Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CXVIII.: OF COVETOUSNESS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CXVIII.: OF COVETOUSNESS. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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Article I.—Is covetousness a sin?
R. In all that is for an end, goodness consists in the observance of a certain measure: for means to the end must be commensurate with the end, as medicine with health. But exterior goods have the character of things useful to an end. Hence human goodness in the matter of these goods must consist in the observance of a certain measure, as is done by a man seeking to have exterior riches in so far as they are necessary to his life according to his rank and condition. And therefore sin consists in exceeding this measure, and trying to acquire or retain riches beyond the due limit; and this is the proper nature of covetousness, which is defined to be “an immoderate love of having.”1
§ 2. Covetousness may involve immoderation regarding exterior things in two ways: in one way immediately as to the receiving or keeping of them, when one acquires or keeps beyond the due amount; and in this respect it is directly a sin against one’s neighbour, because in exterior riches one man cannot have superabundance without another being in want, since temporal goods cannot be simultaneously possessed by many.1 The other way in which covetousness may involve immoderation, is in interior affections, in immoderate love or desire of, or delight in riches. In this way covetousness is a sin of man against himself by the disordering of his affection. It is also a sin against God by the despising of eternal good for temporal.
Article IV.—Is covetousness always a mortal sin?
R. Covetousness may be taken in two ways. As opposed to justice, covetousness is a mortal sin of its kind: for, taken in this way, it is the part of covetousness unjustly to get or keep the goods of others, which is an act of robbery or theft, and those are mortal sins. It may however be in this kind of covetousness that the offence is only a venial sin on account of the imperfection of the act.2 Taken in another way, covetousness is opposed to liberality; and in this way it involves an inordinate attachment to riches. If therefore the love of riches grows so far as to be preferred to charity, so that for love of riches one hesitates not to act against the love of God and of his neighbour, at that rate covetousness will be a mortal sin. But if the inordination of the love is confined within such bounds that, though the man loves riches to excess, still he does not prefer the love of them to the love of God, and would not for riches’ sake do anything against God and his neighbour, under those limits covetousness is a venial sin.
Article V.—Is covetousness the greatest of sins?
R. Every sin, by the very fact of its being evil, consists in the destruction or removal of some good; while in so far as it is voluntary, it consists in the fixing of the heart on some good. We may rank sins then with regard to the good that is contemned or destroyed by sin; and the greater that is, the more grievous is the sin; and in this point of view sin against God is the most grievous; and after that, sin against the human person; and after that, sin against the exterior things which are assigned to the use of man; and this last category seems to include covetousness. Or in another way we may rank sins in regard of the good on which the human heart is inordinately fixed; and the less that is, the more unseemly is the sin: for it is baser to bow to an inferior good than to a higher and better one. But the good of exterior things is the lowest of human goods: for it is less than the good of the body, and that is less than the good of the soul, and that is less than the good that is for man in God. And in this way the sin of covetousness, whereby the human heart is subjected even to exterior things, has in some sense a greater deformity than the rest. Since however the destruction or removal of good is the formal element in sin, and the turning to the perishable good of creatures is the material element, the grievousness of sin is rather to be judged in respect of the good that is destroyed than in respect of the good to which the desire and heart is subjected. And therefore covetousness is not absolutely the greatest of sins.
Article VII.—Is covetousness a capital sin?
R. That is called a capital vice, from which other vices arise having it as their end. For as an end is much to be desired, the desire of it moves a man to do many things good or evil. But the end most to be desired is happiness, the supreme end of human life. And therefore the more anything partakes of the condition of happiness, the more it is to be desired. Now one of the conditions of happiness is that it should be self-sufficient: otherwise it could not do the office of a supreme end in setting desire to rest. But this self-sufficiency is exactly what riches most of all promise: because, as the Philosopher says, “We use coin as a surety for the acquisition of property;” and it is said, “All things obey money.”1 And therefore covetousness, consisting in the desire of money, is a capital sin.
[1 ]Cf. II-II. q. 77. art. 4. (Trl.)
[1 ]Except the case in which one man’s superabundance is the means of opening new sources of wealth to the whole community. There were not capitalists in St. Thomas’ day, but only hoarders. That was one of the many temporal miseries of the thirteenth century as compared with our own. (Trl.)
[2 ]See above, q. 66. art. 6. § 3. (Trl.)
[1 ]Eccles. x. 19.