Why Do We Need Commandments?

03-18-2021From the desk of Fr. VillaSt. Thomas Aquinas

We are placed between the things of this world, and spiritual goods from which eternal happiness consists: so that the more we cleave to the one, the more we withdraw from the other, and vice versa. Wherefore whoever cleaves wholly to the things of this world, so as to make them his reason for living, and to look upon them as the reason and rule of all he does, falls away altogether from spiritual goods. Hence this disorder is removed by the commandments.

Nevertheless, for us to gain eternal happiness, we do not need to renounce the things of the world altogether: since we can, while using the things of this world, obtain eternal happiness, provided we do not make them our reason for living: but we will gain eternal happiness more speedily by giving up the goods of this world entirely. The Gospel counsels are given for that purpose: poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Now the goods of this world, which come into use in human life, consist in three things: (1) in external wealth pertaining to the "the desire of the of the eyes"; (2) bodily pleasures pertaining to the "desires of the flesh"; and (3) worldly honors, which pertain to the "pride of life," according to 1 John. 2:16: and it is in renouncing these altogether, as far as possible, that the evangelical counsels consist.

Riches are renounced by poverty; bodily pleasures by chastity; and worldly honors by obedience. Now if we observe these absolutely, this is in accordance with the counsels as given in the Gospel. But if we observe any one of them in a particular case, this is taking that counsel in a restricted sense, namely, as applying to that particular case.

For instance, when anyone gives to a poor person, not being bound so to do, he follows the counsel of poverty in that particular case. In like manner, when anyone for some fixed time refrains from the pleasures of the body that he may give himself to prayer, he follows the counsel for that particular time. And again, when anyone follows not his will as to some deed which he might do lawfully, he follows the counsel in that particular case: for instance, if he does good to his enemies when he is not bound to, or if he forgives an injury of which he might justly seek to be avenged. In this way, too, all particular counsels may be reduced to these three general and perfect.