An addition to Felix de St. Vincent

At The Josias, the estimable Felix de St. Vincent has a new essay, Four Basic Political Principles in Christian Philosophy. It is an excellent essay that sets forth simply and directly the four eponymous principles and answers some misconceptions about the thought of Augustine and Thomas. More than that, it is an excellent critique of liberal political thought. One understands, after reading St. Vincent’s piece, precisely how liberal political thought rejects the classical Christian conception of politics. (And, therefore, the conception of politics that governed the west until, practically speaking, the day before yesterday.)

We would suggest, however, that by focusing on Thomas’s Treatise on Law, St. Vincent overlooked a text that resolves the question of mastership in the state of grace, particularly with respect to Augustine’s thought. We won’t spoil St. Vincent’s carefully wrought argument for you, but we will say, by way of introduction, that one of the objections St. Vincent answers is the claim that Augustine believed that politics were a function of the fall. That is, when sin entered the world, so too did politics. Now, a Thomist, following the Stagirite, would necessarily be leery of this claim. St. Vincent rejects the claim at some length using the Treatise on Law. However, the text St. Vincent may have overlooked is Ia q.96 a.4. We shall quote it at length, first in Latin:

Respondeo dicendum quod dominium accipitur dupliciter. Uno modo, secundum quod opponitur servituti, et sic dominus dicitur cui aliquis subditur ut servus. Alio modo accipitur dominium, secundum quod communiter refertur ad subiectum qualitercumque, et sic etiam ille qui habet officium gubernandi et dirigendi liberos, dominus dici potest. Primo ergo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini non dominaretur, sed secundo modo accepto dominio, in statu innocentiae homo homini dominari potuisset. Cuius ratio est, quia servus in hoc differt a libero, quod liber est causa sui, ut dicitur in principio Metaphys.; servus autem ordinatur ad alium. Tunc ergo aliquis dominatur alicui ut servo, quando eum cui dominatur ad propriam utilitatem sui, scilicet dominantis, refert. Et quia unicuique est appetibile proprium bonum, et per consequens contristabile est unicuique quod illud bonum quod deberet esse suum, cedat alteri tantum; ideo tale dominium non potest esse sine poena subiectorum. Propter quod, in statu innocentiae non fuisset tale dominium hominis ad hominem.

Tunc vero dominatur aliquis alteri ut libero, quando dirigit ipsum ad proprium bonum eius qui dirigitur, vel ad bonum commune. Et tale dominium hominis, ad hominem in statu innocentiae fuisset, propter duo. Primo quidem, quia homo naturaliter est animal sociale, unde homines in statu innocentiae socialiter vixissent. Socialis autem vita multorum esse non posset, nisi aliquis praesideret, qui ad bonum commune intenderet, multi enim per se intendunt ad multa, unus vero ad unum. Et ideo philosophus dicit, in principio Politic., quod quandocumque multa ordinantur ad unum, semper invenitur unum ut principale et dirigens. Secundo quia, si unus homo habuisset super alium supereminentiam scientiae et iustitiae, inconveniens fuisset nisi hoc exequeretur in utilitatem aliorum; secundum quod dicitur I Petr. IV, unusquisque gratiam quam accepit, in alterutrum illam administrantes. Unde Augustinus dicit, XIX de Civ. Dei, quod iusti non dominandi cupiditate imperant, sed officio consulendi, hoc naturalis ordo praescribit, ita Deus hominem condidit.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now in English:

I answer that, Mastership has a twofold meaning. First, as opposed to slavery, in which sense a master means one to whom another is subject as a slave. In another sense mastership is referred in a general sense to any kind of subject; and in this sense even he who has the office of governing and directing free men, can be called a master. In the state of innocence man could have been a master of men, not in the former but in the latter sense. This distinction is founded on the reason that a slave differs from a free man in that the latter has the disposal of himself, as is stated in the beginning of the Metaphysics, whereas a slave is ordered to another. So that one man is master of another as his slave when he refers the one whose master he is, to his own—namely the master’s use. And since every man’s proper good is desirable to himself, and consequently it is a grievous matter to anyone to yield to another what ought to be one’s own, therefore such dominion implies of necessity a pain inflicted on the subject; and consequently in the state of innocence such a mastership could not have existed between man and man.

But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons. First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Wherefore the Philosopher says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them. Secondly, if one man surpassed another in knowledge and virtue, this would not have been fitting unless these gifts conduced to the benefit of others, according to 1 Pt. 4:10, “As every man hath received grace, ministering the same one to another.” Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 14): “Just men command not by the love of domineering, but by the service of counsel”: and (De Civ. Dei xix, 15): “The natural order of things requires this; and thus did God make man.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Thomas does some interesting things here. One, he implies that nature itself requires a ruler to order the state to the common good. Two, he argues that a natural ruler—one surpassing others in knowledge and virtue—may have emerged. (Aquinas teaches us in Ia q.96 a.3 that there would have been inequality even in the state of innocence.) This natural ruler would have directed others to the common good as a result of his excellence. Then, Aquinas quotes Augustine in support of his argument.

Aquinas discusses in several places throughout his works, from the De Regno to the Summa, some of these ideas; that is, that political life requires a ruler to orient the state toward the common good and that inequality is natural. (But go back to Ia q.96 a.3 to see what Aquinas means by inequality.) These are important ideas in the subsequent magisterium, especially the political teachings of Leo XIII and St. Pius X, even if they are decidedly unpopular ideas in post-enlightenment liberal thought. St. Vincent points toward these ideas in his excellent essay. However, we think St. Vincent’s essay is improved—even if indirectly—by having in mind the place where Thomas addressed the issue directly of politics in the state of innocence.

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