- The Beatitudes, Merit, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Prima Secundae:The Action of the Holy Spirit at the Heart of Moral Theology
The question of happiness as the final end of the human person is sufficiently answered by Christ in the Beatitudes, according to Thomas Aquinas.1 Although some have enthusiastically adopted this insight from Servais Pinckaers, the Beatitudes continue to be ignored in many discussions of moral theology—be they specifically Thomist or of a more general nature. In this contribution I will argue that they are in fact the key to a proper understanding of the entire prima secundae of the Summa theologiae as a discussion of the pursuit of happiness. In order to do so, we need to consider them in relation to the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. First, I will briefly argue why it is important to have discussions about the structure of the Summa at all. Second, I will present a number of valuable interpretations of the place of the Beatitudes in the prima secundae. These works of Eleonore Stump, Andrew Pinsent, Pinckaers, and William Mattison contribute to our understanding of the matter, but I believe they still fall short in important aspects. Third, I will offer my own interpretation of the structure, which is a development of the proposals of Pinckaers and Mattison.2 In my proposal the notion of merit is key to reading the prima secundae as a unified discussion. [End Page 179] Merit is a term that describes acting toward the final end with the help of grace, as I will argue with reference to Aquinas's commentary on Matthew. When we follow this understanding of merit we find a way of speaking of the value of human action without diminishing the necessity of God's grace for the attainment of the final end. Fourth and finally I will provide a brief sketch of the implications of my proposal for our understanding of prima secundae and thus for the moral life of the Christian.
Why Continue Discussing the Structure of the Summa Theologiae?
The most influential proposal to date on the structure of the Summa is Marie-Dominique Chenu's suggestion of an exitus–reditus structure. Its merit is that it considers the Summa as an integrated work with an underlying pedagogy, rather than as a collection of interconnected treatises. For some, the problem with proposals such as that of Chenu is that they suggest that the Summa is a perfect and flawlessly ordered work.3 Although there is no need to argue for this type of perfection, we cannot but emphasize that the Summa is a work that is driven by Aquinas's desire to order the discussion of theology in a manner that he thought was helpful to the student. He abandoned the creedal pattern of Peter Lombard's Sentences and began composing his own introduction to Christian doctrine.4 The Summa was born out of a pedagogical concern, and we can therefore safely assume that its structure is characterized by a very high degree of intentionality. Still, I will not argue that my own proposal for reading the Summa exactly matches Aquinas's plan. What I do believe is that it is able to address a number of issues with other proposals and can thus provide us with a fruitful way of reading the secunda pars as an integrated discussion of Christian morality.
Since Chenu's proposal is widely acclaimed as providing us with an interpretative key of the Summa, I will address this proposal of the entire Summa first, before moving on to a discussion of the structure of the prima secundae in particular. The exitus–reditus scheme suggests a Neoplatonic order of emanation and return. Rudi te Velde argued that "in spite of its initial plausibility… the scheme does not appear to fit in with how, in the prologues, Thomas himself accounts for the divisions and transitions in the text. Instead of clarifying the underlying structure and movement, the [End Page 180] scheme rather obscures and conceals some methodical and compositional peculiarities."5 To this criticism I would...