THE ESSENCE OF LAW
§2. The true understanding of the nature of Law requires to neglect the dominant secular views and to adopt a broad spiritual perspective which takes into account religious texts from different traditions (Hinduism, Judaism, Christianism, Islam).
Indeed, the Spirit of Law reveals Law as Spiritual: “Law is spiritual”(Romans 7:14). Law as such is independent from human will and deliberation. It is neither arbitrary nor contingent, but is necessary and grounded on Truth. And that’s how most religious traditions describe this “Higher Law”. A biblical Psalm says to God : “your law is true”(Ps.119:142); “your righteous laws are eternal”(Ps.119,160); the Rg-Veda affirms : “firmly fixed are the foundations of the Law (rta)”(4.23.9); and St Augustine writes : “we see a law above our minds, which is called truth”(De Vera Rel.,30); it is “not subject to the judgment of man”(31) and is “unchangeable and eternal”(De Lib., 1,6); St Thomas Aquinas identifies it with the Eternal Law (ST.II-I, art.93). This implies the existence of a spiritual world which interferes with the course of nature as a result of the moral value of human actions, in analogy with the Laws of Nature.
Judaism affirms that [the Lord] “give(s) to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”(Jeremiah 17:10); likewise in Christianism: "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”(Gal.6:7-9); in Islam : “whatever affliction may visit you is for what your own hands have earned.”(Q42:30); and of course in Buddhism: “whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit."(Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya, v.57). In Western philosophy, Leibniz explained the world as the interplay of the natural world of efficient causes with an architectonic world of final causes. Kant, in his Critique of Practical Reason, described the ‘Highest Good’ as coordinating morality and happiness. This general idea is the ground for Jesus’ Golden Rule: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."(Matt.7:12).
§3. The Laws of Nature are subordinate to the Higher Law but also to a Cosmic Order of harmony and beauty. The Rig Veda exalts the beauty of Law: “in its fair form are many splendid beauties”(4,23,9), and submits everything to it: “To Rta (Law) belong the vast deep Earth and Heaven”(4,23,10): it governs the cycle of seasons, the course of the stars and the planets and the rhythms of life. Judaism underlines the performative nature of Law, as a Word (dabhar) controlling nature: “He sends forth his command to the earth: His word runs swiftly”(Ps.147:15-19). Likewise, in Christian theology, Augustine affirms (De Civ. Dei xix, 12): "Nothing evades the laws of the most high Creator and Governor, for by Him the peace of the universe is administered"; "the eternal law is that by which it is right that all things should be most orderly."(De Lib.Arb, i) And the Quran says: “Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure.”(54:49); “And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice).”(55:7)
Moreover, the animals seem to know and follow the Law by instinct. The Bible says: “the stork in the heavens knows its times; and the turtledove, swallow and crane observe the time of their coming.”(Jr.8:7). Ulpian (Dig.126.96.36.199) called that law ‘natural law’, taught by Nature to all living beings, man included.
§4. As for humans, their instinct seems obscured, so that knowledge of the Law is given by Reason, or, in other traditions, by the Heart (qalb), or, again, by a moral conscience silently but acutely revealing moral truth. Saint Paul wrote: “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”(Rom 2, 14-15) Thus, law lays in the heart and in conscience and permeates the whole being to compel it to act well, in analogy with animal instincts. Thus, Law, as eternal and natural, can be spontaneously known, as Aristotle (Rhet.1.13.1) points out, giving the famous example of Antigone’s claim to bury her brother(Ant.456).
The same idea is present in the Quran, where the innate knowledge of the Law is defined as the ‘primordial religion’ (din al-fitra), founded on the ‘Law of Allah’ and deriving from the ‘nature of things’ (fitra): “so Thou set thy face in the right direction to receive the Primordial Religion, the Law of Allah, that Religion which is inherited innately for people to follow. No change in what Allah has set forth.”(Q30:30)
§5. But has Law an origin? Some religions, like Buddhism, answers negatively and even subordinate to it the gods (the angels) and the humans. But most affirm that God is the author of the Law. Isaiah 33:22 says: “the Lord is our Lawgiver.” St James: “There is one lawgiver and judge, that is able to destroy and to deliver.”(James 4.12) The Quran: “the command rests with none but Allah.”(6:57).
A classical theological debate concern the relation of God in His Law: how far Law is, or is not, in continuity with God’s nature, how far Law has been willed by God. As God is Light, (Ps 36:9; Q24:35; John 1:4), the very Light in which intellectual and moral truths are seen, God’s Light also reveals the spiritual state of the soul: this is the Divine Judgment, whereby “each one’s work will become manifest”(1Co3:13). And Law is this Light (Pr.6:23). But there are also subordinate laws (decrees), freely issued by God as a judge and king: “He dispenses Justice”(Q6:57); “he judgeth among the gods”(Ps 82:1) by His Word of Truth (Q19:34).
Moreover, Judaism and Christianism understand Law as a spiritual entity, a personified attribute emanated from God (Wis.8:25), the Lady Wisdom of the Proverbs, existing before creation(8:22-23), instrumental in God’s creation(8:30), responsible of the harmony of the universe, author of the law(1:8), giving law to her children(6:20;8:32), guiding them on a path of life and counseling kings and judges(8:15-16). Some Jewish traditions explicitly identify her with Law: “she appeared on earth and lived with humankind. She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever.”(Bar.3:36-4:1; see Sir.24:22). And they claim that the spread of lawlessness caused her to withdraw in Heavens, as the Shekinah. In Christianism (John 1; Justin, Dial.Tryph., ch.129), this figure is equated with Jesus, the Verb of God (see also Quran, 3:45 and Targum Exodus 19:17), with whom God creates and maintains the world.
Some traditions identify Lady Wisdom as a divine daughter of God. For instance, the Romans also believed that Astrea, the Virgin of Justice and the daughter of Zeus, dwelled among men during the Golden Age; she would someday return to initiate a new Golden Age. It is tempting to draw a parallel with the Hebraic Shekhinah, and even with the Virgin Mary, who will be instrumental, according to the apparitions of Fatima, to bring the coming era of Peace as the Triumph of Her Immaculate Heart.
§6. Law is universal and can be known through heart and reason. However, our hearts are most often hard and our minds dull. Hence the need for a constant reminding of the Law by prophets sent by God. Those Written Laws are indeed, as St Thomas said, no other as the Natural eternal Law: “with regard to good men, the Law was given to them as a help; which was most needed by the people, at the time when the natural law began to be obscured on account of the exuberance of sin.”(ST.I.IIae.art.98.6) This Written Law, more explicit, serves as a Light and Guidance for the men lost in darkness: Proverbs 6:23 equates Torah with light; The Quran presents itself as Clarity (mubin) : "Truths stands out clear from Error"(Q2:256). And Jesus is the Light guiding all men (John 1).
Conversely, Law is also understood as a book in Heaven, made out of spiritual matter. The Light of Law, which is Truth, contains everything, including a blueprint for our Creation (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 1:2). The Quran also speaks of a ‘book in Heaven’, the umm al-kitab (13:9): "And verily, it is in the Mother of the Book, in Our Presence, high (in dignity), full of wisdom."(Q43:2-4); this is the Heavenly Torah of Judaism, which, “like everything celestial, consisted of fire, being written in black letters of flame upon a white ground of fire”(Yer.Shek.49a), and with whom God held counsel before creating the world, as His Wisdom. This Torah has been given to the seventy nations of the world (Shab.88a;Tosef.Sot.8). Likewise, Islam claims Law has been given to the all the nations of the world through the ages, under a form or another (Q16:36).
§7. Most religions are conscious of this universal revelation of the Law. For instance, Jesus underlines the validity of the Torah: “do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”(Mt 5:17-20). The Quran affirms: “this is a divine writ confirming the truth [of the torah] in the Arabic tongue”(46:12) And a hadith even says : “You can (now) quote (Torah and their traditions) from Bani Israel. There is no harm in it.” (Bukhari, Kitaab-ul-il’m)
§8. This leads to the idea that there might actually be only one religion. The Quran says: “He hath ordained for you that religion which He commended unto Noah and that which we inspire in thee (Muhammad) and that which we commended unto Ibrahim and Moses and Jesus, saying establish the religion and be not divided therein.”(42:13) St Augustine also wrote : “that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity."(St. Augustine, Retractationes 1.12.3)
In this light, the diversity of religion can be attributed to the dispersion of mankind and the need of a constant remembrance of God’s Law. But there might also be a divine design, at work in the history of mankind - mankind conceived as a single giant person evolving through time. Saint Augustine wrote: “the education of the human race, represented by the people of God, has advanced, like that of an individual, through certain epochs, or, as it were, ages”(City of God, X, 14). In that case, it may well be that some religious prescriptions are appropriate at one moment and not at another, Law being subordinate to a design of education and growth adapted to various developmental stages.
Those divergences can also be grounded in the diversity of nations. Nations and communities are not only aggregates of individuals; they are also spiritual entities having their own pattern of development – ruled by the famous ’70 sons of God’ of Deuteronomy 32:8. The Light of the Law is refracted to them through their angelic rulers, according to their needs and God’s plan. The Quran says: “Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you He made you as ye are."(5:48)
Like the parts of a hologram, all the inspired religions reflect the Law, but at different degrees of clarity. What’s exposed clearly in one of them is hinted at allusively in another and deeply concealed in a third. Let us take an example: the Gospel often presents the divine nature of Jesus Christ as the incarnated Verb of God (John 1). Likewise, the Quran speaks of Jesus as the ‘Verb emanated from God.’(3:45; 4:171) But it refuses to qualify Jesus as the Son of God, while the Bible does. This only means that the collective soul of Islam confers another meaning to the word ‘sonship’ as the Christians, do probably as a consequence of Agar’s history. Conversely, the Immaculate Conception of Mary is explicitly indicated in the Quran: “Allah has chosen you and purified you”(3:42), while it took centuries for the Catholic Church to express the idea as a dogma (1854).