Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.



I: The Supreme Virtue of Love

  1. Aquinas differs from Bonaventure and Scotus (the two great Franciscan theologians) in teaching that the goal of human life is the knowledge of God, while they teach that this goal is the love of God. Aquinas' reason is that love is the result of knowledge, not knowledge the result of love. Consequently, it is by seeing God that we will possess Him and He is our happiness. Because we see Him our will can rest in loving Him.

  2. However, Aquinas agrees with these theologians, and it is the common teaching of all Catholic theologians, that in this life love is more important than knowledge, since it is love that draws us to seek the vision of God, and God rewards us with His vision in proportion to our love, not in proportion to our knowledge. Therefore Christian sanctity and perfection consists in love, and the Church canonizes the saints for their love, not for anything else.

  3. Therefore the theological virtue of love (charity) is the highest of all virtues and the sins against charity are the greatest sins. The Law of the New Testament is the law of love i.e. the Great Commandment of Love of God and Neighbor. This is only a single commandment, because we cannot love God unless we love those whom He loves.

  4. Aquinas deals with the famous problem of "pure love" (eros and agape). Some theologians teach that Christian love (agape) excludes self-love and therefore excludes eros, since eros is the love of need and therefore always includes self-love. Aquinas, on the other hand, teaches that while God's own love for us is agape (since He does not "need" anything outside Himself), while our love for Him is first of all eros (since we need God) nevertheless, by the gift of Love which God gives us we are able also to love God and our neighbor with God's own love (agape). But if we are to love our neighbor we must first love ourselves, since we are just as much God's creatures as are our neighbors. Thus self-love when it is in accordance with reason and humility is not contrary to agape, but its necessary condition. I cannot love God and neighbor well unless I love myself well. That is why Jesus said, "Love God and your neighbor as yourself." Consequently Aquinas opposes that hyper-spiritualism which claims to be indifferent to one's own salvation (quietism).

II: The Gift of Wisdom

  1. Wisdom is the intellectual virtue by which the results of reasoning are traced back to their principles (insight) and unified in one vision of the truth by seeing how the whole of creation and of history reflect the power, truth, and love of God. Human wisdom is philosophy. Sacred wisdom is of two kinds (1) the acquired faith-wisdom we call theology, and (2) the Gift of Wisdom which is the perfect flowering of faith.

  2. The Gift of wisdom is intimately associated by St..Thomas with the theological virtue of Love, because in this life our deepest understanding of God does not come from the reasoning of theology but from our likeness (connaturality) to God through love. As we understand a friend because we love him, so we come to understand God by loving Him. Aquinas also connects it to the Beatitude "Blessed are the peace-makers" because true wisdom brings peace with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. This is the peace of God of which the New Testament and the liturgy so often speak, a peace that Jesus gave to His apostles after the resurrection and which the saints experience even in their suffering and martyrdom.

III: The Contemplative and Active Lives

  1. Three types of life are possible to us, a life which concentrates on the pursuit of pleasure, a life which concentrates on worthy human activities (the life of the citizen and the ministry), and the life that concentrates on contemplation (the life of the scientist, scholar or religious contemplative). Of these the first is unworthy of human beings, the other two are both good and necessary for society and the Church, but the third is in itself the best because the closest to eternal life. However, Aquinas says that the best of all is the contemplative life which overflows into action, and this is the one Jesus led.
  2. Note that according to this the highest position in the Church is not that of the priest, bishops or even the Pope but that of the contemplatives. Mary, who was not a priest, is the highest member of the Church. Ministry (including the clergy) is in the second place because it belongs chiefly to the active life.
  3. Christians in the active life are not free to live the contemplative life with all their energy. Nevertheless, they can attain to contemplation if they take the time for constant prayer, and if they closely relate their activity to prayer, so that contemplation feeds activity and activity leads to contemplation.
  4. God calls some contemplatives to the active ministry for the good of the Church and they must obey. The active life when motivated by love of God and neighbor can be more meritorious than the contemplative life. We cannot claim to love God if we do not love our neighbor and that means undertaking the works of corporal and spiritual mercy.

  5. Since in the active life the moral virtue of social justice (guided of course by Christian prudence) is the greatest virtue because it seeks the common good of all persons, the active life is especially concerned with working for social justice. But social justice cannot be complete without the virtue of religion i.e. the worship of God. Consequently, the ministry of preaching the Word of God to bring faith to people, and the worship of God through the sacraments must inspire and complete the work for social justice. "Preaching" does not just mean preaching at Mass, but includes every kind of Christian instruction from the catechism to theology given to all classes of people and in the places and by the means of communication appropriate to each.

IV: Mysticism

  1. Some Protestant writers understand by "mysticism" some sort of pantheism by which the soul is absorbed into God. Aquinas' doctrine of creation opposes all forms of pantheism. We can never be God, but we can be perfectly united to God by grace in vision and love.
  2. Mystical experience is the flowering of the Gifts of Insight, Knowledge and especially Wisdom in a deep experience of God, but this experience is nothing added to Faith, Hope, and Love but only their perfect fullness.

Readings: Summa Theologiae II-II 23, 25, 28, 29, 45 and 46.


I: Faith the Fountain of Life

  1. Aquinas constantly emphasizes that although human intelligence is a wonderful gift of our created human nature by which we are created in the image of God, yet our intelligence has been darkened by sin, the sin of the race (original sin) and our own personal sin. Moreover, even if we had not sinned, yet human reason can never come to know the inner life of God. It could know that there is a personal and good God who created the world, but it could never know that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To know God in his inner life is possible only by a gift which surpasses our nature, the gift of faith. Faith is not given to us because we deserve it, but it is given freely both to the good and the bad.
  2. Aquinas and the medievals were not confronted as we are with the problem of how God deals with non-Christians. They lived in a Christian society and their contact even with Jews and Muslims was minimal. Nevertheless, Aquinas proposed a theological position which today has become the basis of Vatican II teaching that salvation is open to all human beings who have ever lived or ever will live anywhere. Aquinas taught that (a) non-baptized children do not go to hell, since original sin is not sin in the strict sense of individual responsibility, but is the effect on the child of the sin of others not the child's personal responsibility; (b) all children who reach the act of responsibility (he guessed this was around 7 years) either choose to follow their consciences or to follow their selfish wishes. If they choose to follow their consciences this is because at that moment they implicitly accept the grace which God offers to us all and thus implicitly desire to be baptized and are thus in the state of grace. No one is damned except because they choose not to follow their consciences i.e. the light that they have. Consequently, pagans, even atheists can be saved if they follow their consciences.
  3. Thus no one is saved without faith in God (and therefore in Christ, the Word of God, but this faith can be implicit. Nevertheless, it is extremely important that the Gospel be preached to the pagans, because the more they know of God and of His Son the more they will be inclined to choose a good rather than a selfish way of life, and the more help they will have through the Church and the sacraments. Aquinas had the theory that unbaptized children, since they are not condemned to hell, attain only a natural happiness but many Thomists "beginning with Cajetan) hold that the grace of baptism reaches them through the prayers of their parents and the Church.
  4. For Aquinas faith, although it is "dark" because we believe what we cannot see or fully understand, is in our intelligence but also requires an act of the will. Faith is reasonable (i.e. we can show that it is not unreasonable but ought to be believed because of the signs which God has worked to manifest it), but it cannot be demonstrated.

II: Faith to Grow Requires Insight

  1. Faith is dark, but it is not blind. Faith is the beginning, the first dawn of the vision of God. Consequently, in order to grow it is a kind of insight (intelligence) by which we understand the meaning of the Word of God. To those who lack faith the Word of God seems to be foolish, but the believer sees its truth.
  2. As in every field of knowledge, our knowledge of the Word of God begins with the articles of faith.e. the basic teachings of the Gospel as formulated in the Creed. As Vatican II teaches on "the hierarchy of truths", everything that God has revealed must be believed, but some truths are more fundamental than others. We must interpret the secondary and peripheral elements of the Scripture in the light of the primary articles of faith (e.g. we must understand what the Scriptures say of Mary, the angels, the sacraments in the light of the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection).
  3. Our growth in insight into the articles of faith comes through prayer and study. Thus prayer is not merely petition, but also contemplation, thanksgiving and praise.

III The Gift of Insight (Understanding)

  1. In prayer we are open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit by which he helps us to see the deep meaning of the faith in the articles of the creed through the Gift of Insight. Natural human intelligence has two types of insight, one theoretical and one practical, so that people lifted with practical insight often have little theoretical insight and vice versa. But the Gift of Insight is both theoretical and practical i.e. it both helps us to understand the truth of the faith and also to see how it applies to our practical life, what implications it has for living.

  2. To this Gift corresponds the Beatitude "Blessed are the pure of heart", since it is our honesty and sincerity which open us to be taught by God. Aquinas says that the fruit of this gift is certitude of faith in the intellect, and Joy in the will. We rejoice because the Good News really is seen to the pure eye of faith as marvelous and fully reassuring.

IV: The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life

  1. Aquinas accepted the mystical doctrine of the three stages of the spiritual life derived from the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and St..Gregory of Nyssa which had a neo-Platonic origin: (1) The purgative; (2) illuminative and (I) unitive ways. Later St. John of the Cross (d.1591) was to complete this theory by the notion of the "dark light of the soul" which marks the beginning of the illuminative way, and "the dark night of the spirit" which marks the beginning of the unitive way.
  2. Actually these are three processes of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit which go on in every Christian all the time; (1) purification from sin by God's forgiveness, repentance, and asceticism; (2) illumination or growth in the virtues by keeping God's commandments; (3) imitation of Christ and union with him through faith, hope, and love. However, since purification predominates at the beginning of the spiritual life, and growth in virtue in those more spiritually mature, and the goal is union with God, this predominance marks out the three stages of spiritual growth.
  3. Since this growth is possible only through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit through His gifts, advance in spiritual maturity consists in the activation of the Gifts and mystical prayer or contemplation especially in the activation of the Gifts of Insight, Knowledge, and Wisdom.
  4. All Christians travel essentially the same road to perfection, but it takes very different forms in different people. the clear division into three phases seems to be evident mainly in those who engage intensely in contemplative prayer. In those who lead a more active life the Stages are not so evident.

Readings: Summa Theologiae, II-II q.1-4, q.8.


I: The Importance of Christian Prudence

  1. There are two basic theories of conscience formation:

    1. Deontological or ethics of duty. According to this right and wrong are determined by the will of the law-giver. Consequently in forming our conscience we need simply to (a) know the law; (b) apply it to particular cases; (b) obey the law.

    2. Teleological or ends-means ethics. According to this right and wrong are determined by the intelligence, which sees that some means are helpful in reaching the true goal of human life and are therefore morally right, and others are harmful to reaching this goal and are therefore morally wrong. Consequently in forming our conscience we need to (a) be clear of our true goal; (b) consider what means will lead to it and what will lead away from it; (c) choose the best or at least good means and reject bad ones.

  2. Aquinas does not reject deontological ethics, since we need to be guided both by divine and by human law; but the basis of all true law is teleological i.e. a thing is not bad because God wills it to be bad, but God makes a law against it because it is a bad means for us to reach our end. Human laws also are binding only if they have a teleological basis. Consequently, for Aquinas moral judgement is not just a matter of legality, but of objective relations of means to ends. Consequently, in following the guidance of law, the ultimate norm is a prudent judgement, i.e. will this act in these circumstances help myself and others or do harm. Obeying the law blindly does not make us moral, but only acting prudently makes us moral.

  3. According to Aquinas the Old Law was directed primarily to external observance, but the New Law is the law of the Holy Spirit living in our hearts who leads us to act out of the right motives (as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, cf. Aquinas' commentary on St. Matthew). Hence Christian morality can never be legalistic.

  4. Christian prudence is not the same as "worldly (carnal) prudence." The worldly man is clever, cautious, compromising, opportunistic in order to "get ahead in this world." But the prudence of the saints often appears unrealistic, idealistic, foolish and quite impractical, yet it is in fact the only true practicality and realism. Worldly prudence ends by damning the clever man and destroying others (e.g. the Napoleons, Stalins, and Hitlers), while only heavenly prudence gets us to heaven (e.g. St. Francis of Assisi).

II: The Gift of Council

  1. Christian Prudence is one of the moral or cardinal virtues, and indeed the most important of them, since without prudence we cannot apply our temperance (moderation), courage (fortitude), or justice to actual life situations. Hence all the moral virtues are connected by prudence.

  2. But Christian prudence is not sufficient to help us to make all those decisions required to attain salvation because we live in a world of sin, subject to the very clever temptations of the devil and to all the false ideas of our society. We also need the inspiration of the holy Spirit to guide us through all these mazes and difficulties, both to meet the crises of our lives and also not to be led astray by the daily pressures of life. The Gift of the Holy Spirit "Council" makes us flexible to His guidance so that our prudence will be used rightly. The Beatitude of "Blessed are the merciful" is related to this Gift.

  3. This Gift of Council is not the same as that Gift of Council given for ministry. Every Christian has the Gift of Council to receive the guidance of the Spirit in his or her own personal life and in immediate relation to family and friends; but to be able to counsel others as a ministry is a special gift which is given only to some who are called to this ministry. Nevertheless, all of us as Christians do some times have to give advice to others so as to help them have the light of the Gospel and we should pray for the guidance of the Spirit to give good advice. St. Catherine of Siena in the Dialogue has much to say about how to give spiritual direction that is in accordance with Aquinas' theology.

III: How to Form a Christian Conscience

  1. Aquinas makes clear that in judgements of what is right and wrong we cannot have the same kind of certitude in practical matters that we can have in theoretical matters such as mathematics or physics. Consequently, we ought not to be scrupulous i.e. to seek more certitude about what to do than it is possible to have. However, we can have practical certitude that here and now in these circumstances this is what seems best to do. We should not act "in doubt" i.e. in practical doubt, but should make up our minds before acting.

  2. We should always try to be objectively right i.e. do good and not harm, but if we act prudently then our act is subjectively good even when in fact we make a mistake and do harm. Only subjectively wrong acts are sins. Those who act with subjectively good consciences will learn gradually to come closer to what is objectively right.

  3. To be prudent we need:

    1. To use our memory to recall the laws or general rules that may apply to this case. This requires us to learn the laws insofar as we can.

    2. To be teachable (docile). First of all we must listen to the Word of God, the Gospel as it comes to us through the authoritative teaching of the Church (even when as can happen the Pope and bishops are wrong in their ordinary teaching; the guarantee of infallibility in extraordinary decisions of the Church prevents them from being wrong in such matters), and also the guidance of other experienced and expert persons. Second, we must learn from our own experiences and from history and not make the same mistake twice.

    3. To use our intelligence. Some are more intelligent than others, but all of us are required to apply the moral law reasonably, not blindly, rigidly, fanatically, or in a prejudiced way by rationalization.

    4. To use care: foresight, taking all circumstances into consideration, and avoiding the dangers we can foresee. Young people act impulsively, they think only of short-range consequences. We must first think of the long-range consequences of our actions not only on ourselves but on society.

    5. Jesus said, "Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves " (Matt. 10:16).

Readings: Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 52, The Gift of Counsel.


I: The Cardinal Virtue of Courage

  1. Just as we need a cardinal virtue of moderation (temperance) to control our basic pleasure-pain drives with regard to food, sex and similar pleasures, so we need a cardinal virtue of courage (fortitude) to control our aggressive drives by which we fight to achieve our goals in spite of difficulties, or to endure the necessary delays and hardships in order to arrive at long-range goals.

  2. One of the commonest accusations against Christianity is that it is a "slave religion" which teaches us to submit to oppression. Jesus is despised because he did not fight back. Aquinas points out that it is more difficult to endure suffering in order to remain true to what is right, than it is be actively aggressive. Yet Jesus was by no means merely a passive sufferer. He first of all undertook a very active effort against great odds to bring the good news to others and to heal and liberate them. He allowed himself to be put to death only to make clear that his purpose was to save others out of generous love, not to dominate or conquer them.

  3. Consequently Christian courage is an extremely important virtue, closely related to the theological virtue of hope. It takes great courage to live the Christian life. In fact it is lack of courage which stands as the main obstacle to rapid advance in holiness, because we draw back from the discipline and suffering involved in generously following Jesus. Only if we have hope of victory will we have enough courage.

II: The Gift of Courage and the Beatitudes

  1. In fact because the goal we seek to reach, namely, union with God' and the obstacles we have to overcome (sin and the devil)- are so great that it is beyond human power to hope to achieve this goal except by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we need the gift of courage by which we are open to the inspiration of the Spirit, who will give us a courage which acts in a very different way than ordinary human courage.

  2. In Jesus we see a kind of courage which is very different than that of a soldier, an adventurer, or a dare-devil, or even than of a bold statesman or fearless philosopher. His courage was of a kind that was never violent, vindictive, or contemptuous of others. Aquinas relates it to the Beatitude of "Blessed are the meek", because this meekness is a great patience, forbearance, and long-endurance (remember the meekness of Moses). But Aquinas also relates it (as regards its motivation) with the Beatitude "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice", because the motive of Jesus' courage is to fulfill the will of the Father in bringing about the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice.

  3. This gift is especially seen in the martyrs who die in witness of the truth of God as Jesus died on the Cross, v"Blessed are you when men persecute you"). But it is also seen in the endurance of spiritual suffering (what was later called "the dark nights") and in the frustrations of ministry (as S~.Paul's sufferings). In the darkest hours, the Spirit enables the Christian to find the ray of light and of hope. Negativism is not Christian.

III: The Certitude of Hope

  1. The theological virtue of Hope is often neglected while much is being said of Faith and Love. But Aquinas places a special emphasis on the importance of Hope.

  2. Is Hope certain? Evangelical Protestants sometimes speak as if once reborn the Christian is certain of his or her salvation and they say that Catholicism never gives Catholics this "assurance of salvation", because the Catholic is taught that "You will be saved only if you keep all the commandments". Since we know that we will never perfectly live up to this ideal, we never have any assurance of salvation but live in constant fear.

  3. Aquinas answers this problem as follows:

    1. Faith is absolutely certain truth, and it tells us that God wishes to save all human beings, and will do so, if they rely on His help. Of course they must keep the commandments, but by his grace they can do so, and if they fail they can always Start again. However, this does not give the individual absolute assurance that he or she will be saved, because we always have free will and can turn away from God and refuse His help.

      It is true that God can (and perhaps does) in some special cases by a special revelation assure particular individuals that they will die in the state of grace, but this has not been revealed publically to all Christians. It would even be bad for us, because it would lead us into presumption and carelessness. Hence God would only reveal this to those who are already very holy (e.g. St. Paul).

    2. Hope, however, does give us unconditional assurance of our salvation, not by revealing to us whether we will actually reach heaven or not, but by making us rely on God's love and mercy, without any condition. Because of hope we can say, "No matter how weak or sinful I am, I know that God can overcome this, if`I rely on Him and try to follow Him." -

  4. Thus what we should look for is not some kind of experience by which we are convinced that we are predestined (Calvin) or that God has revealed by faith to me as an individual that I am justified (Luther), by our faith should tells us that God wishes and can save us, and our hope should tell us that no matter what we experience of our own weakness, sinfulness, or apparent abandonment by God that He can overcome every obstacle if we will place ourselves in His hands. On the Cross Jesus said, "thy have you abandoned me?" and then"Into your hands I commend my spirit."

Readings: Summa Theologiae II-II, qq. 17-18; q.123-124, q.128.


I: Growth in Christian Knowledge

  1. "Brothers, the trouble was that I could not talk to you as spiritual persons but only as persons of flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk and did not give you solid food because you were not ready for it" (I Cor. 3:1-2). St. Paul is saying that it takes time for the Christian to grow in a real knowledge of what the faith means. It is not enough simply to know the basics of the faith, we have to understand how they apply to our entire life, and how one article of the creed relates to another so as to give us a knowledge of the whole plan of God.

  2. Consequently throughout our Christian life we have to study the Scriptures, to meditate and to pray in order to grow up in the faith. Only some are called to be teachers in the Church. To teach rightly requires proper authority and the special gift of the ministry of teaching. However, every Christian should be able to give to those who ask "the reason for the hope that is yours," "be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully" (I Peter 3:15)

II: The Gift of Mature Faith (Knowledge or Science)

  1. Aquinas says that this Gift is a gift of judgement. The Gift of Insight gives us a faith that penetrates to the meaning of the first principles or articles of the creed, but to be able to judge rightly both as to the theoretical and the practical consequences of these principles we need a gift of good judgement. Otherwise we will mix up our faith with merely human opinions. Obviously the theologian needs such a gift, but so does every Christian.

  2. This Gift, says Aquinas, is to help us to judge not so much about ('oaf (that belongs to the Gift of wisdom) but about creatures in relation to God. God is reflected in creatures, but it is very easy to misunderstand the world about us both because it is complicated, but also because it contains a certain amount of chance and especially because it is distorted by human sin. If we misunderstand the world we are likely to form a wrong view of its Creator. In fact most heresies have arisen from a misunderstanding of the world around us.

  3. This Gift helps us to integrate our secular knowledge, our knowledge of the human arts and sciences with our faith. The Scriptures were not written to instruct us in natural sciences, or in technology or the fine arts or philosophy. Yet Aquinas greatly valued all these secular sciences and arts because they help us to know more about God~s creation and hence about God. But if they are wrongly interpreted these human sciences and arts can confuse us and even lead us to atheism and immorality.

  4. What the medieval writers called "the contempt of the world" was not a denial of the goodness of God's creation, but in the spirit of the biblical book Qoheleth ( Ecclesiastes) they wanted to warn us not to make an idol out of the world. Aquinas believed that the best way both to appreciate the goodness of the world and yet not to make an idol of it, was to really understand the world for what it is and what sin has done to it.

III: The Gift of Tears

  1. The Beatitude which corresponds to this Gift is "Blessed are those who mourn" because knowledge of the world as it actually is cannot help but lead us to share Jesus' experience as He wept over Jerusalem. The sight of the wonder of God's creation and the dignity of humanity created in God's image so distorted by war, injustice, violence, poverty and other sins is a terribly disillusioning, tragic, and heartbreaking sight. Not to be sensitive to the sufferings of the world is to be un-Christlike, for he was the compassionate, suffering servant, who understood what it means to suffer.

  2. Consequently the Christian, although he rejoices at the Good News, cannot be an ever-smiling optimist, but must know how to mourn with those who mourn, bear the sufferings of others.

  3. A special gift given to some is the Gift of Tears, which means a special sensitivity to the evil of sin both in one's own life and in the world. St. Catherine of Siena who was given this gift by God to pray and work for the reform of the Church wrote a whole section of her Dialogue on this subject.

IV: Aquinas and Secular Learning

  1. Generally the spiritual writers of the Middle Ages constantly warn Christians about becoming proud of their academic learning. The monastic life was basically one of prayer and manual work, and the average Christian in the Middle Ages was illiterate. St. Francis of Assisi in helping to found the new type of religious order called the Mendicants kept true to this old tradition, and personally discouraged his friars from too much concern with learning. Actually many monks were learned men.

  2. St. Dominic was not a monk but a canon and had a university training. He encouraged his friars to get a university education in theology and in his Constitutions subordinated the practices of the monastery to the reed for study. But even he restricted his followers from studying secular subjects.

  3. It was the Dominican St. Albert the Great and his Pupil Thomas Aquinas who changed this and insisted that in order to study theology it was necessary to have a good secular education (then called "the liberal arts" or "philosophy" in order to understand the harder problems of theology and to know how to relate it to life.

  4. It is true, however, that knowledge can often lead us into thinking more than ve do, and secular knowledge when wrongly used can lead away from the search for God. The remedy, however, is not to remain ignorant, but to study hard so as to expose how little we really know and how erroneous are the conclusions sometimes drawn from the sciences. If "a little learning is a dangerous thing," then the remedy is not less but more learning. This is what Aquinas meant when he said at the end of his life ".11 that I have written seems to me nothing but straw, compared with what I have Earned through prayer," and "I have learned more from my crucifix than from any book."'

Readings: Summa Theologiae II-II, q.9; q. 166.


I: Justice is the Morning Star

  1. Aristotle said that social justice is like the morning star among the other virtues. Justice is a virtue of the will by which we are ready to respect the rights of others and to fulfill our obligations to them. There are three kinds (a) paying our debts to other individuals (commutative Or, (a! buying our debts to the community (legal justice) and (c) the community paying its debts to the members of the community (distributive justice.

  2. Besides the debts we owe in strict justice there are many others:

    1. Quasi-debts such as fairness, friendliness, and liberality or mercy.

    2. Real debts but ones which do not strictly oblige us, such as truthfulness, gratitude, and punishing offences.

    3. Real debts which we can never pay in full, obedience to our superiors, piety and patriotism, to our parents and country, and religion in honor of God.

  3. Justice is so important a virtue that the Scriptures generally speak of holiness simply as "righteousness" i.e. justice. It is not the greatest virtue but without respect for the rights of others and our obligations to them, all our other virtues are hypocritical.

II: The Gift of Being a Good Son or Daughter

  1. The Gift of Piety as it is usually called, does not just mean being "devout". One form of justice is religion by which we try to fulfill our obligations to God as our Creator. But for the Christian God is not just the creator, He is our Father to whom we dare to cay "Abbe" as Jesus did. Through Jesus who is truly God's Son, we are adopted sons and daughters and daughters of God the Father. Consequently, the religious debt we owe His is also a debt of "piety", because "piety" really means our debt to our parents and to our community who gave us all that we have. Piety makes us ready to treat God as our Father with loving trust and a deep concern to follow his guidance and fulfill His hopes for us.

  2. We can relate this gift to the spirituality of the modern Therese of Liseux (Carmelite) who taught what she called "The Little day of Spiritual Childhood" based on the Lord's words, "Unless you become like little children you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven". (Mark 10:15). The simplicity of children is not that they are ignorant or "childish" but that they trust in the love and wisdom of their parents. To enter the Kingdom we must have this same trust in God.

  3. This gift is necessary because we grow up and achieve maturity we find it increasingly difficult to accept teaching and direction. Moreover, the disappointments of life tend to make old people disillusioned, skeptical, suspicious. But as mature in the spiritual life we need to become more childlike toward God. It is no accident that Jesus addressed God as "Abbe" "Dear Vintner" or even "Daddy"'

III: Piety and Religion

  1. Aquinas says that religion (that kind of justice which gives us the will to pay our debts to God) is greater than any of the other moral virtues (but not as great as the theological virtues) because social justice is greater than other moral virtues because it makes us faithful to the human community, and God is the highest good of the human community. Religion is not identical with holiness which is love of God. but it is intimately connected with it.

  2. Religion has two chief acts:

    1. Devotion is the readiness of the will to do whatever will give God praise, glory, and thanks, well expressed in the Lord's prayer by the petition, "Holy be your Name"' It is nourished by contemplation and its effect is Joy in the Lord.

    2. Prayer. Question 83 of Summa Theologiae II-II is a complete treatise on prayer.

  3. Devotion and prayer are expressed by certain exterior acts:

    1. Adoration or worship. We can adore creatures, but "worship" in the strict sense (latria) can be given to God alone because it signifies that He is our Creator and our Goal.

    2. Sacrifice is an act of worship in the strict sense and can be given only to God. According to Aquinas we are required by the natural law to offer God sacrifice. For Aquinas the essential meaning of sacrifice is not that it is the destruction of a victim, but that it is a gift which signifies the giving of oneself to God. The only such sacrifice truly worthy of God is the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross in which we participate through the Eucharistic sacrifice which is identical with the sacrifice of the Cross. -

    3. Vows and Oaths. A vow iota kind of sacrifice to God, and an oath honors God in that it calls on him as the one true witness. However, Jesus commanded us not to take oaths if they can be avoided, since we ought to be honest and to trust each other without such oaths.

    4. Note also that superstition is a sin because it is a false or unreasonable way of worshiping.

  4. This Gift of Piety is related to three Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice" and Blessed are the merciful" because it is the will to pay our debts to God and therefore also to show His mercy to others; but it is also related to "Blessed are the meek", because it is our humility before God that motivates us to give Him honor.

Readings: Summa Theologiae II-II q.83, the Treatise on Prayer.


I: The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

  1. For Aquinas sanctity is likeness to God in Christ by the transforming power of the Spirit. But God is Loving Wisdom. Hence holiness is Loving Wisdom i.e. a wisdom intimately joined with love, just as the Word of God is joined with the Holy Spirit.

  2. The beginning of wisdom is "fear of the Lord" not in the sense of servile fear that God will punish us if we disobey Him, but filial fear or reverence of a son for a father he loves and whom he wishes to imitate. Unless we have reverence for God we cannot be open to Him and His gifts nor obedient to his guidance. If we are to learn wisdom from God as our only teacher we must be ready to be taught.

  3. Note that the great phenomenologist of religion, Otto, says that the basic religious attitude is "awe before the mystery which makes us tremble yet fascinates us" (mysterium tremendum et fascinans).

  4. Aquinas says that essentially faith is the beginning of Christian wisdom, since if we do not believe God we cannot be taught. Yet true faith begins to be put into practice when we place ourselves before God in awe and reverence.

  5. This kind of reverence is a divine gift which grows stronger as we advance in the Christian life (while servile fear decreases;"perfect love casts out fear" 1 John 4:18). According to Aquinas the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are given precisely to enable us to be inspired or moved by the Holy Spirit not according to our human way of acting but according to His way. Thus if we fail to revere God, the other gifts cannot operate in us.

II: Reverence is related to Christian Hope

  1. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are the greatest of all virtues (I Cor. 13) because they relate us directly to God. Hope enables us to trust in the power of God and His grace, instead of our own power, to save us. Since the gift of fear makes us reverence God as infinitely more powerful than ourselves, it facilitates the work of the virtue of hope, since it inclines us not to trust ourselves or any creature for our salvation but God alone.

  2. From a psychological point of view hope is an emotion rooted in our aggressive drives (irascible appetite) by which an animal is able to dare to attack an enemy or to endure hardships to reach a goal. It is our "fighting and enduring instinct" without which we could not achieve anything difficult. Jesus and the martyrs had enormous courage. Such courage would not be possible without hope.

III: Reverence is also related to Christian Moderation (Temperance)

  1. Besides our aggressive drives, we also have even more fundamental emotions of taking pleasure and avoiding pain, the pleasure-pain drives (concupiscible appetite). According to the Fathers of the Desert those who would seek perfection must begin by learning to control their natural biological instincts. Aquinas says that what is needed here is moderation ,or the happy medium between enslavement to our appetites and an inhuman coldness or insensitivity to our natural needs for satisfaction. Because of original sin we come into a world oriented toward self-indulgence and unnatural inhibitions. Therefore, we need to develop moderation in order to free ourselves from addiction to bad habits.

  2. The two most fundamental human drives for pleasure are for food and sex.

    1. The drive to food and drink is moderated by abstinence and sobriety. Excess leads to various forms of addiction and too little damages health and conviviality. .

    2. The drive to sexual pleasure is moderated by chastity either in its married form or in its celibate form. Excess leads to all forms of sexual promiscuity, infidelity, perversion.

  3. Moderation is also required with regard to other drives:
    1. As regards external behavior we need modesty, good manners, and playfulness.

    2. As regards internal attitudes we need
      --- continence to restrain the tendency to immediate satisfaction
      --- meekness to-restrain the tendency to unreasonable anger
      --- clemency to restrain the tendency to punish evil
      --- studiousness to restrain curiosity about trivia
      --- humility to restrain our natural desire for excellence and success

      Note that most of us have more difficulty with wanting too much rather than too little so we say "restrain", but these virtues also help us to avoid the opposite vice of being too modest, too meek, too humble, etc.

  4. According to Aquinas moderation is what gives beauty to a person's character, since without proper balance we become eccentric, one-sided, only half-human.

III: Humility and Poverty

  1. According to Aquinas all sin is rooted in pride. Pride is not the desire of excellency, but for an excellency to which we have no rightful claim. Adam and Eve sinned not because they wished to be like God, but because they took to themselves to be gods by their own power. Humility is by no means the greatest of virtues, but it is truly the root of all other virtues in the sense that it makes us turn to God for His grace to deify us instead of making idol of ourselves. Thus the Gift of Reverence is closely related to humility and enables humility to operate in an inspired manner as in the Blessed Virgin's words "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" or Jesus' words in the Garden of Gethsemane, ''Not my will but your will be done." Humility is truth about oneself, both good and bad.

  2. Aquinas also relates this gift to the Beatitude of "Blessed are the poor in spirit", because those who reverence God, are humble (have true self-knowledge and evaluation), and who hope in God alone are also poor in spirit i.e. they do not put their security in external riches nor in their own internal talents or merits but find their security in God alone.

  3. Note that Aquinas as a Dominican places a special value on the virtue of studiousness by which we avoid idle curiosity but apply ourselves energetically to the study of the 'lord of God and of all secular knowledge that helps us understand that fiord or apply it for the good of others. Study when done for love of truth does not make us proud but leads to humility.

Readings: Summa Theologiae: I-II, q. 18-19; II-II q. 19, q. 161.

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