human laws, and that Divine law came from man's relationship with God and the universe's creation.

Yes, Aquinas' account of the order of the laws provides a good framework for King's claim that humans can know the justice of law without deferring to majority rule. Aquinas says, "Nor is it necessary for every measure to be altogether unerring and certain, but according as it is possible in its own particular genus" (Aquinas). That leaves a margin for error, and in King's view, there were errors in unjust laws, and that it was his duty to point out and not follow those laws that were unjust. His examples of course are the laws that existed before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which created so much racial tension throughout the nation. Blacks were segregated and treated unequally under these unjust laws, and Blacks formed the Civil Rights movement to oppose…

Sources Used in Document:


Aquinas, St. Thomas. The Summa Theologica. Benziger Bros. edition, 1947.

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