QUESTION 97: OF THE TEMPTATION OF GOD
We must now consider the vices that are opposed to religion, through
lack of religion, and which are manifestly contrary thereto, so that they
come under the head of irreligion. Such are the vices which pertain to
contempt or irreverence for God and holy things. Accordingly we shall
consider: (1) Vices pertaining directly to irreverence for God; (2) Vices
pertaining to irreverence for holy things. With regard to the first we
shall consider the temptation whereby God is tempted, and perjury,
whereby God's name is taken with irreverence. Under the first head there
are four points of inquiry:
(1) In what the temptation of God consists;
(2) Whether it is a sin?
(3) To what virtue it is opposed;
(4) Of its comparison with other vices.
Article 1: Whether the temptation of God consists in certain deeds, wherein the expected result is ascribed to the power of God alone?
Objection 1: It would seem that the temptation of God does not consist in
certain deeds wherein the result is expected from the power of God alone.
Just as God is tempted by man so is man tempted by God, man, and demons.
But when man is tempted the result is not always expected from his power.
Therefore neither is God tempted when the result is expected from His
Objection 2: Further, all those who work miracles by invoking the divine name
look for an effect due to God's power alone. Therefore, if the temptation
of God consisted in such like deeds, all who work miracles would tempt
Objection 3: Further, it seems to belong to man's perfection that he should
put aside human aids and put his hope in God alone. Hence Ambrose,
commenting on Lk. 9:3, "Take nothing for your journey," etc. says: "The
Gospel precept points out what is required of him that announces the
kingdom of God, namely, that he should not depend on worldly assistance,
and that, taking assurance from his faith, he should hold himself to be
the more able to provide for himself, the less he seeks these things."
And the Blessed Agatha said: "I have never treated my body with bodily
medicine, I have my Lord Jesus Christ, Who restores all things by His
mere word." [*Office of St. Agatha, eighth Responsory (Dominican
Breviary).] But the temptation of God does not consist in anything
pertaining to perfection. Therefore the temptation of God does not
consist in such like deeds, wherein the help of God alone is expected.
On the contrary, Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 36): "Christ who
gave proof of God's power by teaching and reproving openly, yet not
allowing the rage of His enemies to prevail against Him, nevertheless by
fleeing and hiding, instructed human weakness, lest it should dare to
tempt God when it has to strive to escape from that which it needs to
avoid." From this it would seem that the temptation of God consists in
omitting to do what one can in order to escape from danger, and relying
on the assistance of God alone.
I answer that, Properly speaking, to tempt is to test the person
tempted. Now we put a person to the test by words or by deeds. By words,
that we may find out whether he knows what we ask, or whether he can and
will grant it: by deeds, when, by what we do, we probe another's
prudence, will or power. Either of these may happen in two ways. First,
openly, as when one declares oneself a tempter: thus Samson (Judges
14:12) proposed a riddle to the Philistines in order to tempt them. In
the second place it may be done with cunning and by stealth, as the
Pharisees tempted Christ, as we read in Mt. 22:15, sqq. Again this is
sometimes done explicitly, as when anyone intends, by word or deed, to
put some person to the test; and sometimes implicitly, when, to wit,
though he does not intend to test a person, yet that which he does or
says can seemingly have no other purpose than putting him to a test.
Accordingly, man tempts God sometimes by words, sometimes by deeds. Now
we speak with God in words when we pray. Hence a man tempts God
explicitly in his prayers when he asks something of God with the
intention of probing God's knowledge, power or will. He tempts God
explicitly by deeds when he intends, by whatever he does, to experiment
on God's power, good will or wisdom. But He will tempt God implicitly,
if, though he does not intend to make an experiment on God, yet he asks
for or does something which has no other use than to prove God's power,
goodness or knowledge. Thus when a man wishes his horse to gallop in
order to escape from the enemy, this is not giving the horse a trial: but
if he make the horse gallop with out any useful purpose, it seems to be
nothing else than a trial of the horse's speed; and the same applies to
all other things. Accordingly when a man in his prayers or deeds entrusts
himself to the divine assistance for some urgent or useful motive, this
is not to tempt God: for it is written (2 Paralip 20:12): "As we know not
what to do, we can only turn our eyes to Thee." But if this be done
without any useful or urgent motive, this is to tempt God implicitly.
Wherefore a gloss on Dt. 6:16, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,"
says: "A man tempts God, if having the means at hand, without reason he
chooses a dangerous course, trying whether he can be delivered by God."
Reply to Objection 1: Man also is sometimes tempted by means of deeds, to test
his ability or knowledge or will to uphold or oppose those same deeds.
Reply to Objection 2: When saints work miracles by their prayers, they are moved
by a motive of necessity or usefulness to ask for that which is an effect
of the divine power.
Reply to Objection 3: The preachers of God's kingdom dispense with temporal aids,
so as to be freer to give their time to the word of God: wherefore if
they depend on God alone, it does not follow that they tempt God. But if
they were to neglect human assistance without any useful or urgent
motive, they would be tempting God. Hence Augustine (Contra Faust. xxii,
36) says that "Paul fled, not through ceasing to believe in God, but lest
he should tempt God, were he not to flee when he had the means of
flight." The Blessed Agatha had experience of God's kindness towards her,
so that either she did not suffer such sickness as required bodily
medicine, or else she felt herself suddenly cured by God.
Article 2: Whether it is a sin to tempt God?
Objection 1: It would seem that it is not a sin to tempt God. For God has not
commanded sin. Yet He has commanded men to try, which is the same as to
tempt, Him: for it is written (Malach. 3:10): "Bring all the tithes into
the storehouse, that there may be meat in My house; and try Me in this,
saith the Lord, if I open not unto you the flood-gates of heaven."
Therefore it seems not to be a sin to tempt God.
Objection 2: Further, a man is tempted not only in order to test his knowledge
and his power, but also to try his goodness or his will. Now it is lawful
to test the divine goodness or will, for it is written (Ps. 33:9): "O
taste and see that the Lord is sweet," and (Rm. 12:2): "That you may
prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God."
Therefore it is not a sin to tempt God.
Objection 3: Further, Scripture never blames a man for ceasing from sin, but
rather for committing a sin. Now Achaz is blamed because when the Lord
said: "Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God," he replied: "I will not ask,
and I will not tempt the Lord," and then it was said to him: "Is it a
small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my
God also?" (Is. 7:11-13). And we read of Abraham (Gn. 15:8) that he said
to the Lord: "Whereby may I know that I shall possess it?" namely, the
land which God had promised him. Again Gedeon asked God for a sign of the
victory promised to him (Judges 6:36, sqq.). Yet they were not blamed for
so doing. Therefore it is not a sin to tempt God.
On the contrary, It is forbidden in God's Law, for it is written (Dt. 6:10): "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), to tempt a person is to put him
to a test. Now one never tests that of which one is certain. Wherefore
all temptation proceeds from some ignorance or doubt, either in the
tempter (as when one tests a thing in order to know its qualities), or in
others (as when one tests a thing in order to prove it to others), and in
this latter way God is said to tempt us. Now it is a sin to be ignorant
of or to doubt that which pertains to God's perfection. Wherefore it is
evident that it is a sin to tempt God in order that the tempter himself
may know God's power.
On the other hand, if one were to test that which pertains to the divine
perfection, not in order to know it oneself, but to prove it to others:
this is not tempting God, provided there be just motive of urgency, or a
pious motive of usefulness, and other requisite conditions. For thus did
the apostles ask the Lord that signs might be wrought in the name of
Jesus Christ, as related in Acts 4:30, in order, to wit, that Christ's
power might be made manifest to unbelievers.
Reply to Objection 1: The paying of tithes was prescribed in the Law, as stated
above (Question , Article ). Hence there was a motive of urgency to pay it,
through the obligation of the Law, and also a motive of usefulness, as
stated in the text quoted---"that there may be meat in God's house":
wherefore they did not tempt God by paying tithes. The words that follow,
"and try Me," are not to be understood causally, as though they had to
pay tithes in order to try if "God would open the flood-gates of heaven,"
but consecutively, because, to wit, if they paid tithes, they would prove
by experience the favors which God would shower upon them.
Reply to Objection 2: There is a twofold knowledge of God's goodness or will. One
is speculative and as to this it is not lawful to doubt or to prove
whether God's will be good, or whether God is sweet. The other knowledge
of God's will or goodness is effective or experimental and thereby a man
experiences in himself the taste of God's sweetness, and complacency in
God's will, as Dionysius says of Hierotheos (Div. Nom. ii) that "he
learnt divine thing through experience of them." It is in this way that
we are told to prove God's will, and to taste His sweetness.
Reply to Objection 3: God wished to give a sign to Achaz, not for him alone, but
for the instruction of the whole people. Hence he was reproved because,
by refusing to ask a sign, he was an obstacle to the common welfare. Nor
would he have tempted God by asking, both because he would have asked
through God commanding him to do so, and because it was a matter relating
to the common good. Abraham asked for a sign through the divine instinct,
and so he did not sin. Gedeon seems to have asked a sign through weakness
of faith, wherefore he is not to be excused from sin, as a gloss
observes: just as Zachary sinned in saying to the angel (Lk. 1:18):
"Whereby shall I know this?" so that he was punished for his unbelief.
It must be observed, however, that there are two ways of asking God for
a sign: first in order to test God's power or the truth of His word, and
this of its very nature pertains to the temptation of God. Secondly, in
order to be instructed as to what is God's pleasure in some particular
matter; and this nowise comes under the head of temptation of God.
Article 3: Whether temptation of God is opposed to the virtue of religion?
Objection 1: It would seem that the temptation of God is not opposed to the
virtue of religion. The temptation of God is sinful, because a man doubts
God, as stated above (Article ). Now doubt about God comes under the head of
unbelief, which is opposed to faith. Therefore temptation of God is
opposed to faith rather than to religion.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (Ecclus. 18:23): "Before prayer prepare
thy soul, and be not as a man that tempteth God. Such a man," that is,
who tempts God, says the interlinear gloss, "prays for what God taught
him to pray for, yet does not what God has commanded him to do." Now this
pertains to imprudence which is opposed to hope. Therefore it seems that
temptation of God is a sin opposed to hope.
Objection 3: Further, a gloss on Ps. 77:18, "And they tempted God in their
hearts," says that "to tempt God is to pray to Him deceitfully, with
simplicity in our words and wickedness in our hearts." Now deceit is
opposed to the virtue of truth. Therefore temptation of God is opposed,
not to religion, but to truth.
On the contrary, According to the gloss quoted above "to tempt God is to
pray to Him inordinately." Now to pray to God becomingly is an act of
religion as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore to tempt God is a sin
opposed to religion.
I answer that, As clearly shown above (Question , Article ), the end of religion
is to pay reverence to God. Wherefore whatever pertains directly to
irreverence for God is opposed to religion. Now it is evident that to
tempt a person pertains to irreverence for him: since no one presumes to
tempt one of whose excellence he is sure. Hence it is manifest that to
tempt God is a sin opposed to religion.
Reply to Objection 1: As stated above (Question , Article ), it belongs to religion to
declare one's faith by certain signs indicative of reverence towards God.
Consequently it belongs to irreligion that, through doubtful faith, a man
does things indicative of irreverence towards God. To tempt God is one of
these; wherefore it is a species of irreligion.
Reply to Objection 2: He that prepares not his soul before prayer by forgiving
those against whom he has anything, or in some other way disposing
himself to devotion, does not do what he can to be heard by God,
wherefore he tempts God implicitly as it were. And though this implicit
temptation would seem to arise from presumption or indiscretion, yet the
very fact that a man behaves presumptuously and without due care in
matters relating to God implies irreverence towards Him. For it is
written (1 Pt. 5:6): "Be you humbled . . . under the mighty hand of God,"
and (2 Tim. 2:15): "Carefully study to present thyself approved unto
God." Therefore also this kind of temptation is a species of irreligion.
Reply to Objection 3: A man is said to pray deceitfully, not in relation to God,
Who knows the secrets of the heart, but in relation to man. Wherefore
deceit is accidental to the temptation of God, and consequently it does
not follow that to tempt God is directly opposed to the truth.
Article 4: Whether the temptation of God is a graver sin than superstition?
Objection 1: It would seem that the temptation of God is a graver sin than
superstition. The greater sin receives the greater punishment. Now the
sin of tempting God was more severely punished in the Jews than was the
sin of idolatry; and yet the latter is the chief form of superstition:
since for the sin of idolatry three thousand men of their number were
slain, as related in Ex. 32:28 [*Septuagint version. The Vulgate has
"twenty-three thousand."], whereas for the sin of temptation they all
without exception perished in the desert, and entered not into the land
of promise, according to Ps. 94:9, "Your fathers tempted Me," and further
on, "so I swore in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest."
Therefore to tempt God is a graver sin than superstition.
Objection 2: Further, the more a sin is opposed to virtue the graver it would
seem to be. Now irreligion, of which the temptation of God is a species,
is more opposed to the virtue of religion, than superstition which bears
some likeness to religion. Therefore to tempt God is a graver sin than
Objection 3: Further, it seems to be a greater sin to behave disrespectfully
to one's parents, than to pay others the respect we owe to our parents.
Now God should be honored by us as the Father of all (Malach. 1:6).
Therefore. temptation of God whereby we behave irreverently to God, seems
to be a greater sin than idolatry, whereby we give to a creature the
honor we owe to God.
On the contrary, A gloss on Dt. 17:2, "When there shall be found among
you," etc. says: "The Law detests error and idolatry above all: for it is
a very great sin to give to a creature the honor that belongs to the
I answer that, Among sins opposed to religion, the more grievous is that
which is the more opposed to the reverence due to God. Now it is less
opposed to this reverence that one should doubt the divine excellence
than that one should hold the contrary for certain. For just as a man is
more of an unbeliever if he be confirmed in his error, than if he doubt
the truth of faith, so, too, a man acts more against the reverence due to
God, if by his deeds he professes an error contrary to the divine
excellence, than if he expresses a doubt. Now the superstitious man
professes an error, as shown above (Question , Article , ad 1), whereas he who
tempts God by words or deeds expresses a doubt of the divine excellence,
as stated above (Article ). Therefore the sin of superstition is graver than
the sin of tempting God.
Reply to Objection 1: The sin of idolatry was not punished in the above manner,
as though it were a sufficient punishment; because a more severe
punishment was reserved in the future for that sin, for it is written
(Ex. 32:34): "And I, in the day of revenge, will visit this sin also of
Reply to Objection 2: Superstition bears a likeness to religion, as regards the
material act which it pays just as religion does. But, as regards the
end, it is more contrary to religion than the temptation of God, since it
implies greater irreverence for God, as stated.
Reply to Objection 3: It belongs essentially to the divine excellence that it is
singular and incommunicable. Consequently to give divine reverence to
another is the same as to do a thing opposed to the divine excellence.
There is no comparison with the honor due to our parents, which can
without sin be given to others.