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St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica

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    • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[1] Out. Para. 1/4 - SECOND PART OF THE SECOND PART (SS) (QQ[1]-189)
      • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF THE ACTIVE LIFE IN COMPARISON WITH THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE (FOUR
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Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF THE ACTIVE LIFE IN COMPARISON WITH THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE (FOUR
ARTICLES)

We must now consider the active life in comparison with the
contemplative life, under which head there are four points of inquiry:

(1) Which of them is of greater import or excellence?

(2) Which of them has the greater merit?

(3) Whether the contemplative life is hindered by the active life?

(4) Of their order.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the active life is more excellent than the contemplative?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the active life is more excellent than the
contemplative. For "that which belongs to better men would seem to be
worthier and better," as the Philosopher says (Top. iii, 1). Now the
active life belongs to persons of higher rank, namely prelates, who are
placed in a position of honor and power; wherefore Augustine says (De
Civ. Dei xix, 19) that "in our actions we must not love honor or power in
this life." Therefore it would seem that the active life is more
excellent than the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, in all habits and acts, direction belongs to the more
important; thus the military art, being the more important, directs the
art of the bridle-maker [*Ethic. i, 1]. Now it belongs to the active life
to direct and command the contemplative, as appears from the words
addressed to Moses (Ex. 19:21), "Go down and charge the people, lest they
should have a mind to pass the" fixed "limits to see the Lord." Therefore
the active life is more excellent than the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, no man should be taken away from a greater thing in
order to be occupied with lesser things: for the Apostle says (1 Cor.
12:31): "Be zealous for the better gifts." Now some are taken away from
the state of the contemplative life to the occupations of the active
life, as in the case of those who are transferred to the state of
prelacy. Therefore it would seem that the active life is more excellent
than the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Our Lord said (Lk. 10:42): "Mary hath chosen the best
part, which shall not be taken away from her." Now Mary figures the
contemplative life. Therefore the contemplative life is more excellent
than the active.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Body Para. 1/3

I answer that, Nothing prevents certain things being more excellent in
themselves, whereas they are surpassed by another in some respect.
Accordingly we must reply that the contemplative life is simply more
excellent than the active: and the Philosopher proves this by eight
reasons (Ethic. x, 7,8). The first is, because the contemplative life
becomes man according to that which is best in him, namely the intellect,
and according to its proper objects, namely things intelligible; whereas
the active life is occupied with externals. Hence Rachael, by whom the
contemplative life is signified, is interpreted "the vision of the
principle," [*Or rather, 'One seeing the principle,' if derived from
{rah} and {irzn}; Cf. Jerome, De Nom. Hebr.] whereas as Gregory says
(Moral. vi, 37) the active life is signified by Lia who was blear-eyed.
The second reason is because the contemplative life can be more
continuous, although not as regards the highest degree of contemplation,
as stated above (Q[180], A[8], ad 2; Q[181], A[4], ad 3), wherefore Mary,
by whom the contemplative life is signified, is described as "sitting"
all the time "at the Lord's feet." Thirdly, because the contemplative
life is more delightful than the active; wherefore Augustine says (De
Verb. Dom. Serm. ciii) that "Martha was troubled, but Mary feasted."
Fourthly, because in the contemplative life man is more self-sufficient,
since he needs fewer things for that purpose; wherefore it was said (Lk.
10:41): "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many
things." Fifthly, because the contemplative life is loved more for its
own sake, while the active life is directed to something else. Hence it
is written (Ps. 36:4): "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I
seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my
life, that I may see the delight of the Lord." Sixthly, because the
contemplative life consists in leisure and rest, according to Ps. 45:11,
"Be still and see that I am God." Seventhly, because the contemplative
life is according to Divine things, whereas active life is according to
human things; wherefore Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. Serm. civ): "'In
the beginning was the Word': to Him was Mary hearkening: 'The Word was
made flesh': Him was Martha serving." Eighthly, because the contemplative
life is according to that which is most proper to man, namely his
intellect; whereas in the works of the active life the lower powers also,
which are common to us and brutes, have their part; wherefore (Ps. 35:7)
after the words, "Men and beasts Thou wilt preserve, O Lord," that which
is special to man is added (Ps. 35:10): "In Thy light we shall see light."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Body Para. 2/3

Our Lord adds a ninth reason (Lk. 10:42) when He says: "Mary hath chosen
the best part, which shall not be taken away from her," which words
Augustine (De Verb. Dom. Serm. ciii) expounds thus: "Not - Thou hast
chosen badly but - She has chosen better. Why better? Listen - because it
shall not be taken away from her. But the burden of necessity shall at
length be taken from thee: whereas the sweetness of truth is eternal."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] Body Para. 3/3

Yet in a restricted sense and in a particular case one should prefer the
active life on account of the needs of the present life. Thus too the
Philosopher says (Topic. iii, 2): "It is better to be wise than to be
rich, yet for one who is in need, it is better to be rich . . ."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Not only the active life concerns prelates, they should
also excel in the contemplative life; hence Gregory says (Pastor. ii, 1):
"A prelate should be foremost in action, more uplifted than others in
contemplation."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: The contemplative life consists in a certain liberty of
mind. For Gregory says (Hom. iii in Ezech.) that "the contemplative life
obtains a certain freedom of mind, for it thinks not of temporal but of
eternal things." And Boethius says (De Consol. v, 2): "The soul of man
must needs be more free while it continues to gaze on the Divine mind,
and less so when it stoops to bodily things." Wherefore it is evident
that the active life does not directly command the contemplative life,
but prescribes certain works of the active life as dispositions to the
contemplative life; which it accordingly serves rather than commands.
Gregory refers to this when he says (Hom. iii in Ezech.) that "the active
life is bondage, whereas the contemplative life is freedom."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[1] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: Sometimes a man is called away from the contemplative life
to the works of the active life, on account of some necessity of the
present life, yet not so as to be compelled to forsake contemplation
altogether. Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 19): "The love of
truth seeks a holy leisure, the demands of charity undertake an honest
toil," the work namely of the active life. "If no one imposes this burden
upon us we must devote ourselves to the research and contemplation of
truth, but if it be imposed on us, we must bear it because charity
demands it of us. Yet even then we must not altogether forsake the
delights of truth, lest we deprive ourselves of its sweetness, and this
burden overwhelm us." Hence it is clear that when a person is called from
the contemplative life to the active life, this is done by way not of
subtraction but of addition.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the active life is of greater merit than the contemplative?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the active life is of greater merit than the
contemplative. For merit implies relation to meed; and meed is due to
labor, according to 1 Cor. 3:8, "Every man shall receive his own reward
according to his own labor." Now labor is ascribed to the active life,
and rest to the contemplative life; for Gregory says (Hom. xiv in
Ezech.): "Whosoever is converted to God must first of all sweat from
labor, i.e. he must take Lia, that afterwards he may rest in the embraces
of Rachel so as to see the principle." Therefore the active life is of
greater merit than the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, the contemplative life is a beginning of the happiness
to come; wherefore Augustine commenting on Jn. 21:22, "So I will have him
to remain till I come," says (Tract. cxxiv in Joan.): "This may be
expressed more clearly: Let perfect works follow Me conformed to the
example of My passion, and let contemplation begun here remain until I
come, that it may be perfected when I shall come." And Gregory says (Hom.
xiv in Ezech.) that "contemplation begins here, so as to be perfected in
our heavenly home." Now the life to come will be a state not of meriting
but of receiving the reward of our merits. Therefore the contemplative
life would seem to have less of the character of merit than the active,
but more of the character of reward.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, Gregory says (Hom. xii in Ezech.) that "no sacrifice is
more acceptable to God than zeal for souls." Now by the zeal for souls a
man turns to the occupations of the active life. Therefore it would seem
that the contemplative life is not of greater merit than the active.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37): "Great are the merits of
the active life, but greater still those of the contemplative."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, As stated above (FS, Q[114], A[4]), the root of merit is
charity; and, while, as stated above (Q[25], A[1]), charity consists in
the love of God and our neighbor, the love of God is by itself more
meritorious than the love of our neighbor, as stated above (Q[27], A[8]).
Wherefore that which pertains more directly to the love of God is
generically more meritorious than that which pertains directly to the
love of our neighbor for God's sake. Now the contemplative life pertains
directly and immediately to the love of God; for Augustine says (De Civ.
Dei xix, 19) that "the love of" the Divine "truth seeks a holy leisure,"
namely of the contemplative life, for it is that truth above all which
the contemplative life seeks, as stated above (Q[181], A[4], ad 2). On
the other hand, the active life is more directly concerned with the love
of our neighbor, because it is "busy about much serving" (Lk. 10:40).
Wherefore the contemplative life is generically of greater merit than the
active life. This is moreover asserted by Gregory (Hom. iii in Ezech.):
"The contemplative life surpasses in merit the active life, because the
latter labors under the stress of present work," by reason of the
necessity of assisting our neighbor, "while the former with heartfelt
relish has a foretaste of the coming rest," i.e. the contemplation of God.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] Body Para. 2/2

Nevertheless it may happen that one man merits more by the works of the
active life than another by the works of the contemplative life. For
instance through excess of Divine love a man may now and then suffer
separation from the sweetness of Divine contemplation for the time being,
that God's will may be done and for His glory's sake. Thus the Apostle
says (Rm. 9:3): "I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my
brethren"; which words Chrysostom expounds as follows (De Compunct. i, 7
[*Ad Demetr. de Compunct. Cordis.]): "His mind was so steeped in the love
of Christ that, although he desired above all to be with Christ, he
despised even this, because thus he pleased Christ."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: External labor conduces to the increase of the accidental
reward; but the increase of merit with regard to the essential reward
consists chiefly in charity, whereof external labor borne for Christ's
sake is a sign. Yet a much more expressive sign thereof is shown when a
man, renouncing whatsoever pertains to this life, delights to occupy
himself entirely with Divine contemplation.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: In the state of future happiness man has arrived at
perfection, wherefore there is no room for advancement by merit; and if
there were, the merit would be more efficacious by reason of the greater
charity. But in the present life contemplation is not without some
imperfection, and can always become more perfect; wherefore it does not
remove the idea of merit, but causes a yet greater merit on account of
the practice of greater Divine charity.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[2] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: A sacrifice is rendered to God spiritually when something
is offered to Him; and of all man's goods, God specially accepts that of
the human soul when it is offered to Him in sacrifice. Now a man ought to
offer to God, in the first place, his soul, according to Ecclus. 30:24,
"Have pity on thy own soul, pleasing God"; in the second place, the souls
of others, according to Apoc. 22:17, "He that heareth, let him say:
Come." And the more closely a man unites his own or another's soul to
God, the more acceptable is his sacrifice to God; wherefore it is more
acceptable to God that one apply one's own soul and the souls of others
to contemplation than to action. Consequently the statement that "no
sacrifice is more acceptable to God than zeal for souls," does not mean
that the merit of the active life is preferable to the merit of the
contemplative life, but that it is more meritorious to offer to God one's
own soul and the souls of others, than any other external gifts.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the contemplative life is hindered by the active life?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the contemplative life is hindered by the
active life. For the contemplative life requires a certain stillness of
mind, according to Ps. 45:11, "Be still, and see that I am God"; whereas
the active life involves restlessness, according to Lk. 10:41, "Martha,
Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things." Therefore the
active life hinders the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, clearness of vision is a requisite for the contemplative
life. Now active life is a hindrance to clear vision; for Gregory says
(Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that it "is blear-eyed and fruitful, because the
active life, being occupied with work, sees less." Therefore the active
life hinders the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, one contrary hinders the other. Now the active and the
contemplative life are apparently contrary to one another, since the
active life is busy about many things, while the contemplative life
attends to the contemplation of one; wherefore they differ in opposition
to one another. Therefore it would seem that the contemplative life is
hindered by the active.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37): "Those who wish to hold
the fortress of contemplation, must first of all train in the camp of
action."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, The active life may be considered from two points of
view. First, as regards the attention to and practice of external works:
and thus it is evident that the active life hinders the contemplative, in
so far as it is impossible for one to be busy with external action, and
at the same time give oneself to Divine contemplation. Secondly, active
life may be considered as quieting and directing the internal passions of
the soul; and from this point of view the active life is a help to the
contemplative, since the latter is hindered by the inordinateness of the
internal passions. Hence Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37): "Those who wish to
hold the fortress of contemplation must first of all train in the camp of
action. Thus after careful study they will learn whether they no longer
wrong their neighbor, whether they bear with equanimity the wrongs their
neighbors do to them, whether their soul is neither overcome with joy in
the presence of temporal goods, nor cast down with too great a sorrow
when those goods are withdrawn. In this way they will known when they
withdraw within themselves, in order to explore spiritual things, whether
they no longer carry with them the shadows of the things corporeal, or,
if these follow them, whether they prudently drive them away." Hence the
work of the active life conduces to the contemplative, by quelling the
interior passions which give rise to the phantasms whereby contemplation
is hindered.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[3] Body Para. 2/2

This suffices for the Replies to the Objections; for these arguments
consider the occupation itself of external actions, and not the effect
which is the quelling of the passions.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the active life precedes the contemplative?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the active life does not precede the
contemplative. For the contemplative life pertains directly to the love
of God; while the active life pertains to the love of our neighbor. Now
the love of God precedes the love of our neighbor, since we love our
neighbor for God's sake. Seemingly therefore the contemplative life also
precedes the active life.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.): "It should be
observed that while a well-ordered life proceeds from action to
contemplation, sometimes it is useful for the soul to turn from the
contemplative to the active life." Therefore the active is not simply
prior to the contemplative.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it would seem that there is not necessarily any order
between things that are suitable to different subjects. Now the active
and the contemplative life are suitable to different subjects; for
Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37): "Often those who were able to contemplate
God so long as they were undisturbed have fallen when pressed with
occupation; and frequently they who might live advantageously occupied
with the service of their fellow-creatures are killed by the sword of
their inaction."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, A thing is said to precede in two ways. First, with
regard to its nature; and in this way the contemplative life precedes the
active, inasmuch as it applies itself to things which precede and are
better than others, wherefore it moves and directs the active life. For
the higher reason which is assigned to contemplation is compared to the
lower reason which is assigned to action, and the husband is compared to
his wife, who should be ruled by her husband, as Augustine says (De Trin.
xii, 3,7,12).

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] Body Para. 2/2

Secondly, a thing precedes with regard to us, because it comes first in
the order of generation. In this way the active precedes the
contemplative life, because it disposes one to it, as stated above (A[1];
Q[181], A[1], ad 3); and, in the order of generation, disposition
precedes form, although the latter precedes simply and according to its
nature.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] R.O. 1 Para. 1/2

Reply OBJ 1: The contemplative life is directed to the love of God, not
of any degree, but to that which is perfect; whereas the active life is
necessary for any degree of the love of our neighbor. Hence Gregory says
(Hom. iii in Ezech.): "Without the contemplative life it is possible to
enter the heavenly kingdom, provided one omit not the good actions we are
able to do; but we cannot enter therein without the active life, if we
neglect to do the good we can do."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] R.O. 1 Para. 2/2

From this it is also evident that the active precedes the contemplative
life, as that which is common to all precedes, in the order of
generation, that which is proper to the perfect.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Progress from the active to the contemplative life is
according to the order of generation; whereas the return from the
contemplative life to the active is according to the order of direction,
in so far as the active life is directed by the contemplative. Even thus
habit is acquired by acts, and by the acquired habit one acts yet more
perfectly, as stated in Ethic. ii, 7.
Aquin.: SMT SS Q[182] A[4] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: He that is prone to yield to his passions on account of his
impulse to action is simply more apt for the active life by reason of his
restless spirit. Hence Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37) that "there be some
so restless that when they are free from labor they labor all the more,
because the more leisure they have for thought, the worse interior
turmoil they have to bear." Others, on the contrary, have the mind
naturally pure and restful, so that they are apt for contemplation, and
if they were to apply themselves wholly to action, this would be
detrimental to them. Wherefore Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37) that "some
are so slothful of mind that if they chance to have any hard work to do
they give way at the very outset." Yet, as he adds further on, "often . .
. love stimulates slothful souls to work, and fear restrains souls that
are disturbed in contemplation." Consequently those who are more adapted
to the active life can prepare themselves for the contemplative by the
practice of the active life; while none the less, those who are more
adapted to the contemplative life can take upon themselves the works of
the active life, so as to become yet more apt for contemplation.





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