(Latin: legere, to gather; eligere, to choose; or ligure, to bind)
Law is defined as "a certain norm or measure of acts according to which any one is induced to act or is restrained from acting.
"It is an ordination of reason for the common good promulgated by him invested with the care of the community" (Saint Thomas, I-II, V. 90, a. 4.).
Ordination in regard to law means imposition of order, which consists:
This disposition or imposition, is the principle of all order.
The nature of the means used is determined by the end sought, e.g., the placement of a saw is determined by the section or part to be sawed.
Law may be considered in a twofold sense:
- in disposing things to a due end;
- through proportionate means.
The supreme law is the eternal law, which is the fount of all other laws and precepts.
The eternal law is manifested to us through the evolution of reason (natural or moral law), or through a certain sensible sign or positive act of the legislator (positive law).
Positive law is either imposed on us immediately by the authority of God (Divine positive law, e.g., Revelation), or it is imposed mediately on us by the authority of man (human positive law).
Human law regards either the end of religious society (ecclesiastical law), or the end of civil society (civil law).
Law is moral, penal, or mixed, in so far as it obliges under a fault alone, or under a penalty alone, or under fault and penalty at the same time.
- essentially, in the one regulating and commanding;
- participatively, in the one regulated.
Law must be designed:
Law is imposed on others as a rule and standard.
That law may oblige effectively it must be known to those who are subject to its requirements; such application is effected through promulgation.
Promulgation of a law, however, is not the same thing as "due knowledge of the law."
A promulgated law always obliges, but it is not required that it be always known, since a person invincibly ignorant of the law is immune from guilt because his ignorance is an impediment, excusing him accidentally (in actu secundo) from the law's obligation.
If a person, however, through invincible ignorance performs an act pronounced illicit by law, his act will be illicit in spite of his ignorance.
Hence, law which is unknown is not thereby entirely stripped of its effectiveness.
- for the common good, which is realized through a just political community, one that is productive and conservative of happiness and special kinds of happiness;
- to produce and conserve happiness and particular kinds of happiness, i.e., whatever leads directly to happiness, as virtues, or indirectly, as riches, honors, etc., by reference to the political community to which the enactment of law is directed.
According to the nature of law and human acts which are related to it, law has four distinct acts, viz., to command, to forbid, to permit, to punish.
Human acts are threefold:
To punish is added because through fear of punishment lawe command obedience.
Law is affirmative or negative, i.e., preceptive or prohibitive.
Negative law obliges always and at all times, in every place, and under all circumstances, e.g., "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
Affirmative law obliges always, but only at the time it should be fulfilled, e.g., "Keep holy the Sabbath Day."
A negative law may be merely prohibitive or repealing or nullifying, e.g., when it not only prohibits an act but also invalidates that act.
A repealing law sometimes pronounces an act to be null and void, or merely rescinds an act.
Law ought to be possible, integral, useful, just, permanent or stable, reasonable, respectful of personal rights, civic, and religious.
A law is said to be abrogated when it is completely taken away; it is derogated when only part of the law has been taken away.
Law also must have sanction; no law is definitely established unless reward be given to those who observe its requirements, and punishment inflicted on those who violate it.
Sanction may be natural or positive; complete or incomplete.
- good acts which are commanded;
- bad acts which are forbidden;
- indifferent acts which are permitted.
New Catholic Dictionary