De veritate EN 111



As is said in the Gloss: Prophecy is called sight, and the prophet is called seer." This is clear from the first Book of Kings (9:9), as was mentioned earlier." still, not every sight can be called prophecy, but only the sight of those things which are far beyond our ordinary knowledge. As a result, the prophet is said to be not only one who speaks from afar (procul fans), that is, one who announces, but also one who sees from afar (procul videns), from the Greek phanos, which is an appearing.

However, since everything which is revealed is revealed under some light, as can be seen in Ephesians (5:73), those things which are revealed to man beyond the ordinary course of knowledge must be made manifest by a higher light. This is called the prophetic light and by receiving it one is made a prophet.

However, we must bear in mind that a thing can be received in someone in two ways. In one, it is received as a form which remains in the subject; in the other, it is received after the manner of a transient impression. Thus, pallor exists as a quality in one who has this colour naturally or from some serious accident, but exists as a transient impression in one who suddenly turns white from some fear. Similarly, physical light is in the stars as a quality of the stars, since it is a form remaining in them. But it is in air as a transient impression, since air does not retain light, but only receives it by being placed in the path of a shining body.

Accordingly, in human understanding there is a light which is a quality or permanent form, namely, the essential light of the agent intellect, by reason of which our soul is called intellectual. But the prophetic light in the prophet cannot be this. For whoever knows certain objects by means of intellectual light, which has become a property in him, existing there as a form, must have stable knowledge of those things. And this cannot be unless he sees them in a principle in which they can be known. For, as long as the things known are not reduced to their principles, the knowledge is not established as certain, but is apprehended by him as having some probability, inasmuch as it has been spoken by others. Hence, for each thing he must receive word from others. Thus, if someone did not know how to deduce the conclusions of geometry from the principles, he would not have the habit of geometry, but would apprehend whatever he knew of the conclusions of geometry as one who believes his teacher. Hence, he would have to be instructed on each point, for he would not be able securely to proceed from some points to others without making a resolution to first principles.

Now, God Himself is the principle in which we can know future contingents and other things which exceed natural knowledge and will which prophecy deals. Hence, since the prophets do not see God’s essence, they cannot know the things which they see prophetically by a light which is a kind of habitual form inhering in them, but they have to be taught each thing individually. Thus it is that the prophetic light must not be a habit, but must exist in the soul of the prophet in the manner of a transient impression, as the light of the sun exists in the air. And, as the light remains in the air only when the sun is shining, so the previously mentioned light remains in the mind of the prophet only when it is actually being divinely inspired.

And thus it is that the saints, when they talk about prophecy, speak of it as a transient impression and call it an inspiration or a kind of touch by which the Holy Spirit is said to touch the heart of the prophet. They also speak of prophecy will other words of this kind. And thus it is clear that, as far as the prophetic light is concerned, prophecy cannot be a habit.

But we must remember that in bodily things, after something has undergone a transient impression, even after the impression has left, it is rendered more apt to undergo the impression, as water, once warmed, is warmed more easily afterwards when it has become cold, and a man, after he has been sad many times, is saddened more easily. Hence, the mind, when it has been under the influence of a divine inspiration, even after that inspiration has gone, remains more fit to receive it again, just as the mind remains more devout after devout prayer. It is for this reason that Augustine says: "Lest the mind which begins to grow lukewarm from cares and occupations become altogether cold and its fire die out completely, unless it is frequently enkindled, at set hours we call our mind back to the business of prayer."

Hence, the mind of the prophet, after it has received a divine inspiration one or more times, remains more apt to receive the inspiration again, even after the actual inspiration has ceased. And this aptitude can be called the habit of prophecy, just a Avicenna says that in us habits of science are nothing but certain aptitudes of our soul ordained for the reception of the illumination of the agent intelligence and the intelligible species flowing forth from it into our soul. Howe it cannot properly be called habit, but an aptitude or disposition by reason of which one is called a prophet even when he is not actually being inspired. Nevertheless, lest an argument be built on the strength of the word, habit, we will uphold both sides and answer both sets of reasons.

Answers to Difficulties:

1. The definition given fits habit in the strict sense, and in this sense the previously mentioned aptitude of prophesying cannot be called a habit. Nevertheless, taken in this way, the aptitude of our soul to receive something from the agent intelligence can also be called a habit, according to Avicenna, for in his opinion that reception is natural. Thus, according to him, one who has an aptitude has the power to receive when he so wishes, for a natural influx does not fail when the matter is disposed. But the influx of prophecy depends on the divine will alone; hence, it is not in the power of a prophet to use prophecy, no matter how great an aptitude he has for it in his mind.

2. If prophetic light existed in the mind as a habit of knowledge about things to be prophesied, a prophet would not need new revelation to know anything that can be prophesied. But he does need new revelation, because that light is not a habit. The aptitude itself to perceive the light is like a habit, and without this light things to be prophesied cannot be known.

3. Beyond the perception of the divine speech by which God talks interiorly to the prophet, and which is nothing but the enlightening of his mind, no habit is needed to perceive interiorly what has been said. But an aptitude seems to have a greater effect toward the perception of this speech, the more noble the speech is and the more its Perception surpasses the natural powers.

4. The solution to the fourth difficulty is clear from what has been said.

5. The prophetic light, once infused, does not give knowledge of all that can be prophesied, but only of those things for the knowledge of which it is given. This limitation does not come from lack of power in the giver, but from the ordination of His wisdom, which distributes to each as He wishes.

6. All mortal sins have this in common, that through any one of them man is separated from God. Hence, grace, which joins man to God, frees him from every mortal sin, but not from every venial sin, for venial sins do not separate him from God. But things which can be prophesied have a connection among themselves only in the order of God’s wisdom. Hence, one can be seen without another by those who do not see divine wisdom completely.

7. An infused habit is more perfect than an acquired habit according to its genus, namely, by reason of its origin and by reason of the object which it is given to attain, which is higher than that to which an acquired habit is ordained. But nothing prevents an acquired habit from being more perfect in the manner in which it is possessed or perfected. Thus, it is clear that through the infused habit of faith we do not see the matters to be believed as perfectly as we see the conclusions of the sciences through the acquired habit of a science. Similarly, although the prophetic light is infused, still it does not exist as perfectly in us as the acquired habits. This also attests to the dignity of infused habits, for, since they are so excellent, human weakness cannot fully possess them.

8. The reasoning would conclude correctly if the light will which the mind of the prophet is flooded were a habit, but not if we hold that this habit or quasi habit is an aptitude for perceiving the aforesaid light, since this one thing could render a man apt to be enlightened about anything.

9. We will treat later of the way in which the species have to be formed anew for prophetic revelation.

10. Although inspiration does not signify a habit, it cannot be proved from this that prophecy is not a habit. For it is customary to define habits through their acts.

11. According to the Philosopher, to see can be taken in two ways: actually and habitually. Hence, sight can mean the act or the habit.

12. Prophetic light is not a quality which is hard to change, but something transient. It is in this sense that the authoritative citations mentioned speak. But that aptitude which remains for perceiving the illumination again is not easily changed; in fact, it remains a long time unless there is a great change in the prophet, through which such an aptitude is taken away.

Answers to Contrary Difficulties:

1'. Since acts arise completely from habits, they are therefore reduced to habit in that division of the Philosopher. Or they are also reduced to passive operations, since passive operations are acts of the soul, as to be angry or to desire.

But prophecy, in so far as it refers to the sight of the prophet, is an act of the mind; in so far as it refers to the light, which is received suddenly and in a passing manner, it is like a passive operation, inasmuch as a reception in the intellective part is called a passive operation, for to understand is a kind of passivity, as is said in The Soul. Or it can be said that, if the members of the division are taken strictly, that division of the Philosopher does not adequately comprehend everything which is in the soul, but only that which relates to moral matters, about which the Philosopher is thinking, as is clear from the examples will which he there explains himself.

2’. Not everything which is known is known by some habit, but only that of which we have perfect knowledge. For there are in us imperfect acts, which do not come from habits.

3’. In the demonstrative sciences there are certain general things in which particular conclusions are contained virtually, as it were in embryo. Hence, one who has the habit of those general things is only in remote potency to the particular conclusions, and this potency needs a mover to reduce it to act. But in things to be prophesied there is no such connection requiring that some knowledge be deduced from other prior knowledge in such a way that one possessing the knowledge involved in the prior habits would possess in a confused way the knowledge involved in the subsequent habits. Hence, the argument does not follow.

4’. Our understanding is perfected in different ways by prophecy and by faith. For prophecy perfects understanding in itself, and thus it is necessary that the prophet be able to see distinctly those things for which he has the gift of prophecy. But faith perfects our under standing in the affective order, for the act of faith is an act of the understanding commanded by the will. Hence, through faith the under standing is only prepared to assent to those things which God orders to be believed. It is for this reason that faith is likened to hearing, but prophecy to sight. And thus it is not necessary for one who has the habit of faith to know all the matters of belief distinctly, as one who has the habit of prophecy must know distinctly all that is to be prophesied.


Parallel readings: Contra Gentiles III, 15 In Isaiam, 1; Summa Theol., II-II, 171, 3; In Psalm. 50; Ad Rom., C. 12, lectura 2.


It seems that it does not, for

1. Prophecy is "the inspiration which announces the outcomes of things will immutable truth." But the outcomes of things are called future contingents, and the conclusions of the demonstrative sciences do not concern matters of this sort. Therefore, there cannot be prophecy about such things.

2. Jerome says that prophecy is "a sign of divine foreknowledge." But foreknowledge refers to the future. Since, therefore, futures, especially future contingents, which prophecy seems mainly to deal will, cannot be the conclusions of any science, it seems that prophecy can not deal will conclusions scientifically knowable.

3. Nature does not provide superfluities nor fail in necessary matters. Much less does God, whose activity is most wisely disposed. But to know the conclusions of the demonstrative sciences man has another way than prophecy, namely, through self-evident principles. There fore, if things of this sort were known through prophecy, it would seem to be superfluous.

4. A different manner of generation is an indication of diversity of species. Thus, as the Commentator says, mice begotten from seed cannot be of the same species as mice begotten from decaying matter. But men naturally reach conclusions of the demonstrative sciences from self-evident principles. Therefore, if there are some men who receive knowledge of the demonstrative sciences in another way, as through prophecy, they will be of another species and will be called men equivocally, which seems absurd.

5. The demonstrative sciences deal will those things which relate indifferently to every time. But prophecy does not have a similar relation to every time, in fact, "sometimes the spirit of the prophets stirs the heart of a prophet for the present and not for the future, and sometimes just the opposite," as Gregory says. Therefore, prophecy does not deal will those things about which there is scientific knowledge.

6. The mind of the prophet and the mind of anyone else do not relate in the same way to those things which are known through prophecy. But in things which are known through demonstration the judgment of the prophet and of anyone else who knows it is the same, and neither is preferred to the other, as Rabbi Moses says. Therefore, prophecy does not deal will those things which are known through demonstration.

To the Contrary:

1'. We believe the prophets only in so far as they are inspired by the spirit of prophecy. But we have to give belief to those things writ ten in the books of the prophets even though they treat of conclusions of scientific knowledge, as in Psalms (135:6): "Who established the earth above the waters," and whatever else there is of this sort. There fore, the spirit of prophecy inspires the prophets even about conclusions of the sciences.

2’. As the grace of miracles relates to the performance of deeds which are beyond the power of nature, so the gift of prophecy relates to the knowledge of things which surpass natural knowledge. But through the grace of miracles there take place not only things which nature cannot do, as to give sight to the blind and to raise the dead, but also things which nature can do, as to cure those will fevers. There fore, through the gift of prophecy one can know not only those things to which natural knowledge does not extend, but also things to which natural knowledge does extend, and conclusions of the sciences are among these latter. Thus, it seems that prophecy can treat of them.



In all things which exist for the sake of an end the matter is deter mined according to the exigency of the end, as is clear in the Physics. But the gift of prophecy is given for the use of the Church, as is clear in the first Epistle to the Corinthians (12:7): "And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit." The letter adds many examples among which prophecy is numbered. Therefore, all those things the knowledge of which can be useful for salvation are the matter of prophecy, whether they are past, or future, or even eternal, or necessary, or contingent. But those things which cannot pertain to salvation are outside the matter of prophecy. Hence, Augustine says: "Although our authors knew what shape heaven is, [the spirit] wants to speak through them only that which is useful for salvation." And to the Gospel of St. John (16:13), "But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth," the Gloss adds: "necessary for salvation."

Moreover, I say necessary for salvation, whether they are necessary for instruction in the faith or for the formation of morals. But many things which are proved in the sciences can be useful for this, as, for instance, that our understanding is incorruptible, and also those things which when considered in creatures lead to admiration of the divine wisdom and power. Hence, we find that mention of these is made in Holy Scripture.

However, we should bear in mind that, since prophecy is knowledge of things which are far away, it does not have the same relation to all the things we have mentioned. For some things are far from our knowledge because of the things themselves and some are such because of something in us.

Future contingents are beyond us because of the things themselves, for they are unknown because they lack existence, since they neither exist in themselves nor are determined in their causes. But the things beyond us because of something in us are those which we have difficulty knowing because of our own inadequacy and not because of the things themselves, since they are the most knowable and the most perfect beings, such as things which are intelligible by nature, and especially things which are eternal.

Now, what belongs to a thing in itself belongs to it more truly than that which belongs to it by reason of something else. Hence, since future contingents are more truly beyond our knowledge than anything else, they seem, therefore, to belong especially to prophecy. And they pertain to it so much that, in the definition of prophecy, they are given as the special matter of prophecy. Thus: "Prophecy is a divine inspiration which announces the outcomes of things will immutable truth." And even the name of prophecy seems to be taken from this. Thus, Gregory says: "Prophecy is so called because it predicts the future. When it speaks of the present or the past, it loses the character of its name."

Now, among those things which are beyond us because of some thing in us there is likewise a difference which we must consider. For some things are beyond us because they surpass all human knowledge, as that God is three and one, and other such things. These are not conclusions of the sciences.

Some things, however, are beyond us because they surpass the knowledge of some men, but not human knowledge simply. In this class there are those things which the educated know through demonstration, but which the uneducated do not grasp will natural knowledge, although they are sometimes elevated to them by divine revelation. These things do not belong to prophecy simply, but will reference to men of this type. Thus, conclusions which are demonstrated in the sciences can belong to prophecy.

Answers to Difficulties:

1. The outcomes of things are put in the definition of prophecy as the most proper matter of prophecy, but not as the whole matter of prophecy.

2. Similarly, prophecy is called a sign of foreknowledge by reason of its principal matter.

3. Although conclusions of the sciences can be known in another way than through prophecy, it is not superfluous for them to be shown by prophetic light, for through faith we ding more firmly to what the prophets say than we do to the demonstrations of the sciences. And in this, too, the grace of God is praised and His perfect knowledge is shown forth.

4. Natural causes have determinate effects, since their powers are finite and limited to one type of effect. Therefore, it is necessary that those things which are brought into being by different natural causes according to different ways of generation be specifically different. But, since the divine power is infinite, it can without the work of nature produce effects specifically the same as those which nature produces. Hence, if those things which can be known naturally are divinely revealed, it does not follow that those who receive knowledge in a different way are specifically different.

5. Although prophecy sometimes concerns things which are separated as belonging to different divisions of lime, it sometimes concerns those things which are true for all times.

6. Rabbi Moses does not mean that a revelation could not be made to a prophet of those things which are known through demonstration, but that, as soon as they are known by a demonstration, it makes no difference whether there is prophecy about them or not.


Parallel readings: Contra Gentiles III, 1; Summa Theol., I, 86, 4; II-II, 172, I.


It seems that it is, for

1. The cognition of one who is awake is preferable to that of one who is sleeping. But it is natural for people who are asleep to foresee the future, as is clear in the divinations of dreams. Therefore, will much greater reason some can see the future naturally while awake. But this is the office of the prophet. Therefore, one can naturally be a prophet.

2. But it was said that the cognition of one who is awake is better for judgment, but the cognition of one who is asleep is better for reception. On the contrary, the cognoscitive power can judge of something in so far as it receives its species. Therefore, judgment follows reception and, where the reception is better, the judgment is also more perfect. Thus, if one who is asleep is better in receiving, he ought also to be better in judging.

3. Our understanding is hampered in sleep only from without, namely in so far as it depends on sense. But the judgment of our understanding does not depend on sense, since the operation of our understanding depends on sense in so far as it receives from sense. But judgment follows reception. Therefore, the judgment of our understanding is not hampered in sleep. Hence, the distinction given seems to be of no importance.

4. What belongs to something because it is kept free from something else belongs to it by reason of its nature, just as brightness, which is natural to iron, comes to it because the iron is kept free from rust. But, as Augustine shows by many examples, it belongs to the soul to see the future in so far as it is cut off from the senses of the body. There fore, it seems natural for the human soul to foresee the future. Thus, we conclude as before.

5. Gregory says: "Sometimes the very power of souls foresees some thing by its subtlety, for sometimes souls about to leave the body know through revelation things to come." But the things which the soul can see because of its subtlety it sees naturally. Therefore, the soul can naturally know future things, and so naturally have prophecy, which consists especially in foreknowledge of the future.

6. It was said that the futures which the soul foresees by natural knowledge are those which have fixed causes in nature, but that prophecy deals will other futures.—On the contrary, those things which depend on free will do not have fixed causes in nature. But those things which the soul foresees from its subtlety depend altogether on free will, as is clear from the example of Gregory, who tells of a man who, when he was sick and his burial in a certain church had been arranged for, arose as he neared death, dressed, and predicted that he wanted to go by the Appian Way to the Church of St. Sixtus. When he died a short while later, as his funeral procession was going out along the Appian Way, they suddenly decided to bury him in the Church of St. Sixtus, since it was a long way to the church where they were supposed to bury him. And they did this without knowing what he had said. As Gregory adds, he would not have been able to predict this if the power and subtlety of his soul had not foreseen what would happen to his body. Therefore, man can naturally foresee those futures which are independent of non-free causes. The same conclusion follows as before.

7. From natural causes we cannot perceive the meaning of those things which do not take place naturally. But astrologers perceive the meanings of prophecies from the movements of the heavenly bodies. Therefore, prophecy is natural.

8. In natural science the philosophers discuss only those things which can happen naturally. But Avicenna discusses prophecy. Therefore, prophecy is natural.

9. For prophecy, as Avicenna says, only three things are needed: clearness of intelligence, perfection of the imaginative power, and power of soul so that external matter obeys it. But these three things can be had naturally. Therefore, one can naturally be a prophet.

10. But it was said that our understanding and imagination can naturally be brought to the point where they have foreknowledge of natural future events, but that prophecy does not deal will these. — On the contrary, those things which depend on lower causes are said to be natural. But Isaďas (38:l) foretold that Ezechias would die, and he did this on the basis of [the expected outcome of] the order of created causes, as the Glass on that passage states. Therefore, prophecy is the foreknowledge of natural future events.

11. To the things which are brought into existence divine providence grants the possession of those things without which they could not be preserved in existence, as in the human body it put members will which food can be taken and digested, without which mortal life would not be maintained. But the human race cannot be maintained without society, for one man is not sufficient unto himself in the necessities of life. Hence, man is "naturally a political animal," as is said in the Ethics. But society cannot be maintained without justice, and prophecy is the rule of justice. Therefore, human nature is endowed will the ability naturally to arrive at prophecy.

12. In any class there is that which is most perfect in that class. But among men the most perfect is the prophet, who transcends the others in that which is higher in man, his intellect. Therefore, man can naturally arrive at prophecy.

13. The properties of God are farther from the properties of creatures than the properties of future things are from present things. But man can reach the knowledge of God by natural knowledge through the properties of creatures, according to Romans (1:20): "For the in visible things of him, from the creation of the world..." Therefore, from the things which now exist man can arrive at the knowledge of future things. Thus, he can be a prophet naturally.

14. It was said that future things are more remote in knowledge al though God is more remote in being.—On the contrary, the principles of being and of knowing are the same. Therefore, that which is more remote in being is more remote in knowledge.

15. Augustine distinguishes three kinds of goods: "insignificant, important, and ordinary." But prophecy is not numbered among the in significant goods, for the goods of this sort are bodily goods. Nor is it classed among the most important goods, for these are those by which we live rightly and which no one can abuse. And this does not seem to fit prophecy. Therefore, it remains that prophecy belongs to the ordinary goods, which are the natural goods of the soul. Thus, prophecy seems to be natural.

16. Boethius says that in one sense all that "can act or be acted upon" is called nature. But for someone to be a prophet he must under go some spiritual change, which consists in the reception of the prophetic light, as was said above. Therefore, it seems that prophecy is natural.

17. If to act is natural for the agent and to receive is natural for that which is acted upon, the act of receiving must be natural. But it is natural for God to infuse the perfection of prophecy into men. For by His very nature He is good, and it is natural for the good to communicate itself. Likewise, it is natural for the human mind to receive things from God, since its nature is made up only of those things which it receives from God. Therefore, the reception of prophecy is natural.

18. There is a natural active potency corresponding to every natural passive potency. But in the human soul there is a natural potency for the reception of the light of prophecy. Therefore, there is also some natural active potency through which one is brought to the act of prophecy. Therefore, it seems that prophecy is natural.

19. Naturally, man has more perfect knowledge than other animals. But some animals are naturally prescient of those future things which especially concern them. This is clear of ants, who have fore knowledge of future rains, and of some fishes, which foretell future storms. Therefore, man, also, ought to be naturally prescient of those things which concern him. Thus, it seems that man naturally can be a prophet.

To the Contrary:

1'. In the second Epistle of St. Peter (1:21) is said: "For prophecy came not by the will of man at any lime: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Spirit."

2’. That which depends on an external cause does not seem to be natural. But prophecy depends on an external cause, for the prophets read in the mirror of eternity. Therefore, it seems that prophecy is not natural.

3’. Those things which are in us naturally are within our power. "But it was not in the power of a prophet to possess the spirit of predicting the future," as is clear from the Glossi2 on the second Epistle of St. Peter (1:19): "We have the more firm prophetical word." There fore, prophecy is not natural.

4’. Things which are natural happen as the more common occurrence. But prophecy exists in very few men. Therefore, it is not natural.



A thing is called natural in two ways. In one it is so called because its active principle is natural, as it is natural for fire to be borne aloft. It is so called in another way when nature is the source not of any of its dispositions whatever, but of those which are a necessity for such n perfection. In this way, the infusion of the rational soul is called natural, inasmuch as through the activity of nature the body is given disposition which is a necessity for the reception of the soul.

Some, 13 then, were of the opinion that prophecy is natural in the first sense, for they said: "The soul had in itself a power of divination," as Augustine relates. But in the same place he rejects that, for, if that were so, then the soul would be able to have foreknowledge of the future whenever it so wished. And this is clearly false.

Furthermore, the falsity of this is manifest because the nature of the human mind cannot naturally be the source of any knowledge to which it cannot arrive by means of self-evident principles, which are the prime instruments of the agent intellect. It cannot arrive at a knowledge of future contingents from these principles, except, per haps, by studying some natural signs, as the doctor foresees that health or death will come, or a meteorologist foresees the storm or fair weather. But such knowledge of future things is not ascribed to divination or prophecy, but to technical knowledge.

Hence, some have said that prophecy is natural in the second sense. For nature can bring man to such a state that he will have to receive foreknowledge of futures through the action of some higher cause. Indeed, this opinion is true of a certain type of prophecy, but not, however, of that type which the Apostle numbers among the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1Co 12,10).

And so, to see the difference between these types we should keep in mind that, before they exist, future contingents pre-exist in two ways, that is, they are contained in the divine foreknowledge and in the created causes, by whose power they will be brought into existence. In these two the futures pre-exist in a doubly different manner. The first difference is this, that all that pre-exists in created causes pre-exists in the divine foreknowledge, but not conversely. For God holds within Himself the principles which will determine some future things without infusing them into created things. An example of this is the principles which will determine those things which happen miraculously by the divine power alone, as Augustine says.

The second is this, that some things pre in created causes changeably, since the power of the cause which is directed to bringing about such an effect can be hindered by some event. But all future things are in the divine foreknowledge unchangeably, for futures are objects of the divine foreknowledge not only as regards the order of their causes to those futures, but also as regards the outcome of that order or the event.

Accordingly, there are two ways in which foreknowledge of the future can be caused in the human mind. One is derived from the pre existence of futures in the divine mi. It is this prophecy that is called a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is not natural. For those things which are executed by the divine power without natural intermediary causes are not said to be natural, but miraculous Now the revelation of futures of this sort takes place without intermediary natural causes, for they are not revealed in so far as the principles which determine future things exist in created causes, but in so far as they exist in the divine mind, from Which they flow into the mind of the prophet.

In the second way it is derived from the power of created causes, in so far as certain movements can be impressed on the human imaginative power, for instance, by the power of the heavenly bodies, in which there pre-exist some signs of certain future events. And, in so far as it is natural for the human understanding, as inferior, to receive instruction from the illumination of the separated intellects, and to be raised up to the knowledge of other things, prophecy can be called natural in the sense which was mentioned

But this natural prophecy differs in three ways from that about which we are now speaking. Jt differs, first, in this, that the prophecy of which we speak gets its foreknowledge of future things immediately from God, although an angel can be an intermediary inasmuch as he acts in virtue of the divine light. But natural prophecy is due to the proper activity of second causes. Second, it differs in this that natural prophecy extends only to those future things which have de terminate causes in nature, but the prophecy of which we speak relates indifferently to all things. Third, they differ in this, that natural prophecy does not foresee infallibly, but predicts those things which are true for the most part, whereas the prophecy which is a gift of the Holy Spirit foresees the future infallibly. Hence, it is called a sign of the divine foreknowledge, Since it foresees will that infallibility will which future things are foreseen by God.

This threefold difference can be noted in the definition of Cassiodorus. The first difference is in the word "divine"; the second is in the general phrase, "outcomes of things"; and the third in the words, "which will immutable truth."

But two of the differences the first and second, remain in prophecy fl So far as it deals will things which are necessary, as those which can be known will scientific knowledge. For by natural prophecy man does not receive immediately from God the knowledge of the things which are known scientifically but gets it through the mediation of second causes, and through the activity of second causes acting will their natural power. Nor, again, does such knowledge extend to all things which are necessary, but only to those which can be known through first principles. For the power of the light of the agent intellect does not extend any farther and is not naturally elevated to other things as divine prophecy is raised to certain things which are beyond natural knowledge, such as that God is three and one and other things of this sort.

In this matter the third difference has no place, for both kinds of prophecy give the prophet knowledge of necessary conclusions of this kind as unchangeably and certainly as if they were known through the principles of demonstration. Furthermore, the mind of man is elevated by both prophecies so that it understands in a way similar to the separated substances, who understand the principles and the conclusions will the utmost certainty in a simple intuition without deducing one from the other.

Again, both prophecies differ from dreams and visions, in so far as we call a dream an apparition which comes to a man who is asleep and a vision one which comes to a man who is awake but carried out of his senses, because in both the dream and the simple vision the soul is fettered completely or partially by phantasms which are seen in such a way that the soul completely or partially clings to them as to things which are true. But, although in both prophecies some phantasms may be seen in sleep or in a vision, the soul of the prophet is not under the control of those phantasms, but knows through the prophetic light that the objects which it sees are not things, but likenesses of them will some meaning. And it knows their meaning for, as is said in Daniel (10:1): "There is need of understanding in a vision."

Thus it is clear that natural prophecy is midway between dreams and divine prophecy. Hence it is that a dream is said to be a part of or an instance of natural prophecy, as also, that natural prophecy is an imperfect likeness of divine prophecy.

Answers to Difficulties:

1. There are two things to be considered in knowledge: reception and judgment about that which is received. Accordingly, in the matter of judgment the cognition of one who is awake is preferable to that of one who is asleep, for the judgment of one who is awake is free, whereas the judgment of one who is asleep is fettered, as is said in Sleeping and Wakefulness. But the cognition of one who is asleep is preferable for reception, because internal impressions from external movements can be received better when the senses are at rest. This is so whether they come from the separated substances or from the heavenly bodies. Thus we can understand in this sense that which is said of Balaam in Numbers (24:16): "who falling," that is, sleeping, "hath his eyes opened."

2. Judgment does not depend only on the reception of the species, but also on the examination of the matter to be judged will reference to some principle of knowledge, just as we judge about conclusions by analyzing them back to principles.

Therefore, when the exterior senses are bound in sleep, the interior powers are, as it were, free from the bustle of the external senses and can better perceive the internal impressions made on the understanding or the imagination by a divine or angelic light, or by the power of the heavenly bodies, or by anything else, just as it seems to one who is asleep that he is eating something sweet when thin phlegm flows across his tongue. But, since the senses are the first source of our knowledge, we must in some way reduce to sense everything about which we judge. Hence, the Philosopher says that the sensible visible thing is that at which the work of art and nature terminates, and from which we should judge of other things. Similarly, he says that the senses deal will that which is outermost as the understanding deals will principles. He calls outermost those things which are the term of the resolution of one who judges. Since, then, in sleep the senses are fettered, there cannot be perfect judgment so that a man is deceived in some respect, viewing the likenesses of things as though they were the things themselves. However, it sometimes does happen that one who is asleep knows that some of these are not things, but the likenesses of things.

3. The judgment of our understanding does not depend on sense in such a way that the act of understanding takes place by means of a sensible organ. However, it does need the senses as that which is last and outermost to terminate its analysis.

4. Some have held that the rational soul "has within itself some power of divination," as Augustine says. But he himself rejects this in that same place, for, if this were so, the soul would be prepared to fore see futures when it so desired. And this is obviously false. For the soul at times sees the future when it is carried out of its senses, not because this belongs to it by reason of its natural power, but because it is thus rendered more fit to perceive the impressions of those causes which can give some foreknowledge of the future.

5. Subtlety of soul, which Gregory says is a cause of foreknowledge of futures, should be taken to mean that aptitude of the soul to receive Something from the separated substances, not only in the order of grace, in so far as things are revealed to holy people by angels, but also in the order of nature, in so far as lower intellects in the order of nature are naturally fitted to receive perfection from the higher intellects, and in so far as human bodies are subject to the impressions of the heavenly bodies, in which there is a provision for some future events. The soul by its subtlety foresees these events through certain likenesses left in the imagination by the impression of the heavenly bodies.

6. Although free choice is not subject to natural causes, natural causes sometimes do facilitate or hinder the things which are done by free choice, as in the case mentioned ram or excessive heat could engender weariness in those who were carrying the bier, so that they would not carry it to the assigned place. And we could get foreknowledge of these happenings by means of the heavenly bodies.

7. Since human bodies are under the influence of the heavenly bodies, from the movements of the heavenly bodies we can perceive some indication of any disposition of the human body. Since, there fore, a certain constitution or disposition of the human body is a kind of prerequisite for natural prophecy, it is not inappropriate that an indication of natural prophecy be received from the heavenly bodies. But no indication of the prophecy which is a gift of the Holy Spirit is thus received.

8. Those philosophers who have treated of prophecy were notable to treat of the prophecy about which we are now speaking, but only of natural prophecy.

9. One of those three things cannot naturally belong to the soul, namely, that it have such power that external matter would be under its control, since, as Augustine says: "The matter in bodies is not subject to the arbitrary will even of the angels themselves." Thus, on this point, what Avicenna or any other philosopher says cannot be held. The other two things which the objection deals will, in so far as they arise naturally in man, can cause natural prophecy, but not the prophecy of which we are talking.

10. Although only those things which fail under the influence of natural causes can be revealed through natural prophecy, nevertheless, not only other things but those, too, can be known through divine prophecy.

11. The society of men, in so far as it is ordained to eternal life as its end, can be preserved only through the justice of faith, of which prophecy is the source. Hence, Proverbs (29: 18) says: "When prophecy shah fail, the people shah be scattered abroad." But, since this end is supernatural, the justice, which is ordained to this end, and the prophecy, which is its source, will both be supernatural. But the justice through which human society is ruled in its ordination to the civil good can be had adequately through natural principles implanted in man. Hence, it is not necessary for prophecy to be natural.

12. By reason of the nobility of man there can be found in the human race a perfection so becoming that it could be produced only by a supernatural cause. But irrational creatures are not capable of such perfection. Therefore, it is not necessary that that which is most perfect in the human race should be obtained by the power of nature. This is necessary only for that which is most perfect according to the order of nature, not for that which is most perfect according to the order of grace.

13. A thing can be known in two ways: will reference to its existence, and w its quiddity-. But, since the properties of creatures from which we get our knowledge are extremely remote from the proper ties of God, thence it is that we cannot have quidditative knowledge of God. However, since creatures depend on God, by looking at creatures we can know that God exists. But, since the things which now exist do not depend on future things, but do have similar properties, cannot therefore know from present things whether certain future things will follow from them. However, we can know what their nature and properties will be if they should exist.

14. God is more remote from creatures than one creature is from another in His manner of existing, but not in the relation which exists between the principle of existing and that which has existence from such a principle. Therefore, by means of creatures we can know that God exists, but we cannot know His quiddity. It is just the opposite will the knowledge of future contingents by means of present or past things.

15. Prophecy is classified among the greatest goods, since it is a free gift. For, although it does not act as an immediate principle of meritorious action to make one hive properly, the whole of prophecy is directed to the virtuous life. Nor, again, does one misuse prophecy in such a way that the misuse itself is an act of prophecy, as when some one misuses a natural power. For one who uses prophecy to seek gain or the favour of men has, indeed, a good act of prophecy, which is to know hidden things and w announce them, but the abuse of this good is an act of cupidity or some other vice. Nevertheless, although one does not misuse prophecy as a principle of action, he does misuse it as an object. In a similar way, those who are proud of their virtues misuse them, although the virtues are counted among the greatest goods.

16. We do not say that something is natural if it comes from nature taken in any sense, but taken in the third meaning which Boethius gives it there, namely, inasmuch as nature is "the principle of motion" and rest in the thing in which it is, and the essential, not the accidental, principle. Otherwise it would be necessary to say that all activities, receptions, and properties are natural.

17. To communicate His goodness is natural for God in the sense that it is in harmony will His nature and not in the sense that He communicates it because of some necessity of His nature. For such communication is made by the divine will in keeping will the order of wisdom which distributes His goods to all in an orderly way. It is also natural for a creature to receive from God not any goodness, but that which belongs to its nature, as to be rational belongs to man but not to a stone or an ass. Hence, if some perfection is received in man by reason of divine power, it is not necessary for it to be natural to man when it exceeds what is due to human nature.

18. In human nature there is a passive potency for the reception of prophetic light, which is not natural but only obediential, like the potency which is in physical nature for those things which happen miraculously. Hence, it is not necessary to have a natural active potency corresponding to such a passive potency.

19. Brute animals can be prescient only of those future events concerning them which depend on the movement of the heavens. And by the impressions of the heavens their imagination is stirred to do some thing which is an appropriate sign of the future. This kind of imprint has more place in brutes than in men because, as Damascene says, brutes "are more acted upon than acting." Hence, they follow the impressions of the heavenly bodies completely. Man, however, who has free will, does not act in this way. Nor should a brute be called prescient of the future on this account, although a sign of some future event can be drawn from its activity. For it does not act to give any sign of the future, as though it knew the reason for its activity; rather, it is led on by a natural instinct.


Parallel readings: Summa Theol., II-II, 172, 3.


It seems that it is, for

1. Every perfection which in its reception must confirm to the disposition of the receiver requires some definite disposition in the receiver. But prophecy is such a perfection, as is clear from Amos (1: 2), "The Lord will roar from Sion," on which the Gloss says: "it is natural, he says, for all who want to compare one thing to another to use comparisons taken from those things which they have experienced and among which they have been brought up. For example, sailors compare their enemies to storms, and loss to shipwreck. And shepherds liken their fear to the roaring of a lion, and call their enemies lions, bears, and wolves. Thus, the prophet, who was a shepherd, likens the fear of God to the roaring of a lion." Therefore, prophecy re quires some definite disposition in human nature.

2. Perfection of the imagination is needed for prophecy, since prophecy operates through the sight of imagination. But to have perfection of the power of imagination its organ must be in good condition and properly disposed. Therefore, a natural disposition is needed for prophecy.

3. A natural hindrance is stronger than one which comes from will out. But some passions which are aroused from without interfere will prophecy. Thus, Jerome says: "At that time when the marital act is performed the presence of the Holy Spirit will not be given, even though the one who fulfils the duty of procreation seems to be a prophet." Nor is this due to guilt, for there is no guilt in the marital act, but to the passion of the concupiscence connected will it. There fore, an indisposition of the natural constitution is a much greater hindrance, tending to make it impossible for one to become a prophet.

4. Nature has an ordination to grace as grace has to glory. But the perfection of grace in one who would arrive at glory is a prerequisite for glory. Therefore, a natural disposition is prerequisite for prophecy and the other free gifts.

5. The contemplation in prophecy is higher than that in acquired scientific knowledge. But the contemplation in acquired scientific knowledge is hindered if the natural constitution lacks the proper disposition, for some are so unfit by reason of their natural constitution that they can hardly, if ever, progress far enough to acquire scientific knowledge. Therefore, if the natural constitution lacks the proper disposition, it is a much greater hindrance to the contemplation in prophecy.

6. As is said in Romans (13: 1): "The things which are from God have order in them." But the gift of prophecy is from God. There fore, He dispenses it in an orderly manner. But there would be no orderly distribution if it were given to someone who had not the proper disposition to possess it. Therefore, prophecy requires a natural disposition.

To the Contrary:

1’. That which depends solely on the free choice of the giver does not require any disposition in the receiver. But prophecy is such a gift, as is clear from the first Epistle to the Corinthians (12:11), which, after it has listed prophecy and other gifts of the Holy Spirit, adds:

"But all these things one and the same Spirit worked, dividing to everyone as he will." And the Gospel of St. John (3:8) says: "The Spirit breathed where he will." Therefore, a natural disposition is not needed to have prophecy.

2'. The Apostle says in the first Epistle to the Corinthians (I: 27—28): "The weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may con found the strong. And the base things of the world and things that are not, that he might bring to naught things that are." Therefore, no disposition in the subject is a necessary prerequisite for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

3’. Gregory says: "The Holy Spirit fills the boy harpist and makes him a prophet; He fills the shepherd who is railing at the sycamore trees and makes him a prophet." Therefore, the gift of prophecy does not require any disposition in him to whom it is given, but its bestowal depends on the divine will alone.

De veritate EN 111