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The doctrine of the Catholic Church may be briefly stated in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, who sums up what had been always and everywhere taught before him; and his Summa Theologica, with the Holy Scripture, has been laid open in Ecumenical Councils as the highest authority in the tradition of Catholic doctrine.
I. By the law of nature all men have a common right to the use of things which were created for them and for their sustenance.
II. But this common right does not exclude the possession of anything which becomes proper to each. The common right is by natural law, the right of property is by human and positive law, , and the positive law of property is expedient for three reasons:
1. What is our own is more carefully used than what is
common. 2. Human affairs are better ordered by recognized private
rights. 3. Human society is more peaceful when each has his
own, protected by the law of justice : suum cuique, III. Theft, therefore, is always a sin, for two reasons :
1. It is contrary to justice.
2. It is committed either by stealth or by violence. IV. But the human and positive law cannot derogate from the natural and Divine law. According to the Divine law all things are ordained to sustain the life of man, and therefore the division and appropriation of things cannot hinder the sustenance of man in case of necessity. Therefore the possessions of those who have food superabundantly are due by the natural law for the sustenance of the poor. St. Ambrose, quoted in the "Decretals," says: “It is the bread of the famishing that you keep back and the clothing of the naked that you lay by; the money you bury in the earth is the release and liberation of those who are in misery.” |
· For the sake of those who may not have ready access to the works of St. Alphonsus, the following passages may be given.
The text of Busenbaum is as follows: Qui pro se vel alio in extrema necessitate constituto alienum accipit quantum necessarium est, nec furatur nec tenetur restituere postea sic assumptum, si quidem re et spe indigens fuit."
It is to be remembered that St. Alphonsus consulted for his theology some eight hundred authors, and his decisions, therefore, rest upon the widest foundation, and may be safely followed.
St. Alphonsus says that this doctrine is certain, and is founded upon the doctrine of St. Thomas, that in such a case "all things are common"; for the law of nations, by which the division of goods was introduced, cannot derogate from the natural law. “Though in extreme necessity a poor man has a right (jus habet) to
1 St. Thomæ Aquin. Summa Theolog., 2da 2dae, Quaest. lxvi., Art, 1, 2, 5, 7.
the goods of others, he has not a right to the extraordinary goods
r of others, but only to those which ordinarily suffice for the sustenance of life.” He says that “as the poor man has a right (jus habet) to take what he needs, no one ought to hinder his taking it.” “Forasmuch as in extreme necessity all things are common, a rich man is bound in justice to give help to the poor, because the poor man may justly take it, even without the will of the owner” (cum ille juste possit eam surripere etiam invito domino, et suam facere). Throughout the whole treatise St. Alphonsus repeats over and over again the word jus or right possessed by the poor man.
This doctrine lies at the foundation of the positive law of property in all Christendom. It exists as an unwritten law in all Catholic countries; in France it is the droit au travail, in England it is clothed in a legal statute in our Poor Law, under which every! one has “a right either to work or to bread without work." In the old Scotch law it was recognized under the title of Burdensech: A starving man had a right to carry away as much meal as he could on his back. All these authorities I give, not by way of example or exhortation to larceny, but in proof of the natural right from which they flow.
My friends in America have kindly sent me the newspapers which have commented upon my words, and I learn from them that the opinions of judges, barristers and divines have been asked and obtained on what I have said. I have read their opinions with great care.
Those of Judge Altfield, Judge Prendergast, Judge Baker, and Mr. Brady are calm, solid and judicial opinions, all the more remarkable because, not having the context of my words before them, they were compelled, like comparative anatomists, to construct the whole skeleton by proportion and measurement. In this they have shown a true judicial acumen, for which I thank them. Judge Waterman wisely says that to clothe the lawfulness of taking a neighbor's bread, in extreme necessity, in the form of a legal enactment would be unwise and mischievous. In this I fully agree. Such questions belong to conscience and moral theology. The right to bread or to work may be clothed in positive law, but to erect the lawfulness of breaking a law into an enactment would lead at least to confusion. I wish I could equally commend the answers of the divines. The discernment of jurists at once perceived the law of nature which underlies all positive law. It may seem strange that the divines did not even more rapidly discern it. Any Catholic priest would have at once seen that the question was one not of courts of law, but of moral
Theologia Moralis, lib. iii., tract v., cap. i., tom. i., pp. 333, 334, 335. Ed. Bassano, 1847.
theology. But here moral theology hardly exists except in the Catholic Church. I do not pretend to know how this may be among the Protestant communions of America. I speak only of England. In the Established Church the chief and almost the only works of moral theology are Bishop Andrewes on the “ Ten Commandments,” Jeremy Taylor's “Ductor Dubitantium,” and Bishop Sanderson's "Cases of Conscience." All three are nearly forgotten. Jeremy Taylor's works are voluminous, elaborate and eloquent. He believed, however, that his chief and most enduring work would be his “Ductor Dubitantium." It is simply forgotten. It is a large folio of casuistry, the nearest approach in Protestant literature to the moral theology of the Catholic Church. No one now but a student here and there reads it. Few even know of its existence. It forms no part of the education of non-Catholic divines. The truth is that three hundred years ago the chairs of Canon Law and Moral Theology were abolished.
It must always be borne in mind that my purpose was to justify and elevate the Poor Law of England by showing that it was founded
upon the natural right of man to life and to the sustenance of life. In proving this I was compelled to show that this natural law is supreme over all positive law. The two questions, though distinct, are indivisible, as we have seen in the texts already cited from St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus. The opponents of the Poor Law, to evade the main question, promptly seized on the latter to escape the former. My words were as follows: "The obligation to feed the hungry springs from the natural right of every man to life, and to the food necessary for the sustenance of life. So strict is this natural right that it prevails over all positive laws of property. Necessity has no law; and a starving man has a natural right to his neighbor's bread. I am afraid that those who speak so confidently about rights, obligations and laws have not studied, or have forgotten the first principles of all human positive law. If the law of property did not rest upon a natural right it could not long exist. They who deny it justify the dictum, La propriété, c'est le vol. . . . . Before the natural right to live all human laws must give way." I gave the example of the natural law of self-defence, before which the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill," gives way.
The calm and business-like way in which you in America have treated this matter contrasts with the hasty utterances of some of my countrymen, and brings out the historical difference of your fresh and vigorous commonwealth as compared with our old, traditional, unreflecting society in England. We are like the Great Babylon of old with its massive walls and gates and hanging gardens, on which time has no power. In our city of three days' journey the minds of men are slow to move. The past is forgotten in the present, the present is the rule of opinion; old truths revived are looked on as novelties and modern errors; whatsoever is the popular opinion of the day is supposed to be the tradition of all time. Most men believe that all things are as they were from the beginning, and that what is new to them cannot be true. Mr. Lowell has sketched to the life our confidence in the supremacy of our wisdom:
i Fortnightly Review, January, 1888, p. 154.
England really thinks
I have committed lèse majesté by rudely reminding some who rule over public opinion in London of the fresh mother earth and of the primeval laws which protect her offspring. I was unconscious of my audacity. I thought that I was uttering truisms which all educated men knew and believed. But I found that these primary truths of human life were forgotten, and that on this forgetfulness a theory and a treatment of our poor had formed a system of thought and action which hardens the hearts of the rich and “grinds the faces of the poor.” I am glad, therefore, that I said and wrote what is before the public, even though for a time some men have called me Socialist and Revolutionist, and have fastened upon a subordinate consequence, and neglected the substance of my contention in behalf of the natural rights of the poor.
PROF. HUXLEY'S DEMURRER.
WHEN, some months ago, in the Fortnightly Review, Mr. Lilly
accused Prof. Huxley of materialism, and supported the accusation by alleging that the great scientist not only upheld causationism in the material sense, but held mind to be a function of the brain, and looked forward to the time when we should arrive at a mechanical equivalent of consciousness, Prof. Huxley in reply, it may be remembered, admitted the allegation, but denied the accusation. That is to say, he put in what Mr. Lilly (a lawyer as well as a philosopher) might call a demurrer, which he argued in a characteristic play of logic, wit, and eloquence, wherein he fairly outdid himself—the only rival indeed that he has reason to fear. The brilliancy of his argument none will deny. We purpose in this article, however, to try its validity, of which, for our own part, we do not think so highly. Whether or not he turn out to be “guilty as charged” (a matter by no means of the highest concern), the examination may lead, directly or indirectly, to clearer views on the subject of the charge, which, we must say, begging everybody's pardon, seems darkened by the multitude of its illustrators. We offer no apology for elbowing our way into this goodly crowd, since the darkest hour, according to the proverb, is just before day; in which case, though we may not disperse the darkness, we can hardly make it denser without becoming a “herald of the dawn"; so that, whatever fate awaits our presumption, truth is not likely to prove the loser.
With a view to simplicity, we accept without qualification, for the purposes of this inquiry, Prof. Huxley's definition of materialism. “I understand the main tenet of materialism to be,” he says, “ that there is nothing in the universe but matter and force, and that all the phenomena of nature are explicable by deduction from the properties assignable to those two primitive factors.” Materialism thus understood Prof. Huxley rejects, with satirical emphasis, while reasserting the opinions pointed out in Mr. Lilly's allegation. To sustain his demurrer, he of course must show that these opinions are not derivable from materialism, or resolvable into it. Accordingly, this he undertakes. Let us look at his showing; and first, of causationism.
Twenty years ago Prof. Huxley said: "A really spontaneous act is one which, by the assumption, has no cause; and the attempt to prove such a negative as this, is, on the face of the matter, absurd.