Sovereignty is a species of authority, namely, political authority, the moral right of ultimate decision within a legitimately constituted state. Whether this supreme societal power is vested in the one, the few, or the many, it includes the right to direct by laws and other institutions and instrumentalities of government, not excluding that of physical coercion, the activities of persons, families, and other subordinate societies toward the attainment of the common good. It embraces legislative, executive, and judicial power, the right of life and death, of war and peace. On the international level it demands the juridical independence of the state and its acceptance as an equal in the community of nations. Ideas such as these embraced by the term are as old as the state itself,
and they were known to the Greek political philosophers and the Roman jurists, for example. However, sovereignty as a philosophical term came into use during postmedieval political developments, notably in the works of Jean Bodin (1530–96), alleged father of the term, Thomas hobbes (1588–1679), and Jean Jacques rousseau (1712–78).
Origin. Sacred Scripture, papal teaching, and Catholic philosophy declare that sovereignty ultimately derives its origin from God. St. Paul, instructing the faithful on human dignity and the duty to obey civil authority, wrote, "Let everyone be subject to the higher authorities, for there exists no authority except from God" (Rom 3.1–7;1 Pt 2.13–17 and Jn 19.9–11). The Syllabus of Pius IX and the encyclicals of Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII present the Church's doctrine in regard to the origin, function, and limitations of sovereignty. In these documents sovereignty is ascribed to God, the author of man's nature. "Every civilized community," Leo XIII said, "must have a ruling authority and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature and consequently has God for its author. It follows, then, that all power must proceed from God" [Immortale Dei, Acta Sanctae Sedis, (Rome 1865–1908) ed. 18 (1885) 162].
The philosophical arguments of Catholic philosophers lead to the same conclusion. In them, man has been viewed consistently as a social and political being not merely by his own free choice but by the exigency of his intrinsic human nature. This is to say that man is obliged by the natural law to accept or create right social order or civil society in which he may achieve the perfection demanded by human nature, that is, the development of his physical, intellectual, cultural, and moral potentials. This natural goal can be achieved only in and through association with his fellow men. Consequently, membership in society, especially in the family and the state, is natural to man. It is an expression of his dynamic nature. It answers an essential demand and fulfills an intrinsic need of his human nature. Since human nature demands the existence of the state, it simultaneously requires the existence of all elements essential to the state, one of which is sovereignty. God, therefore, being the author of human nature, is likewise the author of the state and the origin of sovereignty. Edmund burke (1729–97) put the argument succinctly in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: "He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue willed also the necessary means of its perfection: He willed, therefore, the state" [Works (Boston 1881) 3.361].
Limitations. In accordance with this philosophical theory, in exercising sovereignty the state performs a twofold service function. First, it directs its activities toward the realization of the common good, while at the same time safeguarding the inviolable rights of the human person. Secondly, it maintains a stable order of peace and prosperity in and through which man, in the enjoyment of his God-given rights, may pursue within the confines of the common good his happiness and perfection. Sovereign power, therefore, although supreme and final in the direction of society toward the common good, is not absolute and unlimited. It is limited by its purpose, the common good, by the inviolable rights of the human person, and by the dictates of the natural law and the divine law. Any law or activity of the sovereign power that would deprive a person of his natural rights to ownership of property, to marry, or to worship God, for example, would be contrary to the will of God and the inviolable rights of the person and therefore ultra rites, not only immoral but also illegal. Political philosophers who deny that man is social and political by nature and those who advance positivistic theories of sovereignty are forced to posit the free will of man as the sole source of political society and sovereignty. Consequently, they are unable to establish a sound, objective justification either for man's obedience to or for any theoretical limitations on sovereignty. If the supreme authority of the state, sovereignty, is derived solely from the free will of man, there is no objective order of rights or any higher law to which both man and the state are subject. Nor is there any valid protection against the abitrary use of sovereignty and the creation of the absolute state. To say that God is the author of sovereignty is not to deny men the right in the actual formation or change of government to choose the form of government under which they wish to live and to locate sovereignty.
Bibliography: h. a. rommen, The State in Catholic Thought (St. Louis 1945). l. sturzo, Church and State, tr. b. b. carter (New York 1939). j. maritain, Man and the State (Chicago 1951). g. bowe, The Origin of Political Authority (Dublin 1955). j. leclerq, The Two Sovereignties (New York 1952). thomas aquinas, On Kingship, to the King of Cyprus, tr. g. b. phelan, ed., i.t. eschmann (Toronto 1949). f. suÁrez, Selections from Three Works, tr. g. l. williams, 2 v. (Oxford 1944), contains De Legibus, Defensio fidei, and De triplici virtute theologica. r. bellarmine, De laicis, or The Treatise on Civil Government, tr. k. e. murphy (New York 1928).
[a. a. north]
"Sovereignty." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sovereignty
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