St Thomas on Authority


6. Scriptum Super Libros Sententiarum II, dist. 44, q. II, a. 2.[The problem is whether Christians are bound to obey secular powers, especially tyrants.]

The procedure in discussing this problem is this: It seems that they are not bound to this obedience… The fourth argument [in favour of this position) runs as follows: It is legitimate for anyone, who can do so, to re-take what has been taken away from him unjustly. Now many secular princes unjustly usurped the dominion of Christian lands. Since, therefore, in such cases rebellion is legitimate, Christians have no obligation to obey these princes. —The fifth argument: If it is a legitimate and even a praiseworthy deed to kill a person, then no obligation of obedience exists toward that person. Now in the Book on Duties [De Officiis I, 8, 26] Cicero justifies Julius Caesar’s assassins. Although Caesar was a close friend of his, yet by usurping the empire he proved himself to be a tyrant. Therefore toward such powers there is no obligation of obedience.

On the other hand, however, there are the following arguments proving the contrary position: First, it is said: Servants, be in subjection to your masters (1 Pet. 2:18.) Second, it is also said: He who resists the power, withstands the ordinance of God (Rom. xiii, 2.) Now it is not legitimate to withstand the ordinance of God. Hence it is not legitimate either to withstand secular power.

Solution and determination. Obedience, by keeping a commandment, has for its [formal] object the obligation, involved in the cominandment, that it be kept. Now this obligation originates in that the commanding authority has the power to impose an obligation binding not only to external but also to internal and spiritual obedience—“for conscience sake”, as the Apostle says (Rom. xiii, 5.) For power (authority) comes from God, as the Apostle implies in the same place. Hence, Christians are bound to obey the authorities inasmuch as they are from God; and they are not bound to obey inasmuch as the authority is not from God.

Now, this not being from God may be the case, first, as to the mode in which authority is acquired, and, second, as to the use which is made of authority.

Concerning the first case we must again distinguish two defects: There may be a defect of the person acquiring authority inasmuch as this person is unworthy of it. There may also be a defect in the mode of acquiring authority, namely, if it is obtained by violence, or simony, or other illegitimate means.

As to the first of these defects, we say that it does not constitute an obstacle against acquiring lawful authority. Since, then, as such, authority is always from God (and this is what causes the obligation of obedience), the subjects are bound to render obedience to these authorities, unworthy as they may be.

As to the second of those defects, we say that in such a case there is no lawful authority at all. He who seizes power by violence does not become a true holder of power. Hence, when it is possible to do so, anybody may repel this domination, unless, of course, the usurper should later on have become a true ruler by the consent of the subjects or by a recognition being extended to him by a higher authority.

The abuse of power might take on two forms. First, a commandment emanating from the authority might be contrary to the very end in view of which authority is instituted, i.e., to be an educator to, and a preserver of, virtue. Should therefore the authority command an act of sin contrary to virtue, we not only are not obliged to obey but we are also obliged not to obey, according to the example of the holy martyrs who preferred death to obeying those ungodly tyrants.

The second form of abusing power is for the authority to go beyond the bounds of its legal rights, for instance, when a master exacts duties which the servant is not bound to pay, or the like. In this case the subject is not obliged to obey, but neither is he obliged not to obey.

Consequently… to the fourth argument the answer is this: An authority acquired by violence is not a true authority, and there is no obligation of obedience, as we said above.

To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded. Footnote


7. Contra Gentiles IV, 76.

…It is evident that, although there are many different peoples in different dioceses and cities, yet there is one Christendom (Populus Christianus), just as there is one Church. Therefore, just as there is one bishop appointed to one particular people in order to be the head of them all, so in the whole of Christendom one must be the head of the whole Church….

JOHN OF PARIS thought ftt to correct this text in the following way: It is evident that, although there are many different peoples in different dioceses and cities, in which the bishops hold authority in matters spiritual, yet there is one Church of all the Faithful and one Christendom. Therefore, just as there is one bishop in every diocese appointed to be the head of the particular church of that people, so in the whole Church and in the whole of Christendom, there is one supreme bishop, viz., the Pope. —De Potestate Regia et Papali (A.D. 1302), ch. III.


8. Scriptum, Super Libros Sententiarum II, dist. 44, Expositio textus.

[The problem is whether we should obey a superior authority more than an inferior one.]

If the position be taken that such is indeed our duty, this seems not to be true…. For [fourth argument] spiritual power is higher than secular power. If, then, it were true that we must obey more the superior power, the spiritual power would have the right always to release a man from his allegiance to a secular power, which is evidently not true.

Solution and determination. Two cases are to be considered in which we find the superior and the inferior authorities standing in different relations one to the other. First, the inferior authority originates totally from the superior authority. In this case, absolutely speaking and in all events, greater obedience is due to the superior power. An illustration of this is the order of natural causes: the first cause has a stronger impact upon the thing caused by a second cause than has this very second cause, as is said in the Liber De Causis [1]. In this position we find God’s power in regard to every created power, or likewise the Emperor’s power in regard to that of the Proconsul, or again the Pope’s power in regard to every spiritual power in the Church, since by the Pope all degrees of different dignities in the Church are distributed and ordered. Whence papal authority is one of the foundations of the Church, as is evident from Matthew 16:18. So in all things, without any distinction, the Pope ought to be obeyed more than Bishops and Archbishops; (more also by the monk than is the abbot).—The second case to be considered is, that both the superior and the inferior powers originate from one supreme power. Their subordination, thus, depends on the latter who subordinates one to the other as he pleases. As to this case we say that here one power is superior to the other only in regard to those matters in view of which they have been so suborclinated one to the other by that supreme power. Hence in these matters alone greater obedience is due to the superior than to the inferior. An example of this is our relation to the authorities of a Bishop and an Archbishop, both of which descend from the papal authority.

The answer then… to the fourth argument is this. Spiritual as well as secular power comes from the divine power. Hence secular power is subjected to spiritual power in those matters concerning which the subjection has been specified and ordained by God, i.e., in matters belonging to the salvation of the soul. Hence in these we are to obey spiritual authority more than secular authority. On the other hand, more obedience is due to secular than to spiritual power in the things that belong to the civic good (bonum civile). For it is said Matthew 22:21: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. A special case occurs, however, when spiritual and secular power are so joined in one person as they are in the Pope, who holds the apex of both spiritual and secular powers. This has been so arranged by Him who is both Priest and King, Priest Eternal after the order of Melchisedech, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Whose dominion shall not pass away, and his kingdom shall not be destroyed for ever and ever. Amen. [Conclusion of the second book of the Scriptum; this explains the doxological ending.]

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External World and Nominalism

It then becomes evident that the priority of ens reale over ens rationis emphasized by Aquinas is more ontological than experiential. The fact that some among objects before us are also present-at-hand as things in their own right (indifferent to any relation to us in objectivity) is an awakening unique to the human animal, and the source of the experience which leads the human animal to recognize that there is a difference between being and non-being, where being means precisely ens reale and non-being means precisely ens rationis. Being as first known by the human mind, ens primum cognitum, Aquinas tells us, transcends this distinction, and so cannot be identified with either term of it, even though ens reale maintains its ontological priority in the experiential discovery that there is more to the being of the objective world than can be reduced to our experience of or interests in it. The “external world” is not discovered as external; it is discovered as a dimension within objects irreducible to our experience of them. The “problem of the external world” such as we find it in Berkeley, Hume and the moderns after them, including Kant, is not really a critical problem so much as it is a quasi-error rooted in the failure to recognize the being proper and peculiar to relations.20 

20 This failure, philosophically at least, is the essence of nominalism, as it turns out. But that is another story: see Deely 2001: esp. Chaps. 8–10 & 15.

(Pages 8-9)

– The Semiotic Animal : A postmodern definition of human being superseding the modern definition ‘res cogitans’ by John Deely

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Private Property and Natural Law

Private property is not something demanded by the natural law for we do not find in things the nature of being owned by particular individuals. Rather we find that things are good for men generally rather than a particular man. Therefore, it is in the nature of things that they are for the good of men that is the common good.

Now private property comes as an addition to the natural law as an invention of human reason and as competent to humans as rational. This in virtue of the necessity of private property for its better use and the peace of society. It is natural for men to possess things in virtue of their reason and it is necessary for the common good that they procure and dispense with them as their own possession.

Aquinas states: “The second thing that is competent to man with regard to external things is their use. On this respect man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need.” That is a man makes use of things that he possess for the sake of the common good, ready to provide to those in need. This needs some more thinking on my part.

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Race, Ethnicity and Persons

Race or ethnicity seems to signify a particular lineage concomitantly with certain physical traits and to some extent cultural heritage. Since all men descend from Adam this is a consideration of a proximate lineage. All men are one race remotely and fundamentally but proximately they are many.

This does seem to follow necessarily from the nature of living substances in that they are historical and linearly generated beings. However, in so far as race signifies a lineage it is extrinsic to a substance and therefore not a property of it, but a relation of generation. The physical traits generated in such a lineage do not seems to be properties, because they do not proceeded necessarily from one’s essence, but as part of the particular extrinsic relations of generation.

Race seems to focus more on physical traits whereas ethnicity includes cultural or national distinctions. We speak of the white race, but ethnic centers such as Little Italy or China Town.

Ethnicity then includes not only a physical heritage but also a cultural one as well. These are typically concomitant.

Mixing of races or ethnicities tends to muddle the question of race or ethnicity as there is no clear proximate lineage at the point when branches combine, though a new proximate lineage may be formed and recognized later in its development. For example, very ancient peoples who by our standards constituted ethnicities combined and segregated to form others.

All that being said, the person particularly is constituted and formed in many ways with respect to his relations to God and to others. Ethnicity and race may well play an important role in the identity of a person in the hierarchy of relations in which a person quite particularly discovers and comes to know himself, first as created by God, born of this man and woman, of this people, of this place, of this culture, with this particular traits and features, etc.

What I get out of Zippy’s discussions on such topics as this is the distinction of what Joe is and who Joe is, that is the difference between a human qua essence and qua person.

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Authority and Markets

*This is a tentative theory and only a beginning.

Proceeding along the method of the Philosopher, let us consider first the simplest and most basic form of the polis, that is the household. In the household, the head or sovereign is both ruler of the people and the owner of the good. Indeed, his ownership provides and sustains his capacity to rule the house and adequately provide for the common good.

A nation is composed of several houses and prior to all other considerations the Sovereign owns all objects in the nation for his concern is the sustenance of the common good. Now private property enters as a dispensation of the Sovereign’s authority over all things under his province. It is provided as necessary for well known reasons and indeed for the sake of the common good. This constitutes the diffusive nature of the common good and consequently authority with respect to external things.

Private property is instituted for the sake of the common good and the goods possessed are still yet ordered to the common good particularly in their use according to the Angelic Doctor.  As such, the Sovereign maintains authority over these goods in certain respects and particularly with respect to their use as pertains to the common good.

Hence the free market supposes there to be a conflict between the Sovereign and the market participants wherewith the Sovereign should be gone as much as possible. Yet, it is the domain of the Sovereign to have authority over the behaviors of the men and even in a manner ownership of the things in the market of which men dispense with and use.

There is certainly a tension between the authority of the Sovereign and those possessed of property, but this is a tension of coordination in the common good rather than a conflict particularly with proper goods of individuals.

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Liberalism and the Free Market

If we take free market to be the position that the State (i.e. the political authority) should not act in the market, is this a liberal position and if not is it still coherent?

It seems that the free market differs from the liberalism in that free-market-ism (FM) does not propose that authority actually act to ensure freedom, equality, etc. FM in fact seems to argue that the State ought not to act in the market or should limit its action as much as possible.

It seems then that FM might be coherent or at least not incoherent in the way that liberalism as a political philosophy is, since FM proposes that the State actually no act and thus produces freedom and liberty. It is actually a political philosophy of markets that in taking liberty as the object of authority actually has the State not acting. It does not propose that the authority ensure liberty, but that it ensure liberty by not acting.

That all being said, every exchange or contract in the market implicitly assumes the authority of the State. All are ultimately enforced and ensured by the authority and force of the State. This implies that the State has an authority to determine what contracts to enforce. This then runs against the position of the FM for it is within the scope of the State’s authority to determine the validity of certain contracts.

The Roman Empire enforced contracts of slavery whereas the US generally does not (excluding usurious contracts). Certain Catholic princes of yesteryear did not enforce usurious contracts, whereas the US does. Each may have reasons for or against enforcing such contracts, but the point is that the State determines which contracts to enforce which provides the ultimate ground for the market to function in the first place.

It seems then that FM may be a cousin to Liberalism, but it does not seem to be a part of Liberalism or necessarily liberal in itself with respect to its commitments to authoritative action. However, it does have the same temperament of contempt for authority and the illusion that it can be overcome or removed.

*This all under the presumption of my definition of FM.

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Particular Ordering of Goods

Indian brides given bats to keep abusive husbands in check

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