What Saint Thomas Says About Immigration

What Saint Thomas Says About Immigration

Everyone can agree: We have a burning immigration crisis. Never have so many crossed the border illegally, and never has the government appeared so unwilling to resolve the problem.

As the immigration debate continues, many think that the Catholic Church’s position is one of unconditional charity: no limits, no walls, and no borders. But is that really the case? What does the Bible say about immigration? What does Saint Thomas Aquinas say? Can a medieval Saint solve a modern problem?

Well, he does. In his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas has gems of wisdom that apply to the national immigration policy debate today.

Saint Thomas says:

Man’s relations with foreigners are twofold: peaceful, and hostile: and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts.

Saint Thomas affirms that not all immigrants are equal. Every nation has the right to decide which immigrants are beneficial, that is, “peaceful,” to the common good. As a matter of self-defense, the State can reject criminals, traitors, enemies and others who it deems harmful to its citizens.

The second thing he affirms is that the manner of dealing with immigration is determined by law in the cases of both beneficial and “hostile” immigration. The State has the right and duty to apply its law.

Saint Thomas continues:

For the Jews were offered three opportunities of peaceful relations with foreigners. First, when foreigners passed through their land as travelers. Secondly, when they came to dwell in their land as newcomers. And in both these respects the Law made kind provision in its precepts: for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not molest a stranger’ (Exodus 22:21).

Saint Thomas acknowledges that others might want to visit or stay in a land for a period of time. Such foreigners deserved to be treated with charity, respect and courtesy, which is due to any person of good will. In these cases, the law should protect foreigners from mistreatment.

Saint Thomas says:

Thirdly, when any foreigners wished to be admitted entirely to their fellowship and mode of worship. With regard to these a certain order was observed. For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher says (Polit. iii, 1).

Saint Thomas recognizes that some people will want to become citizens of the lands they visit. However, he sets as the first condition for acceptance a desire to fully integrate into the culture and life of the nation.

A second condition is that the granting of citizenship would not be immediate. The integration process takes time. He quotes Aristotle about this process taking two or three generations. Saint Thomas himself does not give a time frame for this integration, but he does agree that it can take a long time.

Saint Thomas:

The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.

What Saint Thomas says is politically incorrect but full of common sense. Living in a nation is a complex thing. It takes time to know the issues affecting the nation. Those familiar with the long history of their nation are in the best position to make the long-term decisions about its future. It’s harmful to put the future of a nation in the hands of those who recently arrived, and don’t know what’s happening. Such a policy could lead to the destruction of the nation.

To illustrate this point, Saint Thomas later notes that the Jewish people did not treat all nations equally. Nations closer to them were more quickly integrated into the population than those who were not as close. Some hostile peoples were not to be admitted at all into full fellowship due to their enmity toward the Jewish people.

Saint Thomas writes:

Nevertheless it was possible by dispensation for a man to be admitted to citizenship on account of some act of virtue: thus it is related (Judith 14:6) that Achior, the captain of the children of Ammon, ‘was joined to the people of Israel, with all the succession of his kindred.’

In other words, the rules were not rigid. There were exceptions. But the exceptions always had the common good in mind. The example of Achior describes how citizenship was bestowed upon the captain and his children for the good services he rendered the nation.

These are some of the thoughts of Saint Thomas Aquinas on immigration based on biblical principles. It’s clear that good immigration policy has two things in mind: First, the nation’s unity; and second, the common good.

Immigration should have as its goal integration, not disintegration or segregation. Good immigrants not only desire benefits but they assume the responsibilities of joining into the full fellowship of the nation. By becoming a citizen, a person becomes part of a broader family and not just a shareholder with short-term self-interest.

Saint Thomas teaches that immigration must have the common good in mind; it cannot destroy or overwhelm a nation.

This explains why so many European citizens are uneasy with the flood of mass immigration, flawed catch-and-release policies, and porous borders. Such bad policy destroys common points of unity and overwhelms the ability of a society to absorb new elements organically into a unified culture. The common good is no longer considered.

Proportional immigration can be healthy for society because it injects new life and qualities into a social body. But when it loses that proportion and undermines the purpose of the State, it threatens the well-being of the nation.

We should follow the advice of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The nation must practice justice and charity towards all, including foreigners, but it must above all safeguard the common good and its unity. Without that, no country can long endure.

Don't miss any important updates!

Do you want to stay up to date on our fight for Christian values in Europe? Then sign up for the email newsletter. With articles, polls, petitions, and more. Completely free of leftist censorship. Don't miss out and sign up now!

Treatment: *
Your data will be processed by Civitas Christiana Foundation so that we can keep you informed about our campaigns in the future. You have the right to view, modify or delete your data at any time. Privacy Policy.