Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXXXIV.: OF WHAT RELATES TO THE STATE OF PERFECTION IN GENERAL. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXXXIV.: OF WHAT RELATES TO THE STATE OF PERFECTION IN GENERAL. - 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 WHAT RELATES TO THE STATE OF PERFECTION IN GENERAL.
Article I.—Is the perfection of Christian life to be looked for in charity especially?
R. Everything is said to be perfect inasmuch as it attains to its proper end, which is the ultimate perfection of the thing. But it is charity that unites us to God, the ultimate end of the human mind, because “he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him.”3 And therefore it is by charity especially that the perfection of Christian life is measured.
Article II.—Can any one be perfect in this life?
R. The perfection of Christian life consists in charity. Now perfection implies what we may call a “universal thoroughness:” for that is perfect to which nothing is wanting. We may consider therefore perfection in three forms. One absolute, or total, as well on the part of the person loving as on the part of the object loved; so that God should be loved as much as He is lovable. Such perfection is not possible to any creature: God alone is capable of it, in whom good is found in its entirety and in its essence. There is another perfection where the totality is absolute on the part of the person loving, in that the whole power of his affection is ever absolutely fixed upon God; and such perfection is not possible on the way to Heaven, but will be realized on our arrival in our heavenly home. There is a third perfection that is neither total as regards the object loved nor total on the part of the person loving. It does not involve a continual actual yearning after God, but only an exclusion of whatever is inconsistent with the motion of love towards God. So Augustine says: “The poison of charity is cupidity; and perfection is the absence of all cupidity.”1 And such perfection can be had in this life, and that in two ways; in one way to the extent of excluding from the heart all that is contrary to charity, as is mortal sin; and without such perfection charity cannot be: consequently this perfection is of necessity to salvation. The other way goes to the extent of excluding from the heart, not only all that is contrary to charity, but also all that hinders the entire concentration of the heart upon God. Charity can exist without this perfection, as it exists in beginners and in proficients.
§ 2. They who are perfect in this life are said to “offend in many things”1 by venial sins that follow from the infirmity of the present life; and in this respect there hangs about them some imperfection as compared with the perfection of our heavenly home.
§ 3. As the state of the present life does not suffer a man always to tend actually to God, so neither does it allow of his love actually going out upon all his neighbours individually; but it is enough that it goes out upon them all alike in general, and upon individuals habitually and in preparedness of mind.2 We may observe also in the love of our neighbour a twofold perfection, as in the love of God: one without which charity cannot be, which means that man must harbour in his heart nothing contrary to the love of his neighbour; the other without which charity can be. The latter perfection shows itself, first, in extension, so that not only friends and acquaintances are loved, but even strangers, and furthermore enemies:1 for this, as Augustine says, is “the mark of the perfect sons of God.” Secondly, in intensity, as evinced by what a man is prepared to cast aside for the sake of his neighbour, when it comes not only to sacrificing exterior goods, but braving bodily afflictions and death to boot, as it is said: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friend.”2
Article III.—Does perfection consist in the precepts or in the counsels?
R. Of itself and essentially the perfection of Christian life consists in charity; principally in the love of God, and secondarily in the love of our neighbour. But the love of God and of our neighbour does not fall under precept in any fixed measure, in such a way as to leave anything beyond an assignable quantity a matter of counsel. This is evident from the form of the precept, “Thou shalt love God with thy whole heart:” for whole and perfect are the same. Moreover, in the case of the end, no measure is applied, but only in the case of means to the end.3 Hence it appears that perfection consists essentially in the precepts. But secondarily and instrumentally perfection consists in the counsels, which like the precepts are directed to charity, but not all in the same way. For the other precepts that there are besides the precepts of charity, are directed to the removal of things contrary to and incompatible with charity; while the counsels are directed to the removal of certain things that are obstacles to the act of charity, and yet are not contrary to charity, as marriage, occupation with secular business, and the like. Hence in the Conferences of the Fathers the Abbot Moses says: “Fasts, watchings, meditation on the Scriptures, nakedness, and the deprivation of all goods, are not perfection, but instruments of perfection: for the end consists not in them, but through them we arrive at the end: by these steps we strive to ascend to the perfection of charity.”
§ 1. In those words of our Lord one thing is laid down as the way to perfection: “Go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor;”1 and another thing is added in which perfection consists: “And come, follow me.”
§ 2. Since what falls under precept may be fulfilled in different manners, he is not a transgressor of the precept who does not fulfil it in the most excellent manner, but it is enough that he fulfils it in any manner whatever. Now the lowest degree of divine love is that nothing be loved above it, or contrary to it, or on a level with it. He who falls short of this degree of perfection, nowise fulfils the precept.
§ 3. As man has from birth a certain perfection of his nature, that which belongs to the essence of his species; and there is another perfection to which he is brought by growth: so there is a perfection of charity, belonging to the very species of charity, which is that God should be loved above all things, and nothing be loved against God. There is again even in this life another perfection of charity, to which one arrives by a process of spiritual growth, when a man abstains from even lawful things, to be more free to devote himself to acts of service to God.
Article IV.—Is every one who is perfect in a state of perfection?
R. State (status) properly points to a man’s condition as freeman or slave. Now there may be spiritual liberty or slavery either in respect of what goes on internally or of what goes on externally. And because “man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart,”1 hence it is that, as regards a man’s interior disposition, the condition of his spiritual state is discerned by the judgment of God; but for what goes on externally, his spiritual state is fixed according as he stands to the Church. And so it is that we are now speaking of states, considering the beauty that arises in the Church from the diversity of states and conditions therein. Now we must observe that among men, for one to attain to the state of liberty or slavery, there is requisite in the first place some binding or releasing: for the mere fact of one man serving another does not make him a slave, because even free men do service, as it is written: “By charity of the spirit serve one another;”2 nor is a man made free by the mere fact of ceasing to serve, as we see in the case of runaway slaves: but he is properly a slave who is bound to serve; and he is free, who is released from servitude. Secondly, it is requisite that the binding above-mentioned be done with some solemnity, as some solemnity is gone through in other transactions that are meant to stand and endure perpetually amongst men. Thus then one is properly said to be in a state of perfection, not from the eliciting of the act of perfect love, but from binding oneself with some solemnity to the practices of perfection. It happens also that some bind themselves to what they do not observe, and others fulfil what they have not bound themselves to: as was the case with those two sons, one of whom “said, I will not; and afterwards he went: the other said, I go, sir; and he went not.”1 And therefore there may be some perfect people who are not in a state of perfection; and some in a state of perfection who yet are not perfect.
Article V.—Are religious and prelates in a state of perfection?
R. To a state of perfection there is requisite a perpetual obligation to the practices of perfection, attended with some solemnity. Both of these requisites are found in religious and in bishops. For religious bind themselves by vow to keep aloof from worldly things, that otherwise they might lawfully have used, that by renouncing such things they may be more free to apply their minds and hearts to God, in which application the perfection of the present life consists. Their offering is also attended with a certain solemnity of profession and benediction. In like manner also bishops bind themselves to the practices of perfection by taking up the pastoral office, part of which office is that the shepherd should “lay down his life for his sheep.”1 Hence the Apostle says to Timothy: “Thou hast confessed a good confession before many witnesses;”2 that is, “in his ordination,” as the interlinear gloss there says. Also a ceremony of consecration goes along with the above-mentioned profession, according to the text: “Stir up the grace of God, which is in thee by the imposition of my hands,”3 which the gloss explains of the grace of the episcopate.
§ 2. Men take up a state of perfection, not as professing themselves to be perfect, but as professing that they are aiming at perfection. Hence one who takes up a state of perfection is not guilty of a lie or a piece of pretence by not being perfect, but only if he revokes his purpose of aiming at perfection.
Article VIII.—Are parish priests and archdeacons in positions of greater perfection than religious?
R. A comparison of superior excellence has no place among persons on the side on which they agree, but on the side on which they differ. Now in parish priests and archdeacons we may consider three things: their state, their order, and their office. For their state, they are seculars; for their order, they are priests or deacons; for their office, they have the cure of souls. If therefore we set up on the other side one who is in state a religious, in order a deacon or priest, and in office has cure of souls, as is the case with many monks and canons regular, he excels on the first point, and on the other two points he will be equal. But if the second individual differs from the first in state and office, while agreeing with him in order, as is the case with religious priests and deacons who have no cure of souls, it is plain that the second will be more excellent than the first in state, inferior in office, and equal in order. We must consider therefore which superior excellence is higher, that of state or that of office. In this comparison there are two things to attend to, goodness and difficulty. If therefore the comparison be made in point of goodness, in that respect the state of religion carries it over the office of parish priest or archdeacon: because the religious binds himself for his whole life to the study of perfection; but the parish priest or archdeacon does not bind himself for his whole life to the cure of souls, as a bishop does; nor has he the principal care of his subjects, as a bishop has; but only certain details of the cure of souls are committed to the office of parish priests and archdeacons. And therefore the comparison of the religious state to their office is like comparing the universal to the particular, or a holocaust to a sacrifice, which is less than a holocaust.1 But this comparison is to be understood as referring only to the kind of the work: for in respect of the charity of the worker it happens sometimes that a work, less of its kind, is more meritorious by being done on a motive of greater charity.
But if we consider the difficulty of living well in religion, and that of living well in the office of the cure of souls, in that comparison it is more difficult to live well with cure of souls, owing to exterior dangers: yet at the same time religious life is more difficult in regard of the kind of work itself, from the restrictions of regular observance.
But if a religious be also without order,2 as is the case with lay-brothers, in that case it is clear that the superior excellence of order carries it in dignity, because by holy order one is appointed to the august ministries whereby Christ Himself is served in the Sacrament of the Altar: and for this there is required greater interior sanctity than is required even by the religious state. Hence, other things being equal, a clerk in holy orders sins more grievously, if he does anything contrary to sanctity, than a religious who has received no sacred order; although a lay-brother in religion is bound to regular observances, to which they in holy orders are not bound.
§ 6. The difficulty that comes of the arduousness of the work, adds to the perfection of the virtue. But the difficulty that arises from exterior obstacles, sometimes even diminishes the perfection of the virtue, as when one has not enough love of virtue to be willing to avoid what are obstacles to virtue, according to the advice of the Apostle: “Every one that striveth for the mastery refraineth himself from all things.”1 But at other times it is a sign of more perfect virtue, as when obstacles to virtue occur of a sudden, or by some unavoidable cause, and yet the man swerves not from virtue for all that. Now in the state of religion there is greater difficulty from the arduousness of the works; but in the case of persons living in the world in any condition, the difficulty is greater that arises from obstacles to virtue, obstacles which religious have providently stepped out of the way of once for all.
[3 ]1 St. John iv. 16.
[1 ]What St. Augustine calls cupidity, St. Ignatius calls inordinate affection. The “absence of all cupidity” is called by St. Philip Neri, and after him by Cardinal Newman, detachment. St. Ignatius calls it indifference. Other names for it are spiritual poverty, liberty of spirit, purity of heart; and lastly, St. Thomas calls it on its positive side, devotion, II-II. q 82. (Trl.)
[1 ]St. James iii. 2.
[2 ]That is, he habitually holds himself in readiness to do kindness to any individual that needs it. (Trl.)
[1 ]See II-II. q. 25. art. 8. (Trl.)
[2 ]St. John xv. 13.
[3 ]Cf. II-II. q. 27. art. 6. (Trl.)
[1 ]St. Matt. xix. 21.
[1 ]1 Kings xvi. 7.
[2 ]Galat. v. 13.
[1 ]St. Matt. xxi. 28—30.
[1 ]St. John x. 15.
[2 ]1 Timothy vi. 12.
[3 ]2 Timothy i. 6.
[1 ]St. Thomas tacitly assumes that the study of perfection in a religious furnishes him with occupation of at least equal value with that which the cure of souls furnishes to the parish priest. For the assumption he might refer us back to q. 182. art. 2. (Trl.)
[2 ]Not in holy orders. (Trl.)
[1 ]1 Cor ix 25.