Friday, February 22, 2008

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

According to Aquinas, prudence involves “. . . the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid . . . [it is] concerned with ‘things done,’ that is, with things that have their being in the doer himself. . .” (ST I-II, Q. 47 A. 1, Q. 57 A. 4). Because justice is always between people, and prudence is involved in the doer himself, justice must involve prudence. Therefore, a superior is incapable of issuing a just order without using prudence. In the specific situation of choosing virginity or marriage, a superior disallows for true justice to be present if he forces anyone into either state of life. People entering the religious life or marriage must freely choose it.

The free choice of one’s state in life contributes to the common good as exemplified in Aquinas’s understanding of the liberal and just man. Aquinas says that “. . . the liberal man gives of his own, yet he does so in so far as he takes into consideration the good of his own virtue, while the just man gives to another what is his, through consideration of the common good” (ST II-II, Q. 58 A. 12). It is good to give to others for the sake of being virtuous, but it is better to give to others for the sake of the common good. Both marriage and virginity are choices that involve the common good. Marriage allows for the continuation of the human race, and virginity allows for greater time spent in contemplation and service to others, for, “. . . the end which renders virginity praiseworthy is that one may have leisure for Divine things” (ST II-II, Q. 152 A. 5). Because both of these states of life involve a permanent disposal of one’s body for some form of common good, it is in the interest of justice that no form of superior be allowed to choose perpetual virginity or marriage for someone else. While marriage and virginity are goods in themselves, Aquinas recognizes that they are brought to fulfillment when freely chosen.

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