A moral virtue annexed to justice and intimately associated, as are justice and all the virtues annexed to it, with charity. It is also called politeness, good manners, and, by moral theologians, affability. By it a man is disposed to conduct himself appropriately in his contact with his fellow man and to be ready to extend to each whatever considerate and gracious civility custom requires. It is related to modesty and decorum. As annexed to justice, it is an obligation flowing from man's social nature, because the satisfactory interrelationship of the members of society demand that the individual should conduct himself with thoughtful regard for the feelings of others. As a social virtue its importance for individuals and society is attested by both sacred and human authority. It is less than friendship, but to be truly virtuous it must be more than a false veneer covering contrary dispositions. As motivated by charity, politeness is a good that the Christian is quick to show to others because they are created in the image and likeness of God and are—potentially, at least—temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
True courtesy is universal; that is, the courteous man is prepared to manifest it in appropriate circumstances to all men. Some marks of courtesy may without fault be withheld for a time from those who behave outrageously for the purpose of inducing them to mend their ways (see correction, fraternal). Although a certain basic courtesy is due everyone, greater courtesy nevertheless is owed to some than to others because the claim of some is based not only upon the human dignity, which all share, but also upon special considerations of grati tude, or special ties of blood or fellowship, or authority or other form of excellence (see respect).
The opposite of courtesy, by way of defect, appears in discourtesy, incivility, rudeness, surliness, or other forms of offensive behavior. Acts of this kind are sinful. Generally the sin is considered a venial one, unless the offensiveness is great, or the acts, because of their frequency, make life difficult or very unpleasant for others.
By way of excess one can sin against courtesy by trying to please others more than he should. This can be done by praising others beyond their due, especially when this is done with a selfish end in view, or by hypocritical obsequiousness. Of itself flattery is only a venial sin, but circumstances could make it serious, e.g., if one were to praise a gravely sinful action, or if the flattery should cause notable harm to another.
The motivation by charity is important to keep courtesy sincere and unfailing. Moreover, it makes courtesy breathe with a spirit of Christlike love and gives even to small acts a significance and value far beyond what is superficially apparent (Mk 9.40).
Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 114.1–2. m. j. gerlaud, "The Social Virtues," The Virtues and States of Life, ed. a. m. henry, tr. r. j. olsen and g. t. lennon (Chicago 1957) 445–485. t. pÈgues, Commentaire français littéral de la Somme Théologique de Saint Thomas d'Aquin, 21 v. (Paris 1922–33) 12:670–676.
cour·te·sy / ˈkərtəsē/ • n. (pl. -sies) the showing of politeness in one's attitude and behavior toward others: he had been treated with a degree of courtesy not far short of deference. ∎ (often courtesies) a polite speech or action, esp. one required by convention: the superficial courtesies of diplomatic exchanges. ∎ [as adj.] (esp. of transport) supplied free of charge to people who are already paying for another service: he traveled from the hotel in a courtesy car. ∎ archaic a curtsy.PHRASES: by courtesy as a favor rather than by right: he was not at the conference only by courtesy. (by) courtesy of given or allowed by: photograph courtesy of the Evening Star. ∎ inf. as a result of; thanks to.
- Boy Scouts youth organization, ever ready to perform good deeds. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 59]
- Castiglione, Baldassare (1478–1529) author of The Courtier, Renaissance bible of etiquette. [Ital. Lit.: Plumb, 316–319]
- Dickon one of “nature’s gentlemen.” [Children’s Lit.: The Secret Garden ]
- Post, Emily (1873–1960) etiquette book author; preaches “consideration for others.” [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 277]
- Shem and Japheth cover father’s nakedness without looking at him. [O.T.: Genesis 9:23–27]