Unfortunately, Bellarmine's analysis assumed that there are certain rights, unlike life, liberty, and private property, that are granted not to individual human beings, but to the collective, the "assembled mass" of the people, such as waging war or administering justice. The collective, however, is not a natural person, and therefore God cannot by Nature — Intellect — grant the collective any kind of right or rights. As Pope Pius XI reminded us in Divini Redemptoris, "Only man, the human person, and not society in any form, is endowed with reason and a morally free will." The answer to the question whether there is anything God cannot do is, "Yes: not be God." By definition, as a perfect Being, God cannot contradict Himself, or He would not be God. Thus He cannot do anything contrary to His own Nature — such as endow anything that is not a natural person (such as the collective) with inherent rights.
Thus, what "saves" Bellarmine from Hobbesian State absolutism is a firm reliance on the primacy of the Intellect over the Will as the basis of the natural law, as Rommen points out (Rommen, op. cit., 53). If God (or the State) appears to give a command or passes a law that seems to contradict Nature, we are either misunderstanding God's command, or the State may be acting beyond its competence, respectively. It is our job as faithful creatures or good citizens to discern the underlying reality or principle in conformity with Nature, and apply it properly. The State cannot, therefore, be supreme in the way that Hobbes or Filmer declared, because State absolutism is itself contrary to the law of Nature and of Nature's God, violating the sovereignty of the individual and the dignity of the human person.
The necessity of the collective for Bellarmine's argument comes from his assumption that the State or the ruler (both "artificial persons") have legitimate powers that individuals lack, such as carrying out a just war and judging criminals. He did not consider the possibility of what Pope Pius XI was to discover and at which Aquinas hinted: that individuals have certain rights that they cannot exercise as individuals. Bellarmine assumed the necessity of the collective because he rejected the possibility of what John Locke, for example, referred to as "the state of nature," wherein there was absolutely no civil society because there was no civil intercourse. Bellarmine looked on this assumption as purely imaginary, and unworthy of consideration. From the creation of Adam, man has lived in social intercourse with his fellows ("It is not good for man to be alone. . . ."). Civil society, therefore, existed the moment there was more than one person.
. . .the statement is false which Cicero makes, namely, that there was formerly a time when men wandered about in the manner of beasts, then, through the eloquence of some wise orator, they were induced to assemble, and to live together. [Cicero, De Inventione, Book I.] Indeed, whoever undertakes the praise of eloquence usually makes this statement even now. But that state of affairs never existed, nor could it have existed at any time. For Adam was a very wise man, and without doubt did not allow men to wander about like beasts, and Cain, his son, even built a material city; before Cain and Adam, man did not exist. (De Laicis, Ch. V.)Locke, however, while in most cases following Bellarmine's arguments closely (at the same time that he claimed to be rejecting them — it's complicated), had no problem with positing a time in which men had no social intercourse with one another. There was, therefore, a time when each individual person retained both full individual sovereignty and full political sovereignty within himself.
For our purposes, let us assume for the sake of the argument that the state of nature would be a purely hypothetical situation (as exampled by the case of slavery, which, while Locke refused to admit that anyone could be a slave legitimately — i.e., completely deprived of rights — the notion of slavery was a useful concept, and was, at least, intellectually conceivable, even if absolutely impossible). Hypothetically, then, a state of nature could exist antecedent to the existence of civil society, where only one person was around, with no one else within his sphere, even if that state of nature disappeared instantaneously with that individual's creation due to the existence of others within his sphere.
Where that single individual was all alone, he would be a completely independent and politically sovereign entity. This assumption, added to the additional assumption that man retains full individual and political sovereignty in each person, even with others around, is the basis for anarchy as a political system (as distinct from mere social chaos). Bellarmine (and probably Locke as well) would have denied the possibility that genuine anarchy could exist where there was more than one person, since the existence of society obviated the possibility of anarchy, and society existed immediately where there was more than one person.
The moment another human being shows up, a society exists, and an individual loses those rights of political sovereignty that he formerly had, of carrying out a just war, or judging the guilty, for example. You would thus have the paradox where man in the state of nature has full political sovereignty, but only as long as he did not have the opportunity of exercising it (i.e., there would be no one else around against whom to exercise the rights exclusive to political sovereignty). Individuals, the moment they enter society (whether or not that action is voluntary or even conscious), commit by that action an automatic grant of their political sovereignty to duly constituted authority. Since society exists the moment there is more than one person, the "state of nature" can be taken as completely and purely hypothetical, a useful fiction for determining the method of transmission of political sovereignty.
Locke probably did not seriously consider the possibility of anarchy ("the state of nature") as an actual state of affairs (and would probably have looked on today's anarchists as lunatics). In common with Bellarmine and virtually every other thinker throughout history, Locke viewed man as a social creature, whose interaction with his fellows as beings with something in common with himself was the only rational arrangement. The insertion of a period in which a state of nature existed was for Locke probably only a useful contrivance.
Our assumption of a hypothetical state of nature, however, is also extremely useful in getting around Bellarmine's difficulty about the State or the collective having rights that individuals lack. Bellarmine assumed the existence of society from the very creation of man. We can assume the hypothetical existence of a state of nature that disappeared immediately upon the first instance of social interaction. This, as far as Bellarmine was concerned, was virtually instantaneous, making the actual existence of the "state of nature" impossible, however useful Locke found it in deriving arguments.
How this ties together is what we will examine in the next posting in this series.