William Peraldus, Summa on the Vices

An Outline


Treatise 4. On Avarice

[I. The things that contribute to the hatred of Avarice

II. The types of Avarice

III. The things that provide the occasion for Avarice

IV. The remedies for Avarice]


V. Prodigality, the contrary vice to Avarice



A. Prodigality is differentiated from largess in four ways




1. A prodigal person does not freely give his own possessions, but the wind of vanity blows them from him




a. Someone is not called generous is the wind blows away his cloak

b. Trees are not considered fruitful because the wind knocks down their fruit

c. His hands are insensate as if from the cold


2. A prodigal person does not give away his possessions, but wastes them




a. A person can want to waste his possessions — when he pours liquid into a container that is already full




i. This is like when the prodigal person gives to the rich:  Bestowing gifts on those who already have them is wasteful (cf. Collectio canonum in V libris, 3.117)

ii. Thus, one should give to the poor


a. Luke 14:13

b. Luke 14:21

c. Luke 1:53

d. Ps 131:15

e. 2Kgs 4:6, where the oil ceased its flow once the containers had reached capacity, though for some it stops flowing when the containers are empty (i.e., they gave to the rich, but not the poor)


b. A person can want to waste his possessions — when he pours liquid into a container that is damaged or corrupted




i. When he gives to actors or other corrupt people



a. Sir 12:6

b. Sir 12:1

ii. Two specific cases when the impious should be passed over


a. When a gift would lead to neglecting justice

b. When one with a dishonest trade, such as an actor, asks for a gift


i. There is no difference between sacrifice for demons and giving to actors:  Jerome (cf. Thomas of Chobham, Summa de arte praedicandi, 6)


c. A person can want to waste his possessions — when he gives it away out of vainglory


i. John 8:54

3. A prodigal person's bestowing is a type of bird-catching




a. Bird catchers, fishermen, and those who catch mice cannot be called bountiful because they use food to catch their prey; likewise concerning people who dispense goods to buy others' votes

b. Jer 5:26

4. A prodigal person frequently gives out other people's possessions; the generous person gives of his own possessions


a. One who freely gives another's possessions is not large-minded (Seneca, De clementia, 1.20.3)


B. The evils that stem from prodigality




1. Indigence, as in the example of the prodigal son:  Luke 15:16

2. Owing money to usurers who take everything:  Ps 108:11

3. Rapine, because one who gives prodigally will often steal from others




a. The prodigal person resembles a spider that eats flies and spins useless webs


4. A hatred of spiritual goods


a. A prodigal person will sell all his spiritual goods for 40 gold coins to make a feast




i. This is similar to how Esau sold his birthright for a lentil dish:  Gen 25:30-34

ii. Lam 1:11


b. The prodigal person so despises spiritual things that he would rather feed bodies than souls




i. One should feed souls because they are eternal, unlike the body:  Augustine (cf. Thomas of Chobham, Sermones, 15, attributed here to Gregory)

ii. The prodigal person thinks it is honorable to feed pigs (i.e., lustful and gluttonous people), on the example of the prodigal son:  Luke 15:15

iii. However, he considers it shameful to feed God's sons (i.e., to engage in the pastoral duty of preaching)




a. This hatred of a duty that the son of God wanted him to accept spiritually is an affront

b. Against prelates who look down on preaching:  Ps 2:6

c. Preaching should not be condemned because Jesus preached as did the Apostles


i. Mark 1:38

ii. Luke 1:78-79

iii. John 18:37


C. The foolhardiness of prodigal people




1. A prodigal individual makes himself cursed and reduces his own inheritance or wastes it completely




a. If someone is cursed who reduces his inheritance, what can be said of someone who bankrupts himself (Bernard, De consid., 1.5.6)

b. He who does not retain some of his own goods, bankrupts himself


2. A prodigal individual loves prodigality so much that s/he cannot be prodigal for long (because all the wealth is quickly dissipated)




a. One should use one's family's wealth sparingly because it is foolhardy to engage to do something in such a way that you cannot do it for long: Aristotle


3. The prodigal individual wants to give away items without moderation and ignores the following:




a. Tob 4:9

b. He who has a moderate amount should give a moderate amount, but having a good will can make up for having only a moderate amount


i. You are not truly poor if you your heart has good will (Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 1.5.3)

ii. It is the thought behind the gift which is important: Seneca

iii. If what little is had is given freely, that is a kingly action


4. A prodigal person looks only for sin from riches, and sins both in receiving and giving wealth, while someone else will use the wealth




a. This is similar to how a canal is contaminated by dirty water

b. If you have sense you will seek to be a reservoir instead of a canal (Bernard, Serm. in Cant., 18.3)


5. A prodigal person seeks to exceed God in generosity


a. One should not seek to be more generous than God, as a reservoir cannot run with more water than the spring that supplies it, nor is the reservoir embarrassed to flow with less water (Bernard, Serm in Cant., 18.4)

b. Prodigal people seem generous, but are really just bottomless barrels that cannot contain what is poured into them

c. A prodigal individual is more of a fool than an avaricious one: the greedy person is a fool with respect to God alone, but the prodigal person is a fool with respect to God and the world, for the basis of wisdom is being wise for one's own sake




i. Someone is not wise if s/he is not wise for his/herself (Bernard, De consid., 2.3.6)

ii. Prov 9:12


d. Prodigal people are more evil than greedy ones because the prodigal are evil towards themselves while the greedy are evil towards others


i. Sir 14:5

ii. Sir 14:6


D. Prodigality of the clergy in wasting the Church's goods should be restrained by six things


1. The Church's goods belong to the poor and should be given to them




a. Authorities proving this:


i. Clerics' possessions (the goods of the Church) belong to the poor: Jerome (cf. Decretum, 2, Ca. 16, qu. 1, c. 68)

ii. The goods of the Church protect the poor; clergy who take more than clothing and food for themselves are being barbarous: Bernard

iii. To give what belongs to the poor to those who are not poor is the crime of sacrilege: Bernard (cf. Sententiae ex S. Bernardi operibus depromptae)

iv. It is sacrilegious to give what belongs to the poor to people who are not poor (Jerome, Ep., 66.8)

v. To keep food from the poor and hungry out of caution or timidity or (even worse) to refuse to give it at all is to be more barbarous than robbers (Jerome, Ep., 52.16)

vi. To give from Jesus' inheritance to those who are not poor is very dangerous: Jerome (Petrus Cantor, Verb. abb., 1.45 [attributed here to Jerome])

vii. The naked and the hungry cry for their due (Bernard, De moribus et officio episcoporum [Ep., 42], 2.7)

viii. And they accuse the clergy who withhold clothes from them of increasing vanities by taking away what is necessary for the poor (Bernard, De moribus et officio episcoporum [Ep., 42], 2.7)

ix. The church keeps the riches and decorates itself instead, supporting the excessively curious and the proud, instead of giving the wealth to the poor as it should (Bernard, Apol., 12.28)

x. Commenting on Isa 26:10 it is said: Clerics should tremble who retain surplus income for their own pride and lust, who sin twice over because they not only steal from the poor, but also misuse what is sacred for their own vanity (Bernard, Serm. in Cant., 23.12)




b. The rapine of these people is hazardous for three reasons



i. It is not understood and therefore many do not confess it but simply decide to abstain from it




a. Some confessors do not even mention that the poor's property should be restored

b. If someone would damn a rich man for five gold coins, he would confess and make restitution, but someone who has taken 100 pounds of silver from the poor does not confess and yet thinks he has done penance


ii. It is dangerous because of the magnitude of the sin




a. The Gloss on Matthew 17:26 says: Judas retained the common funds in his coffers, but God turned this to the advantage of the poor


iii. It keeps people from salvation




a. If one were content with one's portion (enough for food and clothing) and give the poor their portion, one would likely achieve salvation

b. How could the mercy of God not be abundant for someone showing mercy?




i. A river does not flow if its spring is dry (Augustine, Enarr. In Ps. 76, 11)

ii. God's mercy flows like a spring and ours is a small stream




a. Commenting on 1Tim 4:8 it is said that anyone who is pious and endures the temptation of the flesh will be beaten, but he will not be destroyed: Ambrose (cf. Ambrosiaster, In epistolam B. Pauli ad Timotheum, 4)




i. This is not to be understood concerning someone who puts faith in his almsgiving and still sins, for he is not worthy of salvation

ii. It is to be understood in reference to someone who gives alms and hopes for the mercy that will help him restrain himself from sinning




a. I cannot recollect watching someone die a bad death who led a generous life: Jerome


iii. How can God give mercy to those who in a prodigal manner dispose of his goods that are meant for the poor?


a. In doing this they place the goods of the poor in a pig's mouth or the devil's mouth, for they are the devil's servants

b. These people are the devil's sheep whom he shears each year like the clothes they retain for themselves to wear

c. Their rapine is also disgraceful


i. Any person who would steal donations from the poor, even if he later spent them on feasts, would be would be considered contemptible


a. Those who give superfluous feasts paid for by the goods of the Church are contemptible because they steal from the poor

b. Come Judgment Day the disgrace will be greater when the poor accuse them, saying: "This person stole my lunch," and "This one stole a penny."


2. Clerics' possessions have often been donated by the poor and are comparable to Christ's blood; it would be improper to give feasts for the rich from alms meant for the poor




a. For twenty gold pieces used by a prodigal cleric to make one feast, many of the poor have given their last penny

b. It is unsuitable to spend prodigally what was purchased by Christ's blood


i. The Gloss on Jer 22:14 says: The vermillion mentioned in the passage is Christ's blood


3. Clerics should be models for the people and not corrupt and defile them by giving superfluous feasts




a. Jude 1:12

b. They corrupt those attending the feasts by serving the material for gluttony, drunkenness, and other sins


4. The enormity of this vice should hinder them from prodigality




a. Their prodigality leads them to become robbers, simoniacs, oppressors of the indigent, and scalpers of those in their care

5. By engaging in these actions they lose their ability to perform their duty because they incur large debts

6. They should contemplate the severe punishment for their prodigality


a. This passage the Lord will enter in judgment: Matt 25:42

b. And this passage the Lord will use against the prodigal who not only gave him nothing to eat, but also took things away from him: Matt 25:41




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