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Summa Theologica by Aquinas

Whether corporal almsdeeds have a spiritual effect?

Objection 1: It would seem that corporal almsdeeds have not a spiritual effect. For no effect exceeds its cause. But spiritual goods exceed corporal goods. Therefore corporal almsdeeds have no spiritual effect.

Objection 2: Further, the sin of simony consists in giving the corporal for the spiritual, and it is to be utterly avoided. Therefore one ought not to give alms in order to receive a spiritual effect.

Objection 3: Further, to multiply the cause is to multiply the effect. If therefore corporal almsdeeds cause a spiritual effect, the greater the alms, the greater the spiritual profit, which is contrary to what we read (Lk.21:3) of the widow who cast two brass mites into the treasury, and in Our Lord's own words |cast in more than . . . all.| Therefore bodily almsdeeds have no spiritual effect.

On the contrary, It is written (Ecclus.17:18): |The alms of a man . . . shall preserve the grace of a man as the apple of the eye.|

I answer that, Corporal almsdeeds may be considered in three ways. First, with regard to their substance, and in this way they have merely a corporal effect, inasmuch as they supply our neighbor's corporal needs. Secondly, they may be considered with regard to their cause, in so far as a man gives a corporal alms out of love for God and his neighbor, and in this respect they bring forth a spiritual fruit, according to Ecclus.29:13, 14: |Lose thy money for thy brother . . . place thy treasure in the commandments of the Most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold.|

Thirdly, with regard to the effect, and in this way again, they have a spiritual fruit, inasmuch as our neighbor, who is succored by a corporal alms, is moved to pray for his benefactor; wherefore the above text goes on (Ecclus.29:15): |Shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and it shall obtain help for thee from all evil.|

Reply to Objection 1: This argument considers corporal almsdeeds as to their substance.

Reply to Objection 2: He who gives an alms does rot intend to buy a spiritual thing with a corporal thing, for he knows that spiritual things infinitely surpass corporal things, but he intends to merit a spiritual fruit through the love of charity.

Reply to Objection 3: The widow who gave less in quantity, gave more in proportion; and thus we gather that the fervor of her charity, whence corporal almsdeeds derive their spiritual efficacy, was greater.

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