Wisdom from Aquinas

Among the many editions and translations of Thomas Aquinas’ work, I have found Thomas Gilby’s two handy collections of philosophical and theological texts quite helpful over the years. His thematic approach can guide your interest and lead you to the primary text. Thus, in the first quotation below, the reference is to the Summa Theologica, Ia (First Part) Ia (Question One) 1 (Article One) ad.2 (His answer to objection two). That citation will lead you to the text, whether the translation is in the Benziger collection or in the multi-volume Blackfriars translation. The specific quotations I used in the America column are marked by an asterisk. Let me know if there are favorites of your own that I should consider or if, over the years, I have muddled the citation.  

General Approach to Reality

*1. In the field of human science, the argument from authority is weakest. Summa Th. Ia.1. ad 2
2. Truth is a divine thing, a friend more excellent than any human friend. Commentary, I Ethics, lect 6.
*3. There is nothing that does not share in goodness and beauty. Each thing is good and beautiful by its proper form. Opuscula xiv. Exposition, On Divine Names lv, lect.5
4. Evil precisely as such is not a reality in things, but a deprivation of some particular good inhering in a particular good. Disputations, I de Malo I
*5. There is not one first principle of evil as there is of good. In the first place, the original principle of things is essentially good; evil does not exist except in a good subject. S.T Ia xlix, 3
*6. In every good the supreme good is desired. Comm. II Sent
*7. All other motions of the appetite presuppose love as their first root. S.T. Ia xx, 1
*8. All fear springs from love. Ordered love is included in every virtue, disordered love in every vice.
S.T. IIa–IIae, cxxv, 2
*9. Malice consists in emptiness. Disp. III de Potentia, 16, ad 3
*10. Love is absolutely stronger than hate. S.T. Ia – IIae, xxix,3

On the Human Person and Capacities

11. The higher a nature, the more intimate what comes from it, for its inwardness of activity corresponds to its rank in being... The supreme and perfect grade of life is found in mind, which can reflect on itself and understand itself. IV Contra Gentes II
12. To inquire into the meaning of animal is one business; to inquire into the meaning of human animal quite another. S.T. Ia xxix 4
13. In voluntary activity, we have not only moral evil but also culpa or “‘fault,”‘ since the doer is responsible and therefore deserves blame or punishment. Opusc xiii Compend. Theologiae 120.15
14. To be free is not to be obliged to one determinate object: as deriving from the mind’s apprehension regarding the universal good, the appetite of an intellectual substance (e.g. a human person) is not committed to one determinate (particularized) good. Opus c. xiii, Comp. Theo. 76
15. The human has free choice; otherwise counsels, exhortations, precepts, prohibitions, rewards and punishments would all be pointless... A human has free choice to the extent that a human is rational.
S.T. Ia, lxxxiii, 1
16. Only acts controlled by a human through reason and will are properly termed “‘human”‘ these acts proceed from deliberation. Other may be called acts “‘of a human”‘ but not “‘human acts”‘ in the specific sense of the term. S.T. Ia, IIae 1,1
*17. Person signifies what is noblest in the whole of nature. S.T. Ia xxix 2

Human Fulfillments

18. Four general reasons can be brought forward to show that perfect happiness consists neither in riches, nor in fame, nor in power. Of which the first is that perfect happiness is not compatible with any evil. The second is that happiness is self-sufficient; once obtained, no other human prize is wanting, such as good health and wisdom. The third is that no harm results from happiness, whereas sometimes riches are kept to the hurt of the owner, and this may be also the case with the other goods we have mentioned. The fourth reason is this: true happiness wells from within, but the goods we have mentioned come from external causes and often from good luck. S.T. Ia–2ae ii, 4
19. The desire for joy is inherently stronger than the fear of sadness, though under certain circumstances,
our preoccupation may be with avoiding the latter rather than seeking the former. S.T. Ia–2ae xxxv, 6.
20. The ultimate end of everything is its completion. S.T. Ia–2ae ii, 8, obj. ad. 2
*21. No human truly has joy unless that human lives in love. Opusc. Xxxv  de Duobus Praeceptis
22. In the perfect happiness of total fulfillment, nothing more will remain to be desired; in the full enjoyment of Absolute Goodness and Truth, humans will obtain whatever they have desired in other things. The desire is stilled—not only for the absolute, but for all that lies at the heart of all other desires. Therefore, the joy of the blessed is perfectly complete, and more than complete, indeed over-full, for there they find more than is enough for desire. S.T. 2a–2ae, xxviii, 3
*23. The Human Person has a natural drive for complete goodness. Disputations, xxii, de Veritate, 7

Components of a Moral Act

24. A finished moral science demands a knowledge of psychology. Commentary, I de Anima, lect, 1
25. Good and evil should be set in the context of what is proper to the human as human. This is our rational life. Disputations, II de Malo, 4
*26. Sins are as preposterous in morals, as monsters in nature. Comm. III de Anima, lect, 16
27. Its moral nature is stamped on a human act by its object with reference to the principles of moral activity-- according to a life-pattern as it should be lived according to reason. S.T. 1a–2ae, xviii, 8
28. Morality depends on intention. Contra Gentes, III, 9
29. The rightness or wrongness of will is determined by the end. S.T. Ia-2ae, xxxiv, 4
30. Everything is measured by comparison with a rule... The measure for human willing is double: one close and of the same nature, namely the human reason itself; the other first and transcendent, namely the eternal law which is like the reason of God. S.T. Ia-2ae, lxxi, 6


31. Strictly speaking, conscience is not a faculty, but an activity; namely, the actual application moral science to conduct. (The practical judgment:I ought to do X.) S.T. Ia lxxix, 13
*32. Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always does moral evil. III  Quodlibet, 27
*33. Since conscience is the dictate of reason, the application of theory to practice, the inquiry ‘whether a will that disobeys an erroneous conscience is right’, is the same as ‘whether a person is obliged to follow a mistaken conscience.’ ...It must be said flatly that the will which disobeys the reason, whether true or mistaken, is always in the wrong. S.T. la-2ae, xix, 5

General Moral Praxis

34. Considered in themselves as motions of the sensitive and non-rational appetite, passions are neither right nor wrong, for morality depends on the reason. They are covered by morality in so far as they are subject to the sway of reason and will. ibid. xxiv. 1
35. Every virtuous act has these four traits: controlled knowledge, right intention, unwavering purpose, and a sense of situation. Disp, de Virtutibus Cardlnalibus, 1
36. Well-ordered self-love is right and natural. S.T. Ia2ae, lxxvii, 4, ad 1
37. Vice comes to the body from the soul, and not the other way around. III Contra Gentes, 127
38. A person cannot lead a reasonable life if all pleasure is avoided. Whoever avoids pleasures simply because they are pleasurable is boorish and ungracious. S.T. 2a-2ae xxlii, I, ad 2
*39. It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a grouch. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude. ibid., clxviii, 4
*40. Justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice is a waste. Comm. Matthew, v. 2
*41. Two main reasons why people fall short of justice: deference to the powerful, deference to the mob. Comm. in Job. xxxiv, lect 2
42. To lend money at usury is grave moral evil, not because it is forbidden, but because it is against natural justice. Disp. xiii de Malo, 4
43. Natural right is what is fitting and commensurate with a human’s very nature. S.T. IaIIae, lvii. 3, c

we vnornm
6 years 5 months ago
Father Kavanaugh:

#12 and #16 are especially interesting in view of the "human like" performance of the computer WATSON on the television program Jeopardy! this week.

What are your thoughts-or what might St. Thomas's be-on computers as they seem to be getting closer to "conceptual" thought?

6 years 5 months ago
Thanks for posting these - worth chewing over.
Norman Costa
6 years 5 months ago
What Bill asked.

@ Father Kavanaugh:

I applaud you on your collection of bite-size ST.  I hope you do this again.  

How about a discussion of Aristotle and Aquinas?  Perhaps a parallel comparison of the two?

Maybe an indepth discussion of A and A on one topic at a time?  How about the psychology of A and A?

As Tom Faranda said, "...worth chewing over."
Charles McNamee
6 years 5 months ago
       There is no question in my mind but that Thomas is due for a big "come back" in appreciation not so much for his theological Opus, which is the greatest, but for his insightful experiences into spirituality and his late life focus on the contemplative ineffability, inconceivablity and inexpressability of the Divine. His reputed explanation to Reginald that, "Compared to what I have seen, it is all straw", demonstrates this.  
       The world is undergoing Thomas' experience of turning from the "milk" of laws and their observation motivated by fear, to the "meat" of interiority and prayer in accord with Mark's presentation of Jesus' keynote words, "...The present moment is the right time, change the way you think about reality [metanoiesete] for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you, believe THIS good news."[Mk.1:16]
Angelo Roncalli
6 years 5 months ago

Dear Fr. Kavanaugh,
Would you be kind enough to help me find this quotation from St. Thomas, "Grace builds on nature." I would like to know the complete quotation both in English and in Latin.



6 years 5 months ago

As a former student of John Kavanugh I have always admired his words, wisdom and witness. I delighted in his on Aquinas. His list, of course could include many more. One Thomistic axiom I would have highlighted is  "grace perfects nature" (gratia perfecta nature). It was a phrase that John introduced me to in his class on Philosophy of Human Nature many years ago and which I have for several decades employed pastorally and professionally in teaching and writing how psychology and theology can inform one another.

6 years 4 months ago
computers, my life's work for 5 decades, are fundamentally ignorant.  they have gained an enormous storage capacity.  but they still can't, without human prompting, figure out that Toronto is not a US city.

I read a technical analysis of the J match. it appears that the computer learned best when it was fed the questions and answers of the humans.

In the Toronto case, the computer could not find in its remembered information facts that would give a reasonable internal score for the correct answer.  it lacked data it needed, and could not relate the data it had back to itself to extract an answer.

computers are best thought of as human amplifiers, not as human surrogates.

p.s. this function needs spell check.  w/my old eyes, it is hard to see the errors

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