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Vermigli on Why the Natural Law Accuses Mankind

March 13, 2009

Peter Martyr VermigliVermigli affirms that the natural law accuses  man because of the corruption resulting from the loss of original righteousness.  He affirms against Pighius that there are three laws that bind our nature, thus rendering the lack of original righteousness a sin: (1) The institution of man as the imago Dei (image of God), which consists primarily in his endowment with the “divine properties” of justice, wisdom, goodness, and patience, (2) the law of nature that depends upon the original justice of the imago Dei, and (3) the Law of God.  (Commentary upon the Epistle to the Romanes, 124, 125) Vermigli explains why the second of these laws requires original righteousness:

We have also the law of nature, and to live agreably unto it (as Cicero saith in his 3. booke de finibus) is the principall and last end of mans estate.  And this lawe dependeth of that other law [original justice] which we before put:  For it commeth of no other thinge, that we have in our mind cogitations, accusing, and defending one another, but only for that they are taken of the worthiness of nature, as it was instituted of God.  For whatsoever Philosophers, or lawgivers have written of the offices of mannes life, the same wholy dependeth of the fountaines of our constitution.  For those precepts cannot come out of a corrupt nature, out of selfe love, and malice, hereby we are prone to evil:  but they come of that forme of upright nature, which they imagine is required of the dignity of man, and which we know by the scriptures was instituted of God, and commaunded of us to be renued. (ibid.)

Therefore, the natural law accuses mankind because we fail to live up to the justice with which man was originally endowed.  When the pagan philosophers wrote about man’s duties (i.e., offices) they believed that the precepts derived from the natural law could be fully kept by the prudent person.  However, Vermigli counters that an upright nature is a gift that must come from God.

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