QUESTION 66: OF EQUALITY AMONG THE VIRTUES
We must now consider equality among the virtues: under which head there
are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether one virtue can be greater or less than another?
(2) Whether all the virtues existing together in one subject are equal?
(3) Of moral virtue in comparison with intellectual virtue;
(4) Of the moral virtues as compared with one another;
(5) Of the intellectual virtues in comparison with one another;
(6) Of the theological virtues in comparison with one another.
Article 1: Whether one virtue can be greater or less than another?
Objection 1: It would seem that one virtue cannot be greater or less than
another. For it is written (Apoc. 21:16) that the sides of the city of
Jerusalem are equal; and a gloss says that the sides denote the virtues.
Therefore all virtues are equal; and consequently one cannot be greater
Objection 2: Further, a thing that, by its nature, consists in a maximum,
cannot be more or less. Now the nature of virtue consists in a maximum,
for virtue is "the limit of power," as the Philosopher states (De Coelo
i, text. 116); and Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. ii, 19) that "virtues are
very great boons, and no one can use them to evil purpose." Therefore it
seems that one virtue cannot be greater or less than another.
Objection 3: Further, the quantity of an effect is measured by the power of
the agent. But perfect, viz. infused virtues, are from God Whose power is
uniform and infinite. Therefore it seems that one virtue cannot be
greater than another.
On the contrary, Wherever there can be increase and greater abundance,
there can be inequality. Now virtues admit of greater abundance and
increase: for it is written (Mt. 5:20): "Unless your justice abound more
than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the
kingdom of heaven": and (Prov. 15:5): "In abundant justice there is the
greatest strength [virtus]." Therefore it seems that a virtue can be
greater or less than another.
I answer that, When it is asked whether one virtue can be greater than
another, the question can be taken in two senses. First, as applying to
virtues of different species. In this sense it is clear that one virtue
is greater than another; since a cause is always more excellent than its
effect; and among effects, those nearest to the cause are the most
excellent. Now it is clear from what has been said (Question , Article ; Question , Article ) that the cause and root of human good is the reason. Hence prudence
which perfects the reason, surpasses in goodness the other moral virtues
which perfect the appetitive power, in so far as it partakes of reason.
And among these, one is better than another, according as it approaches
nearer to the reason. Consequently justice, which is in the will, excels
the remaining moral virtues; and fortitude, which is in the irascible
part, stands before temperance, which is in the concupiscible, which has
a smaller share of reason, as stated in Ethic. vii, 6.
The question can be taken in another way, as referring to virtues of the
same species. In this way, according to what was said above (Question , Article ), when we were treating of the intensity of habits, virtue may be said
to be greater or less in two ways: first, in itself; secondly with regard
to the subject that partakes of it. If we consider it in itself, we shall
call it greater or little, according to the things to which it extends.
Now whosoever has a virtue, e.g. temperance, has it in respect of
whatever temperance extends to. But this does not apply to science and
art: for every grammarian does not know everything relating to grammar.
And in this sense the Stoics said rightly, as Simplicius states in his
Commentary on the Predicaments, that virtue cannot be more or less, as
science and art can; because the nature of virtue consists in a maximum.
If, however, we consider virtue on the part of the subject, it may then
be greater or less, either in relation to different times, or in
different men. Because one man is better disposed than another to attain
to the mean of virtue which is defined by right reason; and this, on
account of either greater habituation, or a better natural disposition,
or a more discerning judgment of reason, or again a greater gift of
grace, which is given to each one "according to the measure of the giving
of Christ," as stated in Eph. 4:9. And here the Stoics erred, for they
held that no man should be deemed virtuous, unless he were, in the
highest degree, disposed to virtue. Because the nature of virtue does not
require that man should reach the mean of right reason as though it were
an indivisible point, as the Stoics thought; but it is enough that he
should approach the mean, as stated in Ethic. ii, 6. Moreover, one same
indivisible mark is reached more nearly and more readily by one than by
another: as may be seen when several arches aim at a fixed target.
Reply to Objection 1: This equality is not one of absolute quantity, but of
proportion: because all virtues grow in a man proportionately, as we
shall see further on (Article ).
Reply to Objection 2: This "limit" which belongs to virtue, can have the
character of something "more" or "less" good, in the ways explained
above: since, as stated, it is not an indivisible limit.
Reply to Objection 3: God does not work by necessity of nature, but according to
the order of His wisdom, whereby He bestows on men various measures of
virtue, according to Eph. 4:7: "To every one of you [Vulg.: 'us'] is
given grace according to the measure of the giving of Christ."
Article 2: Whether all the virtues that are together in one man, are equal?
Objection 1: It would seem that the virtues in one same man are not all
equally intense. For the Apostle says (1 Cor. 7:7): "Everyone hath his
proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that." Now
one gift would not be more proper than another to a man, if God infused
all the virtues equally into each man. Therefore it seems that the
virtues are not all equal in one and the same man.
Objection 2: Further, if all the virtues were equally intense in one and the
same man, it would follow that whoever surpasses another in one virtue,
would surpass him in all the others. But this is clearly not the case:
since various saints are specially praised for different virtues; e.g.
Abraham for faith (Rm. 4), Moses for his meekness (Num. 7:3), Job for his
patience (Tob. 2:12). This is why of each Confessor the Church sings:
"There was not found his like in keeping the law of the most High," [*See
Lesson in the Mass Statuit (Dominican Missal)], since each one was
remarkable for some virtue or other. Therefore the virtues are not all
equal in one and the same man.
Objection 3: Further, the more intense a habit is, the greater one's pleasure
and readiness in making use of it. Now experience shows that a man is
more pleased and ready to make use of one virtue than of another.
Therefore the virtues are not all equal in one and the same man.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. vi, 4) that "those who are
equal in fortitude are equal in prudence and temperance," and so on. Now
it would not be so, unless all the virtues in one man were equal.
Therefore all virtues are equal in one man.
I answer that, As explained above (Article ), the comparative greatness of
virtues can be understood in two ways. First, as referring to their
specific nature: and in this way there is no doubt that in a man one
virtue is greater than another, for example, charity, than faith and
hope. Secondly, it may be taken as referring to the degree of
participation by the subject, according as a virtue becomes intense or
remiss in its subject. In this sense all the virtues in one man are equal
with an equality of proportion, in so far as their growth in man is
equal: thus the fingers are unequal in size, but equal in proportion,
since they grow in proportion to one another.
Now the nature of this equality is to be explained in the same way as
the connection of virtues; for equality among virtues is their connection
as to greatness. Now it has been stated above (Question , Article ) that a
twofold connection of virtues may be assigned. The first is according to
the opinion of those who understood these four virtues to be four general
properties of virtues, each of which is found together with the other in
any matter. In this way virtues cannot be said to be equal in any matter
unless they have all these properties equal. Augustine alludes to this
kind of equality (De Trin. vi, 4) when he says: "If you say these men
are equal in fortitude, but that one is more prudent than the other; it
follows that the fortitude of the latter is less prudent. Consequently
they are not really equal in fortitude, since the former's fortitude is
more prudent. You will find that this applies to the other virtues if you
run over them all in the same way."
The other kind of connection among virtues followed the opinion of those
who hold these virtues to have their own proper respective matters (Question , Articles ,2). In this way the connection among moral virtues results from
prudence, and, as to the infused virtues, from charity, and not from the
inclination, which is on the part of the subject, as stated above (Question , Article ). Accordingly the nature of the equality among virtues can also be
considered on the part of prudence, in regard to that which is formal in
all the moral virtues: for in one and the same man, so long as his reason
has the same degree of perfection, the mean will be proportionately
defined according to right reason in each matter of virtue.
But in regard to that which is material in the moral virtues, viz. the
inclination to the virtuous act, one may be readier to perform the act of
one virtue, than the act of another virtue, and this either from nature,
or from habituation, or again by the grace of God.
Reply to Objection 1: This saying of the Apostle may be taken to refer to the
gifts of gratuitous grace, which are not common to all, nor are all of
them equal in the one same subject. We might also say that it refers to
the measure of sanctifying grace, by reason of which one man has all the
virtues in greater abundance than another man, on account of his greater
abundance of prudence, or also of charity, in which all the infused
virtues are connected.
Reply to Objection 2: One saint is praised chiefly for one virtue, another saint
for another virtue, on account of his more admirable readiness for the
act of one virtue than for the act of another virtue.
This suffices for the Reply to the Third Objection.
Article 3: Whether the moral virtues are better than the intellectual virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that the moral virtues are better than the
intellectual. Because that which is more necessary, and more lasting, is
better. Now the moral virtues are "more lasting even than the sciences"
(Ethic. i) which are intellectual virtues: and, moreover, they are more
necessary for human life. Therefore they are preferable to the
Objection 2: Further, virtue is defined as "that which makes its possessor
good." Now man is said to be good in respect of moral virtue, and art in
respect of intellectual virtue, except perhaps in respect of prudence
alone. Therefore moral is better than intellectual virtue.
Objection 3: Further, the end is more excellent than the means. But according
to Ethic. vi, 12, "moral virtue gives right intention of the end; whereas
prudence gives right choice of the means." Therefore moral virtue is more
excellent than prudence, which is the intellectual virtue that regards
On the contrary, Moral virtue is in that part of the soul which is
rational by participation; while intellectual virtue is in the
essentially rational part, as stated in Ethic. i, 13. Now rational by
essence is more excellent than rational by participation. Therefore
intellectual virtue is better than moral virtue.
I answer that, A thing may be said to be greater or less in two ways:
first, simply; secondly, relatively. For nothing hinders something from
being better simply, e.g. "learning than riches," and yet not better
relatively, i.e. "for one who is in want" [*Aristotle, Topic. iii.]. Now
to consider a thing simply is to consider it in its proper specific
nature. Accordingly, a virtue takes its species from its object, as
explained above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). Hence, speaking simply, that
virtue is more excellent, which has the more excellent object. Now it is
evident that the object of the reason is more excellent than the object
of the appetite: since the reason apprehends things in the universal,
while the appetite tends to things themselves, whose being is restricted
to the particular. Consequently, speaking simply, the intellectual
virtues, which perfect the reason, are more excellent than the moral
virtues, which perfect the appetite.
But if we consider virtue in its relation to act, then moral virtue,
which perfects the appetite, whose function it is to move the other
powers to act, as stated above (Question , Article ), is more excellent. And since
virtue is so called from its being a principle of action, for it is the
perfection of a power, it follows again that the nature of virtue agrees
more with moral than with intellectual virtue, though the intellectual
virtues are more excellent habits, simply speaking.
Reply to Objection 1: The moral virtues are more lasting than the intellectual
virtues, because they are practised in matters pertaining to the life of
the community. Yet it is evident that the objects of the sciences, which
are necessary and invariable, are more lasting than the objects of moral
virtue, which are certain particular matters of action. That the moral
virtues are more necessary for human life, proves that they are more
excellent, not simply, but relatively. Indeed, the speculative
intellectual virtues, from the very fact that they are not referred to
something else, as a useful thing is referred to an end, are more
excellent. The reason for this is that in them we have a kind of
beginning of that happiness which consists in the knowledge of truth, as
stated above (Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 2: The reason why man is said to be good simply, in respect of
moral virtue, but not in respect of intellectual virtue, is because the
appetite moves the other powers to their acts, as stated above (Question , Article ). Wherefore this argument, too, proves merely that moral virtue is
Reply to Objection 3: Prudence directs the moral virtues not only in the choice
of the means, but also in appointing the end. Now the end of each moral
virtue is to attain the mean in the matter proper to that virtue; which
mean is appointed according to the right ruling of prudence, as stated in
Ethic. ii, 6; vi, 13.
Article 4: Whether justice is the chief of the moral virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that justice is not the chief of the moral virtues.
For it is better to give of one's own than to pay what is due. Now the
former belongs to liberality, the latter to justice. Therefore liberality
is apparently a greater virtue than justice.
Objection 2: Further, the chief quality of a thing is, seemingly, that in
which it is most perfect. Now, according to Jm. 1:4, "Patience hath a
perfect work." Therefore it would seem that patience is greater than
Objection 3: Further, "Magnanimity has a great influence on every virtue," as
stated in Ethic. iv, 3. Therefore it magnifies even justice. Therefore it
is greater than justice.
On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 1) that "justice is the
most excellent of the virtues."
I answer that, A virtue considered in its species may be greater or
less, either simply or relatively. A virtue is said to be greater simply,
whereby a greater rational good shines forth, as stated above (Article ). In
this way justice is the most excellent of all the moral virtues, as being
most akin to reason. This is made evident by considering its subject and
its object: its subject, because this is the will, and the will is the
rational appetite, as stated above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ): its object
or matter, because it is about operations, whereby man is set in order
not only in himself, but also in regard to another. Hence "justice is the
most excellent of virtues" (Ethic. v, 1). Among the other moral virtues,
which are about the passions, the more excellent the matter in which the
appetitive movement is subjected to reason, so much the more does the
rational good shine forth in each. Now in things touching man, the chief
of all is life, on which all other things depend. Consequently fortitude
which subjects the appetitive movement to reason in matters of life and
death, holds the first place among those moral virtues that are about the
passions, but is subordinate to justice. Hence the Philosopher says
(Rhet. 1) that "those virtues must needs be greatest which receive the
most praise: since virtue is a power of doing good. Hence the brave man
and the just man are honored more than others; because the former," i.e.
fortitude, "is useful in war, and the latter," i.e. justice, "both in war
and in peace." After fortitude comes temperance, which subjects the
appetite to reason in matters directly relating to life, in the one
individual, or in the one species, viz. in matters of food and of sex.
And so these three virtues, together with prudence, are called principal
virtues, in excellence also.
A virtue is said to be greater relatively, by reason of its helping or
adorning a principal virtue: even as substance is more excellent simply
than accident: and yet relatively some particular accident is more
excellent than substance in so far as it perfects substance in some
accidental mode of being.
Reply to Objection 1: The act of liberality needs to be founded on an act of
justice, for "a man is not liberal in giving, unless he gives of his own"
(Polit. ii, 3). Hence there could be no liberality apart from justice,
which discerns between "meum" and "tuum": whereas justice can be without
liberality. Hence justice is simply greater than liberality, as being
more universal, and as being its foundation: while liberality is greater
relatively since it is an ornament and an addition to justice.
Reply to Objection 2: Patience is said to have "a perfect work," by enduring
evils, wherein it excludes not only unjust revenge, which is also
excluded by justice; not only hatred, which is also suppressed by
charity; nor only anger, which is calmed by gentleness; but also
inordinate sorrow, which is the root of all the above. Wherefore it is
more perfect and excellent through plucking up the root in this matter.
It is not, however, more perfect than all the other virtues simply.
Because fortitude not only endures trouble without being disturbed, but
also fights against it if necessary. Hence whoever is brave is patient;
but the converse does not hold, for patience is a part of fortitude.
Reply to Objection 3: There can be no magnanimity without the other virtues, as
stated in Ethic. iv, 3. Hence it is compared to them as their ornament,
so that relatively it is greater than all the others, but not simply.
Article 5: Whether wisdom is the greatest of the intellectual virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that wisdom is not the greatest of the intellectual
virtues. Because the commander is greater than the one commanded. Now
prudence seems to command wisdom, for it is stated in Ethic. i, 2 that
political science, which belongs to prudence (Ethic. vi, 8), "orders that
sciences should be cultivated in states, and to which of these each
individual should devote himself, and to what extent." Since, then,
wisdom is one of the sciences, it seems that prudence is greater than
Objection 2: Further, it belongs to the nature of virtue to direct man to
happiness: because virtue is "the disposition of a perfect thing to that
which is best," as stated in Phys. vii, text. 17. Now prudence is "right
reason about things to be done," whereby man is brought to happiness:
whereas wisdom takes no notice of human acts, whereby man attains
happiness. Therefore prudence is a greater virtue than wisdom.
Objection 3: Further, the more perfect knowledge is, the greater it seems to
be. Now we can have more perfect knowledge of human affairs, which are
the subject of science, than of Divine things, which are the object of
wisdom, which is the distinction given by Augustine (De Trin. xii, 14):
because Divine things are incomprehensible, according to Job 26:26:
"Behold God is great, exceeding our knowledge." Therefore science is a
greater virtue than wisdom.
Objection 4: Further, knowledge of principles is more excellent than knowledge
of conclusions. But wisdom draws conclusions from indemonstrable
principles which are the object of the virtue of understanding, even as
other sciences do. Therefore understanding is a greater virtue than
On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. vi, 7) that wisdom is "the
head" among "the intellectual virtues."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), the greatness of a virtue, as to
its species, is taken from its object. Now the object of wisdom surpasses
the objects of all the intellectual virtues: because wisdom considers the
Supreme Cause, which is God, as stated at the beginning of the
Metaphysics. And since it is by the cause that we judge of an effect, and
by the higher cause that we judge of the lower effects; hence it is that
wisdom exercises judgment over all the other intellectual virtues,
directs them all, and is the architect of them all.
Reply to Objection 1: Since prudence is about human affairs, and wisdom about the
Supreme Cause, it is impossible for prudence to be a greater virtue than
wisdom, "unless," as stated in Ethic. vi, 7, "man were the greatest thing
in the world." Wherefore we must say, as stated in the same book (Ethic.
vi), that prudence does not command wisdom, but vice versa: because "the
spiritual man judgeth all things; and he himself is judged by no man" (1
Cor. 2:15). For prudence has no business with supreme matters which are
the object of wisdom: but its command covers things directed to wisdom,
viz. how men are to obtain wisdom. Wherefore prudence, or political
science, is, in this way, the servant of wisdom; for it leads to wisdom,
preparing the way for her, as the doorkeeper for the king.
Reply to Objection 2: Prudence considers the means of acquiring happiness, but
wisdom considers the very object of happiness, viz. the Supreme
Intelligible. And if indeed the consideration of wisdom were perfect in
respect of its object, there would be perfect happiness in the act of
wisdom: but as, in this life, the act of wisdom is imperfect in respect
of its principal object, which is God, it follows that the act of wisdom
is a beginning or participation of future happiness, so that wisdom is
nearer than prudence to happiness.
Reply to Objection 3: As the Philosopher says (De Anima i, text. 1), "one
knowledge is preferable to another, either because it is about a higher
object, or because it is more certain." Hence if the objects be equally
good and sublime, that virtue will be greater which possesses more
certain knowledge. But a virtue which is less certain about a higher and
better object, is preferable to that which is more certain about an
object of inferior degree. Wherefore the Philosopher says (De Coelo ii,
text. 60) that "it is a great thing to be able to know something about
celestial beings, though it be based on weak and probable reasoning"; and
again (De Part. Animal. i, 5) that "it is better to know a little about
sublime things, than much about mean things." Accordingly wisdom, to
which knowledge about God pertains, is beyond the reach of man,
especially in this life, so as to be his possession: for this "belongs to
God alone" (Metaph. i, 2): and yet this little knowledge about God which
we can have through wisdom is preferable to all other knowledge.
Reply to Objection 4: The truth and knowledge of indemonstrable principles
depends on the meaning of the terms: for as soon as we know what is a
whole, and what is a part, we know at once that every whole is greater
than its part. Now to know the meaning of being and non-being, of whole
and part, and of other things consequent to being, which are the terms
whereof indemonstrable principles are constituted, is the function of
wisdom: since universal being is the proper effect of the Supreme Cause,
which is God. And so wisdom makes use of indemonstrable principles which
are the object of understanding, not only by drawing conclusions from
them, as other sciences do, but also by passing its judgment on them, and
by vindicating them against those who deny them. Hence it follows that
wisdom is a greater virtue than understanding.
Article 6: Whether charity is the greatest of the theological virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that charity is not the greatest of the theological
virtues. Because, since faith is in the intellect, while hope and charity
are in the appetitive power, it seems that faith is compared to hope and
charity, as intellectual to moral virtue. Now intellectual virtue is
greater than moral virtue, as was made evident above (Question , Article ).
Therefore faith is greater than hope and charity.
Objection 2: Further, when two things are added together, the result is
greater than either one. Now hope results from something added to
charity; for it presupposes love, as Augustine says (Enchiridion viii),
and it adds a certain movement of stretching forward to the beloved.
Therefore hope is greater than charity.
Objection 3: Further, a cause is more noble than its effect. Now faith and
hope are the cause of charity: for a gloss on Mt. 1:3 says that "faith
begets hope, and hope charity." Therefore faith and hope are greater
On the contrary, The Apostle says (1 Cor. 13:13): "Now there remain
faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), the greatness of a virtue, as to its species, is taken from its object. Now, since the three theological virtues look at God as their proper object, it cannot be said that any one of them is greater than another by reason of its having a greater object, but only from the fact that it approaches nearer than another to that object; and in this way charity is greater than the others. Because the others, in their very nature, imply a certain distance from the object: since faith is of what is not seen, and hope is of what is not possessed. But the love of charity is of that which is already possessed: since the beloved is, in a manner, in the lover, and, again, the lover is drawn by desire to union with the beloved; hence it is written (1 Jn. 4:16): "He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him."
Reply to Objection 1: Faith and hope are not related to charity in the same way
as prudence to moral virtue; and for two reasons. First, because the
theological virtues have an object surpassing the human soul: whereas
prudence and the moral virtues are about things beneath man. Now in
things that are above man, to love them is more excellent than to know
them. Because knowledge is perfected by the known being in the knower:
whereas love is perfected by the lover being drawn to the beloved. Now
that which is above man is more excellent in itself than in man: since a
thing is contained according to the mode of the container. But it is the
other way about in things beneath man. Secondly, because prudence
moderates the appetitive movements pertaining to the moral virtues,
whereas faith does not moderate the appetitive movement tending to God,
which movement belongs to the theological virtues: it only shows the
object. And this appetitive movement towards its object surpasses human
knowledge, according to Eph. 3:19: "The charity of Christ which
surpasseth all knowledge."
Reply to Objection 2: Hope presupposes love of that which a man hopes to obtain;
and such love is love of concupiscence, whereby he who desires good,
loves himself rather than something else. On the other hand, charity
implies love of friendship, to which we are led by hope, as stated above
(Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 3: An efficient cause is more noble than its effect: but not a
disposing cause. For otherwise the heat of fire would be more noble than
the soul, to which the heat disposes the matter. It is in this way that
faith begets hope, and hope charity: in the sense, to wit, that one is a
disposition to the other.