Locke, the Pope, and the Law

HUMN 221-09 Group 3:

ENCYCLICAL QUOTES: “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”.[13]

“The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19).”

genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” (70)


Sect. 6. “But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…”

A right to dominion doesn’t include a right to tyranny, whether that be God’s gift to people or a people’s choice of leader.

We are all part of God’s creation, so none of us has the right the absolute control over another. Personal autonomy is important to fulfilling God’s plan.

RELATIONSHIP OF PASSAGE TO WORK AS A WHOLE: John Locke stated that all people should be considered equal. There are a set of natural laws which citizens live by. Citizens begin taking only what they need, but eventually slow to hoard and collect more and more. This creates bartering, and leads to money, as well as creating estates and property. The purpose of government was to protect the citizens and work for their benefit.

WHAT DIFFICULT ISSUES DOES THIS PASSAGE TAKE FOR US: We all live under a system of laws in which we must follow. We exist under a social contract, consisting of an agreement to consent to appointed authorities, therefore forfeiting many of our rights under natural law. In today’s world it is unclear how to decline this social contract because nearly all habitable land is controlled by a government or person. We have the right to overthrow our government but our government also has substantial power. At times this government has the right to infringe upon life, health, liberty, and possessions.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO THE ENCYCLICAL: John Locke is going over the system of laws that exist in nature while the pope is describing a set of laws we are morally and religiously supposed to subject ourselves to. The pope said that we all have a relation to each other in a familial manner, relating to, “yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession” from the second treatise of government.

Like Locke, Francis calls on us to respect each other’s autonomy as we value our own by recalling our relation to each other as children of God.


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