Jacques Maritain Center : Elements of Moral Theology


§ 1. The nature of vice and sin.

Is vice contrary to nature?

Vice is contrary to virtue. But the virtue of each thing consists in its being well disposed towards what is agreeable to its nature. And vice consists in the contrary disposition. But man is specifically distinguished by his rational soul. Therefore that which is contrary to the order of reason, is contrary to the nature of man, as man. But man's good is the living according to reason, and his evil is the living unreasonably. Therefore human virtue which "makes a man good, and his work good," is so far according to his nature, as it agrees with reason; but vice is so far against human nature, as it is contrary to the order of reason.

(1) But virtues are not naturally in us, since they are produced either by inspiration, or by practical efforts: how, then, can vices be contrary to nature? I answer that it is true that perfect virtue is not caused by nature, but yet virtue inclines to what is according to nature, i.e., what is according to the order of reason. So far, virtue is according to nature, and vice contrary to it.

(2) It may be objected, also, that nothing which is contrary to nature is found in the majority of those who have that nature; but vices are found in the majority of men. But man has a two-fold nature, sensitive and rational. Through the operations of sense man arrives at rational acts; and more follow the inclinations of the sensitive nature, than those who follow the order of reason, and so they fall into vices and sins.

Can sin coexist together with virtue?

Sin is related to virtue as a bad act to a good habit. But a habit in the soul does not necessarily produce its operation; but a man uses that habit when he wills to do so. Hence, while a habit remains in a man, he is able to refrain from using that habit, or he can produce an opposite act. So, while still having a virtue, he may proceed to the act of sin. And a single act does not destroy a habit, any more than it creates such a habit. But if we consider the causes of virtues, we shall see that some virtues may be corrupted by a single act. For every mortal sin is contrary to charity, which is the root of all the infused virtues as virtues. And therefore by one act of mortal sin, charity being excluded, all the inspired virtues are excluded also as virtues. Faith and hope, then, may remain in a dead condition after mortal sin, but they are not virtues.

But venial sin, since it is not contrary to charity, excludes neither it nor the other virtues.

But the acquired virtues are not taken away by any one act of sin. So, then, mortal sin cannot coexist with the infused virtues; but it can so exist along with the acquired virtues; but venial sin may coexist with both.

In every sin is there some act?

S. James answers this question (iv. 17), saying, "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Sins of omission are now before us. And if we consider in them that only which, per se, pertains to the idea of sin, we see that sometimes the sin of omission is accompanied by an inward act, as when one wills not to go to church, to stay away. But sometimes the sin of omission has no act either inward or outward, as when one, at the hour in which he is bound to go to church, does not think either of going or of not going.

But if in the sin of omission we include the causes or the occasions of the omission, then it is necessary that there be some act. For there is no sin of omission unless one pretermit what he is able to do or to leave undone. But our not doing that which we can do or leave undone, must be from some cause or occasion conjoined or preceding. And if, on the one hand, that cause is not in a man's power, the omission is no sin, as when one omits going to church on account of some (physical) infirmity. But if the cause or occasion of the omission is subject to the will, the omission is sin; and then, in every case, that cause, as voluntary, has some act, at least the interior act of the will. This act indeed is sometimes directly turned to that omission, as when one wills not to go to church in order to avoid the trouble of doing so. Then such an act, per se, pertains to the omission. For the willing of any sin pertains to that sin, since all sin is voluntary.

But sometimes the act of the will is directed to something else, through which a man is hindered from doing what he ought. This may be conjoined to the omission, as when one wills to play at some game when be ought to go to church; or it may precede the omission, as when one wills to sit up late, and in consequence misses the morning service in church (when he ought to be there). In this case the inward act is per accidens with respect to the omission, since the latter was not intended. We may say, then, that some sin can exist without any act.

Remember that more is required for good than for evil, since the good demands "the whole, complete cause, but evil arises from particular defects." Merit, therefore, cannot exist unless what one does he does voluntarily and as he ought. So it requires an act. The act of sin is not parallel with this.

Every sin is voluntary; and where there is no will there is no sin. But the not-willing is voluntary whenever it is in the power of a man to will or not to will.

There is a seeming objection, that if this be true one sins continually who never does what is his due act. But this is false.

I answer that we must remember that the sin of omission is against some affirmative precept. And such precepts do not bind continually. The sin, therefore, is prolonged just as long as the precept binds which is neglected.

§ 2. Divisions.

(1) S. Augustine's division, viz., a word, deed, or thought which is contrary to eternal law, rests upon most solid foundation.

For while the primary cause of sin is in the will, yet there are outward acts commanded by the will which are in themselves bad and so are distinguished in the division. And the root of sin in aversion from God is pointed out in the second part of the definition, viz., sin is "contrary to eternal law" (i.e., the Divine Reason and Will). According to positive law, indeed, not every sin is evil because it is prohibited; but some things are prohibited because they are evil. But according to the law of nature, which rests upon eternal law, every sin is an evil because it is prohibited.

(2) Sins are also either spiritual or carnal.

They take their species from their objects. But every sin consists in inordinate desire of some changeable good; and, consequently, when that good is obtained, there is inordinate pleasure. But pleasure is two-fold : one, spiritual, derived from the apprehension of some thing desired and possessed, e.g., the applause of men; another, corporeal or natural, from which may spring carnal sins, as gluttony or lust. In sins of the latter kind there is a spiritual act. sc., the act of reason -- but the end is corporeal pleasure.

(3) Sins are also either against God, against self, or against our neighbor.

Sin is an inordinate act. But there is a three-fold order to which man is bound to conform one, the rule of reason as the director of all our actions and passions; another, the rule of Divine law by which we ought to be directed in all things. And if man were naturally a solitary being, this two-fold order would suffice. But man belongs to society, and a third order is needed by which man may be ordained with respect to other men among whom he ought to live.

But the second of these orders (the Divine law) contains the first, and exceeds it. For whatever things are contained under the order of reason are contained under the law of God Himself. But some things are contained under the latter which exceed human reason, as those things which are of faith, and are due to God alone. Hence, those who sin in such things are said to sin against God, as the heretic, the sacrilegious, the blasphemer.

Similarly, the second order contains the third and exceeds it. For in all things which concern our neighbour we are to be directed by the rule of reason. But in some things we are directed by reason which concerns ourselves only, and not our neighbour. In these a man is said to sin against himself, as the intemperate, and the wasteful. This distinction is according to the objects of sins, which diversify their species.

Observe, also, that by the theological virtues man is ordered with reference to God; temperance and courage are cardinal virtues directed towards self; but justice is towards one's neighbour.

Do circumstances change the species of sin?

Where the motive for transgression is different, there is difference in the sin; for the motive is the end and object. But sometimes where the circumstances are corrupt the motive remains the same; as the illiberal man from the same motive may keep when he ought not to do so, and where he ought not, and more than he ought, all on account of his inordinate desire of wealth. In such corrupt cirstances, the sin is one and the same. But when such corruptions spring from different motives, the species of sin is changed.

§ 3. On the comparative guilt of sins.

Are all sins necessarily involved in one another?

The intention of him who acts virtuously in following reason is different from him who sins in turning away from reason. For the aim of the virtuous is one, sc., to follow the rule of reason; and therefore all virtues tend towards the same end, and are connected in the right view of things to be done, which is prudence. (See page 65.) But the aim of the sinner is not to recede from what reason demands, but is rather towards some desirable good, from which his sin derives its specific character.

But such goods are diverse, have no (necessary) connection, and are sometimes even contrary to one another. Sins therefore have no necessary connection.

(1) But does not S. James say (c. ii. 10), "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all"? But he is speaking of sin, not as the turning to transitory good, but as aversion from the commands of Divine law. But all the commandments have one and the same origin, as S. James himself says. And so in every sin God is despised. Thus he who offends in one point is guilty of all because he incurs the penal guilt of contempt of God, which is one in all sins.

(2) But as the love of God is the root of all virtues, is not self-love the root of all sins, and consequently the ground of connection, so that he who has one, has all? I reply that the cases are opposites; for the love of God draws our affections from many to one; and therefore the virtues which are caused by that love are connected. But self-love draws the affections to various and diverse ends, and therefore the vices and sins which are caused by it are not so connected.

Sins differ in gravity according to their objects.

The gravity of sins differs as one sickness is more serious than another. For as the good of health consists in a certain proportion of the animal frame, its constituents, its functions, to the needs of the animal, so the good of virtue depends upon the proportion of human acts, their due relation, to the rule of reason. But the sickness is more serious the further the departure from the above standard, and the nearer it approaches to the vital organs. Disease of the heart is ordinarily more dangerous than disease in the foot. So sin is more grave the more the disorder touches higher principles. But reason orders all actions with reference to the end; therefore the sin is greater which concerns the higher ends. And the end of the action is the object of the action. Thus difference in the gravity of sins depends on the difference in their objects. So the sin against a man is greater than the sin which concerns merely external things; homicide is more serious than theft. And still greater is the sin which is committed immediately against God, as infidelity or blasphemy.

Spiritual sins are of greater guilt than carnal sins.

Not that every spiritual sin is greater than any carnal sin; but, other things being equal, the former are of greater guilt. And this for three reasons. (1) Spiritual sins pertain to the spirit to which it belongs to be converted to God or to turn away from Him. But carnal sins are consummated in fleshly pleasure which chiefly turns to corporeal good. And therefore carnal sin (as such) is more marked by a turning towards the thing. But spiritual sin contains more of aversion (from God), from which comes the guilt, and it is therefore a greater sin.

(2) Carnal sin, as such, is against one's own body, which, in the order of charity, is less to be loved than God and our neighbor, against whom spiritual sins are committed; and therefore spiritual sins, as such, are of greater guilt.

(3) The stronger the (outward) impulse towards sin, the less is its guilt. But carnal sins have the stronger impulse (outwardly), from the inborn concupiscence of the flesh. And therefore, once more, spiritual sins are, as such, of greater guilt.

There are apparent exceptions to this rule -- e.g., adultery is a graver sin than theft; but the former is not only the fleshly sin of lust, but the spiritual sin of injustice, and that of a graver sort than simple theft.

And the devil is said to rejoice especially in the carnal sin of lust, because it cleaves most closely to a man, and is most difficult to escape from. Incontinent concupiscence, which is carnal, is also more shameful than incontinent anger, because it is irrational, and makes man more like the brutes.

Does the gravity of sins depend upon the cause of sin?

The question is equivocal, because we may consider, first, what is per se the proper cause of sin, which is the will to sin. Sin is the fruit of that tree, and "the tree is known by its fruit." And the greater this cause, the greater is the sin.

But other causes are extrinsic and remote, from which the will is inclined to sin. And we must distinguish among these. For some induce the will to sin, in agreement with its own nature, as, e.g., the end, which is the proper object of the will. And from such a cause the sin is rendered greater. For he sins more gravely whose will, aiming at a worse end, is inclined to sin. But there are other causes which incline the will to sin, against the nature and order of the will itself, which is naturally made to move freely by its own direction according to the reason. Hence causes which diminish the judgment of reason -- e.g., ignorance -- or which diminish the free action of will, as infirmity, or violence, or fear, in diminishing the voluntary, diminish also the sin. And if the act be altogether involuntary, it is not a sinful act.

It may be said that the greater the concupiscence, the less is the sin, and therefore the greatness of the cause makes the sin so much the less. But if we include in concupiscence the motion of the will itself, then, where there is greater concupiscence, there is greater sin. But if by concupiscence we mean a passion of our lower nature, then greater concupiscence, if it precede the judgment of the reason and the motion of the will, diminishes the sin; because he who sins under the influence of greater passion, falls through greater temptation, and less is imputed to him. But if concupiscence, so understood, follows the judgment of the reason and the motion of the will, then, where there is greater concupiscence, there is greater sin. For sometimes this stronger passion rises because the unbridled will is tending to its desired object.

Is sin greater as the injury done is greater?

The injury has one of three relations to the sin. (1) It is foreseen and intended, as a malicious homicide or theft. And then the quantity of injury directly increases the gravity of the sin, because injury is per se the object of the sin.

(2) Sometimes, again, it is foreseen, but not intended, as when one, passing through a field in order to commit a crime, knowingly does harm to the growing crop, but not with the intention of doing harm. Then, also, the quantity of injury aggravates the sin, but indirectly; inasmuch as it proceeds from a will inclined to sin, that he does not avoid doing harm either to himself or another, which, simply, he would not have willed to do.

(3) But sometimes the injury is neither foreseen nor intended, and if it is accidental with respect to the sin, it does not directly aggravate the sin. But, on account of negligence in not considering the injury which might happen, the evils which happen unintentionally incur a penalty if a man was engaged in an unlawful act. (Op. Common law.)

(4) But if the injury per se follow from the act of sin, though it be neither intended nor foreseen, it directly aggravates the sin; because whatsoever per se follows from sin pertains in a certain way to the sin itself; e.g., if scandal follow from the sin, though not sought for nor clearly foreseen, the sin is directly aggravated by this. But because sin is aggravated by the injury done, it does not follow that this is the only aggravating condition. For sin per se is greater as it is more inordinate. And the injury itself aggravates the sin so far as it makes the act more inordinate. So it does not follow that if sins against our neighbor do most harm, they are therefore the worst of sins. There is greater disorder in sins against God, and in some of those which are against one's self.

It may be said, also, that although no injury can be directly done to God, it may be attempted against those things which are especially related to God, as the attempt to exterminate the faith, to profane what is holy, which are gravest sins.

It is said, also, that no one willingly injures himself, and that this shows that consequences do not aggravate sin, for some of the gravest sins -- e.g., suicide -- are against one's self. But this is only true secundum quid, for the suicide knowingly and willingly does harm to himself, though he is seeking as his end some apparent good.

§ 4. The subject of sin.

Is the will the subject of sin?

There are acts which do not, like sawing wood, pass over to exterior matter, but remain in the agent of them, as desiring and knowing. Moral acts, whether of virtue or vice, are of this latter class. So, then, the proper subject of the sinful act is the power which is the principle of activity. And since it is characteristic of moral acts that they are voluntary, it follows that the will, which is the source of voluntary acts, is the seat of sin.

It might be objected, (1) that evil is always against will and intention. And that is true, if it be regarded as evil. But some evil is apparent good, and sin is so regarded, and is voluntary.

(2) But, again, does not this regarding evil as good seem to be rather defect of understanding than defect of will? I answer that if the defect of knowledge were not subject to our will, there would be no sin either in will or judgment. This is true of those who labor under invincible ignorance. But, otherwise, this defect of understanding is sin.

Is the will alone the subject of sin?

Voluntary acts, as we have seen (see page 10), are not only those which are elicited from the will, but those which are commanded by the will, and which other powers execute. Hence all those powers which can be moved to their acts by the will, or restrained from those acts by the will, can be the subject of sin. And these same powers also are the subject of moral habits, good or bad. Will, then, is the cause of sin, not the only subject of it.

The members of the body arc not a parallel case. For they are merely the organs of activity, and are in no sense free. Therefore there is no moral transgression in them.

There may be sin in sense-appetite.

For there may be sin in any power of the soul whose act is voluntary and inordinate. Among such acts are those of sense-appetite; therefore there can be sin in them.

(1) But is not this sensuous nature common to us and the brutes? Whereas sin is peculiar to man, who alone is praised or blamed for his acts. So it seems that there can be no sin in it. The answer to this is easy. Our sensuous nature is joined to reason and fitted to obey reason. Thus the acts of our sense-appetite may be voluntary, and the subject of sin.

(2) Again, it may be said that no one sins in what he cannot avoid; but we cannot avoid the inordinate acts of sensuality as long as we live this mortal life. I answer that it is true that the perpetual corruption of our sense-nature, our birth-sin, is never totally taken away in this life. But such corruptio fomitis does not prevent man from repressing by reasonable will each inordinate motion of sensuality as it arises, say, by diverting his thoughts into another channel. But while one is doing this, some inordinate motion may arise from this new source. Thus when one, wishing to avoid the inordinate motions of concupiscence, turns his thoughts to science, some unpremeditated thought of vainglory may arise in his soul; and so man cannot avoid motions of this kind, on account of this innate corruption. But the idea of voluntary sin in this connection implies that we can shun the separate motions as they present themselves.

(3) There is indeed no deliberate action in these cases, and what a man does without rational deliberation is not perfectly his act. Consequently it cannot be a perfect act of virtue or of vice. Hence, such motions of sensuality, anticipating reason, may be venial sin, as sin (in a certain way) imperfect.

Can there he mortal sin in our sense-nature?

Disorder which corrupts the principle of spiritual life, the ultimate end, causes the spiritual death of mortal sin. But to ordain anything for its end does not belong to sensuality, but to the reason alone. To it, therefore, alone belongs inordination with respect to the end. Hence, mortal sin is not attributed to the lower nature, but is only in the higher.

(1) We may sin mortally with reference to sensuous objects, because the sensuous act can concur in that sin. But the sin is not mortal because it belongs to sense-appetite, but because it is a rational act, and it is reason's office to order man with reference to the end which he aims at.

(2) Again, there are virtues of the irrational nature, such as temperance and fortitude; but the act of virtue is perfected by reason and will which has power to choose; for the act of virtue requires choice. Hence, with the virtue of the desires, of the passions, is joined (if they are completely virtuous acts) the act of prudence, which perfects our rational nature. So is it, also, in mortal sin.

(3) The venial sin which may exist in the sensuous nature, is a disposition for mortal sin which belongs to the rational nature only.

Can there be sin in the reason?

Yes; and that in two ways. For reason's office is twofold: first, to know its proper object, which is any truth; next, to direct the other powers of the soul. In both respects there can be sin in reason. First, as it errs concerning the truth, when it can know and is bound to know that truth; next, when it either commands the inordinate acts of the lower nature, or deliberately neglects to cheek them.

(1) The objector may ask, Is not error due to defect in reason, to ignorance, which is an excuse for wrong rather than a sin? And this objection stands, if we speak of involuntary ignorance. A madman is not responsible for his acts. But ignorance of that which one can know and ought to know, is itself a sin. But reason's defect in directing the other powers of the soul is always imputed to it as a sin.

Is voluntary pleasure in the thought of sin, "morose delectation," a sin of reason?

Reason can direct not only outward acts, but also inward Passions. And when it fails to do so, there is sin in it. But there are two kinds of sin in this inward government; one, when a man deliberately excites in himself the (inordinate) passion of anger or concupiscence (or whatever the passion may be); another, when he does not repress the illicit motion of passion. He perceives that the thought is inordinate, but yet he allows it to remain, does not expel it. So, the sin of morose delectation is in the reason (though not in that alone). I am not speaking of the mere length of time that the evil thought remains in the mind, but of the deliberate failure to repress the thought of evil, in which the desires of the soul find pleasure.

The supreme judgment and final consent to the act of sin, which inwardly consummates that sin, is in the higher reason alone which turns away from the eternal law of God.

Consent to the pleasure of that sin is only a preamble to that final judgment, and is a lower act of reason.

Consent to pleasure in the thought of sinful acts is itself a sin when it means that the affections are voluntarily inclined to those acts.

For one takes pleasure only in that which is conformed to his spiritual or bodily state. But that one deliberately choose such conformity of his disposition to mortal sins, is itself a mortal sin.{1}

§ 5. The causes of sins.

How can sin have a cause?

Sin is any inordinate act. As act, then, it must have a cause, like any other act. But as inordinate, it has a cause as negation or privation is caused. But a cause of a negation may be assigned in two ways: first, the absence of the productive cause is a cause of the negation as such. For on removing of the cause follows removing of the effect; as the absence of the sun is the cause of darkness. But, in another way, that cause which produces a certain result is the cause per accidens of some negation -- i.e., of the absence of something else which is inconsistent with that result which actually follows from the acting cause. Thus, if cold be considered as a positive thing, the fire is the cause per accidens of its absence.

But since the inordination of sin and every evil whatsoever are not mere negations, but privations of that which a thing is fitted for and ought to have, such inordination must have an efficient cause per accidens. For that which anything naturally has and ought to have will never be absent except through some impeding cause. And thus it is correctly said that the evil which consists in any privation has a "causa deficiens," or an efficient cause per accidens. But this carries us back to an efficient cause per se.

Since, then, sin on the part of the inordination has an efficient cause per accidens, but, on the part of the act done it has an efficient cause per se, it follows that the inordination of the sin results from the cause itself of the act.

And our conclusion is that the will which is not directed by the rule of reason and the Divine law, in aiming at some transitory good, causes the act of sin per se, but the inordination of the act per accidens, and apart from the intention; for the lack of order in the act results from lack of direction in the will.

We find a cause of sin, therefore, because sin is not only privation, but an act in which that privation is found.

And causality does not here imply necessity of sin, for necessary causality means a sufficient cause with no hindering cause. And sin as caused, is not necessary effect, because the result can be hindered. One might ask whether good or evil is the cause of sin, and say that good cannot be such a cause, and evil is the very sin itself which is in question. But I reply that ungoverned will is the cause of sin, and the cause is good, along with the absence of another good.{2}

We may find four inward causes of sin, and sometimes all four concur.

First, the senses or the imagination, which present something pleasurable to the soul; next, desire, which is inclined to it as pleasurable; next, reason, which approves of it without reference to the due rule and law; lastly, the will, which consents and perfects the act of sin.

Has sin an outward cause?

Such outward cause, if it exist, might be the cause of sin in either of three ways; either by directly moving the will itself, or by acting on the reason, or by moving sense-appetite (the senses, the imagination, or the desires).

But God only, who cannot be the cause of sin, can directly move the will. Nothing outward, then, can be the cause of sin, unless it move the reason by persuasion, or unless it move the sensual desires, as some outward sensible things upon those desires. But when anything is to be done, persuasion does not move the reason by force of necessity. nor do outward things necessarily move the desires except certain abnormal conditions of the soul (when one is not responsible for his acts). Desire, also, does not of necessity move reason and will. Hence an outward cause may contribute to the sinful act, but is not an adequate cause. That adequate cause is the will only.

§ 6. Relations of ignorance to sin.

Is ignorance ever the cause of sin? A cause may be such per accidens, by removing what hinders the result (as a flaw in a casting may be, per accidens, the cause of the wreck of a steamer). In this way ignorance may be the cause of the sinful act, for it is a privation of that knowledge which perfects reason as director of human actions and capable of prohibiting the act of sin. But reason directs human acts through two-fold knowledge, one general, the other particular (knowledge of the law, and knowledge of the fact). For when one conders what he shall do, he has a sort of syllogism in his mind; and his conclusion is his judgment, choice, or operation. And his particular decision is brought under some general rule or law by some particular proposition. Thus a man is prevented from the act of parricide by knowing that fathers are not to be killed, and by knowing that this man is his father. Therefore ignorance of the law or ignorance of the fact may cause the act of parricide. Hence it evident that not all ignorance on the part of the sinner the cause of his sin, but only that which prevents the knowledge which would have prohibited the act of sin (antecedent ignorance is cause of the outward act; consequent ignorance, of its sinfulness). Hence if the will of any one is so disposed that he would not be hindered from the act of parricide by knowing that the man is his father, his ignorance of his father (concomitant ignorance) is not the cause of his sin. He does not sin through ignorance, but he sins in ignorance. (Nic. Eth., iii. 1.)

(1) Ignorance may be purely a negative; but negatives may be causes per accidens, in removing what hinders a result.

(2) It is true, also, that every sin is in a bad will, and that a thing must be apprehended and not unknown, in order that it may be willed. But that which is willed may be partly known and partly unknown. Thus one may know that the being whom he kills is a man, without knowing that it is his father.

Is ignorance a sin?

Distinguish ignorance from nescience. The latter is simply negative, the simple negation of knowledge.

But ignorance is privative, privation of knowledge of those things which one is fitted to possess. But some of these things every one is bound to know; sc., those things without which it is impossible to perform rightly the acts which are due from us. Hence all are bound to know the first principles of the faith and of the law of nature; and individuals are bound to know those things which belong to their state or office. But there are other things which we are fitted to know, which we are not in general bound to know, as the theorems of geometry.

But it is manifest that whosoever neglects to possess or to do what he is bound to have or to do, is guilty of a sin of omission. Ignorance, therefore, of those things which one is bound to know, if it be due to negligence ("consequent ignorance"), is a sin. But negligence is not imputed to a man who does not know what he cannot know. This ignorance is called invincible, that which cannot be overcome by due inquiry. Such ignorance, not being in our power, is involuntary and is not sin. But vincible ignorance is sin, if it concern those things which one is bound to know.{3}

(1) This is not inconsistent with our definition of sin, as "a word, deed, or thought opposed to God's law," for the opposite negations are included in the definition, so far as omission has the nature of sin. And so negligence which makes ignorance to be sin, is included as a (wilful) passing by of what ought to be said, done, or thought, in order to acquire due knowledge.

(2) Sin is more directly opposed to grace than to ignorance. But privation of grace is rather a penalty following on sin than itself a sin. Why, then, is privation of knowledge a sin, and not privation of grace? To this I reply that negligence, also, in preparing one's self for the reception of that grace, may itself be a sin. And yet even herein there is a difference; since man can acquire the knowledge now spoken of by his own acts, but grace is purely the gift of God.

(3) Again, it may be objected that sin is taken away by penitence, but ignorance is not so removed, and therefore it cannot be sin. But observe that the negligence does not remain after penitence, and so what makes ignorance to be a sin is removed.

(4) Though the sinful ignorance constantly continues in the sinner, he does not continually sin, but, as in other sins of omission, only at that time when the affirmative precept is obligatory; sc., when there is fit opportunity to acquire that knowledge which he is bound to possess.{4}

Does ignorance totally excuse from sin?

Ignorance in itself renders the act which it causes an involuntary act. But ignorance is said to cause that act which would be prohibited by the corresponding knowledge. Such an act would be contrary to the will if knowledge were present; i.e., it would be involuntary.

But if that knowledge would not prevent the act from being done, because of the will's inclination to it, ignorance of this knowledge does not make a man to act involuntarily, but he acts, not willing the result. (Note the distinction between unwilling, and not-willing.) (Nic. Eth., iii. 1.) Such ignorance which is not the cause of the sinful act, not causing the involuntary, does not excuse from sin. The same is true of any ignorance which does not cause the sinful act, but is consequent upon or concomitant with the sinful act, But ignorance antecedent to the act of will, since it causes the act, produces an involuntary act, and does excuse from sin.

And yet sometimes that ignorance which is the cause of the sin does not totally excuse it, for two reasons. First, on the part of the thing which is unknown. For ignorance so far excuses from sin, as one does not know the action to be sin. But it may happen that one is ignorant of some circumstance which, if known, would prevent his doing the sinful act, and yet he knows that he is doing wrong. He may do bodily injury to some one, knowing that he is injuring a man, and yet not know that that man is his father, which is a circumstance constituting a new species of sin. Or perhaps he does not know that, striking another, he will be struck back, which knowledge might hinder his doing so. And although such a one sins on account of ignorance, yet he is not totally excused from sin, because he knows that he is doing wrong. Again, the ignorance itself may be voluntary, either directly, as when one does not wish to know, in order that he may be more free in sin; or indirectly, as when one, on account of the labor required, or other occupations, neglects to learn that which would keep him back from sin. Such negligence makes the ignorance voluntary and a sin, if it is of those things which one can know and is bound to know. Such ignorance, therefore, does not totally excuse from sin. But if there be ignorance altogether involuntary, either because it is invincible, or because it is of that which one is not bound to know, such ignorance altogether excuses from sin.

Does ignorance diminish sin?

Since every sin is voluntary, so far as ignorance diminishes the voluntary, so far it diminishes sin. But it is manifest that the ignorance which totally takes away the voluntary, and so takes away the sin, does not diminish, but annuls it. But the ignorance which is not the cause of the sin, but concomitant with it, neither diminishes nor augments the sin. Therefore only that ignorance can diminish the sin, which is the cause of it, and yet does not totally excuse it. But sometimes it happens that such ignorance is directly and per se voluntary (consequent ignorance), as when one wilfully is ignorant in order that he may more freely sin. And such wilful ignorance ("ign. affectata") seems to increase the voluntary, and the sin.

But sometimes the ignorance which is the cause of sin is not directly voluntary, but only indirectly; as when one is too lazy to study, and so is ignorant; or he wishes to drink wine immoderately, and so loses sober judgment. Such ignorance may diminish the voluntary and the sin. For when anything is not known to be sin, it is not directly chosen as sin. Hence the contempt of Divine law is less, and consequently the sin is less. So S. Paul says (1 Tim. i. 13), "I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly."

It is true that every sinner is ignorant, but his ignorance is not the cause of his sin, but it is something consequent to the proper cause, which is a passion or habit inclining to sin.

§ 7. The moral relations of sense-appetite to sin.

Is the will moved by the passions?

Passion cannot directly draw the will after it, but it can do so indirectly in two ways: first, by what we may call abstraction. I mean that since the soul is one agent (and of limited power), when it acts in any one direction, its power in other directions is reduced, or even totally annulled. In other words, the operations of the soul require a certain energy, which, if it be vehemently applied to one object, cannot at the same time be applied to another. And in this way, when the motion of sensuous appetite is strengthened through some passion (this is so far an abstraction of mental strength), of necessity the strength of rational appetite, i.e., of the will, is diminished or totally impeded.

Secondly, the same result is produced on the side of the object of the will, which is the good apprehended by reason. For the judgment and apprehension of reason are impeded through the vehement and inordinate act of the imagination and that animal power of apprehension which we share with the brutes (vis aestimativa). We see this in many insane persons. But this apprehension and judgment follow the passions, just as the judgment in taste follows the condition of the nerves of the tongue. hence we see that men who are moved by any passion do not easily turn their imagination from the things which so affect them. Consequently the rational judgment, and then the motion of the will which is naturally adapted to follow that judgment, follow the impulse of the passions.

Can reason be overcome by passion, against its knowledge?

That is, is it possible for a man overcome by passion to do what he knows is forbidden, while he knows this? Socrates thought that knowledge could never be overcome by passion, and hence he assumed that all virtues were (habits of) knowledge, and all sins resulted from ignorance. And this, in a certain way, is true; because, since we always will the good or the apparent good, the will is never moved to evil as evil, but only as an apparent good. Ignorance or error of reason accompanies all transgression.

But experience also shows that many act contrary to their own knowledge. "That servant which knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (S. Luke xii. 47). "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (S. James iv. 17). We must therefore make a distinction. (The. Eth., vii. 3.) For since man is directed in right conduct by a two-fold knowledge, defect in either suffices to hinder rectitude of will and act (p. 92).

(1) Sometimes it happens that a man has knowledge of the universal law, but yet does not know in particular, that his desired act comes under the law. This will suffice to prevent his will from following the principle which he clearly knows.

(2) Again, it is to be considered that nothing prevents a thing from being habitually known, which is not actually taken into consideration. It may happen therefore that a man knows the principle of conduct and has correct knowledge of his individual act, and yet does not actually consider, and so he may act against his knowledge.

But that a man does not consider in the particular case what he habitually knows, may result (a) from defect of intention alone; as when he is familiar with the principles of geometry, but has no intention of considering the conclusions of the science, which he can do at once if he chooses so to do (b) but sometimes a man does not consider what he habitually knows, on account of some supervening impediment, say, on account of some other occupation, or of some bodily infirmity. And in this mode, he who is under the strong influence of some passion does not consider in the particular question before him what he knows in its principle. And passion may impede his consideration, first, by what we have previously called a kind of abstraction; next, by opposition, since passion generally inclines to the opposite of what is known in its principle and lastly, through the bodily effect produced by passion, which may prevent reason from freely exerting its proper influence. So sleep and intoxication through the body enchain the mind. Certainly this may happen also through intensity of passion, which may be so strong as to render a man totally deprived of reason, and (for the time at least) insane.

(1) It may seem as if the stronger were overcome by the weaker, since the certitude of knowledge is the most fixed of our mental possessions. But it must be remembered that general principles which are so fixed, are not chief in action which concerns particulars, individual things. It is not so strange, therefore, that passion should act against knowledge of principles, when consideration of the particular application of those principles is lacking.

(2) It is passion which makes some thing appear good to reason, which is not so, and thus the special judgment is against reason's general knowledge.

(3) It is true that one cannot have two contrary opinions at once. But he can have one habitual principle while its opposite is immediately before his mind.

(4) Speaking logically, he may subsume his particular judgment, under another universal (say, that pleasure is to be sought for) instead of the one which lie habitually possesses.

Sins of passions are rightly called sins of infirmity.

For as the body is infirm when any of its operations are enfeebled or hindered by the disorder of any of its organs, so the soul may be impeded by the disorder of any of its powers. And as the parts of the body are said to be disordered when they do not follow the order of nature, so we speak of an inordinate condition of the soul, when reason is not supreme. Sins of infirmity, then, are found when the passions affect the sensuous soul, contrary to the order of reason.

Inordinate self-love is the cause of all sin.

For the proper and per se cause of sin is the turning of the soul to transitory good. This comes from some inordinate desire. But this inordinate desire has its origin in inordinate self-love.

Such inordinate desires are distinguished by the apostle as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 Ep. S. John ii. 16).

Do passions diminish the gravity of sins?

Sin consists essentially in the act of free choice, which proceeds from the reason and the will. But passions, the notions of sense-appetite, can either precede or follow this tree choice. Antecedently, the passion may incline the reason and the will. But, on the other hand, subsequently, the intensity of our will may draw after it the passions.

Now in the first case the passion which precedes the act of sin diminishes its gravity. For the act is so far sin as it is voluntary, and in our own power. And the less our act proceeds from the impulse of passion, the more fully voluntary it is. Passion, then, diminishes sin so far as it diminishes the voluntary nature of our act.

But it is the opposite with consequent passion, which is a sign of the greatness of the sin, because it shows the intensity of the will in sinning.

(1) More intense passion does not make greater sin, beause the passion is the cause of the sin on the side of sin's turning to seeming good. But the gravity of sin, on the other hand, depends upon the soul's turning away from God or, the intensity of the will in such turning away.

(2) In like manner good sentiments following the judgment of reason, increase the merit of virtuous acts; but if they precede it, the man acts more from feeling than from reason, and Imis act is less meritorious on that account.

Does passion totally excuse from the guilt of sin?

Any act which is bad in itself is entirely excusable only when it is entirely involuntary. Passion, then, which has this effect renders the act excusable; otherwise, not.

With respect to this consider two things (1) a thing may be in itself voluntary, when the will is directly turned to it; or it may be voluntary in its cause when that cause is willed, and the effect is not directly willed. Thus, to him who voluntarily intoxicates himself, his drunken acts are rightly imputed.

(2) A thing may be voluntary directly or indirectly when the will could prohibit it and did not.

Passions, then, may be so great as to take away totally the use of reason. But if the beginnings of the passion were voluntary, the resulting acts are voluntary in their cause, and are imputed as sin. Here is the voluntary intoxication of the soul. But if the cause was not voluntary hut natural -- say, some bodily disease depriving of reason -- then the act is strictly involuntary, and is no sin.

But often thme passion is such as does not intercept totally the use of reason, and then the passion can be excluded by our turning to other thoughts, or by our impeding its results. Such passion does not entirely excuse from sin.

(1) But does not S. Paul say (Gal. v. 17), "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh for these are contrary the one to time other; so that ye may not do the things that ye would"? And, if so, does not passion totally excuse sin? I answer that the impossibility spoken of does not refer to the outward act, but to the inward motion of concupiscence, from which the Christian would gladly be free. So S. Paul says (Rom. vii. 19), "The evil which I would not, that I do." It is true, also, that the will through passion acts against its own preceding purpose.

(2) But if passion causes ignorance in the particular case in question, why is it not a complete excuse for sin? I reply that the excusing ignorance is that (invincible) ignorance of the circumstances of the case which cannot be surmounted by any diligence. But passion causes ignorance of the law in its special application, by hindering one from applying his knowledge of the law to his particular case, which passion reason can repel.

(3) Bodily infirmity may be a total excuse, since it is involuntary, as in the insane.

Sins of passion may be mortal sins.

Mortal sin consists in aversion from God, man's ultimate end. This aversion belongs to deliberative reason, whose office it is to ordain man with reference to his end. The only way, therefore, in which it can happen that the inclination of the soul to what is contrary to its ultimate end may not be mortal sin, is that deliberative reason has no share in that inclination. This happens in the sudden motions of passion.

But when any one proceeds from this to the act of sin, or to deliberate consent, this is not a sudden action. And dehiberate reason can exclude, or, at least, impede, the passion. If it does not, the sin is mortal. So we see that many murders and many adulteries are committed through passion.

(1) But is not sin of infirmity venial? And are not sins of passion sins of infirmity? But observe that venial is used in three different senses: (a) When the sin has some cause of pardon which diminishes the sin; and so sin of infirmity or of ignorance is called venial in that sense. (b) Again, all sin becomes venial -- i.e., obtains pardon -- through repentance. (c) There are certain sins which are venial in their nature, as an idle word; and only in this sense is venial opposed to mortal. The objection is based on the first meaning of the word venial.

(2) Observe, again, that passion is the cause of the sin, on the side of the turning to transitory good; but what makes it mortal, is the turning away from God. And so, though in the sensuous nature cannot be mortal sin, yet the sin proceeding from passion may become such.

§ 8. Sins of malice, i.e., of deliberate wickedness.

When does any one sin from malice, i.e., from deliberate wickedness?

Man naturally desires the good. Hence, if his desire decline to evil, it is because of some corruption or some inordination in him. But the principles of human action are intellect and sensuous or rational desire, which latter is called will. Some sin, therefore, results from defect in the intelligence, as when one sins through ignorance. Sin also results from defect in sensuous desire; these are sums of passion. And, lastly, sin results from inordinate will. But the will is disordered when the less good is more loved than the greater good; when, consequently, any one chooses to suffer loss respecting the good which is less loved, in order to obtain what is preferred. So a man may deliberately consent to have his leg cut off, in order to preserve his life, which he values more. In this way, when any one inordinately loves some temporal good, as riches or pleasure, more than the order of reason or of Divine law -- i.e., more than the love of God -- it follows that he may be willing to suffer the loss of some spiritual good in order to get the other, the temporal good. And since evil is nothing else than privation of some good, it follows that he is consciously willing some spiritual evil for the sake of earthly good. Such a one sins from fixed malice or deliberate purpose, since he consciously chooses the evil.

(1) Is there any ignorance in such sin? Sometimes one is ignorant that the thing which he is doing is wrong in general; his is a sin of ignorance. Sometimes the sinner does not know that the particular act which he is then doing is wrong; as when be sins from passion. But sometimes there is no thought that the evil is not to be chosen in order to gain the desired good; though he knows that it is simply evil. This is the ignorance of malicious wickedness.

(2) Evil cannot be, as such, aimed at by any one. But yet it may be aimed at in order to avoid some other evil, or to attain some good; and in such a case the sinner would choose to attain the good for which he seeks, even with loss of the other. So a lascivious person would prefer to enjoy his pleasure without offending God; but if the two alternatives are presented, he wills to incur the displeasure of God by sinning, rather than to he deprived of his pleasure.

Does every one who sins from habit sin from malicious wickedness?

Note that it is not the same thing to sin while possessing a habit, and to sin from the habit. For it is not necessary that the habit shall be constantly used. It is used when we will; and, therefore, as it can happen that one having a vicious habit does some virtuous act, because his reason is not totally corrupted hy his habit, so it may happen also that instead of acting from his vicious habit, he sins from passion or even from ignorance. But when soever he uses his vicious habit, he must sin from malice, because, when any one has a habit, that is chosen which is agreeable to it, the habit becomes a second nature, and certain things are now "connatural." But this thing which is agreeable to the vicious habit, excludes spiritual good; and so spiritual evil is chosen in order to get what habit makes to appear good. This is sinning from malicious wickedness.

There are habits of venial sins, indeed; but since these do not exclude the love of God, say, the habit of using idle words, they are vicious habits secundum quid, but not simply such.

What shall we say of the remorse of habitual sinners? He who sins from habit always rejoices in his act while he is using his habit. But he is able also not to use it, and may be sorrowful when his reason, as yet not totally corrupted, is dictating some other thing. He grieves at what he has done through sinful habit, not in general, because the sin is in itself displeasing to him, hut because of some unpleasant result.

But one may sin from malice who is not sinning from vicious habit,

some hindrance being removed which has prevented his inordinate soul from acting out its choice and forming a vicious habit.

Sins of malicious wickedness are graver than sins of passion.

There are three reasons why this is true (1) Since sin is primarily in the will, the more the will is concerned in it, the greater, other things being equal, is the sin. In malice the motion to the sin is more purely from within, i.e., from the will; whereas in sins of passion there is an outward impulse. Hence the more vehement the malice, the greater the sin; whereas, as we have seen, the more vehement passion diminishes the gravity of the sin.

(2) The passion which inclines to sin is transient, and so a man may quickly return to a good purpose, but the habit by which one sins from malice is a permanent quality. The one is more likely to be penitent after sin than the other.

(3) He who sins from malice is badly disposed with reference to the end itself. So his deficiency is more dangerous than that of him who sins from passion, whose general purpose may tend to the good end, although his purpose has been temporarily interrupted by his passion.

This malicious wickedness is in one way based on ignorance, but it is self-chosen ignorance, which does not palliate the sin.

Both in sin of passion and of malice there is a choice of evil, but the first is not a sin from choice, because choice is not the primal principle of the sin. Something is chosen which would not have been chosen but for the passion. Whereas the sin of malice is a deliberate choice of evil, and this choice is the primal principle of the sin.

§ 9. External causes of sin.

Is God the cause of sin? (I mean, not the positive and moral act, which, owing to defect in it, is sin, but of the sin as sin.) Man may be the cause of sin in another man, either directly, by temptation, by inclining the will of that other to sin; or indirectly, by not doing one's best to withdraw another from the act of sin. But God cannot be directly the cause of sin in any one, because all sin is departure from God, the ultimate end of His creatures. But God draws all beings to Himself, as to their ultimate end. Neither can He be indirectly the cause of sin. He may not afford that aid which would, if given, hinder men from sinning against Him; but this is done according to the order of His winsdom and justice. Hence the sin of any being is not to be imputed to Him as the cause of it; just as the pilot is not the cause of the shipwreck of the steamer which he does not steer, except when he is able, and when it is his duty, to take charge of the vessel.

(1) It is said (Rom. i. 28), "God gave them up unto a reprobate mind to do those things which are not fitting." But the very words show that those spoken of had that reprobate mind, and God did not prevent their following it.

(2) But it is, also, a familiar objection, that God is the author of freedom of the will, which is the cause of sin; and, therefore, the author of the cause is the originator of the effect, which proceeds from that cause. And this is true when the mediate cause is subjected to the ordering of the primal cause; but if that mediate cause violates the order in which it is made to act, the result is not imputable to the first cause. If an agent does anything contrary to the express command of his employer, that employer is not (morally, at least) answerable for the consequences. He is not the cause of them.

Is the act of sin from God?

The sinful act, as act, is being and act. But every being whatsoever is derived from the primal Being. And every action is caused by some being which has active (not passive) existence. But all activity is reducible to the primal activity as its cause; i.e., God, who is pure activity, is the cause of every action.

But sin is being and action containing some defect, which defect is from the created cause, viz., free-will departing from the order of God the primal agent. Hence that defect is not reducible to the causality of God, just as a halting gait is referable to defect in the bones of the leg, etc., not necessarily to the motive power of nerves and muscles.

The act of sin is a certain motion of free-will, but the will of God is the cause of all motions, therefore His will is the cause of the act of sin.

Is God the cause of blindness and hardness of heart?

These may mean two different things; first, a motion of the soul cleaving to evil and averse from Divine light. This is mortal sin of which God is not the cause.

But, again (as penalty), there may be a withdrawal of Divine grace, so that the mind is not Divinely illuminated to see rightly, and the heart of man is not softened to live rightly. So far God is the cause of blindness and hardness of heart. God is the universal cause of the enlightening of souls (S. John i. 9 "That was the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world"). So the sun is the universal cause of the illumination of bodies. This is through necessity of nature, but God is the cause of spiritual light according to His will and wisdom. But the sun may find some impediment and leave a body dark, as when the window shutters are closed; and the sun is not the cause of that darkness, but its cause is the one who closes the shutters. The sun exercises no judgment in the matter, but God, according to His own judgment, withholds the light of His grace, where He finds some obstacle to it. Hence the cause of the absence of grace is not only be who puts the obstacle in its way, but also God according to His righteous judgment. So He is the cause of blindness of sight and dulness of hearing, in not perfecting the mind by the gift of wisdom, and of hardness of heart in not softening the soul through the fire of charity.

Is the devil directly the cause of sins committed by man?

The proper principle of the sinful act is the human will, since all sin is voluntary. But God is the only Being who can directly aet upon our will. The will, indeed, is moved not only by this inward Divine influence, but also by its object. This in three ways (1) by the object itself which is proposed, as we say that food excites the desire of eating; (2) by him who proposes or offers an object of this nature (3) by him who persuades that the proposed object is good, because he thus proposes the specific object of the will, which is rational good, either real or apparent. In the first way, sensible things move the will to sin. But in the second and third ways, the devil or our neighbour may incite to sin, either by offering to sense or imagination what is desirable, or by persuading the reason. But none of these are the direct cause of sin, because the will is not of necessity moved by any object except the ultimate end.

Can the devil offer inward temptations to sin?

The soul has three functions, viz., feeling, knowing, willing. The latter cannot be directly influenced by Satan and his angels. And the intellect, per se, is moved by what illuminates it to know the truth, which illumination is certainly not the aim of the devil, but rather a blinding of the reason through imagination and sense-appetite, in order that it may consent to sin. Hence the whole inward operation of Satan seems to be on the imagination and the sense-appetite. Images may be presented to the phantasy, appetite may be excited to some passion. For corporeal nature (as we see in our own physical constitution) naturally is subject (within certain limits) to spiritual forces. It is conceivable (to say the least) that the brain should be acted upon by demons, whether the man is waking or sleeping. In which case images will be the result. Passions also result from a certain condition of the brain and nervous system, and it is conceivable again that the devil may cooperate in these, at least through the brain, etc.

(1) Images, feelings, etc., are, indeed, the works of a living agent, and require an inward impulse; but environment also cooperates, and we are regarding outward temptation as the environment of the soul.

There is nothing in this which contradicts the known order of nature.

Can the devil produce a necessity of sinning?

S. James (iv. 7) says, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." This would not be true if Satan had power to produce necessity of sin. For he has no direct power over the reason; and if it be free, there is no necessity of sinning. If there be a case where Satan takes entire possession of a man, so that his acts are no longer free, his acts are not sinful.

That which is apprehended by sense or imagination, whether presented by demons or in any other way, does not of necessity move the will if a man still has use of his reason.

§ 10. The effects of sin.

Does sin diminish the good of nature?

We may consider (1) the first principles of human nature which constitute that nature, and the properties resulting from them, such as are often called the faculties of man (2) the very inclination to virtue, which is itself a good of nature; (3) the gift of original righteousness, which, in the first man, was conferred on the human race, and can be called a natural good. The first is neither taken away, nor diminished by sin; but the third was totally taken away through the sin of our first parents. But the second is diminished through sin. For through human acts comes a certain inclination to similar acts, and anything which is inclined to one of two contraries, has diminished inclination to the other. Hence, since sin is contrary to virtue, man's sin diminishes the natural good of an inclination to virtue.

Can the whole good of nature be taken away through sin?

We mean now the natural inclination to virtue which belongs to man as a rational being. Sin cannot take away man's rationality, for then he would be no more capable of sinning. This good of nature, then, cannot be totally taken away through sin. But it is diminished so far as hindrances are put in the way to prevent its reachng its end. So it can be diminished ad infinitum, because hindrances can be increased ad infinitum. But the root of such inclination to virtue still remains, since human nature remains with all its essential attributes.

There would be no remorse of conscience in the lost if there were not remaining in them the natural inclination to virtue.

What are the four wounds of human nature?

Through the gift of original righteousness reason perfectly governed the lower powers of the soul, and reason itself was perfected by being subject to God. This original righteousness being taken away through the sin of our first parents, all the soul's powers remain deprived of their proper order. And this constitutes the four wounds. For there are, as we have seen (page 60, ff.), four powers which can be the subjects of virtue sc., the reason, which is the seat of (spiritual) prudence; the will, in which is justice; the irascible soul, the seat of courage; and the concupiscible, in which is temperance. Now the reason, destitute of its due relation to truth, is afflicted with the wound of ignorance; the will, destitute of its due order with reference to the good, is wounded with malice; the irascible nature is wounded with infirmity, and the concupiscible nature is wounded with the inordinate desire of pleasure. And since the inclination to virtue is diminished by actual transgression, those four wounds result, also from other sins; the reason is dulled concerning what is to be done; the will hardened with respect to the good; the difficulty of acting rightly increases, and concupiscene burns more hotly.

What shall we say of death, and other corporeal defects?

Per accidens one thing is the cause of another if it remove hindrances in the way of that result. Thus he who pulls down a column is per accidens the cause of the fall of what rests upon that column. So the sin of our first parents is the cause of death and other like corporeal defects, by taking away that original righteousness by which not only the lower powers of the soul were subject in orderly way to reason, but the body was the perfect servant of a perfect soul. The loss of this original righteousness renders human nature corruptible in all its parts, even to the disorganizaion of the body itself. This is the penalty of the first sin, not aimed at by the sinner, but ordained by the punitive justice of God. Considered in itself, the animal body is corruptible, but God (by special gift) supplied the defect of nature, and made man's body to be incorruptible through the superatural spiritual gift.

The penal guilt of sin (reatus).

It is a law of nature and of man, that whatever rises against another will be put down, if possible. But whatever things are contained under one order are, in a certain way, one in that order. Hence whatever rises against any order will be put down by that order and by its head. But since sin is any inordinate act, it is manifest that he who us offends against some order which will seek to put him down. This is penalty. Now there are three orders against which man can sin, and with a three-fold penalty he can be finished his human nature is subject first to his own proper reason; next, to outward government, spiritual or mporal; lastly, to the universal order of Divine rule. He who sins acts against reason, against human law, against ivine law. Therefore he incurs a three-fold penalty -- sc., from himself, remorse of conscience; from man, what law inflicts; and lastly, God's punishments.

The penalty indeed is just, whether from man or from God; and so it is good, and not directly the effect of sin, which can have no good effects. But sin makes man guilty, which is an evil. "To be punished is not an evil, but to become worthy of punishment is an evil." Every disordered soul is its own punishment; but also it becomes liable to other punishment from perverting the order of Divine or human law.

Does any sin incur eternal penalty?

Sin incurs guilt, because it perverts some order. But while the cause remains, the effect remains. Hence, as long as this perversion of order continues, so long continues the penal guilt. But sometimes one perverts order irreparably, and sometimes not. For if defect destroy the foundation of anything, its first principle, such defect is irreparable. But otherwise, this first principle remaining, it may have power enough to repair the defect. But if by sin is corrupted the principle of order by which the human will is subject to God, this inordination is in itself irreparable only Divine grace can repair it. But this principle is the ultimate end, to which man adheres by charity. Therefore whatever sins turn man away from God, in taking away charity, incur the guilt of eternal penalty.

(1) It is commonly objected that just penalty is adequate penalty; but sin is a transient thing, and therefore cannot incur eternal punishment (which would be out of all proportion to the offence).

But I answer that it is true that the sharpness of punishment is proportioned to the offence both in Divine and ia human judgment. But this is not the question of duration. In no judgment is proportion sought for in that respect. A murder may be committed in a moment, yet the punishment may be imprisonment for life. The murderer is cut off forever from the society of the living, and so he represents, after his manner, the eternity of punishment Divinely inflicted. S. Gregory points out the justice of this, when he says (dial. iv. c. 44), "He who has sinned in his own eternity against God, is punished in the eternity of God." Man's "own eternity" does not mean simply the continuation of his act during this transient life, but that, having made sin his end, he has the will to sin forever. "The unjust would will to live forever, in order that they might forever continue in sin" (Greg., Moral., iv.).

(2) But are not punishments medicinal? And no such curing process can run on forever. I reply that not all human punishments are for the cure of him who has offended; the murderer is hung, that others may fear to offend. And the eternal punishment of the reprobate may he medicinal for others who (more earnestly) abstain from sin.

(3) Again it is said that no one forever does that in which he takes no pleasure. But God takes no pleasure in the perdition of men; therefore it will not go on forever. The reply is that God takes no pleasure in suffering on its own account, but He takes pleasure in the order of His own justice, which requires the penalty of sin.

Penalty is proportioned to sin.

But in sin are two elements; the one, aversion from the infinite incommutable good. On this side sin is infinite its penalty, infinite loss (poena damni), the loss of infinite good, sc., of God. On the other side, sin is inordinate turning to mutable good. This is finite, like the good itself. For it is not the act of an infinite creature. To this corresponds a finite penalty of suffering (proportioned to the offence).

§ 11. Venial and mortal sins.

Sins are either venial or mortal.

This distinction follows from the diversity of the inordination which is involved in sin. For there is a two-fold inordination one which casts off the very principle of order, another which still preserves it, although this inordination concerns things which are derived from that order. So in the body disorganization may attack the very life itself, and death is the result; or it may appear as sickness (which is not mortal disease).

But the first principle of all order in morals is the ultimate end. Hence, when the soul is disordered through sin even to aversion from the ultimate end, which is God, to whom we are united through charity, the sin is mortal. But when the disorder does not proceed so far as that, the sin is venial. For as in the body mortal disorganization is naturally irreparable (while sickness which is not mortal may be cured by suitable means), so is it with the soul. He that sins by (wilfully) turning away from the ultimate end, so far as the nature of the sin is concerned, undergoes irreparable loss, and therefore his sin is mortal, its penalty eternal. But he who sins without wilful aversion from God, is disordered in a manner which, according to the nature of the sin, can be repaired, because the first principle of spiritual life is preserved; and therefore he is said to sin venially, because the result is not eternal death.

Mortal and venial sin differ infinitely as respects the aversion in the two sins. But it is not so as respects the turning to transitory good. Hence, in the same kind of sin may be found the one and the other, as the very first motion of the soul towards the sin of adultery may be venial, and an idle word, which is often venial, may become a mortal sin.

Venial sins contain inordination, not with respect to the end, for the life of charity remains in the soul, but with respect to the means for that end. Such sins are reparable.

(1) It might be said that all sin is mortal because it is against the law of God. But Venial sin is imperfectly sin, for it is not a word, thought, or deed (intentionally done) against that law. He who sins venially does not do what the law prohibits, nor omit what the law commands; but he acts aside from law, in not observing those limits of reason which the law aims at.

(2) It is commanded, indeed, that we do all things to the glory of God; and he who sins venially does not at that time do so. But he may habitually refer himself and all his affairs to the glory of God, which is essentially obedience to such an affirmative precept.


Some sins are venial in their specics, some are mortal.

Some sins may be venial from their cause, as infirmity or ignorance, which diminishes the gravity of the offence. Or, again, and this is what we are now considering, venial sins may be those which do not take away due relation to the ultimate end, nor merit everlasting punishment. In this sense, and as the object determines the specific character of the act, some sins are venial in their proper nature, and some are mortal. For when the will is directed to anything which in itself is opposed to charity, which orders man for his ultimate end, the sin is mortal in kind, whether it be against the love of God, as blasphemy, perjury, and the like, or against the love of our neighbour, as murder, adultery, and the like. But if the will is directed to that which contains some inordination, indeed, hut is not directly contrary to the love of God and of our neighbour, as the idle word, etc., such sin is venial in its kind. But since moral acts take their character not only from their objects, but also from the disposition of the agent, what is in itself venial may become mortal on the part of that agent, either because he makes it his ultimate end, or because he uses it as means for some other and a mortal sin. So again, on the part of the agent, that which is in itself mortal may become venial, because the act is imperfect, i.e., not proceeding from deliberate reason.{5}

Observe that in choosing what is opposed to Divine charity, a man prefers that thing to the love of God; he loves himself more than God. This is mortal sin. in lice ways venial sin may dispose towards mortal sin.

(1) The habit being augmented by repeated acts, the lust of sinning can increase so far that he who sins makes the venial sin his end. And so by repeated acts of venial sin, the sinner is prepared for mortal sin. This on the part of the agent.

(2) Again, a human act may prepare the way for something by removing hindrances. Venial sin may thus prepare the way for mortal sin. For in accustoming the will in minor matters to neglect the due order of life, the way is prepared for casting off that order as respects the ultimate end, in choosing mortal sin.

Sin in itself venial may become mortal (a) through an erroneous conscience, which regards it as a more serious offence (b) through scandal given by it; (c) through gravely evil intention, as contempt of the lawmaker (consider the "forbidden fruit" in Paradise); (d) through evil affection preferring the little sin to God; (e) through directly leading to mortal sin.

(In doubt, especially in the case of sensitive souls, the confessor takes the milder view and leaves the rest to God.)

{1} We may distinguish three forms of internal sin (a) free and continued pleasure in imagined evil, implying consent to it, the "detectatio morosa" of the text; (b) the same respecting past sin, implying approbation of it, although skill, etc. (e.g., in trade), may be admired without approving the act, as "the lord commended the unjust steward" (lascivious tales, however, having their own special danger) (c) sinful desires with an act of will, which is efficacious, when there is intention of acting out the desire (S. Matt. v. 28). The evil thought rejected at once is not sin.

{2} The reasoning of S. Thomas Aquinas may here seem very subtle to one who has not previously looked into its subject. But it demands and will well repay careful and prolonged thought. -- J. J. B.

{3} If one knows that the outward action is wrong, no invincible ignorance respecting the laws of spiritual morality can excuse his evil desire of that action.

{4} Affirmative laws bind only under suitable conditions; negative laws are continually binding.

{5} But inadvertence itself, which often seems to be a note of venial sin, may show an habitual affection for sin, even when the act is not perfectly voluntary; i.e., a perfected sin.

A positive doubt respecting the deadly malice of the act may itself constitute full advertence, and make the sin a mortal one. Deadly, also, may be needless exposure to the danger of falling into mortal sin; it may be the sin of presumption.

It is grave sin to deliberate about consent to mortal sin.

The matter of venial acts may coalesce into mortal acts. Thus the apparently trifling act of giving light weight and short measure in retail trade accumulates its results, and it may enrich one, who may be thus guilty of serious theft.

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