It was an encounter that threatened to undermine the faith in revelation and divine dispensation which had been the fundamental postulate of Christian orthodoxy since the days of Augustine and the Fathers. St. Thomas’s argument was that faith does not contradict reason, but complements it.
It is not the denial, but reaffirmation and consummation of reason. It is on this basis that he sought to reconcile the conflicting claims of the church and the state. It is also on this basis that he resuscitated the Aristotelian view that the state is natural and also claimed, in accordance with the Christian tradition, that though natural and necessary, it is not the highest institution.
Man has a life beyond his existence because he is a spiritual being with a divine end. “The City is, in fact, the most important thing constituted by human reason”, says St. Thomas in his Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle.
But beyond the life of action in the state there is a higher life, that is the life of contemplation and worship of God. Church is the symbol of the higher life. This is how St. Thomas Christianised Aristotle, interpreted his rationalism to bring it into line with Augustine’s religious philosophy.
“To look at St. Thomas in this way does not mean that he did not introduce important changes in Augustine’s theory of the state and society and left it in tact. On the contrary, he rejected many of the accepted dogmas of Christian theology.
One of the most important of them was that the state was the result of sin and also a divine remedy for sin. St. Augustine’s views about slavery and property were not accepted by St. Thomas.
The Augustinian theory of the state, property and slavery had to be re-evaluated and considerably revised in order to make the synthesis of Aristotle’s ideas and Christian thought possible and intelligible. A.J. Carlyle and A.P. D’ Entreves have rightly pointed out; St. Thomas did not clearly and categorically contradict the traditional opinions of the early Middle ages regarding the state, property and slavery, but reinterpreted them in the light of Aristotle’s ideas.
“The ideas of sift, and of its consequences remained for him”, says ‘D’ Entreves, “and could not but remain, a fundamental dogma of the Christian faith. But sin itself had not invalidated ipsa principia naturae.
Its consequences, therefore, only concern the possibility of man’s fulfilling the dictates of the naturalis ratio, not his capacity for attaining to their knowledge; in other words, they do not shatter the existence of a sphere of purely natural ethical values, and it is in this sphere that the state finds its raison d’etre.
Instead of considering the State as an institution which may well be necessary and divinely appointed, but only in view of the actual conditions of corrupted mankind, Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle in deriving the idea of the State from the very nature of man.”
About government, St. Thomas says in the De Regimine Principum that if man could live alone, he would require no government or ‘dominium’. But God has made him for society. In the Summa Theological he presents the same idea with greater precision. ‘Dominium’ he says, is of two kinds: (1) the lordship of man over a slave, and (2) the rule of a free man over other free men. In the first sense, of course there could not have been ruler ship in the state of primal innocence before the fall of man.
But in the second sense the rule of one man over others would be lawful even in that state. The reason is that man is essentially a social being and social life is impossible unless there is some authority to direct it toward common good. Moreover, it would have been a matter of inconvenience if someone who excelled others in knowledge and virtue could not be made use of for the benefit of others.