Habit (In Theology)

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In theology the word "habit" is used specifically to designate a supernatural entity. Although the word is not found in the Scriptures, scholastics borrowed it from philosophy to categorize the realities brought about in the soul by justification. The intimate nature of these realities transcends man's understanding; however, theology attempts to represent them analogously by means of human concepts and terms. It is in this sense that one speaks of supernatural habits.

Nature. Supernatural habit in general may be defined as a supernatural, internal, permanent quality modifying the soul or its faculties in relation to the supernatural ultimate good. This is a scholastic or Thomistic concept. Aquinas conceives the supernatural structure in man in analogous but parallel lines to the natural structure. Just as in the natural order man is endowed by God with nature, faculties, and dispositions that enable him efficaciously to pursue the natural good, in similar manner, taking for granted man's supernatural elevation, God provides him with supernatural qualities to enable him to attain his ultimate supernatural good (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 110.24). The existence of these supernatural realities or qualities in man, described in revelation, and further developed in theology, is amply discussed elsewhere (see grace). These belong to the realm of entitative and operative supernatural habits. It may be superfluous to add here the qualification of goodness to these habits, since by their very nature they imply an ordination to the Eternal Good. In this respect they fall under the term of virtue in a broad sense.

Division. Catholic theologians consider sanctifying grace to be a supernatural entitative habit of the soul (Catechism of the Council of Trent 2.2.50; Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 110.3 ad 3). They maintain that in consonance with revelation it must be thought of as a created accident that informs the soul, characterizing it or qualifying it supernaturally. It is said to be created, not in the sense that it is produced as a being subsisting in itself and then added to the soul, but in the sense that the soul begins to exist in a new manner because of it, with a new quality of being produced wholly by God without any efficient cooperation or intervention of man. On the other hand, it is an accident truly distinct from the soul, adding a new perfection entirely different from the natural constituents of the soul. Finally, this accident is conceived as a permanent entitative quality because it is a stable principle of supernatural life in man, a second nature so to speak, produced by a regeneration or a rebirth (Jn1.1213; Ti 3.5). On account of this, man "has himself" entitatively or substantially oriented to his supernatural end.

Theology speaks of no other supernatural entitative habit outside of grace. However, it numbers many supernatural operative habits, namely the infused theological and moral virtues (see virtue) and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see faith; hope; charity; holy spirit, gifts of). These are permanent qualities or determinations of the soul's faculties that orient them and their activity to the Eternal Good.

Through the theological virtues man is furnished with the fundamental principles that direct his faculties immediately to God as his supernatural end (see destiny, supernatural). They connect him directly with God. Through the supernatural moral virtues man is given the power to render his acts morally right in proportion to his supernatural elevation and in view of his supernatural end. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are also considered supernatural operative habits since they are permanent qualities that perfect the faculties and direct them to supernatural activity. They differ from virtues because they have in them something superior to the common characteristics of virtues, as well as a certain passivity (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 68.1).

Distinctive Characteristics. Supernatural habits differ from natural entitative and operative habits not only because of the very superiority of their constitution but also because of their origin, growth, and effects. Regarding origin and growth, supernatural habits are beyond the capability of nature's activity or nature's repeated actsa characteristic in which they differ from natural habits (see nature; grace and nature). They are produced and augmented entirely by God alone. They are said to be infused by God, with man remaining totally passive in the process. Aquinas speaks of man's obediential potency (De virt. in comm. 10 ad 13). The Sacraments act merely instrumentally under the power of God. According to present theological opinion, all supernatural habits (grace, virtues, and gifts) are infused by God in man at the moment of justification (see Decrees of the Council of Vienne, H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 904; Trent, H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 15281531; Catechism of the Council of Trent 2.2.51).

Supernatural habits also differ from natural operative habits in the role they play or the effects they cause in human activity. Natural habits render activity fast, easy, and pleasurable. Supernatural habits merely provide the power to act supernaturally. In this sense they assimilate themselves to faculties rather than to habits; yet they are not faculties, as they presuppose and inform existing faculties. Whether a certain external facility or ease of operation is gradually conferred by the exercise of supernatural habits, and how this facility is conferred, is a matter of discussion. Some theologians explain it only in terms of a natural good disposition and a removal of obstacles on the part of the individual. Others speak of a gradual formation, exercise, and consequent growth of a natural habit alongside the supernatural habit. The natural habit would persist even after the loss of the supernatural habit.

Bibliography: j. haspecker et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 4:9771000. j. auer, ibid. 4:1301. j. van der meersch, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 6.2:15541687. a. michel, ibid. 15.2:273999. k. rahner and h. vorgrimler, Kleines theologisches Wörterbuch (Freiburg 1961) 154. c. m. lachance, "La Grâce est en nous par mode d'habitus entitatif ou l'ontologie de la grâce," Revue de l'Université d'Ottawa 26 (1956) 23*51*, 75*89*. m. limbourg, Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 9 (1885) 643669; 10 (1886) 107141, 277312, 603628, a series of articles on supernatural habit. m. j. scheeben, Nature and Grace, tr. c. vollert (St. Louis 1954). t. graf, De subiecto psychico gratiae et virtutum secundum doctrinam scholasticorum usque at medium saeculum XIV. Pt I, De subiecto virtutum cardinalium, 2 v. (Sudia anselmiana 2, 3, 4; Rome 193435).

[r. j. tapia]