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Vol I No. 1
All Saints

Trinity XIX Epistle: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary

by William J. Martin

 

The_Perugia_Altarpiece,_Side_Panel_Depicting_St._Dominic

Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: But rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (Ephes. iv. 27, 28)

THE Apostle lays down three propositions in this Epistle. Firstly, he exhorts the faithful lest they should give place to the devil in their heart. Neither give place to the devil. Secondly, he bids them avoid those things which prepare a place for him: Let him that stole steal no more. Thirdly, he admonishes them that they ought to do that which may put the devil to flight: But rather let him labour….

The Apostle exhorts us to shun the devil and his designs. He urges us to use ourselves and all other things in due measure according to God’s intention. Giving to all their due means respecting and honoring the purpose for which the creature was made. We should not take from God or others what is not ours by nature. We should labor also to embrace virtue that in so doing vice might be put to death.

  1. On the first head it is to be noted, that for seven reasons we ought not to give place to the devil.

(1) Because the serpent desires to poison the soul which receives him with a most deadly poison. The great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world. (Rev. xii. 9)

The deadly poison of the devil is deception. He deceives us into thinking that we can be as God, knowing good and evil in such a way that goodness alone has substance and evil is nothing. Yet it is only God who can relate to good and evil in this way. For our part we must allow God’s Grace to conquer evil and establish goodness in our lives.

(2) Because he is a lion seeking to devour souls. Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet. v. 8)

We do well to remember that the devil will assail and assault us not only with all of his sagacity but also with all of his strength. He will pounce upon us again and again until we begin to give way and cave to the pressure of his ways. We must resist him with the power and might of God’s Holy Spirit. We must not only renounce him intellectually but crush and grind him to powder effectively through the indwelling of same Spirit.

(3) Because he is envious, bringing envy into his dwelling-place. Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world, and they that do hold of his side do find it. (Wis. ii. 24)

The devil will try to weaken us through the sin of envy. He envies our advancement in Christ’s Gospel. He will try to convert us to his envy and jealousy but reminding us that other men are more advanced, more successful, and further along the road of sanctification. He will try to convince us to become territorial and to become fearful of others who try to help and assist us. He will always attempt to perfect our isolationism and establish our territorialism.

(4) Because he is an accuser, ever accusing those who receive him. The accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accuseth them before our God day and night. (Rev. xii. 10)

The devil will try to weaken us by accusing us of having made less far less progress than we should have at any given point in time. He accuses us of being indebted to him for this knowledge. Thus he undermines the progress that the Grace of God has made in our lives already. He encourages us to quit the sanctification process and rely upon his more reasonable expectations.

(5) Because he is a thief stealing the gifts of grace from those in whom he dwells. Then cometh the devil and taketh the word out of their heart lest they should believe and be saved. (St. Luke viii. 12)

The progress we have made is thus seen as gone. He takes away the gift of Grace from our hearts. We think that because we have not been perfected sooner Grace has given up on us and there is no hope for our healing. He convinces us that God should work on our time clock and not that we should work in the frame of His eternity.

(6) Because he is a homicide, entangling those who receive him

in perpetual death. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. (St. John viii. 44)

So he brings to death the work of God’s Grace in our hearts. He longs to kill the labor of God’s wisdom, power, and love in us. He longs to make us dead to God and alive to lesser goods and far more easily obtained expressions of happiness.

(7) Because he who gives place to the devil, will share a place with him in hell. Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (St. Matt. xxv. 44) It is manifest, therefore, that in many ways they are very foolish who give place to the devil in their souls, for they receive a serpent, a lion, a thief, and a murderer.

If we allow the devil to have his way with us, we shall end up in Hell for all of eternity. We do well to remember that it is not through big sins that we are damned. Little sins can do the trick also. What we must locate then is any sin that stands between us and God’s transformation of our lives.

  1. On the second head it is to be noted, that the Apostle bids us abstain chiefly from seven sins which make a place for the devil in the heart of man.

(1) From theft. Let him that stole steal no more.

To be sanctified, we must be content with what we have, respect others, and serve God. Stealing is taking what is not ours by nature or agreement. We steal from God when we judge good and evil for ourselves. We steal from men when we violently deprive them of some part of themselves.

(2) From every evil word: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.

Words reveal our relationship to God and God in others. If our words are not expressions that reveal God’s power in our lives and our desire for his power in others’ lives, then we are wasting our time. Words must reveal God’s goodness alone.

(3) From sadness and bitterness. Let all bitterness be put away from you.

Bitterness and resentment reveal a discontented and unsatisfied heart. So we must put this away and make room for the goodness that God desires to generate in us and in all other men.  

(4) Flee from wrath. And wrath.

Wrath and anger reveal not hope but despair over ourselves and others. Wrath does not work the goodness of God since it tends to judge and condemn rather than earnestly pray and hope for transformation. For St. Thomas wrath is probably related more to an instinctive frustration and violent irritation and impatience.

(5) From anger. And anger.

Anger seems to be potentially more noble. Anger for St. Thomas is probably closer to justice, and thus St. Thomas says that sometimes there is righteous anger or indignation because we want another to be made better. Now this may be noble, and yet at the end of the day, this too must be surrendered and replaced with prayerful hope for another’s sanctification

(6) From clamour. And clamour.

Clamour is disruptive and confusing noise. It is a grumbling that distracts and dislodges others from their pursuit of the good. It serves no useful purpose since it is an unarticulated expression of dissatisfaction and powerlessness.

(7) From blasphemy or evil speaking. And evil speaking. S. Augustine says that blasphemy consists in those things which are falsely spoken of God, and therefore blasphemy is worse than to sin by swearing falsely, because that in swearing falsely witnesses are brought forward, but in blasphemy false things are spoken of God Himself.

For this reason evil speaking or blasphemy is joined with all malice.

‘Now God, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i), is the very essence of true goodness. Hence whatever befits God, pertains to His goodness, and whatever does not befit Him, is far removed from perfection of goodness, which is His Essence. Consequently whoever either denies anything befitting God, or affirms anything unbefitting Him, disparages the Divine goodness.’ (S.T. ii, ii, xiii, 1) When we say false things about God, accuse God of imperfection, curse God because He has not helped us the way we want to be helped and as fast as we want to see it happen, we have blasphemed. Evil talking about God or God’s image and likeness in another is all of a piece. We must refrain from all evil talk because we must honor and worship God in Himself and pray for the same God to come alive in others.

III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the Apostle likewise exhorts us in this Epistle to seven virtues, by which the devil is driven from the soul.

(1) To renovation of mind. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. We ought to be renewed in five ways. Firstly, as an eagle, laying down the beak of an evil tongue. Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Ps. ciii. 5) Secondly, as a stag casting away the horns of pride, As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks. (Psalm xlii. 1) Gloss. The hart is burdened with beautiful hair and horns : it attracts or draws up the serpent by its nostrils; which being swallowed, the poison inflames it, whence it most ardently desires the water, on drinking which it sheds its horns and hair. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. (Isa. Iv. 1) Thirdly, as a hawk accepting the plumage of virtue through the grace, of the Holy Spirit. Does the hawk fly by thy wisdom and stretch her wings to the south? (Job xxxix) Fourthly, as a serpent casting off the skin of the old conversation. Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man. (Col. iii. 9, 10) Fifthly, by taking away the lust of evil love. But he knoweth the way that I take : when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job xxiii. 10)

We must desire virtue as what we need most to be saved. We must desire to see truth and to appropriate it in our lives. Ridding our lives of evil, we must then long more earnestly for the good that will heal us. The ways of Satan has made us weak and vulnerable. Only the ways of God can strengthen us as we become habituated to virtue. The beauty of holiness will be ours if we are intent upon observing what God is doing for us even now. So we must cast off evil and put on the newness of God’s virtue. We must work out false loves and ask the Lord to enable us to love Him above all things.

(2) He exhorts us to honest labour. But rather let him labour.

Sanctification in virtue demands that we labor honestly, accepting the wages of the new life that God brings to us.

(3) To the enlargement of charity. That he may have to give.

In process of labor, we must give as God gives freely to us.

(4) He bids those things be spoken which tend to the edification of faith. That it may minister grace unto the hearers.

What we give must be the gifts of Grace which we possess by faith. So we share with others our faith in God’s Grace.

(5) To the showing of kindness. And be ye kind one to another.

Of course, it goes without saying that we must not only share spiritual treasure but also earthly treasure, so that our neighbor may be on equal footing with us in the pursuit of salvation.

(6) To tender-heartedness. Tender-hearted.

Tender-heartedness means that we are mercifully inclined towards all others. We thus desire first and foremost their salvation.

(7) To the mutual forgiveness of injuries. Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Forgiveness is the beginning and end of our relations with all others, since God for Christ’s sake forgives us always as we grow in perfection.

Amen.

©wsjmartin