The large AD 1258 eruption had a stratospheric sulfate load approximately ten times greater than the 1991 Pinatubo eruption. Yet surface cooling was not substantially larger than for Pinatubo (~0.4 K). We apply a comprehensive Earth System Model to demonstrate that the size of the aerosol particles needs to be included in simulations, especially to explain the climate response to large eruptions. The temperature response weakens because increased density of particles increases collision rate and therefore aerosol growth. Only aerosol particle sizes substantially larger than observed after the Pinatubo eruption yield temperature changes consistent with terrestrial Northern Hemisphere summer temperature reconstructions. These results challenge an oft-held assumption of volcanic impacts not only with respect to the immediate or longer-term temperature response, but also any ecosystem response, including extinctions.