QUESTION 172: OF THE CAUSE OF PROPHECY
We must now consider the cause of prophecy. Under this head there are
six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether prophecy is natural?
(2) Whether it is from God by means of the angels?
(3) Whether a natural disposition is requisite for prophecy?
(4) Whether a good life is requisite?
(5) Whether any prophecy is from the demons?
(6) 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 xii, 13) that the human soul, according as it is withdrawn from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, Question ,
Article , ad 2]. Now this pertains to prophecy. Therefore the soul can
acquire prophecy naturally.
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.
On the contrary, It is written (2 Pt. 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.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article , 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, Question , Article . 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 it?"
Since, however, it seems truer, according to the opinion of Aristotle,
that the soul acquires knowledge from sensibles, as stated in the FP,
Question , Article , 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" [*Question , Article ,
Objection ], 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 (Question , Article ), 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
Reply to Objection 1: When the soul is withdrawn from corporeal things, it
becomes more adapted to receive the influence of spiritual substances
[*Cf. FP, Question , Article , 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 (Question , Article ), 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.
Reply 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.
Reply 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
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.
On 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.
I answer that, As the Apostle says (Rm. 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.
Reply 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, Question , Article , wherefore the comparison
fails between the two.
Reply 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
Reply 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 disposition.
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 prophecy.
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.
On 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."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), 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
Reply 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.
Reply 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.
Reply 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 prophecy.
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 (Mt. 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.
On the contrary, To those who had said, "Lord, have we not prophesied in
Thy name?" this reply is made: "I never knew you" (Mt. 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.
I 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
If, 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 Kgs. 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.
Reply 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 Mt. 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 hear."
Reply 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.
Reply 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.
Reply 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 (Question , Articles ,3). Now the demons do not
enlighten the human intellect, as stated above in the FP, Question , Article .
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 Rm.
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 demons.
On the contrary, It is written (3 Kgs. 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.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), 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
Reply to Objection 1: Cassiodorus is here defining prophecy in its proper and
Reply 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.
Reply 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 spoken."
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 the truth.
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 Kgs. 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 (Question , Article ).
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.
On 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 the truth.
I 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, Questions. 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."
Reply 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
Yet 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.
Reply 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
Reply 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,
Question , Article , ad 1).