Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLV.: OF THE POTENTIAL PARTS OF TEMPERANCE; AND FIRST OF CONTINENCE. 1 - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLV.: OF THE POTENTIAL PARTS OF TEMPERANCE; AND FIRST OF CONTINENCE. 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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OF THE POTENTIAL PARTS OF TEMPERANCE; AND FIRST OF CONTINENCE.1
Article I.—Is continence a virtue?
R. The name of continence is taken in two several ways by different authors. Some take the name to mean abstinence from all sexual pleasure. In this sense virginity is perfect continence, and widowhood secondary continence. But others call continence resistance to evil passions in a case where they are violent; and this is the way that the Philosopher takes continence. This continence has something of the character of virtue, inasmuch as reason makes a firm stand against the passions, not to be led away by them. Still it does not attain to the perfect standard of moral virtue, according to which even the sensitive appetite is subject to reason, so that violent passions contrary to reason do not arise therein. And therefore the Philosopher says that “continence is not a virtue, but an intermediate condition,” inasmuch as it has something of virtue, and in some respect falls short of virtue. Taking however virtue in the wider sense of the term, to mean any principle whatever of praiseworthy acts, we may say that continence is a virtue.
§ 2. Man is properly that which he is according to reason.
Article III.—Is the concupiscible faculty the subject of continence?
R. Every virtue, whatever subject it resides in, makes that subject differ from the disposition that it has when under the opposite vice. But the concupiscible faculty is precisely in the same state in the continent as in the incontinent man: because in both the one and the other it breaks out into violent evil desires. Hence it is plain that the subject of continence is not the concupiscible faculty. In like manner also the reason is in the same state in both: because both the continent and the incontinent man has his reason straight and right as it should be; and each of them, when he is not under passion, has a purpose of not yielding to unlawful desires. The first difference between them is found in their choice of action: because the continent man, violent as are his passions, chooses to withstand them for reason’s sake: while the incontinent man chooses to yield to his, for all the contradiction of reason. And therefore the subject in which continence resides must be that power of the soul whose act is choice; and that is the will.
Article IV.—Is continence better than temperance?
R. Taking continence to mean the resistance of reason to strong evil desires, temperance is much better than continence: because the good of virtue is praiseworthy from being according to reason; and the good of reason is more robust in the temperate man, in whom even the very sensitive appetite is subject, and as it were broken in, to reason, than in the continent man, whose sensitive appetite makes violent resistance to reason by evil passions. Hence continence stands to temperance as the imperfect to the perfect.
§ 2. There are two possible causes for the strength or weakness of passion. Sometimes the cause is corporal: as some from their physical constitution have stronger inclinations than others; and again some have opportunities of pleasure more apt to inflame desire than others have. Arising from such a cause, weakness of passion diminishes merit; while strength of passion increases it. But sometimes weakness of passion is traceable to a praiseworthy spiritual cause, namely, to intensity of charity, or to strength of reason, as is the case with the temperate man. And in this way weakness of passion increases merit by reason of the cause that it is due to.
§ 3. The will stands nearer to reason than does the sensitive appetite. Hence the good of reason, which is what is praiseworthy in virtue, is shown to be greater by its reaching, not only to the will, but also to the concupiscible faculty, as is the case with the temperate man,—greater than it would be if it reached only to the will, as is the case with him who is merely continent.
[1 ]St. Thomas’s view of continence will prove scarcely intelligible to the reader who is not master of the contents of a note subjoined to I-II. q. 58. art. 3. (Trl.)