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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article Three Whether Charity is a Virtue

Whether Charity is a Virtue

We proceed to the third article thus:

1. It seems that charity is not a virtue. For charity is a kind of friendship, and it is plain from 8 Ethics 1 that the philosophers do not regard friendship as a virtue, since they include it neither in the moral virtues nor in the intellectual virtues. Hence charity is not a virtue.

2. Again, it is said in 1 De Coelo et Mundi 116 that a virtue is what is ultimate in respect of a power. But charity does not come last. Rather do joy and peace come last. Hence it seems that charity is not a virtue, but that joy and peace are virtues, rather than charity.

3. Again, every virtue is possessed as a habit which is an accident. But charity is not possessed as an accident, since it is nobler than the soul, whereas no accident is nobler than its subject. Hence charity is not a virtue.

On the other hand: Augustine says {De Mor. Eccles.11): |Charity is the virtue by which we love God, and which unites us to God when our attitude is faultless.|

I answer: human actions are good in so far as they are regulated by their proper rule and measure. Human virtue therefore consists in the attainment of the rule of human actions, since it is the principle of all good human actions. Now we said in Q.17, Art.1, that the rule of human action is twofold, namely, human reason, and God himself. Accordingly, while |that which accords with right reason| serves as a definition of moral virtue (6 Ethics 2), the attainment of God constitutes the nature of this virtue of charity, just as we said that it constitutes the nature of faith and of hope (Q.4, Art.5; Q.17, Art. I). Charity is therefore a virtue, since it attains God through uniting us to God, as the quotation from Augustine affirms.

On the first point: in 8 Ethics 1 the philosopher does not deny that friendship is a virtue. He affirms that it either is a virtue or implies virtue. It may indeed be described as a virtue concerned with action toward another, although it is not the same as justice. Justice is concerned with what is legally due in action toward another. Friendship is concerned with what is morally due as between friends, or better, with what free beneficence requires, as the philosopher explains in 8 Ethics 13. But we may say that friendship is not in itself a virtue distinct from other virtues. Its praiseworthy and honourable character depends on its object, that is, on the goodness of the virtues upon which it is founded. This is clear from the fact that every friendship is not praiseworthy and honourable. Friendship founded on the pleasant or the useful is obviously not so. Virtuous friendship is therefore the consequence of virtue, rather than itself a virtue. With charity, however, it is otherwise. For charity is founded on the goodness of God, not on human virtue.

On the second point: it is the same virtue which loves something and also rejoices in it. As we said when dealing with the passions in 12ae, Q.25, Art.2, joy follows love, wherefore love is accounted a virtue rather than joy, which is the effect of love. That a virtue is ultimate in respect of a power implies not that it comes last in the order of effects, but rather that it comes last in a certain order of excess, as a hundred pounds exceeds forty.

On the third point: every attribute is inferior to its substance in respect of existence, since a substance exists in its own right, while an accident exists only in something else. In respect of its specific nature, however, although an accident which is caused by principles which lie within its subject is less noble than its subject, an accident which is caused by participation in a higher nature is more noble than its subject, in so far as it is a likeness of this higher nature. Light, for example, is nobler than a diaphanous body. In this way charity is nobler than the soul, since it is a certain participation in the Holy Spirit.

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