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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Aquinas and the Supreme Court: Race, Gender, and the Failure of Natural Law in Thomas's Biblical Commentaries

"In court opinions, blogs, public debates, and theological arguments, the concept of what is 'natural' to us remains a highly debated concept, with Thomas Aquinas one of the most frequently cited figures."   In his recently published book, Aquinas and the Supreme Court: Race, Gender, and the Failure of Natural Law in Thomas's Biblical Commentaries, Eugene Rogers, professor of Religious Studies, "makes the breathtaking argument that Thomas Aquinas does not, in fact, say what you think he says on the topic of natural law, nature, and what is appropriate to humans as natural" (Myles Werntz, Baylor University).

"Eight centuries after he lectured on the Bible, both advocates and critics agree that Aquinas remains the most influential “natural law” philosopher. Lawmakers, judges, pundits, and clergy deploy natural-law reasoning on all manner of public issues, from gender roles to just war; the US Supreme Court still cites Aquinas on abortion and homosexuality" (Wiley).

"Rogers critiques turn-of-the-21st century natural law theory by its founding text, using Aquinas's own commentaries on the bible. Exploring newly translated, or untranslated commentaries, Rogers compares the passages where Aquinas’s systematic works quote the Bible with the biblical commentaries on the passages which are cited. A very different understanding of natural law emerges in which Aquinas embeds all law, even natural law, not in a particular logic, but in a particular story. The commentaries describe a nature that differs by ethnicity, varies over time, and changes sexuality by God’s decree. This challenges current understandings and uses of Aquinas’s natural law from both sides of the debate, both liberal and conservative" (Wiley).

In the book, "Rogers uses Aquinas's biblical commentary to argue that Aquinas's sense of the natural law is deeply theological, known only to humans who participate in it via the grace of the Triune God, as conceived of by Christianity.  Rogers shows that legal and political uses of natural law are not faithful to Thomas's theological teachings unless they are set within the theological context" (Choice, November 2013).

"Issues of the naturalness of gender and sexuality are woven through Rogers’ reflections, complicating both Thomas’ use within the legal system and within Christian arguments about what is natural. Too often, as Rogers points out, Christian reflections upon ‘nature’ repeat the errors of natural lawyers in assuming that 1) nature is self-evident and 2) nature is unchanging. If what is ‘natural’, according to Thomas (following Paul) is a work of the Spirit, then nature is neither one. Rather, our discussions of natural life—while learning from our observations and from reason—cannot be ultimately governed by reason, but led by the Spirit’s revealing and restoring work" (Myles Werntz, Baylor University).

“In this well documented and lucidly argued book we discover that what might seem purely arcane medieval scholarship cuts decisively into matters of currently great human concern" (Fergus Kerr, University of Edinburgh).

“This book will be particularly useful for graduate students in philosophy and theology.  Summing Up: Recommended" (Choice, November 2013).

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