St. Thomas Aquinas
from the Christian
Classics Etherial Library website.
THE SECOND PART OF THE SECOND PART
OF THE CAUSE OF PROPHECY (SIX ARTICLES)
must now consider the cause of prophecy. Under this head there are six
points of inquiry:
Whether prophecy is natural?
Whether it is from God by means of the angels?
Whether a natural disposition is requisite for prophecy?
Whether a good life is requisite?
Whether any prophecy is from the demons?
Whether prophets of the demons ever tell what is true?
Article 1. Whether prophecy can be natural?
Objection 1: It would seem that prophecy can be natural. For Gregory says
(Dial. iv, 26) that "sometimes the mere strength of the soul is sufficiently
cunning to foresee certain things": and Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii,
13) that the human soul, according as it is withdrawn from the sense of the
body, is able to foresee the future [*Cf. FP, Q, A, ad 2]. Now
this pertains to prophecy. Therefore the soul can acquire prophecy
Objection 2: Further, the human soul's knowledge is more alert while one
wakes than while one sleeps. Now some, during sleep, naturally foresee the
future, as the Philosopher asserts (De Somn. et Vigil. [*De Divinat. per
Somn. ii, which is annexed to the work quoted]). Much more therefore can a
man naturally foreknow the future.
Objection 3: Further, man, by his nature, is more perfect than dumb animals.
Yet some dumb animals have foreknowledge of future things that concern them.
Thus ants foreknow the coming rains, which is evident from their gathering
grain into their nest before the rain commences; and in like manner fish
foreknow a coming storm, as may be gathered from their movements in avoiding
places exposed to storm. Much more therefore can men foreknow the future
that concerns themselves, and of such things is prophecy. Therefore prophecy
comes from nature.
Objection 4: Further, it is written (Prov. 29:18): "When prophecy shall
fail, the people shall be scattered abroad"; wherefore it is evident that
prophecy is necessary for the stability of the human race. Now "nature does
not fail in necessaries" [*Aristotle, de Anima iii, 9]. Therefore it seems
that prophecy is from nature.
the contrary, It is written (2 Pet. 1:21): "For prophecy came not by the
will of man at any time, but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy
Ghost." Therefore prophecy comes not from nature, but through the gift of
the Holy Ghost.
answer that, As stated above (Q, A, ad 2) prophetic foreknowledge
may regard future things in two ways: in one way, as they are in themselves;
in another way, as they are in their causes. Now, to foreknow future things,
as they are in themselves, is proper to the Divine intellect, to Whose
eternity all things are present, as stated in the FP, Q, A.
Wherefore such like foreknowledge of the future cannot come from nature, but
from Divine revelation alone. On the other hand, future things can be
foreknown in their causes with a natural knowledge even by man: thus a
physician foreknows future health or death in certain causes, through
previous experimental knowledge of the order of those causes to such
effects. Such like knowledge of the future may be understood to be in a man
by nature in two ways. In one way that the soul, from that which it holds,
is able to foreknow the future, and thus Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii,
13): "Some have deemed the human soul to contain a certain power of
divination." This seems to be in accord with the opinion of Plato [*Phaed.
xxvii; Civit. vi], who held that our souls have knowledge of all things by
participating in the ideas; but that this knowledge is obscured in them by
union with the body; yet in some more, in others less, according to a
difference in bodily purity. According to this it might be said that men,
whose souls are not much obscured through union with the body, are able to
foreknow such like future things by their own knowledge. Against this
opinion Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii, 13): "How is it that the soul
cannot always have this power of divination, since it always wishes to have
Since, however, it seems truer, according to the opinion of Aristotle, that
the soul acquires knowledge from sensibles, as stated in the FP,
Q, A, it is better to have recourse to another explanation, and to
hold that men have no such foreknowledge of the future, but that they can
acquire it by means of experience, wherein they are helped by their natural
disposition, which depends on the perfection of a man's imaginative power,
and the clarity of his understanding.
Nevertheless this latter foreknowledge of the future differs in two ways
from the former, which comes through Divine revelation. First, because the
former can be about any events whatever, and this infallibly; whereas the
latter foreknowledge, which can be had naturally, is about certain effects,
to which human experience may extend. Secondly, because the former prophecy
is "according to the unchangeable truth" [*Q, A, OBJ],
while the latter is not, and can cover a falsehood. Now the former
foreknowledge, and not the latter, properly belongs to prophecy, because, as
stated above (Q, A), prophetic knowledge is of things which
naturally surpass human knowledge. Consequently we must say that prophecy
strictly so called cannot be from nature, but only from Divine revelation.
to Objection 1: When the soul is withdrawn from corporeal things, it becomes
more adapted to receive the influence of spiritual substances [*Cf.
FP, Q, A, ad 2], and also is more inclined to receive the
subtle motions which take place in the human imagination through the
impression of natural causes, whereas it is hindered from receiving them
while occupied with sensible things. Hence Gregory says (Dial. iv, 26) that
"the soul, at the approach of death, foresees certain future things, by
reason of the subtlety of its nature," inasmuch as it is receptive even of
slight impressions. Or again, it knows future things by a revelation of the
angels; but not by its own power, because according to Augustine (Gen. ad
lit. xii, 13), "if this were so, it would be able to foreknow the future
whenever it willed," which is clearly false.
Objection 2: Knowledge of the future by means of dreams, comes either from
the revelation of spiritual substances, or from a corporeal cause, as stated
above (Q, A), when we were treating of divination. Now both
these causes are more applicable to a person while asleep than while awake,
because, while awake, the soul is occupied with external sensibles, so that
it is less receptive of the subtle impressions either of spiritual
substances, or even of natural causes; although as regards the perfection of
judgment, the reason is more alert in waking than in sleeping.
to Objection 3: Even dumb animals have no foreknowledge of future events,
except as these are foreknown in their causes, whereby their imagination is
moved more than man's, because man's imagination, especially in waking, is
more disposed according to reason than according to the impression of
natural causes. Yet reason effects much more amply in man, that which the
impression of natural causes effects in dumb animals; and Divine grace by
inspiring the prophecy assists man still more.
to Objection 4: The prophetic light extends even to the direction of human
acts; and in this way prophecy is requisite for the government of a people,
especially in relation to Divine worship; since for this nature is not
sufficient, and grace is necessary.
Article 2. Whether prophetic revelation comes through the angels?
Objection 1: It would seem that prophetic revelation does not come through
the angels. For it is written (Wis. 7:27) that Divine wisdom "conveyeth
herself into holy souls," and "maketh the friends of God, and the prophets."
Now wisdom makes the friends of God immediately. Therefore it also makes the
prophets immediately, and not through the medium of the angels.
Objection 2: Further, prophecy is reckoned among the gratuitous graces. But
the gratuitous graces are from the Holy Ghost, according to 1 Cor. 12:4,
"There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit." Therefore the
prophetic revelation is not made by means of an angel.
Objection 3: Further, Cassiodorus [*Prol. in Psalt. i] says that prophecy is
a "Divine revelation": whereas if it were conveyed by the angels, it would
be called an angelic revelation. Therefore prophecy is not bestowed by means
of the angels.
the contrary, Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. iv): "Our glorious fathers
received Divine visions by means of the heavenly powers"; and he is speaking
there of prophetic visions. Therefore prophetic revelation is conveyed by
means of the angels.
answer that, As the Apostle says (Rom. 13:1), "Things that are of God are
well ordered [*Vulg.: 'Those that are, are ordained of God.']." Now the
Divine ordering, according to Dionysius [*Coel. Hier. iv; Eccl. Hier. v], is
such that the lowest things are directed by middle things. Now the angels
hold a middle position between God and men, in that they have a greater
share in the perfection of the Divine goodness than men have. Wherefore the
Divine enlightenments and revelations are conveyed from God to men by the
angels. Now prophetic knowledge is bestowed by Divine enlightenment and
revelation. Therefore it is evident that it is conveyed by the angels.
to Objection 1: Charity which makes man a friend of God, is a perfection of
the will, in which God alone can form an impression; whereas prophecy is a
perfection of the intellect, in which an angel also can form an impression,
as stated in the FP, Q, A, wherefore the comparison fails
between the two.
to Objection 2: The gratuitous graces are ascribed to the Holy Ghost as
their first principle: yet He works grace of this kind in men by means of
to Objection 3: The work of the instrument is ascribed to the principal
agent by whose power the instrument acts. And since a minister is like an
instrument, prophetic revelation, which is conveyed by the ministry of the
angels, is said to be Divine.
Article 3. Whether a natural disposition is requisite for prophecy?
Objection 1: It would seem that a natural disposition is requisite for
prophecy. For prophecy is received by the prophet according to the
disposition of the recipient, since a gloss of Jerome on Amos 1:2, "The Lord
will roar from Sion," says: "Anyone who wishes to make a comparison
naturally turns to those things of which he has experience, and among which
his life is spent. For example, sailors compare their enemies to the winds,
and their losses to a shipwreck. In like manner Amos, who was a shepherd,
likens the fear of God to that which is inspired by the lion's roar." Now
that which is received by a thing according to the mode of the recipient
requires a natural disposition. Therefore prophecy requires a natural
Objection 2: Further, the considerations of prophecy are more lofty than
those of acquired science. Now natural indisposition hinders the
considerations of acquired science, since many are prevented by natural
indisposition from succeeding to grasp the speculations of science. Much
more therefore is a natural disposition requisite for the contemplation of
Objection 3: Further, natural indisposition is a much greater obstacle than
an accidental impediment. Now the considerations of prophecy are hindered by
an accidental occurrence. For Jerome says in his commentary on Matthew [*The
quotation is from Origen, Hom. vi in Num.] that "at the time of the marriage
act, the presence of the Holy Ghost will not be vouchsafed, even though it
be a prophet that fulfils the duty of procreation." Much more therefore does
a natural indisposition hinder prophecy; and thus it would seem that a good
natural disposition is requisite for prophecy.
the contrary, Gregory says in a homily for Pentecost (xxx in Ev.): "He,"
namely the Holy Ghost, "fills the boy harpist and makes him a Psalmist; He
fills the herdsman plucking wild figs, and makes him a prophet." Therefore
prophecy requires no previous disposition, but depends on the will alone of
the Holy Ghost, of Whom it is written (1 Cor. 12:2): "All these things, one
and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will."
answer that, As stated above (A), prophecy in its true and exact
sense comes from Divine inspiration; while that which comes from a natural
cause is not called prophecy except in a relative sense. Now we must observe
that as God Who is the universal efficient cause requires neither previous
matter nor previous disposition of matter in His corporeal effects, for He
is able at the same instant to bring into being matter and disposition and
form, so neither does He require a previous disposition in His spiritual
effects, but is able to produce both the spiritual effect and at the same
time the fitting disposition as requisite according to the order of nature.
More than this, He is able at the same time, by creation, to produce the
subject, so as to dispose a soul for prophecy and give it the prophetic
grace, at the very instant of its creation.
to Objection 1: It matters not to prophecy by what comparisons the thing
prophesied is expressed; and so the Divine operation makes no change in a
prophet in this respect. Yet if there be anything in him incompatible with
prophecy, it is removed by the Divine power.
to Objection 2: The considerations of science proceed from a natural cause,
and nature cannot work without a previous disposition in matter. This cannot
be said of God Who is the cause of prophecy.
to Objection 3: A natural indisposition, if not removed, might be an
obstacle to prophetic revelation, for instance if a man were altogether
deprived of the natural senses. In the same way a man might be hindered from
the act of prophesying by some very strong passion, whether of anger, or of
concupiscence as in coition, or by any other passion. But such a natural
indisposition as this is removed by the Divine power, which is the cause of
Article 4. Whether a good life is requisite for prophecy?
Objection 1: It would seem that a good life is requisite for prophecy. For
it is written (Wis. 7:27) that the wisdom of God "through nations conveyeth
herself into holy souls," and "maketh the friends of God, and prophets." Now
there can be no holiness without a good life and sanctifying grace.
Therefore prophecy cannot be without a good life and sanctifying grace.
Objection 2: Further, secrets are not revealed save to a friend, according
to Jn. 15:15, "But I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever
I have heard of My Father, I have made known to you." Now God reveals His
secrets to the prophets (Amos 3:7). Therefore it would seem that the
prophets are the friends of God; which is impossible without charity.
Therefore seemingly prophecy cannot be without charity; and charity is
impossible without sanctifying grace.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Mat. 7:15): "Beware of false prophets,
who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening
wolves." Now all who are without grace are likened inwardly to a ravening
wolf, and consequently all such are false prophets. Therefore no man is a
true prophet except he be good by grace.
Objection 4: Further, the Philosopher says (De Somn. et Vigil. [*Cf. De
Divinat. per Somn. i, which is annexed to the work quoted]) that "if
interpretation of dreams is from God, it is unfitting for it to be bestowed
on any but the best." Now it is evident that the gift of prophecy is from
God. Therefore the gift of prophecy is vouchsafed only to the best men.
the contrary, To those who had said, "Lord, have we not prophesied in
Thy name?" this reply is made: "I never knew you" (Mat. 7:22,23). Now "the
Lord knoweth who are His" (2 Tim. 2:19). Therefore prophecy can be in those
who are not God's by grace.
answer that, A good life may be considered from two points of view. First,
with regard to its inward root, which is sanctifying grace. Secondly, with
regard to the inward passions of the soul and the outward actions. Now
sanctifying grace is given chiefly in order that man's soul may be united to
God by charity. Wherefore Augustine says (De Trin. xv, 18): "A man is not
transferred from the left side to the right, unless he receive the Holy
Ghost, by Whom he is made a lover of God and of his neighbor." Hence
whatever can be without charity can be without sanctifying grace, and
consequently without goodness of life. Now prophecy can be without charity;
and this is clear on two counts. First, on account of their respective acts:
for prophecy pertains to the intellect, whose act precedes the act of the
will, which power is perfected by charity. For this reason the Apostle (1
Cor. 13) reckons prophecy with other things pertinent to the intellect, that
can be had without charity. Secondly, on account of their respective ends.
For prophecy like other gratuitous graces is given for the good of the
Church, according to 1 Cor. 12:7, "The manifestation of the Spirit is given
to every man unto profit"; and is not directly intended to unite man's
affections to God, which is the purpose of charity. Therefore prophecy can
be without a good life, as regards the first root of this goodness.
however, we consider a good life, with regard to the passions of the soul,
and external actions, from this point of view an evil life is an obstacle to
prophecy. For prophecy requires the mind to be raised very high in order to
contemplate spiritual things, and this is hindered by strong passions, and
the inordinate pursuit of external things. Hence we read of the sons of the
prophets (4 Kings 4:38) that they "dwelt together with [Vulg.: 'before']"
Eliseus, leading a solitary life, as it were, lest worldly employment should
be a hindrance to the gift of prophecy.
to Objection 1: Sometimes the gift of prophecy is given to a man both for
the good of others, and in order to enlighten his own mind; and such are
those whom Divine wisdom, "conveying itself" by sanctifying grace to their
minds, "maketh the friends of God, and prophets." Others, however, receive
the gift of prophecy merely for the good of others. Hence Jerome commenting
on Mat. 7:22, says: "Sometimes prophesying, the working of miracles, and the
casting out of demons are accorded not to the merit of those who do these
things, but either to the invoking the name of Christ, or to the
condemnation of those who invoke, and for the good of those who see and
to Objection 2: Gregory [*Hom. xxvii in Ev.] expounding this passage [*Jn.
15:15] says: "Since we love the lofty things of heaven as soon as we hear
them, we know them as soon as we love them, for to love is to know.
Accordingly He had made all things known to them, because having renounced
earthly desires they were kindled by the torches of perfect love." In this
way the Divine secrets are not always revealed to prophets.
to Objection 3: Not all wicked men are ravening wolves, but only those whose
purpose is to injure others. For Chrysostom says [*Opus Imperf. in Matth.,
Hom. xix, among the works of St. John Chrysostom, and falsely ascribed to
him] that "Catholic teachers, though they be sinners, are called slaves of
the flesh, but never ravening wolves, because they do not purpose the
destruction of Christians." And since prophecy is directed to the good of
others, it is manifest that such are false prophets, because they are not
sent for this purpose by God.
to Objection 4: God's gifts are not always bestowed on those who are simply
the best, but sometimes are vouchsafed to those who are best as regards the
receiving of this or that gift. Accordingly God grants the gift of prophecy
to those whom He judges best to give it to.
Article 5. Whether any prophecy comes from the demons?
Objection 1: It would seem that no prophecy comes from the demons. For
prophecy is "a Divine revelation," according to Cassiodorus [*Prol. in Psalt.
i]. But that which is done by a demon is not Divine. Therefore no prophecy
can be from a demon.
Objection 2: Further, some kind of enlightenment is requisite for prophetic
knowledge, as stated above (Q, AA,3). Now the demons do not
enlighten the human intellect, as stated above in the FP, Q,
A. Therefore no prophecy can come from the demons.
Objection 3: Further, a sign is worthless if it betokens contraries. Now
prophecy is a sign in confirmation of faith; wherefore a gloss on Rom. 12:6,
"Either prophecy to be used according to the rule of faith," says: "Observe
that in reckoning the graces, he begins with prophecy, which is the first
proof of the reasonableness of our faith; since believers, after receiving
the Spirit, prophesied." Therefore prophecy cannot be bestowed by the
the contrary, It is written (3 Kings 18:19): "Gather unto me all Israel
unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the
prophets of the grove four hundred, who eat at Jezebel's table." Now these
were worshippers of demons. Therefore it would seem that there is also a
prophecy from the demons.
answer that, As stated above (Q, A), prophecy denotes
knowledge far removed from human knowledge. Now it is evident that an
intellect of a higher order can know some things that are far removed from
the knowledge of an inferior intellect. Again, above the human intellect
there is not only the Divine intellect, but also the intellects of good and
bad angels according to the order of nature. Hence the demons, even by their
natural knowledge, know certain things remote from men's knowledge, which
they can reveal to men: although those things which God alone knows are
remote simply and most of all.
Accordingly prophecy, properly and simply, is conveyed by Divine revelations
alone; yet the revelation which is made by the demons may be called prophecy
in a restricted sense. Wherefore those men to whom something is revealed by
the demons are styled in the Scriptures as prophets, not simply, but with an
addition, for instance as "false prophets," or "prophets of idols." Hence
Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii, 19): "When the evil spirit lays hold of a
man for such purposes as these," namely visions, "he makes him either
devilish, or possessed, or a false prophet."
to Objection 1: Cassiodorus is here defining prophecy in its proper and
to Objection 2: The demons reveal what they know to men, not by enlightening
the intellect, but by an imaginary vision, or even by audible speech; and in
this way this prophecy differs from true prophecy.
to Objection 3: The prophecy of the demons can be distinguished from Divine
prophecy by certain, and even outward, signs. Hence Chrysostom says [*Opus
Imperf. in Matth., Hom. xix, falsely ascribed to St. John Chrysostom] that
"some prophesy by the spirit of the devil, such as diviners, but they may be
discerned by the fact that the devil sometimes utters what is false, the
Holy Ghost never." Wherefore it is written (Dt. 18:21,22): "If in silent
thought thou answer: How shall I know the word that the Lord hath spoken?
Thou shalt have this sign: Whatsoever that same prophet foretelleth in the
name of the Lord, and it come not to pass, that thing the Lord hath not
Article 6. Whether the prophets of the demons ever foretell the truth?
Objection 1: It would seem that the prophets of the demons never foretell
the truth. For Ambrose [*Hilary the Deacon (Ambrosiaster) on 1 Cor. 12:3]
says that "Every truth, by whomsoever spoken, is from the Holy Ghost." Now
the prophets of the demons do not speak from the Holy Ghost, because "there
is no concord between Christ and Belial [*'What concord hath Christ with
Belial?']" (2 Cor. 6:15). Therefore it would seem that they never foretell
Objection 2: Further, just as true prophets are inspired by the Spirit of
truth, so the prophets of the demons are inspired by the spirit of untruth,
according to 3 Kings 22:22, "I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the
mouth of all his prophets." Now the prophets inspired by the Holy Ghost
never speak false, as stated above (Q, A). Therefore the
prophets of the demons never speak truth.
Objection 3: Further, it is said of the devil (Jn. 8:44) that "when he
speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for the devil is a liar, and the
father thereof," i.e. of lying. Now by inspiring his prophets, the devil
speaks only of his own, for he is not appointed God's minister to declare
the truth, since "light hath no fellowship with darkness [*Vulg.: 'What
fellowship hath light with darkness?']" (2 Cor. 6:14). Therefore the
prophets of the demons never foretell the truth.
the contrary, A gloss on Num. 22:14, says that "Balaam was a diviner,
for he sometimes foreknew the future by help of the demons and the magic
art." Now he foretold many true things, for instance that which is to be
found in Num. 24:17: "A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a scepter shall
spring up from Israel." Therefore even the prophets of the demons foretell
answer that, As the good is in relation to things, so is the true in
relation to knowledge. Now in things it is impossible to find one that is
wholly devoid of good. Wherefore it is also impossible for any knowledge to
be wholly false, without some mixture of truth. Hence Bede says [*Comment.
in Luc. xvii, 12; Cf. Augustine, QQ. Evang. ii, 40] that "no teaching is so
false that it never mingles truth with falsehood." Hence the teaching of the
demons, with which they instruct their prophets, contains some truths
whereby it is rendered acceptable. For the intellect is led astray to
falsehood by the semblance of truth, even as the will is seduced to evil by
the semblance of goodness. Wherefore Chrysostom says [*Opus Imperf. in Matth.,
Hom. xix, falsely ascribed to St. John Chrysostom]: "The devil is allowed
sometimes to speak true things, in order that his unwonted truthfulness may
gain credit for his lie."
to Objection 1: The prophets of the demons do not always speak from the
demons' revelation, but sometimes by Divine inspiration. This was evidently
the case with Balaam, of whom we read that the Lord spoke to him (Num.
22:12), though he was a prophet of the demons, because God makes use even of
the wicked for the profit of the good. Hence He foretells certain truths
even by the demons' prophets, both that the truth may be rendered more
credible, since even its foes bear witness to it, and also in order that
men, by believing such men, may be more easily led on to truth. Wherefore
also the Sibyls foretold many true things about Christ.
even when the demons' prophets are instructed by the demons, they foretell
the truth, sometimes by virtue of their own nature, the author of which is
the Holy Ghost, and sometimes by revelation of the good spirits, as
Augustine declares (Gen. ad lit. xii, 19): so that even then this truth
which the demons proclaim is from the Holy Ghost.
to Objection 2: A true prophet is always inspired by the Spirit of truth, in
Whom there is no falsehood, wherefore He never says what is not true;
whereas a false prophet is not always instructed by the spirit of untruth,
but sometimes even by the Spirit of truth. Even the very spirit of untruth
sometimes declares true things, sometimes false, as stated above.
to Objection 3: Those things are called the demons' own, which they have of
themselves, namely lies and sins; while they have, not of themselves but of
God, those things which belong to them by nature: and it is by virtue of
their own nature that they sometimes foretell the truth, as stated above (ad
1). Moreover God makes use of them to make known the truth which is to be
accomplished through them, by revealing Divine mysteries to them through the
angels, as already stated (Gen. ad lit. xii, 19; FP, Q, A, ad