Christianity and Natural Law

An Introduction

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Norman Doe
Law and Christianity
  • Cambridge, England: 
    Cambridge University Press
    , July
     276 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In the Cambridge Studies in Law and Christianity series, this new volume edited by Norman Doe introduces the reception of natural law ethics by various Christian traditions. In addition, the volume includes essays exploring natural law themes in ecumenism, philosophy, jurisprudence and interfaith contexts. As a series of collected essays, this volume covers a great deal of theological territory and, as such, resists adequate summary. There are, however, two major themes treated in this volume that are worthy of note and recommendation. First, the introductions provided on the reception of natural law in the theologies of the Protestant reformers. And, second, the inclusion of the relation of natural law and ecclesial governance in many of the chapters. 

While many may consider the tradition of natural law to be principally part of Roman Catholic theology—and so far as it goes they would be correct—there are important and seemingly neglected elements of natural law thinking in the work of the Protestant Reformers. The treatments of natural law in Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and the Reformed tradition are instructive and insightful. In these chapters, the natural law thought of Richard Hooker, Martin Luther, Phillip Melancthon, and John Calvin is introduced and expounded in light of their respective theological projects and traditions. In particular, the explication of Richard Hooker’s indebtedness to Thomas Aquinas and his subsequent influence on the course of Anglican church governance contributes to clarifying the course of the Anglican via media. Likewise, the description and comparison of Luther and Melanchton’s natural law thinking is instructive for understanding seemingly opposed Lutheran views of the relation of ecclesiastical society to civil society. Finally, the treatment of the importance of natural law in the theology of John Calvin and its subsequent reception and revival, filtered through Karl Barth, is of great benefit for understanding recent reformed interest in natural law. For all of those outside these traditions, and perhaps even those within them with an interest in natural law, these chapters could be immensely helpful in tracking the broader reception of natural law in the Protestant theological tradition. Though perhaps a niche group, those wishing to study the reception of Thomas Aquinas’s exposition of the natural law among the Reformers would find this a good place to begin. 

Though perhaps of less universal interest than a purely theological or philosophical consideration of the natural law, the treatment of the reception of natural law into the fields of canon law and ecclesiastical governance among the various traditions is of distinct utility for understanding the genuine reception of natural law principles. As the back cover states, this volume “tests the practical utility of natural law by exploring its use in the legal systems of the churches studied.” Here the chapters on Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and the Reformed tradition deserve special consideration. Students of canon law or ecclesiastical politics looking to link ecclesiastical structures of governance to the theological principles of their respective traditions would find many elements in these chapters worthy of their attention. 

Though the volume accomplishes a great deal and will prove a serviceable introduction to the reception of natural law among the various traditions, theological and legal, it would not be of use to someone looking for an exploration of the speculative principles of the natural law. Students seeking such an introduction should look elsewhere. Moreover, the general reader of theology and philosophy would likely not find much of this volume accessible or of great interest. For those working in philosophical or theological ethics, however, many of the essays contained herein would be of distinct value for initiating a comparative or particular study on the Christian reception of the natural law. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Gideon Barr is a doctoral candidate in Theology at Ave Maria University.

Date of Review: 
October 23, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Norman Doe is Professor and Director of the L L. M. in Canon Law at Cardiff University Law School. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Paris and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium and Chancellor of the Diocese of Bangor. His books include Fundamental Authority in Late Medieval English Law (1990), Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (1998), Law and Religion in Europe (2011) and Christian Law (2013).



Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.