Vice and Sin
Question 71: On vices and sins in themselves
Question 72: On the distinction among sins
Question 73: The relation of sins to one another
Question 74: The subject of sin
Question 75: The causes of sin in general
Original Sin and some other stuff
Question 81: On the transmission of original sin
Question 82: On the essence of original sin
Question 83: On the subject of original sin
71: On vices and sins in
Vice is contrary to nature in the sense that by
one is disposed to act against that which agrees with and perfects
and hence because of vice one is subject to blame and censure. Since it
is the rational soul that constitutes certain animals as human beings,
vice in human beings is contrary to nature insofar as it is contrary to
order of reason.
Note ad 4: "The eternal law is related to the order of human reason as a craft is related to what is produced by it. Thus vice and sin are contrary to the order of human reason for the same reason that they are also contrary to the eternal law."
71,4: Some virtues, viz., the acquired virtues, can coexist with an opposed sin, even a mortal sin. For (i) the presence of a habit does not guarantee that one will use the habit on a given occasion, and (ii) acquired habits are neither generated nor destroyed by a single action. However, mortal sin is directly contrary to charity, which is the root of the theological virtues, and for this reason mortal sin is incompatible with charity and with all the other theological and infused virtues. (Faith and hope remain as inclinations, but not as virtues, strictly speaking.) The reason is that a mortal sin involves, either implicitly or explicitly, a contempt for God and a rejection of the redeeming love of Christ--and the infused virtues and gifts are precisely the effects of that which is rejected.
71,5: This article contains a discussion of sinful omissions and of whether such sins can occur without any act and, more specifically, without any sinful act. St. Thomas replies that they can sometimes occur without any act, either interior or exterior. For even though one can explicitly will a certain omission (e.g., willing not to go to church on Sunday), this is not necessary. For instance, I might omit to go to church on Sunday without ever having so much as thought about going or not going. This can still be a sin even if it does not directly involve any act. However, if we look at the causes of omissions, we will always find some act or acts which lead to the omission, even if the omission itself does not itself involve any act. Sometimes the causes of an omission might not fall within the will's power, and in such cases they render the omission involuntary and hence not a sin. However, when the causes are subject to the will, then there must always be at least an interior act which is a cause of the omission. Yet even here we have to draw a distinction. Sometimes the interior act in question leads directly to the omission itself, as when I will not to go to church because going to church takes too much effort. Sometimes the causing act is only incidentally related to the omission, as when I wish to play golf at a time at which I should be going to church or as when I stay up too late to watch a movie and oversleep--without ever having taken into account that I should go to church. In such cases we should say that there is a sin without any act directly involved in it.
71,6: This is an important article for helping us to understand the relation of good and evil to the ultimate end, on the one hand, and to eternal and natural law, on the other. St. Thomas says that, strictly speaking, a sinful act is bad by virtue of not conforming to eternal law and (derivatively) by virtue of not conforming to the order of reason. In answer to the objection that if that were so, then sins would be bad because prohibited rather than the other way around, but that in fact they are bad primarily because they are not ordered to our ultimate end, he replies that it is the eternal law that principally and primarily orders us toward our end. So we see here the coming together of an ethics according to which good and evil are defined in terms of conformity (or lack of conformity) to the ultimate end, and of an ethics according to which good and evil are defined in terms of obedience (or disobedience) to law. On St. Thomas's view the two necessarily go together, since in creating human beings God necessarily legislates for them in such a way that obedience to the law leads them to happiness as defined by their natures. This is because God is a loving legislator who cares for the common good--the common good of the universe as a whole (eternal law in general) and the common good of human beings (eternal law as the source of natural law).
72,1: Two things are involved in a sin: (i) a voluntary act which the sinner intends in such-and-such matter, and (ii) the act's disorderedness, which consists in its departure from God's law. (i) is per se and directly intended, while (ii) is related per accidens to the sinner's intention. That is, the sinner directly wills to do X, which is a sin; so that there is always some X, distinct from sinning, which is the direct object of the sinner's intention. The distinction among sins thus follows the distinction among voluntary acts, and such acts are distinct from one another according to their objects.
72,2: "Every sin consists in the desire for some mutable good which is desired inordinately and, as a result, one takes a disordered pleasure in such a good when it is possessed." So sins are divided into carnal and spiritual according to the mutable goods desired and thus according to whether their possession gives mental (spiritual) pleasure (as with sins of pride, envy, avarice, sloth, and anger) or corporeal pleasure (as with sins of lust and gluttony).
72,3: Sins are not distinguished in species by their efficient or final causes, i.e., by the active principles (e.g., a passion) that lead to them or by what the agent's non-proximate ends are. On the other hand, if we're trying to root out our sins, then whatever species they might belong to, it's crucial to root out their causes. For instance, if I habitually steal in order not to have to work, then my sin is rooted in sloth even though it is a sin of avarice. In virtue terms, it is a sin against justice that is rooted in a sin against temperance
72,4: Sins can also be classified as sins against God, against oneself, and against one's neighbor, depending on their per se objects. Sins against God are opposed to the theological virtues; sins against oneself are opposed to the virtues of temperance and fortitude; and sins against one's neighbor are opposed to the virtue of justice.
72,5: Sins are not divided into species by the degrees of guilt and susceptibility to punishment (reatus poenae) which accompanies them, i.e., by whether they are venial or mortal. Rather, this distinction is posterior to the division of sins according to species. The difference between venial and mortal sin is analogous to the difference between sickness and death. Thus, the disorderedness in a sin can consist in a total aversion from the ultimate end or instead in a deviation that does not constitute a total aversion. "Hence, nothing prevents its being the case that mortal and venial sins can be found within the same species of sin. For instance, the first movement in the genus of adultery is a venial sin; and an idle word, which is usually a venial sin, can also be a mortal sin.
Again, the difference between sins of
commission and sins
of omission follows upon the division of sins according to
72,7-9: The traditional distinction of sins of the heart, sins of the mouth, and sins of the deed is best construed as depicting the evolving grades of a complete sin. The beginning of sin is in the heart as in a foundation (this involves three stages: the thought, enjoying the thought, consenting to the thought); the second grade is in the mouth, i.e., the verbal manifestation of what is in the heart; the third grade is the accomplishment of what is in the heart through the act or deed. Excess and defect are indicative of sins of different species in that they are motivated by love (sins of excess) and hate (sins of defect). And as with acts in general, sometimes circumstances alter the species of sin because they are included in the species of sin.
This is from ad 3: "Love of God is integrative, since it reduces a man's affective state from a multiplicity to a unity; and this is why the virtues, which are caused by love of God, are connected. But love of self splits a man's affective state into diverse elements, since a man loves himself by desiring for himself temporal goods, which are diverse and varied; and this is why vices and sins, which are caused by love of self, are not connected."
73,5-6: Ceteris paribus, carnal sins involve less guilt or blameworthiness than spiritual sins, and this for three reasons. First, the subject of a carnal sin has more of the character of a turning toward a mutable good (sense pleasure), whereas the subject of a spiritual sin has more of the character of a turning away from God; but the latter is the basis of the guilt or blameworthiness that a sin carries with it. Second, the matter (materia circa quam) of a carnal sin is one's own body, whereas the matter of a spiritual sin is God and one's neighbor, which are to be loved more than one's own body. Third, the (prevolitional) impulse toward carnal sin is greater than the impulse toward spiritual sin; but there is less guilt involved in a sin to the extent that the impulse toward it is greater. This last point is important. There are two sorts of causes of sin. The first, which is the per se cause, is the very act of willing the sin, which has the sin as its fruit. So the more intense the willing to sin is, the graver the sin. The second are the causes of sin exterior to the will. Some of these, like the object willed, induce the will to sin with respect to the very nature of the will, e.g., the end. And such exterior causes augment the sin; the worse the end, the worse the sin. Others incline the will to sin but in a way that is outside its nature. They do so by diminishing either (i) the judgment of reason (e.g., ignorance, antecedent passions such as anger and concupiscence) or (ii) the will's free movement (weakness, violence, fear).
The remaining articles have to do with the
of how circumstances of various types affect the gravity of a sin.
St. Thomas argues that (i) circumstances can make a sin graver either
changing the genus of the sin
(e.g., an act that would otherwise be
fornication becomes a graver sin, viz., adultery, when it is committed
with the spouse of another) or (b) by
adding another independent
of disorder to the sin (giving
money away not only when
ought not to but to someone
whom one ought not to) or (c) by
augmenting some already existent disorder
(stealing a lot
money from someone); that (ii) intended and/or foreseen harm, and
even unintended and unforeseen harm, inflicted as a result of the
of a sin, makes the sin more serious; that (iii) the status of the
against whom one sins may aggravate the sin (in light of his office or
of his virtue); that (iv) the status of the sinner himself may
the sin--for instance, the more virtuous the person, the worse the sin
if the sin proceeds from deliberation rather than from a sudden impulse
that the person gives in to because of human weakness.
The movements of sensuality (i.e., the
are subject to the control of reason, and so the sentient appetite can
be a subject of sin, though it cannot in itself be the subject of
sin. Of course, acts of the sentient appetite can dispose one to commit
a mortal sin, which can have only the rational faculties as its
The same holds for virtuous actions; they never belong to the sentient
appetite alone, since every act of a moral virtue is accompanied by an
act of prudence.
74,7-10: St. Thomas here discusses consent and, in so doing, introduces Augustine's distinction between higher and lower reason. Higher reason considers, judges, and rules in the light of eternal reasons, i.e., divine law, whereas lower reason considers, judges, and rules in the light of temporal reasons. In general, sinful consent is attributed to reason (either the higher reason or the lower reason). It can sometimes be the case that consent to pleasure is itself a mortal sin, as when one deliberately consents to the pleasure he feels while thinking about an illicit object or act of a lower power which is itself mortally sinful. On the other hand, higher reason can sin venially, and not mortally, even when it deliberately consents to a venial sin. For in doing so it does not necessarily act out of contempt for the law of God.
75,2: The immediate interior causes of sin are reason and will; the mediate interior causes are sentient apprehension (or imagination) and appetite. Reason is a cause of sin to the extent that sin involves the absence of an appropriate motive, viz., the rule of reason or of divine law; the will is a cause of sin insofar as it is the will which brings a voluntary act to perfection. The sentient powers are a cause of sin because when a sensible good is proposed as desirable and the sentient appetite is inclined toward it, reason sometimes ceases to consider the appropriate rule.
75,3: Corresponding to the interior causes of sin there are three imaginable exterior causes of sin. The first would be an exterior cause that directly moves the will; but only God can move the will from within and God cannot be a cause of sin. So no exterior agent causes a sin by moving the will. The second sort of exterior cause moves reason through persuasion of one sort or another. It is in this way that demons and other human beings can move us to sin. The third sort of exterior cause is any object that might move the sentient appetite. But in these two latter cases there is no necessary connection between the action of the causes involved and the commission of the sin, since it is always in the will's power to resist the persuasion or the attractiveness of the object.
Sin can be a cause of sin in any of the four
se: One sin can dispose the
sins of the same
sort through habituation.
Final/formal cause: I might commit one sin for the sake of committing another; e.g., I might render an unjust judgment for the sake of committing adultery. In such a case the adultery is, as it were, the final as well as, in some sense, the formal cause of the unjust judgment.
81,2-3: The reason that the first sin of Adam, and not his other sins, is transmitted to his posterity is that the first sin, unlike the others, has an effect on human nature itself as it was given by God to Adam. For God gave Adam a nature which not only had its own intrinsic principles but also had the gift of grace called original justice, which God meant to be transmitted to Adam's posterity through generation. This is why we talk of "fallen nature": it is human nature existing with its own principles but lacking a supernatural gift (with its preternatural overflow) by which it had been elevated and which God had intended to be transmitted to Adam's posterity through generation. And it is because this fallen nature is transmitted to us that we stand in need of the healing and redemption which is made possible for us only through the merits of Christ. (Note, however, that those who have been re-generated through baptism do not pass on a re-generated nature; for baptism is a spiritual re-generation which does not restore all the gifts lost through Adam's sin--see below.)
81,4-5: In yet another assault on our individualistic proclivities, St. Thomas asserts that if God were to miraculously create a human being who is not derived in origin from Adam, that human being would not have a fallen nature. Also, St. Thomas holds that our nature would not have been corrupted just by Eve's sin if Adam had not sinned. (Note ad 3 for a counter to those who misunderstand part of the rationale behind St. Thomas's rejection of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God.)
So original sin has two
b. positive: as a result of this privation of original justice, which had kept the powers of the soul ordered in their movements, all the passions and powers of the soul are left free, as it were, to go their own way, resulting in the "dis-integration" or "dis-ordering" of the powers of the soul. The fact that the particular effects may vary in strength from person to person has to do with the particular "matter" informed by the soul.
For more on the effects of original sin on the powers of the soul, see 85,3: "Through original justice reason perfectly controlled the lower powers of the soul, and reason itself was perfected by God as subject to Him. But this original justice was lost through the sin of the first parent ... And so all the powers of the soul remain in some way destitute of the proper order by which they are naturally ordered to virtue--and this destitution itself is called the wounding of the nature. Now there are four powers of the soul that can be the subject of virtues ... viz., reason, in which prudence resides; the will, in which justice resides; the irascible part, in which fortitude resides; and the concupiscible part, in which temperance resides. Insofar as reason is stripped of its own ordering toward truth, there is the wound of ignorance; insofar as the will is stripped of its ordering toward the good, there is the wound of malice; insofar as the irascible part is stripped of its ordering toward the arduous, there is the wound of weakness; and insofar as the concupiscible part is stripped of its ordering toward the pleasurable as moderated by reason, there is the wound of concupiscence."
83,3: Insofar as it affects the powers of the soul, original sin infects the will prior to the other powers, since among those powers the will has the first inclination toward sinning. And it especially infects the powers that contribute to generation, viz., the generative power, the concupiscible power, and the sense of touch.
The seven capital
sins (vainglory, gluttony, lust,
envy, and anger) are principles of other sins and are "directive of and
conducive to" other sins in the sense that they provide ends to which
sins are means. St. Thomas orders them according to the goods they are
turned toward and the evils they flee from:
Question 85: What are the effects of sin? (See 109,7 for summary.) First of all, sin diminishes the goodness of the nature (corruptio boni naturae) of the sinner in the sense that it diminishes our natural inclination toward virtue; and it does this by posing impediments to the fulfillment of that inclination. So the inclination itself is always there, but because of sin it becomes harder and harder for that inclination to achieve its end. In particular sin intensifies the wounds of nature that begin with original sin: (i) intellect: ignorance; (ii) will: malice; (iii) irascible appetite: weakness; (iv) concupiscible appetite: concupiscence. These wounds remain to certain degrees even in the wake of forgiveness.
Question 86: The second effect of sin is the blemish or stain of sin (macula peccati), which darkens the brightness (nitor) of both the light of natural reason and the divine light of wisdom and grace. When we love something ordinately, the contact our soul has with that thing (or person) brightens it, as it were. By contrast, when we love something inordinately--that is, contrary to the light of reason, wisdom, and faith--the contact our soul has with that thing (or person) darkens or blemishes the soul. (Sometimes olfactory metaphors are used here, as when spiritual writers talk of the "good odor" of sanctity.) Thus one who is in the state of mortal sin is a child of darkness. The stain or blemish of sin remains until the will, by a contrary motion prompted by actual grace, reverts through grace to the light of reason and of the divine law. Thus, when a sin is forgiven, it is this blemish that is removed.
An important corollary is this: As long as the stain of sin remains, the sinner is cleaving inordinately to mutable goods and thus his desire is to have those things. In this state he does not desire union with God. This is the key to understanding eternal punishment. The reprobate do not want the punishment that is due sin, but neither do they want to come face to face with infinite goodness. Just the opposite, they abhor the light of glory and with it clear witnesses of that light. This helps to explain the depth of the hatred Jesus' enemies had for him.
Question 87: A third effect of sin is the sinner's being deserving of punishment (reatus poenae). All sin, whether mortal or venial, incurs this punishability, since all sin causes an imbalance (or, alternatively, a dent) in the order of reason, or the order of human governance, or the order of divine rule; and it is only through punishment that this order is restored. As long as the blemish of sin (in the case of mortal sin) remains, the punishment as such is in every way contrary to the sinner's will and has the full character of punishment. Note that (art. 2) sin itself can be the punishment for sin, given that by withdrawing his grace God allows us to be "given up to our own desires."
If the sin is only venial, or if the blemish of sin has been removed through the mortal sinner's repentance, then the punishment is "satisfying punishment" (poena satisfactoria), which the sinner freely takes upon himself. Notice that such satisfying punishment can also be taken upon oneself for the sins of others. Indeed, this is precisely the nature of Christ's "punishment".