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Ethics as a Work of CharityThomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue$
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David Decosimo

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780804790635

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804790635.001.0001

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Sin and the Limits of Virtue

Sin and the Limits of Virtue

(p.239) 9 Sin and the Limits of Virtue
Ethics as a Work of Charity

David Decosimo

Stanford University Press

This chapter considers the role sin plays in Thomas’s understanding of pagan virtue, showing how deeply Augustinian his account is. For Thomas, certain sins are inevitable for fallen humans without charity, and this checks the quality of the virtues pagans can attain. Treating Thomas on “servile fear,” the chapter shows that pagans are capable of a non-idolatrous self-love and needn’t take self as final end. Still, without grace, none can perfectly fulfill the natural obligation to love God above all and the imperfection in virtue that this entails distinguishes the pagan’s virtue from the believer’s acquired virtue. Nonetheless, this difference is in degree not kind: pagan virtue remains on the bright side of the line that divides virtue from its imperfect antecedents. Virtue is exceedingly rare, and Thomas invites all to lament sin’s inevitable and destructive impact on all virtue in this life – Christians and pagan alike.

Keywords:   servile fear, original sin, natural obligation to love God above all, religion, lament, dependency, inevitable sin, hyper-Augustinian, self-love, grace

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