Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Legitimate authority and obedience

Obedience is commanded within the limits of due observance. The duty develops according to the gradation of authorities which have power, not only over temporalities, but also over the conscience. St. Paul says, “let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God.” Therefore a Christian should obey power that is from God, but not otherwise.

Power may not stem from God for two reasons: it may be defective either in its origins or in its exercise.

Concerning the first, the defect may lie either in the personal unworthiness of the man or in some flaw in the manner of obtaining high position—violence, bribery, or some other illicit practice. The former is no bar to the possession of legitimate authority; and because the duty of obedience, it follows that subjects are bound to obey such a ruler, though as a man he is a good-for-nothing. The latter, however, is a bar, for a man who has snatched power by violence is no true superior or lord, and whoever has the ability may rightly reject him, unless perhaps the power has been subsequently legitimized by the consent of subjects or by higher authority.

The abuse of power may take two directions. Either the ruler imposes what is contrary to the purpose for which authority is instituted, for instance if he dictates vices contrary to the virtues authority is supposed to promote and sustain. In that event, not merely is a man not bound to obey, he is also bound not to obey, following the martyrs, who suffered death, rather than carry out the wicked decrees of tyrants. Or the ruler may make demands where his warrant does not run, for instance in exacting tributes to which he has no title, or something of the sort. In such cases a subject is not bound to obey, neither is he bound not to obey.

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary, II Sentences, XLIV, ii. 2.
(Selected and translated by Thomas Gilby)

Allegory of the Good Government, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
Fresco, 1338-40; Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Charity and friendship

"ACCORDING to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 2, 3) not every love has the character of friendship, but that love which is together with benevolence, when, to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him. If, however, we do not wish good to what we love, but wish its good for ourselves. . . it is love not of friendship, but of a kind of concupiscence. . . . Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 23, A. 1.

Read more: Charity, considered in itself

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Three things are necessary for man's well-being"

Three things are necessary for man's well-being, the knowledge of what to believe, of what to desire, of what to do. The first is taught in the Creed, the second in the Lord's prayer, and the third by Law. Of this we intend to treat. We begin by distinguishing four kinds of law.

The first is called the law of nature. It is no other than the light of intelligence set in us by God, showing us what we should do and what avoid. This light and law was given at creation, though many fancy that if they do not keep the law they may be excused through ignorance. Many say, who shall show us good things? as though they were doubtful what to do; and the reply is made: The light of thy countenance is shed upon us, O Lord,[1] the light, namely, of intelligence.

But on top of this law the devil has sown another, the law of concupiscence.[2] At the beginning the soul of man was subject to God, and so flesh was subject to reason. Since the devil's suggestion withdrew us from our obedience the flesh has become rebellious; we may wish a reasonable decency, but lust pushes us away. I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, for the Apostle adds, bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.[3] The law of concupiscence frequently corrupts the law of nature and the plan of reason.

Nature being in ruins, the law of Scripture now enters to recall man to deeds of virtue away from vice. Two influences are at work here, fear and love. First, fear; a man begins to avoid sin by the prospect of judgement and hell. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.[4] And again, The fear of the Lord casts out sin.[5] Though a man who avoids sin from motives of fear is not righteous, nevertheless righteousness starts here where the Mosaic Law lays its emphasis. Yet its force is not enough, the hand may obey but the mind is not held, and therefore the Gospel Law sets another measure to keep men away from evil and bent on good, namely, the power of love.

There are three main differences between the law of fear and the law of love. First, the subjects of the former are treated like slaves, while those that observe the latter are treated like freemen. He who acts solely from fear is like a slave; he who acts from love is like a freeman or son. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.[6] Second, those who keep the first are promised temporal goods, If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the fat of the land,[7] whereas for the second heavenly good is promised; If thou wilt have eternal life, keep the commandments.[8] Thirdly, the former is heavy: Why do you seek to lay on our necks a yoke which neither we nor our fathers could bear?[9] But the latter is easy: My yoke is sweet and my burden light.[10] 

~St. Thomas Aquinas: from Opusc. xxxv, de Duobus Praeceptis. (Translated by Thomas Gilby in St. Thomas Aquinas: Philosophical Texts, No. 956)
1. Ps. iv. 6.
2. The lex fomitis of Peter Lombard. 
3. Rom. vii. 23.
4. Ecclus. i. 16. 
5. Ecclus. i. 27.
6. 2 Cor. iii. 17.
7. Isa. i. 19.
8. Matt. xix. 17.  
9. Acts xv. 10.
10. Matt. xi. 30.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Maritain: "The peculiar vice of classical humanism"

“HERE we see the peculiar vice of classical humanism. This vice, in my judgment, concerns not so much what this humanism affirms, as what it negates, denies and divides. It is what we may call an anthropocentric conception of man and of culture. . . . We might say that the error in question is the idea of human nature as self-enclosed or self-sufficient (that is to say self-divinized, for this nature has infinite longings).

“Instead of an open human nature and an open reason, which are real nature and real reason, people pretend that there exists a nature and a reason isolated by themselves and shut up in themselves, excluding everything which is not themselves.

“Instead of a development of man and reason in continuity with the Gospel, people demand such a development from pure reason apart from the Gospel. And for human life, for the concrete movement of history, this means real and serious amputations.

“Prayer, divine love, supra-rational truths, the idea of sin and of grace, the evangelical beatitudes, the necessity of asceticism, of contemplation, of the way of the Cross,─all this is either put in parenthesis or is once for all denied. In the concrete government of human life, reason is isolated from the supra-rational.”

~Jacques Maritain: Scholasticism and Politics, Chap. I, “Integral Humanism and the Crisis of Modern Times”.


“There can be little doubt that Jacques Maritain is one of the great minds of our time, fair, without bitterness, and of brilliant power.” ─The Manchester Guardian “

"Jacques Maritain is the most powerful force in contemporary philosophy.”
─T.S. Eliot 

“Jacques Maritain is one of the deepest thinkers of all time. His stature grows greater and greater with the years.” ─Etienne Gilson

Happiness and changes of fortune

“IF on the contrary the evils should be frequent and great, they will cause the happy man external annoyance and internal affliction, because internally they bring about sadness and externally they hinder good works. However they do not eliminate virtuous action entirely, because virtue makes good use even of misfortunes themselves. In this way the good of virtue shines forth insofar as a man gracefully endures frequent and great misfortunes, not because he may not feel the sorrow or sadness as the Stoics held but, being courageous and magnanimous, his reason does not succumb to such afflictions.

“This, in fact, was the difference between the Stoics and the Peripatetics, whose leader was Aristotle. The Stoics held that sorrow in no way afflicts a virtuous man, because, in their view, corporeal or external things are not in any sense a good of man. The Peripatetics, on the contrary, said that a virtuous man is affected by sadness, yet this does not overwhelm reason but is moderated by it. In their opinion corporeal and external things do not constitute the greatest but the least good of man and this in the degree that they help him.”

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. I, Lect. XVI.

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