Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Question 40, Article 5

[Editor’s Note: The Latin text of this work can be found here

Objection 1: It would seem that Christ was properly liberal. For liberality is a virtue, as we have stated in the Second Part (II-II, Q. 117), following the authority of Ambrose and Augustine. And as we have stated above (III, Q. 7, A. 3), the virtue of liberality, which is usually understood with regard to riches, is shown most of all in Christ in his earthly life. For liberality is seen in a man insofar as he willingly gives away, or liberates, everything which he does not need. But Christ fittingly led a life of poverty in this world, as we have said above (III, Q. 40, A. 5). Therefore it seems that Christ was liberal with riches in his spurning of them.

Objection 2: Further, liberality is a part of justice. For Ambrose says (De Offic. i), Justice has to do with the fellowship of mankind. For the notion of fellowship is divided into two parts, justice and beneficence, also called liberality or kind-heartedness. And Christ possessed all the virtues, as we have said above (III, Q. 7, A. 2). Moreover, Christ is understood as the teacher of justice, according to Joel 2:23: Be joyful in the Lord your God, because He hath given you a Teacher of justice. This is especially clear in Christ’s injunctions to give alms to the poor. Therefore it seems that Christ was liberal on account of his justice.

Objection 3: Further, liberality, elsewhere understood as liberalism, pertains to a certain willingness or openness (libertate) to accept others as they are presently, despite difference in behavior or belief. But Christ demonstrated this willingness most of all in his keeping company with sinners, women, and children. And the salvation which Christ wrought was for all, according to the Apostle (II Cor. 5:15): And Christ died for all. Therefore, Christ was liberal in this sense also.

Objection 4: Further, it is characteristic of the liberal man to tolerate or permit the sins of other men. But God permits evil, even the great evil of Satan persecuting his most holy servant Job, as Gregory says (Mor. ii, 10): We must know, however, that Satan’s will is always evil, but the power he has is never unjust, for his will belongs to himself but his power comes from God. The fact that he wants to do evil is something that God permits, and this permission of God is not unjust. Therefore Christ, who shares in the divine will of permission, is liberal.

On the contrary, It is written of Christ (Matt 5:17): Do not think that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill it.

I answer that, a man can be called “liberal” in three senses. Firstly, a man can be liberal on account of his good stewardship of wealth, which we have shown above (II-II, Q. 117; III, Q. 7, A. 2). Christ was certainly liberal in this sense, which might otherwise be called generosity or open-handedness.

Secondly, a man can be liberal on account of his toleration and permission of morals. Christ should not be called liberal in this sense, since, when he saw the merchants and money-changers in the temple, he made a scourge of small cords and he drove them all out of the temple and poured out the changers’ money and overthrew the tables (John 2:15). It is also written, In the morning I will stand before you, and will see, because you are not a God who wills iniquity. Neither shall the wicked dwell near you nor shall the unjust abide before your eyes. You hate all the workers of iniquity. You will destroy all who speak a lie. The bloody and the deceitful man, the Lord will abhor (Ps. 5:5-7).

Thirdly, a man can be called liberal in a philosophical sense because he believes that his own opinion is equal to the law of truth, and that there is no authority above his own in matters of morals. Christ is indeed liberal in this way, to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given (Matt. 28:18). But this is fitting for Christ alone who is in the form of God and who is truly the author of truth of goodness, and not with respect to his form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7). For man deceives himself shamefully when he imagines that God’s law does not bind all immortal souls.

This suffices for the Reply to the First Objection.

Reply Obj. 2: Justice, as we have said above (II-II, Q. 58, A. 1), is fittingly defined as a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will, and this is about the same definition as that given by the Philosopher (Ethic. v. 5). Liberality, understood as generosity with respect to riches, is indeed a potential part of justice, as stated above (II-II, Q. 80, A. 1). For it is conducive to greater rectitude, although there is little of the nature of anything due in liberality. Rather, Christ demonstrated his justice more fully in his exorcizing of evil spirits and his cleansing the temple since these acts render God and neighbor their due by doing away with undue evils.

Reply Obj. 3: The solution depends on the meaning of the word “accept,” which can be motivated either by the precept of charity for the good of the other, or by the precept of liberalism, indifferent to the sinfulness of the other. The precept of charity is distinguished from the precept of liberalism by its end. As said above (I-II, Q. 100, A. 10), the precept of charity contains the injunction that God should be loved from our whole heart, which means that all things would be referred to God. So then it is clear that the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge (Eph. 3:19), is the precept on account of which Christ deigns to eat with sinners and even to achieve their salvation. For the work of Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection sprang from the immensity of Divine charity. But the precept of liberalism, as opposed to charity, has not God as its end, but rather earthly comfort and the pride of liberty. For Bernard condemns this liberty (libertas) as a degree of pride, and it fits the third species of pride described by Gregory, namely, boasting of having what one does not (Moral. xxiii, 6).

Reply Obj. 4: In the selfsame work, Gregory describes the various reasons for which God permits his creation to suffer, each of which is motivated by the justice or charity of the Lord: whether for the just punishment of some past sin as a foretaste of the pains of hell, or for some purgative medicine by which the penitent might be corrected, or in order to prevent one from some yet uncommitted and unknown future sin. But fourthly, in the case of Job, Gregory says (Mor. preface): There is still another [kind of blow] by which a person is often struck, not for the correction of past sins or the avoidance of future ones, but so that unexpected salvation may follow the blow and that the Savior’s merits may then be remembered and loved all the more. Hence such permission in God is motivated by the precept of charity rather than liberalism, as Gregory clarifies (Mor. ii, 43): The ancient enemy indeed maliciously desires to deprive us of these good things. God, however, only allows these temptations in his kindness. But it belongs only to God to permit evil in such a way, whereas it belongs to man to denounce sin as it behooves a watchdog to bark.

James Whitaker is a graduate student in the Theology department. Now possessing a BA in Greek and Latin and an MTS degree, he felt that he could only prove his worth as a Latinist theologian by doing the gosh dang thing himself. If you would like his pieces from now on to be funnier and less self-indulgent, you can complain to

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice

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