Whether Faith is the First of the Virtues
We proceed to the seventh article thus:
1. It seems that faith is not the first of the virtues. For a gloss by Ambrose on Luke 12:4, |I say unto you, my friends . . . ,| says that fortitude is the foundation of faith. A foundation is prior to what is founded upon it. Hence faith is not the first of the virtues.
2. Again, a gloss (Cassiod.) on the words |trust in the Lord,| in the psalm |Fret not| (Ps.37) says: |hope leads to faith.| Now it is to be explained later that hope is a virtue (Q.17, Art.1). Hence faith is not the first of the virtues.
3. Again, it was said in Art.2 that the intellect of the believer is inclined to assent to the things of faith by obedience to God. Now obedience is a virtue. Hence faith is not the first of the virtues.
4. Again, a gloss on I Cor.3:11, |For other foundation can no man lay . . . ,| says that formed faith is the foundation, not unformed faith (Augustine, De Fide et Operibus 16). Now it was said in Art.1 that faith is brought to its form by charity. It is therefore through charity that faith is made the foundation, so that charity is the foundation rather than faith: and since the foundation is the first part of the building, it seems that charity is prior to faith.
5. Again, we understand the order of habits from the order of their acts. Now in the act of faith, the act of the will, which is made perfect by charity, precedes the act of the intellect, which is made perfect by faith, as the cause which precedes its effect. It follows that charity precedes faith. Hence faith is not the first of the virtues.
On the other hand: the apostle says (Heb.11:1): |Faith is the substance of things hoped for.| Now a substance is first by nature. Faith is therefore the first of the virtues.
I answer: one thing may precede another in two ways, either essentially or accidentally. Essentially, faith is the first of all the virtues. The theological virtues are bound to be prior to the others, since their object is the final end, the end being the principle of action in all practical matters, as we said in 12ae, Q.13, Art.3; and Q.34, Art.4, ad.1. Further, the final end itself must be in the intellect before it is in the will, since the will cannot intend anything which is not first apprehended by the intellect. Faith must then be the first of all the virtues. For the final end is in the intellect through faith, whereas it is in the will through hope and charity. Neither can natural knowledge attain to God as the object of blessedness, as he is sought by hope and charity.
Some other virtues, however, may precede faith accidentally. For an accidental cause is accidentally prior. As the philosopher explains in 8 Physics, text 32, the removal of a hindrance is accidentally part of the cause, and we may say that other virtues may be prior to faith in this way, in so far as they remove hindrances to belief. Fortitude, for example, removes irrational fear, which is a hindrance to faith, and humility removes pride, through which the intellect scorns to submit to the truth of faith. The same may also be said of certain other virtues, although they are not genuine virtues unless faith is presupposed, as Augustine says (4 Cont. Julian.3).
The reply to the first point is thus obvious.
On the second point: hope does not always lead to faith. One cannot hope for eternal blessedness unless one believes it to be possible, since one cannot hope for what is impossible, as we said in 12ae, Q.40, Art.1. But hope may lead one to persevere in faith, or to remain steadfast in faith. It is in this sense that it is said to lead to faith.
On the third point: there are two senses in which we may speak of obedience. In the first place, we may mean the inclination of the will to obey the divine commandments. This is not in itself a special virtue. It is common to all virtues, since all virtues are commanded by the precepts of the divine law, as we said in 12ae, Q.100, Art.2. In this sense, obedience is necessary for faith. Secondly, we may mean the inclination of the will to obey the divine commandments as a duty. Understood in this sense, obedience is a special virtue, and part of justice, since it renders to a superior what is his due, by obeying him. Such obedience, however, is consequential to faith, since it is faith that enables a man to know that God is his superior who ought to be obeyed.
On the fourth point: the nature of a foundation requires not only that a thing should be first, but also that it should be a bond for the other parts of the building. For nothing is a foundation unless the other parts of the building hold together upon it. Now the spiritual edifice is bound together by charity, according to Col.3:14: |above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.| Thus it is true that faith cannot be the foundation without charity. But this does not mean that charity is prior to faith.
On the fifth point: faith does presuppose an act of will, but not an act of will which has been brought to its form by charity. Such an act presupposes faith, since the will cannot seek God with perfect love unless the intellect has a right belief about God.