OF THE DIVISION OF LIFE INTO ACTIVE AND CONTEMPLATIVE
We must next consider active and contemplative life. This consideration
will be fourfold: (1) Of the division of life into active and
contemplative; (2) Of the contemplative life; (3) Of the active life; (4)
Of the comparison between the active and the contemplative life.
Under the first head there are two points of inquiry:
(1) Whether life is fittingly divided into active and contemplative?
(2) Whether this is an adequate division?
Article 1: Whether life is fittingly divided into active and contemplative?
Objection 1: It would seem that life is not fittingly divided into active and
contemplative. For the soul is the principle of life by its essence:
since the Philosopher says (De Anima ii, 4) that "in living things to
live is to be." Now the soul is the principle of action and contemplation
by its powers. Therefore it would seem that life is not fittingly divided
into active and contemplative.
Objection 2: Further, the division of that which comes afterwards is
unfittingly applied to that which comes first. Now active and
contemplative, or "speculative" and "practical," are differences of the
intellect (De Anima iii, 10); while "to live" comes before "to
understand," since "to live" comes first to living things through the
vegetative soul, as the Philosopher states (De Anima ii, 4). Therefore
life is unfittingly divided into active and contemplative.
Objection 3: Further, the word "life" implies movement, according to Dionysius
(Div. Nom. vi): whereas contemplation consists rather in rest, according
to Wis. 8:16: "When I enter into my house, I shall repose myself with
her." Therefore it would seem that life is unfittingly divided into
active and contemplative.
On the contrary, Gregory says (Hom. xiv super Ezech.): "There is a
twofold life wherein Almighty God instructs us by His holy word, the
active life and the contemplative."
I answer that, Properly speaking, those things are said to live whose
movement or operation is from within themselves. Now that which is proper
to a thing and to which it is most inclined is that which is most
becoming to it from itself; wherefore every living thing gives proof of
its life by that operation which is most proper to it, and to which it is
most inclined. Thus the life of plants is said to consist in nourishment
and generation; the life of animals in sensation and movement; and the
life of men in their understanding and acting according to reason.
Wherefore also in men the life of every man would seem to be that wherein
he delights most, and on which he is most intent; thus especially does
he wish "to associate with his friends" (Ethic. ix, 12).
Accordingly since certain men are especially intent on the contemplation
of truth, while others are especially intent on external actions, it
follows that man's life is fittingly divided into active and
Reply to Objection 1: Each thing's proper form that makes it actually "to be" is
properly that thing's principle of operation. Hence "to live" is, in
living things, "to be," because living things through having "being" from
their form, act in such and such a way.
Reply to Objection 2: Life in general is not divided into active and
contemplative, but the life of man, who derives his species from having
an intellect, wherefore the same division applies to intellect and human
Reply to Objection 3: It is true that contemplation enjoys rest from external
movements. Nevertheless to contemplate is itself a movement of the
intellect, in so far as every operation is described as a movement; in
which sense the Philosopher says (De Anima iii, 7) that sensation and
understanding are movements of a kind, in so far as movement is defined
"the act of a perfect thing." In this way Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv)
ascribes three movements to the soul in contemplation, namely,
"straight," "circular," and "oblique" [*Cf. Question , Article ].
Article 2: Whether life is adequately divided into active and contemplative?
Objection 1: It would seem that life is not adequately divided into active and
contemplative. For the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 5) that there are
three most prominent kinds of life, the life of "pleasure," the "civil"
which would seem to be the same as the active, and the "contemplative"
life. Therefore the division of life into active and contemplative would
seem to be inadequate.
Objection 2: Further, Augustine (De Civ. Dei xix, 1,2,3,19) mentions three
kinds of life, namely the life of "leisure" which pertains to the
contemplative, the "busy" life which pertains to the active, and a third
"composed of both." Therefore it would seem that life is inadequately
divided into active and contemplative.
Objection 3: Further, man's life is diversified according to the divers
actions in which men are occupied. Now there are more than two
occupations of human actions. Therefore it would seem that life should be
divided into more kinds than the active and the contemplative.
On the contrary, These two lives are signified by the two wives of
Jacob; the active by Lia, and the contemplative by Rachel: and by the two
hostesses of our Lord; the contemplative life by Mary, and the active
life by Martha, as Gregory declares (Moral. vi, 37 [*Hom. xiv in
Ezech.]). Now this signification would not be fitting if there were more
than two lives. Therefore life is adequately divided into active and
I answer that, As stated above (Article , ad 2), this division applies to
the human life as derived from the intellect. Now the intellect is
divided into active and contemplative, since the end of intellective
knowledge is either the knowledge itself of truth, which pertains to the
contemplative intellect, or some external action, which pertains to the
practical or active intellect. Therefore life too is adequately divided
into active and contemplative.
Reply to Objection 1: The life of pleasure places its end in pleasures of the
body, which are common to us and dumb animals; wherefore as the
Philosopher says (Ethic. Ethic. i, 5), it is the life "of a beast." Hence
it is not included in this division of the life of a man into active and
Reply to Objection 2: A mean is a combination of extremes, wherefore it is
virtually contained in them, as tepid in hot and cold, and pale in white
and black. In like manner active and contemplative comprise that which is
composed of both. Nevertheless as in every mixture one of the simples
predominates, so too in the mean state of life sometimes the
contemplative, sometimes the active element, abounds.
Reply to Objection 3: All the occupations of human actions, if directed to the
requirements of the present life in accord with right reason, belong to
the active life which provides for the necessities of the present life by
means of well-ordered activity. If, on the other hand, they minister to
any concupiscence whatever, they belong to the life of pleasure, which is
not comprised under the active life. Those human occupations that are
directed to the consideration of truth belong to the contemplative life.