Justice in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas: Rediscovering Civic Virtue

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation develops a contemporary account of civic virtue that is rooted in the moral, political, and theological work of St. Thomas Aquinas, and, more specifically, as it can be developed from the concept of legal or general justice that Aquinas adopts from Aristotle. As we define and develop the concept, civic virtue refers to a firm and stable orientation of the will directing all acts of the virtues toward the common good of one’s society. Even as the core of civic virtue derives from Aquinas’ conception of legal justice “ hence we are calling it a Thomistic account of civic virtue ” we also note the ways in which our account goes beyond and further develops ideas that can be traced back to Aquinas’ work; for example, in considering the role that the passions play in civic virtue. The dissertation begins by tracing the historical development of modern Catholic social thought, noting how historical, political, and intellectual trends in the West contributed to considerably less attention being paid to Aquinas’ concept of legal justice in contemporary Catholic moral and political thought. We also place our account of civic virtue into dialogue with contemporary discussions in political philosophy and natural law. These first two steps provide a contemporary context within which we place our exegetical and constructive account of civic virtue as a resource for Catholic moral theology today. The historical and exegetical section focuses on an interpretation of Aquinas’ discussion of legal justice within the context of his wider theological and ethical aims, as well as the context of thirteenth century medieval European society. Finally, the dissertation concludes with a constructive account of Thomistic civic virtue for contemporary moral theology by combining our historical and exegetical insights and research with the dialogue partners of Catholic social thought, political philosophy, and natural law. In doing so, we seek to demonstrate that such an account of civic virtue has much to contribute to contemporary Christian theological discussions, on both a theoretical and practical level.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-05312011-110541

Author Thomas John Bushlack
Advisor Jean Porter
Contributor Gerald McKenny, Committee Member
Contributor Joseph Wawrykow, Committee Member
Contributor Jean Porter, Committee Chair
Contributor David Clairmont, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2011-04-20

Submission Date 2011-05-31
  • United States of America

  • Political Philosophy

  • Catholic Social Thought

  • Natural Law

  • Political Theology

  • Civic Virtue

  • Justice

  • common good

  • Thomas Aquinas

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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