QUESTION 63: OF RESPECT OF PERSONS
We must now consider the vices opposed to the aforesaid parts of
justice. First we shall consider respect of persons which is opposed to
distributive justice; secondly we shall consider the vices opposed to
Under the first head there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether respect of persons is a sin?
(2) Whether it takes place in the dispensation of spiritualities?
(3) Whether it takes place in showing honor?
(4) Whether it takes place in judicial sentences?
Article 1: Whether respect of persons is a sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that respect of persons is not a sin. For the word
"person" includes a reference to personal dignity [*Cf. FP, Question , Article ,
ad 2]. Now it belongs to distributive justice to consider personal
dignity. Therefore respect of persons is not a sin.
Objection 2: Further, in human affairs persons are of more importance than
things, since things are for the benefit of persons and not conversely.
But respect of things is not a sin. Much less, therefore, is respect of
Objection 3: Further, no injustice or sin can be in God. Yet God seems to
respect persons, since of two men circumstanced alike He sometimes
upraises one by grace, and leaves the other in sin, according to Mt.
24:40: "Two shall be in a bed [Vulg.: 'field' [*'Bed' is the reading of
Lk. 17:34]], one shall be taken, and one shall be left." Therefore
respect of persons is not a sin.
On the contrary, Nothing but sin is forbidden in the Divine law. Now
respect of persons is forbidden, Dt. 1:17: "Neither shall you respect any
man's person." Therefore respect of persons is a sin.
I answer that, Respect of persons is opposed to distributive justice.
For the equality of distributive justice consists in allotting various
things to various persons in proportion to their personal dignity.
Accordingly, if one considers that personal property by reason of which
the thing allotted to a particular person is due to him, this is respect
not of the person but of the cause. Hence a gloss on Eph. 6:9, "There is
no respect of persons with God [Vulg.: 'Him']," says that "a just judge
regards causes, not persons." For instance if you promote a man to a
professorship on account of his having sufficient knowledge, you consider
the due cause, not the person; but if, in conferring something on
someone, you consider in him not the fact that what you give him is
proportionate or due to him, but the fact that he is this particular man
(e.g. Peter or Martin), then there is respect of the person, since you
give him something not for some cause that renders him worthy of it, but
simply because he is this person. And any circumstance that does not
amount to a reason why this man be worthy of this gift, is to be referred
to his person: for instance if a man promote someone to a prelacy or a
professorship, because he is rich or because he is a relative of his, it
is respect of persons. It may happen, however, that a circumstance of
person makes a man worthy as regards one thing, but not as regards
another: thus consanguinity makes a man worthy to be appointed heir to an
estate, but not to be chosen for a position of ecclesiastical authority:
wherefore consideration of the same circumstance of person will amount to
respect of persons in one matter and not in another. It follows,
accordingly, that respect of persons is opposed to distributive justice
in that it fails to observe due proportion. Now nothing but sin is
opposed to virtue: and therefore respect of persons is a sin.
Reply to Objection 1: In distributive justice we consider those circumstances of
a person which result in dignity or right, whereas in respect of persons
we consider circumstances that do not so result.
Reply to Objection 2: Persons are rendered proportionate to and worthy of things
which are distributed among them, by reason of certain things pertaining
to circumstances of person, wherefore such conditions ought to be
considered as the proper cause. But when we consider the persons
themselves, that which is not a cause is considered as though it were;
and so it is clear that although persons are more worthy, absolutely
speaking, yet they are not more worthy in this regard.
Reply to Objection 3: There is a twofold giving. one belongs to justice, and
occurs when we give a man his due: in such like givings respect of
persons takes place. The other giving belongs to liberality, when one
gives gratis that which is not a man's due: such is the bestowal of the
gifts of grace, whereby sinners are chosen by God. In such a giving there
is no place for respect of persons, because anyone may, without
injustice, give of his own as much as he will, and to whom he will,
according to Mt. 20:14,15, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will? .
. . Take what is thine, and go thy way."
Article 2: Whether respect of persons takes place in the dispensation of spiritual goods?
Objection 1: It would seem that respect of persons does not take place in the
dispensation of spiritual goods. For it would seem to savor of respect of
persons if a man confers ecclesiastical dignity or benefice on account of
consanguinity, since consanguinity is not a cause whereby a man is
rendered worthy of an ecclesiastical benefice. Yet this apparently is not
a sin, for ecclesiastical prelates are wont to do so. Therefore the sin
of respect of persons does not take place in the conferring of spiritual
Objection 2: Further, to give preference to a rich man rather than to a poor
man seems to pertain to respect of persons, according to James 2:2,3.
Nevertheless dispensations to marry within forbidden degrees are more
readily granted to the rich and powerful than to others. Therefore the
sin of respect of persons seems not to take place in the dispensation of
Objection 3: Further, according to jurists [*Cap. Cum dilectus.] it suffices
to choose a good man, and it is not requisite that one choose the better
man. But it would seem to savor of respect of persons to choose one who
is less good for a higher position. Therefore respect of persons is not a
sin in spiritual matters.
Objection 4: Further, according to the law of the Church (Cap. Cum dilectus.)
the person to be chosen should be "a member of the flock." Now this would
seem to imply respect of persons, since sometimes more competent persons
would be found elsewhere. Therefore respect of persons is not a sin in
On the contrary, It is written (James 2:1): "Have not the faith of our
Lord Jesus Christ . . . with respect of persons." On these words a gloss
of Augustine says: "Who is there that would tolerate the promotion of a
rich man to a position of honor in the Church, to the exclusion of a poor
man more learned and holier?" [*Augustine, Ep. ad Hieron. clxvii.]
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), respect of persons is a sin, in
so far as it is contrary to justice. Now the graver the matter in which
justice is transgressed, the more grievous the sin: so that, spiritual
things being of greater import than temporal, respect of persons is a
more grievous sin in dispensing spiritualities than in dispensing
temporalities. And since it is respect of persons when something is
allotted to a person out of proportion to his deserts, it must be
observed that a person's worthiness may be considered in two ways. First,
simply and absolutely: and in this way the man who abounds the more in
the spiritual gifts of grace is the more worthy. Secondly, in relation to
the common good; for it happens at times that the less holy and less
learned man may conduce more to the common good, on account of worldly
authority or activity, or something of the kind. And since the
dispensation of spiritualities is directed chiefly to the common good,
according to 1 Cor. 12:7, "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to
every man unto profit," it follows that in the dispensation of
spiritualities the simply less good are sometimes preferred to the
better, without respect of persons, just as God sometimes bestows
gratuitous graces on the less worthy.
Reply to Objection 1: We must make a distinction with regard to a prelate's
kinsfolk: for sometimes they are less worthy, both absolutely speaking,
and in relation to the common good: and then if they are preferred to the
more worthy, there is a sin of respect of persons in the dispensation of
spiritual goods, whereof the ecclesiastical superior is not the owner,
with power to give them away as he will, but the dispenser, according to
1 Cor. 4:1, "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ,
and the dispensers of the mysteries of God." Sometimes however the
prelate's kinsfolk are as worthy as others, and then without respect of
persons he can lawfully give preference to his kindred since there is at
least this advantage, that he can trust the more in their being of one
mind with him in conducting the business of the Church. Yet he would have
to forego so doing for fear of scandal, if anyone might take an example
from him and give the goods of the Church to their kindred without regard
to their deserts.
Reply to Objection 2: Dispensations for contracting marriage came into use for
the purpose of strengthening treaties of peace: and this is more
necessary for the common good in relation to persons of standing, so that
there is no respect of persons in granting dispensations more readily to
Reply to Objection 3: In order that an election be not rebutted in a court of
law, it suffices to elect a good man, nor is it necessary to elect the
better man, because otherwise every election might have a flaw. But as
regards the conscience of an elector, it is necessary to elect one who is
better, either absolutely speaking, or in relation to the common good.
For if it is possible to have one who is more competent for a post, and
yet another be preferred, it is necessary to have some cause for this. If
this cause have anything to do with the matter in point, he who is
elected will, in this respect, be more competent; and if that which is
taken for cause have nothing to do with the matter, it will clearly be
respect of persons.
Reply to Objection 4: The man who is taken from among the members of a particular
Church, is generally speaking more useful as regards the common good,
since he loves more the Church wherein he was brought up. For this reason
it was commanded (Dt. 17:15): "Thou mayest not make a man of another
nation king, who is not thy brother."
Article 3: Whether respect of persons takes place in showing honor and respect?
Objection 1: It would seem that respect of persons does not take place in
showing honor and respect. For honor is apparently nothing else than
"reverence shown to a person in recognition of his virtue," as the
Philosopher states (Ethic. i, 5). Now prelates and princes should be
honored although they be wicked, even as our parents, of whom it is
written (Ex. 20:12): "Honor thy father and thy mother." Again masters,
though they be wicked, should be honored by their servants, according to
1 Tim. 6:1: "Whoever are servants under the yoke, let them count their
masters worthy of all honor." Therefore it seems that it is not a sin to
respect persons in showing honor.
Objection 2: Further, it is commanded (Lev. 19:32): "Rise up before the hoary
head, and, honor the person of the aged man." But this seems to savor of
respect of persons, since sometimes old men are not virtuous; according
to Dan. 13:5: "Iniquity came out from the ancients of the people [*Vulg.:
'Iniquity came out of Babylon from the ancient judges, that seemed to
govern the people.']." Therefore it is not a sin to respect persons in
Objection 3: Further, on the words of James 2:1, "Have not the faith . . .
with respect of persons," a gloss of Augustine [*Ep. ad Hieron. clxvii.]
says: "If the saying of James, 'If there shall come into your assembly a
man having a golden ring,' etc., refer to our daily meetings, who sins
not here, if however he sin at all?" Yet it is respect of persons to
honor the rich for their riches, for Gregory says in a homily (xxviii in
Evang.): "Our pride is blunted, since in men we honor, not the nature
wherein they are made to God's image, but wealth," so that, wealth not
being a due cause of honor, this will savor of respect of persons.
Therefore it is not a sin to respect persons in showing honor.
On the contrary, A gloss on James 2:1, says: "Whoever honors the rich
for their riches, sins," and in like manner, if a man be honored for
other causes that do not render him worthy of honor. Now this savors of
respect of persons. Therefore it is a sin to respect persons in showing
I answer that, To honor a person is to recognize him as having virtue,
wherefore virtue alone is the due cause of a person being honored. Now it
is to be observed that a person may be honored not only for his own
virtue, but also for another's: thus princes and prelates, although they
be wicked, are honored as standing in God's place, and as representing
the community over which they are placed, according to Prov. 26:8, "As he
that casteth a stone into the heap of Mercury, so is he that giveth honor
to a fool." For, since the gentiles ascribed the keeping of accounts to
Mercury, "the heap of Mercury" signifies the casting up of an account,
when a merchant sometimes substitutes a pebble [*'Lapillus' or 'calculus'
whence the English word 'calculate'] for one hundred marks. So too, is a
fool honored if he stand in God's place or represent the whole community:
and in the same way parents and masters should be honored, on account of
their having a share of the dignity of God Who is the Father and Lord of
all. The aged should be honored, because old age is a sign of virtue,
though this sign fail at times: wherefore, according to Wis. 4:8,9,
"venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of
years; but the understanding of a man is gray hairs, and a spotless life
is old age." The rich ought to be honored by reason of their occupying a
higher position in the community: but if they be honored merely for their
wealth, it will be the sin of respect of persons.
Hence the Replies to the Objections are clear.
Article 4: Whether the sin of respect of persons takes place in judicial sentences?
Objection 1: It would seem that the sin of respect of persons does not take
place in judicial sentences. For respect of persons is opposed to
distributive justice, as stated above (Article ): whereas judicial sentences
seem to pertain chiefly to commutative justice. Therefore respect of
persons does not take place in judicial sentences.
Objection 2: Further, penalties are inflicted according to a sentence. Now it
is not a sin to respect persons in pronouncing penalties, since a heavier
punishment is inflicted on one who injures the person of a prince than on
one who injures the person of others. Therefore respect of persons does
not take place in judicial sentences.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Ecclus. 4:10): "In judging be merciful to
the fatherless." But this seems to imply respect of the person of the
needy. Therefore in judicial sentences respect of persons is not a sin.
On the contrary, It is written (Prov. 18:5): "It is not good to accept
the person in judgment [*Vulg.: 'It is not good to accept the person of
the wicked, to decline from the truth of judgment.']."
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), judgment is an act of
justice, in as much as the judge restores to the equality of justice,
those things which may cause an opposite inequality. Now respect of
persons involves a certain inequality, in so far as something is allotted
to a person out of that proportion to him in which the equality of
justice consists. Wherefore it is evident that judgment is rendered
corrupt by respect of persons.
Reply to Objection 1: A judgment may be looked at in two ways. First, in view of
the thing judged, and in this way judgment is common to commutative and
distributive justice: because it may be decided by judgment how some
common good is to be distributed among many, and how one person is to
restore to another what he has taken from him. Secondly, it may be
considered in view of the form of judgment, in as much as, even in
commutative justice, the judge takes from one and gives to another, and
this belongs to distributive justice. In this way respect of persons may
take place in any judgment.
Reply to Objection 2: When a person is more severely punished on account of a
crime committed against a greater person, there is no respect of persons,
because the very difference of persons causes, in that case, a diversity
of things, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 3; Question , Article , ad 3).
Reply to Objection 3: In pronouncing judgment one ought to succor the needy as
far as possible, yet without prejudice to justice: else the saying of Ex.
23:3 would apply: "Neither shalt thou favor a poor man in judgment."