Of God and His Creatures

Of the Difference and Order of Punishments

EVIL is the privation of good: hence the order and difference of punishments must be according to the difference and order of good things. The chief good and final end of man is happiness: the higher good for him then is that which comes nearer to this end. Coming nearest to it of all is virtue, and whatever else advances man to good acts leading to happiness: next is a due disposition of reason and of the powers subject to it: after that, soundness of bodily health, which is necessary to unfettered action: lastly, exterior goods, as accessory aids to virtue.* The greatest punishment therefore for man will be exclusion from happiness: after that, the privation of virtue, and of any perfection of supernatural (supernaturalium) powers in his soul for doing well: then the disorder of the natural powers of his soul: after that, the harm of his body; and finally the taking away of exterior goods.

But because it belongs to the idea of pain not only that it should be a privation of good, but also that it should be contrary to the will, and not every man's will esteems goods as they really are, but sometimes the privation of the greater good is less contrary to the will, and therefore seems less of a punishment, it so comes about that the majority of men, esteeming sensible and corporeal things more and knowing them better than the good things of the intellect and the spirit, dread corporeal penalties more than spiritual ones: thus in their estimation the order of punishments is the very reverse of that aforesaid. With them, injuries to the body and losses of exterior things make the greatest punishment: but as for disorder of the soul and loss of virtue and forfeiture of the enjoyment of God, in which the final happiness of man consists, all this they count little or nothing. Hence it is that they do not consider the sins of men to be punished by God, because they see usually sinners enjoying good health and the blessings of exterior fortune, of which sometimes virtuous men are deprived. This ought not to appear surprising to persons who look straight at the facts. For since all exterior things are referable to things interior, and the body to the soul, exterior and corporeal good things are really good for man in so far as they turn to the good of reason within him; and turn to his evil so far as they hinder that good of reason. Now God, the disposer of all things, knows the measure of human virtue: hence He sometimes supplies a virtuous man with corporeal and exterior good things to aid his virtue, and does him a favour in so doing: sometimes again He withdraws the aforesaid things, considering them to be an obstacle to man's virtue and enjoyment of God. Where they are such an obstacle, exterior good things turn to a man's prejudice, and the loss of them to his gain. If then punishment in every case means the infliction of some evil, and it is not an evil for a man to be deprived of exterior and corporeal good things so far as is conducive to his advancement in virtue, such deprivation will not be a punishment to a virtuous man: on the other hand a real punishment to the wicked will be the concession to them of exterior goods, whereby they are incited to evil. Hence it is said: The creatures of God are turned to hate, and to a temptation to the souls of men, and a trap for the feet of the unwise (Wisd. xiv, 11). But because it is of the notion of punishment not only to be an infliction of evil, but further an evil contrary to the will, the loss of corporeal and exterior goods, even when it makes for advancement in virtue and not for evil, is called punishment by a stretch of language, inasmuch as it is contrary to the will.

3.141 : That a Man's Acts are punished or rewarded by God
3.143 : That not all Punishments nor all Rewards are Equal