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Summa Theologica by Aquinas

Whether respect of persons takes place in showing honor and respect?

Objection 1: It would seem that respect of persons does not take place in showing honor and respect. For honor is apparently nothing else than |reverence shown to a person in recognition of his virtue,| as the Philosopher states (Ethic. i, 5). Now prelates and princes should be honored although they be wicked, even as our parents, of whom it is written (Ex.20:12): |Honor thy father and thy mother.| Again masters, though they be wicked, should be honored by their servants, according to 1 Tim.6:1: |Whoever are servants under the yoke, let them count their masters worthy of all honor.| Therefore it seems that it is not a sin to respect persons in showing honor.

Objection 2: Further, it is commanded (Lev.19:32): |Rise up before the hoary head, and, honor the person of the aged man.| But this seems to savor of respect of persons, since sometimes old men are not virtuous; according to Dan.13:5: |Iniquity came out from the ancients of the people [*Vulg.: 'Iniquity came out of Babylon from the ancient judges, that seemed to govern the people.'].| Therefore it is not a sin to respect persons in showing honor.

Objection 3: Further, on the words of James 2:1, |Have not the faith . . . with respect of persons,| a gloss of Augustine [*Ep. ad Hieron. clxvii.] says: |If the saying of James, 'If there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring,' etc., refer to our daily meetings, who sins not here, if however he sin at all?| Yet it is respect of persons to honor the rich for their riches, for Gregory says in a homily (xxviii in Evang.): |Our pride is blunted, since in men we honor, not the nature wherein they are made to God's image, but wealth,| so that, wealth not being a due cause of honor, this will savor of respect of persons. Therefore it is not a sin to respect persons in showing honor.

On the contrary, A gloss on James 2:1, says: |Whoever honors the rich for their riches, sins,| and in like manner, if a man be honored for other causes that do not render him worthy of honor. Now this savors of respect of persons. Therefore it is a sin to respect persons in showing honor.

I answer that, To honor a person is to recognize him as having virtue, wherefore virtue alone is the due cause of a person being honored. Now it is to be observed that a person may be honored not only for his own virtue, but also for another's: thus princes and prelates, although they be wicked, are honored as standing in God's place, and as representing the community over which they are placed, according to Prov.26:8, |As he that casteth a stone into the heap of Mercury, so is he that giveth honor to a fool.| For, since the gentiles ascribed the keeping of accounts to Mercury, |the heap of Mercury| signifies the casting up of an account, when a merchant sometimes substitutes a pebble [*'Lapillus' or 'calculus' whence the English word 'calculate'] for one hundred marks. So too, is a fool honored if he stand in God's place or represent the whole community: and in the same way parents and masters should be honored, on account of their having a share of the dignity of God Who is the Father and Lord of all. The aged should be honored, because old age is a sign of virtue, though this sign fail at times: wherefore, according to Wis.4:8,9, |venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of years; but the understanding of a man is gray hairs, and a spotless life is old age.| The rich ought to be honored by reason of their occupying a higher position in the community: but if they be honored merely for their wealth, it will be the sin of respect of persons.

Hence the Replies to the Objections are clear.

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