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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Kenneth L. Deutsch
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?