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v2.1 Reference

Perfecting Human Actions

St. Thomas Aquinas on Human Participation in Eternal Law

During the last few centuries, a practical dichotomy between God and humans has developed within moral theory. As a result, moral theory tends to focus only on humans where human autonomy is foundational or only on God where divine commands capriciously rule. However, the moral theology of Thomas Aquinas overcomes this dichotomy. For Thomas, humans reach their perfection by participating in God's wisdom and love.

Perfecting Human Actions explores the ways humans participate in eternal law—God's wisdom that guides and moves all things to their proper action. The book begins with a thoughtful examination of the philosophic recovery of the notion of participation in Thomistic metaphysics. It then explains Thomas's theological understanding of the notion of participation to show how humans are related to God. It is discovered that when performing human actions, humans participate in the eternal law in two ways: as moved and governed by it, and cognitively.

In reference to participation as moved and governed, humans are directed by God to their proper end of eternal happiness. This mode of participation can be increased by perfecting the natural inclinations through virtue, grace, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In reference to cognitive participation, humans as rational creatures can know their proper end and how to attain it. Through this knowledge of moral truths, the intellect participates in the eternal law. Cognitive participation is perfected by the intellectual virtues (especially faith) and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (especially wisdom).

The book concludes by showing how the notion of human participation in the eternal law is a much better foundation for moral theory than the contemporary notion of autonomy.


John Rziha is associate professor of theology at Benedictine College.


"[A] competent and indeed masterful study. . . . Rziha's book is to be welcomed as not just an important, but indeed an overdue contribution to the contemporary recovery of Aquinas's moral theory. More importantly, this study is of surpassing importance in advancing the correct understanding of the relationship between human freedom and natural law. . . . Rziha's lucidly written and well-documented study displays all the characteristics of a competent and learned interpretation of the thought of the doctor communis according to the highest standards of current Aquinas scholarship."—Reinhard Hutter, Thomist

"Rziha explores at length the two modes by which human participate in God's eternal law: as moved and governed by it and as having knowledge of it. . . . [T]his book proves to be something of a comprehensive course in Thomistic thought. This project is supported by extensive and meticulous footnote reverences to texts of Aquinas." —Janine Marie Idziak, Speculum

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