Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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

St. Thomas says that obedience is “. . . considered by some to be a part of justice . . .” (ST II-II, Q. 104 A. 2). He speaks about justice between a religious and his superior under the form of obedience, as well as the need for obedience in general (ST II-II Q. 104 A. 1). This general obedience entails that subordination of men to each other is necessary for societal operation and function (ST II-II, Q. 104 A. 1). However, Aquinas distinguishes clearly that men are not required to obey their earthly superiors in all situations, because “[i]t is written (Acts 5:29): ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’” (ST II-II, Q. 104 A. 5). Obedience is ultimately assigned to God, because the will of any superior can be contrary to the will of God.

Culpability is an important aspect for having limitations on obedience to superiors. In Aquinas’s discussion on culpability for actions, he says that “. . . the goodness of the will depends on reason, in the same way it depends on the object” (ST I-II, Q. 19 A. 3). Therefore, the ultimate value of an action does not depend on a superior. Man is culpable for his actions on a personal level, and therefore must seek to follow the will of God, whether it be through obedience to an earthly authority or a heavenly one.

Beyond the reasons of human fallibility and personal accountability, Aquinas indicates that there are certain states in life that are never to be imposed upon another. This also limits the type of obedience a person can have to a human superior. On the basis of equality of men, Aquinas says that “. . . servants are not bound to obey their masters, nor children their parents, in the question of contracting marriage or of remaining in the state of virginity or the like” (ST II-II, Q 104 A. 5). This specific declaration about marriage and virginity must be seen through the eyes of proper prudence as it pertains to justice.

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