Habits – A Closer Look (Aquinas 101)


For St. Thomas Aquinas, we are masters of our actions. It’s what makes us human. Actions are deeply personal, not just the
intention for which we choose to do what we do, but even the activities we choose to achieve
those intentions and the deliberation we engage to make those choices. All of this is deeply personal and for St.
Thomas, all of that has an effect on us and our choices, our intentions, the activities
we choose and the circumstances we choose them. All of them over the long haul can create
what we might call dispositions in us. St. Thomas calls these dispositions habitus
in Latin, it’s where our English word habit comes from. So we’re talking about habits but
habits in a deeper way than what we’re used to. We usually think of habits as getting used
to things, used to a routine. But habitus is more than that for St. Thomas,
a habit for him is “A quality,” he says, “whereby that which is disposed is
disposed well or ill either in regard to itself or in regard to another.” Habitus is a mode of self-possession. It’s a deep characteristic in us. It’s how I relate in particular choices in
particular ways, not only to myself, but how I relate to others, how I relate to God. Let me give you an example. The college student who chooses week after
week to go out on Friday night, to stay out until two in the morning, to sleep Saturday
away, and cram Monday’s schoolwork all into Sunday . . . for St. Thomas, this college student is developing
a habitus, a disposition. It’s more than that this is just his routine. It becomes a part of him. It becomes something he craves. It’s how he is self-possessed, something he
looks forward to. It’s something he can’t resist doing even
when he knows he has a major exam on Monday that he needs to pass in order to pass the
class so that he can graduate. He has a habitus of going out on Friday nights
and staying out until two in the morning. He’s built up a disposition and
so it’s harder to choose to stay in on Friday even when he knows he needs to. His repeated choices leading up to that point
have given him a disposition to make similar choices in the future. That’s what St. Thomas is talking about when
he speaks of habitus. It works the other way too. The person who routinely makes courageous
choices, who routinely does courageous things– think of the soldier in bootcamp and then
his early days on the battlefield– eventually he builds up a habitus to continue
to do courageous things. It becomes hard for him, even impossible, to
do cowardly things or be less than courageous in every situation in which he finds himself. When he sees, for instance, those who are
suffering, those who are in trouble, he springs to action quickly because this is his self-possession. The fact that this happens to us
is a part of the gift of free will that God gives us. We become what we choose. We are configured to the goods we seek and
the intentions we have, and we’re configured to the choices we make, the activities we
choose. We become more and more disposed to make similar
choices. Those dispositions are habits and habits are
not neutral. Some make us good persons. Some make us evil or vicious persons. There’s a line here and the line
is this: It’s whether a habitus, a habit, a disposition
is aligned with our highest nature. Does a habit make me more in line with reason,
with truth, with being good, with being human, or does it make me more like an animal? Make me less than human, less than a child
of God? This is the line between virtue and vice. This is the line which we must always consider. For readings, podcasts, and more videos like this, go to While you’re there, be sure to sign up for one of our free video courses on Aquinas. And don’t forget to like and share with your friends, because it matters what you think.

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7 thoughts on “Habits – A Closer Look (Aquinas 101)”

  1. John McEachern says:

    Excellent video. I very much appreciate all the videos you guys make and highly encourage anyone to check out your website. God bless you!

  2. bob polo says:

    Have you done a video on how to read the Summa? I just bought a copy, and a video guiding me through the literary and theological structure would be very helpful. Thanks

  3. Angelic Doctor says:

    Wow – can't be more clear than that. In this time of Lent, and trial for the world, perhaps its time to hit "reset" and start forming some new and better habits. Talking to myself here.

  4. Máximo Reynoso says:

    I would like to do Spanish subtitles for some of these videos.

  5. tMatt says:

    Incredible content. Thank you guys so much!

  6. AP Mullings says:

    Terrible that no habit (garment) puns were made…

  7. NestEgg 411 says:

    This might be the best one yet – "… we become what we choose." Wow!!

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