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AN ANALYSIS OF THE USE OF RIGHTS LANGUAGE IN PRE-MODERN CATHOLIC SOCIAL THOUGHT BERNARD V. BRADY University of St. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota CONTEMPORARY CATHOLIC social thought, both in official documents and in commentaries, has focused quite extensively on describing the use, meaning and justification of human rights. Indeed, as one significant contributor has suggested, human rights have become, since the Second Vatican Council, the "central norms of social morality." 1 In all of this concern for the place of rights within Catholic thought, however, very little work has been done to explore the pre-modern roots of this moral category. This essay attempts to address this issue. The essay has three parts. The first section considers characteristics of rights language within the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The second section looks at the use of rights within the intriguing controversy of the late thirteenth century surrounding apostolic poverty. Finally, developments in Catholic rights language found in the work of the Renaissance figures Vitoria and Suarez are studied. The essay narrates the development in the use of rights within the tradition while suggesting certain threads of consistency. Thomistic Characteristics of the Use, Meaning and Justification of Rights Language In the social philosophy of Thomas Aquinas ( 1225-74), the concept " ius," or " right," has an important and nuanced role. 1 David Hollenbach, " Both Bread and Freedom: The Interconnection of Economic and Political Rights in Recent Catholic Thought," in Human Rights and the Global Mission of the Church, ed. Arthur J. Dyck (Boston: Boston Theological Institute, 1985), 31. 97 98 BERNARD V. BRADY Generally, ius suggests an objective reality, as when it is used in the concept of ius naturale, yet Thomas often uses the word interchangeably with "lex", or "law", a word fundamentally referring to the rational expression of such an objective reality.2 Most significantly from a modern perspective, Thomas also describes this objective reality of ius within the context of personal relations. Specific persons have specific rights in accord with their position within society. This section will examine the meaning of the term ius in Thomas. It will be shown that Thomas used ius primarily in an objective sense, that is, in terms of "that which is right," or " that which is fitting." It will also be suggested that Thomas used ius in something of a subjective sense as referring to personal moral claims. This latter use was, however, dependent on a prior understanding of "that which is right." "Right,'' says Thomas, "is the object of justice." 3 Operating from the principle that if one knows the end or the object of a thing one can know the reality of that thing, Thomas introduces his treatise on justice 4 with a consideration of the reality toward which justice tends-the right. As with the other cardinal virtues , justice seeks to actualize the right or the fitting as it orders a person in relation to some object. The distinguishing characteristic of justice is that the object under consideration is another person. He writes, " Accordingly that which is right in the works of the other virtues, and to which the intention of the virtue tends as to its proper object, depends on its relation to the agent only, whereas the right in a work of justice, besides its relation to the agent, is set up by its relation to others." 5 Thomas describes justice as a habit flowing from a rightly ordered self which in turn rightly orders one's relations with others. That is, the just person, through "a constant and per2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, q. 57, art. 1, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 3 vols. (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1947). See also Thomas Gilby, The Political Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Midway Reprints, 1973), 121. a Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, q. 57, art. 1. 4 Ibid., 2a, 2ae, q. 57-122. 5 Ibid., 2a, 2ae, q. 57, art. 1. RIGHTS IN PRE-MODERN THOUGHT 99 petual will,'' 6 gives to another that which is due in accord with " some kind of equality" 7 "adjusted to or commensurate with ... [the other] person." 8 Even as Thomas states, "the act...