Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CXXIX.: OF MAGNANIMITY. 1 - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CXXIX.: OF MAGNANIMITY. 1 - 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.—Does magnanimity obtain in the matter of honours?
R. Magnanimity from its name implies a reaching out of the soul to great things. A man is called magnanimous principally from this, that he has a mind bent upon some great act. Now an act may be great either relatively or absolutely. It is indeed a great act, relatively speaking, to make an excellent use of a trifle. But speaking absolutely, that is a great act which uses a grand thing excellently. Now of the exterior things that come into man’s use, absolutely the greatest is honour, both because it is nearest to virtue, as being a testimony thereto, and also because it is paid to God and to the most excellent of creatures; and again because men postpone all other considerations to the gaining of honour and the avoidance of disgrace. But a man is called magnanimous from what is absolutely and without qualification great, as he is called brave from what is without qualification difficult. And therefore magnanimity obtains in the matter of honours.
§ 3. Those who despise honours in such a way as to do nothing unbecoming to gain them, and do not value them too highly, deserve praise. But if a man were so to despise honours as not to care to acquit himself of performances worthy of honour, that would be blamable. And in this way magnanimity is in the matter of honours: that is to say, it endeavours to make its performances worthy of honour, yet not so as to have great esteem of human honour.
§ 3. The magnanimous man aims at high honours as being worthy of them, or even as things less than what he is worthy of, seeing that virtue cannot be enough honoured by man, since honour is due to it from God. And therefore the magnanimous man is not puffed up by great honours, because he does not account them to be above himself, but rather despises them, and much more does he despise petty honours. And in like manner his spirit is not broken by marks of dishonour, but he despises them, reckoning them to be indignities done him.
Article III.—Is magnanimity a virtue?
R. It is of the essence of human virtue to secure in human life attention to rational good, which is the proper good of man. Now of all the exterior things that enter into human life, honours hold the highest place. And therefore magnanimity, that fixes the golden mean of reason in the matter of great honours, is a virtue.
§ 3. On the saying of Aristotle, “Slow seems to be the gait of the magnanimous man, and his voice deep, and his utterance grave and leisurely,” it is to be remarked that rapidity of gait comes from a man having many things in view, and being in a hurry to accomplish them: whereas the magnanimous man has only great objects in view, and there are few such, and what there are require great attention; and therefore he is slow of gait. In like manner also shrillness and rapidity of utterance belongs to those who are ready to contend on any question that occurs, which is not the habit of magnanimous men: they meddle only with big things.
§ 4. In man there is found something great, which he possesses by the gift of God; and some shortcoming which attaches to him from the weakness of his nature. Now magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great honours in consideration of the gifts that he possesses of God; while humility makes him think little of himself in consideration of his own shortcomings. In like manner also magnanimity despises others inasmuch as they come short of the gifts of God: for it does not set such store by others as to do anything unbecoming for their sakes. But humility honours others and accounts them superior beings, in so far as it discerns in them any of the gifts of God. Hence it is said of the just man: “In his sight the malignant is brought to nothing,”1 which points to the contempt which the magnanimous man feels: “but he glorifieth them that fear the Lord,” which points to the honour that the humble man pays. And thus evidently magnanimity and humility are not contrary, because they proceed on different considerations.
§ 5. On the sayings of Aristotle that the magnanimous man “does not remember people from whom he has received benefits;” that he is “inactive and a lingerer;” that he “understates his own qualities to the world at large;” that he “cannot live with others;” that he “rather holds unfruitful than fruitful possessions;”—it is to be remarked that these properties, in the way that they belong to the magnanimous man, are not blameworthy, but exceedingly to be praised. First of all, as to his being said not to bear in mind the persons of whom he has received benefits, that is to be understood of his not liking to receive benefits from others without conferring on them greater benefits in return, which belongs to the perfection of gratitude, in the act of which he wishes highly to excel, as in the acts of other virtues. In like manner also it is said, in the second place, that he is inactive and a lingerer, not that he fails in doing the work that is proper to him, but that he does not mix himself up in all manner of works indiscriminately, but only in great works, such as become him. It is said, in the third place, that he practises understatement of his own powers, not in a way opposed to truth by saying abject things of himself that are not true, or denying great things of himself that are true, but by not showing all his greatness, especially to the multitude of meaner persons. In the fourth place it is said that he cannot live with others, that is to say, not on terms of familiarity, except with friends; because he altogether avoids flattery and pretence, which are parts of meanness of spirit. He does however live and converse with others, both great and small, with due discrimination. Again, in the fifth place, it is said that he wills rather to have unfruitful possessions, not of any sort, but good, that is virtuous: for in all things he prefers virtue to utility, as something greater: for useful things are sought after for the supplying of some deficiency, such as stands not with magnanimity.
§ 1. Magnanimity fixes not on any manner of honour, but on great honour. But great honour is due to a great work of virtue. Hence the magnanimous man aims at great works in every line of virtue, making it his aim to do things worthy of great honour.
§ 3. There is a certain beauty of its kind proper to every virtue: but there is a certain added grace from the mere magnitude of the virtuous work, due to magnanimity, which makes all the virtues greater.
§ 1. As the Philosopher says: “It belongs to the magnanimous man to want nothing, or hardly anything.” This however must be understood in human measure: for it is beyond the condition of man to have no wants at all. For every man needs first of all the divine assistance, and secondly also human assistance, for man is naturally a social animal, not being self-sufficient for the purposes of life.
Article VIII.—Do the goods of fortune contribute to magnanimity?
R. Magnanimity regards two objects, honour as its matter, and some great deed in view as its end. Goods of fortune co-operate to both these objects. For honour is paid to the virtuous, not by the wise only, but also by the multitude. Now the multitude make most account of exterior goods of fortune: consequently greater honour is paid by them to those who have the exterior goods of fortune. In like manner again goods of fortune serve as instruments to acts of virtue, because by riches and positions of authority and friends there is given us opportunity for action. Clearly then goods of fortune contribute to magnanimity.
§ 1. Virtue is said to be self-sufficient, because it can exist even without these exterior goods: nevertheless it needs these exterior goods to have more of a free hand in its working.
§ 2. The magnanimous man despises exterior goods, as not accounting them great goods for which he ought to do anything unbecoming, yet not without accounting them useful for doing the work of virtue.
§ 3. Whoever does not account a thing great, is neither very glad if he gets it, nor very much grieved if he loses it; and therefore because the magnanimous man does not account as great the exterior goods of fortune, he is not much elated at their presence, nor greatly dejected at their loss.
[1 ]See Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 98—101. (Trl.)
[1 ]Psalm xiv. 4.