Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXXXIX.: OF THE ENTRY INTO RELIGION. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXXXIX.: OF THE ENTRY INTO RELIGION. - 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 ENTRY INTO RELIGION.
Article I.—Ought they to enter religion, who have not been exercised in the observance of the commandments?
R. A man’s affections becoming attached to the things of earth not only form a hinderance to the perfection of charity, but sometimes even bring about the destruction of charity, when through inordinate turning to temporal goods a man is turned away from the imperishable good by mortal sin. Hence, as the observances of religious life take away the obstacles to perfect charity, so do they also take away the occasions of sin. Thus by fasting, watching, obedience and the like, a man is withdrawn from gluttony, luxury, and all manner of sins besides. And therefore the entry into religion is not only expedient for those who have been trained in the observance of the commandments, that they may arrive at greater perfection, but also for those who have not been so exercised, that they more easily avoid sins and attain perfection.
§ 3. Holy orders presuppose sanctity, but the state of religion is an exercise for obtaining sanctity. Hence the weight of orders is to be laid on walls already dried by sanctity; but the weight of religion dries the walls, that is, men, of the humour of vices.
§ 5. It is not necessary that the commandments should first be observed without the counsels and afterwards with the counsels, as it is not necessary for one to be an ass before he is a man, or married before he is a virgin. And in like manner one need not keep the commandments in the world before passing into religion, especially since life in the world does not dispose men for the perfection of religious life, but rather hinders them from it.1
§ 3. It may be reasonably said that by entry into religion one obtains the remission of all his sins. For if by some almsgiving one can at once satisfy for his sins,2 according to the advice: “Redeem thou thy sins with alms,”1 much more does it suffice to satisfy for all sins, for a man to bind himself entirely to the divine service by entering religion, as religious life takes precedence of all manner of satisfaction, even that of public penance, in the same way that a holocaust exceeds a sacrifice. Hence we read in the Lives of the Fathers, that persons entering religion gain the same grace as the recipients of baptism.
§ 2. To the objection that if all priests having cure of souls were to enter religion, the people would be left without pastors,—it is to be said, as Jerome says, that “virtue is rare, and not coveted by the majority.” Clearly then this is a foolish fear, as if one were to be afraid to draw water, lest the river should run dry.2
Article VIII.—Is it lawful to pass from one religious order to another?
R. To pass from one religious order to another, without great utility or necessity, is not a commendable thing to do: both because they who are left are generally scandalized at it; and also because, other things being equal, one more easily makes progress in an order that he is accustomed to than in one to which he is unaccustomed. Still there are three causes for which a religious may laudably pass from one order to another. The first is zeal and desire of a more perfect order: on which we must remember that the excellence of an order does not go merely by strictness, but chiefly by the end that the order has in view, and secondly by the discretion shown in observances, and their due proportion as means to the end. The second cause is the falling away of an order from its due perfection: thus if in a more strict order the religious begin to live remissly, one may laudably pass even to an order less strict, if the observance is better. The third cause is infirmity or weakness; whence it sometimes comes to pass that one cannot observe the enactments of an order of greater strictness, but could observe the enactments of one that was less severe. But there may be a difference noticed in these three cases. In the first case one ought to ask leave for humility’s sake; but the leave ought not to be refused, provided it is certain that the other order is more strict. In like manner the superior’s judgment is to be sought in the second case. In the third case, even a dispensation is necessary.
Article X.—Is it a praiseworthy thing to enter religion without seeking the advice of many persons, and without long previous deliberation?
R. Long deliberation and the advice of many persons are requisite in great doubt, the Philosopher says. But in things fixed and certain, advice is not required. Now about the entry into religion three things may be considered. The first is the entry into religion as it is in itself; and for that, it is certain that entering religion is the better good. Whoever doubts of that, derogates so far as in him lies from the authority of Christ, who has given this counsel. Hence Augustine says: “The Orient calls thee, that is, Christ, and thou lookest to the west, that is, to a mortal and fallible man.” Again, the entry into religion may be considered in reference to the strength of him who is thinking of entering religion; and upon this ground once more there is no room for doubt about the entry into religion: because they who enter religion trust not to stand in their own strength, but in the aid of the power of God, according to the text: “They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall take wings as eagles: they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”1 If however there be any special obstacle, as bodily infirmity, or burden of debt, and the like, here deliberation is required, and counsel with those who may be expected to help you, and not stand in your way. Hence it is said: “Treat with a man without religion concerning holiness, and with an unjust man concerning justice,”2 as much as to say, “Do not so.” Hence the text goes on: “Give no heed to these in any matter of counsel, but be thou continually with a holy man.”3 Hence Jerome says: “Hasten, I pray thee, and cut rather than loosen the rope of thy skiff fastened on the beach.” The third thing that may be considered is the manner of entering religion, and what order you should enter; and on such points counsel also may be taken with persons who are not the men to stand in the way.
§ 1. When it is said, “Try the spirits if they be of God,”1 the saying is to be understood to have place of proposals that are really doubtful, whether they are of the Spirit of God. Thus it may be doubtful to those who are already in religion whether a candidate for religion is led by the Spirit of God or by some interested motive; and therefore they ought to try the candidate, to see whether he is moved by the Divine Spirit. But to the candidate himself there can be no doubt, whether the purpose of entering religion has arisen in his heart from the movement of the Spirit of God, whose office it is to lead man “into the right land.”2 Nor is it shown to be not of God, because some go back upon their purpose: for not everything that is of God is incorruptible; nor is it other than heretical to assert that none who have grace from God can lose it. And therefore the purpose of entering religion needs no trial whether it be of God.
§ 3. By the building of the tower3 is signified the perfection of Christian life. The renunciation of the things that are one’s own is the estimated cost of building the tower. Now no one doubts or deliberates whether he wills to have in hand the estimate, or whether he can build the tower if he has the estimate in hand: but this is what comes under deliberation, whether one has the estimate in hand. In like manner it ought not to fall under deliberation whether you should renounce all that you possess, or whether by doing that you can arrive at perfection; but this is what falls under deliberation, whether what you are doing is the renunciation of all that you possess: because without this renunciation—which is having the estimate in hand—you cannot, as the text goes on, “be the disciple” of Christ, which is building the tower.
But as for the fear of those who tremble and doubt whether they can arrive at perfection by entering religion, the unreasonableness of such fear is argued by the example of many. Hence Augustine says: “There opened upon my view in the direction to which I had turned my face, and trembled at the thought of passing over there, the chaste dignity of Continence, modestly alluring me to come and hesitate not, and stretching out to receive and embrace me her loving hands, full of flocks of good examples. There are so many boys and girls, there a numerous youth, and every age, grave widows, and virgins stricken in years. And she laughed at me, a laugh of encouragement, as much as to say: ‘Cannot you do what these young men and maidens have done? Or can these young men and maidens do it in their own strength, and not rather in the strength of the Lord their God? Why do you stand upon your own strength, and upon that fail to stand? Throw yourself upon Him: He will not draw back, to let you fall. Throw yourself without fear: He will receive you and save you.’ ”
Now as to the example alleged of David unable to walk in the armour of Saul,1 it makes not to the purpose: because “the arms of Saul,” as the gloss says, “are the rites of the Old Law, burdensome ordinances;” but religious life is the sweet yoke of Christ. For, as Gregory says: “What heavy burden does He lay on the neck of our spirit, who bids the avoidance of every desire that could trouble us, and recommends the turning of our steps out of the toilsome ways of this world.” And to those who take upon them this sweet yoke, He promises in recompense the refreshment of the fruition of God, and everlasting rest for their souls: to which may He bring us who has promised it, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is above all God blessed for ever, Amen.
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[1 ]We read of criminals of olden time retiring to do penance in a monastery, of converted highwaymen turning monks, and the like. The ancient austere and cloistered orders afforded better ground for such transformations than do the orders and congregations of modern times, which have more of common life, of external activity, and of relations, sometimes sufficiently trying and dangerous, with the world about them. The limbs of such a body should be, not merely set and bandaged, but sound and whole. All that St. Thomas means in this Article is that it is well to enter religion young and innocent, and even inexperienced: there is no need for the aspirant’s virtue to have been previously tested by contact with the world and its wickedness. (Trl.)
[2 ]Satisfy, that is, for the temporal punishment due to sin, true repentance for the same being supposed. So the entry into religion by the first pronouncing of the vows is taken to be a perfect satisfaction for all temporal punishment due at the time. (Trl.)
[1 ]Daniel iv. 24.
[2 ]There were more temporal inducements to undertake the cure of souls when St. Thomas wrote than in our age of lost endowments. His remark applies even better to laymen, and the fears expressed for the continuance of the race. (Trl.)
[1 ]Isaias xl. 31.
[2 ]Ecclus. xxxvii. 12.
[3 ]Ecclus. xxxvii. 14, 15.
[1 ]1 St. John iv. 1.
[2 ]Psalm cxlii. 10.
[3 ]St. Luke xiv. 29.
[1 ]1 Kings xvii. 39.