QUESTION 137: OF PERSEVERANCE
We must now consider perseverance and the vices opposed to it. Under the
head of perseverance there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether perseverance is a virtue?
(2) Whether it is a part of fortitude?
(3) Of its relation to constancy;
(4) Whether it needs the help of grace?
Article 1: Whether perseverance is a virtue?
Objection 1: It seems that perseverance is not a virtue. For, according to the
Philosopher (Ethic. vii, 7), continency is greater than perseverance. But
continency is not a virtue, as stated in Ethic. iv, 9. Therefore
perseverance is not a virtue.
Objection 2: Further, "by virtue man lives aright," according to Augustine (De
Lib. Arb. ii, 19). Now according to the same authority (De Persever. i),
no one can be said to have perseverance while living, unless he persevere
until death. Therefore perseverance is not a virtue.
Objection 3: Further, it is requisite of every virtue that one should persist
unchangeably in the work of that virtue, as stated in Ethic. ii, 4. But
this is what we understand by perseverance: for Tully says (De Invent.
Rhet. ii) that "perseverance is the fixed and continued persistence in a
well-considered purpose." Therefore perseverance is not a special virtue,
but a condition of every virtue.
On the contrary, Andronicus [*Chrysippus: in De Affect.] says that
"perseverance is a habit regarding things to which we ought to stand, and
those to which we ought not to stand, as well as those that are
indifferent." Now a habit that directs us to do something well, or to
omit something, is a virtue. Therefore perseverance is a virtue.
I answer that, According to the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 3), "virtue is
about the difficult and the good"; and so where there is a special kind
of difficulty or goodness, there is a special virtue. Now a virtuous deed
may involve goodness or difficulty on two counts. First, from the act's
very species, which is considered in respect of the proper object of that
act: secondly, from the length of time, since to persist long in
something difficult involves a special difficulty. Hence to persist long
in something good until it is accomplished belongs to a special virtue.
Accordingly just as temperance and fortitude are special virtues, for
the reason that the one moderates pleasures of touch (which is of itself
a difficult thing), while the other moderates fear and daring in
connection with dangers of death (which also is something difficult in
itself), so perseverance is a special virtue, since it consists in
enduring delays in the above or other virtuous deeds, so far as necessity
Reply to Objection 1: The Philosopher is taking perseverance there, as it is
found in one who bears those things which are most difficult to endure
long. Now it is difficult to endure, not good, but evil. And evils that
involve danger of death, for the most part are not endured for a long
time, because often they soon pass away: wherefore it is not on this
account that perseverance has its chief title to praise. Among other
evils foremost are those which are opposed to pleasures of touch, because
evils of this kind affect the necessaries of life: such are the lack of
food and the like, which at times call for long endurance. Now it is not
difficult to endure these things for a long time for one who grieves not
much at them, nor delights much in the contrary goods; as in the case of
the temperate man, in whom these passions are not violent. But they are
most difficult to bear for one who is strongly affected by such things,
through lacking the perfect virtue that moderates these passions.
Wherefore if perseverance be taken in this sense it is not a perfect
virtue, but something imperfect in the genus of virtue. On the other
hand, if we take perseverance as denoting long persistence in any kind of
difficult good, it is consistent in one who has even perfect virtue: for
even if it is less difficult for him to persist, yet he persists in the
more perfect good. Wherefore such like perseverance may be a virtue,
because virtue derives perfection from the aspect of good rather than
from the aspect of difficulty.
Reply to Objection 2: Sometimes a virtue and its act go by the same name: thus
Augustine says (Tract. in Joan. lxxix): "Faith is to believe without
seeing." Yet it is possible to have a habit of virtue without performing
the act: thus a poor man has the habit of magnificence without exercising
the act. Sometimes, however, a person who has the habit, begins to
perform the act, yet does not accomplish it, for instance a builder
begins to build a house, but does not complete it. Accordingly we must
reply that the term "perseverance" is sometimes used to denote the habit
whereby one chooses to persevere, sometimes for the act of persevering:
and sometimes one who has the habit of perseverance chooses to persevere
and begins to carry out his choice by persisting for a time, yet
completes not the act, through not persisting to the end. Now the end is
twofold: one is the end of the work, the other is the end of human life.
Properly speaking it belongs to perseverance to persevere to the end of
the virtuous work, for instance that a soldier persevere to the end of
the fight, and the magnificent man until his work be accomplished. There
are, however, some virtues whose acts must endure throughout the whole
of life, such as faith, hope, and charity, since they regard the last end
of the entire life of man. Wherefore as regards these which are the
principal virtues, the act of perseverance is not accomplished until the
end of life. It is in this sense that Augustine speaks of perseverance as
denoting the consummate act of perseverance.
Reply to Objection 3: Unchangeable persistence may belong to a virtue in two
ways. First, on account of the intended end that is proper to that
virtue; and thus to persist in good for a long time until the end,
belongs to a special virtue called perseverance, which intends this as
its special end. Secondly, by reason of the relation of the habit to its
subject: and thus unchangeable persistence is consequent upon every
virtue, inasmuch as virtue is a "quality difficult to change."
Article 2: Whether perseverance is a part of fortitude?
Objection 1: It seems that perseverance is not a part of fortitude. For,
according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 7), "perseverance is about
pains of touch." But these belong to temperance. Therefore perseverance
is a part of temperance rather than of fortitude.
Objection 2: Further, every part of a moral virtue is about certain passions
which that virtue moderates. Now perseverance does not imply moderation
of the passions: since the more violent the passions, the more
praiseworthy is it to persevere in accordance with reason. Therefore it
seems that perseverance is a part not of a moral virtue, but rather of
prudence which perfects the reason.
Objection 3: Further, Augustine says (De Persev. i) that no one can lose
perseverance; whereas one can lose the other virtues. Therefore
perseverance is greater than all the other virtues. Now a principal
virtue is greater than its part. Therefore perseverance is not a part of
a virtue, but is itself a principal virtue.
On the contrary, Tully (De Invent. Rhet. ii) reckons perseverance as a
part of fortitude.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ; FS, Question , Articles ,4), a
principal virtue is one to which is principally ascribed something that
lays claim to the praise of virtue, inasmuch as it practices it in
connection with its own matter, wherein it is most difficult of
accomplishment. In accordance with this it has been stated (Question , Article )
that fortitude is a principal virtue, because it observes firmness in
matters wherein it is most difficult to stand firm, namely in dangers of
death. Wherefore it follows of necessity that every virtue which has a
title to praise for the firm endurance of something difficult must be
annexed to fortitude as secondary to principal virtue. Now the endurance
of difficulty arising from delay in accomplishing a good work gives
perseverance its claim to praise: nor is this so difficult as to endure
dangers of death. Therefore perseverance is annexed to fortitude, as
secondary to principal virtue.
Reply to Objection 1: The annexing of secondary to principal virtues depends not
only on the matter [*Cf. Question , Article , ad 2], but also on the mode,
because in everything form is of more account than matter. Wherefore
although, as to matter, perseverance seems to have more in common with
temperance than with fortitude, yet, in mode, it has more in common with
fortitude, in the point of standing firm against the difficulty arising
from length of time.
Reply to Objection 2: The perseverance of which the Philosopher speaks (Ethic.
vii, 4,7) does not moderate any passions, but consists merely in a
certain firmness of reason and will. But perseverance, considered as a
virtue, moderates certain passions, namely fear of weariness or failure
on account of the delay. Hence this virtue, like fortitude, is in the
Reply to Objection 3: Augustine speaks there of perseverance, as denoting, not a
virtuous habit, but a virtuous act sustained to the end, according to Mt.
24:13, "He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved." Hence it
is incompatible with such like perseverance for it to be lost, since it
would no longer endure to the end.
Article 3: Whether constancy pertains to perseverance?
Objection 1: It seems that constancy does not pertain to perseverance. For
constancy pertains to patience, as stated above (Question , Article ): and
patience differs from perseverance. Therefore constancy does not pertain
Objection 2: Further, "virtue is about the difficult and the good." Now it
does not seem difficult to be constant in little works, but only in great
deeds, which pertain to magnificence. Therefore constancy pertains to
magnificence rather than to perseverance.
Objection 3: Further, if constancy pertained to perseverance, it would seem nowise to differ from it, since both denote a kind of unchangeableness. Yet they differ: for Macrobius (In Somn. Scip. i) condivides constancy with firmness by which he indicates perseverance, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore constancy does not pertain to perseverance.
On the contrary, One is said to be constant because one stands to a
thing. Now it belongs to perseverance to stand to certain things, as
appears from the definition given by Andronicus. Therefore constancy
belongs to perseverance.
I answer that, Perseverance and constancy agree as to end, since it
belongs to both to persist firmly in some good: but they differ as to
those things which make it difficult to persist in good. Because the
virtue of perseverance properly makes man persist firmly in good, against
the difficulty that arises from the very continuance of the act: whereas
constancy makes him persist firmly in good against difficulties arising
from any other external hindrances. Hence perseverance takes precedence
of constancy as a part of fortitude, because the difficulty arising from
continuance of action is more intrinsic to the act of virtue than that
which arises from external obstacles.
Reply to Objection 1: External obstacles to persistence in good are especially
those which cause sorrow. Now patience is about sorrow, as stated above
(Question , Article ). Hence constancy agrees with perseverance as to end: while
it agrees with patience as to those things which occasion difficulty. Now
the end is of most account: wherefore constancy pertains to perseverance
rather than to patience.
Reply to Objection 2: It is more difficult to persist in great deeds: yet in
little or ordinary deeds, it is difficult to persist for any length of
time, if not on account of the greatness of the deed which magnificence
considers, yet from its very continuance which perseverance regards.
Hence constancy may pertain to both.
Reply to Objection 3: Constancy pertains to perseverance in so far as it has
something in common with it: but it is not the same thing in the point of
their difference, as stated in the Article.
Article 4: Whether perseverance needs the help of grace?
Objection 1: It seems that perseverance does not need the help of grace. For
perseverance is a virtue, as stated above (Article ). Now according to Tully
(De Invent. Rhet. ii) virtue acts after the manner of nature. Therefore
the sole inclination of virtue suffices for perseverance. Therefore this
does not need the help of grace.
Objection 2: Further, the gift of Christ's grace is greater than the harm
brought upon us by Adam, as appears from Rm. 5:15, seqq. Now "before sin
man was so framed that he could persevere by means of what he had
received," as Augustine says (De Correp. et Grat. xi). Much more
therefore can man, after being repaired by the grace of Christ, persevere
without the help of a further grace.
Objection 3: Further, sinful deeds are sometimes more difficult than deeds of
virtue: hence it is said in the person of the wicked (Wis. 5:7): "We . .
. have walked through hard ways." Now some persevere in sinful deeds
without the help of another. Therefore man can also persevere in deeds of
virtue without the help of grace.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Persev. i): "We hold that
perseverance is a gift of God, whereby we persevere unto the end, in
I answer that, As stated above (Article , ad 2; Article , ad 3), perseverance
has a twofold signification. First, it denotes the habit of perseverance,
considered as a virtue. In this way it needs the gift of habitual grace,
even as the other infused virtues. Secondly, it may be taken to denote
the act of perseverance enduring until death: and in this sense it needs
not only habitual grace, but also the gratuitous help of God sustaining
man in good until the end of life, as stated above (FS, Question , Article ),
when we were treating of grace. Because, since the free-will is
changeable by its very nature, which changeableness is not taken away
from it by the habitual grace bestowed in the present life, it is not in
the power of the free-will, albeit repaired by grace, to abide
unchangeably in good, though it is in its power to choose this: for it is
often in our power to choose yet not to accomplish.
Reply to Objection 1: The virtue of perseverance, so far as it is concerned,
inclines one to persevere: yet since it is a habit, and a habit is a
thing one uses at will, it does not follow that a person who has the
habit of virtue uses it unchangeably until death.
Reply to Objection 2: As Augustine says (De Correp. et Grat. xi), "it was given
to the first man, not to persevere, but to be able to persevere of his
free-will: because then no corruption was in human nature to make
perseverance difficult. Now, however, by the grace of Christ, the
predestined receive not only the possibility of persevering, but
perseverance itself. Wherefore the first man whom no man threatened, of
his own free-will rebelling against a threatening God, forfeited so great
a happiness and so great a facility of avoiding sin: whereas these,
although the world rage against their constancy, have persevered in
Reply to Objection 3: Man is able by himself to fall into sin, but he cannot by
himself arise from sin without the help of grace. Hence by falling into
sin, so far as he is concerned man makes himself to be persevering in
sin, unless he be delivered by God's grace. On the other hand, by doing
good he does not make himself to be persevering in good, because he is
able, by himself, to sin: wherefore he needs the help of grace for that