Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXXXVIII.: OF THE VARIETY OF RELIGIOUS ORDERS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXXXVIII.: OF THE VARIETY OF RELIGIOUS ORDERS. - 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 VARIETY OF RELIGIOUS ORDERS.
Article I.—Is there only one religious order?
R. The state of religion is an exercise whereby one is trained to the perfection of charity. Now there are different works of charity to which a man may apply himself; and there are different sorts of exercises. And therefore religious orders may differ in one way according to the variety of the purposes which they are ordained to serve; thus one order may be for giving hospitality to pilgrims, another for visiting and ransoming captives. In another way there may be a variety of religious orders according to the various sorts of exercises which they follow: thus the body is chastised in one order by abstinence, and in another by manual labour. But because the end is the main point everywhere, the variety of orders in respect of the variety of the ends of their several institutes is greater than that which arises from variety of exercises.
§ 1. The common element in every religious order is the duty of entirely devoting oneself to the service of God. Here there is no variety: it is not as though in one order a man might keep back some part of himself, and in another not; but the variety arises from the various ways in which it is possible to serve God, and the various manners of disposing oneself thereto.
§ 4. The multitude of religious orders might create confusion, if various orders were destined to the prosecution of the same end, and that by the same means, where there was no need and no use for so many. For the prevention of this there is a salutary provision, that no new religious order be instituted without the approval of the Sovereign Pontiff.
Article II.—Can a religious order be instituted for the works of the active life?
R. The religious state is ordained for the end of charity, which extends to the love of God and of our neighbour. The contemplative life, which desires to occupy itself with God alone, is directly taken up with the love of God: whereas the active life, which ministers to our neighbour’s needs, is directly taken up with the love of our neighbour. And as it is on the motive of charity that our neighbour is loved for God, so also the service done our neighbours redounds on to God, according to the text: “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”1 Hence inasmuch as these services rendered to our neighbour are referred to God, they are called sacrifices in the text: “Do not forget to do good and to impart: for by such sacrifices God’s favour is obtained.”2 And because it properly belongs to religion to offer sacrifice to God, it follows that some religious orders are fitly and suitably ordained to the employments of the active life.
§ 1. In the employments of the active life solitude is preserved, not to the effect that the man does not converse with men, but to this effect, that he is solely intent upon serving God. In religious thus engaged in view of God, their action is inspired by contemplation of divine things. Hence they are not altogether deprived of the fruit of the contemplative life.
§ 2. All religious are in the same condition with monks as regards their entire dedication to the divine service, the observance of the essential vows of religion, and abstinence from secular business. But there is no need of likeness on other points, proper to the monastic profession, which is specially directed to the contemplative life.1
Article III.—Can there be a religious order destined for military service?
R. A religious order may be instituted not only for the works of the contemplative life, but also for the works of the active life, in so far as they have to do with the helping of our neighbours and the service of God, but not for the obtaining of any worldly end. But the duty of a soldier may be directed, not merely to the helping of private persons, but even to the defence of the entire commonwealth: hence it is said of Judas Machabeus that he “fought with cheerfulness the battle of Israel.”1 Such fighting also may be directed to the preservation of divine worship: hence Simon says, “You know what great battles I and my brethren and the house of my father have fought for the laws and the sanctuary.”2 Hence a military religious order may suitably be instituted, not for any worldly end, but for the defence of the divine worship and the public safety.
§ 1. To the text, “I say to you not to resist evil,”3 it is to be said that there are two ways of not resisting evil: one way by forgiving the wrong done to oneself, and that may be a point of perfection, when it is expedient so to behave for the salvation of others; the other way is by patiently enduring the injuries done to others, and that is an imperfect and even a vicious course, if one can well resist the wrong-doer. Hence Ambrose says: “The fortitude that in war preserves our country from barbarians, or at home defends the weak, is full justice.” Our Lord says in the same place: “Of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again;”4 and yet if one were not to ask back the goods belonging to others, when they were his concern to keep, that would be sinful: for a man may laudably give away his own, but not another’s. Much less are the interests of God to be neglected.
Article IV.—Can a religious order be instituted to preach or hear confessions?
R. It is a greater thing to defend the faithful against the errors of heretics, and against the temptations of devils, than to maintain the cause of the faithful people with material arms. And therefore it is most fitting and proper for an order to be instituted for preaching and other functions that go towards the saving of souls.
§ 2. As some religious orders are instituted for military service, to wage war not of their own authority, but by the authority of the Church or of princes: so also religious orders are instituted to preach and hear confessions, not by their own authority, but by the authority of prelates, superior and inferior, to whom that duty officially belongs; and thus to be subordinate to prelates in such a ministry is proper to such a religious order.
Article V.—Is it right for a religious order to be instituted for purposes of study?
R. The study of letters befits religious in three ways. First, as to the contemplative life, which is doubly aided by the study of letters, in one way directly by the illumination of the intellect, in another way indirectly by removing the dangers of contemplation, that is, the errors which in the contemplation of divine things frequently befall those who are ignorant of the Scriptures. Secondly, the study of letters is necessary for religious who are destined for preaching and other such functions. Nor is it any argument to the contrary, to say that the Apostles were sent to preach without any study of letters: because, as Jerome says, “What others usually gather from training and daily meditation in the law of God, was suggested to them by the Holy Ghost.” Thirdly, the study of letters is becoming in a religious order for a purpose that is common to every religious order, namely, for avoiding the wantonness of the flesh. Hence Jerome says to the monk Rusticus: “Love the science of the Scriptures, and thou shalt not love the vices of the flesh.” For the labour of study turns away the mind from wantonness, and wears down the flesh.
§ 3. To apply to other branches of learning than that which is “according to godliness,”1 is not proper to religious, whose whole life is made over to acts of the service of God, except so far as other branches of learning are conducible to sacred learning.2
Article VII.—Does the holding of property in common diminish the perfection of a religious order?
R. Perfection does not consist essentially in poverty, but in the following of Christ. Poverty is a sort of instrument or exercise for arriving at perfection. It is so, inasmuch as the taking away of riches is the removal of three chief obstacles to charity, which are the solicitude that riches bring; the love of riches, which is increased by possession of them; and the vainglory or elation that is born of riches. Of these three the first cannot be entirely separated from riches, be they great or small; for a man must be to some extent solicitous about acquiring or preserving exterior goods; nor is all solicitude forbidden by our Lord, but only that which is superfluous or noxious. But the other two, namely, love of riches, and elation or glorying on the score of riches, follow upon riches, only when they are abundant. Yet it makes a difference in the matter, whether the riches, be they abundant or be they moderate, are held as private property or in common. For solicitude about private property is part of that private and particular love, with which a man loves himself in the temporal order; but solicitude about the common estate is part of that love of charity, which “seeketh not its own,” but looks to the common good. And because religious life is ordained to the perfection of charity, which perfection consists in loving God to the contempt of oneself, the having anything of one’s own is inconsistent with the perfection of religious life; but solicitude about goods held in common stock may belong to charity, even though a higher act of charity, such as divine contemplation or the instruction of one’s neighbour, be hindered thereby. Hence it appears that to have superabundance of wealth in common stock is an obstacle to perfection, though it does not totally exclude it: but to have of exterior goods in common stock, sufficient for a simple life, is no hinderance to religious perfection, if we consider poverty in regard of the common end of all religious orders, which is a free and untrammelled application to acts of the service of God. But if we consider it in regard of the special ends that religious orders severally have set before them, then in reference to this or that end in view a greater or a lesser poverty is befitting in a religious order; and every order will be more perfect in point of poverty, the more its poverty is proportioned to its end. For manifestly man needs greater store of exterior goods for the exterior and corporal works of the active life: whereas for contemplation few things are requisite. Hence the Philosopher says: “For actions, one needs many things; and the greater and nobler the actions, the more: but the contemplative has need of none of these things for his special activity: rather we may say they are in his way, for contemplation: but he will need such things to live as a human being.”1 Thus it appears that a religious order which is intended for the corporal actions of the active life, as for military service or the exercise of hospitality, would be imperfect if it did not possess wealth held in common stock; but those religious orders that aim at the contemplative life are so much the more perfect, the less solicitude of temporal things their poverty puts upon them.
Article VIII.—Is a religious order living in community more perfect than an order of solitaries?
R. Solitude, like poverty, is not the essence of perfection, but an instrument of perfection. But plainly solitude is an instrument apt, not for action but for contemplation, according to the text: “I will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart.”1 Hence it suits not those orders that are meant for the works of the active life, whether corporal or spiritual, except it be for a time, after the example of Christ, who “went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God.”2 But it does suit those orders that are intended for contemplation. However we must observe that the solitary ought to be self-sufficient, wanting in nothing; which is the attribute of him who is perfect: therefore solitude is proper for the contemplative who has already arrived at perfection. Therefore community life is necessary for training in perfection, while solitude befits those that are already perfect.3 As then being already perfect is of superior excellence to being in training for perfection, so the life of solitaries, if duly entered upon, excels and is superior to community life. But if such a life be entered upon without training, it is most dangerous, unless divine grace supply what in others is acquired by training, as in the case of Saints Antony and Benedict.
§ 4. A man’s being set up upon a candlestick,1 is no business of his own to bring about, but is the affair of his superiors. “And unless the burden of office be laid upon us,” as Augustine says, “we should spend our time in the contemplation of the truth,”—whereunto solitude is a great help. At the same time solitaries are very useful to mankind. Hence Augustine says: “They seem to some overmuch to have abandoned the things of men: their critics not understanding how much their mind aids us in prayers, and their life for an example, whose bodily features we are not permitted to behold.”
§ 5. A man may live as a solitary in two ways: in one way because he cannot brook the company of men on account of the savagery of his disposition; and that is brutish: in another way because he clings with all his being to the things of God; and that is something superhuman. Hence the Philosopher says that “he who lives away from the society of others is either a brute or a god,” that is, a divine man.
[1 ]St. Matt. xxv. 40.
[2 ]Hebrews xiii. 16.
[1 ]Exclusive of the Military Orders, the four kinds of religious known to canonists are Canons Regular, Clerks Regular, Monks, and Friars. (Trl.)
[1 ]1 Mach. iii. 2.
[2 ]1 Mach. xiii. 3.
[3 ]St. Matt. v. 39.
[4 ]St. Luke vi. 30.
[1 ]Titus i. x.
[2 ]This holds of what may be called the esoteric studies of religious, those proper to perfect them in their own state. But the members of an educational order nowadays have to study many things, the bearing of which on sacred learning is remote enough, not more remote however than the art of war, which was the study of the Templars and Hospitallers. (art. 3.) A military order forms a precedent for a good deal. (Trl.)
[1 ]These are the exact words of Aristotle, Ethics, X. viii. nn. 5, 6. St. Thomas quotes from an imperfect Latin version. (Trl.)
[1 ]Osee ii. 14.
[2 ]St Luke vi. 12.
[3 ]See the account of St. Cuthbert’s solitude at Farne, Life by Consitt, c. x. When he entered upon it, he had lived fifteen years in a monastic community; and he was taken from it to be made a bishop: a good illustration of St. Thomas’s doctrine of the achieved perfection of anchorites and bishops. (Trl.)
[1 ]St. Luke xi. 33.