American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 92, Issue 2, Spring 2018

Matthew Shea
Pages 277-293

Aquinas on God-Sanctioned Stealing

A serious challenge to religious believers in the Abrahamic traditions is that the God of the Old Testament seems to command immoral actions. Thomas Aquinas addresses this objection using the biblical story of God ordering the Israelites to plunder the Egyptians, which threatens to create an inconsistency among four of Aquinas’s views: (1) God did indeed command this action; (2) God is perfectly good and cannot command any evil actions; (3) the objective moral goodness or badness of actions is not based on arbitrary divine commands; and (4) the prohibition of theft is an immutable principle of the natural moral law. I examine Aquinas’s views on metaethics, stealing, justice, property, and collective responsibility to show that there is not a genuine inconsistency in his position, and that his strategy provides a helpful model for responding to the objection from divinely-sanctioned evil.