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The Life of Virtue - Liberality

Sunday, August 02, 2009
Liberality – the virtue concerned with the right use of money (and, by extension, material goods) – seems like a particularly important one to consider in the light of recent events in the financial sector, which many have blamed on an irresponsible attitude to money both on the part of bankers and of those to whom they lent.

The first important thing to note about this virtue, then, is that it is precisely concerned with the right use of money: money is a means which we acquire and keep in order to expend in the pursuit of various ends (i.e. providing for our needs and those of others). If money ever becomes an end in itself, something we seek just for the pleasure of acquiring it or having it, then we are no longer using it in the right way.

At the same time, St Thomas, following Aristotle, considers virtue to be the mean between two extremes, and warns also against the profligate spending of money: if liberality is concerned with the right use of money then yes, first of all we must use it, not horde it for its own sake, but we must also pay attention to what we use it for. We expend money in the pursuit of various ends, as noted above, and so in order to use it properly we need both to select the right ends to pursue and how money can best be spent to achieve those ends. Thus, for example, we may conclude that giving food, rather than money, to the beggar we meet on the street is the better way to help him, if we feared the money might otherwise be spent on something less beneficial.

In the Gospel account of the widow’s mite (Mark 12: 41-44), Jesus praises the poor widow who gives all that she has to the temple, saying the she has given more than all those who had given much larger sums, which were for them, however, only a small proportion of their wealth. This should remind us that liberality is not so much concerned with the amount we give away, but the attitude we adopt towards money: as St Paul says (2 Cor 9: 7), ‘God loves a cheerful giver.’ In talking of virtue as a mean, too, this doesn’t imply that our expenditure and our giving should be in some kind of arithmetical balance between ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’, even relative to each person’s means: there are some things for which it might be right to give away every penny we have (e.g. supporting a sick relative or, for that matter, entering religious life). Rather, just as the virtue is concerned with our interior attitude to money, so the balance is to be in our attitude: on the one hand not getting obsessed about money in itself, but on the other not ignoring the consequences of our disposal of it.

Gregory Pearson OP


Anonymous commented on 24-Feb-2020 12:18 PM
Great article
Anonymous commented on 03-May-2021 12:17 AM
I am somewhat very confused about the meaning of liberality?

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