Legal historian Sir Matthew Hale has been described as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.” Yet during his lifetime (1609-1676), he chose not to publish most of his legal writings, going so far as to prohibit such publication in his will.
Against these wishes, many manuscripts were copied and circulated by other lawyers after his death. One such work, Of the Law of Nature, was written on multiple hand copies, and now, for the first time ever, it is available via CLP Academic.
As its title indicates, the treatise explores the natural law, its discovery and divine origin, and how it relates to both biblical and human laws. Hale’s close connection between law and theology also demonstrates the importance of natural law to early modern legal thought.
The work was most likely written as a series of private meditations and reflections by Hale, giving it a unique, free-flowing style. Hale also brings a unique theological background and perspective to the topic, as editor David Sytsma explains in the introduction:
Sometime between writing the Discourse (ca. 1639–1641) and the Law of Nature (ca. 1668–1670) Hale’s religious perspective underwent a shift in the direction of Arminianism away from the Calvinism of his youth…In a manuscript likely written in the late 1650s, Hale still affirmed the traditionally Calvinist belief that the light of nature is insufficient for salvation. But after the Restoration he moved toward an Arminian soteriology which understood the gospel of the new covenant as offering forgiveness of sins by a condition of imperfect, sincere obedience. He also came to affirm the view, commonly associated with Arminianism, that virtuous pagans could be saved through obedience to the natural law (discussed below). In the last years of his life Hale professed that “Points controverted between the Arminians and Calvinists” regarding God’s decrees, his influence on the human will, the resistibility of grace, and so forth were impossible to determine and of “inconsiderable moment.” …Whether or not Hale changed his mind in the last year of his life, the soteriology present in his Law of Nature is clearly representative of his Arminian turn.