QUESTION 16: OF THE PRECEPTS OF FAITH, KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING
We must now consider the precepts pertaining to the aforesaid, and under
this head there are two points of inquiry:
(1) The precepts concerning faith;
(2) The precepts concerning the gifts of knowledge and understanding.
Article 1: Whether in the Old Law there should have been given precepts of faith?
Objection 1: It would seem that, in the Old Law, there should have been given
precepts of faith. Because a precept is about something due and
necessary. Now it is most necessary for man that he should believe,
according to Heb. 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God."
Therefore there was very great need for precepts of faith to be given.
Objection 2: Further, the New Testament is contained in the Old, as the
reality in the figure, as stated above (FS, Question , Article ). Now the New
Testament contains explicit precepts of faith, for instance Jn. 14:1:
"You believe in God; believe also in Me." Therefore it seems that some
precepts of faith ought to have been given in the Old Law also.
Objection 3: Further, to prescribe the act of a virtue comes to the same as to
forbid the opposite vices. Now the Old Law contained many precepts
forbidding unbelief: thus (Ex. 20:3): "Thou shalt not have strange gods
before Me," and (Dt. 13:1-3) they were forbidden to hear the words of the
prophet or dreamer who might wish to turn them away from their faith in
God. Therefore precepts of faith should have been given in the Old Law
Objection 4: Further, confession is an act of faith, as stated above (Question , Article ). Now the Old Law contained precepts about the confession and the
promulgation of faith: for they were commanded (Ex. 12:27) that, when
their children should ask them, they should tell them the meaning of the
paschal observance, and (Dt. 13:9) they were commanded to slay anyone who
disseminated doctrine contrary to faith. Therefore the Old Law should
have contained precepts of faith.
Objection 5: Further, all the books of the Old Testament are contained in the
Old Law; wherefore Our Lord said (Jn. 15:25) that it was written in the
Law: "They have hated Me without cause," although this is found written
in Ps. 34 and 68. Now it is written (Ecclus. 2:8): "Ye that fear the
Lord, believe Him." Therefore the Old Law should have contained precepts
On the contrary, The Apostle (Rm. 3:27) calls the Old Law the "law of
works" which he contrasts with the "law of faith." Therefore the Old Law
ought not to have contained precepts of faith.
I answer that, A master does not impose laws on others than his
subjects; wherefore the precepts of a law presuppose that everyone who
receives the law is subject to the giver of the law. Now the primary
subjection of man to God is by faith, according to Heb. 11:6: "He that
cometh to God, must believe that He is." Hence faith is presupposed to
the precepts of the Law: for which reason (Ex. 20:2) that which is of
faith, is set down before the legal precepts, in the words, "I am the
Lord thy God, Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt," and, likewise
(Dt. 6:4), the words, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy [Vulg.: 'our'] God is
one," precede the recording of the precepts.
Since, however, faith contains many things subordinate to the faith
whereby we believe that God is, which is the first and chief of all
articles of faith, as stated above (Question , Articles ,7), it follows that, if
we presuppose faith in God, whereby man's mind is subjected to Him, it is
possible for precepts to be given about other articles of faith. Thus
Augustine expounding the words: "This is My commandment" (Jn. 15:12) says
(Tract. lxxxiii in Joan.) that we have received many precepts of faith.
In the Old Law, however, the secret things of faith were not to be set
before the people, wherefore, presupposing their faith in one God, no
other precepts of faith were given in the Old Law.
Reply to Objection 1: Faith is necessary as being the principle of spiritual life, wherefore it is presupposed before the receiving of the Law.
Reply to Objection 2: Even then Our Lord both presupposed something of faith,
namely belief in one God, when He said: "You believe in God," and
commanded something, namely, belief in the Incarnation whereby one Person
is God and man. This explanation of faith belongs to the faith of the New
Testament, wherefore He added: "Believe also in Me."
Reply to Objection 3: The prohibitive precepts regard sins, which corrupt virtue.
Now virtue is corrupted by any particular defect, as stated above (FS,
Question , Article , ad 3; FS, Question , Article , ad 1, Article , ad 3). Therefore faith in
one God being presupposed, prohibitive precepts had to be given in the
Old Law, so that men might be warned off those particular defects whereby
their faith might be corrupted.
Reply to Objection 4: Confession of faith and the teaching thereof also
presuppose man's submission to God by faith: so that the Old Law could
contain precepts relating to the confession and teaching of faith, rather
than to faith itself.
Reply to Objection 5: In this passage again that faith is presupposed whereby we
believe that God is; hence it begins, "Ye that fear the Lord," which is
not possible without faith. The words which follow---"believe Him"---must
be referred to certain special articles of faith, chiefly to those things
which God promises to them that obey Him, wherefore the passage
concludes---"and your reward shall not be made void."
Article 2: Whether the precepts referring to knowledge and understanding were fittingly set down in the Old Law?
Objection 1: It would seem that the precepts referring to knowledge and
understanding were unfittingly set down in the Old Law. For knowledge and
understanding pertain to cognition. Now cognition precedes and directs
action. Therefore the precepts referring to knowledge and understanding
should precede the precepts of the Law referring to action. Since, then,
the first precepts of the Law are those of the decalogue, it seems that
precepts of knowledge and understanding should have been given a place
among the precepts of the decalogue.
Objection 2: Further, learning precedes teaching, for a man must learn from
another before he teaches another. Now the Old Law contains precepts
about teaching---both affirmative precepts as, for example, (Dt. 4:9),
"Thou shalt teach them to thy sons"---and prohibitive precepts, as, for
instance, (Dt. 4:2), "You shall not add to the word that I speak to you,
neither shall you take away from it." Therefore it seems that man ought
to have been given also some precepts directing him to learn.
Objection 3: Further, knowledge and understanding seem more necessary to a
priest than to a king, wherefore it is written (Malachi 2:7): "The lips
of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his
mouth," and (Osee 4:6): "Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will
reject thee, that thou shalt not do the office of priesthood to Me." Now
the king is commanded to learn knowledge of the Law (Dt. 17:18,19). Much
more therefore should the Law have commanded the priests to learn the Law.
Objection 4: Further, it is not possible while asleep to meditate on things
pertaining to knowledge and understanding: moreover it is hindered by
extraneous occupations. Therefore it is unfittingly commanded (Dt. 6:7):
"Thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy
journey, sleeping and rising." Therefore the precepts relating to
knowledge and understanding are unfittingly set down in the Law.
On the contrary, It is written (Dt. 4:6): "That, hearing all these
precepts, they may say, Behold a wise and understanding people."
I answer that, Three things may be considered in relation to knowledge
and understanding: first, the reception thereof; secondly, the use; and
thirdly, their preservation. Now the reception of knowledge or
understanding, is by means of teaching and learning, and both are
prescribed in the Law. For it is written (Dt. 6:6): "These words which I
command thee . . . shall be in thy heart." This refers to learning, since
it is the duty of a disciple to apply his mind to what is said, while the
words that follow---"and thou shalt tell them to thy children"---refer to
The use of knowledge and understanding is the meditation on those things
which one knows or understands. In reference to this, the text goes on:
"thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house," etc.
Their preservation is effected by the memory, and, as regards this, the
text continues---"and thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and
they shall be and shall move between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them
in the entry, and on the doors of thy house." Thus the continual
remembrance of God's commandments is signified, since it is impossible
for us to forget those things which are continually attracting the notice
of our senses, whether by touch, as those things we hold in our hands, or
by sight, as those things which are ever before our eyes, or to which we
are continually returning, for instance, to the house door. Moreover it
is clearly stated (Dt. 4:9): "Forget not the words that thy eyes have
seen and let them not go out of thy heart all the days of thy life."
We read of these things also being commanded more notably in the New
Testament, both in the teaching of the Gospel and in that of the apostles.
Reply to Objection 1: According to Dt. 4:6, "this is your wisdom and
understanding in the sight of the nations." By this we are given to
understand that the wisdom and understanding of those who believe in God
consist in the precepts of the Law. Wherefore the precepts of the Law had
to be given first, and afterwards men had to be led to know and
understand them, and so it was not fitting that the aforesaid precepts
should be placed among the precepts of the decalogue which take the first
Reply to Objection 2: There are also in the Law precepts relating to learning, as
stated above. Nevertheless teaching was commanded more expressly than
learning, because it concerned the learned, who were not under any other
authority, but were immediately under the law, and to them the precepts
of the Law were given. On the other hand learning concerned the people of
lower degree, and these the precepts of the Law have to reach through the
Reply to Objection 3: Knowledge of the Law is so closely bound up with the
priestly office that being charged with the office implies being charged
to know the Law: hence there was no need for special precepts to be given
about the training of the priests. On the other hand, the doctrine of
God's law is not so bound up with the kingly office, because a king is
placed over his people in temporal matters: hence it is especially
commanded that the king should be instructed by the priests about things
pertaining to the law of God.
Reply to Objection 4: That precept of the Law does not mean that man should
meditate on God's law of sleeping, but during sleep, i.e. that he should
meditate on the law of God when he is preparing to sleep, because this
leads to his having better phantasms while asleep, in so far as our
movements pass from the state of vigil to the state of sleep, as the
Philosopher explains (Ethic. i, 13). In like manner we are commanded to
meditate on the Law in every action of ours, not that we are bound to be
always actually thinking about the Law, but that we should regulate all
our actions according to it.