QUESTION 21: OF PRESUMPTION
We must now consider presumption, under which head there are four points
(1) What is the object in which presumption trusts?
(2) Whether presumption is a sin?
(3) To what is it opposed?
(4) From what vice does it arise?
Article 1: Whether presumption trusts in God or in our own power?
Objection 1: It would seem that presumption, which is a sin against the Holy
Ghost, trusts, not in God, but in our own power. For the lesser the
power, the more grievously does he sin who trusts in it too much. But
man's power is less than God's. Therefore it is a more grievous sin to
presume on human power than to presume on the power of God. Now the sin
against the Holy Ghost is most grievous. Therefore presumption, which is
reckoned a species of sin against the Holy Ghost, trusts to human rather
than to Divine power.
Objection 2: Further, other sins arise from the sin against the Holy Ghost,
for this sin is called malice which is a source from which sins arise.
Now other sins seem to arise from the presumption whereby man presumes on
himself rather than from the presumption whereby he presumes on God,
since self-love is the origin of sin, according to Augustine (De Civ. Dei
xiv, 28). Therefore it seems that presumption which is a sin against the
Holy Ghost, relies chiefly on human power.
Objection 3: Further, sin arises from the inordinate conversion to a mutable
good. Now presumption is a sin. Therefore it arises from turning to human
power, which is a mutable good, rather than from turning to the power of
God, which is an immutable good.
On the contrary, Just as, through despair, a man despises the Divine
mercy, on which hope relies, so, through presumption, he despises the
Divine justice, which punishes the sinner. Now justice is in God even as
mercy is. Therefore, just as despair consists in aversion from God, so
presumption consists in inordinate conversion to Him.
I answer that, Presumption seems to imply immoderate hope. Now the
object of hope is an arduous possible good: and a thing is possible to a
man in two ways: first by his own power; secondly, by the power of God
alone. With regard to either hope there may be presumption owing to lack
of moderation. As to the hope whereby a man relies on his own power,
there is presumption if he tends to a good as though it were possible to
him, whereas it surpasses his powers, according to Judith 6:15: "Thou
humblest them that presume of themselves." This presumption is contrary
to the virtue of magnanimity which holds to the mean in this kind of hope.
But as to the hope whereby a man relies on the power of God, there may
be presumption through immoderation, in the fact that a man tends to some
good as though it were possible by the power and mercy of God, whereas it
is not possible, for instance, if a man hope to obtain pardon without
repenting, or glory without merits. This presumption is, properly, the
sin against the Holy Ghost, because, to wit, by presuming thus a man
removes or despises the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whereby he is
withdrawn from sin.
Reply to Objection 1: As stated above (Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article ) a sin which
is against God is, in its genus, graver than other sins. Hence
presumption whereby a man relies on God inordinately, is a more grievous
sin than the presumption of trusting in one's own power, since to rely on
the Divine power for obtaining what is unbecoming to God, is to
depreciate the Divine power, and it is evident that it is a graver sin to
detract from the Divine power than to exaggerate one's own.
Reply to Objection 2: The presumption whereby a man presumes inordinately on God,
includes self-love, whereby he loves his own good inordinately. For when
we desire a thing very much, we think we can easily procure it through
others, even though we cannot.
Reply to Objection 3: Presumption on God's mercy implies both conversion to a
mutable good, in so far as it arises from an inordinate desire of one's
own good, and aversion from the immutable good, in as much as it ascribes
to the Divine power that which is unbecoming to it, for thus man turns
away from God's power.
Article 2: Whether presumption is a sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that presumption is not a sin. For no sin is a
reason why man should be heard by God. Yet, through presumption some are
heard by God, for it is written (Judith 9:17): "Hear me a poor wretch
making supplication to Thee, and presuming of Thy mercy." Therefore
presumption on God's mercy is not a sin.
Objection 2: Further, presumption denotes excessive hope. But there cannot be
excess of that hope which is in God, since His power and mercy are
infinite. Therefore it seems that presumption is not a sin.
Objection 3: Further, that which is a sin does not excuse from sin: for the
Master says (Sent. ii, D, 22) that "Adam sinned less, because he sinned
in the hope of pardon," which seems to indicate presumption. Therefore
presumption is not a sin.
On the contrary, It is reckoned a species of sin against the Holy Ghost.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ) with regard to despair,
every appetitive movement that is conformed to a false intellect, is evil
in itself and sinful. Now presumption is an appetitive movement, since it
denotes an inordinate hope. Moreover it is conformed to a false
intellect, just as despair is: for just as it is false that God does not
pardon the repentant, or that He does not turn sinners to repentance, so
is it false that He grants forgiveness to those who persevere in their
sins, and that He gives glory to those who cease from good works: and it
is to this estimate that the movement of presumption is conformed.
Consequently presumption is a sin, but less grave than despair, since,
on account of His infinite goodness, it is more proper to God to have
mercy and to spare, than to punish: for the former becomes God in
Himself, the latter becomes Him by reason of our sins.
Reply to Objection 1: Presumption sometimes stands for hope, because even the
right hope which we have in God seems to be presumption, if it be
measured according to man's estate: yet it is not, if we look at the
immensity of the goodness of God.
Reply to Objection 2: Presumption does not denote excessive hope, as though man hoped too much in God; but through man hoping to obtain from God something unbecoming to Him; which is the same as to hope too little in Him, since it implies a depreciation of His power; as stated above (Article , ad 1).
Reply to Objection 3: To sin with the intention of persevering in sin and through
the hope of being pardoned, is presumptuous, and this does not diminish,
but increases sin. To sin, however, with the hope of obtaining pardon
some time, and with the intention of refraining from sin and of repenting
of it, is not presumptuous, but diminishes sin, because this seems to
indicate a will less hardened in sin.
Article 3: Whether presumption is more opposed to fear than to hope?
Objection 1: It would seem that presumption is more opposed to fear than to
hope. Because inordinate fear is opposed to right fear. Now presumption
seems to pertain to inordinate fear, for it is written (Wis. 17:10): "A
troubled conscience always presumes [Douay: 'forecasteth'] grievous
things," and (Wis. 17:11) that "fear is a help to presumption [*Vulg.:
'Fear is nothing else but a yielding up of the succours from thought.']."
Therefore presumption is opposed to fear rather than to hope.
Objection 2: Further, contraries are most distant from one another. Now
presumption is more distant from fear than from hope, because presumption
implies movement to something, just as hope does, whereas fear denotes
movement from a thing. Therefore presumption is contrary to fear rather
than to hope.
Objection 3: Further, presumption excludes fear altogether, whereas it does
not exclude hope altogether, but only the rectitude of hope. Since
therefore contraries destroy one another, it seems that presumption is
contrary to fear rather than to hope.
On the contrary, When two vices are opposed to one another they are
contrary to the same virtue, as timidity and audacity are opposed to
fortitude. Now the sin of presumption is contrary to the sin of despair,
which is directly opposed to hope. Therefore it seems that presumption
also is more directly opposed to hope.
I answer that, As Augustine states (Contra Julian. iv, 3), "every virtue
not only has a contrary vice manifestly distinct from it, as temerity is
opposed to prudence, but also a sort of kindred vice, alike, not in truth
but only in its deceitful appearance, as cunning is opposed to prudence."
This agrees with the Philosopher who says (Ethic. ii, 8) that a virtue
seems to have more in common with one of the contrary vices than with the
other, as temperance with insensibility, and fortitude with audacity.
Accordingly presumption appears to be manifestly opposed to fear,
especially servile fear, which looks at the punishment arising from God's
justice, the remission of which presumption hopes for; yet by a kind of
false likeness it is more opposed to hope, since it denotes an inordinate
hope in God. And since things are more directly opposed when they belong
to the same genus, than when they belong to different genera, it follows
that presumption is more directly opposed to hope than to fear. For they
both regard and rely on the same object, hope inordinately, presumption
Reply to Objection 1: Just as hope is misused in speaking of evils, and properly
applied in speaking of good, so is presumption: it is in this way that
inordinate fear is called presumption.
Reply to Objection 2: Contraries are things that are most distant from one
another within the same genus. Now presumption and hope denote a movement
of the same genus, which can be either ordinate or inordinate. Hence
presumption is more directly opposed to hope than to fear, since it is
opposed to hope in respect of its specific difference, as an inordinate
thing to an ordinate one, whereas it is opposed to fear, in respect of
its generic difference, which is the movement of hope.
Reply to Objection 3: Presumption is opposed to fear by a generic contrariety,
and to the virtue of hope by a specific contrariety. Hence presumption
excludes fear altogether even generically, whereas it does not exclude
hope except by reason of its difference, by excluding its ordinateness.
Article 4: Whether presumption arises from vainglory?
Objection 1: It would seem that presumption does not arise from vainglory. For
presumption seems to rely most of all on the Divine mercy. Now mercy
[misericordia] regards unhappiness [miseriam] which is contrary to glory.
Therefore presumption does not arise from vainglory.
Objection 2: Further, presumption is opposed to despair. Now despair arises
from sorrow, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 2). Since therefore
opposites have opposite causes, presumption would seem to arise from
pleasure, and consequently from sins of the flesh, which give the most
Objection 3: Further, the vice of presumption consists in tending to some
impossible good, as though it were possible. Now it is owing to ignorance
that one deems an impossible thing to be possible. Therefore presumption
arises from ignorance rather than from vainglory.
On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xxxi, 45) that "presumption of
novelties is a daughter of vainglory."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), presumption is twofold; one
whereby a man relies on his own power, when he attempts something beyond
his power, as though it were possible to him. Such like presumption
clearly arises from vainglory; for it is owing to a great desire for
glory, that a man attempts things beyond his power, and especially
novelties which call for greater admiration. Hence Gregory states
explicitly that presumption of novelties is a daughter of vainglory.
The other presumption is an inordinate trust in the Divine mercy or
power, consisting in the hope of obtaining glory without merits, or
pardon without repentance. Such like presumption seems to arise directly
from pride, as though man thought so much of himself as to esteem that
God would not punish him or exclude him from glory, however much he might
be a sinner.
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.