I decided to do Moral Theology for this thread since it has to do with natural law, but I’m Evangelical so it could conceivably go in NCR as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is the right choice, it’s my first time going outside the NCR sub forum so we will see if this stays here.
Thomas Aquinas is the main man when it comes to the foundation of natural law. I think this is pretty well known, so I’m just stating it without a source, although primary sources would surely include potions of Summa Theologica. I’ll include some sources that define natural law, however, for anyone who’s interested in participating but isn’t familiar with all the particulars.
Besides natural law, Aquinas handles a whole lot of different topics in Summa. One of those topics is the persecution of heretics. In the second part of the second part, question 11, all sorts of issues pertaining to heresy are addressed.
If you scroll down there to Article 3, Aquinas repeatedly and explicitly argues that heresy and heretics should not be tolerated. Solely because of corrupting the faith and publicly teaching against the Church, heretics deserve punishment, the most obvious of which he immediately states is capital punishment.
“…they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.”
“…much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”
This is disappointing to me for a number of reasons, not least of which are personal, on account of a deep admiration for some heretics centuries after Aquinas who would become known as Protestant Reformers, alongside an otherwise deep admiration for Aquinas and that awkward feeling you get when you really like someone and then they do something that you find repugnant and/or evil.
Of particular note, however, is this reason. This seems to be inconsistent with the much-better-known work of Aquinas on the topic of natural law. It seems pretty evident that there is an argument to be made for religious freedom on account of natural law, meaning that (in essence) religious freedom is universal, and people who make the switch to Catholicism have the same rights as those who make some sort of switch away from it.
And yet here is Aquinas saying that heretics, once convicted, deserve death.
Of course, I am not saying that Aquinas formally speaks on behalf of the Church. Nor am I saying that Aquinas has blood on his hands, or that he has produced doctrine in these things that I’ve brought up. Let’s not make it about anything that it’s not about.
So let’s clarify.
Aquinas is chiefly responsible for the development of natural law theory. This is not doctrine or dogma, but it sure is an important piece of Catholic moral theology. Oh boy is it important. Yes I am clear on the concept that this is not doctrine, and yes I do think that last part about its importance to Catholic moral theology constitutes a very good reason to talk about it despite the fact that it’s not doctrinal material.
Now, to the best of my current understanding, any argument from natural law concerning religious freedom seems to most naturally support a universal code of religious freedoms for all humanity, and my reason for thinking this comes from any basic definition of natural law. However, it would seem that the spiritual father of natural law theory does not reach any sort of conclusion remotely similar to this.
Let’s make this our starting point. From a Catholic perspective- and it helps if you’re well versed in Aquinas, of course- how does one go about locking the horns of natural law theory with this heretics-deserve-death business? It seems like a violation of natural law, but apparently Aquinas did not see it as a glaring inconsistency.
From a logical standpoint, how does this make sense within the Thomistic construct of natural law? And if anyone has intimate knowledge of the situation- is it possible that the concept of natural law has significantly changed since the lifetime of Aquinas in ways that allow this thing to make more sense? If so, in what ways has it changed, particularly in specifically Catholic arenas?