QUESTION 133: OF PUSILLANIMITY
We must now consider pusillanimity. Under this head there are two points
(1) Whether pusillanimity is a sin?
(2) To what virtue is it opposed?
Article 1: Whether pusillanimity is a sin?
Objection 1: It seems that pusillanimity is not a sin. For every sin makes a
man evil, just as every virtue makes a man good. But a fainthearted man
is not evil, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 3). Therefore
pusillanimity is not a sin.
Objection 2: Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 3) that "a fainthearted
man is especially one who is worthy of great goods, yet does not deem
himself worthy of them." Now no one is worthy of great goods except the
virtuous, since as the Philosopher again says (Ethic. iv, 3), "none but
the virtuous are truly worthy of honor." Therefore the fainthearted are
virtuous: and consequently pusillanimity is not a sin.
Objection 3: Further, "Pride is the beginning of all sin" (Ecclus. 10:15). But
pusillanimity does not proceed from pride, since the proud man sets
himself above what he is, while the fainthearted man withdraws from the
things he is worthy of. Therefore pusillanimity is not a sin.
Objection 4: Further, the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 3) that "he who deems
himself less worthy than he is, is said to be fainthearted." Now
sometimes holy men deem themselves less worthy than they are; for
instance, Moses and Jeremias, who were worthy of the office God chose
them for, which they both humbly declined (Ex. 3:11; Jer. 1:6). Therefore
pusillanimity is not a sin.
On the contrary, Nothing in human conduct is to be avoided save sin. Now
pusillanimity is to be avoided: for it is written (Col. 3:21): "Fathers,
provoke not your children to indignation, lest they be discouraged."
Therefore pusillanimity is a sin.
I answer that, Whatever is contrary to a natural inclination is a sin,
because it is contrary to a law of nature. Now everything has a natural
inclination to accomplish an action that is commensurate with its power:
as is evident in all natural things, whether animate or inanimate. Now
just as presumption makes a man exceed what is proportionate to his
power, by striving to do more than he can, so pusillanimity makes a man
fall short of what is proportionate to his power, by refusing to tend to
that which is commensurate thereto. Wherefore as presumption is a sin, so
is pusillanimity. Hence it is that the servant who buried in the earth
the money he had received from his master, and did not trade with it
through fainthearted fear, was punished by his master (Mt. 25; Lk. 19).
Reply to Objection 1: The Philosopher calls those evil who injure their neighbor:
and accordingly the fainthearted is said not to be evil, because he
injures no one, save accidentally, by omitting to do what might be
profitable to others. For Gregory says (Pastoral. i) that if "they who
demur to do good to their neighbor in preaching be judged strictly,
without doubt their guilt is proportionate to the good they might have
done had they been less retiring."
Reply to Objection 2: Nothing hinders a person who has a virtuous habit from
sinning venially and without losing the habit, or mortally and with loss
of the habit of gratuitous virtue. Hence it is possible for a man, by
reason of the virtue which he has, to be worthy of doing certain great
things that are worthy of great honor, and yet through not trying to make
use of his virtue, he sins sometimes venially, sometimes mortally.
Again it may be replied that the fainthearted is worthy of great things
in proportion to his ability for virtue, ability which he derives either
from a good natural disposition, or from science, or from external
fortune, and if he fails to use those things for virtue, he becomes
guilty of pusillanimity.
Reply to Objection 3: Even pusillanimity may in some way be the result of pride:
when, to wit, a man clings too much to his own opinion, whereby he thinks
himself incompetent for those things for which he is competent. Hence it
is written (Prov. 26:16): "The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than
seven men that speak sentences." For nothing hinders him from
depreciating himself in some things, and having a high opinion of himself
in others. Wherefore Gregory says (Pastoral. i) of Moses that "perchance
he would have been proud, had he undertaken the leadership of a numerous
people without misgiving: and again he would have been proud, had he
refused to obey the command of his Creator."
Reply to Objection 4: Moses and Jeremias were worthy of the office to which they
were appointed by God, but their worthiness was of Divine grace: yet
they, considering the insufficiency of their own weakness, demurred;
though not obstinately lest they should fall into pride.
Article 2: Whether pusillanimity is opposed to magnanimity?
Objection 1: It seems that pusillanimity is not opposed to magnanimity. For
the Philosopher says (Ethic., 3) that "the fainthearted man knows not
himself: for he would desire the good things, of which he is worthy, if
he knew himself." Now ignorance of self seems opposed to prudence.
Therefore pusillanimity is opposed to prudence.
Objection 2: Further our Lord calls the servant wicked and slothful who
through pusillanimity refused to make use of the money. Moreover the
Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 3) that the fainthearted seem to be
slothful. Now sloth is opposed to solicitude, which is an act of
prudence, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore pusillanimity is not
opposed to magnanimity.
Objection 3: Further, pusillanimity seems to proceed from inordinate fear:
hence it is written (Is. 35:4): "Say to the fainthearted: Take courage
and fear not." It also seems to proceed from inordinate anger, according
to Col. 3:21, "Fathers, provoke not your children to indignation, lest
they be discouraged." Now inordinate fear is opposed to fortitude, and
inordinate anger to meekness. Therefore pusillanimity is not opposed to
Objection 4: Further, the vice that is in opposition to a particular virtue is
the more grievous according as it is more unlike that virtue. Now
pusillanimity is more unlike magnanimity than presumption is. Therefore
if pusillanimity is opposed to magnanimity, it follows that it is a more
grievous sin than presumption: yet this is contrary to the saying of
Ecclus. 37:3, "O wicked presumption, whence camest thou?" Therefore
pusillanimity is not opposed to magnanimity.
On the contrary, Pusillanimity and magnanimity differ as greatness and
littleness of soul, as their very names denote. Now great and little are
opposites. Therefore pusillanimity is opposed to magnanimity.
I answer that, Pusillanimity may be considered in three ways. First, in
itself; and thus it is evident that by its very nature it is opposed to
magnanimity, from which it differs as great and little differ in
connection with the same subject. For just as the magnanimous man tends
to great things out of greatness of soul, so the pusillanimous man
shrinks from great things out of littleness of soul. Secondly, it may be
considered in reference to its cause, which on the part of the intellect
is ignorance of one's own qualification, and on the part of the appetite
is the fear of failure in what one falsely deems to exceed one's ability.
Thirdly, it may be considered in reference to its effect, which is to
shrink from the great things of which one is worthy. But, as stated above
(Question , Article , ad 3), opposition between vice and virtue depends rather
on their respective species than on their cause or effect. Hence
pusillanimity is directly opposed to magnanimity.
Reply to Objection 1: This argument considers pusillanimity as proceeding from a
cause in the intellect. Yet it cannot be said properly that it is opposed
to prudence, even in respect of its cause: because ignorance of this kind
does not proceed from indiscretion but from laziness in considering one's
own ability, according to Ethic. iv, 3, or in accomplishing what is
within one's power.
Reply to Objection 2: This argument considers pusillanimity from the point of
view of its effect.
Reply to Objection 3: This argument considers the point of view of cause. Nor is
the fear that causes pusillanimity always a fear of the dangers of death:
wherefore it does not follow from this standpoint that pusillanimity is
opposed to fortitude. As regards anger, if we consider it under the
aspect of its proper movement, whereby a man is roused to take vengeance,
it does not cause pusillanimity, which disheartens the soul; on the
contrary, it takes it away. If, however, we consider the causes of anger,
which are injuries inflicted whereby the soul of the man who suffers them
is disheartened, it conduces to pusillanimity.
Reply to Objection 4: According to its proper species pusillanimity is a graver
sin than presumption, since thereby a man withdraws from good things,
which is a very great evil according to Ethic. iv. Presumption, however,
is stated to be "wicked" on account of pride whence it proceeds.