Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION XCV.: OF THE SUPERSTITION OF DIVINATION. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION XCV.: OF THE SUPERSTITION OF DIVINATION. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF THE SUPERSTITION OF DIVINATION.
Article I.—Is divination a sin?
R. By the name of divination is understood some sort of prediction of things to come. Now things to come may be predicted in two ways: one way in their causes; in another way in themselves. Causes of things to come fall into three classes. Some there are that produce their effects necessarily and invariably: such effects may be known for certain, and predicted by foreknowledge of their causes, as astronomers predict eclipses. Some causes produce their effects, not necessarily and invariably, but generally, failing however at times; and through such causes future effects may be foreknown, not indeed with certainty, but conjecturally, as astronomers can predict rain or drought, and physicians recovery or death. There are other causes that, considered in themselves, are indeterminate, and may work either way, as is seen especially in the rational powers; and such effects, as also any effects that happen unusually and by chance from natural causes, cannot be foreknown from the consideration of their causes, because their causes have no determinate inclination to such effects. And therefore effects of this kind cannot be foreknown, unless they be viewed in themselves. Now human eyes can view these effects in themselves only while they are present, as when a man sees Socrates running or walking: but to consider such effects in themselves before they take place, is proper to God, who alone in His eternity sees future things as present. Hence it is said: “Show the things that are to come hereafter, and we shall know that ye are gods.”1 If any one therefore presumes to foretell or foreknow future things of this character, otherwise than by God’s revealing them to him, he manifestly usurps to himself the prerogative of God; and from this some are called diviners. Hence Isidore says: “Diviners are so called as being full of God: for they pretend to be full of the Divinity, and with fraudulent cunning they conjecture what is to befall men in the future.” It is not therefore called divination, if one foretells things that happen of necessity, or happen generally, which things can be foreknown by human reason; or if one knows by revelation of God other events that are to happen, though not of necessity, in the future: for then he is not himself divining, that is, doing what is divine, rather he is receiving what is divine. But then only is a man said to divine, when he arrogates to himself in an undue manner the foretelling of future events; and this is certainly a sin: hence divination is always sinful.
Article IV.—Is divination by invocation of evil spirits lawful?
R. All divination by invocation of evil spirits is unlawful for two reasons. The first is taken from consideration of the principle, or prime means of this divination, which is a pact expressly entered into with the Evil One, by invocation of the same: and this is altogether unlawful; and it would be still more grievous if sacrifice or reverence were paid to the fiend thus invoked. The second reason is taken from consideration of the future event. For the devil, who aims at the perdition of mankind, though he sometimes tells the truth, intends by these his answers to accustom men to give him credence, and thus he seeks to lure them on to something prejudicial to their salvation. Hence Athanasius says: “Though the devil told the truth, Christ restrained his speech, lest he might utter his iniquity along with the truth: to accustom us not to care for such utterances, though they seem to be true; for it is monstrous that, having the Divine Scripture at hand, we should take instruction of the devil.”
Article VIII.—Is divination by lot unlawful?
R. If the point to be determined by lot is, what is to be assigned and to whom, be it a matter of property or of dignity, or of punishment, or of employment; that is called a dividing lot. If the inquiry is, what is to be done, it is called a consulting lot. If the inquiry is, what is to happen in the future, that is called a divining lot. Now the issue of proceedings that are committed to lot, must be looked for either from chance or from spiritual cause directing the lot. If from chance—which can have place only in a dividing lot—there seems to be no fault there, except perhaps the fault of silliness. Thus parties unable to agree to a division may draw lots for it, leaving the apportionment to chance. But if the decision by lot is looked for from a spiritual cause, that cause sometimes is the agency of evil spirits. Thus we read: “The king of Babylon stood in the highway, at the head of two ways, seeking divination, shuffling arrows: he inquired of the idols and consulted entrails.”1 Such use of lots is unlawful. Sometimes again the issue is looked for from God, according to the text: “Lots are cast into the lap, but they are disposed of by the Lord.”2 Such use of lots is not evil in itself, but sin may attach to it incidentally; and first of all, if recourse is had to lots without any need; for that looks like tempting God. Secondly, if even in need lots are used without show of reverence for God. Hence Bede says: “But if any persons under stress of necessity think that they should consult God by lot after the example of the Apostles,3 let them observe that the Apostles did not do this except after gathering an assembly of the brethren, and pouring forth prayers to God.” Thirdly, if the divine oracles are turned to use for earthly business. Hence Augustine says: “As for those who gather decisions by lot from opening the pages of the Gospels, though one is glad to see them doing that rather than consulting evil spirits, still I must say I like not the custom of trying to turn the divine oracles to use of secular business and the vanity of this life.”1
But in case of necessity it is lawful, with due reverence, to implore the judgment of God by recourse to lots. Hence Augustine says: “If there arises among the ministers of God a discussion, which of them are to stay at their posts in time of persecution, that there be not a flight of all, and which of them are to fly, that the Church be not left deserted by the death of all; if this discussion cannot be otherwise terminated, my opinion is that the selection should be made by lot, who are to stay and who are to fly.” And again: “If you had something in abundance, to give to one who had none, and there was no giving of it to two; and two persons came in your way, neither of whom surpassed the other either in need or in any connection with you; you could do nothing fairer than to select by lot him to whom you should give what could not be given to both.”
§ 3. The ordeal of the hot iron, or of the boiling water, is intended for the detection of secret sin by means of something done by man: still there is further expected a miraculous effect to be wrought by God. Hence this kind of judicial inquiry is rendered unlawful, both because it is directed to the judging of secret things that are reserved to the divine judgment; and also because such a judicial procedure is not sanctioned by divine authority. Hence in a decree of Pope Stephen V.1 it is said: “The holy canons do not approve of confession being extorted from any one by the ordeal of the hot iron or boiling water; and what is not sanctioned by the testimony of the holy Fathers, no modern superstitious invention must presume to do. It is offences made public by spontaneous confession or the evidence of witnesses, that are granted to our government to judge, having the fear of God before our eyes; but things hidden and unknown are to be left to Him who alone knows the hearts of the children of men.”
[1 ]Isaias xli. 23.
[1 ]Ezech. xxi. 21.
[2 ]Prov. xvi. 33.
[3 ]Acts i. 23—26.
[1 ]The place where the Gospels open when they are laid on the shoulders of a Bishop at his consecration, is often regarded with interest, though not intended by the Church as any divination of the future. Another opening of the Gospel page, this time at the end of an episcopal career—a consultation that could not have displeased St. Augustine—is related in Father Bridgett’s Life of Blessed John Fisher, p. 394. (Trl.)
[1 ]Pope in 816. (Trl.)