The Theological Virtue of Faith – Part 1 of 4

The Dominican Father Thomas Pegues discusses St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on the Theological Virtues (Summa Theologica II-II, 1-46), wherein he teaches that the most important virtues are the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. They are the most important because “they are those whereby man attains his final end as far as he can and ought to attain it in this life so as to merit the possession of his final end in heaven.” Moreover, it is “impossible for man to perform any supernaturally good act without the theological virtues.”

“Faith,” writes Father Pegues, “is a supernatural virtue which makes our mind, even though it understand not, adhere most firmly and without fear of deception to what God has revealed principally about Himself, and of His will to give Himself to us some day as the object of our perfect happiness.” By having faith, one relies “on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” God can neither deceive nor be deceived “because He is Truth itself.”

We know of these truths “through them to whom He has revealed these truths, and through them to whose care He has confided the deposit of His revelation.” God revealed these truths “to Adam to whom He manifested Himself directly; subsequently to the Prophets of the Old Testament; and lastly, to the Apostles at the time of Jesus Christ.”

The written record of divine revelation is found in Sacred Scripture, the Bible. “God is the principal author of these books. . . . He chose certain men, as so many instruments, to write them.” Yet, it is possible for us to misunderstand the sense of Sacred Scripture because parts of it are obscure. “This obscurity is due first of all to the mysteries contained therein, since the Bible treats essentially of truths that God Himself alone knows, such as are beyond the reach of every created mind; this obscurity also arises from the antiquity of these books, which were written primarily for people whose tongue was other than ours and whose lives and customs differed from ours; and, lastly, this obscurity arises from mistakes that have crept either into the copies of the original language, or into the translations made thereof and into the copies of these translations.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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Grace and Merit

Father Pegues discusses St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on grace, as presented in the saint’s Treatise On Grace (Summa Theologica I-II, 109-114).

Father Pegues notes that laws help a person to live a virtuous life by avoiding a life of sin. But, law alone is not sufficient. The help of grace is also necessary. Grace is “a special help from God that assists him to do good and to avoid evil. Of himself, that is relying on the principle of his nature given to him by God, and upon the other natural helps around him, man can accomplish certain good acts and avoid certain evil acts even in the moral order or in the domain of virtue; but if God by His grace does not heal human nature which was wounded by sin, man would never be able to accomplish even in the order of natural virtue all the good required of him or to avoid all evil; moreover, in the order of supernatural virtue or as regards the good life that is to win heaven, man by his sole nature, without grace, can do absolutely nothing.”

The grace of the supernatural order implies two things: “a supernatural state of soul, and supernatural motions of the Holy Spirit.” The supernatural state of soul consists of “certain qualities introduced and preserved therein by God which in a sense make the very being and faculties of man divine.” The fundamental quality which divinizes his being is sanctifying grace, and the supernatural qualities which divinize the human faculties are the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit moves a person “to prepare himself to receive grace if he has it not, or to make daily progress therein if he already possesses it.” This movement, which is a type of actual grace, “cannot produce its full effect in us, in spite of us, and without our response. . . . Our free will must co-operate with the motion of actual grace.” This co-operation is called “correspondence with grace.”

When, in a state of sanctifying (habitual) grace, one performs an action in cooperation with actual grace, that action is meritorious. Father Pegues mentions two kinds of merit: merit de condigno and merit de congruo. Merit de condigno is “merit that demands recompense by right and in strict justice.” To be meritorious de condigno, “the act must be done under the impulse of actual grace; it must proceed from sanctifying grace by the virtue of charity; and it must tend towards the acquisition of eternal life for itself alone, or further, towards the increase of grace and of the virtues.” Merit de congruo is what God, on account of His friendship with a person, “deems fitting and in accord with His wishes” to grant that person. We can merit for others de congruo, but not de condigno; Christ alone merited for others de condigno.

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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The Divine Law

Father Pegues concludes his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on law by discussing a fourth type of law: the divine law.

The divine law is “the law given to men by God who manifests Himself supernaturally. God gave this law to men in the first place in a very simple way before their fall in the Garden of Eden; but He also gave it in a much more elaborate way, later on, through the medium of Moses and the Prophets, and in a way much more perfect by Jesus Christ and the Apostles.” The divine law given by God to men through Moses is called the Old Law, and the divine law given by God to men through Christ and the Apostles is called the New Law. God gave the Jewish people a special law “because this people was destined to prepare in the old world the coming of the Saviour of men who was to be born of the Jewish nation.”

The judiciary and ceremonial precepts of the Old Law were intended only for the Jewish people, whereas the moral precepts in the Old Law were carried over into the New Law. These moral precepts “constitute what is essential and absolutely obligatory concerning the conduct of every man.” They have “always been and always will be the same for all men.” They are identified with the natural law and are part of the divine law. “God Himself promulgated them solemnly when He manifested Himself to His chosen people at the time of Moses.” These moral precepts are called the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.

Do the Ten Commandments suffice to guide a person in the way of virtue? “They suffice as regards the principal virtues which have reference to the essential duties of man towards God and his neighbour; but for the perfection of all the virtues it was necessary for them to be further explained and completed by the teaching of the prophets in the Old Law, and still further by the teaching of Jesus Christ and the Apostles in the New Law.”

In the New Law, “the counsels are added to the precepts.” The counsels are “certain invitations offered by Jesus Christ to all souls of good will, to detach themselves from earthly things for love of Him and in order to obtain a more perfect enjoyment of Him in heaven, things that they might indeed desire and possess without detriment to virtue, but which might prove an obstacle to the perfection of virtue.” There are three counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. A person may practice these counsels in a very perfect way in the religious state of life.

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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Human Laws

Father Pegues continues his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on law by discussing a third type of law: human laws.

The first applications of the natural law concern (1) the perfecting of the individual, (2) the conservation of the human species, and (3) the welfare of man’s life as a rational creature. “All other precepts or determinations of the practical reason which affirm that this or that thing is or is not good for this or for that man, and binding him to do or to refrain from doing, are consequent more or less remotely upon these three first principles and their subordination.” These other precepts are not the same for all, because positive precepts “can vary almost without end according to the diversity of individual conditions of different human beings.” These various positive precepts are made by “the individual reason of each human being or by a competent authority in each of the different groups of human beings that form some society in particular.”

These various positive precepts are the subject matter of human laws. Human laws are “ordinations of reason made for the common good of this or that society of human beings, which are enacted and promulgated by the supreme authority of every society.” These laws must be obeyed by all who belong to this society. This obedience is “a duty of conscience that binds before God,” except in cases of impossibility or dispensation. “He only can dispense from obeying a law who is the maker of the law, or he who has the same authority as the maker of the law, or he who has received from this authority the power to dispense.”

“One is not bound to obey an unjust law, unless the refusal to obey cause scandal or grave trouble.” An unjust law “is one made without authority, or contrary to the common good, or one that injures the lawful rights of members of the society. If a law is unjust in that it offends the rights of God or the essential rights of the Church, one is never bound thereby. By the rights of God is meant whatever touches the honour and the worship of God, the Creator and Sovereign Master of all things; by the essential rights of the Church is meant whatever touches the mission of the Catholic Church as regards the sanctification of souls by the preaching of the truth and the administration of the sacraments.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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The Natural Law

Father Pegues continues his exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on law by discussing a second type of law: the natural law.

The natural law is “that inborn light of man’s practical reason by which he is able to direct himself and to act with knowledge consciously in such wise that his acts execute the eternal law, just as the natural actions of things produced by virtue of their natural inclination execute this same law unconsciously.”

The first precept of the natural law in man is that “man must seek what is good and avoid what is evil.” All the other precepts of the natural law are “applications thereof more or less immediate.” The first applications concern (1) “whatever is beneficial for or perfects his physical life”; (2) “whatever helps towards the conservation of the human species”; and (3) “whatever conduces to the welfare of his life as a rational being.”

“There follows from this that whatever is essential for the conservation of this threefold life, or that can help towards its perfection, is proclaimed a good thing by the practical reason of every man, in such a way, however, that among the three goods there is a certain subordination, so that by way of dignity the good of the reason comes first, then the good of the species, and then the good of the individual.” As regards the good of the individual, “this principle proclaims that man must eat for the sustenance of his body, and that he may never attempt his life.” As regards the good of the species, “this principle proclaims that there must be human beings who concern themselves with the conservation of the species by taking upon themselves the burden as well as the joys of fatherhood and motherhood; and that it is never lawful to do anything which tends to frustrate the object of fatherhood and motherhood.” As regards the good of reason, “this principle proclaims that man, who is the work of God from whom he has received his all, and who was made to live in the society of other men, should honour God as his Sovereign Lord and Master, and should act towards his fellow-beings according as the nature of his relations with them demands.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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Four Types of Law

Father Thomas Pegues states that, in order to live a virtuous life by avoiding a life of sin, a person needs these exterior helps: “laws which direct him, and grace which helps him on his journey.” Here and in the following three posts, we read how Father Pegues summarizes St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on law, which is found in St. Thomas’ Treatise on Law (Summa Theologica I-II, 90-108). After that, we shall look at his teaching on grace in his Treatise On Grace (Summa Theologica I-II, 109-114).

First, Father Pegues gives St. Thomas’ definition of law: a law is “an order of reason, for the common good, made and promulgated by one in authority.” Notice that there are four parts to this: (1) a law is an order of reason; (2) it is made for the common good; (3) it is made by one who has authority to make such a law; and (4) it is promulgated, that is, made known to those obliged to obey it.

Father Pegues elaborates on these four parts as follows. First, “an order or a commandment contrary to reason can never be a law; it is an act of despotism or of tyranny.” Second, a law is ordained to the common good because it “provides first of all for the good of the whole community, and does not concern itself with a part thereof or of the individual, except in so far as a part or an individual concurs in the general good.” Third, “it emanates from him upon whom it is incumbent to be mindful of the common good as if it were his own private good.” Fourth, “for a law to bind it is necessary that it be promulgated in such a way that it come to the knowledge of those whom it concerns. If, through one’s own fault, one is ignorant of the law, one is not excused from obeying the law.” Therefore, “it is very important to study the laws that concern us.”

There are four kinds of law that concern us: the eternal law, the natural law, human law, and the divine law. The eternal law is “the supreme law which rules all things, and on which all other laws depend, for these latter are only derivations or particular manifestations thereof. The eternal law is in God. It is manifested by the very order of things such as is found in the world.” The natural law is “that inborn light of man’s practical reason by which he is able to direct himself and to act with knowledge consciously in such wise that his acts execute the eternal law.” Human laws are “ordinations of reason made for the common good of this or that society of human beings.” And the divine law is “the law given to men by God who manifests Himself supernaturally.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Father Pegues continues his discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on the virtues by mentioning the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

We have need of the three theological virtues and the four cardinal morals virtues in order to live well. The gifts of the Holy Spirit perfect the virtues. The gifts are “habitual dispositions which are given to man by the Holy Ghost, and which make man yielding and docile to all the inspirations of the Holy Spirit that help man towards the possession of God in heaven.” There are seven of these gifts: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. To gain heaven, a person must not only act virtuously. God must also give him the gifts of the Holy Spirit because “man called to live as a child of God, is unable to attain to the perfection of this life unless God Himself, by His own action, makes perfect what man’s action could achieve only incompletely through the virtues.”

“When man is thus endowed with the virtues and the gifts he has, on his part, all that is required to live a perfect life in view of winning heaven. . . . He has already, in some sort, begun to live the life of heaven here on earth; and with this in mind one speaks of the beatitudes on earth, and of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.”

“By the beatitudes is meant the acts of the virtues and the gifts enumerated by our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel [Matt 5:3-10], which by their presence in the soul or by the merits which result there, give to us as it were a guarantee of the future beatitude promised to each of them.”

“By the fruit of the Holy Spirit is understood those good acts whose nature it is to give joy to the virtuous man in that he acts in the supernatural order under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.” The fruit of the Holy Spirit is charity, peace, patience, benignity, meekness, faithfulness, modesty, continency, and chastity. St. Paul speaks of this fruit in his Letter to the Galatians (5:22-23). “There can be nothing better for man on earth than to live thus the life of the virtues and of the gifts, from which spring the beatitudes and the fruit of the Holy Ghost.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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