Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Justice, Obedience, and Choosing a State of Life as Seen in St. Thomas Aquinas Part I

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas offers concepts about the equality of men and the importance of free choice. Throughout his explanations of justice, obedience, and prudence, Aquinas’s conclusions are still held in the Catholic Church about the gift of oneself to a state in life. By comparing the different types of justice present in relationships, the primacy of obedience to God allows for individuals to freely choose their state of life as a contribution to the common good. Aquinas’s recognition of the equality of men and their need to be wholly obedient to God leads to his discussion about the importance of freedom of choice in the specific areas of disposal of one’s body in marriage or perpetual virginity.

In his explanation of justice, Aquinas states that “it is the object of justice to direct human beings in their relations with another. For justice signifies a certain equality, as the very name indicates, since we commonly speak of equal things being exactly right” (ST II-II Q. 57 A. 1). Aquinas recognizes that the equality of men is based on the nature of their creation, and he declares that this equality is essential to justice. However, Aquinas’s view of equality does not include total self-governance (ST 104 Q.1 A. 5). Different types of justice are required for specific relationships. St. Thomas says that justice is between two persons, and the relationship between them determines the areas in which each is entitled to justice. For example, two unrelated men under the same ruler are completely separate, but a son is only separate from his father to a certain degree (ST II-II, Q. 57 A. 4).

Aquinas further details the different forms of justice in relation to wives and their husbands, slaves and their masters, and fathers and their sons. St. Thomas says that a wife belongs to her husband “. . . since she stands related to him as to her own body, as the Apostle declares (Ephesians 5:8)” (ST II-II, Q. 57, A. 4). However, Aquinas recognizes that the relationship of the wife to her husband is more distinct than that of the relationship of slave to master or father to son. He bases this on the Aristotelian conclusion that justice between husband and wife is different from the others because of the relationship of their marriage to the good of the community as a whole (ST II-II Q.57, A. 6). In general, St. Thomas links justice to the community, therefore a particular type of relationship will determine how justice should be carried out. He also describes the more possessive relationship of father and son when he states that “[h]ence a father is not compared to his son as to another simply, and so between them there is not the just simply, but a kind of just, called ‘paternal’” (ST II-II, Q. 57. A. 4). Aquinas applies a similar form of justice to master and slave, because a slave is an instrument of his master, and therefore belongs to him (ST II-II, Q. 57, A. 4). However, St. Thomas reaffirms the equality of all people by emphasizing that although the slave belongs to a master and a son to his father, they are all men and therefore have justice due to each of them. This seems inconsistent with the modern thinker in the idea of equality of persons, which often includes the idea that everyone should have full reign over every aspect of his life. The modern notion seems to deny the difference in which justice is applied to particular types of relationships. According to Aquinas, the different forms of justice would not even be considered if equal persons were not involved. Without neglecting equality, Aquinas directly relates the concept of obedience to justice and its differentiation among relationships.

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