QUESTION 100: THE MORAL PRECEPTS OF THE OLD (TESTAMENT'S) LAW
Question 100: The Moral Precepts of the Old Law
(The Moral Precepts of the Old Testament’s Law)
By Thomas Aquinas
[Aquinas, Thomas. “The Moral Precepts of the Old Law.” The Summa Theologica. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Second and Revised Edition. 1920. First Part of the Second Part, Question 100. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2100.htm. Used with the permission of Kevin Knight and New Advent.]
The Moral Precepts of the Old (Testament’s) Law
- Do all the moral precepts of the Old Law belong to the law of nature?
- Are the moral precepts of the Old Law about the acts of all the virtues?
- Are all the moral precepts of the Old Law reducible to the ten precepts of the Decalogue?
- [Mostly OMITTED] How are the precepts of the Decalogue distinguished from one another?
- Their number
- Their order
- The manner in which they were given
- Are they dispensable?
- Does the mode of observing a virtue come under the precept of the Law?
- Does the mode of charity come under the precept?
- The distinction of other moral precepts
- Did the moral precepts of the Old Law justify man?
Objection 1. It would seem that not all the moral precepts belong to the law of nature. For it is written (Sirach 17:9): “Moreover He gave them instructions, and the law of life for an inheritance.” But instruction is in contradistinction to the law of nature; since the law of nature is not learnt, but instilled by natural instinct. Therefore not all the moral precepts belong to the natural law.
Objection 2. Further, the Divine law is more perfect than human law. But human law adds certain things concerning good morals, to those that belong to the law of nature: as is evidenced by the fact that the natural law is the same in all men, while these moral institutions are various for various people. Much more reason therefore was there why the Divine law should add to the law of nature, ordinances pertaining to good morals.
Objection 3. Further, just as natural reason leads to good morals in certain matters, so does faith: hence it is written (Galatians 5:6) that faith “worketh by charity.” But faith is not included in the law of nature; since that which is of faith is above nature. Therefore not all the moral precepts of the Divine law belong to the law of nature.
On the contrary, The Apostle [Paul] says (Romans 2:14) that “the Gentiles, who have not the Law, do by nature those things that are of the Law”: which must be understood of things pertaining to good morals. Therefore all the moral precepts of the Law belong to the law of nature.
I answer that, The moral precepts, distinct from the ceremonial and judicial precepts, are about things pertaining of their very nature to good morals. Now since human morals depend on their relation to reason, which is the proper principle of human acts, those morals are called good which accord with reason, and those are called bad which are discordant from reason. And as every judgment of speculative reason proceeds from the natural knowledge of first principles, so every judgment of practical reason proceeds from principles known naturally, as stated above (Question 94, Articles 2 and 4): from which principles one may proceed in various ways to judge of various matters. For some matters connected with human actions are so evident, that after very little consideration one is able at once to approve or disapprove of them by means of these general first principles: while some matters cannot be the subject of judgment without much consideration of the various circumstances, which all are not competent to do carefully, but only those who are wise: just as it is not possible for all to consider the particular conclusions of sciences, but only for those who are versed in philosophy: and lastly there are some matters of which man cannot judge unless he be helped by Divine instruction; such as the articles of faith.
It is therefore evident that since the moral precepts are about matters which concern good morals; and since good morals are those which are in accord with reason; and since also every judgment of human reason must needs be derived in some way from natural reason; it follows, of necessity, that all the moral precepts belong to the law of nature; but not all in the same way. For there are certain things which the natural reason of every man, of its own accord and at once, judges to be done or not to be done: e.g. “Honor thy father and thy mother,” and “Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal”: and these belong to the law of nature absolutely. And there are certain things which, after a more careful consideration, wise men deem obligatory. Such belong to the law of nature, yet so that they need to be inculcated, the wiser teaching the less wise: e.g. “Rise up before the hoary head, and honor the person of the aged man,” and the like. And there are some things, to judge of which, human reason needs Divine instruction, whereby we are taught about the things of God: e.g. “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.
Objection 1. It would seem that the moral precepts of the Law are not about all the acts of virtue. For observance of the precepts of the Old Law is called justification, according to Psalm 118:8: “I will keep Thy justifications.” But justification is the execution of justice. Therefore the moral precepts are only about acts of justice.
Objection 2. Further, that which comes under a precept has the character of a duty. But the character of duty belongs to justice alone and to none of the other virtues, for the proper act of justice consists in rendering to each one his due. Therefore the precepts of the moral law are not about the acts of the other virtues, but only about the acts of justice.
Objection 3. Further, every law is made for the common good, as Isidore [of Seville] says (Etymologies, 5.21). But of all the virtues justice alone regards the common good, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Nicomachean Ethics, 5.1). Therefore the moral precepts are only about the acts of justice.
On the contrary, Ambrose says (De Paradiso, 8) that “a sin is a transgression of the Divine law, and a disobedience to the commandments of heaven.” But there are sins contrary to all the acts of virtue. Therefore it belongs to Divine law to direct all the acts of virtue.
I answer that, Since the precepts of the Law are ordained to the common good, as stated above (Question 90, Article 2), the precepts of the Law must needs be diversified according to the various kinds of community: hence the Philosopher [Aristotle] (Politics, 4.1) teaches that the laws which are made in a state which is ruled by a king must be different from the laws of a state which is ruled by the people, or by a few powerful men in the state. Now human law is ordained for one kind of community, and the Divine law for another kind. Because human law is ordained for the civil community, implying mutual duties of man and his fellows: and men are ordained to one another by outward acts, whereby men live in communion with one another. This life in common of man with man pertains to justice, whose proper function consists in directing the human community. Wherefore human law makes precepts only about acts of justice; and if it commands acts of other virtues, this is only in so far as they assume the nature of justice, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] explains (Nicomachean Ethics, 5.1).
But the community for which the Divine law is ordained, is that of men in relation to God, either in this life or in the life to come. And therefore the Divine law proposes precepts about all those matters whereby men are well ordered in their relations to God. Now man is united to God by his reason or mind, in which is God’s image. Wherefore the Divine law proposes precepts about all those matters whereby human reason is well ordered. But this is effected by the acts of all the virtues: since the intellectual virtues set in good order the acts of the reason in themselves: while the moral virtues set in good order the acts of the reason in reference to the interior passions and exterior actions. It is therefore evident that the Divine law fittingly proposes precepts about the acts of all the virtues: yet so that certain matters, without which the order of virtue, which is the order of reason, cannot even exist, come under an obligation of precept; while other matters, which pertain to the well-being of perfect virtue, come under an admonition of counsel.
Reply to Objection 1. The fulfilment of the commandments of the Law, even of those which are about the acts of the other virtues, has the character of justification, inasmuch as it is just that man should obey God: or again, inasmuch as it is just that all that belongs to man should be subject to reason.
Reply to Objection 2. Justice properly so called regards the duty of one man to another: but all the other virtues regard the duty of the lower powers to reason. It is in relation to this latter duty that the Philosopher [Aristotle] speaks (Nicomachean Ethics, 5.11) of a kind of metaphorical justice.
The Reply to the Third Objection is clear from what has been said about the different kinds of community.
Objection 1. It would seem that not all the moral precepts of the Old Law are reducible to the ten precepts of the Decalogue. For the first and principal precepts of the Law are, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor,” as stated in Matthew 22:37-39. But these two are not contained in the precepts of the Decalogue. Therefore not all the moral precepts are contained in the precepts of the Decalogue.
Objection 2. Further, the moral precepts are not reducible to the ceremonial precepts, but rather vice versa. But among the precepts of the Decalogue, one is ceremonial, viz. “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day.” Therefore the moral precepts are not reducible to all the precepts of the Decalogue.
Objection 3. Further, the moral precepts are about all the acts of virtue. But among the precepts of the Decalogue are only such as regard acts of justice; as may be seen by going through them all. Therefore the precepts of the Decalogue do not include all the moral precepts.
On the contrary, The gloss on Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you,” etc. says that “Moses, after propounding the ten precepts, set them out in detail.” Therefore all the precepts of the Law are so many parts of the precepts of the Decalogue.
I answer that, The precepts of the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments] differ from the other precepts of the Law, in the fact that God Himself is said to have given the precepts of the Decalogue; whereas He gave the other precepts to the people through Moses. Wherefore the Decalogue includes those precepts the knowledge of which man has immediately from God. Such are those which with but slight reflection can be gathered at once from the first general principles: and those also which become known to man immediately through divinely infused faith. Consequently two kinds of precepts are not reckoned among the precepts of the Decalogue: viz. first general principles, for they need no further promulgation after being once imprinted on the natural reason to which they are self-evident; as, for instance, that one should do evil to no man, and other similar principles: and again those which the careful reflection of wise men shows to be in accord with reason; since the people receive these principles from God, through being taught by wise men. Nevertheless both kinds of precepts are contained in the precepts of the Decalogue; yet in different ways. For the first general principles are contained in them, as principles in their proximate conclusions; while those which are known through wise men are contained, conversely, as conclusions in their principles.
Reply to Objection 1. Those two principles are the first general principles of the natural law, and are self-evident to human reason, either through nature or through faith. Wherefore all the precepts of the Decalogue are referred to these, as conclusions to general principles.
Reply to Objection 2. The precept of the Sabbath observance is moral in one respect, in so far as it commands man to give some time to the things of God, according to Psalm 45:11: “Be still and see that I am God.” In this respect it is placed among the precepts of the Decalogue: but not as to the fixing of the time, in which respect it is a ceremonial precept.
Reply to Objection 3. The notion of duty is not so patent in the other virtues as it is in justice. Hence the precepts about the acts of the other virtues are not so well known to the people as are the precepts about acts of justice. Wherefore the acts of justice especially come under the precepts of the Decalogue, which are the primary elements of the Law.
Objection 1. It would seem that the precepts of the Decalogue are unsuitably distinguished from one another. For worship is a virtue distinct from faith. Now the precepts are about acts of virtue. But that which is said at the beginning of the Decalogue, “Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me,” belongs to faith: and that which is added, “Thou shalt not make . . . any graven thing,” etc. belongs to worship. Therefore these are not one precept, as Augustine asserts (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book 2 (Questions on Exodus), Question 71[20, 1-17]), but two.
[Objections 2 and 3, On the contrary, and I answer that omitted]
Reply to Objection 1. Worship is merely a declaration of faith: wherefore the precepts about worship should not be reckoned as distinct from those about faith. Nevertheless precepts should be given about worship rather than about faith, because the precept about faith is presupposed to the precepts of the Decalogue, as is also the precept of charity. For just as the first general principles of the natural law are self-evident to a subject having natural reason, and need no promulgation; so also to believe in God is a first and self-evident principle to a subject possessed of faith: “for he that cometh to God, must believe that He is” (Hebrews 11:6). Hence it needs no other promulgation than the infusion of faith.
[Replies 2 and 3 omitted]
Objection 1. It would seem that the precepts of the Decalogue are unsuitably set forth. Because sin, as stated by Ambrose (De Paradiso, 8), is “a transgression of the Divine law and a disobedience to the commandments of heaven.” But sins are distinguished according as man sins against God, or his neighbor, or himself. Since, then, the Decalogue does not include any precepts directing man in his relations to himself, but only such as direct him in his relations to God and himself, it seems that the precepts of the Decalogue are insufficiently enumerated.
Objection 2. Further, just as the Sabbath-day observance pertained to the worship of God, so also did the observance of other solemnities, and the offering of sacrifices. But the Decalogue contains a precept about the Sabbath-day observance. Therefore it should contain others also, pertaining to the other solemnities, and to the sacrificial rite.
Objection 3. Further, as sins against God include the sin of perjury, so also do they include blasphemy, or other ways of lying against the teaching of God. But there is a precept forbidding perjury, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Therefore there should be also a precept of the Decalogue forbidding blasphemy and false doctrine.
Objection 4. Further, just as man has a natural affection for his parents, so has he also for his children. Moreover the commandment of charity extends to all our neighbors. Now the precepts of the Decalogue are ordained unto charity, according to 1 Timothy 1:5: “The end of the commandment is charity.” Therefore as there is a precept referring to parents, so should there have been some precepts referring to children and other neighbors.
Objection 5. Further, in every kind of sin, it is possible to sin in thought or in deed. But in some kinds of sin, namely in theft and adultery, the prohibition of sins of deed, when it is said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal,” is distinct from the prohibition of the sin of thought, when it is said, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods,” and, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” Therefore the same should have been done in regard to the sins of homicide and false witness.
Objection 6. Further, just as sin happens through disorder of the concupiscible faculty, so does it arise through disorder of the irascible part. But some precepts forbid inordinate concupiscence, when it is said, “Thou shalt not covet.” Therefore the Decalogue should have included some precepts forbidding the disorders of the irascible faculty. Therefore it seems that the ten precepts of the Decalogue are unfittingly enumerated.
On the contrary, It is written (Deuteronomy 4:13): “He shewed you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, and the ten words that He wrote in two tablets of stone.”
I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), just as the precepts of human law direct man in his relations to the human community, so the precepts of the Divine law direct man in his relations to a community or commonwealth of men under God. Now in order that any man may dwell aright in a community, two things are required: the first is that he behave well to the head of the community; the other is that he behave well to those who are his fellows and partners in the community. It is therefore necessary that the Divine law should contain in the first place precepts ordering man in his relations to God; and in the second place, other precepts ordering man in his relations to other men who are his neighbors and live with him under God.
Now man owes three things to the head of the community: first, fidelity; secondly, reverence; thirdly, service. Fidelity to his master consists in his not giving sovereign honor to another: and this is the sense of the first commandment, in the words “Thou shalt not have strange gods.” Reverence to his master requires that he should do nothing injurious to him: and this is conveyed by the second commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Service is due to the master in return for the benefits which his subjects receive from him: and to this belongs the third commandment of the sanctification of the Sabbath in memory of the creation of all things.
To his neighbors a man behaves himself well both in particular and in general. In particular, as to those to whom he is indebted, by paying his debts: and in this sense is to be taken the commandment about honoring one’s parents. In general, as to all men, by doing harm to none, either by deed, or by word, or by thought. By deed, harm is done to one’s neighbor—sometimes in his person, i.e. as to his personal existence; and this is forbidden by the words, “Thou shalt not kill”: sometimes in a person united to him, as to the propagation of offspring; and this is prohibited by the words, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”: sometimes in his possessions, which are directed to both the aforesaid; and with this regard to this it is said, “Thou shalt not steal.” Harm done by word is forbidden when it is said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”: harm done by thought is forbidden in the words, “Thou shalt not covet.”
The three precepts that direct man in his behavior towards God may also be differentiated in this same way. For the first refers to deeds; wherefore it is said, “Thou shalt not make . . . a graven thing”: the second, to words; wherefore it is said, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”: the third, to thoughts; because the sanctification of the Sabbath, as the subject of a moral precept, requires repose of the heart in God. Or, according to Augustine (Ennarrationes in Psalmos, On Psalm 32, Ennarratio 2, Sermon 1, Section 6), by the first commandment we reverence the unity of the First Principle; by the second, the Divine truth; by the third, His goodness whereby we are sanctified, and wherein we rest as in our last end.
Reply to Objection 1. This objection may be answered in two ways. First, because the precepts of the Decalogue can be reduced to the precepts of charity. Now there was need for man to receive a precept about loving God and his neighbor, because in this respect the natural law had become obscured on account of sin: but not about the duty of loving oneself, because in this respect the natural law retained its vigor: or again, because love of oneself is contained in the love of God and of one’s neighbor: since true self-love consists in directing oneself to God. And for this reason the Decalogue includes those precepts only which refer to our neighbor and to God.
Secondly, it may be answered that the precepts of the Decalogue are those which the people received from God immediately; wherefore it is written (Deuteronomy 10:4): “He wrote in the tables, according as He had written before, the ten words, which the Lord spoke to you.” Hence the precepts of the Decalogue need to be such as the people can understand at once. Now a precept implies the notion of duty. But it is easy for a man, especially for a believer, to understand that, of necessity, he owes certain duties to God and to his neighbor. But that, in matters which regard himself and not another, man has, of necessity, certain duties to himself, is not so evident: for, at the first glance, it seems that everyone is free in matters that concern himself. And therefore the precepts which prohibit disorders of a man with regard to himself, reach the people through the instruction of men who are versed in such matters; and, consequently, they are not contained in the Decalogue.
Reply to Objection 2. All the solemnities of the Old Law were instituted in celebration of some Divine favor, either in memory of past favors, or in sign of some favor to come: in like manner all the sacrifices were offered up with the same purpose. Now of all the Divine favors to be commemorated the chief was that of the Creation, which was called to mind by the sanctification of the Sabbath; wherefore the reason for this precept is given in Exodus 20:11: “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth,” etc. And of all future blessings, the chief and final was the repose of the mind in God, either, in the present life, by grace, or, in the future life, by glory; which repose was also foreshadowed in the Sabbath-day observance: wherefore it is written (Isaiah 58:13): “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy own will in My holy day, and call the Sabbath delightful, and the holy of the Lord glorious.” Because these favors first and chiefly are borne in mind by men, especially by the faithful. But other solemnities were celebrated on account of certain particular favors temporal and transitory, such as the celebration of the Passover in memory of the past favor of the delivery from Egypt, and as a sign of the future Passion of Christ, which though temporal and transitory, brought us to the repose of the spiritual Sabbath. Consequently, the Sabbath alone, and none of the other solemnities and sacrifices, is mentioned in the precepts of the Decalogue.
Reply to Objection 3. As the Apostle [Paul] says (Hebrews 6:16), “men swear by one greater than themselves; and an oath for confirmation is the end of all their controversy.” Hence, since oaths are common to all, inordinate swearing is the matter of a special prohibition by a precept of the Decalogue. According to one interpretation, however, the words, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” are a prohibition of false doctrine, for one gloss expounds them thus: “Thou shalt not say that Christ is a creature.”
Reply to Objection 4. That a man should not do harm to anyone is an immediate dictate of his natural reason: and therefore the precepts that forbid the doing of harm are binding on all men. But it is not an immediate dictate of natural reason that a man should do one thing in return for another, unless he happen to be indebted to someone. Now a son’s debt to his father is so evident that one cannot get away from it by denying it: since the father is the principle of generation and being, and also of upbringing and teaching. Wherefore the Decalogue does not prescribe deeds of kindness or service to be done to anyone except to one’s parents. On the other hand parents do not seem to be indebted to their children for any favors received, but rather the reverse is the case. Again, a child is a part of his father; and “parents love their children as being a part of themselves,” as the Philosopher [Aristotle] states (Nicomachean Ethics, 8.12). Hence, just as the Decalogue contains no ordinance as to man’s behavior towards himself, so, for the same reason, it includes no precept about loving one’s children.
Reply to Objection 5. The pleasure of adultery and the usefulness of wealth, in so far as they have the character of pleasurable or useful good, are of themselves, objects of appetite: and for this reason they needed to be forbidden not only in the deed but also in the desire. But murder and falsehood are, of themselves, objects of repulsion (since it is natural for man to love his neighbor and the truth): and are desired only for the sake of something else. Consequently with regard to sins of murder and false witness, it was necessary to proscribe, not sins of thought, but only sins of deed.
Reply to Objection 6. As stated above (Question 25, Article 1), all the passions of the irascible faculty arise from the passions of the concupiscible part. Hence, as the precepts of the Decalogue are, as it were, the first elements of the Law, there was no need for mention of the irascible passions, but only of the concupiscible passions.
Objection 1. It would seem that the ten precepts of the Decalogue are not set in proper order. Because love of one’s neighbor is seemingly previous to love of God, since our neighbor is better known to us than God is; according to 1 John 4:20: “He that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, Whom he seeth not?” But the first three precepts belong to the love of God, while the other seven pertain to the love of our neighbor. Therefore the precepts of the Decalogue are not set in proper order.
Objection 2. Further, the acts of virtue are prescribed by the affirmative precepts, and acts of vice are forbidden by the negative precepts. But according to Boethius in his commentary on the Categories [of Aristotle] [Book 4, Chapter “De Oppositis”], vices should be uprooted before virtues are sown. Therefore among the precepts concerning our neighbor, the negative precepts should have preceded the affirmative.
Objection 3. Further, the precepts of the Law are about men’s actions. But actions of thought precede actions of word or outward deed. Therefore the precepts about not coveting, which regard our thoughts, are unsuitably placed last in order.
On the contrary, The Apostle [Paul] says (Romans 13:1): “The things that are of God, are well ordered” [Vulgate: ‘Those that are, are ordained of God’]. But the precepts of the Decalogue were given immediately by God, as stated above (Article 3). Therefore they are arranged in becoming order.
I answer that, As stated above (Article 3; Article 5, Reply 1), the precepts of the Decalogue are such as the mind of man is ready to grasp at once. Now it is evident that a thing is so much the more easily grasped by the reason, as its contrary is more grievous and repugnant to reason. Moreover, it is clear, since the order of reason begins with the end, that, for a man to be inordinately disposed towards his end, is supremely contrary to reason. Now the end of human life and society is God. Consequently it was necessary for the precepts of the Decalogue, first of all, to direct man to God; since the contrary to this is most grievous. Thus also, in an army, which is ordained to the commander as to its end, it is requisite first that the soldier should be subject to the commander, and the opposite of this is most grievous; and secondly it is requisite that he should be in coordination with the other soldiers.
Now among those things whereby we are ordained to God, the first is that man should be subjected to Him faithfully, by having nothing in common with His enemies. The second is that he should show Him reverence: the third that he should offer Him service. Thus, in an army, it is a greater sin for a soldier to act treacherously and make a compact with the foe, than to be insolent to his commander: and this last is more grievous than if he be found wanting in some point of service to him.
As to the precepts that direct man in his behavior towards his neighbor, it is evident that it is more repugnant to reason, and a more grievous sin, if man does not observe the due order as to those persons to whom he is most indebted. Consequently, among those precepts that direct man in his relations to his neighbor, the first place is given to that one which regards his parents. Among the other precepts we again find the order to be according to the gravity of sin. For it is more grave and more repugnant to reason, to sin by deed than by word; and by word than by thought. And among sins of deed, murder which destroys life in one already living is more grievous than adultery, which imperils the life of the unborn child; and adultery is more grave than theft, which regards external goods.
Reply to Objection 1. Although our neighbor is better known than God by the way of the senses, nevertheless the love of God is the reason for the love of our neighbor, as shall be declared later on (Part II-II, Question 25, Article 1; Part II-II, Question 26, Article 2). Hence the precepts ordaining man to God demanded precedence of the others.
Reply to Objection 2. Just as God is the universal principle of being in respect of all things, so is a father a principle of being in respect of his son. Therefore the precept regarding parents was fittingly placed after the precepts regarding God. This argument holds in respect of affirmative and negative precepts about the same kind of deed: although even then it is not altogether cogent. For although in the order of execution, vices should be uprooted before virtues are sown, according to Psalm 33:15: “Turn away from evil, and do good,” and Isaiah 1:16-17: “Cease to do perversely; learn to do well”; yet, in the order of knowledge, virtue precedes vice, because “the crooked line is known by the straight” (Aristotle, De Anima, 1.5): and “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Wherefore the affirmation precept demanded the first place. However, this is not the reason for the order, but that which is given above. Because in the precepts regarding God, which belongs to the first table, an affirmative precept is placed last, since its transgression implies a less grievous sin.
Reply to Objection 3. Although sin of thought stands first in the order of execution, yet its prohibition holds a later position in the order of reason.
Objection 1. It would seem that the precepts of the Decalogue are unsuitably formulated. Because the affirmative precepts direct man to acts of virtue, while the negative precepts withdraw him from acts of vice. But in every matter there are virtues and vices opposed to one another. Therefore in whatever matter there is an ordinance of a precept of the Decalogue, there should have been an affirmative and a negative precept. Therefore it was unfitting that affirmative precepts should be framed in some matters, and negative precepts in others.
Objection 2. Further, Isidore [of Seville] says (Etymologies, 2.10) that every law is based on reason. But all the precepts of the Decalogue belong to the Divine law. Therefore the reason should have been pointed out in each precept, and not only in the first and third.
Objection 3. Further, by observing the precepts man deserves to be rewarded by God. But the Divine promises concern the rewards of the precepts. Therefore the promise should have been included in each precept, and not only in the second and fourth.
Objection 4. Further, the Old Law is called “the law of fear,” in so far as it induced men to observe the precepts, by means of the threat of punishments. But all the precepts of the Decalogue belong to the Old Law. Therefore a threat of punishment should have been included in each, and not only in the first and second.
Objection 5. Further, all the commandments of God should be retained in the memory: for it is written (Proverbs 3:3): “Write them in the tables of thy heart.” Therefore it was not fitting that mention of the memory should be made in the third commandment only. Consequently it seems that the precepts of the Decalogue are unsuitably formulated.
On the contrary, It is written (Wisdom 11:21) that “God made all things, in measure, number and weight.” Much more therefore did He observe a suitable manner in formulating His Law.
I answer that, The highest wisdom is contained in the precepts of the Divine law: wherefore it is written (Deuteronomy 4:6): “This is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of nations.” Now it belongs to wisdom to arrange all things in due manner and order. Therefore it must be evident that the precepts of the Law are suitably set forth.
Reply to Objection 1. Affirmation of one thing always leads to the denial of its opposite: but the denial of one opposite does not always lead to the affirmation of the other. For it follows that if a thing is white, it is not black: but it does not follow that if it is not black, it is white: because negation extends further than affirmation. And hence too, that one ought not to do harm to another, which pertains to the negative precepts, extends to more persons, as a primary dictate of reason, than that one ought to do someone a service or kindness. Nevertheless it is a primary dictate of reason that man is a debtor in the point of rendering a service or kindness to those from whom he has received kindness, if he has not yet repaid the debt. Now there are two whose favors no man can sufficiently repay, viz. God and man’s father, as stated in Ethic. viii, 14. Therefore it is that there are only two affirmative precepts; one about the honor due to parents, the other about the celebration of the Sabbath in memory of the Divine favor.
Reply to Objection 2. The reasons for the purely moral precepts are manifest; hence there was no need to add the reason. But some of the precepts include ceremonial matter, or a determination of a general moral precept; thus the first precept includes the determination, “Thou shalt not make a graven thing”; and in the third precept the Sabbath-day is fixed. Consequently there was need to state the reason in each case.
Reply to Objection 3. Generally speaking, men direct their actions to some point of utility. Consequently in those precepts in which it seemed that there would be no useful result, or that some utility might be hindered, it was necessary to add a promise of reward. And since parents are already on the way to depart from us, no benefit is expected from them: wherefore a promise of reward is added to the precept about honoring one’s parents. The same applies to the precept forbidding idolatry: since thereby it seemed that men were hindered from receiving the apparent benefit which they think they can get by entering into a compact with the demons.
Reply to Objection 4. Punishments are necessary against those who are prone to evil, as stated in [Aristotle’s] Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9. Wherefore a threat of punishment is only affixed to those precepts of the law which forbade evils to which men were prone. Now men were prone to idolatry by reason of the general custom of the nations. Likewise men are prone to perjury on account of the frequent use of oaths. Hence it is that a threat is affixed to the first two precepts.
Reply to Objection 5. The commandment about the Sabbath was made in memory of a past blessing. Wherefore special mention of the memory is made therein. Or again, the commandment about the Sabbath has a determination affixed to it that does not belong to the natural law, wherefore this precept needed a special admonition.
Objection 1. It would seem that the precepts of the Decalogue are dispensable. For the precepts of the Decalogue belong to the natural law. But the natural law fails in some cases and is changeable, like human nature, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Nicomachean Ethics, 5.7). Now the failure of law to apply in certain particular cases is a reason for dispensation, as stated above (Question 96, Article 6; Question 97, Article 4). Therefore a dispensation can be granted in the precepts of the Decalogue.
Objection 2. Further, man stands in the same relation to human law as God does to Divine law. But man can dispense with the precepts of a law made by man. Therefore, since the precepts of the Decalogue are ordained by God, it seems that God can dispense with them. Now our superiors are God’s viceregents on earth; for the Apostle [Paul] says (2 Corinthians 2:10): “For what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned anything, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ.” Therefore superiors can dispense with the precepts of the Decalogue.
Objection 3. Further, among the precepts of the Decalogue is one forbidding murder. But it seems that a dispensation is given by men in this precept: for instance, when according to the prescription of human law, such as evil-doers or enemies are lawfully slain. Therefore the precepts of the Decalogue are dispensable.
Objection 4. Further, the observance of the Sabbath is ordained by a precept of the Decalogue. But a dispensation was granted in this precept; for it is written (1 Maccabees 2:4): “And they determined in that day, saying: Whosoever shall come up to fight against us on the Sabbath-day, we will fight against him.” Therefore the precepts of the Decalogue are dispensable.
On the contrary, are the words of Isaiah 24:5, where some are reproved for that “they have changed the ordinance, they have broken the everlasting covenant”; which, seemingly, apply principally to the precepts of the Decalogue. Therefore the precepts of the Decalogue cannot be changed by dispensation.
I answer that, As stated above (Question 96, Article 6; Question 97, Article 4), precepts admit of dispensation, when there occurs a particular case in which, if the letter of the law be observed, the intention of the lawgiver is frustrated. Now the intention of every lawgiver is directed first and chiefly to the common good; secondly, to the order of justice and virtue, whereby the common good is preserved and attained. If therefore there be any precepts which contain the very preservation of the common good, or the very order of justice and virtue, such precepts contain the intention of the lawgiver, and therefore are indispensable. For instance, if in some community a law were enacted, such as this--that no man should work for the destruction of the commonwealth, or betray the state to its enemies, or that no man should do anything unjust or evil, such precepts would not admit of dispensation. But if other precepts were enacted, subordinate to the above, and determining certain special modes of procedure, these latter precepts would admit of dispensation, in so far as the omission of these precepts in certain cases would not be prejudicial to the former precepts which contain the intention of the lawgiver. For instance if, for the safeguarding of the commonwealth, it were enacted in some city that from each ward some men should keep watch as sentries in case of siege, some might be dispensed from this on account of some greater utility.
Now the precepts of the Decalogue contain the very intention of the lawgiver, who is God. For the precepts of the first table, which direct us to God, contain the very order to the common and final good, which is God; while the precepts of the second table contain the order of justice to be observed among men, that nothing undue be done to anyone, and that each one be given his due; for it is in this sense that we are to take the precepts of the Decalogue. Consequently the precepts of the Decalogue admit of no dispensation whatever.
Reply to Objection 1. The Philosopher [Aristotle] is not speaking of the natural law which contains the very order of justice: for it is a never-failing principle that “justice should be preserved.” But he is speaking in reference to certain fixed modes of observing justice, which fail to apply in certain cases.
Reply to Objection 2. As the Apostle [Paul] says (2 Timothy 2:13), “God continueth faithful, He cannot deny Himself.” But He would deny Himself if He were to do away with the very order of His own justice, since He is justice itself. Wherefore God cannot dispense a man so that it be lawful for him not to direct himself to God, or not to be subject to His justice, even in those matters in which men are directed to one another.
Reply to Objection 3. The slaying of a man is forbidden in the Decalogue, in so far as it bears the character of something undue: for in this sense the precept contains the very essence of justice. Human law cannot make it lawful for a man to be slain unduly. But it is not undue for evil-doers or foes of the common weal to be slain: hence this is not contrary to the precept of the Decalogue; and such a killing is no murder as forbidden by that precept, as Augustine observes (De Libero Arbitrio [On the Free Choice of the Will], 1.4). In like manner when a man’s property is taken from him, if it be due that he should lose it, this is not theft or robbery as forbidden by the Decalogue.
Consequently when the children of Israel, by God’s command, took away the spoils of the Egyptians, this was not theft; since it was due to them by the sentence of God. Likewise when Abraham consented to slay his son, he did not consent to murder, because his son was due to be slain by the command of God, Who is Lord of life and death: for He it is Who inflicts the punishment of death on all men, both godly and ungodly, on account of the sin of our first parent, and if a man be the executor of that sentence by Divine authority, he will be no murderer any more than God would be. Again Osee, by taking unto himself a wife of fornications, or an adulterous woman, was not guilty either of adultery or of fornication: because he took unto himself one who was his by command of God, Who is the Author of the institution of marriage.
Accordingly, therefore, the precepts of the Decalogue, as to the essence of justice which they contain, are unchangeable: but as to any determination by application to individual actions—for instance, that this or that be murder, theft or adultery, or not—in this point they admit of change; sometimes by Divine authority alone, namely, in such matters as are exclusively of Divine institution, as marriage and the like; sometimes also by human authority, namely in such matters as are subject to human jurisdiction: for in this respect men stand in the place of God: and yet not in all respects.
Reply to Objection 4. This determination was an interpretation rather than a dispensation. For a man is not taken to break the Sabbath, if he does something necessary for human welfare; as Our Lord proves (Matthew 12:3ff.).
Objection 1. It would seem that the mode of virtue falls under the precept of the law. For the mode of virtue is that deeds of justice should be done justly, that deeds of fortitude should be done bravely, and in like manner as to the other virtues. But it is commanded (Deuteronomy 26:20) that “thou shalt follow justly after that which is just.” Therefore the mode of virtue falls under the precept.
Objection 2. Further, that which belongs to the intention of the lawgiver comes chiefly under the precept. But the intention of the lawgiver is directed chiefly to make men virtuous, as stated in [Aristotle’s] Nicomachean Ethics, 2.1: and it belongs to a virtuous man to act virtuously. Therefore the mode of virtue falls under the precept.
Objection 3. Further, the mode of virtue seems to consist properly in working willingly and with pleasure. But this falls under a precept of the Divine law, for it is written (Psalm 99:2): “Serve ye the Lord with gladness”; and (2 Corinthians 9:7): “Not with sadness or necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver”; whereupon the gloss says: “Whatever ye do, do gladly; and then you will do it well; whereas if you do it sorrowfully, it is done in thee, not by thee.” Therefore the mode of virtue falls under the precept of the law.
On the contrary, No man can act as a virtuous man acts unless he has the habit of virtue, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] explains (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.4, 5.8). Now whoever transgresses a precept of the law, deserves to be punished. Hence it would follow that a man who has not the habit of virtue, would deserve to be punished, whatever he does. But this is contrary to the intention of the law, which aims at leading man to virtue, by habituating him to good works. Therefore the mode of virtue does not fall under the precept.
I answer that, As stated above (Question 90, Article 3, Reply 2), a precept of law has compulsory power. Hence that on which the compulsion of the law is brought to bear, falls directly under the precept of the law. Now the law compels through fear of punishment, as stated in [Aristotle’s] Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, because that properly falls under the precept of the law, for which the penalty of the law is inflicted. But Divine law and human law are differently situated as to the appointment of penalties; since the penalty of the law is inflicted only for those things which come under the judgment of the lawgiver; for the law punishes in accordance with the verdict given. Now man, the framer of human law, is competent to judge only of outward acts; because “man seeth those things that appear,” according to 1 Samuel 16:7: while God alone, the framer of the Divine law, is competent to judge of the inward movements of wills, according to Psalm 7:10: “The searcher of hearts and reins is God.”
Accordingly, therefore, we must say that the mode of virtue is in some sort regarded both by human and by Divine law; in some respect it is regarded by the Divine, but not by the human law; and in another way, it is regarded neither by the human nor by the Divine law. Now the mode of virtue consists in three things, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] states in Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2. The first is that man should act “knowingly”: and this is subject to the judgment of both Divine and human law; because what a man does in ignorance, he does accidentally. Hence according to both human and Divine law, certain things are judged in respect of ignorance to be punishable or pardonable.
The second point is that a man should act “deliberately,” i.e. “from choice, choosing that particular action for its own sake”; wherein a twofold internal movement is implied, of volition and of intention, about which we have spoken above (Part I-II, Questions 8 and 12): and concerning these two, Divine law alone, and not human law, is competent to judge. For human law does not punish the man who wishes to slay, and slays not: whereas the Divine law does, according to Matthew 5:22: “Whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment.”
The third point is that he should “act from a firm and immovable principle”: which firmness belongs properly to a habit, and implies that the action proceeds from a rooted habit. In this respect, the mode of virtue does not fall under the precept either of Divine or of human law, since neither by man nor by God is he punished as breaking the law, who gives due honor to his parents and yet has not the habit of filial piety.
Reply to Objection 1. The mode of doing acts of justice, which falls under the precept, is that they be done in accordance with right; but not that they be done from the habit of justice.
Reply to Objection 2. The intention of the lawgiver is twofold. His aim, in the first place, is to lead men to something by the precepts of the law: and this is virtue. Secondly, his intention is brought to bear on the matter itself of the precept: and this is something leading or disposing to virtue, viz. an act of virtue. For the end of the precept and the matter of the precept are not the same: just as neither in other things is the end the same as that which conduces to the end.
Reply to Objection 3. That works of virtue should be done without sadness, falls under the precept of the Divine law; for whoever works with sadness works unwillingly. But to work with pleasure, i.e. joyfully or cheerfully, in one respect falls under the precept, viz. in so far as pleasure ensues from the love of God and one’s neighbor (which love falls under the precept), and love causes pleasure: and in another respect does not fall under the precept, in so far as pleasure ensues from a habit; for “pleasure taken in a work proves the existence of a habit,” as stated in [Aristotle’s] Nicomachean Ethics, 2.3. For an act may give pleasure either on account of its end, or through its proceeding from a becoming habit.
Objection 1. It would seem that the mode of charity falls under the precept of the Divine law. For it is written (Matthew 19:17): “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments”: whence it seems to follow that the observance of the commandments suffices for entrance into life. But good works do not suffice for entrance into life, except they be done from charity: for it is written (1 Corinthians 13:3): “If I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Therefore the mode of charity is included in the commandment.
Objection 2. Further, the mode of charity consists properly speaking in doing all things for God. But this falls under the precept; for the Apostle [Paul] says (1 Corinthians 10:31): “Do all to the glory of God.” Therefore the mode of charity falls under the precept.
Objection 3. Further, if the mode of charity does not fall under the precept, it follows that one can fulfill the precepts of the law without having charity. Now what can be done without charity can be done without grace, which is always united to charity. Therefore one can fulfill the precepts of the law without grace. But this is the error of Pelagius, as Augustine declares (De Haeresibus [On Heresies], 88). Therefore the mode of charity is included in the commandment.
On the contrary, Whoever breaks a commandment sins mortally. If therefore the mode of charity falls under the precept, it follows that whoever acts otherwise than from charity sins mortally. But whoever has not charity, acts otherwise than from charity. Therefore it follows that whoever has not charity, sins mortally in whatever he does, however good this may be in itself: which is absurd.
I answer that, Opinions have been contrary on this question. For some have said absolutely that the mode of charity comes under the precept; and yet that it is possible for one not having charity to fulfill this precept: because he can dispose himself to receive charity from God. Nor (say they) does it follow that a man not having charity sins mortally whenever he does something good of its kind: because it is an affirmative precept that binds one to act from charity, and is binding not for all time, but only for such time as one is in a state of charity. On the other hand, some have said that the mode of charity is altogether outside the precept.
Both these opinions are true up to a certain point. For the act of charity can be considered in two ways. First, as an act by itself: and thus it falls under the precept of the law which specially prescribes it, viz. “Thou shalt love the thy Lord thy God,” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor.” In this sense, the first opinion is true. For it is not impossible to observe this precept which regards the act of charity; since man can dispose himself to possess charity, and when he possesses it, he can use it. Secondly, the act of charity can be considered as being the mode of the acts of the other virtues, i.e. inasmuch as the acts of the other virtues are ordained to charity, which is “the end of the commandment,” as stated in 1 Timothy 1:5: for it has been said above (Part I-II, Question 12, Article 4) that the intention of the end is a formal mode of the act ordained to that end. In this sense the second opinion is true in saying that the mode of charity does not fall under the precept, that is to say that this commandment, “Honor thy father,” does not mean that a man must honor his father from charity, but merely that he must honor him. Wherefore he that honors his father, yet has not charity, does not break this precept: although he does break the precept concerning the act of charity, for which reason he deserves to be punished.
Reply to Objection 1. Our Lord did not say, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep one commandment”; but “keep” all “the commandments”: among which is included the commandment concerning the love of God and our neighbor.
Reply to Objection 2. The precept of charity contains the injunction that God should be loved from our whole heart, which means that all things would be referred to God. Consequently man cannot fulfill the precept of charity, unless he also refer all things to God. Wherefore he that honors his father and mother, is bound to honor them from charity, not in virtue of the precept, “Honor thy father and mother,” but in virtue of the precept, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.” And since these are two affirmative precepts, not binding for all times, they can be binding, each one at a different time: so that it may happen that a man fulfills the precept of honoring his father and mother, without at the same time breaking the precept concerning the omission of the mode of charity.
Reply to Objection 3. Man cannot fulfill all the precepts of the law, unless he fulfill the precept of charity, which is impossible without grace. Consequently it is not possible, as Pelagius maintained, for man to fulfill the law without grace.
Objection 1. It would seem that it is wrong to distinguish other moral precepts of the law besides the Decalogue. Because, as Our Lord declared (Matthew 22:40), “on these two commandments” of charity “dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” But these two commandments are explained by the ten commandments of the Decalogue. Therefore there is no need for other moral precepts.
Objection 2. Further, the moral precepts are distinct from the judicial and ceremonial precepts, as stated above (Question 99, Articles 3 and 4). But the determinations of the general moral precepts belong to the judicial and ceremonial precepts: and the general moral precepts are contained in the Decalogue, or are even presupposed to the Decalogue, as stated above (Article 3). Therefore it was unsuitable to lay down other moral precepts besides the Decalogue.
Objection 3. Further, the moral precepts are about the acts of all the virtues, as stated above (Article 2). Therefore, as the Law contains, besides the Decalogue, moral precepts pertaining to religion, liberality, mercy, and chastity; so there should have been added some precepts pertaining to the other virtues, for instance, fortitude, sobriety, and so forth. And yet such is not the case. It is therefore unbecoming to distinguish other moral precepts in the Law besides those of the Decalogue.
On the contrary, It is written (Psalm 18:8): “The law of the Lord is unspotted, converting souls.” But man is preserved from the stain of sin, and his soul is converted to God by other moral precepts besides those of the Decalogue. Therefore it was right for the Law to include other moral precepts.
I answer that, As is evident from what has been stated (Question 99, Articles 3 and 4), the judicial and ceremonial precepts derive their force from their institution alone: since before they were instituted, it seemed of no consequence whether things were done in this or that way. But the moral precepts derive their efficacy from the very dictate of natural reason, even if they were never included in the Law. Now of these there are three grades: for some are most certain, and so evident as to need no promulgation; such as the commandments of the love of God and our neighbor, and others like these, as stated above (Article 3), which are, as it were, the ends of the commandments; wherefore no man can have an erroneous judgment about them. Some precepts are more detailed, the reason of which even an uneducated man can easily grasp; and yet they need to be promulgated, because human judgment, in a few instances, happens to be led astray concerning them: these are the precepts of the Decalogue. Again, there are some precepts the reason of which is not so evident to everyone, but only the wise; these are moral precepts added to the Decalogue, and given to the people by God through Moses and Aaron.
But since the things that are evident are the principles whereby we know those that are not evident, these other moral precepts added to the Decalogue are reducible to the precepts of the Decalogue, as so many corollaries. Thus the first commandment of the Decalogue forbids the worship of strange gods: and to this are added other precepts forbidding things relating to worship of idols: thus it is written (Deuteronomy 18:10-11): “Neither let there be found among you anyone that shall expiate his son or daughter, making them to pass through the fire: . . . neither let there by any wizard nor charmer, nor anyone that consulteth pythonic spirits, or fortune-tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead.” The second commandment forbids perjury. To this is added the prohibition of blasphemy (Leviticus 24:15ff.) and the prohibition of false doctrine (Deuteronomy 13). To the third commandment are added all the ceremonial precepts. To the fourth commandment prescribing the honor due to parents, is added the precept about honoring the aged, according to Leviticus 19:32: “Rise up before the hoary head, and honor the person of the aged man”; and likewise all the precepts prescribing the reverence to be observed towards our betters, or kindliness towards our equals or inferiors. To the fifth commandment, which forbids murder, is added the prohibition of hatred and of any kind of violence inflicted on our neighbor, according to Leviticus 19:16: “Thou shalt not stand against the blood of thy neighbor”: likewise the prohibition against hating one’s brother (Leviticus 19:17): “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” To the sixth commandment which forbids adultery, is added the prohibition about whoredom, according to Deuteronomy 23:17: “There shall be no whore among the daughters of Israel, nor whoremonger among the sons of Israel”; and the prohibition against unnatural sins, according to Leviticus 18:22-23: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind . . . thou shalt not copulate with any beast.” To the seventh commandment which prohibits theft, is added the precept forbidding usury, according to Deuteronomy 23:19: “Thou shalt not lend to thy brother money to usury”; and the prohibition against fraud, according to Deuteronomy 25:13: “Thou shalt not have divers weights in thy bag”; and universally all prohibitions relating to peculations and larceny. To the eighth commandment, forbidding false testimony, is added the prohibition against false judgment, according to Exodus 23:2: “Neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the most part, to stray from the truth”; and the prohibition against lying (Exodus 23:7): “Thou shalt fly lying,” and the prohibition against detraction, according to Leviticus 19:16: “Thou shalt not be a detractor, nor a whisperer among the people.” To the other two commandments no further precepts are added, because thereby are forbidden all kinds of evil desires.
Reply to Objection 1. The precepts of the Decalogue are ordained to the love of God and our neighbor as pertaining evidently to our duty towards them; but the other precepts are so ordained as pertaining thereto less evidently.
Reply to Objection 2. It is in virtue of their institution that the ceremonial and judicial precepts “are determinations of the precepts of the Decalogue,” not by reason of a natural instinct, as in the case of the superadded moral precepts.
Reply to Objection 3. The precepts of a law are ordained for the common good, as stated above (Question 90, Article 2). And since those virtues which direct our conduct towards others pertain directly to the common good, as also does the virtue of chastity, in so far as the generative act conduces to the common good of the species; hence precepts bearing directly on these virtues are given, both in the Decalogue and in addition thereto. As to the act of fortitude there are the order to be given by the commanders in the war, which is undertaken for the common good: as is clear from Deuteronomy 20:3, where the priest is commanded (to speak thus): “Be not afraid, do not give back.” In like manner the prohibition of acts of gluttony is left to paternal admonition, since it is contrary to the good of the household; hence it is said (Deuteronomy 21:20) in the person of parents: “He slighteth hearing our admonitions, he giveth himself to revelling, and to debauchery and banquetings.”
Objection 1. It would seem that the moral precepts of the Old Law justified man. Because the Apostle says (Romans 2:13): “For not the hearers of the Law are justified before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified.” But the doers of the Law are those who fulfill the precepts of the Law. Therefore the fulfilling of the precepts of the Law was a cause of justification.
Objection 2. Further, it is written (Leviticus 18:5): “Keep My laws and My judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them.” But the spiritual life of man is through justice. Therefore the fulfilling of the precepts of the Law was a cause of justification.
Objection 3. Further, the Divine law is more efficacious than human law. But human law justifies man; since there is a kind of justice consisting in fulfilling the precepts of law. Therefore the precepts of the Law justified man.
On the contrary, The Apostle [Paul] says (2 Corinthians 3:6): “The letter killeth”: which, according to Augustine (De Spiritu et Littera [On the Spirit and the Letter], 14), refers even to the moral precepts. Therefore the moral precepts did not cause justice.
I answer that, Just as “healthy” is said properly and first of that which is possessed of health, and secondarily of that which is a sign or a safeguard of health; so justification means first and properly the causing of justice; while secondarily and improperly, as it were, it may denote a sign of justice or a disposition thereto. If justice be taken in the last two ways, it is evident that it was conferred by the precepts of the Law; in so far, to wit, as they disposed men to the justifying grace of Christ, which they also signified, because as Augustine says (Contra Faustum [Reply to Faustus the Manichaean], 22.24), “even the life of that people foretold and foreshadowed Christ.”
But if we speak of justification properly so called, then we must notice that it can be considered as in the habit or as in the act: so that accordingly justification may be taken in two ways. First, according as man is made just, by becoming possessed of the habit of justice: secondly, according as he does works of justice, so that in this sense justification is nothing else than the execution of justice. Now justice, like the other virtues, may denote either the acquired or the infused virtue, as is clear from what has been stated (Part I-II, Question 63, Article 4). The acquired virtue is caused by works; but the infused virtue is caused by God Himself through His grace. The latter is true justice, of which we are speaking now, and in this respect of which a man is said to be just before God, according to Romans 4:2: “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” Hence this justice could not be caused by moral precepts, which are about human actions: wherefore the moral precepts could not justify man by causing justice.
If, on the other hand, by justification we understand the execution of justice, thus all the precepts of the Law justified man, but in various ways. Because the ceremonial precepts taken as a whole contained something just in itself, in so far as they aimed at offering worship to God; whereas taken individually they contained that which is just, not in itself, but by being a determination of the Divine law. Hence it is said of these precepts that they did not justify man save through the devotion and obedience of those who complied with them. On the other hand the moral and judicial precepts, either in general or also in particular, contained that which is just in itself: but the moral precepts contained that which is just in itself according to that “general justice” which is “every virtue” according to [Aristotle’s] Nicomachean Ethics, 5.1: whereas the judicial precepts belonged to “special justice,” which is about contracts connected with the human mode of life, between one man and another.
Reply to Objection 1. The Apostle [Paul] takes justification for the execution of justice.
Reply to Objection 2. The man who fulfilled the precepts of the Law is said to live in them, because he did not incur the penalty of death, which the Law inflicted on its transgressors: in this sense the Apostle [Paul] quotes this passage (Galatians 3:12).
Reply to Objection 3. The precepts of human law justify man by acquired justice: it is not about this that we are inquiring now, but only about that justice which is before God.