Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue (Stanford University Press, 2014) represents the first analysis of Thomas’s complex account of pagan virtue, of whether non-Christians can lead truly virtuous lives – a question vital to Christian ethics and to contemporary efforts to understand the apparent virtues of those with whom we disagree about the most important things. The topic goes to the heart of Thomas’s ethics and demands consideration of its overall shape, especially its relation to Augustinian and Aristotelian traditions. Where most have held that Thomas either follows Augustine and rejects pagan virtue or honors Aristotle and affirms it, this book shows that he welcomes pagans and their virtues not as a betrayal but an expression of his Christian convictions. This commitment to charity impels a synthesis in which he strives to be Augustinian by being Aristotelian and vice versa. Thomas not only prescribes the welcome of outsiders, in his relation to Aristotle he performs it. Beyond reinterpreting Thomas’s ethics, the book offers a vision for our own efforts to navigate diversity and welcome outsiders without betraying our convictions—whatever they may be.
"While Ethics as a Work of Charity contains many close readings and strives to settle any number of textual disputes, it is not at all a pedantic work. Its chief virtue lies in the thoughtful and imaginative use to which it puts these careful readings. Decosimo adopts a spirit that he finds in Aquinas himself, one that combines an insistence on attentiveness with an even greater insistence on charity. As a result, Decosimo puts his considerable philosophical skills to work in articulating a full and sophisticated account of habit, virtue, and human happiness drawn chiefly from Aquinas's mature writings."
—Jeffrey Hause, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"Decosimo does painstaking exegetical work to show that the kind of virtue Thomas affirms of pagans is true virtue, a stable habit that generates good actions that perfect our natural capacities . . . Decosimo has helped us see a better way, recovering an aspect of Thomas's theological ethics with possibilities that have not always been acknowledged. [He] has written a landmark book of lasting importance."
—Jordan Hylden, The Living Church
"Decosimo's writing is precise and inviting, from the well-structured chapters down to the clear and manageable sentences. He explains Thomistic concepts well and with appropriate, contemporary examples. The book would be appropriate for classroom use at the masters' level and above...It will be an important resource to those interested in Aquinas as well as to Christians pursuing interreligious dialogue."
—Kate Ward, Political Theology
"The core of Decosimo's book is a thorough, textually grounded and convincing reply to those who deny that, on Aquinas's view, true virtue is impossible without grace. As such, it represents an important contribution to an ongoing debate. At the same time, in the process of making his case against 'Augustinian' readings of Aquinas, Decosimo sets out an illuminating account of Aquinas's conception of virtue as a kind of perfection, together with insightful remarks on the development of the virtues, the structure of moral motivation, and the presuppositions for attaining stability of character."
—Jean Porter, Studies in Christian Ethics
"Ethics as a Work of Charity is an impressive book on the whole and in its various moving parts. It will be of interest to those interested in virtue ethics, theology of religious outsiders, political Augustinians, and those interested in the relationship between theology and philosophy, faith and reason, natural and supernatural, and nature and grace."
—Sean Larsen, Modern Theology
"[Decosimo] presents a lucid and innovative argument about the disputed status of 'pagan virtue' in debates in Christian ethics. While most Christians today continue to believe that Christian faith permeates and transforms all aspects of a believer's life, most also affirm that people of any religious faith - or none - are capable of living virtuous lives... Ethics as a Work of Charity makes a substantial contribution to a perennial debate in Thomistic moral theology."
—William Mattison, Commonweal Magazine
"A penetrating study of Aquinas's treatment of pagan virtue, showing its roots in Aristotle and Augustine and its relevance for contemporary ethics, while reaffirming the fundamental Christian conviction that virtue requires the action of grace. This is a major contribution to Aquinas interpretation and theological efforts to navigate religious diversity with fidelity and generosity."
—Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, OP, Vatican City
"Ethics as a Work of Charity is a splendid book, far surpassing in its comprehensiveness, meticulous argument and creative fidelity in rational reconstruction anything else that has been written on the topic. It is utterly persuasive in its central claims concerning Aquinas’s affirmation that pagan virtue is not just true virtue, but in certain respects also perfect."
—Jennifer Herdt, “True Pagan Virtue and the Anomalies of Infused Virtue: A Response to Ethics as a Work of Charity"
"Decosimo’s book is the best recent study on the complex and controverted matter of Aquinas’s teaching on the acquired and the infused moral virtues. His conceptually astute and textually meticulous analysis and interpretation demonstrates that what are conventionally considered as the straightforwardly Aristotelian and Augustinian alternatives are ultimately unhelpful interpretive strategies because they fall, in their respective ways, short of the daring and depth of Aquinas’s synthesis"
—Reinhard Hütter, "Happiness and Religion: Why the Virtue of Religion is Indispensable for Attaining the Final End A Re-lecture of Thomas Aquinas with an Eye to His Contemporary Relevance," Nova et Vetera
"In the year of Brexit and Trump, David Decosimo’s Ethics as a Work of Charity: Aquinas on Pagan Virtue provides needed therapy. As a piece of historical scholarship, Decosimo’s central thesis is that Aquinas recognizes pagan or non-Christian virtue as real virtue. In addition to the historical thesis, Decosimo argues that Aquinas’s engagement with pagan virtue shows charity in practice. For Aquinas, the pagan is the unbeliever, the outsider, who has a radically different view of the world and the good life. Aquinas’s effort to recognize the good of the outsider without compromising what makes the outsider different provides a principled example of how we might proceed with our own outsiders. I’ll add that Decosimo’s careful and systematic reading of Aquinas offers a further example of the charitable engagement he commends, for Aquinas is an outsider to most of us... Whatever one thinks about Aquinas’s philosophical and theological arguments about God and the world, the vision of how to treat outsiders explained and exemplified by Decosimo is both lovely and sorely needed."
—Brandon Dahm, British Journal for the History of Philosophy
"There is much to be admired in this work. Decosimo writes clearly and knows how to mount a meticulous argument. He attempts to be fair to authors holding counter- positions. Readers will admire his willingness to undertake a bold agenda at a time when Thomas and especially Thomists are seen as representing either the bulwark of Roman Catholic hegemonic thinking or the progenitors of an insular form of Christian theological reflection to protect the church from external challenges. This book once and for all puts an end to the argument that Thomas was a hyper-Augustinian who believed that all pagans were so corrupted by wickedness that they were incapable of leading good lives. Decosimo is right: Thomas was Aristotelian because he was Augustinian, and vice versa. Recognizing the outsider’s virtue does not bespeak a lack of reliance on God but a form of trust in the goodness of God’s creation."
—Stephen Pope, Journal of Religion
"The aim of this illuminating book is not only to argue that St Thomas Aquinas thought that pagans could possess virtue, but that he held this view due to his Christian commitments and not in spite of them... The detail of his analysis, the acuity of his insights and the careful distinctions he draws are where the merits of this work reside. This book is also a timely contribution to the cur- rent debate, given the recent increase of interest in the infused virtues among Thomists."
—John D. O'Connor, New Blackfriars
"In toto, Ethics as a Work of Charity is a fine contribution not only to Thomistic scholarship and moral theology and philosophy, but also to this significant problem of how to stay true to our principles while affirming the good in others."
—Stephen Chamberlain, International Philosophy Quarterly
"La espléndida síntesis de santo Tomás no fue acometida para ser “cristiano y aristotélico” sino para ser cristiano. Era su deber como cristiano aprender del lósofo griego por muy pagano que fuera, una lección esencial para el cristiano (y más aún el teólogo) en una edad secular como la nuestra y que algunos creyentes presentan esencialmente como pagana e in el, sin ver nada de bueno en ella. La di cultad del Aquinate, a rma Decosimo, es la di cultad de la caridad. “Sus innumerables distinciones y autoridades son tantos actos de justicia transformados por el amor” (p. 260). Es el impulso magní co y magnánimo de Tomás de encontrar verdadera sabiduría en pensadores ajenos al cristianismo lo que le lleva, con laboriosa paciencia que a menudo desconcierta al lector moderno, a distinguir y clari car, una y otra vez. El estudiante se cansa e irrita pero es, a rma Decosimo, porque olvida que “Tomás es difícil porque la caridad es difícil” (p. 260)...
En la última página del libro Decosimo recuerda que para Tomás todo lo que tenemos y todo lo que somos es don: uno no merecido, no buscado, e irreemplazable. O en la bella expresión que concluye El diario de un cura de aldea, la gran novela de Georges Bernanos, Tout est grâce. Todo es gracia. Proposición tan válida para los cristianos como para los paganos, y no menos para todo lo creado sin una sola excepción. El rechazo de un bien o una cualidad o una sola idea o acción del otro, por mínimo que sea y sólo porque es extraño, diferente, extranjero, pagano, ateo, o cualquier otra sinrazón, es un atentado contra la in nita bondad de Dios de quien viene todo bien.
—Álvaro Silva, Mayéutica
"Ethics as a Work of Charity is Thomistic and Catholic in the best sense of the terms. Although it does not pretend that pagan virtue is perfect, it does acknowledge that there is legitimate goodness to be found outside of Christianity. Moreover, this goodness, along with its practitioners, ought to be welcomed into Christianity. This book is an excellent starting point for the attitude Christians ought to take toward outsiders: affirming the goodness already present in them, and offering them the means to complete that goodness."
—David C. Paternostro, New Oxford Review
Decosimo refuses to choose between Aristotle and Augustine...: “Impelled by commitment to Christ, Thomas strives to be Aristotelian by being Augustinian and vice versa” (9). The argument that he develops says that Aquinas “welcomes pagan virtue for charity’s sake, not against but because of his Christian convictions” so that the commitment to charity shapes not only his moral theology but his very life as a Christian moral theologian. Decosimo calls his own approach a specimen of “prophetic Thomism” that seeks to unite and transform tradition and liberation... I like the way in which Decosimo meticulously explains his reading of texts that are often quoted by those arguing that Aquinas does not allow for pagans to have genuine virtues... For me, working in the context of the Catholic dialogue with other religions, chapter eight (pages 198-235) about infidelitas and the role of conceptions of final ends was the most exciting chapter.
—Pim Valkenberg, Jaarboek Thomas Instituut