Aquinas as “voluntarist” as Scotus

If you’ve read Catholic intellectual histories, you’ve heard this story:  Back in the High Middle Ages, everything was awesome.  Then Duns Scotus ruined everything by saying that the second tablet of the ten commandments (the ones having to do with killing, stealing, lying, etc) aren’t strictly part of the natural law, but depend on God’s will.  From there, it was a short step to outright divine command theory, from whence sprang nominalists, Protestants, and all the evils of the modern world.

I’ve always been annoyed with the way Scotus has been made into the Catholic philosophers’ whipping boy.  Myself, I appreciate that the Subtle Doctor had the guts to face the fact that the Bible clearly records God commanding people to do otherwise immoral things.

It turns out Scotus wasn’t the first.  I just ran across this in “Aquinas:  Selected Philosophical Writings” from Oxford World’s Classics  (an excellent collection, by the way):

But God telling Hosea to take himself a whore is a command, and as a divine command it makes what would otherwise have been a sin not a sin.  For as Bernard says, God can dispense the second tablet of commandments which deal with man’s relations with his neighbors, since the good of the neighbor is a particular good, but he can’t dispense the first tablet of commandments, which deal with man’s relationship to God.

Quastiones Disputatae de Malo, Quest. 3, reply to objection 17

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