Summa Th. II-II EN Qu.118 a.5

Whether covetousness is the greatest of sins?



Objection: 1. It seems that covetousness is the greatest of sins. For it is written (Si 10,9): "Nothing is more wicked than a covetous man," and the text continues: "There is not a more wicked thing than to love money: for such a one setteth even his own soul to sale." Tully also says (De Offic. i, under the heading, 'True magnanimity is based chiefly on two things'): "Nothing is so narrow or little minded as to love money." But this pertains to covetousness. Therefore covetousness is the most grievous of sins.
2. Further, the more a sin is opposed to charity, the more grievous it is. Now covetousness is most opposed to charity: for Augustine says (Questions [83], qu. 36) that "greed is the bane of charity." Therefore covetousness is the greatest of sins.
3. Further, the gravity of a sin is indicated by its being incurable: wherefore the sin against the Holy Ghost is said to be most grievous, because it is irremissible. But covetousness is an incurable sin: hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 1) that "old age and helplessness of any kind make men illiberal." Therefore covetousness is the most grievous of sins.
4. Further, the Apostle says (Ep 5,5) that covetousness is "a serving of idols." Now idolatry is reckoned among the most grievous sins. Therefore covetousness is also.

On the contrary Adultery is a more grievous sin than theft, according to Pr 6,30. But theft pertains to covetousness. Therefore covetousness is not the most grievous of sins.
I answer that Every sin, from the very fact that it is an evil, consists in the corruption or privation of some good: while, in so far as it is voluntary, it consists in the desire of some good. Consequently the order of sins may be considered in two ways. First, on the part of the good that is despised or corrupted by sin, and then the greater the good the graver the sin. From this point of view a sin that is against God is most grievous; after this comes a sin that is committed against a man's person, and after this comes a sin against external things, which are deputed to man's use, and this seems to belong to covetousness. Secondly, the degrees of sin may be considered on the part of the good to which the human appetite is inordinately subjected; and then the lesser the good, the more deformed is the sin: for it is more shameful to be subject to a lower than to a higher good. Now the good of external things is the lowest of human goods: since it is less than the good of the body, and this is less than the good of the soul, which is less than the Divine good. From this point of view the sin of covetousness, whereby the human appetite is subjected even to external things, has in a way a greater deformity. Since, however, corruption or privation of good is the formal element in sin, while conversion to a mutable good is the material element, the gravity of the sin is to be judged from the point of view of the good corrupted, rather than from that of the good to which the appetite is subjected. Hence we must assert that covetousness is not simply the most grievous of sins.

Reply to Objection: 1. These authorities speak of covetousness on the part of the good to which the appetite is subjected. Hence (Si 10,10) it is given as a reason that the covetous man "setteth his own soul to sale"; because, to wit, he exposes his soul---that is, his life---to danger for the sake of money. Hence the text continues: "Because while he liveth he hath cast away"---that is, despised---"his bowels," in order to make money. Tully also adds that it is the mark of a "narrow mind," namely, that one be willing to be subject to money.
2. Augustine is taking greed generally, in reference to any temporal good, not in its special acceptation for covetousness: because greed for any temporal good is the bane of charity, inasmuch as a man turns away from the Divine good through cleaving to a temporal good.
3. The sin against the Holy Ghost is incurable in one way, covetousness in another. For the sin against the Holy Ghost is incurable by reason of contempt: for instance, because a man contemns God's mercy, or His justice, or some one of those things whereby man's sins are healed: wherefore incurability of this kind points to the greater gravity of the sin. on the other hand, covetousness is incurable on the part of a human defect; a thing which human nature ever seeks to remedy, since the more deficient one is the more one seeks relief from external things, and consequently the more one gives way to covetousness. Hence incurability of this kind is an indication not of the sin being more grievous, but of its being somewhat more dangerous.
4. Covetousness is compared to idolatry on account of a certain likeness that it bears to it: because the covetous man, like the idolater, subjects himself to an external creature, though not in the same way. For the idolater subjects himself to an external creature by paying it Divine honor, whereas the covetous man subjects himself to an external creature by desiring it immoderately for use, not for worship. Hence it does not follow that covetousness is as grievous a sin as idolatry.



Whether covetousness is a spiritual sin?



Objection: 1. It seems that covetousness is not a spiritual sin. For spiritual sins seem to regard spiritual goods. But the matter of covetousness is bodily goods, namely, external riches. Therefore covetousness is not a spiritual sin.
2. Further, spiritual sin is condivided with sin of the flesh. Now covetousness is seemingly a sin of the flesh, for it results from the corruption of the flesh, as instanced in old people who, through corruption of carnal nature, fall into covetousness. Therefore covetousness is not a spiritual sin.
3. Further, a sin of the flesh is one by which man's body is disordered, according to the saying of the Apostle (1Co 6,18), "He that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body." Now covetousness disturbs man even in his body; wherefore Chrysostom (Hom. xxix in Matth.) compares the covetous man to the man who was possessed by the devil (Mc 5) and was troubled in body. Therefore covetousness seems not to be a spiritual sin.

On the contrary Gregory (Moral. xxxi) numbers covetousness among spiritual vices.
I answer that Sins are seated chiefly in the affections: and all the affections or passions of the soul have their term in pleasure and sorrow, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 5). Now some pleasures are carnal and some spiritual. Carnal pleasures are those which are consummated in the carnal senses---for instance, the pleasures of the table and sexual pleasures: while spiritual pleasures are those which are consummated in the mere apprehension of the soul. Accordingly, sins of the flesh are those which are consummated in carnal pleasures, while spiritual sins are consummated in pleasures of the spirit without pleasure of the flesh. Such is covetousness: for the covetous man takes pleasure in the consideration of himself as a possessor of riches. Therefore covetousness is a spiritual sin.

Reply to Objection: 1. Covetousness with regard to a bodily object seeks the pleasure, not of the body but only of the soul, forasmuch as a man takes pleasure in the fact that he possesses riches: wherefore it is not a sin of the flesh. Nevertheless by reason of its object it is a mean between purely spiritual sins, which seek spiritual pleasure in respect of spiritual objects (thus pride is about excellence), and purely carnal sins, which seek a purely bodily pleasure in respect of a bodily object.
2. Movement takes its species from the term "whereto" and not from the term "wherefrom." Hence a vice of the flesh is so called from its tending to a pleasure of the flesh, and not from its originating in some defect of the flesh.
3. Chrysostom compares a covetous man to the man who was possessed by the devil, not that the former is troubled in the flesh in the same way as the latter, but by way of contrast, since while the possessed man, of whom we read in Mc 5, stripped himself, the covetous man loads himself with an excess of riches.



Whether covetousness is a capital vice?



Objection: 1. It seems that covetousness is not a capital vice. For covetousness is opposed to liberality as the mean, and to prodigality as extreme. But neither is liberality a principal virtue, nor prodigality a capital vice. Therefore covetousness also should not be reckoned a capital vice.
2. Further, as stated above (I-II 84,3 I-II 84,4), those vices are called capital which have principal ends, to which the ends of other vices are directed. But this does not apply to covetousness: since riches have the aspect, not of an end, but rather of something directed to an end, as stated in Ethic. i, 5. Therefore covetousness is not a capital vice.
3. Further, Gregory says (Moral. xv), that "covetousness arises sometimes from pride, sometimes from fear. For there are those who, when they think that they lack the needful for their expenses, allow the mind to give way to covetousness. And there are others who, wishing to be thought more of, are incited to greed for other people's property." Therefore covetousness arises from other vices instead of being a capital vice in respect of other vices.

On the contrary Gregory (Moral. xxxi) reckons covetousness among the capital vices.
I answer that As stated in the Second Objection, a capital vice is one which under the aspect of end gives rise to other vices: because when an end is very desirable, the result is that through desire thereof man sets about doing many things either good or evil. Now the most desirable end is happiness or felicity, which is the last end of human life, as stated above (I-II 1,4 I-II 1,7 I-II 1,8): wherefore the more a thing is furnished with the conditions of happiness, the more desirable it is. Also one of the conditions of happiness is that it be self-sufficing, else it would not set man's appetite at rest, as the last end does. Now riches give great promise of self-sufficiency, as Boethius says (De Consol. iii): the reason of which, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 5), is that we "use money in token of taking possession of something," and again it is written (Qo 10,19): "All things obey money." Therefore covetousness, which is desire for money, is a capital vice.

Reply to Objection: 1. Virtue is perfected in accordance with reason, but vice is perfected in accordance with the inclination of the sensitive appetite. Now reason and sensitive appetite do not belong chiefly to the same genus, and consequently it does not follow that principal vice is opposed to principal virtue. Wherefore, although liberality is not a principal virtue, since it does not regard the principal good of the reason, yet covetousness is a principal vice, because it regards money, which occupies a principal place among sensible goods, for the reason given in the Article.On the other hand, prodigality is not directed to an end that is desirable principally, indeed it seems rather to result from a lack of reason. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 1) that "a prodigal man is a fool rather than a knave."
2. It is true that money is directed to something else as its end: yet in so far as it is useful for obtaining all sensible things, it contains, in a way, all things virtually. Hence it has a certain likeness to happiness, as stated in the Article.
3. Nothing prevents a capital vice from arising sometimes out of other vices, as stated above (Question [36], Article [4], ad 1; I-II 84,4), provided that itself be frequently the source of others.



Whether treachery, fraud, falsehood, perjury, restlessness, violence, and insensibility to mercy are daughters of covetousness?



Objection: 1. It seems that the daughters of covetousness are not as commonly stated, namely, "treachery, fraud, falsehood, perjury, restlessness, violence, and insensibility to mercy." For covetousness is opposed to liberality, as stated above (Article [3]). Now treachery, fraud, and falsehood are opposed to prudence, perjury to religion, restlessness to hope, or to charity which rests in the beloved object, violence to justice, insensibility to mercy. Therefore these vices have no connection with covetousness.
2. Further, treachery, fraud and falsehood seem to pertain to the same thing, namely, the deceiving of one's neighbor. Therefore they should not be reckoned as different daughters of covetousness.
3. Further, Isidore (Comment. in ) enumerates nine daughters of covetousness; which are "lying, fraud, theft, perjury, greed of filthy lucre, false witnessing, violence, inhumanity, rapacity." Therefore the former reckoning of daughters is insufficient.
4. Further, the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 1) mentions many kinds of vices as belonging to covetousness which he calls illiberality, for he speaks of those who are "sparing, tight-fisted, skinflints [*(kyminopristes)], misers [*(kimbikes)], who do illiberal deeds," and of those who "batten on whoredom, usurers, gamblers, despoilers of the dead, and robbers." Therefore it seems that the aforesaid enumeration is insufficient.
5. Further, tyrants use much violence against their subjects. But the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 1) that "tyrants who destroy cities and despoil sacred places are not to be called illiberal," i.e. covetous. Therefore violence should not be reckoned a daughter of covetousness.

On the contrary Gregory (Moral. xxxi) assigns to covetousness the daughters mentioned above.
I answer that The daughters of covetousness are the vices which arise therefrom, especially in respect of the desire of an end. Now since covetousness is excessive love of possessing riches, it exceeds in two things. For in the first place it exceeds in retaining, and in this respect covetousness gives rise to "insensibility to mercy," because, to wit, a man's heart is not softened by mercy to assist the needy with his riches [*See Question [30], Article [1]]. In the second place it belongs to covetousness to exceed in receiving, and in this respect covetousness may be considered in two ways. First as in the thought [affectu]. In this way it gives rise to "restlessness," by hindering man with excessive anxiety and care, for "a covetous man shall not be satisfied with money" (Qo 5,9). Secondly, it may be considered in the execution [effectu]. In this way the covetous man, in acquiring other people's goods, sometimes employs force, which pertains to "violence," sometimes deceit, and then if he has recourse to words, it is "falsehood," if it be mere words, "perjury" if he confirm his statement by oath; if he has recourse to deeds, and the deceit affects things, we have "fraud"; if persons, then we have "treachery," as in the case of Judas, who betrayed Christ through covetousness.

Reply to Objection: 1. There is no need for the daughters of a capital sin to belong to that same kind of vice: because a sin of one kind allows of sins even of a different kind being directed to its end; seeing that it is one thing for a sin to have daughters, and another for it to have species.
2. These three are distinguished as stated in the Article.
3. These nine are reducible to the seven aforesaid. For lying and false witnessing are comprised under falsehood, since false witnessing is a special kind of lie, just as theft is a special kind of fraud, wherefore it is comprised under fraud; and greed of filthy lucre belongs to restlessness; rapacity is comprised under violence, since it is a species thereof; and inhumanity is the same as insensibility to mercy.
4. The vices mentioned by Aristotle are species rather than daughters of illiberality or covetousness. For a man may be said to be illiberal or covetous through a defect in giving. If he gives but little he is said to be "sparing"; if nothing, he is "tightfisted": if he gives with great reluctance, he is said to be (kyminopristes) [skinflint], a cumin-seller, as it were, because he makes a great fuss about things of little value. Sometimes a man is said to be illiberal or covetous, through an excess in receiving, and this in two ways. In one way, through making money by disgraceful means, whether in performing shameful and servile works by means of illiberal practices, or by acquiring more through sinful deeds, such as whoredom or the like, or by making a profit where one ought to have given gratis, as in the case of usury, or by laboring much to make little profit. In another way, in making money by unjust means, whether by using violence on the living, as robbers do, or by despoiling the dead, or by preying on one's friends, as gamblers do.
5. Just as liberality is about moderate sums of money, so is illiberality. Wherefore tyrants who take great things by violence, are said to be, not illiberal, but unjust.



Q119: OF PRODIGALITY (THREE ARTICLES)




We must now consider prodigality, under which head there are three points of inquiry:

(1) Whether prodigality is opposite to covetousness?

(2) Whether prodigality is a sin?

(3) Whether it is a graver sin that covetousness?



Whether prodigality is opposite to covetousness?



Objection: 1. It seems that prodigality is not opposite to covetousness. For opposites cannot be together in the same subject. But some are at the same time prodigal and covetous. Therefore prodigality is not opposite to covetousness.
2. Further, opposites relate to one same thing. But covetousness, as opposed to liberality, relates to certain passions whereby man is affected towards money: whereas prodigality does not seem to relate to any passions of the soul, since it is not affected towards money, or to anything else of the kind. Therefore prodigality is not opposite to covetousness.
3. Further, sin takes its species chiefly from its end, as stated above (I-II 62,3). Now prodigality seems always to be directed to some unlawful end, for the sake of which the prodigal squanders his goods. Especially is it directed to pleasures, wherefore it is stated (Lc 15,13) of the prodigal son that he "wasted his substance living riotously." Therefore it seems that prodigality is opposed to temperance and insensibility rather than to covetousness and liberality.

On the contrary The Philosopher says (Ethic. ii, 7; iv, 1) that prodigality is opposed to liberality, and illiberality, to which we give here the name of covetousness.
I answer that In morals vices are opposed to one another and to virtue in respect of excess and deficiency. Now covetousness and prodigality differ variously in respect of excess and deficiency. Thus, as regards affection for riches, the covetous man exceeds by loving them more than he ought, while the prodigal is deficient, by being less careful of them than he ought: and as regards external action, prodigality implies excess in giving, but deficiency in retaining and acquiring, while covetousness, on the contrary, denotes deficiency in giving, but excess in acquiring and retaining. Hence it is evident that prodigality is opposed to covetousness.

Reply to Objection: 1. Nothing prevents opposites from being in the same subject in different respects. For a thing is denominated more from what is in it principally. Now just as in liberality, which observes the mean, the principal thing is giving, to which receiving and retaining are subordinate, so, too, covetousness and prodigality regard principally giving. Wherefore he who exceeds in giving is said to be "prodigal," while he who is deficient in giving is said to be "covetous." Now it happens sometimes that a man is deficient in giving, without exceeding in receiving, as the Philosopher observes (Ethic. iv, 1). And in like manner it happens sometimes that a man exceeds in giving, and therefore is prodigal, and yet at the same time exceeds in receiving. This may be due either to some kind of necessity, since while exceeding in giving he is lacking in goods of his own, so that he is driven to acquire unduly, and this pertains to covetousness; or it may be due to inordinateness of the mind, for he gives not for a good purpose, but, as though despising virtue, cares not whence or how he receives. Wherefore he is prodigal and covetous in different respects.
2. Prodigality regards passions in respect of money, not as exceeding, but as deficient in them.
3. The prodigal does not always exceed in giving for the sake of pleasures which are the matter of temperance, but sometimes through being so disposed as not to care about riches, and sometimes on account of something else. More frequently, however, he inclines to intemperance, both because through spending too much on other things he becomes fearless of spending on objects of pleasure, to which the concupiscence of the flesh is more prone; and because through taking no pleasure in virtuous goods, he seeks for himself pleasures of the body. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 1) "that many a prodigal ends in becoming intemperate."



Whether prodigality is a sin?



Objection: 1. It seems that prodigality is not a sin. For the Apostle says (1Tm 6,10): "Covetousness [Douay: 'desire of money'] is the root of all evils." But it is not the root of prodigality, since this is opposed to it. Therefore prodigality is not a sin.
2. Further, the Apostle says (1Tm 6,17-18): "Charge the rich of this world . . . to give easily, to communicate to others." Now this is especially what prodigal persons do. Therefore prodigality is not a sin.
3. Further, it belongs to prodigality to exceed in giving and to be deficient in solicitude about riches. But this is most becoming to the perfect, who fulfil the words of Our Lord (Mt 6,34), "Be not . . . solicitous for tomorrow," and (Mt 19,21), "Sell all [Vulg.: 'what'] thou hast, and give to the poor." Therefore prodigality is not a sin.

On the contrary The prodigal son is held to blame for his prodigality.
I answer that As stated above (Article [1]), the opposition between prodigality and covetousness is one of excess and deficiency; either of which destroys the mean of virtue. Now a thing is vicious and sinful through corrupting the good of virtue. Hence it follows that prodigality is a sin.

Reply to Objection: 1. Some expound this saying of the Apostle as referring, not to actual covetousness, but to a kind of habitual covetousness, which is the concupiscence of the "fomes" [*Cf. I-II 81,3, ad 2], whence all sins arise. Others say that he is speaking of a general covetousness with regard to any kind of good: and in this sense also it is evident that prodigality arises from covetousness; since the prodigal seeks to acquire some temporal good inordinately, namely, to give pleasure to others, or at least to satisfy his own will in giving. But to one that reviews the passage correctly, it is evident that the Apostle is speaking literally of the desire of riches, for he had said previously (1Tm 6,9): "They that will become rich," etc. In this sense covetousness is said to be "the root of all evils," not that all evils always arise from covetousness, but because there is no evil that does not at some time arise from covetousness. Wherefore prodigality sometimes is born of covetousness, as when a man is prodigal in going to great expense in order to curry favor with certain persons from whom he may receive riches.
2. The Apostle bids the rich to be ready to give and communicate their riches, according as they ought. The prodigal does not do this: since, as the Philosopher remarks (Ethic. iv, 1), "his giving is neither good, nor for a good end, nor according as it ought to be. For sometimes they give much to those who ought to be poor, namely, to buffoons and flatterers, whereas to the good they give nothing."
3. The excess in prodigality consists chiefly, not in the total amount given, but in the amount over and above what ought to be given. Hence sometimes the liberal man gives more than the prodigal man, if it be necessary. Accordingly we must reply that those who give all their possessions with the intention of following Christ, and banish from their minds all solicitude for temporal things, are not prodigal but perfectly liberal.



Whether prodigality is a more grievous sin than covetousness?



Objection: 1. It seems that prodigality is a more grievous sin than covetousness. For by covetousness a man injures his neighbor by not communicating his goods to him, whereas by prodigality a man injures himself, because the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 1) that "the wasting of riches, which are the means whereby a man lives, is an undoing of his very being." Now he that injures himself sins more grievously, according to Si 14,5, "He that is evil to himself, to whom will he be good?" Therefore prodigality is a more grievous sin than covetousness.
2. Further, a disorder that is accompanied by a laudable circumstance is less sinful. Now the disorder of covetousness is sometimes accompanied by a laudable circumstance, as in the case of those who are unwilling to spend their own, lest they be driven to accept from others: whereas the disorder of prodigality is accompanied by a circumstance that calls for blame, inasmuch as we ascribe prodigality to those who are intemperate, as the Philosopher observes (Ethic. iv, 1). Therefore prodigality is a more grievous sin than covetousness.
3. Further, prudence is chief among the moral virtues, as stated above (Question [56], Article [1], ad 1; I-II 61,2, ad 1). Now prodigality is more opposed to prudence than covetousness is: for it is written (Pr 21,20): "There is a treasure to be desired, and oil in the dwelling of the just; and the foolish man shall spend it": and the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 6) that "it is the mark of a fool to give too much and receive nothing." Therefore prodigality is a more grievous sin than covetousness.

On the contrary The Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 6) that "the prodigal seems to be much better than the illiberal man."
I answer that Prodigality considered in itself is a less grievous sin than covetousness, and this for three reasons. First, because covetousness differs more from the opposite virtue: since giving, wherein the prodigal exceeds, belongs to liberality more than receiving or retaining, wherein the covetous man exceeds. Secondly, because the prodigal man is of use to the many to whom he gives, while the covetous man is of use to no one, not even to himself, as stated in Ethic. iv, 6. Thirdly, because prodigality is easily cured. For not only is the prodigal on the way to old age, which is opposed to prodigality, but he is easily reduced to a state of want, since much useless spending impoverishes him and makes him unable to exceed in giving. Moreover, prodigality is easily turned into virtue on account of its likeness thereto. On the other hand, the covetous man is not easily cured, for the reason given above (Question [118], Article [5], ad 3).

Reply to Objection: 1. The difference between the prodigal and the covetous man is not that the former sins against himself and the latter against another. For the prodigal sins against himself by spending that which is his, and his means of support, and against others by spending the wherewithal to help others. This applies chiefly to the clergy, who are the dispensers of the Church's goods, that belong to the poor whom they defraud by their prodigal expenditure. In like manner the covetous man sins against others, by being deficient in giving; and he sins against himself, through deficiency in spending: wherefore it is written (Qo 6,2): "A man to whom God hath given riches . . . yet doth not give him the power to eat thereof." Nevertheless the prodigal man exceeds in this, that he injures both himself and others yet so as to profit some; whereas the covetous man profits neither others nor himself, since he does not even use his own goods for his own profit.
2. In speaking of vices in general, we judge of them according to their respective natures: thus, with regard to prodigality we note that it consumes riches to excess, and with regard to covetousness that it retains them to excess. That one spend too much for the sake of intemperance points already to several additional sins, wherefore the prodigal of this kind is worse, as stated in Ethic. iv, 1. That an illiberal or covetous man refrain from taking what belongs to others, although this appears in itself to call for praise, yet on account of the motive for which he does so it calls for blame, since he is unwilling to accept from others lest he be forced to give to others.
3. All vices are opposed to prudence, even as all virtues are directed by prudence: wherefore if a vice be opposed to prudence alone, for this very reason it is deemed less grievous.



Q120: OF "EPIKEIA" OR EQUITY (TWO ARTICLES)




We must now consider "epikeia," under which head there are two points of inquiry:

(1) Whether "epikeia" is a virtue?

(2) Whether it is a part of justice?




Whether "epikeia" [*(epieikeia)] is a virtue?



Objection: 1. It seems that "epikeia" is not a virtue. For no virtue does away with another virtue. Yet "epikeia" does away with another virtue, since it sets aside that which is just according to law, and seemingly is opposed to severity. Therefore "epikeia" is not a virtue.
2. Further, Augustine says (De Vera Relig. xxxi): "With regard to these earthly laws, although men pass judgment on them when they make them, yet, when once they are made and established, the judge must pronounce judgment not on them but according to them." But seemingly "epikeia" pronounces judgment on the law, when it deems that the law should not be observed in some particular case. Therefore "epikeia" is a vice rather than a virtue.
3. Further, apparently it belongs to "epikeia" to consider the intention of the lawgiver, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. v, 10). But it belongs to the sovereign alone to interpret the intention of the lawgiver, wherefore the Emperor says in the Codex of Laws and Constitutions, under Law i: "It is fitting and lawful that We alone should interpret between equity and law." Therefore the act of "epikeia" is unlawful: and consequently "epikeia" is not a virtue.

On the contrary The Philosopher (Ethic. v, 10) states it to be a virtue.
I answer that As stated above (I-II 96,6), when we were treating of laws, since human actions, with which laws are concerned, are composed of contingent singulars and are innumerable in their diversity, it was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case. Legislators in framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view. Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious---for instance, if a madman were to put his sword in deposit, and demand its delivery while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his deposit in order to fight against his country. In these and like cases it is bad to follow the law, and it is good to set aside the letter of the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good. This is the object of "epikeia" which we call equity. Therefore it is evident that "epikeia" is a virtue.

Reply to Objection: 1. "Epikeia" does not set aside that which is just in itself but that which is just as by law established. Nor is it opposed to severity, which follows the letter of the law when it ought to be followed. To follow the letter of the law when it ought not to be followed is sinful. Hence it is written in the Codex of Laws and Constitutions under Law v: "Without doubt he transgresses the law who by adhering to the letter of the law strives to defeat the intention of the lawgiver."
2. It would be passing judgment on a law to say that it was not well made; but to say that the letter of the law is not to be observed in some particular case is passing judgment not on the law, but on some particular contingency.
3. Interpretation is admissible in doubtful cases where it is not allowed to set aside the letter of the law without the interpretation of the sovereign. But when the case is manifest there is need, not of interpretation, but of execution.




Summa Th. II-II EN Qu.118 a.5