Retribution and St. Thomas Aquinas's Teaching on Justice

May 5, 2023
Gavin House
1220 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
Back to Events

Stephen L. BrockPontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome


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

Stephen L. Brock is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei.  He is Ordinary Professor of Medieval Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. He earned a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto.  Brock writes widely on Thomas Aquinas and action theory, ethics, and metaphysics. He is the author of The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. A Sketch (Wipf & Stock, 2015), Action & Conduct: Thomas Aquinas and the Theory of Action (T&T Clark, 1998), and most recently, The Light that Binds: A Study in Thomas Aquinas's Metaphysics of Natural Law (Pickwick Publications, 2020).  He is currently a visiting scholar in the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago.