Great Books: 31 Political Works Recommended by Faithful Catholic Colleges

Listers, certain “Great Books” have shaped the course of the Western world. Mortimer J. Adler, a Roman Catholic philosopher and professor, presented three criterion for a book to be considered “great,” he stated:

  1. The book has contemporary significance: that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times.
  2. The book is inexhaustible: it can be read again and again with benefit.
  3. The book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.1

While over one hundred universities and colleges in the United States and Canada have some form of a Great Books program, SPL has relied on three to compile this list: Thomas Aquinas College, the University of Dallas, and Ave Maria University. Thomas Aquinas College (“TAC”) – whose entire four year liberal arts program is a Great Books only program – explains the purpose of the Great Books tradition:

Yet the great books are not the objects of study at the College. Students here do not read these works — Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, Newton, and so many others — as outstanding examples of the creativity of the human spirit (though that they certainly are). Nor do they read them to become more familiar with Western culture and civilization (valuable though that is). Rather, Thomas Aquinas College students read the great books because, more than any other works, when studied under the light of the teaching Church, they can open up the truth about reality.2

Reading the Great Books of the Western tradition imports an insight into our modern culture that is completely unparalleled. Advocacy of the great books, however, suffers from a fatal flaw. For example, a Roman Catholic and a secular humanist may both agree Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes should be included as a great work; however, they would differ significantly on why that book is great. Was it a great contribution to the West? – or was it a great mistake? Notice in their statement on the Great Books, TAC states, “when studied under the light of Church teaching.” Many of the “great” books are incredibly anti-Catholic. Some times they are explicitly anti-Catholic, like Hobbes mocking the scholastics and transubstantiation. Often times they present a theory and praxis that has led to today’s crisis of modernity.3 In fact, the entirety of modernity may be said to have started as a rejection. Consequently, a Catholic institution that recommends the Great Books, but does not present them through the lens of Truth, Jesus Christ, may in fact be undercutting its own commitment to the Church.4 The what to study is just as important as how to study it.

The following list is drawn from faithful Catholic institutions that present the Great Books under the Truth of the Church. TAC is a four year liberal arts college that centers its entire eduction on a Great Books program.5 The University of Dallas (“UD”) offers a very unique Great Books Program. The University offers doctoral degrees in Literature, Philosophy, and Politics, but places all of these students together for the beginning of their studies; thus, they have a Great Books core curriculum for when their students are together, and then they have a Great Books program tailored for each individual program.6 The graduate theology department of Ave Maria University (“AMU”) has found a unique way to present the Great Books. Instead of having a flat list, AMU presents them within the “Dialogue of the Ancients & Moderns,” which orders the books to show the interrelation. For example, the dialogue approach will list several works that build off each other, and then offer a “clarification by contrast” by listing the works that took a different path.  In other words, the dialogue of Ancients & Moderns method attempts to adopt a pedagogical prudence into the very listing of the works themselves.

The following is a synthesis of the lists from all three Catholic institutions. The footnotes indicate not only the source of each recommended reading, but also which institution recommended the linked translation. Following the example of AMU, the list is divided into “ancients” and “moderns,” but is otherwise simply presented as a flat list. The list is geared toward Catholic thinkers in the United States, since it recommends certain core U.S. political documents. Finally, only the UD Politics Phd program is tailored specifically to politics. The political contributions of TAC & AMU are pulled from their general Great Books lists. For those seeking Catholic commentary on how to understand these Great Works, please note the footnotes for suggested works that could serve as primers not only to the individual suggested works but also to Catholic political thought overall.7

 

The Great Books
Politics

 

The Ancients

1. The Holy Bible8

2. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.9

3. Plato, The Republic.10

4. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.11

5. Aristotle, Politics.12

6. Plutarch, Parallel Lives.13

7. Augustine, Confessions.14

8. Augustine, City of God.15

9. Thomas Aquinas, Selections of the Summa Theologica.16

10. Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship.17

 

The Moderns

11. Machiavelli, The Prince.18

12. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.19

13. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government20

14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First and Second Discourses.21

15. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract.22

16. Articles of Confederation.23

17. Declaration of Independence.24

18. United States Constitution of 1787.25

19. Virginia (1776) and Massachusetts (1780) Declarations of Rights.26

20. Northwest Ordinance of 178727

21. The Federalist Papers28

22. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.29

23. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.30

24. Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals31

25. Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto32

26. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America33

27. Abraham Lincoln, Various Texts.34

28. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates35

29. John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action36

30. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”37

31. Leo Strauss, Selections indicating his approach to political philosophy.38

  1. Mortimer List taken from Wikipedia, citing Adler, Mortimer J. “Selecting Works for the 1990 Edition of the Great Books of the Western World,” page 142. []
  2. TAC Website, The Great Books. []
  3. See 4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity. []
  4. See, Against Great Books by Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen on First Things. []
  5. TAC Great Books List. []
  6. UD Great Books: Core Curriculum & Other Curriculums. []
  7. Catholic Political Thought: For those seeking an introduction to Catholic political thought, see 6 Books for Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. []
  8. The Bible is not a “political” text per se, but it arguably colors almost all thought in the West. Whether a Great Books list focuses on politics or literature, the Bible remains a must-read text. AMU suggests an emphasis on Genesis, Exodus 1-15, 19-14, Deut. 5-11, 28-30, Hosea, Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, Job; in the New Testament, Matthew, John, Galations, Ephesians. UD PhD core curriculum recommends a focus on the following biblical texts: Genesis, Exodus, Job, Psalms (1, 2, 22, 23, 29, 37, 47, 51, 53, 73, 95, 110, 130, 146-150), Isaiah, Matthew, John, Romans, Corinthians I and II, Revelation; TAC lists the entire Bible on their syllabus. []
  9. The linked edition is recommended by TAC; Recommended by UD Phd Politics. []
  10. The linked Allan Bloom edition is recommended by TAC and also the preferred edition of AMU; Recommended by UD Phd Core Curriculum. []
  11. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and the UD PhD Core Curriculum. TAC recommends the Oxford edition of Nicomachean Ethics. A common edition at AMU is the linked Irwin translation. []
  12. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Politics; the Lord’s translation is widely regarded as the best English translation (explicitly recommended by TAC & AMU. SPL has a list of Aristotelian definitions – taken from the Lord trans. – that may be helpful, along with numerous lists tagged under Aristotle. []
  13. TAC recommends the edition linked and an emphasis on the following: Lycurgus, Pericles, Aristides, Alcibiades, Marcellus, Caius Marius, Sylla, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Marcus Brutus, Comparison of Dion and Brutus; UD Phd Politics recommends: Theseus, Romulus; Lycurgus, Numa; Alcibiades, Coriolanus; Alexander, Caesar. []
  14. Recommended TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Core Curriculum. AMU heavily recommended the linked Frank Sheed translation. []
  15. The linked Cambridged edition recommended by TAC; UD Phd Politics; AMU suggestions Book XIX. []
  16. UD Phd Core Curriculum recommends Summa Theologiae I, 1-5 (Questions on Theology and God) II.1, 90-110, 112-113 (Questions on Law and Grace); the UD Phd Politics Curriculum recommends St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Treatise on Law,” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, Questions 90-101, 104-108); TAC recommends similar corresponding Summa selections; SPL has written extensively on St. Thomas Aquinas, especially on his Treatise on Law and virtue, see Aquinas’ Catechesis on the Virtues and Aquinas’ Guide to Natural Law. []
  17. Recommended by both the UD PhD Politics and TAC. []
  18. The Mansfield translation recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. SPL offers: 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli. []
  19. The Hackett Classic edition recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Politics & AMU. SPL offers: A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  20. University of Dallas Phd Politics curriculum recommends: all of the Second Treatise, plus the following selections from the First Treatise: ch. 1, sec. 1-3; ch. 2, sec. 6, 7, 9, 14; ch. 4, sec. 21-27, 33, 39, 42, 43; ch. 5, sec. 44-45, 47; ch. 6, sec. 53-54, 56-59, 61; ch. 9, sec. 86-100; ch. 11, sec. 106; TAC recommends the Hackett Classic edition of the Second Treatise on Government; recommended by AMU. []
  21. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. []
  22. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU; the linked Hackett Classics anthology edition recommended by TAC. []
  23. Recommended by TAC. []
  24. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  25. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  26. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  27. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  28. TAC recommends the linked Modern Classics Library edition, and the UD Phd Politics curriculum recommends, No. 6, 9, 10, 15, 48, 49, 51, 57, 62, 70, 78. []
  29. Linked edition recommended by TAC. []
  30. Recommended by the UD PhD Core Curriculum. []
  31. Linked Hackett Classics edition recommended by TAC; recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  32. TAC recommends the linked text; The UD PhD Politics also emphasizes: (The Marx-Engels Reader, 469-500); Engels’ Eulogy (681-82); Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (683-717); “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” (53-65); Theses on Feuerbach (143-45); “On the Jewish Question” (26-52); “1844 Manuscripts” (70-93); German Ideology (146-200); Address of the Central Committee (501-511); on non-violent revolution and “Critique of the Gotha Program” (522-541); AMU recommends the Manifesto and Theses on FeuerbachGerman Ideology. []
  33. TAC and UD recommend Mansfield edition, linked; UD PhD Politics emphasizes “appropriate selections showing his approach to the topic.” For example: Introduction (pp. 3-15), vol 1, pt 1, ch 2-5 (27-93), vol 1, pt 2, ch 5-6 (187-235), vol 1, pt 2, ch 9 (264-302), vol 2, pt 2, ch 1-8 (479-503), vol 2, pt 3, ch 8-12 (558-576), vol 2, pt 4, ch 1-3 and 6-8 (639-645, 661-676) (page numbers are from the Mansfield translation. []
  34. The UD PhD Politics recommends: Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), Speech on Dred Scott (1857), First and Second Inaugural Addresses, Address to Congress on July 4, 1861, Gettysburg Address. []
  35. TAC recommends the linked Douglas edition; The UD PhD Politics recommends the Robert W. Johannsen edition, (New York: Oxford, 1965); UD particularly recommends the selections showing the views of both Lincoln and Douglas. For example, 14-36, 78-79, 86-92, 145-49, 162-63, 195-200, 206-226, 229-39, 242-44. []
  36. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  37. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics, while the Core Curriculum recommends the entirety of Being and Time. []
  38. The UD PhD Politics recommends, for example, What is Political Philosophy, Chapter 1, 2, 3, and 9; or, Natural Right and History: Introduction, chapters 1 and 4, and one of the modern subchapters. Along with AMU, SPL highly recommends the essay The Three Waves of Modernity in his Introduction to Political Philosophy. SPL has written a summary list entitled 4 Steps to Understanding the Crisis of Modernity. []

May Catholics Overthrow or Even Kill a Tyrant? – 9 Comments by Aquinas

Listers, may Catholics overthrow or even kill a tyrant? The answer to this question is one St. Thomas Aquinas pondered over his lifetime. In contemplating the assassination of Julius Caesar, a young Aquinas seemed to state that not only can a Catholic kill a tyrant, there are times he should be praised for it. Later in life, when writing at the request of the King of Cyprus, Aquinas takes a very different view. He praises the Early Church martyrs who were slaughtered like sheep before the Roman Emperors, and notes how their witness gave birth to the Church. Assassinations, it seems, are contrary to apostolic teaching. In the twilight of his short life, the Angelic Doctor once again addressed the issue in his Summa Theologica. In this reflection, he appears to present a more mature version of his earliest answer. He jettisons the blanket prohibition against it, but he also does not directly state anyone should be praised for it. While possibly a moral act, it is an incredibly complicated one requiring great considerations of prudence and justice.

 

Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard

 

1. Do Christians have to obey secular authorities at all?

In his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas Aquinas takes up the question “Whether Christians are bound to obey secular powers, especially tyrants?” The young Aquinas’ commentary “was written between 1252 and 1256 when he was in his late twenties and a ‘bachelor,’ or apprentice professor, at the University of Paris.”1 Regarding whether or not Christians must obey secular authorities, St. Thomas Aquinas is very clear the answer is yes. The Angelic Doctor lists several scriptures for consideration:

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.2

Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.3

Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.4

In general, the Angelic Doctor says the following, “Obedience, by keeping a commandment, has for its [formal] object the obligation, involved in the commandment, that it be kept. Now this obligation originates in that the commanding authority has the power to impose an obligation binding not only to external but also to internal and spiritual obedience—“for conscience sake”, as the Apostle says (Rom. xiii, 5.) For power (authority) comes from God, as the Apostle implies in the same place. Hence, Christians are bound to obey the authorities inasmuch as they are from God; and they are not bound to obey inasmuch as the authority is not from God.”5

 

2. May Christians rebel against Authority gained by Violence?

Having established that Holy Scripture does in fact posit that Christians should be obedient to secular authorities, Aquinas moves on to discussing what happens if these authorities are evil. As always, the good Doctor makes several key distinctions. First, what about “defects” in the way in which a secular authority came to power? First, Aquinas states that those who are unworthy of power, but become a secular power regardless should still be obeyed. Second, however, are those who acquire power through violence or any illegitimate means. Aquinas teaches, “we say that in such a case there is no lawful authority at all. He who seizes power by violence does not become a true holder of power.”6 Consequently, since there is no legitimate authority, “anybody may repel this domination.”7 Aquinas allows the caveat here that even those secular powers gained by illegitimate means may become legitimate if there is “consent of the subjects or by a recognition being extended to him by a higher authority.”8 In this case, the illegitimate ruler would become a legitimate true ruler and would merit obedience.

 

3. May Christians disobey a Tyrant’s abuse of authority?

What if a secular authority gains his office by legitimate means but then abuses his power? Aquinas differentiates between two kinds of abuse. First, Aquinas states what has echoed in Christendom since the time of St. Augustine: an unjust law is no law. The Angelic Doctor teaches:

First, a commandment emanating from the authority might be contrary to the very end in view of which authority is instituted, i.e., to be an educator to, and a preserver of, virtue. Should therefore the authority command an act of sin contrary to virtue, we not only are not obliged to obey but we are also obliged not to obey, according to the example of the holy martyrs who preferred death to obeying those ungodly tyrants.9

The second abuse is where a secular authority issues a demand outside the scope of his power. Under this circumstances, the Christian would not be obliged to obey the command.10 Note the distinction between these two abuses. If the tyrant commands the Christian to sin, he must not obey the tyrant, while in the second case of abuse, the Christian is just not obliged to obey – but presumably may obey if prudent to do so.

 

4. Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised?

The scholastic method is characterized by a dialectic approach. As seen in the Sentences and in the Summa Theologica, the author will first list several “objections” or rather thoughts that are either wrong or need to be clarified. Second, there will be the “sed contra” or the body of the author’s answer on the question presented. Third, the author will then write out the necessary “replies” to the listed objections.

In his question from the Sentences, St. Thomas Aquinas lists the following objection:

If it is a legitimate and even a praiseworthy deed to kill a person, then no obligation of obedience exists toward that person. Now in the Book on Duties [De Officiis I, 8, 26] Cicero justifies Julius Caesar’s assassins. Although Caesar was a close friend of his, yet by usurping the empire he proved himself to be a tyrant. Therefore toward such powers there is no obligation of obedience.

In addressing this objection, St. Thomas Aquinas gives what is probably the most notable line of his entire answer. He replies as follows:

To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.

The last line of the objection is noteworthy and should be compared to his later thoughts in On Kingship and the Summa Theologica. First, its the only part of the question in which he explicitly speaks of assassinating the tyrant. Second, the scholar Paul E. Sigmund observes Aquinas “seems to endorse killing a tyrant who has usurped his office (as distinct from one who has abused his power).” St. Thomas Aquinas On Politics and Ethics, Translated & Edited by Paul E. Sigmund, 24.))

 

On Kingship

 

5. Is Killing a Tyrant Against Apostolic Teaching?

In 1265, the King of Cyprus asked Thomas Aquinas to write a treatise on kingship. The work, however, was never completed – presumably due to the death of the king in 1267.11 Writing approximately a decade after his Commentary, Aquinas’ view on tyrants undergoes a shift. In Chapter Six, the Angelic Doctor takes up the question of how to limit the possibility of tyranny. According to Aquinas, a monarchy represents a better regime than a aristocracy or a polity; however, monarchies are susceptible to becoming the worst form of a regime – a tyranny. After discussing certain safeguards to place upon the power of the monarch, Aquinas addresses the issue of what to do if you already have a tyrant. The Angelic Doctor states:

If the tyranny is so extreme that it is unbearable, some have argued that it is a virtuous act for brave men to run the risk of death in order to kill a tyrant and liberate the community. We have an example of this in the Old Testament where a certain Ehud killed Eglon, the king of Moab, with the dagger on his thigh because he was oppressing the people of God – and was made a judge of the people.12

But this is not in accordance with Apostolic teaching. Peter teaches us to be subejct not only to good and temperate rulers but also to the ill-tempered. “If anyone bears undeserved suffering out of reverence for God, this is (the work of) grace.”13

In On Kingship, the Common Doctor appears to clearly state acting against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching. He gives as his example the Early Church suffering under the Roman Emperors. Specifically, he notes how their peaceful witness of Christ in the face of a tyrannical Roman Emperor helped convert the world to Christ.14 Regarding Ehud, Aquinas posits that Ehud must have understood himself as acting against an “enemy king” rather than a “ruler who was a tyrant.”15 Aquinas contrasts the story of Ehud with the story of the assignation of Joas, the King of Judah. Though Joas was arguably a tyrant, those who killed the rightful king were put to death.16

 

6. Under whose Judgment is a King a Tyrant?

Another issue Aquinas has with an individual assassinating a tyrant is private judgement. Aquinas states, “it would be very dangerous for the community and for its rulers if any individual, using his private judgment could attempt to kill those in government, even when they are tyrants.”17 In other words, who determines the king is a tyrant and that tyrant deserves death? Aquinas is particularly concerned with evil men. He warns, “evil men find the rule of kings no less oppressive than that of tyrants since [King] Solomon says, ‘A wise king scatters the impious.'”18 If a king may be determined to be a tyrant worthy of assassination under private judgement, the community risks evil men killing a good king. Aquinas observes, “the more likely consequence of such presumption would therefore be to threaten the community with the loss of its king, rather than to benefit it by getting rid of a tyrant.”19 Aquinas comments in On Kingship stand in contrast to his words in the Sentences that appear to even allow the praise of one who kills a tyrant.

 

7. Do Catholics living under a Tyrant have any Recourse?

Is there an option between martyrdom and assassination? Aquinas give three possible solutions. First, though kings may not be determined to be tyrants under private judgment, they may be subject to public judgment. The Angelic Doctor notes, “if a given community has the right to appoint a ruler it is not unjust for the community to depose the king or restrict his power if he abuses it by becoming a tyrant.”20 Second, the people may appeal to a higher political authority – “if on the other hand, it is the right of a higher authority to appoint a king over certain community, then the remedy for the wickedness of the tyrant is to be sought from that authority.”21 Aquinas gives the example of how the Roman Emperor would appoint or at least allow a Jewish king, and if the Jewish king became a tyrant the Jews could appeal to Rome for aid. Third, “if no human aid is possible against the tyrant, recourse is to be made to God, the king of all, who is the help of those in tribulation.”22 In general, Aquinas holds that the people should repent and abstain from sin and hope in God.23

 

Summa Theologica

 

8. What is the Sin of Sedition?

The Angelic Doctor composed the Summa between 1265 and 1274. In this unfinished work, the Angelic Doctor once again addresses this issue of tyranny by speaking of sedition, a vice contrary to peace.24 First, Aquinas observes that sedition is a special type of sin. Sedition is analogous to war and strife insofar as it deals with aggression.25 Sedition is distinct from war and strife insofar as war most properly deals with an external foe, while sedition deals internal foes. Aquinas states, sedition is “between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when one part of the state rises in tumult against another part.”26 Second, Aquinas asks “whether sedition is always a mortal sin?” Relying on St. Paul’s epistle to Corinth, Aquinas holds that sedition is a moral sin.27 He teaches:

Wherefore it is evident that the unity to which sedition is opposed is the unity of law and common good: whence it follows manifestly that sedition is opposed to justice and the common good. Therefore by reason of its genus it is a mortal sin, and its gravity will be all the greater according as the common good which it assails surpasses the private good which is assailed by strife.28

According to Aquinas, the sin of sedition is first and foremost in “its authors,” and secondarily, “it is in those who are led by them to disturb the common good.”29

 

9. Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised (Revisited)?

Pursuant to the dialectic method of the scholastics, Aquinas puts forward an objection to the idea that sedition is always a mortal sin. What is most interesting about this objection is that is sounds quite familiar – it sounds like his own comments in his Sentences. He presents the objection:

Further, it is praiseworthy to deliver a multitude from a tyrannical rule. Yet this cannot easily be done without some dissension in the multitude, if one part of the multitude seeks to retain the tyrant, while the rest strive to dethrone him. Therefore there can be sedition without mortal sin.

The objection’s use of the term praiseworthy is notable, since it calls to mind Aquinas’ comment on Cicero’s justification of Julius Caesar’s assassins: “In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.” In response to this objection – an objection that is limned in his own previous thinking – Aquinas gives the following answer:

A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant’s rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant’s government. Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude.30

It is interesting to read this passage in light of Aquinas’ previous answers. First, note that the blanket statement of On Kingship that rebellion against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching is not present here. The answer in the Summa is more akin to the answer a young Aquinas gave in his Sentences. It might also be noted that the work in which Aquinas does not give an avenue for rebelling against a tyrannical king was also the only work written for a king. Second, similarly to certain distinction he made in his Sentences, Aquinas stresses the virtue of prudence. The relationship between prudence and justice is that of means to an end. Justice is the what, and prudence is the how. Note in his answer in the Summa he teaches that though a virtuous man may be just in rebelling against a tyrant, it may not be prudent to do so. For example, especially in the Middle East or Africa, how many times has a tyrant been deposed only to be replaced by belligerent warlords? – a tentative peace with marginal respect for human dignity replaced by full blown war and chaos? Third, it is interesting that in his Summa answer he shifts the sin of sedition from the “rebels” to the tyrant. In other words, it is the tyrant who bears the responsibility for how is actions sow strife and war among his people. Fourth, while the Summa answer is more analogous to Aquinas answer is the Sentences, it does appear more muted. In the Summa, he does not mention whether or not men who assassinate a tyrant should be praised. He leaves that qualifier in the objection but does not necessarily contradict it in his reply.31

***************

More Political Lists from St. Peter’s List

  1. Sentences: See Aquinas Commentary for historical background. In part, “The Sentences of Peter Lombard—composed in the mid-twelfth century—was largely a collection of patristic sayings covering the whole body of Christian doctrine. The Sentences was the standard theological textbook until the sixteenth century and writing a commentary on it was a rite of passage of sorts, normally completed during a professor’s first few years of teaching, during which time he lectured on the text. Aquinas’ first major theological work was such a commentary. Aquinas’ Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (Scriptum super libros Sententiarum), was written between 1252 and 1256 when he was in his late twenties and a “bachelor,” or apprentice professor, at the University of Paris. []
  2. 1 Peter 2:18, RSV. []
  3. Romans 13:2, RSV. []
  4. Romans 13: 5, RSV. []
  5. Sentences: All quotes from the Sentences are taken from the translation posted by the Dominican House of Studies. SPL thanks them for their effort to bring the Common Doctor’s texts to the internet. []
  6. Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, II, D.44 q. 2. []
  7. Id. []
  8. Id. []
  9. Id. []
  10. Id. []
  11. Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 14. []
  12. Judges 3:15-24; emphasis added. []
  13. Quoting I Peter 2:19. []
  14. See On Kingship, chp. 6; Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 24. []
  15. Id. []
  16. Id., see, II Kings 14:5-6. []
  17. Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 24. []
  18. Id. []
  19. Id. []
  20. Id. []
  21. Id. at 25. []
  22. Id. []
  23. On Kingship: It probably cannot be emphasized enough that out of the three works, the one work that does not allow for virtuous persons to rightfully rebel against a tyrant king was the work written for a king; second, Aquinas’ solutions appear to be a bit impractical. True, if the public elected the ruler the public has the authority to depose a ruler, but the ruler is now a tyrant – he is not going to leave because the populace tells him to do so. []
  24. ST. II-II.42. []
  25. Id. at 42.1. []
  26. Id. []
  27. Id. at 42.2; see II Cor. 12:20. []
  28. Id. – trans. for Summa Theologica is the Black Friar translation unless otherwise noted. []
  29. Id. []
  30. Id. at 42.2 ad. 3. []
  31. Summa Answer: There is also a consideration of how to handle the critique he set forth in On Kingship regarding private judgment not having authority to judge the king a tyrant. The Summa answer does not necessarily directly address the issue; What Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach? – obviously, the Catechism is not going to take up the question of whether the assassin of a tyrant should be praised, but the general framework of understanding the Church’s political philosophy is present. Most pertinent to this discussion, it clearly shows that (1) man is a political animal by nature (2) all authority is given by God (3) Christians have a duty to obey secular authority, however (4) an unjust law is no law. The Catechism does not necessarily go into detail about what a Christian should actually do when faced with an unjust law – not obey it, yes, but nothing necessarily in the proactive sense. §§ 1897-1927. []

4 Reasons Aquinas on Rights and Modern Individual Rights are Very Different

It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights.

Listers, at an academic seminar studying the differences between ancient and modern thought, the concept of individual rights was presented. It was stated that the modern notion of individual rights (and even the natural right concepts of early modernity) was in direct contradiction to the Catholic doctrine of Natural Law. Individual rights were predicated upon understanding each citizen as an autonomous moral universe that had a right (read: desire) to everything as long as it did not infringe upon the autonomy of another. In contrast, Natural Law is an external standard imprinted upon all humanity participated in by reason.1 In short, the notion of individual rights is a direct rejection of Natural Law. At this point, a student raised his hand and submitted that this could not be true, because St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of individual rights. Apparently, if you ever wanted to watch a room of politically minded Thomists explode in ire, this was a good way to do it.

It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights. In fact, Aquinas’ use of the term right appears synonymous with the term just; thus, many simply use the term just instead of right to avoid the modern baggage the term right imparts. The following is a brief summary of St. Thomas Aquinas’ question Of Right in his Summa Theologica.2 The reader may note that Aquinas’ use of the terms equality and right are ripe for equivocation. We must be sure to read Aquinas as Aquinas, and not import our modern definitions into his teachings. The following list seeks to clarify Aquinas, and let the Angelic Doctor speak on the virtue of justice free from modern misreadings.

 

1. Why Justice is Unique Among the Virtues

A habit is a series of actions that constitute a practice, and a good habit is called a virtue. According to Aristotle, Holy Scripture, and St. Thomas Aquinas, there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Each virtue holds the soul to reason when faced with its respective object. For example, the virtue of prudence is the habit of right reasoning – it is the means by which we rationally choose good ends. The virtue of temperance holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable; thus, the bar patron who decides against the proverbial “one more drink” saves himself from drunkenness through temperance. The virtue of fortitude holds the soul to reason in the face of something fearful. The soldier who holds the line against the cavalry charge has fortitude.

In these cases, virtue perfects the soldier and the patron in matters that only befit them in relation to themselves.3 The virtue of justice, however, is different. Justice “directs man in his relations with others.”4 In other words, justice is unique, because it is fundamentally relational. Justice deals with a person’s relation with his neighbor. A person may demonstrate prudence, temperance, or fortitude simply by their own actions, while a person can only demonstrate justice in relation to someone else. Aquinas says this shows a “kind of equality.”5 While the modern notion of equality has strong egalitarian undertones, equality, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is simply the proportionate relationship of one thing to another.6 The Angelic Doctor’s notion of right hinges strongly upon his concept of equality in justice.

 

2. Understanding Right(s) According to Aquinas

Modernity is obsessed with rights language. Almost all of the ethical and political discourse in the modern West is now expressed in individual rights. The West has, without a doubt, lost its moral vocabulary. To confuse the modern notion of rights – which is little more than the desires of the autonomous moral universe of the individual – with Aquinas’ notion of what is right under the virtue of justice, would be a profound error.

The virtue of Justice is “the habit which makes men capable of doing just actions.”7 What then are just actions? Aquinas teaches that which is just is “a work that is adjusted to another person according to some kind of equality.”8 The concept of just is also expressed in the term right; thus, that which is just will also be right.9 The Angelic Doctor gives two types of rights for consideration.

Natural Right – A relation that is objectively just, where a person gives and receives that which is of equal value in return; there is a natural equality.

Positive Right – A relation that is subjectively just, where one party deems that which they receive to be satisfactory; a positive right may either be (1) a private agreement between two individuals, or (2) a public agreement where the whole community agrees.

For example, if someone inquired for how many hours should a laborer be paid who worked five hours – the objective answer is five hours. There is a natural equality between working five hours and being paid five hours. The relation here is a natural right. In contrast, if two merchants form a contract to trade ten red widgets for six green widgets, this may be subjectively just for the two parties involved. It is a positive right.

 

3. On Special Species of Rights

When Aquinas speaks of natural right and positive right, he is speaking of an agreement between two individuals, neither of whom are subject to one another. For Aquinas, this is just or right simply.10 Now, the habit of justice has as its object the just, and the just or right “depends on commensuration with another person.”11 How then do we speak of relations that seem to belong to justice but are not of equal parties?

For example, there is the relationship between a father and his son or the relationship between a master and his slave. In both cases, there is certainly a justice between both parties as they are both human beings.12 On the other hand, there is an inequality in the relationship that makes it wanting of what is perfectly just. Since justice deals with the relation of one person to another, these relations are still governed by the virtue of justice; therefore, Aquinas speaks of a parental right of the parents over the children and a dominative right of the master over the slave.

Finally, there is also the relation between the husband and the wife. Notice, that for Aquinas, the relation between the husband and wife has a greater capacity for justice than parental right or dominative right – but it still falls short of true justice shared between equals. The Common Doctor states:

A wife, though she is something belonging to the husband, since she stands related to him as to her own body, as the Apostle declares (Ephesians 5:28), is nevertheless more distinct from her husband, than a son from his father, or a slave from his master: for she is received into a kind of social life, that of matrimony, wherefore according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 6) there is more scope for justice between husband and wife than between father and son, or master and slave, because, as husband and wife have an immediate relation to the community of the household, as stated in Polit. i, 2,5, it follows that between them there is “domestic justice” rather than “civic.”

In conclusion, there is the what is just or right simply, and this is may be expressed between two equals in either natural right or positive right. In contrast, there are several other species of right: the parental right of parents over their children, the dominative right of masters over their slaves, and the greater domestic right between a husband and wife.

 

4. The Modern Notion of Rights

A little clarification by contrast may help display the giant intellectual chasm between Aquinas’ species of justice called rights and modern notions of the same term. Though Machiavelli arguably planted the first seeds of modernity, it was Thomas Hobbes who began the West’s obsession with rights language. In fact, in many ways, what Machiavelli did for the prince (i.e., allowing him to separate politics from ethics, virtue), Thomas Hobbes did for each individual citizen.13 In Chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts, Hobbes articulates one of the monumental shifts in ancient to modern thought: individual rights. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church never spoke in terms of individual rights. The standard for the state and for its citizens was natural law. What was good and what was evil was not predicated upon man’s judgment, but rather by the external standard set upon him by nature. In Hobbes’ deconstruction of nature into a realm of war and chaos, he gives the West its first true taste of rights predicated upon the individual. He states:

And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone against everyone, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies, it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endues, there can be no security to any man how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.

It is shocking to many that the first notion of individual rights in the West is predicated upon each person’s ability to murder one another. For Hobbes, nature is chaotic and warlike, thus, each man has the unmitigated right of self-preservation – a right that went as far as to go to “everything, even to one another’s body.” Whereas Aquinas taught the natural inclinations of humanity were (1) self-preservation (2) the procreation and education of offspring and (3) to seek happiness, the good; Hobbes reduces them all to an unbridled right of self-preservation.14 The brutality of Hobbes will later be made more palatable by John Locke, and later in modernity the standard of nature will be discarded altogether – leaving each individual an autonomous moral universe brimming with manufactured rights.

Much more could be said on the transition from ancient to modern political thought, but this snippet of Hobbes simply goes to show the outrageous difference between Aquinas’ use of the term right and the modern notion of rights. The real question is, how are faithful Catholics who believe in Natural Law supposed to be virtuous in a world that defines all politics and morality in rights language? Something to ponder.

 

SPL Catechesis on the Soul & Virtue

 

  1. Natural Law: 3 Steps to Understand how Humanity Participates in Natural Law and The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World. []
  2. ST II-II.57 []
  3. ST II-II.57.1. “On the other hand the other virtues perfect man in those matters only which befit in relations to himself.” []
  4. Id. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Id. []
  7. Id., citing the Philosopher, Aristotle, in Ethics v. 1. []
  8. Id. at a. 2. []
  9. “For this reason justice has its own special proper object over and above the other virtues, and this object is called the just, which is the same as right. Hence it is evident that right is the object of justice.” Id. at a. 1. []
  10. Id. at a. 4 []
  11. Id. []
  12. “Hence in so far as each of them is a man, there is justice towards them in a way.” Id. at a. 4, reply 2. []
  13. Machiavelli & Hobbes: For more on this claim, see 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli’s The Prince and A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  14. “The paragraph is notable within the Western intellectual tradition as the beginning of “rights language.” Hobbes is setting the stage for the Leviathan. Men, unable to live in the warring chaos of nature, will seek self-preservation by transferring their rights to the Leviathan. The state will be their salvation from each other and from the natural state of war and chaos.” From the Catholic Guide to Hobbes, cited above. []

Charioteer of the Virtues: 6 Lessons on Prudence & her Contrary Vices

Listers, Aristotle (“the Philosopher”) defined prudence as  “right reason applied to action.”1 Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”2 Prudence is an indispensable part of the virtuous life. It stands as a “unique virtue” for the role it plays in both the intellectual and moral life of the virtuous person. It is also a “special virtue” for its role in guiding all virtues to their determined end. Prudence is, without any doubt, absolutely necessary to live the good life, the virtuous life.

 

SPL Catechesis on the Soul & Virtue

 

Lesson One:
Prudence Does Not Always Deal with Morality

Prudence is an intellectual virtue. The intellectual virtues are categorized as either speculative or practical. The speculative virtues perfect a person’s ability to contemplate truth. For example, the intellectual virtue of science helps to perfect a person’s ability to contemplate a specific body of knowledge. A person, a scientist, may through the habit of science perfect his understanding of botany, archeology, or astrophysics. In contrast, the practical intellectual virtues are concerned with external acts. The practical virtue of art is “nothing else but the right reason about certain works to be made.”3 Through the virtue of art, the shipwright perfects his ability to make ships. The other practical virtue is prudence. If art is the “right reason of things to be made,” then prudence is the “right reason of things to be done.”4 A shipwright may have an excellent aptness for creating ships, but that does not make him a prudent shipwright. The prudent shipwright knows what time he should rise for work, how many hours he should engage his craft, and how he should conduct himself in all his affairs.

 

Lesson Two:
Prudence is Distinct from All Other Virtues

If a shipwright crafts the finest ships to ever sail the open seas is he a moral or immoral person? The intellectual virtues do not provide a moral import. A shipwright might create the finest ships but be morally bankrupt, while a morally upstanding person may be a terrible shipwright. In the virtues that deal with morality, there are principally the Theological Virtues – faith, hope, & charity – and the Natural or Cardinal Virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Just as prudence is concerned with a person’s intellectual acts, so too is prudence concerned with a person’s moral acts. No other virtue shares this scope. In this context, Aquinas calls prudence a “special virtue,” because prudence is the only moral and intellectual virtue.

 

Lesson Three:
Prudence is the Auriga Virtutum

"Detail of the east gallery with busts of Virtues in Canterbury Quad, St John's College, Oxford c.1631-36." Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“Detail of the east gallery with busts of Virtues in Canterbury Quad, St John’s College, Oxford c.1631-36.” Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Prudence is right reason applied to action. Temperance is the virtue that moderates attraction to pleasurable goods. If a shipwright decides against the proverbial “just one more drink” and retires from the public house, has he acted prudently or with temperance? A common mistake is to regard the other virtues as simply different forms of prudence; thus, justice is prudence regarding order, temperance is prudence regarding pleasure, and fortitude is prudence regarding fear. What then is the proper relationship of prudence to the other virtues? First, prudence does not dictate the end or goal. If the determined end is that the shipwright should not have another drink, that end is determined by temperance. Second, prudence does dictate the means to achieve the end. If the shipwright determines not to have another drink, what is the most prudent means to achieve that end? – or rather, how should he now act? Is it more prudent to simply not order another ale or to leave the pub altogether? Temperance has set the end, now prudence must determine the means to that end. Aquinas quotes Aristotle in stating, “moral virtue ensures the rectitude of the intention of the end, while prudence ensures the rectitude of the means.”5 Each moral virtue sets the end according to right reason, but the means to that end is right reason in action – prudence.6 In this context, the nickname of prudence – the Auriga Virtutum, the Charioteer of the Virtues – is properly understood, because prudence “guides the other virtues by setting [the] rule and measure.”7

 

Lesson Four:
There are Different Species of Prudence

Our Servant King, St Dominic's priory church in London. Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Our Servant King, St Dominic’s priory church in London. Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Does prudence govern only the good of the individual or is prudence concerned with the good of others? In his Ethics, Aristotle notes that many have argued that prudence only deals with the individual’s good, because “they thought that man is not bound to seek other than his own good.”8 Aquinas holds that this view is “opposed to charity,” because charity demands we seek the good of others.9 Aquinas further holds the view is contrary to reason, because right reason “judges the common good to be better than the good of the individual.”10 Consequently under both charity and reason, prudence deals with “not only the private good of the individual, but also the common good of the multitude.”11 A philosophic principle worth committing to memory – and often used by Aquinas – is that the object of a thing determines the species of a thing. If prudence, therefore, can have as its object the good of many, the good of a few, or the good of one, there must be correlating different species of prudence. According to the Angelic Doctor, there is political prudence, which “is directed to the common good of the state.”12 Second, there is the domestic prudence, which is “directed to the common good of the home.” Third, there is prudence simply or monastic prudence, which “is directed to one’s own good.”13

 

Lesson Five:
Prudence of the Flesh

Aquinas opens his discussion with a simple syllogism. It is impossible for a man to be prudent unless he is good. No sinner is a good man. Therefore no sinner is prudent.14 There is, however, a false prudence. Virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”15 Prudence, as the Charioteer of Virtue, disposes a person toward a good end. What about a prudent robber? A robber that “devises fitting ways of committing robbery”?16 Aquinas posits this as a false prudence, and is the “prudence of the flesh” as described by St. Paul.17 Aquinas further submits there is a second type of prudence – an imperfect prudence. Imperfect prudence would be the shipwright who is prudent toward his particular good, shipbuilding, but lacks prudence toward the “common good of all human life.” Moreover, imagine the brilliant astrophysicists who is also an atheist. Finally, there is true and perfect prudence – the prudence that “takes counsel, judges, and commands aright in respect of the good end of man’s whole life.”18 The true and perfect prudence is prudence simply. To wit, prudence is right reason in action, and sin will always be an irrational act; therefore, sinners are not prudent.

 

Lesson Six:
Imprudence & Negligence are Special Sins

"Detail of the Rood in St Paul's church, Knightsbridge by Bodley." - Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“Detail of the Rood in St Paul’s church, Knightsbridge by Bodley.” – Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Imprudence is a sin and manifests in two different ways: as a privation or as a contrary.19 As a privation, a person lacks the prudence they ought to have. As a contrary, the person’s actions go directly against prudence. For example, the imprudent man who despises wise counsel.20 Where as prudence is considered a special virtue, so too is imprudence a special sin. Aquinas explains, “for just as all the virtues have a share of prudence, in so far as it directs them, so have all vices and sins a share of imprudence, because no sin can occur, without some defect in an act of the directing reason, which defect belongs to imprudence.”21 For example, if the shipwright has too many ales at the public house, is he imprudent or acting with intemperance? The shipwright is both, because intemperance has set the end and imprudence has set the means. Just as prudence is a special virtue, imprudence is a special sin.22 The second vice opposed to prudence is negligence. The virtue of solicitude is a care or concern for something, it watchfulness, and it is being alert. It is a part of prudence.23 Negligence is a lack of solicitude – it is an omission, a failure to act. Consequently, negligence is opposed to prudence, right reason applied to action, because there is no action. In this way, negligence is also a special sin as it affects the act of reason itself. The special sins are also known as general sins, because their scope extends past any particular matter. For example, lust is particularly oriented toward sexual matters, but negligence affects reason itself; thus, the vice of negligence can extend “to any kind of moral matter.”24

  1. ST. II-II.47.2 Sed Contra, citing Ethics VI 5 []
  2. CCC § 1806 []
  3. ST. I-II.57.3, see also for an extended conversation on the intellectual virtues, 8 Traditional Catholic Answers about Virtue. []
  4. Id. []
  5. II-II.47.6. Sed contra []
  6. Aquinas on Prudence as the Means: “But it belongs to the ruling of prudence to decide in what manner and by what means man shall obtain the mean of reason in his deeds. For though the attainment of the mean is the end of a moral virtue, yet this means is found by the right disposition of these things that are directed to the end.” II-II.47.7 []
  7. CCC § 1806, furthermore, “it is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.” []
  8. II-II.47.10 – Aquinas citing Ethics, vi. 8 []
  9. Id., see Aquinas citing St. Paul, I Cor. 13:5, 10:33. []
  10. Id. []
  11. Id. []
  12. Id. a. 11. []
  13. Id. a. 11, see also a. 12, further defining political prudence. There is “legislative prudence,” which belongs to the rulers, and “political prudence,” which is “about individual actions.” Consequently, political prudence is in both the rulers and the ruled. []
  14. ST II-II.47.13, sed contra. []
  15. CCC § 1803 []
  16. II-II.47.13 []
  17. See Rom. 8:6. []
  18. Id. []
  19. II-II.53.1. []
  20. Id. []
  21. Id. a. 2 []
  22. Special Sins Under Imprudence: First, there is “thoughtlessness.” Thought, according to Aquinas, “signifies the act of the intellect in considering truth about something.” II-II.53.4. Thoughtless is the vice, the bad habit, of failing to judge rightly “those things on which right judgment depends.” Second, there is the vice of inconsistency. Aquinas teaches that inconsistency demonstrates a “withdrawal from a definite good purpose.” Id. a. 6. Aquinas reasons that a man does not step back from a previously attained good unless it is for some inordinate desire; thus, inconsistency is accomplished through a “defect of reason.” []
  23. See II-II.47.9 []
  24. II-II.54.1-2. []

The West has Lost its Moral Vocabulary: 8 Traditional Catholic Answers about Virtue

What does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe.

Listers, what does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe. Where virtues can discuss justice as something apart from any individual, values are meaningless without the worth imported to them from the individual. A Catholic parish may be rooted in the “values of Christ,” but the local Muslim or atheist community would submit totally different value systems. In politics, one party may value “traditional marriage,” while another party may value “same-sex marriage.” In the West, political discourse has become obsessed with values generally under the guise of individual rights language; yet, is this the best moral jargon the West has to offer? The West was built upon a moral vocabulary that contemplated the soul and virtue. The following eight questions are meant to serve as an introduction to virtue in general – both moral and intellectual. The list is not meant to discuss any particular moral or political issue, but it is meant to offer a moral vocabulary rooted in reason and common to all humanity. And while it is not necessary to understand the following questions, a greater insight into the virtues may be gained by first contemplating the soul –  7 Questions on the Powers of the Human Soul Compared to Other Souls.1

 

1. What is a virtue?

A virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”2 Virtue cannot be reduced to a single act. A man who returns a lost wallet he found in a park may be virtuous, but a single act is not dispositive of virtue. To determine if someone is a virtuous person, often the totality of their actions are considered. The key question is – does this person have a habit of doing what is right? A habit may be defined as a series of actions that constitute a practice. The Philosopher, Aristotle, says a habit is “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.”3 A habit that disposes someone to what is good or well for them is called a virtue. It is a good habit. A habit that disposes someone to what is evil or ill for them is called a vice. It is a bad habit. Those who have a habit of doing what is good are properly called virtuous, while those who have a habit of doing what is bad are rightly called vicious.

 

2. How does virtue or vice define a person?

If a person is labeled virtuous or vicious, the label goes beyond the content of their actions and seems to define the very person. Virtue and vice are different species of the genus of habit. A virtue is a good habit, and a is vice a bad habit. An inquiry into which genus habit should be a species under aids in unlocking the deeper nature of a person’s actions. According to Aristotle and Aquinas, habit is a species of quality. The category of quality is one of the ten categories from Aristotle’s Organon. In a broad sense, the categories articulate everything that may be an object of human apprehension. For example, a table. The category of quantity denotes how many tables there are, the category of relations denotes if it is a superior or inferior table compared to other tables, and category of place denotes where the table is, and so forth. The category of quality has four different types: first, shape (rectangular, circular, etc.), second, sense qualities (hot, cold, loud, quiet, etc.), third, capacity (a man has the capacity to run swiftly or a table to bear a great weight), and fourth, dispositions (the quality of being disposed an act). Habit is a species of quality in the fourth sense – of dispositions. Therefore, a habit, whether a virtue or vice, defines the very quality of its subject, the person, as either being disposed to good or evil.4

 

3. Can non-Catholics be virtuous?

Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The natural virtues or “human virtues” are known as “natural,” because they are naturally available to all humanity.5 Every human is a rational animal and is able to acquire the natural virtues. In other words, a person does not need to be Catholic to have the natural virtues. The natural virtues can serve as a common table of dialogue between persons of all faiths and creeds. Each person is a rational animal – meaning they are endowed with the power of the intellect in their soul. Each person has the power to rationally reflect upon their own actions, which is the basis for morality. Acting virtuously is nothing more than acting rationally. Each human – regardless of their “worldview” – is expected to act rationally and hold to the common standard of natural virtue. It is obvious, however, that though all men may acquire the natural virtues, not all men do. One key observation is that virtues are habits, not mandated instincts. The rational soul is like clay upon the potter’s wheel. The rational animal, by the power of the his or her intellect, may choose to act rationally (good) or irrationally (bad). The rational animal may form his or herself into a virtuous or vicious individual. Second, it is true that the rational soul is inclined to what is truly good and rational. All persons choose what is good. The caveat is that the mover of the soul, the power of the will, often times moves the soul toward apparent goods and not actual goods.6 Consequently, though man is a rational animal, he often makes irrational choices toward apparent goods, which can develop into vices. In fact, entire cultures or religions may suppress individuals from being virtuous by habituating them to apparent goods.

 

4. What moral virtues are available to all humanity?

The Cardinal Virtues are the natural moral virtues available to all men. Drawing from both the ancient Greek philosophical tradition and the ancient Hebrew faith of the Old Testament, the Church teaches that there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.7 Prudence is the “elective habit” and may be said to simply be “right reason in action.”8 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual and moral virtue. Justice is the virtue whereby a person gives what is due to both God and neighbor.9 It is the virtue of being well-ordered. Justice has the distinction of being the highest virtue of politics or the state. Temperance is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable that would lure it away.10 In contrast, fortitude is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something that would scare it away.11 The soldier that stands his ground despite an oncoming onslaught is engaging in fortitude. A husband or wife that holds true to their marriage vows despite the allure of adulterous sexual pleasure is engaging in temperance. These four virtues are the “cardinal” virtues, because of the “pivotal role” they hold in morality.12 The Cardinal Virtues are available to all humanity, because they are acquired virtues – meaning they may be “acquired by human effort.”13 Each rational animal, as a creature of the Creator, may acquire these moral virtues, which in turn prepare the soul “for communion with divine love.”14 For grace always perfects nature; thus, the person with great natural virtue has laid a great foundation for divine love.

 

5. Are there virtues that must be given to humanity?

Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The Theological Virtues are moral virtues that are given by God. While the Cardinal Virtues are natural virtues, thus they may be acquired by all rational animals; the Theological Virtues are infused virtues, which means they are infused into the individual by God. There are three Theological Virtues: faith, hope, and charity. The Virtue of Faith is that by which Catholics “believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.”15 Truth is not a concept – it is a person, Jesus Christ, and he has wedded himself to humanity through his bride, his body, the Church. The Virtue of Faith, however, cannot be reduced to mere intellect assent. True faith is both belief and living out that belief. The Virtue of Hope is the “anchor of the soul.”16 Hope anchors the believer in virtue by instilling in him a desire for the Kingdom of God, a trust in Jesus Christ, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.17 The Virtue of Charity is the mother of all virtues. It is the virtue by which we love God for his own sake and our neighbors as ourselves.18 Just as the soul is the form of the body, Charity is the form of all virtue – it actuates the potential of virtue. It is the anima (soul) of virtue, because “the practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony.”19 Though the Theological Virtues are infused into the person by God, they are properly habits, because once they are given it is the choice of the individual to habituate himself toward the goods of faith, hope, and charity.

 

6. Are there other virtues besides the moral virtues?

Along with the moral virtues, there are the intellectual virtues. The intellectual virtues may be distinguished into two categories: the speculative virtues and the practical virtues. The power of the intellect is the hallmark power of the rational soul, and the speculative virtues help perfect the intellect’s ability to consider truth. Aquinas teaches the speculative virtues “may indeed be called virtues in so far as they confer aptness for a good work, viz. the consideration of truth (since this is the good work of the intellect).”20 There are three habits that perfect the speculative intellect: understanding, wisdom, and science. Now, the speculative intellect has as its end the consideration of truth, and truth itself is a twofold consideration. First, there is the truth that is known in itself. Aquinas submits, “what is known in itself, is as a ‘principle,’ and is at once understood by the intellect.”21 The habit that perfects the speculative intellect’s consideration of principles is the virtue of understanding. It is the “habit of principles.”22 The principles in question are known in themselves, because they are indemonstrable – they are not deduced from other truths. For example, “a whole is greater than its parts.” Moreover, there is the “first indemonstrable principle,” which is the foundation for all others – “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time.”23 The second aspect of truth is that which is known to be true “through another.”24 In other words, it is known through the ability to reason. The virtue of wisdom contemplates the highest causes in the universe and allows the intellect to place all being in a rational order. For example, wisdom rationalizes there are living beings and non-living beings, the under living beings there are animals and plants, under animals there is the rational animal and the non-rational animals, and so forth. Science is simply a “body of knowledge,” thus, the virtue of science perfects the intellect through the study of the different bodies of knowable matter. So whereas wisdom will set everything in proper order according to the highest causes, science will study the specific and distinguished bodies of knowledge, e.g., chemistry, astronomy, zoology, botany, etc. So, as Aquinas teaches, “there are different habits of scientific knowledge; whereas there is but one wisdom.”25 One wisdom sets the order, while habits of scientific knowledge are as numerous as the potential to separate one body of knowledge from another.

 

7. Are there other intellectual virtues?

Along with the speculative virtues, there are the practical virtues of art and prudence. The virtue of art is the habit of knowing how to make things. Aquinas states, “Art is nothing else but ‘the right reason about certain works to be made.'”26 Art is understood as an operative/practical habit – in contrast with a speculative habit – for it perfects in the craftsman an “aptness to work well.”27 The second operative or practical habit is prudence. If art is the “right reason of things to be made,” then prudence is the “right reason of things to be done.”28 In the virtue of art, there is an “action passing into outward matter” to create an external object. Through the art of smithing, the blacksmith smiths a plow. In the virtue of prudence, there is an “action abiding in the agent.” Through the virtue of prudence, the blacksmith decides to start his day before dawn. Aquinas summarizes the distinction as “prudence stands in the same relation to such like human actions, consisting in the use of powers and habits, as art does to outward making: since each is the perfect reason about the things with which it is concerned.”29 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual virtue and a moral virtue. For example, the blacksmith may make prudent choices in how to operate his smith, while he also may make prudent choices in how to treat his family. Prudence perfects reason, which is necessary in both intellectual and moral matters.30

 

8. Why are the intellect virtues not moral virtues?

Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. - "The Latin inscription reads: 'We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'"
Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. – “The Latin inscription reads: ‘We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'”

If a man is a great botanist does that make him a moral or immoral person? Neither – the acumen of the intellectual virtues, save prudence, does not have a direct moral import. A person may be incredibly intelligent and also vicious at the same time. The intellect does, however, have an indirect moral consideration. For example, the blacksmith has the habit of scientific knowledge needed to smith, and he knows the art of smithing. The moral consideration is what the blacksmith wills to do with the knowledge and art he has. He may create brittle plows and sell them to cheat patrons of their money. He may create the finest swords in the region and donate them to those fighting on the front lines. The moral consideration is not the knowledge itself, but what the soul wills to do with the knowledge. For example, when the will moves the soul to use knowledge for a just or charitable purpose, then the act is a moral act.31

 

  1. Published on All Saints Day 2014 – All you holy men and women of God, pray for us. []
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) § 1803 []
  3. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2 []
  4. The Categories: A quick sketch of Aristotle’s Categories found in his work, Organon. (1) Substance – that which cannot be predicated of anything else; thus, this particular man or this particular chair; note that while the accidents of the substance may change (e.g., the chair becomes rough or changes color), if the substance changes it forfeits existence (e.g., a human is a human, it cannot change to anything more or less than a human). (2) Quantity (3) Relation – things can be inferior or superior to others, etc. (4) Quality – as described above (5) Place – a substance may be here or there (6) Time – the table is one day old or hundred days old (7) Position – the table is upright or overturned (8) State (or Condition) – the table is in this or that condition (9) Action – to produce a change, e.g., a man may run or kick (10) Affection – to receive an act or to be acted upon, e.g., the table is kicked by the man. []
  5. CCC § 1804 []
  6. ST.II-I.8.1 []
  7. CCC §§ 1805-11 []
  8. CCC § 1806 []
  9. Id. at § 1807 []
  10. Id. at § 1809 []
  11. Id. at § 1808 []
  12. Id. at § 1805 []
  13. Id. []
  14. Id. []
  15. Id. at § 1814 []
  16. Id. at § 1820 []
  17. Id. at §§ 1817-18 []
  18. Id. at §§ 1822-29 []
  19. Id. at § 1827, citing Col 3:14. []
  20. ST. I-II.57.1 []
  21. Id. at a. 2 []
  22. Id. []
  23. Indemonstrable Principles: I-II.94.2 – for example, “Hence it is that, as Boethius says… certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.” SPL discusses indemonstrable principles in the list The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World.” []
  24. Id. at a. 2 []
  25. Id. []
  26. Id. at a. 3. []
  27. Id. []
  28. Id. at a. 4, cf. Metaph. ix, text. 16 []
  29. Id. at a. 3-4 []
  30. Id. at a. 5. []
  31. Id. at a. 1. []

The Daughters of Lust: 5 Questions on How They Pervert the Soul

Lust is a vice that can easily consume a person’s soul. The consequences are dire. Our Lady of Fatima proclaimed, ‘more souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.’ Understand the vice of lust and her daughters so that the Catholic soul may stand guard against them.

Listers, if a person invites lust into his heart, the daughters of lust will soon follow and nest deep within it. A vice is not a single act. Both vice and virtue are habits. Habits are described by both Aristotle and Aquinas as a species of the category of “quality,” and qualities are difficult to change. When a person habituates themselves to the evil that is lust, that repetitive action changes the quality of their soul. Lust is a vice that can easily consume a person. The consequences are dire. Our Lady of Fatima proclaimed, “more souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.”1 Understand the vice of lust and her daughters so that the Catholic soul may stand guard against them.

 

1. What are the Daughters of Lust?

St. Thomas Aquinas relies on the authority of Pope St. Gregory the Great to enumerate the so-called daughters of lust. In his Books of Morals, Pope St. Gregory speaks of pride as the Queen of Sins who after conquering a heart invites her generals to dwell within it. The generals of the queen of sins, according to Gregory the Great, are the seven capital vices: (1) vain glory, (2) envy, (3) anger, (4) melancholy, (5) avarice, (6) gluttony, (7) lust. In turn, once one of the capital vices enters the heart, it calls forth its army of corresponding sins. Aquinas speaks of the army of lust as the daughters of lust. According to Pope St. Gregory the Great, the capital vice of lust spawns eight daughters:

  1. Blindness of mind
  2. Thoughtlessness [Inconsiderateness]
  3. Inconstancy
  4. Rashness [Precipitation]
  5. Self-love
  6. Hatred of God
  7. Love of this World [Affection for this present world]
  8. Abhorrence or Despair of a Future World [Dread or despair of that which is to come]

The capital vice of lust and her corresponding daughters convince the conquered heart to continue to engorge itself on pleasurable goods, especially sexual pleasures.

 

2. What are the powers of the soul?

A man passes by a bakery and smells the sweet buttery scent of fresh baked bread. Immediately, he feels an attraction toward the bread, but he chooses to continue on passed the bakery. What drama has unfolded in the man’s soul? The soul is composed of lower and higher powers. In the lower powers is the sense appetite. The sense appetite comprehends a sensible good through the senses and inclines the soul toward that good. The man apprehended fresh bread and his sense appetite moved him toward it; however, the man did not follow the movement of his appetite. It is the higher powers of the soul – reason and the will – that should order the lower powers; thus, the man’s inclination toward the bread was controlled by his reason and will.2 So too does this order of the soul occur with goods characterized by sexual pleasure. The soul apprehends the good through the senses and is inclined toward the sexual pleasure, but reason and will must order the inclination according to virtue. The capital vice of lust exists when there is a perversion of the relationship between the higher and lower powers of the soul toward a sexual pleasure.

 

3. How do the Daughters of Lust disorder the soul?

St. Thomas Aquinas explains how the vice of lust and her daughters disorder the soul.

When the lower powers are strongly moved towards their objects, the result is that the higher powers are hindered and disordered in their acts. Now the effect of the vice of lust is that the lower appetite, namely the concupiscible, is most vehemently intent on its object, to wit, the object of pleasure, on account of the vehemence of the pleasure. Consequently the higher powers, namely the reason and the will, are most grievously disordered by lust.

The sense appetite or lower appetite of the soul is generally divided into two parts: the concupiscible appetite and the irascible appetite. The former, concupiscence, is the soul’s inclination toward things which are pleasant and an aversion toward those things which are unpleasant. Consequently, the man’s concupiscible appetite would both draw him toward the sweet smell of fresh bread and push him away from the sordid stench of a sewer. Note also that the initial reaction to the object in question is often involuntary. The irascible appetite may draw the soul toward an arduous good (a good that is difficult to obtain) or may push the soul away from an evil that is difficult to escape. Consequently, the irascible appetite may spark in the soul a surge of courage to conquer an evil or it may spark fear if it is an evil from which the soul should flee.3

Lust deals with a disorder of the concupiscible appetite. Specifically, the concupiscible appetite’s inclination toward a sexual pleasure. In general, as Aquinas stated, lust disorders the soul by having the lower power of the concupiscible appetite toward a sexual pleasure overrun the higher powers of reason and the will. Below are the specifics on how each daughter of lust corresponds to a darkening of the will and reason.

 

4. How do the Daughters of Lust pervert reason?

The Angelic Doctor lays out four different ways reason acts and how, if corrupted by lust, a daughter of lust perverts the act.

(1) Now the reason has four acts in matters of action. First there is simple understanding, which apprehends some end as good, and this act is hindered by lust, according to Daniel 13:56, “Beauty hath deceived thee, and lust hath perverted thy heart.” On this respect we have “blindness of mind.”

(2) The second act is counsel about what is to be done for the sake of the end: and this is also hindered by the concupiscence of lust. Hence Terence says (Eunuch., act 1, sc. 1), speaking of lecherous love: “This thing admits of neither counsel nor moderation, thou canst not control it by counseling.” On this respect there is “rashness,” which denotes absence of counsel, as stated above (Question 53, Article 3).

(3) The third act is judgment about the things to be done, and this again is hindered by lust. For it is said of the lustful old men (Daniel 13:9): “They perverted their own mind . . . that they might not . . . remember just judgments.” On this respect there is “thoughtlessness.”

(4) The fourth act is the reason’s command about the thing to be done, and this also is impeded by lust, in so far as through being carried away by concupiscence, a man is hindered from doing what his reason ordered to be done. [To this “inconstancy” must be referred.] [The sentence in brackets is omitted in the Leonine edition.] Hence Terence says (Eunuch., act 1, sc. 1) of a man who declared that he would leave his mistress: “One little false tear will undo those words.”

In short, (1) understanding is perverted by blindness of mind (2) asking for counsel is perverted by rashness (3) judgment is perverted by thoughtlessness and (4) the command to act is perverted by inconstancy.4

 

5. How do the Daughters of Lust pervert the will?

The Universal Doctor lays out how the will submitting to lust spawns the daughters of lust.

(1) On the part of the will there results a twofold inordinate act. One is the desire for the end, to which we refer “self-love,” which regards the pleasure which a man desires inordinately, while on the other hand there is “hatred of God,” by reason of His forbidding the desired pleasure.

(2) The other act is the desire for the things directed to the end. With regard to this there is “love of this world,” whose pleasures a man desires to enjoy, while on the other hand there is “despair of a future world,” because through being held back by carnal pleasures he cares not to obtain spiritual pleasures, since they are distasteful to him.

Note that not all pleasurable goods are disordered, but if man seeks pleasurable goods in an inordinate manner he becomes selfish. In turn, selfishness leads to a hatred of God and his order of creation. Similarly, the man who wills inordinate pleasurable goods simultaneously demonstrates a love of this world and his despair of the future world to come.

Lastly, note that a vice is not a single act. A vice is a habit and a habit is a species of quality – specifically the quality of a man’s soul, and both Aristotle and Aquinas agree that a quality is difficult to change. Therefore, the more lust is allowed to pervert the soul, the greater it will entrench itself and the more the daughters of lust will nest.

  1. Fatima Quote: Read the cited quote and more about Our Lady of Fatima at 4 Things You Must Know about Our Lady of Fatima. []
  2. Further Reading on the Powers of the Soul: For those interested, please consult a Thomistic explanation of the sense appetite, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Concupiscence, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of the power of sensuality. []
  3. Concupiscible & Irascible: Aquinas further categorizes these appetites into different passions. The term passion means something that acts upon the soul in distinction to the will first moving the soul toward an object; thus, if a man sees a beautiful woman he may be struck with a passion that affects his soul and inclines the soul toward the woman. Aquinas lists specific passions for each appetite. Under the concupiscible appetite, he lists love (good as such) and hatred (evil as such), desire (good is absent) and aversion (evil is absent), joy (good is present) and sadness (evil is present). Under the irascible appetite, he lists hope (an absent but attainable good) and despair (an absent an unattainable good), courage (a conquerable evil), fear (an unconquerable evil), and anger (present evil). For more see Concupiscence and the Sense Appetite. []
  4. Are All Sexual Acts Lustful? – The obvious answer is no, but Aquinas’ answer is worth reading – especially when attempting to explain the movement of the soul toward pleasurable goods which are in fact good and virtuous. He states, “A sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good.” For more on lust in general, visit Lust & the Common Good. []

The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World

Aquinas teaches the three precepts of Natural Law are (1) self-preservation (2) procreation & education of offspring, and (3) natural inclination toward the good, God.

Brief Outline of the Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of the Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their 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. 

 

Sunset over New York City 1932. - Wikipedia
Sunset over New York City 1932. – Wikipedia

 

1. What is Natural Law?

“It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law.”1 Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end. Similar to how the carpenter’s idea of a chair is then imprinted onto the wood, so too is Eternal law imprinted upon all things. The imprint of Eternal Law on man is Natural Law. It is the general moral precepts imprinted on the hearts of humanity; however, individual persons participate in Natural Law via their reasoning. Aquinas believes all persons may know Natural Law through their reason, but not all persons reason equally. Aquinas does not posit an egalitarian view of reason. Some persons will understand more and some less. Notice too this is a very concrete notion of participation that is available to all humanity. While participation is an abused word in philosophical and theological circles, Aquinas presents a brilliant notion of participation in the Eternal through the Natural Law.2

 

2. What is the first indemonstrable principle?

What is meant by the term “first indemonstrable principle”? It is called indemonstrable because it is not deduced from any other truth. If I say Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Socrates is mortal. The last statement is a deduction from the first two. An indemonstrable principle is not deduced. It is simply known. Aquinas gives the following examples:

Hence it is that, as Boethius says… certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.

What is the first indemonstrable principle? Aquinas calls this particular indemonstrable principle first because it is the basis for all other principles. The Angelic Doctor states:

Wherefore the first indemonstrable principle is that “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,” which is based on the notion of “being” and “not-being”: and on this principle all others are based, as is stated in Metaph. iv, text. 9.

The first indemonstrable principle of our apprehension is being. This exists. This does not exist. It is in a person’s apprehension, simply; however, since man is a rational animal, what is the first thing a person apprehends via reason? Following Aristotle, Aquinas teaches:

Now as “being” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so “good” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good. Consequently the first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that “good is that which all things seek after.”

The first principle of practical reason is “the aspect of good.” All men seek what is good. The concept can seem lofty, but a more mundane example is happiness. Aquinas posits that all men seek happiness as well. While most do not associate happiness with the law, the concept of happiness is an excellent starting point for discussing natural law. In general, there is a logical movement from understanding that all men seek happiness, to the fuller understanding that all men seek what is good, to a discussion of what is the good that all men seek. Starting the conversation with all men seek happiness is generally more palatable to modern man than all men seek the good, God.

 

3. What is the first precept of law?

In short, the first indemonstrable principle of apprehension, simply, is being. The first indemonstrable principle of practical reason is good. And if all men are rational animals then all men seek what is good. Aquinas applies this rationale to the law:

Hence this is the first precept of law, that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.

Aquinas arrives at the first precept of law: “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” It is upon this precept all other precepts flow. Keep in mind Aquinas’ definition of law as well. A law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”3

 

4. Is there an order to the moral precepts?

The first precept of law – that good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided – is the foundation to the general moral precepts of natural law. Before going into detail about these precepts, Aquinas explains how the precepts will be ordered. He teaches that precepts of natural law will be ordered according to the natural inclinations in man.

Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law.

Discussed further below, Aquinas will order the precepts of natural law according to man’s inclinations – with the lower inclinations being ordered by the higher inclinations, i.e., that inclination man shares with all things that live will be the lowest, while the inclination that is unique to man as the only rational animal will be highest.

Note, however, that Aquinas speaks of inclinations and not instinct. Typically, an instinct is determined toward an end, while an inclination tends towards an end – but is ultimately indeterminate. Humanity is not born participating in Natural Law, but persons are born with the inclinations toward the precepts of Natural Law. Man participates in those inclinations by reason; thus, the wicked, for example, do not participate in Natural Law for they are recalcitrant to their inclinations toward the precepts of Natural Law.

It should be noted that this discussion is paramount to understanding Aquinas’ treatment of virtue and vice. For a man who acts repeatedly on those inclinations toward the good forms a habit. Habits that create a disposition toward the good are called virtues. Habits that reject those inclinations and dispose persons toward evil are called vices. It also rests on the neglected truth that sin is always and forever irrational.

 

5. What are the precepts of Natural Law?

According to Aquinas, there are three precepts that should be considered when discussing Natural Law. The Angelic Doctor states:

Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law.

Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals” [Pandect. Just. I, tit. i], such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth.

Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.

To wit, the three precepts are (1) self-preservation (2) procreation & education of offspring and (3) natural inclination toward the good, God; however, how do these precepts relate to one another? Are they all equal? Do they compete against one another? To the contrary, Aquinas holds to the general truth that a higher principle orders the lower. For example, the first and second precepts are those we share with both plants and animals. All things seek self-preservation. The second precept is shared with animals, because irrational animals procreate and educate their offspring; however, it is the third precept, the highest precept, that is predicated upon man as man, i.e., the rational animal. It is specifically man’s inclination toward the good, the truth, God, that should order the other two precepts.

For example, among the irrational animals, it appears the first precept of self-preservation is not always true. Nature is full of examples of mothers who would die to protect their young or males that die in order to procreate. In these examples, the lower precept of self-preservation is ordered and governed by the higher precept of procreating and educating offspring. In the rational animal, man, the third precept of seeking God should order self-preservation and the manner in which humanity procreates and educates. The operative word is should, because man is not forced to hold to the precepts of Natural Law – but only chooses to via reason. The wicked, for example, will not hold to these precepts nor will they order them correctly.

 

6. How does Aquinas differ from Modernist views?

Broadly speaking, nature may be spoken of in three ways: a Thomistic nature, a reductionist nature, and a mechanistic nature. The Thomistic nature is characterized by the belief that (1) the general moral precepts of Natural Law are available to all men in some degree, (2) man participates in these general moral precepts via his reason, and (3) the moral precepts exist in a hierarchical order.

Arguably, a reductionist theory reverses the teachings of Aquinas. In Aquinas, the higher orders the lower, while a reductionist view advocates that the lower orders the higher. If humanity has a moral question, it should look to the animals or the environment. For example, man’s sexuality is understood by looking at the sexual life of animals. Is homosexual activity permissible for man? Well, homosexuality does periodically occur among animals species; thus, it is permissible and not contrary to natural law. To wit, the rational animals uses his rationality to conclude that which is permissible for the irrational animals is permissible for man.

The reductionist view is often times associated with a Hobbesian view of nature. Thomas Hobbes taught that nature is a constant state of war. Nature is a violent chaos. Nature is the red tooth and claw. In more evolutionary terms, natural law is simply the survival of the fittest. The first precept of self-preservation dominates all others. Here man looks to nature and discards it as a moral standard. Instead of viewing reason as the principle by which the lower precepts of nature are ordered, man sees his reason as the instrument that overcomes nature. Nature becomes something to vex and dominate, not follow. Man views himself as something liberated from nature and free to create social and moral constructs free from any natural external standard.

Mechanistic theories are based off strict necessity. Mechanistic views hold that man is governed under a biological illusion, i.e., free will is actually determined by nature. While the Thomistic approach holds that nature is not governed by a strict necessity, it does not exclude biology playing a role in the decision making of human beings. For example, a full moon’s gravitational pull affects both the oceans and the human body. While the Thomistic view acknowledges influences, it does not believe man is forced or biologically determined to certain ends. Reason and free will remain. One key issue with the mechanistic view of nature is that it flattens nature into equal parts, i.e., both rational and irrational animals are equitable under the force of nature. In contrast, the Thomistic view holds a certain gradation or hierarchy to nature, with man, the rational animal, being the higher creature – the creature that has the natural precept to seek the good, God.


 

SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference

  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1
  6. Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law – I-II.93
  7. 3 Steps to Understand How Humanity Participates in Natural Law – I-II.94.1
  1. Natural Law, cf. I-II.91.2. []
  2. Natural Law: All quotes unless otherwise specified are taken from the Summa Theologica I-II.94.2. []
  3. Definition of a Law: ST I-II.90.4. []

Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law

The following list is taken from the Summa Theologica Prima Secundae question 93, entitled, The Eternal Law. A proper understanding of the Eternal Law of God, the Divine Government, serves as an excellent foundation to issues such as politics, natural law, divine providence, hell, and nature.

SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference
  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1

 

The Weaver, AD 1524.
The Weaver, AD 1524.

Brief Outline of the Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of the Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their 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.

The following list is taken from the Summa Theologica Prima Secundae question 93, entitled, The Eternal Law. A proper understanding of the Eternal Law of God, the Divine Government, serves as an excellent foundation to issues such as politics, natural law, divine providence, hell, and nature.

 

The carpenter is the efficient cause of change in the wood.
The carpenter is the efficient cause of change in the wood.

1. Does Eternal law exist? – If so, what is it?

Think of a craftsman and his art. Before the craftsman or artificer creates his art, there exists in the craftsmen a type of that art. If the artificer is going to craft a boat, there exists in him the rationale and order of a boat. He then takes that idea of the boat and imprints it on the wood. Aquinas takes up this example to answer whether or not the eternal law is a sovereign type existing in God? He states:

Just as in every artificer there pre-exists a type of the things that are made by his art, so too in every governor there must pre-exist the type of the order of those things that are to be done by those who are subject to his government. And just as the type of the things yet to be made by an art is called the art or exemplar of the products of that art, so too the type in him who governs the acts of his subjects, bears the character of a law, provided the other conditions be present which we have mentioned above (Article 90).

Following Aquinas, as the art pre-exists in the artificer, so does the law pre-exist in the governor. In both cases, there is a preexistent order that moves from the mind to the thing being ordered. With law, it moves from order of law in the governor, to his subjects being ordered. How is this principle applied to God? The Universal Doctor states:

Now God, by His wisdom, is the Creator of all things in relation to which He stands as the artificer to the products of his art, as stated in the I, 14, 8. Moreover He governs all the acts and movements that are to be found in each single creature, as was also stated in the I, 103, 5. Wherefore as the type of the Divine Wisdom, inasmuch as by It all things are created, has the character of art, exemplar or idea; so the type of Divine Wisdom, as moving all things to their due end, bears the character of law. Accordingly the eternal law is nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.

Returning to the original question, does Eternal Law exist? Yes, it is a type of Divine Wisdom. What is it? It is “nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.” As the artificer imposes the order in his mind onto his art and orders it accordingly, so too has God, the Artificer, created existence; however, note that it is not a single act – God created the world, but he continues to move all things to their end.

 

Sunrise at the Ruins of Knowlton Church, England via Wikicommons, Simon Barnes
Sunrise at the Ruins of Knowlton Church, England via Wikicommons, Simon Barnes

2. Can humanity know the Eternal Law of God?

If Eternal Law is a type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end, can humanity know and understand this law? One key to understanding Aquinas is that he retains in his mind at all times the distinction between Creator and Creature; thus, in this context, we are asking whether or not creatures may know the Divine Wisdom of the Creator? Anytime you speak of how a creature may know the Creator, God, you must make distinctions, because the creature is finite but the Creator infinite. And since Aquinas excels at making distinctions, he states:

A thing may be known in two ways: first, in itself; secondly, in its effect, wherein some likeness of that thing is found: thus someone not seeing the sun in its substance, may know it by its rays. So then no one can know the eternal law, as it is in itself, except the blessed who see God in His Essence.1 But every rational creature knows it in its reflection, greater or less. For every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection and participation of the eternal law, which is the unchangeable truth, as Augustine says (De Vera Relig. xxxi). Now all men know the truth to a certain extent, at least as to the common principles of the natural law: and as to the others, they partake of the knowledge of truth, some more, some less; and in this respect are more or less cognizant of the eternal law.

Humanity understands the Eternal Law through its effects. Using Aquinas’ example, one may know the sun by seeing its light without having to see the sun itself. Note that Aquinas’ states “every rational creature knowns it in its reflection, greater or less.” The term every means that Aquinas is not limiting knowledge of the Eternal Law to the philosophers; however, his phrase greater or less also lets us know this is not an egalitarian view of reason either. The vehicle by which all men – “some more, some less” – know the Eternal Law of God is Natural Law. In other words, as Aquinas quotes St. Augustine in his sed contra, “knowledge of the eternal law is imprinted on us.”2

 

Lady Justice (Latin: Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Dike) is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. - Wikipedia, Lady Justice
Lady Justice (Latin: Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Dike) is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. – Wikipedia, Lady Justice

3. Is every law a derivative of the Eternal Law?

The short answer is yes. Aquinas states, “all laws proceed from the eternal law.” Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end. It is no wonder, that in explaining how all laws are derivative of the Eternal Law, Aquinas speaks of a primary mover and a secondary mover:

Now wherever there are movers ordained to one another, the power of the second mover must needs be derived from the power of the first mover; since the second mover does not move except in so far as it is moved by the first.

As in question one discussing the artificer, Aquinas takes this principle of movement and places it in the governor/artificer relationship:

Wherefore we observe the same in all those who govern, so that the plan of government is derived by secondary governors from the governor in chief; thus the plan of what is to be done in a state flows from the king’s command to his inferior administrators: and again in things of art the plan of whatever is to be done by art flows from the chief craftsman to the under-crafts-men, who work with their hands.

Following Aristotle, Aquinas understands that the human mind moves from what is simple to what is complex. Here, Aquinas speaks of movement, then of movement within the mundane roles of a governor and an artificer, and finally in the context of Eternal Law. The Angelic Doctor explains:

Since then the eternal law is the plan of government in the Chief Governor, all the plans of government in the inferior governors must be derived from the eternal law. But these plans of inferior governors are all other laws besides the eternal law. Therefore all laws, in so far as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law. Hence Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 6) that “in temporal law there is nothing just and lawful, but what man has drawn from the eternal law.”

All laws are drawn from Eternal Law. Humanity understands – some more, some less – the Eternal Law through the Natural Law that is imprinted on all Creation, i.e., on both the creatures and the creation around them. In knowing the Eternal Law through Natural Law, humanity can create just and rational Human Laws. What about evil human laws? Aquinas answers:

Human law has the nature of law in so far as it partakes of right reason; and it is clear that, in this respect, it is derived from the eternal law. But in so far as it deviates from reason, it is called an unjust law, and has the nature, not of law but of violence. Nevertheless even an unjust law, in so far as it retains some appearance of law, though being framed by one who is in power, is derived from the eternal law; since all power is from the Lord God, according to Romans 13:1.3

Aquinas’ answer raises two preliminary issues on Human Law. First, if Human Law draws from Natural Law, it will be rational. Remember that the state or polis is a natural institution governed by the natural virtues. The highest of these virtues being justice. Consequently, it loses its character of a law if it is unjust and subsequently takes on a character of violence; hence, an unjust law is no law. However, Aquinas does note that even an unjust law retains the appearance of a law if made by the proper power. How then, a Catholic should engage with a state that has promulgated an unjust law is not only a question of great interest, but one that is of increasing importance in our modernist age.  

 

The Beatific Vision in Dante's Paradisio by Gustave Dore.
The Beatific Vision in Dante’s Paradiso by Gustave Dore.

4. Is there anything not governed by Eternal Law?

Yes, actually. Aquinas’ original question is Whether necessary and eternal things are subject to the eternal law? The answer is arguably yes and no. It depends on what necessary means. Read how Aquinas speaks of the Eternal Law as Divine Government:

As stated above (Article 1), the eternal law is the type of the Divine government. Consequently whatever is subject to the Divine government, is subject to the eternal law: while if anything is not subject to the Divine government, neither is it subject to the eternal law. The application of this distinction may be gathered by looking around us. For those things are subject to human government, which can be done by man; but what pertains to the nature of man is not subject to human government; for instance, that he should have a soul, hands, or feet. 

Human Government governs all things which “can be done by man,” but not those things which cannot. Similarly, the Divine Government governs all things created by God. What then, is not governed by Eternal Law?

Accordingly all that is in things created by God, whether it be contingent or necessary, is subject to the eternal law: while things pertaining to the Divine Nature or Essence are not subject to the eternal law, but are the eternal law itself.

It is God, the uncreated, that is not governed by Eternal Law. Eternal Law is a type of Divine Wisdom, and God himself is Wisdom and Truth. Read Aquinas again, “the Divine nature or Essence are not subject to eternal law, but are the eternal law itself.” One interesting example is Christ. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he is certainly not created and consequently not subject to Eternal Law; however, Christ’s created human nature is subject to the Eternal Law.4

 

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

5. Is nature subject to Eternal Law or Human Law?

Thus far, Natural Law has been spoken of as the Eternal Law imprinted upon the hearts of humanity. Man is a rational animal and may come to know the Eternal Law – more or less – through his own reason. The question here is what of irrational animals? In Human Law, the governor orders the acts and moves his subject according to the law. Is it also proper to speak of Human Law ordering and moving the irrational animals, e.g., the ox or the horse? Aquinas states:

We must speak otherwise of the law of man, than of the eternal law which is the law of God. For the law of man extends only to rational creatures subject to man. The reason of this is because law directs the actions of those that are subject to the government of someone: wherefore, properly speaking, none imposes a law on his own actions. Now whatever is done regarding the use of irrational things subject to man, is done by the act of man himself moving those things, for these irrational creatures do not move themselves, but are moved by others, as stated above (Question 1, Article 2). Consequently man cannot impose laws on irrational beings, however much they may be subject to him. But he can impose laws on rational beings subject to him, in so far as by his command or pronouncement of any kind, he imprints on their minds a rule which is a principle of action.

The answer then is no. While irrational animals are subject to man, he does not impose laws on them. Man does, however, order humanity according to Human law as he can imprint a law on their mind. How then should we speak of irrational animals and nature?

Now just as man, by such pronouncement, impresses a kind of inward principle of action on the man that is subject to him, so God imprints on the whole of nature the principles of its proper actions. And so, in this way, God is said to command the whole of nature, according to Psalm 148:6: “He hath made a decree, and it shall not pass away.” And thus all actions and movements of the whole of nature are subject to the eternal law. Consequently irrational creatures are subject to the eternal law, through being moved by Divine providence; but not, as rational creatures are, through understanding the Divine commandment.

Two things of note. First, God alone has ordered nature and moves all things to their end. Second, man’s participation in the Eternal Law differs from that of the rest of nature. Man is a rational animal and participates by “understanding the Divine commandment.”5 The irrational creatures and the whole of nature a subject to Eternal Law “through being moved by Divine providence.”

 

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin.
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin.

6. Are all actions, even sin, subject to Eternal Law?

Aquinas begins in his sed contra by quoting St. Augustine, “Nothing evades the laws of the most high Creator and Governor, for by Him the peace of the universe is administered.” As seen in the above question on nature, there are two ways in which creation participates in the Eternal Law: first, the rational animal, the human, “by way of knowledge,” while the irrational animals “by way of an inward motive principle.” However, what of wicked rational animals?

Both ways, however, are imperfect, and to a certain extent destroyed, in the wicked; because in them the natural inclination to virtue is corrupted by vicious habits, and, moreover, the natural knowledge of good is darkened by passions and habits of sin. But in the good both ways are found more perfect: because in them, besides the natural knowledge of good, there is the added knowledge of faith and wisdom; and again, besides the natural inclination to good, there is the added motive of grace and virtue.

A few things of note. First, the imprint of Eternal Law on the human heart gives humanity a natural inclination to virtue. Both the national inclination and the virtues – good habits – are part of Natural Law. Sin, however, is in a true sense unnatural and consequently irrational. It darkens humanity’s “natural knowledge of the good.” So, how does this fit with the Eternal Law?

Accordingly, the good are perfectly subject to the eternal law, as always acting according to it: whereas the wicked are subject to the eternal law, imperfectly as to their actions, indeed, since both their knowledge of good, and their inclination thereto, are imperfect; but this imperfection on the part of action is supplied on the part of passion, in so far as they suffer what the eternal law decrees concerning them, according as they fail to act in harmony with that law. Hence Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 15): “I esteem that the righteous act according to the eternal law; and (De Catech. Rud. xviii): Out of the just misery of the souls which deserted Him, God knew how to furnish the inferior parts of His creation with most suitable laws.”

The wicked may be said to have an imperfect participation in the Eternal Law. They do not adhere to the Eternal Law imprinted on their hearts; however, the Eternal Law still moves all things to their end. The Eternal Law is just and moves the wicked to their just end, damnation.

  1. Beatific Vision: Aquinas states that no one knows the Eternal Law in itself except the Bless’d in heaven. Phrases like this often unsettle Eastern-oriented Catholics/Orthodox who enjoy the mystery of God. The distinction here is that even the saints in heaven, though the may know God, do not comprehend him. God is the Inexhaustible Good; thus, no creature may exhaust his goodness. They know God, but they continually bathe in his endless glory and mystery. Aquinas’ is also known for saying that man cannot exhaust the essence of a fly. These caveats are good to keep in mind when speaking of how the West speaks of “knowing” God. []
  2. In Itself & In Its Effect in Scripture: The distinction Aquinas’ makes about knowing Eternal Law in itself and in itself effects in also seen in Scripture. In the first objection to ST I-II.93.2, the objector points out I Cor. 2:11, which states “the things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.” In Aquinas’ answer to this object, he counters with Rom. 1:20, “The invisible things of God . . . are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” The first is the Divine Law in itself, while the second is the Divine Law in its effects. []
  3. Aquinas on Human Law: The argument here is that there are wicked laws, therefore not all laws are derived from the Eternal Law. (ST I-II.93.3.obj 2) Aquinas’ answer, supra, is copied from ad. 2 of the same article. []
  4. Aquinas on Christ and Eternal Law: This object is raised in ST I-II93.4.obj 2 and answered in ad. 2 of the same article. []
  5. Rational and Irrational Animals Under Natural Law: In a post-Enlightenment world, the distinction between irrational and rational creatures has been lost. For example, when most people speak of “natural law” they think of the brutal and violent law of nature. The lion preys on the antelope. Only the strongest specimens survive. Consequently, nature is seen as something brutal – think of Hobbes, who stated the natural state of man is war and violence. They look at nature and see violence and predicate their actions upon their observations. In other words, the rational creature looks to the actions of the irrational creature to determine a moral code. In modernism, nature as a moral law, a standard, has been lost. It is arguable that the majority simply cannot view nature as a moral law due to the actions of animals and hurricanes; thus, the external standard of Natural Law – think Eternal Law imprinted human hearts, e.g., the natural virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude – is moot. In its stead, is the individual – the autonomous moral universe of the modern self. []

8 Considerations on Whether Christ had Acquired, Infused, or Beatific Knowledge

The knowledge of God’s essence, the infused intelligible species, and the acquired phantasms all flow harmoniously within the knowledge of Christ. The efficient cause of humanity’s perfection maintains his human perfection.

A Word of Caution
In his epistle to I Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh.” The following Thomistic contemplation on the knowledge of Christ is meat. SPL has written extensively on St. Thomas Aquinas and the majority of our lists are written in such a way that any Catholic may pick them up and glean some wisdom from our Common Doctor. The following consideration on Christ’s knowledge is a deeply scholastic reflection that presupposes a good deal of familiarity with Aquinas. Those wanting a quality introduction to the Angelic Doctor can reference Pope Benedict XVI Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas or see our introduction to the distinction between knowledge and wisdom or read our primer on the Queen of the Sciences. That said, we begin what is really in itself a primer on the subject of Christ’s knowledge.

 

Introduction

The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) infallibly declared that Christ was one person with two distinct natures: a human nature and a divine nature. The Tome of Pope Leo – a letter articulating Pope Leo’s position on Christology – was read at the Council. The pontiff states, “therefore in the entire and perfect nature of very man was born very God, whole in what was his, whole in what was ours.”[1] Furthermore, predicated upon the dogma of the two natures of Christ, the Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680) confessed, “two natural wills in Him and two natural operations.”[2] The implicit import of affirming two natural operations within Christ is that “there are in Christ two modes of knowledge, one divine (common to the three Persons of the Trinity) and the other human, in Christ’s human intellect.”[3] Without a genuine human operation and mode of knowledge, Christ’s rational soul would be ineffectual. Moreover, Christ’s role as Savior appears to necessitate true human knowledge insofar as that knowledge “is the basis for his free human decisions and consequently of his capacity to merit salvation for us.”[4] However, the divine nature in Christ necessitates a divine knowledge, which would seem to intimate that Christ held the Beatific Vision. Returning to the Tome of Pope Leo, the pontiff submits what has now been entitled the Communication of Properties or Idioms. He states, “each of the natures retains its proper character without defect; and as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God.”[5] The words of Pope Leo have become the Christological standard in understanding the properties of Christ. It stands then that the knowledge of Christ presents the theologian with a particular dilemma: how can Christ have true human knowledge and possess the Beatific Vision? Likewise, how can one person be both acquiring knowledge in a genuine human mode and truly possess the perfection of human knowledge in the Beatific Vision? Can Christ be simultaneously moving toward an end and in possession of the end? In navigating the question of Christ’s knowledge, the Catholic intellectual tradition has posited three modes of knowledge: acquired, infused, and beatific. Turning more particularly to the Thomistic tradition, in following the standard of Pope Leo, St. Thomas strives to show how Christ held all three forms of knowledge without imposing a defect on the human or divine nature.

 

1. On Acquired Knowledge

Acquired knowledge is knowledge which “a man comes to know through his own efforts.”[6] It is the natural epistemic method of human persons. In Disputed Questions on Power, St. Thomas examines in detail the mode of acquiring knowledge. He states at first there is the “thing which is understood” or rather the intelligible object.[7] Secondly, there is the “intelligible species, by which the intellect comes to be in act.”[8] The intelligible species is the form of the thing extracted from the object, “by which the intellect comes to be in act,” and is “considered as a principle of the action of the intellect.”[9] It is the “first act,” that leads to the “second act” of actually comprehending the object. The intelligible species is impressed into the mind as first act, thus the intelligible species “comes to be in act through some form” – the form extracted from the object – “which must be the principle of the action.”[10] The “second act” is that which finds its end, its term in forming a concept. The “conception of the intellect” – which is never the object itself, but always in the mind – is the conceptual form from the understanding of the object.[11] As St. Thomas explains, “the conception of the intellect is ordered to the thing understood as to an end: for the intellect forms in itself a concept of the thing that it might know the thing understood.”[12] The conception of the intellect may be seen clearly in the distinction of the interior word and the exterior word. St. Thomas states, “The conception of the intellect in us is properly called a ‘word’ for this is what is signified by an exterior word.”[13] In human speech, a word does not “signify the intellect itself” nor does it signify the “intelligible species,” but the spoken word signifies the interior or inner word – that is the conception of the intellect, “by mediation of which it is referred to the thing [the original intelligible object].”[14]

For the sake of clarity, it may advisable for us to place St. Thomas’ cognitional theory within a basic example. A person sees the tree and the intelligible species of the tree is impressed on their mind. St. Thomas considers this the first act. The second act is the person’s intellect understanding the intelligible species of the tree. The understanding of the intelligible species forms a concept of the tree in the intellect, which is the term or end of the second act. The individual then has an “inner word” of the tree, which then can be spoken as the “exterior word.” The spoken word or exterior word then mediates the understanding of the individual’s conception of the original tree to the other individual.

 

2. Agent & Possible Intellect

The Angelic Doctor’s cognitional theory brings to the surface two modes of the intellect: the agent or active intellect and the possible or passive intellect. In examining the rational soul of men, St. Thomas observes the soul “is in potentiality to knowing intelligible things,” and “it is like a tablet on which nothing is written.”[15] However, the human intellect is capable of learning and thus the possible intellect is the potency to understand. The agent or active intellect is then operation by which the possible intellect is moved to act. As St. Thomas avers, “the proper operation of the active intellect is to make intelligible species in act.”[16] Abstracting intelligible species, the agent intellect reduces the possible intellect into act, by what it sees in the phantasm or intelligible material object.[17] The extracted intelligible species from the phantasm becomes a habit informing the intellect. The habit is formed because the agent intellect also reduces the understanding into the concept and that concept is habitually called upon for understanding.

 

3. Whether there is Beatific Knowledge in Christ

With a basic understanding of St. Thomas cognitional theory natural to man, we may turn to the knowledge of Christ. In light of the fact that that which is higher orders that which is lower, the beatific knowledge of Christ must be treated prior to any of the two lower forms of knowledge. The beatific vision, the vision of the blessed, or the “science of vision” are all univocal terms that refer to the knowledge of one who has seen God in his essence. St. John refers to the beatific vision when he says that the faithful departed will see God “as he is.”[18]

The Trinity Icon
The Trinity Icon

Turning to the biblical tradition within St. John’s Gospel, Christ’s relationship with the Father appears to be in a beatific manner. Christ says, “not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father,” and furthermore, he states “but you have not known [the Father]; I know him.”[19] Moreover, St. John records, “he who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard.”[20] These passages seem to “put it beyond doubt that the revelatory power of Christ originated not in a revelation made to him nor in his faith, but in the direct knowledge he has of the Father.”[21] If Christ did not have the beatific vision then he would need faith, but “Scripture is notably silent” about Christ’s faith.[22] In fact, Christ is “never depicted as a believer,” but is rather shown as “someone who knows God intimately and directly.”[23] St. Thomas predicates his philosophical argument upon Scripture’s affirmation of Christ’s direct knowledge of God. Referring to St. John’s Gospel, St. Thomas notes that Christ “knew God fully, even as He was man.”[24] St. Thomas observes that all men have their teleological end in God and therefore man “is in potentiality to the knowledge of blessed.”[25] It is by the “humanity of Christ” that “men are brought to this end” of Beatific Vision.[26] Here St. Thomas argues what is commonly called the principle of perfection: “hence it was necessary that the beatific knowledge” should “belong to Christ pre-eminently, since the cause ought always to be more efficacious than the effect.”[27] According to this principle, if there was a time when Christ did not possess the end or rather the beatific vision, then the end that humanity is brought to could not be derivative of Christ’s humanity. However, since humanity is brought to the end by the humanity of Christ, then it seems necessary for Christ’s humanity to have the perfection of the efficient cause. However, could it be stated that Christ’s beatific knowledge is only necessitated after the Resurrection, because “from that point onwards Christ’s humanity effectively leads men to heaven”?[28] In spite of this claim, Christ must be seen as “mediator, the one who unites men to God” could be lacking the mediation required to bring man to God at any time.[29] If there was a privation of mediation in Christ, then “he would have needed mediation,” but this cannot be as he is the “first and only mediator.”[30] According to St. Thomas, it stands then that the biblical tradition and scripturally predicated philosophical principles reveal Christ to have knowledge that is in the manner of the blessed.

 

4. On the Manner of Christ’s Beatific Knowledge

What then is Christ’s comprehension of the Divine Essence? St. Thomas posits that the soul of Christ could not fully comprehend the Divine Essence.[31] In holding to Christ as one person with two distinct natures, Christ’s soul would have limitations proper to a created soul. As St. Thomas avers, “it is impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine Essence,” because “the infinite is not comprehended by the finite.”[32] Returning to St. Leo’s communication of idioms, is Christ’s inability to grasp the Divine Essence fully a defect between the natures? No defect is inferred to the Divine nature as all questions of Christ’s knowledge are rooted in his humanity. To argue Christ’s divine nature or the Word did not have beatific vision would be ad absurdum. Regarding the human nature, there is no defect, because Christ’s soul is perfected according to its natural capacity. Therefore, Christ’s human nature comprehends the Divine Essence according to the natural perfection of the human soul, which is the perfection needed in order for him to be the efficient cause of humanity’s reaching the beatific end.

Christ as Judge, a selection from the Sistine Chapel.
Christ as Judge, a selection from the Sistine Chapel.

What then is the knowledge that Christ comprehends? St. Thomas addresses this issue in two ways. First, Christ knows “whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time.”[33] “In this way,” St. Thomas states, “it must be said that the soul of Christ knows all things in the Word.”[34] The Angelic Doctor predicates his view upon the “dignity” of Christ and his role as “Judge.”[35] As he says, “no beatified intellect fails to know in the Word whatever pertains to itself,” and thus to the position of Christ as Judge “all things to some extent belong, inasmuch as all things are subject to Him.”[36] Therefore it is necessary for one “appointed Judge of all by God” to have the knowledge of all in order to judge perfectly. However, Christ has been placed Judge over a reality in act, not over all realities in potential. In this light, St. Thomas makes his second statement: “to such things as are in potentiality, and never have been nor ever will be reduced to act,” it appears “some of these are in the divine power alone, and not all of these does the soul of Christ know in the Word.”[37] If Christ’s soul could “comprehend all that God could do,” then it would appear he would be able to comprehend the Divine Essence, simply.[38] St. Thomas states, “every power is known from the knowledge of all it can do,” but the finitude of Christ’s soul cannot comprehend the infinitude of God’s power. However, could Christ’s finite soul comprehend the finite power of creatures? St. Thomas says that Christ does comprehend the power of creatures, because in comprehending the Word “the essence of every creature” is comprehended.[39] Furthermore, to comprehend the essence is to comprehend the “power and virtue and all things that are in the power of the creature.”[40] It stands then, St. Thomas posits Christ’s beatific knowledge as necessary to his role as Judge and must know all things – including the potentialities of creatures – in order to judge perfectly.

 

5. Whether Christ had any knowledge besides the Beatific?

St. Thomas submits three reasons why Christ must have knowledge other than beatific or rather created knowledge. Firstly, predicated upon the belief  that Christ’s unadulterated human nature has a true rational soul, it is fitting for Christ to have a possible intellect. “Now what is in potentiality is imperfect unless reduced to act,” and Christ must have “a perfect human nature, since the whole race was to be brought back to perfection by its means.”[41] Again, Christ’s role as mediator and the principle of perfection necessitate Christ’s perfection in being the efficient cause of man’s perfection. All human perfections must be present within Christ’s humanity. Furthermore St. Thomas’ second point reveals if the beatific knowledge rendered Christ’s rational soul ineffectual, Christ’s human nature would suffer defect.[42]  Thirdly, “some created knowledge pertains to the nature of the human soul, viz. that whereby we naturally know first principles.”[43] It stands then that predicated upon Christ’s necessity to be perfectly human, he must have knowledge other than the beatific.

 

6. On Christ’s Infused Knowledge

Infused knowledge is not ascertained by the intelligible species being extracted from the intelligible object, but rather by the intelligible species being infused directly into the intellect by God. The cognitional mode of divine fusion appears to be demonstrated best by the biblical prophets, whose prophecies are not the product of human reason. Did Christ have this infused knowledge? St. Thomas quotes St. Paul, that in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”[44] First however it must be shown why if Christ has beatific knowledge is not infused knowledge superfluous? St. Thomas observes that the mode of “cognition by infused species includes no opposition to beatific cognition.”[45] The opposite of the beatific vision is faith. As St. Thomas states, “the essence of faith [is] to have reference to the unseen,” whereas beatific knowledge is gleaned by one who has seen God’s Essence.[46] The prophets, while having infused knowledge, would still have to have faith, for they have not seen God; while Christ who has seen the Divine knowledge, maintains beatific and infused knowledge without the need of faith.

Again St. Thomas appeals to the necessity of Christ’s human perfection in all things and posits that Christ must have infused knowledge perfectly. Therefore, “the Word of God imprinted upon the soul of Christ” the “intelligible species of all things to which the possible intellect is in potentiality.”[47] However, it would seem that there is now a contradiction between the beatific and infused knowledge of Christ. As matter cannot have two simultaneous forms, neither “can the soul receive a double knowledge at once” or rather simultaneously receive a perfect and imperfect intelligible form.[48] However, St. Thomas posits a distinction between the modes. The beatific knowledge is “not by a species,” because the Divine Essence is not known by an intelligible form or species.[49] The “Divine Essence is a form exceeding the capacity of any creature whatsoever,” and thus the intelligible species cannot be fully comprehended. Infused knowledge however does use intelligible species, for God imprints the intelligible species to the possible intellect. Therefore, in knowledge of the Divine Essence there is nothing competitive with the human intellect comprehending intelligible species “proportioned to its nature.”[50]

Fr. Raymond Brown has observed, “each of the four Gospels attributes to Jesus the ability to know what is in other’s minds, to know what is happening elsewhere, and to know the future.”[51] Certainly not exhausting the examples, it can be noted that Christ knew the past of the woman at the well, the details of St. Peter’s betrayal, and, of course, foretells of his own death and resurrection.[52] Returning to the concept of the perfection of Christ’s humanity, “it is very fitting that he should have grace in the highest degree.”[53] Further, the “Holy Spirit reposes in Christ with all his gifts and in all his fullness.”[54] It appears then that with the Thomistic arguments and the Scriptural evidence there “is no reason to deny that Christ has infused knowledge.”[55]

 

7. On the Acquired Knowledge of Christ

Holding to the same principle of perfection, it appears that Christ must have acquired knowledge in order to avoid defect. As adumbrated, acquired knowledge denotes an active intellect, and thus to deny Christ acquired knowledge is to render a part of Christ’s soul ineffectual. The Angelic Doctor avers “what has not its proper operation is useless” and as mentioned above the operation of the active intellect is to “to make intelligible species in act, by abstracting them from phantasms.”[56] Therefore St. Thomas claims, “it is necessary to say” that Christ has acquired knowledge via the proper operation of the active intellect.[57]

"Christ in the Temple"  by Heinrich Hofmann, a selection.
“Christ in the Temple” by Heinrich Hofmann, a selection.

In spite of this claim, it would seem that Christ acquiring any knowledge would be in direct contradiction with the beatific and infused modes of knowledge. How can it be said that Christ knew the intelligible species of all things past, present, and future and grew in knowledge? Whereas Scripture has seemingly affirmed Christ’s beatific knowledge in seeing God face to face and Christ’s infused or prophetic knowledge, it also affirms that Christ acquired knowledge. The clearest example is in St. Luke’s Gospel: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”[58] The tortuous nature of the question of Christ’s knowledge is exemplified in the “great theologians like St. Bonaventure, Scotus, Suarez, and even St. Thomas in his earlier works, denied that Christ had genuinely acquired knowledge.”[59] While these theologians generally predicated their view upon “dignity of the Word made flesh,” it appears via an ineffectual active intellect to submit a defect in the rational soul of Christ.[60] In a holding to Pope Leo’s principle, St. Thomas recants his former view and posits “it must be said that in Christ there was acquired knowledge, which is properly knowledge in a human fashion.”[61] The objection is put forward that “nothing can be added to what is full” and thus “the power of Christ’s soul was filled with intelligible species divinely infused.”[62] St. Thomas notes that neither the beatific nor infused cognitional mode utilizes phantasms in order to extract an intelligible species, thus “it behooved [Christ’s knowledge] to be also perfected with regard to phantasms.”[63] St. Thomas is illuminating the fact that without acquired knowledge Christ would lack phantasms, which Christ must have or he lacks a natural function of the rational soul.

What then is the role of an active intellect upon a possible intellect, which by infused knowledge, reveals all possible intelligible species? In other words, what does it practically mean for Christ to acquire knowledge? It is here that St. Thomas de-mythologizes Christ’s beatific knowledge. Beatific and infused knowledge “produce the whole all at once” and therefore they were immediate and perfect “in the beginning.”[64] However, acquired knowledge “does not produce the whole at once, but successfully” and therefore “by this knowledge Christ did not know everything from the beginning.”[65] Further, St. Thomas observes St. Luke’s passage records that Christ “increased in knowledge and age together.”[66] In accordance with holding to a perfect human nature, Christ’s beatific and infused knowledge could only be in proportion to the faculties of Christ’s rational soul. Christ’s acquisition of phantasms and human limitations reveal the certain “perfection appropriate to age” and “experience available.”[67] It seems St. Thomas’ theory does not offer a defect to either nature. A cup that is perfectly filled with water still only holds its given amount, albeit perfectly. In this light, Christ’s humanity growing in knowledge is predicated upon his age, i.e. the development of his intellect. If the limitation is ignored, it could be argued that Christ’s humanity would be cognizant of the beatific and infused knowledge regardless of the soul’s capacity, e.g., Christ could be cognizant in utero, which is ad absurdum. It is then that there was a proper habit of the active intellect in extracting the “intelligible species from phantasms.”[68] However, the habit of infused knowledge would “be there from the beginning” and be “perfect infused knowledge of all things.”[69] Therefore, whatever intelligible species Christ’s active intellect abstracted from the phantasm, was already found perfectly by the actualization of the infused knowledge upon the possible intellect – in accordance with the capacity of Christ’s age specificity and human limitation. St. Thomas’ theory would account for how Christ was found to wise even at a young age – e.g., in the temple – but still be able to grow in wisdom. In this, St. Thomas holds together the divine knowledge and faculties proper to human cognition without conferring a defect on either one.

 

8. Beatific, Infused, and Acquired Harmony

In accordance with Pope Leo’s communication of idioms at Chalcedon and the two distinct operations of Third Constantinople, St. Thomas holds together a genuine human mode of cognition with beatific knowledge. The knowledge of God’s essence, the infused intelligible species, and the acquired phantasms all flow harmoniously within the knowledge of Christ. The efficient cause of humanity’s perfection maintains his human perfection.

 


 

Bibliography

Books

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Vol. IV Summa Theologica III  (New York: Benziger Bros., 1948)

Levering, Matthew. Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah & Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas. (Notre Dame: ND Press, 2002)

Ocariz, F. L.F. Mateo Seco, & J.A. Riestra. The Mystery of Jesus Christ. (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1991)

Schaff, Philip & Henry Wallace, Eds. Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Vol. 14 (Peabody: Hendrickson Pub., Inc., 2004)

 

Handouts

St. Thomas Aquinas. Disputed Questions on Power, Q. VIII, a.1.


[1] Schaff, Philip & Henry Wallace, Eds. Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Vol. 14 (Peabody: Hendrickson Pub., Inc., 2004), 255.

[2] Aquinas, St. Thomas. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Vol. IV Summa Theologica III  (New York: Benziger Bros., 1948), III.18.1

[3] Ocariz, F. L.F. Mateo Seco, & J.A. Riestra. The Mystery of Jesus Christ. (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1991), 149.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Schaff, 255.

[6] Ocariz, 150.

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas. Disputed Questions on Power, Q. VIII, a.1. Class Handout.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] ST III.9.1 – n.b. St. Thomas differs from John Locke’s “blank tablet” insofar as the Angelic Doctor holds to that tablet being formed by first principles.

[16] ST III.9.4

[17] Phantasm – the image in the imagination, the form of an object in the imagination; the active intellect can extract the intelligible species from both an understood material object or an imagine object, i.e., phantasm

[18] I John 3:2, RSV

[19] John 6:46; 8:55. RSV. Emphasis added.

[20] John 3:32. RSV. Emphasis added.

[21] Ocariz, 153.

[22] Ibid., 154.

[23] Ibid.

[24] III.9.2; cf. John 8:55

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.; cf. Heb. 2:10

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., 155.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] III.10.1

[32] Ibid.

[33] III.10.2

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] III.9.1

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] III.9.3. – Col. 2:3

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] III.9.3 – the beatific being perfect and the infused being imperfect

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51]Levering, Matthew. Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah & Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas. (Notre Dame: ND Press, 2002), 32.

[52] Ocariz, 153. – Jn 4:17-18; Mk 14:18-21, 27-31, Lk 22:31-39; Mt 12:39-41, Lk 11:29-32; Other examples: Jn 1:47-49, 11:14; Mk 9:33-35; Mt 24:1ff; Mk 13:5ff

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid., cf. Is II:1-3

[55] Ibid.

[56] III.9.4

[57] Ibid.

[58] Luke 2:52

[59] Ocariz, 150.

[60] Ibid.

[61] III.9.4

[62] Ibid. Obj.2

[63] Ibid. Ad.2

[64] III.12.2.Ad.2

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ocariz, 152.

[68] III.12.2

[69] Ibid.

13 Videos from the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph

13 excellent videos from a faithful, young, and vibrant community of Dominican men. St. Dominic, pray for us.

Dominican crest Listers, laudare – benedicere – praedicare. What is a Dominican? According to the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph, “The Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans, was founded by St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221), a Spanish priest who was struck by the need for preaching the true faith in light of the rampant heresy he encountered while travelling in southern France… Gradually he attracted men to join him in his task of preaching, and began the process of formally establishing the Order of Preachers. On December 22, 1216, Pope Honorius III formally approved the new Order, and Dominic served as the Master or superior of the entire Order until his death in 1221.”

“The Dominican friars of the Province of St. Joseph were founded in 1806 by Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P., an American who had joined the English Province of the Order as a young man during its exile in Belgium. Fenwick eventually returned to the United States with the dream of establishing the Order in his native land. Due to the shortage of priests in the western states, Fenwick first established the province in Kentucky, and soon extended the ministry to Ohio. In the mid-nineteenth century, the province began ministering on the East Coast while continuing its presence in Ohio and Kentucky. In the first decades of the twentieth century, two educational institutions were established: in 1906, the Dominican House of Studies in Washinton, DC, and in 1917 Providence College in Rhode Island.”1

 

Support the Province of St. Joseph Online

 

Many of the listers may recognize Dominicana from our list of 12 Catholic Blogs Worth Your Time. Along with the aforementioned links, we have greatly enjoyed following Pius OP on Twitter and browsing his blog: Ubi Spiritus Domini Ibi Libertas. The Dominicans will always have a special place here at SPL. Many of our staff attended Ave Maria University; there we studied alongside the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in our graduate courses and watched as they served the community with joy and wisdom. And of course, SPL is dedicated to a Dominican, the Common Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas.2 Fr. James Schall, SJ, has said that the ills of our time may be defined by the absence of a single book: “This book is the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages, the absence of whose presence has defined our modernity.”3 It is also impossible to speak of the Dominicans without speaking of Our Lady. It was to St. Dominic that the Queen of Heaven appeared and taught him how to pray the Holy Rosary, Her Psalter.4 SPL has written extensively on both St. Thomas Aquinas and the Holy Rosary. That said, the Dominican  tradition is rich and diverse and the following videos are from the men who are living out this good and holy vocation. Please watch and share the list with others so that more and more people may know the good these men of God do.5

 

Dominican Province of St. Joseph

1. Five Paths to the Priesthood

Five Paths to the Priesthood chronicles the very different journeys of five Dominican Friars to the moment of their ordination as priests of Jesus Christ and what this has meant to them in their new lives as servants of the people of God.

 

2. Leaving All Things Behind

“LEAVING ALL THINGS BEHIND” is a Dominican vocation video from the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, the Eastern Province in the United States of America. Filmed at St. Gertrude Priory in Cincinnati, Ohio in August of 2010. This video has footage of the largest class of Novices in 44 years for this province (21 men enter our novitiate in 2010).

 

3. An Icon of New Evangelization

“The Catholic Center at NYU: An Icon of New Evangelization” introduces the new space designated for the spiritual and intellectual formation of 18,000 Catholic students at New York University — and the mission of the Dominican friar chaplains, missionaries, and students who have, in the most secular city in the world, picked up their cross.

 

4. March for Life 2013

The Dominican presence at the 2013 march for life in Washington D.C. The video follows Bro. Edmud McCullough OP, former FOCUS Missionary and other friars.

 

5. All Saints Vigil 2012

The All Saints Vigil is an annual event that draws over four hundred young people from the DC and North Virginia area. The following video is a time-lapse from the Dominican Priory of the Immaculate Conception. Those wishing to hear the schola from the All Saints Vigil: Dominican House of Studies Schola Videos.

 

6. De Profundis

It is an annual tradition at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC that in November, the month when the Church remembers the dead, the Student Brothers visit the nearby cemetery of our deceased brethren and pray for them. During the rest of the year, Dominican Friars join in praying the De Profundis each night, before entering the refectory, with the names of the deceased for the day being read aloud.

 

7. The Grace of Preaching

Excerpt from a talk on Dominican Preaching given at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. on February 14, 2009. Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., is a member of the Eastern Dominican Province and teaches theology at Providence College. The complete talk was 45 min. in length and can be viewed at the Province of St. Joseph.

 

8. EWTN Live – Dominican Life

EWTN Global Catholic Television Network: EWTN Live with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. interviewing Fr. Benedict Croell, OP and Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP,PhD on the Dominican religious life.

 

9. The Dominican Order – 1964 Vocation Film Excerpts

Excerpts from “And the world looks at us”, a 1964 Dominican Province of Saint Joseph vocation film written by Fr. Dominic Rover, O.P., and narrated by Dana Elcar. The original film was 28 min in length. The scenes included here were filmed at St. Stephen Priory in Dover, MA, the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., and St. Dominic Church, Washington, D.C.6

 

10. Friars Go Christmas Caroling

Archbishop Augustine DiNoia OP joined some friars of the Dominican House of Studies (& a couple of the Nashville Dominican Sisters) in Washington DC to go caroling and pass out holy cards with a message of Hope to help prepare DC’ers for Christmas. A little of the New Evangelization! The Lord seems to be touching the guy in the blue coat.

 

11. Dominican Friars Caroling Lo How a Rose

Archbishop Augustine DiNoia OP on his recent trip back from Rome, joined some of the friars of the Dominican House of Studies (& a couple of the Nashville Dominican Sisters) in Washington DC to go caroling and pass out holy cards with a message of Hope to help prepare DC’ers for Christmas. A little of the New Evangelization!

 

12. The Famous “Meeting of Bananas” in Chinatown

The Dominicans are chalking this one up to the “New Evangelization.” The Dominicans did not film this encounter, but according to the person who did film it: “Left work at 9:00 p.m. and bump into the choir of the Dominican Friars singing on a corner of Gallery Place Chinatown, Washington D.C. It’s December and Christmas is around the corner… when suddenly a heard of bananas arrived. Watch what happens.”

 

13. Totus Tuus

Some of the student brothers practice Totus Tuus, a song dedicated to Our Lady and the motto of Bl. John Paul II. The Dominican Province of St. Joseph, the Eastern Province in the United States has it’s House of Studies in Washington DC across the street from the Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

 

Interested in becoming a Dominican? Contact Fr. Benedict Croell, OP, the vocations director (here) and follow OP Vocations on Twitter or check out their blog Order of Preachers Vocations.

 

  1. Dominican HistoryRead more about the overall history of the Order of Preachers. []
  2. AQUINAS: Those who want to begin to examine the writings of this saint may reference Queen of the Sciences: 4 Questions to Understand the Throne of Theology and Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws. []
  3. Fr. James Schall SJ Quote: Modern Man has Lost His Way []
  4. ROSARY: SPL’s John Henry has written a couple excellent lists on the Holy Rosary, including: Regina Sanctissima: 6 Things All Catholics Should Know About the Rosary and Virgin Potens: 8 Pope Comment on the Holy Rosary. []
  5. VIDEOS: Much thanks to Fr. Benedict Croell, OP, who selected the presented videos. Be sure to check out the Dominican Youtube channel Dominican Friars and the website Kindly Light – a project of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph that has done various documentaries that have appeared on Catholic TV. []
  6. 1964: From the archives of the Dominican Theological Library  the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.; Audio lectures by Fr. J.F. Hinnebusch on the history of the Dominican Order are available. []

The 2 Books by Cardinal Ratzinger that Will Change Your Life

“Politics is the realm of reason – not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice.”

Listers, if Catholics are to live a life of virtue then there are two primary sciences – bodies of knowledge – all Catholics should study: the “Noble Science” and the “Queen of the Sciences.” The corpus of writings from Cardinal Ratzinger is as vast and as it is impressive. An excellent survey of his writings can by found in Abram’s The 6 Books of Pope Benedict XVI Every Catholic Should Read. The list at hand takes a different approach.

A Unique Review: Why were these works chosen?
It is typical of a positive book review to go into great detail lauding the message and delivery of the particular author. For the review at hand, we take a different approach and presuppose that Cardinal Ratzinger’s works are brimming with solid Catholic erudition and strike with a clear and orthodox Catholic tone. The purpose of the review is to step back from the works and truly understand the overall sciences in which they are written. It is to move the reader from thinking of works as well written on this or that subject, to understanding that different bodies of knowledge are not isolated from each other. In fact, the word we use for understanding the proper ordering of knowledge is wisdom. The higher bodies of knowledge – higher sciences – order the lower ones; thus, if one truly grasps the importance of a higher science and can study an excellent work on that science, it will have “trickle down” effect on all the other areas in their life. It is in this focus that we must first explain the science and then suggest a work by Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Noble Science

According to Aristotle’s Politics, man is by nature a political animal. It is by nature that humans gather together and form political bodies. Human political order begins with the household and the natural relationship between a husband and a wife. Built upon the natural order of the family, society grows from the village and then to the self-sufficient city. This concept of the”city” is known as the polis, which is a philosophical term referring to any political body under a single government, i.e., a socially and economically differentiated political community. For Aristotle, the polis is as natural to humanity as the forest is to the earth. Man, his household, his communities, are all natural sub-political parts of the polis. Aristotle posited that any person who could live without the polis must be either a beast or a god. The polis is natural to man and man needs the polis. He needs community and order. The order that the polis gives man allows man to live and live well.

Aristotle, The Louvre – via Wikicommons Sting aka Eric Gaba

How then should the polis be ordered? Since the polis is a natural institution populated by political animals, man, as the rational animal, must reflect upon nature and act according to reason. When man acts according to his reason, according to what is most properly natural to him as the rational animal, then these acts become habits and good habits are referred to as virtues. Aristotle claims that the virtue that belongs to the polis is justice, because justice is the virtue of proper order. As Aristotle says, “just as man is the best of animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all.” It is in the polis that man is able to live well, because it gives an architectonic order to all the areas of man’s life. It is the polis man finds a natural completion, which is in practicality the “greatest of goods.” This is why politics is referred to as the “Noble Science.”1

In his introduction to the Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas lays out a brief explanation of why politics is the Noble Science. There are two primary categories of sciences: the speculative and the practical. The speculative sciences are ordered toward the “knowledge of truth,” the contemplation of “natural things,” while the practical sciences are ordered toward a work – things made by man -that imitate nature. Within the practical sciences, there are things man will make that are ordered according to a specific use, e.g., a ship or a house, and a things specific use is ordered toward a specific good, e.g., ships for sailing; however, man can also make things which have as their specific end the ordering man himself, e.g., laws. The things that have their end in the proper ordering of man come together as a whole in the polis and since the end is always greater than the means the polis is “therefore necessarily superior to all the other wholes that may be known and constituted by human reason.” Aquinas’ statement has two parts: the polis is superior to all other wholes and is the greatest whole constitute by human reason. Following Aristotle, we see that the first claim is because the polis gives order to all other areas of man’s life and the second claim is become the order of the polis is derived by human reason contemplating nature, i.e., natural law and the virtues.2

Within practical science there are the mechanical sciences that deal with an agent acting upon an external matter, e.g., a smith or a shipwright. In distinction to the mechanical sciences there are the moral sciences. The moral sciences deal with the actions that remain with the agent, e.g., deliberating, willing, choosing, etc. The political science is therefore a moral science, because it is concerned with the ordering of men and their actions. Aquinas concludes, “If the most important science, then, is the one that deals with what is most noble and perfect, of all the practical sciences political science must necessarily be the most important and must play the role of architectonic science with reference to all the others, inasmuch as it is concerned with the highest and perfect good in human affairs.” The order of the polis – its laws, et al. – is derived from nature or natural law, man’s habitual obedience to these natural and rational laws is virtue, and the natural virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Yet, how does one apply the timeless truths of natural law and virtue to a modernist world that was born out of an explicit rejection of Catholicism? It is one thing to speak of the polis and another to apply it to a liberal democracy. One of the defining attributes of St. Thomas Aquinas was his ability to engage his era and all its ills and imperfections. As Catholics living within modernity, how do we work for a proper polis? Cue Cardinal Ratzinger. Values in a Time of Upheaval is a short and often overlooked work of political brilliance. St. Peter’s List has previously called attention to this work by including it in our 6 Books for a Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. For a student of Catholic political thought, a collection of politically orientated essays by the ironclad mind of Cardinal Ratzinger – now Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome – is a godsend. The text is a compilation of essays and speeches given by the illustrious Cardinal over the span of several decades. It is a short work that lends itself to a brief but fruitful reading. The reason it will “change your life” is it comments on the Catholic understanding of the Noble Science couched in a world given over to modernist theory and praxis. To what degree Cardinal Ratzinger did or did not adhere to St. Thomas Aquinas is not the question put forth here. The genius of the work is that it is a bridge between the principles of Catholic political thought and the world around us. It challenges the reader to engage the polis by going into great detail on the role of a Catholic citizen within an Enlightenment based democracy. In his own words:

“The state is not itself the source of truth and morality […] Nor can it produce truth via the majority.”

 

“In place of utopian dreams and ideals, today we find a pragmatism that is determined to extract from the world the maximum satisfaction possible. This, however, does not make it pointless to consider once again the characteristics of the secular messianism that appeared on the world stage in Marxism, because it still leads a ghostly existence deep in the souls of many people, and it has the potential to emerge again and again in new forms.”

 

“Politics is the realm of reason – not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice.”

 

“The totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century promised us that they would set up a liberated, just world – and they demanded hecatombs of victims in this cause.”

One dichotomy that exemplifies the problem Catholicism has with modern political thought is the notion of individual rights. As the good Cardinal mentions several times in his work, the rights of an individual are seen in the modern West as autonomous moral universes that often clash with one another. Rights have become little more than desires and products of the unadulterated human will. In contradistinction, the Catholic tradition never focused on rights at all – it focused on someone external to the individual citizen, natural law. Just skimming this particular dialogue – individual rights v. natural law – pours forth a host of explanations and answers on why Catholicism is at such odds with the world around it. Those more interested in Cardinal Ratzinger’s work can reference SPL’s collection of political quotes from the work: 29 Quotes on Political and Religion by Cardinal Ratzinger. One of the best treatises on a Catholic’s response to living in a modernist democratic regime was a document composed by the CDF under the good Cardinal entitled: Doctrinal Note: The Participation of Catholics in Politica Life. Moreover, proper Catholic political thought has been a mainstay topic at SPL and a catalogue of our lists on the subject can be found at The Educated Catholic Voter: 10 Lists on the Catholic Citizen. As Catholics may we study the highest whole of human reason, the Noble Science, so that we may live well ordered lives and work toward a society where all may live well.

 

Theology, Stanza della Segnature by Raphael

The Queen of the Sciences

If politics is the noble and architectonic science of human affairs, how does a Catholic approach politics and theology? In the time of Augustine until the thirteenth century nature and natural law sat in a jarring juxtaposition with the revealed truth of God. In fact, many theologians proposed that there were two truths: one of nature and one of divine revelation – a traditional Islamic answer. The Church was then given a gift: the Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas proposed that faith and reason were and must always remain in harmony with one another. Grace is not isolated from nature, is it not a replacement of nature, and it is not contradictory to nature. In essence, grace perfects nature; thus, if you have a science based on nature, say politics, and a science based on grace, say theology, then the science of theology should perfect and elevate the natural science of politics. In this light, theology – more truly the unerring Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the “Queen of the Sciences” that perfects all other sciences by properly ordering them according to the virtues.

However, what does it mean when we say a higher science orders the lower?

The official “Sede Vacante” stamp following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.

Imagine the construction of a house. There is a plumber to handle the plumbing and a carpenter for the carpentry. And though these two arts are distinct, the two artisans must work together. Even if both workers excel within their own field, the overall order of the home will suffer if they are not in harmony.

However, neither plumbing nor carpentry can speak to how the home must be built as a whole. What is needed is a higher principle that can order both plumbing and carpentry to the proper goal of building a home. The principle is architecture; therefore, while the plumber and the carpenter may be wise concerning the principles of their respective arts, it is the architect who is wise concerning the order of the house. He is the wisest concerning the house, because his wisdom orders the lower principles according to the higher. In his own words, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order.” According to St. Augustine, “order is the appropriate disposition of things equal and unequal, by giving each its proper place.” As seen with the architect, wisdom is knowledge properly ordered, and the wise must have the prudence to do it.

The highest cause, the Uncaused Cause, the cause the universe and its order, is God. Theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the architectonic study that is most properly wisdom, because the “knowledge of divine things” sheds light on the appropriate order of all other things. Now, let us be clear. God is not only known through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in Scripture, but also in the imprint of the Creator upon Creation. Hence, the Catholic Church finds herself guarding and elucidating both Sacred Scripture and Nature. Certain truths, like the Trinity or the Incarnation of Jesus Christ had to be revealed to us, because they are above human wisdom. Other truths, such as the natural virtues, were discernible by human reason. These revealed and discerned truths are guaranteed by Christ and His Church and compose the Sacred Doctrine that orders all things and is rightly called the Queen of the Sciences.

The examples are endless, because Sacred Doctrine orders everything from our souls to our finances. However, say a technological break through leads to a scientifically astonishing surgical procedure. Now say that technology is used for abortions. Just as the carpenter cannot speak to the proper order of a home as a whole, neither can science – as much as it tries – speak to the whole order of existence. We see this particularly in its inability to speak on moral order. It is not that science is necessarily deficient, but rather its judgments are limited by its empirical purview. Much like the plumber and carpenter, it begs for a higher principle to order its steps.

Our world is saturated by debates that fall directly into this dialogue. Whether it be stem cell research, gay marriage, education, or abortion, differing guiding principles are in steep competition. There is always a “highest principle” at work, but unfortunately many see that principle as the unhindered human will. How then does the Spirit of the Liturgy relate to this concept of the Queen of the Sciences? At first glance there appears a disconnect between the focus of the the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church as the Queen of the Sciences and Cardinal Ratzinger’s work on the Liturgy; however, the acute connection between the two is that for most Catholics it is precisely in the liturgy that they are catechized. It is in the liturgy that they see and believe and have their minds ordered toward the understanding that God and his wisdom is the highest principle. Our post-Vatican II world is suffering what is arguably the most comprehensive catechetical crisis since the Reformation and Catholics will never be well catechized and never succeed at a “New Evangelization” until the liturgy is brought back into a “hermeneutic of continuity” with the overall Sacred Tradition of the Church. Attempting to evangelize before one is well catechized puts the cart before the horse. What Holy Mother Church needs is a liturgical reform – and arguably a reverent liturgy that truly reflects the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be the greatest evangelical tool. In this belief, we turn to the work of Cardinal Ratzinger.

SPL’s John Henry writes, “Spirit of the Liturgy is in my opinion a book that all Christians of the True Faith should not only own but read often. Cardinal Ratzinger served as one of the chief theologians for the Second Vatican Council; thus, he possesses the ability to show the ‘liturgical development along the path sketched out by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.'”3 There is a famous book with the same title written by Romano Guardini that the good Cardinal uses as his inspiration:

“My purpose here is to assist this renewal of understanding of the Liturgy. Its basic intentions coincide with what Guardini wanted to achieve. The only difference is that I had to translate what Guardini did at the end of the First World War, in a totally different historical situation, into the context of our present-day questions, hopes and dangers. Like Guardini, I am not attempting to involve myself with scholarly discussion and research. I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and to the right way to give faith it’s central form of expression in the Liturgy.” – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

John continues, “this work can be understood by all: scholars, theologians, historians, parish priests, religious, and most important of all the laity. Cardinal Ratzinger uses historical, biblical, philosophical thought in order to express what Catholic worship is was and should be.” The Cardinal’s work is considered an instant classic by those working to restore the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Arguably one of the most poignant passages is his comment on the Golden Calf pericope in the Old Testament:

“But the real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of ‘institution’. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity – then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation…”

“No where is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf… the cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf.”

Ratzinger’s reading of the Golden Calf episode is unique insofar as it is often read as a complete turning away from the God of Israel and modern readers condemn the Israelites as abandoning the true God; however, the Cardinal states that it is more subtle. It is not a complete abandonment, but rather the Israelites with their high priest were attempting to worship the true God of Israel as they saw fit. This reading turns the story from one modern Christianity normally  passes over in judgement of the Israelites to one capturing the very heart of modernist Christianity. It echoes the core of all protestantism and unfortunately resonates in much of today’s Catholic population. The Cardinal sums up his reading by stating, “the worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult,” and “the narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship.”

This is but a glimpse of the profound liturgical insight found within Cardinal Ratzinger’s work. Within an understanding of the Queen of the Sciences and her all encompassing order, read The Spirit of the Liturgy with an eye towards renewing the mainstay of all Catholic catechesis and evangelism: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

Why these works will change your life
We return to our original premise, that these two works by Cardinal Ratzinger will change your life. The why is now better understood. Yes, it is because the good Cardinal writes in an acute and clear manner and always bears the mark of orthodoxy, but it is also because you – as the reader – will have a greater appreciation for the sciences in which the works are written. The Cardinal’s ideas and quotes will find fertile ground within the wisdom of the reader, because the reader will know the architectonic ordering affect that both the Noble Science and the Queen of the Sciences have on their life. Understanding the order of knowledge allows one to be truly wise and order their lives in an holistic Christ-like manner.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Common Doctor of the Universal Church, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, patron of statesmen and politicians, pray for us.
Mother Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.

  1. ARISTOTLE: Further comments on Aristotle’s Politics may be found at The Political Animal and the Philosopher King and Understanding Aristotle: 22 Definitions from the Politics. []
  2. AQUINAS: The Angelic Doctor’s commentary on Aristotle’s Politics may be found at Aquinas’ Introduction to the Politics. []
  3. Quote take from The Catholic Answer []

10 Popes Comment on the Virtue & Intellect of St. Thomas Aquinas

Pope Benedict XV stated that “the eminent commendations of Thomas Aquinas by the Holy See no longer permit a Catholic to doubt that he was divinely raised up that the Church might have a master whose doctrine should be followed in a special way at all times.”

Listers, the following is taken from The Formation of the Catholic Mind by Dr. Ronald A. McArthur. Dr. McArthur is the founding president of the highly praised Thomas Aquinas College in California. The Most Rev. Pietro Sambi (†), Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, once stated, “The Church will flourish through the inspiring example and praiseworthy endeavors of Thomas Aquinas College.” The staff of SPL has worked with and studied alongside TAC alumni and the experience has always been enjoyable.1

St. Peter’s List has worked arduously to bring the lister community a quality cataloguing of both the praise of St. Thomas Aquinas and the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. We exhort the listers to listen to the voices of our saints and popes and turn to the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas.

A Selection of Lists Referencing St. Thomas Aquinas

 

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, whose virtue warms the world.

What does the Church, to whom Christ has entrusted His concerns for us, teach concerning theological doctrines?

1. Pope John XXII, speaking about St. Thomas, said before his canonization that “his life was saintly and his doctrine could only be miraculous … because he enlightened the church more than all the other doctors. By the use of his works a man could profit more in one year than if he studies the doctrine of others for his whole life.”

 

2. St. Pius V declared him a Doctor of The Church, saying he was “the most brilliant light of the Church,” whose works are “the most certain rule of Christian doctrine by which he enlightened the Apostolic Church in answering conclusively numberless errors … which illumination has often been evident in the past and recently stood forth prominently in the decrees of the Council of Trent.”

 

3. Benedict XIII wrote to the Order of Preachers that they should “pursue with energy your Doctor’s works, more brilliant than the sun and written without the shadow of error. These works made the Church illustrious with wonderful erudition, since they march ahead and proceed with unimpeded step, protecting and vindicating by the surest rule of Christian doctrine, the truth of our holy religion.”

 

4. Leo XIII stated that “this is the greatest glory of Thomas, altogether his own and shared with no other Catholic Doctor, that the Fathers of Trent, in order to proceed in an orderly fashion during the conclave, desired to have opened upon the altar together with the Scriptures and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas whence they could draw counsel, reasons and answers.”

Again from Leo XIII: “This point is vital, that Bishops expend every effort to see that young men destined to be the hope of the Church should be imbued with the holy and heavenly doctrine of the Angelic Doctor. In those places where young men have devoted themselves to the patronage and doctrine of St. Thomas, true wisdom will flourish, drawn as it is from solid principles and explained by reason in an orderly fashion … Theology proceeding correctly and well according to the plan and method of Aquinas is in accordance with our command. Every day We become more clearly aware how powerfully Sacred Doctrine taught by its master and patron, Thomas, affords the greatest possible utility for both clergy and laity.

 

5. St. Pius X said that the chief of Leo’s achievements is his restoration of the doctrine of St. Thomas. For he “restored the Angelic Doctor … as the leader and master of theology, whose divine genius fashioned weapons marvelously suited to protect the truth and destroy the many errors of the times. Indeed those principles of wisdom, useful for all time, which the holy Doctors passed on to us, have been organized by no one more aptly than by Thomas, and no one has explained them more clearly.” Indeed, Pius said, those who depart from the teaching of St. Thomas “seem to effect ultimately their withdrawal from the Church … As we have said, one may not desert Aquinas, especially in philosophy and theology, without great harm; following him is the safest way to the knowledge of divine things.… If the doctrine of any other author or saint has ever been approved at any time by us or our predecessors with singular commendation joined with an invitation and order to propagate and to defend it, it may be easily understood that it was commended only insofar as it agreed with the principles of Aquinas or was in no way opposed to them.” Theology professors “should also take particular care that their students develop a deep affection for the Summa … In this way and no other will theology be restored to its pristine dignity, and the proper order and value will be restored to all sacred studies, and the province of the intellect and reason flower again in a second spring.”

 

6. Benedict XV stated that “the eminent commendations of Thomas Aquinas by the Holy See no longer permit a Catholic to doubt that he was divinely raised up that the Church might have a master whose doctrine should be followed in a special way at all times.”

 

7. Pius XI said that “indeed, We so approve of the tributes paid to his almost divine brilliance that we believe Thomas should be called not only Angelic but Common or Universal Doctor of the Church. As innumerable documents of every kind attest, the Church has adopted his doctrine for her own.… It is no wonder that the Church has made this light her own and has adorned herself with it, and has illustrated her immortal doctrine with it … It is no wonder that all the popes have vied with one another in exalting him, proposing him, inculcating him, as a model, master, doctor, patron and protector of all schools … Just as it was said of old to the Egyptians in time of famine: ‘Go to Joseph, so that they should receive a supply of corn to nourish their bodies, so to those who are now in quest of truth We now say: ‘Go to Thomas’ that they may ask from him the food of solid doctrine of which he has an abundance to nourish their souls unto eternal life.”

 

8. Bl. John Paul II said: “[T]he Church has been justified in consistently proposing Saint Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology….

“[T]he Magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of Saint Thomas’ thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies.… The Magisterium’s intention has always been to show how Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.”

 

9. Pope Benedict XVI said, “In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II recalled that ‘the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology’ (No. 43).

“It is not surprising that, after St. Augustine, among the writers mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas is quoted more than any other — some 61 times! He was also called the Doctor Angelicus, perhaps because of his virtues, in particular the loftiness of his thought and purity of life.

“In short, Thomas Aquinas showed there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great work of Thomas, who in that moment of encounter between two cultures — that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason — showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped the culture of the following centuries.”

 

Since Sacred Theology uses philosophy as a handmaid, the Church’s duty does not end with a judgment upon Theology alone, but extends to philosophy as well.

 

1. Pius XII said that “… the Angelic Doctor interpreted [Aristotle] in a uniquely brilliant manner. He made that philosophy Christian when he purged it of the errors into which a pagan writer would easily fall; he used those very errors in his exposition and vindication of Catholic truth. Among the important advances which the Church owes to the great Aquinas this certainly should be included that so nicely did he harmonize Christian truth with the enduring peripatetic philosophy that he made Aristotle cease to be an adversary and become, instead, a militant supporter for Christ … Therefore, those who wish to be true philosophers … should take the principles and foundations of their doctrine from Thomas Aquinas. To follow his leadership is praiseworthy: on the contrary, to depart foolishly and rashly from the wisdom of the angelic Doctor is something far from Our mind and fraught with peril … For those who apply themselves to the teaching and study of Theology and Philosophy should consider it their capital duty, having set aside the findings of a fruitless philosophy, to follow St. Thomas Aquinas and to cherish him as their master and their leader.”

 

2. St. Pius X said that “all who teach philosophy in Catholic schools throughout the world should take care never to depart from the path and method of Aquinas, and to insist upon that procedure more vigorously every day…We warn teachers to keep this religiously in mind, especially in metaphysics, that to disregard Aquinas cannot be done without suffering great harm.”

 

3. Benedict XV said that “along with our predecessors We are equally persuaded that the only philosophy worth our efforts is that which is according to Christ. Therefore the study of philosophy according to the principles and system of Aquinas must certainly be encouraged so that the explanation and invincible defense of divinely revealed truth may be as full as human reason can make of it.”

  1. Thomas Aquinas College: Visit their website, learn more about Dr. McArthur, and read his article The Formation of the Catholic Mind in full. []

The 24 Theses of St. Thomas Aquinas with Citations and Commentary

“He (Thomas Aquinas) enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors together; a man can derive more profit from his books in one year than from a lifetime spent in pondering the philosophy of others.” – Pope John XXII (Consistorial of 1318), quoted in Doctoris Angelici

Listers, “with the decree Postquam sanctissimus of 27 July 1914, Pope St. Pius X declared that 24 theses formulated by ‘teachers from various institutions … clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts’ of Thomas. Principal contributors to the Church’s official statement of the ’24 Theses’ of Thomism include include Dominican philosopher and theologian Edouard Hugon of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum and Jesuit philosopher theologian Guido Mattiussi of the Pontifical Gregorian University.”1 The 24 Theses of St. Thomas Aquinas come after Pope Leo XIII’s famous encyclical Aeterni Patris – summarized by SPL’s list The Sun that Warms the World – calling for a restoration of Christian philosophy by turning the Church toward St. Thomas Aquinas. In 1914, St. Pope Pius X  declared the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici – summarized by the SPL list The Patrimony of Wisdom  – correcting misgivings among Italy and the adjacent islands about their use – or lack thereof – regarding the Angelic Doctor.

“He (Thomas Aquinas) enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors together; a man can derive more profit from his books in one year than from a lifetime spent in pondering the philosophy of others.” – Pope John XXII (Consistorial of 1318), quoted in Doctoris Angelici.

It should be noted that since this is pre-Vatican II there are many who would claim these theses are irrelevant and compose only the larger devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas that Vatican II discarded. The errors of this view have been catalogued in SPL’s list Vatican II Did Away with Aquinas? – 4 References that Prove Otherwise. To wit, Vatican II stated Aquinas by name as a timeless resource for seminarians, universities, and the Church as a whole. Of course, there is the ubiquitous Vatican II spectre of what the Council said and what happened after the Council.2

Finally, please nota bene that these theses were forged from the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and promulgated by Holy Mother Church, but they are not written by the Angelic Doctor. Moreover, the commentary is supplemented by the Dominican P. Lumbreras, O.P., S.T.Lr., Ph.D and the citations added for reference.3

Sacred Congregation of Studies

Decree of Approval of some theses contained in the Doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas and proposed to the Teachers of Philosophy

Sacred Congregation of Studies
Datum Romae, die 27 iulii 1914.

B. Card Lorenzelli, Praefectus
Ascensus Dandini, a Secretis
L + S.

AFTER OUR MOST HOLY LORD Pope Pius X by His Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici, of June 29, 1914, salubriously prescribed that in all schools of philosophy the principles and major pronouncements [maiora pronuntiata] of Thomas Aquinas be held in a holy manner, not a few masters from diverse Institutions proposed some theses [theses] for this Sacred Congregation to examine, which they themselves had been accustomed to hand down and defend as required according to the chief principles of the saintly teacher, especially in the subject of metaphysics.

This Sacred Congregation, having duly examined the aforementioned theses and having presented them to our most holy lord, by the mandate of the same, His Holiness, replies that they plainly contain those principles and major pronouncements of the holy Doctor.

Moreover, these are:

 

ONTOLOGY

I. Potency and act so divide being [ens], that whatever is, either is a pure act, and/or coalesces necessarily out of potency and act, as (its) first and intrinsic principles.4

Commentary: Every actual subsisting being—inanimate bodies and animals, men and angels, creatures and Creator—must be either Pure Act—a perfection which is neither the complement of Potency, nor the Potency which lacks further complement—or Potency mixed with Act—something capable of perfection and some perfection fulfilling this capacity. This statement is true both in the existential and in the essential order. In each of these orders the composition of Act and Potency is that of two real, really distinct principles, as Being itself; intrinsic to the existing being or to its essence; into which, finally, all other principles can be resolved, while they cannot be resolved into any other.

 

II. Act, as perfection, is not limited but by potency, which is a capacity for perfection. Hence in the order in which an act is pure, in that same (order) it exists as naught but unique and unlimited; but where it is finite and multiple, it has fallen into a true composition with potency .5

Commentary: Since Act means perfection, perfection belongs to Act by reason of itself; imperfection, then, by reason of something else. Limits, therefore, belong to Act but on account of Potency. Consequently, if an Act is pure, it is perfection without limits, and gives no ground for distinction and multiplicity. On the contrary, any finite or manifold Act is mixed with Potency: for it is only as subjected in Potency that it is limited and multiplied according to the capacity of the subject.

 

III. On which account, the one God, One and Most Simple, subsists in the absolute reckoning of ‘being’ [esse] itself, all other things which participate in ‘being’ itself, have a nature which restricts (their) ‘to be’ [esse], and (their) essence and ‘to be’ are established by really distinct principles.6

Commentary: If there is any being, the actuality of whose existence—for existent means actual—is not received into the potentiality of essence, such a being subsists of itself, because it is perfection without limits; it is unique, because it excludes composition of any kind; it is the most simple Being: God. All other things, the actuality of whose existence is received into the potentiality of the essence, participate in existence according to the capacity of the essence, which limits in this way the actuality of existence. Essence and existence hold in them the place of Potency and Act in the existential order, and are two real and really distinct principles, which intrinsically constitute the compound, the existing being, in the order of existence.

 

IV. Being [ens], which is denominated from “to be”, is not said of God and creatures univocally, yet neither (is it said) entirely equivocally, but analogically, by an analogy both of attribution and of proportionality.7

Commentary: If the actuality of existence is in God a Pure Act and is in creatures an Act mixed with Potency, Being cannot be predicated of God and creatures in an identical way: God is self-existing, creatures have their existence from God. Still, because the effect in some manner reproduces its cause, Being does not belong to God and creatures in a totally different sense. Being, as predicated of God and creatures is an analogous term. Its analogy is first that of attribution, since Being appertains to creatures as far as they have it from God, to whom it appertains by essence; and is secondly that of proportionality, since the actuality of existence is intrinsic to God and creatures as existing beings.

 

V. Moreover, in every creature there is a real composition of the subsisting subject with the forms, or accidents, (which have) been added secondarily: but if there were not really received in an distinct essence a ‘to be’, this (composition) could not be understood.8

Commentary: The compound of essence and existence is itself the subject or Potency of a further complement or Act: this Act or complement is but an accidental perfection. The new composition is a real one, as the addition itself is real. It can be observed in every creature. Bodies have quantity, spirits have faculties and operations upon which, furthermore, quality follows; every creature has some relation to the Creator. But this real composition of accidents and subsisting compound lacks a philosophical basis if we put aside the composition of essence and existence. The subsisting being cannot be the subject of accidental Act except in so far as it is Potency; but existence is not Potency. The actuality, then, of existence and that of accident come together in the same substantial essence only because this essence is a Potency really distinct from both Acts.

 

VI. Apart from absolute accidents, there is also the relative (accident),or (that which) regards something [ad aliquid]. For though “regarding something” does not signify according to its own reckoning anything inherent in anything, yet in things it often has a cause, and for that reason a real entity distinct from (its) subject.9

Commentary: In addition to the absolute accidents—which modify the subject in itself—there is a relative accident—which affects the subject with respect to something else. The proper nature of predicamental relation consists in the very habitude to something else; relation, as relation, does not indicate inherence in something, but reference toward something. We may think of a merely logical relation. This is not always the case. For often we have a real subject, and a real and distinct term, and a real foundation, no one of which, however, is that very habitude which relation means.

 

VII. A spiritual creature is entirely simple in its essence. But there remains within it a composition of essence with a ‘to be’ and of substance with accidents.10

Commentary: The essence of angels is only Act, for the actuality of the form is not received into the potentiality of matter. Angels, indeed, are but intellectual substances, since to understand is a wholly immaterial operation. The last statement of the thesis has already been justified.

 

 

COSMOLOGY

VIII. On the other hand, a corporeal creature, is in regard to (its) very essence, composed of potency and act; which potency and act, in the order of essence, are designated by the names of “matter” and “form”.11

Commentary: Besides the composition in the existential and accidental order, bodies are composed also in the order of essence. Bodies, indeed, are extended and active, divisible and yet one, multiplied in individuals while keeping specific unity, subject to substantial changes, which by different and often contrary successive properties are made known. Consequently, there must be in bodies an intrinsic principle as the basis of extension, division, numerical multiplicity, the permanent subject of the substantial change; and another intrinsic principle as the foundation of the activity, unity, specific likeness, the successive phases of the change. The first principle, passive, undetermined, incomplete, potential, the root of extension, the support of the substantial change, is material and substantial. The second, active, determining, completing, term of the substantial change, is substantial and formal. Matter and form, then, constitute the essence of bodily substance: neither one is an essence, a substance, a body: each is but a part of the compound, which is a single essence, a single substance, a single body.

 

IX. Neither of these parts has ‘being’ through itself, nor is produced and/or corrupted through itself, nor is it posited in a predicament, except reductively as a substantial principle.12

Commentary: Since existence is the Act of essence, neither matter nor form can be granted an existence of its own; the existence belongs to the compound. And because production brings things into existence, and destruction deprives them of it, the term of production or destruction is likewise the compound. Finally, since matter and form are substantial principles, they cannot be collocated among accidents. But neither can they be placed directly in the category of substance, for it is the complete substance, which is classed there. They fall, then, into the category of substance by reduction, as principles of substance, as substantial Potency and substantial Act.

 

X. Even though extension into integral parts is consequent to corporeal nature, yet the same (thing) for a body to be a substance and to be a quantum. Indeed a substance is indivisible according to its reckoning, not indeed after the manner of a point, but after the manner of that which is outside the order of dimension. But the quantity, which grants extension to a substance, really differs from the substance, and is an “accident” of true name.13

Commentary: To have integral parts—homogeneous, distinct and outside of each other, united together at the extremities—is a proper sequence of matter, one of the essential principles of body. Still, body as a substance implies only essential parts, matter and form—heterogeneous, within each other, united together by compenetration. Substance, of itself, is indifferent to any quantity, and may even exist, miraculously, without any quantity. It is, then, of itself indivisible: not simply as a point—unextended by privation, —but as something devoid of dimension—unextended by negation. Substance is indebted to quantity for its integral parts; but as there is a real distinction between subject-of-existence and extended-into-parts, between the persevering support of successive quantities and these quantities in succession, substance is not really identical with quantity. Faith teaches us that in the Holy Eucharist the substance of bread disappears, but not its quantity. Quantity, therefore, is a genuine accident.

 

XI. The principle of individuation, that is, of numerical distinction — which cannot be in pure spirits — of one individual from another in the same specific nature, is matter marked by quantity.14

Commentary: The principle of individuation cannot be the essence, for Peter is not humanity; nor some extrinsic mode added to the composite substance, for this mode, if accidental, cannot constitute an individual which is a substance and substantially differs from other individuals, and, if substantial, cannot be received but into some already constituted individual substance; nor the existence, for existence actualizes, does not modify reality and is received, moreover, into a substance which is an individual substance. Though that principle must be intrinsic to the substance, it is not the form, because form is a principle of specific and common unity rather than of numerical multiplicity and incommunicability. This principle is matter. Yet not matter of itself, since of itself it is undetermined and capable of being in this and that individual, while the principle of individuation is a determining principle, and renders the subject incommunicable. Matter, as subjected to quantity, is such a principle. For, as related to quantity, it is conceived as divisible into homogeneous parts, and, as related to this quantity, it is conceived as incapable of some other quantity, and, then, as incommunicable to anything else related to different quantity. It is because pure spirits are not composed of matter and form, but are simple forms, Act only which exhausts by itself all the perfection of the essential order, that they cannot be multiplied in the same species: the individuals, indeed, would differ on account of their form, and a difference on the part of the form makes a difference in the species.

 

XII. By the same quantity there is brought about, that the body is circumscriptively in a place, and (that) it can be, in this manner, in only one place under whatsoever potency.15

Commentary: Since quantity makes a body to be extended, and, thus, to have its parts outside of each other, it makes the whole body to occupy some place so that each part of the body occupies a different portion of the place. We have, therefore, some commensuration of the dimensions of the body with the dimensions of the place; and this we call a circumspective presence. But just on account of this commensuration quantity makes a body to be incapable of circumscriptive presence in more than one place; for the dimensions of the body are equal, not greater than the dimensions of the first place, and, since those dimensions are exhausted by this place, it is not possible for the same body to occupy simultaneously a second place. This impossibility is, therefore, a metaphysical one: not even by a miracle can we conceive of any such bilocation.

 

 

PSYCHOLOGY

XIII. Bodies are divided in a twofold manner: for certain ones are living, certain ones have no part of life. In living (things), that in the same subject there be had a moving part and a moved part, the substantial form, designated by the name of “soul”, requires an arrangement of organs, or heterogeneous parts.16

Commentary: Not all bodies are endowed with life: but some are. As living bodies, they have within themselves the principle and the term of their movement. This is to be understood, not as if the whole body, or one and the same part of the body, were both the mover and the moved, but that by nature one part is ordained to give and another part to receive the motion. The different parts, then, must be arranged into some hierarchy, and must be coordinated, not only as regards the whole, but even with respect to each other: all the parts, accordingly, cannot be homogeneous. The soul, substantially informing the organism, informs all the parts, and each of them according to the function each has in the whole.

 

XIV. Souls of the vegetable or sensible subsist through themselves not at all, nor are they produced through themselves, but are only as the principle by which the living (thing) is and lives, and since these depend upon matter according to their whole selves, with the composite corrupted, they are, by that very (fact), corrupted per accidens.17

Commentary: The substantial form does not subsist in the organic bodies of plants and irrational animals, because it has no operation independent of matter; it is but a principle of substance. A principle, however, that, in giving matter the complement wanted by matter for making up the compound—which properly exists and lives—is called the principle of existence and life. Its relation to production and destruction has been previously explained.

 

XV. Contrariwise, a human soul, which is created by God when it can be infused into a sufficiently disposed subject, and (which) according to its nature is incorruptible and immortal, subsists through itself.18

Commentary: The human soul, independent of material conditions for some of its operations, is by itself a simple and complete substance. It is, then, produced from nothing, or created, and created by God, as we shall see. Naturally ordained to inform the human body, it is created when infused into the body. But, since the reception of any form presupposes a convenient disposition in the receiving matter, the infusion of the human soul implies a sufficient disposition of the human body. Such a disposition is not likely to be found in a body recently formed: vegetative and sensible souls would precede the human soul, as the servants precede the master for preparing a lodging worthy of him. Being simple, the human soul cannot be directly destroyed. Being subsisting, it can neither be destroyed indirectly upon the destruction of the compound.

 

XVI. The same rational soul is so united to (its) body, that it is the unique substantial form of the same, and through it a man has (the ability) to be man and animal and a living (creature) and a body and a substance and a being. The soul, therefore, gives man every essential grade of perfection; furthermore, it communicates to (its) body the act of being whereby it itself is.19

Commentary: Every one is aware of the intrinsic and mutual influence, which exists in man between body and soul. Their union is not accidental. Body and soul come together as two constituent principles of a single nature, that of man. The human soul, the substantial form of body, gives matter, the substantial potency of soul, the first substantial act. By itself, then, it informs and determines the undetermined matter to a particular species. It gives to the compound all the perfection, which is implied in this species. And it is subsisting; it communicates its existence directly to the compound, indirectly to the body.

 

XVII. From the human soul there emanate by natural result the faculties of this twofold order, organic and inorganic: the prior ones, to which the senses pertain, are subjected in the composite, the posterior ones (are such) in the soul alone. Therefore, the faculty of the intellect is intrinsically independent from an organ.20

Commentary: The immediate principles of operation are distinct from the soul: they are accidents, as the operations themselves. But their root is the soul, for they are vital faculties, and the soul is the principle of life. They are divided into two classes, according to the mode in which they spring from the human soul; subsisting by itself, and the form of body. In the latter case we have those faculties whose act is performed by means of bodily organs. Not only the vegetative faculties, but the sensitive likewise, are among them; for their object is extended. As organic faculties, they have for their subject the animated organism, which is neither the soul alone, nor the body alone, but the compound. There are some other faculties whose operations are far above matter, and, accordingly, cannot be subjected in the organism, even as animated: they are termed inorganic and are subjected in the soul alone. Intellect is such a faculty. Though extrinsically dependent on the imagination and indirectly on the organism, it is intrinsically independent of them.

 

XVIII. Intellectuality necessarily follows immateriality, and thus, indeed, that that grades of intellectuality are also according to the grades of elongation from matter. The adequate object of intellection is commonly being itself [communiter ipsum ens]; but in the present state of union (of body/soul) the proper (object) of the human intellect is contained in the quiddities abstracted from material conditions.21

Commentary: Intellectuality means ability to reproduce in oneself the forms of the objects known, without any injury to the proper form. Matter determines forms to be but in this individual: no form can be known except as abstracted from matter; no subject can be intelligent except as independent of matter. A greater intellectuality corresponds to a greater immateriality, and, since matter stands for potency, to a greater act. In the summit of intellectuality the Pure Act is fixed; next, the Act mixed with Potency in the order of existence; then, the Act mixed with Potency in the very order of essence. A form cannot be reproduced except in so far as it is. Being is knowable in itself, and everything is knowable in so far as it is being. Still, the mode of operation is according to the mode of being, and since the being of our soul, in the present condition, communicates with the body, the connatural object of our knowledge is now the forms taken from the matter.

 

XIX. We accept cognition from sensible things. But since a sensible (thing) is not intelligible in act, besides the intellect, formally understanding, there must be admitted an active power in the soul, which abstracts intelligible species from phantasms.22

Commentary: Our knowledge proceeds, at present, from sensible things. This gives a reason for the union of soul and body. Upon the injury of some organs our mental operation becomes impossible; nor is it by chance that this is associated with sensible images. A sensible image, however, is not intelligible; for intelligible means immaterial. The intellect, which properly understands is a passive faculty: it receives the intelligible forms, and does not make the forms to be intelligible. The abstractive faculty, notwithstanding, belongs to the soul alone, for it brings its object to the realm of the immaterial. It is, moreover, an intellectual faculty, for its function is to make something intelligible. It is called the active intellect.

 

XX. Through these species we directly cognize universals; we attain to singulars by sense, as much as also by the intellect through a conversion towards the phantasms; but we ascend to a cognition of spiritual (things) through analogy.23

Commentary: Since matter individualizes the forms, the forms become universal when abstracted from matter: it is the universal, then, we know directly. The singular implies material conditions and is known directly by the senses, dependent on matter themselves, and indirectly by the intellect, which, in taking the universal from the individuals, perceives the individuals, which offer the universal. Starting from the material abstracted essences we arrive at the nature of pure spirits. We affirm of those spirits some positive perfections noticed in the inferior beings, and these we affirm of them in a higher degree, while we deny of them some, or all, the imperfections to which those perfections were associated in the material objects.

 

XXI. The will follows, not precedes, the intellect, (and) itl necessarily desires that which is presented to it as a good (which) fulfils (its) appetite on every side, but it chooses freely among the many goods, which are proposed (to it) as to be desired by the mutable judgment. Hence, choice follows the last practical judgment; but the will effects which is the last.24

Commentary: Will is not prior but posterior to the intellect, in dignity, in origin, in acting. The posteriority in acting is chiefly intended here. Every act of the will is preceded by an act of the intellect; for the act of the will is a rational inclination, and while inclination follows a form, rational inclination follows the intellectually apprehended form. The intellect, in presenting to the will some apprehended good, moves it as to the specification of its act. If the presented good is the absolute or universal good, the will desires it of necessity. If it is good mixed with evil, relative or particular good, it is partially attractive and partially repulsive. The will may desire it, or may not. Once the intellect has settled on the practical excellency of some particular good, the will must accept such an object. Yet, it is the will, which freely committed itself to the determination of the intellect; it is the will, which freely sustained the intellect in its unilateral consideration; and it is the will, which freely wants the process not to be submitted to a further revision.

 

 

THEODICY

XXII. We neither perceive God’s ‘Being’ by an immediate intuition, nor do demonstrate it a priori, but (we do) a posteriori, that is, through those (things) which have been made, with an argument drawn from effects to (their) Cause; namely, from things which are moved to the principle of their movement and the First Immovable Mover; from the progression of mundane things from causes that are subordinate to one another [inter se], to the First Uncaused Cause; from the corruptibles which hold themselves equally to ‘being’ and ‘not being’, to the absolutely necessary Being; from those which are, live, (and) understand more and less according to the lesser perfections of being, living, (and) understanding, to Him who is most of all Intelligent, most of all Living, most of all a Being; finally, from the order of the universe to the separated Intellect which has ordered and arranged things and directs (them) to an end.25

Commentary: Since the proper object of our intellect is the essences of material things, it is clear we have no immediate intuition of God’s spiritual essence, and, consequently, neither of His existence. Since the notion we have of His essence is an abstract notion, the existence implied in that notion belongs to the essential order and in no way to the actual. Still, we can demonstrate His existence with a rigorous demonstration, which goes from the effects to their ultimate cause. St. Thomas furnishes five proofs, already classical. Things are in movement; whatsoever is moved is moved by something else; above the moved-movers is some immovable-mover. Things are efficient causes of others; they are not the efficient cause of themselves; outside the caused-causes is some uncaused-cause. Some beings did not always exist, some will not always exist: their existence is not essential to them; above beings, which do not exist of necessity, is a necessary being. Things are more or less perfect than others; the less perfect has not in itself the reason of that perfection; above things, which are limited in their perfection is some being supremely perfect. Things which lack intelligence act for some end; an intelligent being only could adapt and direct them to this end; there is an universal governing intelligence.

 

XXIII. The Divine Essence, through this that it is identified with the exercised actuality of its own ‘To Be’, or through this that It Itself is subsistent ‘Being’, is rightly proposed to us in Its own, as if metaphysical, reckoning, and through this It exhibits to us the same reckoning of Its own Infinity in perfection.26

Commentary: Nothing in the Divine Essence itself can have the character of a constituent, for the Divine Essence is most simple. It is only according to our mode of understanding that we may ask which among the different perfections attributed to God is conceived as first, so as to distinguish God from creatures and to give ground to all the other divine perfections. That first perfection is the real identity of essence and existence: the subsisting being. By that God is distinct from creatures. In that is based any other perfection belonging to Him; for existence means act, and existence which is not received into essence means act without potency, perfection without limits.

 

XXIV. God is distinguished from all finite things, by the very purity of His ‘Being’. From this there is first inferred, that the world could not have proceeded from God but through (an act of) creation; next (there is likewise inferred), that the creative virtue, by which a per se being, inasmuch as (it is) a being, is first attained, is also not miraculously communicable to any finite nature; finally, that no created agent influences the ‘to be’ of any effect whatsoever, except by a motion accepted from the First Cause.27

Commentary: God’s essence is God’s existence; God is distinct from creatures whose essence is potency for existence. The world proceeds from God as the contingent from the necessary being. It proceeds by means of creation, for no emanation is possible in the pure act. Since creation implies the production of being from non-being, it is contradictory to suppose a creature exercising any causality in creation; it could not exercise that causality which belongs to the principal cause, for being is an universal effect, above the proportion consequently of any particular cause; not that causality which belongs to the instrumental cause, for there is nothing presupposed to creation upon which the instrument could exercise its efficiency. Finally, since every agent, by its act, moves toward the effect, this movement cannot be conceived independently of the first mover. The agent depends on God for its existence, for its powers, for the conservation of that existence and of these powers. It depends also on God for the very exercise of these powers. Because in exercising these powers the agent passes from Potency to Act, its faculties do not move except in so far as they are moved; there must be a motion coming from the immovable mover. This motion is received into the agent previously to the agent’s motion; it is properly called pre-motion. And since it moves the agent to the exercise of its powers, it is properly called physical pre-motion.

 

Given at Rome, July 27, 1914.

B. Cardinal Lorenzilli, Prefect
Ascensus Dandini, a Secretis
L+S.

  1. Since the official document seems to be lacking from what the Vatican currently offers online, we consulted a Franciscan archive that produced the most prominent English translation by Hugh McDonald alongside the Latin text  – though “substantially revised” by Br. Alexis Bugnolo; secondly, a professor’s personal University of Arizona page that includes the supplemental citations (originally found here) that we present in the article and a link to the French text of Fr. Edouard Hugon, O.P.’s Les vingt-quatre theses thomistes. It also displays the commentary SPL included from the Dominican P. Lumbreras, O.P., S.T.Lr., Ph.D. The opening quote comes from an article on Thomism. []
  2. Aquinas & Vatican II: A more pressing question is what is the state of this document post-Vatican II? The Council did call for Aquinas to be at the center of Catholic learning, but without any clear [or any at all] standards against which to judge Catholic academia’s adherence to the Angelic Doctor it is a moot command. The Pre-Vatican II document at hand did try and give strict principles, but even then those who stood against Aquinas took them as the bare minimum and extracted them from the greater articulation of Thomism. The result was a tortured presentation of the Common Doctor. []
  3. For sources, see footnote #1, supra. []
  4. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 77 a. 1; Sententia Metaphysicae, lib. 7 l. 1 et lib. 9 l. 1 et l. 9] []
  5. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 7 a. 1 et a. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 43; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 43 q. 2] []
  6. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 50 a. 2 ad 3; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 38 et cap. 52 et cap. 53 et cap. 54; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 19 q. 2 a. 2; De ente et essentia, cap. 5; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1; De veritate, q. 27 a. 1 ad 8] []
  7. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 13 a. 5; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 32 et cap. 33 et cap. 34; De potentia, q. 7 a. 7] []
  8. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 3 a. 6; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 23; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 52; De ente et essentia, cap. 5] []
  9. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 28 a. 1] []
  10. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 50 a. 1 ff.; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1] []
  11. [De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1] []
  12. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 45 a. 4; De potentia, q. 3 a. 5 ad 3] []
  13. [Contra Gentiles, lib. 4 cap. 65; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 37 q. 2 a. 1 ad 3; Super Sent., lib. 2 d. 30 q. 2 a. 1] []
  14. [Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 92 et cap. 93; Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 50 a. 4; De ente et essentia, cap. 2] []
  15. [Summa Theologiae, IIIª q. 75; Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 10 q. 1 a. 3] []
  16. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 18 a. 1 et a. 2 et q. 75 a. 1; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 97; Senten De anima] []
  17. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 75 a. 3 et q. 90 a. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 80 et cap. 82] []
  18. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 75 a. 2 et q. 90 et q. 118; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 83 ff.; De potentia, q. 3 a. 2; Sententia De anima, a. 14] []
  19. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 76; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 56 et cap. 68 et cap. 69 et cap. 70 et cap. 71; Sententia De anima, a. 1; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 3] []
  20. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 77 et q. 78 et q. 79; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 72; Sententia De anima, a. 12 ff.; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 11] []
  21. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 14 a. 1 et q. 74 a. 7 et q. 89 a. 1 et a. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 59 et cap. 72 et lib. 4 cap. 2] []
  22. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 79 a. 3 et a. 4 et q. 85 a. 6 et a. 7; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 76 ff.; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 10] []
  23. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 85 et q. 86 et q. 87 et q. 88] []
  24. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 82 et q. 83; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 72 ff.; De veritate, q. 22 a. 5; De malo, q. 11] []
  25. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 12 et cap. 31 et lib. 3 cap. 10 et cap. 11; De veritate, q. 1 et q. 10; De potentia, q. 4 et q. 7] []
  26. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 4 a. 2 et q. 13 a. 11; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 8 q. 1] []
  27. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 44 et q. 45 et q. 105; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 6 et cap. 7 et cap. 8 et cap. 9 et cap. 10 et cap. 11 et cap. 12 et cap. 13 et cap. 14 et cap. 15 et lib. 3 cap. 6 et cap. 7 et cap. 8 et cap. 9 et lib. 4 cap. 44; De potentia, q. 3 a. 7] []

The Path to Hell is Paved with the Skulls of Bishops: 8 Quotes and Sources

“The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – St. Athanasius, Council of Nicaea, AD 325 attributed.

Listers, priests and bishops having been erring as long as humans have occupied those offices. However, the quotes that most strongly articulate this truth are shrouded in ambiguity regarding their primary sources. SPL has complied the most common germane quotes shared on Catholic blogs and given a citation for each one – often clarifying a misquote or giving context for an attributed quote. Please feel free to add any other quotes that complement this list or help articulate the sources.

 

“The road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that light the path.”

– or –

“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.”
St. John Chrysostom attributed.1

 

“I do not think there are many among Bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.”
St. John Chrysostom, Extract from St. John Chrysostom, Homily III on Acts 1:12.2

 

“The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”
St. Athanasius, Council of Nicaea, AD 325 attributed.3

 

“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”
Saint John Eudes, attributed.4

 

“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 45

 

“Augustine says in his Rule: ‘Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger.’ But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 4, Sed Contra.

 

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”
Pope St. Gregory the Great 6

 

“But, when necessity compels, not those only who are invested with power of rule are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith, but, as St. Thomas maintains: ‘Each one is under obligation to show forth his faith, either to instruct and encourage others of the faithful, or to repel the attacks of unbelievers.'”
Pope Leo XIII7

  1. Chrysostom Quote: Ole “Golden-mouth” is the primary recipient of the attributed quote. The origin of the actual quote is obscure, but several theories abound. The most interesting are that the flourishing rhetoric of St. Chrysostom and Dantean imagery came together in the Middle Ages or that the quote was actually a misrepresentation of Chrysostom’s words from the protestant leader John Wesley. SOURCE []
  2. Chrysostom 2nd Quote: Homily III on Acts 1:12 []
  3. Athanasius Quote: Attributing the quote to Athanasius is a natural connection given the fact the man fought against the heresy of Arianism – a heresy that is estimated to have swallowed almost 80% of the Catholic bishops. []
  4. Eudes Quote: It is believed that St. Eudes is referencing the quote in the belief it was said by St. Athanasius []
  5. Aquinas Quote: The quote is also often cited as,”When there is an imminent danger for the Faith, Prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects.” The entire fourth article of the cited question addresses the issue of “Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate?” []
  6. Gregory Quote: While prolifically quoted amongst blogs and Catholic debates, a source for this quote is elusive. If any listers can furnish a source and a citation, SPL would appreciate it. []
  7. Pope Leo Quote: The quote is taken from SAPIENTIAE CHRISTIANAE and is often quoted on Catholic blogs as: “when circumstances make it necessary, it is not prelates alone who have to watch over the integrity of the faith.” []

Lust and Our Common Good: 4 Observations by St. Thomas Aquinas

The question Is lust a sin? seems absurd, but by asking these questions and answering them in thomistic fullness the Angelic Doctor is able to lead us into profound observations.

Listers, a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ brilliance is attributed to his ability to state that which we all already know but struggle to articulate. The question Is lust a sin? seems absurd, but by asking these questions and answering them in thomistic fullness the Angelic Doctor is able to lead us into profound observations. Similar to his treatment on the capital vice of gluttony, the beloved “Dumb Ox” echoes the seriousness in which Christ took the reality of sin and how it perverts what is good and reasonable in humanity.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, whose virtue warms the world.

1. What is the proper matter of lust?

The Common Doctor begins his treatment of lust by discerning its “matter” or what properly composes the vice of lust.

As Isidore says (Etym. x), “a lustful man is one who is debauched with pleasures.” Now venereal pleasures above all debauch a man’s mind. Therefore lust is especially concerned with such like pleasures.

The Angelic Doctor turns to the authority of St. Isidore of Seville (d. AD 560)1 and agrees the lustful man is “debauched with pleasures.” However, exactly what pleasures compose the matter of lust? Lust is contrary to the virtue of temperance, which holds us to right reason in the midst of that which would lure us away – yet how is it different than greed or gluttony?

Even as temperance chiefly and properly applies to pleasures of touch, yet consequently and by a kind of likeness is referred to other matters, so too, lust applies chiefly to venereal pleasures, which more than anything else work the greatest havoc in a man’s mind, yet secondarily it applies to any other matters pertaining to excess. Hence a gloss on Galatians 5:19 says “lust is any kind of surfeit.”

To wit, lust applies primarily to venereal pleasures and secondarily to other pleasures.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

2. Are all sexual acts lustful?

Listers, Aquinas commonly submits questions that seem strange or even absurd. Some questions seem superfluous and others seem so obvious that they need not be asked. However, the Summa Theologica is not an encyclopedia, but a pedagogical series of questions that build upon one another. This question’s official title is Whether no venereal act can be without sin? and it lays the groundwork to understand the more complex questions and answers.

A sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good.

Virtue is a good habit or that which disposes us to good acts through the perfection of our powers. One such power is our reason and virtue perfects the power of our reason, e.g., temperance holds us to reason when faced with pleasures that would lure us from reason.2

Vices are those habits which would disorder our reason. If temperance is the virtue that holds us to right reason even in the midsts of allurement – in distinction to fortitude which holds us to reason in the midst of fear – the the vice of lust seeks to pervert that which is good and reasonable through venereal matters.3

Now just as the preservation of the bodily nature of one individual is a true good, so, too, is the preservation of the nature of the human species a very great good. And just as the use of food is directed to the preservation of life in the individual, so is the use of venereal acts directed to the preservation of the whole human race.

Hence Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xvi): “What food is to a man’s well being, such is sexual intercourse to the welfare of the whole human race.” Wherefore just as the use of food can be without sin, if it be taken in due manner and order, as required for the welfare of the body, so also the use of venereal acts can be without sin, provided they be performed in due manner and order, in keeping with the end of human procreation.

Sex is good and serves a mighty and noble purpose within the human race. Lust however seeks to corrupt man’s reasoning toward sex and distort its goodness.

 

Lust in Dante’s Inferno by Gustave Dore

3. Why is lust a sin?

In his question Whether the lust that is about venereal acts can be a sin? the Common Doctor of the Church builds upon the foundation already laid.

The more necessary a thing is, the more it behooves one to observe the order of reason in its regard; wherefore the more sinful it becomes if the order of reason be forsaken. Now the use of venereal acts, as stated in the foregoing Article, is most necessary for the common good, namely the preservation of the human race.

Wherefore there is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this matter: so that if anything be done in this connection against the dictate of reason’s ordering, it will be a sin. Now lust consists essentially in exceeding the order and mode of reason in the matter of venereal acts. Wherefore without any doubt lust is a sin.

Evil is not a thing in itself, but is rather a lack or an absence of what is good. Aquinas would say evil is the privation of the good. In that line of thinking, if right reason is a good and sin is an evil then being sinful is irrational and a strike against reason. Lust then carries a particular weightiness about it due to human sexuality’s strong connection with the common good. The seriousness imported by the corruption of lust is the basis of Aquinas’ next question.

 

Virtue perfects our reason and the vices incline humanity to the irrational and the disorder. It is humanity’s choice. Dante’s inferno – “Dante and Virgil in hell” (1850) by William Bouguereau.

4. Is lust a capital vice?

Flowing with the logical progression of St. Thomas’ previous questions, it is no surprise that Aquinas cites the authority of Pope St. Gregory the Great in naming lust a capital or “deadly” vice.

Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 45) places lust among the capital vices.

As stated above, a capital vice is one that has a very desirable end, so that through desire for that end, a man proceeds to commit many sins, all of which are said to arise from that vice as from a principal vice. Now the end of lust is venereal pleasure, which is very great. Wherefore this pleasure is very desirable as regards the sensitive appetite, both on account of the intensity of the pleasure, and because such like concupiscence is connatural to man. Therefore it is evident that lust is a capital vice.

Like virtues, vices are habits and habits are a quality that define who we are. As virtues produce in us many good works so too do vices become sordid sources of many sins. Lust is a capital vice because it manifests sins within the matter of man’s strong desire for venereal pleasures and that venereal pleasure in and of itself is a good when properly ordered to reason.

  1. Isidore: Born at Cartagena, Spain, about 560; died 4 April, 636. Isidore was the son of Severianus and Theodora. His elder brother Leander was his immediate predecessor in the Metropolitan See of Seville; whilst a younger brother St. Fulgentius presided over the Bishopric of Astigi. His sister Florentina was a nun, and is said to have ruled over forty convents and one thousand religious. Source []
  2. What is a habit? –  The Philosopher (Aristotle) “defines habit, a ‘disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill;’ and he says that by ‘habits we are directed well or ill in reference to the passions.’ For when a the mode is suitable to the thing’s nature, it has the aspect of good: and when it is unsuitable, it has the aspect of evil.” (I-II.49)

    A Habit or Act? –  Virtue “denotes a certain perfection of a power. Now a thing’s perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act. Wherefore power is said to be perfect, according as it is determinate to its act.” Power (potential) finds its end in an act. Virtue perfects the power; thus, the act is perfected. Justice is not an act, but by the habit of justice one may act justly. – More on Virtue from Aquinas []

  3. Temperance v. Fortitude: In clarification by contrast, temperance would be the virtue that keeps us from adultery, masturbation, and any disordered sexual pleasure, while fortitude holds us to reason in the midst of fear, e.g., on the battlefield, when scared to do what is right and good, etc. []

Think Animals and Plants Do Not Have Souls? – 3 Lists to Make You Think Again

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.”

Listers, it is my experience that two immediate thoughts occur when a Catholic reads about Sacred Tradition holding animals and plants to have souls. The first is the thought of heresy or some modernist revision of a classic teaching is being submitted. Normally the quick acknowledgment that these teachings rests in St. Thomas Aquinas assuages such fears. The second and more difficult reaction is – “Why does it matter?” To wit, I think it falls to two considerations. The first is the immediate import for how we should treat animals and plants within the order of Creation and secondly – and more telling – the fact that Catholic catechesis on the soul has diminished to such a degree that even the most basic of questions regarding what is a soul? or what has a soul? can no longer be answered. It is one thing to think it is a waste of time to discuss a matter and quite another to lack the basic knowledge to have that discussion. In this stream of thought, we present the soul and the anima of animals and plants to animate the discussion of the soul that can have spectacular import for catechesis on indulgences, grace, purgatory, the sacraments, and more.

An Introduction to the Soul – 6 Questions

Listers, today we are going to take a look into Sacred Tradition and explore the reality of the soul. The following is a basic introduction, and will serve as a foundation for further discussions. All quotes – unless otherwise specified – are taken from our beloved Angelic Doctor and his Summa Prima Pars Q75A1.

What Is the Soul?

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.” In Latin, soul is anima, from which we derive our words animate and inanimate. Things that have life are animated; thus, they have an anima or soul.

Do Plants and Animals Have Souls?

Life “is shown principally by two actions: knowledge and movement.” Plants and animals are animated beings that respectively display knowledge and movement. Where there is life, there must be a soul; thus, yes, plants and animals have souls.

More basic questions on the soul.

 

Plants via Wikicommons Roland zh

Plants Have Souls: 5 Points of Inquiry

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.

What Are the Different Types of 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.

More information on vegetative souls.

 

A Leopard in Ngala Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa. via Wikicommons Raphael Melnick

Animals Have Souls: 6 Inquiries Into Their Powers

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.

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.

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.”

More on the discussion of animals and souls.

Aquinas: 9 Thoughts on Whether Gluttony Is a Mortal Sin

The Baltimore Catechism states a “mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.” The catechism continues: “this sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.” Is gluttony a mortal sin?

Listers after an excellent discourse on why gluttony is a sin in article one, the Angelic Doctor discusses whether or not gluttony is a mortal sin. The Baltimore Catechism states a “mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.” The catechism continues: “this sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.”1 Gluttony is a sin because it is an inordinate desire towards food and drink and we say “inordinate” because it is outside the scope of reason. Actions within the order of reason are virtues; thus, an action outside the order of reason is a vice or sin. Aquinas’ question is whether it is a mortal sin?

Article Two
Whether gluttony is a mortal sin?

How to Read the Summa Theologica
Aquinas’ structure of the Summa Theologica is unique to our modern customs. The Common Doctor proposes a question and in this case it is Whether gluttony is a mortal sin? He then provides a few – in this case four – arguments that he believes to be false answers. He will then present a sed contra or a “On the contrary” statement which is a summary or the principal point of answering the question correctly. Immediately following the sed contra, the saint will give the main body of his answer and then handle each of the incorrect answers individually. It should be noted that the Summa is not an encyclopedia, but rationally ordered development of questions that building upon one another.

Below the entirety of St. Thomas’ second article on gluttony is presented.
SPL has added the titles, their numbers, and the footnotes for clarification.

The four incorrect position St. Thomas will refute below.

1. Not contrary to the Decalogue

Objection 1. It would seem that gluttony is not a mortal sin. For every mortal sin is contrary to a precept of the Decalogue: and this, apparently, does not apply to gluttony. Therefore gluttony is not a mortal sin.

2. Not contrary to Charity

Objection 2. Further, every mortal sin is contrary to charity, as stated above (Question 132, Article 3). But gluttony is not opposed to charity, neither as regards the love of God, nor as regards the love of one’s neighbor. Therefore gluttony is never a mortal sin.

3. Augustine: A “lesser sin”

Objection 3. Further, Augustine says in a sermon on Purgatory [Cf. Append. to St. Augustine’s works: Serm. civ (xli, de sanctis)]: “Whenever a man takes more meat and drink than is necessary, he should know that this is one of the lesser sins.” But this pertains to gluttony. Therefore gluttony is accounted among the lesser, that is to say venial, sins.

4. Gluttony is a mortal sin

Objection 4. On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xxx, 18): “As long as the vice of gluttony has a hold on a man, all that he has done valiantly is forfeited by him: and as long as the belly is unrestrained, all virtue comes to naught.” But virtue is not done away save by mortal sin. Therefore gluttony is a mortal sin.2

 

St. Thomas Aquinas responds to the four above incorrect answers on gluttony as a mortal sin.

5. Gluttony in respect to man’s end

I answer that, As stated above (Article 1), the vice of gluttony properly consists in inordinate concupiscence. Now the order of reason in regulating the concupiscence may be considered from two points of view. First, with regard to things directed to the end, inasmuch as they may be incommensurate and consequently improportionate to the end; secondly, with regard to the end itself, inasmuch as concupiscence turns man away from his due end.3

Accordingly, if the inordinate concupiscence in gluttony be found to turn man away from the last end, gluttony will be a mortal sin. This is the case when he adheres to the pleasure of gluttony as his end, for the sake of which he contemns God, being ready to disobey God’s commandments, in order to obtain those pleasures. On the other hand, if the inordinate concupiscence in the vice of gluttony be found to affect only such things as are directed to the end, for instance when a man has too great a desire for the pleasures of the palate, yet would not for their sake do anything contrary to God’s law, it is a venial sin.

6. Decalogue pertains to justice

Reply to Objection 1. The vice of gluttony becomes a mortal sin by turning man away from his last end: and accordingly, by a kind of reduction, it is opposed to the precept of hallowing the sabbath, which commands us to rest in our last end. For mortal sins are not all directly opposed to the precepts of the Decalogue, but only those which contain injustice: because the precepts of the Decalogue pertain specially to justice and its parts, as stated above (Question 122, Article 1).

7. Contrary to Charity

Reply to Objection 2. In so far as it turns man away from his last end, gluttony is opposed to the love of God, who is to be loved, as our last end, above all things: and only in this respect is gluttony a mortal sin.

8. St. Augustine commenting on the venial

Reply to Objection 3. This saying of Augustine refers to gluttony as denoting inordinate concupiscence merely in regard of things directed to the end.4

9. Vices which arise from gluttony

Reply to Objection 4. Gluttony is said to bring virtue to naught, not so much on its own account, as on account of the vices which arise from it. For Gregory says (Pastor. iii, 19): “When the belly is distended by gluttony, the virtues of the soul are destroyed by lust.”

 

Lists
St. Thomas Aquinas

Patrimony of Wisdom: St. Pius X’s Exhortation to study Aquinas
The Sun that Warms the World – St. Thomas Aquinas
What Vatican II Actually Said About St. Thomas Aquinas
The 3 Part Catechesis on St. Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI
All lists tagged Aquinas and all tagged Summa Theologica.

 

  1. SOURCE: Baltimore Catechism No. 3 Lesson 6 – On Sins and Its Kinds []
  2. Objection and Contrary? – The question on whether gluttony is a mortal sin displays a rare occurance where the last objection also is the “sed contra” or on the contrary. This means the given opinion is contrary to the above false answers, but is itself false or incomplete. In this case it appears that St. Gregory’s comment is being used to say gluttony is only a mortal sin – while Aquinas demonstrates gluttony can be either venial or mortal. []
  3. What is the “End of Man“? – “By the “end of man” we mean the purpose for which he was created: namely, to know, love, and serve God.” []
  4. Augustine: The quote of Augustine is referring to venial sins (cf. Aquinas’ first way of an act being incompatible with man’s end), but the fact an act can be venial does not negate the potential for it to become mortal. []

The 3 Part Catechesis on St. Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI

“And thus it can be understood that in the 19th century, when the incompatibility of modern reason and faith was strongly declared, Pope Leo XIII pointed to St Thomas as a guide in the dialogue between them.”

Part I

Eucharistic Soul 9 Statements by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Thomas Aquinas

Listers, Pope Benedict XVI describes St. Thomas Aquinas as having an “exquisitely Eucharistic soul.” The following is taken from a talk delivered by the Holy Father on June 2nd, 2010 and he also delivered a follow up on June 16th of the same year. The former is focused more as a basic introduction to the life and virtue of the Angelic Doctor and the second is more theological in nature.

More Papal Adulation of St. Thomas Aquinas
Patrimony of Wisdom: St. Pius X’s Exhortation to study Aquinas
The Sun that Warms the World – St. Thomas Aquinas
What Vatican II Actually Said About St. Thomas Aquinas

Pope Urban IV, who held him in high esteem, commissioned him to compose liturgical texts for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we are celebrating tomorrow, established subsequent to the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. Thomas had an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. The most beautiful hymns that the Liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are attributed to his faith and his theological wisdom.

Part II

Our Guide Through Modernism 12 Teachings from Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas

Listers in his second lesson on the Angelic Doctor, Pope Benedict XVI moves past the basic biography of Aquinas and into the more fundamental theological and philosophical changes the saint brought to Holy Mother Church.

The Vicars of Christ beg us to study Aquinas:
Patrimony of Wisdom: St. Pius X’s Exhortation to study Aquinas
The Sun that Warms the World – St. Thomas Aquinas

And thus it can be understood that in the 19th century, when the incompatibility of modern reason and faith was strongly declared, Pope Leo XIII pointed to St Thomas as a guide in the dialogue between them. In his theological work, St Thomas supposes and concretizes this relationality. Faith consolidates, integrates and illumines the heritage of truth that human reason acquires. The trust with which St Thomas endows these two instruments of knowledge faith and reason may be traced back to the conviction that both stem from the one source of all truth, the divine Logos, which is active in both contexts, that of Creation and that of redemption.

Part III

Pope Benedict XVI’s 11 Introductory Steps to Understanding the Writings of Aquinas

Listers, Pope Benedict XVI closes his three-part catechesis over St. Thomas Aquinas by discussing the Angelic Doctor’s Summa Theologiae and catechetical sermons. The following is the entire homily given by His Holiness during the Wednesday General Audience of the 23th of June 2010. SPL has added the titles and subtitles.

My Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, also said this, in a Discourse he gave at Fossanova on 14 September 1974 on the occasion of the seventh centenary of St Thomas’ death. He asked himself: “Thomas, our Teacher, what lesson can you give us?”. And he answered with these words: “trust in the truth of Catholic religious thought, as defended, expounded and offered by him to the capacities of the human mind.”1 In Aquino moreover, on that same day, again with reference to St Thomas, Paul VI said, “all of us who are faithful sons and daughters of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent!

8 Thoughts on Whether Gluttony Is a Sin

Listers, the following is taken in full from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II-II.148.1 On Gluttony. The Summa Theologica is widely considered the magnum opus of the Angelic Doctor’s short life. The work is broken down into a question and answer format and its importance is best summed up by the fact it was laid on the altar at the Council of Trent.

Listers, the following is taken in full from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II-II.148.1 On Gluttony. The Summa Theologica is widely considered the magnum opus of the Angelic Doctor’s short life. The work is broken down into a question and answer format and its importance is best summed up by the fact it was laid on the altar at the Council of Trent. Aquinas writes under the true belief that theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the Divine Science and the Queen of the Sciences. In that proper understanding of theology the Angelic Doctor writes with a scientific accuracy marked by defined terms and an unwavering attention to detail. The fruits of understanding his writings are worth the labors.

“He (Thomas Aquinas) enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors together; a man can derive more profit from his books in one year than from a lifetime spent in pondering the philosophy of others.”
Pope John XXII, Consistorial address of 1318

Pope Benedict XVI has recently highlighted the importance of Aquinas’ writings in his three part catechesis on the Common Doctor: Eucharistic Soul: 9 Statements by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Thomas AquinasOur Guide Through Modernism: 12 Teachings from Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas, and Pope Benedict XVI’s 11 Introductory Steps to Understanding the Writings of Aquinas.

 

Article One
Whether gluttony is a sin?

 

How to Read the Summa Theologica
Aquinas’ structure of the Summa Theologica is unique to our modern customs. The Common Doctor proposes a question and in this case it is Whether gluttony is a sin? He then provides a few – in this case three – arguments that he believes to be false answers. He will then present a sed contra or a “On the contrary” statement which is a summary or the principal point of answering the question correctly. Immediately following the sed contra, the saint will give the main body of his answer and then handle each of the following incorrect answers individually.

Below the entirety of St. Thomas’ first article on gluttony is presented.
SPL has added the titles and their numbers.

1. Food cannot defile a man

Objection 1. It would seem that gluttony is not a sin. For our Lord said (Matthew 15:11): “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man.” Now gluttony regards food which goes into a man. Therefore, since every sin defiles a man, it seems that gluttony is not a sin.

2. Pleasure and necessity cannot be distinguished

Objection 2. Further, “No man sins in what he cannot avoid” [Ep. lxxi, ad Lucin.]. Now gluttony is immoderation in food; and man cannot avoid this, for Gregory says (Moral. xxx, 18): “Since in eating pleasure and necessity go together, we fail to discern between the call of necessity and the seduction of pleasure.” And Augustine says (Confess. x, 31): “Who is it, Lord, that does not eat a little more than necessary?” Therefore gluttony is not a sin.

3. The first movement of sin

Objection 3. Further, in every kind of sin the first movement is a sin. But the first movement in taking food is not a sin, else hunger and thirst would be sinful. Therefore gluttony is not a sin.

 

The guardian of the Third Circle of Hell, Cerberus and beyond him the gluttons.

St. Thomas responds

4. Sed Contra: The inward enemy

On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xxx, 18) that “unless we first tame the enemy dwelling within us, namely our gluttonous appetite, we have not even stood up to engage in the spiritual combat.” But man’s inward enemy is sin. Therefore gluttony is a sin.

5. An irrational inordinate desire

I answer that, Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire. Now desire is said to be inordinate through leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists: and a thing is said to be a sin through being contrary to virtue. Wherefore it is evident that gluttony is a sin.

6. The desire defiles, not the food

Reply to Objection 1. That which goes into man by way of food, by reason of its substance and nature, does not defile a man spiritually. But the Jews, against whom our Lord is speaking, and the Manichees deemed certain foods to make a man unclean, not on account of their signification, but by reason of their nature [Cf. I-II, 102, 6, ad 1]. It is the inordinate desire of food that defiles a man spiritually.

7. Knowledge of the excess

Reply to Objection 2. As stated above, the vice of gluttony does not regard the substance of food, but in the desire thereof not being regulated by reason. Wherefore if a man exceed in quantity of food, not from desire of food, but through deeming it necessary to him, this pertains, not to gluttony, but to some kind of inexperience. It is a case of gluttony only when a man knowingly exceeds the measure in eating, from a desire for the pleasures of the palate.

8. Sin rests in the sensation, not the necessity

Reply to Objection 3. The appetite is twofold. There is the natural appetite, which belongs to the powers of the vegetal soul.1 On these powers virtue and vice are impossible, since they cannot be subject to reason; wherefore the appetitive power is differentiated from the powers of secretion, digestion, and excretion, and to it hunger and thirst are to be referred. Besides this there is another, the sensitive appetite, and it is in the concupiscence of this appetite that the vice of gluttony consists. Hence the first movement of gluttony denotes inordinateness in the sensitive appetite, and this is not without sin.

  1. SOUL: Read SPL’s list on the Vegetal Soul []

Pope Benedict XVI’s 11 Introductory Steps to Understanding the Writings of Aquinas

“In Aquino moreover, on that same day, again with reference to St Thomas, Paul VI said, “all of us who are faithful sons and daughters of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent!”

Listers, Pope Benedict XVI closes his three-part catechesis over St. Thomas Aquinas by discussing the Angelic Doctor’s Summa Theologiae and catechetical sermons. The following is the entire homily given by His Holiness during the Wednesday General Audience of the 23th of June 2010. SPL has added the titles and subtitles.

 

Pope Benedict XVI’s Three Part Catechesis on St. Thomas Aquinas
Eucharistic Soul: 9 Statements by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Thomas Aquinas
Our Guide Through Modernism: 12 Teachings from Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas

 

1. We Are All His Disciples to Some Extent

“Today I would like to complete, with a third instalment, my Catecheses on St Thomas Aquinas. Even more than 700 years after his death we can learn much from him. My Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, also said this, in a Discourse he gave at Fossanova on 14 September 1974 on the occasion of the seventh centenary of St Thomas’ death. He asked himself: “Thomas, our Teacher, what lesson can you give us?”. And he answered with these words: “trust in the truth of Catholic religious thought, as defended, expounded and offered by him to the capacities of the human mind.”1 In Aquino moreover, on that same day, again with reference to St Thomas, Paul VI said, “all of us who are faithful sons and daughters of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent!”2

2. Importance of the Summa Theologiae

His Masterpiece
“Let us too, therefore, learn from the teaching of St Thomas and from his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae. It was left unfinished, yet it is a monumental work: it contains 512 questions and 2,669 articles. It consists of concentrated reasoning in which the human mind is applied to the mysteries of faith, with clarity and depth to the mysteries of faith, alternating questions with answers in which St Thomas deepens the teaching that comes from Sacred Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, especially St Augustine.”

Truth Shines Out
“In this reflection, in meeting the true questions of his time, that are also often our own questions, St Thomas, also by employing the method and thought of the ancient philosophers, and of Aristotle in particular, thus arrives at precise, lucid and pertinent formulations of the truths of faith in which truth is a gift of faith, shines out and becomes accessible to us, for our reflection. However, this effort of the human mind Aquinas reminds us with his own life is always illumined by prayer, by the light that comes from on high. Only those who live with God and with his mysteries can also understand what they say to us.”

3. Teaching the Knowledge of God

God’s Existence
“In the Summa of theology, St Thomas starts from the fact that God has three different ways of being and existing: God exists in himself, he is the beginning and end of all things, which is why all creatures proceed from him and depend on him: then God is present through his Grace in the life and activity of the Christian, of the saints; lastly, God is present in an altogether special way in the Person of Christ, here truly united to the man Jesus, and active in the Sacraments that derive from his work of redemption.”

Structure of Summa
“Therefore, the structure of this monumental work3, a quest with “a theological vision” for the fullness of God4, is divided into three parts and is illustrated by the Doctor Communis himself St Thomas with these words:

“Because the chief aim of sacred doctrine is to teach the knowledge of God, not only as he is in himself, but also as he is the beginning of things and their last end, and especially of rational creatures, as is clear from what has already been said, therefore, we shall treat: (1) Of God; (2) Of the rational creature’s advance towards God; (3) Of Christ, Who as man, is our way to God.”5

“It is a circle: God in himself, who comes out of himself and takes us by the hand, in such a way that with Christ we return to God, we are united to God, and God will be all things to all people.”

4. The 3 Parts of the Summa Theologica

First Part
“The First Part of the Summa Theologiae thus investigates God in himself, the mystery of the Trinity and of the creative activity of God. In this part we also find a profound reflection on the authentic reality of the human being, inasmuch as he has emerged from the creative hands of God as the fruit of his love. On the one hand we are dependent created beings, we do not come from ourselves; yet, on the other, we have a true autonomy so that we are not only something apparent as certain Platonic philosophers say but a reality desired by God as such and possessing an inherent value.”

Second Part
“In the Second Part St Thomas considers man, impelled by Grace, in his aspiration to know and love God in order to be happy in time and in eternity. First of all the Author presents the theological principles of moral action, studying how, in the free choice of the human being to do good acts, reason, will and passions are integrated, to which is added the power given by God’s Grace through the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the help offered by moral law. Hence the human being is a dynamic being who seeks himself, seeks to become himself, and, in this regard, seeks to do actions that build him up, that make him truly man; and here the moral law comes into it. Grace and reason itself, the will and the passions enter too. On this basis St Thomas describes the profile of the man who lives in accordance with the Spirit and thus becomes an image of God.”

“Here Aquinas pauses to study the three theological virtues faith, hope and charity followed by a critical examination of more than 50 moral virtues, organized around the four cardinal virtues prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. He then ends with a reflection on the different vocations in the Church.”

Third Part
“In the Third Part of the Summa, St Thomas studies the Mystery of Christ the way and the truth through which we can reach God the Father. In this section he writes almost unparalleled pages on the Mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation and Passion, adding a broad treatise on the seven sacraments, for it is in them that the Divine Word Incarnate extends the benefits of the Incarnation for our salvation, for our journey of faith towards God and eternal life. He is, as it were, materially present with the realities of creation, and thus touches us in our inmost depths.”

5. Mystery of the Eucharist

His Eucharistic Soul
“In speaking of the sacraments, St Thomas reflects in a special way on the Mystery of the Eucharist, for which he had such great devotion, the early biographers claim, that he would lean his head against the Tabernacle, as if to feel the throbbing of Jesus’ divine and human heart. In one of his works, commenting on Scripture, St Thomas helps us to understand the excellence of the sacrament of the Eucharist, when he writes:

“Since this [the Eucharist] is the sacrament of Our Lord’s Passion, it contains in itself the Jesus Christ who suffered for us. Thus, whatever is an effect of Our Lord’s Passion is also an effect of this sacrament. For this sacrament is nothing other than the application of Our Lord’s Passion to us.”6

Fall in Love with the Sacrament
“We clearly understand why St Thomas and other Saints celebrated Holy Mass shedding tears of compassion for the Lord who gave himself as a sacrifice for us, tears of joy and gratitude. Dear brothers and sisters, at the school of the Saints, let us fall in love with this sacrament! Let us participate in Holy Mass with recollection, to obtain its spiritual fruits, let us nourish ourselves with this Body and Blood of Our Lord, to be ceaselessly fed by divine Grace! Let us willingly and frequently linger in the company of the Blessed Sacrament in heart-to-heart conversation!”

6. Aquinas’ Preaching

Opuscoli
“All that St Thomas described with scientific rigour in his major theological works, such as, precisely, the Summa Theologiae, and the Summa contra gentiles, was also explained in his preaching, both to his students and to the faithful. In 1273, a year before he died, he preached throughout Lent in the Church of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. The content of those sermons was gathered and preserved: they are the Opuscoli in which he explains the Apostles’ Creed, interprets the Prayer of the Our Father, explains the Ten Commandments and comments on the Hail Mary.”

Virtually the Whole Structure of the Catechism
“The content of the Doctor Angelicus’ preaching corresponds with virtually the whole structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Actually, in catechesis and preaching, in a time like ours of renewed commitment to evangelization, these fundamental subjects should never be lacking: what we believe, and here is the Creed of the faith; what we pray, and here is the Our Father and the Hail Mary; and what we live, as we are taught by biblical Revelation, and here is the law of the love of God and neighbour and the Ten Commandments, as an explanation of this mandate of love.”

7. Aquinas on Faith

“I would like to propose some simple, essential and convincing examples of the content of St Thomas’ teaching. In his booklet on The Apostles’ Creed he explains the value of faith. Through it, he says, the soul is united to God and produces, as it were, a shot of eternal life; life receives a reliable orientation and we overcome temptations with ease. To those who object that faith is foolishness because it leads to belief in something that does not come within the experience of the senses, St Thomas gives a very articulate answer and recalls that this is an inconsistent doubt, for human intelligence is limited and cannot know everything. Only if we were able to know all visible and invisible things perfectly would it be genuinely foolish to accept truths out of pure faith. Moreover, it is impossible to live, St Thomas observes, without trusting in the experience of others, wherever one’s own knowledge falls short. It is thus reasonable to believe in God, who reveals himself, and to the testimony of the Apostles: they were few, simple and poor, grief-stricken by the Crucifixion of their Teacher. Yet many wise, noble and rich people converted very soon after hearing their preaching. In fact this is a miraculous phenomenon of history, to which it is far from easy to give a convincing answer other than that of the Apostle’s encounter with the Risen Lord.”

8. Aquinas on the Incarnation

“In commenting on the article of the Creed on the Incarnation of the divine Word St Thomas makes a few reflections. He says that the Christian faith is strengthened in considering the mystery of the Incarnation; hope is strengthened at the thought that the Son of God came among us, as one of us, to communicate his own divinity to human beings; charity is revived because there is no more obvious sign of God’s love for us than the sight of the Creator of the universe making himself a creature, one of us. Finally, in contemplating the mystery of God’s Incarnation, we feel kindled within us our desire to reach Christ in glory. Using a simple and effective comparison, St Thomas remarks: “If the brother of a king were to be far away, he would certainly long to live beside him. Well, Christ is a brother to us; we must therefore long for his company and become of one heart with him.”7

9. Aquinas on the Pater Noster

“In presenting the prayer of the Our Father, St Thomas shows that it is perfect in itself, since it has all five of the characteristics that a well-made prayer must possess: trusting, calm abandonment; a fitting content because, St Thomas observes, “it is quite difficult to know exactly what it is appropriate and inappropriate to ask for, since choosing among our wishes puts us in difficulty” (ibid., p. 120); and then an appropriate order of requests, the fervour of love and the sincerity of humility.”

10. Aquinas on the Triclinium totius Trinitatis

“Like all the Saints, St Thomas had a great devotion to Our Lady. He described her with a wonderful title: Triclinium totius Trinitatis; triclinium, that is, a place where the Trinity finds rest since, because of the Incarnation, in no creature as in her do the three divine Persons dwell and feel delight and joy at dwelling in her soul full of Grace. Through her intercession we may obtain every help.”

11. Final Benediction

“With a prayer that is traditionally attributed to St Thomas and that in any case reflects the elements of his profound Marian devotion we too say:

“O most Blessed and sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God… I entrust to your merciful heart… my entire life…. Obtain for me as well, O most sweet Lady, true charity with which from the depths of my heart I may love your most Holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, after him, love you above all other things… and my neighbour, in God and for God.”

  1. Address in honour of St Thomas Aquinas in the Basilica, 14 September 1974; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, [ore], 26 September 1974, p. 4 []
  2. Address to people in the Square at Aquino, 14 September 1974; ORE, p. 5 []
  3. cf. Jean-Pierre Torrell, La “Summa” di San Tommaso, Milan 2003, pp. 29-75 []
  4. cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia q. 1, a. 7 []
  5. ibid.,I, q. 2 []
  6. cf. Commentary on John, chapter 6, lecture 6, n. 963 []
  7. Opuscoli teologico-spirituali, Rome 1976, p. 64 []

Our Guide Through Modernism: 12 Teachings from Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas

“The main reason for this appreciation is not only explained by the content of his teaching but also by the method he used, especially his new synthesis and distinction between philosophy and theology.”

Listers in his second lesson on the Angelic Doctor, Pope Benedict XVI moves past the basic biography of Aquinas and into the more fundamental theological and philosophical changes the saint brought to Holy Mother Church.

The Vicars of Christ beg us to study Aquinas:
Patrimony of Wisdom: St. Pius X’s Exhortation to study Aquinas
The Sun that Warms the World – St. Thomas Aquinas

 

1. Vatican II Recommends Aquinas

“Today I would like to continue the presentation of St Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of such value that the study of his thought was explicitly recommended by the Second Vatican Council in two documents, the Decree Optatam totius on the Training of Priests, and the Declaration Gravissimum Educationis, which addresses Christian Education. Indeed, already in 1880 Pope Leo XIII, who held St Thomas in high esteem as a guide and encouraged Thomistic studies, chose to declare him Patron of Catholic Schools and Universities.”

More on Vatican II & Aquinas: What Vatican II Actually Said About Aquinas

2. The Philosophy of the Church Fathers

“The main reason for this appreciation is not only explained by the content of his teaching but also by the method he used, especially his new synthesis and distinction between philosophy and theology. The Fathers of the Church were confronted by different philosophies of a Platonic type in which a complete vision of the world and of life was presented, including the subject of God and of religion. In comparison with these philosophies they themselves had worked out a complete vision of reality, starting with faith and using elements of Platonism to respond to the essential questions of men and women. They called this vision, based on biblical revelation and formulated with a correct Platonism in the light of faith: “our philosophy”. The word “philosophy” was not, therefore, an expression of a purely rational system and, as such, distinct from faith but rather indicated a comprehensive vision of reality, constructed in the light of faith but used and conceived of by reason; a vision that naturally exceeded the capacities proper to reason but as such also fulfilled it.”

3. The Father’s Philosophy Needed to be Rethought

“For St Thomas the encounter with the pre-Christian philosophy of Aristotle (who died in about 322 b.c.) opened up a new perspective. Aristotelian philosophy was obviously a philosophy worked out without the knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, an explanation of the world without revelation through reason alone. And this consequent rationality was convincing. Thus the old form of the Fathers’ “our philosophy” no longer worked. The relationship between philosophy and theology, between faith and reason, needed to be rethought. A “philosophy” existed that was complete and convincing in itself, a rationality that preceded the faith, followed by “theology”, a form of thinking with the faith and in the faith. The pressing question was this: are the world of rationality, philosophy conceived of without Christ, and the world of faith compatible? Or are they mutually exclusive?”

4. The “Surprise” of Aquinas

“Elements that affirmed the incompatibility of these two worlds were not lacking, but St Thomas was firmly convinced of their compatibility indeed that philosophy worked out without the knowledge of Christ was awaiting, as it were, the light of Jesus to be complete. This was the great “surprise” of St Thomas that determined the path he took as a thinker. Showing this independence of philosophy and theology and, at the same time, their reciprocal relationality was the historic mission of the great teacher.”

5. Aquinas the Guide Through Modernism

“And thus it can be understood that in the 19th century, when the incompatibility of modern reason and faith was strongly declared, Pope Leo XIII pointed to St Thomas as a guide in the dialogue between them. In his theological work, St Thomas supposes and concretizes this relationality. Faith consolidates, integrates and illumines the heritage of truth that human reason acquires. The trust with which St Thomas endows these two instruments of knowledge faith and reason may be traced back to the conviction that both stem from the one source of all truth, the divine Logos, which is active in both contexts, that of Creation and that of redemption.”

6. Faith & Reason 101

“Together with the agreement between reason and faith, we must recognize on the other hand that they avail themselves of different cognitive procedures. Reason receives a truth by virtue of its intrinsic evidence, mediated or unmediated; faith, on the contrary, accepts a truth on the basis of the authority of the Word of God that is revealed. St Thomas writes at the beginning of his Summa Theologiae:

We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of the intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science, because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed (ia, q. 1, a.2).

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, whose virtue warms the world.

7. Faith Protects Reason

“This distinction guarantees the autonomy of both the human and the theological sciences. However, it is not equivalent to separation but, rather, implies a reciprocal and advantageous collaboration. Faith, in fact, protects reason from any temptation to distrust its own abilities, stimulates it to be open to ever broader horizons, keeps alive in it the search for foundations and, when reason itself is applied to the supernatural sphere of the relationship between God and man, faith enriches his work. According to St Thomas, for example, human reason can certainly reach the affirmation of the existence of one God, but only faith, which receives the divine Revelation, is able to draw from the mystery of the Love of the Triune God.”

8. Threefold Service of Reason to Faith

“Moreover, it is not only faith that helps reason. Reason too, with its own means can do something important for faith, making it a threefold service which St Thomas sums up in the preface to his commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius:

“Demonstrating those truths that are preambles of the faith; giving a clearer notion, by certain similitudes, of the truths of the faith; resisting those who speak against the faith, either by showing that their statements are false, or by showing that they are not necessarily true” (q. 2, a.3).

The entire history of theology is basically the exercise of this task of the mind which shows the intelligibility of faith, its articulation and inner harmony, its reasonableness and its ability to further human good. The correctness of theological reasoning and its real cognitive meaning is based on the value of theological language which, in St Thomas’ opinion, is principally an analogical language. The distance between God, the Creator, and the being of his creatures is infinite; dissimilitude is ever greater than similitude (cf. DS 806). Nevertheless in the whole difference between Creator and creatures an analogy exists between the created being and the being of the Creator, which enables us to speak about God with human words.”

9. Grace Perfects Nature

“This fundamental agreement between human reason and Christian faith is recognized in another basic principle of Aquinas’ thought. Divine Grace does not annihilate but presupposes and perfects human nature. The latter, in fact, even after sin, is not completely corrupt but wounded and weakened. Grace, lavished upon us by God and communicated through the Mystery of the Incarnate Word, is an absolutely free gift with which nature is healed, strengthened and assisted in pursuing the innate desire for happiness in the heart of every man and of every woman. All the faculties of the human being are purified, transformed and uplifted by divine Grace.”

10. The Role of the Holy Spirit

“An important application of this relationship between nature and Grace is recognized in the moral theology of St Thomas Aquinas, which proves to be of great timeliness. At the centre of his teaching in this field, he places the new law which is the law of the Holy Spirit. With a profoundly evangelical gaze he insists on the fact that this law is the Grace of the Holy Spirit given to all who believe in Christ. The written and oral teaching of the doctrinal and moral truths transmitted by the Church is united to this Grace. St Thomas, emphasizing the fundamental role in moral life of the action of the Holy Spirit, of Grace, from which flow the theological and moral virtues, makes us understand that all Christians can attain the lofty perspectives of the “Sermon on the Mount”, if they live an authentic relationship of faith in Christ, if they are open to the action of his Holy Spirit.”

11. All Men May Perceive Natural Law

“However, Aquinas adds, “Although Grace is more efficacious than nature, yet nature is more essential to man, and therefore more enduring” (Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 6, ad 2), which is why, in the Christian moral perspective, there is a place for reason which is capable of discerning natural moral law. Reason can recognize this by considering what it is good to do and what it is good to avoid in order to achieve that felicity which everyone has at heart, which also implies a responsibility towards others and, therefore, the search for the common good. In other words, the human, theological and moral virtues are rooted in human nature. Divine Grace accompanies, sustains and impels ethical commitment but, according to St Thomas, all human beings, believers and non-believers alike, are called to recognize the needs of human nature expressed in natural law and to draw inspiration from it in the formulation of positive laws, namely those issued by the civil and political authorities to regulate human coexistence.”

12. The True Concept of Human Reason

“To conclude, Thomas presents to us a broad and confident concept of human reason: broad because it is not limited to the spaces of the so-called “empirical-scientific” reason, but open to the whole being and thus also to the fundamental and inalienable questions of human life; and confident because human reason, especially if it accepts the inspirations of Christian faith, is a promoter of a civilization that recognizes the dignity of the person, the intangibility of his rights and the cogency of his or her duties. It is not surprising that the doctrine on the dignity of the person, fundamental for the recognition of the inviolability of human rights, developed in schools of thought that accepted the legacy of St Thomas Aquinas, who had a very lofty conception of the human creature. He defined it, with his rigorously philosophical language, as “what is most perfect to be found in all nature – that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature” (Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 29, a. 3).”

Eucharistic Soul: 9 Statements by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Thomas Aquinas

Listers, Pope Benedict XVI describes St. Thomas Aquinas as having an “exquisitely Eucharistic soul.” The following is taken from a talk delivered by the Holy Father on June 2nd, 2010 and he also delivered a follow up on June 16th of the same year. The former is focused more as a basic introduction to the life and virtue of the Angelic Doctor and the second is more theological in nature.

More Papal Adulation of St. Thomas Aquinas
Patrimony of Wisdom: St. Pius X’s Exhortation to study Aquinas
The Sun that Warms the World – St. Thomas Aquinas
What Vatican II Actually Said About St. Thomas Aquinas

 

1. The Master of Thought

“Today I wish to speak of the one whom the Church calls the Doctor communis namely, St Thomas Aquinas. In his Encyclical Fides et Ratio my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, recalled that ‘the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology.'”

2. Cited 61 Times in the Catechism

“It is not surprising that, after St Augustine, among the ecclesiastical writers mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church St Thomas is cited more than any other, at least 61 times! He was also called the Doctor Angelicus, perhaps because of his virtues and, in particular, the sublimity of his thought and the purity of his life.”

3. The Dawn of Aristotle

“In this period the culture of the Latin world was profoundly stimulated by the encounter with Aristotle’s works that had long remained unknown. They were writings on the nature of knowledge, on the natural sciences, on metaphysics, on the soul and on ethics and were full of information and intuitions that appeared valid and convincing.”

4. Fundamental to the History of Culture

“Thomas Aquinas, at the school of Albert the Great, did something of fundamental importance for the history of philosophy and theology, I would say for the history of culture: he made a thorough study of Aristotle and his interpreters, obtaining for himself new Latin translations of the original Greek texts. Consequently he no longer relied solely on the Arab commentators but was able to read the original texts for himself. He commented on most of the Aristotelian opus, distinguishing between what was valid and was dubious or to be completely rejected, showing its consonance with the events of the Christian Revelation and drawing abundantly and perceptively from Aristotle’s thought in the explanation of the theological texts he was uniting.”

5. Harmony of Faith and Reason

“In short, Thomas Aquinas showed that a natural harmony exists between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great achievement of Thomas who, at that time of clashes between two cultures that time when it seemed that faith would have to give in to reason showed that they go hand in hand, that insofar as reason appeared incompatible with faith it was not reason, and so what appeared to be faith was not faith, since it was in opposition to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis which formed the culture of the centuries to come.”

6. Friendship: Noblest Manifestation of the Human Heart

“He was assisted in the composition of his writings by several secretaries, including his confrere, Reginald of Piperno, who followed him faithfully and to whom he was bound by a sincere brotherly friendship marked by great confidence and trust. This is a characteristic of Saints: they cultivate friendship because it is one of the noblest manifestations of the human heart and has something divine about it, just as Thomas himself explained in some of the Quaestiones of his Summa Theologiae. He writes in it: “it is evident that charity is the friendship of man for God” and for “all belonging to him” (Vol. II, q. 23, a. 1).”

7. An Exquisitely Eucharistic Soul

“Pope Urban IV, who held him in high esteem, commissioned him to compose liturgical texts for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we are celebrating tomorrow, established subsequent to the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. Thomas had an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. The most beautiful hymns that the Liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are attributed to his faith and his theological wisdom.”

8. Worthless

“In December 1273, he summoned his friend and secretary Reginald to inform him of his decision to discontinue all work because he had realized, during the celebration of Mass subsequent to a supernatural revelation, that everything he had written until then “was worthless”. This is a mysterious episode that helps us to understand not only Thomas’ personal humility, but also the fact that, however lofty and pure it may be, all we manage to think and say about the faith is infinitely exceeded by God’s greatness and beauty which will be fully revealed to us in Heaven. A few months later, more and more absorbed in thoughtful meditation, Thomas died while on his way to Lyons to take part in the Ecumenical Council convoked by Pope Gregory X.”

9. Nothing But Yourself

“The life and teaching of St Thomas Aquinas could be summed up in an episode passed down by his ancient biographers. While, as was his wont, the Saint was praying before the Crucifix in the early morning in the chapel of St Nicholas in Naples, Domenico da Caserta, the church sacristan, overheard a conversation. Thomas was anxiously asking whether what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was correct. And the Crucified One answered him: “You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What is your reward to be?”. And the answer Thomas gave him was what we too, friends and disciples of Jesus, always want to tell him: “Nothing but Yourself, Lord!” (ibid., p. 320).”