QUESTION 107: OF INGRATITUDE
We must now consider ingratitude, under which head there are four points
(1) Whether ingratitude is always a sin?
(2) Whether ingratitude is a special sin?
(3) Whether every act of ingratitude is a mortal sin?
(4) Whether favors should be withdrawn from the ungrateful?
Article 1: Whether ingratitude is always a sin?
Objection 1: It seems that ingratitude is not always a sin. For Seneca says
(De Benef. iii) that "he who does not repay a favor is ungrateful." But
sometimes it is impossible to repay a favor without sinning, for instance
if one man has helped another to commit a sin. Therefore, since it is not
a sin to refrain from sinning, it seems that ingratitude is not always a
Objection 2: Further, every sin is in the power of the person who commits it:
because, according to Augustine (De Lib. Arb. iii; Retract. i), "no man
sins in what he cannot avoid." Now sometimes it is not in the power of
the sinner to avoid ingratitude, for instance when he has not the means
of repaying. Again forgetfulness is not in our power, and yet Seneca
declares (De Benef. iii) that "to forget a kindness is the height of
ingratitude." Therefore ingratitude is not always a sin.
Objection 3: Further, there would seem to be no repayment in being unwilling
to owe anything, according to the Apostle (Rm. 13:8), "Owe no man
anything." Yet "an unwilling debtor is ungrateful," as Seneca declares
(De Benef. iv). Therefore ingratitude is not always a sin.
On the contrary, Ingratitude is reckoned among other sins (2 Tim. 3:2),
where it is written: "Disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked." etc.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article , ad 1, Article ) a debt of
gratitude is a moral debt required by virtue. Now a thing is a sin from
the fact of its being contrary to virtue. Wherefore it is evident that
every ingratitude is a sin.
Reply to Objection 1: Gratitude regards a favor received: and he that helps
another to commit a sin does him not a favor but an injury: and so no
thanks are due to him, except perhaps on account of his good will,
supposing him to have been deceived, and to have thought to help him in
doing good, whereas he helped him to sin. In such a case the repayment
due to him is not that he should be helped to commit a sin, because this
would be repaying not good but evil, and this is contrary to gratitude.
Reply to Objection 2: No man is excused from ingratitude through inability to
repay, for the very reason that the mere will suffices for the repayment
of the debt of gratitude, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 1).
Forgetfulness of a favor received amounts to ingratitude, not indeed the
forgetfulness that arises from a natural defect, that is not subject to
the will, but that which arises from negligence. For, as Seneca observes
(De Benef. iii), "when forgetfulness of favors lays hold of a man, he has
apparently given little thought to their repayment."
Reply to Objection 3: The debt of gratitude flows from the debt of love, and from
the latter no man should wish to be free. Hence that anyone should owe
this debt unwillingly seems to arise from lack of love for his benefactor.
Article 2: Whether ingratitude is a special sin?
Objection 1: It seems that ingratitude is not a special sin. For whoever sins
acts against God his sovereign benefactor. But this pertains to
ingratitude. Therefore ingratitude is not a special sin.
Objection 2: Further, no special sin is contained under different kinds of
sin. But one can be ungrateful by committing different kinds of sin, for
instance by calumny, theft, or something similar committed against a
benefactor. Therefore ingratitude is not a special sin.
Objection 3: Further, Seneca writes (De Benef. iii): "It is ungrateful to take
no notice of a kindness, it is ungrateful not to repay one, but it is the
height of ingratitude to forget it." Now these do not seem to belong to
the same species of sin. Therefore ingratitude is not a special sin.
On the contrary, Ingratitude is opposed to gratitude or thankfulness,
which is a special virtue. Therefore it is a special sin.
I answer that, Every vice is denominated from a deficiency of virtue,
because deficiency is more opposed to virtue: thus illiberality is more
opposed to liberality than prodigality is. Now a vice may be opposed to
the virtue of gratitude by way of excess, for instance if one were to
show gratitude for things for which gratitude is not due, or sooner than
it is due, as stated above (Question , Article ). But still more opposed to
gratitude is the vice denoting deficiency of gratitude, because the
virtue of gratitude, as stated above (Question , Article ), inclines to return
something more. Wherefore ingratitude is properly denominated from being
a deficiency of gratitude. Now every deficiency or privation takes its
species from the opposite habit: for blindness and deafness differ
according to the difference of sight and hearing. Therefore just as
gratitude or thankfulness is one special virtue, so also is ingratitude
one special sin.
It has, however, various degrees corresponding in their order to the
things required for gratitude. The first of these is to recognize the
favor received, the second to express one's appreciation and thanks, and
the third to repay the favor at a suitable place and time according to
one's means. And since what is last in the order of generation is first
in the order of destruction, it follows that the first degree of
ingratitude is when a man fails to repay a favor, the second when he
declines to notice or indicate that he has received a favor, while the
third and supreme degree is when a man fails to recognize the reception
of a favor, whether by forgetting it or in any other way. Moreover, since
opposite affirmation includes negation, it follows that it belongs to the
first degree of ingratitude to return evil for good, to the second to
find fault with a favor received, and to the third to esteem kindness as
though it were unkindness.
Reply to Objection 1: In every sin there is material ingratitude to God, inasmuch
as a man does something that may pertain to ingratitude. But formal
ingratitude is when a favor is actually contemned, and this is a special
Reply to Objection 2: Nothing hinders the formal aspect of some special sin from
being found materially in several kinds of sin, and in this way the
aspect of ingratitude is to be found in many kinds of sin.
Reply to Objection 3: These three are not different species but different degrees
of one special sin.
Article 3: Whether ingratitude is always a mortal sin?
Objection 1: It seems that ingratitude is always a mortal sin. For one ought
to be grateful to God above all. But one is not ungrateful to God by
committing a venial sin: else every man would be guilty of ingratitude.
Therefore no ingratitude is a venial sin.
Objection 2: Further, a sin is mortal through being contrary to charity, as
stated above (Question , Article ). But ingratitude is contrary to charity,
since the debt of gratitude proceeds from that virtue, as stated above
(Question , Article , ad 3; Article , ad 2). Therefore ingratitude is always a
Objection 3: Further, Seneca says (De Benef. ii): "Between the giver and the
receiver of a favor there is this law, that the former should forthwith
forget having given, and the latter should never forget having received."
Now, seemingly, the reason why the giver should forget is that he may be
unaware of the sin of the recipient, should the latter prove ungrateful;
and there would be no necessity for that if ingratitude were a slight
sin. Therefore ingratitude is always a mortal sin.
Objection 4: On the contrary, No one should be put in the way of committing a
mortal sin. Yet, according to Seneca (De Benef. ii), "sometimes it is
necessary to deceive the person who receives assistance, in order that he
may receive without knowing from whom he has received." But this would
seem to put the recipient in the way of ingratitude. Therefore
ingratitude is not always a mortal sin.
I answer that, As appears from what we have said above (Article ), a man may
be ungrateful in two ways: first, by mere omission, for instance by
failing to recognize the favor received, or to express his appreciation
of it or to pay something in return, and this is not always a mortal sin,
because, as stated above (Question , Article ), the debt of gratitude requires a
man to make a liberal return, which, however, he is not bound to do;
wherefore if he fail to do so, he does not sin mortally. It is
nevertheless a venial sin, because it arises either from some kind of
negligence or from some disinclination to virtue in him. And yet
ingratitude of this kind may happen to be a mortal sin, by reason either
of inward contempt, or of the kind of thing withheld, this being needful
to the benefactor, either simply, or in some case of necessity.
Secondly, a man may be ungrateful, because he not only omits to pay the
debt of gratitude, but does the contrary. This again is sometimes mortal
and sometimes a venial sin, according to the kind of thing that is done.
It must be observed, however, that when ingratitude arises from a mortal
sin, it has the perfect character of ingratitude, and when it arises from
venial sin, it has the imperfect character.
Reply to Objection 1: By committing a venial sin one is not ungrateful to God to
the extent of incurring the guilt of perfect ingratitude: but there is
something of ingratitude in a venial sin, in so far as it removes a
virtuous act of obedience to God.
Reply to Objection 2: When ingratitude is a venial sin it is not contrary to, but
beside charity: since it does not destroy the habit of charity, but
excludes some act thereof.
Reply to Objection 3: Seneca also says (De Benef. vii): "When we say that a man
after conferring a favor should forget about it, it is a mistake to
suppose that we mean him to shake off the recollection of a thing so very
praiseworthy. When we say: He must not remember it, we mean that he must
not publish it abroad and boast about it."
Reply to Objection 4: He that is unaware of a favor conferred on him is not
ungrateful, if he fails to repay it, provided he be prepared to do so if
he knew. It is nevertheless commendable at times that the object of a
favor should remain in ignorance of it, both in order to avoid vainglory,
as when Blessed Nicolas threw gold into a house secretly, wishing to
avoid popularity: and because the kindness is all the greater through the
benefactor wishing not to shame the person on whom he is conferring the
Article 4: Whether favors should be withheld from the ungrateful?
Objection 1: It seems that favors should withheld from the ungrateful. For it
is written (Wis. 16:29): "The hope of the unthankful shall melt away as
the winter's ice." But this hope would not melt away unless favors were
withheld from him. Therefore favors should be withheld from the
Objection 2: Further, no one should afford another an occasion of committing
sin. But the ungrateful in receiving a favor is given an occasion of
ingratitude. Therefore favors should not be bestowed on the ungrateful.
Objection 3: Further, "By what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is
tormented" (Wis. 11:17). Now he that is ungrateful when he receives a
favor sins against the favor. Therefore he should be deprived of the
On the contrary, It is written (Lk. 6:35) that "the Highest . . . is
kind to the unthankful, and to the evil." Now we should prove ourselves
His children by imitating Him (Lk. 6:36). Therefore we should not
withhold favors from the ungrateful.
I answer that, There are two points to be considered with regard to an
ungrateful person. The first is what he deserves to suffer and thus it is
certain that he deserves to be deprived of our favor. The second is, what
ought his benefactor to do? For in the first place he should not easily
judge him to be ungrateful, since, as Seneca remarks (De Benef. iii), "a
man is often grateful although he repays not," because perhaps he has not
the means or the opportunity of repaying. Secondly, he should be inclined
to turn his ungratefulness into gratitude, and if he does not achieve
this by being kind to him once, he may by being so a second time. If,
however, the more he repeats his favors, the more ungrateful and evil the
other becomes, he should cease from bestowing his favors upon him.
Reply to Objection 1: The passage quoted speaks of what the ungrateful man
deserves to suffer.
Reply to Objection 2: He that bestows a favor on an ungrateful person affords him
an occasion not of sin but of gratitude and love. And if the recipient
takes therefrom an occasion of ingratitude, this is not to be imputed to
Reply to Objection 3: He that bestows a favor must not at once act the part of a
punisher of ingratitude, but rather that of a kindly physician, by
healing the ingratitude with repeated favors.