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Luca Richardson
Luca Richardson

Covetousness



Generally, an unreasonable desire for what we do not possess. In this sense, it differs from concupiscence only in the implied notion of non-possession, and thus may cover all things which are sought after inordinately. Classified under this general head, we may have covetousness of honours, or pride; of the flesh, or concupiscence properly so called; of riches, or covetousness proper (Latin avaritia), or avarice. When covetousness of the flesh or of wealth has for its object that which is already the lawful possession of another, it falls under the ban of the Ninth or Tenth Commandment of God; and such desires, wilfully indulged, partake, as we are told by the Lord (Matthew 5), in their malice, of the nature of the external acts themselves. For he who deliberately desires the possession of another man's lawful wife or goods has already in his heart committed the sin of adultery or theft. In its specific meaning, covetousness looks to riches in themselves, whether of money or of property, whether possessed or not, and pertains less to their acquisition than to their possession or accumulation. Thus defined, it is numbered among the sins which are called capital, because it is, as St. Paul says (1 Timothy 6), a radix omnium peccatorum.




covetousness



The capital sin of covetousness is in reality rather a vice or inclination to sin, which is sinful only in that it proceeds from the unholy condition of original sin in which we are born, and because it leads us into sin. And so far is the desire--natural in us all--to acquire and hold possessions from being reproved as offensive by God, that, if kept within the bounds of reason and justice and resisted triumphantly in its inordinate cravings, it is positively meritorious. Even when indulged, covetousness is not a grievous sin, except in certain conditions which involve offence of God or the neighbour, e.g. when one is prepared to employ, or does actually employ, illicit or unjust means to satisfy the desire of riches, holds to them in defiance of the strict demands of justice or charity, makes them the end rather than the means of happiness, or suffers them to interfere seriously with one's bounden duty to God or man. Nourished and developed into an unrestricted habit, it becomes the fruitful mother of all manner of perfidy, heartlessness and unrest.


Objection 1. It seems that covetousness is not a sin. For covetousness [avaritia] denotes a certain greed for gold [aeris aviditas*], because, to wit, it consists in a desire for money, under which all external goods may be comprised. [The Latin for covetousness "avaritia" is derived from "aveo" to desire; but the Greek philargyria signifies literally "love of money": and it is to this that St. Thomas is alluding (cf. 2, Objection 2)]. Now it is not a sin to desire external goods: since man desires them naturally, both because they are naturally subject to man, and because by their means man's life is sustained (for which reason they are spoken of as his substance). Therefore covetousness is not a sin.


Objection 2. Further, every sin is against either God, or one's neighbor, or oneself, as stated above (I-II:72:4). But covetousness is not, properly speaking, a sin against God: since it is opposed neither to religion nor to the theological virtues, by which man is directed to God. Nor again is it a sin against oneself, for this pertains properly to gluttony and lust, of which the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 6:18): "He that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body." On like manner neither is it apparently a sin against one's neighbor, since a man harms no one by keeping what is his own. Therefore covetousness is not a sin.


Objection 3. Further, things that occur naturally are not sins. Now covetousness comes naturally to old age and every kind of defect, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 1). Therefore covetousness is not a sin.


I answer that, In whatever things good consists in a due measure, evil must of necessity ensue through excess or deficiency of that measure. Now in all things that are for an end, the good consists in a certain measure: since whatever is directed to an end must needs be commensurate with the end, as, for instance, medicine is commensurate with health, as the Philosopher observes (Polit. i, 6). External goods come under the head of things useful for an end, as stated above (II-II:117:3; I-II:02:1). Hence it must needs be that man's good in their respect consists in a certain measure, in other words, that man seeks, according to a certain measure, to have external riches, in so far as they are necessary for him to live in keeping with his condition of life. Wherefore it will be a sin for him to exceed this measure, by wishing to acquire or keep them immoderately. This is what is meant by covetousness, which is defined as "immoderate love of possessing." It is therefore evident that covetousness is a sin.


Reply to Objection 1. It is natural to man to desire external things as means to an end: wherefore this desire is devoid of sin, in so far as it is held in check by the rule taken from the nature of the end. But covetousness exceeds this rule, and therefore is a sin.


Reply to Objection 2. Covetousness may signify immoderation about external things in two ways. First, so as to regard immediately the acquisition and keeping of such things, when, to wit, a man acquires or keeps them more than is due. On this way it is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them, for temporal goods cannot be possessed by many at the same time. Secondly, it may signify immoderation in the internal affection which a man has for riches when, for instance, a man loves them, desires them, or delights in them, immoderately. On this way by covetousness a man sins against himself, because it causes disorder in his affections, though not in his body as do the sins of the flesh.


Objection 1. It seems that covetousness is not a special sin. For Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. iii): "Covetousness, which in Greek is called philargyria, applies not only to silver or money, but also to anything that is desired immoderately." Now in every sin there is immoderate desire of something, because sin consists in turning away from the immutable good, and adhering to mutable goods, as state above (I-II:71:6, Objection 3). Therefore covetousness is a general sin.


Objection 2. Further, according to Isidore (Etym. x), "the covetous [avarus] man" is so called because he is "greedy for brass [avidus aeris]," i.e. money: wherefore in Greek covetousness is called philargyria, i.e. "love of silver." Now silver, which stands for money, signifies all external goods the value of which can be measured by money, as stated above (II-II:117:2 ad 2). Therefore covetousness is a desire for any external thing: and consequently seems to be a general sin.


Objection 3. Further, a gloss on Romans 7:7, "For I had not known concupiscence," says: "The law is good, since by forbidding concupiscence, it forbids all evil." Now the law seems to forbid especially the concupiscence of covetousness: hence it is written (Exodus 20:17): "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods." Therefore the concupiscence of covetousness is all evil, and so covetousness is a general sin.


On the contrary, Covetousness is numbered together with other special sins (Romans 1:29), where it is written: "Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, covetousness" [Douay: 'avarice'], etc.


I answer that, Sins take their species from their objects, as stated above (I-II:72:1). Now the object of a sin is the good towards which an inordinate appetite tends. Hence where there is a special aspect of good inordinately desired, there is a special kind of sin. Now the useful good differs in aspect from the delightful good. And riches, as such, come under the head of useful good, since they are desired under the aspect of being useful to man. Consequently covetousness is a special sin, forasmuch as it is an immoderate love of having possessions, which are comprised under the name of money, whence covetousness [avaritia] is denominated.


Since, however, the verb "to have," which seems to have been originally employed in connection with possessions whereof we are absolute masters, is applied to many other things (thus a man is said to have health, a wife, clothes, and so forth, as stated in De Praedicamentis), consequently the term "covetousness" has been amplified to denote all immoderate desire for having anything whatever. Thus Gregory says in a homily (xvi in Ev.) that "covetousness is a desire not only for money, but also for knowledge and high places, when prominence is immoderately sought after." On this way covetousness is not a special sin: and in this sense Augustine speaks of covetousness in the passage quoted in the First Objection. Wherefore this suffices for the Reply to the First Objection.


Reply to Objection 2. All those external things that are subject to the uses of human life are comprised under the term "money," inasmuch as they have the aspect of useful good. But there are certain external goods that can be obtained by money, such as pleasures, honors, and so forth, which are desirable under another aspect. Wherefore the desire for such things is not properly called covetousness, in so far as it is a special vice.


Objection 1. It seems that covetousness is not opposed to liberality. For Chrysostom, commenting on Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice," says, (Hom. xv in Matth.) that there are two kinds of justice, one general, and the other special, to which covetousness is opposed: and the Philosopher says the same (Ethic. v, 2). Therefore covetousness is not opposed to liberality.


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