QUESTION 92: OF SUPERSTITION
In due sequence we must consider the vices that are opposed to religion.
First we shall consider those which agree with religion in giving worship
to God; secondly, we shall treat of those vices which are manifestly
contrary to religion, through showing contempt of those things that
pertain to the worship of God. The former come under the head of
superstition, the latter under that of irreligion. Accordingly we must
consider in the first place, superstition and its parts, and afterwards
irreligion and its parts.
Under the first head there are two points of inquiry:
(1) Whether superstition is a vice opposed to religion?
(2) Whether it has several parts or species?
Article 1: Whether superstition is a vice contrary to religion?
Objection 1: It would seem that superstition is not a vice contrary to
religion. One contrary is not included in the definition of the other.
But religion is included in the definition of superstition: for the
latter is defined as being "immoderate observance of religion," according
to a gloss on Col. 2:23, "Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in
superstition." Therefore superstition is not a vice contrary to religion.
Objection 2: Further, Isidore says (Etym. x): "Cicero [*De Natura Deorum ii,
28] states that the superstitious were so called because they spent the
day in praying and offering sacrifices that their children might survive
[superstites] them." But this may be done even in accordance with true
religious worship. Therefore superstition is not a vice opposed to
Objection 3: Further, superstition seems to denote an excess. But religion
admits of no excess, since, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 3), there is
no possibility of rendering to God, by religion, the equal of what we owe
Him. Therefore superstition is not a vice contrary to religion.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Decem Chord. Serm. ix): "Thou
strikest the first chord in the worship of one God, and the beast of
superstition hath fallen." Now the worship of one God belongs to
religion. Therefore superstition is contrary to religion.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), religion is a moral
virtue. Now every moral virtue observes a mean, as stated above (FS,
Question , Article ). Therefore a twofold vice is opposed to a moral virtue. One
by way of excess, the other by way of deficiency. Again, the mean of
virtue may be exceeded, not only with regard to the circumstance called
"how much," but also with regard to other circumstances: so that, in
certain virtues such as magnanimity and magnificence; vice exceeds the
mean of virtue, not through tending to something greater than the virtue,
but possibly to something less, and yet it goes beyond the mean of
virtue, through doing something to whom it ought not, or when it ought
not, and in like manner as regards other circumstances, as the
Philosopher shows (Ethic. iv, 1,2,3).
Accordingly superstition is a vice contrary to religion by excess, not
that it offers more to the divine worship than true religion, but because
it offers divine worship either to whom it ought not, or in a manner it
Reply to Objection 1: Just as we speak metaphorically of good among evil
things---thus we speak of a good thief---so too sometimes the names of
the virtues are employed by transposition in an evil sense. Thus prudence
is sometimes used instead of cunning, according to Lk. 16:8, "The
children of this world are more prudent [Douay: 'wiser'] in their
generation than the children of light." It is in this way that
superstition is described as religion.
Reply to Objection 2: The etymology of a word differs from its meaning. For its
etymology depends on what it is taken from for the purpose of
signification: whereas its meaning depends on the thing to which it is
applied for the purpose of signifying it. Now these things differ
sometimes: for "lapis" [a stone] takes its name from hurting the foot
[laedere pedem], but this is not its meaning, else iron, since it hurts
the foot, would be a stone. In like manner it does not follow that
"superstition" means that from which the word is derived.
Reply to Objection 3: Religion does not admit of excess, in respect of absolute
quantity, but it does admit of excess in respect of proportionate
quantity, in so far, to wit, as something may be done in divine worship
that ought not to be done.
Article 2: Whether there are various species of superstition?
Objection 1: It would seem that there are not various species of superstition.
According to the Philosopher (Topic. i, 13), "if one contrary includes
many kinds, so does the other." Now religion, to which superstition is
contrary, does not include various species; but all its acts belong to
the one species. Therefore neither has superstition various species.
Objection 2: Further, opposites relate to one same thing. But religion, to
which superstition is opposed, relates to those things whereby we are
directed to God, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore superstition,
which is opposed to religion, is not specified according to divinations
of human occurrences, or by the observances of certain human actions.
Objection 3: Further, a gloss on Col. 2:23, "Which things have . . . a show of
wisdom in superstition," adds: "that is to say in a hypocritical
religion." Therefore hypocrisy should be reckoned a species of
On the contrary, Augustine assigns the various species of superstition
(De Doctr. Christ. ii, 20).
I answer that, As stated above, sins against religion consist in going
beyond the mean of virtue in respect of certain circumstances (Article ). For
as we have stated (FS, Question , Article ), not every diversity of corrupt
circumstances differentiates the species of a sin, but only that which is
referred to diverse objects, for diverse ends: since it is in this
respect that moral acts are diversified specifically, as stated above
(FS, Question , Article ; FS, Question , Articles ,6).
Accordingly the species of superstition are differentiated, first on the
part of the mode, secondly on the part of the object. For the divine
worship may be given either to whom it ought to be given, namely, to the
true God, but "in an undue mode," and this is the first species of
superstition; or to whom it ought not to be given, namely, to any
creature whatsoever, and this is another genus of superstition, divided
into many species in respect of the various ends of divine worship. For
the end of divine worship is in the first place to give reverence to
God, and in this respect the first species of this genus is "idolatry,"
which unduly gives divine honor to a creature. The second end of religion
is that man may be taught by God Whom he worships; and to this must be
referred "divinatory" superstition, which consults the demons through
compacts made with them, whether tacit or explicit. Thirdly, the end of
divine worship is a certain direction of human acts according to the
precepts of God the object of that worship: and to this must be referred
the superstition of certain "observances."
Augustine alludes to these three (De Doctr. Christ. ii, 20), where he
says that "anything invented by man for making and worshipping idols is
superstitious," and this refers to the first species. Then he goes on to
say, "or any agreement or covenant made with the demons for the purpose
of consultation and of compact by tokens," which refers to the second
species; and a little further on he adds: "To this kind belong all sorts
of amulets and such like," and this refers to the third species.
Reply to Objection 1: As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv), "good results from a
cause that is one and entire, whereas evil arises from each single
defect." Wherefore several vices are opposed to one virtue, as stated
above (Article ; Question , Article ). The saying of the Philosopher is true of
opposites wherein there is the same reason of multiplicity.
Reply to Objection 2: Divinations and certain observances come under the head of
superstition, in so far as they depend on certain actions of the demons:
and thus they pertain to compacts made with them.
Reply to Objection 3: Hypocritical religion is taken here for "religion as
applied to human observances," as the gloss goes on to explain. Wherefore
this hypocritical religion is nothing else than worship given to God in
an undue mode: as, for instance, if a man were, in the time of grace, to
wish to worship God according to the rite of the Old Law. It is of
religion taken in this sense that the gloss speaks literally.