Aquinas Brings Clarity — and Charity — to Today’s Questions of Justice

BOOK PICK: ‘Justice and Charity’

St. Thomas Aquinas weighs in on ‘Justice and Charity.’
St. Thomas Aquinas weighs in on ‘Justice and Charity.’ (photo: Baker Academic)

JUSTICE AND CHARITY

An Introduction to Aquinas’ Moral, Economic, and Political Thought

By Michael B. Krom

Baker Academic, 2020 

238 pages, $29.95 

To order: bakerpublishinggroup.com or (800) 877-2665

 

Rarely heard in our national discussion on justice is mention of charity. 

Michael Krom, professor of philosophy at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, argues that justice and charity are the most important virtues in St. Thomas Aquinas’ moral system. This book is clearly designed as a textbook for introducing (not only) undergraduates to key themes in that system.

Six chapters offer the broad outlines of Thomas’ moral thought. I say “moral thought” because Krom stresses the unity of the Angelic Doctor’s ethics and moral theology. He starts by explaining their differences as well as introducing key concepts likely to sound alien to people raised on a contemporary intellectual diet. 

Take, for example, the inherent nexus between “good” and happiness.” Moderns may opine that whatever makes you happy is good (as long as you don’t hurt another). Krom, following Aquinas, demurs:

“Whereas the good of the frog consists in certain bodily satisfactions such as health and reproduction, these goods for humans are only means toward further ends such as friendship, leisure, and love. Think of a dog: When its bodily needs are satisfied, it either plays or sleeps; while we humans find delight in such things as well, they do not satisfy our desires but merely keep them at bay. As much as we love sports, we must admit that Aquinas has a point when he says, ‘If sport were an end in itself, the proper thing would be to play all the time, but that is not appropriate.’ Sports are for the serious business of living, and there is something inappropriate about the life of the woman who works hard all week so that she can play soccer on Saturday and watch soccer matches on Sunday morning. Soccer should be played because it promotes health, friendship, and love toward God and neighbor.”

I can just imagine how the idea that one’s “happiness” in doing X is and should be capable of rational, discursive analysis would blow many minds!

Krom examines key ideas of Thomistic ethics and moral theology, then successively outlines Thomistic economic philosophy and theology and Thomistic political philosophy and theology. Because he keeps distinct what is knowable by reason alone versus what requires revelation, Krom argues that justice is the highest philosophical virtue, and charity is the highest theological virtue. But he also insists that an honest rational assessment of mere human possibilities starkly reveals the limited and frustrated dissatisfaction the person without the theological (i.e., supernaturally infused) virtue of charity experiences. Good intentions notwithstanding, human builders of a heaven on earth without God build hell.

Krom concludes with a chapter that attempts to apply Thomas’ thought to today’s issues, like abortion, fair prices in a global wage economy, and political responsibility in the modern state whose Caesars feel no need to render to God what is God’s. 

I could see this book in a classroom under tutelage of a good instructor. What struck me about the book was how foreign Thomas would sound even to today’s Catholic student (which says a lot about current religious illiteracy). Thomas relentlessly parses the logic — i.e., the reasonableness — of the moral life to the nth degree. I wonder how many of Krom’s students might not wonder why the Dumb Ox sweated it so. Today’s “intellectual” acedia is so simpler!

All views are exclusively those of John M. Grondelski.

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