Here you will find a compilation of texts of St. Thomas Aquinas on love, vocation, and perfection. All of the texts cited or mentioned in the book Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation, may be found here, often with expanded contexts.
Proceeding thus to the fourth. It seems that unfittingly were certain determinate counsels given in the new law.
1. For counsels are given about things expedient for an end, as was said above, when counsel was treated. But the same things are not expedient for all. Therefore no determinate counsels should have been given.
2. Further, counsels are given in regard to a better good. But there are not determinate degrees of better goods. Therefore no determinate counsels should have been given.
3. Further, counsels pertain to the perfection of life. But obedience pertains to the perfection of life. Therefore unfittingly was a counsel not given in the Gospel in regard to it.
4. Further, many things pertaining to the perfection of life are put among the precepts, as the saying, love your enemies, and also the precepts which the Lord gave the apostles in Mt. 10. Therefore counsels are given unfittingly in the new law, both because not all are given, and because they are not distinguished from precepts.
But against this, the counsels of a wise friend bring great benefit, according to Prov. 27, the heart delights in ointment and various odors, and the soul is gladdened by the good counsels of a friend. But Christ is most of all a wise man and a friend. Therefore his counsels hold great benefit, and are fitting.
I respond, it is to be said that the difference between counsel and precept is that a precept brings necessity, while a counsel is placed in the choice of the one to whom it is given. And therefore fittingly in the new law, which is the law of liberty, counsels were added beyond the precepts, while they were not in the old law, which was the law of slavery. Therefore the precepts of the new law must be understood to be given in regard to those things which are necessary for obtaining eternal happiness, the end to which the new law immediately leads. But counsels must be about those things through which man can better and more expeditiously obtain the aforesaid end.
Now man is set between the things of this world and spiritual goods, in which eternal happiness consists, in such a way that to the degree that he adheres more to one of them, he withdraws more from the other, and conversely. Therefore he who entirely adheres to the things of this world, so that he places his end in them, holding them as the accounts and rules for all his works, entirely falls away from spiritual goods. And therefore disorder of this kind is taken away by precepts. But for man to entirely cast aside the things of this world is not necessary for reaching the aforesaid end, because man can reach eternal happiness while using the things of this world, as long as he does not place his end in them. But he reaches it more expeditiously by entirely casting aside the goods of this world. And therefore the counsels of the gospel are given about this.
The goods of this world, which pertain to the use of human life, consist in three things, namely in the wealth of exterior goods, which pertain to the lust of the eyes, in the delights of the flesh, which pertain to the lust of the flesh, and in honors, which pertain to the pride of life, as is evident from 1 John 2. Now to leave these things entirely behind, insofar as this is possible, pertains to the evangelical counsels. In these three is founded all religious life, which professes a state of perfection; for riches are given up by poverty, the delights of the flesh by perpetual chastity, the pride of life by the servitude of obedience. These observed simply pertain to the counsels given simply. But the observation of any particular one of them in some special case, pertains to the counsel in some regard, namely in that case. For example, when a man gives alms to a poor man which he is not bound to give, he follows the counsel with respect to that deed. Likewise when he abstains for some determinate time from the delights of the flesh in order to devote himself to prayer, he follows the counsel for that time. Likewise when someone does not follow his own will in some deed which he could licitly do, he follows the counsel in that case, as for example if someone does good to his enemies when he is not bound to do so, or forgives an offense for which he could justly exact punishment. And thus all particular counsels are taken back to those three general and perfect counsels.
To the first, therefore, it is to be said that the aforesaid counsels according to themselves are expedient for all, but by the indisposition of some it happens that they are not expedient for someone, because their affections are not inclined to them. And therefore the Lord, giving the evangelical counsels, always mentions the suitability of men for observing the counsels. For giving the counsel of perpetual poverty in Mt. 19, he first says, if you wish to be perfect, and then adds, go and sell all that you have. Likewise, giving the counsel of perpetual chastity, after he says, there are eunuchs who have castrated themselves for kingdom of the heaven, he immediately adds, he who can accept it, let him accept it. And similarly the Apostle in 1 Cor. 7, having given the counsel of virginity, says, again I say this for your benefit, not that I may cast a snare for you.
To the second it is to be said that goods better in a particular case in individuals are indeterminate. But those things which are simply and absolutely better goods in the universal, are determinate. And to these all those particular goods are taken back, as was said.
To the third it is to be said that the Lord is understood to have given the counsel of obedience when he said, “and follow me,” whom we follow not only by imitating his works, but also by obeying his commands, according to Jn. 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.”
To the fourth it is to be said that those things which the Lord teaches in Mt. V and Lk. 6 about true love of enemies, and similar things, if they are referred to the preparation of the soul, are of necessity for salvation, namely that man is prepared to do good to his enemies, and to do other things of this kind, when necessity requires this. And therefore they are put among the precepts.
But that someone actually shows this to this enemies promptly, where there is not a special necessity, pertains to particular counsels, as was said. And those things which are given in Mt. 10 and Lk. 9 and 10, were certain precepts of discipline for that time, or certain concessions, as was said above. And therefore they are not brought in as counsels.
It seems that it is not praiseworthy for someone to enter religious life without the counsel of many people and without long deliberation.
1. For it is said, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.” (1 John 4:1) 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: “If this counsel is from God you will not be able to dissolve it.” (Acts 5:38) Therefore it seems that one should enter religious life only after great deliberation.
2. Further, it is said, “Discuss your affair with your friend.” (in Prov. 25:9) 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 discusses it with his friends.
3. Further, the Lord 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.” (Lk. 14:28) Now the means for building the tower, as Augustine says in the letter to Laetus, “is nothing other than that each man renounce all that is his.” But it sometimes happens that many cannot do this, and similarly cannot bear the other observances of religious life. In a figure of this it is said that “David could not walk in Saul’s weapons, because he was not used to them.” (1 Sam. 17:39) Therefore it seems that one should not enter religious life except after long deliberation and having gotten counsel from many people.
But against this is what is said in Matthew, that at the Lord’s calling, Peter and Andrew, leaving their nets, followed him immediately; (Mat 4:21-22) Chrysostom says about this, “Christ seeks such obedience from us that we should not delay for a moment.”
I respond, it is to 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 in things which are certain and determinate, counsel is not required. Now three things can be considered concerning the entrance into religious life. First of all the entrance into religious life considered in itself. And in this way it is certain that entrance into religious life is the better good, and he who doubts about this superiority that it has in itself, disparages Christ, who gave this counsel. Hence 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. Entrance into religious life can also be considered in another way, 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 stand by their own power, but with the help of the divine power, according to Isaiah, “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.” (Isa 40:31) Nevertheless if there is some specific impediment, such as bodily weakness or the burden of debts, or something similar, then deliberation is required, and counsel with those whom one hopes will help and not hinder one. Hence 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. Hence follows, “Do not attend to these in any counsel, but be constantly with a holy man.” Nevertheless long deliberation is not to be made about these things. Hence 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 also about such things counsel can be taken with those who will not hinder one.
1. To the first, therefore, it should be said that the saying, “Test whether the spirits are from God,” applies to things about which there is some doubt as to whether it is the Spirit of God [that is at work]. Thus those who are in religious life can have doubt as to whether he who offers himself for the religious life is led by the Spirit of God, or is merely pretending. But for him who seeks religious life, there can be no doubt as to whether the will to enter religious life that has arisen in his heart is from the Spirit of God, to whom it belongs to lead man to the right land (cf. Ps 143:10)
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 will to enter religious life does not need to be tested to see whether it is from God; for “things that are certain do not need discussion,” as the Gloss says about the precept, “Test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21).
2. To the second it is to be said, that as “the flesh lusts against the spirit,” (Gal. 5:18) so also fleshly friends are frequently opposed to spiritual progress: “A man’s enemies are those of his household.” (Mic 7:6) Hence Cyril, explaining the passage in Luke, “Let me take leave of those who are at my home,” (Lk 9:61) says: “Seeking to take leave of those who are at home, he shows that he was in some way divided: for to communicate with his neighbors, and to consult those unwilling to relish like things, indicates that he is in some way still weakening and going back. On account of this, 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.”
3. To the third it is to be said that by the building of the tower the perfection of the Christian life is signified. And the renunciation of what belongs to one is the means for building the tower. Now no one doubts or deliberates about whether he wants to have the means, or whether he can build the tower if he has the means, but what one deliberates about, is whether one has the means. Likewise one need not deliberate about whether someone should renounce all the things he possesses, or whether by doing this he could reach perfection. But one may deliberate about whether what he is doing is the renunciation of all the things which he possesses, since unless he renounces 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 are afraid as to whether by entering religious life they can reach perfection, is unreasonable, and is refuted by the example of many people. Hence Augustine says in Confessions VIII, “there appeared to me in the direction in which I had turned my face, and towards which I was afraid to go, the chaste dignity of continence, honourably urging me to come and not to doubt, and extending to receive me pious hands full of flocks of good examples: there so many boys and girls, there so much youth and every age, and grave widows and elderly virgins. She smiled at me with an encouraging smile, as if to say, ‘Can you not do what these men and women have done? Think you that these are able in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? Why do you stand in yourself, and do not stand? Cast yourself on him. Do not fear, he will not withdraw himself, so that you fall. Cast yourself on him, secure, and he will catch and heal you.’”
And the example which is brought up of David is not to the point. For Saul’s weapons, as the Gloss says, are “the sacraments of the [old] law as though burdensome,” while religious life is the sweet yoke of Christ, since, as Gregory says in Moralia IV, “What heavy yoke does he put upon our minds, who commands us to avoid every desire which perturbs us, 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.