7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli’s The Prince

The term Machiavellian is synonymous with cunning and unscrupulous political action. In general, Machiavelli is seen as the philosopher who separated morality from politics and advocated the “end justifies the means” principle to govern political thought. At worst, he sometimes seen as the thinker who freed political thought from religion and other superfluous external moral codes, and rooted it in practical reality. However, taking the perspective of the ancients looking forward to Machiavelli – not modernity looking back – it is evident that Machiavelli did much more than separate morality from politics. He separated politics from an ordered cosmos.

Listers, the term Machiavellian is synonymous with cunning and unscrupulous political action. The cultural reputation of Niccolo Machiavelli may be summed up in the fact that the term Old Nick stems directly from his name and is a term for the Devil.

In general, Machiavelli is seen as the philosopher who separated morality from politics and advocated the “end justifies the means” principle to govern political thought. At worst, he sometimes seen as the thinker who freed political thought from religion and other superfluous external moral codes, and rooted it in practical reality. However, taking the perspective of the ancients looking forward to Machiavelli – not modernity looking back – it is evident that Machiavelli did much more than separate morality from politics. He separated politics from an ordered cosmos.

1. The Pre-Machiavelli Political Tradition:

Aristotle observed that men are by nature political animals and that political organization, i.e., the city or the polis, is a naturally occurring event. For Aristotle, both the polis and the forest exist by nature. He saw nature as a standard. Nature provided an order, e.g., the polis cannot just be a proximate collection of households, but rather must be properly ordered for the sake of living well. According to Aristotle, the proper actions of men within the order of nature are called virtues, and the prime virtue of the polis is the one by which it has proper order: the virtue of justice.

According to the advent of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the New Testament, St. Thomas Aquinas was able to articulate that the polis (ordered by nature) actually exists within a divinely ordered cosmos. The natural virtues – temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence – along with the theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – were now seen as man’s proper action in accordance with The Good that ordered the entire cosmos. Nature displays God’s broad moral order, and the polis specifies that broad moral order into specific laws for the common good. Overall, the entire universe exhibits a divine and harmonious cosmological order.

Statue of Machiavelli

All quotes are taken from Machiavelli’s The Prince, chapter XV: Of the Things Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed.

By way of introduction, the focus on this post will be chapter XV of Machiavelli’s The Prince. The chapter more prominently displays the philosophy of his writing, rather than the practical advice that peppers the other chapters. However, before looking at chapter XV, lets look at an outline of the whole:

1.Various Types of Principalities (1-11)
2.The Prince & His Enemies: Foreign Policy (12-14)
3.The Prince & His Friends: Domestic Policy (15-23)
4.The Role of Prudence & Luck (24-26)

“But my intention being to write something of use to those who understand, it appears to me more proper to go to the real truth of the matter than it its imagination: and many imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality.”

2. The Virtue of Utility:

A constant theme throughout Machiavelli’s work (and modernity overall) is an isolated focus on how can a thing be used? God’s ordered cosmos, as seen in nature and revelation, is no longer the canon by which to judge an action, but rather the standard of utility asks what can I gain from this? Questions of whether an action is wrong or right – ordered or disordered – are discarded for the sake of achieving an end.

3. Imagined Republics:

Machiavelli is referring to the cities in speech that were common among the ancient philosophers, most notably Plato & Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle speaks of nature as a standard as sees men as political animals that inhabit a polis ordered by the natural virtue of justice. Furthermore, the most notable imagined republic for Machiavelli is the Kingdom of God as articulated by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem with the Kingdom of God and other so-called imagined republics is that they place man’s actions within an ordered whole.

“For how we live is of far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin that his preservation.”

4. The Individual Over the Common Good:

Casting aside the imagined republic of the Kingdom of God, Machiavelli seeks to describe a new and real standard. Within this sordid political order, those who try and live according to any moral standard will bring about his own ruin. It is no longer about what one ought to do, but rather what one can do to ensure his political dominance. According to the divinely ordered cosmos, those who hold political office ought to strive for the common good and a polis that is well-ordered according to the virtue of justice; however, Machiavelli speaks nothing of a common good, but only of the individual good.

Statue by Lorenzo Bartolini outside the Uffizi, Florence.

5. Preservation over Perfection:

Within the divinely ordered cosmos, the individual seeks to live his life according to the Good. In habituating himself to the Good, the individual orders himself according to the order revealed by God. For example, charity is the mother of all the virtues, and has as its end the forming of the individual to Jesus Christ. In gist, the individual works toward perfecting himself by becoming more Christ-like. However, Machiavelli replaces perfection with preservation. The worth of a man’s action is rooted in whether or not it helps him maintain his power and station.

“I know everyone will admit that it would be highly praiseworthy in a prince to possess all the above-named qualities that are reputed good, but… human conditions not permitting of it… he should be prudent enough to avoid the scandal of those vices which would lose him the state.” “And yet he must not mind incurring the scandal of those vices, without which it would be difficult to save the state… it will be found that some things which, seem virtues would, if followed, lead to one’s ruin, and some others which appear vices result in one’s greater security and wellbeing.”

6. The Reinterpretation of Virtue:

According to Machiavelli’s advice, Virtue is actually the cunning ability to gain and maintain power, while Vice would be any action that endangers or causes one to lose power. Notice also that Justice, the political virtue, is missing from Machiavelli’s treatise on political action. Justice requires a well-ordered polis and a perseverance toward the common good. Also missing from his advice is any notion of “the Good” or the value of friendship in politics.

7. How Machiavelli Should Be Read:

In general, Machiavelli’s The Prince is taken in two ways: either, he is seen in a negative light as one the one who first advocated the separation of morality and politics, or he is unfortunately seen in a positive light as the one who removed the religious and idealistic fancies from politics. The former view does not fully state the rupture Machiavelli had with the pre-modern political tradition, and the latter has been used to justify any number of crimes against humanity. Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas all have something in common: their political thought cannot be separated from the whole of their philosophy. Aristotle’s Politics cannot be understood without reading his Nichomachean Ethics as well. The political thought of Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas cannot be properly understood unless you place it within their broader understanding of the divinely ordered cosmos.

Virtue is man’s correct action within the ordered whole. In separating politics from any proper order – natural or revealed – Machiavelli not only advocates politics isolated from morality, but describes a new cosmological order. A cosmos focused only on how do men will to live without any external standard or order. Religion is reduced to a private affair; one without any power to speak publicly. Though enforced and re-crafted by tributaries such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and even Nietzsche, the headwater for understanding the secular modern regime is found in Niccolo Machiavelli. It is the beginning point for modernity’s liberation project of the human will from all externalities.

Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws

“Catholics should not judge nor live their Catholic lives according to modernity, but should judge and live within modernity according to Catholicism.”

Listers, if we are to be Catholic we must think like Catholics. Too often Catholics – both sides of the American political aisle – try to be Catholic according to the precepts and philosophies of modernity and its intellectual trends. We push our Catholicism into the contraints of something alien to it and then wonder why our faith seems tenuous and conflated. The Catholic tradition has long rested on Aquinas’ treatment of the divinely ordered cosmos to answer questions of providence, Scripture, nature and politics. Catholics cannot thrive within philosophies and theologies marked by isolated stomping grounds and modern blinders. Catholics believe in one divinely ordered Creation. Catholics should not judge nor live their Catholic lives according to modernity, but should judge and live within modernity according to Catholicism. To accomplish this feat, one must understand the how existence is ordered and how harmony of these laws promotes the common good.1

A law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II.90.4

1. What are the four laws?

The following summary maps the four laws of the divinely ordered cosmos.2

Eternal Law – The Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end; it has the common good of all things as its focus; thus God, as “Being-itself” is the only One capacious enough to promulgate such a law and move all things in existence toward their proper end.

Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.

The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT
The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT

Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law.

Whether These Four Laws Exist

2. Is there Eternal law?

Any law can be summarized as “nothing else but a dictate of practical reason emanating from the ruler who governs a perfect community.” If therefore this definition of law is applied to all existence or being, then, the Angelic Doctor explains, “granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence” the “the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason.” He continues, “wherefore the very idea of the government of things in God the Ruler of the universe, has the nature of a law.”

God’s Reason and God’s Wisdom
Eternal Law is God’s Wisdom that governs over all existence. St. Thomas speaks of both “Divine Reason” and “Divine Wisdom,” but unlike created man in whom reason can differ from wisdom due to imperfection, God the Creator’s reason is also perfect wisdom.

3. Is there in us a Natural law?

If Eternal Law governs Creation, how does the creature participate?
“Wherefore, since all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law, as was stated above; it is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Further articulating the “respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends,” the Angelic Doctor states, “wherefore [the rational creature, i.e., man] has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law.”3

What all Catholics should know about Natural Law:
Aquinas will go on to address Natural Law in greater detail in both his question on the subject and in treating Human Law; however, the incredible importance of Natural Law should be summarized:

Natural Law is the imprint of God’s Eternal Law upon creatures, and that means that Natural Law serves as the universal and common general moral language of all rational creations – humans. Moreover, it also means – as touched on below – that all Human Law, all political laws of the State, should be specifications of Natural Law’s general precepts. Under no circumstances can the laws of the State be dictates of the arbitrary will of a ruler or the people. Laws are just or unjust according to nature not the human will.

4. Is there Human law?

Human Law is at the same time incredibly simple in its premise and incredibly arduous in its practicality. Human Law is nothing more than the general laws of nature specified via human reason into particular laws of the State.

The precepts of Natural Law are “general and indemonstrable principles,” and upon these general inclinations “human reason needs to proceeed to the more particular determination of certain matter.”

What all Catholics should know about Human Law:
Nota bene: human law is not just an extension of the ruler’s will nor is Human Law a simple gemoetric deduction from Natural Law. All Human Law – all laws of the State (polis) – must be rooted in nature and nature’s general moral precepts. A law is just according to the standard of nature not the desire of the people or the command of a ruler. The rulers of the State must work to take the general moral precepts of nature and specify them into particular laws of the State, e.g., the natural repugnance of murder and its unlawfulness is legislated into several various degrees and corresponding punishments. Human Law seeks through nature and reason to clarify and determine the gray areas of Natural Law.4

5. Is there a need for Divine law?

Divine Law is the revealed law of God to man, while Natural Law is the imprint of Eternal Law on the hearts of men. Natural Law is then demonstrable and intelligible in its principles and thus discernable by human reason. Divine Law, while accessible to human reason, is revealed to man and not necessarily demonstrable from nature.

An Example of Divine vs Natural Law:
Divine Law was necessary to reveal to man such truths that were not able to be discerned from nature, e.g., the proper worship of God, God’s specific will for Israel, the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc. However, certain precepts are shared by Divine and Natural Law, such as “do not murder.” Certainly God did not have to reveal to man that murder was wrong for man knew this from the imprinted inclinations of Natural Law, but God did clarify many natural precepts in Scripture.

What is the purpose of the Divine Law?
Therefore, Divine Law can be said to be given for many reasons, but in general it was given because Natural Law allows man to participate according to the capacity of his human nature with the Eternal Law – however, man was in need of something to lift him above his own nature so that he may fulfill his supernatural end. Moreover, Divine Law clarifies many particulars of Natural Law and reveals many truths man would have otherwise never known.

6. How many Divine laws are there?

There is one Divine Law manifested in two parts – the Old Testament and New Testament – and the latter perfects the former. The operative word is perfect – sometimes the terms “old” and “new” give the false impression restart. The New Law perfects the Old and both can be seen as a progression of the Divine Pedagogy.

Fear and Love:
St. Thomas Aquinas gives several observations of the relationship between the two parts of the Divine Law. He states, “it belongs to the law to induce men to observe its commandments. This the Old Law did by the fear of punishment: but the New Law, by love, which is poured into our hearts by the grace of Christ, bestowed in the New Law, but foreshadowed in the Old. Hence Augustine says (Contra Adimant. Manich. discip. xvii) that “there is little difference [The ‘little difference’ refers to the Latin words ‘timor’ and ‘amor’–‘fear’ and ‘love.’] between the Law and the Gospel–fear and love.”

7. What of Sin?

Aquinas is addressing a confusing juxtaposition. One one hand, a law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated;” and under this definition, sin cannot be considered a law because sin is not rational nor is to for the common good. However, St. Paul states, “I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind.” What then is sin?

There is in man the Natural Law that prompts him to the good and his proper acts and end; however, sin is also like a law insofar as it has a “reason of a direct inclination” to lead men away from the good. Yet, “in man, it has not the nature of law in this way, rather it is a deviation from the law of reason.” Sin appears to be a law insofar as it inclines men to a certain action, but since it is irrational and to the detriment of the good of man, it is not a law – in essence, sin is a corruption.5

  1. LIST: This list is based on Aquinas’ ST I-II.91 – Various Kinds of Law []
  2. The Four Laws: Notice that in the questions, Aquinas does not immediate go into the details of each law or rather “what is this law,” but rather “is there such a law?” He realizes that the case for the existence of such laws must be made. Another key characteristic to take note of is that the laws can and do overlap; thus, if the laws seem to be unclear at times because it seems an issue cannot be deduced to simply one sphere of law, it is because the laws handle the same subject but often in different ways. Just as a geologist and an astronomer can both speak to the earth being a sphere, but address the subject through different methods – this most often seen in how the Divine Law and the Natural Law speak to the same morals, but one is revealed and the other instinctual. []
  3. Natural Law & Scripture: While there are many examples, Aquinas uses the following as an example of an innate moral compass in man: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law. []
  4. The State: technically the term implied here is polis, which means means city. When Aristotle used the term he was referring to City-States or holistic political communities. Political philosophy has appropriated the term to signify the complete and sovereign political body. For “The Philosopher” the term contained several sub-political parts – man the political animal, the relationships of the family, collections of families or villages and finally the superior political body the polis as a collection of villages. Modernity works off a more grandiose system, but the premise remains the same. []
  5. Sin & Evil: To better understand why sin is not a law, evil must be understood. Evil is not a thing but is rather the privation of good. It is a negation, a lack and a corruption. There is no pure evil, because pure evil would mean something was wholly corrupt without out any good and that would mean the thing would simply cease to exist. To wit, God created and sustains all being, therefore, even the demons have some good left in them insofar as they exist. []

Clerics and War: 6 Thoughts On Whether It Is Lawful for a Priest to Fight

Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.

Listers, in the Angelic Doctor’s Summa Theologica, he addresses the question of whether or not it is lawful for a priest or bishop to wage war. St. Thomas Aquinas takes up his question on war under vices contrary to peace which is a species of the mother of all virtues, charity. The question on priests and war is his second article under the question of war, which follows the first article discussing St. Augustine’s Just War theory.1

Henceforth everything is quoted from that glorious book that was laid upon the altar at the Council of Trent – the Summa Theologica – save the titles and the rearranging of the question to better suit the majority of our readers who are not familiar with the structure of the Summa.

Whether it is lawful for clerics and bishops to fight?

1. Incompatible Duties

On the contrary, It was said to Peter as representing bishops and clerics (Matthew 16:52): “Put up again thy sword into the scabbard [Vulgate: ‘its place’] [“Scabbard” is the reading in John 18:11.”] Therefore it is not lawful for them to fight.

I answer that, Several things are requisite for the good of a human society: and a number of things are done better and quicker by a number of persons than by one, as the Philosopher observes (Polit. i, 1), while certain occupations are so inconsistent with one another, that they cannot be fittingly exercised at the same time; wherefore those who are deputed to important duties are forbidden to occupy themselves with things of small importance. Thus according to human laws, soldiers who are deputed to warlike pursuits are forbidden to engage in commerce [Cod. xii, 35, De Re Milit.].

Now warlike pursuits are altogether incompatible with the duties of a bishop and a cleric, for two reasons. The first reason is a general one, because, to wit, warlike pursuits are full of unrest, so that they hinder the mind very much from the contemplation of Divine things, the praise of God, and prayers for the people, which belong to the duties of a cleric. Wherefore just as commercial enterprises are forbidden to clerics, because they unsettle the mind too much, so too are warlike pursuits, according to 2 Timothy 2:4: “No man being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular business.”

2. Ministry of the Altar

The second reason is a special one, because, to wit, all the clerical Orders are directed to the ministry of the altar, on which the Passion of Christ is represented sacramentally, according to 1 Corinthians 11:26: “As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come.” Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry. For this reason it has been decreed that those who shed blood, even without sin, become irregular. Now no man who has a certain duty to perform, can lawfully do that which renders him unfit for that duty. Wherefore it is altogether unlawful for clerics to fight, because war is directed to the shedding of blood.

Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.


3. May Clerics Fight in Defense of the Vulnerable?

Capt. Carl Subler, chaplain, 5th Stryker Brig. Combat Team, 2nd Inf Div, celebrates Mass for Soldiers from 4th Bat, 23rd Inf Reg. Credit: Joint Combat Camera Afghanistan - CNA

Objection 1. It would seem lawful for clerics and bishops to fight. For, as stated above (Article 1), wars are lawful and just in so far as they protect the poor and the entire common weal from suffering at the hands of the foe. Now this seems to be above all the duty of prelates, for Gregory says (Hom. in Ev. xiv): “The wolf comes upon the sheep, when any unjust and rapacious man oppresses those who are faithful and humble. But he who was thought to be the shepherd, and was not, leaveth the sheep, end flieth, for he fears lest the wolf hurt him, and dares not stand up against his injustice.” Therefore it is lawful for prelates and clerics to fight.

Reply to Objection 1. Prelates ought to withstand not only the wolf who brings spiritual death upon the flock, but also the pillager and the oppressor who work bodily harm; not, however, by having recourse themselves to material arms, but by means of spiritual weapons, according to the saying of the Apostle (2 Corinthians 10:4): “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.” Such are salutary warnings, devout prayers, and, for those who are obstinate, the sentence of excommunication.

4. Can Clerics Take Part in Wars in Any Fashion?

Objection 2. Further, Pope Leo IV writes (xxiii, qu. 8, can. Igitur): “As untoward tidings had frequently come from the Saracen side, some said that the Saracens would come to the port of Rome secretly and covertly; for which reason we commanded our people to gather together, and ordered them to go down to the seashore.” Therefore it is lawful for bishops to fight.

Reply to Objection 2. Prelates and clerics may, by the authority of their superiors, take part in wars, not indeed by taking up arms themselves, but by affording spiritual help to those who fight justly, by exhorting and absolving them, and by other like spiritual helps. Thus in the Old Testament (Joshua 6:4) the priests were commanded to sound the sacred trumpets in the battle. It was for this purpose that bishops or clerics were first allowed to go to the front: and it is an abuse of this permission, if any of them take up arms themselves.

5. Is It a Sin for Clerics to Go to War?

Objection 3. Further, apparently, it comes to the same whether a man does a thing himself, or consents to its being done by another, according to Romans 1:32: “They who do such things, are worthy of death, and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.” Now those, above all, seem to consent to a thing, who induce others to do it.

But it is lawful for bishops and clerics to induce others to fight: for it is written (xxiii, qu. 8, can. Hortatu) that Charles went to war with the Lombards at the instance and entreaty of Adrian, bishop of Rome. Therefore they also are allowed to fight.

Reply to Objection 3. As stated above (23, 4, ad 2) every power, art or virtue that regards the end, has to dispose that which is directed to the end. Now, among the faithful, carnal wars should be considered as having for their end the Divine spiritual good to which clerics are deputed. Wherefore it is the duty of clerics to dispose and counsel other men to engage in just wars. For they are forbidden to take up arms, not as though it were a sin, but because such an occupation is unbecoming their personality.

Wherefore it is the duty of clerics to dispose and counsel other men to engage in just wars. For they are forbidden to take up arms, not as though it were a sin, but because such an occupation is unbecoming their personality.

6. Why Should Clerics Abstain from Just Wars?

Objection 4. Further, whatever is right and meritorious in itself, is lawful for prelates and clerics. Now it is sometimes right and meritorious to make war, for it is written (xxiii, qu. 8, can. Omni timore) that if “a man die for the true faith, or to save his country, or in defense of Christians, God will give him a heavenly reward.” Therefore it is lawful for bishops and clerics to fight.

Reply to Objection 4. Although it is meritorious to wage a just war, nevertheless it is rendered unlawful for clerics, by reason of their being deputed to works more meritorious still. Thus the marriage act may be meritorious; and yet it becomes reprehensible in those who have vowed virginity, because they are bound to a yet greater good.

  1. WAR: ST II-II.40 []

Aquinas On Suicide: 3 Reasons It Is Unlawful to Kill Oneself

“Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. v, 11).”

Listers, the following is the body of the question on “Whether it is lawful to kill oneself?” by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. The Angelic Doctor speaks of suicide under the greater question of Murder, listed under those acts contrary to the virtue of Justice. Everything henceforward is quoted from the body of ST II-II.64.5 save the addition of the titles by SPL.


Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 20): “Hence it follows that the words ‘Thou shalt not kill’ refer to the killing of a man–not another man; therefore, not even thyself. For he who kills himself, kills nothing else than a man.”

I answer that, It is altogether unlawful to kill oneself, for three reasons.

1. Contrary to Natural Law & to Charity

First, because everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself. Hence suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law and to charity.

2. Injury to the Common Good

Secondly, because every part, as such, belongs to the whole. Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. v, 11).

3. Sin Against God

Thirdly, because life is God’s gift to man, and is subject to His power, Who kills and makes to live. Hence whoever takes his own life, sins against God, even as he who kills another’s slave, sins against that slave’s master, and as he who usurps to himself judgment of a matter not entrusted to him. For it belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life, according to Deuteronomy 32:39, “I will kill and I will make to live.”

Harmony: 8 Quotes on Culture, Education, and Leisure

The role of education within a regime should be the formation of character or virtue, and this is especially true of democratic regimes that offer political power to all citizens and citizenship to all peoples.

Listers, SPL supports a renewal of the liberal arts and the classical approach to education. Modern education has been reduced to a system of isolated subjects, dented by political agendas, and orientated toward economic practical training. There is a natural order to knowledge, and education must honor that order and move the student through a sapiential and virtuous order.1

The role of education within a regime should be the formation of character or virtue, and this is especially true of democratic regimes that offer political power to all citizens and citizenship to all peoples. Citizens are asked to vote and sit on juries and participate in a political manner that presupposes a certain level of education.

Within a democracy, there is an intimate link between economy, leisure, wealth, and education. For a direct critique of this interplay and its impact on a democratic society, please consider the SPL list: 7 Concerns About Democracy & Its Modern Existence.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

The first section of quotes are drawn from the aforesaid and recommended work of Josef Pieper. The following quote is a brief review and introduction to the work.2

One of the most important philosophy titles published in the twentieth century, Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture is more significant, even more crucial, today than it was when it first appeared more than fifty years ago. This special new edition now also includes his little work The Philosophical Act.

Leisure is an attitude of the mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world. Pieper shows that the Greeks and medieval Europeans, understood the great value and importance of leisure. He also points out that religion can be born only in leisure a leisure that allows time for the contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.

Pieper maintains that our bourgeois world of total labor has vanquished leisure, and issues a startling warning: Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture and ourselves.

Notable quotes from Pieper’s excellent work:

Eternal Rest

As God, Who made things, did not rest in the things He made, but rested from them, in Himself […] just so should we learn to rest not in our things or in His things, as if they were the goal, but rather in God Himself, in Whom our happiness exists. This is the reason why man should work for six days in his own works, in order to rest on the seventh day, and be free for the worship of God. But for Christians, such rest is appointed not only temporarily, but for eternity.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences

Leisure as God-given

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
Mark 2:27

Movement from Opinion to Knowledge

Knowing means that the reality of existing things has been reached.

On Liberal & Servile Arts

Every art is called liberal which is ordered to knowing; those which are ordered to some utility to be attained through action are called servile arts.
Aristotle, Metaphysics

A Distinction of Ends

“Liberal arts,” therefore, are ways of human action which have their justification in themselves; “servile arts” are ways of human action that have a purpose outside of themselves.

Mount Parnassus - According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and the home of the Muses. - Wikipedia

Climbing Parnassus: The New Apologia for Greek and Latin

The following quotes are taken from the acclaimed work: Climbing Parnassus. The text calls for the rejuvenation of classical education and centers specifically on the sapiential and formative uses of Greek and Latin in classical education. For more of the wisdom of Tracy Lee Simmons’ excellent text, see the list: Climbing Parnassus: 11 Quotes on Restoring Education.


So here culture often refers to high culture. It’s about cultivation and refinement, about what makes one thought or act or expression better than another.

To Acquire or to Lose

Culture is that which climbs high on the scale of human achievement, is not easily apprehensible to all, and requires patient thought and sympathy. We are not born into culture; we acquire it. And we can lose it.

Culture Is Not Self-Sustaining

Ours is a time and a place where many have decided, through ignorance or neglect, that culture, whatever it is, will somehow take care of itself.

  1. Quote on Education and Virtue is taken from the 7 Concerns of Modern Democracy List []
  2. Amazon Review of Josef Pieper []

7 Concerns About Democracy and Its Modern Existence

“[The ancient’s] implicit prophecy that the emancipation of technology, of the arts, from moral and political control would lead to a disaster or to the dehumanization of man has not yet been refuted.”

Listers, the current modern regimes of the West tout democracy as an end all to tyranny and political strife. While democracy is arguably one of the most practical and successful regimes, it is not a magical balm that automatically assuages injustice. Democracy must be  understood according to its internal guiding principles – principles that have been observed and questioned since the ancient Greeks.

An SPL Introduction:
Democracy is only as good as its citizens, and the quality of those citizens demands certain constant factors. In 2011, the globe saw a major push for democracy in the Middle East. It is not uncommon for wartorn nations to turn to democracy after surviving years of tyranny, but the global jubilation over the Middle Eastern embrace of democracy has been severely tempered by watching those same counties democratically select oppressive religious laws that subjugate minorities and women.

The West is certainly not free from popular uprisings either, and the downturn of the economy in 2008 has since precipitated much frustration. However, whether democracy is trying to be imported or survive, there are guiding principles and ancient chains of causality that determine its success. Classical political philosophy held certain reservations about democratic regimes, and those hesitations are still valid today.

The following is certainly not anti-democracy, but rather it is displaying certain principles that must be acknowledge and adhered to if the modern democratic regimes are going to endure.

1. Freedom Is an Ambiguous Goal

Classical political philosophy – as demonstrated by such thinkers as Aristotle – held virtue to be the guiding goal of the state. Men are political animals, the state or polis is a natural institution, and they are both guided by “good habits” or the natural virtues. While perfecting natural law by the light of the Incarnate God, the Catholic Church still holds to natural law as the basis of human societies.

Regardless of what the Church or the ancients advocate, modern democracy’s obsession with freedom is fragile in its own right. The most obvious critique is that unlike virtue or any other objective goal, freedom is a means, not an end.

Freedom as a goal is ambiguous, because it is freedom for evil as well as for good.

Due to the focus on freedom, democratic regimes are inherently concerned with the quality of their citizens.1

2. The Link: Education, Leisure, & Wealth

The virtues are nothing more than “good habits,” but those acts that habituate individuals to the good are not subjective nor are they completely innate. Consequently, the formation of a citizen’s character requires education, and education requires leisure. If survival requires children to work the land or tend the animals, the lack of leisure equates to a lack of time for proper education.

If education is tied to leisure, then leisure is tied to one’s standard of living or general wealth. Philosophy was not born of humanity until the race had reached an age where society’s survival had become sufficient enough to allow for some leisure. However, for the children not to be able to work the land or tend the animals – and thus have the leisure to study – a certain amount of wealth is required.

3. The Problem of the Poor

The direct link between virtue, education, and wealth imports an immediate problem when considering the poor. Those who are unable to secure leisure in their life due to a lack of wealth are left primarily uneducated. There will always be “a minority of well-to-do people and a majority of the poor, and this strange coincidence will last forever because there is a kind of natural scarcity.” In this vein of thought, Aristotle states:

For the poor shall never cease out of the land.

Christ makes a similar claim in the New Testament:2

You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.

The link between education, leisure and wealth will always have to contend with the poor.

4. Democracy: The Rule of the Uneducated

The problem with democracy is immediately apparent: a democracy becomes a rule of the uneducated. Since democracy as it is currently known is the favored child of modernity, many modernist have attempted to solve this dilemma.

Jean-Jacque Rousseau addressed the issue by stating that all men needed to “live virtuously” was “supplied by their conscience.” While it is true that the conscience is supplied with certain natural dispositions toward the good, the conscience must be formed by virtue; thus, undergo education. Rousseau’s argument never found mainstream belief.

The most logical answer and the most attempted method is universal education. If a democracy is to function, it must be a government of the educated.

5. The Link Between the Economy & Universal Education

Universal education cannot escape the basic relationship between the formation of citizens, education, leisure, and wealth. In fact, the universal education project only complicates the causality. Individual citizens require leisure which requires wealth. Universal Education requires an “economy of plenty” in order to supply the necessary universal leisure for education.

6. The Cost of Universal Education

An economy of plenty is necessary for a successful democracy, and without it, a scarcity of leisure leads to a dip in education and quality which degrades the overall democracy; thus, this causality within democratic regimes has led to an intense drive to boost and sustain economic growth and success. The modern engine behind an economy of plenty is technology.

And economy of plenty presupposes the emancipation of technology from moral and political control.

The focus on technology imports a primary difference in ancient and modern political thought: “a different estimate of the virtues of technology.” It is important to remember that this discussion over democracy and technology is one issue amongst the entire ancient and modern’s dialogue. However, democracy’s innate need to sustain a strong economy has led to a strong economic devotion and the mitigation of other concerns.

[The ancient’s] implicit prophecy that the emancipation of technology, of the arts, from moral and political control would lead to a disaster or to the dehumanization of man has not yet been refuted.

It would be difficult to deny that the ancient’s tacit concerns of dehumanization in the elevation of technology has not been observed in the historical struggles between workers and the industry – or any number of rising anthropic economic tensions. The need to have a strong economy within a democracy has lend to an emancipation of technology from most external factors, which in turn presents a democracy constantly flirting with and overlooking dehumanization.

7. A Final Concern Over Modern Education

Modernity has offered universal education as the solution to the implicit chain of cause and effect within democratic regimes. And while there are legitimate concerns over the unhindered rise of technology within these regimes, there are also red flags raised over the type of universal education widely submitted.

The role of education within a regime should be the formation of character or virtue, and this is especially true of democratic regimes that offer political power to all citizens and citizenship to all peoples. Citizens are asked to vote and sit on juries and participate in a political manner that presupposes a certain level of education.

In the first place, what is today called education very frequently does not mean education proper, i.e., the formation of character, but rather instructions and training.

The inflated power of technology is economically drive, and economics has similarly reformed the very education on which it relies. Primarily, education – as the formation of character – has been reduced to occupational training. Educational systems within modern democracies train individuals to excel in certain fields, but then also ask them to participate in the politics. Overall, modern democracies are training people to work, but then neglecting the very principles that form their character into quality citizens.3

Similar SPL Lists
Vatican (CDF) on Democracy: 10 Statements
Vatican (CDF) on Democracy: 10 More Statements
Best Regime: 5 Thoughts of Classical Political Philosophy
Political Animals: 7 Thoughts from Book One of Aristotle’s Politics

  1. The Polis & Virtue: A Theocracy?
    The term virtue should not disturb non-Catholics or non-Christians. While the natural virtues are set standards and the theological virtues are certainly founded in God’s self-revelation, the following critique of democracy can take virtue at its most reduced basic level of “character formation.” Even the atheist politician must admit that a certain level of “character formation” is necessary for a citizen to properly participate in duties of citizenship, e.g., the wisdom and prudence necessary for jury duty, the power of electing representatives, and the basic right to vote. When the ancients spoke of virtue – especially the pre-Christian Greek philosophers – they were speaking proper education, especially in relation to political life. []
  2. St John 12:8 []
  3. All Quotes save Scripture Verses: An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Leo Strauss. 35-36. []

Political Authority: 8 Teachings of the Catholic Church

Is Democracy the Only Acceptable Government? Is Political Authority Natural? Can a Catholic Break an Unjust Law? The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses these questions and more.


Listers, the given section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been reproduced in its entirety.
The emphasis, comments, and questions have been added.

1. Does Human Society Need Political Authority?

1897. “Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.”15

By “authority” one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.

SPL Commentary
Well-ordered is a Catholic political buzzword that refers to the virtuous ordering of human society. The Cardinal Virtue that deals with proper ordering is Justice. In Aristotle’s Politics, he notes that “virtue of justice is a thing belonging to the city.” Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated in his encyclicals that Justice is the highest virtue of the city, and it is by Justice – a natural virtue – that humanity society is properly ordered.1

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

2. Is Political Authority Natural?

1898. Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.

SPL Commentary
Human beings are political animals. Returning to Politics, Aristotle teachings the “city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.” Man as a social and political animal by his own nature is a fundamental Catholic belief. In paragraph 1879, the CCC states, “the human person needs to live in society. Society is not an extraneous or external addition, but a requirement of his nature.” In gist, human society is just as natural as the forest.2

3. Is Political Order God Ordained?

1899. The authority required by the moral order derives from God:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”17

SPL Commentary
God creates Nature. Nature demands authority. Authority is God given. Man is by nature a political animal inhabiting natural societies structured according to the natural need for hierarchy. A well-ordered society allows its citizens to live well. However, society can only be well-ordered if the order of the governing agents is heeded. We should also note that a vicious leader is unnatural.3

Pope Benedict XVI greets President Barack Obama at the Vatican, Friday, July 10, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

4. How Should One Pray for Political Authorities?

1900. The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.

SPL Commentary
Humanity has a moral obligation to obey the human laws of society. According to St. Thomas, Human Law should specify Natural Law, e.g., Natural Law prohibits murder, thus Human Law specifies murder into gradient categories in order to be just to various situations. However, though God created man as a political animal, society as a natural community, and hierarchy as natural to man, man is still capable of vice; thus, the God ordained office may be held and operated unjustly. It is then incredibly important to pray for political leaders and their duty to order society.

Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church’s most ancient prayer for political authorities:18

“Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you.”19

5. Is Democracy the Only Acceptable Form of Government?

1901. If authority belongs to the order established by God, “the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens.”20

The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.

SPL Commentary
The purpose of law is to help cultivate virtue in citizens. Human society is natural and the virtues are habits that perfect man’s nature. However, both Sts. Augustine and Aquinas agreed that human society will always fall short of perfect justice. This is not only due to the fact Human Law cannot know the heart of man – a reason why Divine Law is needed – but also because not all men are virtuous.

St. Thomas warns that if society tries to mandate virtue disproportionately to its citizens, they will rebel and commit greater vices. Consequently, since all human societies will be imperfect, any form of government that orders itself according to natural law, virtuous order, and the natural rights – as seen by Natural Law – of its citizens is acceptable. To be clear, there is no utopia or utopian government is Catholic political thought.

President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush greet Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, the first stop of a six-day visit to the United States.


6. What Makes a Law Just or Unjust?

1902. Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a “moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility”:21

A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.22

SPL Commentary
St. Aquinas avers, law is “nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.” Again, laws and political authorities are not artificial or willful creations of men, but principles and offices rooted in Natural Law. If they break that connection, then the law is unreasonable, unnatural, and unjust.

7. Can a Catholic Break an Unjust Law?

1903. Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.”23

SPL Commentary
However, prudence – the virtue of right reasoning, the “elective habit” – is incredibly needed in said situations, because our societies have (1) drifted far away from nature as a whole and (2) have given citizens an avenue for peaceful political change. It is clear, however, that if the unjust law commanded a sinful – thus unreasonable and unnatural – action, e.g., mandated birth control or abortion, then one simply cannot follow the law. It would also follow that if society tried to legalize something unnatural, e.g., homosexual marriage, that too would fall short of being a proper law.


President John F.Kennedy visits Pope Paul VI. 1963

8. What Basic Guidelines Govern Human Society?

1904. “It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men.”24

SPL Commentary
The Church gives two basic guidelines for the myriad of possible governments: (1) a balance of power and (2) a realization that Human Law, as specifications of Natural Law, cannot be reduced to the mere will of the ruler(s).

  1. Natural Virtues: Justice is a “natural virtue,” which means that all men are capable of habituating themselves according to its principles, even if they are not Catholic. The Natural Virtues (Cardinal) are Prudence, Justice, Temperance, & Fortitude. In contrast, the Theological Virtues – Faith, Hope, & Charity – are revealed to man and are given to him via grace. []
  2. Political Animal: Another key concept in understanding man as a political animal – and his society – is observation that hierarchy is natural to man. Left to his own, humanity will always assemble itself in a hierarchy in order for society to function – regardless of whether that be a democracy or monarchy. []
  3. The Cosmic City: Here the well-ordered city is set within the ordered cosmos of God. The city is ordered according to nature, and nature itself is ordered by God. St. Thomas Aquinas goes into great depth in Summa Theologica I-II.90-108 to show that Natural Law, Human Law, Divine Law (Scripture), and Eternal Law (God’s wisdom moving all things toward their end) constitute a harmonious ordered cosmos. []

Animals Have Souls: 6 Inquiries Into Their Powers

The Sensitive Power “is the lowest degree of the knowledge to be encountered in the universe.”

Listers, we continue in our study of the soul. Today we focus on the Sensitive Soul or Animal Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson’s Christian Philosophy. I will once again voice my concern over Gilson, and state he is good for certain elementary concepts; however, students of our Angelic Doctor should turn to Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Langrange.

Again to escape an accusation of Catholic-Druidism, I’d like to state that the belief that animals have souls dates back to Aristotle, and was maintained with the Scholastic tradition. Moreover, the Vegetative and Sensitive Souls are mortal, they will return to dust, and only the Rational Soul of man is made in the Imago Dei.

SPL Recommended Reading
SPL on The Soul
SPL on The Vegetative Soul

A Coral Reef in Florida. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

1. What is the Sensitive Soul?

The Sensitive Power “is the lowest degree of the knowledge to be encountered in the universe.” The Sensitive Soul – characterized by the Sensitive Power – brings with it that which is necessary for animal existence.

And we must state that the listed powers are those which the Sensitive Soul adds in conjunction with the powers listed in the Vegetative Soul. Animals, like Plants, have the ability to come into existence, move from a nascent creature to a mature one, and receive nourishment. Likewise, the Rational Soul takes up the powers of both the Sensitive and the Vegetative.

2. What is a Particular Sense?

The term Particular Sense denotes an individual power that corresponds with a particular object, and is able to inform the soul of various sensible realities. The Particular Sense most commonly has five powers, which we know as the five senses. For example, hearing is the power that corresponds with the object of sound, and it informs the soul of that particular sensible reality.

Particular Sense: “which is the first in the order of sensitive powers and corresponds to an immediate modification of the soul be sensible realities. But the particular sense is in turn subdivided into distinct powers according to the various kinds of sensible impressions it is equipped to receive. Sensible act upon the particular sense by the species which they impress upon it;” hence, “let us begin, then, from the principle that the senses receive sensible species denuded of matter.”

3. What Are the Five Senses?

Touch: “Since sensibles of this kind produce material impressions in us, and since every material impression is made by contact, such sensibles must touch us in order that we may perceive them. Hence the sensitive power which apprehends them is called touch.”

Taste: “There is a second kind of sensible whose impression does not itself modify us, but yet it is accompanied by an accessory material modification. Sometimes this supplementary modification affects both the sensible and the sense organ. This is the case with taste.”

Hearing & Smell: “Hearing and smell suppose no material modification of the sense organ. They perceive from a distance and across an exterior medium, the material modifications which have affected the sensible object.”

Sight: “Finally, we have a last class of sensibles which act upon the sense without any corporeal modification accompanying their action. These are color and light. The process by which such species emanate from the object to act upon the subject is totally spiritual. Here, with the noblest and most universal of the senses, we achieve and operation very similar to the intellectual operations properly so-called. Numerous, indeed, are the comparisons which can be drawn between intellectual knowledge and sight, between the eye of the soul and the eye of the body.”

Elephant in South Africa, 2010.

4. What is Common Sense?

The term common sense today generally refers to a type of sound practical judgment in mundane matters; however, the term original stood in distinction to the particular sense.

Common Sense: “Thus we must posit a common sense, to which we can refer, as to a common term, all sense apprehensions so that it may judge them and distinguish them from one another,” and “indeed, it is quite obvious that we are aware that we see. Such knowledge cannot belong to the particular sense which only knows the sensible form which affects it. But when the modification which this form has impressed upon the particular sense has determined the vision, then the visual sensation, in its turn, modifies the common sense. Thus the common sense perceives the vision itself.”

5. Do Animals Have Imagination?

Why would animals even need imagination? – “The objects apprehended by an animal determine what its movements and actions will be. Thus it would never make a move toward satisfying its need if it could not represent these same objects to itself even in their absence. Thus the animal’s sensitive soul must be capable, not only of receiving sensible species but also of holding and preserving them within itself.”

“Since therefore, the sensitive power of the soul is the act of a corporeal organ, it must have two different powers, one to receive sensible species, the other to preserve them. This power to preserve is called fancy or imagination.”

6. What Type of Memory Does the Sensitive Soul Have?

Estimative Power (Memory): “The sheep does not avoid the wolf, nor the bird glean the straw because the shape and color of these objects are pleasing it displeasing, but because they perceive them directly as either opposed to their nature or in accord with it. This new power is called the estimative power. It makes possible the fourth internal sensitive power, memory.”

Plants Have Souls: 5 Points of Inquiry

An inquiry into the Vegetative Soul.

Listers, today we continue our study of the soul by delving deeper into the Vegetative Soul or Plant Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson‘s Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Gilson is primarily a historian and a philosopher second. He is adequate for certain Thomistic principles, but overall I would suggest Listers look into such giants as Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange.

1. What Is a Soul?

“In its wide sense, soul is defined as the first act of an organized body capable of performing the functions of life;” thus, “like all form, a soul is an act.” The soul is the form of a body. It is the first principle of life. In Latin, the soul is the anima which animates the body. Where there is life, there is a soul.

Read More:
SPL on Matter & Form
SPL on The Soul

2. What Are the Different Types of Souls?

Three Types: Vegetative, Sensitive, and Rational Souls

Vegetative: “At the bottom we find a power of the soul whose one object is the body to which it is united,” and “the vegetative soul only acts on its own body.” The Vegetative Soul is the soul of plants.

Sensitive: “There is another genus of powers of the soul corresponding to a more universal object, namely, to all sensible bodies, and not merely to the one sensible body with which the soul is united.” The Sensitive Soul is the soul of animals. They possess many powers that plants do not, e.g., the five senses and a type of memory.

Rational: “Above these, there is a power of the soul with a still more universal object; that is, not merely sensible bodies in general, but all being taken in its universality.” The Ration Soul is the soul of man. It alone is made in the Imago Dei, and has immortality and rationality.1

3. What Does Powers of the Soul Mean?

As the first principle of life, the soul is the seat for certain vital functions. These functions or powers of the soul have particular actions, which can be determined and separated according to their objects.

“Thus actions and the powers from which they come are distinguished from on another by their objects.”

“Cannibal Tree” – A tree grown around a sawed off stump Wikicommons Jan Tik

4. What Are the Powers of the Vegetative Soul?

Overall, the Vegetative Soul must be able to provide the basic powers of life demonstrated by plants. The plants ability to nourish itself, grow, or even begin the miracle of life are all powers rooted in the first principle of life – the soul.

Vegetative Power: “The body considered as receiving the life of the soul which informs it.” The Vegetative Power imports three distinct powers: generative, augmentative, and nutritive.

The Threefold Division of Power within the Vegetative Soul

Generative Power: “By the first of these operation the body receives actual existence.”

Augmentative Power: “At the beginning of their existence they have only imperfect being as far as quantity is concerned. For them there must be, besides the generative powers, an augmentative power, through which they achieve their proper natural state.” The Augmentative Power is what allows and governs living organisms to move from a nascent state to mature one. In the case of plants, they move from a seed to a mature plant.

Nutritive Power: If the soul contains the ability to govern itself growth from nascent to mature, it must also have a way to nourish itself. “The very conservation of the individual demands a nutritive power to restore continually what it has lost, and to bring to it what it needs if it is to attain its perfection of stature, as well as what it needs to produce the seeds necessary for its own reproduction.”

“Thus the vegetative power itself supposes a generative power which confers being, an augmentative power which confers fitting stature, and a nutritive power which preserves it in existence and in its own proper quality.”

5. Do Other Souls Have These Powers?

Does not the Sensitive Soul of animals and the Rational Soul of man have augmentative and nutritive powers? Do we not grow and receive nourishment? Yes. In studying the three types of souls, one can see the principle that the higher orders and perfects the lower. The Sensitive Soul will take up the powers of the Vegetative and the Rational Soul will take up the powers of both. In certain cases, a perfection happens and the power that resides in the lower soul actually differs from the same power in a higher soul, e.g., the memory displayed by animals and the memory displayed by rational animals.

  1. Catholic Druidism: Dear Listers, to avoid any accusations that we here at SPL are actually quasi-Catholic-druids and not faithful students of St. Thomas Aquinas, let us clearly state – once again – that the souls of plants and animals are mortal, they return to the dust, and only the rational soul of man bears immortality and the Imago Dei. []