Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CXLVII.: OF FASTING. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CXLVII.: OF FASTING. - 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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Article I.—Is fasting an act of virtue?
R. An act is virtuous by being directed by reason to some proper good. And this is the case with fasting. For fasting is taken up principally for three ends. First, to repress the concupiscences of the flesh; hence the Apostle says, “In fastings, in chastity,”2 because by fastings chastity is preserved. Secondly, it is taken up that the mind may be more freely raised to the contemplation of high things; hence Daniel,3 after a three weeks’ fast, received a revelation from God. Thirdly, to satisfy for sin; hence it is said: “Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning.”4
§ 2. The golden mean of virtue is taken, not according to quantity, but according to right reason. Now reason judges that sometimes for some special cause a man should take less food than would be proper for him in his ordinary state, as for the avoidance of disease, or for the readier performance of some bodily labour.1 And much more does right reason direct this for the avoidance of spiritual evils and the attainment of spiritual goods. Still right reason does not sanction so great a diminution of food as that the support of nature becomes impossible; because as Jerome says: “There is no difference between killing yourself in a long time and in a short:2 because he offers a holocaust out of rapine, who immoderately afflicts his body either with too great want of food or with shortness of sleep.” In like manner also right reason does not make such a diminution of food as to render the man incapable of doing the work that is his duty. Hence Jerome says: “A rational man loses dignity, when he prefers either fasting to charity, or watching to having his wits about him.”
§ 3. The natural fast, whereby a man is said to be fasting before he eats, consists in a mere negation, and therefore cannot be set down as an act of virtue, but only that fast whereby one for a reasonable purpose abstains in some degree from food. Hence the former is called the fast of fasting; but the latter the fast of the faster, as of an agent acting for a purpose.
Article III.—Is fasting of precept?
R. As it belongs to secular princes to deliver legal prescriptions determinant of natural law on points that affect the public interest in secular matters, so it belongs to ecclesiastical prelates to make statutory enactments for the common advancement of the faithful in spiritual goods. Now fasting is useful for the blotting out and restraining of sin, and for the raising of the mind to spiritual things; and every one is by natural reason bound to make such use of fasting as is necessary for himself to the above ends. And therefore fasting in general falls under precept of the law of nature; but the determination of time and manner of fasting falls under precept of positive law, which is laid down by the prelates of the Church.1
§ 1. Absolutely considered, fasting is not of precept; but it is of precept to every one who needs such a remedy. And because the generality of men do need such a remedy, as well because “in many things we all offend,”2 as also because “the flesh lusteth against the spirit,”3 it was therefore convenient that the Church should create certain statutory fasts to be observed by all alike,—not as subjecting to precept what is absolutely matter of supererogation, but as determining in particular what is necessary in general.
§ 3. The fasts that are of precept are not contrary to the liberty of the faithful people, but rather are useful for preventing the slavery of sin, which is repugnant to spiritual liberty, of which it is said: “For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty; only make not liberty an occasion of the flesh.”1
Article IV.—Are all bound to observe the fasts of the Church?
R. General statutes are set forth according as they suit the generality; and therefore the legislator in framing them has his eye on what happens generally and for the most part. But if from any special cause anything is found in any one that is inconsistent with the observance of the statute, the legislator does not intend to bind such a person to observing it. Here however we must proceed with discrimination. For if the cause be evident, the man may lawfully by himself omit the observance of the statute, especially where custom intervenes, or where he cannot easily have recourse to a superior. But if the cause be doubtful, one ought to have recourse to the superior who has power to dispense in such matters.
§ 1. The commandments of God are commandments of the natural law, which are of themselves necessary to salvation. But the enactments of the Church are on points that are not of themselves of necessity to salvation, but only by the institution of the Church. And therefore obstacles may arise, in consideration of which some persons are not bound to observe fasts thus commanded.
§ 2. In children there is most evident cause for not fasting, as well on account of the weakness of nature, for which they want frequent food and not much at a time, as also because they want much food for the necessity of growth. And therefore so long as they are in the growing stage, which is generally to the end of the third seven years, they are not bound to the observance of the Church’s fasts. It is suitable however that even during this time they should exercise themselves in fasting, more or less, according to the measure of their age. Sometimes however when great tribulation threatens, for a sign of stricter penance fasts are proclaimed even for children.
§ 3. As regards travellers and work-people, a distinction it seems should be made. If the travelling and the toil of labour can conveniently be put off or diminished without detriment to bodily health, and to the exterior good estate that is requisite for the preservation of bodily or spiritual life, then the fasts of the Church are not to be omitted on that ground. But if there is an urgent necessity of travelling at once, and making long days’ journeys, either for the preservation of bodily life, or for anything necessary to spiritual life, and the fasts of the Church cannot be observed at the same time, a man is not bound to fast, because it does not seem to have been the intention of the Church in enacting fasts, thereby to hinder other pious and more necessary proceedings. Still it seems that in such cases recourse should be had to the dispensation of the superior, except where a custom happens to obtain: because from the mere fact of prelates dissembling they seem to consent.
§ 4. The poor who can get enough to suffice them for one meal, are not excused by their poverty from the fasts of the Church: from which however they appear to be excused who beg alms bit by bit, and cannot get all at once enough for their keep.
[2 ]2 Cor. vi. 5, 6.
[3 ]Daniel x. 2—12.
[4 ]Joel ii. 12.
[1 ]e.g., a jockey in training. (Trl.)
[2 ]That is, if your end in view is to kill yourself; otherwise a man may go and live in an unhealthy country, when he knows that such a sojourn will shorten his days; and a pari of corporal austerities. (Trl.)
[1 ]See I-II. q. 94. art. 3. note. (Trl.)
[2 ]St. James iii. 2.
[3 ]Galat. v. 17.
[1 ]Galat. v. 13.