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Article Seven

Whether there can be any True Virtue without Charity

We proceed to the seventh article thus:

1. It seems that there can be true virtue without charity. For it is a property of virtue to produce a good action, and those who lack charity nevertheless perform some good actions. They sometimes clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and do other similar things. There can therefore be true virtue without charity.

2. Again, there cannot be charity where there is no faith, since charity proceeds “out of faith unfeigned” (I Tim. 1:5). But those who lack faith can still have true chastity while they inhibit their desires, and true justice while they judge aright. There can therefore be true virtue without charity.

3. Again, it is evident from 6 Ethics 3 and 4 that science and art are virtues. But these are found in sinners who have no charity. There can therefore be true virtue without charity.

On the other hand: the apostle says in I Cor. 13:3: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” But virtue is very profitable. According to Wisdom 8:7: “It teaches temperance, justice, prudence, and virtue, than which there is nothing in life more profitable to men.” There is therefore no true virtue without charity.


I answer: virtue is directed to the good, as we said in 12ae, Q. 55, Art. 3, and the good is fundamentally the end, since means to an end are said to be good only because they relate to an end. Now there are two kinds of end, one ultimate and the other proximate. There are therefore two kinds of good also, one ultimate and universal, the other proximate and particular. According to Ps. 73:28: “It is good for me to draw near to God,” the ultimate and principal good of man is the enjoyment of God. Man is directed to this by charity. The secondary and as it were particular good of man may be of two kinds. One of these is genuinely good, capable in itself of leading to the principal good which is his ultimate end. The other is only apparently good, not genuinely good, since it leads him away from his ultimate end. It is plain, then, that absolutely true virtue is virtue which directs a man to his principal good. As the philosopher says in 7 Physics, text 17, “virtue is the disposition of the perfect towards the best.”

It follows that there cannot be any true virtue without charity. If, however, we are to call that a virtue which directs one only to some particular end, then any virtue may be said to be true without charity, in so far as it directs one to some particular good. If this particular good is not a genuine good, but only an apparent good, the virtue which directs one to it will not be a true virtue, but only the false imitation of a virtue. As Augustine says (4 Cont. Julian. 3), “the prudence with which misers devise diverse means of gain is not true virtue; neither is the justice by which they leave another’s goods alone for fear of dire penalties; nor the temperance by which they curb their appetite for costly luxuries; nor the courage by which 'they flee from poverty across sea, rock, and fire,’ as Horatius has it (1 Epistol. 1).” But if this particular good is a genuine good, such as the preservation of the state, or something of the kind, the virtue which directs one to it will be a true virtue. It will nevertheless be imperfect, if it is not brought into relation to the ultimate and perfect good. Absolutely true virtue, therefore, is impossible without charity.

On the first point: when a man lacks charity, his action may be of two kinds. When it is the expression of the very thing on account of which he lacks charity, it is always evil. What an unfaithful man does because he is unfaithful is always a sin, as Augustine says, even though he should clothe the naked for the sake of his infidelity, or do something similar (4 Cont. Julian. 3). His action, however, may not be the expression of his lack of 354charity, but the expression of some different gift which he has received from God, such as faith, or hope, or even of the natural good which sin does not entirely destroy, as we said in Q. 10, Art. 4, and in 12ae, Q. 85, Arts. 1 and 2. Any such action may be good in its own way, without charity. But it cannot be perfectly good, since it is not directed to the ultimate end as it should be.

On the second point: an end has the same significance in practical matters as a first principle in speculative matters. Now there cannot be genuinely true science if an indemonstrable first principle is not properly understood. Neither can there be absolutely true justice or chastity without their due relation to the end, which relation depends on charity, however correct one may be in other respects.

On the third point: science and art, by their very nature, imply a relation to some particular good. But they do not relate to the ultimate end of human life as do the moral virtues, which make one good in an absolute sense, as we said in 12ae, Q. 56, Art. 3.

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