Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

“Samuel Rutherford’s Euthyphro Dilemma” in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland by Simon J. G. Burton

Cameron’s Thesis:

  1. Things that are good in themselves have a much stronger binding authority than adiaphora.

Rutherford’s Rejoinder:

  1. Constitution of the divine image is dependent on the divine will (130).
  2. Categories of simple and complex acts.
    1. The act of worshiping God is a simple act (for Rutherford, there is no object/intention in this act)
    2. The act of worshiping God in accord with the divine law is a complex act.
  3. Only complex acts have moral status (130).
    1. A created object is not the measure or rule of the divine will (131).
    2. When God creates rational creatures, he at once creates the common principles of the natural law (132).

Advancing the Position

  1. Love of God is the cornerstone of the natural law
    1. The question now becomes, per God’s command to kill Isaac, is whether a particular act should be considered obedience to God or not (132).
    2. This duty is not necessarily and immutably founded in God’s own nature before every decree of his will (133).
  2. Bradwardine
    1. Distinction between things reasonable naturally prior to the divine will
      1. Such as God’s being and goodness.
      2. They are able to move the divine will.
    2. AND things which are reasonable naturally posterior to the divine will;
      1. Depend on God’s will for their reasonable status.
      2. Caused by the divine will and cannot move it.
    3. and things which are said to be mixed.

Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

  1. Both Rutherford and Bradwardine attempted to identify different logical moments within the eternal and indivisible divine act.
    1. Grounds contingency not in the possibility of future action but in the present moment of existence itself (135).
    2. This allows Scotus to make a distinction between the single instant of time and the single instant of divine eternity in terms of a series of logically connected instants (135).
    3. Logically successive, but temporally synchronic structural instants.
  2. Highest principle of morality:  God is to be loved
    1. Every moral action is defined in relation to this.
    2. Except for those acts with an intrinsic and necessary relation to the divine nature–those acts with God as the immediate object–the moral status of every action is determined solely by the divine will (136).
    3. Aquinas:  God didn’t actually command Abraham to murder; rather, God was calling due on Isaac early (since Isaac was supposed to die because he was mortal).

Bottom line application:  God is not bound by his creation.


2 thoughts on “Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

  1. Aquinas’ gloss is completely absurd if applied to any other scenario. Whether one makes a hard distinction per essence-energies or one makes a softer distinction in covenantal form of creation, neither allows the Scotistic relativity of God’s works in Creation (i.e. could God have saved through a bolt of lightening?). I tend to think the two can work together, in that otherwise potentia ordinata becomes totally arbitrary, and this is justified because if God is God’s Will, then to say we know God’s will in any circumstance is a claim on a form of noetic beatific vision and is laughed away.

    God may not need creation, but God has certainly hitched His character to it, in total freedom. When He pronounced it is good, if God were to do otherwise, He’d be found a liar.

    The Abraham scenario can be easily solved if we don’t write out God’s shrewdness in dealings with Man as a possibility. God tests the sons of men and certainly, at times, He doesn’t tell the whole picture as a means of faith working (or not).

    2 cents,


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