Does the mode of charity fall under
a precept of divine law?
It seems that the mode of charity
falls under a precept of divine law:
Objection 1: Matthew
19:17 says, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the
commandments,” and from this it is apparent that the
observance of the commandments is sufficient for entering
into life. But good works are not sufficient for
entering into life unless they are done out of charity;
for 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I should distribute
all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver
my body to be burned, but have not charity, it profits
me nothing.” Therefore, the mode of charity is
contained in a precept.
The mode of charity properly concerns doing all things for
the sake of God. But this falls under a precept; for in
1 Corinthians 10:31 the Apostle says, “Do everything for
the glory of God.” Therefore, the mode of charity falls
under a precept.
If the mode of charity does not fall under a precept, then
someone can fulfill the precepts of the law without having
charity. But what can be done without charity can be done
without grace, which is always joined to charity.
Therefore, someone can fulfill the precepts of the Law
without grace. But as is clear from Augustine in De
Haeresibus, this is the error of Pelagius. Therefore,
the mode of charity is contained in a precept.
But contrary to this:
Whoever does not observe a precept commits a mortal sin.
Therefore, if the mode of charity fell under a precept, it
would follow that if someone did something without acting
out of charity, he would commit a mortal sin. But anyone
who does not have charity is such that he acts without
acting out of charity. Therefore, it follows that anyone
who does not have charity commits a mortal sin in every
act that he does, no matter how good it is. But this is
There have been contrary opinions on this matter.
Some have claimed that, absolutely speaking, the mode
of charity falls under a precept. And it is not
impossible for someone lacking charity to observe this
precept, since he can dispose himself to having charity
infused in him by God. Nor is it the case that
whenever someone lacking charity does something good,
he commits a mortal sin. For ‘Act out of charity’
is an affirmative precept and imposes an obligation
not for all times, but only for those times at which
someone has charity.
By contrast, others have claimed that the mode of charity
does not fall under a precept in any way at all.
Both sides have asserted the truth in a certain respect.
For there are two possible ways to think of the act
In the first way, one is thinking of it as a certain
act in its own right (quidam actus per se).
And in this sense it falls under the precept of the
Law that is proposed specifically about this act, viz.,
“You shall love the Lord your God, and you shall love
your neighbor.” And on this score, the first opinion
has asserted the truth, since it is not impossible to
observe this precept, which has to do with the act of
charity. For a man can dispose himself to have
charity, and then, when he has it, he can make use of
In a second way, the act
of charity can be thought of insofar as it is a mode
of the acts of the other virtues, i.e., insofar as the
acts of the other virtues are ordered to charity, which
is, as 1 Timothy 1:5 says, the end of the precept.
For as was explained above (q. 12, a. 1), the intending
of an end is a sort of formal mode of an act ordered
to that end. And in this sense, what the second
opinion asserted is true, viz., that the mode of charity
does not fall under a precept. That is to say,
the precept “Honor your father, etc.” includes only
honoring one’s father and not honoring one’s father
out of charity. Hence, even if someone who is
honoring his father does not have charity, he is not
transgressing this precept—and this is so even if he
is transgressing the precept that has to do with the
act of charity and so merits punishment because of this
Reply to objection 1:
Our Lord did not say, “If you wish to enter into life,
keep one commandment.” Rather, He said, “Keep all the
commandments”—among which is the commandment about love of
God and neighbor.
Reply to objection 2:
The commandment of charity includes loving God with one’s
whole heart, which has to do with referring all things to
God. And so a man cannot fulfill the precept of charity
without referring all things to God. So, then, one who
honors his parents is obligated to honor them out of
charity, but this obligation comes from the force of the
precept “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole
heart” and not from the force of the precept “Honor your
parents.” Moreover, since these two affirmative precepts
do not impose an obligation for all times, they can impose
obligations for diverse times. And so it is possible for
someone to fulfill the precept about honoring one’s
parents at a time when the precept concerning the omission
of the mode of charity is not being transgressed.
Reply to objection 3:
A man cannot observe all the precepts of the Law unless he
fulfills the precept of charity, which cannot be done
without grace. And so what Pelagius claimed is
impossible, viz., that man fulfills the Law without grace.