James E. Bruce
John Brown University
Francis Turretin places a threefold scheme of right within the framework of Thomistic natural law to explain the relationship between the divine will and the moral order. He centers his inquiry on a single question: can God ever dispense with a precept of the moral law? That is, can God temporarily suspend the obligation that a person has to a moral law so that an individual action is not immoral, even though it would be otherwise, if it were not for God’s command? For Turretin, the answer is unequivocally in the negative: God cannot dispense with any of the precepts of the moral law at any time, for any reason. Nevertheless, some laws do change, and Turretin uses divine, natural, and positive rights to explain why this change is possible. Divine right describes the authority and privilege, as well as the duties and obligations, that God has on account of his own nature. Natural right describes those privileges and obligations that God has due to the nature of the things he has chosen to create, and positive right deals with those additional privileges and obligations that arise from divine choice alone. Those laws, or parts of laws, that arise from divine and natural right cannot change. Those laws, or parts of laws, that arise from positive right can change, however. That God cannot change the moral law, or even dispense with it, does not undermine his freedom, because God is internally, and not externally, constrained. In his free choosing, from his eudokia , God is constrained by divine right, from his own nature; by natural right, from the nature of the things he has made; and, by positive right, from whatever additional laws he has chosen to establish. God’s free choice cannot contravene the natural law, yet the natural law is determined by God’s free choice, in so far as the natural law is constituted by the nature of the things God has chosen to create
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