In Romans 13:5, St. Paul famously announced that Christians must obey law not only for fear of punishment, but also "for conscience sake." Early modern Protestants and Catholics agreed that violations of laws that bound conscience, if unrepented, threatened damnation. But not all law obligated conscience. Natural law typically did. So did Jesus's injunctions and God's moral law revealed in the Old Testament, but not His judicial law governing civic affairs or His ceremonial law regulating Jewish religious observance. Human laws about things indifferent, matters neither commanded nor forbidden in scripture and nature, presented the most complicated case. Disobedience to only certain classes of human laws - but not all - imperiled the soul. Catholics and Protestants fiercely debated how to distinguish rulers' ordinances that bound conscience from those that did not. This article explores the principles that animated the dispute and the methods used for linking human law to the fate of the soul or challenging that connection.
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