A good reminder “cult” has changed in meaning over time. Latria = highest kind of worship. Why we worship God is in #5 below.
1 There have been some who have thought that the cult of latria should be offered not only to the first principle of things, but even to all creatures which exist above man. Hence, some, though of the opinion that God is the one, first, and universal principle of things, have nevertheless thought that latria should be offered, first of all, after the highest God, to celestial intellectual substances whom they called gods, whether they were substances completely separated from bodies or whether they were the souls of the spheres or the stars.
Notes It takes supreme effort not to make a joke about how this includes celebrities.
2 Secondly, they thought that it should be offered also to certain intellectual substances united, as they believed, to aerial bodies; and these they called daemons. Yet, because they believed them to be above men, as an aerial body is above a terrestrial body, they claimed that even these substances are to be honored with divine cult by men. And in relation to men they said that those substances are gods, being intermediaries between men and the gods. Moreover, because the souls of good men, through their separation from the body, have passed over into a state higher than that of the present life, they held the opinion in their belief that divine cult should be offered to the souls of the dead, whom they called heroes, or manes.
3 In fact, some people, holding the view that God is the World Soul, have believed that the cult of divinity is to be offered to the entire world and to each of its parts; not, of course, for the sake of the bodily part, but for the sake of the “Soul,” which they said was God, just as honor is rendered to a wise man, not because of his body, but because of his soul.
4 Indeed, some men said that even things below man’s level in nature are to be honored with divine cult because some power of a higher nature is participated by them. Hence, since they believed that certain idols made by men receive a supernatural power, either from the influence of celestial bodies or from the presence of certain spirits, they said that divine cult should be offered to images of this kind. And they even called these idols gods. For which reason they are also said to be idolaters, since they offer the cult of latria to idols, that is, to images.
Notes We see in these last two arguments a certain kind of return to this in our days with rabid environmentalists.
5 Now, it is unreasonable for people who maintain only one, separate, first principle to offer divine cult to another being. For we render cult to God, as we have said, not because He needs it, but so that a true opinion concerning God may be strengthened in us, even by means of sensible things. But an opinion on the point that God is one, exalted above all things, cannot be established in us through sensible things unless we honor Him with something unique, which we call divine cult. So, it is evident that a true opinion concerning the one principle is weakened if divine cult is offered to several beings.
6 Again, as we said above, this kind of exterior worship is necessary to man so that man’s mind may be aroused to a spiritual reverence for God. Now, for the mind of man to be moved toward something custom plays a great part, since we are easily moved toward objectives that have become customary. Of course, human custom supports this practice, in that the honor which is offered to the person holding the highest office in the state, for example, the king or emperor, should be offered to no other person. Therefore, man’s mind ought to be stimulated so that he will think that there is but one highest principle of things by means of his offering something to this principle which is offered to none other. This we call the cult of latria.
7 Besides, if the cult of latria were owed to any person because of his superiority and not because he is the highest being, then since one man may be superior to another, and there is the same possibility among angels, it would follow that one man ought to offer ]atria to another, and one angel to another angel. And since, among men, he who is superior in one way may be inferior in another way, it would follow that men should mutually offer latria to each other. This is not appropriate.
8 Moreover, by human custom, special repayment should be made for special benefit. Now, there is a special benefit which man receives from the highest God, namely, man’s own creation, for it has been shown in Book Two that God alone is the Creator. Therefore, man ought to return something special to God in acknowledgment of this special benefit. This is the cult of latria.
9 Furthermore, latria implies service. But service is owed to a lord. Now, a lord is properly and truly one who gives precepts of action to others and who takes his own rule of action from no one else. On the other hand, one who carries out what has been ordered by a superior is more a minister than a lord. But God, Who is the highest principle of reality, disposes all things to their proper actions through His providence, as we showed above. Hence, in Sacred Scripture both angels and celestial bodies are said to minister to God, Whose order they carry out; and also to us, for it is to our advantage that their actions accrue (Ps. 13.2:21; Heb. 1:14). Therefore, the cult of latria which is owed to the highest Lord is not to be offered except to the highest principle of things.
10 Again, among other items which pertain to latria, sacrifice may be seen to have a special place, for genuflections, prostrations, and other manifestations of this kind of honor may also be shown to men, though with a different intention than in regard to God. But it is agreed by any man that sacrifice should be offered to no person unless he is thought to be God or unless one pretends to think so. Now, external sacrifice is representative of true, interior sacrifice, by which the human mind offers itself to God. Indeed, our mind offers itself to God as the principle of its creation, the author of its actions, the end of its happiness.
These attributes are, in fact, appropriate to the highest principle of things only. For we have showed above that the creative cause of the rational soul is the highest God alone; moreover, He alone is able to incline the will of man to whatever He wishes, as was shown above; so also it is evident from our preceding considerations that man’s ultimate felicity consists solely in the enjoyment of Him. Therefore, man ought to offer sacrifice and the cult of latria only to the highest God, and not to any other kind of spiritual substances.
11 Now, though the theory which claims that God is nothing but the world soul is a departure from the truth, as we showed above, while the other position is true which maintains that God is a separate being and that all other intellectual substances depend on Him for their existence, whether separated from, or joined to, a body—still, the first theory provides a more rational basis for offering the cult of latria to different things. For, in offering the cult of latria to a variety of things one appears to be offering it to the one highest God, since, according to their theory, the different parts of the world are related to Him as the different members of the human body are to the human soul. But reason is also opposed to this view. For they say that the cult of latria should not be offered to the world by reason of its body, but because of its soul, which they assert to be God. Thus, though the bodily part of the world is divisible into different parts, the world soul is, however, indivisible. So, the cult of divinity ought not be offered to a variety of things, but to one only.
12 Besides, if the world be supposed to have a soul which animates the whole and all its parts, this cannot be understood as a nutritive or sensitive soul, because the operations of these parts of the soul are not suitable to all parts of the universe. And even granting that the world might have a sensitive or nutritive soul, the cult of latria would not be due it because of such souls, for this cult is not due to brute animals or to plants. The conclusion remains, then, that their assertion that God, to Whom latria is owed, is the world soul must be understood of the intellectual soul. In fact, this soul is not the perfection of individually distinct parts of the body, but in some way has reference to the whole.
This is even evident in the case of our soul which is less noble, for the intellect has no corporeal organ, as is proved in Book III of On the Soul . Therefore, even on the basis of their theory, the cult of divinity should not be offered to the various parts of the world, but to the entire world because of its soul.
Notes Sweet argument; keep it in mind.
13 Moreover, if in their theory there be but one soul which animates the whole world and all its parts, and if the world is not termed God except on account of the soul, then there will be but one God. And thus the cult of divinity will be owed to one being only. On the other hand, if there be but one soul for the whole, and if the different parts, in turn, have different souls, they have to say that the souls of the parts are subordinated to the soul of the whole; for the same proportion holds between perfections as between perfectible things. Now, supposing that a number of intellectual substances exist in an ordered hierarchy, the cult of latria will be due only to the one which holds the highest rank among them, as we showed in opposing the previous theory. Therefore, the cult of latria should not be offered to the parts of the world, but only to the whole.
14 Furthermore, it is evident that some parts of the world have no soul of their own. Therefore, this cult should not be offered to them. Yet these men had the practice of honoring all the elements of the world, namely, earth, water, fire, and other inanimate bodies of like kind.
15 Again, it is obvious that a superior does not owe the cult of latria to an inferior. Now, man is superior in the order of nature, at least in regard to all lower bodies, to the extent that be has a more perfect form. Therefore, the cult of latria should not be offered by man to lower bodies, even if some cult were owed them on the supposition that they possessed souls of their own.
Notes Somehow many have convinced themselves they are lower than nature, while simultaneously assuming their superiority when commanding worship.
16 The same inappropriate conclusion must follow if someone were to say that the individual parts of the world have their own souls but the whole does not possess one common soul. For it will still remain necessary for the highest part of the world to have a more noble soul, to which alone, according to the premises, the cult of latria will be owed.
17 But more unreasonable than these theories is the one which states that the cult of latria should be offered to images. For, if images of this sort have power or worth of any kind derived from celestial bodies, then the cult of latria is not due them on this basis, because such worship is not even due to those celestial bodies, unless, perchance, because of their souls, as some have claimed. But these images are claimed to have received some power from celestial bodies through the physical power of these bodies.
Notes A reminder that Catholics and Orthodox do not worship images, but honor the people or persons behind them, in the same way you recall your dear departed grandpa to mind when seeing his picture.
18 Again, it is evident that they do not obtain from celestial bodies any perfection which is as noble as is the rational soul. So, they are inferior in degree of worth to any man. Therefore, no cult is owed them by man.
19 Besides, a cause is more powerful than its effect. Now, the makers of these images are men. So, man owes no cult to them.
20 But, if it be said that these images have some virtue or worth due to the fact that certain spiritual substances are connected with them, even this will not suffice, because the cult of latria is owed to no spiritual substance except the highest.
21 Moreover, the rational soul is combined with man’s body in a more noble way than that whereby a spiritual substance might be attached to the aforesaid images. So, man will still remain on a higher level of dignity than the aforesaid images.
22 Furthermore, since these images at times admit of harmful effects, it is evident that, if they derive their result from some spiritual substances, then those spiritual substances are vicious. This can also be clearly proved from this fact: they are deceptive in their answers and they demand certain actions contrary to virtue from their devotees. And so, they are inferior to good men. Therefore, the cult of latria is not owed to them.
23 Therefore, it is clear from what we have said that the cult of latria is due to the one, highest God only. Thus it is said in Exodus (22:20): “He who sacrifices to the gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord”; and in Deuteronomy (6:13): “You shall fear the Lord Your God, and shall serve Him only.”
And in Romans (1:72-73) it is said of the Gentiles: “For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of four-footed beasts and of creeping things”; and later (verse 25): “Who changed the truth of God into a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is God above all blessed for ever.”
Notes Harsh, yes? But now you see why.
24 So, since it is unfitting for the cult of latria to be offered to any other being than the first principle of things, and since to incite to unworthy deeds can only be the work of a badly disposed rational creature, it is evident that men have been solicited by the urging of demons to develop the aforesaid unworthy cults, and these demons have been presented in place of God as objects of men’s worship because they craved divine honor. Hence it is said in the Psalm (95:5): “All the gods of the Gentiles are devils”; and in 1 Corinthians (10:20): “the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God.”
Notes We have by now forgotten that “All the gods of the Gentiles are devils”.
25 Therefore, since this is the chief intent of divine law: that man be subject to God and that he should offer special reverence to Him, not merely in his heart, but also orally and by bodily works, so first of all, in Exodus 20, where the divine law is promulgated, the cult of many gods is forbidden when it is said: “You shall not have strange gods before me” and “You shall not make to Yourself a graven thing, nor any likeness” (20:3-4).
Secondly, it is forbidden man to pronounce vocally the divine name without reverence, that is, in order to lend support to anything false; and this is what is said: “You shall not take the name of God in vain” (20:7). Thirdly, rest is prescribed at certain times from outward works, so that the mind may be devoted to divine contemplation; and thus it is stated: “Remember that You keep holy the Sabbath day” (20:8).
Notes A graven image is therefore one directed to a false god.