13 May 2007

suarez, natural law, and sabbath

In several earlier posts, I've noted some connections to and lines of influence from the work of Francisco Suarez within the emergence of Reformed scholastic theology in the 17th century. Those have primarily concerned theology proper, prolegomena, and natural theology.

In this post I want to say a bit about natural law and the conscience.

We may begin by noting ongoing discussion within 16th and 17th Reformed scholastic theology in regard to the question of whether sacred theology is most properly a practical or a speculative discipline. As with Aquinas, there was never any real question among Reformed scholastics as to whether both theology was both practical and speculative, but rather a question as to the relative precedence of each of these aspect. And unlike Aquinas, more often than not, the emphasis fell upon theology as a primarily practical disciple.

One of the primary influences here was Petrus Ramus who defined theology as “the doctrine of living well” (Commentariorum de Religione) and whose method tended toward a bifurcation of practical and speculative concerns. Add to this Ramus’s disdain for Aristotle, particularly in the area of ethics, concerning which he said the ethics of the Bible knows nothing of the ethics of Aristotle (Oratio de Professione liberalium artium, Paris, 1563: 104).

Despite the influence of Ramus, however, Aristotle was not entirely abandoned the area of moral theology among Reformed scholastic authors and neither were traditions of Christian use of Aristotle. In England, for instance, the Thomistic sympathies of Richard Hooker and William Perkins (1558-1602) permitted them both to develop teleological virtue ethics in which the right formation and exercise of conscience plays a central role. This is especially evident in Perkins’s extensive casuistry of conscience in two major works on the topic, though, since he was an earlier figure, the shape of Perkins’s discussion is largely dependent upon Thomas Aquinas himself rather than later Thomists.

We know, however, that Perkins’s student, William Ames (1576-1633) held volumes of Suarez in his personal library along with selections from Lombard, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Scotus, Cajetan, and Bellarmine. And in two of his major works, Marrow of Theology and Conscience: Its Laws or Cases, Ames shows evidence of Suarez’s influence in the area of moral theology, despite his sharp divergence from Suarez on a variety of other matters, such as the relative independence of natural theology from revelation.

In particular, as his treatise Against Metaphysics shows, Ames is far more skeptical than either Suarez or Continental Reformed scholastics (he specifically criticizes Keckermann) with respect to philosophical arguments concerning the existence and nature of God. In that work Ames repeatedly attacks metaphysical speculations, on several occasions referring to Suarez by name, objecting particularly to his understanding of figures such as Suarez as attempting to provide a natural theology that is “entirely other” from that of supernatural revelation in Scripture. Moreover, Ames makes use of Ramus as a foil to Suarez and to Aristotelian-inspired thinking in general.

Nevertheless, Ames himself still remained deeply indebted to the tradition of Christian use of Aristotle (retaining, for instance, the Aristotelian scheme of the four causes) and, with reference to Suarez, was profoundly shaped by his approach to moral theology, including the natural law and the conscience, even despite Ames’s distaste for natural theology.

For instance, early in his Marrow of Theology, while Ames gives priority to the practical over the speculative, he also maintains that faith and obedience are inseparable, pointing to the relationship between metaphysics and ethics and, remarkably, citing Suarez’s “First Disputation” positively in this regard.

As Ames unfolds his discussion of conscience in the Marrow and elsewhere, he does so drawing upon Thomistic discussion of synteresis as an underlying natural habit, conscience as involving acts of jugdment, and the four cardinal virtues as foundational to a wider discussion of ethics rooted in the Decalogue. In this discussion, however, Ames appears to be strongly influenced not only by Aquinas himself, but also Suarez’s discussion of Thomistic moral theology in his De Legibus, his treatise on the three theological virtues, and his First Treatise on the Nature and Essence of Religious Virtue.

If this is true with regard to the broad outlines of Ames’s moral theology, it is particularly true of his discussion of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. At the time of the Reformation, a number of sects began to raise questions about the Christian observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, some seeing it primarily as an ecclesiastical ordinance to be rejected along with other abuses and some, thereby, advocating a return to the Jewish custom of Sabbath observance on Saturday. The issue was taken up by Reformed scholastic theologians, among whom some maintained the ecclesiastical nature of the Lord’s Day as an ordinance properly observed by the Christian church, while others wished to root the Lord’s Day in the Decalogue’s teaching on the Sabbath and, behind that, the very order of creation itself.

It is with respect to this latter position that Suarez came to exercise a significant role in the emergence and growing strength of Puritan and Dutch observance of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. In this regard, William Ames is only one figure among many Reformed theologians, both English and Dutch, but his use of Suarez is representative.

In defense of the Christian Sabbath, Reformed theologians primarily drew upon Book II of Suarez’s treatise on religious virtue, which deals with the topic of sacred days. Ames cites Suarez to the effect that some observation of the seventh day very likely existed from the creation of world onward, even though it was only codified as law with the giving of the Decalogue to Moses. As such, the Sabbath should be seen as somehow rooted in the very order of creation. The difficulty, of course, is that Christians do not observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, but rather the first day, the day of Christ’s resurrection.

An argument for flexibility with regard to the day, however, can be launched using the Thomistic distinction between moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws within the Law of Moses. As such, the observance of one day in seven can be seen as moral, while which particular day is to be observed is a matter of ceremonial, positive law and, as with other ceremonial laws, has been transformed with the coming of Christ (just as, for instance, baptism comes to displace circumcision as an initiatory rite). As a ceremonial law, however, the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day is seen by Ames as a matter of divine law, rather than merely ecclesiastical law, and in this connection Ames summarizes Suarez’s argument to the same effect, citing the same earlier sources he provides (Banez, Abbas, Sylvester, Alexander III, etc.).

As the discussion of the observance of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath carries over into other English and Dutch Reformed scholastics, dependence upon Suarez re-appears frequently. Thus, we can trace another area in which Suarez exercised lasting influence in the developing Reformed tradition.