Recent Posts

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Aquinas Series on Greed and the Virtues of Temperance and Justice

The Last Judgement in the Albi STtCecile Cathedral in France

To us, it should be obvious that Justice is the virtue which counteracts Greed. But, Greed is not just about money or property. The most common sort of Greediness is the desire for power. 

Here is Thomas on Greed, just a bit, as there is so much more, of course: 2:2:118. This is the section dealing with greediness for money and acquisitions.

Greed have another name and that is Avarice and it is one of the Deadly Sins. Here are people depicted in hell as being boiled in oil for Greed.

Detail of Above

Covetousness denotes immoderation with regard to riches in two ways. First, immediately in respect of the acquisition and keeping of riches. On this way a man obtains money beyond his due, by stealing or retaining another's property. This is opposed to justice, and in this sense covetousness is mentioned (Ezekiel 22:27): "Her princes in the midst of her are like wolves ravening the prey to shed blood . . . and to run after gains through covetousness." Secondly, it denotes immoderation in the interior affections for riches; for instance, when a man loves or desires riches too much, or takes too much pleasure in them, even if he be unwilling to steal. On this way covetousness is opposed to liberality, which moderates these affections, as stated above (117, 2, ad 3, 3, ad 3, 6). On this sense covetousness is spoken of (2 Corinthians 9:5): "That they would . . . prepare this blessing before promised, to be ready, so as a blessing, not as covetousness," where a gloss observes: "Lest they should regret what they had given, and give but little."
Reply to Objection 1. Chrysostom and the Philosopher are speaking of covetousness in the first sense: covetousness in the second sense is called illiberality [aneleutheria] by the Philosopher.
Reply to Objection 2. It belongs properly to justice to appoint the measure in the acquisition and keeping of riches from the point of view of legal due, so that a man should neither take nor retain another's property. But liberality appoints the measure ofreason, principally in the interior affections, and consequently in the exterior taking and keeping of money, and in the spending of the same, in so far as these proceed from the interior affection, looking at the matter from the point of view not of the legal but of the moral debt, which latter depends on the rule of reason.
Reply to Objection 3. Covetousness as opposed to justice has no opposite vice: since it consists in having more than one ought according to justice, the contrary of which is to have less than one ought, and this is not a sin but a punishment. But covetousness as opposed to liberality has the vice of prodigality opposed to it.

Although Thomas notes that Greed is connected to Lust, he puts this sin in the category of a SPIRITUAL MORTAL SIN  rather than a corporal or fleshy sin. It is the desire and the mental pleasure associated with Greed which is the greatest sin. Sadly, for centuries, Greed has hidden in the idea that those who are blessed by God and heaven bound are signed by wealth. Greed can hide as piety and even as a virtue. 

But, it is a spiritual vice. It shrivels the heart and clouds the mind. Temperance, as well as Justice, can counteract Greed. But, to me, the greatest antidote to Greed is voluntary poverty.

The denial of one's self to be attached to goods for the sake of Christ allows one to become objective and breaks the stranglehold of Greed. Such is the modern world, that Greed is glorified by those on the political left and those on the right. 

Greed is self-centeredness gone wild.

Gregory (Moral. xxxi) numbers covetousness among spiritual vices.
I answer that, Sins are seated chiefly in the affections: and all the affections or passions of the soul have their term in pleasure and sorrow, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 5). Now some pleasures are carnal and some spiritual. Carnal pleasures are those which are consummated in the carnal senses--for instance, the pleasures of the table and sexual pleasures: while spiritualpleasures are those which are consummated in the mere apprehension of the soul. Accordingly, sins of the flesh are those which are consummated in carnal pleasures, while spiritual sins are consummated in pleasures of the spirit without pleasure of the flesh. Such is covetousness: for the covetous man takes pleasure in the consideration of himself as a possessor of riches. Therefore covetousness is a spiritual sin.
Reply to Objection 1. Covetousness with regard to a bodily object seeks the pleasure, not of the body but only of the soul, forasmuch as a man takes pleasure in the fact that he possesses riches: wherefore it is not a sin of the flesh. Nevertheless by reason of its object it is a mean between purely spiritual sins, which seek spiritual pleasure in respect of spiritual objects (thus pride is about excellence), and purely carnal sins, which seek a purely bodily pleasure in respect of a bodily object.
Reply to Objection 2. Movement takes its species from the term "whereto" and not from the term "wherefrom." Hence a vice of the flesh is so called from its tending to a pleasure of the flesh, and not from its originating in some defect of the flesh.
Reply to Objection 3. Chrysostom compares a covetous man to the man who was possessed by the devil, not that the former is troubled in the flesh in the same way as the latter, but by way of contrast, since while the possessed man, of whom we read in Mark 5, stripped himself, the covetous man loads himself with an excess of riches.

Here is a bit of Thomas on Temperance and remember that the Cardinal Virtues lie not only in the heart, but in the head. Thomas reminds us of this below. If we are reasonable, we shall fear the Lord.

The Cardinal Virtues, Strasbourg Cathedral
As stated above (I-II, 55, 3), it is essential to virtue to incline man to good. Now the good of man is to be in accordance with reason, as Dionysius states (Div. Nom. iv). Hence human virtue is that which inclines man to something in accordance with reason. Now temperance evidently inclines man to this, since its very name implies moderation or temperateness, which reason causes. Therefore temperance is a virtue.
Reply to Objection 1. Nature inclines everything to whatever is becoming to it. Wherefore man naturally desires pleasures that are becoming to him. Since, however, man as such is a rational being, it follows that those pleasures are becoming to man which are in accordance with reason. From such pleasures temperance does not withdraw him, but from those which are contrary to reason. Wherefore it is clear that temperance is not contrary to the inclination of human nature, but is in accord with it. It is, however, contrary to the inclination of the animal nature that is not subject to reason.
Reply to Objection 2. The temperance which fulfils the conditions of perfect virtue is not without prudence, while this is lacking to all who are in sin. Hence those who lack other virtues, through being subject to the opposite vices, have not the temperance which is a virtue, though they do acts of temperance from a certain natural disposition, in so far as certain imperfect virtues are either natural to man, as stated above (I-II, 63, 1), or acquired by habituation, which virtues, through lack of prudence, are not perfected by reason, as stated above (I-II, 65, 1).
Reply to Objection 3. Temperance also has a corresponding gift, namely, fear, whereby man is withheld from the pleasures of the flesh, according to Psalm 118:120: "Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear." The gift of fear has for its principal object God, Whom it avoids offending, and in this respect it corresponds to the virtue of hope, as stated above (19, 09, ad 1). But it may have for its secondary object whatever a man shuns in order to avoid offending God. Now man stands in the greatest need of the fear of God in order to shun those things which are most seductive, and these are the matter of temperance: wherefore the gift of fear corresponds to temperance also.