Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CXXIV.: OF MARTYRDOM. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CXXIV.: OF MARTYRDOM. - 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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§ 2. The first and principal motive of martyrdom is charity, acting in the capacity of the virtue commanding; but fortitude is its proper motive in the capacity of the virtue eliciting.1 Martyrdom then is a display of both virtues. But the merit of it comes of charity, like the merit of every other act of virtue. And therefore without charity it avails nothing.
Article III.—Is martyrdom the act above all others of greatest perfection?
R. We may speak of an act of virtue in two ways: in one way according to the species of the act itself, as fixed by reference to the virtue that proximately elicits it; and in that way martyrdom, consisting in the due suffering of death, cannot possibly be the most perfect of acts of virtue, because the suffering of death is not praiseworthy in itself, but only inasmuch as it is directed to some good end consisting in an act of virtue, as faith or the love of God: hence that act of virtue, being the end, is the better. In another way an act of virtue may be considered in reference to the prime motive, which is the love of charity; and it is from this relation particularly that an act derives its value as tending to perfection of life, because as the Apostle says: “Charity is the bond of perfection.”1 But of all virtuous acts martyrdom pre-eminently argues the perfection of charity; because a man proves himself to love a thing the more, the more lovable the thing that he despises for its sake, and the more hateful the thing that he chooses to suffer rather than lose it. But of all the goods of the present life man most loves life itself, and contrariwise most hates death, especially a death attended with pain and bodily torments, “by the fear of which,” as Augustine says, “even brute animals are restrained from the greatest pleasures.” And therefore, of human acts, martyrdom is the most perfect of its kind, as being the sign of the greatest charity, according to the text: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”2
§ 1. There is no act of perfection falling under counsel, that in some contingency may not fall under precept, and be of necessity to salvation: as Augustine says that a man falls under the necessity of observing continence by reason of the absence or illness of his wife. And therefore it is not against the perfection of martyrdom, if in some case it is of necessity to salvation.
Article IV.—Is death essential to martyrdom?
R. A martyr is so called as being a witness of the Christian faith, that faith which proposes to us to despise the things that are seen for the things that are unseen. Martyrdom therefore supposes a man to bear witness to his faith, showing in very deed that he despises all present advantages in order to arrive at future and invisible goods. But so long as his bodily life remains to a man, he has not yet shown in very deed his contempt of all the goods of the body. For men are wont to make light of kinsmen and possessions, and even to suffer bodily agonies, to save their lives. Hence it is that Satan urged against Job: “Skin for skin, and all that a man hath he will give for his life.”1 And therefore the essence of martyrdom, full and perfect, requires the suffering of death for Christ.
[1 ]An act is elicited by the virtue to which it immediately belongs, but commanded by a higher virtue which puts in motion the virtue that elicits the act. Cf. II-II. q. 26. art. 7. (Trl.)
[1 ]Coloss. iii. 14.
[2 ]St. John xv. 13.
[1 ]Job iii 4.