Monday, July 04, 2016

Did Thomas Jefferson read St. Robert Bellarmine

 There is no way to know if Thomas Jefferson ever read the original works of St. Robert Bellarmine. Chances are very good Jefferson knew of the writings of the 16th century counter-reformation Catholic who was extensively quoted in a book that was in Jefferson's library--a book that spoke out about the right of kings to rule. The Congressional Library still possesses a copy of Patriarcha, a book which once stood on the library shelf of Thomas Jefferson.  Patriarcha, was written by Robert Filmer, the privage theologian of James I of England in defense of the Divine Right of Kings and principally in refutation to the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine’s political principles of popular sovereignty.”

Jefferson's words echo that of a man who wrote two centuries earlier, and whose work itself echoes St. Thomas Aquinas.

With regard to the equality of men:

Declaration of Independence:  “All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Bellarmine:  “All men are equal, not in wisdom or grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind” (De Laicis,” c.7).  “There is no reason why among equals one should rule rather than another.” (Ibid.)  “Let rulers remember that they preside over men who are of the same nature as they themselves” (De Officus Princ.” c.22).  “Political right is immediately from God and necessarily inherent in the nature of man” (De Laicia” c. 6, note 1).

With regard to the function of government:

Declaration of Independence:  “To secure these rights governments are instituted among men.”

Bellarmine:  “It is impossible for men to live together without someone to care for the common good.  Men must be governed by someone lest they be willing to perish” (De Laicia,” c.6).

With regard to the source of power:

Declaration of Independence:  “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Bellarmine:  “It depends upon the consent of the multitude to constitute over itself a king, consul, or other magistrate.  This power is, indeed, from God, but vested in a particular ruler by the counsel and election of men” (De Laicis, c. 6, notes 4 and 5).  “The people themselves immediately and directly hold the political power” (De Clericis, c. 7).

With regard to the right to change the government:

Declaration of Independence:  “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government. . .Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons.”

Bellarmine:  “For legitimate reasons the people can change the government to an aristocracy or a democracy or vice versa” (De Laicis, c. 6).  “The people never transfers its power to a king so completely but that it reserves to itself the right of receiving back the power” (Recognitio de Laicis, c. 6).

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