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On Prayer And The Contemplative Life by Aquinas

QUESTION LXXXII OF DEVOTION

I. Is Devotion a Special Kind of Act?
Cardinal Cajetan, On the Meaning of the Term |Devotion| S. Augustine, Confessions, XIII. viii.2
II. Is Devotion an Act of the Virtue of Religion?
III. Is Contemplation, that is Meditation, the Cause of Devotion? Cardinal Cajetan, On the Causes of Devotion
| | On the Devotion of Women
IV. Is Joy an Effect of Devotion?
Cardinal Cajetan, On Melancholy
S. Augustine, Confessions, II. x.

I

Is Devotion a Special Kind of Act?

It is by our acts that we merit. But devotion has a peculiarly meritorious character. Consequently devotion is a special kind of act.

Devotion is so termed from |devoting| oneself. Hence the |devout| are so named because they |devote| themselves to God and thus proclaim their complete subjection to Him. Thus, too, among the heathen of old those were termed |devout| who for the army's sake |devoted| themselves to their idols unto death, as Livy tells us was the case with the two Decii. Hence devotion seems to mean nothing else than |the will to give oneself promptly to those things which pertain to God's service|; thus it is said in Exodus: The multitude of the children of Israel ... offered first-fruits to the Lord with a most ready and devout mind. It is clear, however, that a wish to do readily what belongs to God's service is a special act. Hence devotion is a special act of the will.

But some argue that devotion is not a special kind of act, thus:

1. That which serves to qualify other acts cannot be itself a special act. But devotion appears to qualify certain other acts; thus it is said that all the multitude offered victims, and praises, and holocausts with a devout mind.

But that which moves another gives a certain measure to the latter's movement. The will, however, moves the other faculties of the soul to their respective acts; and, moreover, the will, as aiming at an end in view, moves itself to the means towards that end. Consequently, since devotion is the act of a man who offers himself to serve Him Who is the Ultimate End, it follows that devotion gives a certain measure to human acts -- whether they be the acts of the will itself with regard to the means to an end, or the acts of the other faculties as moved by the will.

2. Again, no act which finds a place in different kinds of acts can be itself a special kind of act. But devotion is to be found in acts of different kinds, both in corporal acts, for example, and in spiritual; thus a man is said to meditate devoutly, for instance, or to genuflect devoutly.

But devotion does not find a place in different kinds of acts as though it were a species coming under different genera, but in the same sense as the motive power of a moving principle is virtually discoverable in the movements of the things it sets in motion.

3. Lastly, all special kinds of acts belong either to the appetitive or to the cognoscitive faculties. But devotion comes under neither of these -- as will be evident to anyone who will reflect upon the various acts of these faculties respectively.

But devotion is an act of the appetitive powers of the soul, and is, as we have said above, a movement of the will.

Cajetan: With regard to the proper meaning of the term devotion, note that since devotion is clearly derived from devoting, and since to devote -- derived in its turn from to vow -- means to promise something spontaneously to God: it follows that the principle in all such promises is the will; and further, not the will simply as such, but the will so affected as to be prompt. Hence in Latin those are said to be devoted to some superior whose will is so affected towards him as to make them prompt in his regard. And this seems to refer especially to God and to those who in a sense stand in His place, as, for instance, our rulers, our fatherland, and our principles of action. Hence in the Church's usage the term devotion is especially applied to those who are so affected towards God as to be prompt in His regard and in all that concerns Him. And so devotion is here taken to signify the act of a will so disposed, the act by which a man shows himself prompt in the Divine service.... Thus, then, devotion, the principal act of the virtue of religion, implies first of all the prompt desire of the Divine honour in our exercise of Divine worship; and hence comes the prompt choice of appropriate means to this end, and also the prompt carrying out of what we see to be suitable to that end. And the proof of possession of such devotion is that truly devout souls, the moment they perceive that some particular thing (or other) ought to be done for the service of God, are so promptly moved towards it that they rejoice in having to do or in actually doing it (on 2.2.82.1).

S. Augustine: Give me, O Lord, Thyself; grant Thyself to me! For Thee do I love, and if my love be but weak, then would I love Thee more. For I cannot measure it so as to know how much my love falls short of that love which shall make my life run to Thy embraces nor ever turn away from Thee till I be hid in the hiding-place of Thy countenance. This only do I know: that it fares ill with me when away from Thee; and this not merely externally, but within me; for all abundance which is not my God is but penury for me! (Confessions, XIII. viii.2).

II

Is Devotion an Act of the Virtue of Religion?

Devotion is derived from |devoting oneself| or making vows. But a vow is an act of the virtue of religion. Consequently devotion also is an act of the virtue of religion.

It belongs to the same virtue to wish to do a thing and to have a prompt will to do it, for the object of each of these acts is the same. For this reason the Philosopher says: |Justice is that by which men will and perform just deeds.| And it is clear that to perform those things which pertain to the Divine worship or service comes under the virtue of religion. Consequently it belongs to the same virtue of religion to have a prompt will to carry out these things -- in other words, to be devout. Whence it follows that devotion is an act of the virtue of religion.

But some argue that devotion is not an act of the virtue of religion, thus:

1. Devotion means that a man gives himself to God. But this belongs to the virtue of charity, for, as S. Denis says: |Divine love causes ecstasy since it permits not that those who love should belong any more to themselves, but to those things which they love.| Whence devotion would seem to be rather an act of charity than of the virtue of religion.

It is indeed through charity that a man gives himself to God, clinging to Him by a certain union of soul; but that a man should give himself to God and occupy himself with the Divine service, is due directly to the virtue of religion, though indirectly it is due to the virtue of charity, which is the principle of the virtue of religion.

2. Again, charity precedes the virtue of religion. But devotion seems to precede charity; for charity is signified in Scripture by fire, and devotion by the fat of the sacrifices -- the material on which the fire feeds. Consequently devotion is not an act of the virtue of religion.

But while the fat of the body is generated by the natural digestive heat, that natural heat finds its nourishment in that same fat. Similarly charity both causes devotion -- since it is by love that a man becomes prompt to serve his friend -- and at the same time charity is fed by devotion; just as all friendship is preserved and increased by the practice of friendly acts and by meditating upon them.

3. Lastly, by the virtue of religion a man turns to God alone. But devotion extends to men as well; people, for instance, are said to be devoted to certain Saints, and servants are said to be devoted to their masters, as S. Leo says of the Jews, that being devoted to the Roman laws, they said: We have no king but Caesar. Consequently devotion is not an act of the virtue of religion.

But the devotion which we have to the Saints of God, whether living or dead, does not stop at them, but passes on to God, since we venerate God in God's ministers. And the devotion which subjects have to their temporal masters is of a different kind altogether, just as the service of temporal masters differs from the service of the Divine Master.

III

Is Contemplation, that is Meditation, the Cause of Devotion?

In Ps. xxxviii.4 it is said: And in my meditation a fire shall flame out. But spiritual fire causes devotion. Therefore meditation causes devotion.

The extrinsic and principal cause of devotion is God Himself; thus S. Ambrose says: |God calls those whom He deigns to call; and whom He wills to make religious He makes religious; and had He willed it He would have made the Samaritans devout instead of indevout.|

But the intrinsic cause of devotion on our part is meditation or contemplation. For, as we have said, devotion is a certain act of the will by which a man gives himself promptly to the Divine service. All acts of the will, however, proceed from consideration, since the will's object is good understood. Hence S. Augustine says: |The will starts from the understanding.| Meditation must, then, be the cause of devotion inasmuch as it is from meditation that a man conceives the idea of giving himself up to God.

And two considerations lead a man to do this: one is the consideration of the Divine Goodness and of His benefits, whence the words of the Psalmist: But for me it is good to cling close to my God, to put my hope in the Lord God. And this consideration begets love, which is the proximate cause of devotion. And the second is man's consideration of his own defects which compel him to lean upon God, according to the words: I have lifted up mine eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me; my help is from the Lord Who made Heaven and earth. This latter consideration excludes all presumption which, by making him lean upon himself, might prevent a man from submitting himself to God.

Some, however, argue that contemplation or meditation is not the cause of devotion, thus:

1. No cause hinders its own effect. But subtle intellectual meditations often hinder devotion.

But it is the consideration of those things which naturally tend to excite love of God which begets devotion; consideration of things which do not come under this head, but rather distract the mind from it, are a hindrance to devotion.

2. Again, if contemplation were the real cause of devotion, it should follow that the higher the matter of our contemplation the greater the devotion it begot. But the opposite is the case. For it frequently happens that greater devotion is aroused by the contemplation of the Passion of Christ and of the other mysteries of His Sacred Humanity than by meditation upon the Divine excellences.

It is true that things which concern the Godhead are of themselves more calculated to excite in us love, and consequently devotion, since God is to be loved above all things; yet it is due to the weakness of the human mind that just as it needs to be led by the hand to the knowledge of Divine things, so also must it be lead to Divine love by means of the things of sense already known to it; and the chief of these things is the Humanity of Christ, as is said in the Preface of the Mass: So that knowing God visibly in the flesh, we may thereby be carried away to the love of things invisible. Consequently the things that have to do with Christ's Humanity lead us, as it were, by the hand and are thus especially suited to stir up devotion in us; though, none the less, devotion is principally concerned with the Divinity.

3. Lastly, if contemplation were the real cause of devotion, it ought to follow that those who are the more fitted for contemplation are also the more fitted for devotion; whereas the contrary is the case, for greater devotion is often found among simple folk and in the female sex, where contemplation is wanting.

But knowledge, as indeed anything which renders a person great, occasions a man to trust in Himself, and hence he does not wholly give himself to God. It is for this reason that knowledge and suchlike things are sometimes a hindrance to a man's devotion, whereas among women and simple folk devotion abounds by the suppression of all elation. But if a man will only perfectly subject to God his knowledge and any other perfection he may have, then his devotion will increase.

* * * * *

Cajetan: Note these two intrinsic causes of devotion: one, namely, which arises from meditation upon God and His benefits, the other from meditation on our own defects. Under the first head I must consider God's goodness, mercy, and kindness towards mankind and towards myself; the benefits, for instance, of creation according to His own Likeness, of Redemption, of Baptism, of His inspirations, of His invitations -- whether directly or through the medium of others; His patient waiting till I do penance; His Holy Eucharist; His preserving me from so many perils both of body and soul; His care of me by means of His Angels; and His other individual benefits. Under the second head come all my faults and the punishments due to me, whether in the past or now in the present; my proneness to sin; my misuse of my own powers by habituating my thoughts and desires -- as well as the inclinations of my other various faculties -- to evil; my sojourning in a region far away from His Friendship and from His Divine conversation; my perverted affections which make me think far more of temporal than of spiritual advantages or disadvantages; my utter lack of virtue; the wounds of my ignorance, of my malice, of my weakness, of my concupiscence; the shackles on my hands and feet, on my good works, that is; the shackles, too, on my affections, so that I dwell amidst darkness and rottenness and bitterness, and shrink not from it! My deafness, too, to the inner voice of my Shepherd; and, what is far worse, that I have chosen God for my enemy and my adversary as often as I have chosen mortal sin, and that I have thus offered Him the grievous insult of refusing to have Him for my God, and choosing instead my belly, or money, or false delights -- and called them my God!

Meditations such as these should be in daily use among spiritual and religious people, and for their sake they should put aside the |much-speaking| of vocal prayer, however much it may appeal to them. And it is of such meditations that devotion and, by consequence, other virtues, are begotten. And they who do not give themselves to this form of prayer at least once in the day cannot be called religious men or women, nor even spiritual people. There can be no effect without a cause, no end without means to it, no gaining the harbour on the island save by a voyage in a ship; and so there can be no real religion without repeated acts regarding its causes, the means to it, and the vehicle that is to bring us thither (on 2.2.82.3).

Cajetan: Just as he who removes an obstacle is the occasion of the resulting effect -- a man, for instance, who pulls down a pillar is the occasion of the resulting fall of what it supported, and a man who removes a water-dam is the occasion of the consequent flood -- so in the same way have women and simple folk a cause of devotion within themselves, for they have not that obstacle which consists in self-confidence. And because God bestows His grace on those who put no obstacle to it, the Church therefore calls the female sex |devout.| Hence we are not to find fault with the learned for their knowledge, nor are we to praise women for womanly weakness; but that abuse of knowledge which consists in self-exaltation is blameworthy, just as the right use of women's weakness in not being uplifted is praiseworthy (on 2.2.82.3).

IV

Is Joy an Effect of Devotion?

In the Church's Collect for the Thursday after the Fourth Sunday of Lent we say: May holy devotion fill with joy those whom the fast they have undertaken chastises.

Of itself indeed, and primarily, devotion brings about a spiritual joy of the mind; but as an accidental result it causes sorrow. For, as we have said above, devotion arises from two considerations. Primarily it arises from the consideration of the Divine Goodness, and from this thought there necessarily follows gladness, in accordance with the words: I remembered God and was delighted. Yet, as it were accidentally, this consideration begets a certain sadness in those who do not as yet fully enjoy God: My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God, and he immediately adds: My tears have been my bread.

Secondarily, however, devotion arises from the consideration of our own defects, for we thus reflect upon that from which a man, by devout acts of the will, turns away, so as no longer to dwell in himself, but to subject himself to God.

And this consideration is the converse of the former: for of itself it tends to cause sadness since it makes us dwell upon our defects; accidentally, however, it causes joy, for it makes us think of the hope we have of God's assistance.

Hence joy of heart primarily and of itself follows from devotion; but secondarily and accidentally there results a sadness which is unto God.

Some, however, argue that joy is not an effect of devotion, thus:

1. Christ's Passion, as said before, is especially calculated to cause devotion. But from dwelling on it there follows a certain affliction of soul: Remember my poverty ... the wormwood and the gall -- that is, the Sacred Passion; and then follows: I will be mindful, and remember, and my soul shall languish within me.

In meditation on the Passion of Christ there is food for sadness -- viz., the thought of the sins of men, and to take these away Christ had need to suffer. But there is also food for joy -- viz., the thought of God's merciful kindness towards us in providing us such a deliverance.

2. Again, devotion principally consists in the interior sacrifice of the heart: A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit; consequently affliction, rather than pleasure or joy, is the outcome of devotion.

But the soul which is on the one hand saddened because of its shortcomings in this present life, is on the other hand delighted at the thought of the goodness of God and of the hope of Divine assistance.

3. Lastly, S. Gregory of Nyssa says: |Just as laughter proceeds from joy, so are sorrow and groaning signs of sadness.| But out of devotion some burst into tears.

Yet tears spring not from sadness alone, but also from a certain tenderness of feeling: and especially is this the case when we reflect on something that, while pleasant, has in it a certain admixture of sadness; thus men are wont to weep from loving affection when they recover their children or others dear to them whom they had thought lost. And it is in this sense that tears spring from devotion.

* * * * *

Cajetan: Notice the proof here afforded that those are not devout persons who are habitually sad and gloomy, and who cannot mingle with others without getting into difficulties or dissolving into tears. For devout folk are cheerful, and are full of joy in their souls; and this not solely by reason of the principal cause, as is stated in the text, but also by reason of a secondary cause -- the thought, namely, of their own failings. For the sadness of devout folk is according to God, and joy accompanies it; whence S. Augustine's remark: |Let a man grieve, but let him rejoice at his grief.| Therefore it is that we read of the Saints that they were joyful and bright; and rightly so, for they had begun upon earth their |heavenly conversation| (on 2.2.82.4).

S. Augustine: For Thee do I yearn, Justice and Innocence, Beautiful and Fair in Thy beauteous light that satisfies and yet never sates! For with Thee is repose exceedingly and life without disquiet! He that enters into Thee enters into the joy of his Lord; he shall know no fear, and in the Best shall be best. But I have deserted Thee and have wandered away, O Lord, my God! Too far have I wandered from Thee, the Steadfast One, in my youth, and I have become to myself a very land of want! (Confessions, II. x.).

FOOTNOTES:

VIII.9 and X.29.

xxxv.20-21.

2 Paral. xxix.31.

Ethics, V. i.3.

Of the Divine Names, chap. iv., part i., lect.10.

Sermon VIII.: On the Passion of Our Lord.

S. John xix.15.

Commentary on S. Luke ix.55.

De Trinitate, ix.12; xv.23.

Ps. lxxii.28.

Ps. cxx.1, 2.

S. Luke xv.13, 16.

Ps. lxxvi.4.

Ps. xli.3.

Lam. iii.19.

Ps. i.19.

De Homine, xii.

De Vera et Falsa Poenitentia, xiii.

Phil. iii.20.

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