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

Chapter 7

The fifth argument is taken from the origin of secular power. For even if servile subjection began after the sin of Adam, nevertheless there would have been political government even while man was in the state of innocence. And this is proved, firstly, because even then man would have been by nature a political and social animal, and hence would have had need of a ruler.

Secondly, from creation itself; because for that reason God made woman from man, and did not create many men at the same time, but only one, from whom all others were to be born; so that He might show the order and supremacy which He wished to exist among men, as St. Chrysostom observes.78 Thirdly, since in that state of innocence there would have been inequality of the sexes, of height, of strength, of wisdom, and of virtue, therefore, both supremacy and subjection; for in human society there should be order. But right order demands that the inferior be ruled over by the superior, the woman by the man, the younger by the older, the less wise by the more wise, the less good by the better; moreover, the fact that these diversities would have existed even then may be shown in this way.

In that state there would have been generation, as is clear from “Increase and multiply,” 79 therefore there was a difference of sexes, which necessarily precedes generation, and a difference of age, which necessarily follows upon generation, and a difference of wisdom and of virtue, which follows upon difference of age; for men would not have been born perfect in that state, but would have had to learn and to make progress gradually. All, indeed, would have been born in the grace of God, and with greater intellectual power than now, as St. Augustine shows, 80 but without doubt they would not have been as perfect as adults; and among those very adults, by reason of free will, some could have been more, some less, earnest in applying themselves to learning.

Finally, variety in natural endowments arises from the variety of bodies; and there would have existed at that time bodies differing in size, in shape, in strength, and the like, as is evident, since those bodies were not exempt from the laws of nature, and had need of food, of air to breathe, and of water. Therefore, even at that period, there would have been diversity of mental powers. 81

Fourthly, there is leadership and obedience among the angels; why, then, would there not have been the same among men in the state of innocence? Certainly Beelzebub is called the prince of devils. 82 He certainly did not acquire his leadership by sinning, but retained that which he had formerly held among those angels who followed him, and it is written, “Michael and his angels.” 83 Finally, Dionysius 84 says that the first choir of angels was supreme, and commanded the second, and the second commanded the third; and St. Gregory says 85 that the names of Principalities and Dominations among the angels clearly mean that some were superior to others.

From these proofs the fifth argument may be stated thus: The liberty in which we were created does not conflict with political subjection, but with despotic, that is, with true and real slavery; but political subjection differs from servile, because one who is subject as a slave exists and works for another as his end; he who is subject politically exists and works for his own advantage. A slave is governed not in view of what is to his own advantage, but of what is to the advantage of his master; a citizen is governed in view of what is to his own advantage, not of what is to the advantage of the magistrates, just as, on the other hand, a political ruler, while he is governing the people, seeks not his own advantage, but that of the people. But a tyrannous lord seeks his own advantage, not that of the people, as Aristotle teaches. 86 And so, truly, if there is any slavery in political government, he who commands should more rightfully be called a slave than he who is subject, as St. Augustine teaches. 87 And this is the literal meaning of that saying of Our Lord, “He that will be first among you, shall be your servant;” 88 indeed, the bishops call themselves the servants of their people, and the Pope calls himself the servant of the servants of God.

In explanation of the first quotation, from Gen. I., I say that there it is a question of despotic rule; for thus should man dominate over the fishes of the sea, and the birds of the air, and other living beings of the animal world.

In explanation of the second quotation I say that woman was as much the partner and subject of man before original sin as after, his partner in generation, his subject in government. Moreover, that quotation, “Thou shalt be under the power of thy husband,” does not signify any and every kind of subjection, but that unwilling subjection in sadness and in fear, such as many married women experience. Thus St. Augustine teaches, “For,” says he, “we should not believe that before original sin woman was created only to be dominated over by man, and that she might apply herself to serving him, but this state of service may rightly be held to have meant one of condition rather than of choice.” 89

In explanation of the third quotation I admit that Cain was the first who built a material city, but it does not follow from this that political rule began there; for even without a material city there can be a State and government, nor can it be denied that Adam’s sons and grandsons were subject to him.

In explanation of the fourth quotation I say that St. Augustine is speaking of slavery properly so-called, as is clear from the whole chapter, where, among other things, he says, “The condition of slavery is understood to have been justly imposed on the sinner, etc.” Nor is this contrary to what St. Augustine says in the same place, that the first just men were made shepherds of flocks rather than kings of men, so that God might make clear this also, namely, what the natural order of creatures would require on the one hand, and what the deserts of sinners would demand on the other. For in this place he considers the abuse of the name of king, which is sometimes taken to mean despotic government. For St. Augustine says, “A king is called such because he guides and advises, not because he rules and dominates,” 90 and in this way Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could have been called kings; yet, since haughty man thinks that a king should derive his title from rule and domination, for this reason Our Lord says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them;” 91 and for the same reason the first just men were called shepherds of flocks rather than kings of men.

In explanation of the fifth quotation I say that St. Gregory is not speaking of political power as such, but of secular power accompanied by fear, and sadness, and anxiety, etc., which were brought in by sin. And when he says, “All men are equal by nature, but are made unequal by sin, and therefore one should be ruled over by another,” he does not mean that men by nature are equal in wisdom or in grace, but equal in essence and in human form, from which equality he rightly infers that one should not be dominated over by another, as man dominates over the beasts, but only that one should be ruled over politically by another. Hence, in the same place he adds: “For it is against nature to act proudly or to wish to be feared by one’s equals; for, truly, by sin sinners are made like to beasts; and they fall from that integrity of nature in which they were created, therefore St. Gregory says in the same place that after the first sin one man rightly began to dominate over another with threats and punishments inspiring terror, which would not have been the case in the state of original justice.

78 Hom. 34 on 1 Cor. III.

79 Gen. I., 28.

80 De Baptismum Parvulorum, Lib. I., c. 38.

81 St. Thomas, Sum Theo. Ia., Q. 96 and 105.

82 Matt. XII.

83 Apoc. XII., 7.

84 Coelestis Hierarchiae, c. 9.

85 Hom. 34 In Evangelium.

86 De Moribus, Book VIII., ch. 10.

87 City of God, Book XIX., ch. 14.

88 Matt. XX., 27.

89 De Gen., Book XI., ch. 37.

90 City of God, Book IV., ch. 12.

91 Luke XXII., 25.