Texts of Aquinas on the Counsels

Commentary on the Sentences

In I Sent., dist. 45, article 4

Whether the will of God is distinguished into the will of good-pleasure and the will of sign
Proceeding thus to the fourth. It seems that the distinction of the will given in the text [of Lombard] is unfitting.

1. For as God's will relates to many things, so does his knowledge. But diverse signs are not assigned to his knowledge. Therefore it seems that they should not be assigned to his will, either, since his knowledge and will are equally hidden.

2. Further, every sign to which nothing signified corresponds as signified by it, is a false sign. But to those signs of will given in the text, sometimes no thing signified corresponds; for God permits evil things, which he does not will, and he also commands goods that he does not will to come about, as is said in the text. Therefore it seems that they are false signs, and thus should not be assigned as signs.
3. Further, as we find good and better [goods], so we find bad and worse [evils], such as venial and mortal [sin]. But there is only one sign that regards the doing of these evil things, namely prohibition. Therefore it seems that there should also be only one sign of good things, and not two, namely precept and counsel.
4. Further, the object of the will is the good. But it is not good for evil to be done, as will be said below (dist. 46, a. 4). Therefore there should be no sign of the divine will with respect to evil, and thus permission is superfluous.
5. Further, as  signs of the will regard diverse things, so also the will of good-pleasure is of diverse things. Therefore if diverse signs of the will are assigned due to the diversity of these things, it seems that also the will of good-pleasure should be made manifold; or if not, neither should the signs of will be manifold.
I respond, it should be said that some things are said about God properly, some metaphorically. Those things said properly about him are truly in him, but those things said metaphorically about him are said about him by way of likeness on account of  relation to some effect, as he is called fire in Deut 4, because as fire stands to consuming its contrary, so God stands to consuming wickedness. Hence for him to be one who destroys wickedness, is for him to be fire, and his consumption (in the active sense) is his fieriness. In this way his punishing is called his anger; and since an effect is the sign of its cause, those things according to which the likeness of anger or of another thing is found are said to be signs; hence punishing is called a sign of his anger.

But I say that God can be called something in two ways: (1) properly, and thus he is said to will that thing of which the will is truly in him, and which is pleasing to him, and this is called the will of good-pleasure. He is also said to will something metaphorically, because he stands to it in the manner of one who wills it, insofar as he commands or counsels or does something of this kind. Hence those things in which a likeness of the thing to the will of God is found, are called his wills metaphorically, and since such things are effects, they are called signs. 

Now since these signs are assigned to the divine will insofar as it is of human affairs, for which it provides in a special manner, the account of the diversity of these signs is as follows: a sign of will can be taken either according to the ordering of man to the end--eternal salvation--or according to the carrying out of this order.

To attain the end it belongs to providence to grant two things, namely those things by which a thing is moved to the end, and those things by which it is freed from obstacles. But as natural things tend to their natural ends by the active powers bestowed on them by divine providence, so also the human will is ordered to the end by counsels and precepts, and is drawn back from sins, which impede the attainment of the end, by prohibitions, as divine providence also gave animals horns, claws, and such things, which they use against things that attack them.

But if it pertains to the carrying out of the order, this can be in two ways: (1) either insofar as it tends to that to which it is ordered, by doing good; and with respect to this there is the sign which is operation, since God operates all good things in us; (2) or insofar as it departs from that order, by doing evil, which going out is also subject to providence, not as provided for, but as ordered, and with respect to this there is permission.

Or better, the signs of the divine will can be taken in this following way: (1) either the sign of will is in regard to present things, and thus with respect to good things there is operation, with respect to bad things, permission; (2) or it is in regard to future things, and thus with respect to bad things there is prohibition, while with respect to the good to which all are bound, it is a precept, but with respect to the more perfect good which not all attain, there is counsel. And they are contained in this verse: he commands, and prohibits, permits, counsels, fulfills.

1. To the first, therefore, it should be said that the knowledge of God is of all things truly and perfectly, but his will is not. And therefore he is metaphorically said to will certain things that he does not will simply speaking, and for this reason a will of sign is assigned.
2. To the second it should be said that an effect which in one case is a sign of something properly, is in another case a sign according to a likeness, in all things which are said metaphorically. Thus punishing is a sign of anger in a man, while in God it is a sign of the will to punish, which is called anger by way of likeness. And similarly I say that to these signs something corresponds in God, which is called a will of these things by way of likeness, as to precept corresponds the will of commanding, and of ordering the rational nature to an end, and so on with the other signs. Hence it is evident that these signs are not false.
3. To the third it should be said that as different powers are given by God in the disposing of natures, of which one power is nobler than another, and thus one thing attains its end more perfectly than another, so also in the disposing of men there are different things that order men to their end; one which is common to all, namely precept, and which belongs to those who are perfect [i.e., in a state of perfection], namely counsel. But every sin consists in going out from the order to the end, and therefore every person must avoid sin, nor are different grades of persons looked at in this case. And therefore only one sign is given concerning sin, namely prohibition.
4. To the fourth it should be said that God does not properly will evils to be done, but wills something joined to them, as will be said below (dist. 46, art. 4), from which it follows that he permits them. And therefore the very permission is the effect of some will, and is metaphorically called will.
5. To the fifth it should be said that although the divine will is of many things willied, it is still only one, since God wills all those things in one thing willed per se, namely his goodness, as he also knows all things by knowing his essence.

In II Sent., dist. 25, article 5

Whether free will is distinguished in a threefold distinction: freedom from necessity, freedom from sin, freedom from misery


6. Bernard distinguished a threefold freedom: freedom of will, freedom of counsel, and freedom of good-pleasure. Therefore since the Teacher does not mention these, he seems to make an insufficient distinction of freedom.


6. To the sixth it should be said that as is evident from what has been said, the teacher distinguishes free will according to the things from which there is freedom, and this is the per se division of freedom, as was said. Bernard, however, distinguishes freedom according to the term to which, and this is that which falls under choice. Therefore since nothing falls under choice except insofar as it has some account of good, he distinguishes different freedoms in human acts according to different degrees of goodness. For there is something in human acts which is licit, because it is prohibited by no law, and with respect to such things he names "freedom of judgment," since it is up to our judgment whether to follow such a thing or not. Further, there is something which is not only licit, but also helpful; for "all things are licit, but not all things are helpful," as the Apostle says; and according to this he assigns "freedom of counsel," since counsel is about a better good, which is helpful for salvation. There is also something which gives delight, and with respecto to such things he assigns freedom of pleasure; hence he says that it belongs to freedom of judgment to discern what is licit, to freedom of counsel to approve what is helpful, and to freedom of pleasure to experience what is pleasing.

In II Sent., dist. 40, article 5, ad 7

The saying, "do all things for the glory of God," can be understood in two ways: either affirmatively or negatively. If it is understood negatively, the meaning is: do nothing against God, and in this sense it is a precept; and thus one departs from this precept either by mortal sin, which is done against God, or by venial sin, which is done apart from the precept and apart from God. But if it s understood affirmatively, this can be in two ways. Either (1) in such a way that the actual relation to God is joined to every action of ours, not indeed in act but in power, inasmuch as the power of the first ordering remains in all the following actions, as also the power of the last end remains in all the ends that are ordered to it; and thus it is still a precept, and its omission may be venial or mortal, as was said. Or (2) in such a way that the actual ordering to God is actually joined to every action of ours. And this can be understood in two ways: either distributively, or collectively. If distributively, thus the meaning is: whatever you do, it is better if you actually order it to God; and in this sense it is a counsel. But if it is taken collectively, the meaning is: do all your works in such a way that there is none of them which you do not actually order to God; and this is neither a precept nor a counsel, but is the end of the precept, to which we attain through the fulfillment of the precepts; for in this way the saints in the fatherland refer their acts to God. Nevertheless it should be known that in whatever way it is explained in an affirmative sense, it is understood only of works of deliberate will, since only those works can properly be called ours, as was said.

In IV Sent., dist. 15, q. 2, a. 4, qa. 1

Whether it is necessary to give alms

Proceeding thus to the fourth. It seems that it is not necessary to give alms.

1. For as Augustine says, he who acts in a disordered manner, sins. But the order of charity requires that a man help himself more than another. Therefore he sins by withdrawing some necessity from himself in order to give it to another.

2. Further, the Philosopher says in Ethics IV, that he who wastes his substance, i.e., wealth, destroys himself; and this is especially true in regard to necessary things. But he who kills himself, sins. Therefore also he who gives alms from things he needs, sins.

On the contrary:

He who gives all things, retains nothing necessary for himself. But the Lord counsels: "Sell all that you have, and give it to the poor" (Mat 19:21). Therefore man can without sin give alms from the things that are necessary for him.


It should be said that external things are said to be necessary for us in two ways: (1) in one way, as things without which one cannot exist and live; (2) in another way something is called necessary as being something we need to live decently and appropriately in accordance with our state. But such appropriateness is not a rigid standard (literally: does not consist in an indivisible); for a man may have many more things without exceeding the condition appropriate to his state, or have many less things yet preserve his state appropriately. But he could have so much as to go beyond the condition appropriate to his state, or so little as to fail to preserve the decency or appropriateness of his state; and this cannot be set forth in words, since [a general] judgment does not regard singular matters, but it is established by the judgment of prudence and discretion, which teachs concerning allt hings.

Again, in each of these two ways something can be necessary in two ways: (1) by reason of itself, and this is called by some the necessity of the individual; (2) or by reason of those for whom one should exercise care, and this is called the necessity of the person, inasmuch as "person" pertains to a dignity according to which it belongs to someone to exercise care for others. Therefore one should not give away as alms that without which someone cannot exist or live, whether that be oneself or those for whom one has care; for this is called necessary simply speaking, as though with absolute necessity, unless it were possible, before such necessity was immanent upon one, to recover [what one gave away]; for then one would fall away from the account of such necessity. Similarly one should not give as alms that without which he cannot in any way preserve the appropriateness of his state or that of others, unless it can be easily recovered, or one wishes to change one's state; for no one should remain in any state in an inappropriate manner, at least unless another necessity is over greater weight, either the necessity of some specific person in extreme necessity, or the necessity of the church or state; for the good of the nation is more divine than the good of one man. But that which, whether added or taken away, the appropriateness of one's state remains, can be given as alms; and concerning this there is a counsel, not a precept. But that which is considered as a necessity for someone which is beyond the appropriateness of his state, should be given away as alms, and this falls under precept.

Responses to objections:

1. To the first, therefore, it should be said that if one withdraws from himself that without which he cannot live at all or not appropriately, and give it to others, he perverts the order of charity that should be kept in conferring benefits; but one does not pervert this order if one gives more to another than to oneself of those things without which the aforesaid goods can be; for it belongs to the virtuous man to give more to others than to himself of such bodily goods, as the Philosopher says in Ethics IX.

2. To the second it should be said that that argument applies to something necessary in the first way.

3. To the third it should be said that those who give away all things for God's sake, change their state of life, and the appropriateness of this state can be preserved by the things that are either given by faithful and devout persons, or which have been given, and are not possessions and income.

In IV Sent., d. 38, q. 2, a. 4, qa. 2

It seems that the counsels are to be foregone on account of scandal (i.e., in order to avoid scandal).

1. For St. Jerome's rule is that everyting which can either be done or not be done while preserving the threefold truth, are to be foregone on account of scandal. But the counsels are such. Therefore they are to be foregone on account of scandal.

2. Further, the vow of religion is a certain counsel. But a man should forego entering religion on account of scandal to his parents, lest the honor due to them be taken away; for it is commanded: honor your parents, in Exodus 20. Therefore the cousels are to be foregone on account of scandal.

3. Further, works of compassion are sometimes to be foregone on account of scandal, lest it be believed that they are done out of vain-glory. But works of compassion are included in counsel or in precept, and they are not to be foregone when they are in precept, since then they pertain to the truth of life. Therefore they are to be foregone on account of scandal, insofar as they are a matter of counsel.
On the contrary:

SC 1. Scandal is a word or deed that is less right. But counsel is not about things that are less right, but about greater goods. Therefore one should not forego keeping the counsels on account of scandal.

SC 2. Further, St. Jerome says to Eliodorus: although the little grandson hangs on your neck, although your mother scatters her hair and with torn garments shows her breasts, although your father lies on the threshold, proceed stepping over your father, turn dry eyes to the banner of the cross. The only kind of piety in this matter is to be cruel. And he is speaking about the taking up of religious life. Therefore the counsels are not to be foregone even on account of scandal to relatives, and much less on account of scandal to others.


It should be said that all the works of perfection that are not included in a precept, are called counsels; hence they can be foregone, so long as one preserves the threefold truth. But sometimes they fall under precept, either by reason of a vow or some other circumstance, and then they cannot be foregone without prejudice to the truth of life. We are not now speaking of them in this way, but only when it remains in our power to do or not to do them. Speaking about this case then, we should distinguish passive scandal and active scandal. Passive scandal sometimes arises from the wickedness of those who hate the truth, who are disturbed and disturb others on account of the works of light, as sons of darkness; this is the scandal of the Pharisees, as St. Bernard says. And the counsels are in no way to be foregone on account of this passive scandal, since thus free room would be given to the wicked to impede the works of perfection when they willed. Hence the Lord said of the Pharisees, who out of wickedness were scandlalized by his deeds and words: "Let them be; they are blind and leaders of the blind" (Mat 15:14). Sometimes, however, scandal arises from ignorance or weakness, and this is called, according to St. Bernard, the scandal of the weak, who do not know the truth, and on this account are disturbed by the works of truth; and the Lord avoided this scandal, when he said to Peter, "But that we may not scandalize them, go to the see etc." (Mat 17:26). And he taught to avoid it in Mat 18. Hence on account of such passive scandal the counsels are to be foregone for a time, or to done in secret, but not foregone altogether; for as regards spiritual goods a man should provide more for himself than for his neighbors; and if ignorance lasts for a long time, it changes through obstinancy into wickedness. Yet the quantity of scandal should be considered, and the good that arises from keeping the counsel. Accordingly the counsels are sometimes to be foregone on account of the scandal of the weak, or sometimes scandal is to be despised on account of the counsels.

Respones to objections:

1. To the first, therefore, it shuold be said that not only those things which are of the necessity of salvation pertain to the truth of life, but also those which are of the perfection of salvation. Hence although in omitting the counsels the truth of life is preserved in some manner, the perfection of the truth of life is not; hence the word of St. Jerome should more be referred to things that are in themselves indifferent, than to the counsels.

2. To the second it should be said that one must distinguish in him who wishes to enter religious life. For either he fears an imminent danger to his salvation, if  he remains in the world, and then he should in all ways avoid the danger of life, in spite of the scandal. But if there is not imminent danger, and he is not obliged by a vow, in order to avoid a just scandal of his parents, whom he is bound to assist, he should put off for a time his purpose of pursuing perfection, in order to fulfill the precept of honoring his parents at the appropriate time, and afterwards fulfill the counsel at a more fitting time. But if the scandal of relatives or others is unreasonable, then it becomes like the scandal of the Pharisees; hence then he should not, on account of scandal, forego the good he purposes. But if he is obliged by a vow, then a precept has came to be from the counsel, and therefore he should in no way forego it on account of scandal, but this would be prejudical to the truth of life.

3. To the third it should be said that works of compassion, like the counsels, are to be put off for a time on account of the scandal of the weak, except in that case in which they fall under precept, as are spiritual or bodily alms; for then they cannot be omitted while preserving the truth of life.

4. To the fourth it should be said that that definition is given in regard to active scandal. Aside from this case, a good work is sometimes to be foregone, or put off, on account of passive scandal.

5. To the fifth it should be said that St. Jerome is speaking about the unreasonable scandal of relatives.

Summa Contra Gentiles

Book 3, Chapter 130


On the counsels which are given in the divine law.


Because it is best for man that he adhere with his mind to God and to divine things, while it is impossible for man to be intensely occupied with diverse things, in order that man’s mind might be more freely borne unto God, counsels are given in the divine law, by which men are drawn back from the occupations of the present life, to the extent possible for someone living a life on earth.

Now this is not so needed by man for justice that there cannot be justice without it: for virtue and justice is not destroyed if man uses bodily and earthly things according to the order of reason. And therefore the admonitions of the divine law to things of this kind are called counsels, not precepts, insofar as it is recommended to man that he forego lesser goods for the sake of better ones

Now human solicitude, according to the common way of human life, is occupied with three things: first of all, with one’s own person, what he does, or where he lives; secondly, with the persons joined to him, especially a wife and sons; thirdly, with procuring external things, which man needs for sustaining life.

Therefore to cut off the solicitude with external things, the counsel of poverty is given in the divine law, namely so that he cast off the things of this would, by which his soul could be entangled with some solicitude. Hence the Lord says in Mt 19:21, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.”

To cut off the solicitude for wife and sons, the counsel of virginity or continence is given to man. Hence it is said in 1 Cor. 7:25, “concerning virgins I do not have a precept of the Lord, but I given counsel.” And giving the reason for this counsel, he adds, “He who is without a wife, is solicitous for those things which are of the Lord, how he may please God: while he who is with a wife, is solicitous for those things which are of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.”

To cut off man’s solicitude for himself, the counsel of obedience is given, through which man entrusts the disposition of his acts to a superior.

On account of which it is said in the last chapter of Hebrews, “Obey your leaders and submit to them: for they keep watch, as having to render an account for your souls.”

Then because the greatest perfection of human life consists in this, that man’s mind is free for God, while to this freedom of mind the aforesaid three things seem most of all to dispose: they fittingly seem most of all to pertain to the state of perfection, not as though they are perfections themselves, but because they are certain dispositions to perfection, which consists in this that one is free for God. And the words of the Lord recommending poverty show this expressly, when he says “if you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and give to the poor, and follow me,” as though placing the perfection of life in his following.

They can also be called signs and effects of perfection. For when the mind is affected vehemently with love and desire for something, it consequently sets other things aside. Hence from this that man’s mind is borne fervently by love and desire unto divine things, in which it is manifest that perfection consists, it follows that all the things which can slow it down in being borne unto God, he casts aside: not only the care for things, and affection for wife and offspring, but also for himself.

And the words of Scripture signify this. For it is said in Song 8:7, “If a man gives all the substance of his own home to purchase love, it will be counted as nothing.” And in Mt. 13:45 “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking good pearls: and when he found one precious pearl, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” And Phil. 3:7, “What were once gain for me, I have judged as dung so that I may gain Christ.”

Therefore since the aforesaid three dispositions are towards perfection, and effects and signs of perfectly, those who vow the aforesaid three to God, are fittingly said to be in a state of perfection.

And the perfection to which the aforesaid counsels dispose, consists in the emptying of the mind for God. Whence also those who profess the aforesaid counsels are called religious, as though dedicating themselves and what is theirs to God in the manner of a sacrifice: with respect to things, by poverty, with respect to the body, by continence, and with respect to the will, by obedience. For religion consists in divine worship, as was said above.

Summa Theologiae, First Part

Question 19, Article 12
Whether there are fittingly set down five signs concerning the divine will

Proceeding thus to the twelfth. It seems that there are unfittingly set down five signs concerning the divine will: namely, prohibition, command, counsel, work, and permission.
    1. For the same things which God commands or counsels, he sometimes works in us; and the same things he prohibits, he sometimes permits. Therefore they should not be divided against each other.
    2. Further, God works nothing except what he wills, as is said in Wis. 11:25. But the will of sign is distinguished from the will of good pleasure. Therefore work should not be included under will of sign.
    3. Further, work and permission pertain to all creatures in common, since God works something in all, and permits something to happen in all. But command, counsel, and prohibition pertain to the rational creature alone. Therefore they do not fittingly come into one division, since they do not belong to one order.
    4. Further, evil happens in more ways than good, since good happens in one way, but evil “in every way,” as is evident from the Philosopher in Ethics II and from Dionysius in On the Divine Names IV. Therefore unfittingly is there assigned with respect to evil only one sign, namely prohibition; but with respect to good two signs, namely counsel and precept.
    I respond, it is to be said that those things are called such signs of will, which usually show that we will something. But someone can declare himself to will something either through himself or through another. Through himself insofar as he does something either directly or indirectly and accidentally. Directly, when he works something through itself, and with respect to this his work is said to be a sign. But indirectly, insofar as he does not impede a work, for “one removing a impediment is called a mover accidentally,” as is said in Physics VIII. And with respect to this permission is called a sign. Someone declares himself to will something through another, insofar as he orders another toward doing something; either by moving him to it as something necessary, which happens by commanding something to be done, and by prohibiting the contrary; or by moving by persuasion, which pertains to counsel.
    Therefore since someone is shown to will something in these ways, these five are sometimes named by the name of divine will, as signs of will. For that precept, counsel, and prohibition are called the will of God, is evident from that which is said in Mt. 6:10, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But that permission or work are called the will of God, is evident from Augustine, who says in his Enchiridion, “Nothing happens, unless the Almighty wills it to happen, either by allowing it to happen, or by making it happen.”
    Or it can be said that permission and work are related to the present, but permission with respect to evil, and work with respect to good. Prohibition is related to the future with respect to evil, command to the future with respect to a necessary good, and counsel to the future with respect to greater goods.
    1. To the first, therefore, it is to be said that nothing prevents someone from declaring himself to will something about the same thing in different ways, even as many names are found that signify the same thing. Whence nothing prevents command, counsel, and operation from concerning the same thing, and it is the same with prohibition and permission.
    2. To the second it is to be said that just as God can be said metaphorically to will that which he does not will by will properly taken, so he can be said metaphorically to will that which he wills properly. Whence nothing prevents the will of good pleasure and the will of sign from being about the same thing. But work is always the same as the will of good pleasure, but not command or counsel, both because the former is about the present, the latter about the future, and because the former is an effect of will through itself, but the latter through another, as was said.
    3. To the third it is to be said that the rational creature is the lord of its act, and therefore certain special signs of the divine will are assigned with respect to it, insofar as God orders the rational creature toward acting voluntarily and through itself. But other creatures do not act except insofar as they are moved by the divine operation, and therefore with respect to other creatures there can only be work and permission.
    4. To the fourth it is to be said that all evil of guilt, although it happens in many ways, is united in disagreement with the divine will; and therefore only one sign is assigned with respect to evils, namely prohibition. But goods are related in diverse ways to the divine goodness. For there are certain goods without which we cannot attain the enjoyment of the divine goodness, and with respect to these there is command. There are certain goods by which we can attain it more perfectly, and with respect to these there is counsel. Or it may be said that counsel is not only about attaining better goods, but also about avoiding lesser evils.

Summa Theologiae, First Part of the Second Part

Question 108, Article 4
Whether it was fitting for definite counsels to be given in the new law

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.

Replies to objections:

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.

Texts of Aquinas on vocation, love and perfection

Texts of Aquinas on religious vocation

What is a vocation according to St. Thomas Aquinas