The Leiden Synopsis on Natural Law


Introduction to the Synopsis

The Synopsis Purioris Theologiae [Synopsis of a Purer Theology]  Buy 1625 was a textbook in systematic theology that gave an exhaustive, yet concise, presentation of Reformed theology as it was conceived in the first decades of the seventeenth century.  The Synopsis had originated as a series of 52 disputations held in Leiden University (in the Netherlands) between 1620–1624.  In it the Leiden professors Johannes Polyander (1568-1646), Andreas Rivetus (1572-1651), Antonius Walaeus (1573-1639), and Antonius Thysius (1603-65) continued a tradition from before the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).  All of them except Rivet were delegates at that same Synod.



The Leiden Synopsis 

Synopsis Purioris Theologiae / Synopsis of a Purer Theology: Latin Text and English Translation: Volume 1, Disputations 1-23  Buy  ed. Dolf te Velde, Brill, 2015, Disputation 18, ‘Concerning the Law of God’, Thesis 12-30

12. According to the diversity of its closely related principles, this law is divided into natural law, human laws, and divine laws.

13. Natural law is the light and direction of sound reason in the intellect, informing man with common notions to distinguish right from wrong, and honorable from shameful—so that he may understand what he should do or shun. 

14. Some of those notions are of a primary sort, and we call them practical principles; others, which are secondary, we call conclusions constructed from those principles with the help of reasoning.

15. Before the fall of man, both sorts of notions were unspoiled and coupled together in delightful harmony, together with the power in the will to make decisions according to their directions, and to carry out the commands of the will properly in the affections.

16. After the fall of man, however, the first, primary notions in his intellect remained unchanged, and they shine forth clearly; but the latter, secondary notions stagger with wretched hesitation whenever one goes from general things to particular ones, and they deviate from the sound rule of equity, as is shown by the examples of the very unfair laws and overly corrupt customs that are found in the histories of gentile peoples.

17. After the transgression of Adam those notions were completely covered up and nearly wiped out, partly because of the corruption of his nature and partly because of the depravity of his behavior and upbringing. And yet the little sparks of these common that do remain are sufficient to convict and condemn sin, even in those who have been darkened completely.

18. For this reason Paul says that God’s judgment was known to the gentiles who in former times had been given over to godlessness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:[26–]32) and that the requirement of the law was inscribed upon their hearts (Romans 2:14[15]).  He demonstrates this with a twofold testimony, external and internal.

19. The external testimony is the law they themselves set up, and Paul asserts that they were a law unto themselves, namely by commanding or prohibiting the very things that God commands or forbids in the law which He had written (Romans 2:14).

20. The internal testimony is that of the conscience, which by its deliberations confronts their wrong actions and defends the right ones by the authority of the law that has been laid up in their hearts (Romans 2:15).

21. Evident in the nature of mankind are two-fold traces of this law, some of which he appears to share with irrational living beings, while others belong properly to him.

22. The ones mankind seems to share with the other created living beings are those to which all creatures endowed with animate life and perception are inclined by natural instinct, in order to protect themselves and their offspring by innate affection and natural feeling. Traces of this kind are: guarding their own lives, propagating, nurturing, and cherishing their own offspring.

23. For the reason that it has taught all living beings, this law is loosely (and with a rather broader meaning) called “natural law” by the lawyers.

24. Traces of the law that properly concern mankind are the ones to which his affections are directed by the bidding and guidance of reason (which the other creatures lack), in keeping with the norm of good and right that God has granted to him. Traces of this kind are: that God should be worshipped, parents and others who rightly deserve it respected, and agreements kept, and the like.

25. However, since the sacred Book does not consider mankind separately as a living being, but jointly, as a living being endowed with reason—better yet, it offers a treatment of him as a creature made in God’s image—therefore our theologians restrict that natural law to mankind as its true and proper subject.  This is what Paul does in Romans 1 and 2.

26. Although in the judgment and consensus common to all peoples it is agreed that this law is implanted in the souls of men, nevertheless the wiser heathens acknowledge that for a better understanding and proper keeping of it, this internal law needs the help of external laws.

27. Hence it came about that thanks to the skills of a few wise individuals and the authority of the magistrates in the commonwealth, as many civil laws as possible were introduced among both gentile and Christian nations.

28. These laws are the pronouncements of what is just, established by the solemn and specific order of a legitimate magistrate, and they issue from commonly-held notions that are like principles and sources. And like little streams, they produce certain conclusions and particular provisions according to the needs of persons, things, times, and places, for the public and private good of citizens; and they establish these by promising reward and by threatening with punishment. 

29. If in all their edicts these laws conform entirely to the exemplar of God’s law, they bind the consciences of their subjects to keeping them or to suffering punishment; if the laws contradict God’s law, then they do not bind their subjects.

30. The exemplar of God’s law is the one that God himself, through his heavenly angels and and through his servant Moses, directly inspired and recorded with his own finger, and that He himself handed to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20, and 20:1ff.;10 Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).




Related Pages

Natural Law

The Leiden Synopsis on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel