Francisco Suarez’s Understanding of Law

Francisco Suarez’s Understanding of Law

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Suarez’s book Tractatus de legibus ac Deo legislatore (“A Study of the Laws of the Lawgiver God”), in which he developed the concept of the law of nations introduced by Vitoria, includes his views on law, its systems, and their interrelationships.

Although Suarez accepts that reason has a share in law, he argues that the essence of law is obligation, and obligation is essentially an act of will. Like Thomas Aquino, he divides law into four categories: eternal, divine, natural, and human, but treats each in terms of its definition of an act of will. Eternal law is divine providence, from which all other categories of law are derived and which includes all creatures. It always coexists with God and is unchanging. Primordial law is enforced only through other laws. Man’s knowledge of law is limited, and this is reflected in his acceptance of divine law, his discovery of natural law, and his enactment of human law.

Divine law is determined directly by God and contains general principles. The source of the sanction that enables man to obey divine law is directly the power and will of God. Although natural law is the result of divine will, it is comprehended with the help of human reason. Natural law, whose principles are general and primary, does not identify with the nature of man. Human law, on the other hand, consists of enacted just and stable rules that complement the general principles of divine and natural law. Contrary to divine law, the power and enforcement of human law is determined directly by the will of the legislator and indirectly by the will of God.

Suarez also defined the law of states as a human law based on traditional practices, although largely derived from the natural master. He made a clear distinction between the law of nations and natural law for the first time, arguing that the law of nations, unlike natural law, is not immutable. The necessity of international law arises from the fact that humanity forms a unity, even though it is divided into various nations and kingdoms. No community, which is part of the whole of humanity, is self-sufficient without the need for mutual assistance and cooperation. For this reason, a union of sovereign states based on the moral and political unity existing among peoples and a legal system to regulate this is necessary.

Concepts of Covenant and Divine Rights

According to Suarez, the state is the result of people’s natural tendencies towards social life. In monarchy, which is the best form of government as long as it can maintain the trust of the people, the authority of the monarch is based on the contract between the king and the people. However, this contract is valid as long as the monarch does not resort to cruelty or treats the people well. Suarez, like many other thinkers, uses contract thinking as a means of supporting the church’s arguments. When the people are not treated well, in the sense of not being in accordance with the “good life”, the rules of which are determined by religion, the right of the people to resist upon the call of the Pope is also included in this contract. In this respect, the pope indirectly becomes the judge of the behavior of the rulers. Suarez argues that it is out of the question for an individual to dominate others with a natural or divine right claim. The first source of supreme power is God, and it is made to belong to the community, not to any individual, but to all men. This right can be transferred to an individual (the king), on condition that it is revocable and with the voluntary consent of the people. In this respect, Suarez’s book Defensio Fidei Catholicae (“Defence of the Catholic Faith”), which includes these thoughts, was burned by King James I in England, where the idea that kings are the representatives of God on earth is common. Suarez is accepted as the last great representative of Scholastic philosophy and the most important theologian of the period. It gained widespread fame in Protestant as well as Catholic countries, as it gave Scholasticism its most authoritative form. With his death, philosophical vitality ceased in Spain, and his interpretation of Thomas prevailed undisputedly for several centuries. On the other hand, by interpreting natural law in a new way and giving a meaningful content to the concept of international law, it had an impact on later studies on this subject.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook