De veritate EN 117



Prophecy is a kind of supernatural knowledge. But two things are required for knowledge: reception of the things known, and judgment of what is received, as we have said previously. Accordingly, knowledge is supernatural sometimes only in reception, sometimes only in judgment, and sometimes in both.

However, one is not called a prophet if this knowledge is super natural only in reception, just as Pharao, who supernaturally received a sign of abundance and famine under the figures of oxen and cars of com (Genesis 41:25—36), was not called a prophet. But, if some one has supernatural judgment or judgment and reception together, he is called a prophet.

Now, supernatural reception can take place only through the three kinds of sight: through bodily sight, when certain things are shown to the bodily eyes by the divine power, as the hand of one writing was shown to Baltassar (Da 5,5); through the sight of imagination, when by the divine power some figures of things appear to the prophets, as the boiling cauldron appeared to Jeremias (1:13) and horses and mountains to Zacharias (6:1-6); and through intellectual sight, when something is shown to the understanding in a way which surpasses its natural capacity.

But, since the human understanding is in natural potency to all the intelligible forms of sensible things, no matter what intelligible species arise in the understanding, there will be no supernatural reception; as there was supernatural reception in bodily vision when it saw things which were not formed naturally, but only by the divine power in order to reveal something. Similarly, there was supernatural reception in the sight of imagination when it saw some likenesses not received from the senses, but fashioned through some force of the soul. But our understanding receives supernaturally only when it sees through their essence the intelligible substances themselves, such as God and the angels. For it cannot reach this by virtue of its nature.

But the last of these three supernatural receptions surpasses the mode of prophecy. Hence, we read in Numbers (12:6-8): "If there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream. But it is not so will my servant Moses and plainly, and not in riddles and figures doth he see the Lord." But to see God in His essence, as He is seen in rapture or by the blessed, or to see other intelligible substances through their essence, surpasses the mode of prophetic sight.

But the first supernatural reception, which takes place through bodily sight, is lower than prophetic reception. For in this reception the prophet is not given preference over anyone else, since all can equally see a species which God fashions for sight. Therefore, the supernatural reception which is proper to prophecy is the reception of the sight of imagination. Thus, every prophet has either only supernatural judgment of those things which are seen by another, as Joseph did about die things which Pharao saw (Gn 41,25-36), or reception through the sight of imagination together will judgment.

Therefore, supernatural judgment is given to the prophet through the light infused in him which gives his understanding strength to judge. For this no species are required, but for reception there must be a new formation of species, whether to produce in the mind of the prophet species which were not there previously, as the species of colors might be imprinted on one born blind, or by the divine power to set in order and join the pre-existing species in a way which is capable of signifying the things which should be shown to the prophet. We must concede that revelation is made to the prophet in this way not only through the light, but also through species; but sometimes it is according to the light alone.

Answers to Difficulties:

1. Although only he who has intellectual sight is called a prophet, yet, not only intellectual light pertains to prophecy, but also the sight of imagination, in which suitable species can be formed to represent singular things.

2. The solution to the second difficulty is clear from the first response.

3. The prophet does not need a new infusion of the species of those things which he has seen, but only an orderly grouping of the species retained in the storehouse of the imaginative power, which can suit ably designate the thing to be prophesied.

4. The divine essence, in so far as it exists in itself, represents all things whatsoever more explicitly than any species or figure does. But, since the sight of the one who looks at it is overcome by the loftiness of that essence, the one who sees the essence does not see all that it represents. But the species imprinted on the imagination are proportioned to us; hence, from them we can come to knowledge of things.

5. Just as one who receives knowledge from signs reaches the things themselves by way of the signs, so, conversely, one who uses signs to express something must know the thing represented before he can form the symbol. For one cannot use fitting signs for things which he does not know. Therefore, although any man can by his natural power form any images whatever, only one who knows the future events to be symbolized can form figures to represent them properly. This formation of images in the sight of imagination takes place super naturally in the prophet.

6. The species pre-existing in the imaginative power of the prophet, in so far as they exist there, are not capable of signifying future things. Therefore, they must be reshaped into something else by the divine power.

7. The species pre-existing in the imagination of the prophet are, as it were, the elements of that sight of imagination which is revealed by the divine power, since it is somehow made up of them. Thus it is that the prophet uses the likenesses of things will which be is familiar.

Answers to Contrary Difficulties:

But, since prophetic revelation does not always take place through species, as has been said, we must answer the arguments given to the contrary.

1'. Although the knowledge of the prophet receives no determination to some particular thing from the intellectual light when he receives supernatural judgment alone, his knowledge does receive its determination from species seen by someone else, as Joseph’s knowledge received its determination from the species seen by Pharao, or from any species seen by Joseph himself without supernatural aid.

2’. When the rays of divine light shine on the prophet, they are ai-. ways veiled in figures, not in the sense that species are always infused, but that these rays are always combined will the pre-existing species.

3’. The revelation which the prophets receive is also differentiated by reason of the intellectual light, which some perceive more fully than others, and by reason of the species, which either exist before hand or are received anew by the prophet himself or by another.

4’. As Gregory says: "God speaks to the angels by the very act by which He shows His invisible secrets to their hearts," and he adds that He speaks to holy souls by infusing certainty in them. Thus, in speech will which God is said to have spoken to the prophets in Holy Scripture, we consider not only the species of things which are imprinted, but also the light which is given, by which the mind of the prophet is made certain of something.

5’. Since the sight of understanding and imagination are higher than bodily sight, through them we know not only things which are present, but even things which are absent, whereas will bodily sight we perceive only things which are present. Therefore, the species of things are stored in the imagination and the understanding, but not in the senses. Consequently, for bodily sight to be supernatural new bodily species must always be formed. But this is not needed for the sight of imagination or understanding to be supernatural.


Parallel readings: In Matth., 2; Contra Gentiles III, 154; in Isaiam, 6; Summa Theol., II-II, 172, 2.


It seems that it does not, for

1. As Augustine says, the minds of some are so elevated that they do not see the unchangeable natures through an angel, but in the highest citadel of reality itself. But this seems especially to belong to the prophets. Therefore, their revelation does not take place through the mediation of an angel.

2. The gifts of the Holy Spirit and the infused habits come directly from God. But prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as is clear from the first Epistle to the Corinthians (12: 10). It is also a kind of infused light. Therefore, it is from God without the mediation of an angel.

3. The prophecy which proceeds from a created power is natural prophecy, as has been said. But an angel is a creature. Therefore, prophecy which is not natural but the gift of the Holy Spirit is not produced through the mediation of an angel.

4. Prophecy takes place through the infusion of light and the imprinting of species. But it seems that neither of these can take place through an angel. For the angel would have to be the creator either of the light or of the species, since these cannot be made from anything pre-existing. Therefore, prophetic sight does not take place through the mediation of an angel.

5. In the definition of prophecy we read that prophecy is a divine revelation or inspiration. But, if it took place through the mediation of an angel, it would be called angelic and not divine. Therefore, it does not take place through the mediation of angels.

6. Wisdom (7:27) says that the divine wisdom, "through nations convened herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets." Therefore, one is made a prophet directly by God Himself, and not through an angel.

To the Contrary:

1'. Moses seems to have been higher than the other prophets, as is clear in Numbers (11: 16—17, 25; 12:3, 6—8) and Deuteronomy (34: 10). But God made the revelation to Moses through the mediation of an gels. Hence, it is said in Galatians (3:19): "(the law) being ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator:" and in Acts (7: 38) Stephen said of Moses: "This is he that was in the Church in the wilderness, will the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinaï, and will our fathers." Therefore, the other prophets will much greater reason received their revelation through the mediation of an angel.

2’. Dionysius says: "Our glorious fathers received divine visions through the mediation of the celestial powers."

3’. Augustine says that all appearances made to the fathers in the Old Testament took place through the ministration of the angels.



Two things concur in effecting prophetic revelation: the illumination of the mind and the formation of the species in the imaginative power.

Therefore, the prophetic light itself, by which the mind of the prophet is enlightened, comes from God as its primary source. Nevertheless, the human mind is strengthened and to some extent prepared for its proper reception by the angelic light. For, since the power of the divine light is most simple and most universal, there is no proportion between it and reception of it by the human soul in this life, unless it is limited and specified through union will the angelic light, which is narrower in scope and more commensurate will the human mind.

But the formation of the species in the imaginative power must be attributed properly to the angels, since the whole of bodily creation is under the direction of the spiritual creation, as Augustine proves. Now, the imaginative power uses a bodily organ; hence, the formation of species in the imaginative power is part of the work proper to the angels.

Answers to Difficulties:

1. As has been said earlier, Augustine’s words are to be taken as referring to the vision of heaven or to the sight of rapture, but not to prophetic sight.

2. Prophecy is numbered among the gifts of the Holy Spirit by reason of the prophetic light, which, it is true, is directly infused by God. Still, the ministration of the angels assists in its proper reception.

3. That which a creature performs by its own power is in some way natural, but that which a creature performs not of its own power, but in so far as it is moved by God or is an instrument of the divine activity, is supernatural. Hence, the prophecy which takes its origin from an angel according to the natural knowledge of the angel is natural prophecy. But that which takes its origin from an angel in so far as the angel receives revelation from God is supernatural prophecy.

4. An angel does not create light in the human understanding or species in the imaginative power. But God uses the activity of the angel to strengthen the natural light in the human understanding. In this way an angel is said to illuminate man. Also, since an angel has the power to move the organ of phantasy, it can fashion the sight of imagination in the way which befits prophecy.

5. Activity is not attributed to the instrument, but to the principal agent, as a bench is not called the effect of the saw, but of the carpenter. Similarly, since an angel is the cause of prophetic revelation only as a divine instrument using the revelation received from God, the prophecy should not be called angelic, but divine.

6. The divine wisdom, in transferring itself to the soul, brings about some effects without the mediation of the ministration of the angels, as the infusion of grace, through which one is made a friend of God. But nothing hinders it from bringing about some other effects through the mediation of the aforesaid ministration. And, transferring itself to holy souls in this way, it makes prophets through the mediation of an angel.


Parallel readings: Summa Theol., II-II, 173, 3.


It seems that he does, for

1. Numbers (12:6) says: "If there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear in a vision or I will speak to him in a dream." But as the Gloss says, prophecy takes place "through dreams and visions" when it takes place "through those things which seem to be said or done." But when there is an appearance of those things which seem to be said or done and they are not actually said or done, a man is transported out of his senses. Therefore, the sight of prophecy is al ways in a prophet who is transported out of his senses.

2. When one power is applied intensely to its activity, another power must be withdrawn from its activity. But in the sight of prophecy the interior powers, that is, the intellect and the imagination, are intensely applied to their activities, since prophetic sight is the most perfect thing which they can reach in this life. Therefore, in prophetic sight the prophet is always withdrawn from the activity of the exterior powers.

3. Intellectual sight is more noble than the sight of imagination, and this latter is more noble than bodily sight. But combination will that which is less noble detracts somewhat from the perfection of the more noble. Therefore, intellectual sight and the sight of imagination are more perfect when they are not combined will bodily sight. Therefore, since they reach their highest perfection in this life in prophetic sight, it seems that they are not at all combined will bodily sight in such a way that the prophet would make use of bodily sight together will them.

4. The senses are more remote from the understanding and the imagination than lower reason is from higher reason. But the consideration of higher reason, by which one devotes himself to the contemplation of eternal things, withdraws man from the consideration of lower reason, by which man employs himself in things temporal. With much more reason does the prophetic sight of the understanding and the imagination withdraw man from bodily sight.

5. One and the same power cannot apply itself to many things simultaneously. But, when one is using his bodily senses, his understanding and imagination are occupied will those things which are seen bodily. Therefore, one cannot at the same time occupy himself will this and will those things which appear in prophetic sight apart from the senses of the body.

To the Contrary:

1'. The first Epistle to the Corinthians (14:32) says: "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." But this would not be so if the prophet lost sense-consciousness, for then he would not have control over himself. Therefore, prophecy does not take place in a man who has lost sense-consciousness.

2’. Through the sight of prophecy one receives certain and inerrant knowledge of things. But in those who are transported out of their senses, either in a dream, or in some other way, the knowledge is mixed will error and is uncertain. For they hold fast to likenesses of things as if they were the things themselves, as Augustine says. Therefore, prophecy does not take place when one loses sense-consciousness.

3’. If we posit this, we seem to fall into the error of Montanus, who said that the prophets spoke as insane people who did not know what they were saying.

4’. As the Gloss says, prophecy sometimes takes place through words and deeds: "Through deeds, as the ark of Noe signified the Church, and through words, as those which the angels spoke to Abraham." But it is clear that Noe, when building the ark, and Abraham, when conversing will angels and serving them, were not transported out of their senses. Therefore, prophecy does not always take place through transport out of the senses.



Prophecy has two acts: one is principal, namely, sight, and the other is secondary, namely, announcing.

The prophet does the announcing either by words or even by deeds, as is clear in Jeremias (13:5), inasmuch as he put his girdle near the river to rot. But in whichever of the two ways the prophetic announcing is made, it is always made by a man not transported out of his senses, for such an announcing takes place through certain sensible signs. Hence, the prophet doing the announcing has to use his senses for his announcement to be perfect. Otherwise, he would make the announcement like an insane person.

But in the sight of prophecy two things concur, as we have said earlier, namely, judgment and the proper reception of the prophecy. Now, when the prophet is divinely inspired, so that only his judgment is supernatural, and not his reception, such inspiration does not require transport out of the senses, for the judgment of the understanding is more perfect according to its nature in one who has the use of his senses than in one who does not have the use of them.

But the supernatural reception proper to prophecy is in the sight of imagination, and in order to see this vision human power is enraptured by some spirit and transported out of the senses, as Augustine says. The reason for this is that the power of imagination is mainly intent on the things which are received through the senses, as long as one uses his senses. Hence, its primary attention can be transferred to those things which are received from another source only when the man is transported out of his senses. Hence, whenever prophecy takes place according to the sight of imagination, the prophet must be trans ported out of his senses.

But this transport happens in two ways. In one it is from some cause in the soul, and in the other, from a physical cause. It comes from a physical cause when the external senses become dull either because of sickness or because of the vapors occurring in sleep, which ascend to the brain and deaden the organ of touch. It comes from a cause in the soul when a man, from too much attention to the objects of the under standing or the imagination, is altogether abstracted from the external senses.

However, transport from the bodily senses never takes place in a prophet through sickness, as happens in epileptics and those who are mad, but only through a properly disposed physical cause, as through sleep. Therefore, prophecy which takes place will the sight of imagination always comes cither in a dream, when one is deprived of sense-consciousness through a properly disposed physical cause, or in a vision, when the transport comes from some cause in the soul.

Nevertheless, between the prophet in his transport out of the senses, whether it be through a dream or through a vision, and all others who are carried out of their senses, there is this difference, that the mind of the prophet is enlightened about those things which are seen in the sight of imagination. Consequently, he knows that they are not things, but in some way the likenesses of things about which his judgment is certain because of the light of the mind. Therefore, it is clear from this that the inspiration of prophecy takes place sometimes will transport out of the senses and sometimes without it. Hence, we must answer both sets of difficulties.

Answers to Difficulties:

1. In those words our Lord wanted to show the pre-eminence of Moses over the other prophets in supernatural reception. For Moses was raised to the sight of the very essence of God in itself. But every thing which the prophets have received they have received only in the likenesses belonging to dreams or visions. Nevertheless, the judgment of the prophet is not by means of the likenesses belonging to dreams or visions. Hence judgment of prophecy takes place without transport out of the senses.

2. When an interior power applies itself to the sight of its object, if there is perfect attention, it is cut off from exterior sight. But no matter how perfect the judgment of the interior power is, it does not will draw from exterior activity, for it is the duty of the internal power to judge of the external. Hence, the judgment of that which is higher is ordained to the same thing as the exterior activity. Therefore, they do not hinder each other.

3. This argument follows for the sight of the intellect and the imagination according to reception, but not according to judgment, as has been said.

4. The powers of the soul hinder each other in their operations be cause they are rooted in the one essence of the soul. Hence, the closer the powers are to each other, the more they naturally hinder each other if they are directed toward different objects. Hence, the argument does not follow.

5. This argument follows for supernatural reception of the imaginative or intellectual power, but not for judgment.

Answers to Contrary Difficulties:

1'. The Apostle is speaking of the announcing of prophecy, for it is in the power of free choice to announce or not to announce those things about which he is inspired. However, as concerns the revelation, the prophet himself is subject to the spirit, for the revelation does not take place as the prophet wishes, but as the revealing spirit wishes.

2’. It is from the light of prophecy that the mind of the prophet is so enlightened that even in the transport out of his senses he has a true judgment about those things which he sees in the dream or vision.

3’. Montanus erred on two points. First, he took away from the prophets the light of mind by which they have true judgment about the things which they have seen. Second, he said that, when they were announcing, they were carried out of their senses, as happens will those who are mad, or will those who talk in their sleep. But this does not follow from the above position.

4’. The fact that prophecy is said to take place through words or deeds is to be referred more to the announcing of prophecy than to prophetic sight.


Parallel readings: in Matth., 1; in Jerem., 18; Summa Theol., II-II, 174, I.


It seems that it is not, for

1. When the Glass divides prophecy, it says: "One type of prophecy is according to foreknowledge, and this must be fulfilled in every way according to the meaning of the words. Behold a virgin shah conceive (Is 7,14) belongs to this type. The other kind of prophecy is a threat, as: 'Yet forty days, and Ninive shah be destroyed (Jon 3,4). This is not fulfilled in the superficial meaning of the words, but in the meaning of a tacit construction put on the words." Therefore, it seems that the third division which Jerome made of prophecy of predestination is superfluous.

2. That which is a property of all prophecy should not be set down as a member dividing prophecy. But to be according to divine fore knowledge is a property of all prophecy, for, as the Glass reads: "The prophets read in the book of fore knowledge." Therefore, prophecy according to foreknowledge should not be set down as a division of prophecy.

3. Since foreknowledge is a more general term than predestination, inasmuch as it is part of its definition, foreknowledge can be divided from predestination only will reference to those things in which the extension of foreknowledge is greater than that of predestination. But it is will respect to evil things that the extension of foreknowledge is greater than that of predestination, for there is foreknowledge of these and not predestination. But there is both foreknowledge and predestination of good things. Therefore, when there is said to be one prophecy of predestination and another of foreknowledge, this means that one concerns good acts and the other evil. But as far as dependence on free will is concerned, there is no difference between good and evil. Therefore, there is no difference at all between these two kinds of prophecy which Jerome distinguishes when he says: "The prophecy of predestination is that which is fulfilled without our free choice, but the prophecy of foreknowledge is that in which our free choice is involved."

4. As Augustine says, predestination concerns goods connected will salvation. But our merits, also, which depend on free choice, are numbered among these goods. Therefore, our free choice is involved in prophecy of predestination. Thus, Jerome made a poor division.

5. Only three things can be considered in prophecy: that from whom it is, that in which it is, and that about which it is. But there is no distinction in that from whom it is, for all prophecy is from one source, the Holy Spirit. Nor is there any difference in that in which it is, for the human spirit is the subject of prophecy. And those things which prophecy concerns are only good and evil things. Therefore, prophecy should be divided only into a division will two members.

6. Jerome says that the prophecy, "Behold a virgin shah conceive" (Is 7,14 Mt 1,23), is a prophecy of predestination. But, for the fulfilment of that prophecy, free choice played a part in the assent of the Blessed Virgin. Therefore, the prophecy of predestination has free will involved in it, and, thus, it does not differ from the prophecy of foreknowledge.

7. Every declaration about something future which we do not know will exist, is either false or doubtful to the one making the declaration. But through the prophecy containing a threat one predicts that some thing will exist, as for example, the destruction of some city. Since this declaration is neither false nor doubtful because there is neither falsity nor doubt in the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the prophecy, this has to be foreknown at least by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the prophecy containing a threat is not distinct from the prophecy of fore knowledge.

8. When something is predicted according to the prophecy containing a threat, the prediction should be interpreted conditionally or unconditionally. If conditionally, it is not said to belong to prophecy, which consists in a kind of supernatural knowledge, for even natural reason can know that some things will happen if certain conditions are fulfilled. Therefore, it must be interpreted unconditionally. Accordingly, either the prophecy is false, or the outcome is as predicted. And this must be known beforehand by God. Therefore, prophecy containing a threat should not be distinguished from the prophecy of foreknowledge.

9. In Jeremias (17:18, 24—27) there is a similar rule for the fulfil merit of divine promises and threats, for the threats are recalled when the nation against whom the threat was made repents of its sins, and similarly the promise ceases when the nation to whom it was made leaves the path of justice. Therefore, just as one makes the prophecy containing a threat a division of prophecy, he ought to make the prophecy containing a promise a fourth division.

10. Isaias (38:1) spoke prophetically to Ezechias: "Take order will thy house, for thou shall die..." This is not a prophecy of predestination, for that kind must be fulfilled in every way even apart from our free choice. Again, it is not a prophecy of foreknowledge because God did not have foreknowledge of this future event, otherwise there would have been falsity in His foreknowledge. Similarly, it does not belong to prophecy containing a threat, since the event was predicted unconditionally. Therefore, there must be a fourth class of prophecy.

11. It was said that this was predicted to happen according to the lower causes, and thus was a prophecy containing a threat.—On the contrary, by the art of medicine man can know the lower causes of the death of a sick man. Therefore, if Isaias predicted this only according to lower causes, either he did not predict it prophetically, or prophetic prediction does not differ from the prediction of a doctor.

12. Every prophecy deals will things either by viewing the higher causes or by viewing the lower causes. If we take the previously mentioned prophecy as conditional, since it is according to some causes, namely, lower causes, there is equal reason to say that all prophecy is conditional. Thus, all prophecy will have the same character as the prophecy containing a threat.

13. Although the prophecy of threatening is not fulfilled "in the superficial meaning of the words, nevertheless it is fulfilled in the meaning of the tacit construction put on the words," as Cassiodorus says. Thus, Jonas words, "Ninive shah be destroyed" (Jon 3,4), were fulfilled according to Augustine, for, "although the wails of Ninive remained standing, its evil ways were wiped out." But the fulfilment of prophecy, not according to the exterior superficial meaning of the words, but according to their spiritual sense, takes place in the prophecy of predestination and of foreknowledge. We see this in Isaias (54:11): "I will lay thy foundations will sapphires, Jerusalem," and in Daniel (2:45): "the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and broke in pieces the statue," and in many other similar passages. Therefore, prophecy containing a threat should not be distinguished from the prophecy of foreknowledge and predestination.

14. If likenesses of future things are shown to someone, he still is not called a prophet unless he understands the things signified through these likenesses. Thus, Pharao was not called a prophet when he saw the ears of com and the cattle, "for there is need of understanding in a vision," as Daniel (10:1) says. But those through whom the divine threats are made understand what they declare only according to the superficial meaning of the words, for they are not enlightened about the things which are signified through the words. This is clear in the case of Jonas, who understood that Ninive was to be overturned materially. Hence, he grieved as though his prophecy were not fulfilled when the city was not overturned but mended its ways. Therefore, one should not on this account be called a prophet, and, thus, threatening should not be made a species of prophecy. Hence, the distinction previously mentioned seems no distinction at all.

To the Contrary:

The opposite appears from the Gloss on Matthew (1:23): "Be hold a virgin shah conceive." Here, the above division is given and explained.

De veritate EN 117