Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine

Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine

ThomasAquinas and St. Augustine

ThomasAquinas and St. Augustine

Philosophyis a significant field of study that help members of the society toreason critically in addressing issues that affect their lives. are two philosophers who madesignificant contributions towards the explanation about the role ofgovernment and an appropriate number of people who should govern thestate. St. Augustine was a philosophy and a theologian whosephilosophical ideas played a key role towards the establishment ofthe western Christianity between 396 and 430 AD (Mattox, 2014). Inhis political theories, Augustine held that political philosophyshould be assayed against the Christian scriptures. Aquinas was amongthe most prominent philosophers who developed the natural theory.Most of the ideas developed by Aquinas, especially those that toughon issues of government and law, were in agreement with those thatwere put forward by Aristotle. This paper will compare and contrastthe views given by on government aswell as people who should govern.


Viewson classification of governments or regimes

Thetwo philosophers () agree on thebasis of classifying different types of authority. They hold thatregimes can be classified into six groups, including aristocracy,monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, polity, and tyranny (Koritansky,2008). They classify these regimes depending on how each one of themis ruled and whether they are ruled in a just way. Monarchy is aregime that is ruled in the most just way by one person, aristocracyis ruled by a few people, and polity is a regime that is ruled by amultitude of people, while tyranny refers to a regime that is ruledin an unjust way. Based on these facts, it is evident that ThomasAquinas and St. Augustine believe that regimes can be ruled by oneperson, a few people, or a multitude of people.

Politicalgovernance and a limited authority

Thetwo philosophers, , agree to thepoint that the political authority held by the government should havesome limits. This is confirmed by the fact that they both criticizeregimes that are characterized by injustice and irresponsible use ofpower. For example, Aquinas describes a tyranny as a regime that isheaded by one person who rules the subject unjustly and the statedoes not have a common weal, while oligarchy is an oppressive regimethat is headed by a few persons (Tinder &amp Elshtain, 1997).Similarly, when explaining the significance of government St.Augustine stated (in Weithman, 2006), “the aims of politicalauthority must be limited” (239). It is evident that the twophilosophers agree that the government should exist and have someauthority, but that authority should be limited and be used for thebenefit of subjects. Therefore, both of them support the idea ofhaving a government that exists to serve the needs of the people.


Numberof rulers

Althoughthe two philosophers, , agree on thecriterion used to classify different regimes, they disagree on whichone among the list of the six regimes should be considered the best.Aquinas comes out clearly and states that a monarchy is the bestregime out of the six types of government. This means that, accordingto Aquinas, a state should be governed by one person while all otherresidents or members of the state remain the subjects of oneindividual known as the king (Koritansky, 2008). Aquinas’ positionis based on the notion that monarchy is the only type of regime thatcan be characterized by a just type of leadership. Aquinas arguesthat the ultimate goal of each ruler is to achieve the unity ofpeace, which can only be achieved when the state is ruled by onesupreme authority as opposed to more than one leader. This type ofargument is further based on the notion that a state is ruled in abetter way when it is under a single and wise king who is not underany pressure to deliberate with other leaders who may not be wise(Koritansky, 2008).

WhileAquinas holds that a state is more effective and peaceful under amonarch, St. Augustine, on the other hand failed to identify with onesingle type of regime. St. Augustine distanced himself from theargument on which of the six regimes should be classified as beingthe best, but instead focused on the interests as well as the goalsof the people being ruled. St. August stated (in Weithman, 2006), “ifa people are committed to the common good they ought to be allowed tochoose their own rulers” (237). This statement indicates that eachstate has the right to agree on the type of regime they want to adoptas long as the selected regime helps them to achieve some commongoal, such as a peaceful coexistence. Therefore, St. Augustine holdsthat the goodness of a regime can be judged on the basis of itscapacity to help people being ruled achieve their goals. St.Augustine’s position indicates that the goodness of a regime isrelative and can vary from state to state.

Viewson tyrannical government

Although agree on the fact that thegovernment should have a limited authority that is used to benefitits subjects, disagree on the reasons behind as well as thesignificance of a tyrannical regime. St. Augustine seems to supportthe existence of a tyranny depending on the conduct of the subjects.St. Augustine holds that political authority comes from God, and Hechanges the type of regime depending on the conduct of people towardsHim (Weithman, 2006). St. Augustine believes that human beings aremost social, but quarrelsome creatures and they can only be correctedwhen they disobey God by subjecting them to an oppressive authoritysince political authority has been ordained as an effective remedy tosin (Weithman, 2006). Although St. Augustine dies explicitly supporta tyrannical authority, his support of excessive authority indicatesthat he was of the opinion that some circumstances may necessitatethe existence of an oppressive regime in order to bring human beingsback to God. Aquinas, on the other hand, strongly believes thatmonarchy is the only good type of government and political authorityof all other types of regimes needs to be limited.

Humanlaw as part of the natural law

Theviews held by differs in the waythey relate the laws made by the government and the natural law.Aquinas holds that the laws made by the government are part of thenatural or divine law, which means that all laws ought to be, obeyed(Imaging, 2011). By stating this, Aquinas intended to show that themonarch, which was his preferred type of regime, could be effectivelyconstrained by diffusion of power and the constitution (Mackey,2011). For example, an intention of the king to abuse the authorityand exploit the subjects could be prevented by existing lawsprovisions made in the constitution. St. Augustine, on the other hadheld that the natural law was different from the laws made by thegovernment, and they serve a purpose that is opposite of what theywould be expected to do. For example, St. Augustine held thatdivision of resources in a state cannot be considered to be natural(Weithman, 2006). St Augustine also held that authorities andindividuals who acquire wealth unjustly are protected by the law ofproperty, instead of the law protecting those whose property has beentaken away from them. In essence, Aquinas believes that thegovernment can be regulated by the law while St. Augustine held thatthe law protects individuals in the government irrespective ofwhether they are doing evil.


ThomasAquinas and St. Augustine agree on two major things. The twophilosophers agree that regimes should be classified into six groups,including aristocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, polity, andtyranny. Secondly, their views agree that the government or thepolitical authority should have limited powers. However, Aquinas andSt. Augustine’s views differ in several ways. For example, Aquinasstates clearly that the government should be headed by a monarch (oneperson), while St. Augustine does not support any specific regime. Inaddition, St. Augustine seems to support the tyrannical authority insome circumstances as a way of correcting sinful people. Lastly,Aquinas holds that the laws made by the government are part of thenatural law and they have the capacity to control the politicalauthority. St. Augustine holds that law made by the government servesto protect those in power irrespective of whether what they are doingis evil.


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Mackey,L. (2011). FaithOrder Understanding: Natural Theology in the Augustinian Tradition.Toronto: PIMS.

Mattox,J. (2014). Augustine:Political and social philosophy.Wilmington:&nbsp Michael Glazier, Inc.

Tinder,G. &amp Elshtain, J. (1997). Augustine and the limits of politics.TheAmerican Political Science Review91(2): 432–433.

Weithman,P. (2006). Augustine’spolitical philosophy.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.