Texts of Aquinas on Religious Vocation

Summa Theologiae

Summa Theologiae II-II 189:9

Whether one should persuade or draw another to enter religious life

It seems that no one should persuade, or draw, others to enter religious life. 1. For Blessed Benedict, in his rule, mandates that easy entrance is not to be offered to those coming, but it should be tested whether the spirits are from God. And Cassian in On Coenobitical Institutes IV, also teaches this. Therefore much less is it licit to persuade someone to enter religious life. …

3. Further, no one should draw someone to that which pertains to his detriment. But he who draws someone to the religious life, sometimes brings about detriment from this, since sometimes they are obliged to a greater religious life. Therefore it seems that it is not praiseworthy to draw men to religious life. …

I respond, it is to be said that those who draw others to religious life not only do not sin, but merit a great reward, for it is said in the last chapter of James, "He who turns a sinner from the error of his way, frees his soul from death, and covers a multitude of sins," and it is said in Dan. 12, "They who lead many to justice, as stars in perpetual eternities." Nevertheless a threefold disorder can come about in regard to this sort of leading. First of all, if someone violently forces another to religious life, which is prohibited in the Decrees XX, qu. III Secondly, if someone draws another to religious life by simony, giving him gifts, as is prohibited in the Decrees, qu. II, cap. Quam Pio. Still it does not pertain to this if someone ministers to the needs of some poor man in the world, nourishing him to religious life, or if, without a compact, he gives him small gifts to gain his familiarity. Thirdly, if he entices him by lies. For danger awaits the one so led, that when he finds that he was deceived, he should go back; and so the last state of the man becomes worst than the first, as is said in Mt. 12. …

To the first, therefore, it is to be said that to those who are drawn to religious life, a time of probation is still reserved, in which they experience the difficulties of religious life. And so a easy journey is not given them to the entrance of religious life. …

To the third it is to be said that the lesser is included in the greater. And therefore he who is obliged by vow or oath to enter a lesser religious life, can licitly be drawn to pass to a greater religious life, unless there is some specific thing which impedes him, such as infirmity, or hope of greater progress in the lesser religious life. But he who is obliged by vow or oath to enter the greater religious life, cannot licitly be led to the lesser religious life, except for some specific evident cause, and this with the dispensation of the superior.


Summa Theologiae II-II 189:10

Whether it is praise-worthy for someone to enter religious life without the counsel of many people and long previous deliberation

It seems that it is not praiseworthy for someone to enter religious life without the counsel of many people and long previous deliberation.

1. For it is said in 1 John 4:1, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God.” But sometimes the intention to enter religious life is not from God, since it is frequently dissolved by leaving religious life. For it is said in Acts 5:38, “If this counsel is from God you will not be able to dissolve it.” Therefore it seems that only after great previous deliberation should one enter religious life.

2. Further, it is said in Prov. 25:9, “Treat your affair with your friend.” But what pertains to a change of state, seems most of all to be a man’s affair. Therefore it seems that one should not enter religious life, unless he first treats with his friends.

3. Further, the Lord in Lk. 14:28, gives a likeness of “A man who wishes to build a tower, that first sitting down he calculates the means which are necessary, whether he has enough to complete it”; lest he should be mocked: “This man began to build, and could not finish.” Now the means for building the tower, as Augustine says in the letter to Laetus, “is nothing other than that each man renounce everything which is his.” But it sometimes happens that many cannot do this, and likewise cannot bear the other observances of religious life. In a figure of this it is said in 1 Sam. that “David could not walk in Saul’s weapons, because he was not used to them.” Therefore it seems that one should not enter religious life except after long previous deliberation and having taken counsel from many people.

I respond, it should be said that long deliberation and the counsel of many people are required in great and doubtful things, as the Philosopher says in Ethics III, but counsel is not required in those things which are certain and determined. Now three things can be considered concerning the entrance into religious life. First of all the entrance into religious life according to itself. And thus it is certain that entrance into religious life is the better good, and he who doubts about this insofar as it is in itself, disparages Christ, who gave this counsel. Whence Augustine says in On the Words of the Lord, “The East calls you,” that is Christ, “And you look to the West,” that is to mortal man, who is able to err. In the second way, the entrance into religious life can be considered in relation to the strength of the one who is to enter it. And thus also there is not a place for doubt about the entrance into religious life, since those who enter religious life do not trust that they can persevere in it by their own power, but by the help of the divine power, according to Is. 40:31, “They who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will take wings as eagles, they will run and not toil, they will walk and not faint.” Yet if there is some specific obstacle, such as bodily weakness or the burden of debts, or things of this kind, deliberation about them is required, and counsel with those whom it is hoped will help and not hinder. Whence it is said in Sir. 37:12, “Treat with an irreligious man about holiness, and with an unjust man about justice”; as though it were to say: Do not. Whence follows, “Do not attend to these in any counsel, but be constantly with a holy man.” Nevertheless long deliberation is not to be had in these things. Whence Jerome says in his letter To Paulinus, “Hurry, I beseech you, and cut rather than untie the rope that holds the boat to shore.” Thirdly the way of entering religious life can be considered, and which religious order one should enter. And about such things also counsel can be had with those who will not hinder one.

To the first it should be said that when it is said, “Test the spirits, whether they are from God,” this has a place in those spirits about which it is doubtful whether they are spirits of God, as there can be a doubt for those who are in the religious state, whether he who offers himself to this state is led by the Spirit of God, or comes deceivingly. And therefore they should test whether the one who comes is moved by the divine spirit. But for him who seeks religious life, there cannot be a doubt about whether the intention of entering religious life has arisen in his heart from the Holy Spirit, to whom it belongs to lead man into the right land.

Nor does the fact that some go back show that it is not from God. For not everything which is from God is imperishable; otherwise perishable creatures would not be from God, as the Manicheans say, nor would those who have grace from God be able to lose it, which is also heretical. But God’s counsel by which he makes perishable and changeable things, is indissoluble, according to Is. 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and my every will shall come to be.” And therefore the intention of entering religious life does not need testing whether it is from God, since “Things which are certain do not need discussion,” as the Gloss says on the last chapter of first Thessalonians, “Test all things.”

To the second it should be said, that as “the flesh lusts against the spirit,” as is said in Gal. 5:18, so also frequently fleshly friends are opposed to spiritual progress: according to Mic 7:6: “A man’s enemies are those of his household.” Whence Cyril, expounding Lk 9:61, “Let me take leave of those who are at my home,” says: “Seeking to take leave of those who are at home, shows that he was in some way divided: for to communicate with his neighbors, and to consult those unwilling to relish just [equal] things, indicates that he is still in some way weakening and going back. On account of which, he hears from the Lord: “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looked back is fit for the kingdom of God.” For he looks back who seeks delay for a chance to return home and confer with kinsfolk.

To the third it should be said that by the building of the tower the perfection of the Christian life is signified. Now the renunciation of one’s own things is the means for building the tower. But no one doubts or deliberates about whether he desires to have the means, or whether he can build the tower if he has the means; but whether someone has the means comes under deliberation. Likewise it should not fall under deliberation whether someone should renounce all the things which he possesses, or whether by doing this he could reach perfection. But it falls under deliberation whether this thing which he does, is the renunciation of all the things which he possesses, since unless he has renounced them, which is to have the means, he cannot, as is added in the same place, be a disciple of Christ, which is to build the tower.

And the fear of those who tremble whether by entering religious life they can reach perfection, is proven to be unreasonable by the example of many. Whence Augustine says in the Confessions VIII, “From that direction where I had set my face and towards which I was afraid to move, there appeared the dignified and chaste Lady Continence, serene and cheerful without coquetry, enticing me in an honorable manner to come and not to hesitate. To receive and embrace me she stretched out pious hands, filled with numerous good examples for me to follow. There were large numbers of boys and girls, a multitude of all ages, young adults and grave widows and elderly virgins. In every one of them was Continence herself… And she smiled on me with a smile of encouragement as if to say: ‘Are you incapable of doing what these men and women have done? Do you think them capable of achieving this by their own resources and not by the Lord their God? Their Lord God gave me to them. Why are you relying on yourself, only to find yourself unreliable? Cast yourself upon him, do not be afraid. He will not withdraw himself so that you fall. Make the leap without anxiety; he will catch you and heal you.’”

And the example given of David does not prove the intention. For Saul’s weapons, as the Gloss says, are “the sacraments of the law as though weighty,” while religious life is the sweet yoke of Christ, since, as Gregory says in Moral. IV, “What heavy yoke does he put upon our minds, who commands us to avoid every desire which perturbs, who advises us to turn away from the laborious journeys of this world?” To those taking this yoke upon themselves he promises the refreshment of the divine enjoyment, and the eternal rest of souls. May he bring us to this, he who has promised, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who is God over all things blessed for ever. Amen.


Contra Doctrinam Retrahentium

Against the Teaching of Those Who Withdraw Men From Entering Religious Life, Ch. 10

The saying which is brought forward in the third place, “Test whether the spirits are from God,” does not prove the point. For testing is necessary where there is not certainty; hence on the text “test all things,” the Gloss says, “things that are certain do not need discussion.” Now to those who are in a position of accepting others into religious life, there may be doubt about in what spirit these persons come to religious life, namely whether they come out of a desire for spiritual progress, or as is sometimes happens, they come for investigating or evildoing; or there may be doubt about whether those who come are fit for religious life. And therefore a testing of those who are to be received, is appointed both by the Church’s ordinance and by the religious rule. But to those who pursue the intention of taking up religious life, there can be no doubt regarding with what intention they do it. Hence no necessity of deliberating lies upon them, especially if they are confident about their bodily strength, for examining which a year of testing is granted to those who enter religious life.

...What is proposed fourthly, that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and many times suggests good things with the intention of deceiving, is true. But as the Gloss says on that passage, “when the devil deceives the bodily sense, but does not move the mind from true and right judgment, by which each one leads a faithful life, there is no danger in religious life; or when pretending to be good, he either does or says those things that are fitting to good angels, even if he is believed to be a good angel, it is not a dangerous or unhealthy error.”... Therefore given that the devil incited someone to enter religious life, this would be a good work, and fitting to the good angels. Hence there would not be a danger if someone consented to him in this; but he would have to be watchful to resist him when he began to [try to] lead him to pride or to other vices. For it frequently happens that God uses the malice of demons for the good of the saints... Yet it should be known that if the devil suggests to someone that he enter religious life, or if another man suggests this to him, this suggestion has no efficacy unless he is drawn interiorly by God; for by entering religious life, one sets out to follow Christ, [and no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (Cf. John 6:44)].


See Fr. Richard Butler's book on vocation in Aquinas: Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery. Here you can also find a small selection of quotes from the book.

What is a vocation according to Aquinas - a short article that considers the vocation to marriage and to religious life in light of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas

The Teaching of the Catholic Church on vocation

The Fathers of the Church on vocation

Pope John Paul II on vocation

Books and articles on vocation