Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXXXVI.: OF THE THINGS IN WHICH THE RELIGIOUS STATE PROPERLY CONSISTS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXXXVI.: OF THE THINGS IN WHICH THE RELIGIOUS STATE PROPERLY CONSISTS. - 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 THINGS IN WHICH THE RELIGIOUS STATE PROPERLY CONSISTS.
Article I.—Does religion mean a state of perfection?
R. What is the attribute of many things in common, is eminently attributed to that to which it belongs in a more excellent way. Thus the virtue which preserves firmness of soul in the most difficult conjunctures, claims to itself the name of fortitude; and the virtue that tempers the greatest pleasures claims the name of temperance. But religion is a virtue whereby one presents something to the service and worship of God. And therefore they are called eminently religious, who hand over the dominion of themselves to the divine service, offering as it were a holocaust to God. Hence Gregory says: “There are some who reserve nothing to themselves, but immolate to Almighty God the sense, tongue, life and substance, which they have received.” But the perfection of man consists in a total adhesion to God; and in this way religious life stands for a state of perfection.
§ 2. To religion there belong not only offerings of sacrifice, and other such acts which are proper to religion, but also the acts of all virtues, in so far as they are referred to God’s service and honour. And thus if one sets aside his whole life to the divine service, his whole life belongs to religion; and in this way, from the religious life which they lead, they are called religious who are in the state of perfection.
§ 4. The religious state is instituted principally for the gaining of perfection by means of certain exercises whereby the obstacles to perfect charity are removed. Much more are the occasions of sin cut off, sin being the total destruction of charity. Hence, as it is part of penance to cut off the causes of sin, it follows that the religious state affords a most convenient place for penance.
Article II.—Is every religious bound to all the counsels?
R. A thing appertains to perfection in three ways: first, essentially, and in this way the perfect observance of the precepts of charity appertains to perfection. In another way, a thing appertains to perfection consequently, as do the acts which follow from the perfection of charity, as meeting a curse with a blessing,1 and the fulfilment of other such directions: for whereas these directions are matters of precept in readiness of heart to fulfil them when necessity requires,2 the fulfilling of them where there is no necessity is the fruit of a super-abundance of charity. In a third way, a thing appertains to perfection as an instrument and predisposing cause; such things are poverty, continence, abstinence, and the like.
The perfection of charity itself is the scope and aim of the religious state. And the said state is a training and exercise for the arriving at perfection: whereunto people may arrive by different exercises, as a cure may be wrought by different medicines. Now in him who is working towards an end, it is not a necessary condition that he should have already reached the end: what is requisite is that he should be taking some way that leads to the end. Therefore he who adopts the religious state is not bound to have perfect charity, but he is bound to make it his aim and endeavour to have perfect charity. And in the same way he is not bound to fulfil those directions, the fulfilment of which is consequent upon the perfection of charity, but he is bound to turn his face towards the fulfilment of them, the contrary of which he does by despising them: hence he does not sin if he omits them, but sins if he despises them. In like manner again he is not bound to all the exercises by which perfection is arrived at: but he is bound to those which are definitely mapped out for him according to the rule of which he has made profession.
§ 1. He who goes into religion does not profess to be perfect, but professes to be aiming at the attainment of perfection; as he who enters the school does not profess to be learned, but professes to study for the acquirement of learning. Hence Augustine says: “Pythagoras would not profess himself to be a sage, but a lover of wisdom.”1 And therefore a religious is not an offender against his profession if he is not perfect, but only if he despises the idea of aiming at perfection.
§ 2. As all are bound to love God with their whole heart, and yet there is one entirety of perfection that cannot be omitted without sin, and another that may be omitted without sin, provided it be without contempt; so also all men, as well religious as seculars, are bound in some sort to do whatever good they can, for it is said to all alike, “Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly,”2 and yet there is a measure of fulfilment of this precept sufficient to avoid sin, which is, if a man do what he can as the condition of his state requires, provided he do not despise the idea of doing better, for by such contempt the mind is set and rooted against spiritual progress.
§ 3. There are certain counsels the neglect of which would involve a man’s whole life in secular business: these counsels are matter of the essential vows of religion; and to them all religious are bound. There are other counsels of better courses of action in certain particulars, which may be omitted without a man’s life being involved in secular concerns; hence religious need not be bound to all such particulars.1
Article III.—Is poverty a requisite of religious perfection?
R. The state of religion is an exercise and training by which men arrive at the perfection of charity. For this it is necessary totally to withdraw the affection from worldly things: for Augustine says, speaking to God, “He loves thee less, who loves aught with thee that he loves not for thee.” Now by the possession of worldly goods a man’s mind is allured to love them. Hence for the acquirement of the perfection of charity the first foundation is voluntary poverty, which means that a man should live without anything of his own, as our Lord says: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast.”2
§ 5. The state of bishops is not directed to the gaining of perfection, but rather proceeds on the strength of perfection already possessed to the governing of others, and ministering to them, not only in spirituals, but in temporals also; which is a work of the active life, in which many things occur that have to be done through the instrumentality of riches. And therefore of bishops, whose profession is the government of the flock of Christ, it is not required that they go without anything of their own, as it is required of religious, whose profession it is to be in training for the acquirement of perfection.
Article IV.—Is perpetual continence requisite for the perfection of religious life?
R. The religious state requires the withdrawal of the obstacles that stand in a man’s way and prevent him from giving himself entirely to the divine service. Such an obstacle is the commerce of the sexes, as well on account of the quantity of the pleasure and increase of concupiscence by its frequent repetition, as also on account of the solicitude which it occasions in a man about the management of wife and family and temporal affairs.
Article V.—Does obedience appertain to the perfection of religious life?
R. The religious state is a training or exercise in aiming at perfection. Now persons in training or exercise, to arrive at any end, must follow some one’s direction, and be trained or exercised at his discretion, as scholars under a master. And therefore religious must be subject to some one’s training and command for what concerns religious life. Hence it is said: “In the life of monks, the word is subjection and pupillage.” Therefore obedience is requisite for religious perfection.
§ 3. The subjection of religious is principally to bishops, who stand to religious as givers to receivers of perfection, or as initiators to initiated, as may be seen from Dionysius.1 Hence neither hermits nor religious superiors are excused from obedience to bishops; and if they are exempt wholly or in part from the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishops, they are still bound to obey the Sovereign Pontiffs, not only in matters common to them with other Christians, but also in things that especially belong to the discipline of religious life.
§ 4. The vow of obedience in religion extends to the laying out of a man’s whole life, and thus has a certain universality, though it does not extend to all particular acts. For some acts do not belong to religion, because they deal not with things belonging to the love of God and our neighbour. Such acts are the stroking of the beard, the raising of a straw from the earth, and the like; these do not fall under vow nor under obedience.1
§ 5. The necessity that is of constraint makes an action involuntary, and excludes the notion of praise and merit; but the necessity that follows obedience is not a necessity coming of constraint, but of free-will, inasmuch as a man wills to obey, though otherwise, perhaps, looking at the thing commanded as it is in itself, he would not be willing to accomplish it. And therefore, because by the vow of obedience a man subjects himself for God’s sake to the necessity of doing some things that are not pleasant in themselves, on that account the things that he does are more acceptable to God, even though they be less considerable, because there is nothing greater that man can give to God than for His sake to submit his own will to the will of another.
Article VI.—Is it requisite for religious perfection that poverty, chastity, and obedience, should be made matters of vow?
R. It belongs to religious to be in a state of perfection. Now for a state of perfection there is required an obligation to the practices of perfection; and that obligation to God is effected by vow. But poverty, continence, and obedience belong to the perfection of Christian life; and therefore the religious state requires that a man be bound by vow to these three things. Hence Gregory says: “When a man has vowed to Almighty God his whole having, his whole living, and his whole liking, that is a holocaust.”
§ 2. Religious perfection requires that a man should render to God, as Gregory says, his “whole living” or life. But a man cannot in act render his whole life to God, because life is not all of it at once, but passes in successive moments. Hence a man cannot render his whole life to God otherwise than by the obligation of a vow.
§ 3. To the words of Augustine, “Of our tributes of service those are the more grateful which, though it were allowable for us not to pay them, still we do pay for love’s sake,” it is to be said that, among other tributes allowable for us not to pay, is the tribute of our own liberty, which a man holds dearer than all other things. And therefore when a man of his own accord deprives himself of the liberty of abstaining from what belongs to the service of God, he renders a most grateful tribute to God. Hence Augustine says: “Repent not of the vow you have made; nay, rejoice to have no longer allowed you, what might have been allowed you to your loss. Happy necessity, that compels to the better course.”
Article VII.—Is it proper to say that in these three vows religious perfection lies?
R. The religious state may be considered either as an exercise of aiming at the perfection of charity, or as a rest to the human mind from exterior solicitudes, as the Apostle says: “I wish you to be without solicitude;”1 or as a holocaust whereby one offers oneself and all that one has to God. And accordingly the religious state is set up in its integrity by these three vows. First, as regards the exercise of perfection, it is required that a man should put away from himself entirely all that could possibly hinder his whole heart from going out to God, wherein the perfection of charity consists. There are three such possible hinderances: the covetousness of external goods, which is removed by the vow of poverty; the craving for sensual pleasure, especially that of a sexual character, which is cut off by the vow of continence; and the inordination of the human will, which the vow of obedience excludes. In like manner the restlessness of worldly solicitude turns principally on three things: on the management of external goods, which solicitude the vow of poverty takes away; on the government of wife and children, which care is cut off by the vow of continence; and on the laying out of one’s own conduct, which care is cut off by the vow of obedience, whereby a person commits himself to the disposal of another. In like manner it is also a holocaust, whereby one offers all that one has to God: first, the good of exterior things by the vow of poverty; secondly, the good of the body by the vow of continence, which is a renunciation of the greatest pleasures of the body; thirdly, the good of the soul by obedience, which is an offering to God of one’s own will. And therefore the religious state is suitably set up in its integrity by these three vows.
§ 2. All the other observances of religious orders are reducible to the above-mentioned three principal vows. Thus any means instituted for the procuring of a livelihood, as labour, begging, and the like, are reducible to poverty, for the maintenance of which religious procure their livelihood by these means. Other means by which the body is macerated, as fastings, watchings, and such like observances, are reducible to the keeping of the vow of continence. And any means instituted in religious orders regarding human acts, whereby one is directed to the end of religion, that is, to the love of God and of one’s neighbour—such as reading, praying, visiting of the sick—are comprehended under the vow of obedience, which concerns the will, as that power directs its acts to an end which is at another’s discretion.
§ 4. As for the honour that is paid to God and to all the saints for their virtue, according to the Psalm, “To me thy friends, O God, are made exceedingly honourable,”1 it does not belong to religious to renounce that honour in aiming at the perfection of virtue. But the honour that is paid to exterior excellence they do renounce, by the very fact of their quitting the secular life: hence no special vow is required for this renunciation.
Article VIII.—Is the vow of obedience chief of the three vows of religion?
R. The vow of obedience is the chief of the three vows of religion for three reasons, first, because by the vow of obedience a man offers something greater to God, namely, his own will, which is a better gift than his own body, which he offers by continence, and than exterior things, which he offers by the vow of poverty. Hence what is done on a motive of obedience is more acceptable to God than what is done of one’s own will. Hence Jerome says to the monk Rusticus: “Thou art not to be left to thy own discretion; do not what thou wilt; eat what thou art bidden; have what thou hast received; wear what is given to thee.” Hence even fasting is not acceptable to God if attended with self-will, according to the text: “Behold, in the day of your fast your own will is found.”1 Secondly, because the vow of obedience contains under itself the other vows, while they do not contain it: for though a religious is bound by vow to observe continence and poverty, yet these things fall also under obedience, to which it belongs to observe many other things besides continence and poverty. Thirdly, because the vow of obedience properly extends to acts that lie close to the end, scope, and aim of religion: now the nearer a thing comes to the end, the better it is. Hence also the vow of obedience is the more essential to religion; for if without the vow of obedience one were to observe even by vow voluntary poverty and continence, he would not for all that belong to the religious state, which state has the preference even over virginity observed by vow.
§ 3. One offends by contempt, when his will refuses to be subject to the ordinance of the law or rule, and thence proceeds to act against the law or rule. Conversely, when by some particular cause, as concupiscence or anger, one is led to act against the provisions of the law or rule, he does not sin by contempt, even though he sin repeatedly. But frequency of sinning disposes and induces to contempt, according to the text: “The wicked man when he is come into the depth of sins, contemneth.”2
Article X.—Does the religious sin more grievously than the secular for the same kind of sin?
R. The sin that is committed by religious may in three ways be more grievous than sin of the same species committed by seculars. First, if it be against a vow of religion: thus fornication in a religious is against the vow of continence, and theft against the vow of poverty, and not only against the precept of the divine law. Secondly, if the religious sins out of contempt: because this seems to be greater ingratitude for the divine benefits by which he has been raised to the state of perfection. Hence the Lord complains: “What is the meaning that my beloved hath wrought much wickedness in my house?”1 Thirdly, the sin of religious may be greater on account of the scandal, because more people have their eyes on his life. But if a religious, not out of contempt but out of weakness or ignorance, commits some sin that is not against the vow of his profession, and commits it without any scandal, he sins more lightly for the same kind of sin than the secular: because his sin, if it is venial, is as it were swallowed up in the multitude of good works that he does; and if it is mortal, he more easily rises from it again. Hence on the text, “When he shall fall, he shall not be bruised,”2 Origen says: “If the unjust3 sins, he repents not, and has no mind to correct his sin; but the just man has a mind for his own amendment and correction; as he who had said, ‘I know not the man,’ afterwards when he was looked upon by the Lord, knew how to weep bitter tears; and he who had seen the woman from the roof, and lusted after her, knew how to say, ‘I have sinned and done evil before thee.’ ” The religious is also aided by his fellows to rise again, according to the text: “If one fall, he shall be supported by the other: woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth, he hath none to lift him up.”1
§ 3. The just do not easily sin out of contempt, though they sometimes fall into sin out of ignorance or weakness, from which they are easily raised up. But if they do come to sin out of contempt, they become the worst and the most incorrigible of all, according to the text: “Thou hast broken my yoke, thou hast burst my bands, and thou saidst: I will not serve. On every high hill and under every green tree thou didst prostitute thyself.”2 And Augustine says: “From the time that I began to serve God, as I have hardly found better men than those who have advanced to goodness in monasteries, so I have not found worse than those who have fallen in monasteries.”
[1 ]St. Luke vi. 28.
[2 ]E.g., sometimes the only practical way of overcoming the temptation to meet a curse with a curse, which would be sinful, is to force ourselves to answer with a blessing; and then the blessing may be said to be necessary. Cf. II-II. q. 72. art. 3. (Trl.)
[1 ]Pythagoras first took the name of philosopher, or lover of wisdom (Trl.)
[2 ]Eccles. ix. 10.
[1 ]This opens out the possibility of one Order being severer than another; and of strict or mitigated observance, without any corruption. (Trl.)
[2 ]St. Matt. xix. 21.
[1 ]The same word in Greek means to initiate and to perfect. (Trl.)
[1 ]We are told (I-II. q. 18. art. 9.) that acts like these are not properly moral or human acts, but lie outside the sphere of morality. On the extent of religious obedience, see further, II-II. q. 104, art. 5. § 3. Suarez on the Religious State, c. 10, n. 8 (trl. Humphrey), says: “In religious bodies obedience is not vowed absolutely and without limit, but according to the Rule of each Order. The common doctrine of the schools, of theologians as well as canonists, is that a superior cannot oblige a religious to that which is foreign to, or lies altogether outside his Rule.” Vol. II. p. 24. (Trl.)
[1 ]1 Cor. vii. 32.
[1 ]Psalm cxxxviii. 17.
[1 ]Isaias lviii 3.
[2 ]Prov. xviii. 3.
[1 ]Jerem. xi. 15.
[2 ]Psalm xxxvi. 24.
[3 ]The unjust here is “intemperate;” the just man sinning is “incontinent,” according to the terminology of q. 156. art. 3. (Trl.)
[1 ]Eccles. iv. 10.
[2 ]Jerem. ii. 20.