De Laicis — Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Treatise on Civil Government

Chapter 12

Third proposition: The exercise of public trials is not unlawful for Christians. It is proved, first, because it is the property of rulers to judge. For the Scriptures are accustomed in general to unite the office of king and of judge. “And now let the kings understand, let those be instructed who judge the earth.” 148 “The Lord is our King, the Lord our Law-giver, the Lord our Judge.” 149 “The king will rule, and he will be wise, and he will give judgment and justice upon the earth.” 150 If, then, it is lawful for Christians to have a ruler, why not a judge also?

Secondly, because laws would have no potency, if there ought to be no judgments; but laws should not be abolished, as has been shown above, therefore, neither should judgments..

Thirdly, the Sacred Writings of both Testaments permit judgments, for we read as follows, “You shall place judges and magistrates at all your gates, that they may judge the people with a just judgment.” 151 “If, therefore, you have judgments of things pertaining to this world, set them to judge, who are the most despised in the Church. . . . . Is it not so that there is not among you any one wise man, that is able to judge between his brethren?” 152 Here St. Paul advises the Corinthians to judge among themselves those cases which did not of necessity have to be brought before the tribunals of the Gentiles.

Nor will it be hard to answer the argument which was brought forward at the beginning. Hence, according to that statement, “And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him.” 153 I answer with St. Augustine, 154 that that statement should only be understood according to readiness of spirit; for in the same passage Our Lord says, “If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other.” 155 And yet when Our Lord Himself was struck on the cheek, He did not turn the other, but said, “Why strikest thou Me?” 156 By this example He taught in what sense the precepts are to be understood.

To the words of St. Paul, “There is no fault among you, etc.,” 157 I say first, that the “delictum” is in Greek , which does not signify sin, but imperfection, and thus Theodoret explains it. I say, secondly, if “delictum” means sin, as St. Chrysostom and St. Ambrose interpret it here, and St. Augustine in his Enchiridion, 158 I say, I repeat, it is called “delictum” not because it is in itself sin, but because it is generally accidentally sinful, either by reason of the end, as when a lawsuit is begun from avarice; or by reason of the manner, as when the case is tried in the spirit of hatred, of ill-will, of dispute; or by reason of injustice, as when trickery and fraud enter in; or by reason of bad example, as happened in the case of the Corinthians, who were going to law to the scandal of the pagans. I say, thirdly, that judgments are not to be condemned because of the judge, but because of the contestants. And so, even if it were a sin to go to law, nevertheless it would not be a sin to judge, for judgments put an end to controversies, which is a good thing.

148 Ps. 2.

149 Isaias XXXIII.

150 Jeremias XXIII.

151 Deut. XVI., 18.

152 1 Cor. V., VI.

153 Matt. V., 40.

154 Epis. 5, to Marcelinus.

155 Matt. V., 39.

156 John XVIII.

157 1 Cor. VI., 7.

158 Ch. 78. Also Bk. II. on Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, ch. 15, and Sermon 24 on Ps. 118.