Retribution and St. Thomas Aquinas's Teaching on Justice

May 5, 2023
Gavin House
1220 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Stephen BrockUniversity of Chicago

Open to current students and faculty. This event is co-sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society at the University of Chicago Law School. Others interested in participating should contact This event is in-person only. All registrants will receive pdfs of the selected readings, which should be read in advance of the class. An optional wine and cheese reception will follow. 

Thomas Aquinas assigns two functions to punishment, retributive and medicinal. He sees the retributive function as the primary one, pertaining to the very idea of punishment, and it will be the focus of this master class. The aim will be to determine how exactly retribution fits within Aquinas’s teaching on justice. For although there is no doubt that he considers it to be a matter of justice, he has surprisingly little to say about it within his massive treatment of that virtue in the Summa theologiae. Legal theory and theology overlap on this topic, but scholarly literature on it is scant. Yet surely a clear understanding of Aquinas’s teaching on punishment in general is necessary for grasping his teachings on particular issues, such as capital punishment (on which the literature is huge).

There will be several questions to address. To which kind of justice does Thomas think retribution belongs? How does it constitute that kind of justice? Who is given their own or their right through retribution? Does it not really pertain to legal justice? Is it obligatory? The readings provided will furnish the background needed to engage the topic.



Required Readings (from the Summa Theologiae): to be completed before class

  • I.21.1
  • II-II.57.1
  • II-II.58.1,2,5,6,7,8,10,11
  • II-II.59.1,3
  • II-II.60.1,5
  • II-II.61.1-4
  • II.II.62.1,3
  • II-II.63.1,4
  • II-II.108.2

Recommended Readings (from the Summa Theologiae):

  • I-II.21.3,4
  • I-II.87.1,6,7
  • I.21.2-4
  • II-II.67.4
  • II-II.108.1,3,4
  • III.85.3

Both the required and recommended readings will be distributed to participants via Dropbox. If you prefer, you can pick up a printout of the readings at Gavin House (1220 E. 58th Street) Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm. Please email Dan Stanley at to let us know you are coming.


1:30-2:00 | Pre-event coffee and cookies

2:00-3:20 | Session 1

3:20-3:40 | Break

3:40-5:00 | Session 2

5:00-5:30 | Reception

Fr. Stephen L. Brock is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei and Professor of medieval philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
Since 1990 Professor Brock has taught medieval philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He was a visiting professor at the Catholic University of America in 1999, and is at the University of Chicago starting in 2017. His research has been mainly on the thought of Thomas Aquinas, in the areas of ethics, action theory, and metaphysics, with occasional ventures into theology.

Selected Publications:
Action & Conduct: Thomas Aquinas and the Theory of Action, The Catholic University of America Press, 2022

The Light that Binds: A Study in Thomas Aquinas's Metaphysics of Natural Law, Pickwick Publications (2020)

“The Specification of Action in Aquinas: Nonmotivating Conditions in the Object of Intention,” The Thomist (2019)

“Dead Ends, Bad Form: The Positivity of Evil in the Summa theologiae,” in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: A Critical Guide, ed. Jeffrey P. Hause, Cambridge U. Press (2018)

“Formal Infinity, Perfection, and Determinacy in the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas,” Forum: Supplement to Acta Philosophica (2016)

The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas: A Sketch, Cascade Books (2015)

“Intentional Being, Natural Being, and the First-Person Perspective in Thomas Aquinas,” The Thomist (2013)

“The Causality of the Unmoved Mover in Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Metaphysics XII,” Nova et Vetera (2012)

“On Whether Aquinas’s Ipsum Esse Is ‘Platonism’,” The Review of Metaphysics (2006)

“Causality and Necessity in Thomas Aquinas,” Quaestio (2002)