Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

Divine Principle and Natural Law -- Stephen Post

In this paper, Divine Principle is interpreted as a theologically grounded social ethic in consonance with the neo-Thomist natural law perspective and which at least resonates with Emil Brunner's notion of the orders of creation. Like neo-Thomism and Brunner's Protestant alternative, Divine Principle is a twentieth century theological response to totalitarianism. Brunner and the neo-Thomists were confronted with National Socialism in Germany during the 1930s, while Divine Principle represents a response to the threat of communist totalitarianism on the Korean peninsula. Of course these three perspectives are all engaged in the polemic against totalitarianism in all its forms.

The following discussion proposes to underscore the natural law basis of Divine Principle society by analyzing it in the light of modern Catholic and Protestant appeals to the created orders of nature as a source for normative ethical consensus.

The Neo-Thomist Alternative

Catholic theologians, such as Heinrich Rommen and Jacques Maritain, sought to revive the Thomistic tradition. In sum, Thomas had argued that man can, through the use of natural reason, discern the essential nature of things. With the fundamental precept of practical reason, "do good and avoid evil," and the definition of the good as the ideological end of human being, Thomas could claim self-preservation, sexual relationships within the family structure, the rearing of children, and action for the good of society as among the precepts of natural law. Because man is a social creature by virtue of essential nature, "society" can be distinguished from the "state." The state has the authority to enforce positive human laws which do not interfere with man's flourishing, i.e., fulfilling his essence. The institution of the family, for instance, has an eternal value and dignity which is prior to the state. Were the state to disrupt the family structure, it would be acting unjustly and could be resisted. Man's obligation to educate offspring is also a law of nature, and as such is a social function which ought not to be controlled by state. The neo-Thomists, following the position of Thomas in his Summa Theologiae, also held that it was natural for man to seek his final or "last" end in relationship with God. Therefore, the person ought to be allowed freedom of conscience and religion. The person and society are, then, autonomous in the sense that they cannot be violated by government. This argument, emphasizing traditional natural law, is still the basis of the Catholic polemic against violations of human dignity by the state. The state acts justly only when it fosters human fulfillment and the common good. When the state oversteps its bounds, as it did in Germany during the Nazi reign and continues to do in many communist countries, then in the name of the dignity of the person and essential social structures it can be and ought to be resisted. Heinrich Rommen reminds us that when society is subjected to arbitrary legal positivism, "the natural law always buries its undertakers."1

Brunner and the Significance of Barth's Objection

During the 1930s, both Barth and Brunner were opposed to the rise of National Socialism. Brunner, in his Divine Imperative, maintained that the orders of creation such as the family, the church, the state, and the economic sphere, were distinct and autonomous. The locus of authority in the family, for instance, is the father (Brunner was conservative and patriarchal), and for the state to step into the order of the family is a violation of the will of God as revealed in creation. Similarly, the state has no authority in the religious order, the church being outside its legitimate scope.

Although there are distinctions to be made between Brunner and the neo-Thomists, his definition of justice as related to the autonomy of the created orders is essentially Catholic in its appreciation for the moral significance of creation and man's natural ends. This, of course, aroused Barth, who proclaimed that Brunner was really a Catholic and ought to knock on the doors of the Vatican.

Barth was, for all intents and purposes, a meta-ethical positivist. He argued that we cannot derive normative ethics from the orders of creation -- indeed, nature tells us nothing about God's Word for us in the specific situation. This was a radical claim which reflected a strong sectarian and eschatological stance. God is completely free to require whatever he wills in our lives. Later on, in his Church Dogmatics, Barth described certain "prominent lines" which gave some general indication of God's command, and often entailed a complete suspension of common morality. Abraham, for example, was commanded to sacrifice his son, a clear violation of natural law, although the Jewish tradition generally interprets this as God showing the Jews that human sacrifice is evil, and thus preventing Abraham from so acting.

The Barth-Brunner debate is important, because it confronts Protestant ethics with a choice: either God does communicate his will for man through the natural orders, or else natural morality is meaningless. Barth, representing the latter alternative, has provided a basis for ethical relativism, sectarianism, and Christian particularism. Brunner, however, more in rune with both neo-Thomism and Divine Principle stresses on creation and immutable essential human nature as the ground of morality, represents what to my view is the more reasonable alternative.

Divine Principle and Natural Law

Before considering the material content of natural law in Divine Principle as a basic social ethic, there are two issues which need to be discussed.

First, is Divine Principle in actuality ideological? Natural law theology does not purport to be ideology for obvious reasons. Ideology is defined as an ideal construct designed to further political ends through mobilization of the masses; thus, it is instrumental or utilitarian truth, but not objective truth. Natural law theories always have some ideological tint. For example, it is the case that Thomistic thought reflects the interest of a feudal society to some extent; but there is a primary claim to ontological truth on a more basic level. If Divine Principle were simply an ideology to counter other current ideologies, then it could not be construed as philosophically true. My position is that while there are some ideological elements, particularly in the second part on the subject of restoration history regarding Korea, the primary elements of the text are clearly non-ideological and would stand the test of time even if eschatological expectations were not met, i.e., the natural law center.

Secondly, is there a more Barthian reading of Divine Principle? Surely there is. Those who hold this view would probably stress the stories in Part II which describe the tests through which the great Old Testament patriarchs had to pass in order to prove their faith in God. In the interest of God's ultimate historical goal of restoration, there must be an interim ethic which demands stringent obedience to the will of God even if that entails the "ideological suspension of the ethical," to use Kierkegaard's expression. However, for the Unification Church in practice, there is no systematic teleological suspension of the ethical but, rather, a heightened sense of the love of God to complement, not contradict, natural relationships.

The despisers of Unificationism might continue the polemic, arguing that there is a systematic deception in Unification praxis which finds justification in the text of Divine Principle. After all, if Jacob could deceive his father Isaac, stealing the birthright and the blessing, then we ought to be able to get away with anything. If so, then Divine Principle creates a serious rub with common morality or natural law.

Let me remind the despiser, by way of response, that during the 1750s the Jews were ghettoized in Berlin, and certain anti-Semites, among them the illustrious Voltaire, held that because the Mishnah comments on stories such as those of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., individuals who acted in violation of the commonly acknowledged precepts of practical reason, then the Jews were necessarily devious people and thoroughly corrupt. The late Jewish scholar Samuel Sandmel argued, in a class which I had the privilege to attend, that it was only due to the fact that the Jews were ghettoized that on some occasions they acted contrary to common moral standards. He held that though there are "peculiar" stories in the tradition, the basic thrust of Judaism is in the direction of natural law as evidenced by the Decalogue. Faith stories do not imply systematic deception.2 To conclude this digression, let me only state that while there may be some eschatological reservations placed upon the basic natural law principles in Divine Principle text, they refer only to an interim period, and in no way displace the primary morality of Unification life in any historical period whatsoever.

Having engaged in some initial apologetics, let us now turn to the actual content of natural law in Divine Principle. What is the perspective on the ends of the human person? What is the image of human fulfillment with which we are dealing? For anyone who wants to know what Unificationism is, these are central questions. To answer them, reference must be made to chapter 1 of Divine Principle, "Principle of Creation."

Divine Principle stresses the purpose of creation and thus shares a teleological view of human nature with the natural law tradition, ultimately derivative from Aristotle's notion of becoming. Each person has an end or purpose of existence. This purpose is not determined by the being itself, but by the creator, God, whose logos contains the image of human fulfillment. God began to create out of love, i.e., seeking an object of love who could respond freely. Man is created to be God's child and exists as the image of God. This confirms the traditional Christian basis of human dignity grounded in the imago Dei. Each person, in order to fulfill the three great blessings so central to Divine Principle (Genesis 1:28, to be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion) requires the freedom to perfect his character in a relationship of give-and-take action with God. When a person completely unites with God's heart, he comes to an individual level of fulfillment. From the first blessing of individual fruitfulness it can be inferred that the person has the right to the freedom and opportunity to develop this crucial relationship with God. Thus there is a sphere of inviolable freedom surrounding each person which exists prior to the state and is an integral aspect of social justice.

A second aspect of man's essential nature has to do with the ability to form a family. Because God is both masculine and feminine according to Divine Principle, no one single individual can be the full imago Dei. Through forming a family, the second great blessing, God finds a perfect and complete object of love. By having children, men and women can learn to feel the love which God has toward mankind and thus become the manifestation of God on earth. The family is then the cornerstone of the kingdom of God. Certainly it can be easily inferred that the family unit is inviolable, integral to justice, and part of the natural law.

Finally, by essential nature man desires to relate to the things of creation. This is the third great blessing. From it can be inferred the higher law background for man's involvement with the natural world.

Though this outline of the image of human fulfillment in Divine Principle is brief, it does provide the reader with a general view on man's essential nature and the natural law precepts which are entailed, e.g., the law of self-preservation, preservation of the family unit, preservation of freedom of conscience in relation to the love of God, etc. To miss these images contained in the principle of creation is to miss the meaning of life in the Unification Church.

In conclusion, I have attempted to show the consensus which exists between neo-Thomism, Brunner, and Divine Principle as to a teleological notion of human flourishing based on essential human nature. In all three systems, human nature as individual and social cannot be violated by the arbitrary will of man or state.


1 Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law (London: Herder, 1947).

2 Professor Sandmel gave this lecture in 1978 at the University of Chicago. 

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