Moral Theology. Chapter 4

The insufficiency of only an inner law. External God-revealed law. The meaning of Moses’ Law and the New Testament Law for us.


The aim in life for every person is to prepare himself for eternal salvation and beatitude. A person must live saintly and blamelessly, in other words, according to God’s will.

How can a person recognize God’s will? First, in his conscience, which is therefore called the voice of God in man’s soul. If the fall into sin had not darkened man’s soul, he would be able to direct his life’s path infallibly and firmly by the dictates of his conscience, through which the internal moral law is imparted. It is well known that a sinful man, not only has a damaged mind, heart, and will, but also a darkened conscience; its judgment and voice have lost their unconditional clarity and strength. Some people are, therefore, said to be conscienceless.

The conscience alone, its inner voice, has become insufficient for man to live and act by, in accordance with God’s will. The necessity for an external authority has arisen, for an external, divinely revealed law. This kind of law was given to people by God in two forms: first, a preparatory law, the Old Testament Law of Moses; and secondly, the complete and perfect law of the New Testament.

Two aspects must be distinguished: 1) religious morality and 2) religious ritual, which are closely tied to the history and culture of the Jewish nation. The second aspect, of course, has faded for us Christians. These national, customary practices and laws have fallen away. But the religious, moral law of Moses has preserved its strength within Christianity. That is why all ten commandments of Moses are obligatory for Christians and why Christianity has not abolished them. On the contrary, Christianity has taught people to understand these commandments not externally and literally, in the tradition of blind, slavish obedience and only external adherence, but has disclosed their deep meaning and has taught perfect and complete understanding and fulfillment of this law. But of course, for us Christians, Moses’ Law has meaning only because its main commandments (the Ten Commandments and the commandment of love for God and one’s neighbor) are accepted and disclosed by Christianity. We are guided not by these preparatory and temporary laws of Moses, but by the perfect and eternal law of Christ.

St. Basil the Great said that “If he is funny who burns a light before himself in the sunlight, he is so much funnier to remain in the legalistic shade (of the Old Testament) while hearing the sermons of the New Testament.” The most important difference between Old and New Testament Law is that the Old Testament considered the external actions of man, while the New Testament considers man’s heart, his inner motivations. In the Old Testament, man submitted himself to God, as a slave to his Lord; In the New Testament, he strives to submit himself, as a son to his beloved father. At the present time, many view the Old Testament incorrectly; they see nothing good in it, searching only for rude and cruel traits. This is a false view. It is necessary to remember the low level of spiritual development in people of that time, thousands of years ago. Under those conditions of rough and cruel customs, the rules and norms of Moses’s Law, which seems cruel to us today, (i.e., “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, etc.) was actually not so at all. These laws did not destroy human cruelty and revenge, of course (this could be done only by the New Testament), but controlled them and established firm and strict boundaries. Besides this, we should not forget that the commandment of love for God and one’s neighbor, which Our Lord considered the most important, was taken by Him from Moses’ Law. (Mark 12:29-31). Holy Apostle Paul writes, Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good (Romans 7:12).

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
Parish Life, January 2022
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC


Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required