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Article Four

Whether Charity is a Specific Virtue

We proceed to the fourth article thus:

1. It seems that charity is not a specific virtue. For Hieronymus says (reference unknown, but Augustine says the same thing in Epist. 167): “I summarize all definitions of virtue thus— virtue is charity, by which we love God and our neighbour.” Augustine also implies in De Mor. Eccles. 15, and says expressly in 15 De Civ. Dei. 22, that “virtue is the rule of love.” But the definition of virtue in general makes no mention of any specific virtue. Hence charity is not a specific virtue.

2. Again, what extends to the operations of all virtues cannot itself be a specific virtue. Now charity extends to the operations of all virtues, according to I Cor. 13:4: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind,” etc. It extends even to a man’s every deed, according to I Cor. 16:14: “Let all your things be done with charity.” Hence charity is not a specific virtue.

3. Again, the precepts of the law correspond to the acts of the virtues. Now Augustine says (De Perf. Just. 5): “The general commandment is ‘Thou shalt love,’ and the general prohibition is ‘Thou shalt not covet.'” Charity is thus a general virtue.

On the other hand: the general is never numbered together with the specific. But charity is numbered together with the specific virtues of hope and faith, as in I Cor. 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three.” Charity is therefore a specific virtue.

I answer: we have already explained (12ae, Q. 18, Art. 2, and Q. 54, Art. 2) that an act and a habit both derive their species from their object, and that the proper object of love is the good (12ae, Q. 17, Art. 1). There is therefore a specific kind of love where there is a specific kind of good. Now in its aspect as the object of happiness, divine good is a specific kind of good. The love of charity is consequently a specific kind of love, since it is the love of this specific good. Charity is therefore a specific virtue.

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On the first point: charity is mentioned in the definition of virtue in general not because its nature is that which is common to every virtue, but because every virtue depends on it, as we shall show in Arts. 7 and 8. Prudence is mentioned in the definition of the moral virtues for a similar reason in 2 Ethics 6 and 6 Ethics 13, because they depend on prudence.

On the second point: a virtue or an art which is concerned with an ultimate end has authority over such virtues as are concerned only with other subordinate ends. Thus the art of the soldier commands the art of horsemanship, as is said in 1 Ethics 1. Now the object of charity is the final end of human life, which is eternal blessedness. Hence charity extends to the whole activity of human life by way of authority, not by directly determining every virtuous action.

On the third point: the precept of love is said to be the general commandment because all other precepts are subordinate to it as their end, according to I Tim. 1:5: “the end of the commandment is charity.”

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