The finality of religion in Aquinas' theory of human acts

Francisco J Romero, Marquette University


The study examines the end or purpose of the acts of the virtue of religion within Thomas Aquinas' ethics of human action. What is the end of religious worship? Is it God, or is it the worshippers themselves? On the one hand, one would presume that God cannot be the end of religion because, from the perspective of Classical Theism (of which Aquinas is a main proponent), God cannot benefit from the activity of creatures. But on the other hand, if the worshipper is the end of religious acts, would not worship be a self-centered or an egotistic act? The standard Thomistic account of the problem, first laid out by Cajetan and later adopted by countless followers, is that God is the finis cuius ("the aim toward which") of the acts of the virtue of religion, whereas the religious worshipper is the finis quo (the beneficiary) of the acts. I argue that this solution, which is based on a single text of Aquinas (ST II-II.81.7c), is insufficient. After examining Aquinas' theory of action (the doctrine of object, end, and circumstances presented in ST I-II.18), I show how the object of a particular human act can be interpreted as the finis operis (the end of the agent's act). Utilizing this principle of the identity between the object and the finis operis, I argue that the finis operis of religion can be summed up as a threefold sequence of ends: the honor, reverence, and glory of God. As a result, the ultimate beneficiary of acts of religious worship is neither God nor the individual worshipper, but rather the totality of the universe, encapsulated by Aquinas in his notion of divine "glory," that is, the extrinsic manifestation of God's intrinsic goodness within the universe.

Recommended Citation

Romero, Francisco J, "The finality of religion in Aquinas' theory of human acts" (2009). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3366046.