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May 14, 2021
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v2.1 Reference

Habits and Holiness

Ethics, Theology, and Biopsychology

The topic of habitus is one of Thomas Aquinas's greatest contributions to moral theology, but it has been generally neglected in theological scholarship until now. Habits and Holiness is the first work in English to explore Aquinas's rich theology of habit in all of its grandeur and depth. Habits and Holiness shows that most facets of human life and behavior are greatly influenced by habits, which Thomas appraises as an analogous concept that is much broader than previous scholarship has recognized.

Habits and Holiness accomplishes three tasks. First, it gives a complete and coherent account of Aquinas's account of habitus. Most accounts of Aquinas's view of habitus focus almost exclusively on "Treatise on Habits" in the Summa Theologiae I-II, qq. 49-54, and speak of habitus in reference to the virtues. However, Aquinas speaks of habitus in many other places, especially his commentaries on Aristotle's works and his commentaries on Sacred Scripture. Aquinas employs the concept of habitus to explain a wide variety of human inclinations, such as instincts, personal and societal custom, acquired skills and virtues, original sin, grace, infused virtues, and Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Second, this book indicates how biological psychology illuminates and enriches Aquinas's account of habit, and vice versa. Finally, Habits and Holiness provides readers with a framework for interpreting and utilizing the vast amount of practical habit literature that exists: it offers a practical analysis of habit development found in Aquinas's works and those of empirical studies.

The topic of habits is a golden thread that helps readers find their way through Aquinas's extensive writings on morals. By describing the many kinds of habits we possess, and their widespread but often hidden effects in our lives, this book offers a new and unique reevaluation of many issues central to the moral life. It addresses childhood development, pagan virtue, akrasia, circumstances that limit free choice, how heroic virtue operates, and more.

By seeing habits in general as a prism for understanding human action and its influences, Habits and Holiness provides a unique and appealing synthesis of Thomistic virtue theory, the contemporary science of habits, and best practices for eliminating bad habits and living good habits.

About the Author

Ezra Sullivan, OP, is professor invitato of theology and psychology at the Angelicum, Rome. Wojciech Giertych, OP, is Theologian of the Pontifical Household.


"A needed contribution to Thomistic moral thought on habit. Sullivan's contributions are significant, his scholarship is superb. He has a phenomenal grasp of Thomas and his command of secondary material is staggeringly voluminous and incredibly impressive."—William C. Mattison III, University of Notre Dame

"Deeply informed by the rich Catholic moral tradition and contemporary biological psychology, Fr. Ezra Sullivan offers us enlightening, perceptive, and wise insights into the workings of human habits as a way of leading to a 'habitual readiness to flourish.' This is a highly original and reliable guide that is balanced, clear, thorough, and, moreover, accessible to a large intellectual audience."—James Arthur, OBE, Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham

"The current revival of interest in virtue ethics awaited this masterful synthesis on habitus and its role in the moral life. With great pedagogical skills and an impressive knowledge of the literature on the subject, Fr. Sullivan succeeds in showing how habitus structures the different dimensions of human existence, from its biological roots to the highest forms of participation in the divine life. Creating a fascinating dialogue between the Thomist doctrine, reconstructed through an accurate exegesis of the texts, and the empirical sciences, he confirms, if it be needed, that Aquinas is an expert on humanity, Doctor humanitatis, and precisely for this reason an unparalleled guide on the paths that lead to holiness."—Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP, President of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas

"There are few books that deserve the moniker 'brilliant,' but this is one of them. If all this book did were to examine the manifold connections between contemporary scientific studies and Aquinas's theology of habitus, it would already be a breakthrough work. But, in addition, Fr. Sullivan offers a full-scale theology of virtuous habits (natural and supernatural) as well as of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He provides a richly instructive and accessible account of how to break vicious habits and how to understand the presence of sinful temptations even in persons in a state of grace. This book is an extraordinary theological and pastoral achievement."—Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"This growing interest in the relationship between human behavior, theology, and neuroscience is to be welcomed. As persons created of body and soul, there is a physiological basis for spirituality and ethical behavior. Habits and Holiness explores that relationship from the Roman Catholic tradition, and I strongly recommend Sullivan's work."—Catholic Books Review

"It is hard to do this excellent book justice in a short review. It is a very thorough study of the concept of habitus in Aquinas, using a wide array of primary and secondary sources Add to all this that the book is well written: Sullivan has an engaging style which makes the reader marvel at the phenomenon of a snowflake and truly lament original sin. For Thomistic moral theologians, there is little to no reason to not read this book."—European Study for the Journal of Thomas Aquinas

9780813233291 : habits-and-holiness-sullivan
Paperback / softback
614 Pages
$34.95 USD

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