Aquinas on Monarchy - Bk I - Ch. 15 & 16 from "De Regno" by Thomas Aquinas

This letter from Thomas Aquinas is direct to the King of Cyprus at the time (13th Century) and which deals with Thomas' ideas on the proper role of a king. Here we can see that Medieval idea present underlying Thomas' treatment that faith and culture are not something that must be distinctly divided, but are simply different parts of the same unified reality.

The Definition of "To Govern."
St. Thomas begins this part of his letter by pointing out a major theme here, that earthly governance is a reflection of God's divine governance over the world. The earthly should try its best to mirror the divine. What does it mean to "govern" then? To govern means to help bring something to its telos, or proper end. That end can be within the thing or outside of the thing, but either way the role of governance is to preserve and guide those under one's care to their proper perfection and end. In fact, "governor" originally meant a pilot. Now, often there are many necessary roles in order to bring something to its proper perfection, as the pilot must drive the ship, the carpenter repair it, the teacher instruct others how to maintain it, etc. With human beings it gets more interesting, as man is not just in need of bodily and physical goods, but is also directed toward a spiritual end in which he needs help in attaining, namely Heaven. This care is provided for by the Church.

Man's Highest End, Virtue and Divine Beatitude
Thomas then says that what is true for the individual is also true for the multitude, or the community as a whole. This means that if virtue is the means by which a man attains his proper end of living well and happiness, then the whole community must also attain its end of living well and happiness through virtue. 

"Now the same judgment is to be formed about the end of society as a whole as about the end of one man. If, therefore, the ultimate end of man were some good that existed in himself, then the ultimate end of the multitude to be governed would likewise be for the multitude to acquire such good, and persevere in its possession. If such an ultimate end either of an individual man or a multitude were a corporeal one, namely, life and health of body, to govern would then be a physician’s charge. If that ultimate end were an abundance of wealth, then knowledge of economics would have the last word in the community’s government. If the good of the knowledge of truth were of such a kind that the multitude might attain to it, the king would have to be a teacher. It is, however, clear that the end of a multitude gathered together is to live virtuously. For men form a group for the purpose of living well together, a thing which the individual man living alone could not attain, and good life is virtuous life. Therefore, virtuous life is the end for which men gather together."

Yet, Thomas pushes further... The truly highest end of an individual man isn't simply virtuous living for a good life on this earth, it is a calling to virtuous living for the sake of eternal life. Therefore, the calling of the multitude must likewise be the same. But since the attainment of this end for an individual or for society is not within the power of an earthly rule to give or direct, it must then fall under the care of the Church, the "divine government." The head of the Church is, of course, Christ himself who is the divine king of all things and in whom all Christians participate. Thus man should be directed by the one's who have been placed in Christ's role as his representative, namely the Pope, Bishops, and priests. Thus earthly kings or rulers are subject to the Church because the Church is the governor of man towards his highest end, Heaven. 1

The Role of the King
Even though the king is subject to the divine governance of the Church, he does have rule over the earthly needs and ends to which man also requires. This also includes the promotion of that which would be the foundation or aid in the attainment of virtue and prepare one for the Heavenly beatitude and governance. "Therefore, since the beatitude of heaven is the end of that virtuous life which we live at present, it pertains to the king’s office to promote the good life of the multitude in such a way as to make it suitable for the attainment of heavenly happiness, that is to say, he should command those things which lead to the happiness of Heaven and, as far as possible, forbid the contrary. ... Thus the king, taught the law of God, should have for his principal concern the means by which the multitude subject to him may live well. "

Threefold Goals - Thomas sees the role of the earthly king as having a threefold way in which to aid the Church. First, to teach and establish virtue in his people. Second, to help maintain and preserve this virtue in his people. And third, to then promote the desire for ultimate perfection in God. Thus the ruler must likewise establish a harmony in society which allows this to take place. There must be peace between its members, there must be a bond of unity which secures that peace among the people, and finally he must provide for man's bodily and earthly needs in order for that peace to maintain.

Threefold Threats - Now there are also threats which the rule must secure against. Namely, the loss of virtue by the changing of generations through death, the infighting among the people which may result from laziness or injustice, and thirdly attacks from without from other enemies. Thus, in response to these issues, the king must properly and continually preserve continuity between the offices in the kingdom by appointing just men to them when it is needed. He must also by his laws and justice system incentivize virtuous deeds and prevent wicked ones. Finally, he must defend his people from outside invaders and attacks.
If he does these things and continues to try to improve and make his kingdom better, leading people towards their highest end as much as possible, he will be a just and wise ruler. 2


1 - Aquinas, Thomas. De Regno: On Kingship to the King of Cyprus. Book I, Ch 15.

2 - Aquinas, Thomas. De Regno: On Kingship to the King of Cyprus. Book I, Ch 16.