Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXXXII.: OF THE COMPARISON OF THE ACTIVE LIFE WITH THE CONTEMPLATIVE. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXXXII.: OF THE COMPARISON OF THE ACTIVE LIFE WITH THE CONTEMPLATIVE. - 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 COMPARISON OF THE ACTIVE LIFE WITH THE CONTEMPLATIVE.
Article I.—Is the active life better than the contemplative?
R. A thing may well be in itself more excellent, and yet in some respect be surpassed by another thing. We must say then the contemplative life is, absolutely speaking, better than the active. Which the Philosopher proves by eight reasons: of which the first is, because the contemplative life becomes a man in respect of the most excellent element in his nature, namely, his understanding. The second is, because the contemplative life can be more continuous, though not in its highest act. The third is, because the delight of the contemplative life is greater than that of the active. The fourth is, because in the contemplative life man is more self-sufficient and needs fewer things. The fifth is, because the contemplative life is loved for its own sake, while the active life is directed to something ulterior to itself. The sixth is, because the contemplative life consists in a certain stillness and rest, according to the text: “Be still and see that I am God.”1 The seventh is, because the contemplative life is formed upon divine things, but the active life upon human things. The eighth is, because the contemplative life is life according to that which is proper to man, namely, the intellect, whereas in the operations of the active life the lower powers concur, which are common to us with dumb animals. A ninth reason is added by our Lord,1 which is explained by Augustine: “From thee shall one day be taken away the burden of necessity, but the sweetness of truth is eternal.” Relatively however, and in some particular case, the active life is rather to be chosen for the necessity of our present time, as also the Philosopher says: “Philosophy is better than riches, but riches are better to a man in need.”
§ 1. Not only the active life belongs to prelates, but they ought also to be excellent in the contemplative life. Hence Gregory says: “Let the bishop be foremost in action, and high above all in contemplation.”
§ 3. Sometimes for some necessity of the present life one is called away from contemplation to the works of the active life, yet not in such a way as to be obliged entirely to abandon contemplation. And thus it is clear that when one is called from the contemplative life to the active, it is not done in the way of subtraction, but in the way of addition.
Article II.—Is the active life of greater merit than the contemplative?
R. The root of merit is charity. Now since charity consists in the love of God and of our neighbour, and the love of God is in itself more meritorious than the love of our neighbour, it follows that what belongs more directly to the love of God, is more meritorious of its kind than what directly belongs to the love of our neighbour for God. But the contemplative life directly and immediately appertains to the love of God, whereas the active life is more directly ordered to the love of our neighbour, being “busy about much serving.”1 And therefore of its kind the contemplative life is of greater merit than the active. But it may happen that one individual merits more in the works of the active life than another in the works of the contemplative, if through an abounding love for God, to the end that His will may be fulfilled, and for His glory, this person endures to be separated from the sweetness of divine contemplation for a time; as did the Apostle,2 as Chrysostom expounds: “His whole heart was so flooded with the love of Christ, that even that which was otherwise his greatest desire, to be with Christ, he could bring himself to set aside for the good pleasure of Christ.”
§ 1. Outward labour works to the increase of our accidental reward; but the increase of merit, touching our essential reward, lies principally in charity, one sign of which is outward labour endured for Christ; but a much more express sign of it is the neglect of all that belongs to this life to devote oneself with delight to divine contemplation alone.
§ 3. A sacrifice is spiritually offered to God when anything is rendered to Him. But of all the goods of man God most willingly accepts the good that consists of the soul of man, that it be offered to Him in sacrifice. A man should offer himself to God, first his own soul, according to the text, “Have pity on thine own soul, pleasing God;”1 then the souls of others, according to the text, “He that heareth, let him say, Come.”2 But the closer one unites his own or another’s soul to God, the more acceptable is the sacrifice to God: hence it is more acceptable to God that one should apply his own and other souls to contemplation than to action. Therefore Gregory’s saying, “No sacrifice is more acceptable to God than zeal of souls,” is not a preference of the merit of the active before that of the contemplative life, but a declaration that it is more meritorious to offer to God one’s own and other souls than any exterior gifts whatsoever.
Article III.—Is the contemplative life hindered by the active life?
R. The active life may be considered either as meaning the zealous exercise of exterior functions; and from that point of view it is manifest that the active life hinders the contemplative, inasmuch as it is impossible for any man to be at once occupied with exterior actions and at the same time apply himself to divine contemplation: or the active life may be considered as composing and ordering the passions, and in this respect the active life helps contemplation, which is hindered by the disorder of the passions.
§ 3. On the saying of Gregory, “Often they who might have contemplated God in peace and quiet, have fallen and given way under the burden of occupations; and others who, had they had occupation, would have lived well and profitably to mankind, have perished under the sword of their own peace and quiet,”—it is to be remarked that persons of strong passionate inclinations, which prompt them to impetuous action, are, absolutely speaking, better fitted for an active life, owing to the restlessness of their spirit. Hence Gregory says: “Some are so restless, that if they get rest from labour, they labour all the more grievously: because the more liberty and free time they have for their own thoughts, the worse storms they endure in their hearts.” Others again have naturally a purity and peace of soul fitting them for contemplation; and if these persons are totally set aside for active occupations, they will suffer loss.
[1 ]Psalm xlv. 11.
[1 ]St. Luke x 42.
[1 ]St. Luke x. 40.
[2 ]Romans ix. 3.
[1 ]Ecclus. xxx. 24.
[2 ]Apoc. xxii. 17.