Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLVII.: OF CLEMENCY AND MEEKNESS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLVII.: OF CLEMENCY AND MEEKNESS. - 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 CLEMENCY AND MEEKNESS.
Article I.—Are clemency and meekness quite the same thing?
R. Moral virtue deals with passions and actions. Now interior passions are mainsprings of exterior actions, or obstacles to the same. And therefore the virtues that regulate the passions concur in some sort to the same effect as the virtues that regulate actions, though they differ in species from them. Thus to justice it properly belongs to restrain a man from theft, to which he is inclined by that inordinate love and desire of money which is checked by liberality;1 and therefore liberality concurs with justice to the effect of abstinence from theft. And so in the matter before us, the passion of anger provokes one to inflict too severe a penalty; while it is the direct office of clemency to tend to diminish penalties, which office may be made ineffectual by excess of anger. And therefore meekness, as curbing the impetuosity of anger, concurs to the same effect as clemency; and yet the two differ from one another, inasmuch as clemency goes to moderate the external punishment, while meekness properly diminishes the passion of anger.
§ 2. Clemency works for the diminution of penalties, not bringing them below the standard fixed by right reason, but still below the standard of the general law which legal justice observes: clemency however, in view of particular considerations, diminishes the penalties, and decrees that the man is not to be further punished.
§ 1. One thing is the diminution of penalties according to the intention of the legislator, though not according to the words of the law; and this belongs to equity. Another thing is a moderation of temper withholding a man from using his full power to inflict penalties; and this properly belongs to clemency. And this moderation of temper comes from a certain sweetness of disposition, moving one to abhor all that can give pain to another. Hence Seneca says, “Clemency is a gentleness of spirit.” Conversely, sternness seems to be the quality of a mind that makes no scruple of putting others to pain.
Article IV.—Are clemency and meekness virtues of the first rank?
R. There may be virtues of the first rank, which are so not absolutely and in all respects, but relatively and in a certain sort. Now clemency and meekness cannot be virtues absolutely of the first rank, because their merit consists in removing men from evil by diminishing anger or punishment, whereas it is more perfect to attain to good than to be free from evil. And therefore the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and even prudence and justice, which absolutely lead to good, are absolutely greater virtues than clemency and meekness. But relatively clemency and meekness may well claim a certain pre-eminence among all the virtues that resist impulses to evil. For the impetuosity of anger, which is mitigated by meekness, is a particular hinderance to the mind of man from freely judging of the truth: and therefore meekness particularly makes a man master of himself; while clemency in abating penalties seems to come very near to charity, which is the chief of virtues, prompting us to do good to our neighbours and prevent evil to them.
§ 1. Meekness prepares a man for the knowledge of God by removing obstacles to that knowledge, first, by making him master of himself through the abatement of anger; and again, inasmuch as it is a point of meekness not to contradict the words of truth, as many men do contradict them, under the excitement of anger.
[1 ]St. Thomas has told us (q. 117. art. 2. § 1.): “The interior passions”—of love and desire of money—“are the immediate matter of liberality: but the external thing, money, is the object of those passions.” (Trl.)