Does the Old Law contain ceremonial
precepts in addition to the moral precepts?
It seems that the Old Law does not
contain ceremonial precepts in addition to the moral
Objection 1: Every law
that is given to men directs human acts. But as
was explained above (q. 1, a. 3), human acts are called
moral acts. Therefore, it seems that the Old Law
given to men should have contained only moral precepts.
Precepts called ‘ceremonial’ seem to pertain to divine
worship. But divine worship is an act of one of the
virtues, viz., the virtue of religion, which, as Tully
says in Rhetorica, “offers worship and ceremony to
the divine nature.” Therefore, since, as has been
explained (a. 2), the moral precepts are concerned with
the acts of the virtues, it seems that the ceremonial
precepts should not be distinguished from the moral
The precepts that seem to be ceremonial are those which
signify something in a figurative way. But as Augustine
says in De Doctrina Christiana 2, “Among men it is
words that have attained preeminence in signifying.”
Therefore, there was no need for the Law to contain
ceremonial precepts concerned with certain figurative
But contrary to this:
Deuteronomy 4:13‑14 says, “Ten words He wrote in two
tables of stone, and He commanded me at that time that I
should teach you the ceremonies and judgments which you
shall do.” But the ten percepts of the Law are moral
precepts. Therefore, besides the moral precepts there are
also distinct ceremonial precepts.
As has been explained (a. 2), divine law is instituted
mainly to order men toward God, whereas human law is
instituted mainly to order men toward one another.
So human laws have concerned themselves with divine
worship only in relation to the common good of men,
and for this reason they have also concocted many things
about divine matters insofar as this seemed expedient
to them for the shaping of human morals; this is clear
in the rites of the Gentiles.
By contrast, divine law ordered men toward one another
insofar as this was consonant with their being ordered
toward God—which is what divine law was mainly concerned
with. Now man is ordered toward God not only through
interior mental acts, i.e., acts of faith, hope, and
love, but also through the exterior acts by which man
professes his submission (servitudo) to God.
And these acts are said to pertain to the worship of
According to some, this
worship is called ‘ceremony’ (caeremonia) from
the munia, i.e., gifts, of Ceres (Caeres),
who was called the goddess of fruits, because they first
offered oblations to God from their fruits. Alternatively,
as Valerius Maximus claims, the name ‘ceremony’ was
introduced to signify divine worship among the Latins
because of a certain town near Rome called ‘Caere’;
for when Rome was captured by the Gauls, the sacred
artifacts of the Romans were taken there and reverently
preserved. So, then, the precepts in the Law that
are concerned with the worship of God are specifically
called ceremonial precepts.
Reply to objection 1:
Human acts also extend to divine worship, and so the Old
Law given to men contains precepts concerning these acts
Reply to objection 2:
As was explained above (q. 91, a. 3), the precepts of
the law of nature are general and stand in need of specification.
Now they are specified both by human law and by divine
law. And just as the specifications that are made
by human law are themselves said to belong not to the
law of nature but to positive law instead, so too the
specifications of the precepts of the law of nature
that are made by divine law are distinguished from the
moral precepts that belong to the law of nature.
Therefore, since worshipping God is an act of
virtue, it has to do with a moral precept; however,
the specification of this precept—viz., that
God be worshiped with such‑and‑such sacrifices
and such‑and‑such gifts—belongs to the ceremonial
precepts. And it is in this way that the ceremonial
precepts are distinguished from the moral precepts.
to objection 3:
In De Caelesti Hierarchia, chap. 1 Dionysius
says that divine realities cannot be made manifest to
men except under certain sensible likenesses.
But these likenesses move the soul more when they are
not only expressed in words but also offered to the
senses. And so divine realities are handed down
in Scripture not only through likenesses expressed in
words, but also through likenesses of things that are
proposed to sight—and this is what the ceremonial precepts