Why we should study the natural law tradition

In the opening lesson of his course at the Family and Life Academy, Dr Joseph Shaw explored the origins of the natural law tradition — from ancient Athens in the fifth century BC to Roman North Africa in the fourth century AD. In under an hour, Dr Shaw brought together eight centuries of key figures and ideas from diverse schools of thought, starting with Socrates and ending with the great doctor of the Latin Church, St Augustine of Hippo. He also covered Aristotle’s understanding of ergon (“function” or “characteristic behaviour”) in some depth and, without breaking stride, advanced halfway to St Thomas Aquinas’s definitive formulation of natural law in the thirteenth century.

This week, Dr Shaw has begun to build on this foundation in lesson two, with no-less-diverse materials. He explained how the augustinian tradition, Roman legal theory and the rediscovery of Aristotle in the West would impact the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas and shape the whole of the scholastic approach to natural law. He has made a second pass over the key aristotelian principles, this time from the eagle’s-eye view of Christian Revelation, continuing to expand the perspective on the natural world, on human nature in particular, and on the supernatural destiny to which humanity is called. What is more, he has made it look easy — and with four lessons still to go.

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