Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings

By Simon Tugwell | Go to book overview

The Best Religious Order
Summa Theologiae II. II
Question 188 a.6

Is a religious order devoted to the contemplative life
better than one devoted to the works of the active life?

It does not look as if a religious order 1. devoted to the contemplative life is better than one devoted to the works of the active life:
1. It says in the Decretals, "A greater good is preferable to a lesser good and in the same way the benefit of the community is preferable to the benefit of individuals, and in this case teaching is rightly put before silence and concern before contemplation and toil before rest." 2. But what makes a religious order better is that its goal is a greater good. So religious orders which are geared to the active life are presumably better than those which are geared to the contemplative life.
2. Every form of religious life is meant to lead to the perfection of charity, as we have already argued. 3. But on Hebrews 12:4 ("You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood") the Gloss says, "There is no love more perfect in this life than that which the martyrs attained, who struggled with sin even to the point of shedding their blood." 4. And struggling to the point of shedding one's blood belongs properly to the military orders, and they are part of the active life. So it looks as if that kind of religious life is best.
3. Any religious order is surely all the more perfect the more strict and austere it is. But there is no reason why some forms of active religious life should not be more austere in their observances
____________________
1.
It is difficult to translate religio consistently, and I have not tried to do so in this article; it covers both what we call a "religious order" and its "religious life."
2.
Decretals of Gregory IX, 3. 31.18 (ed. E. Friedberg, Corpus Iuris Canonici II [Leipzig, 1881], col. 576).
3.
II. II q.186 a.1
4.
Lombard's Gloss (PL 192:501D).

-628-

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