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Roger Ruston

Author of Human Rights and the Image of God; Christendom Trust Research Fellow (2000–2004) at the Centre for Law and Religion, Cardiff Law School

Sponsored by the Justice and Peace Commission of the English Dominican Province, of which he is a co-opted member, Roger obtained funding from the Trust for a research and writing project on human rights and theology.


Central to his research has been a study of the origins of natural rights concepts in Christian political theology in the formative early-modern period in Spain (the Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria, Domingo de Soto and Bartolomé de Las Casas) and England (John Locke). The object of the work has been to throw light on the development of human rights by Christian theologians before the secular Enlightenment, in the context of early European colonialism; and the subsequent ambivalent attitude of the Church towards modern human rights ideas in the face of secular liberalism. On the one hand the Church wants to support justice towards the poor of the world, on the other hand it resents the intrusion of liberal, individualism into its internal life.

The outcome of this work has been:

Human Rights and the Image of God, published by SCM-Canterbury Press, July 2004, £18.99, 312pp.; see below for a  synopsis of headings. And Human Rights and the Image of God, a conference organized by the Dominican Justice and Peace Commission, held at Blackfriars, Oxford on 16 October 2004, with substantial inputs from: Ian Linden (internationalist and author of A New Map of the World, DLT, 2004);  Tina Beattie (theologian, author of many books, including Woman, Continuum, 2003 and lecturer at Roehampton College, University of Surrey);  Annabel Brett (Cambridge historian and author of Liberty, Right and Nature, CUP, 2004);  Christopher Insole (theologian, author of The Politics of Human Frailty: A Theological Defence of Political Liberalism, SCM Press, 2004);  and Nicholas Sagovsky (Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey).

Human Rights and the Image of God

Roger Ruston

(Published in London by SCM-Canterbury Press (£18.99), and in Lousville, KY by Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)

Synopsis of Headings

Part 1 Introduction

1. Liberal Ideas, Catholic Critics

The clash of rights in secular society

Common ground or illusory consensus?

An alien concept for religion?

2. An Awkward Embrace: Human Rights and the Church

John XXIII and Pacem in Terris: a new role for the papacy

Vatican II and freedom of religion

John Paul II and ‘the culture of death’

‘Unholy alliance’: the Holy See, Islamic states and reproductive rights

Autocratic church government: its problems with individual rights

Rights of All the Faithful in canon law

A question of ecclesiology: familial and conciliar models

Some questions and a direction for this book

3. Aquinas and Fair Trade Coffee

A share in the world’s goods? � unfair trade and the poor

Natural right and community of possessions

Objective and subjective right: the ‘right thing’ and ‘my rights’

Natural dominion: inclusive property in God's world

Private property and common goods

Politics in paradise: the divine gift of government

Image, reason and capacity for God

Fair trade postscript


Part 2 Salamanca: Francisco de Vitoria

4. Right of War and the Law of Nations

Montesino’s sermon: opposing theologies of the conquest

Vitoria’s letter about the robbers of Peru

Right of war � natural and divine justice

The requirimiento: conversion or death

The supremacy of law

5. Encountering the Stranger

Sinner’s rights to property and self-government

Dominion and right: fundamental liberties

Humans and non-humans

Barbarians, the image of God, and true dominion

Unjust titles, illegal wars

Just titles, rights of communication, pretexts for robbery

Responsibilities across boundaries

6. Vitoria's Liberties

The catholic paradigm revisited

Active and passive rights: liberties and benefits

Jean Gerson: liberty and subsidiarity

The right to hunt

Domingo de Soto: the free person in the free community

Conclusion: the School of Salamanca


Part 3 Mexico and Peru: Bartolom� de las Casas

7. Freedom and the Gospel

Bartolom� de Las Casas in history

An intrinsically evil system

Narrative of conversion and resistance

The gospel and the natural people

Sublimis Deus: narrative of a papal letter

The liberty of the sons and daughters of God

The New Laws � a hollow victory?

8. Defender of the Indians

Humanism in conflict

The great debate of 1550: Las Casas and Sep�lveda

Who are the barbarians?

A right to eat people? The extent of religious freedom

Heretics and Africans � a test case

Conclusions: the most precious gift of freedom

9. Dominion, Consent and Self-determination

The sale of the century: Philip II and the encomiendas of Peru

Medieval laws, modern liberties

Power of kings, consent of subjects

The need to justify political power

Traditions of consent

What touches all should be approved by all

Covenantal politics: rights to and rights over

10. Las Casas’s Last Testimony

A scandalized friar and this twelve questions

The King’s last chance

The viceroy’s revenge

Las Casas's rights: concluding questions and some answers


Part 4 England and Carolina: John Locke

11. Sovereign Individuals

States and individuals at war: after Grotius

Which Locke: secular prophet or Christian thinker?

Locke in the United States: neo-liberalism and Lockean rights

Locke the theologian

12. God’s Gift in Common

Narrative of rebellion: the Exclusion Crisis of 1681�3

Revolution or status quo: how egalitarian was Locke?

The patriarchal enemy: rule of fathers or consent of equals?

Reading the Two Treatises as theology

Different views of natural law and common property

13. This Great and Natural Community

Natural duties and political obligations: the limits of consent

Because God commands, or because it is right?

The state of nature has a law to govern it

Workers and their products: the origin of duties and rights

Conclusion: Locke's individualism

14. Property and Labour

Of property: the labour theory and its influence

Money: how it enhances labour

Possessive individualism or social responsibility?

15. The Vacant Places of America

Locke’s North American interests

Making the most of God's gift

Puritan virtues in the ‘waste’ land

Lockean rights and indigenous rights today

Contradictory tendencies of the natural rights tradition


Part 5 Conclusion

16. Interpreting the Image

Nineteenth-century usages: Leo XIII on slavery and workers’ rights

Twentieth-century exegesis: representing God

‘Male and female he created them’: separating dominion from maleness

Two views of natural law: thick and thin versions of the good

Hidden theologies: what secular equality owes to religion

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