Beauty, Temperance, and Virtue (Augustine/Aquinas)

In my studies for a sermon series on self-control (temperance) I’ve been reading what Augustine (d. 430) and Aquinas (d. 1274) had to say about it. I learned that Aquinas has an entire section in his Summa Theologica on temperance. It’s a fascinating read, that’s for sure! I’m still working through it, but here’s a section worth sharing. It’s on beauty, virtue, and self-control. Building on Augustine, Aquinas is answering the objection that temperance (self-control) is not a special virtue:

Although beauty is becoming to every virtue, it is ascribed to temperance, by way of excellence, for two reasons. First, in respect of the generic notion of temperance, which consists in a certain moderate and fitting proportion, and this is what we understand by beauty…. Secondly, because the things from which temperance withholds us, hold the lowest place in man, and are becoming to him by reason of his animal [fallen] nature, as we shall state further on (AA. 4, 5: Q. CXLII., A. 4), wherefore it is natural that such things should defile him.

In consequence beauty is a foremost attribute of temperance which above all hinders man from being defiled. In like manner honesty is a special attribute of temperance: for Isidore says (Etym. x.): An honest man is one who has no defilement, for honesty means an honourable state. This is most applicable to temperance, which withstands the vices that bring most dishonor on man, as we shall state further on (Q. CXLII., A. 4).

 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015