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Law without coercion: exhortation and doctrine in the canon law of the Church of England

27 September 2021

St Thomas Aquinas famously defines law as ‘an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated’ (ST I-II, Q90 a4). His definition does not mention coercion, but in a world where people are not perfectly virtuous, Aquinas admits that law must necessarily be coercive. This coercive nature of law has been brought to the fore of the public mind during the Coronavirus Pandemic. To reduce the spread of the disease, we have been told what we should and should not do by means of both guidance and law. Guidance is accompanied by no direct legal sanction. Where a particular restriction is law, on the other hand, there is a threat of sanctions (e.g. fines for gathering with a certain number of people).

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