St. Thomas Aquinas has been heralded as a theological wonder and is one of the few theologians who hold the rare ecclesiastical title, “Doctor of the Church.” Aquinas was a 13th century Italian Dominican friar and author of the Summa Theologiae, “one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature,” according to the late American philosopher James F . Ross.
A fascinating and little-known Thomistic social teaching, found in Book 1, Part 2, Question 105, emerges in the theologian’s response to the question, “Whether the judicial precepts regarding foreigners were framed in a suitable manner?”
“I answer that,” writes Aquinas,” man’s relations with foreigners are twofold: peaceful, and hostile: and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts. For the Jews were offered three oppurtunities of peaceful relations with foreigners. First, when foreigners passed through their land as travelers. Secondly, when they came to dwellin their land as newcomers. And in both these respects the Law made kind provision in its precepts: for it is written (Ex. 22:21): “Thou shalt not molest a stranger [Lat. advena];” and again (Ex. 22:9): “Thou shalt not molest a stranger [Lat. peregrino]. 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). 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 t he people…”
“In like manner with regard to hostile relations with foreigners, the Law contained suitable precepts. For, in the first place, it commanded that war should be declared for a just cause: thus it is commanded (Dt. 20:10) that when they advanced to besiege a city, they should at first make an offer of peace. Secondly, it enjoined that when once they had entered on a war they should undauntedly persevere in it, putting their trust in God. And in order that they might be the more heedful of this command, it ordered that on the approach of battle the priest should hearten them by promising them God’s aid. Thirdly, it prescribed the removal of whatever might prove an obstacle to the fight, and that certain men, who might be in the way, should be sent home. Fourthly, it enjoined that they should use moderation in pursuing the advantage of victory, by sparing women and children, and by not cutting down fruit-trees of that country.”
Aquinas’s understanding of how one should treat foreigners, migrants, and refugees is certainly not constructed under notions of xenophobia or antisemitism, as his entire argument hinges on an archaic Jewish model. Additionally, immigrants are welcomed in Aquinas’s foreign policy, given that their stay is either A) temporary or B) intended to bring about total assimilation after several generations. The reason for this is so 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.”
If one is unpersuaded by Aquinas’s overwhelmingly biblical case concerning the ethical underpinnings of immigration, then perhaps drawing parallels may help.
In the Book of Revelation, details of an eschatological landscape is provided, with a “New Jerusalem” acting as the city of God, where Christ will reign with believers after the Apocalypse. In chapter 21, the apostle John is brought to this place in an apocalyptic vision, where he records the following:
“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, h aving the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel,” (Rev. 21:9-11).”
Indeed. In the end, after the return of God and the Final Judgment, the Scriptures detail how there will be a “great and high” wall with a dozen gates guarded by a dozen angels. This is a divine instance of anti-immigration. For what purpose does such a wall serve? The fact that they are described as “great and high” can infer that they are by their nature exclusionary. In the gospel narratives, the damned are referred to as existing far away from the city walls, having been cast into “outer darkness,” incapable of entering the holy city (Matt. 8:12; cf. Rev. 20:14-1).
Despite the constant misrerepresentation of Jesus of Nazareth as a refugee-welcoming, healthcare-giving, pot-smoking anti-fascist, the historical Jesus, understood in the orthodox Christian tradition, advocates for heavily fortified national defense and an extreme vetting process for entrance into the heavenly city.