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St. Thomas Aquinas Kenneth L. Deutsch Life and Times St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) Aquinas came from a noble family from Naples. He joined the Dominican order against his family’s wishes

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st thomas aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Kenneth L. Deutsch

life and times
Life and Times
  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
  • Aquinas came from a noble family from Naples.
  • He joined the Dominican order against his family’s wishes
  • Aquinas studied with Albert the Great in Paris and participated in the Aristotelian revival of the Middle Ages.
  • He was canonized and became a saint in 1323.
    • Resisting the temptation of a prostitute and the discovery of Herring at night were the miracles used to justify his sainthood.
  • Aquinas’s extensive corpus of scholarship is perhaps a greater miracle than those mentioned above.
ultimate reality
Ultimate Reality

Aquinas was primarily a Christian theologian.

He viewed human wisdom as structured like a pyramid with the sciences of ethics and politics at its base with philosophy above and theology at its apex.

Natural philosophy are not contradictory but complementary.

Faith and reason are valid in their own realms.

Aquinas’ scholastic method integrates Aristotle’s teleological view of nature into the biblical theology of creation and Christian salvation.

human nature and the common good and the necessity of government
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government
  • The political condition is a natural condition of human beings as part of creation.
    • Aquinas states:
      • Thus the goodness which in God is simple and unique is found in countless and differentiated creatures. Consequently it is the entire universe which shares perfectly the goodness of God and represents it more than one creature by itself.
  • Human beings are partners with God and politics is necessary even if there was no fall from the Garden of Eden.
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued
  • Aquinas’ reflections on human mutual dependence:
    • Nonhuman animals have specific natural defenses (such as claws), whereas humans must rely on reason for their survival.
    • Human co-creation requires human cooperation and cannot be done by single individuals with their limited talents.
    • The power of speech show that solitary existence is inappropriate (“nature does nothing in vain”); speech and language provide the mans for interpersonal projects.
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued6
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued
  • Aquinas argues humans must achieve the humanization of the world and eternal salvation and this entails a principle of government within society.
    • If it is natural for human beings to live in society, then it follows that there must be regulation of society. For not human group can long endure if each person sought only his individual ends. One of them would have to provide for the common interest, just as an organism would break apart unless it had some controlling power in it which worked for the good of all bodily parts….
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued7
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued

Humans require political rule for social survival.

Humans should be put under the rule of those providing for the common interest or common good.

The king or government exists to prevent chaos.

Original sin leaves humans wounded, fallible, and frail though not vitiated or corrupted.

Political institutions foster knowledge, culture, and virtue and permit humans to pursue their ultimate end, which is the enjoyment of God.

questions for reflection
Questions for Reflection

Do you agree that there is a moving principle or internal compulsion that generally inclines human society to a political unity and consequently forms and organizes the individual parts into a social whole?

human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued9
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued

Ordering of the social whole implies a directing authority.

Those who are superior by intellect are by nature rulers. Others can carry out task under a supervisor and others can only follow.

This division of talents makes an ordering function necessary but the ultimate end is beyond the political ruler’s natural capacities.

Aquinas views the church as caring for souls but believes the church and state are ultimately complementary.

Spiritual goods are preeminent, but can only be realized if the secular goods of peace, order, justice, protection of the family, and the freedom to practice the Catholic faith are secured.

human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued10
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued
  • Political authority is derived from God.
    • The best rulers follow both natural reason but also the divine law of love and mercy.
  • A magnanimous (pr great-souled individual) must be willing to do great things on behalf of mutually dependent people as well as the glorification of God.
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued11
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued
  • The ruler should be aware of three ways he or she can become irrational:
    • A person can desire more than his or her fair share of honor.
    • A person can neglect God in his quest for honor.
    • A person can seek honor without concern for others.
  • A magnanimous person must harmonize faith and reason so that such a person would merit honor and glory.
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued12
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued
  • Rulers should not be despotic or arrogant but should be prudent.
  • Aquinas distinguishes between cleverness (astutia) and moral prudence (prudentia).
  • Thomas Gilby characterizes moral prudence as:
    • … a good habit or settled quality, of the practical reason giving an active bent toward right doing as an individual act; it ranges from our pondering over what should be done through our judgment of what we should choose to do, and is completed in that being an effective command.
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued13
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued
  • The prudent ruler must:
    • Assiduously investigate alternative courses of conduct together with the means for accomplishing a moral end.
    • Know how to make practical judgments about possible courses of action.
    • Possess a good memory to draw from the storehouse of past experience.
    • Possess circumspection, which involves close attention to the attendant circumstances of a political decision.
    • Consult those with a strong reputation for practical wisdom and service in the public interest.
    • Possess foresight to reasonably project into the future the consequences of a given line of action.
human nature and the common good and the necessity of government continued14
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued

Tyranny should be avoided by the appropriate selection of kings and construction of institutions.

A ruler must temper his bodily or sexual powers with his or her rational faculties.

The good ruler rarely overpowers his subjects but channels their activities for the common good.

on kingship
On Kingship

This is also evident from experience. For provinces or cities which are not ruled by one person are torn with dissentions and tossed about without peace, so that the complaint seems to be fulfilled which the Lord uttered through the Prophet: “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard.” On the other hand, provinces and cities which are ruled under one king enjoy peace, flourish in justice, and delight in prosperity. Hence, the Lord by His prophets promises to His people as a great reward that He will give them one head that “one Prince will be in the midst of the them.”

types of laws
Types of Laws
  • Political rulership must be carried out under law and the ruler should keep the laws he makes for others.
  • Aquinas describes the essence of law:
    • Law is a rule and measure of acts whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting: for lex (law) is derived from ligare (to bind), because it binds one to act. Now the rule and measure of human acts, as is evident from what has been stated above, since it belongs to the reason to direct the end, which is the first principle in all matters of action according to the Philosopher (Aristotle).
types of laws continued
Types of Laws - Continued

True law is reasonable.

Eternal Law – Divine reason and wisdom comprise an eternal law – a law governing the whole creation, a law not made but eternally existing and therefore unknowable to humans entirely, yet the source of all true law on earth.

Natural Law – The practical reflection or sharing in “eternal reason” that provides humans with objective, changeless, universal rules or general principles of action for ethical and political life.

Human Law – True law that is derived from natural law. A rule of state that is at odds with natural law is no law at all.

Divine Law – The revealed truths such as the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mounts that supplement and corrects human fallibility and frailty.

rulership and the natural law
Rulership and the Natural Law

Natural law should be discovered by the ruler’s reason and applied.

Synderesis is the natural capability of practical reason to discern the natural law and thereby, do good and avoid evil.

A ruler needs broad experience and understanding of the political, economic and social context of his or her society to establish just punishments.

rulership and the natural law continued
Rulership and the Natural Law - Continued
  • General precepts based on the the principle of synderesis:
    • Human well-being is such that humans tend toward self-preservation. Our tendencies to protect ourselves require the protections of national security or housing, which are general precepts of natural law.
    • Humans are inclined to propagate the species, so family life must be protected.
    • Humans as rational beings naturally desire or tend to obtain knowledge. Here the natural law general precept is that humans should seek education.
    • Humans are naturally inclined to be socially or communally dependent. We should live in societies based on the division of labor as a general precept of natural law.
    • Caring for and protecting children forms the natural law general precept of monogamy.
rulership and the natural law continued20
Rulership and the Natural Law - Continued
  • Human law is just and reasonable only if it meets these five criteria:
    • It must be promulgated (or ordained) by a legitimate ruler for the common good – lawmaking must be transparent.
    • It must not exceed the authorized power of the lawgiver in a particular society.
    • It must lay only reasonable burdens on subjects according to the equality of proportion (such as a graduated income tax based on the ability to pay).
    • It must be consistent with the principles of subsidiarity: the lowest unit of society that is capable of accomplishing a needed social function in an adequate manner should be permitted to perform that function (from the family, to the local community, up to the centralized state). This preserves the vitality of the family, private groups, and local communities as well as the centralized state.
    • It must not be oppose to eternal law.
rulership and the natural law continued21
Rulership and the Natural Law - Continued

Rulers are their subjects servants.

The best regime for Aquinas is monarchy though he is willing to consider other regimes since no particular form of government is ordained by God.

Rulers must protect the spiritual equality of humans.

Man is bound to obey God and not man in spiritual affairs.

Politics cannot produce perfect justice, perfect peace, or salvation.

natural law and justice from the summa theologica
“Natural Law and Justice,” From the Summa Theologica

I answer that, Laws framed by man are either just or unjust. If they be just, they have the power of binding in conscience, from the eternal law whence they are derived, according to Prov. 8:15 “By Me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things.” Now laws are said to be just, both from the end, when, to wit, they are ordained to the common good – and from their author, that is to say, when the law that is made does not exceed the power of the lawgiver – and from their form, when, to wit, burdens are laid on the subjects, according to an equality of proportion and with a view to the common good.

questions for reflection23
Questions for Reflection

Martin Luther King Jr. stated:

How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. I think that we all have moral obligations to obey just laws. On the other hand, I think that we have moral obligations to disobey unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as cooperation with good.

Do you think that all or most human beings are capable of knowing these transcendent moral laws? Is a magnanimous and prudent leader like Dr. King absolutely necessary for principled civil disobedience to take place?

tyranny and tyrannicide
Tyranny and Tyrannicide

A tyrant seeks to impose his or her own private interests by force as opposed the legitimate political leader who seeks peace, moral enhancement, and sufficient distribution of material goods.

The tyrant is guilty of sedition from Aquinas’ perspective.

Resistance to the injustice of the tyrant must be proportional to that injustice.

Public authorities should remove a tyrant but appeal to divine intervention could be an alternative if this option is not available.

tyranny and tyrannicide25
Tyranny and Tyrannicide
  • A ruler can lose the right to rule if behavior warrants.
  • Aquinas identified extreme preconditions to warrant a revolution against a tyrant:
    • The tyranny must be excessive; otherwise using coercion to move against a tyrant may bring about greater dangers if the violent resistance should fail and the tyrant becomes even more vicious.
    • Great care must be given that the effort to overthrow the tyrant does not produce greater social factionalism and dissent among the people.
    • The leadership in removing the tyrant must support the common good and not private interests or passions, making every reasonable effort not to substitute a new tyrant for the old one.
    • Private judgment must not to determine whether a tyrant who refuses to surrender should be slain, thereby emphasizing the principle of a public body representing the national good as a whole.
tyrants tyrannicide and a legitimate revolution from on kingship
“Tyrants, Tyrannicide and a Legitimate Revolution,” From On Kingship

But to deserve to secure this benefit from God, the people must desist from sin, for it is by divine permission that wicked men receive power to rule as a punishment for sin, as the Lord says by the Prophet Osee: “I will give thee a king in my wrath, “ and it is said in Job that he “maketh a man that is a hypocrite to reign for the sins of the people.” Sin must therefore be done away with in order that the scourge of tyrants may cease.

resistance to tyranny
Resistance to Tyranny

Toward the end of World War II, Count Klaus von Stauffenberg, a devout Roman Catholic German colonel, sought to organize an act of violent resistance against Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. He concluded that Hitler’s brutal tyranny and the well-developed military resistance organization against Hitler justified a bombing attempt on Hitler’s life in terms of Aquinas’ prudential norms for a legitimate revolution. The resistance failed. After doing some research on the July 20, 1944 resistance movement would you conclude that Colonel von Stauffenberg’s attempted tyrannicide was reasonable in Aquinas’ terms? One could ask this question in reference to the American revolution or to the coalition that sought the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

just war
Just War
  • War for power, wealth, and glory is unjustified according Aquinas.
  • In order for a war to be just it must meet the following criteria:
    • Just cause – 1. protecting people from aggression; 2. restoring rights that have been wrongly taken away; and 3. reestablishing a just order.
    • Just authority – Legitimate authorities must make the decision to go to war.
    • Last resort – All peaceable alternatives to war have been exhausted.
    • Proportionality – The destructive impact of the war must be less than the good to be obtained by the war.
    • Reasonable chance of success – There is a reasonable chance of obtaining one of the justifiable objectives.
    • Right intention – The war must be launched in a spirit of love.
just war from the summa
Just War, From the Summa

Those who wage war justly aim at peace, and so they are not opposed to peace, except the evil peace, which Our Lord “came not to send upon the earth” (Mt. 10:34). Hence Augustine says (Ep. Ad Bonif. Clxxxix), “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”

question for reflection
Question for Reflection

During the past generation, we have witnessed two Iraqi wars waged by the United States and its allies against Saddam Hussein: the Gulf War (1991) and Iraq’s War of Liberation (2003). After some research and reflection, do you think Aquinas’s criteria for a just war would lead you to conclude that either one or both of these wars should be considered just?