On Civil Laws in Particular

1. It remains for us to consider also the functions of the supreme authority in particular and the points that are to be especially observed in regard to them. In this the first place belongs to the civil laws, which are the decrees of the civil ruler, by which it is enjoined upon the citizens what they ought to do in the civil life, and what they should leave undone.

2. Now they are called civil laws chiefly for two reasons, either as regards their authority or their origin. In the former sense, the term civil laws can be applied to all laws according to which justice is administered in the civil court, from whatever source they draw their origin. In the latter sense, we call those laws civil, which proceeded in the first place from the will of the supreme civil authority, and have to do with those matters which have not been defined by the natural and divine law, but make for the particular advantage of individual states.

3. But the civil laws should ordain nothing which is not for the good of the state. And so it is of great importance to the order and tranquillity of the civil life, that the natural law should be well observed by the citizens. Hence it is incumbent upon the rulers to give to that law the force and effectiveness of civil law. For in most men we find such depravity, that neither the evident utility of the natural law, nor the fear of the Divinity, is enough to restrain it. Therefore, by bestowing upon natural laws the force of civil laws, the supreme authority has the power to cause the uprightness of the civil life to be somehow maintained.

4. And the force of the civil laws consists in this, that a penal sanction is added to the precepts in regard to doing or leaving undone; in other words, that there is a definition of the penalty which, in the court of the state will await the man who has failed to do what was to be done or has done what should have been left undone. Natural laws, lacking this penal sanction, are violated with impunity in the human court, punishment being reserved, however, by the divine tribunal.

5. Furthermore, because the character of the civil life does not permit that each man exact by his own violence whatever he thinks is due him, for that reason the civil laws at this point too come to the aid of the natural law, in affording an action for obligations under that law, by virtue of which action the obligations can be enforced in a civil court, with the assistance of a magistrate. Whatever has failed to be thus confirmed by civil laws, cannot be exacted against the will of the other party, but depends solely upon the honor and conscience of the debtors. It is the custom, however, of the civil laws to furnish an action particularly for those obligations which have been contracted between men by express agreements. For the others, resting upon some undefined duty of the natural law, they have generally refused an action, that the better men might have opportunity to practice their virtue, and that they might gain high praise, if they appeared to have done well without compulsion. Often, too, the matter did not seem so important that the judge should be troubled about it.

6. Again, since many precepts of the natural law are indefinite, their application being left to the discretion of every man, the civil law, with a view to the order and tranquillity of the state, is accustomed to assign to such actions their time, manner, place, and persons, also to determine other circumstances, and at times to encourage men by rewards to undertake them. Also, if there is any obscurity in the natural law, it belongs to the civil law to explain it. And this explanation the citizens are bound to follow in practice, in spite of the fact that their own private opinion may perhaps take a different direction.

7. Moreover, since by the natural law, many acts have been left to the judgment and discretion of the individual, but in a state peace and public order require that these acts be regulated in a uniform manner, the civil laws for that reason usually prescribe for acts and matters of this kind a certain form, as is the case in last wills, in contracts, and many others. For the same reason also civil laws are in the habit of circumscribing the exercise of those rights which a man has naturally.

8. To the civil laws, in so far as they do not openly conflict with the divine law, the citizens owe obedience, not from mere dread of punishment, but from an intrinsic obligation, confirmed by the natural law itself; for among its precepts is this also, that one must obey lawful rulers.

9. Finally, citizens are bound to obey particular commands of their rulers, no less than the general laws. In this, however, we must notice whether the ruler commands the citizen to do something, as an act belonging to the citizen, or bids him undertake the mere execution of an act, which must belong properly to the ruler. For in the latter case, necessity being imposed by the ruler, a citizen can without sin on his own part do something whereby the ruler himself commits a sin. But a citizen cannot rightly commit in his own name a sin repugnant to the natural and divine law. Hence it follows that, if a citizen, by command of the ruler, bears arms, even in unjust war, he does not sin. But, if a man, by command of the same ruler, condemns an innocent person, bears false witness, or slanders another, he certainly does sin. For a citizen serves as a soldier in the name of the state, but judges, testifies, and accuses in his own name.

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